Friday, December 31, 2010


This year instead of making New Year's resolutions or goals, I am picking a word to live by.  Last night during yoga class it came to me: Breathe.

Yes, yoga class.  I haven't been to class in two years and I'm really not sure why I stopped.  I was pretty hard core, devoted, three-times-a-week-addicted for about four years.  I needed it to ride my Friesian; his huge gaits required way more flexibility, balance and core strength than I had from just doing barn chores.    So, I want to start regular yoga practice again, I want to breathe into all my tight joints.  I want to breathe into tree pose - which I NEVER mastered.  You would think standing on one foot could be easily accomplished but I seem to have completely lost my sense of balance.  Now that I've passed the 50 year old mark, the gimpy factor is kicking in more and more.  I'm hoping yoga will help counteract that a little.

I want to breathe effectively when I ride.  In addition to breathing calm and confidence at shows, I want to breathe into my half halts, deep into my seat, and into my legs softly draping against Jackson.  I don't think I'm breathing in this picture:

I want to breathe deeply and fill my senses with horse aroma.  Jackson smells wonderful (when he's clean).  I am going to bury my nose in his neck and inhale. 

Work is stressful (as always).  There will be lots of changes this year.  My boss (a great lady and a great boss) is retiring.  I'm kinda nervous about who our CEO will recruit for her position.  Okay, I'm a lot nervous about it.  Breathe.

I am going to breathe in home and hearth.  I will fill my lungs with clean mountain air, the aroma of herbs crushed between my fingers, roses and carnations.  In the kitchen, I will pay attention to the yeasty smell of bread in the oven, the play of spices in the saute pan, and ribs on the BBQ.

When I feel tense, distracted or annoyed I will breathe deep and find a place of acceptance and tolerance.  I will breathe in the holy and exhale the ...unholy.  Substitute whatever word comes to mind.  They all fit. 

And, lastly, I will breathe in the love of my family.  I will sigh and snuggle deeper into my husband's arms.  I will laugh with my daughter, gasping for breath and snorting like a pig.  I will breathe and release, breathe and release, my son as he continues his journey into adulthood, independence and life away from home.

And, hopefully with all that breathing, I won't hyperventilate. 

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Jackson Makes a Statement

We didn't get any snow but boy was it freezing this morning -  21 which is brrrr cold for us.  There was ice everywhere, the pipes in the barn were frozen, etc.  The frost was beautiful though.  With all the moisture that moved through yesterday there was lots of water around to freeze.

Jackson had made a mess of his stall.  He normally keeps it clean and poops in his turnout.  We brought the horses into the barn last night due to the rain/snow in the forecast.  Jackson will stand in the rain with Kalvin, even during cold storms, if his gate is open to the pasture.  Otherwise, he stays in his stall and won't go out into his run-out to poop in the rain.  When it isn't raining, he keeps his stall spotless.  Go figure.  We closed the gates last night so this morning I was mucking out the royal mess he made of his stall.  He was busy eating his morning bucket.  I asked him to move over by gently poking him on his flank.  He knows the cue.  But instead of moving over, he pinned his ears and crow hopped.  It took me a minute to realize that he thought I was going to take off his warm blanket - since the poke was in the same general area as the back buckle.  Silly boy!  He LOVES his blanket.  Last spring I had to take it off early one morning before going to work since I knew it was going to be a nice day -- cold morning, warm day -- and I didn't want him sweating all afternoon until I got home.  So, it was still chilly when I took it off.  While I was undoing the last buckle, he pinned his ears, whipped his head around and BIT ME!!  Of course I understand his obsession with warmth.  I'm here on the couch with a fleecy sweatshirt, Uggs and an afghan.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Boeuf à la Mode (aka great pot roast)

Since it was stormy and cold today, I decided to try making a recipe from my new French cookbook for dinner.  I thought pot roast was a good pick given the weather.  I started it last night since it had to marinate in red wine, veggies, and herbs overnight.  One rump roast, one bottle of red wine, carrots, onions and herbs snipped from the garden (thyme, parsley, bay leaf and rosemary). This afternoon I popped it into the oven and then started making dinner rolls.  I love making bread; there's something so satisfying about the process of kneading the dough and having it transform from a shaggy mass into a smooth, silky and springy dough.  I experimented with different shapes: cloverleaf, fan, parker house, knot... and ended up with a pretty basket of bread.

The boeuf recipe worked too:

I made noodles and served the sauce on the side:

And Brett poured a nice bordeaux to go with (most important!):

Bon Apetit !

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Another Storm Coming

Just when things had almost dried out enough for me to switch from muck boots to tennies, another storm is due.  When I mucked this morning the only gooshy sloppy spots were in Jackson's turnout and Kalvin's paddock.  Kalvin doesn't help matters.  He pees right by the gate so it's a wet trampled mess there.  I can't even get the cart through.  Then when I manage to rake a pile of manure, before I can pick it up he comes and stands on top of it.  He breathes on my face and begs for kisses.  It takes forever to muck his area because I, for one, can't resist kissing his velvet nose.

This next storm is our first cold one.  The heavy storms we've had so far have been what we call a Pineapple Express.  They are subtropical, from the Pacific, with lots of moisture but not cold.  The one arriving tonight is coming in from Canada or Alaska.  We actually have snow in the forecast although it isn't clear whether the temperature will drop low enough before the rain stops.  Camille is up here "just in case."  Kyle figured a 40% chance of snow wasn't good enough odds to come up.  These college kids - living their own lives.  The nerve!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Quiet, Busy, Thoughtful

The sky is clear blue, the sun is warm, the breeze is cold and there is more rain in the forecast.  It's just me and the critters home today and we've been busy.

This morning, I filled the dumpster with rose prunings.  Kersey dragged some pieces away to play with.  I can't imagine that the thorny rose bush felt good in her mouth.  When the dumpster was filled to the top, I stopped.  Three done; including the man-eating rose and the climbing rose on the arbor into my vegetable garden.  And I thought about stuff...  goals for Jackson and I next year, whether I should continue with French lessons, what to eat for lunch.

After feeding the horses lunch (and eating mine), Kersey and I went for a walk.  We need to work on her leash manners.  She did much better today; not too much tugging, not too much underfoot sudden changes of direction, and better sit.  And, of course, I thought some more while we were walking.  I'd like to show Jackson next year and have him be relaxed in the dressage court.  Schooling is going well and I'm pleased with our progress so no specific goals there.  Shows are a different story - and I guess it holds for competitive trail rides as well.  He gets nervous and prancy and resistant.  I need to take deep breaths, sit deep, and be the conduit of calm.  Hmmmm, good goal for me as well.

After our walk, I schooled Jackson.  We started with a long warm up on the bridle paths and then did some review in the arena.  The arena is not huge -- small court size -- and one third of it is still puddles so our working area was limited.  It took a few minutes for him to remember bend and relax, but it came back quicker than the last après rain review.  He picked up the correct lead, both directions, first try.  So, I washed his tail and put on one of the pretty tail bags I got for Christmas, gave him his apple and thought some more.

I'm still mulling the French thing around.  I love the language and I want to speak it well.  I can communicate pretty well, I just need to fine tune grammar.  Or do I?  I'm not sure I need to have perfect French or if it's even attainable without living there.  I read books and magazines in French, I listen to CDs, and I email my French friend.  It's hard for me to find the time for classes, it's expensive, and it is stressful (mostly because I don't study enough).  I really like my teacher, though.  I'll have to ponder on this one some more...

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Rolling Lessons

Late this morning I looked down to the pasture, as I do periodically, to check on the horses.  Jackson was rolling on the hill between the barn and Kalvin's paddock.  Unfortunately, for him, he got stuck.  His head was facing downhill and his legs were uphill.  He couldn't get up.  He kept trying to hoist himself up, uphill, against gravity.  After a number of tries, he quit and just lay in the mud.  He looked resigned.  I know he can roll all the way over and it would have been easy to do since that would be rolling downhill.  But no, after resting awhile, he gathered all his equine strength and gave it another heave-ho.  Amazingly, he got himself up.  He stood there for a few minutes licking and chewing.  I'm sure he was telling the hill "okay, I give.  No more upside down rolling."

That got me thinking about how many times we get ourselves upside down and backwards on hills.  We struggle and struggle and still we stay stuck.  How much easier would it be to relax and just roll down hill a little.  Even if we have to admit defeat to the hill.  For me, that's the hard part.  I don't like being powerless, or stuck, or admitting defeat. 

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Quiet Christmas Day

Christmas was quiet this year. The kids left mid-morning for their dad's.  Brett left after lunch for work.  I had planned to ride Jackson before the rain hits tonight (yes, another storm) but I couldn't muster the energy.  I was suffering the after effects of too much Christmas cheer last night.  So, I washed Jackson's tail and then free lunged him in the arena.  He was tracking under nicely at the trot and picking up the correct lead (most of the time) at canter.  I was also impressed with his canter-halt transitions.  He would canter to the far end of the arena, halt, and quickly drop his neck to pick up a tasty leaf.  Then he was off again.

Brett filled my stocking with beautiful tail bags for Jackson.  They feel like velvet and the colors are beautiful.  I'm afraid to use them for everyday, roll-in-the-mud, use.  Maybe for lessons?

After braiding Jackson's tail and putting on an old ugly tail wrap, I took Kersey for a walk around the block.  It was quiet with just a slight bit of chill in the air.  In past years, Christmas Day has been filled with the sound of kids racing around on their new dirt bikes.  Not this year, it was just the sound of our footsteps on the bridle path.  We walked over to the community pond and Kersey splashed around for awhile.  She went in up to her belly, which isn't really very deep since her legs are so short, and she flirted with the idea of swimming.  When we got home, I did the barn chores.  All the horses got extra carrots today and the dogs each got a bone from last night's prime rib.  I'm going to curl up on the couch with my new french cookbook -- or maybe the book of 2010 dressage tests -- and dream.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve

This morning Brett left early (4:30am) for work.  The dogs and I got up a couple hours later and I let them out to run around while I did the barn chores.  When I finished, they didn't come running for breakfast (the usual routine) and I couldn't find them anywhere.  That's when I noticed that the automatic gate was stuck wide open.  Uh, oh.  Sedona was adopted by us when she was about 8 months old.  She was a stray before that and has never gotten wanderlust out of her system.  If she gets out (the property is fenced), she is gone for up to 8 hours.  I was pretty sure Sedona would be back, eventually, but the puppy is still a baby and Sedona is getting really gimpy.  It's hard for her to walk and stand up.  What if she fell in a gully and couldn't get out?  My mind came up with all sorts of awful scenarios.  I walked over to the big community pond thinking they might be playing in the water.  Nope.  Kyle and Camille walked around the entire community with no luck.  At noontime, we still had no dogs.  It was hard to feel the joy of Christmas.  I went down to the barn and rode Jackson but my mind was elsewhere.  At 2:00, Camille asked me to drive her around one more time to look.  As we rounded a corner she broke into excited cries -- she saw them across a field!  I pulled onto the bridle path and we jumped out.  The puppy broke into barks of happiness and bounded over to us.  It looked like a dog food commercial the way she was leaping through the grass.  Sedona followed at a more dignified pace.  We came home, turned on the Christmas music and I started working on Christmas dinner.

Brett's son and his wife came up from San Diego for Christmas dinner.  We feasted on prime rib, drank a wonderful Bordeaux, and laughed.  I feel like Santa already came: my puppy is home, Sedona is too, and dinner was a feast of love as much as a feast of food.  The best!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

...and when she got there, the larder was bare...

Camille had a couple of friends up to visit.  They arrived Tuesday as the storm hit and I took them back home today.  The highway down the mountain was closed in both directions yesterday so I teased them that they might have to spend Christmas here.  Luckily, the highway opened to residents on the desert side this morning so I was able to take them home.  They had a good time here, despite the weather.  Yesterday, they put Kersey on a leash and set forth in the rain.  The storm came in while they were out walking and I worried a bit when the hail started.  They made it home safe, sopping wet, laughing and ready for hot cocoa.  Unfortunately, we were completely out of milk (and cream and bread) so they had to make do with coffee.  I guess I wasn't very well prepared for the road closure.  I  bought a huge jug of milk today and enough bread to feed an army.  I'm ready for the next storm.  It's supposed to hit on Wednesday.  Sunshine tomorrow and Christmas Day - yes!!  I'll have to dash down to the barn between Christmas dinner prep and sneak in a ride. 

I wish all of you a wonderful Christmas!  Eat, drink, be merry and kiss your horse-- and whoever it is that makes your soul sing.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Pops starts a blog

Today Brett got really bored sitting in his chair watching the rain.  He decided to start his own blog - so if you are interested in getting his slant (um, viewpoint) on life at Aspen Meadows check it out:  Pop's Compost

Camille's Pine Tree

Last night the wind howled around the house.  The first four days of this storm have brought a lot of rain, but it has been steady, straight down to the ground, peaceful rain.  Last night it changed to a storm with high winds, blowing fog, and driving rain.   It was ugly.  Even the dogs didn't want to get up this morning.  We all looked out the windows, yawned, and snuggled deeper into our beds.  Kersey, who is usually begging to go out at daybreak, just stretched out on her bed and snoozed.  We did finally get up and make our way to the barn.  The first thing I did was look for downed trees.  None!  Even Camille's pine tree was standing which is a miracle for sure.

A number of summers ago, I was working in one of the flower beds and came across a pine tree seedling.  It was a volunteer tree, planted by one of the many birds on the ranch.  The flower bed was too small and too close to the house to handle a tree so I yanked it out and put it in my pile of weeds.  Camille was with me, looking for worms to give to the chickens.  She was... appalled.  I was going to kill a pine tree!  How could I do that??!  She decided to save the poor little tree (no bigger than a weed, at the time).  I told her that the tree would most likely die given our hot, dry summers and the fact that I had yanked it from the ground.  She was determined.  We found a sheltered area next to the arena.  It was amongst some boulders and lower than the orchard so water would flow down to the tree.  We have sprinklers to wet the sand in the arena and I thought the tree might catch some drift from those as well.  Camille planted the tree and carried water to it all summer long.  The thing lived.  That winter, the rain fell, the wind blew, and the tree fell over.  Multiple times.  Camille and I stood in the rain and pushed it upright.  Brett pounded in a tall stake but it just pulled that over too.  Finally, I propped up a piece of wood under some branches and that has held it up pretty well.

In 2009, Camille's pet bunny died.  She was heartbroken.  Santa brought her Oreo the first Christmas we were up here.  He was her first pet and she showed him in 4-H until he got too big.  He was a very sweet, friendly bunny and he lived seven or eight years (Camille would know for sure).  She buried him under her pine tree.

So this morning I was very happy to see that the tree was still standing upright.  And I think it makes a very pretty addition to that corner of the arena.  I'm really glad that she saved that tree.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Note to Self

Do not collect eggs on the way to the barn and leave them in the pocket of your jacket while you do chores.  Upon returning to the house, you will have scrambled eggs in your pocket.  And you will have to do another load of laundry so you can wear your jacket in the morning.  sigh

It's Raining, It's Pouring, -- and It's Lunchtime

I decided to take my camera with me down to the barn to feed lunch...

Jackson wasn't in his nice dry stall.  He was hanging out in the pasture with Kalvin.  They were both very wet.

Sedona was in her doghouse so I couldn't get a picture of her but Kersey was out playing in the rain with Jackson's torn fleece sheet:
Flash was staying nice and dry in his stall.  He was a very good boy this morning when I flushed his wound with saline.  I had expected him to be difficult but he was an angel.  I showed him the syringe with the saline and explained what I was going to do.  He stood quietly through the whole thing.  I love how horses understand when you are helping them.  So, he was good for the saline rinse but he saw me coming with the camera and hightailed it outside into his turnout.  Silly boy -  You can see his distrust of the camera in this picture.

The donkeys, Tuffy & Finessa, just wanted me to get on with the business of giving them lunch.
I woke up Passage when I went into the feed room.  She was snoozing on her bed of old horse pads.

When I started getting the hay out, Jackson came back into the barn.  He loves hay more than just about anything. 

I checked on the bunnies on my way back to the house. One of the girls and Rocky were in the hutch.  The other girl (Sage? Basil? I can't tell them apart anymore) was on the hutch roof.  I think they are monkey rabbits...
Other than the one tree that fell, the property is holding up well.  You can see that the arena is under water at one end in this picture, but it could be a lot worse.  And it is pretty...  I love the sound of the rain and how fresh everything smells.
Time to go back in the house.  There is a nice deep puddle by the door.  It's perfect for rinsing the mud off of my wellies.
Then I put my gloves by the wood stove to dry, threw on some more wood, and went to look for my lunch.  Christmas cookies?  Toffee?  More coffee? 
Wishing everyone a warm, dry, peaceful day.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Sunny Southern California - Not!

This is craziness, this rain.  We have been getting close to 3 inches per day, yesterday and today (and forcast for tomorrow and Wednesday too).  Our normal rainfall for a year is about 11 inches so we have gotten half of our normal rainfall in two days.  We are not set up for this in Southern California.  Our soil doesn't know how to absorb large amounts of rain so it runs off and causes flooding.  I left work early so I wouldn't have to drive the mountain in the dark.  The freeways were flooded with bits of palm branches scattered here and there and rivers of water where the slow lane is supposed to be.  The road from the freeway to the mountain was under water in spots -- the run off from the mountain was making its way to Lake Elsinore and not taking the storm drain route.  The highway up the mountain wasn't too bad.  There were snow plows out patrolling to clear the rocks and mud.  But the fun really started when I turned down the road leading to our community.  The mountains in which we live are coastal.  To the east is the desert and the lake (which is really a man made resevoir).   To the west is the ocean.  The road to our community hugs the ridge.  At night, you can see the city lights on one side, their reflection twinkling off the lake.  On the other side, if you look at just the right time, you can see the blue of the Pacific through the mountain pass.  Its a beautiful drive.

Tonight, I couldn't see the lake or the ocean.  All I could see was water.  There was so much water on the road that it looked like the surface of the ocean as the wind blew it across the asphalt.  The wind was fierce and my poor little car was buffeted as the gusts screamed over the ridge.  There were rocks and boulders in the mud that flowed across from where the road is cut into the side of the mountain.  There was even a waterfall in one spot.  A waterfall!   My fingers were sore from gripping the wheel when I made it to the gate of our community.

So far, the only casualty on our property is one tree that fell.  The wind is howling around the house and there is the constant sound of rain hitting the windows.  This is a subtropical storm so the snow level is high.  We won't get a white Christmas out of this -- just a huge mess.

Update on Flash

Brett just called me from the equine hospital.  Flash suffered some sort of trauma to his jaw, causing soft tissue damage.  There was some grit inside the wound but no piece of tooth or wood or anything that would give us a clue on how he got injured.  Silly horses! 

It's pouring rain still.  We got just under 3 inches yesterday and it hasn't let up at all.  Brett said it was hard pulling the trailer out with all the mud.  And the drive down the mountain was pretty hairy -- mud flows and rocks across the highway.  I think he will park the trailer on the gravel driveway when he gets home and leave it there until the rain stops.  The trailer parking area is gravel and the driveway is gravel, but the area between the two is dirt ...errr, mud. 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Any educated guesses out there?

This morning we checked Flash's mystery injury.  It was very oozy and tender.  For the first time, he really didn't like me poking around in that area.  He's still perky and eating and otherwise doing fine.  But it is worrisome nonetheless.  Brett called the equine hospital and made an appointment for tomorrow.  He wanted to take Flash down today but it's a $250 emergency fee on Sundays so he is going to wait until tomorrow.  It almost seems like an abscess and we wonder if it is related to the dental work he had done.  On the other hand, there isn't any fever, there wasn't pain (until today), and it started with a break in the skin followed by swelling and then oozing.  I've only dealt with hoof abscesses before and they seem to build with pain and swelling first, then a big stinky messy eruption and blessed relief.  We'll know what the deal is tomorrow but, in the meantime, I'm wondering if any of you have ideas.  Here's a picture -- it's not great.  Flash didn't like the camera - especially when the flash went off in the barn.  I ended up standing outside and getting the picture while he was sticking his head outside.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Kersey Goes Swimming

This morning Brett and I were down at the barn doing our chores.  The dogs were running around, building up an appetite for breakfast, sticking their noses in squirrel holes, and playing in the puddles.  It was raining and cold; not freezing, but a chilly 45 degrees with a steady rain.  Brett was in the barn leaving a message for the vet.  Flash got a scrape on his face a few days ago that almost, but not quite, looked like a puncture wound.  We've been cleaning it with Betadine and watching it.  This morning it was kind of oozy and swollen and almost felt like there was something inside -- maybe a piece of stick that broke off  -- who knows.  He doesn't have a temperature and it isn't tender but we wanted to check in with our vet anyway.  Of course, she isn't working this weekend and the vet that is taking call didn't want to make the drive up here.  So, we're continuing on with washing, watching and waiting.
But, I digress.  Brett was in the barn on the phone and I was in the middle of Kalvin's paddock, with my head down, mucking.  I'm not sure if I heard a splash over the pinging rain on the metal roof of Kalvin's run-in shed, but for some reason I looked up and glanced down to the pond.  The pond is a huge water trough for the horses at the bottom of the pasture.  It's about 10 feet across and a good 3 feet deep.  There are no baby seals that inhabit our pond but that's what it looked like. There was a blond head swimming around and it looked just like a seal.  It took a minute for my brain to register that it was Kersey.  We've taken her out back to the pool a few times and she plays on the top step, batting at leaves.  Once or twice she's fallen (or been pushed) off the top step and she swims back but it's a panicky thing for her.  So, I yelled up to the barn and prepared to sprint down and save our precious puppy.  Before I could take a step, she nonchalantly jumped out, shook, and trotted off with a doggy grin on her face.  We've never had a lab before so this is quite different.  We are used to dogs who tolerate rain and puddles - not ones that jump in the pond in December and go swimming. 

Thursday, December 16, 2010


The dogs raucously race
leaving wet muddy pawprints
all over the place.

The horses rolled and then dried
In the pasture that
has become a slip-n-slide.

Wet hay they trample and crush
leaving behind
heavy green goopy mush.

Our muck boots are mucky;
Our jeans are all wet.
More rain tomorrow
if we are lucky.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Kersey Strikes Again

We woke up to heavy fog and drizzle this morning.  Sometimes living at the top of a mountain range means you are above the clouds and have sunny weather when those below don't.  Other times it means we are sitting smack in the middle of the clouds.  That's us today.  There is rain coming in tonight and it's expected to last through the weekend so Brett and I headed to the barn to ride.  I can't say the idea of riding excited us - it was much cozier in the house by the fire - but we wanted to work the horses before the rain hits.
But, there was a problem.  Brett couldn't find Flash's body brush.  Brett rinses the brush every time he uses it and then leaves it on the stump by the wash racks to dry.  It was gone.  Gone, gone, gone.  We knew who took it -- Kersey, our 4 month old yellow lab - has stolen body brushes before.  If you forget and leave the tack room door ajar, she will sneak in and grab one out of the nearest tack box.  Then she runs around completely and willfully forgetting the command "come" or "drop it."  I'm not sure if it is the smell or the taste, but she loves a body brush.  And you can't get angry at a face like this:
We did find the brush, laying in the dirt, next to the arena.  Poor Brett, he loves more than any of us to keep his stuff clean.  I think she must know that.  She seems to always take his.  Don't tell.... I think it's funny.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Training Log: bareback

Tuesdays are bareback days.  I don't have time before work to do the whole groom, tack up, ice down, etc. routine.  So, after I finish with the barn chores I just throw a bridle on Jackson and head to the arena.  He's often dirty but I'm in my jeans and tennis shoes so I don't care. 

Why I love riding bareback:
  • It reminds me of my youth.  I never rode with a saddle then -- just hopped on the back of the horse I borrowed and went off into the hills.  When I slide on Jackson's back, I immediately lose 30+ years.
  • It's fast and easy.  No bareback pad, no leg wraps, no nothin'. 
  • I can really feel the swing in his back with my seat bones.  If I keep my hips lose, my legs are flung around a bit at trot with the movement.  That's good!  It means my hips are lose and I'm not gripping. 
  • I can't cheat on balance.  To stay centered and effective without gripping, I have to be balanced.  The minute I lose balance, I hang on the reins.  I only lost my balance once today for a nano-second.  :)
  • It builds my core strength.  Abs on, back on, reaching for the sky through my torso... it's all good.
  • Bonding.  I feel more at one with Jackson when I'm bareback.  I sit deeper, I can feel myself moving with him, we are one in a way we aren't under saddle. 
Today, there were a couple crows in the orchard eating the rotton apples that have fallen.  I watched them while we were warming up.  They would stab the apple with their beak and then fly onto a boulder to eat it.  The apples were bigger than their heads so it looked pretty funny.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Monday, End of Day

The iron ranch gate slides open,
The steep twisting mountain climb is behind us,
The crawling congested commute far below.

I glide down narrow roads
bordered by bridle paths and heavy hoof prints;
Soft golden light spills from distant windows
into the frost kissed night.
Gravel and dry leaves crunch beneath my tires
as the dogs run the fence in greeting.

A glass of red wine waits by the flames
of the creaking cracking wood stove.
Warm strong arms wrap around and hold me
in a welcome home hug.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Summer in December

Today is gorgeous.  We have a day of summer in December -- teeshirts for us, baths for the horses, naps for the dogs.  Tomorrow is supposed to warm as well and then it starts cooling off with rain expected by the weekend.  Camille took this picture of the dogs on the patio.

Brett and I rode together after breakfast, starting out with a walk on the bridle paths.  We went around the block which is about 20 minutes if you march.  I was able to keep Jackson on the buckle the entire time and he had happy forward energy.  The arena work was hit and miss.  His trot work was very consistent and supple.  He did great with his leg yields: bent around my leg but straight in his neck, leading ever so slightly with his shoulders, crossing, and not losing forward.  Good boy!  In canter, he struggled to get the correct lead.  It seemed to be an anticipation problem so I tried giving a strong half halt as I asked and that helped a lot.  I could feel him click his brain back on and then get it right.  Overall, it was a successful ride.

After Jackson was clean and dry and put away, I went back to the house to help Camille make toffee for her chemistry class.  I spilled sugar on the stove and Camille dribbled sugar water on the floor but other than that we did pretty well.  Brett decided to get out the shop vac and clean the tack room.  He came up to the house with blood dripping from his forearm.   That man cuts himself open all the time.  I covered the cut with a non stick pad and wrapped it up with vet wrap.  He said he cut it on the key in the tack room door but couldn't explain how beyond that.

I have to go down the mountain after the kids clean out the rabbit area.  The kids are going to their dad's house and I need to make a quick stop at the mall (ugh).  I hate to leave on days like this.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Training Log: schooling day

I wasn't sure about riding Jackson today.   He's been squirty in the bowels and sore in the jaw.  We buy hay once a month.  We don't have room to store more than that and it is so darned expensive here ($23 per square bale for orchard grass hay) that we get it in bits throughout the year.  Jackson has a sensitive tummy so if the hay changes from month to month in terms of quality it takes him a few days to adjust.  This batch was definitely different -- good, just different -- so he was doing the cow plop thing instead of nice and neat balls of green.  Then he had his teeth done and, well, I'll save you the description.  Let's just say I've been washing his tail and hind legs every day. 
So, I debated riding.  Sometimes, work improves his gut and he was looking at me over the pasture fence with a "lets go" look on his face so I tacked him up and off we went.  He was awesome!  He took the bit readily.  He was very light, obedient and accepting of the contact.  AND, he was balanced and happy happy happy.  Me too.  We did a lot of trot and canter work.  I wanted it to be fun for him since he's had a crummy few days and it ended up being fun for both of us.  I couldn't believe how little leg I needed in the canter.  He wasn't falling in or out hardly at all.  He was pretty darn straight.  ....and, get this, my boot zipper stayed up!!!  I think he must have been really uncomfortable in his mouth and that was translating to resistance and, somehow, his balance. 

Friday, December 10, 2010

Krazy Kalvin

I haven't posted before about Kalvin Kline, a Swedish WB, who is boarded here.  Kalvin came from the barn of the trainer who worked with me and my Friesian, Auke.  We don't train with her anymore but it was an amicable split and Brett still trailers her clients to shows from time to time.  She called us at the end of the summer and said there was a horse at the barn who had injured his front foot and needed a year of pasture rest.  He needed enough room to walk around but not so much that he would do more than walk.  We have a small paddock that she thought might work.  One thing led to another and at the end of August, Kalvin arrived.  Kalvin had just started Prix St George work with his young rider and he floated into his paddock.  He doesn't walk or trot like regular horses.  His walk is like the one you get after good work -- I call it the panther walk.  That's Kalvin's normal walk.  And he doesn't trot.  He floats.  I'm sure his feet must touch the ground but it sure doesn't look like it.  He's big and bay and sweet.  He supervises us when we muck his area and once in awhile he tries to make a jail break out into the bigger pasture.  But, in general he just hangs out and trades wither scratches with Jackson over the pipe corral.  When he is insecure, he calls for Flash and Flash walks over and stands near his paddock.  They don't touch -- none of that fussy, affectionate stuff for Flash.  When we work in the arena or go on the trail, Kalvin will nicker to us as we leave or come back but is otherwise unconcerned.

Today, Brett and I decided not to ride because Flash and Jackson are still a little sore from their dental work.  It seemed kinda mean to stick a bit in their mouth when they are sore just eating hay.  So, instead we let them graze on the winter grass that has already sprung up with the fall rains.  We were still on the property in plain view of Kalvin.  So it wasn't separation anxiety.  It had to be pure envy.  He went NUTS.  He was screaming and cantering around his area, farting and tossing his head.  I think there were a couple pirouettes thrown in for good measure.  His owner is coming up to visit him this weekend.  She usually gives him a bath and does some ground work in the arena.  I'm going to strongly suggest that she also hand graze him -- he clearly was dying for some green grass.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Pearly Whites

Okay, okay.  Horses' teeth are not pearly white.  They're definitely yellow.  I haven't seen equine whitening toothpaste at the tack store yet.  Which is not to say I won't see it one of these days.  This is California after all...  But the vet specializing in dentistry was out this morning to work on Flash and Jackson.  This was Jackson's first full on dentistry appointment.  I had our regular vet float him a year ago but hadn't gotten to this yet.  He had a bit of TMJ and his front teeth were really long, hindering his ability to chew.  He had a few pointy molars and some sugar deposits (looks like burnt caramel) from carrots getting stuck around his teeth.  He is also asymmetrical in his mouth which means he is asymmetrical in his body too.  I can't say I was surprised since he is extremely one sided - more than any other horse I've worked with.  I asked about bit seats.  After reading a blog recently that questioned their necessity (since the bit sits on the bars, not the teeth), I wondered too.  The vet said "bit seat" is a bad name since it isn't for the bit.  Basically, he very lightly rounds the shape of the tooth so it is more comfortable for the tongue.  Well, I'm all for comfort.  Bring it on! 
Flash didn't need as much work since he has had pretty regular dentist appointments.  They are both in their stalls now, kinda drunk on the sedative.  Their jaws will be sore for a few days so they got a shot for pain and we'll give them some bute tomorrow.  I think we'll soak their pellets and make them a vitamin mash for breakfast tomorrow morning.  No carrots for a couple days since they are hard and a bit painful for the jaw. 
The dentist arrived pulling his exam room behind his truck.  Pretty slick!  Here is flash getting the finishing touches on his teeth:

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Training Log: Schooling & Hacking Out

Yesterday, I schooled Jackson in the arena after a 10 minute warm up on the bridle paths.  We worked our way through everything identified in my last lesson.  Jackson only tensed up twice and using turns on the forehand worked well both times.  In fact, the second time we were at trot when he started hoping for canter and got high-headed.  I brought him to halt and as soon as I put my leg on for the turn on the f/h, he went "Oh.  Oops." and gave immediately.  He bent nicely in the corners without losing impulsion and we were straight coming out.  I noticed that my boot zipper only comes down on the right boot and it only happens with canter work.  I'm sure this is because he is unbalanced on the right lead canter so it requires pretty strong leg support from me.  This is no excuse for the zipper coming down, of course.  I should be able to give a strong steady aid with my leg rolled on correctly.  I read an article in Dressage Today a long time ago by Courtney King-Dye (before her accident) and she said that she picks a letter in the arena and every time she passes it, she checks in with her leg position.  I'm trying to do the same.  I check my leg at F for Fail.  Hopefully someday it will be F for Fantastic. 

Today, Brett and I were going to work in the arena together but when we started down the back driveway it was just too beautiful to think about arena work.
So, we rode around our community on the bridle paths for about an hour.  The horses were happy, the sun was warm, and the sunlight danced in the cottonwoods.  I had Jackson work on keeping his back up while marching forward into the contact but I don't think he realized he was working.  When we got back, I washed Jackson's tail and we turned them out for lunch.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Mirror, Mirror

Kate, who writes the blog "A Year with Horses" , posted a very thought provoking piece about horses and how they do or don't reflect the personality of their owners.  I've been discussing this with myself most of the day and have come up with the following.

Mr. Mike was my first horse.  He was a 13 yo OTTB.  We were still  living in suburbia when I bought him.  I was taking lessons at a schooling barn so I could learn to ride correctly.  I had access to a horse when I was a teenager but mostly I rode her bareback, racing my best friend and jumping logs.  I knew how to stay on and not much else.  Mr. Mike was thin and out of shape when I purchased him in 2000.  He was a horrible fit.  He was aggressive, bordering on mean -- okay, he was mean without borders.  I got dumped, cracked a helmet, and he tried to kick me while I was on the ground... you get the picture.  I traded him after two years for a little Paint horse named Starman.  I was desperate to get rid of him.  I think he was an aspiration horse.  I thought I wanted to jump.  I thought I wanted a hot horse.  I was so wrong.  I was so not 16 anymore.

Starman lived in the stall next to Mr. Mike.  He was a lesson horse but he hated it.  He wanted to belong to someone.  He tried to intimidate the students and was successful, even though he was only 15h.  But, we liked each other and I started bringing him treats when I went to the barn.  When our trainer offered a swap I took it even though I thought I looked dumb on such a little horse.  I had lost all my confidence and for the first time in my life I was scared to ride.  Starman, being short, was not scary.  Plus he was fat and out of shape and couldn't even canter.  He was safe.  We finished building our house that year (2002) and moved Starman and Flash up to the new barn.  Starman tried to learn dressage - but he had been a western show pony in his youth so he never did more than jog the pattern.  Here we are at our first show -- first for both of us:
Starman wasn't very brave and he was opinionated.  Either he liked you or he didn't and he never changed his mind.  He loved me and he gave me all his heart and all his try.  He had a wonderful rocking horse canter.  Starman also loved my daughter.  When he became too arthritic to carry me comfortably, I gave him to her.  She would ride him once in awhile but mostly they just hung out together.  This is my favorite picture of them:
We lost Starman in March of this year.  I still miss him.  We were both grumpy and opinionated and fiercely loyal to those we love.

In 2004, I bought another aspiration horse.  I had regained my confidence, thanks to Starman, and I wanted to be a dressage queen.  Brett and I found a 4 yo Friesian that we had to have.  Auke was tall, with beautiful conformation, a puppy dog face, perfect gaits and natural rhythm.  But we were not compatible.  He was an extrovert who thrived on attention.  He was arrogant, proud, alpha (but not mean) and demanded perfection from his rider.  With my trainer, he was poetry in motion.  With me, he was total frustration.  I learned a lot and I don't regret the five years spent with him.   It was also difficult to take him on the trail.  He would spook at little pebbles or lines in the dirt.  He would piaffe if I tried to hold him back...  it was a lot of work and not much fun.

In 2009, I put him in full training at my trainer's barn.  He excelled but it was doggone expensive.  I ended up selling him to a young rider in Nebraska with tons of talent and FEI dreams.  I hope he takes her there.

While Auke was in training, I decided to look for a trail horse.  I missed trail riding with Brett and it was clear that Auke wasn't coming home.  He was too talented to be hanging out up in the mountains with us.  I found Jackson and fell in love with his soft eye and goofy expression.  When I brought him home, he met all my expectations for a trail horse.  I can take him anywhere:
I started playing with him in the arena, trying to teach him some basic aids.  He loved it.  He tried his heart out and when I asked him to do something he didn't know, he threw me everything in his book trying to find the answer.  He made me laugh and I realized that he was all I needed.  I didn't need a big fancy Friesian to do dressage.  I could teach Jackson and we would have fun.  Jackson is my once-in-a-lifetime horse.  If he is treated with respect and compassion, he will try anything.  He is honest.  He never quits.  He loves to be pampered.  Neither of us likes to be cold.  We're both level headed and quiet.  We don't like being the center of attention, but we have high expectations of ourselves.  Like me, he gets cranky and tense if he doesn't understand something and we are both excessively pleased with ourselves when we get it right.

And last, but certainly not least, is Brett's horse Flash.  I bought Flash for Brett in 2002 and they have been inseparable since.  I asked Brett to tell me the ways in which they are similar.  He said they are both bullies and they are both belligerent.  Those aren't the traits I was going to highlight, but it is true.  They are also both playful and they both get bored easily.  All the sensory training that they do for mounted patrol suits both of them.  They are co-dependent in some ways as well.  Until recently, they leaned on each other during dressage training.  Brett has learned to be lighter in his hands and Flash has stopped hanging on the reins and falling on his forehand.  They do still mess with each other though.  Flash is aloof and likes to be left alone.  Brett goes into his stall or the pasture and cleans off eye goobers or whatnot.  It annoys the heck out of Flash.  He gets even though.  When Brett works on projects in the pasture, Flash takes the keys out of the tractor ignition or steals tools.  Just last week, he dropped Brett's hammer into the pond.
What has been your experience with the horses in your life?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Jackson aka Houdini

Last night we had rain and this morning was still overcast with the forecast calling for possible morning showers and patchy sun in the afternoon.  It was supposed to stay relatively cool all day - in the low 50s.  Both Brett and I had leave early for work this morning.  I made up their vitamin buckets last night and Brett got up at 4:30 this morning to feed.  I asked him to take off Jackson's outer waterproof shell and just leave on the fleece liner.  I really love this fleece liner.  I got it about a week ago to alternate with a cotton one when the nights are cold but above freezing.  It's royal blue with a belly wrap: the fleece wraps around his belly and then attaches with velcro straps up and across his back.  No belly drafts!  And the color looks really sharp against his grey coat.  Brett, being the sweet husband that he is, did all the feeding this am so I could sleep until 5:30 and just roll out of bed and into my work clothes and out the door.  I am not at all functional in the mornings.  I don't talk, I don't walk very well, and I don't think.  This is one of the reasons I am addicted to coffee.  Its probably also why it is good Brett did the early chores.  Who knows what I'd do -- feed the horses chicken feed or something.

When I got home tonight (left in the dark and got back home well after dark - I hate Mondays), Brett told me that when he got home and went down to feed in the late afternoon he found Jackson without his liner.  It was all wadded up in the mud in his turnout.  And it didn't look like he had undone any of it.  Brett didn't have time to check it for tears so I'll dig it out of the horse laundry in the morning and see if I can figure out how he escaped.  sigh.  I just hope it isn't ripped.  One whole week of use.  Heavy sigh.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Fromage et Vin

Today was my French club meeting.  We met in Old Town at a cheese and wine shop.  I ordered a wonderful selection of four cheeses - a stinky, a runny, a nutty and a smooth.  Ummmmmm.  And a glass of zinfandel to wash it down.  It also helps my French.  I can blabber away to Jackson or the dogs in French and they think I'm fluent.  I'm a little self-conscious in class although my tutor is very encouraging and says I'm doing great (we pay them to say that, right?).  But in a group I freeze up.  My face gets hot, my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth and my vocabulary flies out the window.  I'd much rather sit and listen to everyone else chat and try to follow the conversation.  Today two women who were in town to do some wine tasting overheard us talking.  They are trying to learn French and recognized the language and so we invited them to join us.  I loved it - I wasn't the only one stumbling over my words and grammar anymore.

Brett was called into work so I had to dash home to do barn chores before dark.  Halfway home it started to rain.  So, I pulled into the garage and changed from my social jeans (clean) to my barn jeans (horse snot, puppy paws) and brought the horses in.  The donkeys were already huddled in the barn.  Jackson was pleased as punch to get his blanket and a couple flakes of hay.  Flash took one look at his blanket and high-tailed it back outside.  He made me trudge down to the middle of the pasture and put it on there.  And I swear he was laughing at me.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Training Log: Lesson

Jackson and I had an excellent lesson today.  We started lateral work so we are progressing!  Yippee!!  Which isn't to say that there aren't lots and lots of things for us to work on...

Lessons learned and homework:
1. Going sideways away from my inside leg isn't the best way to get Jackson's brain and bend back when he resists.  Gayle had me stop and immediately do turns on the forehand, to the right, when he locks up.  This helps Jackson unlock --and it helps me keep my eyes up.  I was doing my usual eyes on the ground (bad bad girl) thing and I got VERY dizzy VERY fast since we had to turn around quite a few time before he gave.  So, he learned to come back to me and I learned to keep my eyes up.
2.  When working on straight lines, keep my right leg a tad heavier against his side than my left.  This keeps him straight instead of falling in/out - whichever way right happens to be.
3. Corners: start to bend him a few strides before the corner, hands quiet with steady contact, tempo quick, straighten before leaving the turn.  Jackson wants to slow down and be careful in the corner, I want to throw the reins away coming out.  Such a pair we are!
4.  Then the fun stuff.  I haven't done any lateral work with Jackson before.  When I got him he couldn't even walk in a straight line much less cross his legs.  And then he injured his hock so that set us back about six months.  So, today Gayle had us start working on leg yield from center line and from the quarter line.  Jackson does well if I get him straight and relaxed first.  If he anticipates, he worries, and then he gets tense and we have to do more turns on the forehand.  So, if I get him straight, keep my hands quiet, ask with only my leg and a squeeze on the outside rein, and make sure he leads with his shoulder, he steps right on over.  

So, it was a very productive lesson and I had quite a few moments where Jackson felt light and uphill and nicely connected -- and carrying himself.  You know, those nano-seconds where it all clicks together and you grin from ear to ear because you're about to bust with happiness.

Oh, and the zipper on my right boot was halfway down after the lesson.  Rats!


To Carol, Shannon and WilsonC -- thanks for joining my blog! 

Friday, December 3, 2010

Training Log: Schooling

We are having friends over for dinner tonight so I've been chained to the kitchen.  I only had time for a short ride between working on the main dish and the sides.  Sometimes, the short rides are the most effective.  If my time is limited I am more focused - especially when I have a lesson scheduled for the next day.  I was much better at riding every stride and catching Jackson in the moment when he started to drop his back, or lose his bend, or lose impulsion.  I wasn't as stellar at keeping an eye on myself.  I have a tendency to grip with my knees when we canter and I don't keep my thighs rolled on - I'd prefer to toe out like a western gal.  I did manage to keep my elbows in during the canter transitions.  I'm part chicken.  My elbows want to flap around like chicken wings in the depart.  So, I was good with that today but when I finished my tall boots were half way unzipped.  That's a sure sign I wasn't rolled on correctly and I was gripping.  Rats!  One of my goals is to finish a schooling session and have the zipper all the way up still.  Jackson was much better with the ice boots.  I put them on him as soon as we got to the tie rail.  So he wore them while I took off his tack and groomed him and gave him his apple.  He didn't try to kick them off this time -- he just stood with his back legs spread.  It looked like the dressage police had come up behind him and said "Spread 'em!"  After five minutes he got up the courage to put his legs back together.  I must say he is the most entertaining horse I've ever had!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Pathetic Pleasures

Yesterday afternoon I decided to prune the apricot tree.  This was after helping Brett stack a cord of wood early that morning and then riding Jackson mid day.  The tree had been driving me nuts with its long arms of growth shooting everywhere.  It's still young so it is an exuberant grower.  But its also large enough to take over its section of the orchard.  I started by pruning out the obvious limbs: those that were growing towards the ground or were shooting straight out like Gumby arms.  Then I stood back and worked on shortening the one year old growth that will bear fruit next year and then cleaning out the excess interior branches.  Decisions, decisions: which to keep, which to prune away.  Some of the limbs were thick and high.  I had to crawl under the tree, look up and find a spot where I could stand without getting poked in the eye, wiggle to standing and then position the loppers on the selected wayward limb.  Over and over and over again.  At one point, I was walking backwards while looking at the tree to find my next point of entry when I tripped over one of the many branches on the ground.  I started to fall, tried to catch myself, decided that was too difficult and that being on the ground might be nice.   So, I sat amongst the leaves and twigs and gave the puppy belly rubs with my aching arms.  Just about then the UPS truck pulled in with a delivery of horse vitamins.  I called out to him to just leave the box anywhere because I was too tired to get up.  He looked a bit alarmed at first but then laughed.  He left the box on the driveway and drove off after I called the puppy back to me; she was trying to climb into his truck.  

After finishing the pruning and cleaning up all the branches I headed down to the barn to feed.  Normally, Brett would pick up the branches for me because he likes them cut to a uniform length so they fit in the dumpster perfectly.  But, he was down the mountain and not due back until after dark so I just smashed them in as best I could.  Halfway through mucking I started thinking about how good a bath would feel.  I'm not a big bath person but the idea of standing in the shower sounded too difficult.  I was tired of standing.  Every muscle, every bone, every fiber of my body hurt.  So, I finished up the barn chores and headed straight for the tub.  I ran it hot and dumped in a bag of mineral salts.  As I sank into the water I heard moans and realized they were coming from me.  In my younger days, the moans would have meant I was in the midst of an amorous tryste with Brett.  Now a bath sends me over the edge.  I'm definitely getting old.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Training Log: schooling day

I hadn't ridden Jackson in almost two weeks between the rain and Thanksgiving so I wasn't sure how it would go today.  We did our 10 minute warm up on a loose rein on the bridle path and then another 10 minutes in the arena at walk.  He was better than I expected after the time off.  He accepted the contact, bent around my leg, and lifted his back.  We didn't have to spend any extra time before moving onto trot work.  He had his usual temper tantrum after a couple 20m circles.  He figures he is bending and lifting and its time to canter.  So, he forgets about the contact and gets stiff and resistant.  We had a couple episodes of leg yielding across the arena until he got his brain back.  He doesn't do submissive all that well.  He's a lot like me.  The canter work was decent.  He's getting better at picking up the correct lead.  He still needs a strong right rein or he gets unbalanced but all in all we were pretty much in the same place as last time I rode.  We finished up with some  transition work: halt walk trot walk halt.  Repeat.  I'm trying to get to halt trot halt.

After we worked, I washed his tail and put him in his stall with ice boots.  They just came in the mail and were recommended by Horse Journal (which I love) for good fit on the hocks.  He had a fit.  But he had a fit the first time I put wraps on his legs and the first time he wore shipping boots too.  He stood in his stall and tried to kick the ice boots off.  He got them to slide down a bit and so I readjusted them.  Then he backed up against the side of the stall and started kicking the wall.  Great.  Re-injure your hock why don't you ding dong.  I ended up putting on his halter so I could correct him when he kicked.  The last five minutes were relatively peaceful.  I took off the boots and turned him out with Flash.  He didn't seem any worse for the temper tantrum.