Tuesday, January 31, 2012

All Together Now

When we finished our trail ride Sunday, it was just about noon.  The sun was high and Winston had sweated just enough to be itchy.  As I headed out to put him back in his paddock, I thought that he really deserved to be able to roll in the nice sandy part of the pasture.  So, I put him in the pasture with Jackson and Flash.  Kalvin doesn't play nice so he was safely in the barn.  We moved Kalvin out to the paddock that evening, which is where he lived the first year he was here at Aspen Meadows.  He will stay there until he stops charging Winston.

Flash and Jackson didn't care at all about Winston joining them in the pastrue.  They were probably thinking "Finally!"  Flash was too busy rolling to pay attention to Winston -- who thought rolling looked like an excellent idea.

There's nothing like a good roll after a trail ride.  In response to a couple comments on yesterday's post:  Yes, I am VERY fortunate to have Brett and Flash.  There is no way I would have attempted the trail ride without them.  Flash definitely gave Winston courage and security.  Winston and I led for part of the way back, but when he got insecure Flash marched confidently into the lead and Winston just chugged along after him.  Michaele said she thought I was brave... well, maybe.  If brave means going out and doing something even when you are a bit apprehensive.  I knew Winston has a good brain.  I had experienced a spook on him already.  I kind of knew what to expect but you never know for sure.  I knew the ride would be work -- it will be awhile before it is pure relaxed pleasure.  Trail riding with Brett is my favorite date with him so it is important to me to make sure we are successful.  I don't think there is anything more romantic than being out in the middle of the wilderness, with the love of your life, on horseback.  It just doesn't get any better than that (for me).

After rolling, the horses took up their postions by the feed tubs while Brett brought in the hay.  Winston didn't know where his assigned seat was.  Flash helped explain...
Flash: Your assigned hay bin is which ever one I'm not using

Brett arrived with the hay cart and put out lunch.  Feeding went off without a hitch.  I'm not sure what was so fascinating about Flash's tail but Tuffy sure seemed interested.
The pasture dynamics seem to be well established already.  Winston looked to Flash for leadership and direction on our trail ride.  He's happily accepted that Flash is alpha over him.  It will be interesting to see if Winston and Jackson become pasture buddies.  I hope so.

Monday, January 30, 2012

First Trail Ride

Sunday morning dawned clear, sunny and warm.  We decided to take Winston on his first trail ride.  I chose the ridge trail because it is short (an hour roundtrip) but has quite a bit of hill work.  Looking out over the pasture, you can see the ridge in the distance.  The trail follows that ridge line and then drops away from our community toward the coast.  The entire trail loop is very steep and very long so we just go out part way and then come back.  It's not a trail that Jackson could handle, with his bad feet, on his best days because it is very rocky at some points.

I rode in my dressage saddle because I am not sure that Winston has ever had a western saddle on his back and also because I feel more secure in the dressage saddle.  I can feel exactly what Winston is thinking and be proactive in working with him if he gets nervous.  Our neighbor was out on his tractor grading the bridle path on his side of the street.  I hopped on Winston and went into the arena to gauge his reaction to the tractor.  He could have cared less, so we headed out to the trail.

Brett carried the camera because I knew I was going to have my hands full with Winston.  Brett gets credit for all the trail pictures.  Winston was nervous but brave and he never spooked.  We rode on the bridle trails to get to the wilderness trail head and he was forward and a bit prancy but not naughty or scared.  He's a long way from being able to go on the buckle on the trail, but I know he'll get there.  Everytime he relaxed, I gave.  Today, he didn't really want that -- he was looking for security from me and he found it in the contact.  Having Flash with us was worth a million bucks.  Flash just walked along, calmly, regardless of how much head tossing and hopping was occurring behind him.

A group of guys in our community have done a great job of maintaining the trail

Getting Winston to hold still long enough for a picture was a challenge.

He did this lip curling, head bobbing thing most of the way back

We did have moments of relaxation

But, most of the time we looked like this
The bridle paths in our community are really just wide, dirt shoulders next to the ranch roads. 

Winston was fine with trash cans, dogs and gardeners.
When we got home, poor Flash couldn't wait to get his tack off before peeing.  He must have had to go badly, he never pees at the tie rail. 

All in all, I'm very pleased with our first trail ride.  I think Winston will be a great trail horse once he gets some miles under his belt.  He's brave and he's smart.  Despite being a bit nervous, he was enjoying himself.  Who knows, some day we may even do the entire ridge trail!  Wouldn't that be an accomplishment!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sunday Stills: Nature's Frames

The challenge for this week was to find photos that are framed by nature.  I enjoyed this challenge and looking for frames.  For other examples, click on the Sunday Stills icon on my sidebar.

Aloe flower framed by the plant's spiky leaves

Agave plant framed by two boulders

Grass framed by a boulder

This was my favorite frame so I had to move in closer

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Winston Gets a Poem

I don't often link between my two blogs, but today I posted a poem using Winston as a symbol.  The challenge was to come up with a theme and then use non-traditional symbols to convey that feeling.  I chose to write about confidence and I used Winston as one of my symbols.  Does it work?  Hoofprints in My Garden

I was asked for the recipe for my lime cilantro salad dressing.  Unfortunately, I just threw it together - no recipe - but the ingredients were: juice of lime, apple cider vinegar, chopped cilantro, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper.

And, lastly I need to thank Gotta Love the Farm for the Liebster award I received last week.  I had a total brain fail and couldn't remember the blog who awarded me.  Thank you!  She has goats and horses -- and a three year old.  Busy!!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Being Brave with a Breeze

Today was supposed to be sunny and warm.  Instead we woke to overcast, windy and cold.  I had been counting on a warm calm day for my second ride on Winston.  The horses were all wound up at breakfast time so I was apprehensive about riding.

After breakfast, I had my French lesson.  Isn't the internet a wonderful thing?  My tutor lives in the midwest but we Skype a lesson once a week.  She sends me Word documents to complete/discuss in our class and videos to watch.  It just amazes me -- how convenient and how effective it is to take a French class this way.

Then I logged into work and spent the rest of the day in front of the computer.  I also made bread -- so easy to do when you are trapped in the house anyway.  We had it for dinner tonight -- my favorite crusty Italian bread -- with an Ahi salad.

lettuce, apples, fennel, dried cranberries -- added sliced seared Ahi on top after tossing.

lime cilantro dressing

The sun did finally come out mid-afternoon but the breeze never stopped and it never got very warm.  I took a deep breath and went down to the barn to ride my horse.  This was our second ride at home.  After tacking him up, I lunged him for a few minutes to gauge his frisky factor.  He was perfectly well behaved so I ditched the longe line and got on.

What a fun horse.  He is so different from Jackson who was a blast, but in a different way.  Riding Jackson was like going to lunch with your best friend.  We laughed and laughed and talked constantly.  Jackson struggled with being straight but he tried hard to please.  When he couldn't do something, he would come up with a work around that was creatively hysterical.  I laughed a lot when I rode Jackson.  He wasn't sound enough to ever progress past very basic stuff but I didn't care.  We were all about relationship.

Winston likes to work.  He is strong and straight and balanced.  He wants to make me happy but, even more, he wants to do it right.  He doesn't understand half-halts and gets strong when he is frustrated, but he never gets mean or loses his brain.  He didn't get silly at all in the wind.  We worked mostly on transitions in and out of trot.  I decided to try canter despite the breeze and the yah-hoo it can inspire.  I took a deep breath and asked.... I got a transition that was smooth as silk.  And his canter was amazing.  Jackson struggled to get the correct lead (probably a painful feet issue) and then he would race around with his head in the air like a giraffe.  Winston was like shifting gears in a sports car.  He smoothly and effortlessly cantered in a controlled and balanced, yet powerful, way.  I asked him to lift his back and it was like one of those arched Japaneses bridges magically appeared under my seat.  It was not subtle.  My butt was lifted up, up and away.  ...I almost started to cry; I was so happy.

He is going to be so amazing when he grows up!  And we are going to have so much fun getting there.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Why We Went Solar

When we built our home ten years ago, I asked our builder about installing solar for our electricity needs.  He poo-pooed that idea and did his best to make me feel like an ignorant California greenie fruitcake.  I dropped it.  I wanted the house built more than I wanted solar.  I always regretted not standing my ground and insisting on solar.  It just seemed to make sense from, yes, a green standpoint but also because we live in on the edge of the desert in sunny Southern California. 

Fast forward to last summer.  Solar panels started popping up on roof tops all over our community.  When I had researched solar energy in the past, the cost had been prohibitive.  We certainly didn't have $30,000 laying around for that.  But, with all the rebates and credits available it was suddenly affordable. 

I talked to some of our neighbors who had made the switch.  They were almost giddy with pleasure at watching their electricity gauge run BACKWARDS.   They said the rebates covered their upfront costs.  So, I took a survey to measure our usage against the cost and it penciled out to be a wash -- or slightly better. 

Our regular electricity bill has averaged $170 per month.  We hardly ever use our air conditioner and are relatively frugal with our appliances and lights and such.  However, we have one of these:

We use solar to heat the pool, but it still requires a lot of electricity to run the pump.  And, we have one of these:

This is our "pond."  It is a huge stock tank filled with water and a smattering of goldfish.  It is the water source for the horses and donkeys.  To keep the water sparkling clean, it has a very strong pump, large filter, and UV clarifier to zap all the nasty bacteria.  All that equipment runs 24/7.   The horses love the water.
Winston: This hotel has great food and water.  I hope I get to stay a long time.

Jackson: It's the Hotel California.  You can check out but you can never leave.
Me: Jackson!  Don't go freaking the poor boy out.  Go away and take a mud bath or something.

Are you done taking pictures?  It's dinner time for Pete's sake!
 There are a number of ways to structure solar installation and maintenance.  You can buy it outright and go completely off the grid or do what we did.  We generate electricity from our system whenever the sun shines.  Any excess not used by us, we sell back to the electric company.  We buy electricity for the dark and rainy hours from the electric company and we get a "net" bill from them each month.  We should net close to zero.  Maybe a credit some months, maybe a $5 payment others.  We will be making payments on the solar system for fifteen years at $150 per month.  That price includes maintenance and repair of the system.  If we sell the house, the payments go to the buyer.  Of course, we have no intention of doing that but in case you wondered, now you know. 

At the end of the day, my electricity bill is pretty much the same.  But instead of buying electricity, I'm making payments on a green energy source.  Our down payment was our rebate money.  So, no up front cost to us at all. 

I'll leave you with tonight's sunset which is typical of what we see.  We don't get much "weather"; no clouds to catch the sun's rays and bounce them around the sky in a spectacular show of color.  In fact, if we get an orange sky we immediately think "Fire!!" 

Not that I'm complaining.  It was 70F today -- not bad for January.  (and not typical but I'll take it -- and all the electricity we made).

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

So Far, So Good

Today dawned sunny and breezy which is a great improvement over the past few days which have been wet and windy.  The pasture still has big patches of mud which are, apparently, irresistible.

I see a bath in Jackson's very near future. 

Liz, our body work/saddle fit/acupressure/massage/nutritionist, came up this morning to evaluate Winston.  We took him into the arena so she could watch him walk and then we stayed there for the workup.  It was comfortable in the sun but the wind was blowing and it was cold in the barn.  We opted for working where it was warm.  Winston wasn't sure about the whole poking and prodding thing but he quickly caught on and started leaning into the massage.

Liz didn't find anything significant.  He had some soreness here and there, consistent with his work as a jumper.  She declared him very cute with a three year old butt.  He's a bit croup high at this point with some growing still to do.  After she finished working on him, we pulled out my saddle so she could evaluate the fit.  Winston wasn't thrilled to see the saddle but didn't give me a hard time about setting it on his back.  I think he just wanted a nap after his massage.

The saddle fits him fine.  Phew!  I'll need to have it adjusted every six months or so as he grows and changes, but it is wide enough that it should work for the long haul. 

I walked Winston around a bit when Liz finished and then we posed for pictures.  The wind was blowing my hair every-which-way so I look kind of frightening but Winston looks mighty handsome so just focus on him. 

Check out his new halter.  It's perfect, I think.  It's amazing how much I've bonded with this horse in just a week.  We have a great partnership ahead of us.  I can feel it.  I'm glad I went with my gut and the instant click I felt when I first met Winston.  It's just getting stronger each day. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Award Time

I was recently awarded with this award for blogs with fewer than 200 followers.

As a recipient of this award, I am obligated to recognize five blogs who meet the criteria of under 200 followers.  Trés difficile!  Most, but not all, of the blogs I follow and enjoy have fewer than 200 followers.  I subscribe to somewhere in the neighborhood of a hundred and there are probably 25-30 that are particular favorites.  So, how do I get that list down to five??!  Can I cheat and list ten?

In no particular order, here are my recommendations.

The Adventures of Crispy Creme is a new blog.  There are only a few followers so far; she has yet to be discovered.  This blog records the progress of a young girl and her horse, Crispy Creme, in dressage.  She boards him at a Lipizzan facility (he is a Lipizzan cross) so there are gorgeous photos of the horses there as well.  I hope she sticks with her blog -- check her out and give her encouragement.  We need more dressage bloggers!

A Mouse in France is written by a woman who lives in England, but her heart is in France.  I suppose I feel a kinship with her on that front.  She has a lovely home in France that she is slowly fixing up.  She writes with honesty and integrity and introspection.  It's not about horses, or food, or goats but it speaks to me.

A Little African Magic is written by Liesl in South Africa.  Most recently, she's been blogging about her daughter's pet warthog (he's so cute!  Really!) and there are some spectacular pictures of rescue from the recent floods.  Look at that post for sure -- amazing shots of heroism.

Beautiful Mustang is written by Linda about training her beautiful mustangs - Beautiful Girl and Cowboy.  She has struggled with some mysterious head shaking by Cowboy and shares/understands the whole heart horse thing I have with Jackson.  Her comments have been wonderfully supportive even though our disciplines are much different.  She's an excellent horsewoman for whom I have a great deal of respect.

Calm, Forward, Straight is written by a fellow dressage rider, doing her best to train her TB horse (Val) on her own with limited access to trainers.  She lives in a secluded location - an island in Canada -  that makes our little community seem like the heart of the city in comparison.  I consider this a dressage friend blog -- having a horse at home, struggling with the dressage journey, and keeping a grey horse clean.

Dressage Training Journal is written by Carol about her dressage journey with Rogo, her warmblood cross.  She is very focused and organized about her journey which are traits that we share.  She also has her horses at home and has a husband who rides as well.  We share the same approach and philosophy to the training of our horses.  I love it when she cross-trains by cantering bareback on the beach.

Hidden Meadow Farm is a heritage livestock farm in Nova Scotia.  Her Highland cattle are to die for, drop dead, gorgeous.  I can't get enough of her pictures of them -- and the babies... OMG, the cutest things ever.

Memoirs of a Horse Girl is about Val's dressage journey with her handsome buckskin QH Harley.  I share with her the love of practicing dressage with a non-traditional breed for a partner.  All horses can benefit from dressage and I love having a friend on that same path with me.

Sprout 'n' Wings Farm  Michaele has the cutest goats ever and makes wonderful products from their milk.  She and her daughters are crafty and fun and an inspiration to me.  Michaele has a wonderful sense of humor and her outlook on life is wonderfully positive.

A Work in Progress  Shannon is very successfully training her dressage partner, Spider.  Although she is much further along the path than I am, it is inspirational to read about their struggles and accomplishments.  Spider is a TB and not some fancy schmancy warmblood.  And look where they are!!  In fact, I think Spider was a jumper.  That gives me hope with Winston.

And, lastly, here's a link to a post today on Buckskin and Bay.  There is a lot of truth and wisdom in this post about the connection between a horse and his rider.  -- and the guilty number we let others do to us (and do to ourselves) when we aren't a good match.  It's harder to break up with a horse than end a bad personal relationship (for some of us).

I could go on and on.  There are so many wonderful blogs out there and I read so many of them.  This is just a smattering of the ones I enjoy.  I hope you find a new blog to follow as a result of my list -- I think that is the biggest benefit of these awards.  It gives us an opportunity to find new blogs!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Beef Stew

It's raining again.  Perfect weather for beef stew.  I made a big pot last weekend so we could have it again tonight. 

Beef stew meat, a couple pieces of bacon chopped in 1" pieces, onions, garlic, carrots, potatoes, mushrooms, herbs, cognac and wine.  Ready to go!

Herbs from the garden: parsley, thyme, rosemary and oregano

Saute the bacon

The secret to getting a great sear on your meat is to dry it thoroughly and...

...don't crowd it in the pan.  If you put in too many pieces at once you will get steamed meat instead of browned.

I sauteed the onions until soft, and then added the other vegetables.  Salt and pepper to your taste.  I poured in about a quarter cup of cognac and loosened up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan.  Then I poured in the entire bottle of wine and added the herb bundle.  I covered the pan with foil and then the lid to ensure a tight seal and put it in a 350F oven for 2 hours.

The finished product.  Slice up some good bread for dipping and you're ready to go!

Bon Appetit!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Boy Can Jump

It was cold, cloudy and breezy this morning.  Since it wasn't friendly outside, we went down the mountain for lunch at Mollie's.  I had my usual - a reuben.

Brett had a cheddar bacon mushroom burger and fries.  No lettuce, no tomato, no redeeming ingredients.

From there we went to the tack store where I bought Winston a new halter and some other things that I probably don't need, but wanted anyway.  Me and tack stores... an expensive combination. 

When we got home, the sun was out but the weather was still a bit cool.  All the animals were napping in the sun and mud.

Kalvin: I love you Flash.  You're my best friend.

Jackson: Public displays of affection.  Yuck.

Since it was a lazy kind of day, I thought I would let Winston run around the arena and let off some steam.  He's just a baby and I'm a firm believer in play time.  I set up some low jumps in case he felt like showing me some moves.  His trainer said he trots over 2' jumps easy peasy and has never refused at 3 feet.

I've been working a bit with Winston on manners.  Being a gregarious kind of guy, he can border on being pushy.  I don't like pushy horses and I don't think it is safe.  The horse is happier and calmer when the alpha role is firmly established with the owner.  So, from the minute he got here we have been working on respecting my space and moving away from me when I step into his space.  I invite him into my space, otherwise he stays a respectful distance.  Winston is smart and a pleaser so he got that all down lickity split. 

In the arena, I turned him loose but stood in the middle with a longe whip.  I just used it to define my space, the space he couldn't invade with his ricky-racing around.  He wouldn't go over my jumps; he just shied at them and went on his merry bucking way.   After a few minutes, I walked over to the side of the arena to get another pole.  He immediately "joined up" with me which caught me by surprise.  Happy surprise.  He walked right behind me, with his head just behind my shoulder, licking and chewing, all the way across the arena. 

Brett joined me in the arena and I asked him to stand close to one of the jumps to herd Winston over.  Instead, Winston jumped out of the arena.

Right at that corner.  He was sliding to a stop, changed his mind, and cleared it -- easily.  He trotted off to some grass behind the barn and started grazing.  I took his halter and went off to retrieve him.  Brett measured the fence.  4 feet.  I guess he wanted a real jump and not the little things I set up. 

I just hope he doesn't start jumping out of his paddock.  I've never had a horse with real jumping ability before.  Yipes.  (hee hee).  I said to Brett "He could be an eventing horse!"  Brett said that there is no way I am going to do eventing.  Not to worry, I'm a happy dressage person.  Jumping that high scares me to death.  ...and cross country... I'd probably pee my pants.