Friday, February 28, 2014

Riding with Purpose

I had a lesson with Sandy today after work.  I kept checking my phone all day, expecting to get a text canceling the lesson due to heavy rain that fell most of the day.  Instead, I got a text asking if I wanted her to ride Winston for the first part of my lesson so I could see how he's doing.  I immediately accepted.  Rain was falling hard as I drove to the barn; with the windshield wipers on high I could barely see past the hood of the car.  The roads weren't flooded although the fields on either side of me looked like a network of ponds connected by streams.  Sandy said I was one of only two boarders who showed up at the barn all day.

We walked Winston to the covered arena and Sandy climbed on.  I settled into a chair in the corner, shivering in the cold despite my fleece shirt and windbreaker.  Brulee, Sandy's whippet, came over to say hello and pretty quickly found her way onto my lap.  She was nice and warm; a welcome companion.  I'm not familiar with the breed but she is a very sweet, serious dog with large round liquid eyes.  I was smitten by the time it was my turn to hop on Winston.

Sandy put Winston through his paces and he looked much more steady in the bridle.  He did kick out in the canter once but that was pretty minor compared to the high headed hopping he did for three laps in the beginning.  I watched and thought, Okay, that's better but the difference isn't huge.  And then I got on.

The difference was huge.  I was a bit nervous at first; I haven't ridden in two weeks and I could feel Winston's forward energy beneath me.  C'mon, woman, let's go!  In my last lesson, my brain was pinging around in my brain trying to coordinate my aids and trying not to worry about my mom who had just been admitted to the hospital. Winston had tested me the whole time, perhaps sensing that I wasn't on my game.  He was also pretty new to training with Sandy and not with the program yet.

Sandy told me that in the beginning, she walked on eggshells a bit with Winston.  He tended to try and pick a fight over everything.  But as he got more fit, and learned how to work with the bit instead of against it, she has been able to direct him more.  As Sandy said, he has more in his toolbox now.  My job today was to ride with purpose.  Winston was not allowed to dictate the ride, although he tried.  Rain was beating on the roof of the arena, creating a cocoon of sound as we worked.  Sandy's voice was in my ear (love riding with headphones) and I zoned everything out except the feel of Winston beneath me.

I did a much better job of keeping my hands correctly up and flexed.  My legs were softly against Winston's sides at all times, and I was able to relax my elbows into the flow of Winston's trot.  It felt effortless.  We were focused on each other and I was riding, directing, communicating and loving it.

Sandy told me to look in the mirrors as I went down the long side so I could see how good Winston and I looked together.  I could also see the difference between when he dropped his head low to evade honest work, and when I lifted his poll up higher.  Brett wasn't there to take pictures so Sandy snapped a few with her phone.  Isn't Winston looking great?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

So Disgusting

Last night when I got home from work, I removed the diaper and duct tape booty from Jackson's foot. He was walking better and the booty was starting to look frayed. I pulled the sticky bandage tape off and slipped the diaper off his hoof. It was rank; full of black, oozy, stinky gunk. I don't think anything smells worse than the crud that comes out of a burst abscess. Even after washing my hands six times, I could smell the stuff.

The horses were out last night, roaming the property. This morning when I went out the back door to get my car from the garage and go to work, Flash and Mufasa were blocking my way. Brett went to the barn and got their buckets of supplements ready. Flash watched, but he didn't budge.

Jackson watched from his spot by the run-outs.

Flash and Mufasa eventually made their way to the barn, ambled into their run-outs, and into their stalls for breakfast. Brett had to bring Jackson in with his halter. He could walk, he just didn't want to go in.

This is the second abscess for Jackson this year. His feet are so thin that bits of this and that migrate their way inside, fester, and then burst out. It's a painful process and a stinky one.

As I write this, we have a light rain falling on the trees and the garden. I'm listening to the drip-drip-splatter as drops fall from the eaves of the house. Its a calm, cleansing rain; a perfect rain.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Back Home

Yesterday afternoon as I drove home from my Dad's house, I thought about planting a garden for my Mom.  I woke a few times during the night, each time adding plants in my mind.  There would have to be lilacs, and red salvia.  Rhubarb came to me in the middle of the night.  She baked rhubarb pies a lot when I was a kid -- her favorite and mine too.

Brett and I were up early this morning doing chores.

 Jackson has been very sore on his left front the past few days.  When I got home yesterday, I wrapped it a booty but he was still very sore this morning.  And, his right hind was sore this morning in addition to the front.  I'm suspecting a combination of soft soles (the bane of his existence) and thrush.  I put thrush medication inside the booty and, if nothing else, that sole will be staying dry.

We took the truck on our errands this morning because Brett wanted to pick up a metal water trough for the donkeys.  He casually asked if it would be alright if we swung by the nursery so he could look at sprinkler valves.  Sneaky.  He knows I can't resist the nursery and he knows that the best thing for me right now is to garden.  I picked up three bare-root lilacs, a pomegranate and rhubarb.  It took me all afternoon to pull all the weed's in Mom's Garden, plant the lilacs and rhubarb, and spread compost over the ground.  It's a start.

The dogs were out with us.  They mobbed me when I got home last night.

We also opened the pasture gate and let the horses roam the ranch.  Flash and Mufasa wasted no time heading to the green grass next to the dressage court.

It took Jackson awhile with his sore hooves, but he made his way to the oak trees on the other side of the court next to the stream.

It's good to be home.

Friday, February 21, 2014


On Wednesday, February 19th, I lost my mom.  I am at peace with her passing but miss her terribly already.  She didn't suffer, she was surrounded by family, and we were able to say goodbye.  I don't think you can ask for more than that -- although a miraculous recovery would have been nice.

My mom was born and raised in a small town in Illinois.  She played the flute, sewed her own clothes, and had a pet rooster.  After high school, she went off to university.  There she met, and fell in love with, my dad.

They were married in 1955, at her parents' home.  Her mother and aunts felt that the wedding dress she loved, which was off-the-shoulder, was too scandalous.  She said that if she couldn't wear the dress she wanted, she wouldn't wear a wedding dress.  She always had a sense of style and she was strong willed.  She told us that she hated the suit she wore in her wedding but I'm including the pictures because she looks so happy.  My father always reminded her that the lilacs were in bloom and the air was richly fragrant on their wedding day.

My dad was still in the Air Force when they married so they moved from base-to-base, and ultimately settled in California where I was born.  My sister and brother followed.  My mom loved the beach.  We made day trips to the local Southern California beaches and camping trips to all the rest of the beaches between San Diego and Santa Barbara.
Me and Mom

Ted, Mom. me, Dad, Marie

Mom loved clothes and she loved feeling pretty.  It wasn't hard.  She was beautiful.  I was a source of frustration to her on that front.  I preferred blue jeans and horse slobber covered sweat shirts.  I did learn to appreciate well tailored clothes and I can put together a nice outfit, complete with tastefully applied make-up.  She helped me create a professional wardrobe.  We spent hours in Dior, looking at fabrics and lines.  Then she would sew me something similar.  My favorite suits were sewn by mom.
Me, Marie, Mom, Ted

In the early 70s, wigs were all the rage.  I thought she was the most glamorous thing ever.  My dad gave me her mink jacket.  I don't approve of fur coats and doubt I'll ever wear it, but I feel like I have a piece of mom's glamour in my closet now.

Mom was not just a pretty face or a clothes horse; she had a degree in English literature and always had a book going.  She loved music, all kinds of music, from jazz to Frank Sinatra to the Beatles to Elton John.  I learned to be an adventurous cook from watching her.  She raised her children to be independent and strong; she instilled in us determination and drive; a love of sports and of the beach; the importance of champagne on holidays and marshmallows on hot chocolate.

Rest in peace, Mom.  You are on an eternal beach now with no oxygen tank, no sun sensitivity and no arthritic limbs.  Soak up the sun.  You earned it.
Dad, Kristin (granddaugher), Mom at Kristin's graduation a few months ago.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Puttering and Bird Watching

It's been three weeks since I've been able to putter in the yard. First the flu kept me on the couch and then we had a huge rainstorm. Not that I'm complaining about the rain, we needed it so badly. We have more rain coming in tonight so the skies were grey all day. It is another warm storm so it was a comfortable 60F outside.

The pastures are turning emerald green and the streams are still running with clear water. Kersey jumps in as soon as we let the dogs out of the barn in the morning.

We've stopped feeding the donkeys hay. They have plenty of green grass to eat and they don't need to gain anymore weight. They are not happy about this and bray in the most pitiful way when they see the hay cart going by. Or when we walk to the barn. Even when I step out the side door to grab an armful of wood. I'm sure all the neighbors think we are starving them.

I spent some time pruning the rose bushes along the front porch. While I trimmed back the rosemary and the sage, Sedona kept watch from the middle of the front lawn. Kersey wasn't interested in anything but her bone.

One of the best things about our property is the birds. There are birds everywhere; woodpeckers in the trees, quail in the pasture, sparrows, hawks and Canada geese. I bought a book to help me identify the birds awhile back and I installed a very cool app on my phone (Merlin) that helps me with identification too. This weekend is the Great Backyard Bird Count (sponsored by Cornell University). I decided to take part so I spent the better part of an hour sitting with a pair of binoculars, my bird book, my iPad and my gardening journal. The "rules" of the bird count ask for a minimum of 15 minutes birdwatching but I was having such a good time that I kept going. ...I have a feeling this could be very addicting.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Random 5 Friday

1. At a smidge past 1:30 today I returned to my office after a meeting and checked my cell phone which was sitting on my desk. There was a missed call from my sister and one from my dad. There were two voice mails. I knew my mother had taken a turn for the worse before I listened to the messages. Sure enough, she's in the hospital, with pneumonia, after falling at home and scaring my dad half to death. My sister's message said she was on her way down to the hospital. I left a return message, asking her to assess the situation upon arrival and let me know if I needed to start driving. My dad said that I didn't need to come, but I wanted my sister's opinion too. I tried to finish up a few things, with my office door closed, as my brain ping-ponged back and forth between work and my mom. Mostly with my mom.

2. I had a lesson on Winston today in the late afternoon. He didn't seem overjoyed to see me and he tested me continually during my lesson. Winston has made great improvement in the two weeks he has been with Sandy. He's more steady in the contact and nicely forward. But, he still tried to dictate the pace, the contact and the gaits. It was a lot of work trying to stay coordinated in my aids: my elbows didn't want to stay softly at my side, instead my hands dropped and they locked. And my brain was still pinging back to the hospital room six hours away.

3. I worked with Winston in walk and trot. Sandy said that Winston's canter has improved but I didn't have any gas left at the end to see for myself. We worked on transitions down from trot to walk, then back up to trot after a few steps. I learned to keep my leg on during the downward transition and then just squeeze to go back to trot. I had been taking my leg off in the downward, and then having to kick back to trot. Keeping my leg on kept the communication open and the transitions were much smoother. Sandy said that I'm being too timid with Winston (true) and that I need to be firmer. I'm good at being firm on the ground; I need to translate my leader status when mounted as well. Fighting with Winston doesn't work; persistent patience does. Once Winston figures out he can't fight and that it's easier to give, he does.

4. After my lesson, I took Winston to the jumping arena and let him loose so he could roll. I unsnapped the lead line and he trotted off to the far side of the arena. I sat on the mounting block in the middle of the arena and watched him roll. He ambled around the arena with his back turned to me. I was getting the cold shoulder, loud and clear. I was afraid that I wasn't going to be able to catch him so I ducked out of the arena and walked towards my car to get a couple horse cookies from the trunk. Winston stood at the far side of the arena and watched me go. And then he threw a fit; racing around at a full gallop, tail so high it brushed his back, head high, freaking out that I was leaving. I got the cookies and walked back to the arena where he was still racing in circles. As I walked up to the gate, he skidded to a stop in front of me and thrust his face at my chest. I clipped on the lead rope, gave him a cookie and led him back to his stall letting him graze on the green lawn as we went.

5. I took back roads back home. My brain was too tired and worried to deal with the freeway. I drove through the equestrian estates in Wilton and Rancho Murieta along roads lined with walnut groves. My cell phone rang and I pulled onto the shoulder to talk to my sister. She was in my mom's hospital room, calling to report that my mom was alert, feisty and comfortable. I eased the car back onto the road and continued my drive through the wine country of Amador County, up into the foothills of the Sierras, and home.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Working Woman Weeknight Dinner

I was talking to my son, Kyle, the other day and he said, "Mom, when I read your blog it looks like you are cooking really healthy food."

Um, yeah.  I'm trying.  Really hard.  Here's my new motto -- I even posted it on the fridge.

Eat food.  (real food, not processed.  If you can't pronounce the ingredients, it isn't real).
Halibut, butter, white wine, salt and pepper wrapped up in a foil packet.  Bake at 450 for 10 min per inch of thickness of the fish.

Not too much.  (portion control; my Achilles heel)

Mostly plants.  (Not necessarily being vegetarian but reducing the amount of meat.  Try to eat more fish than red meat.  Think of meat as a garnish instead of the main deal).

The quote is from Michael Pollan who writes about the food and nutrition.  The secret to health isn't complicated.  Which isn't the same as easy, of course.

Tonight we had halibut, wrapped in a foil packet with mushrooms and seasonings.  I sauteed chard in olive oil, and seasoned it with salt, pepper and a little lemon juice.  

Poor Brett.  He's being a good sport although I've noticed that on the nights we eat mostly plants, he has a nice big bowl of ice cream for dessert.  --He's sitting in his recliner right now with some cinnamon bread.  Hmmmm.  

Oh, and his birthday isn't until next week.  I bought him the rain gear as an early gift.  But, he did appreciate all the birthday wishes.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Its Raining, Its Pouring

This has been a doozy of a rain storm. We measure rainfall every morning at 7am. In the 24h period ending at 7 this morning, we received 5.8 inches of rain. I'm guessing we will top out at over eight inches total for the storm. This morning, the streams were all overflowing their banks, rushing and skipping over boulders and flooding the surrounding areas. There was a small lake behind the barn and a larger one in the clover pasture. The water careened into the donkey area, banked left and emptied into the pond. Tuffy and Finessa were cut off from two-thirds of their pasture. They didn't mind; they didn't come out of their run-in shed at all. The goats and the horses stayed under the cover of their shelters and barn as well. Kersey took one look at the stream behind the barn and jumped in. The water flowed to the top of her back as she stood dunking her head under the water and grinning at us. Brett shook his head, "stupid dog." Sedona looked at Kersey, then at us, and I'm sure I heard say "my thoughts exactly."

Oak Creek Ranch is located at the end of a small valley, nestled against the hills. In addition to having flat areas for the arenas, barn and pastures, we also have streams criss-crossing as they carry water from the hills on their journey down the valley. We were pleased with how well the streams carried the water away. Other than a deep pool of water where the driveway dips by the road, we didn't have excessive flooding. The drains had trouble keeping up but as the rain decreased in intensity this afternoon, the lakes and ponds and puddles all drained away.

We went to Tractor Supply after church and I bought Brett his birthday present: yellow slickers (pants and jacket) and new rain boots.

Flash may have an abcsess. He wasn't bearing weight on his right front this afternoon. I gave him some bute and he was moving better this evening. No swelling, no heat, no bounding pulse. When Brett checked on him at feeding time, Flash was able to walk over and chew on Brett's bumblebee attire.

This storm moves out tonight and next week is supposed to be overcast with a slight chance of rain starting Wednesday. It's a good start. Folsom Lake is up two feet -- only 98 more to go.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

All Aboard the Pineapple Express!

Did I mention that it is raining?

We are in the midst of a big storm that came our way from Hawaii. It's a warm, wet storm and welcome. The locals call it a "Pineapple Express."

There was a big flock of Canada Geese in the clover pasture, wading in the puddles and honking happily.

We went to a function at one of the local wineries today. Everybody was wearing rain slickers and rain boots. As we stood with water dripping onto the cement floor from our jackets, holding our glasses of wine, we grinned and greeted each other "Its raining!" and "this is a great start." We need much, much more rain. Folsom Lake is down over 100 feet from normal. So far, with this storm, the lake has regained two inches.

Brett brought the horses into the barn yesterday afternoon. They were happy to be in a dry place and have been staying inside, with their heads poking outside to the turnouts. This morning when I was mucking Mufasa's turnout, he took one look at me with my hood up, snorted and spun away.  The dogs have ventured off of the porch just enough to get wet and muddy.  They are enjoying the shelter of the barn as well.

I had a big bone in the freezer from our Christmas ham.  I used it to make a ham and barley soup for dinner.

Pear and cherry cobbler for dessert.  Rain, even a relatively warm rain, calls out for comfort food.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Random 5 Friday

1. Earlier this week my butcher block countertop was installed in the kitchen. The long wait was well worth it (we ordered the countertop in October); the countertop was made from mesquite by a woodworker in Texas. The wood is drop dead gorgeous, even prettier than I imagined. Mesquite is a very hard wood so my chef knife isn't even leaving marks when I chop up vegetables.

2. Tonight we had "kitchen sink" quiche for dinner. I make quiche or stir fry as a way to use up left over bits of this and that at the end of the week. The quiche tonight had a sprinkle of fresh thyme, ham, mushrooms, chard and mozzarella cheese.

3. Rain has finally arrived. We had a light, cold rain Thursday morning into Friday. Tonight another storm arrives; wetter and warmer. There are flood warnings for streams and roadways. We need many more storms to make up for the current drought conditions but it is a start. In the past week, the State has announced that we will not be sending water to the farms in the Central Valley. Today, the rivers were closed to fishing. Coho salmon and steelhead trout are in serious trouble -- the streams and rivers are so low that they aren't reaching the ocean so the salmon can't get upstream to spawn.

4. Brett has been busy digging trenches and laying water pipe. The other day it looked like a human mole had been at work, trenches were running from the garage, across the driveway, up the fenceline, to the back of the donkey pasture. Soon, the donkeys will have their own automatic water trough under the oak tree. Once Brett's carpal tunnel settles down and the rain stops, he plans to run a line out to the goats.

5. I won't be having a lesson on Winston this week as originally planned. But Sandy said that she has been making great progress with my boy. The Happy Mouth bit didn't make a noticeable difference in his comfort so that is disappointing. His trot work is going very well and he's starting to settle down in his canter work as well. The flu related fatigue has finally left me so I'm hoping to get back into walking and yoga so I'm (somewhat) fit when I do manage to fit in a lesson.