Tuesday, April 28, 2015

String Horses

Linda left a comment on my last post that she hasn't had good luck with string horses.  With the exception of Alisal, I'd have to agree with her.  All too often string horses are dull, listless horses who have lost all the joy of living through neglect and, sometimes, abuse.  They are switched out for a new batch every season, and don't have good (if any) farrier or vet care.  It isn't any fun to ride nose-to-tail on those horses.  It also tears my heart out to see the neglect -- tears at my heart and makes me angry.

The horses at Alisal have a home for life.  They receive routine farrier care, vaccinations, and vitamins.  If they are injured on the job, they get the time off they need to heal.  The string is large, probably 50 horses or more.  They range in age from four to 32.  Some are fully retired.

Thor, who I rode yesterday, is 18 and has been here for quite a few years.  He's in great condition with smooth gaits.  He's a favorite among the advanced riders.  On crowded weekends or during peak season, there are often arguments among guests over who gets to ride him.  They only put experienced riders on him; those with soft hands who know how to ride from their seat.  Usually when we come Thor has been requested already so I don't often ride him.  Which is okay with me; I am never disappointed in the horses they recommend for me.  When Thor can no longer comfortably handle the hills and extended lopes of the advanced rides, he will be transitioned down to intermediate rides.  Scout, another ranch favorite, recently made the transition from advanced to intermediate.  Eventually, the horses become part of the beginner string going on easy walk rides around the lake.  The only horses that are sold are the ones who aren't cut out for this kind of work.  One of the wranglers is riding a horse that has been on the ranch for a year.  He's a beautiful steel grey dun but he spooks at everything.  After a year, he has stopped spooking at trees and cattle, but he still goes sideways past water troughs and squirrels.  He may not make the team.

Today I rode a relatively new horse to the ranch, Bear.  He came about a year ago and is just starting to make the transition into the string.  The wrangler, that has spent the most time with him, tightened my cinch before we left on our ride.  She told me that he doesn't like you in his face and then she showered him with neck rubs, face rubs and kisses.  I was able to ride Bear on a loose rein at all three gaits and through transitions.  I don't think I was ever on his face.  He has a huge canter with a ton of push; he's a very strong horse and my abs got a good workout maintaining my balance at the lope.  Brett was also on a relatively new horse to the ranch, Tuscon, who had a nice smooth canter.

We love coming every year and seeing the same horses.  We enjoy trying the new ones but we also enjoy watching the horses we've enjoyed in previous years change and develop.  The head wrangler, Tony, has a huge heart and ensures that the horses get good care, fair work with well matched riders,  time off, and a good retirement.  I don't think of theses as string horses, I think of them as ranch horses.

Sunday, April 26, 2015


Brett and I made the seven hour drive to Alisal this morning, arriving in time for the afternoon ride.  I was assigned Thor and Brett was on Pendleton.  Both are horses we've ridden before and liked.  Fortunately, everybody else signed up for the afternoon ride were beginners so we got a private ride.  Brett and I headed out with a young, relatively new wrangler to the ranch.  She asked me if I had a preferance on where we rode and I requested the spring trail.  Brett and I haven't been up to the spring in three or four years.  The trail is longer than most and climbs up into the Santa Barbara coastal mountains.  In order to get the loop completed in the alotted two hours, it requires a lot of trot and canter; including a long glorious canter through a long grassy valley.

When we started out, Thor tossed his head quite a bit and his ears seemed to be permanently pinned.  It must be hard to be part of a string, with riders of varying skill and balance on your back.  Thor is a sensitive and forward horse so I stayed off of his mouth completely.  I rode him from my seat.  After the first long canter, we figured each other out, found our rythm and began to enjoy ourselves.  His ears went forward and he started to carry himself in a comfortable frame.  Throughout the ride, I continued to work from my seat.  I was able to get transitions and speed from regulating my posting speed or the swing in my hips -- depending on the gait.  He never reached the point of making transitions from thought, but we made huge progress from heavy unhappy string horse to partner.

I think I'll be riding Thor more on our stay here.  He tuned in and tried.  I love a horse who tries.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Random Saturday

1.  We got glorious rain last night.  The forecast said we might get half an inch, at most.  I heard the rain coming down hard during the night.  At 2am Brett said to me "Should I go out and check the sand in the arena?"  (he didn't).  This morning, he checked the rain gauge while I stood on the wet front porch.  "How much did we get?" I called over to him.
"Half an inch"
"Guess again."
"Point seven."
"Guess again."
"One point two"
"We got two inches.  Exactly."
Yes!  ...and the rain will continue this morning.

2.  Yesterday when I pulled up the driveway after work, I noticed a big bird walking around in front of the house.  I assumed it was a Canada goose.  But, no, it was the wild turkey who has been hanging around the back of the property lately.  I love living where I have to stop on the road for deer, where the Canada geese are so used to our presence in the pastures that they don't move when we walk by with the muck cart.

3.  I was in bed early last night; the culmination of two long weeks at work and sadness.  Sadness for my blogging friend, Inger, who lost her husband to complications following a liver transplant.  He was only 69 and a good man, a strong man.  And Buttons who lost her mother.  I've been carrying Buttons and Inger in my heart.  I know that Button's loss brought back the loss of my mom, a year ago.  And Inger's husband reminded me so much of Brett -- the bond they shared and the hard work he did on their property -- his death tapped into my greatest fear; losing Brett.

4.  Rest is right around the corner, though.  Brett and I will be on our way to Alisal tomorrow morning for a few days of resting, riding, eating and just being.  This vacation always feels more like a retreat to us; it recharges our batteries.  I've loaded my Kindle, and am packing my colored pencils as well as my riding helmet.

5.  I made the second of our Blue Apron dinners Thursday night.  It was a pork ramen dish with pea tips and roasted garlic.  My knick-knack bag included two cute little bottles; one of soy sauce and one of Mirin.  For me, this is an economical way to make gourmet type recipes.  On my own, heaven knows where I would have found pea tips and I would have had to purchase an entire bottle of Mirin.  Our dinners through Blue Apron cost less than it would for me buying the ingredients on my own.  And then the Mirin would just sit, unused, in my pantry.  For me this is an economical way to go.  Tasty too.  There was plenty of food.  I couldn't finish my portion and Brett was too full to finish it for me.  The chickens loved the ramen the next morning (the noodles look like worms).

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Fat, Dappled and Happy

I love that it is staying light until almost 8pm.  Brett and I were able to ride when I got home from work tonight at six.  We were both excited to try out the new sand in the arena.

Both Mufasa and Lucy were happy to come out.  I noticed dapples on Lucy the other day; a sign of good health.  As I tacked her up, I noted that she is a tad too healthy.  The girth was a good two holes shorter than usual.  Lucy's belly is quite round.

Lucy, I said, are you sure you didn't jump out some night and get knocked up?
How rude.  Of course I didn't.  I'm a respectable girl.
Yeah, right.  I've seen you lift your tail for Jackson, and Flash, and Mufasa not to mention Taco and Coyote across the road.

Up at the dressage court, I walked Lucy out into the new sand so she could check it out before I got on.  It wasn't necessary.  She walked next to me, relaxed as can be.
What's the big deal?  I see sand.  I've been looking at sandy arenas my whole life.  Boring.

We didn't ride long.  The sand is quite deep and both horse were huffing and puffing a bit.  Lucy was not off at all.  Clearly, the lack of cushion before had been what was causing her pain.  She felt wonderful.  My happy, forward girl was back. (No, Lucy, we aren't going to canter yet.  Don't get so excited.)

After I removed her tack, I did a few minutes of body work with Lucy.  She wasn't particularly cooperative.
What are you doing?  Can I eat those dandelions?  I need to turn around.  Fidget, fidget, fidget. I stayed with her although I wasn't sure that I was getting any release at all.

Afterwards, I walked her back to the pasture and took off her halter.  She stood next to me and yawned.  And yawned.  And yawned.  I was ecstatic.  Yawning is the biggest release you can get. In the Masterson bodywork course, I learned that some horses won't give the release during the bodywork but will immediately after you finish.

Lucy walked over to her favorite rolling spot and started sniffing the ground, a sure sign that a roll is imminent.  Instead of rolling, though, she stood rooted to the spot and yawned some more.

Then she walked off to graze.

Happy healthy horse.  Happy me.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Working Woman's Weeknight Dinner

One of the women I work with is an avid cook.  We like the same kind of food (spicy) and enjoy challenging recipes.  We both struggle with weeknights, though.  After work it's hard to find the energy to cook a good meal.  At our house, we have a lot of "get your own" or dinner at the roadhouse down the lane.  So, when she told me she was using Blue Apron for her weeknight dinners -- and loving it -- I was intrigued.  She had a free batch of dinners (three dinners) she could give to a friend and asked if I was interested.  If I didn't like it, I could cancel after my free week.  I checked out the website and liked what I saw -- fresh, locally sourced food (although it is available across the US, I think) from small farms.  And interesting recipes.  Sure, I said, send me the one week free invitation.

Our box of dinners arrived in the mail today.  The packaging was thorough -- meat and fish on the bottom wrapped in ice, with the veggies on top.

There were little bags of spices, butter and nuts -- "knick knacks."

Dinner tonight was Almond-Crusted Cod on a bed of Quinoa, mint and sauteed radishes with sugar snap peas.  Sounds kind of weird, right?

It was fun -- all the shopping done for me, all the ingredients ready to be prepped, and great instructions.

Everything cooked up perfect.

And it tasted insanely good.

I'm hooked.  I'll let you know how the other two meals go.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

While we were Away

...wine tasting, the horses had a party.

It must have been pretty wild because they were wiped out.

Flash couldn't keep his eyes open.

Or, keep his tongue in his mouth for that matter.  Talk about slack jawed.

No pictures of the mares, they were in the kitchen -- no doubt cleaning up the mess.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Random Friday

1.  Kyle and his girlfriend, Ana, are coming this weekend.  There is a big wine festival at the wineries in our County so we will be very busy all weekend.  If the blog is quiet, you will know I've been out having too much fun.

2.  Mufasa continues to improve with his trust issues.  He waits for Brett at the gate and has even gone so far as to push Flash out of the way so he can get to Brett first.  Brett is loving his "new" Mufasa -- and Mufasa seems pretty happy with life, too.

3.  Jackson continues to be my funny valentine.  He's such a silly, sweet horse that I don't mind all his issues with his feet.  I'm hoping to put him in the mare pasture (where the ground is soft and there aren't many rocks) this weekend.  The weather is supposed to be in the upper 70s so he won't feel like racing around (and he doesn't do that much anymore anyway).

4.  Camille continues to heal.  She had a slight setback when her incision got infected but she is back on antibiotics and doing well.

5.  I've started the Masterson body work course and have found it to be fascinating.  The horses all react differently to the releases.  I was sure that Mufasa would walk away from me and resist.  Instead, he relaxed and even nuzzled me in thanks a couple of times (yeah, it made me cry).  Jackson who I expected to stand still and drink it in -- walked off and fidgeted before releasing.  I find that I especially love the bond that is created during the work.  I have to be very focused and closely read the horse; the horse has to trust me.  Very cool.

Have a good weekend everyone.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Lucy and Pistol: BFF

We have been alternating putting the boys one day and the mares the next in the upper pasture.  Today, it was a mare day.

Things were pretty peaceful until I got home from work.  I came out of the house in my jeans and sweatshirt to help with chores, and went to the barn to check on Jackson.  The swelling is completely gone but he is still a bit gimpy on his front.  Normal Jackson gimpy.  As I talked to Jackson, I heard the thunder of hooves coming from beyond the dressage court.  Looking up, I could see clouds of dust.  What the heck?  Lucy and Pistol were running the fence line at top speed.  A minute later, Mufasa started doing laps in the boys' pasture.  Even Flash was trotting around.  The only sane horse was Jackson, quietly eating his hay.

The mares saw me walking up towards them and picked up the pace.  Racing to the corner, throwing their heads over the fence, snorting, turning and launching back down the fence line, a sharp u-turn at the stream (I thought Lucy was going to slide in at one point) and back to the gate for another snort.  Lordy, they spend the day in a green grassy pasture and at dinner time they go crazy for ... what?  Hay?

I led Lucy down first.  Fortunately, she didn't prance too much.  I latched the gate and started walking her back, she gave a good snort and tried stretching her neck up high.  I stopped (she's required to stop when I stop) and she missed it.  I gave the lead rope a sharp tug.  Ahem!  She stopped, looked at me, and dropped her head meekly.  She walked the rest of the way to the mare pasture perfectly -- reeking of horse sweat.  Pistol was well behaved when it was her turn to walk down.  Usually, I walk them together but not tonight.  There was too much crazy antics for me to feel that was a good idea.

I did see the most beautiful trot ever from Lucy as she raced around.  That mare can cover ground.  It was a huge trot, extended, with lots of air time.  I'd never be able to sit it; not in a million years.  But, it was breath taking to watch.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Sticker Shock

Lucy has not been comfortable working in our dressage court for the past month.  A few weeks ago, I noticed that she was a bit ouchy when walking across the gravelly road base in front of the barn.  But, she was not off at all during my lesson with Sandy last month in the cushy sand arena at Sandy's barn.

So, I asked our farrier to put shoes back on Lucy's front hooves.  He noted that her soles were super soft -- he said he could scratch them with his fingernail and to be careful with the hoof pick.  Aggressive cleaning of her feet could make those tender soles bleed.  In fact, he said, she'll be more comfortable if you leave some dirt in her feet to act as a cushion.

She's been running and playing in her pasture with her new shoes, demonstrating her floaty trot for Coyote (the chestnut QH who lives in a pasture across the road).  When he comes near the fence-line on his side of the road, she floats at full speed to our fence-line so she can flirt with him.  Sunday morning Brett and I tacked up and headed up to the dressage court to ride.  Or not.  Lucy was fine at the walk but at the trot... not so much.

When we moved into this property, we didn't add any sand to the arena.  Brett killed the weeds and groomed it aggressively.  It was okay (not great, but okay) for the first year we were there.  We've now had two winters with storms that carry sand out of the arena and into the streams.  Brett's been talking about putting up some sort of retaining wall to keep the sand from leaving but he's been so busy with other tasks that it hasn't been done yet.  I didn't want to buy sand until he had that bit done. The horses have been happy in the existing sand -- until now.  It's been at over four years since the property was owned by anyone with horses.

I asked Brett to research and order sand for the arena.  He measured the sand depth and it currently ranges from half an inch to an inch.  Everybody has a different opinion about sand depth, but I like it to be 2 to 2.5 inches.  We added sand to our arena at Aspen Meadows every few years.  It was about $500 each time.  Knowing our dressage court is more than twice the size of the arena we had before, I figured it would be a bit more than $1,000.  Wrong.  Brett went down to the sand supply place and got a quote of nearly $4,000.  Gulp. The guy was very helpful - was familiar with our arena and said he supplied the existing sand four years ago.  Brett took down the pylons at the end of the arena so the trucks could get in.

We are going to add sand.  We have to.  The first installment arrived today.

We'll add some more next week.  You know the gravel trucks you see driving around?  The ones with a big trailer of sand, pulling another trailer of sand?  (truck and trailer in truck-speak)  We need six of those double loads.  We got two today (which is all we ever needed before).  It hardly made a dent. The first load went down one side.

The second load went down the other.  There is a big open space in the middle where we will put load number three.

It took Brett all day to spread the sand and it is still too thin for riding.  We added an inch.  People ask me why I don't retire -- this is why.  I'm not willing to give up the horses so I'll be working for awhile.

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Other Project

While Marty was visiting, he and Brett completed two projects.  One was the shed removal and the other was replacing the fourth side of fencing around my garden.

The first day they removed the old fencing, dug holes and set the new posts.  They also moved a water faucet which was in the line of the new fence.  The old fence meandered down the side, sagging here and drooping there.  Brett's fence is perfectly straight.  Are you surprised?

The second day they put up the fencing.  Fortunately, deer did not figure out that there was no fence for that one night.

The birds and I love the garden.  I love being in the garden and I love looking out the kitchen window, past the roses and flower bed, through the orchard, to the chicken run with the dressage court in the far distance.  What view could be better?

Especially, when it is framed by a perfect fence.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Jackson Gets Stall Rest

I think I mentioned a few posts ago that Jackson had been a bit off.  He spent a lot of time laying down in the now dry pond.

Then he started walking a bit strangely; slow, deliberate, careful.  And a day after that his hind fetlock was a bit swollen.  I wrapped his hind legs and the swelling went down.

But he was still walking strange.  I decided to put him on stall rest and treat him as if he has a tendon injury.  I don't think he has a tear; perhaps a slight pull.  He is bearing weight and walking around.

He is trying to fake us out so he can come back into a pasture.  Sorry buddy.

I also removed his trail boots.  His soles can start hardening while he is in the stall.  Sunday he spent much of the day in his run-out screaming at the world.  Let me out!

My plan is one week of stall rest and then we'll evaluate his progress.

Send it to Shed Hell

Brett's friend Marty came up last week to visit for a few days and help Brett with projects.  The project I was most interested in them completing was removal of the shed.  It gave me the creeps every time I looked out the kitchen window and saw it, crumpled on the ground.

They were happy to oblige.

Brett found his sledgehammer under the debris; the one that the kids had been using when the shed collapsed.

They loaded it into Brett's trailer and took it to the dump.

Before they left, Brett took a picture of it piled high in his dump trailer and sent it to Camille.  She texted him back "Its gone to shed hell."

Friday, April 10, 2015

Random Friday

1.  We got our first (and most likely last) snow of the season on Tuesday.  And rain.  The snow came and went, interspersed with rain.  Over an inch of rain fell. Yes!

2.  Brett estimated the weight of the shed that collapsed on Camille to be around 600 lbs.  When our farrier was out, Brett told him the story and they walked over to look at the shed.  Greg looked at the size of the shed and the heft of the roof and estimated it to be more like 800 lbs.  Let's split the difference and call it 700 lbs.  Camille told me that when she went to bed that night she prayed, as usual.  But the only words that came to her were "Thank you" -- over and over again, "thank you."  That's a perfect prayer in my books (and one I said myself).

3.  When Camille and I were driving from the first ER to the trauma center for our rendez-vous with the plastic surgeon, Camille said to me "This never would have happened if TRex (Brett) had built that shed."  True.  I tease Brett sometimes about how he builds everything super sturdy.  I don't think I'll tease him about that anymore.

4.  Camille is healing well.  Her eye looks amazing -- okay, okay, it's still swollen and blood-shot and bruised but the incision is healing beautifully.  She is very appreciative of the comments left on the post and plans to use the scar reducing ointments/vitamin E many of you recommended.

5.  Jackson has been a bit off for the past few days.  It doesn't appear to be an abscess which was (of course) my first thought.  His fetlock was a bit swollen and he was walking in a slow, deliberate way.  He didn't lift the leg and hold it (ow! ow!ow!) like a tendon injury.  He was bearing weight; just not happy to walk.  I wrapped the hind legs, the swelling decreased, and he is getting around.  I'm continuing to watch him; it's very strange and very subtle.

Monday, April 6, 2015

It Could Have Been Worse

Easter morning started out great.  My asparagus quiche and pastries were a big hit.

After a late breakfast, I started the dough for our dinner rolls and then took my cup of coffee to the couch to relax for a bit before putting the ham in the oven.  The kids were bored.  The rain had not yet arrived and they were itching to be outside.  Camille suggested taking a sledge hammer to the old shed over by the boys' pasture.  It has been falling apart and Brett, in particular, hates it.

Brett gave the kids some instructions on proper demolition procedure and then went off with his weed whacker.  Kyle, his girlfriend Ana, and Camille took turns smacking the shed.  I watched them from the couch, sipping my coffee.

It didn't take long for the them to knock off the wood on the sides.  The shed lurched, then swayed forward like a ballerina reaching for her toes, ending in a crumpled heap on the ground.  I thought "cool" -- until I noticed Ana running, Kyle crawling out, and no Camille.  I don't remember setting down my cup, or opening the side door, or running down the porch steps.  But I must have because I found myself running, with my heart in my throat, on the grass towards them wearing my slippers.  In the seconds it took me to reach them, Kyle and Ana had lifted the end that had, at one time, had the door just enough for Camille to crawl out.  She was lying on the grass and there was blood on her face, down her neck and her arm.  A lot of blood.

She was able to move her arms and legs for me.  The blood was coming from a huge gash above her eye.  Ana went running to get Brett (who was weed whacking with his back to us so he saw and heard nothing) while I knelt on the ground next to Camille.  I wrapped my arms around her and held her like that, crying with relief that she was alive and fear for her eye.

I drove Camille to the nearest ER while she held a wet, bloody washcloth against the wound.  She was fortunate, so fortunate.  There was no concussion, no internal injuries and no broken bones.  She had run far enough to be on the grass in front of the shed floor so was in a small space with protection.  A nail had slashed her face badly, but otherwise she was okay.  Her vision was, amazingly, still 20/20 in the eye.The wound was too complex for the ER to tackle.

We were sent to a trauma center an hour away and transferred into the care of an ENT specialist who was on call.  He walked into the room, a small unassuming man.  Camille and I looked at each other.  He told us he loved doing embroidery while he was in med school; he loved to stitch.  They prepped Camille, the doctor put on some magnifying goggles, and he got to work.  He lost count of how many stitches it took to put Camille's skin back together -- at 50 stitches.  She will have a scar, of course, but the top of  the flap he sewed back into place follows her eyebrow.  The bottom is in the crease of her eyelid.  We don't think it will be very noticeable.

And she is in one piece.  Amazingly, she is in one piece.  We turned back into our driveway at 9pm.  Kyle, Ana and Brett had made the Easter ham and potatoes -- and even salvaged my dough, making big asymmetrical rolls.  They sent me text questions during the day (between Camille updates) on where to find recipes.  They held the holiday together.

I expect we'll be talking about this Easter for a long time.  While Camille was being embroidered by the doctor, he said "Someday, little children will hear the story of how Grandma Camille, when she was only 20 years old, escaped serious injury when a hay shed collapsed on her."  I think he's right.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Hosting Easter

This year we have a full house for Easter.  My dad drove up yesterday with Eddie (Edwina) and the kids arrive after lunch today.  Kyle and Ana will pick up Camille at the Sacramento airport on their way here from the Bay area.

Brett has been busy all week making sure the property looks perfect.  I feel like I live in a perfectly manicured park.

We will enjoy sunny weather today -- before a winter storm hits tomorrow.  I may lose the fruit that is setting on my trees in the orchard but we need the rain more than I need fruit.

While Brett has been mowing, I have been menu planning.  This morning I started cooking.  Easter is all about food in our house.  We will have leg of lamb tonight and a ham tomorrow.

Yesterday the girls had another turn in the top pasture.  I asked Brett to put Jackson in with them and it worked out great.  No drama.  No bite marks.  Just contented grazing.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Lucy Flirts with Jackson

Sunday I put the girls up in the top pasture again to graze.  At noon I got Jackson out, washed the mud off of his trail boots and gave him a thorough groom.  Like all the horses, he is shedding like mad.  Afterwards, I brought him up to the dressage court area so he could graze a bit.  The dressage court is located between the top pasture at C and the other pastures at the A end.  I expected him to head up to the top and visit with the girls (who were spending the day in the upper pasture) the minute I took the halter off, but he didn't.

He slowly made his way up the long side of the dressage court towards the girls.  He paid them no attention.  Lucy was very interested in him.  Despite her longing looks over the fence, he kept eating and picking his way along methodically.

The grass was eye-ball deep.  You can hardly blame him for preferring the grass.

He finally made it all the way to the C end of the court and met up with Lucy.

Girls smell gooooood!

He tried to talk to Pistol but Lucy barged in and broke up that little tete-a-tete.

Our neighbor Fran saw me sitting with the horses and came over to talk over the fence.  Lucy wanted to be the center of attention, as usual.

Jackson wandered over and started grooming Lucy on the withers.  She stretched in appreciation, then turned her tail towards Jackson -- which he proceeded to nibble.  Fran said to me "What is he doing?"

I told her to consider it heavy petting.

Flash and Mufasa watched from their pasture.  They were not pleased with being left out.

That Lucy; she's got boys in every port pasture.