Monday, August 31, 2015

It's all in the Timinig

Sunday, Brett and I had a lunch date with Sandy Savage and her fiance, Joe, at Miraflores Winery.  Sandy offered to ride Lucy before lunch and see what she thought about the sticky canter departs -- whether it might be her other hock or something else (like rider error, ahem).

Saturday, in preparation for Sandy's visit the next day, I decided to carry a dressage whip while I rode Lucy.  I've never had to use a whip with Lucy given how forward she is -- I'm usually asking her to slow down and breathe, for Pete's sake.  But, she had been sluggish and reluctant when I rode -- yet prompt and willing to canter on the lunge.  I suspected she had my number -- or thought she did, anyway.  Lucy was full of energy in the much cooler day Saturday -- she was no longer in heat and we had dark clouds with a breeze over the arena instead of blazing sun.  I carried the whip, but I didn't need it.  The first time I asked for right lead canter she went hollow in her back, threw her head in the air, and refused.

We circled, got a nice trot going in a relaxed frame and I whispered "Lucy, if you don't go I'm going to have to tap you with the whip."  She went.  After three or four strides she tried to come back to trot.  "No, no, Lucy.  You don't get to pick where we transition back to trot.  That's my job."  I gave her a reinforcing squeeze with my calf and we continued on.

Sunday morning, Sandy and Joe pulled up the driveway just as I was finishing up Lucy's grooming.  Lucy looked over at Sandy and licked her lips.  I guess she was already anticipating and practicing saying "Yes, ma'am."

Sandy and Lucy marched into the arena.  Brett said "Boy, she sure looks different with Sandy on her."  --- yeah, marching and straight and all about "yes, ma'am."

This is why Sandy is a successful professional dressage trainer and why I'm a bumbling amateur.
Just look at that lovely stretching trot
Lucy's canter transitions were just fine.  Sandy said Lucy felt great.  (so I guess I haven't ruined her, anyway).  It is a bit humbling to watch someone of Sandy's caliber turn your horse into a thing of beauty.

We had time for me to ride a bit as well before lunch so I got a short lesson.

1. When Lucy resists the contact, don't use my hands.  It just makes her claustrophobic.  Instead, use my legs and seat to push her forward into the contact.  (Oh, I said, a receiving hand instead of a restraining hand -- I've read about that).

2.  Make sure I ride with relaxed shoulders and heavy arms.  Only touch Lucy's mouth with ring finger contact.  Regulate her racing around with my seat and weight.

3.  Get the timing right on canter transitions.  I've been told, and have read, a hundred times to sit two steps before asking for canter.  I always thought it was so me, the rider, could get organized and ready and so I didn't worry to much if it was two strides, or three, or five.  I asked when I was ready.  As a result, I often asked when the wrong leg was in contact with the ground - causing confusion and delay and hollowed back and head in the air behavior.  Me getting the timing right was hit and miss.  Oops.  Now I understand that if you are posting on the correct diagonal, sit precisely two steps, and ask - you will have the timing correct.  And Lucy will smile and give you a lovely canter transition.

4.  Lucy would like me to tell Sandy "Thank you very much.  My rider gives awesome neck rubs but she can be kind of dense when she's in the saddle."
Lucy, I may be a bit slow learning some things, but I love you to death.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Brett and Pistol

Getting to know you,

Getting to feel free and easy,

Getting to know you,

Getting to know all about you,

Getting to like you,

Getting to hope you like me.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Random Friday

1.  This morning before work, before the sun came up and melted energy into lethargy, I finished cleaning out the hen house.  What a nasty dusty job.  My clothes were covered in that fine chicken dust that covers the hen house floor and rafters in silt.  I filled the nesting boxes with clean shavings and spread more on the floor.  It's hard to think about winter when the days are a scorching 100F, but the hen house is ready nonetheless. Attila the hen is still broody and still aggressively protecting all the eggs (they all lay in the same nesting box).

2.  I've been teaching Kersey a new skill and command.  In the evenings after chores, I flip my kayak right side up on the front porch, put a dog treat in my pocket and call Kersey.  I've taught her that the command "boat" means to jump in the boat.  Last night she had it down, sitting calmly while the boat rocked back and forth.  Her life jacket came in the mail so we were set.  All that was left was for me to get in the boat with her.  Unfortunately, that part didn't work so well.  Kersey was very good but there just isn't room for my legs and an 80 lb stocky dog.  Kersey has hip problems so she doesn't sit straight.  She sits at an angle, with her fanny jutting out one direction and her front legs the other.  There is not enough room between my legs for her to sit; and no room for me to paddle if she stands.  So, she lay across my legs and I rubbed her belly before calling it quits.  She won't be a kayaking dog after all which is a disappointment, but we will still take her to the lake for swimming.  And now she has a life jacket so she can swim for a really long time.

3.  Lucy has designated me as her personal masseuse.  She follows me all over the pasture, standing between me and the muck cart; standing between me and piles of manure; standing between me and anything else until I turn and walk to her.  I have a space bubble that she is not allowed to enter so she stands at the edge of that imaginary circle and looks at me with intent.  I walk up to her and then stand just in front of her chest.  Using my stubby fingernails, I rub the underside of her neck, up towards her throat latch and down to her chest.  She stretches, and sighs and drops her head on my shoulder.  She likes to have her belly and butt scratched too, but her neck is by far her favorite location.

4.  Temperatures are supposed to drop tomorrow by 20 degrees due to a storm moving into Northern California from Washington and Oregon.  The far north-western corner of the State is expected to get rain; we will not see precipitation -- just some wind and cooler (80s) temperature.  Brett and I plan to ride Saturday.  On Sunday, Sandy Savage is coming up with her fiance (congratulations!) for lunch and we will work with Lucy in the morning.  Lucy is still very sticky/resistant on her right lead canter so I want Sandy's opinion on whether I need to have the other hock injected.

5.  Winston is for sale.  Although his junior rider loves him to death, he just isn't cut out for dressage.  Winston needs to belong to a strong bold eventing rider.  He loves to jump, he loves the trail, and he has a lot of talent.  He's been winning at dressage shows -- but he gets bored.  To be successful in dressage you need a horse who has nice gaits, yes, but even more importantly you have to have a willing partner.  Winston isn't willing.  He gets bored and then he gets naughty.  It isn't fun for either him or his owner.  So, if any of you eventers out there are looking for a strong horse, or know of someone who is, take a look at Winston.  He's on the DreamHorse website -- a search for Winston Hanovarian Appaloosa brings him right up.

Schooling at Aspen Meadows -- 5-ish years old

More schooling...

Stealing Brett's hat at the Thermal *** show - he nailed his tests despite the freezing temps and icy wind.

At a show earlier this month, with his current owner.  He won all his classes.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Whose Garden Is This, Anyway?

The assault on my garden started in early summer.  Our weeping Santa Rosa plum tree had a good crop of plums, starting to turn from hard green spheres to color.  Standing at the kitchen sink one morning, I noticed that the tree was black -- full of crows; so many that you couldn't see the tree.  When they left, there were no more plums.
Currently, there are two pumpkins growing.  We'll see if they make it to October.

My tomatoes have all been taken by squirrels and racoons.  From four tomato plants, I have harvested fewer than ten tomatoes all season.

First the critters ate all the nectarines, and then they started on the peaches.

I was able to pick four peaches -- before they were fully ripe.  The rest disappeared.

I was told that gophers don't like peonies.  They lied.

We didn't get to enjoy any grapes this summer either.

We live in the mountains; we are surrounded by wildlife; I get that.  I don't mind sharing, really I don't.  But, I would like to get a little bit of the fruit and vegetables from the garden.  

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Maybe Summer Isn't so Bad After All

About a month ago, our good friends (and neighbors) bought a tandem kayak.  Every weekend since then they have been taking it out on one of our many local lakes.  And, they've been bugging us to join them.  We resisted initially -- with the expense and time committement of horses we felt they were a luxury we couldn't afford nor have time to enjoy.  But after spending the last three weeekends stuck in the house, too hot to ride or do anything outside between 8am and 7pm.... and listening to their stories of fun times on the lakes... well, yeah, we went kayak shopping.
At REI, figuring out the kayak rack

Today was our "maiden" voyage.  My parents used to have kayaks so I've had some experience out on an ocean bay, but no experience on a lake or loading them on top of a car and hauling them someplace.  We went up to Jenkinson Lake which is just 15 minutes from home.
George and Nancy

What we did right: got the kayaks on the car with out smashing a window; got in and out of the kayaks without capsizing; had a lovely picnic on the shore; wore sunscreen.

What we need to practice: loading the kayaks is painfully awkward.  I'm sure we'll improve with time but we were pretty stressed loading and unloading (kudos to Brett: he only swore once); I need boat shoes -- flip flops are a major fail in sucking mud at the shoreline.

How we feel: exhausted, sore and very happy.  We were out for four hours today and paddled out into the open water where we were buffeted by wind and wake waves from ski boats.  My shoulders and core are already talking to me ... but we're also hooked.  We'll be back out next weekend; the only decision is which lake to go to next.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Pretty Wonderful Rides

This morning Brett and I were finally able to ride.  He's stopped hurting from his fall off of Mufasa and it was under 85F (barely) when we finished the morning chores.  While I tacked up Lucy, Brett got Pistol groomed and ready to go.

Both of us were thrilled with our rides.

Lucy, you may remember, has been bucking and pitching a fit when asked to canter.  I've lunged her first the last few times so she could figure out that her hocks shouldn't be hurting anymore.  And, because she was still worried and reactive about that issue, I've only been doing light trot work.  No canter.  Today, she was very chill.  Riding with Pistol in the arena was a whole different, easier, and more relaxed gig than riding with Mufasa.  She was a bit sluggish at first but it didn't take long to get her on the aids.  Hmm, I thought, I wonder if she'll canter for me.  And, sure enough, she did.  Prompt, smooth, no second thoughts or hesitation.  Just a glorious canter.  I praised her lavishly and we took a long walk break before calling it a morning.

Meanwhile, Brett and Pistol were having a great time as well.  As Brett stood on the mounting block when we started, he said "I'm a bit apprehensive."  Fair enough.  You come off, you feel apprehensive.  He earned that.  But, Pistol stood like a rock while he got on and didn't move a muscle until he said he was ready.  Pistol is a lot shorter than Mufasa, but she has a very large barrel so Brett's legs didn't dangle at all.  In fact, they looked darn good together.  Brett planned to walk, and perhaps try trotting.  Perhaps.  He walked Pistol over a pole.  They backed (like a dream he said).  And then they trotted; just a couple 20m circles (because she is out of shape) in each direction.  Brett said that as they finished up trotting, Pistol asked him if they could canter.  He said sure thing.  Off they went.  It was beautiful to watch.

When Brett cantered on Mufasa, it was not harmonious.  Mufasa fell out, he was strung out, and Brett struggled to find balance on his unbalanced horse.  Pistol, on the other hand, was balanced and confident.  They were the picture of harmony.

Brett was grinning as we walked the horses back to the barn.  Pistol kept turning her head to nuzzle him in the chest.  I think they are going to get along just fine.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Random Friday

1.  I don't know about everyone else, but I'm counting the days until the end of August.  I think I rode Lucy once -- ONCE, this month.  The nights have started to cool down nicely and we can open all the windows at 8pm or so.  Last night we were down to 68F when we went to bed at 10pm and this morning we were in the upper 50s while I mucked the oak pasture before work.  During the day, we are still 90ish but the nights are feeling like heaven.

2.  Another sign of fall coming is the flock of wild turkeys that cross the road in front of my car almost every morning as I head into work.  Quail scurry into the blackberry bushes when I pull into our driveway in the evenings.  Leaves have been falling for a few weeks, but that is as much related to the drought as to the weather.

3.  Brett has been busy building more compost bins.  It is slow going in the heat.  He is building a bank of four connecting bins so we will be able to turn the compost three times before it hits the last bin.  From there it will go into my garden.  Brett already built a bin near the pasture the boys are sharing with the goats.  We use compost from this bin to spread under trees and on the front lawn (the dry brown front lawn - we don't irrigate it so it only truly exists as a lawn in the winter).  He has finished the back of it -- a block wall -- and will put in the wood sides next.

4.  For the past few weeks while Brett has been busy building the oak pasture compost bins, I've been without an official place to put the mares' manure (and Jackson, of course, can't forget him).  So, I've been filling the muck cart and then dumping it in a pile near a low spot on the back fenceline.  Then, I scoop and fling fork-fulls over the fence into the blackberry bushes.  Brett says its good for my core.  And Camille noted that my arm muscles looked good when we were in Mendocino.  All the same, I'll be glad when the bins are finished.

5.  We have a very broody hen.  She's been sitting in the corner nesting box, wedged under the cover, jealously guarding everyone's eggs.  I've never had a Barred Rock go broody on my before and she is seriously broody. In the past, I've been able to reach under a broody hen who pecks at my arm but not viciously.  This hen fluffs herself up as big as possible and aggressively attacks.  We have to nudge her with a long stick to get her to leave, and she will often fly at our legs on her way out of the henhouse.  I'm naming her Attila the Hen.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Fire at Gateway Farm

Yesterday a fire burned down a barn at Gateway Farm, killing one horse and injuring eight.  I don't think they know how it started; there was an explosion heard by neighbors but I don't know anything more than that.  There's a short video clip on this news report.
News report on the fire

Gateway Farm breeds flashy sport horses, spotted eventing wonders like Winston's Appaloosa sire, Wild Time Joker.

 Yes, Winston was born and raised at Gateway Farms.  Sandy Savage's wonderful mare, Releve, was also bred by Liz.

But, Gateway Farm is more than a sport horse breeding farm. There is also a long standing Pony Club (Liberty Oaks Pony Club).  Liz loves her horses and the kids.  Many of the horses are in their late 20s and even 30s and, when we visited, Liz introduced us to them with obvious love and pride.

The barn that burned was her main barn, containing her tack room and office, in addition to horse stalls.  Brett and I are going to sort through our boxes of unused tack and donate them to her for the Pony Club.  Here is a fund raiser link, if any of you are so inclined.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Rhythm of the Day

Yesterday morning, a white haired man and his wife were walking their dog up the dirt road behind the pasture where I was picking up manure.  The man says to me: " Do you pick up manure every day?"
I replied, "Twice a day."
"Really? That seems like a lot of work."
I explained that it controls the flies.  He noted the funny masks the horses were wearing -- "those are fly masks; they keep the flies out of the horse's eyes."
He asked if we rode the horses often.  I laughed.  "Not as much as we would like."

During the late summer, we start chores at 6:30 when the sun comes up.  By the time we finish, it is too hot to ride.  We could ride first, but by the time we finished riding, it would be beyond miserably hot doing chores.  This is not an uncommon temperature during the summer here -- and we hadn't even hit our high for the day yet when I took this picture.

The first priority of the day is barn chores.  Together, we can knock them out in about an hour in the morning and again in the evening.  Alone, it takes much longer.

In the morning, we open the henhouse and feed the chickens scraps.  We add a scoop of chicken feed to the hanging feeder and check their water.  Right now, I am also shoveling out 10-20 scoops of bedding from the henhouse.  Once it is cleaned out, I will add in fresh shavings for the winter.  Cleaning out the henhouse is a hot, dusty, stinky job.

Next, Kersey is fed her breakfast and we make up the horses' vitamin bins, with a few carrots on top.
The trash can contains vitamin pellets.  On the table: a foil bag with Lucy's joint supplement and a small container of her thyroid meds, Flash's arthritis pain supplement, Psyllium to prevent sand colic, Buggzo for the flies, and syrup to mix with bute and other nasty tasting meds.  (not required for Lucy but appreciated by Flash and a must for Jackson)

Lucy gets a joint supplement and Thyroid medication

All the horses get the bug supplement

I carry three out to the oak pasture while Brett loads up the hay cart and heads to the boys' pasture.  Lucy is waiting for me at the gate with Jackson standing close behind.  Pistol stands further back and waits until Lucy is busy eating her bucket before coming over to get hers.  While the horses eat their buckets, I put on their fly masks, and then grab the muck cart and rake.

While I am getting the girls set up and mucking their pasture, Brett does the same with Mufasa and Flash.  He also feeds hay to all the horses, the donkeys and the goats.
Horse hay to the left; donkey and goat hay (not as rich) to the right.

After finishing up in the oak pasture -- a full wheelbarrow of manure twice a day -- I go back to the barn and wash the horses' vitamin buckets.

Then we have breakfast.  Today and yesterday, the sun was already beating down before we finished. With triple digit heat in the forecast, we won't be riding today.

In the evening, we repeat the same process minus the vitamin buckets.  We do not grain our horses; we feed just hay and vitamins.  They are all either retired or in light work, and are all easy keepers.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Sidebar: Mendocino with Camille

Every year, for the past four years, Camille and I have been taking a mother-daughter vacation together.  We both prefer to be in the country rather than the city -- last year we went to Yosemite.  This year we went to Mendocino, a small town perched on the rugged northern California coastal cliffs.  Mendocino is a magnet for artists and the restaurants are renowned.  There are a few hotels south of town, but almost all of the lodging is in small bed & breakfasts, painted sunny yellow or pale blue with white shutters and porch railings.  Camille and I stayed in the attic room of a B & B, at the top of a steep narrow set of stairs.  Our beds were snugged underneath the sloping walls and our window was open to the sound and scent of the ocean.

Our drive to Mendocino took an entire afternoon; we drove west from Sacramento to the coast.  We drove through the northern perimeter of the Rocky fire, which was 85% contained at the time we went through.  Fire crews walked across the road and disappeared into the smoke, which was choking us despite the windows being closed up tight.

We checked into our room and then went down to the restaurant for a drink before going for a walk along the bluffs.  Camille is 21 now so having a drink together (in public) was a new twist.  My elderflower martini was outstanding and Camille enjoyed her drink as well.

We walked along the bluff until the sun set into the fog hanging on the horizon.  We took a set of steep stairs down into one of the small coves and explored.

When we weren't eating, or getting a massage, we were walking on the bluffs or the beach.

Other than getting a massage, our itinerary was short.  We wanted to go to Glass Beach.  At one time a dump, the waves over time crushed and polished glass bottles and depostited them on the beach.  We read that much of the glass has been taken as souvenirs by people hauling bags and buckets.  We made a point of going early in the morning, while the tide was still out, to see what remained.  We were pleasantly surprised to find there was still quite a bit of glass on the beach; especially below the high tide mark.

It collected in crevices of the rocks and spilled into the water.

We looked for small, heart-shaped pieces.

At night, we sat on my bed with a glass of champagne and played Crazy Eights.

We laughed and talked; we ate fresh seafood; we explored beaches.  We had a great time.