Tuesday, December 29, 2015

We Had a White Christmas

It was perfect.  My dad and the kids all arrived before the snow started to fall.  Christmas Eve day we had snow on-and-off all day.  Each time it stopped snowing, it would warm up a few degrees.  Then it would begin to rain, then sleet, then snow. I'd look out the window and sigh.  I don't know why I love snow so much.  I just do.  Despite it snowing all day, the rain washed away most of it, so we ended up with patchy snow.
Finessa, Camille and Tuffy
Christmas Eve we feasted on roast beef, roasted potatoes and Caesar salad.  Champagne.  Wine.  More wine.  Then bed.  Holidays in our family are all about the food.

Christmas Day was spent opening gifts, feasting on turkey and watching the snow melt.  In the evening the kids wanted to play Cards Against Humanity.  It is politically incorrect and a bit crass -- not something you would play with your mother and grandfather but that is exactly what the kids proposed.  Brett was buried in a football game and declined joining us.  My father is a retired university professor, quiet, serious, and about as far from silly as you can imagine.  I'm very much like him in that way.  But that evening, we were all laughing so hard that we couldn't breathe.  It was wonderful.  The best Christmas gift of all.

My father left Saturday for home.  Sunday night we had more snow; close to two inches fell over night and we woke to a winter wonderland.

The horses weren't impressed with the snow.  They watched me taking pictures from their pastures and wondered why I wasn't bringing them their breakfast.  Humans and their priorities.  Sheesh.
Lucy, Pistol and Jackson


The kids packed a sled and drove up the road to the lake where they found a good steep hill to slide down.  Camille took pictures -- I love this one of the lake.

This morning, I headed into the office (I was able to telecommute yesterday) and the kids headed to Kyle's apartment in Berkeley.  It was a magical Christmas.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

We're Getting this Haltering Thing Down

Tex loves to roll.  Sunday when we turned him out, he rolled and rolled. And then rolled some more.

When he wasn't rolling, he was romping and running.

Of course, to get to the arena for his rolling and romping he had to be haltered and led out.  When I went into his stall with the halter, he didn't turn and go out the back door into his run-out.  I approached him and spent a few minutes talking and stroking his neck.  At this point, he is most comfortable with contact on his lower neck and withers.  He doesn't like his head touched and moving further back makes him nervous.  So, I stood at his withers with the halter hung over my shoulder, just hanging out until he relaxed.

Draping the lead rope over his neck is something he is comfortable with and it seems to create, within him, an expectation that he will stay and not duck out.  So, I did that.  And I rubbed his neck a few more times -- no pats, just rubs and strokes.  Pats can look and feel like punishment.  I want him to be clear that this about rapport and feeling safe.  He relaxed and I put on the halter.  It felt like he dropped his nose towards the halter as I reached to lift it towards his nose, but the movement was so small that I doubted it meant anything.  The positive thing was that he accepted the halter quietly and calmly.

Tex snorted at the bright white trailer tire covers as we walked to the arena but they are new -- and all the horses, except Jackson, gave it the hairy eyeball.  In the arena, he dropped his head for me to remove the halter and then sauntered off for his first roll.

When it was time to bring them back in, I wasn't sure if I would be able to catch and halter Tex without a lot of hassle.  He knew he'd be going back into the barn and he doesn't like it there.  The only thing he dislikes more is being left alone in a pasture, without a herd mate.  So, into the barn he goes; into his stall between Flash and Lucy.

Surprisingly, he stood still for me when I approached to bring him in.  He took one small step sideways and then stood still.  Again, I repeated the stroking and talking before draping the rope over his neck.  This time, he dropped his nose a good four or five inches right into the nose band of the halter.

Did he get praise to the heavens and cookies too?  You betcha.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Pistol Gets Stuck

Sunday we turned the horses out in the fenced arena behind the round pen.  The arena is good sized and the footing drains well because it isn't very deep.  Shallow footing is a problem in the dry months because it doesn't offer much cushion but in the winter it is just fine.  We will probably use it more in the winter since the dressage court seems to be a continuous combination of slush and ice.

We haven't made any improvements to the fenced arena since it is used so rarely.  Brett has a pile of pea-gravel in the middle that he uses for projects (and which was destroyed by Flash and Lucy, who viewed it as a big toy).  The perimeter fence posts are in good shape but the cross rails are broken, missing or rotten for the most part.  A stream runs just inside the property border, down the long side and then turns at the far back corner and continues down the short side, before going into drain pipe and emptying out behind the goat area.  The short side stream bed is part of the arena and Flash, in particular, enjoyed going in and out of the area during their turnout.  On the long side, the arena fence is just inside the stream.  There is a long narrow corridor between the property line fence and the arena fence.  The arena is carved out of the slope, so the property line fence is high, with a retaining wall that drops to the stream and the arena.  There is a top rail of wood fence and white electric tape (not live) nailed to the posts halfway between the top rail and the ground.

When we turned out the boys, we noticed that the white tape was down and flapping in one section so Brett nailed it back to the post.  The white tape was also missing at the far end of the arena, where the stream turns the corner.  The boys stayed away from there and we didn't think about it twice.  We also didn't walk down to the end of the arena and check it out more closely.  User error on our part.

After we put Flash and Tex back in the barn, and after Lucy, Pistol and Jackson had romped and rolled, they settled down to the task of looking for grass and weeds.  Pistol walked down to the corner -- and walked right through.  The top board was down -- which we had not noticed.  She started making her way along the stream bed, nibbling as she went, with her round belly giving just a few inches of clearance on either side.

Brett climbed over the tape and into the stream bed (which was very mucky) to back her out.  She took one step back and her hind feet sunk above the pasterns.  She couldn't move her hind legs, and she started to shake.  Backing her out was not going to work.

Brett fished his work knife out of his pocked and cut the tape.  Then he turned Pistol's head and neck towards the arena and urged her forward.  She pushed her hind feet out and scrambled under the top rail (thank goodness she isn't very tall; none of the other horses would have fit).  She stood in the arena, muddy but unhurt, chewing and looking at Brett with gratitude.

Brett nailed the tape back up where she went through and then we evaluated the corner.  Brett was able to get tape across that midle and we tied the loose top rail board, with hay twine, to the fence wire that is on the perimeter of the property.

Brett immediately added fixing the fence to his project list.  Luckily the posts are in good condition so he will only have to deal with cross rails.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Feeling Spicy

Sunday was overcast and cold with a bit of drizzle and wind.  The horses have been in the barn for a few days and they are looking at being there until Christmas Day.  We will not see sunshine until next Saturday.

Even though they have run-outs behind their stalls, and Jackson is in the roundpen, they get cabin fever in the barn.  Tex, especially.

We decided to turn them out.

Flash and Tex went first.

They rolled and raced around, before settling down to graze on the sparse grass growing by the fence.

After an hour, we brought them back into the barn.  Pistol and Lucy went next.

And then Jackson joined them.

Do you think they had fun or what?!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

A Cowboy Comes to See Tex

Yesterday afternoon as I was elbow deep in baking sugar cookies, with a big pot of stock bubbling on the stove, the phone rang.

"I called a few weeks ago about your horse for sale.  Is he still available?  I'd like to come see him."
"Yes (heart sinking), he's still for sale.  It's raining -- are you sure you want to come?"
"I'm close by and the rain don't bother me."

I gave him the address and hung up the phone.  Brett asked how I felt about it and I said "It has to be a perfect match or forget it."  I realized the oven timer had been chiming for awhile; I skidded back into the kitchen and pulled a batch of charred cookies from the oven.

The cowboy was a good 45 minutes away so I went out to the barn to see if I could do something about Tex's dreadlocks.  With the wind and the rain, his long mane had turned into a huge tangled mess.  I groomed him outside of his stall, in the run-out, but under the barn roof overhang.  He's happier outside.  The rain came down while I curried and brushed Tex.  I had the halter on him, with the lead rope draped over my shoulder as I worked.  He didn't budge.  It took awhile to get the tangles out and he stood patiently for that as well.  When I finished, I used some Masterson releases and he relaxed right into them.  I took off the halter and left his stall.

A pick-up truck pulling a stock horse trailer came down our road and turned in the driveway.  I turned to Brett.

"If he thinks he can pull in here with a trailer and just take Tex away, he's got another thing coming." Tears pricked behind my eyes.  Good lord, I thought, I'm getting attached to this horse.

The cowboy was young; lanky and handsome in his jeans and cowboy hat.  He reminded me of the young wranglers at the Alisal ranch; polite and soft spoken.  Sure enough, he works on a cattle ranch a couple hours south of us and was looking for a horse to use at work.  And, to ride in rodeos.  He figured any horse could be "fixed" by just putting miles on him.  A little spice didn't bother him.

We told him that Tex isn't spicy.  He's level-headed and kind.  He just doesn't handle pressure well.  I said I didn't think he would make a good rodeo horse because of that.  The cowboy nodded.  He never touched Tex, wasn't interested in getting close.  He liked Tex's size, his strong bone, and his breeding (I guess the Drifter line makes great roping horses; who knew).  He asked if we would negotiate the price and I said no.  "The price is firm," I said. (I knew he was looking for a $500 horse).  "I'm not even sure whether we want to sell him.  I've started working with him and I like him a lot."

I put Tex back in his stall.  He dropped his head for me when I took off his halter; I gave him a cookie and a scratch on the withers.

Don't worry Tex; we're not going to sell you to a rodeo cowboy.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Catching Tex: Round 3

Friday I helped Brett bring the horses into the barn after work.  More rain, and possibly snow, are on the way through Christmas Day.

Tex watched me come into the pasture and moved off a few feet as we closed the gate.  Brett slipped on Flash's halter and I walked towards Tex.  He walked away so I sent him off.  He trotted over to Brett and Flash.  I was able to walk up to him, scratch his withers, but as the halter slid over his nose, Tex ducked backwards and trotted off.

Heavy sigh.  I slung the halter back over my shoulder and walked out into the pasture.  Tex circled once and stopped, watching me.  I stopped and said "So, what are you going to do?"

He dropped his head and walked over to me.  I was astounded.  But I tried not to show it.  Instead, I praised him and draped the rope over his neck.  He stood still while I put on the halter and I walked him to the barn on a loose lead.

Progress; we're making progress.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Random Friday

1.  Christmas is barreling towards us.  I still have so much baking to do and just this one weekend left.  I am working through the holidays with just the "eves," Christmas Day and New Years Day off.  I was able to do all of my Christmas shopping online which was a HUGE help. And I have severely curtailed my Christmas card list; limiting it to those people who I don't correspond with throughout the year.  I stopped at Starbucks in Placerville this morning and the place was full of people decked out in ski pants, buzzing with excitement as they headed to the snow.

2.  I've finally come up with a new name for Mufasa that I like, that Brett likes, and that Mufasa likes.  I'm calling him Tex.  He is, after all, a Texas bred roping horse.  He comes from a cowboy background and deserves a cowboy name.  Tex is simple to say and when I look at Mufasa, it fits. 

3.  Brett and I both have spots reserved in the Mark Rashid clinic in March.  Brett will work with Pistol and I will work with Tex.  I hope to have my relationship with Tex on more solid ground before we go.  Our cold, wet weather continues -- and Jackson's stall in the barn is the round pen -- so my opportunities to do much are limited at the moment. I'll work with him when I can and enjoy the rainfall when I can't. 

4.  At Thanksgiving, the kids and Brett requested that I stop making so many meals with Plated and the like.  They miss my cooking.  I'll still use the programs from time-to-time but not on a regular basis.  I've been annoyed more than once by late deliveries, incorrect/incomplete recipes and (the worst), a bag of beautifully chopped chard -- that was full of grit. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Calm Between the Storms

Our current storm has been washing over us in waves.  Each wave has been a bit colder and wilder than the last.  Saturday we had a respite.  The weather remained cold; but we didn't have rain so the horses spent the day playing  sleeping in their pastures.

Flash and Mufasa were lumpy bookends in their pasture.

The girls and Jackson played with the configuration in theirs; taking turns sleeping and standing guard.

The Crazy Sheeplady created a puzzle and included a link.  Now I'm hooked.  I've created a few puzzles from pictures of the horses.  Check out the one I made from the last picture here.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Random Friday

1.  Thanks for all the supportive comments on me working with Mufasa/Cinnamon.  I've had a few people tell me that they think Cinnamon is a girl name.  Interesting... I see it as one of those unisex names.  We'll see how things go and if the name sticks.  I will probably call him Cinn for short; Cinnamon is a bit of a mouthful when you are trying to spit out "Cinnamon, whoa." 

2.  The horses got their fall vaccinations today.  A new vet (new to us) came out since our usual vet is teaching full time now.  Brett called me afterwards and said the new vet was really good with the horses.  She immediately pegged Lucy as the princess.  Okay, okay; that's a no-brainer; she's very obvious about it.  But Brett liked how she interacted with the horses and donkeys and they seemed to like her.  We don't have any vet-hating or fearing animals right now, thank goodness. 

3.  We are in the midst of another winter storm.  The first wave came in yesterday with heavy rain and hail.  It is spitting a bit still, but we should have clear weather tonight and tomorrow morning before then next wave arrives.  It is supposed to be equally as strong, but colder.  We have a chance of snow on Monday.  The Sierras have been getting a lot of snow which is fantastic for skiers the snow pack.  This morning, when I merged onto the freeway, on my way to work, I was immediately surrounded by cars sporting thick blankets of snow. 

4.  Brett and Pistol had their first real session at Windows to My Soul this week.  Pistol carried around a developmentally disabled young adult who had never been on a horse before.  Brett led her around while the therapists worked with the client.  Everyone did well.  They worked on breathing and balance, primarily.  Brett said that when the client was able to relax, Pistol gave a huge, relaxed exhale.  I'm so proud of both Brett and Pistol.

5.  I sure enjoyed the "Changing Lens" post comments.  I have some more questions and may do another post with them in the next few weeks.  Brett didn't comment on the mare v. gelding question but I'm guessing he doesn't have a clear preference.  For police work, Flash was the perfect soldier and partner.  For the kind of riding Brett does now, Pistol is the willing, careful partner he needs.  She is also very affectionate and demonstrative to Brett.  I love that.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

First Session with Cinnamon

Today I had a work day that started very early -- but allowed me to be home before dark.  A storm is moving into the area tonight and I wanted to help Brett bring the horses into the barn.  After bringing in the girls and Jackson, we headed into the boy's pasture.  Flash met us at the gate while Mufasa Cinnamon stood watching from a safe distance.  I walked over, in a matter-of-fact, unhurried way.  He watched me and quivered a bit.  I centered myself and focused on his energy.  I could feel him wanting to leave so I said "whoa" in a firm, even voice.  He stood and I praised him for being brave.  I ran my hand under his long, matted mane and scratched his withers before putting on the halter.  As I slid it over his nose, he reversed and ducked his nose out -- and trotted off.

Interestingly, Cinnamon put himself on a large circle -- maybe 40 meters -- around me.  So, I behaved as if I were lunging him at liberty.  He was confused at first, but then complied.  Brett was mucking the pasture and Cinnamon trotted over and stopped near Brett and the muck cart.  I walked over and was able to stand next to Cinnamon for a few minutes, before the quivering won out and he left.  I didn't attempt to do anything with the halter.  I just wanted him to relax with me standing there.

We did some more circles of trot and then he stopped in a far corner.  I approached and he stayed.  Again, I rubbed and scratched him.  He wanted to leave (I wish I knew what he was so worried about) but he didn't.  I put the rope across his neck and, again, told him to whoa.  This time I was able to slide the halter on without a problem.

We walked out of the pasture and up past the donkeys to the dressage court.  Brett had added some more wood barriers to keep the sand from washing away and I wanted to see them.  As we walked along the outside of the arena, Tuffy started playing hard in the pasture behind us -- galloping, bucking and farting.  I jumped at the sudden noise.  Cinnamon took one step sideways, away from me, and stopped.  He handled it better than me.

I was able to lead him all over the property on a loose lead.  He does have lovely ground manners.

Next we practiced approaching the tie rail.  This has been a constant struggle for Brett.  Mufasa plants his feet or runs backwards.  He does not like the black stall mats in front of the tie rail -- I wonder if they look like a big black hole to him.  We approached the end of the mat in front of the tie rail and he stopped, then took a couple steps backwards.  I backed him up a few more steps, then walked forward again.  Same thing.  So, I backed him up fast.  He wasn't thrilled with that and followed me right onto the mat.

Last, when I took him into his stall, I asked him to lower his head while I took off the halter.  He braced initially, then gave a few inches.  It was enough.  I took off the halter and gave him a cookie.

Its a start.  I want Cinnamon to understand the rules.  I have clear expectations about grand manners.  I want him to trust me while we work together.  Having clear boundaries and expectations will ensure that he is successful.  I want him to learn that he doesn't have to worry about things when he is with me.  I was pleased, overall, with how it went today.  It's a start.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Changing Lens: Part 1

I came across some questions that are circulating on horse blogs.  I thought I'd take a stab at answering some them (since its too wet and cold to ride these days) -- but with a twist: I've noticed a change in my approach to riding and horses from when I was younger, so I'm going to focus on that a bit.

1.  Mares or Geldings?
When I was a teenager, I was fortunate to have a horse to ride.  She belonged to a family in town, who's children had left the nest.  She wasn't getting ridden and I was dying to do just that.  Her name was Charohanas -- or Charco for short.  She was a grey QH/Arabian with a snarky attitude.  I adored her.  I rode Charco almost everyday after school, all through high school.  I didn't care about boys, or dances much.  After swim practice, I headed for the foothills where Charco lived in a big pasture.  I rode her bareback; sometimes with my best friend and sometimes alone.  Before and after Charco, I always rode geldings and liked how un-snarky they are.  And then came Lucy.  Yes, she can be a prima dona and a jealous witch -- but I feel more connected to her than I have with any other horse -- except maybe Charco. 

2.  Green broke or fully broke?
When I was young, I thought green broke was fun.  I liked the clean slate and the opportunity to have a horse without baggage. 
Now, I like fully broke.  Especially after Winston -- green broke can mean my body gets broke.  I'm not flexible any more and my balance is definitely not what it used to be. 

3.  Would you own a "hot" breed (i.e., Arabian or TB)?
I've always been attracted to sensitive forward horses.  Arabians were my favorite breed when I was young, followed by thoroughbreds.  I'm too tall for Arabians but I would own another TB.  ... you also can't beat a sweet QH face, and they have the best brain.  When I was shopping for my first horse, I looked at a lot of Appendix QH (half QH and half TB).  When I sold Winston, I was looking for any breed.  Actually, when I bought Winston I was also looking at any breed, and any color, that met my needs. I was looking for attitude, willingness, and sensitivity.  Fortunately, Lucy has all three of those qualities so I'm not looking anymore. 

4.  What was your dream horse growing up?
I don't think I had a dream horse.  I read a lot of books; many of them with horses.  I think each horse in each book (or short story) was my dream horse.  I just wanted a horse.  Any horse.  Short, tall, fat, thin, sound or crippled.  I didn't care.  I just wanted a horse.

How about you?  What do you prefer?

Friday, December 4, 2015

Random Friday

1.  I received a gift from my friend, and neighbor, Nancy.  She loves to quilt and made me this wall hanging of Kersey.  I admit to getting a bit teary eyed when she gave it to me.  Isn't it perfect above Kersey's bed?

2.  We finished out November with 85% of normal rainfall.  It felt like a lot of rain to Brett and I -- a storm every 7 days or so -- but we've been in a drought situation since we moved here so we don't really know what normal is here.  Southern California, where we were both born and lived most of our lives, is very dry compared to Northern California.  

3.  It has also been very cold; lots of frost, ice and even some snow before Thanksgiving.  The arena is very soggy for the hour or two each day that it thaws.  The rest of the time it is frozen rock hard.  The sand is holding a lot of water.  I think our new normal will be riding in the spring and fall, with infrequent rides in summer (when it is ungodly hot) and winter. 

4.  I've been thinking about working with Mufasa.  We haven't gotten many (okay, just two) inquiries from the ad so it looks like he will be with us for a while.  The last few times we've needed to bring him into the barn, Brett has asked me to deal with him.  The energy between the two of them just doesn't work.  Isn't it funny the way that is?  Just like with people, there are some horses you click with and some you don't.  Brett and Mufasa never clicked and it has just gotten more difficult over time.  They've lost confidence in each other and Brett has a very short fuse that quickly runs to frustration and anger.  I feel something with Mufasa; I can't really say what it is at this point but I want to explore it.  He trusts me and I think my quiet, patient energy suits him better than Brett's energy.  Since the arena isn't useable at this point, I'll be concentrating on groundwork to build trust and confidence.  We'll see how it goes.  There is a little voice in the back of my head reminding me that Mufasa is awesome on the trail -- and wouldn't it be cool to have a trail horse to ride.  Lucy hates the trail; too many things to worry about out there; trolls and dwarfs in the bushes and trees.

5.  If it works out with Mufasa, I might have to change his name.  I have been using a different name in my head for him since he arrived.  Brett hated it...  I might need to broach it again.  He looks like Cinnamon to me. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A Long Drive Home

Tonight, after work, I walked out of my building into the dusk pulling my mother's grey-blue suede jacket close around me to keep out the chill.  It had been a long day in the office and I was tired.  I hiked out to the end of the last row in the parking lot and sank into my car.  I threw my bag on the seat next to a bag of juicy mandarin oranges that I had picked up at a roadside stand, after my morning meeting, at one of our hospitals located in a farming community.

I turned the radio to NPR so I could catch the news and the latest status of the shootings in San Bernardino.  As I drove east, with a brilliant sunset in my rearview mirror, I listened to reporters re-hash the story while they waited for a briefing by the San Bernardino law enforcement agencies.  I was so intent on the story, that I blew right past my exit for the country road that leads home.

The next exit was 10 miles further up the freeway.  As I climbed higher into the Sierras, I scanned the exits looking for one to take me home.  Finally, the exit for Pollack Pines appeared and I steered my little car down the off-ramp.  The road didn't look familiar; I wanted to head to to the lake and then drop down from there into our valley.  But this was a narrow, dark, winding road with houses set back from the street here and there.  I thought about stopping and turning on my GPS but I didn't want to stop listening to the news.  Finally, I pulled over and fished my phone out of my bag.  I was, fortunately, headed in the right direction.  A half-mile further on, I turned toward the lake and then started dropping down towards home.

A small doe appeared on the side of the road.  I watched her and, sure enough, she decided to make a dash for the other side as I approached.  I slammed on the brakes; she looked at the car and put on her brakes as well.  I stopped with her nose touching the driver-side door.  I took a deep breath and kept going.

I was almost an hour late getting home.  I was too distracted to cook.  We ordered pizza at the corner pizza place and Brett went to pick it up while I changed and lit a fire in the wood stove.  He called and said that they had burnt our pizza and were making us a new one, so he'd be a bit later getting home back home.

I think everyone was distracted tonight.  Paris, Mali, the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado, the Russian passenger plane, not to mention the ongoing terrorism in Syria, the Middle East, Africa, and now this... it's just too much hate to comprehend.