Friday, January 29, 2016

Random Friday

1.  We had dry weather all week but the rain returned last night.  A heavy, wet, warm storm (from Hawaii) will drench us today and tomorrow and then the temperature will plummet.  An Alaskan storm moves in Sunday with a possibility of snow.  During the week, for the first time this month, I was able to go for a walk outside on my lunch instead of my usual -- walking up and down the stairwell (my office is on the third floor).

2.  Last night we brought the horses into the barn at dinner time.  I walked up to Tex, who was waiting for me, and gave his neck a scratch.  He backed up two steps.  I walked the two steps to put myself halfway between his neck and withers.  Same thing, he backed up two steps.  What the heck?!  Tex, are we going backwards here?  He looked at me and dropped his head low.  I can be so dense sometimes.  He was backing up to put his head in the halter.

3.  Jackson has been spending his outside time in the arena.  I can't get his hoof boots back on; his hooves have grown too long.  I don't think they were trimmed short enough last time (obviously) and it is probably why Jackson was objecting to them so much.  I looked into the EasyCare shoes that The Dancing Donkey recommended but I don't think they are a viable option for Jackson.  The performance shoes don't have sole protection and if they were combined with some sort of pad, it would require nails and his hoof wall isn't strong enough for nails.  They do sell boots to protect thin soles but they looked similar to what I use now.

4.  Brett has been limping around the past week.  His foot has been bothering him -- ranging from uncomfortable to shooting pain/can't walk.  I've been going into work late and coming home early to muck out the pastures for him and today I finally convinced him to go to the doctor.  They took x-rays and will let him know Monday.  In the meantime, I'm trying to convince him to wear his most comfortable boots (he doesn't want to get them muddy).

5.  Some of you may remember Auke, a Friesian I had for five years and sold six years ago to a young rider in Nebraska.  He was talented and gorgeous, but not a good match for me.  We did fine when we had regular weekly training but when that became impossible financially and logistically, we got nowhere.  He thrived with his young rider and she took him to PSG.  Now, she has finished her undergraduate work and is off to medical school -- and will not be able to give him the regular work he needs.  She offered him back to me but I'm very happy with Lucy, who is perfect for me, and I take lessons very sporadically now.  His owner adores him so I know she will take the time to make sure he goes to a home where he will continue to thrive.  He certainly did with her.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Why I Love Tex

While Brett watched football this afternoon, I went outside to work with Tex.  Both Jackson, in the small arena, and Flash, in the front pasture, were taking naps.  Jackson jumped to his feet before I could get a picture but Flash barely moved.

When Flash started rubbing his neck in the mud, I whipped out my camera to get a video.  Tex, who was grazing down by the stream, decided to investigate.

How can you not love that face?

This morning, as I was dumping a load of manure in the compost pile I glanced over and saw Tex at the bottom of the pasture, picking his way carefully through the water.  He looked over at me, changed direction and walked all the way from the far corner, across the pasture, and over to me.  Just to say hi.

Today we worked on walking, stopping, walking with Tex doing exactly what I was doing.  We also spent some time up at the dressage court walking up to the mounting block.  I wanted him to walk up and stand still while I climbed up and down the steps.  He swung his butt away the first time, but by the third or fourth time he stood still while I climbed around.  At the end I stood on the top of the block and gave him a thorough back scratch.

Last, I worked with standing on his right and (horrors) touching him.  I practiced a bit of Mark Rashid's technique of resting a hand on Tex's neck, using my energy to pull him to me, and then releasing when he did.  I can walk up to Tex on his left and give him a good rub on the neck with no trouble.  Today, I was able to rub on the right while he dropped his head and chewed.  Small as it seems, I think that was the biggest breakthrough today.

I remember Mark Rashid telling Brett that Tex is a good horse, that he wants to like and trust people, he just needs someone to show him how.  I feel Tex's energy trying so hard to trust, to get it right, to be a good boy.  The desire to be good trumps everything else in my book.  That energy, desire and try are what draws me to this horse and keeps me coming back for more.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Random Friday

1.  Olivia asked if we've thought of glue-on shoes/pads for Jackson.  We did try those a number of years ago and it didn't work well at all.  I mentioned it to our farrier this fall in the hopes that technology had improved, but he strongly recommended that we stick with boots.

2.  Linda commented that it is hard when our horses don't understand that we are trying to help them. Oh, man, is this true or what.  For any of our animals.  I wish I could explain to Jackson that the boots help his feet, that he can't go barefoot into the rocky pasture with Lucy because he'll get an abscess, and that I'm trying to keep him sound so he can live a happy, long life.  All he sees is that he has to wear big black boots that rub his heels and clomp when he walks, and that he is separated from Lucy.
3.  Thanks also for all the comments on my food posts.  The positive feedback on the dessert, in particular, made all the work worthwhile.  Well, the fact that Brett finished it off in nothing flat felt pretty good too.

4.  We had rain for eight days straight; then a break for a day and a half.  Today the first of two storms arrived; the second, tomorrow, will be colder (but not cold enough for us to get snow).   Starting Sunday, we should have a week with no rain.  A break will be nice but a part of me will worry until the next storm pops up on the weather report.  We have a long way to go yet to get out of the damage the drought has done to lake levels and water tables.

5.  Brett and Pistol worked another therapy session on Wednesday.  The break in the weather was perfectly timed.  Brett wasn't sure how Pistol would be since she hasn't been to the center since before Christmas -- they were closed for the holidays and then the rain started.  Brett shared his concern with the director and she said they would see how Pistol was feeling when she arrived, and if she was too wound up they would do something else.  Horse people know that you have to work with the horse you have on any given day; you can't do much about their mood or energy level.  Pistol, of course, was stellar.  Cool, calm and collected; she put her head down and did her job.  Brett is so proud of her.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Jackson Has Attitude

...and not in a good way.

Yes, Jackson is very sweet and loves people and is everyone's favorite.  But, he can also be a pushy, opinionated SOB horse.

Jackson has very thin soles on his feet which means in the winter, when his soles are soft, he will get an abscess from a bruise caused by a pebble.  We tried putting pads over his soles, held in place by a horse shoe but his hoof wall is thin and weak so the nails never held.  As a result he is barefoot -- and sound in the summer when his soles are dry and hard.  Last winter we discovered that putting trail boots (think hiking boots for horses with leather uppers and rubber soles) on over his hoofs worked great.  The thick rubber soles kept him from getting bruised and the leather tops velcroed securely around his feet.

When we bring the horses into the barn during high wind/heavy rain/blowing snow days and nights, Jackson goes into the covered round pen.  The walls are too high to see over but there is a gap between the top and the roof so it is well lit.  He can hang his head over the gate Brett installed that leads into the barn so he can see all the activity.  We put him in there because it is completely dry and sandy.  There are no stones and no mud so I can remove his boots and let his feet breathe a bit.  Besides, he doesn't really like the boots so its nice for him to be rid of them for a while.

We brought the horses into the barn Monday evening, in advance of the heavy rain and high wind that arrived late that night.  Jackson began working on his hay while I took off his boots.  The two boots in the back were new; he wears boots out in a month or two.  I knew that the new one on his left hind was uncomfortable -- he had been shaking his leg for the past few days in an effort to get rid of it.  I had wrapped some vet tape on his hoof so the boot wouldn't rub -- the same way we put a band-aid on the heel of our foot when a new shoe is rubbing.

I removed a front boot first and he was very reluctant to pick up his foot for me; and then yanked it away and slammed it back down to the ground.  After three tries (and some harsh words), I got him to hold still and removed the boot.  Then I moved to the hind leg; same thing; reluctant to pick up the foot and then lots of yanking.  He yanked forward and back, forward and back, and then sideways -- neatly nailing the side of my calf.  A direct hit.  A willful, "take that" blatant crossing of the line.

I was not impressed.  I went into alpha-mare mode -- pinned my ears and smacked him hard.  He moved away a few steps and looked at me sheepishly.  I took off the other two boots with no drama whatsoever -- and marched out without giving him the cookie in my pocket.  (Brett found it in the washing machine a few days later).

Wednesday morning brought another break between storms.  Brett asked me to put Jackson's boots on in the morning before going to work.  With his arthritic fingers, its hard for him to get the velcro straps looped in and tightened.  If Jackson pitched another fit, he wouldn't have an ice cube's chance in hell of getting the boots on.  Jackson stood quietly for me while I put on the front boot.  Then I moved to the back and he again complied.  However, his hoof had a big splinter half torn off (barefoot horses wear down their hoofs in scuffs and cracks and tears).  The splinter was sticking straight out from the hoof like a finger and was too large, thick and rigid to bend or remove.  There was no way I was going to get a boot on that foot.

Instead, we put him in the small fenced arena so could enjoy the sunshine while barefoot on the sand.  Brett gave him some hay and set up water -- which was delayed due to a cracked water pipe that was leaking into the front pasture.  While Brett worked on fixing the pipe, I let the goats out and watched Lucy and Jackson pitch a Romeo and Juliet separation fit.  The arena is next to the front pasture, with a walkway between the two.  Lucy was at the gate on her side, bucking and calling and racing around.  Jackson was at his gate, bucking in place and arching his neck like a stallion.

It is hard to be Jackson sometimes.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Craving Lasagne

All the cold rainy weather we've been having made me crave lasagne.  We invited our friends, George and Nancy, to join us for dinner Sunday and I spent the day in the kitchen.

I baked a loaf of crusty bread.

I assembled the lasagne: lots of homemade sauce (there's nothing worse than dry lasagne); ricotta blended with an egg, parsley, salt & pepper; mushrooms; sausage; and mozzarella cheese.  I sprinkled some Parmesan on top and set it aside to go in the oven when they arrived.

Dessert took a long time.  I should have realized that a three page recipe was going to be time consuming.  The crust was lightly perfumed with lemon zest and rich with egg yolks; a layer of crushed petit buerre cookies and a boat-load of apples and calvados-soaked raisins then filled the pan; then a custard was poured over the whole thing and baked.  A dusting of powdered sugar before serving and, voila, dessert.

Brett took a double serving of lasagne to start and went back for seconds.  I guess it turned out alright.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A Break in the Weather

We were supposed to have rain on Monday but instead we had a sunshine filled morning.  We moved the horses outside, Brett cut up some kindling, I worked in the garden -- and spent some time with Tex.

The other day I was able to put a nice tight braid in his mane.  It laid nicely against his neck when his head was down to graze

...and relaxed into a wave when his head was up.

This morning more than half of it was out.  I decided to leave it out.  It gives me a reason to spend time with him, brushing his gorgeous mane.

Today we practiced grooming at the tie rail.  He backed out of the space quite a few times so we were busy going back, back, back and then forward.  He finally gave up and stayed put.  And he didn't get attacked by trolls.  He was very good about the curry and body brush.  When his mane was tangle free I pulled out my uber-soft face brush.  I started on his neck and then moved to his face.  He tolerated it; not thrilled but not resistant either.

Afterwards, I let him hand graze around the clumps of green grass sprouting everywhere.

He watches me like a hawk now and he waits for me at the gate when I go in with his halter.  He has gone from walking away, to staying put, to coming to meet me.

It's baby steps, but they are all going in the right direction.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Chez Panisse

Kyle lives in Berkeley now.  He lives verrrrry close to Chez Panisse, Alice Waters' famous restaurant.  Being a hard-core foodie, the restaurant has been on my bucket list for a number of years.  Kyle got the foodie gene (and Camille is developing a taste for fine dining as well).  I was able to get reservations for dinner so Brett and I took Kyle and Ana there for dinner.  It was Kyle's birthday gift and birthday dinner all rolled into one (an exceptionally nice one this year).

There are two seatings for dinner.  The menu is set and posted as the week begins.  No substitutions, no changes to the menu, no allowances.  You come and eat what is served.  End of story.  We were all okay with that, and waited for the menu to post.

When we picked up Kyle and Ana, she confessed that she was nervous about the fish course.  Ana isn't a fish fan but she was game to try it -- and Kyle volunteered to finish that course for her if she didn't like it.

The restaurant is in a narrow house with handful of tables downstairs in the restaurant.  A more casual cafe is located upstairs.  The lighting is warm, the service superb, and food exquisite.

We started with an aperitif - Perseco infused with rosemary; and goose on a canapé.

The salad was one of my favorite courses -- chicory and mint salad with crispy beets, creme fraiche, and steelhead roe.

The fish course was striped bass with fennel purée, coriander and olio nuovo.  Poor Kyle, Ana ate all of her fish, including the crispy skin.

The main course was squab cooked over the open fire, with sage and tangerine sauce, parsnip purée, kabobha squash fritters and watercress.  It was to.die.for.
Dessert was tarte tatin with Calvados ice cream.

The food and the restaurant lived up to its reputation.  Kyle said he didn't want the meal to end, he savored every bite.  Brett couldn't stop talking about the parsnip purée -- and Ana couldn't believe how wonderful the fish tasted.  Fish!  Who would have thought it could be so tasty.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Fire Breathing Dragon

We keep the horses in the barn when the rain is heavy and the wind is strong.  If we have light, intermittent showers, the horses are out in their pastures.  As a result, there is a lot of moving them back-and-forth.  Last week, while I was at work, Brett took the horses out.  He told me that Lucy was prancing, and dancing; spinning and snorting; rearing and breathing fire.  He got her moved, but it wasn't a pleasant experience.

Thursday, I made a point of leaving work early so I could be home before the rain started.  I wanted to help move the horses in -- particularly Lucy and Tex.  Jackson was already in; with his abscess we had kept him in the covered round pen.  He was not impressed.

As I grabbed my bag off of the passenger seat and slid out of my car, the rain started to come down.  I changed into my barn clothes and headed out to get Lucy.  She and Pistol were at the far end of their pasture, by the front gate, calmly watching Brett put the trash cans curbside.  They looked over at me and started ambling my direction.  Sheesh, I thought, I'm going to be drenched by the time they get here.  As I sighed and waited, Lucy and Pistol jumped forward and came towards me at a full gallop, sliding to a bucking stop in front of me.  I was busy doing jumping jacks and yelling to keep them out of my space.  So dignified.

I slipped the halter on Lucy who was still snorting loudly.

You need to walk like a lady, Lucy.  No antics.

But I'm getting wet! she snorted.

You've been standing in the rain, calmly, for half an hour.  Don't give me that crap.  You are a ranch horse now.  Drop your head and breathe.  I tugged downward on the lead rope until she sighed and dropped her head.

She continued to snort and breathe fire as I closed the gate behind us.  Pistol bucking in place and Jackson calling from the barn didn't help matters.

Trolls!!!  she screamed and spun away from me.

Chickens, Lucy.  Its the chickens.  You watch them all day long.  Get a grip.  Once again, I tugged until she dropped her head and stood quietly.  We resumed walking.

Trolls!  More trolls!

Tuffy had walked up to his pasture fence to see what all the excitement was about.  We rounded the corner past the hen house and... you guessed.. more trolls.

Brett was standing by the trash cans waiting for me to get Lucy in her stall before taking the next one down to the street.  He was getting drenched.  Apparently he resembled a wet troll.

The rest of the horses were well behaved.  Tex waited for me (although he did take a step back when the goats came charging over to see if I had Cheerios on me).  They decided it was raining a bit more than they liked and headed for their shelter.  Tex stood at my shoulder, waiting.  I slipped the halter on and led him to the barn.

I am seriously getting attached to that horse.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Random Friday

1.  I have been floored by the response to my "acceptance" post.  I had no idea it would resonate with so many people.  Honestly, when I wrote it I was hesitant to hit the "publish" button.  It seemed so... personal ... so petty.  It is a HUGE comfort knowing that I'm not the only one who struggles with accepting the body type that goes with 50+.  My mom used to say that when she got older, she never recognized herself in the mirror.  That woman with grey hair and wrinkles just couldn't be her.  I have to admit, I understand the feeling now.  The picture of me in my brain and the reflection in the mirror do not match.  I'm going to try to come to terms with that; accept that -- who knows, maybe even (huge leap of faith) embrace it.

2.  Jackson has his first abscess of the season.  I can't believe he made it through two and half very wet months before succumbing.  I tried a new style of hoof boot when I ordered replacements last time; they were less expensive and easier to put on.  Jackson was not impressed.  He figured out that if he lifted his hind foot and gave it a good shake, he could get rid of the boot.  Over the past month, we've found him many mornings sporting three boots.  I scour the pasture, find the missing boot, put it back on -- and Jackson glares at me.  I ordered more of the original kind, but not before he managed to keep a boot off long enough to bruise his sole and get an abscess.

3.  The chickens are laying again.  Glory hallelujah!  We have twelve hens and five or six of them are back in service.  It is so nice to have plenty of eggs again.  Brett and I were negotiating for the few we were getting from the three youngest who didn't stop laying.  I'd reserve a couple for a recipe; one for breakfast on the weekend; and Brett would hoard the rest until there were enough for him to make scrambled eggs.

4.  I'm looking forward to a quiet weekend at home.  Last weekend we flew down to Southern California where we ran from function to function.  We had a great time but I missed my quiet weekends with the animals and the time spent in front of the wood-stove recharging my batteries. We had lunch at Brett's son's restaurant with my daughter and her boyfriend.  The food was amazing.  Then we were off to a retirement party for one of Brett's good friends at the police department.  Not many of the guys that he worked with are still there; everyone has retired.  But many of them came to the celebration so it was fun to see everyone and catch up.  Sunday morning, we went to brunch with a group of women that I used to work with before we moved to Northern California.  Again, great to catch up on what everyone is doing personally and professionally -- mostly, personally.  When we got home late Sunday night, it was 47F in the house -- no heater and no wood-stove for two days of cold and rain.  It took a few days to get the damp coldness out of the corners of the house.

5.  Rain continues.  Lots of snow in the higher elevations.  And a few hours of sunshine today between fronts.  The streams are all singing and the pond is filling faster than the overflow drain can handle at times.  The horses are covered in mud.  Life is good.

Sunday, January 10, 2016


My word for 2016

In 2015, I worked hard on being authentic -- my word for last year.  It was a good word for me, it resonated in most everything I did from letting my hair go grey to being real at work.  We ate authentic food which I interpreted as whole food; more veggies, less red meat, more fish, more seasonal and less processed.  Brett pretty much kicked his chips habit and rarely drinks soda.  He still needs something sweet after dinner, so most nights the smell of cinnamon toast wafts from the kitchen.  But, I was happy with my authentic year.

I didn't think I'd be able to come up with a good word for 2016; authentic was going to be hard to beat.

Wednesday morning, I was driving with a colleague to a meeting.  We're about the same age and our conversation turned to the "joys" of being 50-something and menopausal.  Over the sound of the slapping windshield wipers, I complained loud and long about the layer of fat that has attached itself to my belly.  It irritates the hell out of me.  I have never in my life had belly fat before and now I have (shudder) a roll.  Being a wise friend, as well as a co-worker, she turned to me and said "you just have to accept that this is who you are now.  You have to be okay with it."  The wind blew the car a bit, and the rain beat down, as her words sunk in and stuck.

She's right, of course.  I'm never going to be the skinny leggy thing (with no boobs) of my youth.  In many ways, I am a tall version of my Grammie; my dad's mother.  She was barely 5 feet tall, very lively, and no one would have called her thin.  She swam at the community pool and took long walks in the evenings.  She was an amazing cook (my inspiration) and ate a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables.  The last thing I cared about was her figure.  I cared about how she made me feel -- loved and special -- and how she taught me to cook traditional Hungarian food. My husband and kids like me just the way I am.  I need to let fat resentment go -- and toss the clothes that will never, ever fit me again.

I don't have any intention of adding more rolls of fat and being a blob.  I will exercise and stay fit -- but I will do my best to accept who I am now, at this point in my life.  I will eat healthy foods cooked with real butter and whole milk.  I will ride my horse and walk the dog and kayak.  I will drink wine and live this life we've chosen to the fullest.

And I'll secretly pray that I don't blimp out.  It's going to take me all year on this one.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Random Friday

1.  I love the conversations that are occurring in response to my Changing Lens series.  Lori asked if I've ever tried riding in a hackamore or other bitless bridle (in response to the question on bits).  I've ridden in one, once or twice.  I actually worry a lot about the nose pressure that is caused with a hackamore.  They can be very harsh (but bits can be too) and I, personally, do not like the feel I get with a bitless bridle.  I have very light hands so the pressure on the bit is more of a "holding your hand" than a pulling thing.  I also love feeling conversation travel through the reins; I love when Lucy chews happily on the bit.  She can't wait to get it in her mouth when I bridle her so it must be comfortable.  I don't think I'll ever ride in a double bridle -- if you are riding well, you should be able to do everything in a snaffle and two bits is just too much metal in the mouth.  I have no idea why upper level dressage requires a double bridle; it has never made sense to me.  Nirvana would be riding with no bridle, bitless or otherwise.  I have the most admiration for people who ride grand prix movements, in total harmony and balance, bareback with no bridle.

2.  We are back to icy, cold, and wet weather.  Yesterday, the latest storm eased and left a cold day with intermittent drizzle in its wake.  Brett moved the horses back out to the pasture.  They get cabin fever in the worst way in the barn.  Another storm arrives tonight so we wanted them to have a day, at least, to chill in the pasture.  Jackson went out first and was a perfect gentleman.  Lucy went next and she danced all the way to the pasture.  Brett said she danced, she spun, she reared and her head was high the whole way over.  Even Pistol was prancing on her turn.  Flash and Tex were "up," but well behaved.  This morning, as I stood at the kitchen sink throwing ingredients in the crock pot for tonight's dinner, I watched Lucy, Pistol and Jackson racing around their pasture in the icy morning air.  Once the sun is up, they all sleep in the mud; stretched out on the ground.

3.  Brett had to move Tex in and out of the barn before the last storm because I was at work.  He had no trouble at all.  Tex dropped his head into the halter for Brett, as he has been doing for me.  True progress.

4.  I felt pretty spoiled this last Christmas with the all gifts I received from my family.  Last year, I started coloring in "adult" coloring books and discovered that I really enjoy it.  It's an activity that I can lose myself in and is a great stress reducer.  For Christmas, I got two coloring books and have been busy in the evenings and on weekends.  I'm particularly pleased with how this picture came out (I use color pencils).  I watched a couple "how-to" videos on YouTube and off I went.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Changing Lens: Part 3

1. Why do you ride?
I ride because I'm obsessed with it; because I'm addicted to the feeling of connection and partnership; and as my ability to ride improves I'm experiencing an amazing conversation and energy that flows between me and the horse.  The conversation has always been there but it has evolved from "do what I say and do it my way," to being able to think about a change in gait, and the thought being understood and executed with no force.  ...its rather hard to explain without sounding all telepathic and psychopathic, but horses are incredibly sensitive.  When I'm thinking about something, Lucy knows it.  I have to be careful that I only think about what I want in the moment.  If I think, "cantering would be nice in a bit," Lucy hears "canter" and ignores the part about "in a bit" and then I have to manage her over-achieving eagerness.

2.  How old were you when you started riding? How many years have you been riding?
I think this is a trick question so you can figure out my age.  I was in fifth or sixth grade when I started riding.  There was a boarding stable a few blocks from my home and I spent everyday after school there; feeding carrots and sugar lumps to the horses.  The owner of the stable had a one-eyed dappled Shetland pony named Petey.  He let me groom Petey and eventually, ride him as well.  I rode in the arena, bareback.  He was a mischievous, naughty pony but I didn't care.  As I grew up, through middle school, I went to horse camp every year.  This was at a local riding stable that rented horses for trail riding in the hills in the southern part of my town.  I saved all my money to ride there and I still remember my favorites: a tall grey named Pharoah and a chestnut Tennessee Walker named King.  In high school, I was fortunate to find an empty nest family with a horse that needed to be ridden. Charco was a grey QH/Arabian mix; very snarky and not very fast but with lovely smooth gaits.  I rode her bareback as well; up in the foothills or in a public arena that was close enough to ride to.  I loved cantering on her -- I didn't recognize it at the time but it was my first experience with dressage; she lifted her back and carried me along.  It was heaven.  I rode a bit in college with a friend who had horses and then stopped completely when I got married.  I picked it up again at 40 and have been riding consistently since then (I'm 55 now).  I guess I've been riding close to 30 years.

3.  Your first fall?
I fell off Petey, the Shetland pony, all the time.  He would dump me and head for an open stall where I would find him cleaning up some other horse's hay.  I probably fell off of him more days than not.  He was a brat.  He was also very low to the ground.

4.  English or western? What discipline (dressage, jumping, trail, roping)?
I am most comfortable in a dressage saddle and I love the one I have now which is a close contact model.  There is very little leather between me and Lucy.  I'm still most comfortable with the feel of bareback, which this saddle gives me -- plus some security.  I did not ride much in a western saddle, other than at rental stables, growing up and I'm not nearly as comfortable in one.  I like being able to feel the horse under my leg, to feel the muscles tense or twitch, and in a Western saddle I don't feel as connected.  I did some jumping when I was younger but once I discovered dressage, I lost interest in everything else.  I do enjoy a short trail ride once in awhile, particularly in a beautiful location, but my heart belongs to dressage, the balanced dance, and that whole unspoken dialogue I tried to explain above.

5.  When was the last time you rode and what did you do?
The last time I rode was Sunday, January 3rd.  I rode Lucy in the arena.  She was pretty hyper at first but then we were both able to relax and have a wonderful conversation.

6.  Have you ever had to put down a horse that you loved?
This is downer of a last question.  Jeez.  Yes, I have done this.  It is the hardest part of horse ownership.  We've put down two horses: Strider and Starman.  Strider was not emotionally bonded with us and he was in a lot of pain from laminitis.  It was not horribly difficult to put him down.  Starman was my first horse (I don't count Mr. Mike who was mean and who I sold after a couple bad falls).  I loved Starman.  He carried me for as long as he could and then Camille rode him.  When he couldn't carry her anymore, we got him the miniature donkeys for companions.  He lived to be 20-something (his age was never clear-cut).  He got an infection, became septic, and despite a week of inpatient care at the equine hospital we couldn't save him.  We brought him back home before putting him down.  His story is here.  I still miss him.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Changing Lens: Part 2

1.  What kind of bit do you use and why?
   When I was a kid and a young adult, I used a curb bit. It was the only bit I had ever been exposed to and I didn't have my own horse so I used the bit and bridle that belonged to whichever horse I was borrowing at the time.  The horses were all western trail horses so curb was the bit.  I did learn to ride on a loose rein with little to no contact.  When I returned to riding much later, after having kids and establishing my career, and ditching the unsupportive husband getting divorced, I took dressage lessons and became familiar with the snaffle bit.  I use it exclusively now; both for dressage and trail riding.  I expect Tex would go well in either, given his background in rodeo roping, although he seems happy in a snaffle.

2.  Helmet or no helmet?
   Brett and I both always, always ride with a helmet.  We require that helmets be used by anyone riding our horses as well.  I was bucked off of Mr. Mike, when I returned to riding and finally bought a horse of my own, and was fortunately wearing a helmet.  I never wore a helmet when I was a kid.  No self-respecting kid or trail rider did.  But by the time I returned, helmets were the norm for dressage.  I came out of that hard fall a bit dazed, with whiplash and a helmet sporting a huge crack.  A few years later, Brett fell when trying to mount from a boulder. Strider who was trail solid, scooted away at the last minute and ran for home, -- and Brett got his very own cracked helmet.  Horses are prey animals.  If they are startled, they head for the hills and ask questions later.  Riders don't always stay on for the entire trip to the hills. 

3.  Favorite horse color
   When I was a kid, I was in love with the Black Stallion so a shiny blue black coat was my favorite.  I've always been drawn to solid colors and I prefer rich, deep colors so dark bays followed my love of black and then I went through a long period of loving dark antique gold buckskins with silken black manes and tails.  When we bought Strider, I fell in love with his shiny copper-penny summer coat.  I think chestnut remains my favorite color; although a well muscled elegant mover of any color is eye candy.

4.  Least favorite horse color
   I don't like cremolas much.  And, I have to admit that I prefer solids to patterns (I'm the same way with clothes).  That being said, we've had some awesome Paint horses and Winston's appaloosa coloring was fun.  I wouldn't reject a horse based on color and I love Jackson's dark eyes against his grey coat, even though grey has never been top of my list.  And, like with people, personality becomes the color you see after you've known them for awhile.  The rest of it just fades away.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Lucy Gets a Turn

Finally, she said.  Finally.  I've been watching you with Tex, and I'm not happy about it.
I know, Lucy.  I see you with your head hanging over the fence watching us and I hear you calling me.  I'm sorry.

Sunday, we were able to ride.  We've had a handful of days without rain or snow, and two days with temperatures reaching the low 50s. The ground was still sloppy in most places but the small arena behind the barn was in good shape.

Lucy was anxious to get the show on the road.  I groomed and tacked her up as quickly as I could, but she still pawed impatiently.  I felt like I was grooming a bear and not a horse, her hair is very thick and long.

I walked her around the arena a few times since she's only been in there once or twice.  She settled a bit but still managed a spook spin as we finished our sixth lap.  I decided to lunge her.  Brett and Pistol watched as Lucy raced around, crow hopping and flinging her head.  When she was obedient and prompt to my voice commands, I got on.  Actually, I stood at the top of the mounting block taking deep breaths before I got on.  It had been two months since our last ride, she was full of it -- and I was nervous.

I needn't have been; Lucy was very good.  Very forward, but able to relax and stretch.  We didn't ride terribly long; I didn't want her to get sweaty since it would take her forever to dry.  Mostly, I tried to remember our lessons on transitions from the workshop with Sandy in September.

I'm not sure when I'll get another chance to ride.  Storm systems are lined up over the Pacific; rain has started again and will last at least through Sunday.  We need the rain more than Lucy and I need to ride, so I'm okay with that.    The nice thing about Lucy being almost 14 years old is that her training is solid.  If she doesn't get ridden regularly, she loses fitness but not memory.

Our Sierra snow pack is at 110% of normal for this time of year; fingers crossed that the wet cold weather continues.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Building a Bond

Yesterday was cool and cloudy, another storm system is building.  I wanted to work with Tex, though, so I put on my jacket and gloves and headed to the pasture.

"Hi, Tex"
"Oh, its you."  Tex swung his haunches away from me and then walked over.  As I lifted my arm to drape the rope over his neck, he took a nervous step away from me.
"Whoa, Tex.  No need to leave."
"Okay, I won't."
I always wait for him to drop his nose into the halter.  I think its less stressful for him if he chooses the halter, rather than it being forced on him.  I walked him up to the tie rail where my tack box was waiting.  I didn't tie him, I just draped the rope over my shoulder and proceeded to groom him.  A couple of times, he backed up, away from the tie rail area.

Lucy sees trolls in the dressage court.  Tex sees them at the tie rail.  Our property must be a real troll city.  They seem to be everywhere.

When Tex backed up, I kept him backing beyond the point where it was what he wanted.  Then we calmly walked back to our grooming spot at the tie rail.  I was able to groom his left side with no trouble.  The right side was more problematic; he is very nervous when you are on that side of him.  At one point, he stretched his nose towards my face and without even thinking I kissed him on his velvet muzzle.
"Holy crap, woman!  What are you doing!!"  and he jumped back.  Poor Tex, I think it was his first kiss.

We worked in the arena for awhile on the lunge.  As long as I was to his left, he went fine.  But having him go to the right was another story.  He respectfully declined.  He wasn't rude, he just kept swinging his butt away from me instead of moving off.  Part of it was not understanding, and part of it was not wanting me on his right.  I took off the lunge line and decided to try it with Tex at liberty.  That way, I could be further away from him and hopefully he could figure it out without being stressed.  We went left, the easy way first, and he was good as gold.  Then I asked him to turn -- he thought about it and then took a few tentative steps in the correct direction.  I praised him and he kept going.

Afterwards, I tried putting his long, thick copper mane into a reverse braid.  Keeping the tangles and dreadlocks under control is a huge challenge.  I used a reverse braid with my Friesian and it worked great.  I start at the withers and French braid up to the poll.  It is important that the head be down so the braid doesn't pull on the neck when they eat.  I used to braid Auke in his stall, while he was eating.  I led Tex over to some grass and got to work.  I did a fast, loose braid because he really wasn't sure about the whole thing.  By this morning 90% of it was undone.  I had expected that; the first braid was just to get him used to the process.

I worked with him again today.  Catching and haltering are easy peasy now.  I was able to groom both sides with him ground tied.  He only backed up twice.  We put Flash and Tex in the arena so they could roll in the sand (their pasture is a muddy swamp) and then I re-did the braid.  This time, it went much better.  I was able to concentrate on getting a better braid in place and he wasn't worried about me fussing around while he ate.

Oh, and I kissed him again.  Twice.  He liked it.

Friday, January 1, 2016

The Most Romantic Gift

Two years ago, my mom and dad were here for what would be my mom's last Christmas.  We didn't know she would be gone two months later, of course, but we all knew that her health was failing.  It was the elephant in the room; we circled around her, voicing concerns about oxygen, her immune system, and her failing memory.  But we rarely broached the subject directly.  None of us wanted to think about life without Mom.

On Christmas morning 2013, my mom gave my dad a gift; a small journal.  She had written short paragraphs on each page.  Memories, thank yous for a better life than she had ever expected, and thoughts.  It wasn't mushy; my mom was not a sentimental person.  And it was that -- the fact that my sensible, emotionally strong, and practical mother had given my father a very sentimental and romantic gift that did us in.  We cried.  All of us.  My dad didn't read it then; he couldn't.  He carried it around with him in the months after her death until he was ready to open the pages.

Brett and I were deeply touched by the gift of the journal and we spoke of it often.  A few months ago, around the time of our anniversary, I had an idea which I shared with Brett.  We both struggle with finding appropriate cards for each other on birthdays and anniversaries.  I suggested we buy a notebook and write a card to each other in the book on those occasions, or whenever the mood strikes us.  Brett loved the idea but he didn't want me to buy just any old notebook.  He wanted to find something nicer.

Christmas morning I opened a gift from him containing a beautiful leather journal, hard bound, with a green silk ribbon.

But the part that made me cry (and made his face buckle watching me) was the inscription in the lower right corner.  Many of you know how much I love France.  I practice French everyday; I read books and magazines in French; I love French wine, cheese, and food.  One of my closest friends, Sylvie, lives in Brittany.  Brett, who doesn't speak any French, had researched and translated into French the phrase -- "Shared thoughts and emotions."

This morning I wrote my first entry.