Sunday, May 29, 2016

Back in the Saddle -- Sort Of

Monday is Memorial Day here in the US so I have a three-day weekend.  Culturally, we bookend summer with Memorial Day (last Monday in May) and Labor Day (first Monday in September).  So, even though it isn't technically summer, we are in full-summer mode.  The weather is also very warm, lending credence to the change of seasons.

Sweat was already making my shirt stick to my back as I walked Lucy up to the arena.  She'd been quiet at the tie rail while I groomed her, until turkeys strolled past out driveway.  This morning a Tom was sitting on the fence with his tail fanned, and gobbling for all he was worth.  The horses were all standing in their pastures, facing the street, heads high and eyes wide.
The entourage eventually walked further down the road and the horses settled into their breakfast. When the turkeys came back, Lucy swung her hips away from the tie rail so she could twist her neck and watch them.  There are turkeys cruising by (and in) the pastures all the time so I'm not sure why these were so alarming.

Fortunately, the arena is in the opposite direction from the road so Lucy was back to mellow by the time I snapped on the lunge line.  It didn't take her long to settle into a relaxed trot, stretching down and blowing.  When I asked her to canter, she bucked.  And crow-hopped.  And shook her head.  She never did canter, just kept up with the crow hopping.  Watching, I could see that canter was painful for her.  I know how Lucy bucks when she is fresh, or pissy, or worried.  This was none of those.  She couldn't canter either direction.  I thought two things: 1) No wonder my back got hurt with all that jarring crow-hopping going on and 2) her hocks need to be injected again.  I'll have to save up for that, and in the meantime I won't ask her to canter.

Lucy stood quietly for me at the mounting block and I got on without incident.  We walked around the dusty arena, with the sun beating down, for five minutes or so.  Brett was working with Pistol up at the far end, keeping things low key.  I asked Lucy to trot and she was a bit sluggish.  We trotted a few steps and my back felt fine, but I wasn't happy with the transition.  I asked again and used a bit more leg in an effort to get a more energetic response.  As I pushed against Lucy with my leg, pain shot down my thigh.  Lucy is very light; very sensitive; so the pressure wasn't much, which is discouraging.  It shouldn't have hurt at all.  I'll see what the physical therapist says later this week, but I don't think I'll be riding yet for awhile.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Random Friday

1.  The weather last weekend and at the beginning of this week was damp and unsettled.  I was happy for the delay in the march towards summer (my least favorite season).  The break, while welcome, was short-lived and we are back to warm weather.  I will admit that I am glad it is a bit warm for my first time back in the saddle -- Lucy will hopefully be pretty mellow; sluggish would even be nice.

2.  We might have to give Pistol a new nickname.  She currently goes by "Mama" or "Mamacita" -- right now Scar Face is in the running.  Earlier this week, Brett noticed that she had scraped her face and asked me to take a look when I got home.  The wound wasn't bleeding, but it was on the bony part of her face, halfway between her nose and eyes, dead center on top.  There was a flap of skin that had re-stuck itself at an awkward angle.  I got a warm wet washcloth and soaked the wound until the flap released and it was clean.  She was not very happy with me picking at her wound so I took her outside the pasture and let her have bites of thick grass while I worked.  I sprayed it with an antibiotic (the blue stuff that works so well on everything), and put her in a fly mask to keep it clean.  It is healing up well but I wasn't able to get the flap lined up very well so she may end up with an interesting scar there.  We can't figure out how she did it -- maybe rubbing on the fence and snagging it on a rough part.  And there isn't enough flesh on the bony part of her nose where this happened for stitches.  The scar will give her a rugged western cowgirl look to go with her sweet disposition.

3.  The other evening we sat on the front porch after chores were done with a glass of wine.  We watched the horses and birds, and listened to the sounds of evening settling.  We noticed Flash slowly and painfully picking his way over to the water trough.  The poor guy has arthritis everywhere.  Brett said he thought it was Flash's front that was bothering him this time, and I said I thought it was the back since he was short-stepping behind.  In the end, we agreed that it was all four legs and feet.  Brett looked straight ahead from his chair and, with wet eyes, asked me if it was time to put him down.  I said, no, the Previcox helps and the quality of his life in the middle of the day is good.  He has a hard time in the morning before the drug kicks in, and sometimes he has a hard time at the end of the day when it is wearing off, but he seems to be happy and to be enjoying life most of the time.  I told Brett that Flash will tell him when he is ready to go and we don't need to do anything until then.  Brett nodded, "Its going to be so hard for me to lose him.  So hard.  I think about it a lot."

4.  The Canada geese made a brief return this week when the weather was wet and cool.  In general, though, the sound of geese honking has been replaced by wild turkey gobbling.  We have a very vocal flock in the area, discussing whatever turkeys discuss at length.  During the day, the sounds of mowers drown them out but we hear them loud and clear in the mornings and evenings.

5.  I lost another tree in my orchard this week.  My White Pearmain tree succumbed to fire blight.  The plum tree is infested with plum aphids so I bought a container of lady bugs on my way home last night.  At dusk, I dipped the ends of the branches into the container and watched the lady bugs clamber onto the leaves and up the branches.  I put the remaining bugs at the base of the tree and they promptly created a freeway up the trunk.  The container contained about 2,000 lady bugs.  Those aphids don't stand a chance.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Wednesdays with Tex

Tex has been slightly less wary the past few days.  I never know if the behavior will stick or not, but as long as trusting days are on the increase, and occur with some regularity, I'm happy.

My agenda of "no agenda" continues.  I've backed off of "doing" anything with Tex this past week; no grooming, no at-liberty, no nothing.  After chores, I put four or five cookies in my pocket and go into the pasture.  I stand with him, lingering after the cookies are gone.  A few evenings ago, I was standing at his shoulder, doing nothing other than just being present, when Brett came into the pasture with the hay cart.  I figured we were done; that Tex would walk over to the gate and follow the hay cart to the feeder.  But, no, he stayed at my side and watched Brett wheel the cart past us.  I turned and walked to the feeder and Tex followed me.  I left him there.

Last night, when I got to the pasture Tex and Flash were already diving into their hay.  I closed the gate behind me and Tex turned his head to look at me.  He left his hay and walked in a straight line to where I was standing.  He didn't circle me at all but stopped about five feet away.  I approached, coming to him via a wide angle to the left and stopping about a foot from his head, facing forward, standing together with him.  Tex doesn't like me coming at him straight on; the sideways approach feels less threatening.  Tex tensed slightly when I got to his side, but didn't move away.  I gave him a cookie and waited for him to relax before moving closer.  I stroked his neck a few times and noted the dreadlocks in his mane.  But mostly, I just stood, without touching him.  When he finished the cookies he remained with me again.  He snuffled my pockets a few times, licked any remaining crumbs off my hand, and then investigated my hair.  After awhile, I left and he went back to his hay.

It's slow progress; but it's progress just the same.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Green Light

I've been going to physical therapy and doing my exercises at home like a good girl.  My back felt pretty good over the weekend and I considered cancelling my physical therapy appointment this morning.

I told my therapist that the results of my x-ray showed no disk damage (hooray) but definite arthritis. She told me that arthritis in the back causes the spaces between the disks to shrink, resulting in less space for the nerves -- and hence they are more easily squished and squeezed.  I apparently made mine quite angry.

"So," she asked, "have you ridden your horse lately?"

"No.  But, I will admit that I've been thinking about it.  When my back hurt, I had no interest in riding but now I look at my horse and I want to ride."  Sheepishly, I added "I'm tempted to try riding this coming weekend."

"I'm happy to hear that."  -- wait!  What?  Did she say what I think she did?

She continued, "Your core is much stronger now and your back feels good.  I would like you to ride this weekend -- taking it easy, of course.  That way, if it bothers you afterwards, you can come in for your appointment next week and we can re-evaluate your game plan.  I'd like to test how riding goes while you are still an active patient with us."

"And, besides, you should be able to do what you love."

Instead of riding, Brett and I have been spending our weekends at winery functions.  We went to a lovely event on Saturday -- a stroll through the vineyards with hors d'ouvres followed by a lovely meal, at a vineyard near Sutter Creek.  Sunday, we spent the day in Sonoma.  The weather was cool and blustery, but the only rain we got fell at night so it didn't dampen our activities at all.

If all goes well in the saddle this weekend, I suspect we will be doing less of this.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Random Friday

1.  A mountain lion attacked a dog within a mile of our home.  It happened at 10am in the morning.  The dog survived, but the owner said that he has lost goats recently and he believes it was also to mountain lions (cougars).  We have a lot of wildlife around us and it is something I love about our mountain life but, I will admit, that I don't like going outside in the evening.  Both Brett and I have experienced the sensation of being watched, of the hair on the back of our necks prickling in alarm.  I don't mind being watched by a raccoon but a mountain lion... no thank-you.

2.  The never-ending house remodel continues.  Last year we replaced the shower and sink in the master bath because they were leaking through the floor and dripping onto the kitchen counter whenever one of us used the shower.  We were hoping to have more time before working on the second bathroom but we suspect that water was leaking through the ancient, brown, cracked grout in the bath/shower.  So, that bathroom got a new tub/shower.  I can't say I was sorry to see the blue tile and stained grout go.

Nobody wanted to deal with removing the old, heavy, steel bathtub so we are getting a new acrylic tub/shower -- built right over the top of the old one.  Who knew.  We are very happy with the result - a call out to my Canadian readers; the company we used is Canadian.

3.  Jackson has been enjoying the donkey pasture a bit too much.  For a week, he's been running around, bucking, and happily expressive.  I did have to have words with him one day when he let loose right next to me while I was mucking.  Tuffy had run up behind me and Jackson was demonstrating his dominance.  Fine, I said, just keep those flying feet away from my face.  Sheesh.  Wednesday he was sore on his feet.  Well, dude, your feet can't take that kind of abuse.  I know you're happy, but you need to tone it down a wee bit or you will be sore all summer.

4.  We had warm weather most of this week but it has cooled down this morning.  I needed a jacket while doing morning chores and a few rain drops hit my windshield as I wound my way to the highway.  They are talking about snow up over the Sierra passes and cool, damp weather for us.  The longer we can delay summer, the happier I am.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

How's Tex?

A few of you have asked about, or commented that you particularly enjoy the posts about my journey with Tex.

It's a dance.  And he's a challenging dance partner.

The other day I walked into his pasture with nothing but a pocket full of treats.  He circled me warily before approaching, one cautious step at a time.  When he got relatively close he leaned forward towards me, his front feet planted and his neck stretched straight out, his head completely horizontal and his lips twitching to reach the cookie in my hand.  He took the cookie, but he wasn't close enough to get it fully or securely and it dropped to the ground.  Tex immediately jumped back and circled again.

Later that afternoon, I went back out with his fly mask.  He let me approach and didn't fuss at all.

He hates the movement of me brushing the hair out of my eyes for some reason.  He always jumps away from me when I do it.

Sometimes he is okay with fly spray, and sometimes he isn't.

This morning, he was worried when he saw me coming.  He circled and stopped; stepping sideways away from me as I entered his comfort bubble.  Last evening, there was a congregation of flies on his nose, and crawling on the fly mask.  I had both his fly mask and the fly spray (we use an herbal product, not an insecticide, which is not irritating to their skin, smells great and keeps the flies from biting) in my hands.  After a cookie reward for allowing me into his space, I sprayed his legs and neck.  Then I sprayed my hand and wiped my wet hand on his face.  He was surprisingly okay with that.  Last night, he was happy to have me wipe the flies away as well.  He was also good about the fly mask.  This is the latest thing I am asking him to accept without worry.  He used to be pretty much impossible to put in a fly mask.

After I had the fly mask on and his body sprayed, I stood next to him quietly.  I gave him a cookie and stood, stroking his neck and telling him that he is gorgeous, while he quietly chewed.  By the third cookie he was nudging my sweatshirt with his nose, to tell me when he was ready for another one.

Right now, I am just trying to build a relationship of trust and comfort with Tex.  Its a long, slow process where we progress and retreat.  I doubt I will ever be able to lay against his side with my arms draped across his back like I do with Jackson; or hold his head in my hands like I do with Lucy -- but that's okay.  We're creating our own dance.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Random Friday

1.  A few weekends ago, Brett was out of town and I was on my own with the animals.  Of course, before he left, Brett stacked hay in the cart, filled Jackson's water trough and the chicken feed bins, and generally had things set up for me.  The weather was warm and Jackson drank more than half of his water.  I decided to fill it while I was mucking out his roundpen.  Brett had the hose ready to go, it ran from the outside faucet up the outside of the wall, over the top, and then dropped into the black rubber trough.  I turned on the water and went to work; then went into the house for my breakfast.  When I came back outside, Jackson had a lake covering a good portion of the roundpen.  It took more than a week to dry so I had to admit to it.  Brett shook his head and said, "Good thing we've had a lot of rain and the well is full."

2.  Other than a few light showers last weekend, the weather has been dry and warm.  The ground is hard and dry so, on Wednesday, I moved Jackson out to the donkey pasture.  He loves Lucy but she herds him and Pistol around all day.  Pistol is benefiting from the exercise, looking trim and healthy, but Jackson is gimpy on his best days so it isn't good for him.  Tex is also big on herding Jackson around so Jackson is stuck with Tuffy and Finessa.  I slipped the halter off and Jackson dropped his head to the grass and began eating.  I sat in a chair and watched him for a long time.  He was so happy, it made me happy just watching him.  Tuffy walked over to say hello and Jackson tossed his head and snaked it at Tuffy who promptly retreated.  A small brown bird rode on Jackson's rump for awhile and the geese watched him from a safe distance.
Jackson is loving life -- with the geese, donkeys and ducks.

3.  We lost a chicken last weekend.  She was one of our new hens, only a year old.  I found her laying beside the feeder inside the hen house when I opened the door in the morning.  There was no sign of trauma and she had been acting absolutely normal.  Sometimes chickens die for no apparent reason at all. We are putting this loss in that category.
My snapdragons are going nuts.  One of my favorite flowers.
4.  "I know you are going to hate me, but please no riding for the next five weeks until I see you again."  My doctor looked at me with something between a plea and an order in her eyes.  "I haven't ridden since March 28 when the pain started."  She sighed.  "Good."  Until I see her again, I've been subjected to a battery of x-rays, ordered to take my pain meds ("I know you don't like taking them, but its important") and sent to physical therapy.  We won't have a definitive diagnosis until she has a chance to review the x-rays, but I most likely have a compromised disk or two in my lower back.  And the injury that started it all?  Winston dumping me twice out on the trail a number of years ago.  The ground was rocky, hard and unforgiving.  I took the pain pills the ER gave me without complaint that time.  Lucy is going to have to make do with the massages I give her every night when I'm in the pasture picking up poop.  I'd rather scratch her belly, (or withers or neck or butt) than pick up poop.

5.  Last week I switched out my closet from cashmere sweaters and wool jackets to cotton and silk; I took the duvets off of the beds and replaced them with summer quilts; the pond in the donkey pasture has shrunk to a puddle; we've added fly masks and fly spray to the morning routine; and this morning the Canada geese were gone.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Mothers Day at the Ranch

The kids were here for the weekend.  Camille flew up on Friday.  Kyle and Ana arrived Saturday morning.

When they were small, the kids used to make brunch on Mothers Day for me.  I would sit in a chair, near the kitchen, with a mug of coffee and answer questions as they worked their way through the recipes they had picked.  They continued the tradition this morning.  I am so spoiled; so blessed.
Kyle, Ana and Camille

In the afternoon, we went up to Jenkinson Lake and hiked to the falls.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

A Harmonious Goal

In response to my post What if I Never Rode Again?, Linda suggested that I watch a documentary called The Path of the horse.

So, I did.

The funny thing about the documentary was that I was familiar with all the sources mentioned.  It starts with an interview of Mark Rashid -- whose clinics Brett and I have both attended.
Tex and Mark Rashid

There was a shot of a pile of books and I laughed -- I recognized the covers of all that I could see.  I've read them all over the years.  I guess this search for a harmonious interaction with horses has been at my core for, well, as long as I've been riding.

There was a woman interviewed who works with horses at liberty in California.  I had actually emailed her when I first started working with Tex.

Is this serendipity or what?

The part of dressage that has always attracted me most is the invisible dance that occurs when horse and rider are in sync.  The feeling that you are riding from thought and everything else just follows.  I've never been on a journey to Grand Prix, I've been on a journey of harmony.  The horses I have most enjoyed riding are the ones where I was able to achieve that connection: Starman, Jackson and Lucy.  Even though Auke was tremendously talented, riding him felt like a battle of wills rather than harmony.  And Winston, who was also very talented, was not at all interested in anybody's agenda but his own.  I think both horse and rider have to want that connection.

I think Tex wants connection, at least some of the time.  It will be interesting to see where things go with him.

For those of who have seen the show, Cavalia, you know what I am talking about.

There is also the French guy who runs around in the south of France with his horses -- he gets it too.

Of course, I have no intention (or the talent or balance or fearlessness) to do these amazing acrobatic feats, but the connection is what grabs me.  The horses, at complete liberty, who chose to engage and play.  How awesome is that?!