Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Wednesday with Tex

Today the farrier came to trim and shoe the horses.  So, we brought them into the barn for their breakfast.  As the farrier finishes work on each of them, Brett will return them to their pastures.

It was a nippy 40F when we went out in the grey morning light to do chores.  Brett had the stalls set up with hay and water.  All we needed to do was add their morning bucket of vitamins and bring them in.  I added an apple to Tex's grain bin, already containing his pelleted vitamins and carrots.

I talked to Robin after the last time I brought Tex into the barn, at liberty, for feedback.  She advised that I not carry food on my person, but that I load up the destination (the stall in this case) with a bonanza of goodies.  She also gave me advice on what to do if Tex walks off -- which she said he would do at some point.  I was ready.

We brought all the other horses into the barn first.  Being with the herd would give Tex added incentive to walk with me to the barn, on top of the knowledge that breakfast was waiting in the stall.  When we went to the boys pasture, Brett opened the gate and let Flash out first.  Flash broke into a trot and skidded across the barn aisle and into his stall.

I asked Tex to come to my shoulder and we started walking.  Half-way to the barn, he paused and looked around.  I asked him to continue and he complied -- for a couple steps.  Then he calmly walked off.  I calmly followed.  He broke into a trot and ran behind the barn.  I calmly followed.  He dropped his head to the dead grass and I said no.  He lifted his head and looked at me -- I was still quite a distance from him, just rounding the corner of the barn.  He thought for a moment.

He broke into a trot again -- but this time, he trotted straight over to me, slid to a stop, and stood at my shoulder.  I praised him and we walked back to the front of the barn, down the aisle, and I indicated he could go in his stall.  I talked to him the whole way.  "That was amazing, Tex."  "I'm so proud of you."  "Look at you; making good choices."  "You are the best horse, ever."

As he stood in his stall, his lips wet with apple juice and slobber, he reached his head out and looked at me.  He looked awfully pleased with himself.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A New Start

Those of you who have been reading my blog for awhile have probably noticed a pretty steep decline in the amount of posts in the past year or two.  Before we moved to Northern California, I was able to telecommute a couple days a week.  I knew my job inside out -- heck, I was there for 20 years.  So, I had extra brain waves to devote to things like riding and blogging.

Four and a half years ago we moved to the Sierra Nevada mountains with our animals.  We wanted to live (and eventually retire) in a place with fewer people and more trees.  My new job was demanding, with a vertical learning curve, but I enjoyed the challenge.  I worked with friendly, smart people for a nonprofit with religious roots.  It felt like a good fit.

...until two years ago when I got a new boss.  I was hopeful that with time she would get her management feet, and things would improve.  I have awesome co-workers and we formed our own little support group.  Others gave me encouragement and acknowledged the work I accomplished.  I thought I could "tough it out."  Why let one person ruin things, right?

But, it got worse instead of better.  The more I accomplished, the more I was berated.  The positive feedback I received from others was resented.  I was threatened and harassed.  Those of you who have been in abusive relationships know the feeling; the clenching in your stomach when you hear footsteps; not knowing whether it was going to be roses or fists.  I was in an abusive marriage when I was just out of college -- I recognized the symptoms.

People, within and without the organization, advised me to file a complaint.  Or get an attorney.  But, really, all I wanted was to work without repercussion.  So, when head hunters called, I listened.

I didn't want to jump from the frying pan into the fire so I was careful.  I took my time.  I wanted to work for a nonprofit.  I wanted a company with a strong commitment to its community.  I wanted their work to fulfill a mission that resonated with me.  And, as luck would have it, just such a company called.

Monday, I start the new job.  I will have a long commute but I won't be working evenings, weekends and holidays on a regular basis anymore.  I am anticipating having my life back.  I am hopeful.  I am excited about making a difference -- about mentoring staff and building a team.  I am excited about working for a company with the goal of giving back to its community of working poor and the under-served. And, hopefully, I will have energy to do more than sit on the couch at night staring blankly into space.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

California Smoke Out

It seems like every September, sometimes into October, smoke descends onto our ranch.

We wake up in the morning, open the back door and step into the haze.  It looks like fog, but it smells like a campfire.  The smoke stings your eyes and burns your throat.  But unlike a campfire, you can't move away from the smoke.  It's everywhere.

We are not close to the fires burning west of us, in Sonoma and Napa counties.  Those are a good two hours away.

And the the fires to the east of us, towards Lake Tahoe, are about an hour away.  Maybe less.

There are also fires to the north of us.

Normally, when I head down the mountain for work I can see the outline of Sacramento clearly in the distance.  This morning?  It looked like this.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Princess Prima Dona

Yes, this is about Lucy.

You know how some horses really want to be ridden?  Lucy gets pissy and pushy and downright obnoxious when she doesn't get regular attention.  She's one of those horse who does better with a few days off between rides because she goes into over-achiever mode when ridden after a break.

I can feel her saying, See? You don't need any other horse.  I am the best.  All you need is me.  Me Me ME.

Yes, Lucy, I hear you.

Between the heat of the summer, and then my surgery, I haven't been on her back in ages.  During the summer, I spent time with her in the pasture everyday -- and she followed me around while I did the morning and evening pasture clean up.  But, since my surgery, I haven't been allowed to do chores.  At least, not to the degree that I was before.  And now the days are short (and cool and crisp and wonderful), and I'm off to work in the dawn and home after dusk.  So, poor Lucy has been poorly neglected.

She's been getting more and more vocal about it -- calling to me from across the pasture fence.  And, she's taking it out on Jackson -- charging him for no reason at all.  The other day, Brett was in the pasture and in Jackson's haste to escape her pinned ears and teeth, he ran right over Brett.  Not good.  Not good at all.

So, Sunday I lunged her for a few minutes.  No Pessoa, no cavesson, no equipment at all.  Just an opportunity to check in and see how she's moving.  I'm still limited in the use of my left arm, but thankfully Lucy is an angel on the lunge.  Even when she bucks, she never pulls.  So, I felt pretty confident that I wouldn't injure myself.

(I didn't tell Brett 'till afterward though.)

Camille was visiting for the weekend and took a couple pictures for me.  I was happy to see that Lucy, while clearly out of shape and sluggish, was stepping under well and her hips were swinging.

But, best of all, when we did chores in the evening she was in a very mellow mood.

Sunday, September 17, 2017


Flash and Tex have become very good friends.

They are always together in the pasture; often sharing the same bin of hay.

Tex, in particular, is very bonded to Flash.  When Brett rides Flash or, like yesterday, takes Flash to a clinic for the day, Tex is completely undone.  He calls and paces the fence line, whinnying to every truck and trailer that drives down the road.

Flash is a very independent horse.  He likes Tex but he doesn't need Tex in the same way that Tex needs him.  When I take Tex out of the pasture, he hardly looks up.  But, Flash does share food and space with Tex in a way that he doesn't do with other horses.

Its good to have close friends.  I know that I've needed my friends and family this past summer, more than usual.  I suppose I'm like Flash in regard to my friends.  I am okay by myself, but I love my time with them as well.  And, as I went through all the testing and biopsies and surgeries that go with ruling out cancer, I was very thankful for my friends and family.  I dodged that bullet, thank goodness.  A big thank you to those of you who knew, and who called, sent messages and had my back.  It was a scary time for me and Brett.  Moving forward now.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Mane Focus

Tex has a long, thick mane of burnished copper with burgundy and gold intertwined.  Gorgeous.  Unfortunately, it is also very prone to dreadlocks.  I've tried keeping it braided but even the braids twisted and turned and snarled together.

Tex isn't sure he likes being groomed.  Initially, he was sure he hated it.  From there he advanced to suspicious and then to resigned tolerance of the whole thing.  He has his own set of soft brushes, and I use grooming time to spoil my horses; pausing at their favorite spots for a massage.  Tex didn't let me know which spots he enjoyed having groomed for a long time.  But I watched him closely, and he let slip some pleasurable lip twitches and I remembered the spots.

Everyday, I go into the pasture with a brush and some ShowSheen.  I spray his mane with the de-tangler while he munches a cookie.  I scratch his favorite spots and then brush out the mane.  There are a few more cookies involved.

I've also filled a bucket with treats and set it by the tie rail.  Tex stands quietly, munching the apples and sucking down the mush, while I give him a thorough grooming.  He used to plant his feet and pull back when I brought him to the tie rail.  Not anymore.  He's continuing to learn and trust.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Riding the Retirees

A few months ago, when Jackson started his regime of multiple medications to manage his Cushings disease, thyroid imbalance, and navicular, he could hardly walk.  Our vet said, "You may be able to ride him again once we get all this managed."  I was dubious.  I've been trying to manage Jackson for years and, yes, I've sat on his back bareback on a good day and we've walked a handful of steps.  But that's it.  On a good day.

Brett wanted to ride Flash on Saturday.  Flash is 21 and very arthritic but he wants to go.  So, I understood.  Brett misses riding his mounted patrol partner and Flash misses it too.

I wondered... who should I ride?  Tex was a possibility but I wanted to work on other things with him.  Lucy needs some fitness work first.  But Jackson... he's been trotting to the gate in the morning for his breakfast, and striding along with the comfortable smooth gait of a sound horse.

When I brought him to the tie rail and began tacking him up, Jackson's anticipation grew.  When I mounted, he strode confidently forward (and then stopped).  We waited for Brett and Flash and then spent 20 minutes or so meandering under the oaks, crossing the dry stream bed, and walking past the pastures.  Jackson didn't take a bad step.  I felt like I was back on my old trail buddy.  He was tired after 20 minutes, so we stopped.

Jackson was happy.  I was happy.  Lucy was irritated, jealous and vocal about it.  Tex was curious, standing at the fence watching us go by.  Flash and Brett finished up a few minutes after us.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Tex Rocks

This weekend was miserable, weather-wise.  The days were hot and smoky.  There are wildfires burning south of us, near Yosemite, and the smoke is settling over the mountains.

We've been bringing the horses into the barn during the daytime, to escape the heat, flies and smoke.  In the evening, we turn them back out so they can stretch, and roll, and shuffle through the dust that coats everything in September.

Yesterday, as I was tying my boot laces, bent over to the ground, sitting on our old green mudroom bench, Brett said "I think you should bring Tex into the barn at liberty."  I laughed, shook my head, and muttered, "yeah, right."

But, as I walked out to the barn I kept thinking about it.  I poured Tex's mix of vitamins and carrots into his stall grain bin and realized that Tex's stall would be a reward destination -- full of hay and carrots and tasty vitamins.  Tex doesn't love the barn (unlike Lucy), but he does love his bucket in the morning.

We brought in the other horses first.  I wanted to make sure that the barn was someplace Tex would want to go.  I wanted him to be successful.  After Brett slid Flash's stall door shut, I went down to the pasture to get Tex.

Tex did so well, that I walked him at liberty back to the pasture that evening.  And back to the barn this morning.  I'm thinking he's a pretty awesome horse.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Hot; Just Hot

Today is the first of September.  The days are getting shorter and the nights are normally cool.

But we are not having normal weather.  When I left work this afternoon, this was the temperature (Sacramento).

I stopped at the grocery store, half-way home.  It was hot there, too.

At home, it was a bit cooler.  But when its this warm, hot is hot.  Whether its 93 or 97 or 100, it is plain old miserable doing chores.

Kersey is the smart one on the ranch.  She does this multiple times a day.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Woods Lake Trail

Remember a few weeks ago, Brett and I went kayaking at a beautiful lake high in the Sierras?  The trail head was packed and people told us that the hike was beautiful -- making a loop which included three lakes and fields of wildflowers.  Of course, we had to go back and make the hike.

I checked a trail website and the trail was given five stars (accurate) and a rating of easy (not even close to accurate).  The trail started at Woods Lake, at 8200 feet elevation, and climbed to 9400 feet at the summit.  If we had known that the hike was three miles straight up, and then three miles back down, I'm not sure we would have attempted it.  Brett is doing great with his knee replacements but he wasn't at all sure that the supporting muscles were ready.

But, we were oblivious and so we set off from the Woods Lake trail head and started climbing.  After hiking through the pines, we came into a green valley.  The trail climbed at the base with a stream tumbling to our right, and wildflowers stretching up the hillside as far as we could see.

We took it slow -- partly because of the steep climb, partly because of the elevation, and partly because I was taking photo after photo after photo.  We've both been on beautiful hikes before, but this took the cake.

We reached Winnemucca Lake at lunch time.  Okay, it wasn't lunch time but we were hungry so we stopped and ate our lunch.

From Winnemucca Lake, the trail continued to climb.  Parts of the trail were still covered in snow.

We came across these huskies who were leaping around their owner, full of joy and play, clearly in their element.  The owner let me take a picture, then he leaned back on his heels and the dogs pulled him across the snow.

We stopped again at the summit and caught our breath.

A short way further down the trail, we came to Round Top Lake.  There was a spur trail that went to 4th of July Lake -- but we didn't take it.  We were tired of climbing.

The trail back down to Woods Lake was also steep.

We had to cross another stream and the log, which served as a bridge, was a bit too high for Brett to comfortably use.  He wasn't sure that he could clamber up on the log and then stand without losing his balance.  So, he used the log as a handrail and stepped across on the rocks.

We passed an old mine (there is a reason that this area is called the "Gold Country"); the mine opening (fenced closed for protection), the foundation of an old cabin, a rusty model T car, and other debris.  Brett was fascinated.  I can't believe I didn't take any pictures of it.

We will definitely take this trail again.  It wasn't easy, but it was do-able.  And worth doing again.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Working with Tex

Awhile back Lytha said she would love to see a video of me working with Tex at liberty.  So, I enlisted Brett's help a few days ago, handed him my phone, loaded my pocket with cookies, and headed into the pasture.

The video is taken from outside the pasture because I was afraid that if Brett came in, it would distract Tex (Brett is a reliable source of treats).  I was also concerned that Flash would mob Brett -- and you can see that he did that even with Brett outside the fence.  There's quite a bit of Flash photo-bombing going on.

Tex and I have been building on our liberty work slowly.  I view it as an extension of the bond we are building and a way to expand its boundaries.  We are far from polished and we are probably not doing everything correctly, but it is our relationship and our bond.  So there.  What I've done is taken my initial work with him -- let me approach you, touch you, walk around you and mess with you -- and expanded it.  At first, I added "walk with me a few steps."  And, as that got easier and more consistent, we walked further.  Tex watches me enter the pasture, and then he turns and comes to me.  Sometimes, I get a goat as a bonus.  ...which is actually a big deal because Tex does not like the goats milling around me at all. Here's a very short clip of me going into the pasture and Tex turning:

We always end up at his feed bin (because he is often leaving his breakfast or dinner to hang out with me).  Sometimes, he marches along at my shoulder in perfect lock-step.  Sometimes, not so much.  This video captures a pretty typical/average session.  Sometimes, he walks next to me but sometimes he needs to think about it first.  For me, I don't care that he thinks about it first -- what I care about is that he chooses to join me.  Every time.  He always chooses to be with me and that feels awesome.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Lobster Feed Weekend

This weekend Kyle and Camille came up to visit with their significant others.  The occasion?  Our first annual lobster feed.  Yes, it was such a success that we decided to make it an annual event.

Kyle & Ana picked up Camille & Cody Friday night on their way over from San Francisco.  They arrived just before the pizza place closed.  Saturday, we headed over to Renwood for lunch and wine tasting.
Kyle, Ana, Camille, Cody

Afterward, the kids continued down the wine trail while Brett and I headed to the market to pick up the seafood for dinner.  Brett set up the burner and pot in the garden -- it was far too large to fit on the BBQ.

I layered in artichokes and potatoes, with water, wine and aromatics (lemon, celery, garlic, thyme).

I added in sausages, lobster tails, prawns, mussels and corn.  We had a table set up in the garden (covered with butcher paper), tunes playing, SF sourdough brought over by Kyle and Ana, and wine on ice.

When the mussels had opened, Brett poured it all down the center of the table.

We had no plates, no utensils -- just bibs and fingers and lots of melted butter.  It was amazing.  

Sunday, we headed up into the Sierras with the kayaks.

After a quick dinner of BBQ burgers and watermelon, the kids piled into Kyle's car and headed home.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Forest Bathing

Have you heard of it?  Forest bathing?  I heard a story about it on the radio; I think the practice started in Japan -- if I remember correctly (which is always up for debate).

Its not what you think; or, what I thought when I first heard the term.  You don't go into the woods and take a bath, or swim in a pond, or submerge yourself in water at all.

Rather, its bathing in the sense that you let the forest wash over you, seep into your pores, and settle in your heart.  It's not about exercise; climb every mountain and all that.  It is about taking deep breathes of fresh air and being still.  Studies have shown that forest bathing lowers blood pressure, reduces stress, and instills a sense of well-being.  (Well, duh, I thought).

This month has been beyond stressful for me.  I've needed my garden and the horses and the forest.   And Brett, of course.  He's been incredibly supportive.  We've taken the kayaks to a lake every weekend.  Last weekend, we went to Echo Lake which is near Lake Tahoe.  It was beautiful, but it was also packed with people.  Cars were parked on top of each other, blocking the road, for a good mile.  There is a trail head at the lake which leads to many trails; short day hikes and long backpack trips to lakes deeper in the Sierra.  The lake itself, wasn't crowded.  But it was choppy and windy and that, combined with all the people, made it pretty much impossible to relax and refresh.

Today, we tried another new lake.  Woods Lake is very high -- up at 8200 feet.  The lake is very small and quite shallow.  No motor boats are allowed at all; not even fishing boats.  Despite that, the lake was dotted with fishermen in canoes, rowboats, kayaks and on the shore.  Schools of trout streamed under our kayaks, speckled brown, slipping and sliding beneath us.

We paddled over to the far side of the lake where granite cliffs rose from the snow, still deep at their base, to jagged peaks and ridges.  Waterfalls coursed and tumbled and sang on their way down.

A large beaver dam rose out of the water on our right, close to another waterfall behind the reeds and rushes.  After we finished paddling and loaded the kayaks on the car, we walked up a trail to get closer.

We learnt that there is a trail that crosses the stream at the bottom of the lake, and climbs up and around, passing by two more lakes before returning on the opposite side of lake.  We made a promise to come back and spend the day on that trail.

As we paddled and drifted on the glassy surface of the lake, I closed my eyes and felt the sun warm, the breeze cool and the hint of a thunderstorm on its way in.  I breathed in Ponderosa and cedar and reeds.  And I felt my worries drift away on the wings of the osprey that soared above us.