Friday, February 24, 2017

February Birds

Our February birds were similar to January's visitors.  It is still winter, after all.  I'm posting pictures of the newbies.  The most frequent visitors continue to be gold-crowned sparrows.  There are a handful of house sparrows thrown in, as well.  One morning, I saw a bird that was similar in coloring to a house sparrow -- but not the same exactly.  Same colors, different markings.  I think this is what I saw.  But I'm not positive.  I have only seen it that one time which makes me think that maybe I didn't see it at all.  I'm learning that bird watching is not simple or straight forward.  It's darn difficult.
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
We have a few house finches that have joined the purple finches at the feeder.  They are definitely a brighter red than their cousins and they have a red spot on their tail.  I'm sure on this bird.
House finch
And then there was the mystery bird.  A beautiful bird, the size and shape of a sparrow, but a beautiful pale, warm, buff color -- uniformly colored -- started hanging out at the feeder.  I consulted both of my bird books; the quick and easy Sierra bird book and my comprehensive Sibley guide.  Nothing.  I scoured the Internet.  Nothing.  Finally, in desperation, I called our friend Steve who studied ornithology -- so he has a degree in birds.  If he didn't know, I was sunk.  Steve was able to identify the bird -- its a gold-crowned sparrow with a pigment mutation.  No wonder I couldn't find it.  And he told me not to stress about being unable to identify every bird I see.  "It happens to all of us," he said.  If it happens to Steve, then I'm good with letting it go.
Photo by Christian Dionne - posted on website
I put up two kinds of bird feeders in my garden.  I read that it is best to have feeders designated for specific birds.  If you put in an all purpose bird seed mix, the birds will pick through it and discard much of it on the ground.  So, I bought a big feeder and filled it with sunflower seeds.  It is very popular with the sparrows, finches and juncos.  The other is a cylinder of mesh, filled with teeny tiny Niger seed.  It took the goldfinches a few days to find it, but now it typically has five to ten little gold birds clinging to its sides.  I love the goldfinches and the way they light up the bare branches of the garden oak tree with their bright yellow bodies and cheerful chirping.
Lesser Goldfinch
In mid-February, a new bird showed up at the feeder.  It flew a few times to the feeder, but mostly walked upside down on the limbs of the garden oak tree.  That's how I knew what it was; that and its long skinny beak - perfect for sticking into the crevices of trees to get tasty bugs.

White Breasted Nuthatch

(all photos from the Audubon website unless otherwise noted)

Monday, February 20, 2017

Done with the Mud

Unfortunately, the mud isn't done with us.

We seem to only be getting a day, or a partial day, between storms.  A couple days of sunshine would be nice.

We are in the midst of another doozy storm today.  It started last night and will continue through tonight with very heavy rain, high winds, flooding, blah blah blah.  Tuesday and Wednesday the rain will reduce in intensity, but remain.

Thursday or Friday, the next storm will arrive.  It will be colder than this one, with the possibility of snow.

Princess Lucy sloshes through puddles without blinking.  Yesterday, we left the horses out in the rain for the first hour or so, after the system arrived, because the rain was showery and they've been in the barn so dang much.  The boys were fine, rolling in the mud, thundering through the muck and spraying Brett with mud...

Pistol didn't mind either.  She was busy sticking her head under the fence, trying to reach every last blade of grass.  Lucy, stood at the arena gate and screamed towards the house.  When I brought her in, she was a bit wet.  The first thing she did was roll in her shavings.  When she stood up, there were shavings stuck to her nose, her cheeks, her neck and her entire body.  She looked like a chocolate donut covered in coconut.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Remember the Oak that Fell?

We're finally getting to work on its removal.

Of course, all the rain has not helped speed matters along.

And then, there was the issue of the insurance company needing to make a determination on what it would cover.  I suppose it is a good thing that the tree smashed up the fence and blew up the patio Brett built around its base... property damage meant we qualified for some assistance.

Brett has a small chain saw that he uses for projects like fence building.  For his birthday, I bought him a big chainsaw -- for cutting oak trees.

The tree service sent out three guys with massive chain saws and a chipper.  The spent an entire day cutting up the tree and will come back in a week or so and spend another day.  Brett said that they had a lot of trouble cutting the trunk; their chain saws kept getting stuck.

When they finished working that first day, there was wood everywhere.

Today, Brett spent the morning loading pieces into his tractor bucket and making piles of logs around the pasture.  Eventually, he will split them and then we'll stack them for firewood.  He had to take down more of the fence so the tree guys would have access across the stream.  We moved the girls into the small arena behind the barn where they will "live" (when it isn't raining or snowing) for the next few weeks.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Lucy's Rehab

On Wednesday morning, early, we loaded Lucy into the trailer for her one hour plus ride to the sport horse vet we love in Clements.  We do our routine work, such as vaccinations and teeth floating, locally but for the "big" stuff, we drive to Dr. Linda.

Lucy is 15, which isn't young for a horse.  It isn't old either, but it is old enough to get aches and pains.  I can certainly relate to that.  In particular, Lucy's hocks are arthritic, with the pain and limited range of motion that go with that.  The good news is that she responds very well to joint injections.  For those of you non-horsey types, a horse's hocks are those elbow looking joints on their back legs.  As you can imagine, sticking a needle into that joint is not popular with horses.  And, since vets do not like to be kicked in the face by their patients, the procedure is done with a sedative.  Hock injections are tricky; Linda does them very well.

Lucy typically got joint injections every six months when in she lived in a training barn and worked year round.  At Oak Creek Ranch, she gets the rainy winter off and is comfortable without the injection just hanging out in her pasture.  Last spring, as I was starting to work with her, I made the mistake of asking insisting on canter (which requires lots of push from those hocks) before having her hocks done.  She bucked a bit -- not enough to unload me, but enough to make her point.  And, unfortunately, enough to throw my back completely out of whack.  Before my back was healed, Finessa stepped on my foot.  So, I haven't ridden her since last March.  Last weekend, I was careful to keep the work easy -- lots of walk and a wee bit of trot work.  No canter.  Uh uh.

Linda looked at Lucy's records and frowned.
"Two years since her last injections. (?)"
I explained, "I was injured and haven't ridden her in the past year."
Linda nodded.  In addition to being a vet, she is a competitive eventing rider.  She understands the whole injured rider thing.

After watching Lucy move, she agreed that Lucy was in definite need of injections.  In addition, she needs some rehab -- a year of non-existent work has led to a loss of muscle and tone.

Lucy and I have a very detailed strength building program to follow.  It involves using Pessoa lunging (new to me) to help build strength in her topline and, more importantly, in her hind end.  Once she is strong enough to do lots of canter transitions with the equipment  -- like three steps trot, three steps canter, repeat -- I can ride her in canter.  Until then, we will do her rehab work on the lunge and then I will ride her at walk and trot, riding in a training level frame.

There is another series of three or more storms that we are experiencing now.  Next week we are going to the Alisal for our annual vacation there.  By March, I will have the Pessoa equipment and we will hopefully have more sunny days than rainy ones.  My plan is to start rehab in early March.

(The picture at the top, of me riding, is a few years old.  Obviously.)

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Dancing with Tex

In my mind, Tex and I have a dance we do together.  It is the dance of trust and connection.  We are getting better all the time.

Let me illustrate.  (this was on Sunday, when the sun was out and we were playing together in the afternoon).

When Tex sees me, he turns and walks to me.

Depending on his mood, I can walk right into his space or I wait just outside.

He reaches over and touches my arm.  Cookie please.

I can stroke his neck without any flinching.  Sunday, while grooming him, I dropped a brush on the ground while on his "bad" side.  He flinched, but that's all.  I picked up the brush and carried on; he relaxed.

He had horrible dreadlocks in his mane and it took forever to work them out.  I could have cut them out but his mane is so beautiful that I just couldn't.  So, I stood and picked at the knots slowly and painstakingly.  Tex relaxed, with his head against my shoulder.  At one point, I leaned my forehead against his neck and he didn't budge.

After our ride, I took off Tex's saddle and bridle in the arena so he could hang out there.  There is all kinds of tasty green grass growing and the footing is much drier than in the boys' pasture.  The minute I took off his bridle, I thought he would turn and leave.  But, instead he stayed with me, in a quiet companion-like way.

The quiet time we spent enjoying each other's company meant more to me than the time I was in the saddle.  Giving me his trust is a huge move for Mr. Tex.

Monday, February 13, 2017


Lucy is deathly afraid of trolls.  She believes that they live in the trees up by the top corner of the dressage court.  If she is in a suspicious mood, it is very difficult to ride her deep into that corner -- heck, its hard to ride her anywhere near that corner.  And she will use it as an excuse to spook.

Saturday she discovered where they live.

And, what they look like.

I was in the girls' pasture picking up manure.  (If it seems like I do this all time, it's because we do).  Lucy was standing on the near side of the fallen tree, pushing her nose around in the debris.

I was on the far side of the tree, scooping and flinging.  I pushed the cart a bit further along and startled the quail that live in the tree branches, laying on the ground by the fallen oak.  They flew out, skimming the ground -- away from Lucy, past me, and over the fence into the blackberry bushes.

Lucy spooked, and bolted, and bucked and farted as she ran as fast as she could away from the tree.  I laughed.

At the pasture gate she spun, dug in her heels, and ran as fast as she could past the troll tree, straight towards me.  She slid to a stop and thrust her face at me.

Did you see them?  Did you see them?  Oh, my God, there were like hundreds of them!  And they flew!  I didn't know trolls could fly!  

Um, Lucy, ...they were quail.  And there were 15, tops.

She gave me a dubious look and walked over to Pistol.  She kept one eye on the tree and the other on me.

Silly mare.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

A Mary Poppins Day

You know: Practically Perfect in Every Way

Weather: Sunny and 60F.  SUNNY!  60F!  Patches of dry ground, even.

The Plan: Ditch all other options (wine tasting, for example) and play outside.

Breakfast: French toast and coffee

Morning activities: Brett worked on pieces of reclaimed barn wood he is going to use for the guest bathroom window frame.  I cleaned out the refrigerator in the barn -- despite being on the lowest setting, cans of root beer froze and exploded.  It looked like diarrhea... thankfully, it smelled like root beer.

Then, we rode.  I rode Lucy who was practically perfect in every way.  She was relaxed, but forward.  I remembered how to ride.  (honestly, I was worried about that)  All the years of taking lessons paid off.  As soon as my butt hit the saddle, the voices of my trainers chimed in: legs on (because she's a sensitive mare), sit up straight, Velcro those elbows to your hips...  Brett rode Pistol.  As I was trotting along feeling unimaginable joy at the fluid ease of Lucy's trot, Brett called over, "It sure feels good to be riding."  Exactly what I was thinking.  I love riding that mare; more than any other horse I've ever had, or had the pleasure to ride.

Lunch: in the garden with goldfinches flitting in the branches above my head.

Afternoon activities: we rode, again.  Brett rode Flash and I rode Tex.

They were both good as gold.  Tex was relaxed and affectionate.  He stood, ground tied, like a statue while I set the saddle on his back.  He lined himself up at the mounting block (okay four tries, but still) and stood quietly while I mounted.  We walked around for a bit.  My goal was to have him relax at the walk.  I won't work on trot until he is relaxed and supple at the walk.  He did relax and, while he struggled with bend and never got to supple, he did lift his back underneath me and carry himself in an excellent frame for brief moments.  Its a place to start.

Dinner: Brett treated me to dinner in town, at a new restaurant.  It was excellent -- Czech owners and Eastern European food -- reminded me of my Hungarian grandmother's cooking.

I don't think life gets any better than this.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Jackson Almost Made It

Jackson almost made it through the wettest winter here, in 30 years.  The round pen has been a great solution to his chronic winter abscesses.  Normally, he gets two or three abscesses every single month, all through winter.  The boy really suffers.

This year we made the covered round pen into a winter stall for him.  He has a window to the outside, and a gated doorway into the barn.

He's been content; watching the other horses and watching us throughout the day.

Tonight, he was waiting for me at the gate.  When I asked him to move back so I could open the gate and bring in the cart to pick up manure, he resisted.  Then I noticed he was lifting his hind right off of the ground.

Uh oh.  He played with the muck cart while I looked at his foot.  He stayed at the doorway while I picked up manure and when I took the cart outside.  Brett said he finally hobbled painfully over to his hay, so I mixed him up some bute.  Jackson is notoriously picky so I mixed the bute with some sweetened grain and a little water.  He sniffed it suspiciously and, when I placed it on the ground, he lifted his front foot and kicked it across pen; sweet feed went flying into the dirt.

So, I guess he'll just have to tough it out.  Hopefully, the abscess will burst sooner rather than later.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Surviving the Deluge

All week the weather forecast on the NOAA website, for our area, was red: flood warnings, wind warnings, you-name-it warnings.  The rain was so heavy that I worked from home Tuesday, yesterday and today.  The roads were flooded, blocked by fallen trees, eroded, and some had sink holes.  We have had about 9.5 inches of rain since Monday when the storm started.  We were getting about an inch, or an inch and a half every day, until yesterday.  We measure the rainfall every 24 hours, at 7am, and then I report it into a National weather database that is accessed by NOAA and the National Weather Service, among others.  From 7am until 4pm (when we did the evening chores) we had just over an inch.  As I was climbing into bed last night, and Brett was brushing his teeth, the rain started to beat on the roof and the windows.  It continued all night long.  This morning, there was 3.5 inches in the measuring tube and it didn't let up until mid-morning.  The ranch was flooded; the drains and streams weren't able to keep up with all the water coming from the skies and flowing from the neighboring hillside properties.

This stream looks more like a ditch when it is dry, than a stream.  Standing in the bottom of it, I can rest my hands on the banks.

The pond in the donkey pasture overflowed its banks, towards the hen house, and ran in an ankle deep river down the driveway.  It took big chunks of the asphalt with it, and rocks.

You can see the bottom of the driveway emerging from the water just past the well house.  Fortunately, the well house did not flood.  The railroad tie you see "floating" in the water is actually the top of the bridge that goes over a stream.
 There was way too much water for the banks to contain.  There were rogue streams everywhere.
The water was kissing the bridge over to the girl's pasture.  There are two large pipes under that bridge -- they couldn't keep up.

Fortunately, the rain did stop.  There is no more rain in the forecast... until next Wednesday.  They are predicting another large storm.  I never thought I'd say this, but I'm ready for summer.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Keeping the Goats Warm

In the winter, I pile straw in the goat shelter to keep them warm.  Straw provides excellent insulation; much better than shavings.
Whiskey and Cowboy waiting for me to unload the new straw

I have to add more straw every month because they eat their bedding.  They have green grass and they eat the same hay as the horses, but they would rather eat dry, brown straw.
Little Bear sampling the new straw

I pile it high on the top and sides of their igloos to provide insulation.  I also make a deep pile in the back for the goats to burrow into when the wind blows.
Piling straw around the igloos

There are three igloos and four goats.  One of the igloos is quite small and I'm not sure that it gets used much, if at all.  The straw inside is not matted down into a comfortable bed like in the others.
The igloos before I added new straw

I really need to get a bigger igloo -- but they cost a fortune.  I'm thinking maybe a large dog house would work.
Thistle sampling the staw piled in the back of their shelter

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Princess Lucy Pitches a Fit

Saturday we moved the horses back to their pastures at lunch time.  All the horses, including Lucy, walked calmly next to us as we led them from the barn to their pastures.  Tex was actually the most animated -- but that just translated to him walking a bit faster than normal with his ears pricked forward and leaning towards the pasture.  Once there, he dropped to the mud for a good roll, then stood, shook and bucked.  He hopped around a bit -- striking with his front, bucking with his hind, and trying to get Flash to join in.  Flash was more interested in the hay Brett had put in their feeder.
Flash: Are you sure you don't have cookies?

A few minutes after turning the girls loose, we notice Lucy on high alert.  She was staring up towards the dressage court (where there was nothing unusual), then snorting and trotting in her best demonstration of impulsion and elevation.  (seriously gorgeous to watch).  She wasn't relaxed but she had a lovely arch in her neck as she floated across the pasture; and back again; and away again; and back again.  I looked at Brett.  We shook our heads and walked to the house.

In the late afternoon I went into the girls pasture with the muck cart and rake.  As I scooped up manure, I could see Pistol standing under the trees at the far end of the pasture.  Lucy was on the near side of the fallen tree and she stayed there as I made my way along the fence line.  She didn't come over to me for attention but stood by the lower fence watching for Brett and the hay cart.

When I got over to Pistol, she seemed a little lonely.  I went over to her and started rubbing all the mud off of her face.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Lucy turn from the fence and give us a hard stare.  Then she was cantering over to us, bucking as she came.  She chased Pistol off and then gave me a look -- the kind I used to get from my mother when I was in trouble.  I heard Lucy loud and clear, Don't you EVER touch another horse.  Do you hear me?  I am your horse.  You give me attention and nobody else.

I apologized and tried to scratch her withers.  She gave me a cold look and walked off.

I think she's in heat.  Talk about PMS.  And temper tantrums.  And all those awful stereotypes about mares.