Friday, March 31, 2017

March Garden: Waking Up

Pansies and spring bulbs in a wine barrel planter (falling apart) by the barn door

Daffodils in the bird habitat flower bed

Grape hyacinth in the bird habitat flower bed

Poppies in the raised flower bed

More daffodils -- in the herb and rhubarb planter

Goldfinches at their feeder

The rare, and exotic Kersey flower; they grow particularly well in water.  Prolific along streams -- and, preferably -- in streams.

A stream flanked with, you guessed, daffodils.  Clearly my favorite flower...

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Wednesdays with Tex: In the Saddle

Tex has come so far in the past year.  I'm really pleased, really proud of Tex, and really confident that he and I can be strong partners. 

I've learned a lot about Tex; about what makes him tick; what motivates him; and what worries him.  Tex has been very open and honest with me -- and I've tried to provide the same to him.
Tex, at his core, is a pleaser.  He wants to get things right.  I mean, he really, really, REALLY wants to get things right.  It would be fair to say he's obsessive about that.  Sometimes, his worry gets in the way and this is particularly true under saddle.  In a trail situation, Tex is very relaxed and enjoys himself.  The only trail experience he has had was with the people who "flipped" him -- who had him for a few months before selling him to us.  Their focus was on creating/finishing horses to be good trail companions for their western pleasure buyers.  They were gentle with the horses, and worked with them in a positive way.  I am sure that all of Tex's experiences with trail riding were positive.  Certainly, all of Brett's experiences with him on the trail were positive.
The dynamic is completely different in an arena setting.  Before being purchased by the family who trained him for trail, Tex was a competitive team roping horse.  When he is under saddle in the arena, he is instantly worried.  Tex doesn't deal well with pressure, and it is clear to me that the pressure of his previous job did some damage to his psyche.  When I ride him in the arena, we just walk around on a loose rein and do simple stuff.  I make it easy for him to get it right.  We are taking very small, incremental steps.  I primarily focus on getting him to relax and when he does, he gets copious amounts of praise.  He flicks his ears, sighs, and drops his head. 

I'm not in a hurry to do anything more than walk around on a relaxed rein.  I'm not big on trail rides (I get bored, and tired, and sore -- an hour or so is great; beyond that I'm done) so, while I'm sure we will do some of that, it isn't going to ever be our primary focus.  We can wander all over the property, under trees, and across streams.  We both like that.  And we can do easy, successful work in the arena. 

In terms of riding goals with Tex, my secret dream is to ride him bareback.  He has a nice broad back and I love the connection I feel with a horse when I'm riding bareback.  It's how I learned to ride, and how I rode most of the time until I was an adult; its a happy place for me.  I used to ride Jackson bareback -- I even rode Auke that way, at times.  Lucy... probably not.  She's narrow and wouldn't be comfortable -- and she is soooooo sensitive and reactive.   I don't think either of us would be very relaxed and, to me, bareback is all about relaxation.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Birds of March

I'm getting better at identifying birds.  When I glance out the window, or work in the garden, I think to myself "purple and house finches," instead of "purple and reddish birds."  The finches -- those just mentioned and Lesser Goldfinches -- are the predominant birds in the garden now.  Gold-crowned sparrows, which were the most common in January and February, are pretty much gone.  I saw one this morning; the only one I've seen this month.  They are only in our area during the winter, so it must be spring (yay!).  There have been a couple American Goldfinches in the garden, with their blinding yellow color standing out next to the softer yellow of the Lesser Goldfinch. 

Canada geese still roam the pastures, and our pair of Mallard ducks have returned as well.  I had just about given up on them.  They come every year and live, for a few weeks, in the donkey pasture, digging in the stream with their beaks and swimming in the pond. 

Wild turkey are everywhere -- on the hillsides, and in the road.  They are such funny birds; tall, gangly and awkward as they hurry across the road, necks out-stretched, like they are reaching for the finish-line tape. 

We still have quail scurrying amongst the brambles of blackberry and fallen wood.  Starlings are around as well, too.  There is one who has been digging in the garden for bugs and sitting on the garage roof.  I'm used to seeing large clouds of them, flying together, but this one is all alone.

Also solitary, though not for long, was the first acorn woodpecker of the season.  He was out under the front oak tree hopping around on the grass.  Maybe he was looking for an acorn left from last fall.  These woodpeckers are numerous in the summer and fall here -- not surprising, given the many oak trees on the property.  I love their bright clown faces, but their insistence on drilling holes in the house is less than endearing.

There continue to be a few Spotted Towhees in the garden and I saw a California Towhee there the other day as well.  The ones in our area have a definite burnt orange blush on their face and an orange spot under their tail. 

I saw my first hummingbird of the season the other day as well.  We have Anna's Hummingbirds here, primarily.  I was surprised to see it since the flowers (daffodil and poppies) are just now starting to bloom.

All photos from the Audubon website, unless otherwise noted  

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Wednesdays with Tex: Another Breakthrough

A year ago, when I started working with Tex in earnest, he was afraid of the halter and afraid to be touched.  He would reluctantly allow me touch him, but he would flinch and, sometimes, step away. 

Gradually, he has come to view the halter as a welcome thing -- it usually means he is going to hand graze or go to the barn, out of stormy weather.  And, he's gotten better with me touching his shoulder.  He no longer flinches, or even tenses, when I rest my hand there and give him a friendly scratch. 

In fact, at times, he seems to welcome and look for that part of the greeting.  We have been working some more at liberty and he is fine with me resting my hand on his neck as we walk along.  I do it to maintain my space, so I don't get stepped on, but he seems to view it as a friendly thing.  When I go into the pasture, he leaves Flash and comes to me.  We walk all over the pasture, side by side, with him following me in circles and bendy loops -- the way you do with a dog at heel.  Except he is completely at liberty.  No halter, no lead rope, he can leave whenever he's done.  Recently, we've added backing up to our repertoire.  Again, standing at his shoulder, I take an exaggerated step backwards.  He matches.  I usually am "done" with our playtime before he is.  I don't think he has ever left.  Brett says he follows me like a dog. 

The horses are in the barn at the moment, as we have a series of rain systems moving through our area this entire week.  Yesterday evening, I mucked out all the stalls and run-outs when I got home from work.  Brett was gone, meeting a semi on the main road, to get his new log splitter.  The horses all ignore me, to some degree, while I pick up the manure.  Lucy demands attention, but the others are uninterested.  Tex usually stands at the far end of his run-out, watching me from a distance. 

Not last night.  He was at the back gate to his run-out when I went in with the muck cart.  Instead of moving to the stall end of his area, when I finished and was walking back to the gate with the cart, he stood, at an angle, facing me and blocking the gate.  I was sure he would move as I got closer.  He didn't.  I stepped closer to him and touched his shoulder.  He turned and looked at me.  I scratched the spot just behind his withers where you so often see horses grooming each other.  His lower lip twitched in enjoyment.  When I stopped, he licked and chewed; a nice release.  And he didn't move.  I rubbed his back. Then I rubbed his butt, thinking he would move for sure.  Nope.  There was more chin twitching, with him leaning into me.  Then another release. 

I still had Flash's area to clean and it was getting late.  I walked to the right side of Tex.  He hates having people on his right side.  He tensed a tad but he didn't move.  Seriously?  A massage on this side too?  Yes, that was exactly what he wanted. 

I was finally able to move him out of the way, after a thorough massage on the right side.  I guess he's figured out that I'm a positive thing to have in his life.  I don't bring pressure and pain; I bring positive reinforcement, gratitude and kindness.  And, after a year of offering him that consistent intent, he has decided to fully trust me. 

What a gift. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Passage Gives Us a Scare

Passage (the dressage/French pronunciation: puh-sahj) is our barn cat.  She's a savvy thing; surviving for fifteen years with hawks and bobcats and other cat-eating predators around.  She has two beds in the feed room -- one by the window that she uses in summer, and one up high in a crate lined with blankets that she uses in winter.  At night, we close up the barn and she goes to work killing any rats or mice stupid enough to enter her domain.  During the day, she rests in the hay stack or out in the sun.  She is very friendly and can be quite vocal if she isn't getting her share of attention.  She will join us in the garden or on the front porch, when we are taking a break.

Saturday evening, Brett couldn't find her when we finished chores and he closed the barn doors.  We noted it, but didn't worry too much, as it isn't the fist time she has gone AWOL at closing time. 

Later, after dinner was finished and the dishes done, Brett was watching TV in his recliner, with his headphones on, while I sat on the couch, in the other room with my feet stretched out.  I was talking via Skype with my French "talk"-pal.  I practice my French; she practices her English; 30 minutes of conversation in each language.  A full hour of discussion that leaves my mind in an exhausted mush.  Kersey was asleep, in her crate, with her head hanging out, next to Brett.

I heard a cat screech.  You know the sound: cat fight.  Then it got louder, and shriller, and contained an edge that I can only call fear and panic.  I jerked my head up from my computer screen and called to Brett.  He couldn't hear me of course, with his headphones on.  I jumped to my feet and stood directly in front of him.  "Brett!!!"  He looked up, then yanked off his headphones.  "What??"  I explained.  He grabbed his flashlight and went outside.

I apologized to Dominique.  She got a good dose of an English native speaker in panic mode.  I'm sure it was quite the ride as I carried my iPad with me around the house, telling Kersey to stay, and explaining to Brett in rapid-fire words that Passage was under attack.   

Brett didn't find Passage, despite going out two more times that night.  Sunday morning, we both walked the property and checked all her hiding places in the barn.  There was nothing.  I took some comfort in not finding any fur or body parts.

Mid-afternoon, I heard her calling to me from a large oak that stands in my garden.  She has climbed into the lower limbs of that tree before, but this time she could not get herself down.  She perched on the lowest limb and cried in a worried voice.  Brett went to the barn and came back with his long ladder. I climbed up and brought her down.  The minute I had her cradled against my shoulder and had started the descent, she was purring.  We sat in the garden with her for awhile.  She wound through and against our legs, purring, and then went into my flower garden and peed forever.  We stood, and  got back to work on our projects.  I planted some flowers and she slept in the sun on the warm bark next to my planter box.  At one point, I reached down to stroke her side and she yowled at me before flipping over.  So, something hurt.

She didn't move from that spot for an hour and a half.  At one point, I went over to make sure she wasn't dead. She doesn't normally take long naps out in the open.  She raised her head and looked at me, then let it rest.  I figured she was exhausted from her night in the tree.  At closing time, I picked her up and carried her to the barn.  She complained the whole way, clearly uncomfortable.  I set her down outside her crate bed and she sat there for a minute, before walking slowly and stiffly inside.

We worried about her all night.  I thought to myself: First the chicken massacre, then the goat, and now Passage.  I can't handle losing another animal this winter.

Monday morning, I went to the barn early, before getting dressed for work.  I slid open the door and flipped on the light.  Passage was standing in the barn aisle, meowing at me in her typical plaintive way.  She was walking a bit stiffly, but she was definitely doing better.

She spent most of the day in her bed, coming out to eat and drink.  She's safely recuperating in the barn and I am confident she will be back to her normal self soon.  She has a barn to patrol, after all.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Paying it Forward

A hundred years ago, when I was in high school, a very nice Mormon couple let me ride their horse.  They lived in my town, and I rode on their property, up on Bluebird Hill,  with my best friend who had a connection to them through her sister.  Eventually, my friend stopped going because the horse she was riding (boarded there) was no longer available.  But, the family offered me the opportunity to ride their horse whenever I wanted.  Whenever I wanted; for free.  Most days, after school, I rode my bike up the hill and spent the remaining daylight hours out on area trails with Charco.  For a horse-crazy girl, who's family couldn't afford to buy or lease a horse or pay for riding lessons, it was a dream come true. 

This past Saturday, the guy who offered to build me a bridge out of our oak tree, in return for the opportunity to mill some of it and take some firewood, came up with his friend and two of his kids.  The younger child, a ten year old boy, was in heaven moving logs and driving the tractor.  The daughter came along because she is horse crazy.  I know exactly how it feels to be a 14 year old horse-crazy girl.  She doesn't have a horse, for the same reasons I didn't.  She does trade work for lessons at a small barn near her home, an hour and some change down the mountain from us.

While the boys worked on the tree, Bekah and I rode.  Did I mention that this family is Mormon?  It felt like a wonderful opportunity to pay that gift from my childhood forward.  It was incredibly generous of that family, so many years ago, to trust me -- a non-Mormon girl (and the Mormon community was very tight in our town) -- with their horse. 

Bekah treated Pistol like a princess.  She was groomed thoroughly and ridden with a light hand. 

I was in the arena at the same time, on Lucy.  I glanced over a few times, out of the corner of my eye, just to make sure they were getting along.  Bekah sat tall and balanced, Pistol had her ears riveted on her rider, and they both looked happy.  I left them alone, to figure each other out, and play.

I told Bekah that she can come ride Pistol anytime she wants.  I understand how that family felt so many years ago.  To have a young girl who adores your horse (not just the riding part), and rides with balance and tact, is a gift to the owner too.  I mean, how could she not love Pistol?

After working all day, Brett helped her father and his friend load the first piece of milled wood onto the truck with his tractor.  All three men had to ride on the tractor to provide enough weight to give the wheels traction.  Then they loaded their tools and drove back home.

They will be back in a few weeks to finish the bridge and mill more wood.  I hope Bekah will be with them.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Lucy and the Arena of Death

Weather permitting, I am working with Lucy in the Pessoa during the week and riding her on the weekends.  We've been using the small fenced arena behind the barn because the dressage court was frozen, then soggy, and then nicely damp but full of gorges carved by the water coursing down the middle during the last storms.  While using the small arena is useful, it isn't ideal.  The sand is really thin; almost non-existent.  Also, it is currently where Lucy and Pistol are living since the oak trunk is still laying across the fence -- or what is left of it -- in their usual pasture.  If I want to work with Lucy, Brett has to move Pistol somewhere else (usually hand grazing).  It works but it isn't the most convenient, if Brett is busy on one of his projects when I'm ready to work with Lucy.

Wednesday, Brett spent hours working on the dressage court.  He pulled sand away from the bottom of the court, where it had piled up, and tried to level things out with the tractor.  After three hours of work, the sand was nice and fluffy and the gorges were gone.  It wasn't perfectly even; it will take more time and work to get it perfect, but it was very inviting nonetheless.  When I got home from work, I got Lucy ready to go and headed up to the court.

Meanwhile, a neighbor was blasting his radio so loudly that we could hear every word of the soap opera he was playing.  It was disruptive and annoying and I was happy to be walking toward the other end of our property.  Did I mention that it was early evening? Feeding time.  ...the time of day that parents with small children refer to as the "witching hour."  Everyone is grumpy, and tired, and hungry.  Its prime time for drama.

Lucy doesn't like the dressage court.  She's a funny horse.  Unlike our other horses who love wide, open spaces, she prefers defined boundaries.  She loves her stall and is very relaxed working in a small arena.  In the dressage court, she is more often than not, on edge.  And that was the case Wednesday evening.  Her head was high as she trotted around me and she wasn't stretching at all. 

A gunshot rang out.  Lucy bucked and bolted forward.  Fortunately for me, she never pulls on the lunge line.  Another shot.  And another. And another.  I stopped counting.  Our gun crazy neighbor must have been engaged in target practice.  It finally got quiet, but I had a wild-eyed mare careening around me so fast that I was getting dizzy, turning in the middle to keep up.  I stayed calm and projected an air of "no worries" and she eventually settled.  At that point, my goal became getting a relaxed and stretching trot.  That's it. 

Thank you Mr. NRA nut. 

When we stopped, Lucy was wet with sweat and her chin was covered in lather and spit.  But, she had relaxed.  As I leaned against her shoulder and reached under to unclip the Pessoa, the gunshots started up again.  Lucy jumped and quivered -- but she didn't buck or bolt.  She spooked in place. 

One of the things I love about Lucy is that she takes care of me.  Even if she is on edge, she doesn't explode if I am on her back -- or, in this case, leaning under her belly.  She really is an awesome mare.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Wednesdays with Tex: Liberty Work

During the long, wet winter Tex and I didn't do much in terms of structured training.  We did spend a lot of time hanging out together over the fence, had a few grooming sessions, and maybe one ride.

He's been doing great.  All the storms were actually beneficial as there was a lot of catching, haltering, and leading back and forth between the barn and pasture.  There was one day recently when he was very worried about things, and stepped back when I approached.  But, he didn't leave and he didn't flinch when I touched him.  Most of the time, he comes to greet me and one day he even nickered when he saw me standing at the fence.
Remember a year ago when I was thinking about doing liberty work with him?  I still work on it a little bit with him; more to develop relationship than to do tricks.  Last March or April, I sent an email to Robin Gates, a renowned liberty clinician.  I didn't hear back, and figured she was no longer giving clinics.  I forgot all about it, to be honest.

Last week she sent me an email.  She was very seriously injured a few years ago and is only now starting to get back to work.  We had a long conversation about horses, and trauma, and connection.  She said she would be happy to work with me and Tex.  Can you imagine doing stuff like this?  The connection?  The fun?

In late May, Brett will trailer Tex and I to her Sonoma ranch for an intensive three or four day clinic.  I am so excited.  So. Excited. She said Brett can watch, and take pictures, so I can share it all with you.

Monday, March 13, 2017

A Warm Spring Day

We've had a spell of warm, dry weather.  Not hot, just warm, in the upper 60s. 

The boys have been napping in the sun.

The flowers are starting to open.

Brett is busy moving logs into piles, where they look nice and neat while waiting to be split.

We spread wood chips in the garden and then Brett mowed -- "Not in my garden," I told him. "The poppies are just starting to come up."  (He's a bit over-zealous when it comes to mowing and weed whacking.)  I try to tell him that this is a ranch, not a golf course, -- and he nods impatiently; fires up the ride-on mower, and off he goes.

There is still a lot of mud around, and the streams are running.  It's early spring and this warm weather is just a teaser.  Brett, who is normally a glass half empty kind of guy, told me that he thinks that the rain is gone for this year.  I don't believe him.  For once, I'm the pessimistic one.

But, today the air is full of birdsong and sunshine.  Days like this are gold.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Spring, When a Mare's Fancy Turns to Love

The past few days, Lucy has been having what I call MMDs - Mare Melt Downs. 

She's in heat; that's a big part of it, I'm sure.

And her hocks are feeling good.  Obviously.

At feeding time, she races around her pasture the arena, bucking, rearing and careening into Pistol.

This morning, I brought Jackson outside for a thorough grooming.

Afterward, he wandered around for a bit, nibbling on the grass.
Yes, I know he has manure stains on his butt.  There's only so much you can do with a curry comb.

Tex was interested.

But, Lucy was REALLY  interested.  Honestly, Lucy, put your tail down.

She was straining to see Jackson, with all she was worth.

And, Lucy,  put your hind legs together.  Stand like a lady.

I can't believe you posted those pictures of me.  How embarrassing.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Cowboy Take Me Away

Cowboy was named after my favorite Country song. 

Camille holding Cowboy, I'm holding Whiskey.  First time we met the babies in 2011.

First pedicure

Trimming back the blackberry bushes

Cowboy never recovered.  He wasn't in pain but became quieter as the week went by.  Brett found him this afternoon where he had been sleeping in the sun.  Rest in peace, sweet little guy.