Saturday, February 29, 2020

Meet Luek

A number of months ago Brett and I decided that we weren't going to replace or add any more animals to the ranch. Except dogs; because you have to have dogs.

And then about a month ago we revised the plan.  We decided that as our herd dwindles, we would replace our horses with retirees.  It might become our "thing" to be a ranch for retired horses.  Neither of us have been riding in the past six months or more, between me and my back issues and our lack of rideable horses, and we were okay with that change.  The current herd stands at four:

  • Flash: 24 years old this year; extremely arthritic; fully retired.
  • Pistol: 24 years old this year; recently markedly slowing down and acting her age; we could put a light rider on her for walk arounds the ranch but that's it.
  • Lucy: 17 years old this year and retired due to her joint issues and my back issues.  She requires very expensive and extensive joint injections to be comfortable in work and my back can't handle her sideways jumps when she spots a troll.
  • Tex: 16 years old this year and in therapy.  He'll never be more than a walk-trot horse and will never be a good mount for anyone except me because it takes him so long to trust.  He is making great progress with me, but he's perfectly happy being a pasture pet 90% of the time.
And then I got a call from my trainer, offering me a PSG level schoolmaster.  He was being used by one of her students but he's not able to handle full-on, heavy competition training.  He is also not forward enough to get her the scores she needs. He's older but sound for light work.  Was I interested?

Initially I said no.  Then I said “probably not” but I'd talk to Brett.  She said he has super smooth gaits and is kind of lazy, no trolls in his imagination.  He's too much of a slug to help her student get her medals, but might work well for me and can also go on trails.  Brett said, "Go down and check him out."  I grabbed my back brace and headed to Sandy's barn.  He is definitely heavier in the hand and more work to keep going than the horses I have always liked best.  But he was solid and I felt safe and my back didn’t hurt at all.  And he’s beautiful.  And with my back issues, I don’t need to be riding Ferrari horses anymore.

Luek is an Azteca which is a cross between PRE or Lusitano and Quarter Horse.  They are the national breed of Mexico, where they were developed in the 1970s.  They are friendly, docile, level-headed, athletic, and have very smooth gaits.

Luek is all those things.  So we brought him home today.  He's settling in well.

We have him in a paddock next to Tex and Flash, who watched his arrival with great interest.

Eventually, he will be in their pasture with them.  They were all very excited to meet each other.

Within five minutes, Tex and Luek were grooming each other across the fence.  I think he’s going to work out great as the next Oak Creek Ranch retiree.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Agility Is Our Thing

Sage is crazy about agility.  We had our fourth class tonight and Sage was happy from the moment she jumped out of the car until the minute class ended. ...and then she didn’t want to leave.

We train with a group of six dogs.  While we wait in line for our turn on an obstacle, she watches the other dogs intently.  When the dog ahead of us goes, she loses her mind in anticipation.  She jumps and spins and pulls.  It is soooo hard to wait for her turn.

She waits for the command, eyes locked on me.

And then she explodes in an enthusiastic, focused, tail-wagging bundle of joy.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Too Much for Tex

Tex is our resident worrier.  He worries about Brett’s truck, and the horse trailer, and the tie rail, and anything that looks strange — like a wood chipper, or Sage’s agility equipment.  When Sage runs through her agility tunnel, Tex loses his mind.  The agility tunnel is in the arena next to the boys’ pasture.  There is a wide walkway between the pasture and the arena.  The tunnel is located in the middle of the arena.  When I work with Sage, Tex stands in the middle of his pasture, ears pricked, legs ready to spring, and stares at us.

A few months ago, our neighbor got a new dog.  It’s a large dog, I’m thinking Rhodesian ridgeback, and it spends its time running and leaping around in a joyful, bounding way.  Tex worries about the dog.  A lot.  Nobody else cares.  Sure, Kersey and Sage barked at it for a few days when it was new but not anymore.  You can see that the neighbor’s house is not particularly close to Tex’s pasture.

Last Monday was clear and sunny.  There was a nice breeze blowing when Jason, our farrier, arrived to trim and shoe the horses.  Lucy, Pistol and Flash were all dispatched with no drama.  All our horses stand quietly and lift their feet for the farrier; even Tex.  Jason got Tex’s shoes off and was starting to trim when the neighbors came out to play.

See this nice house?  In it lives a tall, burly fireman, his very pretty slender wife, and three small children — all under five.  Oh, and two dogs — a docile lab and that Rhodesian ridgeback that loves to run so much.  There is a trampoline next to the house.  Tex hates it when the little girl jumps on the trampoline.

So, Jason is trimming away.  Tex is standing quietly.  The family comes outside.  The dog starts jumping in joyful circles around his family.  The father and his little blond daughter start flying a kite.    It soars, it dips, it crashes, it soars again... Tex starts losing his mind.  He poops.  He swings right and he swings left.  But, he’s still picking up his feet and then hopping.  Next, dad gets on a dirt bike, with the little girl behind him, and they ride toward our fence line with the kite flying behind them.  The dog is leaping behind them.  Tex poops again.  He stops hopping and he starts spinning.

We moved to the other side of the barn where Tex couldn’t see the neighbors.  He immediately settled down and Jason was able to finish filing Tex’s feet and nailing on his new shoes without getting smashed by a side-stepping, butt-swinging, pooping horse.  Poor Tex.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Birthday Dinner

When I was growing up, my mom would make us whatever we wanted (within reason) for dinner on our birthday.  I have continued that tradition.  When the kids were small, I found this plate — they were all the rage for awhile.  I’m sure if my mother had known about them when we were still at home, she would have bought one.  She loved that sort of thing.

Brett wanted berry cobbler for his birthday dinner dessert.  He isn’t much of a cake person.  The kids always wanted chocolate cake with bananas between the layers and lots of chocolate whipped cream frosting.  It’s the cake I always had when I was a kid, too.  My mom used a boxed cake mix (we got to pick that out, too: chocolate sour cream, or devil’s food, or double chocolate; so hard to decide).  She whipped cream and added Nestle Quik to make it chocolate.  I cleaned the bowl with my fingers, while my brother and sister licked the beaters.  Brett has been looking at his cobbler all afternoon (apples and blackberries) and saying, “that cobbler sure looks good.”

The main course is always the same for Brett’s birthday.  Barbecued baby back ribs and potatoes.  No salad, no vegetables.  It’s his birthday so he can do that.  This is the guy who orders dinner in restaurants and says, “can I have a double portion of potatoes instead of the veggies?”

My daughter, Camille, always asks for the same thing too: tuna casserole and artichokes.  Kyle, my son, is the adventurous eater and I don’t think he has ever asked for the same thing twice.  One year we had fondue with all kinds of different meats, including bison and ostrich.  That was fun.

And, bread.  They all request homemade bread.  I’m very pleased with this loaf.

Kyle’s girlfriend, Ana, gave me a bread cookbook from the bread master of San Francisco for Christmas.  I used it for Brett’s bread and I can say that is the best bread book that I have — and I have quite a few.

For your birthday dinner, what would be on the menu?

Monday, February 17, 2020

Third Agility Class

As we pulled in the long dirt driveway to the agility training center this evening, Sage began whining in excitement.  She jumped out of the car and pulled me toward the training arena.  Before class started, I took her across the small and then the large wobble boards.  During class, she raced across the teeter-totter and the trainer said, “I love her enthusiasm.”

Tonight she learned the wide jump — as wide as it is tall.  We also worked on the double jump which is two poles wide (the “wide” jump is three poles wide).

We’ve been working on sit-stay during class, and at home, and tonight we put it to use.  First we had our dog sit-stay in front of the tube.  Then we walked to the other side and called them through.  Last week, we put our dog in a sit but stayed by their side while the trainer called them through.  So, this was up a notch in focus.  Sage has great focus.  This was easy.

The weave poles are getting more difficult.  This week there were twice as many poles.  Sage went through fine, although I did have to encourage her a bit with my voice.

We ended with another sit-stay exercise.  This was a sit-stay-jump-target exercise to be more precise. Sage had to stay in her sit until I walked to the other side of the jump.  After I released her to jump, she had to touch a target in front of me — that was holding a treat.

Agility seems to be the perfect sport for Sage.  The harder it gets, the more she loves it.  The faster we go, the more enthusiastic she gets.  And, best of all, she sleeps all the way home.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

February in the Garden

Daffodils are pushing through the mulch and there are a couple brave blooms.  We haven’t had any rain all month and that is very, very bad.  In the past six February’s that we have lived here, we have averaged a bit more than 9 inches for the month.  So far, we’ve had zippo this year.

In my Master Gardener classes, we’ve been learning a lot about water management and irrigation.  As you can imagine, in California water management is huge.  In class we learned all the math behind calculating how much water a particular soil holds, how quickly it moves through the soil and how climate affects it as well.  Oh, boy.  Math.  Ugh.  We also had a lab where we learned, hands-on, how to install drip lines.  I’ll admit I was feeling pretty good before the lab; I put all of our landscape on drip — planters, fruit trees, and veggies — when I planted our gardens.

So, bonus points (maybe) for being on drip.  But I learned that my lines were not configured correctly.  I had lines that look like this in my flower and herb beds.

See all the lines coming out with different types and sizes of emitters?  Not good.  The line went across the bed and ended.  That’s not good either.  If the line ends, water doesn’t flow evenly so some plants get a lot and some not enough.  That would explain why some plants in the planter do fine and others struggle.  Overall, it doesn’t perform great.  So, I ripped it out and re-did it.

I am also redoing the drip lines around the fruit trees so that they are a continuous loop.  I have 20 fruit trees.  This is going to take a while.

Sometimes, I sit in the greenhouse and think.  I ponder my next project; what to tackle first; how to lay out the lines.  I love sitting in the greenhouse.

I also made up a big batch of seed starting mix and planted some seeds.

Meanwhile, my lettuce, arugula and pansies are doing well.

When my arms and shoulders ache, I tell myself that the flower beds will be awesome and that I’ll have lots of fruit; that all this work will be worth it.  Stay tuned for future installments...

Saturday, February 15, 2020

The Wobble Board

Thursday, while I was at my Master Gardener class, Brett made a wobble board for Sage.  At class last Monday, she was still really apprehensive about both the board and the teeter totter.  The wobble board isn’t part of an agility course, but Sage needs to be comfortable with instability.  ...don’t we all...

I worked with her Thursday evening and yesterday.  Each day she got a wee bit braver.  Yesterday, she put two — TWO — paws on the board.  This morning, she went all the way across.

And then she posed for me, sitting on the ramp.  Silly Sagey-poo.  The ramp is her favorite thing.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Second Agility Class

Sage and I had our second agility class this evening.  We’ve been practicing at home and it really helped.  We missed last week’s class due to our trip to Arizona but we weren’t behind at all.

Sage did really well with most of the obstacles.  She does not like things that go wobble, wobble, smack so the teeter-totter is difficult for her and requires extra treats and praise.  But jumping through tires... piece of cake.

Tunnels are her favorite, I think.  Tunnels tend to be very popular with all the dogs.

One of the new obstacles tonight was circling a barrel.  The trainer gave us instructions and I’m thinking, “oh, like barrel racing.”  Sage nailed that one too.

The best part about agility is the fun factor.  Sage never stops wagging her tail and wants to do more, more, more.  It’s hard to wait in line for her turn.  Her vocabulary (and mine) is expanding quickly — “tire”, “jump”, “tunnel”, “feet” (pause with your back feet on the ramp), “table”, “weave,” “target,” and “go around.”  Our homework is to practice “target.”  When I say “target,” she is to run ahead of me and touch a target (plate or something similar).  We’ve got a lot to keep us busy; all this plus our regular obedience classes.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Guest Ranch Travelogue: Rancho de Los Caballeros

Brett and I stayed at Los Caballeros guest ranch, in Wickenburg, Arizona, for four days.  Even though I’m not really a desert person, preferring the mountains and the coast, I have to say that the Sonora desert is gorgeous.

I was hoping for sunny, warm weather since it is mid-winter and cold at home.  When we left there was snow and rain in the forecast.  It was better at the ranch, for sure, even though they were having an unseasonable cold snap.  I bundled up in a shirt, fleece vest and heavy jacket and was fine on the morning ride.  My fingers were a bit numb at the end, but otherwise it was not a problem.  There was a fire going in the lodge all day and our room was cozy.

Of course, we came for the horses but there is also a world-class golf course, tennis, spa and various other activities.  We settled into a routine of riding in the morning and relaxing in the lodge with a book in the afternoons.  We found a sunny nook that looked out over the resort, with the desert stretching beyond, and made ourselves comfortable.

WiFi was non-existent in the room so we also used the time in the lodge to catch up on email.

One day, Brett’s brother and his wife drove up from the Phoenix area and we had lunch and spent the afternoon together.  Another afternoon, we drove into the town of Wickenburg and explored the local museum and shops.  The museum was very interesting and well worth visiting.
There is also a jeweler who makes beautiful silver engraved, cowgirl jewelery.
Our morning rides were about two hours along and we were just about the only brave (stupid?) guests who rode in the icy cold.  The first day we rode with two other brave souls on the weekly nature ride.  Dick, the wrangler and ranch naturalist, led the ride.  Dick knew the biology and behavior, as well as the names, of all the plants, animals and birds.  I recognized quail and black throated sparrows but there were also  brown-crested flycatchers and a variety of phoebe that was lighter in color than the black ones we have at home.   He pointed out the different varieties of cacti and other plants, and explained how they survive and multiply.  I was fascinated by all of it.

The other two mornings, we rode out with a wrangler and no other guests.  They were all staying inside where there was hot coffee.  We went far out into the desert, past barrel cactus, prickly pear, cholla, ocotillo, yucca, Palo verde, mesquite and, of course, many saguaro cacti — the ones that stand with their arms sticking out and are in all the cartoons of the desert.

I was a bit apprehensive about riding.  Many of you know that I really don’t ride much anymore due to issues with my back.  I told Brett that I would try an easy walk ride one day but that would most likely be it for me.  However, I brought a back brace which had been recommended to me by a medical professional who also rides.  It was magic.  I rode all three days.

Our horses were great too.  I was on a strong blue grey roan who is in his third season on the ranch.  Despite only being seven, he was level-headed and a very easy ride.  His canter was huge but that was fine with me, I’m used to Lucy’s big stride.

Brett rode a big red roan named Rim Rock.  He’s been on the ranch for a number of years and was also very solid.

All the horses were well-fed, well-shod and looked happy.  The herd numbers around 80.  When we got back from our rides, around noon, it was warming up (but still not anywhere close to warm) and about a third of the herd was stretched out in the pasture taking a siesta.
I tried to take a photo of the herd but this sweet guy kept photo-bombing my pictures.

I definitely recommend this ranch — we’ll be back.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Practicing Agility: Week One

I bought a few pieces of agility equipment so Sage and I can practice at home in between our lessons.    I work with her for about 15 minutes in the afternoons and when she sees me walking towards the arena, she races ahead and does a few things on her own, just for the fun of it.

She nailed jumping quickly.  Kersey follows us around, but doesn’t participate other than looking for treats that Sage might have missed.

The ramp was a little scary for her at first but she loves it now.  She is good about pausing at the end — she has to finish with her paws on the green area so I give her a treat there to ensure that she slows down before leaving the ramp.

The tunnel was a piece of cake.  I bought the tunnel when we first brought her home, almost a year ago, so it isn’t new.  The weave poles are the most difficult.  I have them set up with the poles leaning out, forming a “V” so she can learn to go through.  Eventually, I will add more poles and straighten them up.

The only one not happy about agility training is Tex.  He runs laps when Sage runs through the tunnel.  Silly spooky horse.