Monday, December 28, 2009
"I don't know. Why?"
She called me and explained she wanted to ride from the barn to her house so her boyfriend's nephews could pet the horses. "Come with me," she insisted. I wanted to go out and see my boy anyway and the ride to her place is only about 30 minutes. I thought I could sneak off for that long without my family missing me too much.
Little did I know that when I told my husband I was going he was going to freak out. I'm not even sure what kind of passive agressive BS that was but do you think he could just ask me to stay home? Of course not...it had to be the hairy eyeball rolling thing he does when he doesn't want to tell me not to do something but he's mad I didn't just read his mind. So, I called Sister and told her I wasn't going to make it. Just then my husband drug a bag of carrots he bought for the horses out of the fridge and plopped it on the counter beside me. "Just go," he growled and went back to chores which is what he does when he's mad. Really? Why'd he buy the horses Christmas treats and then get mad at me for wanting to go ride...argh. I will never get men. But never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I took him at his word and bolted.
I got to the barn just as Sister finished tacking up and rushed to get Tax out and saddled. By then it was 3:30 and I was starting to worry about making it to her house and back before dark. As long as we didn't stay too long we should make it but it aslo meant I didn't get time to warm Tax up in the arena and do an attitude check. Of course that means that everything that could go wrong did. Tax was a creep...even Promise was a creep. The garbage cans at the end of the driveway were scary, the dogs barking at the fence next door were scary. Promise REALLY did NOT want to leave the barn and kept trying to turn around and go home but sister was afraid to fight with him because Tax was so tense so instead she kept having to hop off and lead on foot. We got lost and had to double back a bit to find our trail again. We came across loose dogs and honking attack geese. And in a minute I'll tell you about the bike jumps but first a bit about traffic...
The Christmas traffic was terrible. Local folks drive really carefully around the horses even though we aren't riding right on the road most of the time other than a couple of places where we have to actually cross. The worst we typically get is someone who drives a little too fast but Sister (on her usually reliable pony) flags them and asks them to slow it down and they usually do. Christmas, however, meant a lot of vistors to our little rural area. We had two vehicles I'm pretty sure were purposely trying to scare the horses; honking and gunning their engines right next to us when the could clearly see my horse dancing around starting to panic and there was absolutely no reason for it but pure malice. Sometimes we have folks honk when they're excited about seeing horses and they wave...I get it and while it's inconvenient with my idiot horse we deal. These guys were just being awful and trying to cause an accident. We weren't on the road; we certainly weren't causing a problem for them. There must be a special place in hell for someone who would try to get someone else killed in a horrible accident like that on Christmas. Idiots.
Bike jumps...I used to run up and down them, hills and ditches, as a kid on my pony and it was great fun. The trail were were riding on Christmas was elevated with slopes down each side and water in the ditches along side. Some kid had dug down the trail right in the middle about 7-8 feet and it was almost a straight drop down, then a narrow bottom and then straight up the other side. Sitting 5 and a half feet off the ground and looking down at a huge drop off on my morondon does not bring back fond memories that make me want to try it again. As a matter of fact it makes fear boil up in the pit of my stomach bad enough that when we got to the first one I got off and walked. I can't get on Tax from the ground so once I'm off I'm off until I can find something to climb up which is fun when he's freaking out and dancing all over the place. We were close to the house and needed to cross the road so I decided walking was a great option at that point.
Going down in hand was actually not too bad. He went slow although sideways and with his head up like a llama. Why can't he watch where he's going? Up was another story...he blew up that hill sideways in two big leaps and nearly crashed into the back of Promise dragging me along with him by the reins. Whatever, we made it to the house finally without further incident and he was great with the kids. He grazed all sweetly while the family fawned over my "majestic" horse. Heehee...he is a pretty striking animal especially when you aren't used to horses.
I'd already gotten myself in trouble for going to the barn on Christmas now it was someone else's turn. Sister was in trouble with her boyfriend's mom for not being there. I have always, always ridden my horse on Christmas when I had one. Why do non-horsey people not understand this? We decided to get back to the barn as fast as possible because the light was getting low and Sister needed to get back for the Christmas dinner she hadn't planned on having.
We tried heading out at a trot but the horses were antsy to get back to the barn. Tax was bucking and crow hopping about twice a minute. Then we had the first of the creep drivers just as we got ready to cross the street to hit the trail with the bike jumps so that got him nice and riled up. Shortly after that we were back to the trail. On the way back we saw there was a small path next to the water in one of the ditches skirting the first bike ramp. The footing on the path looked okay so we decided to try it instead. I didn't want to get down now or I'd be walking quite a long way to find a suitable fence to help me get up on Tax again.
Sister took off too fast and got ahead while I was trying to negotiate some mud (which Tax also doesn't like) to get on the path. I called out to have her wait up but stopping on the way to the barn was not in Promise's plan for the day. He proptly turned, refused to listen to Sister's cue and went back up to the main trail. Tax was none too happy about that, let me tell you. Sister got to the top of that bike jump and immediately hopped off to walk it. Damn her and her long legs and short pony. We were doing okay until Tax and I got to the point where our path intersected with the bottom off the bike trail just as Sister started up the hill back out of it. Tax thought they were leaving him and just flat panicked. I could feel it in every muscle in his body. He backed onto the trail while I started calling out to Sister. It's what I do when I panic. Sister, Sister, Sister, Sister (except I use her real name in real life)...over and over. I remember thinking that I hate that my voice sounded panicky too. I was kicking Tax forward toward the path while he backed in a blind fury. I knew he was going up the hill after Promise no matter what and I flashed back to a fall he took on a hill on another trail ride because he just doesn't pay attention if he gets left behind. Then I couldn't think about anything because he was leaping up the hill sideways and flailing about. I remember a half a second of rational calm where I realized I just needed to let him go. I pushed my shaking hands forward to stop my frantic pulling and sank deep in my saddle grabbing the horn. Sister had stopped at the top afraid to go further and make his panic worse. We hit Promise hard in the butt as my horse twisted sideways trying to find purchase on the path. I prayed the mud would hold us and he wouldn't slip. Then we were standing at the top slightly off the path and I cannot believe I stayed on him. It was like riding a ship tossed in a storm. I immediately burst in to hysterical laughy tears. I don't think I've ever been so afraid in my whole life...I'm kinda proud we managed it but do not EVER want to do that again.
On the way back there were a couple of good moments but also too many stupid drivers and too many crow hops into Promises butt. We're so lucky he's got the patience of a saint. You'd never know these two try to kill each other the minute they're turned out together. I finally got off and walked the last couple of blocks as the twilight got too deep. Everyone got home safe. I'm still not getting a divorce and I have no idea if sister had the most uncomfortable dinner of her life but my guess would be yes. Man, this was supposed to be a relaxing ride!
Note to self...if Sister ever asks if I'm feeling adventurous, just say no.
Oh, so I cut December's mane. Yeah, with scissors and yes, I know I'm not supposed to but I got tired of trying to comb mud out and she won't let me pull it and sometimes I get impatient. Oh and yes, I cut it wet; thanks for asking. It's too short but only the top 1/3 closest to her ears so she has a mini-mohawk on top. I banded it and put her sleazy on her but I don't know if its going to help. I would only do something so stupid with a horse I need to sell. Heh...that's so not true. I constantly do stupid stuff. Sigh.
Next, I'll write about my niece's first fall off a horse. She and December are no longer friends.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Now I'm preparing for surgery in late January that's going to have me laid up enough I can't ride for two months at least. Two months...in Feb and March when I should be preparing for show season which was the whole point of moving to the expensive barn with an indoor arena. I kind of want to cry everytime I think about it. I know doing it is the right thing to do but I wish we could have done it in November when we first figured out what was going on. Especially because it feels like something really clicked with Tax in the last week. Wow...enough, bitching already, huh?
On a happier note let me explain about Tax. I had take a week off mid-December when my cramps had me doing not a lot but writhing in pain. Coming back he hadn't been turned out much because the rain turned all of the outdoor arenas into big mudpits. Our first ride didn't go well. He bucked and I flopped around and got two huges bruises on my stomach from my saddle horn. Really ugly and of course all in front of the new girl at the barn who rides so well. Bleh. I got smart the next day and lunged the heck out of him. I even used side reins which I typically don't like doing. Whatever, maybe I should lunge him in side reins more. By the time I got a nice slowish rythmic canter from him from the ground he was pretty tuckered out. I hopped on to ride and I swear it was a different horse. He was so light in my hands it was amazing. He moved off my leg like...well, not like a 6 yo green ex-racehorse. I could feel him stepping through with his hind. Another small change I made was carrying a dressage whip. I never even really used it but it changed his whole frame. I could feel how lifted his ribs and back were. I decided it was a good time to try some leg yeilds at the trot. We've been working on some lateral work at a walk.
I got him trotting evenly down the center of the arena. Toward the end I shifted my weight slightly to slightly drop my weight to my right seat bone. I pushed my left leg against him just behind the girth and held him steady with the reins: outide holding and inside softly massaging. He in return bent all wonky and broke to the walk. I tapped him on the left with the whip lightly behing my leg and clucked. He picked back up the trot and I felt him thinking about what I was asking. I straighten for a minute then asked again. He tossed his head once against the reins, figured out I wanted them there and then trotted a decent yeild. Yay!
We've been working on it a couple of times a night since. God, it feels good. Maybe someday he'll be a decent riding horse if we can just get the canter under control. I do have more hope than I used to though.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Then she said, “I love my sport, but god I hate never being able to eat anything.” She told me a story about a picture her mom (mom rode very competitively too) liked from a show and bought to submit to a magazine without telling her. She hates it because her coat billowed out and she looks “40 pounds heavier”. It hit me what it might be like to grow up with that kind of pressure to be good and to look right and be competitive. I’m kinda glad that I’ve always been able to ride just because I love it.
Saturday I met the vet at the barn to have the horses teeth floated. It went better than I was expecting given that we had to do it in the corner of the cross tie area of the barn. When I showed up I realized December is completely in heat and was being a spaz but one shot of sedatives calmed her right down. Tax was also in a mood. He’s been indoors too much with all the rain we’ve been getting. Again, one shot and quiet as can be. And now both have floated teeth.
One question, when did vets get younger than me? Cute too…sigh. The kids were a hoot. I had my niece and middle son with me and they both laughed and laughed at the funny horse faces. Son kept up a running commentary that had the vet tech giggling under her breath and the vet smiling. Who knew vet appointments could be so fun?
Friday, December 4, 2009
We brought him carrots and I swear the first thing he did after smelling my hand was shove his big old head in my chest the way he always used to. I managed not to cry but I'm pretty sure I heard some sniffling from Sister. Luckily for her it was dark... We gave him our carrots and lots of scritches and love.
His mane is all grown out now and I think it's becoming on him. Very thick and long. His coat is soft and shiny and his weight looks like what you'd hope an older horse would look like. He's downright fat for a TB. We didn't get pics since it was dark but I plan to drive by now that I know where he is and get some. B says we can visit whenever we want. Yay!
She's got her work cut out for her having bought a 100 year old farm house. It's pretty cool though, I must admit. They've started renovating the ancient milking barn on the place and want to open it up for the horses. I don't love the fences, there's barb wire at the far end of the pasture but they've run hot wire along the inside and it looks like they've started replacing it closest to the house with no climb. They do have a fenced arena and paddock that they keep Cody in at night so he can't get into trouble in the dark.
I'm playing it by ear right now. If she really wants December I think I'll sell her. If she doesn't push it neither will I...I'm kinda loving the BGM these days. We have an appointment with the vet on Dec. 12th to look at her leg and float her teeth. We'll see how it goes after that.
I rode December at night for the first time recently. Sister did it first last week so I was feeling brave. I warmed her up in the round pen and then I took her in the indoor arena. My younger two boys were in there with one of the kids who lives at the barn playing in the sand and gosh those boys get loud. December was really good even with them screaming and running around at one end of the arena and pigeons flying out of the rafters at the other. Who is this horse that has come and replaced my bitchy mare???
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
We were crazy with our ponies. My mom’s boyfriend had two daughters, one a year older and one a year younger than me who both had small ponies when I first met them. Later they were replaced with horses after I got my larger pony because I was not allowed to have anything nicer than them. I don’t blame them; their dad was insane but they were just children. We did our best at the time to get along and were usually friends. Largely unsupervised and by parents who were not horse people we got up to all kinds of shenanigans. It just never occurred to me that one of us could get hurt. Applejack and I were invincible, right? And that poor little guy poured his heart out to give me everything I asked for. Sure, he was hard mouthed and stiff and out of shape when I got him but that didn’t keep us from tearing up the town.
One day we decided to teach the ponies to jump. In our hard packed dirt and gravel driveway we set up a 2x4 across the seats of two lawn chairs. We set it up at the point where there was a pond on either side of the driveway to discourage the ponies from veering off course. We’d start at the bottom of the slightly uphill grade and tear up to the homemade jump at a run. I quickly learned that a saddle horn in the guts didn’t feel so good. Did I mention all of us rode western because that was what we happened to have? I was also riding in a small curb bit because I had no idea horses are supposed to be trained for it. I just bought a cheap western bridle and threw it on him. Yikes. To avoid bruising my stomach I ripped my saddle off and put on my trusty red fleece bareback pad. At least it had a handle I could hold onto instead of ripping on Applejack’s face. I only remember a couple of falls on that hard ground and only one trip into the pond before I learned to balance just right and steer at the same time.
That was how we learned to jump. Soon the wood was raised to the back of the lawn chairs, and the other ponies started refusing. It was too tall for them to try to clear with a kid in tow. We took turns racing my poor barefooted pony up the driveway and hooting with delight as he tucked up and sailed over the 2x4. To his credit he always loved to run and jump and did so without much complaint. It became a favorite new activity and many jumping sessions followed. When Apple was done for the day he’d let you know with a buck and we’d take down the “jump” and trot around the backyard in the soft grass for a while.
Our next door neighbor was a married women in her mid-twenties. She was a high point champion in a local hunter/jumper riding club and had a huge beautiful chestnut jumper. His name was Merrimack after the 1800’s US frigate that was destroyed by fire and rebuilt later for another purpose. He’d had a bad accident and broke his face (I think on the track if memory serves me) and she had rehabbed him and taught him to jump. His face would forever carry the scar but he had a soft and gentle eye and the story of his name appealed to my fanciful imagination. I used to ride down the road to her place just to stare over her fence at him. I loved the graceful way he lumbered over to sniff my hands hoping for a bite of grass. The first time she saw us jumping in the driveway I thought she was going to have a heart attack and I don’t blame her one bit. She started coming out when she saw me ride up the road and struck up a conversation with me.
“Hi there,” she said.
“Hi,” I must have looked like a cornered rat but I wanted to know about her horse.
“What’s your pony’s name?” she asked.
“Applejack. What’s your horse’s name?” She told me the story of the Merrimack and how she had named her horse. I sat there blinking for a minute wishing someone would rebuild me and give me a new purpose. Most of the time I felt pretty worthless and mom’s boyfriend made it pretty clear the only thing he thought I was good for.
“Do you have a helmet?” she asked me and I shook my head, my infamous blond mop of wavy hair swaying against my cheeks.
“Hang on a second,” she ran up to her barn and came out a moment latter carrying something with her.
She was always kind of aloof and I could tell she didn’t think much of me and my pony but she did her best to educate me in small doses. She gave me an old velvet helmet of hers and explained why I should wear it when I was jumping. Unlike most kids my age I was proud to put it on. My “step-sisters” thought I was crazy and were quick to mock me but I didn’t care. Some days I watched our neighbor warm up her gelding in her makeshift arena and the way they glided over a few small fences. Such dignity! She was kind of a mousey non-descript woman with glasses but when she rode it changed her. And her rides were nothing like our mad dashes down the driveway. She taught me about the importance of a good warm up and cool down and about riding safely. I found I wanted to be just like her…I wanted to ride English.
About that time I was looking for an under the table summer job so I could try to save up for an English saddle. I found an ad for a local barn who was looking for a high school kid to clean stalls. They paid cash or you could work for lessons. It was an English barn! I wanted to respond so badly even though I hadn’t started my freshman year yet. Julie and her sister Amanda were allowed to do anything that their dad knew I would want to do. It was yet another way for him to control me so even though it was my dream job Julia was taken down to meet the trainer and was quickly hired.
I often went to the barn with Julia to keep her company and I helped out with the cleaning when her mother took her on vacation for a couple of weeks. Her sister Amanda hated hard work and was almost useless when it came to cleaning but Julia and I weren’t afraid to get our hands dirty if it meant more time with horses. The trainer at the barn wasn’t the best trainer but she wasn’t terrible either. My biggest complaint was you never saw her ride and she never worked with adults, but her girls did well enough showing. I didn’t fit in with all of her polished pony club kids who looked down on us because we cleaned stalls. I didn’t care for them either because in my humble 13 year old opinion most of them barely knew how to ride and could only handle their quiet lovely show ponies. I’d already learned how to handle a pony with hard mouth who did occasionally run off with you and could throw a decent buck when he was feeling good. I’m going to be a very big person right now and admit that many of them turned out to be better technical riders than I ever was. My equitation has never been great and that is the benefit of having a well trained horse to practice on.
I got to know the barn owner, Alycia, and I think she saw something in me. She was fond of lost little girls trying to find their way in the world and couldn’t resist nurturing a horse fiend. She was a large mid-western woman; strict and if you didn’t know her intimidating, but I respected her. In my mind she’s still larger than life. She was 6 feet tall without her riding boots on, large breasted and walked like a man. She had short hair brown hair, and a very loud stern voice but was a kind woman. She was half blind and always losing her glasses so she squinted most of the time and had delicate crow’s feet around her blue eyes. She was educated and had kids late in life so her two daughters were slightly younger than me. She also had her own three horses and a pony for her daughters who had outgrown her but that she was too sentimental to sell. She rented the rest of her 5 acre place to the trainer for her lesson program. She rode dressage on a young gray Anglo-Arab. Blaze was kind of the barn “bad boy” and I was instantly in love with him. Go figure… I’d never known anything about dressage and this was my first introduction to the sport. I’d ask her my shy questions about how to get my pony to listen better whenever we talked. The idea of a whole discipline of riding dedicated to just the partnership between horse and rider seemed like magic to me. When I started my freshman year of high school Alycia hired me to clean stalls and care for her horses. It was the beginning of a much needed friendship.
To illustrate how determined I was at that time to keep learning I want to describe a typical week for me. I rode a bus that dropped me off about two miles from the ranch. Three days a week I walked those two miles to the barn rain or shine to clean stalls until dark when my mom or her boyfriend got off work and picked me up. As the days got shorter Julia and I sat in the cold barn doing our homework until they got there. Then I went home to feed and clean my pony before finishing my school work. It never occurred to me to ask for a ride from my new employer who was a stay-at-home mom. It was my job and my responsibility to get there. On Saturdays I got up early to clean her stalls before my lesson with the trainer. Julia was still cleaning for the trainer who had many more horses so sometimes I would help her when I finished first for the day.
It was grueling work for my small body. At the time I was 5 foot and barely 100 pounds. We’d clean out the stalls and paddocks and put the dirty shavings and mature into a large wheelbarrow. Then we had to push the wheelbarrow up a hill to the far side of the pasture and dump it and spread the pile around. You couldn’t leave a pile for a horse to trip on when they were turned out or for the tractor to get stuck on when they turned the pasture a couple of times a year. We made that trip as many as ten times per day. Mud boots became my new best friends and struggling up that hill with a half filled wet load in the rain was my nemesis. I was determined to be valuable and keep my place at the barn.
Saturday lessons were what I lived and breathed for. The trainer rotated those of us without our own horses through her string of lesson ponies. My favorite was an older chestnut quarter horse mare with a big blaze named Sunkist. She was the color of new copper pennies. She was also bigger than most of the ponies which was nice since I wasn’t one of the little kids and she had a little bit of go to her. Most days it was a lot of walk/trot/canter each direction in a large group, but she was the horse I learned to jump a nice controlled hunter course on. She’d just tuck her little head and lope in like a pleasure horse popping over fences. It was a nice change from the out of control speed of my little man, Applejack.
I took those lessons home with me and practiced in a field across the street from my house. I’d learned about leads and learned my pony was good about picking up the correct one. We started to work on getting his head down out of the sky and he learned to arch his thick neck when I half halted gently. We practiced circles and going straight down a line. And last but not least I practiced the heck out of my posting trot, trying to learn to balance all over again. This just makes me laugh because I was such a kid….the one thing we never thought to work on at that time was stopping. He was terrible at it. I could get him to slow down and stop when I need to, but not without a bit of dancing around first.
When I first began Alycia was paying me so I could save up for my saddle but as time when on she began to ask questions about my pony and my home. I’m pretty sure she was a perceptive woman who figured out more than I ever shared with her. At any rate, whatever she knew she never pushed me too hard or broke my trust. I could tell she didn’t like my mom’s boyfriend one bit and I’m pretty sure at one point even tried to talk to my mom about it. Whatever she said she managed to do it was with enough grace that it didn’t result in any retaliation from my parents. Ultimately what did happen was she offered to allow me to move my pony to her home so I could continue my lessons on him. I would be allowed to clean in exchanged for his food and board. She even dug up some old tack that would fit us. She gave me my first snaffle bit and English bridle.
I can’t tell you how excited I was. This felt like the beginning of my dreams coming true. I was still a shy kid, and still very reserved around other people. I tried all the time to put on an act of just being normal and it caused me a lot of stress wondering when someone was going to realize what a freak I was. I didn’t think that I deserved good things happening to me, and I was hesitant to put myself in someone’s debt. So, as happy as I wanted to be it wasn’t with a clear conscience that I first asked my mom if we could move Applejack to Alycia's.
I'm posting an new installation today. I know this bit of the story will be kind of the calm before the storm, but the next one will be difficult. My beginning with horses is so tied to this story I can't separate the two.
I was going to apologize again that this story will get harder before the happy ending I promised, but then there was a comment on Mug's blog by an anonymous poster who said "Thanks for sharing. It helps". And she was right...it does help. She was the one, the first one, who wanted to hear that she wasn't alone, that others battle with these scars everyday. I understand how profound of an effect that can have because I've been there. I hope she got some of that from my story...its an incredibly powerful feeling. The simple fact is that this happens to kids and its okay to talk about. Ignoring it is easy. Pretending that it will go away and "moving on" is easy, but fixing it...that's a whole other thing entirely. It has to be discussed sometimes. It has to be thought about and deliberately healed. Thanks Anon for helping me think about that differently. I'm giving myself permission to write what I need to write and not apologize for it again.
I hope I've got some new readers. I really hope my writing improves through this process and I know sharing this is changing me in a subtle way. Thank you for allowing me to indulge.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
I'm going to talk to the H/J trainer at the barn. As soon as Grace is done I'm ready for 60-90 days of training with Tax. I want to see if someone else can get him balanced at a canter since I'm not having as much luck as I'd like. Sister hopped on him last night and they cantered a 20m circle in the arena. There were a few strides that looked pretty good!
Monday, November 23, 2009
I should have gotten to bed earlier Friday night but I didn’t. My alarm went off at 5AM and I rolled over. A groan escaped my lips knowing I was going to have to get up if I wanted to make it on time. Today I was headed to Butte Star Ranch at the base of northern California’s Sutter Buttes for my first cattle drive and sorting. I’ve never worked with cattle before so despite the early rise and lack of sleep I wasn’t going to be late.
Rolling out of bed I grabbed my cell phone to see if my sister had called or texted me yet. I was picking her up on my way to the ranch. Sure enough, she’d texted me at 1:15 AM. “Call me when you wake up.” Uh oh...that meant I was going to be dealing with a tired and possibly hung over sister this morning. I knew she’d been out with girlfriends last night and was up late too. I quickly called her cell number but there was no answer. Darn it…I decided I’d better hustle and get to her place early in case I needed to get her up.
In the bathroom I looked at my tangled mess of straw blond hair trying to decide if I wanted to wash it. It was cold in the house which meant it was going to be freezing outside. Instead I threw it up in a bun to keep it dry while I quickly took a shower. I did my best to comb out the crazy hair, ran my straightening iron through it and put on a hat. It was going to have to do. I carefully dressed in layers because of the cold. A long sleeved hooded t-shirt, a fleece jacket, tall and thick socks, jeans, my Ariats. I threw a short sleeved t-shirt, a thermal shirt and a thicker sweatshirt into my backpack for good measure. I didn’t want to get out there and be miserable because I was too hot or cold.
When I was done I called my sister. Again, no answer. I was starting to get a little worried so I tried calling her boyfriend’s number to see if I could get him to wake up. No answer. The only thing to do now was just drive over there. I’d get there in time to give her about 15 minutes to get ready.
I headed out to my Durango, and opened my front door to a world gone white. Fog had settled into the Sacramento Valley with a seriousness. Our first real fog of the season. There is something about fog that always makes me feel isolated and uneasy. Almost like the rest of the world no longer exists but you’d never even know it. Luckily the drive turned out to be uneventful. I stopped at our barn just long enough to grab gloves, and my rain slicker, just in case I needed them.
When I walked up to my sister’s front door I already knew it was going to be bad. I could hear her alarm clock screaming through the closed front door but the lights were all still off. One knock set off her dogs who ran through the house to bark at the perceived threat. A minute later my sister’s confused face peered out the cracked door. She was wearing a short white terrycloth robe and her face was puffy from sleep. “Why are you here?” she asked just before she let out a gasp. “Oh god, I forgot!” she screamed and went running back toward her room. “Come in!”.
I closed the door behind me and yelled back to her sweetly, “You have 15 minutes before I leave you here. I’m not missing this for the world.” I reached down to let her black lab and her pit/heeler mix smell my hand so they could relax. I squatted down and scratched their ears softly. Both of them worshipped me with their big brown eyes glad for the attention.
“Is that your sister?” I heard her boyfriend mumble and then her voice softer explaining what was going on.
“Come back here,” my sister called. I stepped into the hallway in time to see my sister strip off her robe and come flying at me naked. With her tan, lean body and hair the color of autumn leaves hanging in a snarled mess down her back she looked more like a tree nymph that would be more suited to running barefoot through a forest than running down the hall to get clean panties from the laundry pile in the living room. I chuckled to myself as she grinned and ran back past me to her bedroom calling out, “Sorry!” on her way.
“Did you just run through the house naked?” I heard her boyfriend ask. “Um…she’s seen me give birth so I was pretty sure she wasn’t going to be offended,” the response. She was right, of course.
“All I want to know is does Chris have clothes on?” I yelled back down the hall. Once I’d established there were no worries about seeing anyone new naked this morning I headed down the hall to my sister’s door. She’d managed to pull a tank top on and was wiggling her skinny butt into a pair of jeans. “God, do I look like I’m still drunk? I feel like I’m still drunk. Should I brush my hair?”
“Whatever you do don’t take more than…10 minutes,” I said glancing at my cell phone. She chattered a stream of noise at me as she combed her hair, put a hat on, picked a small fight with her boyfriend and grabbed some Mike’s Hard Lemonade out of the fridge before we finally headed out to the car only 5-10 minutes behind schedule. I nodded, replied from time to time, and gave the boyfriend some crap about watching a movie about ballet because he couldn’t find the remote, but was mostly in my head still worried about if I’d like the horse they gave me.
Against my better judgment I agreed to let Sister drive because she knew the way and is a very aggressive driver. I did my makeup in the moving car and did my best to ignore how fast she was driving in the fog. She was worried about finding the turn off the highway but once we got over the Feather River and into Yuba City the fog was starting to burn off. As we got our first look at the Buttes for the day there were still pockets of fog hanging in the valleys of the mountains but we had a clear view of them. The Buttes are a strange mountain range that pokes up out of the almost flat land surrounding them. Not a large range and almost completely bare of trees they almost look like giant rolling hills but they're steep when you're up there. It was the prettiest thing I’ve seen in a long time. I realized with a sinking heart I’d forgotten my new camera.
We pulled into Butte Star at 7:25 with time to spare. Sister steered the Durango down the long gravel drive just past the café/gift shop. We parked and got out to stretch our legs. Other members of my trail riding club were already present unloading their own horses from trailers, tying them up and heading to the café for breakfast. After some smiles and helloes we were headed in to have breakfast ourselves. At a short counter the ranch owners’ wife was dishing steaming plates of pancakes and biscuits and gravy. The ranch owner was making the pancakes himself at a large griddle behind the counter while surrounded by his grandkids. It was heartwarming to have this kind family welcome us to their ranch like friends. We spent a few minutes catching up with old friends from the club discussing new horses and our next few rides.
With a belly full of pancakes and syrup I headed to the covered arena with Sister. We’d rented ranch horses so I didn’t have to worry about trekking up and down the foothills with the big grey psycho (Tax) and she didn’t have to try to get Promise to load into the trailer at 5 AM in the cold. We walked down the aisle peering into stalls where saddled horses stood haltered and tied waiting for riders to bridle them up and give them a spin around the arena before we loaded them in the trailer and headed for the property 15 minutes north where the cows live. We signed our releases and met the ranch owners son who was helping match horses and riders. He knew my sister from the last time she was out there in May. I’d been in Missouri for my cousin's highschool graduation and didn't get to go. He quickly sent her after a big chestnut named Mickey and she was bridled and in the arena in no time.
“How much experience do you have?” he asked me. “I’m experienced,” I told him. “I mean, not with cows or riding western but I can ride pretty much anything.” He directed me to a little black filly with a roan face. “This is Purdy Girl. She’s 4. Think you can handle it?”
“Sure,” I said, “why not.” I lead her to the arena and starting putting on the bridle he handed me. The ranch owner came over to ask me to trade him for a big cute buckskin that was already tied to the fence. "We've never taken him out but I'd like you to give it a shot," he said. I liked the look of him, bigger boned and an intelligent eye so I agreed.
"What's his name?" I asked.
"Don't know...call him Buck."
"Very original," I laughed, and Buck it was. I fumbled around with the curb strap on his western bridle and struggled with his height (have I mentioned I'm practically a midget?) but finally got him bridled. Once it was on I took him for a couple of laps around the arena. As soon as we moved off the fence the paint he'd been tied next to started to pull back and dance around calling for his pasture buddy. Buck remained steady and ignored in large part the antics of his goofball herdmate. I decided I liked him.
Once we made sure everyone was comfortable with their assigned horses in the arena it was time to put halters back on and get them loaded into trailers. Sister wanted to take my car so she could have a smoke and I wanted to throw on my thermal shirt. It was chilly. As we started down the driveway, J, the barn owners son walked up to the car just as I pulled my shirt back over my head. Sister slowed and rolled down the window to talk (thanks Sis). He wanted to talk to her about some clinics they are planning.
There's no one else riding in my truck, so why don't you girls ride with me?" he asked. Having ridden english my entire life has not given me a chance to be around straight men who ride horses. I had no idea how charming that can be. We all chatted about roping and junior rodeo on the way to the property. He and his dad were missing a fundraiser for a fellow roper who was recently diagnosed with Lou Gherig's just so they could take us out. I can't believe how kind their family is. He agreed to keep in touch about team penning clinics and to have us back sometime to start learning to rope (do girls do that too?). They had a breakaway calf roping clinic the next day that both of us pouted about having to miss.
The land opened up before us as we drove the narrow road. On the left is some of the richest duck hunting land in California. On the right, the Buttes rose up into the sky. Pulling up to the property we passed the long barns still a mess from a recent storm. Large parts of the roof had lifted off and landed in the pasture next to the barn. Good thing the cows were out to pasture. A goofy young black and white Great Dane ran up to meet the trucks his long legs bounding across the land and his big lips and ears flopping with each stride. His head was massive and when I hopped out of the truck it came up to my chest. On his hind legs as he jumped around me he was a good bit taller than me which made everyone laugh.
We got the horses out and bridled again and it was time for quick introductions. There were 11 riders from our club, 4 with their own horses, and the rest of us on rentals. We were being accompanied by the ranch owner, his son J, and their friend Levi who lives in the house on the land with the cows. J explained we take the long way around the property and pick up the cows on the way back to herd them into the sorting pens. Sister lead the way and we headed out around the edge of the property. Buck gave me just a little grief about wanted to be near J and Chief, his paint buddy. Five of us, J, Sister and two of the experienced riders from our club and I took the lead and got ahead of our little group. Buck also got a bit fiesty going up and down the hills which I loved. At the top we had a clear view for miles and miles. We could see the peaks of Mount Lassen and Mount Shasta, the nearby cities of Colusa and Arbuckle and miles of the canals the duck hunters travel in their small boats. At one point Buck stopped not wanting to cross a little ditch but with a little patience on my part I talked him into it. What a good boy.
We came around a corner of a hill and got our first glimpse of the cows. There were only about five who saw us coming and quickly trotted up and then down a little rise out of sight. When we got to the top there was the herd of about 20 cows and their babies. These are a long horned mexican type of cattle they breed for roping and penning. J told me what they're called but I can't remember now. Some of them were spotted like Appaloosas and were really a pretty kind of cow. There were 9 babies already with the herd and just as adorable as baby deer with their big ears and spindly legs. J struck out to the left to get the herd pushed to the right lower corner of the field where the gate is. After a few minutes the rest of our little group followed him getting in our first lope of the day. I let Buck open up and catch up with my sisters taller horse. He was rock steady and comfortable to ride. You could feel the change in these horses the minute they saw cows. They're all business when they have a job to do. Once we'd surrounded the herd we slowed down to a jog to bring them in. Sister smiled the way she does when she wants something and knows shes going to get it, and asked J if he'd catch a baby for us back at the barn so she could pet it.
Once the cows were herded into the holding pens we stopped for a quick drink. Levi realized there were about 10 head missing and we sent out a posse to find them. J, Sister and I stayed behind because he agreed to let us run around and play on our horses. We had a Hard Lemonade and rested the horses until the group was out of sight. Then we ripped off our hats so we wouldn't lose them and took the boys out in the pasture to lope big circles letting the wind blow our hair around. J had tied Chief to the trailer to take a quick break and he screamed and danced around again about being separated from Buck. Sister took pity on him and we went back to give Mickey a break and we took Buck and Chief out do a lap of the small pasture. As we headed out we saw the first of the missing cows come over the hill into the field. We turned and cantered back to meet the group and help push the herd to the pens.
We watered up the horses again and everyone took a break for drinks and trail mix. Then the guys started the lesson about sorting. The first team in was a mother and her teenage daughter. The ranch owner explained they had a bull and 5 cows that belonged to someone else who needed to pick them up. He wanted the ladies to sort them out first. I watched with a critical eye seeing that sometimes slowing the horse down made it easier to control the cow. The ranch owner also explained these cows are pretty used to people and don't turn off the horse as quickly as fresh cows would. He taught us how to use our voices to move them and the air was filled with sharp crys of "Hey. Hey. Hey cows. Hey." The ladies were akward at first since it was their first time but soon they were moving the cows around and had the group we needed sorted out. The rest of our group took turns sorting and watching the gate.
Sister and I waited patiently and took our turn last. Our job was to sort out the mothers and their calves together. The ranch owner pointed out the mothers and we went into the small herd to push the mother and baby out and separate them. Our first cow was a dark brown with a patch of light brown on her head, blond horns and a white belly spot. Her calf was the oldest of the year. It took me a minute but with Buck focused in I soon had it figured out and we were running pairs out the gate. Chief was green and mostly a little lazy so Kim went back to trade him for Mickey and we took another turn sorting cows by color for fun.
Once we let the cows that weren't being picked up back out into the pasture we loaded up the tired horses to head back to the ranch. It was quieter in the truck after a long day that it had been in the morning. Sister and I were exhausted, but there were still horses to untack, brush and put away when we got back to the barn. Everyone pitched in and the work was done quickly.
What I was looking forward to all afternoon was the hot lunch waiting for us. We all settled in to the cafe for pulled BBQ pork sandwiches, potato salad, ice tea and cake and ice cream for desert. The ladies of the family put out a fine spread for the hungry cowboys and girls and it was one of the best things I've ever tasted. There is just something that much more satisfying about a meal after a long day of hard work. We shared the meal and our time, feeling closer after a day spent working together, and planned for our next day at the ranch. J agreed to host a team penning clinic specifically for the club and Sister even talked him into working out a day to bring our own horses up just to see how they react to the cows without wasting the group's time. Too soon we were saying our goodbyes and packing up in the truck to head home. Sister drove the whole way home, and I dozed lightly with horse hooves flashing and cows dancing through my mind.
Thank goodness someone remember their camera. These pics are courtesy of one of our club members but I don't think she'll mind me adding them here.
Watering up after a long ride. The horses loved this trough and bured their noses in it to splash around.
Sister traded horses with J. Now she's working with the paint we called Chief. We're trying to keep the momma cow and calf together and push them out the gate to another holding pen so we can count the male and female calves.
Sister goes after an escapee. Chief was green and a little lazy. She had her work cut out for her.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Sunday of this week the niece person and I went out to ride Tax and December. She rode December who spooked with her for the first time ever. Just kinda put her head down and spun around but the kid handled it well. Her seat has really changed since she started riding. Too cool. She took her and worked her in the other end of the arena until she calmed down and got an awesome canter out of her. She looks great.
Then we went out to see Grace. The barn owner wasn't there and I had to leave my truck outside the gate with my saddle in it. We decided to hop on Grace bareback and I started teaching the kiddo about how to feel where your horses legs are. They just walked but that was okay. The niece is still amazed at how good sitting on a horse feels without a saddle in the way. They're all fuzzy and warm and cuddly. She wanted to take a nap up there on Grace's back and I don't blame her. Compared to the TBs she's build like a mattress on top. Wide and comfortable withers...mmmm.
Good news...the trainer has Grace switched over into a full bridle. She's a becoming a very well trained horse for my kids.
We also went to the use tack store in town to look at WP show clothes. Ahahahaha. I love it! Me in a cowboy hat is just an amusing idea. Did I mention I was a punk/goth girl growing up? Even better is my geeky, anime, comic book loving, boy short spiky dyed black hair niece in a pair of Rockies, chap and point toed boots w spurs. We look ridiculous and we love it. She did decide showmanship is out based on the lycra super cowboy costumes. Can't say I blame her...
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
I sold my Filly pony (without really intending to), so I'll be starting the horse hunt in the near future. I'm going to TRY to be patient in my search...
I have a new philosophy about this. I believe things work out the way they are supposed to. I have to consciously remind myself sometimes that is what I honestly believe. I take my time. I go out to try a horse several times. If things are meant to be then that horse will be there when I get back. If someone else picks it up in the mean time I figure it wasn't meant for that to be my horse. That allows me to feel good about not rushing through a purchase to get a horse I "thought" was perfect but ended up not being a good fit. Just thought I'd mention it.
I read her story on her blog Pike Road Girl about selling her mare, Filly. I loved it. I hope that when I sell Miss December that I find such a good home for her.
I wanted to give an update on how December's doing. Knock on wood, she's been very good at the new barn. She seems more relaxed and I'm going to chalk that up to being turned out in the pasture and the fact I'm not feeding her any supplemental feed or grain. She's holding her weight really well. In fact, my only complaint is that she doesn't stand up to the two geldings in her pasture. I can tell she's getting plenty to eat but has had a couple of pretty good bite marks. Poor thing. I really thought she'd be more of an alpha. At any rate, I'm riding her regularly in the big arena and we've had no acting up. She's as smooth and comfortable as can be and is starting to look really fit. We cantered a course of ground poles recently and she was an angel. I even popped her over a low fence and she was very good. Great distance, not too forward before or after the fence...yay! I'm going to talk to the trainer at our barn about starting lessons so I can try jumping her in earnest before we hit the real rainy season. She's done so well I had to spend a minute to rethink my decision to sell her and not Tax, but I can only have two and alas I think Tax (while he isn't the good mover she is) is my horsie soul mate. I do love that big goofy gelding.
I got to go out and ride Grace this weekend too. She was very good in the indoor arena. Outside in the larger arena at her barn she was very concerned about a big blue horse eating tarp covering the shavings pile. I love that her idea of concerned is to slow down and casually evade the corner closest to the offending tarp. She was pretty determined about not going Over There, but at no time did I feel like she was going to have a fit about it even when I popped her butt with my reins. After our ride I took her down the driveway and halfway up the dirt road the place is on because I'd never ridden her outside of an arena and wanted to see her reaction. She was very quiet. She stopped to look at the big gates as we were leaving, but again, no big reaction. I was able to go where I wanted to go and get back to the barn with no stress. Very nicely done. I gave her a couple of peppermint treats when we were finished and she sure seemed to like that. I think I made a new friend.
Monday, October 19, 2009
And this is why we love her... Here she is giving the niece person hugs. They have matching bangs.
Seeing my niece ride her made it an obvious choice. I think she's going to be a really good match for us. The trainer agreed that they looked great together, and she's a judge so I'm hoping that wasn't all sales hype. :) But I agree...the kid looked comfortable. I got to ride again and she was even better than last time. I have pics we took while trying her out but I want to wait to hear back on my offer before I post them. Hope this works out!
Even better, the trainer and assistant trainer have agreed to keep the mare for another 60 days if I buy her. She hasn't been completely finished because no one was showing her so they just took their time with her which I like. We should be able to get her transitioned to a curb bit and really finish her training in that time so I'll be taking home a horse completely ready to show. The niece and I will be taking lessons as well so we can learn to cue her correctly for the WP. I think this mare is going to be a great all round prospect. I don't anticipate any trouble showing her English or Showmanship either. The trainer says the local APHA shows are less political than the AQHA which is why she switched over. I'm SO excited. This is the nicest horse I will have owned to date.
We're getting December ready to sell now which is more bittersweet than I thought it would be. She and I have never really clicked; I don't trust her after so many falls, but both the niece and I were able to ride her in the arena yesterday and she was a doll. Totally relaxed. I'm ready to start working her over fences so we can sell her as a ready to go as possible. She is so comfortable to ride when she's relaxed like that.
I also got the niece to ride Tax English yesterday. She's still working on her balance and keeping everything aligned. Sometimes it's still hard for her to balance in the English saddle without holding on and still ask for things with her reins but she's getting there. Tax didn't make it easy and was pulling on her hands and knocking her forward in her saddle. I finally had her stop him each time he pulled on her and make him back up. That worked wonders and she got a nice trot from him that allowed her to work on her balance. Well done, girlie.
Monday, September 28, 2009
His trot is becoming even more consistent and I can get him to respond to the lightest of touches with my calf now. I've been using a 1,2,3 method that was recommended and works wonders with him. 1. Is the nice, light touch I'd like to use. 2. Is a demand to respond and if we get to 3. Someone's in trouble. The nice thing is now we rarely ever get to three. We worked for a week on going straight and I focused on controlling his shoulders because he sometimes throws it in to bend the wrong way, avoid the outside rein and just kind of overpower you rather than listening. He's a kind horse and doesn't really go anywhere just didn't want to work hard. Now that I can control his shoulder better he's making better contact with my outside rein and carrying himself better which allows me to ask for more impulsion from behind. So now we've been working at the trot on some pretty tight serpentines and circles and he can finally balance his huge body enough to keep that impulsion through the turns. Plus since he's listening to my legs and seat so much better I can just look where I want to go and he's headed that way. It's a good floaty feeling and a trot I can even feel comfortable sitting if I want.
Next we started working on his canter again. Again I've been reading Mugs advice on working with her reined cowhorses and trying to find ways to apply it to riding English with Tax. I realized I may have been too focused on trying to get him low and relaxed when jumpers don't really move that way. So now I'm focusing on a more uphill movement but something slow enough I can control it through a turn. I started him trotting around the rail. When he was calm and round I'd ask for the canter down the long end of the arena. First we focused on just getting him to stop without pulling on him. At the end of the long side I'd say whoa, ask for the halt and sit and settle. When he was doing that pretty consistently without breaking into the death trot or making me pull hard I added a back for a couple of steps. Once we had that I'd ask for a rollback on the fence and ask for the canter the other directions from a walk. Then stop at the end, back and rollback the other direction. It's at least making him think about the fact that I don't want him to just race around full speed. I ended by asking for a canter around the arena with a couple of smaller circles and we actually did it at a speed that didn't make me nervous. PS - the deeper sand in the arena at the new barn really helps slow him down too!
December and I have been sticking with the round pen for now. She's been on kid detail. As long as we keep her in the round pen she's SO good for the kids to ride because she's balanced and comfy and for some reason never acts up in the round pen. My niece has been coming out to ride pretty regularly and she's starting to get balanced. It's been really fun watching her go from not being able to get December to listen to the point where she can ask for all three gaits, steer and she's even starting to let go of the saddle horn (which she didn't need anyway but it made her feel better). One of the gals at the new place who does some Dressage even complimented the kid on her seat this last time. If we get her a saddle that fits instead of making her use mine I think she's going to look pretty darn good.
Sunday the niece and I spent the whole day looking at western pleasure horses for us. I still plan to sell December and get a quiet kid's horse. Niece is thinking about doing 4H and I want to try some amateur WP showing. I’d like a horse that could cross over and do some English pleasure or Hunter Under Saddle classes as well. I can't tell you how frustrating it has been to know how to ride and then to get on a horse and not be able to get it to do anything. I've never used spurs before and because I don't sit back far enough (too many years of hunt seat) I can't get most well trained WP horses to lope to save my life. Interestingly, the niece doesn't have as much trouble with it. I'd like to think maybe it’s because she's new enough she's a little more of a clean slate.
There are two I’m seriously considering. One is a little more old school in her WP movement. She’s got that slow jog and almost crippled looking lope but she’s moves out nicely when asked and could probably do okay in the English classes as well. She’s a registered paint, but solid fleabitten gray and I guess they’re working on her AQHA papers. She’s 11, calm, well trained with a ton of show experience with youth and ammy riders. She has a lot of points in APHA and won a couple of buckles over the summer in WP. She’s also done some showmanship classes with the kids. She goes in a full bridle and neck reins. She’s spur spot trained. Totally finished. I love her big beautiful calm eyes and she has a pretty tail. I love grays but really didn’t want another one right now. And she’s a couple thousand more than I wanted to spend but I think she’s priced reasonably. I could do it but it would hurt I’d have to hold off on buying show tack and the new trailer I’ve been wanting for a while.
The other is pretty well broke too and probably more versatile. She’d go English nicely but isn’t as smooth feeling as some of the WP horses. I love watching her deep slow hocks and can’t get her pretty movement out of my head. She doesn’t have as much show experience but was also quiet, kind and very forgiving of learning riders. She a big black and white tobi paint so we might want to show in the APHA circuit with her. She’s six and if I remember right we rode in a snaffle so I’m not sure if she still needs to be trained with the curb bit but I think they said she had been. One of the bonuses is that I loved the assistant trainer at this place and would feel very comfortable getting some lessons here to learn to ride well enough to learn all the WP cues. Also this mare is right in my price range and I think the owners would take an offer which means I could look for a show saddle.
Another option is to buy from the barn my h/j training is working from. They breed paint pleasure horses but I think they’re a little overpriced. I could see if they’d be willing to take an offer. The mare I took my lesson on out there was honestly the best loper of the bunch (I like a little more natural movement and not the peanut roller lope) as far as I’m concerned but they wanted as much for her as the 11 year old well trained horse and she’s a green broke 3 year old. I mean, she’s a doll and I’d throw any of my kids up on her in a heart beat and feel confident she isn’t going to do anything stupid but she’s not spur stop broke yet and she’s still in a hackamore (that won’t change until 5 I think). Anyway, so I’d have to have them put some more training into her. She’s maybe a little smaller than I would want and a little more white then the judges like (chestnut overo with max white) but really lovely movement.
Choices…such a wonderful and frustrating luxury. I guess I shouldn’t complain…I’ve met some nice people too. I wasn’t sure what to expect in the APHA western show world out here but I’ve been pleasantly surprised. We also looked at a green broke bay minimal overo mare with a bald face. I liked her too but think we need something just a little more broke. It was nice though because I think the trainer there liked us and thought we’ll be a good home. That always makes me feel good. The trainer of the black and white paint was very kind and complimented my riding even though I felt like a total goof. Something I do when I’m riding turns makes the WP horses stop dead. I think it’s because I want to wrap my legs around to move them through the turn rather than just bumping with my heels. Argh!
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Have you ever stood in a barn full of horses at dinner time and just listened? There is a rhythm in the sounds that has always comforted me. Sometimes I stand in our boarding barn where I work in the twilight with my eyes closed and just let it wash over me. The sounds of hay being shaken and chewed, the stomping of hooves, the quiet snorts of content animals are all sounds I feel like I have known in my heart long before I met my first flesh and blood horse. As a child I dreamed of them, read every book I could get my hands on, and made entire fantasy worlds full of horses to play in. I was always a dreamy child, and uneasy around people. I was a little insecure and found more happiness in books or with animals. Other kids were often mean to me because I rarely stood up for myself. A bully once told me that he had harassed me for no other reason than that I was an easy victim.
There was never a time that I remember that I didn’t want a horse. I have no idea where it came from. I grew up in a suburban neighborhood with parents who never had pets other than an occasional cat. I was lucky that my mother, not a horse person at all, recognized I was a child that was vulnerable to the world without a horse in my life to focus me. Or maybe she was just trying to make up for her own mistakes. Regardless, the result was on my 12th Christmas, the one following my parents divorce, I finally got a pony named Applejack. My mom’s new boyfriend had horse property and it also gave her an excuse to move us in with him.
This night in particular, about a year after we got him, I had snuck out to Applejack’s paddock late to lay full length along his back. I didn’t worry about tack or a helmet. I didn’t even know any better at the time. That night I just wanted to be close to him. I was 13 and I’d been grounded again from riding. Apple was only 13.2, the perfect size for me to hop up on without a saddle. He was a bay leopard POA with a thick arched neck, a stout body and respectable length mane and tail. I thought he had a handsome face that was mostly chestnut with a big white star and large brown eyes. His neck was red roan but the rest of his body was stark white with large chestnut spots. His legs were a wild blue roan pattern with a mix of black stripes and spots. His mane and tail were striped with black and white.
As I lay there in the cool night air I could feel the warmth of his body radiating up and taking off the chill. My legs dangled down his sides and I’d scooted back to rest my skinny arms on his withers and laid my head on my arms. My long wavy hair curtained my face. There wasn’t anywhere in the world I would have rather been at that moment. My golden retriever, Misty, lay on the ground outside the paddock fence cuddled up with our rooster, Red. They were an odd pair but she was the best dog I’ve ever known and tolerated his pretend affection. He only used her so he could occasionally pull out tufts of her beautiful deep gold-red coat. He would go running back to the barn proudly and use the fur to pad his nest. For almost a half an hour that night I enjoyed my own small piece of heaven. Listening to the occasional clucks from Red and feeling Applejack breathing beneath me as he happily munched his hay I started to get drowsy.
I was half asleep and totally content when the warning came. I heard the deep baritone growl rise from Misty’s chest before I saw him coming. There was only one reason my dog ever growled. She hated my mom’s boyfriend. Golden’s are happy dogs. They love almost unconditionally and can forgive most of mankind’s stupidity. The fact that she hated anyone should tell you as much about the man as anything else I can tell you. He was not a good man. I slipped quietly from my pony’s back, landing softly, and waited for him to come. Misty slunk to my side, keeping low to the ground but silent now that I was alert.
“What are you doing out here?” he asked.
“I just came out to check on Apple. I heard a weird noise and though he might have gotten out.”
“I don’t want you near that pony until you learn to listen to me.”
“Fine,” was my tense reply. “I’ll go back to my room then.” I knew it was hopeless to try to reason with him, and I needed to get myself out of the dark yard and back near the rest of my family immediately.
“Haven’t learned yet then that I’m going to win this one, huh?” The moonlight glinted off his teeth as he smiled cruelly in the dark. I had been grounded not because I hadn’t done my homework, or for fighting with my siblings like other kids sometimes do. He’d grounded me for being upset when he tried to force me to hug him tightly enough to feel my growing breasts pressed against him through my shirt. He hadn’t broken me enough to let him do what he wanted. Now he was using Applejack to try to make me vulnerable; taking from me the thing in my life I loved most and knew I could trust. I shrugged dismissively in the dark and managed to slip through the fence boards and run back to my room in our converted garage which I shared with his two daughters. My dog chased after and planted her body in front of my bedroom door to stand guard. Sliding under the blankets I shivered but it had nothing to do with the cool night air.
Every day I would get home from school a couple of hours before my mom and her boyfriend would be off work. I rode Applejack down a busy road to a lake near our house. Every day Misty would follow us. Once we hit the levy trail I’d kick Applejack into a canter. By the time we reached the top we’d be at a dead run, his short legs flying. I’m not sure I’ve ever trusted another horse to go full out like that, and my god but he was fast. We’d run miles down the trails around the edge of the lake back to another busy road which I rode home. Fast, faster…fast enough to run away from my life for a little while. Oak trees flew past in a blur as we covered the gently rolling hills. We were caught in our own rhythm with nothing between us but my red fleece bareback pad. His feet hitting the trail kept the tempo. I pretended to be an Indian girl and he was my spirit guide. Misty would run too dragging behind sometimes so far I could barely see her but she’d catch up by the time we hit the road again. She was always loyal about staying with me.
I knew it was dangerous. No one knew I was riding so far from my home and I always went alone. I couldn’t help myself. Those rides gave me time to think and enough freedom to keep my sanity. I had a good dog, an even better pony and I was armed with the knowledge even at a young age that there was evil in the world, but you could try to protect yourself from it. It was the beginning of learning how to stop being a victim.
What my mom’s boyfriend never figured out, because he could never understand anything about love, was how much strength having Applejack lent me even when he was trying to use it against me. I don’t know if I could have fended off his advances alone for the years that I did without having horses in my life. Learning to ride taught me how to take control of a situation, when to have patience and when to be firm. It taught me to be strong for something else when I wasn’t strong enough for myself. There were times it was difficult not to let anger overwhelm me. Other times I was so numb from trying to block out the pain that anger felt like the only thing left that even made me human. When I was angry enough that it could have destroyed me, could have made me hard as stone forever, that love gave me enough heart to find my way back again.
I was finally able to plead my case to my mom that being grounded from riding wasn’t a good punishment because taking care of my horse was a responsibility and not just a privilege. It actually worked and built the foundation I needed to move Applejack to a show barn so we weren’t tied to her boyfriend when it was time to get out. When that time finally came, as ugly as it was, we were ready.
So I worry... Was moving to the new barn the right choice? Do I spend too much time with the horses and not enough with my family? If I sell December will she hurt someone? Most recently I have been struggling with if I wanted to publish the first story I'd written about my life with horses. So because I'm a worry wort here's my warning....it's a little dark. The good news is it will have a happy ending. I know because I'm am the ending of the tale and that's a very good thing. I sent the story to Janet from Mugwump Chronicles and she gave me her advice. I've decided to post it so we will have that coming up shortly when I finish my last revision.
First though an update on the horses and the new barn.
Sunday morning I got a text message from Sister, "Your horse is going nuts".
Great, I thought and sent a reply "What's he doing?" I already knew she meant Tax.
I'd figured this was going to be an issue. He likes December and has been a little buddy sour. He's very vocal when he's unhappy. "They asked me to put him out in the round pen so they can clean his stall". Oh great, I thought. "I'm on my way out there now."
I grabbed my oldest and youngest boys and loaded everyone up in the car. My middle son, the only one who rides, was going to a birthday party and my husband was going to the sports bar to watch the Steelers game. I had a 1PM appointment to see a horse that I'm considering purchasing so my time was limited.
I got to the barn at 11:30 which gave me one hour to mess around with Tax. Sister pointed down to the round pen. "He's been running around down there, screaming his head off, but he seems to have worn himself out a bit. By the time I got here this morning he'd walked his stall until he was dripping sweat."
"Ok. I'm going to head down and lunge him until he drops dead so maybe the barn owner can get some sleep tonight," I called back.
"One thing before you go, the ground in the indoor arena is awesome but turn him out in there before you ride. Promise was spooky and he's usually not when I'm riding. Tax may booger on you."
I walked down to the round pen. We lunged and worked on transitions and cues. He was pretty good. I think he actually had worn himself out a little. I worked him until he was sweating again and then let him walk until he stopped blowing. After than I grabbed his lead and clipped it on. He was really good about leading and didn't try to crowd me or get tense. I walked him over to the indoor arena and let him go in there. I chased him around a bit and he looked at all the new things (barrells, poles, trail bridge), and snorted and hopped around a bit but nothing too crazy. When he settled down and went around nicely a couple times I let him stop and clipped his lead on again.
Next we went back up to the wash rack to wash off his cuts since he'd rolled in sand in the round pen. I gave him a good long bath and he stood more quietly than I ever remember him being for a bath. I got a chance to scrub him clean and even conditioned his mane and tail. Next he went back into his stall. I realized he hadn't called for December even once after I got there. It was almost like he was comforted by me being there!
Ack...I have more about the horse we looked at and my first rides on each horse at the new barn but I'm out of time for the day! I guess the posts will be prolific this week...
Monday, September 21, 2009
Arrived at the barn and my sister helped me hook up the trailer. We started with Promise. He's such a lovely boy about shots. I readied the vaccines which Sister gave him and we decided to give him a shot of ACE to keep him calm. He really doesn't like confined spaces so my straight load trailer has been an issue. While we were waiting for the ACE to take effect we got his stall clean and swept and loaded the last of our tack into the trailer.
20 minutes later Promise's head was drooping and his eyes were closed. Time to load up! I wish we'd brought the camera for this one. It was classic. We tried luring him in with sweets, calm words and gentle pressure. He'd climb in with his front feet but refused to take the last steps with his back two feet. Anybody behind him caused him to fly out backward. Kim tried wrapping the long cotton line around a metal post in the manger to give herself some leverage so he couldn't back out. He put up a brief struggle pulling his head against the halter and squatting down. I don't think I've ever seen anything so funny in my life. He wasn't violently fighting just sitting back against the rope. Eventually the ACE got to him and he just rolled right over onto his side and laid down behind the trailer. I wish I could describe it better. It was pretty funny. We were laughing too hard to get him moving forward. So we backed up and we tried again. Walked him in a circle and got him loaded halfway up. With the rope set in place I was able to smack his butt with the whip from behind until he finally hopped right in. We were ready and closed the door quickly. Once he was in he ate some grain quietly from the manger like he trailered every day. All-in-all I don't think it took more than 20 minutes which is pretty good for him.
I ran down and got December. Immunizations went quickly and smoothly. Sister lead her in the trailer and I picked up the whip behind and she decided to jump right in with her buddy. Easy as pie. We got the kids loaded up in the car and we were on our way with Kim behind the wheel. She drives nicer than I do. The trip over was uneventful and by 12 we had the first two horses at the new barn. We unloaded Promise first and he very gracefully backed out. I was so proud of him. December came crashing out like an elephant and took her first look around at the new place. She was excited to be there. Sister lead Promise to his new paddock and I followed behind to turn December out in the round pen. She's going out to pasture with two other horses so I wanted her to get a chance to run around and acclimate first.
We unloaded our tack into our fancy new indoor tack room. Next the trainer gave us a grand tour of the place. We realized we know her dad (he's a farrier) who lives onsite because he worked for my old trainer a long time ago. Once Sister had an accident at our old barn that left her with a badly broken and bleeding acrylic nail. The farrier had given her some of his tools to cut it off with so he remembered us too. We got to see the lovely indoor bathroom (exciting!) and the light switches all over the place. You can light that place up like a Christmas tree for night riding in the winter. Yay!
Next it was time to turn December out with her new pasture mates, Musty and Musket. Musty is an older Anglo-Arab and Musket's a young TB gelding. We turned her loose and she took off to explore her new surrounds with both boys trailing behind. I think she liked the run but Musket was getting a little too close for her comfort. She gave him a good double barrelled kick in the chest to let him know who's boss but I could tell she wasn't really trying to hurt him. After that things seemed to settle right down. She let them smell her and then they all wandered off to see if they could find something to eat.
That had gone so well we decided to head back to get Tax right away. We still had two stalls to clean as well as dusting out our old tack lockers. Back at the barn I gave the last of my hay and my good tarps to the barn owner since I won't need them. I got Tax out and gave him some ACE too since he's decided recently that he doesn't want to trailer. We got everything cleaned up while we waited for it to take effect. Then it was time for the real theatrics of the day. We founght with Tax for about 30 minutes. I think I was trying to hard to drag Tax in from the front and Sister hadn't gotten enough pressure going in the back. He fought to back away from the trailer and since his head was confined he freaked and reared up. He came down on the trailer door and cut his face. Fortunately they are shallow cuts. Then he jumped up and continued pulling until his halter snapped. I should have let him go but at the time I was thinking I didn't want him to think he could rear up whenever he wanted. After we chased him down and got a new halter on him I asked Sister to take his head. When he pulled back I asked her to go ahead and give him some rope instead of fighting. Oh well, you live and learn, I guess. Then I got behind and popped him a couple of good ones with the whip and he finally jumped in. I slammed the door shut and had to push his big butt forward another inch to get it closed. The moral to this story is that I'm selling this stupid straight load and buying a slant even if my hubby doesn't like it. All three of them just jump straight into a slant load.
I drove to the new barn as slowly and carefully as possible. Sister needed to take her car since the new barn is only a mile from her new house. When we got there Tax unloaded fine and began his ritual of screaming at the top of his lungs at all the new horses. I hope he doesn't do that every single time we go to a show. We put him out in the round pen and let him run around until he calmed down. I unloaded the last of our things from the old barn and got his stall ready for him. He's got a nice big box stall with a window to the inside of the barn and so he can see out the back to the outside as well. Finally I was able to take him to the wash rack and wash off his various scratches and dress them with antibotic ointment. The bad news is that he could see December in the pasture from there so they spent some time calling each other. Then it was time to check out his new stall. When he finally settled down enough to grab a bite to eat I unhooked the trailer. It was 4:30PM by then and the kids were beat. I was beat too and it was time to head home for the night.
I'll write about Sunday later!