Sunday, November 29, 2009


I responded to an online ad last night. It was written by a woman looking for a mare. Something about her ad appealed to me. I liked that she mentioned not wanting to breed because of the slaughter problem. She just wanted a mare to trail ride and as a companion for her retired gelding. He doesn't get along with other male horses like my Tax. So, even though I haven't gotten up the nerve to list December I emailed her about a potential match.
When she called there were a couple of clues that I knew her. 1) She has a German accent. 2) She lived in the next town over from where I board. 3) She finally mentioned her gelding was a 17 year old TB named Cody that she bought about 4 years ago.
Turns out she was the gal who bought my last horse, Cody.

As you may remember if you read my earlier posts I was having a bit of anexiety about selling him and losing track of him. She still has him and loves him to death. She plans to keep him forever, which is kind of a miracle. He was a creep. Here's a pic she posted of him playing out in her pasture. Not a great one, but you can see he looks pretty good for a horse in his late teens. She says he's got a bit of arthritis in his back legs now and that's why she's not riding him anymore but he makes a lovely yard ornament.

This lady wants to trail ride and I got to feeling bad yesterday since I've never taken the mare out to ride a trail. I couldn't honestly evaluate for her what December would be like. She wasn't scheduled to come out until Tuesday so I met my sister at the barn around 1PM for a 2 hour trail ride. She was surprised to see me getting out the mare as she pulled into the barn. I did wear my helmet and my belly kind of felt like jello for the first 1/2 hour but all-in-all she was better than Tax usually is. She was also tense along the first part of the ride and down the side of the field where you can clearly see the busy road, but once we got past that she was fine. She relaxed and moved out with this amazing ground covering walk. Sister was an amazing baby sitter who kept her pony in check and let us pick the speed of travel. She also hopped down at the first sign of any silliness to lead her pony on foot so I could stay in the saddle and teach December that I was staying on her for the entire ride no matter what scary stuff we had to deal with. December passed a scary christmas tree decorated at a barn, a jeep in the field and dogs running up to fences barking and she took it all in stride. I was extremely proud of her and the last leg of the trip I was holding the reins at the buckle and letting her pick her own speed. It was very nice. I will be really sad to see her go.
So then the lady called to say she'd gotten off work early and she came out to look at December anyway. She was kind of concerned about her old injury. She gets wind puffs in that leg when she's not worked regularly but there's no heat and I don't see any lameness. The lady thought it looked like she was favoring it slightly but I didn't see it. She also said she looked older than 13 because of the recesses above her eyes? She's always had those and I assumed it was just the way her face was. Does anyone know if that actually means anything? She's tattooed and while I can't read all of it, it clearly starts with an A which would mean she was foaled in 1997. I'm pretty sure about her age. Overall, though she seemed to like her and was very pleasantly surprised about her impeccable ground manners (which Cody did not have because that's what happens sometimes when a green kid ends up unsupervised with a green OTTB). It's something I work on with a passion now because I've worried so much about what fate Cody would meet. I've promised myself all of my horses will have good ground manners and will have a job that makes them valuable to someone else besides me even if that means sending them to a real trainer.
The lady asked me to come out and see Cody (yay!) and check out her facilites to make sure I approve. I thought that was nice and makes it seem like she's seriously considering December. I kind of like the idea of my two old horses spending the rest of the years together in a big old pasture with a mom who loves them. Maybe it was fate that I reponded to that sure is a weird coincidence.
I'm going to call the vet today and make an appointment to have her teeth floated and I'll have her feet done. I'd also like to have her back leg looked at just so I can have the vet see if he agrees it's just her stocking up because of her old injury. I think its just cosmetic but I certainly don't want anyone else to have to deal with any problems. This feels SO weird. I hate selling horses.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Sister rode December last night for the first time since we moved to the new barn. They looked amazing and Sister can't believe how relaxed she is now. She is such a nice horse to ride when she's like this. I think she's ready to start jumping again which is good. Grace is done with training and I need to sell one of the TBs. I'd really rather lease one out. I wonder if I can find a good lease situation...

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

My First Cows... Whew, a long one!

Let me just start by saying I think we created a monster. I don’t want to do anything for the rest of my life but live on a working ranch and take care of cows and horses. I don’t know how a person can go through almost half of a life and not realize how much they love something they didn’t even think they’d like. Make sure to check out the rest of the pics at the end.

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 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.

Getting ready to head out. Sister is in the green sweatshirt on the chestnut.

Headed out the gate. I'm in gray on the buckskin.

Found us some cows.

Round up!
Bringing the cows back to the holding pens.

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.
Buck and I keep the mom busy.

He was really good for me while we were sorting. What a cutie.

Sister goes after an escapee. Chief was green and a little lazy. She had her work cut out for her.

Got one more moved out the gate.

This is J back on Chief letting him check out the youngest calf. The one he caught for my sister to pet. This is my vote for cutest pic of the day!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Chaps and Spurs

Horse updates...let's see. Tax is really making some progress. He actually looks like a dressage horse at the trot. Carrying himself in a really pretty frame these days. The canter is getting better but we're still working on it. I had a bad day at work the Friday before last so that Saturday on Halloween when my sister called she talked me into skipping my group lesson with Grace and hitting the trail. I needed it. We took Tax and Promise down the road our barn is on and out to a field at the end. The trail around the field is about 5 miles and in some parts parrells a pretty busy road. Tax has notoriously hated being anywhere where he can hear or see traffic, but Promise seems to calm him down. He could see and hear the cars and didn't freak out. He didn't love it when idiots honked at us but other than feeling a little tense for a second after the honking he was good. Once a truck pulling a large stock trailer with a flat tire went by making an awful racket and he gave a pretty good buck but other than that he walked calmly and quietly. It was nice not to have a jigging, side passing nutso on my hands. Then this Friday I tried to trot him over a pole in my western saddle and he jumped it like it was 4 feet tall and then came down bucking like a bronc. I got a saddle horn in my guts and then hit it again with my knee. I did for one second have the coolest sensation of flying right before I realized how much hitting the ground was going to suck. Tax then took off for a full minute of bucking like the rodeo broncs when they finally ditch their rider. I've never seen him like that and all I could do was laugh. Creep.

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...