I’m writing this in response to an article that keeps arriving in my inbox or on my Facebook feed lately.  I think I even ticked a few people off when I responded on Facebook. The think is, I don’t care if you want to take all sorts of bogus crap that the natural news advocates are selling on their pages, but when you start feeding that stuff to your horses, I feel like I have to say something about using common sense.

The article is a blog post written by Joe Camp about using Diatomaceous Earth as “natural” worm control.  Now I have nothing against Joe Camp, in fact, I enjoy reading most of what he has written.  It’s just that there are some logical fallacies in this article that sent up some red flags in my mind.  There’s definitely more to write about than I can do justice to in a couple of Facebook comments.

Flag #1:  The appeal to nature fallacy.  This one goes something like this: If something is natural, it must be good for you.  Well, cyanide and arsenic are both natural compounds, but I wouldn’t argue that they are good for you.  Poisonous mushrooms and rattlesnakes are also natural.  Anything that claims to be good simply because it is natural is suspect here.  You have to have a better reason than “it’s natural.”

Flag #2: The flipside of the appeal to nature fallacy is the all chemicals are bad fallacy.  This one gets almost laughable as you see internet memes where some pundit explains how all chemicals are bad and you should never have any of them in your diet.  Umm… isn’t everything made of chemicals?  Yeah, you’d starve.  You have to remember that it is the dose that makes the poison.  Where I live, the water in the valley is radioactive.  People got a bit freaked out about that a few years back, but you have to realize that we are talking ppb–that’s parts per billion!  Nobody glows when you turn off the lights. Again, if you make a claim that something is bad because “chemicals,” you are going to have to do better.

Bottom line here:  Not all natural substances are good for you.  Not all chemicals are bad.

Flag #3: The Miracle Cure for Everything fallacy.  After telling us about how Diatomaceous Earth kills worms, Camp goes on to quote an article telling us about all of the positive health benefits of DE in humans.  I counted no less than 17 conditions that DE will alleviate or cure!  Sounds too good to be true! Oh…wait…

Flag #4: The anecdote fallacy. It works for me, therefore you should do it. To be fair, this isn’t Camp’s fallacy, it is the fallacy of everyone reading his blog that says “Camp says it works for him, so I’ll go ahead and do it.”

And if all your friends were jumping off of cliffs? Oh wait… I hang around teenagers too much!

Irony #1: Camp’s introductory paragraph states that people were telling him to worm up to once every 6 weeks.  I don’t know if he asked a vet or looked up worming schedules on the AAEP website, but a cursory search of latest worming practices on Google shows that this is false.  The latest wisdom is that we should conduct fecal egg counts and only worm when absolutely necessary–the same exact practice Camp has adopted only minus the use of DE. This is probably the real reason that his horses are doing so well.  In some countries in Europe, you can’t even purchase wormer for your horse until you can show a fecal count over a certain limit.  This is to help reduce resistance to the worming compounds.

Irony #2: Have you ever read the story about how Ivermectin was developed?  It seems that a researchers were looking into “folk” cures to see if there might be merit in any of them.  Of course, most folk cures worked because the patient was either going to die or get better anyway.  If the patient got better, they kept using the cure whether or not it was really doing any good.  Some of those old cures really did have merit, though, and researchers often find new treatments by combing through old ideas to see what might work. Anyway, the researchers found a macrocyclic lactone that is produced naturally in soil by Streptomyces Avromitilis.  They named it avermectin.  Wait just a cotton pickin’ minute!  A chemikillz that’s natural?? The world may implode!

But what about DE? Food grade DE is generally recognized as safe.  It is used as a filtering compound for many different foods.  I have read several articles about it and talked to some vets about it and decided that it wasn’t for me.  I have included a link to an article in Equus magazine where a vet states that no studies have actually shown DE to be effective against worms.  Another article that I read said that it was probably not effective as a feed through control against fly eggs in the manure but I can’t find that article to use as a reference.  It is supposed to be more effective sprinkled on manure piles, but I couldn’t find any reliable references to support this either.

Actually, the fact that there is a dearth of scientific references supporting the use of DE in pretty much any context is another red flag for me. I actually did a google search on “DE will kill you,” just to see what would pop up and I still got mostly natural websites espousing the benefits of DE.  Why don’t I buy it?  Because they are all saying, “it does this. It does that.” But nobody is providing any evidence or even explanations for how what they are claiming could be true.  “It’s abrasive,” seems to be the party line.  Um… yeah… so is sand paper, but I’m not eating that or feeding it to my horses either.

In fact, other than a few references to “blood in stool,” on a few message boards, (These were quickly written off as not possibly coming from eating an abrasive substance, so most likely hemeroids–don’t bother visiting a doctor for that silliness), the only danger I could find is that you certainly don’t want to accidentally inhale it.  It’ll really mess up your lungs (but not your digestive system!).  I spend a lot of time thinking about feed management to prevent sand colic.  The last thing I’m planning to do is feed my horses (or myself) what amounts to finely ground sand!

My personal takeaway is this: I’ve been doing the exact same program as Camp except without the DE for years and it is working for me (except I have the vet do the FECs for me).  Nobody seems to be conducting or publishing actual, well designed studies on the effects of DE on worm or fly control.  Everybody just uses it because everybody else says it works. The vets I have talked to don’t have a very high opinion of it. I choose to trust veterinarians. They went to school for a long time. They know a lot more than I do. Most of them keep up with new methods and research. I’m going to let common sense rule on this one.




TBT–What killed the solar power?

Some of you might remember this.  It happened October, 1st 2010.  I’ll post the rest of the story next Thursday.  The tense may seem goofy because I was writing it that night but I’m not going to bother fixing it up.

There a lot of things that can mess around with a solar power system.  The obvious ones are things like cloudy days and snow and such.  And then your batteries can go bad.  That happened to us last year, but we never actually lost all power.  Batteries take time to die—you have time to replace them.  (They are insanely expensive to replace, but that’s another story.)  But the question is:  what can absolutely kill your solar power system?  And when I say kill, I mean dead…instantly…maybe permanently…

Friday at the end of the school day, we looked to the south to see a large dark thunder cell pounding the Walker River Canyon.  Karen said “Will it come up from the south and hit your house?”

And I said “They usually come in from the west.”  I know, I know—famous last words!

I raced home because I knew there was a window open on the truck I had left at home.  As I drove, I could see that I was racing the cell.  It was moving north and I could see the rain falling out of it.  I could also see I was going to lose the race.

About 2 miles from the house, a huge bolt of lightening struck about half a mile from where I was driving.   After that, there was some amazing sheet lightening that shot across the sky and struck in about three places at the same time.  It was raining by this time, but not heavily yet and I was worrying about fires open truck windows and trying to look for smoke.  Finally there was one last big bolt.  I wasn’t looking right at our house when it hit, so I wasn’t sure, but I remember thinking “holy cow—I think that just hit our house!”

Well, it didn’t hit the house as it turned out—it hit the garage… where the solar system is.  I worried all the way up the driveway that it might have hit the panels, but thank God it didn’t.I walked into the house to find…surprise!…no power.  David, naturally, was off camping and out of cell phone range until Sunday.  I tried the standard sort of turning off the breakers, then turning them back on, but no magic fix there.  So I called neighbor Bob down the hill to ask if he knew what to do after a lightening strike, but he had no idea.  He told me to call another neighbor, Murl, who had been hit by lightening and has the same power system we do.   So I called Murl, but he said he was hit by lightening before he put in his power system.

However, Murl did suggest I call Outback who is the maker of our power system. They are on the west coast and should still be open.  I waited on hold for about 10 minutes, but finally a nice lady came on.   She walked me through using a meter to test the voltage, telling her what red lights were flashing where and plugging and unplugging things.  The verdict is that the solar panels are still supplying power to the batteries, but the inverter isn’t sending it to the house.  So I gave the nice lady my credit card number and she will ship new circuit boards for the inverter first thing Monday morning.

In the meantime, we have no power.  We can no longer brag about not having power outages.  The gloat gods must have gotten us there.  We’ll probably lose all of the food in the fridge since David took off with the one generator I could use to run it.  I’m hoping the stuff in the freezer will make it a couple of days.

About 20 minutes after the cell left us, it started a fire in Smith Valley that is still burning as I write this.

I want to write…

I want to write.  I sit here and stare at the screen and my mind goes blank.  I’m too tired to write.  I haven’t written a thing in months, not because I haven’t been able to write, but because I’ve been too bleeding BUSY to sit down and write about what I’ve been doing.  Now it’s all piled up inside my brain insisting that I sit down and get some of it out before my head explodes.  But I can only get a piece of a story here, a fragment there.  Instead, I sit here and think about all of the crazy obligations I have coming up in the next few weeks.  I wonder.  When am I going to ride again?  When am I going to relax again?

The other day, I started reading a book.  I have no business reading a book, but the compulsion to read is stronger even than the compulsion to write.  Once begun, I almost never stop until the book is finished.  Oh, yeah, I take breaks for the bathroom and work and eating, but I’m not and have never been one of those people who can plod along reading 3 pages a night.  If I really force myself, I can sometimes read only a chapter a night, but if the book is good, all bets are off.  The other morning, I got up and read until I absolutely had to go feed horses and get showered and dressed.  Once ready, I decided I could read for 10 more minutes before I absolutely had to leave for work.

A thunder cell decided to drift over us at the exact moment I chose to leave.  As I picked up my purse, there was a flash.  I didn’t even count to one before the crash of thunder.  All I can say about PTSD is it’s a real bitch.  I stood there in the laundry room willing myself to just walk calmly out to the truck standing 50 feet away and get inside and drive to school.  I willed and I willed, but I knew darned good and well I was going to have to walk RIGHT past the spot where the lightening hit the garage.  I knew it because I SAW the lightening hit the garage.  I could imagine my hair standing up, the sound of sizzling, and then…?  I used to think it would have been cool if I had been closer when the lightening hit, maybe just down the driveway so I could have had a better view.  Now that I’ve developed a pathological fear of being outside during a lightning storm, I wish I hadn’t seen it at all.  I was in the car when it hit.  It’s easy to be brave when you’re already in the car.  But first, you have to get to the car.  If I had only put the book down and left 5 minutes earlier I would have been well on my way instead of being stalked by this cell.  I took a deep breath… and walked out to the truck… and survived.

Now that I’m finished reading my book, I can worry about my obligations again.  I decided when I started writing this blog that I would not write about work, but sometimes work looms too largely in my thoughts and in writing about it, maybe I can purge myself of some of the crushing weight of thoughts that whirl around late at night keeping me awake.  I’ve committed to helping out with the Student Council again.  I promised myself I wouldn’t do ASB again, but the bottom line is that they really need help and I know exactly what needs to be done to point them in the right direction.  Right now, the number one priority is RAISE MONEY.  Can’t do activities without money.   Imagine your homecoming dance with no DJ or decorations, your homecoming queen being presented a bouquet of weeds, freshly picked from behind the bleachers—not acceptable.

So for now I have become the concessions queen.  For some reason, all of our home games for Volleyball and Football (the only fall sports we engage in because we are so small) are clustered together in the month of September.  It makes for one screaming mad whirl of Costco trips and long days spent flipping burgers and cajoling kids to help sell a few of them.  Normally, we would take only one or two big concessions for ourselves and dole the smaller ones out to the different classes or yearbook or the Washington DC trip group or even 6th grade science camp so that everybody could have a chance at raising some funds.   But when you start the year with a two digit bank account (thankfully, it’s a positive number), you have to be a bit selfish.

Tonight we played a double header in Volleyball.  Tomorrow, we have Volleyball, followed by Football—it will be an 8 hour day…on a Saturday.  So why am I up writing this instead of catching precious hours of needed sleep?  Why indeed—I’m waiting for the dryer to finish drying my “concessions outfit” so I can wear it again tomorrow.  It consists of a shirt in the school colors with the school logo embroidered on (and blue jeans, of course—don’t want you to think I’m going around with nothing on the bottom half).  I only seem to have one of these shirts right now because, oddly enough, they always manage to get ruined by grease stains.  I’m hoping our booster’s president shows up at the game with a few new shirts I can buy.  Meantime, I launder.

My big consolation is that it will all be over in about 3 weeks time.  Our last concession will be October 2nd.  Of course, there is a load of hay waiting for me somewhere on the ranch below.  I’ll pick that up on the way home after the game tomorrow and unload it Sunday so that I can take the trailer back to the ranch for my last load of hay.  Then we have to finish the hay barn, measure and purchase a bunch of water lines so we can install my new waterers, pick up an excavator (after unloading the last load of hay from the flatbed trailer) with which to dig all of the ditches we need for the lines and the holes we need to bury the waterers.  I also have to cover the hay that doesn’t fit into the barn to protect it from the coming winter.  All of this while eating, sleeping, working and, hopefully, doing some writing.  But no books!  Not until after October 2nd anyway!

And how are ewe doing today?

Just when I think my life is getting boring, I get a phone call from my neighbor.

“We’ve got these sheep down here…”

These things happen when you live on open range.  The main road that goes through here is also known as The Stock Drive for a reason.  Flocks of sheep work their way through here on the way up to the Pine Nuts and Sierra for summer grazing.  Sometimes, the sheepherders just drive them on through and sometimes they’ll stick around and graze the area for awhile.  We figure they keep the weeds down, plus we just enjoy seeing them around.  It’s kind of annoying when you have to drive to work and they are ahead of you on the road, but I just figure it’s better than fighting cars any day of the week.  It’s worst when they are out on the highway.  On the back roads, you can just drive slow and work your way through the flock eventually, but on the highway, you have 18 wheelers and school busses that absolutely can’t move because the sheep can fit under their vehicles, so then you’re stuck waiting on the sheepherders to clear the way.

In a strange sort of irony, we have this one neighbor who showed up with a grader and graded off all of the sagebrush around his house.  Naturally, the non natives all moved in and took over.  His place looks like the Great Mustard Forest, this ugly yellow, unnatural swath in the otherwise unbroken sagebrush.  Anyway, the irony is that he told me he was going to shoot the sheepherders if they came on to his property.  I said “huh?  With your weeds, I’d be inviting them over!”  (He seemed truly shocked I would say this.)  I also pointed out that this might be bad policy in an open range state.  It’s the same reason I can’t shoot my neighbor’s stallions, although in my case, I could conceivably claim that I felt my life was threatened.  I can’t exactly see him explaining to the judge that his life was threatened by a bunch of rampaging sheep (Although it might be entertaining to see him try.  It would also be pretty entertaining to see him actually threatened by a flock of rampaging sheep, but that would be too Monty Python.).  Besides, some of those sheepherders carry big rifles and they might just shoot back!

Each flock consists of around 300-400 sheep, one sheepherder and several dogs.  Sometimes they’ll have a donkey along for protection and sometimes they’ll have a large white fluffy dog like a Kuvasz or Pyranees.   The other dogs are usually the smaller, short haired types of border collies.  All of the dogs are unbelievably friendly to humans which makes it tough to see them sometimes—they don’t appear to get much pampering.  There is one old white dog that’s been around with the flocks for quite a few years now.  Every time I see him, I long to kidnap him and take him home for a bath, a grooming, a good hot meal and maybe a dose of wormer.  He’d probably bite me.  They are working dogs and are probably happier than 99% of the cream-puff backyard and underarm dogs out there, but they lead hard and often thankless lives.

A dog is how we had our very first close up sheep encounter.  We’d been living here for maybe a year when I went out running with our two border collies.  About a mile and a half from home, I lost one of the dogs.  Now, anybody who’s owned border collies knows:  You don’t find your border collie—it finds you.  So I wasn’t exactly worried and continued on home.  At one point, I could see him dashing around in the sagebrush about a half mile away and wondered what he was up to, but I wasn’t going to waste the energy to go back and try to figure it out.  So I went home and took a shower instead.  Only, he still wasn’t home when I came back outside.  So I grabbed the binoculars, hopped in the truck and headed out look for him.  I found him down by our front gate, very proud of himself, herding a lamb up the driveway.  Well, that’s what he was up to!

So I “helped” him herd the lamb down into the yard.  I’m pretty sure the dog was thinking that he was doing just fine before Mom came along, but he got the job done in spite of me.  I gave it water which it slurped down with gusto.  I figured the poor thing was probably still nursing, so I thinned some milk with water and tried the old latex glove trick, but he wasn’t fooled—he knew it wasn’t mama.  I had more success just offering him hay, some of which he crunched down at any rate.  I figured he’d survive a few hours while I figured out what to do with him.  I started by calling the neighbors.  They said they’d kept the last sheep that wandered in to their place as a pet until he died of old age.  They even named him Herbie or something cute.  Not an option…  I have a hard and fast rule about not making pets out of animals I might be tempted to eat in the future!  Besides, somebody owns this lamb—it’s part of a business, ergo, the owner might just want it back?

Next, I started calling ranchers I know which led to randomly calling ranchers I didn’t know, one of whom finally gave me the name of a bona fide sheep rancher here in the valley.  Which explains why the next morning, before heading to work, I wrastled one cute little lamb into the back of the pick-up truck, and tied it up with a dog collar around its neck. On the way to work, I took a little detour to this fellow’s “bummer” pens and tossed the little guy over the fence to join his other unfortunate brothers.  Infinitely better than naming him Herbie and feeding him for the next however many years (how long do sheep live, anyway?) because David would never let me turn him into curry once he had a name.  In fact, I suspect that even if I named him Lamb Curry, David would have had a fit if I tried to turn him into the real thing!

After that, we didn’t have any strays for a long time.  Although, there was that night when a whole flock came wandering through at 2am.  They must have woken up cold in the middle of the night—or maybe the flock had a nightmare—and decided to head for warmer or safer climes.  They sure startled the hell out of me as they streamed right past the house bleating and baaing.  At first I thought it was the strangest windstorm ever.  Then I thought it was funny how the wind sounded like sheep and looked out the window to see them flowing past the window—a river of ghost sheep.  They wound up bedding down on the flat just above the house and I have some short video clips of the sheepherder bringing them back down to camp at around 5 the next morning.  I wonder if he ever wakes up to a silent camp and just thinks “damn sheep!”

Over the years since then, I have come to be aware that there are, in fact, two sheep ranchers who drive through our range.  One of them, Ted, lives in this valley and sends his sheep North and East to the Pine Nuts; while the other fellow, Fred, lives in Smith Valley and sends his sheep the other way, West and South into the Sierra.  I’m not certain why they don’t just trade ranches (or ranges).  Maybe the sheep just need a lot of exercise to grow wool.  And what happens when two flocks meet in the middle?  Dare I say that would be a real flock-up?  I probably daren’t!

So last year in May sometime, I looked out the window and saw a lone ewe hobbling up the ridge by the horse corrals.  I didn’t even need a friendly border collie to drive her into the corrals since she was hobbling along on three legs.  Poor girl was very happy to find herself with food and water and a safe place to rest among other livestock. Dolly, on the other hand, was pretty certain she was the Angel of Death.  Sure Dolly!  The cute, white, fluffy, angel of death!  Annie just made horrible, ugly faces at her.  I guess she figured she had finally found someone smaller than her that she could push around.

So I called Fred and we determined that it, was, in fact, his ewe.  You have to understand that Fred is in his 80’s or 90’s, so it was one of those weird conversations.

“This is Sharon Soule.  I’m over in Antelope Valley. I think I have your ewe.”

“Well, I don’t know,” in his high squeaky old man voice, “both Ted and I drove sheep through there last week…”

“She has a big M painted on her back…”

“A big M you say?” Long pause.  “Well, I guess she must be mine…”

(At this point, I’m thinking, “You guess?  Look, you either put a big M on your sheep, or you don’t!”)

“And where’d you say you are?”

“Antelope Valley, off of Eastside Lane.”

“Is that near (some name I’ve never heard of)?”

“No, we’re in Antelope Valley, you know, off of the Stock Drive.  You know, Eastside Lane, the dirt section…”

“Well, I guess I’d better send someone out then.”

“We’re on Nighthawk Lane.  There’s a sign.  You follow it to the end.  She’s in the horse corrals.”

“Okay, I guess I’d better send someone out there.” Long pause.  “And that’s near (some other name I’ve never heard of)?”

“It’s near Risue Canyon.  You know… Topaz Lane, Eastside, the dirt section. Look, let me give you my phone number.  That way, your guy can call me and I can give him directions.”

“Okay, that’s a good idea.”

So I gave him my phone number and never heard another thing.

I called him back a couple of weeks later.  By this time, the sheep had her own corral with her own water tank and I was letting her out to eat weeds during the day and she would follow me, bleating happily, back in at night to get her own pile of hay.  She did NOT, however, have a name—cute or otherwise. This conversation was almost identical to the first one except that Fred felt really bad that he’d forgotten me and would send someone right over and you know where this is headed.  Fred really didn’t want his three legged sheep back.

At first, I thought maybe the rest would allow her to heal up, but she never did—must have been a ligament tear or something that wasn’t planning to heal.  On the other hand, she didn’t seem to be in a lot of pain—just didn’t want to put weight on it.  Still, I didn’t intend to keep her, but the three-legged complication made it impossible for me to sneak her in with the next passing flock and she was just too darned big for me to toss over the fence into Ted’s bummer pens. The phone calls continued, with Fred feeling worse and worse each time and offering to pay for the hay I was feeding her in his high squeaky voice, but never actually sending someone to pick her up.  After two months, inspiration finally struck.

“So Fred… why don’t you give me directions to your place and I’ll bring her by?”

Next day, we wrestled her into the back of the pick-up and I drove her over to Fred’s place.  He wasn’t in, but the ladies who take care of him and his house were.  They helped me wrestle her back out and we left her in his yard, happily grazing the manicured front lawn under the watchful eyes of one rapturous border collie who couldn’t believe his good fortune at having his very own sheep to play with in his very own yard.  I suspect that there was a barbecue at the ranch that night, but I don’t dwell on it.

So when my neighbor called in distress because they had found three sheep at their friend’s place, one dead and two alive, I was able to calmly toss a flake of hay in the truck and head down to play the “Fred Or Ted” game.  The two live sheep (a ewe and her lamb) were not about to get near enough to be identified, but the dead one had an eartag that identified it as Ted’s, so I dialed him up (because I have both ranchers on speed dial at this point) and told him about it.

He said he would have his ranch manager call me back.  And sure enough, I wasn’t halfway up the driveway when he called me.  I gave him directions to the place and figured he’d be able to find it the next morning since it was now completely dark.  Not so, this fellow.  I had made it home, changed into my jammies, and was working on my evening bowl of ice cream when he called back.  “Okay, I’m at the first house off Eastside…”

That’s about when I realized it would be easier to get dressed again and drive back down and lead him to the place.  And it’s a good thing I did because there was no moon out and the place is pretty far back off of the road and even I had trouble finding the driveway after I had already driven it once myself that night.  I was glad to see him come right out, though, because while dishing up my ice cream, I had heard the coyotes yammering out a chorus of “We have found a little lamb,” from the direction where the sheep were hanging out.  I was sincerely hoping that we weren’t going to find three bloody little bodies on arrival, but there they were, lamb and ewe, unmolested.  Even the dead sheep hadn’t been touched.  The coyotes were probably just yelling about sex.

The ranch manager climbed out of his truck along with another fellow carrying a kind of shortened piece of lariat—I guess you can’t exactly use a big loop with a sheep.  They intended to somehow capture the two sheep right then and there in the pitch dark.  I was kind of surprised to see that they didn’t have any dogs with them as there are no corrals out there.  I figured it was a good time to make an exit.  I honestly would have liked to see them do it, but I would have felt compelled to “help.”   The dog, at least, had been kind enough to not roll around on the ground laughing and pointing at me in my useless efforts at “helping.”  These guys probably wouldn’t be so kind.  So I headed back home.  I could see their lights for some time as I finished my now soupy ice cream.  But then they were gone, and I never saw them come back the next morning, so they must have gotten the job done about as efficiently as my old border collie had even in the pitch dark.  I admire that kind of ability, but I sure don’t envy them their way of life.

Do you (insert name) take this horse…

Finding a new horse is kind of like finding a new spouse.  First, you have the dating phase where you try out different situations and see if your philosophies and sensibilities fit.  Then there’s the “emotional” phase where you are trying to figure out whether or not you are really in love or just infatuated because he has such dreamy eyes or a nice car.  Then there’s the DECISION phase, where you have to make up your mind whether or not you want to spend the REST OF YOUR FREAKIN’ LIFE with that person.  It’s sort of like that with horses too.  Only first, you need to date the right horse!  Trying out the horse that’s not for sale is kind of like dating a married man.

So first, I had to return the wrong horse, Rasmin, and pick up the right horse, Jasmine.  Sometimes, I have to laugh at my own preconceived notions.  I had it in my mind that Rasmin might not want to get back in the trailer since the last time she got in, I, essentially, kidnapped her away from her herd and dragged her to a scary place where giant grey mice attack you in the sage brush.   So I’m thinking, maybe I should use Dolly as a babysitter if this becomes a problem.  With these erroneous thought molecules bouncing around in my brain, I introduced Dolly to Rasmin over the fence to see if this would be feasible.  And Dolly roared…  Like a stallion!   Wow!  I’ve heard her squeal and I’ve seen her strike, but I’ve never heard her just flat roar like that.  She was letting Rasmin know, in no uncertain terms, that she was The Big Cheese, The Head Honcho, The President and The Emperor all rolled into one.  I guess Dolly won the talent portion of that competition.  Anyway, I decided that even over the fence was a little close for comfort, so I gingerly led Dolly back to her corral and turned her loose.

“Thank-you.  I won’t be needing a babysitter today after all.”

And Rasmin, bless her heart, just jumped right in to the trailer.  Maybe she figured “Let’s blow this joint!  How much worse can it get?”

So we were off.  It wasn’t until I was about half a mile down the road when I remembered that it snowed the day before.  And Sonora Pass was closed!  Dang, now what?  So I called road conditions and they said the pass was closed, and judging from the message, it was closed before the pack station.  I kind of vaguely remembered that there is a dirt road you can take around the gate, but I was a little leery of running the gate, then getting into snow while hauling a horse trailer.  I have had a couple of snow-trailer-hauling experiences and I’m not really up for those kinds of adventures if I can avoid it!  (Of course, the old adventures were that much more exciting because my windshield wipers would randomly fail while you were driving through a blinding snowstorm—at least I had the new truck this time.)  Next I called Craig and left a message.  Maybe I would just return Rasmin to the “home” pasture and pick up Jasmine in a couple of days.  Fortunately, Craig called right back and said he’d just driven down from the pack station and there was no snow on the road at all.

I was feeling like such a bad girl, driving around with my “stolen” horse, running the gates.  Maybe I should be wearing black and listening to grunge.  But alas, my outlaw days were short lived.  Cal-trans had the gates opened before I got there and I just drove innocently through.

As I pulled in to the pack station, I saw a pretty little bay mare tied to the hitching post.  This had to be the right horse, right?  Fortunately, there were actual people there who were able to confirm that this was the actual correct horse.  We swapped horses and a few stories, I did my usual paranoid trailer check (wheels still attached: check!) and I was off.

When we got home, I found Jasmine to be very sweet and likeable.  Whereas, with Rasmin, I couldn’t really spot the Arab half, with Jasmine, I couldn’t spot the non-Arab half.  She had a refined head and body and a perfectly dished face with dainty little ears.  She is that blood bay color that makes you think of a perfect copper chestnut who accidentally wound up with someone else’s black mane and tail.  She stepped daintily out of the trailer and looked around.  She wasn’t calm and unconcerned, but I also didn’t feel the need for a stick for self defense.  As we headed to the corrals, we stopped to look at several scary objects.  She seemed quite worried about objects on the ground, but willing to approach them and look anyway.  I noticed that her eyes have a bluish tint to them.  Non-Arab half?  Hmmm…

Once at the corral, I played my usual games of moving her around and seeing what she was and wasn’t willing to do.  She was quite similar to Rasmin in that respect—willing to move around, but no backing and no bending to speak of.  It was then that I had an epiphany.  I had had the thought with both horses that maybe they had done some Parelli or other brand of natural horsemanship before because of the way I was able to move them around softly.  Still, a Parelli horse would both back and bend.  Neither horse did that although both horses figured it out with a few hints from me.  That’s when it hit me—I have made it, Rocky-like, to the top of some set of steps where my body language is finally so clear that even random horses begin to understand what I want!  Very cool.  Of course, Rocky had all of those sequels.  I still have to beat Apollo (riding) and the big Russian guy (liberty) and, when I’m really, really old, there’s still some other guy (finesse) to beat in a heartwarming, impassioned comeback that no one will watch.  But hey—it was still a very cool feeling.

That was Tuesday.  Wednesday, I spent about an hour gently combing the knots out of her mane using liberal applications of Laser Sheen and patience.  I trimmed her feet and fussed around with different Easyboots, then played with her on the ground some more.  I didn’t ride because Thursday, I was headed to Sacramento for Horse Expo (more on that later) and I didn’t want to rush things.  So it wasn’t until the following Monday that I even had the chance to get on and ride.  When I saddled her up, I found that she passed one really important test—my saddle fits.  In horse dating, this is like making it to first base!   She is also not the slightest bit cold backed which is like halfway to second base in my book.

And with that, I got on.  She’s a good size—not too big.  I would guess maybe 14.3 to 15.0 hands.  I asked her to step up next to my big tire that I use as a mounting block and she did it quite willingly and without spooking.  I chose to ride on our road circle for this first time.  We created it so that large trucks could turn around on the property.  It’s more of a teardrop with the pointy end about 100 feet from the corrals and the farthest end about 200 feet away.  So we walked.  And we tried to stop.  I say tried to because there was no bend there.  How can you do a one rein stop with no bend?  It was like trying to bend a piece of metal and, just as bad, she didn’t move off of my leg at all.  She had bent for me on the ground, but it didn’t seem to be transferring to the saddle at all.  So we practiced walking, then bending to a stop. Each time I would ask for the bend, she would just turn her whole body and blunder off in the new direction.  Finally, she would get the idea of bending her neck and stopping, meanwhile tripping all over the sagebrush where she had blundered.  So she would stop, but she would never yield the hindquarters.  Then we would blunder back on to the circle and try again.

Her walking was great.  In fact, she felt gaited to me.  I couldn’t tell what she was doing except to say that it was a very fast walk, but it had that swinging feeling you get with a gaited horse. Maybe the other half is something small and gaited like a Kentucky Saddle Horse (do they have blue eyes)?  It was nice to ride.  As we progressed, though, I noticed that she would become agitated at the “far” end of the circle and then wanted to hurry off towards the corrals as quickly as possible when we came down that side of the circle…to the point where she wasn’t willing to bend or stop at all on that little leg of our trip.  She started to get that sticky feeling where she felt she HAD to go forward, but I was asking her to bend and stop and she was feeling very trapped and beginning to get light on the front end.   In the meantime, she was upset and tripping all over her feet.  As long as I let her go towards the corrals, she was fine.  Meanwhile, my brain was beginning to scream at me “GET OFF!  You DON’T have a one rein stop!”

I chose to listen to my brain.  After I got off, we spent some time working on bending, backing, and yielding the hindquarters. She’s a very sensitive horse and picked it up very quickly, but I could see where this was probably headed.  She is afraid and unconfident—more so under saddle than on the ground.  So not only do I need to teach her how to yield and move properly from the ground, I have to translate that to the saddle while at the same time teaching her to be confident.  It also explains the fact that Craig described her to me as “bombproof” and “bold.”  She’s more confident when leading mules because she’s not alone, but she’s still afraid.  Her reaction is “Damn the torpedos!  Full speed ahead!”  Hence, she gets all stressed and outwalks the mules.  Sure, she seems bold.  That’s because her main goal is to get where she’s going as fast as she can get there, so that she might be safe again.  Smart mare, anyway!

We spent the next few days working on the basics: bending, stopping, moving off a feel, backing, desensitizing.  She’s a really sweet mare, but also very defensive and bracey.  I have yet to see her back up just softly without bracing her front legs.  I’ve finally gotten a few steps back from the saddle, but she’s still very “stuck” mentally.  She’s very touchy and claustrophobic in a squeeze.  For this mare, a circle that touches the fence in one spot is a tough squeeze.  And don’t ask her to go out on a trail ride by herself.  That’s completely off the table right now.  I tried it the third day just to see, kind of like taking a new guy to a chick flick.  And just like the guy who panics and runs for the popcorn counter when the mushy stuff starts, she got panicky and wanted to head for home about a mile out.  I finally wound up getting off and playing on the ground because when she gets panicky, she gets bracey.  And when she gets bracey, she doesn’t bend to a stop any more—in fact, she doesn’t bend at all (or stop).

So how’s the romance going?  Believe it or not, I really like this mare.  All those problems, all that baggage she’s carrying?  That can all be fixed.  It will take time and effort, but if I can turn Dolly into a decent trail horse, I can do it with Jasmine.  Did I mention she’s pretty?  And she really wants to be friendly too.  The first couple of days, she was pretty leery of me approaching, but now she meets me at the gate every time.  And I didn’t do anything to achieve this other than earn her trust some.  And every time I ride her, she gets better.  In just a few days, she’s gotten more confident and begun to soften and offer me more each time I ask.  And I’m not afraid of her.  She doesn’t seem like the kind of horse that is belligerent or out to hurt me—I just have to always be aware of where she is mentally and take care of both of us if things begin to go south.

So now we’re into the decision phase.  It’s not quite as bad as marriage because I don’t have to vow to keep her for the rest of my life, but in today’s horse market, if you’re a realistic and responsible horse owner, that is about what it amounts to.  Because it’s really easy to say I might buy her and ride her for a year, then try to turn her around and find the perfect 12 year old girl who could fall in love with her.  But what if I can’t?  Could I really put her up on Craig’s List and sell her to the first cretin that comes along and hope against hope she has a decent future once I get some of her problems solved?  Probably not.  So I’m working off of the assumption that this is for better or worse.  I’m not good at aging horses at all, but if I had to guess, I’d put her around 10, so that’s a 20 year commitment.

What other criteria can I use in this decision making process?

Let’s see…  She’s a random pooper!  Some of you know right away what I’m talking about here.  It makes them harder to clean up after because it’s kind of like playing Where’s Waldo every time you clean the corral.  Of course, this would be less of a problem if the corral wasn’t full of rocks and sagebrush.  Somehow, I just never got in there with the tractor to clean it all up.  It’s amazing to me how you can miss poops in a 40’x100’ corral, but they are pretty good at concealing themselves.  Still, checking out the hygiene habits ahead of time is important to some women.  Am I right?  I know one woman who married a fellow who was living alone at the time.  His kitchen counters were stacked to the ceiling with TV dinner trays.  She married him anyway.  She feeds him real food now and in exchange, he cleans up the dishes on a fairly regular basis.  In my case, cleaning Jasmine’s corral will always be work intensive.  It’s a con, but not a deal breaker.

Then there’s that mane.  It’s that lush, silky, long Arab mane that everyone covets.  Except I’m always grabbing it!  A one rein stop to the right is more like a one mane stop.  You have to understand that I learned to ride on 3 gaited American Saddlebreds and they have their manes roached.  From there I progressed to hunter jumpers—pulled and braided, dressage—pulled and braided, western pleasure—pulled (in those days).  So pretty much, I like a short, pulled mane.  Not sure I can sanction doing that to this pretty Arab mane, but I do find it darned annoying.  You also have to keep after it pretty much every day or it tangles and knots back up.  I guess the con here is all the extra mane goo I’ll have to factor into my budget.

Her hooves seem to be a plus.  They’re a little out of whack.  That can happen when you don’t trim them for 6 months while they’re out on winter pasture (it’s also why the mane is so nice), but given a few trims, they ought to be back in whack in a few months.  I’ve been riding her in Easyboots in front, and so far, these seem to be working well.  So it seems like I could keep her barefoot if I wanted to.  Now most of you know I’m not exactly a pundit of the Grand Church of the Barefoot Trim, but I do think it’s better for them if you can get away with it.  I have yet to meet the horse I could ride in our area without any boots at all, but if the Gloves will work, they are pretty easy to deal with.  So hooves are pretty much a pro here.

The biggest con, sadly, has turned out to be the deal breaker.  She is mechanically unsound.  That means she’s not lame, but she has a kind of hitch in her giddy-up.  She short strides with her right front.  She has an old scar on her shoulder that may be the cause, or maybe she’s just lopsided. I noticed this right off the bat and I was hoping it would resolve itself as I began to ride her more, but it’s turned out to be pretty consistent.  I thought maybe putting shoes on might help and when I went to fit the shoes up, I found out that hoof is about half a size or more smaller than the other.  It’s not something you would notice unless you worked her from the ground like we do in most schools of natural horsemanship.  You have to be pretty observant to feel it when you’re on her back too.  But there it is, the monster in the cupboard.

If I was a 90 pound featherweight who had to run around in the shower to get wet, I might be willing to take a chance on her.  There’s no telling, however, how she might hold up over time. There’s no telling how she’ll hold up over mileage either, which may rule out the possibility of endurance riding.  Or she might hold up just fine…  It is possible that I could take the “find the right little girl” route and if she’s really the RIGHT little girl, the unsoundness won’t matter.  On the other hand, I may get stuck feeding another horse for the next 20 years.  And, in the end, that’s what finally got me.  If I had a boatload of money, I would be perfectly willing to take the chance, but if she does ever go lame on that leg, I’ll wind up feeding two lame horses for the next 20 years and I really don’t want to take that chance.  Which really breaks my heart…

Which soundtrack do you hear?

I haven’t written much lately. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, but can’t seem to get much down on (virtual) paper. That’s because my life isn’t always a sitcom.

It seems to me like most people really enjoy reading what I write when I’m writing about the absurd or funny parts of my life, but not so much when I write about the not so funny stuff that happens. So when I don’t or can’t turn what is happening into something absurd or funny, maybe I shouldn’t write at all…? So I thought about that and decided this is my blog and it’s not about me being funny—it’s about me writing all the stuff down that is whirling around in my brain just to get it out of there. If it also happens to be interesting or entertaining reading for you, then yeah!

But it is an interesting concept—that my life could be a sitcom. Because I don’t care how funny you think your life is, or how funny you are personally, nobody really lives a sitcom life. We all have our ups and downs to deal with and our crosses to bear. Some of us have bigger crosses and some of us bear up under them with a lot more grace than others. One of my resolutions in the last year or so is not to whine as much. When I write funny stuff, that is my way of taking what I would like to whine about and turning it into something non-whiny. I mean, what it really boils down to is which soundtrack you are listening to. Am I hearing the laugh track or the dramatic duhn-duhn-duhn every time something happens? Because basically, in life, we all face the choice of whether to laugh at life and move on or get stuck believing it is a drama and just… get stuck.

Still, it has been difficult to write lately for a lot of reasons, and one of them is that it has been winter. Don’t get me wrong—I love winter! Unfortunately, my somewhat slightly malfunctioning brain does not. My brain wants daylight. It would be happy if I lived on the equator. It would be ecstatic if I would move to, say Australia, from October through March every year. When we visit the San Juan Islands in June, it is overjoyed by all of the light, light, light! Every time we go, I think how wonderful it would be to live there until I realize that I wouldn’t even make it through the first October. I would have to sleep in a tanning bed, and then the skin cancer would get me.

But I can only use winter as an excuse for so long. The days have been getting longer for quite some time now and yesterday, I saw my first phlox of the year. Spring has sprung and I still haven’t posted anything to my blog. I seem to have developed a sort of inertia when it comes to writing. It is as if I have been stumbling around attempting to come out of hibernation for a while now and not really succeeding. I can also see that this writing a blog thing has to become a habit. I am in the habit of thinking about things (maybe too much sometimes), but not so much in the habit of writing them down. I guess that is kind of like a sitcom episode—Person resolves to complain less about life sucking by writing a blog about it being a sitcom, only person can’t write about how life sucks because life sucks too much, only life doesn’t really suck that bad—it’s just an excuse to not write the next episode of the sitcom!

I am reminded of those old basic programs where you would get yourself stuck in an infinite loop. I can’t remember the key sequence you used to break out of the loop, but it was something like ctrl-S. So here it is—ctrl-S. I’m officially out of hibernation. I’ve had my virtual cup of coffee. Can you hear the laugh track?


Got tired of posting notes to Facebook, so I finally got a real blog with my really own domain name.  Very cool.  Now I need to figure out how to post these to Facebook and we will be all set!  Of course, I’m doing this in the middle of a very busy week at school, so this will probably languish for a few weeks until I can figure out how to do more with it.  In the meantime–hope to see you real soon.