Murieta and Max (part 2)

It turns out that I didn’t take very good notes on Sunday.  Knowing that I would be driving home after the show and wouldn’t have time to sit down and type up some notes on the computer, I took them on my phone throughout the day.  I don’t know if I was trying to be circumspect in case anyone thought I was just texting rudely throughout the show or if I just didn’t save them often enough, but they are quite minimal and often difficult to interpret.  There are notes like “posting down up vs up down,” which is relatively easy to figure out.  That was the first demo that Pat did on Lead changes and he was obviously talking about how posting should feel to the rider.  Then there was this note, “Michael Jackson style.”  I’m pretty sure it had to do with something about how you ride the horse, but really?  Are you supposed to moonwalk as you ride?  Or are you teaching the horse to moonwalk?  Maybe you are supposed to ride with one glove and yell “whooo…” a lot in a high pitched voice.

This really highlights one of the things I have discovered about my memory over time.  If I don’t write it down, I simply don’t remember it!  Oh, bits and snatches come back, but not the comprehensive whole.  It’s why you will constantly find me off in the corner during breaks at clinics typing or scribbling madly away.  If I don’t do this, I will lose so much of that critical learning that I often paid so dearly for that I will wind up eventually feeling as if I’ve cheated myself out of the experience (not to mention the money.)   I hope I have learned my lesson and will stop at Starbucks or Burger King on the way home next time to do a few minutes of mad typing. Instead, I had to rely on the kindness of strangers in posting clips of the show on You Tube.   So my entire memory of the event has now boiled down to a few cryptic notes on a phone and about 30 minutes of total You Tube video footage.  Does anybody else miss the days when they would film most of the tour stop and large chunks of it would end up on the savvy club DVD a few months later?

There are a couple of really good clips of Pat’s session on lead changes by the way.  The horse in the demo was a beautiful black Andalusion.  Pat started out by explaining about diagonals and how being on the correct diagonal leads to getting the correct lead.  I felt it was probably the best demo I saw on Sunday.  He had the girl (wish I’d written her name down) working on some of the pieces and parts first.  Then he had her doing some of the old level two lead changes.  He had her canter the horse along and drop the reins and use her carrot stick like an oar rowing the boat.  This was a great exercise as it got her really in time with her horse’s body movement in the canter.  Then he had her take the reins and “fly” the horse like she was superman.  First he had her fly to the left, then change to the right.  The horse changed leads several times this way, but was getting the lead in front first, then in the back.  Pat said the horse was pushing against her leg and that’s why he was missing in back, so he had her work on sideways for a bit, then go back to the lead changes.  This time, he got them right.  (Oh, you mean the better your horse goes sideways?)

I’ve read a lot of criticism of the old level 2 style lead changes, but I think this demo really showed how useful they can be.  As long as a person understands that they are a means to an end and not the only way (or even the best way) to get a lead change.  I don’t know that it is possible to do a refined lead change with your horse until you have a really good feel for the timing that is necessary.  I know I am one of those people who could never get the feel right.  This exercise really helped me feel how and when I needed to change in order to get the horse to change.  What could be simpler than playing Superman afterall?  Otherwise, I was just trying to throw a cue in and hope it was at the right time.

I know once Max and I get more comfortable at the canter, I’ll probably try some of these.  He has done a few flying changes on me, but they were never intentional!  The one I remember best was where we were cantering up the wash and Kaylee was running along beside us in the sagebrush.  Suddenly, she cut across our path to the other side of the wash, probably because she saw a rabbit or a lizard.  She wasn’t close enough to be dangerous, but it surprised Max enough that he pulled a perfect flying change from left to right.  So now all I need to do is train the dog to give the cue and I’m good.  Do you think they allow dogs to participate in dressage tests?

After this, Linda did her “rider makeover” segment.  I’m really glad they went back to the “lesson” format with Linda and Pat as I seem to get more out of these sessions than almost any others.  Linda was working with a woman (nameless again) riding a cute chestnut Quarter Horse who is a left brain interovert.  The rider wanted to work on her forward, which is pretty typical on an lbi, and on the beginnings of refinement.  She recognized that she wasn’t going to get really nice finesse work until she got the horse going forward more.  Linda said that very often we do more work than the horse does and the secret is to get the horse to want to put in more effort without working so hard ourselves.  Linda had her use a game that she called “thunk, thunk.”  When the horse was not putting effort into going forward off of a phase one leg cue, the rider would use the carrot stick on the soft part of the shoulder and just thunk the stick twice in a way that was annoying to the horse.  First, she would thunk softly, next time she would double amount of thunk, then double again and finally again.  If the horse responded with any improved effort, she would stop.  Otherwise, she would go back to the softest thunk and repeat the sequence.  Once the horse got the idea that the annoying thunking was going to keep happening until she put in some effort, she started to put effort in much sooner.

One of the things Linda talked about was the importance of having a plan with a horse like this, not just randomly riding it around in circles, because the horse gets bored very quickly when it knows you don’t have a plan and then starts thinking about being lazy.   Anyway, things progressed nicely with the horse beginning to move forward better and Linda was able to have the rider start working on taking a little contact.   She talked about having the rider feel the horse’s mouth with her elbows, rather than her hands.  This allows the whole arm to remain soft and better maintain the contact.  Pretty soon, the horse was going around looking very round and presenting an overall nice picture.

One of the things Linda brought up with the game of thunk, thunk is that you need to use minimal leg cues.   And now we’re back to my noisy legs.  Linda said that when you bring your heel up to kick instead of cueing with your calf, it curls your whole body up.  One more reason to work on those leg cues—being able to ride around NOT looking like a boiled shrimp—PRICELESS!  I like the idea of the game thunk, thunk also although I may never need it with Max.  While he is left brained, he is somewhere in between introvert and extrovert and is pretty easy to wind up if he begins to get lazy.  To tell the truth, we haven’t done a whole lot of arena riding because my “arena” is pretty small and the trail usually beckons to both of us.  The washes behind our place are fantastic places to work on all gaits, and wide enough to work on leg yields and lateral moves some.

Somewhere in there, Trevor did a spotlight on his horse, Switch.  I didn’t take any notes on this, so who knows?  He could have been demonstrating the triple Lindy for all I remember!   Anyway, if you’re not familiar with Switch, he is the horse that Trevor is riding for a year in the Road To The Horse Wildcard Competition.  The wildcard competitors each took a horse home to train for a year.  They will compete with these horses before next year’s RTTH competition to showcase what they have taught the horse in the past year and the winner of THAT competition gets to compete in RTTH.  Very cool.  If you are interested in the story, you can follow Trevor and Switch on his Facebook page.

The final segment of Sunday’s show was part two of Pat’s colt start.  This time, he had no round pen.  Again, the horse really wanted to get out of the gate, but Pat worked on connecting with him and moving out into the arena.  He talked about how building a connection with the horse is so important.  Once on, he did a passenger lesson.  My notes say “passenger lesson give relief.”  I wonder what that meant!  The world will never know…  Anyway, he got to playing follow the rail and allowing the horse to stop and rest in the corners, so maybe that was the relief.  He would have the horse stop in the corner and relax, then do a three quarter turn against the fence and move off in the new direction to help the horse to learn to begin using its hind end more.  Again, he talked about using legs and focus to ride more than hands.  He gave a good visual for moving forward—put your chin in the air and tickle the ribs.  I’ll have to try that in my new leg quieting program.

So that was it.  I came home energized and ready to ride and since then, I’ve had absolutely NO time to ride!  Go figure.  I’d say that overall it was one of the best tour stops I’ve been to in a while, but then the last one I attended was two or three years ago.  I didn’t volunteer to work this time for that reason and it was really nice to just sit in the stands and veg and hang out with my Parelli Volunteering friends, my Reno friends and my camping friends.  At lunch on Sunday, we realized that all we needed was Mike the caterer to make the picture complete!  Maybe we’ll do that next year.



Murieta and Max (part 1)

I spent the weekend before last in Rancho Murieta at the Parelli Tour Stop. If I had to sum up what Parelli is all about, I would have to say it is about getting into your horse’s head, getting down to his feet and getting into his heart.   And I don’t think there is any other program that encompasses this philosophy quite as completely as Parelli does.  It’s not to say that the Parelli’s have the only methods that work, or that Parelli students are the best at it, or even that the Parelli’s are the only ones with this idea.  It’s just the philosophy and the attitude that you are there for the horse—you’re there to improve life for the horse by crawling into his mind and getting the message down to the feet and getting a hold of his heart—that’s pretty inspiring!

It was also truly wonderful to see so many of my like-minded friends there.  It’s amazing to me how many Parelli contacts I’ve made over the years.  Of course, the most asked question had to have been “So… what are you riding these days?”

I realize that I’ve brought this on myself after posting a few blogs about The Great Horse Search last summer, then nothing.  This was not intentional on my part.  I just haven’t seemed to be able to write anything about Max the Mustang up to this point and I don’t know why—one of those strange, intangible mental blocks that can’t be explained.  But when ten or more people start a conversation with “so…” I guess it’s time to fess up.

So I’ve been riding Max.  Max is a mustang.  He wasn’t adopted—his mother was.  She popped him out sometime later.  So he’s theoretically domestic except that I think he spent enough time hanging out with Mama before being weaned that she put one or two bad thoughts into his head.

Max is not a monster, nor is he a finished product.  He doesn’t come with mountains of baggage or a horrifying back story.  He’s not a horse that “needs” Parelli or he’s going to the auction, but he can sure benefit from it nonetheless.

Max is not my dream horse.

Still, I think we can teach each other a thing or two and that might be a good thing.  I’ve had him for close to a year now and the idea was that I was “deciding” if I wanted to buy him.  I’m still deciding.  I’m thinking that buying might be a good idea just from a good business/liability standpoint, but I’m not rushing to the bank.

I wonder how Max would have done at the tour stop.

In the first demonstration, Pat did a “colt start.”  He stated that they couldn’t really find an unstarted colt that fit the bill, so they borrowed one that had been ridden once or twice from Susan Nelson.  He was a pretty grey three year old Hanoverian.  My notes say “very nervous at first.”  I am the master of understatement!  He was crazy amped up on adrenaline and just galloped and galloped around the round pen occasionally stopping at the gate to yell for his buddies, then dashing off again.  Pat pretty much ignored him at first in his usual manner.  He told the crowd that he didn’t blame the horse for being upset and it was just his nature.  Soon, he moved around a bit as he talked, presenting the horse with opportunities to hook on.  The horse just kept on doing laps.

Then Pat just casually reached out and roped a front leg.  He let the horse keep running and didn’t put any pressure on the rope—just used it to give the horse a little bit of a connection.  He said that sometimes a horse needs a physical connection before he can make the mental one.  Then he just as casually flipped the rope off of the front leg to let the horse run free again.  After a bit of this, the horse would hook on for maybe half a second, but that was all he could stand and he would break off again.  But you could see he was beginning to calm down and think a bit more.  Soon, he was staying hooked on better and following Pat for longer and longer periods before breaking off to go to the gate again.

Pat said you have to go through three stages in starting a colt:  Trust me, trust the saddle, and trust the rider.  Soon, Pat put the rope around his neck and got the horse yielding to it.  Not long after, he had the colt saddled and hopped on bridleless for a passenger lesson.  He talked about the power of focus and began guiding the horse some with a carrot stick.  He played the touch it game using the stick and his focus.

About this time, Trevor came in with one of the Atwood colts that he had a couple of rides on.  This would be the colt’s first ride outside of the round pen.  He was a cute little strawberry roan and he just looovvveeedd the green ball!  He would throw himself on it with abandon each time Trevor got him near.  Trevor played with him on the ground first, then got on and rode him around.

Pat then put a halter on his horse and rode outside of the round pen—again using the power of focus.  He demonstrated how it is better to use your leg to control the horse’s hindquarters, not the reins.  He said it was like steering a boat.  If you want the boat to go left, move the back of the boat to the right.  He said he was only using his reins to control forward speed and to keep safe.

This is one of those things I have been working on with Max.  He’s not a dull horse, in fact he can be quite over reactive, but his instinct to push against you is so strong that at first, I would get almost no reaction from him when asking him to yield his hindquarters.  Listening to Pat made me realize I need to do more, like serpentines with my legs only, to continue developing this.  Of course I also need to keep working on my legs.  I do not have quiet legs—beastly, noisy things!  So serpentines with legs only, but only the slightest cue.  How soft can my phase one be?

After lunch, Linda came in with Hot Jazz at liberty.  Like the previous horse, he was in an almost blind panic and really wanted to get out the gate.  So Linda worked with him down by the gate on hooking on and then expanding the area he was able to stay hooked on using approach and retreat.  Unlike Pat’s horse, though, Hot Jazz knows and trusts Linda.  So he hooked on faster and stayed with her longer each time.   He couldn’t make it all the way to the far end of the arena yet, but if he took off, she would just patiently work to get him back and make things uncomfortable at the gate if necessary.

Max and I have the same problem, but from a different perspective.  I suspect it is the “wild horse training” he got from Mama combined with a very dominant personality.  There are certain places that are “uh oh!” spots—like it really bothers him to be squeezed between a fence and me when we are playing follow the rail at liberty.  That’s the only time he will leave me because he’s scared.  But whereas Hot Jazz was very right brained about leaving every time, Max is very left brained about it most of the time.  He’s not scared at all, doesn’t see the need to stay hooked on to me and will just leave… like a wild horse out of a squeeze chute.  I’m very blessed to live where I do in the middle of nowhere.  I have no neighbors close enough for him to bother and he’s not going anywhere anyway as long as I keep the girls locked up.  So we have worked at this problem out in the sagebrush.  I have invented a couple of games to help him see that running away is kind of pointless and staying with me is a good thing.

I call the first game “nerdy stalker.”  You know how with a group of friends, there’s that nerdy kid who really wants to hang out with them but they keep trying to ditch him or her because he or she is so nerdy?  In movies, of course, the nerdy kid is always the one to save the day in the end, but in real life they just go on to found giant corporations and get their revenge by becoming filthy rich and ignoring all the jerks that ditched them.   So I am the nerdy stalker.  It’s a little like undemanding time except that there is a demand:  I’m going hang out with you whether you like it or not and there’s no point in leaving because I’m just going to follow.  Don’t get me wrong—I’m not predator like.  Mostly, I just have a seat nearby and play on my phone or get mugged by the dog.  Lately, we have been grazing together—Max browsing on the grass that is so tasty this time of year and me pulling the mustard that is so ubiquitous and annoying.

The second game is “treasure hunt.”  I go around “seeding” the property with goodies (being careful to keep them out of range of the dog who will happily snork down any horse treat, even a forage pellet, as if it were a slice of bacon).  Then I let Max out and we go for a liberty walk, “accidentally” finding little treats here and there.  This gives him a reason to stay with me.  I am the finder of treats.  If I simply carried the treats, this game wouldn’t work because Max would stay hooked on all day if he thought I had a cookie.   I notice after playing this that he is staying hooked on a little bit better, but just as important, he hooks back on sooner and leaves less decisively.  It’s as if he is thinking he should really leave because Mama taught him to, but the nerdy stalker lady might find another treat, so instead of dashing off, he starts to drift away and then sort of trots away looking lost as if to say “now what was I doing again?”  When I catch up to him, I can be 100 feet away and he will come back to me as if just remembering what he doing before he took off.

So I don’t know who has it easier, Linda or me.  I just know she got Hot Jazz to settle down and relax after a little while.  Then they brought in three Parelli students to demonstrate the 7 games on line.  There are people who complain about not learning something new in sessions like this, but I always find it fascinating to watch other people interact with their horses.  For example, this one woman was demonstrating the circling game and was inadvertently turning it into a squeeze between her and the fence.  Well, her horse was not ABOUT to get too close to the fence where all of those predators were lurking on the other side on the bleachers waiting to pounce.  If she had simply backed away until the horse was okay with the circle, then played approach and retreat by getting closer, then farther, I think the horse would have been okay.  I kept waiting for Linda to notice the trouble she was having, but she was busy talking about one of the other horses and the seven games.  Which is my biggest problem when they have several horses in the arena—I’m always afraid that while I’m watching one horse, I’m going to miss something good that another horse is doing.

The next demo was Colleen Kelly talking about rider biomechanics.  There were about 6 or 7 rider horse combinations in the arena.  Colleen talked about how the rider would influence the way the horse was going by being stiff or out of balance.  She then had the riders demonstrate some different postures to see what the effect on the horse would be.  She had them demonstrate one at a time, which was nice as you could see how a dropped shoulder, say, would affect the direction of travel of the horse and his/her body posture.  Then, she demonstrated some different ways a rider could positively influence the horse’s motion by just changing one thing about the body.  The finale was when she had all the horses line up at one end and head down to the other end.  The riders were to weight only one stirrup and all of the horses did a nice leg yield as they went down.

This is something I need to work on with Max.  He has some strange things he does with his body.   Mostly, I see this going from a canter to a trot.  He drops out with his hind end first and sort of gives a strange skip.  I don’t know if I can help him with this or not, but polishing up the canter and canter departs is definitely one of our goals.  On the other hand, his leg yielding is not bad considering how little he was willing to yield his hindquarters at first.  I just have to work on making less noise with my legs and Colleen’s segment gives me a way that I might begin to help influence him.

The last segment on Saturday was a trailer loading with Pat.  This was one of the better trailer loading segments I’ve ever seen him do.  The horse was a grey thoroughbred mare and the human was an interesting mix of teenaged girl bravado and rebellion, which Pat neutralized with his usual schtick.  Of course, he didn’t even ask her to go near the trailer, but instead worked on circling, squeezing and so on.  At first, the horse was very jazzed up and just couldn’t keep her feet still.  Pat had her working on letting her circle, then interrupting the pattern by asking for the hindquarters.  At one point, the horse got her foot over the rope and Pat made Tawny (the owner) stand on a tarp and try to figure out how to get the rope off the horse’s hoof without stepping off the tarp.
This was one of the aspects of this demo that made it so interesting to watch.  At first, Tawny had no clue what Pat was after, but after experimenting and trying different things, she began to figure some things out on her own.  And she finally managed to get the horse to step back over the rope.  By making her solve the puzzle and not directly telling her “do this,” he allowed her to begin developing some real savvy and solve the puzzle on her own.  Eventually, you could see the horse was beginning to calm down and think more rationally.

One of the horse’s evasions was to rear straight up into the air.  Pat would just ignore the rearing and be saying “well, get her to go forward,” or “you just need to have better hindquarter control there.”  I think Tawny was expecting Pat to DO something about the rearing and was surprised when he simply ignored it and told her she needed to get the horse softer here or to respond better there.    He said the horse needed to learn to trust Tawny more, so he worked with the green ball trying to build the horse’s confidence.  Next, he had Tawny work on circles, then turn them into half circles against the wall, then into sideways and finally a squeeze.  Pat followed this up with squeezing between barrels and then moving them closer and closer until Tawny had her jumping over the barrels.  Then he had Tawny sit on the inside barrel facing away from the fence and squeeze the horse in a jump over the barrels behind her back—that was cool.

I don’t know how long that part took, but it could have been three hours it was so fascinating to watch.  People were edging closer and closer to the fence just to get a better view.  Finally, Pat had Tawny move down and practice her squeezing against the trailer ramp.  You know the progression…squeeze between human and ramp… move closer… repeat.  Then squeeze over the ramp… put your head in… and so on.   And when the horse was right, Pat would often have Tawny drop the rope to demonstrate how much release she needed to give the horse.  Pat asked Tawny what her favorite soft drink was and offered her a Dr. Pepper as a reward once she got the horse in the trailer.  Someone brought him one and he kept taunting her with it.  Once the horse would put her front feet in, Pat had Tawny take her away from the trailer slowly and then head back quickly and ask her to go in.  After a few tries of this, the horse loaded right up and Tawny got her Dr. Pepper.

A couple of weeks ago I went riding with a friend.  It was the first time Max had ever given me any trouble with the trailer.  He walked in just fine, but wouldn’t move forward to where I could tie him up.  You could see him thinking “She’s going to take me away from the girls!”  And then, ever so slowly, he just kind of oozed back out.  I let him step out, but once out, no farther back.  You could see he was testing this new thought of his, but I had the rope doubled through one of the rings and it gave me enough purchase to stop him.  So then he came slowly forward with just his front hooves, then slowly out again.  After about three times, I think he realized that this wasn’t getting him anywhere and he gave up and loaded up.  I didn’t want my friend waiting for me, so I didn’t play with it any more then, but after the ride, he tried it again—stinker!  This time, I figured it was time to work on the forward button.  After two circles of forward, he hopped right in.  It was not nearly as exciting as Pat and Tawny’s loading, but it just shows that it really isn’t about the trailer, just not wanting to go forward or not trusting or whatever.

This was just the first day and I’m sure I left out about a thousand important details, but I’d better post this now and do the second day later.

Part 3–Still Simple?

In which we naively thought that if possession is nine tenths of the law, then 90 percent of our troubles ended when we became the proud possessors of a KX-41 excavator.  What fools we were.

The next morning, David was up bright and early and ready to begin digging ditches.  He spent a few minutes figuring out the controls, then drove the excavator off of the flatbed and over to where we wanted a ditch and started digging.  And he dug, and he dug, and he dug.  After awhile, I went down to see how he was doing.  And he hadn’t gotten very far.  So he turned off the excavator and we stood around and looked at the ditch from several different angles with our hands on our hips and discussed it for awhile and figured that “once he got out of the clay…” things would go faster.  We repeated this process several times: dig, dig, dig, discuss, discuss, look, look, look, hands on hips, discuss, “you’ll get out of the clay soon…”  Finally, it became patently obvious to both of us that David wasn’t EVER going to get out of that clay.

David dug with that excavator for 9 hours and we barely had 100 feet of ditch.  Moreover, instead of getting OUT of the clay, it was getting worse.  He finally reached a point where he would raise the bucket up, then pound it down…whump!  Into the ditch, where he would begin dragging the bucket back and the excavator went “Eraaawwwk!” (Which based on many hours of scientific research watching Jurassic Park Movies is the noise that your average T-rex makes.)  Anyway, this T-rex definitely sounded injured as he scooped the bucket along the bottom and up the leading edge of the ditch and pulled up… one teaspoon of dirt. And doing the math—letsee, feet of ditch dug divided by time, three teaspoons equals one tablespoon, carry the five, time left to complete ditches?  Somewhere between forever and infinity.  And since you rent the excavator by the number of hours on the meter, we stopped right there, rinsed off our poor injured T-rex and loaded it back on its trailer.  The only consolation was that it allowed me to say my favorite worn out movie line one more time:

“We’re gonna need a bigger boat!”

Monday morning, David hauled the KX-41 back into town.  (At least the road was finally open.)  He called later to say that he had rented the KX-91 for the following weekend and that it weighed only 7100 pounds and hopefully the flatbed could handle that.  And NOW you know why I want a flatbed trailer that can haul more weight:  David, being your basic intelligent guy, had done the math.  GVWR minus weight of trailer equaled something like 7800 pounds, so theoretically it should work right?  I, on the other hand, had done the “real world” math which involved hauling hundreds of bales of hay using the trailer and I can tell you pretty definitively that that particular trailer maxes out at somewhere around 6000 to 6500 pounds of loaded weight.  In fact, it positively creaked and groaned under the 60 bales of hay I was carrying each load.

So after all that “saving the money…being the guy…doing it ourselves…” talk, we ended up paying a boatload of money to have the KX-91 delivered, in addition to the rental fee, in addition to the money we had already spent renting the KX-41 for 9 hours.  Now I don’t have a clue how much our local backhoe guy would have charged us for the job, so maybe we saved money in the long run anyway.  I certainly DON’T plan to “do the math” on that one.  I figure I’m entitled to my little fantasy.  In the end, the KX-91 did get the job done.

Of course, the job got a little technical as we got closer to the corrals.  David realized that once he dug the ditch across the road, he couldn’t use the road or maneuver the excavator at all without falling into the ditch he had just dug, so he had to stop and lay pipe in that section, then fill it back in so that he could drive on it before proceeding into the corral area.

I wasn’t able to help because, naturally it was homecoming.  I was busy doing my part trying not to get run over by homecoming floats at halftime while simultaneously trying to keep them (the drivers of the floats) from running over any sprinkler heads or spectators or encroaching on the sacred and hallowed ground which is the football field.  After wrangling the floats onto the field, I got to sprint back to the sideline in time to organize flowers and crowns before the floats made it around the field all the time praying that none of the girls would accidentally go splat while attempting to step down from the float wearing a tight little dress and impossibly high heels.  It all went well, but you can see why it was actually a relief to return home and find the property all torn up with ditches and holes and piles of dirt all over the place.

To install the waterers, it was necessary to dig about 400 feet of ditches and two large holes.  The holes had to be deep enough to add 18 inches of gravel in addition to the 3 or more feet of waterer and about 6 feet in diameter.  One of those holes had to be long enough to install two waterers.  The main ditch came in straight from the well area to the corrals, and then we made a ditch that T’d off the end of the main ditch where the waterers would be installed.  We also dug a small side ditch in order to install spigots for both hot and cold water at the corrals.  I had rearranged the pipe corrals to give us room to work while keeping the horses safely penned up away from the ditches.

It all sounds simple until you realize that there was NO ROOM TO WORK!  You couldn’t maneuver a large piece of equipment in that small an area without hitting a pipe corral, a horse shelter, a tree or the perimeter fence.  I pitched in by helping glue some more pipe, then jumping on the tractor and filling in that section of ditch.  This involved scooping dirt off of the piles David had made in creating the ditch which were invariably under a tree or right next to the fence where you couldn’t get at them.  The most frustrating pile was located in the perfect place to simply push back into the ditch, EXCEPT I couldn’t get the tractor into position on the other side of the pile.  So first, I pecked away at the edges that I could reach until I thought I could sort of get by.  Next, I had to back over the pile since there wasn’t room to turn around on the other side.  I backed slooooowly with one tire on the ground and the other going up over the pile, tipping the tractor over at a frightening angle farther and farther and keeping the bucket down for balance until I finally got scared to go any further.  Then I gingerly hopped out of the tractor and even more gingerly dug at the pile behind the tractor tire until I was pretty sure the tractor would untip as I backed it further.  Then I ever so cautiously climbed back on the tractor and continued to back slowly until I felt safe again.  Whew!  Then I gleefully pushed the pile back into the ditch.

While I was triumphing over the giant pile of dirt, David was off digging even more ditch.  We alternated digging, gluing and filling back in for the rest of the day and well into Sunday.  (Did I mention that I “got” to chaperone the homecoming dance Saturday night too?—uggh!)  The digging got technical again where we had to join in to existing waterlines down by the well.  David seemed to be trying to answer the question “I don’t know… how many times CAN you hit the water line and break it?”  (I think the answer was four—not sure.)

But by the end of the day, we had water coming out of pipes at the corrals (intentionally), even if they (the pipes) weren’t, technically, connected to anything yet.  We had our holes and ditches dug and now all we had to do was tap into the well for the hot water line (we have a hot well), buy and install a spigot for the hot water (the old one we planned to use had given up the ghost), dig out the waterers, put landscape cloth down, put in the waterers, connect them up, cover with a protective sleeve, backfill with pea gravel, fill in the holes, fill in about 300 feet of ditch, and reassemble the corrals.  Egads!  Once again, a simple plan had gone and complicated itself while we weren’t looking.  To add to the fun, the weather guessers were predicting possible freezing temperatures later in the week and the last thing we needed was to have any of our new pipes freeze and burst!

We spent the next few nights scurrying around using shovels trying to get enough dirt over our precious new pipes to prevent freezing and trying to figure out how to get the silly waterers to work.  Remember how we stored them for about two years?  Turns out that might not have been the best idea.  Or perhaps we should have stored them in a slightly more pristine environment than a three sided shed?  Perhaps we’ll use a hermetically sealed bank vault next time!  When we removed them from their gnarled and decomposing boxes we found that the inevitable Nevada winds coupled with a less than ideal environment of desert mixed with dried out horse poop had managed to breech the boxes and infiltrate every possible nook and cranny of each device.  I hooked them up and began testing and found out that none of them worked!  We spent the next two or three nights disassembling, flushing, scrubbing, flushing some more, reassembling, redisassembling, etc… until we had them all in working order.

After that, we would put them into the ground, surround with landscape paper (to protect the drain field) put on the protective sleeve, and… oh, yes, the protective sleeve…  We had thought to buy some 18 inch PVC sewer pipe.  We needed three sections about 3 feet long each.  So David called the local plumbing supply and found that for some inexplicable reason PVC type sewer pipe is outrageously expensive.  So we got the corrugated metal kind which was about a third the price.  And I know what the horse people among you are thinking right now—EDGES!  AAARRGGHHH!  I had the same thought.  The answer was to get old tires from Schwab and slide them over the waterers to cover the edges.  But first we had to get the sewer pipe.  I honestly don’t remember why David didn’t just pick them up one day, but they were to be delivered.  There was some interesting back and forth over the phone about delivery—I think the plumbing supply company was a wee bit confused about our actual location in relation to the rest of the Planet Earth.  In the end, I came home one day to find three nicely cut sections of sewer pipe sitting on a pallet all wrapped up like a Christmas basket in a straight jacket with that stretchy plastic stuff.  They were sitting in the sagebrush by the side of the road about a mile from the house.  They were, however, only about 20 yards from the Nighthawk Ln. sign, so A for effort, right?  The next night, I spent a lot of time with a grinder seeing how many shards of metal I could embed in my arms and face trying to get the edges just a little less sharp.

So the process went something like:  hook up the waterer, check to see that it works, check that it’s not leaking, check to see that it works again, level it, landscape cloth, check to see that it still works, pick up sewer pipe, put it back down and try to figure out how in the world to get it over the top of the waterer without falling into the hole, pick it back up and sort of fling it over the waterer, carefully pour bucketsful of pea gravel in between the sleeve and waterer, carefully shovel dirt into the hole to anchor the landscape paper, check level on waterer, check to see that it still works, add enough scoops of dirt to anchor the waterer, check level on waterer, get on the tractor and fill in the hole trying not to hit the waterer or the fence or any of the other waterers with either the front or back of the tractor, stop the tractor and cover the waterer with a plastic garbage bag because you forgot to, back on the tractor to finish filling the hole, check to see if the waterer works just one more time, and voila!  You’re sort of done!

Eventually, we managed to get it all done.  We still have random piles of dirt in inaccessible places that I guess I’m going to have to remove by hand at some point, but the waterers work and we now have hot and cold running water at the corrals instead of 300 feet away which nicely eliminates a lot of garden hose stress.  And almost without exception, the waterers have performed as promised.

The only exception was Max.  I came out on the first 0o morning to find Max’s water bowl full of nicely solidified ice.  Hmmm…  That’s not supposed to happen.  So the first order of business was to get it thawed out.  Oh, wait!  I now have a hot water line to the corral!  It only works when you are pumping water directly out of the hot well, so first I fired up the generator and got the well pump running.  I thawed out the bowl with running water, but it still wouldn’t drain, so we removed the top of the unit and pulled out the guts and ran hot water over the drain pipe until it thawed out too.  Then we tried to reassemble the thing and it fought back like an octopus on steroids.  The “flexible” hose they use to join the incoming water source to the valve/drainpipe assembly is about as flexible as I am after running a marathon.  We fussed and fumed and swore at it and finally got it into place, but weren’t really happy about how it had gone together.  We were so relieved, though, that we just screwed the top back down and called it good.

In the meantime, we had the well pump running to fill the water tank.  I realized that that was where the freezing problem had originated.  You see, we pump our water out of the ground manually up to a storage tank.  We originally priced a system which would run on solar power and top off the tank each day and then decided against taking out a third mortgage!  So once a week, we fire up the generator and fill the tank.  I now know that if the outside temperature decides to take an arctic plunge, I need to pump water sooner to keep the tank from getting so cold.  The warm water from the well thaws the tank (where I’ve seen up to 4 inches of ice layered on the inside during really cold snaps) and the amount of water in the tank gives it enough thermal mass to keep it from freezing back up for a few days.  Anyway, the water was so cold that when Max drank it, it couldn’t drain out fast enough to stop it from freezing.  Max also seems to like filling the bowl all the way up as he drinks, so this habit probably meant there was more water there to freeze.

Which is what caused our second problem with the waterers—Max again!  Sometime in March, I noticed that Max’s corral seemed to be pretty wet.  After a few days, we had a respectable swamp going.  I thought Max had found a new hobby—playing with the paddle and flooding the corral!  After a couple of days, I got worried about the water level in the tank and, sure enough, we were down to less than 100 gallons.  I pumped water until 11:00 that night.  So we started brainstorming ways to outsmart a water loving horse.  I e-mailed BarBarA and asked them if they had any suggestions and they sent a picture of a barrel someone had rigged up so that the horse had to put its head inside the barrel to drink out of the waterer.  Caution and claustrophobia would keep the horse from standing there with his head in a barrel holding the paddle down.  That Saturday, I dragged a plastic barrel up to the garage and cut the bottom out.  Then I threw it in the truck and hauled it down to the corral to see if the hole I was planning to cut out would seem like it would work.

When I got to the corral, Max was just finishing a drink.  He then walked away from the waterer… and it kept running… on its own… no horse required.  And as we disassembled the device for the second time, it hit us.  It wasn’t Max.  We were the ones who had screwed it up. Basically, the hose was turning in the direction opposite of the way it should turn, so was interfering with the on/off valve.  David had fought with it when he originally hooked it up, then given up when he thought it was good enough to work, but we’d made it worse when we put it back together after it froze.  We still couldn’t figure out how to win the battle of the inflexible hose short of training weasels to scamper around in there and chew through the tie wraps we needed cut.  The problem was that the tie wraps were at the bottom of the unit, 5 feet down and the whole unit was now embedded 3 feet into the ground.  Cutting the tie wraps to allow us to try and wind it the other way was the only way we could think of to fix it.  We even tried to duct tape a set of wire cutters to two broom handles–which was entertaining, but didn’t work.  Finally, David was able to use a 6 foot rock bar and a hammer and break the tie wrap connections so that we had a little better movement with the unit.

Once we had it loose, we spent about half an hour fighting with the waterer and each other trying to get it to work.  The octopus was winning!  Finally, David did this weird zen/karate kid thing where he stood and moved his hands and visualized what he needed to do, then he went over to the waterer and just spun it into place.  It was pretty cool, and the best part is that it worked.  So the bottom line is that I may want a heavier duty flatbed trailer and a bigger tractor wouldn’t go amiss, but I’m pretty good with the husband I’ve got!

Since then, the water system has worked with absolutely no problem.  After we thawed it out, we had several more really frigid mornings and it never froze again.  I suspect we’ll need to disassemble and clean the waterers once a year to keep them in good working order.  We’re getting pretty good at taking them apart now, and as long as Zen Boy is around, they should go back together nicely.  And next time we have a bad cold snap, I’ll pump water twice a week and make sure the tank stays thawed.  Now I think I’d better go give Max about a dozen cookies to make up for giving him such a bum rap!

Once again, a simple plan goes awry!

This winter was one of the iciest I can remember in the 30 years we have been here.  I finally had to strap crampons on my snow boots.  They’re the cheap 4 pronged kind that just go under the instep, but it didn’t matter.  I waltzed down to the corrals to feed horses without fear for the first time in days—maybe even weeks. The ice was that bad!  Here, we were not worrying about global warming.  Here, we were in the midst of our very own mini ice age.  With just a few notable exceptions, the temperatures hovered around the single digits to low teens at night and the mid 20’s to low 30’s during the day.  This lasted for about six weeks.  Oh, and the exceptions were when the temperatures dropped down to zero, not when it warmed up.  And it snowed.  It was not the heavy backbreaking kind of snow that you start getting sick of slogging through  after one day.  It wasn’t even deep enough to bother pulling out the tractor and plowing the road, but it was too deep to labor through every day without pulling a “poor man’s plow job” and driving a truck around the property to break trail wherever we might choose to walk.

So why complain about all of that pretty white fluffy stuff?  Because after one dazzling day, it wasn’t pretty, white, or fluffy anymore!  On those rare days when the outside temperature warmed up into the mid 30’s and the sun came out, the snow would begin to melt off.  Only, beginning is about as far as it ever got.  You see, it takes most of the day to warm up that far, and just about when things start to soften up a little bit, the sun goes down.  So, you got these little teaser patches of brown dirt showing through, but mostly what you got was ice—especially where you had already walked or packed it down with the truck.  And just about the time when you got enough brown patches of dirt showing through that you could hopscotch your way down to feed the horses and avoid maybe half of the ice, it snowed and the cycle started all over again. Only now there was ice hiding under fresh snow just waiting to catch you unawares!

Then finally, the cold spell broke!… sort of…  The week started with 6” of snow on Sunday morning.  Then on Wednesday, we had “The Big Melt” where it warmed up to the high 40’s, turning the roads into an intricate river system, my corrals into the “Great Horse Poop Lakes” and everything else into an Okeefenokee style bog.  And then the sun went down.  And we had own our very own ice skating rink!  Ergo crampons.

And yet, there was a silver lining.  Every day when I went down to feed the horses, no matter what the temperature was (we saw 0o several times), my horses had water.   Not the solid crunchy kind, mind you, but the clear, wonderful liquid kind of water we only used to dream about in cold snaps like this.  And how did this come about?


I blame RFDTV really.  I had RFDTV once.  That was back before we decided we were too cheap to pay for satellite TV because you have a hundred channels and there is STILL NOTHING ON!  We got the channel package that included RFD-TV because the latent horse crazy girl inside of me insisted.  I have a rule about horse programs:  If it has horses in it, I will watch it.  I may point and laugh at the screen.  I may yell and scream at the totally clueless people in the show who are putting glitter on their horses’ butts or making kissing noises so often that even the dog starts howling.  I may even write angry letters to the powers that be, but I will watch it.  I even watch the commercials because they have horses in them (which makes bathroom breaks kind of tough!).  Most of them have crazy claims, like “if you feed your horse Vitamin X—the only horse vitamin you will ever need—it will be able to jump 8 foot fences and win the Kentucky Derby!”  But the craziest, absolutely far-outest commercial I saw was for a watering device that required no power and would not freeze.  I would sooner believe in Vitamin X!

But, alas, we ditched satellite.  Even now, my horse crazy inner girl really misses RFDTV.  She would be willing to pay $60.00 per month just to have that one channel, but I have had to tell her no.  She was not happy.   Eventually, to appease her, I went to the web page of the horse waterers (Bar Bar A is the name brand) to find out the true story.  What I found out is that—unlike Vitamin X—these watering devices are a truly ingenious invention.  Basically, they consist of a 5 foot pipe that you bury 3 or so feet of in the ground. The valves and guts and important things are at the bottom of the pipe, so once they are buried, they are 3 feet underground; hence, they don’t freeze!  The horse pushes on a paddle to get the water to fill the bowl to drink.  When the horse finishes, the excess water drains back out of the bowl and out the bottom of the pipe… three feet underground.  It’s a brilliant idea really—no standing water, so no freezing in winter and no mosquitoes in summer.  It also requires no power to run a heater.  What could be simpler?  (Can you hear me sniggering?)

So I bought 3, which costs roughly about 3 years worth of RFDTV, but it would be worth it, right?  The plan was to hire “the guy” to come out with a backhoe and dig ditches for the water lines, slap a bunch of PVC together, and voila!  Piece of pie!  Simple as cake!  Only about that time I lost my horse to colic which turns out to cost a ridiculously spectacular amount of money, so the backhoe had to wait.  And wait it did.  Next, the batteries in our power system died which turned out to cost a STUPENDOUSLY, ridiculously spectacular amount of money—yeouch!  Suddenly, the water lines were so far down the list of priorities that we barely remembered the project.  Occasionally, one of us would vaguely mention that we ought to put those waterers in, but then our conversation would just sort of taper off into indistinct mumbling and we would forget about it for another few months.  The waterers themselves sat languishing in a shed in their original cardboard boxes, which slowly began to decompose so that it looked like we were conducting some sort of lame experiment on how many years cardboard can last.

Until this year that is.  This year, the stars all lined up and the good fairy of horse projects waved her little wand and I stopped mumbling and stated boldly for all to hear that “I’m gonna call the guy.”  Only, David wouldn’t hear of calling “the guy.”  Being a guy himself, he has this theory that all it takes to be “the guy” and not just “some guy” is the right piece of heavy equipment.  (More sniggering?  Ladies! Get your minds out of the gutter.)  David’s theory is why pay “the guy” when you can rent the right piece of heavy equipment and be your own guy and save money.  Besides, that way he gets to dig in the dirt, which (pay attention ladies) is apparently a very powerful guy fantasy that starts when they are 3 and begin digging massive trench warfare layouts in the backyard for those little plastic soldiers and ends, well… never.

This thrifty be-your-own-guy plan depended heavily on our ability to haul said piece of equipment the 30 miles from the rental place ourselves using a flatbed trailer.  Fortunately, we have access to a flatbed trailer that we can borrow from David’s generous Aunt and Uncle in Reno.  A side note about flatbed trailers:  This may be the single most useful piece of equipment after your basic tractor—possibly, even more useful since you can use it to haul the tractor to other places thus rendering IT (the tractor) even more useful.  Naturally, after borrowing one for most of last year, I want one of my own.  Only I want a bigger one that can haul even more weight!  (Does this surprise anyone?)  So step one was: pick up the trailer.  Step two was: take it back because David’s cousin suddenly needed it.  Did anybody catch the foreshadowing there?  We didn’t either!  We just blithely picked the trailer back up after they were done figuring “what could be more simple!”

But it was summer, and I was so busy doing my usual summer activities and hauling loads of hay (on the trailer) and rebuilding my hay barn and attending math conferences and sailing with David, that we could never seem to find a weekend to rent the excavator that we wanted to use.  We finally found a weekend in September that would work.  The plan was for me to drive the truck, hauling the trailer, to work on Friday and drive into Gardnerville after work to pick up the excavator.  We would use it all weekend, then David would return it Monday morning on his way to work.  There is no rocket science operating here, right?  Simple plan? The only thing operating here was fate.  I’m not only starting to believe in fate, I have begun to become very superstitious after some of the strangely coincidental events we have been through.  I believe that Loki is more than just a character in the Avengers movie and on this particular day, he was rolling his dice or throwing darts at a board or whatever he does to decide what mischief to cause whenever he gets bored, and the dart landed smack on the road between me and the excavator.

We got word at school around 2:00 that there might be a problem.  There was a fire and the road was currently closed.   After a few phone calls to the Sheriff’s office and the fire information people, we confirmed that the road would be closed for at least a few hours.  The alternatives were drive out through Yerington and back in from the east—a dramatically long detour that would add more than 100 miles to the trip.  Or… drive over Monitor Pass which would only add about 20 minutes, but would involve hauling a rather largish flatbed trailer over a steep pass on a narrow winding two-lane road.  Not great alternatives, but I simply wouldn’t make it to the rental place before closing if I went the long way so it was off to the pass.  Along with everyone else on the planet!

You see, all of the 395 traffic was being routed over Monitor Pass, so there we all were—cars galore, motor homes, flatbed trailers, 18 wheelers, covered wagons—you name it, it was up there!  The first thing that happened as we were waiting to turn left off of 395 is that a motor home coming down the last little narrow canyon lost its brakes.  I was fortunate to be stuck in the left turn lane, but two of my friends had made the turn ahead of me and one nearly got hit by the guy.  She said he passed so close, she could see the look of abject terror on his face.  Amazingly, he managed to thread his way through the mess of cars, cross the oncoming lane without hitting anyone and pull off onto a large dirt area where he was able to stop about 10 feet before the highway.  As I finally made the turn onto Monitor Pass Road, I couldn’t help but wonder what other disasters might be waiting for us.

And I was right to be concerned about hauling the flatbed over that road.  The trailer is at least a foot wider than the truck, so I had to pay careful attention to its position in the lane.  On the left hand turns, it had a tendency to wander over into the oncoming lane, which I’m sure provided thrills for one or two oncoming drivers.  It was certainly more exciting than I was hoping for when I had to pass oncoming trucks and motor homes.  On the right hand curves, it had a tendency to want to go off the edge of the pavement.  This would not have been such a big deal if the edge of the pavement had been in good shape.  It wasn’t.  I think I had the whole shebang airborne a couple of times after hitting potholes or spots where the pavement had crumbled away.  But I made it into town in time to pick up the precious excavator.  I was all ready to head home!  Except the road was still closed.

So David (who had joined me on his way home from work) and I went out for pizza and hoped they would open the road.  They didn’t.  So now I had to make the same decision, only now instead of hauling an empty 2200 pound flatbed trailer over a steep, winding, narrow road, I was hauling about 6000 pounds of trailer plus excavator.  The prospect was scary, but I knew the truck could do it—after all, there was a reason I insisted on that Allison transmission, and 100 miles through Yerington still sounded like 100 miles.  The question was could I do it?  Have I mentioned that I’m afraid of heights?  Yep, don’t like those drop-offs.  I could have wimped out and traded David for the Camry, but I don’t like to wimp out.  Every time I wimp out, next time is tougher.  So I went for it.

And it was fine.  Well, it was almost fine.  The trip up was uneventful and the traffic had really thinned out, thankfully, but as we headed down the ski slope that is the east side of the pass, I caught up to another truck hauling a utility type trailer.  He obviously did not have an Allison transmission.  I was discovering that third gear would hold the truck and trailer at a very nice speed of around 35 miles per hour with only the occasional use of the brakes.  As soon as I hit the downgrade, I fiddled with the trailer brakes and found the sweet spot where the trailer wouldn’t grab the truck or push it either.  Not so this fellow in front of me.  He was apparently of the opinion that one uses the trailer brakes to slow the entire rig!  I started smelling this horrible burnt brake shoe odor and got a little panicky wondering if it was me.  How could my brakes be burning?  I was barely using them!  Then I caught up to him.  Corner after corner, I watched acrid white smoke boil out of his trailer brakes.  I mean, I’ve never seen anything like it and wouldn’t have been surprised to see flames shooting out of the trailer wheels. Thinking of the motor home, I started to worry that he would lose his brakes.  I thought to myself “jeez, if I watch this guy go over the edge, I’ll never be able to drive again!”

Finally, I shifted into second and putzed along at about 25.  I figured I’d give him time to get a few turns ahead of me and then I could stop cringing every time I saw the cloud of white smoke. And if he went over the edge, well, at least I wouldn’t see it.  I can’t imagine he got to the bottom without doing lasting damage to his brake system.  I never did see him after that because I pulled over when I finally got to the bottom of the drop-off section.  I really had to pee and there’s just no bleeding place to pull off with a truck and trailer where a girl can rush off and hide discreetly in the bushes anywhere along that road. I’d been waiting for this perfect little wooded spot with a long pull-out for about 20 miles.  Too much root beer with our pizza dinner!

Anyway, we made it home, complete with truck, trailer, excavator and my fragile panic disorder all intact.  I was tickled pink that the truck did so well.  I would not even have made the attempt in my old truck!  Thinking that we had thwarted Loki, we happily went to bed knowing that in two days of hard work we would have ourselves a new water system.  Yeah, you know that didn’t go exactly as planned…

We had a simple plan…

We had a simple plan.  We always think we have a simple plan.  We should know better.

Not all of our plans are simple, but we tend to get around to tackling the simple ones first because they seem so… well… simple.  Once begun, though, our plans seem to fall prey to whatever the opposite of entropy happens to be called—disentropy, antientropy, unentropy.

You know about entropy.  That’s the principal that says things tend to devolve into their simplest form over time.  It’s the principle that disproves the theory that if you give enough monkeys access to enough typewriters for enough time, eventually, they’ll write the complete works of Shakespeare.  Wrong, wrong, wrong!  Instead, the monkeys will find that flinging typewriters full of poo is much more entertaining than just flinging poo and they won’t type anything at all.  That’s entropy!  Another way to say it is:  we all rot.  Left to its own devices, nothing gets more complex over time.

Our plans, on the other hand, given enough time, tend to become infinitely more complex than we can possibly imagine.  (Or is that Obi-Wan Kenobi if Darth Vader kills him—I can never remember…)

I think I’ll call it Murphentropy!  That makes it the subclause of Murphy’s law that states that there is no such thing as a simple plan—only people foolish enough to believe they have one.

And I know it’s true, because it once took us two years to rebuild a bathroom.  What happened was, we went to a local home improvement store which happened to be going out of business and we found a corner shower stall.  And we thought, “hmmm… that corner shower stall would fit into that our teeny broom closet of a master bathroom, and then we’d have another shower we could use, and (everybody say this together): It will increase the value of our house!”  Uh-huh.  Only the corner stall wouldn’t fit in the bathroom with the existing vanity.  If only we could find a pedestal sink.  We kept on browsing and, lo and behold, we found one.  All we needed now was a new toilet—white, thank you—please God, don’t make us put the harvest gold one back in.  Soon, we found ourselves a white toilet, and it was all on sale, and all we had to do was rip out the old bathroom and install our new booty and our lives would be complete!


Have you ever tried to install a shower stall in a bathroom that doesn’t have an existing shower?  It’s not as easy as it sounds.  You see, your standard shower consists of “pipes” which make “water” come “out” when you try to take a shower.  Because our bathroom didn’t have an existing shower, there were no “pipes” and hence, no “water.”  The thought of standing around naked in a shower stall with no water seemed somehow inefficient to us in terms of getting clean, so we knew we needed pipes.  Only, to install pipes, you first have to perform a complex ritual involving seven plumbers and an African witch doctor dancing around a bonfire on the summer solstice offering prayers to Goombar, the god of bathroom plumbing.  If Goombar is pleased, you are allowed to install your pipes.  Apparently, we pissed Goombar off.

So what happened first was:  I hired a plumber.  I foolishly, naively, stupidly, hired a plumber.  The plumber came out and crawled under the house and made lots of important plumbing sounds by essentially banging randomly on any pipes he could find.  Then he cut out enormous hunks of wall board and sautered some new random pipes onto our existing random pipes and then presented me a bill for approximately half the national debt.  At this point, I foolishly, naively and stupidly believed that the plumbing was finished and we could install the new bathroom.  I believed that right up until David came home from work and laid eyes on our new pipes and declared them “all wrong!”

Now I know what you are thinking.  David is a computer guy, while the plumber is… well… a plumber.  So wouldn’t the plumber be far more qualified to get the job “all right,” than David would be to declare it “all wrong?”  I indulged in this sort of thinking as well—for about twelve seconds.  Then I realized that A. I have to live with David, while B. I do not have to live with the plumber.  So naturally I sided with David.  Unfortunately, by declaring the plumbing “all wrong,” it was now incumbent upon David to make it right.  And David didn’t seem to be in any big hurry.  Mostly, he seemed to be considering what he was going to do—you know—while he was watching TV or we were camping in Death Valley.  Maybe he was sneaking out every full moon and doing dances to try and get back into Goombar’s good graces.  All I know is that we had this empty little cave where our bathroom used to be and we had a bunch of unopened boxes containing a new bathroom taking up space in the shop and that was the state of affairs for a good looooong time.

So what finally happened was… we invited my parents up for Christmas.  Or was it Thanksgiving?  I can’t remember, but the end result was the same.  The thought of having to share a bathroom with my parents for up to a week was horrifying enough to motivate David to fix whatever it was he didn’t like about the pipes so that the bathroom could proceed.

This necessitated a rather comical scenario wherein David’s father came over and spent an entire day crawling around under the house banging on pipes in a vaguely plumberish way and attempting to carry on a conversation with David (who was in the house) that went something like this:

David:  “Can you find the hot water pipe?”

Dad:  “Mmmff mmmff mfff…”

David:  “What?”

Dad:  “Mmmff mmmff mfff…” (louder this time)

David:  “No!  Not that one, it’s the other one!”

Dad:  “Mmmff mmfff?”

David runs outside and crawls under the house.

Sounds of banging on pipes.

Sounds of muffled conversation.

More banging on pipes.  (Goombar likes it when you bang on the pipes a lot.)

Then David would reappear in the house and yell, “Okay, you have the hot water line?”

And dad would yell “Mmmff mmmff mfff…”

This went on for most of the day.  They were probably not as efficient as the plumber, but they made up for it by being far more entertaining and much cheaper.  In the end, I think it cost me a couple of sandwiches and some soda for lunch.  The toughest part was the physical discomfort of having to stifle all of my snorks and giggles whenever one of them was near enough to be offended by my mirth.  And in the end, they fixed whatever was “all wrong.”  Or perhaps they just banged on pipes in a manly fashion and didn’t change anything and just never admitted it.   All I know that when we finally got around to hooking up the shower, water did come out when you pulled the little handle—take THAT Goombar!

The part of the project that turned out to be the most difficult was actually the linoleum.  It turns out that your bathroom floor is glued on… with real glue!  (Who knew?!)  That means that if you put the glue down and then you put the floor down on it and you screw it up?  There’s no backsies.   You have to rip the whole thing out and go buy new linoleum and start all over again or you have to immediately sell the house to unsuspecting buyers.  If it hadn’t been for the fact that the bathroom was roughly the size of your average postage stamp (if you cut it in half), we might have been intimidated by the prospect of putting down a floor and hired somebody to do it.  As it turned out, we did just fine once we got brave enough to try.

You would think that this project would have turned us off to rebuilding bathrooms, but it wasn’t that long before we actually did it again!  The root of the problem was that we purchased a house that had been built in the early 80’s, but apparently, the people who built the house had really, really fond memories of the 70’s.  The carpet was avocado green.  One bathroom and parts of the kitchen were harvest gold (the kitchen counters were actually the kind with gold flakes embedded in them) and the other bathroom was baby blue.  The overall effect was to scream “POLYESTER PANTSUIT!”  If Donna Summer had dropped in, she would have immediately begun looking for the disco ball.  So it was either start listening to the Bee Gees again or start working on the house.

Ironically, the second bathroom turned out to be far more technical than the first.  That’s because this time we (again foolishly) went from a shower stall to a tub and shower combo and the bathroom wasn’t, technically, large enough for the tub.  In addition, the old shower had leaked down through the subfloor and we were afraid we would have to replace the joist and THEN when we went to replace the wallboard, we found out that we were the proud owners of “The Amazing Sort-Of Trapezoidal Bathroom.”  Which shouldn’t have surprised us because when we tore out the old dry-wall, we found an empty beer can inside.  And the piece de resistance (literal translation: stupidest thing we did) was that we installed a pocket door in the new bathroom which was so daunting a task that even the linoleum had no power to frighten us this time around.

This time, though, we were at least smart enough to know that it wouldn’t be a simple project, so naturally, we finished the second bathroom in only six months.  Maybe that’s because we had learned a valuable lesson when we rebuilt the first bathroom—invite your parents to spend Christmas sooner this time!  (I think I was actually adding the last coat of paint the day before my parents arrived.)

And of course, all this was by way of introduction to our latest “simple plan,” affectionately known as “the water project from hell.”  But now that’s going to have to wait for another day!

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!

Enter, the wilderness

The other night I looked up from my reading and spotted an ant walking around my living room.  This event is not completely unusual, as we’ve been finding these ants wandering around the house for the last month or so.  They’re not the red kind that bite—they are sort of red and black mixed and about twice as large as the red ones.  They seem to have an affinity for my bathroom for some reason.  It always makes me kind of sad, though, knowing that they will wander aimlessly in their little DNA programmed search for food and, not finding anything interesting, die of old age lost in the carpeted wilderness.  Unless they meet THE SHOE, natch…

And since we couldn’t figure out how they were making it in to the house in the first place, it was kind of hard to plug up the hole.  Of course, there was always the danger that one of the little buggers would actually find his/(hers/its?) way back out to the nest with a stray grain of rice and announce to the whole world that there is FOOD TO BE HAD! in this direction, but the chances were pretty slim.  However, ants also leave trails so that others can follow, so I knew that my little Lewis and Clarks were merely the tip of the exploration iceberg and that, sooner or later, the inevitable “westward migration” would occur.  So I figured I should probably get around to putting out some ant bait.  You know—when I got around to it.  Pretty sure I spotted it in the horse trailer a month or so back…  Ummm… what was I saying?

Now I realize that there are some of you who are perfectly happy to live with the “wilderness” when the wilderness chooses to live with you.  I am not of that opinion.  I do not like to share my little domain with critters that:

a.  eat my food

b.  don’t clean up their own messes

c.  carry diseases that could possibly kill me

d.  might bite me

e.  refuse to curl up on my lap and purr while watching TV or chase tennis balls and worship me

And while I know my friend, Carly, would probably gladly die of Hantavirus rather than kill a mouse, I would not.  I think of it this way:  David and I own approximately 100 acres here.  Our house takes up approximately one twentieth of an acre.  This leaves 99 19/20 of an acre for the critters!  That’s 99.95 acres for the fractionally challenged among you who are still reading even after encountering a fraction (bravo for you!).  The others, of course, ran screaming from the room at the first hint of fractionage and are hiding in a darkened closet right now, shivering in terror.

I still hate to poison the ants, so I put this event off as long as possible in the hopes that they would magically just go away.  But they were bad ants.  They told their friends who told their friends and suddenly it was PAR-TAY!!!  I, of course, was oblivious.  I spotted the one ant and ignored it.  Then I spotted a second and a third ant a few minutes later and ignored them.  After the fourth or fifth ant, I got wise and started turning on lights and really looking.  They were everywhere!  This explains why, if my neighbors were nosy enough, and if they had a night spotting scope, they would have seen me hightailing it down to the horse trailer at 10 o’clock at night in my pajamas to dig out the ant poison.

Interestingly enough, when I went outside, they were swarming all over the ground out there also.  Must have been The Night of the Ants.  I was very disappointed, though.  I listened really close, but I couldn’t hear them singing.  You know?  “The ants go marching two by two.  Hurrah! Hurrah!” Apparently, that is merely a myth perpetrated by summer camps and scout troops.  My childhood unravels…

The one plus is that I was able to follow the trail back and find their access hole—under the front door.  So I stuffed a rag in the corner of the door.  Someday, I will probably strategically locate some weather stripping to block this hole.  Someday.  In reality, 20 years from now, there will still probably be a rag shut in the corner of the front door.  If you ever visit me, look for it there.

But the ants haven’t been our only invaders lately.  A couple of weeks ago, we were driving to town and stopped at the Lodge for some reason.  As we sat there, we both noticed that we could smell barbecue.  Yum!  It never occurred to us to wonder why the Lodge might be barbecuing at 6:30 AM.  We noticed it again when we stopped at a stoplight in town.  Wow!  One of these restaurants must be barbecuing also—must be national barbecue week or something.  And it STILL did not occur to us that 7 AM might be a wee bit early in the morning for pork ribs.  It did at the third stoplight.  It finally penetrated our fuzzy brains that WE were the barbecue!

So we stopped and opened the hood and found a veritable beaver dam in the front of our engine—a smoldering beaver dam!

We disassembled half the engine and cleared out the beaver dam and figured it must have been a pack rat since some of the sticks would have challenged your average mouse.  (Or maybe the mice have gotten a hold of a stash of steroids.)  And in our usual fashion, we ignored it after that.  Until David noticed the lovely barbecue smell again the next day on the way to work.  He figured we had missed a few sticks only to find a new and freshly built beaver dam under the hood.  This went on three days running.  And so it was war!  Again, I absolutely despise killing critters if I can possibly avoid it, but I have to draw the line somewhere.  I’d like to think that line is somewhere this side of my car bursting into flames as I drive into town!

We didn’t have any traps big enough to catch a pack rat, so we decided to use bait.  I popped the hood on the 4runner to find a lovely nest made out of insulation scavenged from under my hood sitting right on top of the engine.  So I cleared the nest out and replaced it with a bait tray.  Our new truck didn’t have any obvious nests, but the insulation had also been chewed on, so it got a bait tray also, as did the Camry.  This explains why there is a post-it note on the back door stating emphatically REMOVE MOUSE BAIT!  Look for that on your visit as well.

The next morning, all of the bait was gone and there were new nests in the vehicles.  Huh?  Apparently, (according to the label) this poison could take a few days to work, adding heavily to my already huge load of guilt over our terrible treatment of the wildlife.  This went on about three days running—bait gone—new nests.  Then David thought to disassemble the Camry’s air intake because we have found nests there in the past, and what did he find?  That’s right!  Most of the bait.  Apparently, the little blighters thought they’d stash a bunch of it in there for later—either that or they are hoping to kill us with the fumes from the mouse bait because they weren’t successful in their first attempt at catching the car on fire.  My friend Carly would be cheering for the mice and/or pack rats at this point if she wasn’t still shivering in the closet over the fraction.  However, tragically, for the mice or pack rats, they snacked a bit as they were stashing and in a few more days, we finally managed to claim the exclusive use of our vehicles once again.

I guess it’s one of those inevitable struggles of rural living.  After all, it was their home before it became ours.  On the other hand, I strongly suspect that the critter load on our 100 acres was not nearly as high as it is now that we’ve come along and provided food (hay) and water.  In fact, I would venture to guess that the critters are quite far ahead of the game here.  They even have their own water with a stick strategically placed so that they can climb out of it if they fall in.  I got tired of fishing dead rabbits, squirrels and mice out of my horse troughs and dog water dishes.  And if you examine the hay in my stack, you can see the places where the rabbits have chewed away at the bottom bales for the last year or so.   I’d love to hear them discussing this year’s crop.  “Do you think she’ll buy us any alfalfa this year?”  (Maybe they’d like some Trix.)

A few years ago, I declared war on the ground squirrels.  They have an exasperating habit of placing their holes right next to the foundations of my horse stalls.  They actually came up right in the middle of Dolly’s stall, but the mat was so heavy, they couldn’t work their way out from under it and gave up—and left a giant hole in the middle of the stall!  You don’t see it under the mat, but it is a booby trap awaiting the unsuspecting visitor.  We have this big juniper tree next to the arena and the squirrels spend all summer stripping it of berries and, presumably, storing them underground somewhere.  Either that, or somewhere on my property, there is a ground squirrel run gin factory that I have never stumbled upon.  Each time I walk by the tree no less than 8-10 squirrels bail out —another 8-10 of them don’t bother to bail—they just stay perched up there looking like live Christmas ornaments and laughing at me!

Anyway, my plan of combat was to get a couple of feral cats.  Their names were Romeo and Juliet.  I know—awwwww…  Romeo, apparently, had been handled as a kitten and was pretty friendly while Juliet was wild as a march hare.  They set up shop in the rafters of our tractor shed and I kept food and water for them in my little stack yard where they could be safe to eat.  They were cute and entertaining and I was even able to get Juliet to be near me, even if I couldn’t ever touch her.  And they did their job, which was to keep down the squirrel population.  They also kept down the lizard population, the rabbit population, the snake population, the mouse population, the bird population, and the pack rat population.  I wasn’t so thrilled about losing ALL of my critters, but figured the trade was worth it if I didn’t have to do combat with the packrats and mice for the vehicles or worry about breaking a leg in one of my stalls.  Unfortunately, the tale of Romeo and Juliet—cat version—also ended tragically.  I had had them a little over a year when the coyotes got them both.  I wasn’t entirely surprised that they got Romeo because he was a bit laid back.  I suspect that Juliet went off looking for her Romeo because she disappeared the day after he did—very Shakespeare!

Anyway, since then, the critter populations have all bounced back tremendously.  I currently frighten away no less than 4-6 rabbits almost every time I feed—and those are the ones hanging out in the stack yard.  They are all over the property.  You can see them hopping and bouncing and just generally frolicking about everywhere.  I feel a little like Lady Tottington in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.  Where are Wallace and Gromit with a giant vacuum when I need them?  There are also birds nesting in the rafters of the tractor shed now, lizards skittering around the back porch and we even found a rather somnolent and angry snake in the tractor shed the other day with a mouse sized lump in its belly.  So it’s all good, except for the poor cats.  I don’t plan to get anymore any time soon—I have made my peace with the squirrels (for the most part).  They coyotes are still around also—naturally, they are pleased with the smorgasbord I have provided them.

I’ve been thinking about rigging up one of my barrels as the ultimate humane mouse trap.  Put one of those humane one way live traps through a hole and seal it up really well so mice could get in, but not back out.  If I used a large enough trap, I could probably even catch pack rats.  I’d set it up on the driveway where we park the cars.  I could give them food and water through the top of the barrel and when I had enough in there, I could transport them elsewhere and release them.  Perhaps my crazy neighbor Tom is feeling lonely…

And your skin will be nice and soft…

I love Horse Expo.  The trick is avoiding the hand lotion people.  They always seem to strategically locate their booths close to a critical stairway or doorway so that they can ambush innocent browsers as they wander on by.  There were at least four of these booths this year displaying varying degrees of aggressive tendencies.  One of them snatched me before I could flee.

“Now, I’m going to rub some of this in.  How does it feel?”

“Um…like you just put some lotion on me.”

“Compare it to the other arm!”

“Yeah, that one doesn’t look like it has any lotion on it…”

I’ll admit it—I’m a tough sell.

It was only $40—for a $120 value!  But only this weekend at the Horse Expo!  Did she mention that they use only the finest Aloe Vera?  Did I know how many species of Aloe Vera there are?  Many of those other brands use the WRONG species, a sub-standard species, but this one only used the finest, hospital grade species of Aloe Vera!

Does it come with a set of knives?  Hmmm…

The gourmet food vendors are much more fun because they give you free samples.  I was introduced to one of my favorite barbecue sauce vendors, Wild Rooster, at Expo some years ago.  Once that sauce ran out, we went to their website,, and ordered more—I love the information age!  They came in real handy this year when David’s cousin re-married.  What do you give to the bride and groom who already possess, not one, but TWO complete households worth of stuff?  How about a Wild Rooster gift basket?  They loved it.

Wild Rooster wasn’t there this year, but there was the gourmet vinegar booth.  Holy Mackerel!  I’ve never tasted vinegar that good!  Their aged Balsamic was thick and sweet enough to use as pancake syrup.  Of course, it was only $30 a bottle.  Thing is—(unlike the hand cream) it was probably worth $30 a bottle!  And there was no hard sell.  They just figured that if you could afford the $400 pair of riding boots in the booth next door, $30 for a bottle of vinegar would be chump change.

Ah, yes…but you’re wondering…isn’t this a, you know, HORSE, Expo?  They can’t call it an horse orgy because of the obvious connotations, but that’s pretty much what it is!  I love that people just all mix together at Expo.  It’s just this big mish-mash, hodge-podge of every possible discipline and breed out there.  You never know who you will find yourself next to or what discipline they might do, so everybody is friendly and gets along happily.  (Of course, what they say when they get home is another story.)  But you can find booths and products and demos that run the entire gamut of horse breeds, disciplines and endeavors.  You can walk through the barns and see everything from Miniature Horses to Drafts, with a little bit of everything in between.  You can watch demonstrations on how to ride, how to ride this particular horse, how to ride this particular horse over fences and how to ride this particular horse over fences in the exciting new sport of…

The only hitch is that you can’t see it all.  There are three arenas along with several lecture areas and demos run concurrently.  Last year, I discovered a new and different way to attend the Expo when I accidentally found the link for volunteering on their web page.  What do you get for volunteering?  Free admission to the Expo, plus (and this is the biggie) free parking.  In exchange, you work two 8 hour shifts.  So not only did I have to choose from overlapping demo’s and lectures, I had to miss whatever overlapped with my shifts.  This year, I got smart and said I’d help set up Thursday, so only one of my shifts impinged on my demo-viewing/bargain-shopping time.  Set-up Thursday consisted mainly of hanging banners around the arena fences (I always thought they just lived there) and posting various signs all over the place.  After setting up for Parelli events, I felt kind of guilty about how simple it was to set up for the Expo.

This year’s big name presenters were Chris Cox and Lynn Palm.  Unfortunately, I only caught a few minutes of Chris Cox and none of Lynn Palm, so I can’t really comment on them.  I’m more interested in seeing the folks I’ve never heard of or the folks I’ve only sort of heard of anyway.

Some highlights:

There’s was a guy, Steve Rother (, there who is from Washington State.   I didn’t see any of his demo’s, but I got by his booth and he had all of the requisite equipment and  DVD sets for sale.  He also has an “Excel With Horses” club and some sort of levels program.  There is nothing on his web page about who he trained with or how he developed his methods, but it appears eerily similar to Parelli or Jonathan Field.  (Maybe, like Field, he is another Parelli spin-off?)  Might be worth looking into if you live in Washington as it appears he does most of his clinics in that area (he even has a ranch you can go ride at).

The Driving Darby was a really fun event to watch.  I got to watch the “High Speed Cones” class—very exciting.  As I recall, they drove 4 wheeled carts with either one or two horses in harness.  The course was very twisty/windy and complicated.  There were two people on the cart.  The driver (obviously) and the “other guy” who is in no way shape or form to be confused with a passenger.  This second person is called the “groom,” but again should not be confused with a person who might actually wield a currycomb.  Instead, he/she operates, basically, as moving ballast to keep the cart from overturning on the tight turns.  Since there are many turns, in both directions, and they take place at speed, this person is in constant motion back and forth at the back of the cart, first leaning way out of the back on one side, then leaping over to hang out the other side for the next turn. In order to fulfill this position properly, it appears that you need to have the athletic skills of your average monkey.  It was almost as much fun watching “the ballast” as it was watching the horses and driver.

I caught part of the finals for Project Cowgirl.  I wasn’t that impressed.  The final was a sort of freestyle event done to music, wearing costumes, and displaying each contestant’s various talents.  Maggie Metzger could have kicked every one of their a**es with her little boy Reno hands down without ever getting in the saddle.  Maybe the rest of the competition was more serious.

Watched a bit of Bernie Traurig’s ( jumping demo.  It was very good.  I would take a lesson with him…if I had a jillion dollars and wanted to get into jumping again.  The demo horses he had were spectacular, but it looked a long way down.

Enjoyed watching Peggy Cummings.  She was there in 2007, but somehow I didn’t catch much of her demos then.  She is a spin-off of Sally Swift.  I went out of my way to watch her demos and lectures and went by her booth for a 10 minute “mini-lesson” with one of her instructors.  It will stand me in good stead if I ever need to go riding on a wooden saddle stand!  Okay, just kidding there.  I was impressed!  I bought her book and am hoping to at least audit an upcoming clinic.  She is in Oregon, but has quite a few “certified” instructors who do clinics and lessons around the country.  If you’re at all familiar with Centered Riding, it is mainly about rider bio-mechanics.  She really got me in the first demo I watched when she stated that a rider needs to pay about 75% attention to their own position and effect on the horse and only about 25% to the horse, to improve the overall picture.  Oh, you mean it’s always my fault when my horse screws up?

Eitan Beth-Halechmy was there discussing the new sport of Cowboy Dressage (  I got a giggle out of the students he had there.  If you are thinking to save money over all of the high priced equipment standard in regular dressage, you will be sorely disappointed—these girls had some really nice rigs (with some really nice price tags to be sure)!   I was impressed with his discussion of the development of tests for the sport.  He really wants to ensure that the tests are written in a way that supports the development of the horse to its highest level—without, hopefully, the sport becoming bastardized into one where it only about winning, and/or folks begin touting unethical or abusive methods similar to Rollkur that force the horse into a frame.

Most interesting “new face” for me was Garrick Pasini (  He specializes in hackamore training.  I didn’t get to see him ride, but I attended a very interesting lecture he did on the role of the bosal, what to look for in a bosal, workmanship, construction and uses.  He’s up in Janesville, so I’ll probably try to audit a clinic sometime.

By far the best lecture I attended was given by David Bodin ( AKA “The Horse Trailer Guru.”  I saw him last year and his lectures alone are worth the price of admission AND parking!  In this lecture, he talked about the safety systems in your horse trailer, how to maintain them, and some other maintenance and safety issues.  I was typing notes into my phone as fast as I could.  Some things he suggested were to get a strobe—he had a marine strobe (UST LED rescue strobe)—and to carry it on your person anytime you have to be out of your vehicle at night with a trailer issue.  You can also place it in a visible location on the horse trailer while waiting for a tow or law enforcement.  He said you should get about 3 of those reflective triangles to place along the road to alert drivers, but that they often ignore reflective devices while almost all drivers will notice and respect some sort of strobe device.

You know that little battery on the front of your trailer?  He says you should remove that once a year and have it tested to see if it has a proper charge.  He says you should also pull the pin to test to see if the brake system is actually working.  You can have somebody listen to hear if the brakes engage.  You can really extend the life of this battery if you get some sort of maintainer or charge controller that will fit in the box with it.  He says cops in Washington (where he lives) are pulling people over for things like a taillight out, then testing this battery and system to see if it works.   If it doesn’t, not only do you get a big, fat ticket, but you aren’t allowed to tow your trailer away from the traffic stop.  You must find someone else to haul your horses and the tow company must put your trailer up on top of a car hauler.  The irony is that when your friend shows up to pick up the horses, his/her trailer will also be checked, so if you can’t be bothered to maintain your own trailer, at least choose friends who can!

If you are buying a new horse trailer, you should definitely contact this guy to pick his brain about what to buy.  He has been repairing horse trailers in his business for many years and knows exactly what parts fail and what problems to avoid.  He says that they are often using substandard parts from third world countries.  He was especially hard on wheel bearings—said you should have these replaced within the first year of trailer life and upgrade to good quality bearings.  He also says they are building the new trailers with 3500 pound axles to give them a weight rating of 7000 pounds.  If you think about the weight of the trailer (usually 3000-4000 pounds) and the weight of two horses (let’s say 2000 pounds) and the weight of all of your tack and maybe a water tank or bags or bales of feed, you can quickly max out or exceed your trailer’s weight rating.  He says they used to make trailers with heavier axles, but have gone to the lighter ones to get around commercial license requirements in some states.  So where you used to have a built in “fudge factor” on the amount of weight you could carry and the physical strength of your trailer, that is no longer the case.  He says you should upgrade to 5200 pound axles if possible.

The scariest story he told (and there were several) was about a truck that was using airbags as load assistors.  Some of you are familiar with these—they go on the truck’s suspension and you can add air to them as you increase the load to keep your rear end from sagging.  I had them on my old truck.  Just a side note—the mechanic is going to look at you funny if you ask him to install them on your own rear end!  Anyway, these, apparently can be punctured by flying road debris and will deflate suddenly.  In the case he mentioned, the truck was a dually, hauling a rather heavy gooseneck LQ trailer.  It happened to be negotiating a turn and the airbag on the outside of the turn deflated, collapsing the truck to the outside of the turn and torquing the trailer over to the point where it overturned the entire rig and sent it down an embankment—ugly!  He suggested Dexter overload springs if you want to assist the suspension on your truck.

But you don’t really want to hear about the lectures and demos, now, do you?  You want to hear about the SHOPPING!

When you volunteer and work a shift during the expo, you fulfill one of two simple functions:  stuff bags with programs and fliers, and: hand bags out to people as they come in.  Everybody walks in past your position, so you get to see pretty much everybody who comes in.  I would estimate that probably 20-30% of these people walk in carrying a large empty bag, 2-wheeled wire shopping cart stolen from some little old lady, or other wheeled muck bucket, cart, tote or even suitcase.  These are the people who have been to Expo before.  The smart newbies will purchase one while in the Expo.  I suspect that nobody purchases a wheeled muck bucket during the Expo because they actually need one to clean stalls.  Oh yeah, you can always use it to clean stalls, but its far-more-important, completely-over-arching purpose is to haul your LOOT back to the car.

A few years back I committed the mortal sin of purchasing three rolls of fencing material from one of my favorite booths, DMA Fencing, without first mugging a little old lady or homeless person for their shopping cart.  I use a fence called Finish Line by BayCo.  I did my old fences in Dayton out of it and am slowly but surely building my new fences out of it here.  But the rolls are heavy and I was trying to figure out how in the world I was going to get them out to the car short of making three separate trips.  Fortunately, the owner of the booth allowed me to use his cargo dolly so that I only had to make one trip to the car.  The next year, I walked to the first booth that sold two wheeled totes and bought one for $20.  Best investment ever!  This year, I confined my fencing purchases to a bag of connectors which only weighed a couple of pounds, but when you add on several books and a bottle of shampoo or fly spray or seven, this tote can be a real arm saver.

I like to purchase my fencing materials this way because it saves shipping.  I’ve found this to be a good money saver with bigger ticket items for this reason.  It probably doesn’t help as much with the smaller stuff, but if you are looking for something hard to find or something new and different, you are bound to find it with one of the vendors.  You will also probably spend several hundred dollars on impulse purchases while looking for your one hard to find item!  I suspect that a lot of people keep shopping lists all year long, then bring them to Expo hoping to find bargains.  Some people show up only Sunday, expressly for this purpose.  You see, the vendors have to pack up and ship all of their unsold stuff back to the store, so they often run specials Sunday hoping to reduce their return load.  Big Jim’s Tack is famous for this.  Everything is buy one, get one free on Sunday.  You see these women travelling in packs, browsing the merchandise.

One will say “I want one of these, anyone else want one of these?”

Another will say “Yeah, I’ll take the other one of those.”

Now if a third one chimes in, they are in trouble…

They will spend the next 20 minutes haggling over who is paying for which items and probably another 2 hours back at the parking lot or the barn sorting out who said they’d pay for the second  of which item.  This, by the way, is after waiting half an hour or more in line to make their purchases.  The smart ones work in pairs and have one person standing in line craning her neck to keep an eye on the other person who is browsing, then randomly holding up items and watching for a nod or shake.  It’s kind of like an auction in a weird sort of way.   I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I got a pair of knock-off carrot sticks this way a couple of years ago for (I think) $10.  The strings that came with them were completely worthless, but the sticks are nice because they are about half the weight of a standard carrot stick and behave pretty much like a carrot stick ought to.

This year, I only had one specific purchase in mind—a mecate.  I have been looking for one to use with my snaffle bit.  I didn’t want horse hair like you would use with a bosal, but it had to have the right feel and look to it in order to meet my exacting standards (whatever those are—I knew I would know when I found the right one), and be reasonably priced also.  I started looking at the Mountain Supply booth.  Almost their entire display is made up of rolls of Samson yacht line in varying weights and colors.  They can custom make just about anything out of just about any line you choose by adding on leather poppers, snaps, loops and whatever other fittings you desire.  As a sailor, as well as a rider, I can truly appreciate these quality ropes.  My only heartbreak is that Samson seems to have discontinued the one particular shade of Trophy Braid that I would love to have a mecate made out of.  Our old Laser mainsheet (or perhaps it was the Hobie Cat) was made out of this.  I would have one made out of the old line except there aren’t 22 feet of it left intact anymore.   They had one made out of something else that would have fit the bill, but wasn’t—you know—THE ONE.    I finally found my mecate at Buckaroo Leather.  Still haven’t rigged it up, but that’s another story…

Some shopping highlights:

Arena Rock Doc will come out and rip your ground down 12 inches, then run the soil through a machine that sifts all of the rock out and redeposits the sorted soil back down.  It sounds reasonably priced compared to hauling in all of your footing.  In our case, we will still have to add some amendments, but it would save a bunch of money.  The owner and I had a bonding moment when I realized he is located in Washoe Valley.

Western Safety Stirrups LLC makes western peacock stirrups—very cool.  For those of you who don’t know, the peacocks are the ones that have the rubber band on the outside rather than being solid so you are less likely to hang up in one.  They also won’t torque your leg off like a solid stirrup will, if your horse falls on you.  I know this from experience.  The orthopedic surgeon took great pleasure in describing how my fibula would have been sticking out of my leg if my accident had happened using a solid stirrup—shudder!

Titan tire sells a disc brake system that is part hydraulic and part electric.  They are also ridiculously better and safer than the brakes most of us have now. You can upgrade any trailer.  He says disc brakes are becoming more standard on newer trailers, but you should be sure to ask.

Cavalia had a booth there.  They will be performing in San Jose this summer.  If it wasn’t for the fact that I spent enough money to ride in another Buck Brannaman clinic on tickets to see War Horse (the broadway version that won a bunch of Tony’s—not the silly Disney movie) in San Fransisco, I’d go again.

Safe Rider is the company that makes the inflating vests that operate like an airbag if you fall off.  They aren’t cheap, but I priced a decent set of body armor and that’s not cheap either.  These, at least, might be cooler.  I bonded with the salesman there because I found out the company is located up in Sparks.  And if you wonder why all the salesmen look like Harley dudes?  The vests were originally developed for motorcycle riders.

Equestrisafe makes products that help identify your horse.  They have a neck band now that is reflective so you can see your horse at night and also has a pocket for owner’s information so that if your horse takes a powder the first time a bear walks into camp, whoever locates it might just be able to return it to you.

Along that same line is EyeD.  They take a digital scan of your horse’s retina.  More accurate than a brand.  Just like a fingerprint!  Very cool high tech stuff!

Any tractor implement booth.  I get sucked into these and have to cover my eyes and ears and chant “lalalala…” until I am able to wander far enough away (meanwhile crashing into random shoppers and their wheeled carts packed to the gills with merchandise) to break the pull of gravity.

The horse trailer area is always fun.  If you’ve been to Expo, you know they added that new arena out in the parking lot last year.  Why?  Why to force people to walk through the horse trailers on their way to demos.   Apparently it works as I saw quite a few trailers “movin’ on out.”  But now there’s that 7000 pound deal David Bodin was talking about.  I didn’t see any trailers advertising 5200 pound axles, Titan disc brakes and high quality upgraded wheel bearings.  Hmmm…

I didn’t even look at the barns for sale—that’s just too far from where I’m at right now—but I did wander through the real barns and admire all of the nice horses.  Some were there for the breed demos and some for the auction.  I did catch a few minutes of the auction but I didn’t dare stay too long since I couldn’t figure out how to fit a horse in the trunk of the Camry.

They put all of the book vendors into one area this year called the Book Corral.  Almost as dangerous as tractor implements!  Kate Chenery Tweedy and Leeanne Ladin, the authors of Secretariat’s Meadow were there.  Sunday, I took Mom’s copy along with me and had them sign it.  I felt like an idiot because I couldn’t think of one good question to ask or comment to make.  It seemed a wee bit ungracious of me to ask whether or not they thought the movie was “just a bit too Disney.”

So that was just the highlights of MY Expo experience this year.  If you talk to 100 people, you would probably get 100 completely different versions of what went on because there is just so much going on.  The only thing all stories would have in common?  Stories about the hand lotion vendors!


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…