What do you think THAT light means?

Why is it that so many of our boating trips seem take a dark turn into epic saga territory?  I’m thinking we might just need to change our names to Njorl and Sigrdrif.  Maybe not.  I might have to start writing my blogs in verse and I’m not sure I’m up for that.  We’ll just leave the rhyming to Longfellow and get on with the story.

I’ll do the Hollywood recap for those not familiar with the story.  We’re sailors.  We got a boat and named it Nighthawk.  Nighthawk is ballasted.  We got a new (used) truck last year to haul Nighthawk because Nighthawk is ballasted.  We’ve had quite a few fun adventures in the last year including losing a wheel off of the trailer, which wasn’t fun, but was an adventure.  There, now everyone’s up to speed.

Compared to all of our former boats, Nighthawk is a very different animal.  Not only is she ballasted, she has a little cabin and two people can actually sleep aboard her without having to go ashore and pitch a tent.  This has opened up whole new worlds of possibility for our sailing trips.  We have even slept aboard her in a campground, using her like Captain Ron’s Amazing Nautical RV.  We may look a little silly climbing aboard our boat resting very unnautically on its trailer to go to bed, but we make up for all silliness when we back our “RV” down the boat ramp and sail gracefully off across the water.

So we’ve had a few trips where we’ve slept on the boat overnight.  And last fall, we “conquered” sailing in San Fransisco Bay, something we had only done previously in “big” chartered boats.  (Admittedly, we need a much heartier complement of sails to stand up to the kind of wind the bay delivers, but we did all right with what we had and didn’t get knocked down or hit any other boats or ships or islands or anything else important.)  After we survived that day, it was a mere leap of logic for us to think we could possibly take our boat up to the San Juan and Gulf Islands, another place where we have chartered bigger boats in the past.

We’ve been scheming and planning for this for months now and poor David has run himself ragged installing bits and bobs on Nighthawk so that we can, hopefully, survive the San Juans.  There are so many different parts to this plan and so many places where something can go wrong, that covering every single contingency would be completely impossible.  So it was a relief to take a break from all of our preparations and head down to the “Delta Overnighter” with our sailing friends, the Potter Yachters.  Besides, this would be a good dry run for the longer trip coming up just a month away.

By Thursday, it was clear that there would be at least 20 small boats attending the cruise.  We would launch at B & W Marina, located right next to the Mokelumne River Bridge on Highway 12.  David and I got a little worried about parking places at the marina and decided to drive down after work Friday instead of Saturday morning.  After all, you can never tell what crazy delay might happen on the drive down…  He called the marina and they said it would be no problem for us to launch at 9 or 10 o’clock at night, so David and I met up in Gardnerville after work for our trip.

And everything was going fine until the check engine light came on.

It waited (naturally) until we were headed down the west slope of the Sierra in an area where there was no cell service and pretty much nothing around.  Why would the light just come on like that?  The truck was running fine…  And it kept running fine for maybe 10 minutes after the light came on, and then?… not so fine.   I was driving at the time and I stated, “It feels just like the old truck did when the injectors were clogged.”  (When will I learn not to say things like that!)  We were able to limp along because the grade was mostly downhill, so we managed to make it to a gas station that, thankfully, had a pay phone because there still wasn’t any cell service.

We tried all of the usual tricks to fix it:  Open the hood, stare at the engine, randomly wiggle hoses and tap on parts, and make faces at it, but nothing seemed to work.  David even went so far as to remove the air cleaner and bang on that some, but everybody knows the air cleaner is really just a practical joke installed by automakers in Detroit to make people think they might actually be able to fix the truck and to create income for all of the quick change oil places.  I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a hidden camera installed in there.

“Hey look, Bill, he’s taking off the air cleaner.”

“This ought to be good!”

The truck kept flashing signals at us that it was out of gas, but we knew it had three quarters of a tank.  So David kept looking for useless parts to remove while I borrowed a phone book from the convenience store operator and looked for local mechanics.  There were several who advertised “roadside assistance.”  I called the first one and he said “well, I could maybe get to it in a week…”  Oh, sure!  Doesn’t “I need roadside assistance” sort of imply that I am—you know—at the side of the road?  Right now?  Needing assistance?  I’ll just pull out my handy tent and sleep here for a week until you can come along and rescue me!  The next two didn’t even bother to answer.

David and I were very upset we were going to miss our weekend of sailing, but we knew it was time to call for a tow.  I got on the phone to a nice, perky operator at Boat USA.  I have to say, she displayed far more intelligence than the average AAA operator I have dealt with.  We worked out the details and she said she would call back.  I gave her the number of the pay phone and told her I’d call back in twenty minutes if I hadn’t heard from her since we weren’t exactly certain the pay phone would actually ring if she called.  And then I waited.  Suddenly, as I was standing there waiting, David drove by in the truck and honked and waved at me—huh?

Turns out that he thought maybe the truck had some problem with the gas tank so he opened it up and shook the truck to try to hear if there really was gas in there.   He could hear the gas, so he put the gas cap back on and restarted the truck.  For whatever reason, that fixed the problem.  So, off we drove (after thankfully cancelling the tow).  Our check engine light was still on, but the truck was behaving fine.  Once we had cell service, I checked out all of the possible GMC dealers in the area and we formed about 6 different contingency plans, but the bottom line was that we were going to launch the boat first if we could somehow make it as far as the marina, then deal with the truck.

We got to the marina and set up the boat in the dark.  It was not nearly as bad as we thought because there was a street light near enough to sort-of see.  We were a little stressed about raising the mast because you couldn’t see the top of it in the dark, so if the forestay got tangled up with one of the shrouds, we weren’t going to know about it until we were in trouble.  But even that went fine, so I started the truck up to back down the boat ramp and noticed that now the check engine light wasn’t even on!  Silly truck!

We were all set to motor around the spit from the boat ramp to the guest dock.  All we had to do was park the truck and get the dog aboard.  She had been waiting all this time in the truck, so I took her out for a walk while David was getting everything shipshape, then we headed down the dock.  And that’s when we found out that we own Kaylee, the Incredible Non-Nautical Dog!  She was terrified of the motion of the dock as we walked.  The first time out, I had her off the leash and she made it about halfway to the boat before turning around and taking off.   I had to chase her down and put the leash on.  Even then, she made it clear that she didn’t want to be on that scary moving platform.  It was hard not to laugh at her as she slithered along with her legs out at an almost 90 degree angle and her belly scraping the dock.  I started calling her the lizard-dog.  But we got her on the boat and as soon as we got to the guest dock, she shot up into the v-berth and curled up into a little ball for the night.  David and I could sympathize—it was almost midnight!

The next morning, I spent a lot of time walking Kaylee up and down the docks trying to develop her sea legs (and to amuse myself, to be honest).  I also called our mechanic back home and asked about the truck.  Turns out that David reset something when he pulled the gas cap off and that is why the truck started running again.  He said we should try and drive it home and we made an appointment for the following week.  By then, we were pretty glad we had launched Friday night as the docks were getting busy.  Not only was our group there, it was simply a very busy Saturday morning at B & W.  The parking lot was filling up with small sailboats stepping masts, hanking on sails, and getting ready to launch.  They were all competing for dock space with various fishermen, water skiers and other recreational boaters.

By 9:30, we were all on the water weaving an intricate dance above the bridge.  Our leader, Jerry, finally decided we were all there and radioed the bridge tender to let us through.  Soon we could hear the bells ringing for traffic to stop.  The whole gaggle of boats made a dash towards the bridge as it began to turn and we were finally off.  It was a beautiful day and the wind was blowing perfectly.  We all hoisted sails and had a marvelous run down the Mokelumne River between the levees.  Right before it spills into the San Joaquin, the river makes a sweeping turn to the right.  With the change in direction, all of us began tacking back and forth in the narrow channel, trying to avoid collisions with each other, all of the motorboats, and the shore.  We felt sorry for the few large motor boats we saw trying to thread their way through the fleet as we all dodged and wove across their paths.  There’s a reason sailboats have the right of way, but normally, you try to be polite.  Still, in a tight situation like this, you sometimes just have to tack and hope the guy in the motorboat gets out of your way.

We were also trying not to run aground.  The eastern shore opens up into an area of shoals and tules and if you push a tack too far, you are likely to feel mud under your keel.  Every once in a while, we could see one of our companions spinning in an odd way rather than moving forward, indicating they had misjudged a bit.  The shoals get even worse as you reach the San Joaquin River.  Last year, we ran aground there and we didn’t really want to do that again.  The worst part is that when you head out into the San Joaquin, you can see the shipping channel markers and they look like they are right there, but first you have to make your way across the shoals.  A depth sounder is on the list of “things to do before the trip.”  Unfortunately, David hadn’t been able to do it yet.  Instead we had to trust the chart plotter on David’s tablet to give us our correct position and accurate information about the bottom.

Meanwhile, the wind just kept building and building.  We had a marvelous sail down the river until we reached our overnight destination—Spindrift Marina.  We descended upon their docks like a flock of starlings, but they had been forewarned and were ready for our group with plenty of dock space and the all important card keys for the bathrooms.  We had all made it except for the two members of the group who were sailing over from Rio Vista.  They had been checking in on the VHF, so we knew they were sailing up the San Joaquin and would soon join us.  The wife of one of our group members who doesn’t sail with him, thank you (because small boats are scary and unpredictable) had parked their motor home at the KOA campground across the road and this became the gathering point for the group.  We took Kaylee for a walk along the levee, then decided to head back out for more sailing.

By then, the wind had built even stronger and we had a fantastic sail, tacking our way down river.  Kaylee spent most of her time down below.  She would lie on one of the berths until the boat heeled farther than she liked or we hit a wake and then she would pop up like a startled rabbit with a very worried expression.  She only came on deck a few times.  Each time, I would put her life jacket on which she took as some new barbaric form of punishment and would slink immediately down below again.  Poor girl—I need to start having her wear it on walks at the house to get used to it.

After tacking almost all the way to Three Mile Slough, we turned around and headed back to the marina on a run.  That’s the payoff for all that work tacking, but it’s sort of like spending all day climbing a mountain only to ski down it in half an hour.  In no time, we were almost back, but as we headed for the channel through the tules, we saw our fearless leader, Jerry, headed out with some folks who had come by for an afternoon sail.  We couldn’t resist heading back out with them, matching them tack for tack.  The wind had gotten even stronger and as we hit 20 degrees of heel more often, Kaylee kept popping up and down like a hyperactive jack-in-the-box.  We decided we’d better sail a little more conservatively if we ever want our dog to learn to enjoy sailing, so we reefed the main (which reduces sail area) to make her more comfortable.  We finally headed back in after one of the best sails we’ve had in a long time.

When we got back in, it was almost dinner time.  Spindrift is a great marina because they have a restaurant right there across the levee.  I had just enough time to grab my card key and shower bag and get clean.  I could tell there are quite a few live-aboards at the marina because the shower had an interesting assortment of shampoos, conditioners and soaps.  I couldn’t figure out how to turn on the light to the shower area, but decided this might be best as there were probably microorganisms the size of trolls lurking back there and I didn’t want to see any of them!  And once again, I’d forgotten to pack a pair of shower shoes—ick!  I made a mental note to be sure these were in the bag before the San Juan trip.  Also the shower had only two temperature settings that I could discern:  sort-of-warm and sort-of-not-so-warm.  I was fine with that since I felt like my internal organs had been deep fat fried all day.  That’s one of the unintended consequences of being religious with the sunscreen—it keeps your skin from burning, but provides you with a sealent layer that cooks you internally.  Remind me to try it on the turkey next Thanksgiving.

One of our biggest fears never materialized.  We were afraid to leave Kaylee behind on the boat when we went to dinner after her sprees of destruction in our house.  But it turns out, Kaylee sees the boat as “the truck we drive on the water,” and had no problem being left behind.  David checked on her half way through the meal and she was happily snoozing away.

The trip back on Sunday was almost anticlimactic.  We all turned out at the restaurant for the $5.99 steak and eggs Sunday special, then afterwards held a skipper’s meeting at the marina.  Rather than dying down overnight, the wind had simply shifted and built even higher.  It was collectively decided that the smaller boats would motor and that we’d all meet up at a certain location before heading to the bridge to count heads and collect our wits.  David and I might have tried sailing the whole way if we had had better sails, but we sailed the first part under jib alone, then motored once we hit the Mokelumne.

It took us the better part of an hour to get all of the boats back out of the water on to their respective trailers.  If anything, the boat ramp was even crazier than it had been Saturday morning.   It was 2 or 3 by the time we were finally ready to travel.  Originally, we had planned to drive up to 50 or 80 in case the truck decided to act up again, but we were too tired and decided to chance it over 88.  We needn’t have worried.  The truck made it home fine.   Unfortunately, my words came back to haunt us and we had to replace the fuel injectors the following week.  So now it’s “The truck so nice, we bought it twice!”  Ugh.  We knew when we bought it that fuel injectors were going to be a possible weak point, but when I think of the things we could have done with that money, like buy Max, or replace my FourRunner (which is its own epic saga), or replace the windows in the house, or replace the horse trailer, or take a trip to Paris and Rome (okay, you know I’d replace the horse trailer before going to Paris) well it is kind of heartbreaking anyway.

Interestingly, I looked up Viking names for Kaylee on the internet and came up with Hollr, which means faithful.  I couldn’t find an old norse word for “nautical,”  I suspect because every Viking was expected to be nautical.  There was probably some derogatory term for a landlubber that the Vikings yelled out right before they lopped off your head, but I couldn’t find one, so Kaylee is safe for now.  By the time we got back to B & W, she was doing a lot better.  Of course, we never heeled on the way back since we were mostly motoring, but she did a lot better on the dock at the boat ramp, which was probably the least stable dock all weekend—she looks less like a lizard anyway.  I couldn’t find a Viking word for lizard either.

So “Skoal to the Northland!” and thus ends my tale.

 

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Woman and Dog vs. Wild

It is a late March morning.  The days are finally getting light early enough for me to take the dog on a real walk again.  As I head out to feed horses, I see that we received a dusting of snow overnight and the sky is low and grey, promising more snow to come.  It is barely light enough to see without a flashlight but if I walk out the door now, I will have just enough time to feed horses and walk “around the block” before I have to leave for work.  It’s not snowing as I head out of the house, but as we arrive at the horse compound, I can hear the tinny “tic, tic, tic,” of flakes just beginning to hurl themselves against the galvanized horse shelters.  Just a few flakes…

But the flakes are getting heavier and falling more thickly as I finish feeding and Kaylee and I head out for our walk.  “Around the block” in our world includes most of our front parcel and the neighbor’s parcel below us—a little over a mile.  First we head north down the ridge above the horse corrals.  As I walk down the ridge, I have to bow my head and hold a hand up to protect my eyes because I’m not wearing a hat.  The snowflakes begin falling fast and furious, driven by a wind from the northwest, and whenever I remove my protective hand, I invariably take a snowflake to the eyeball—not a barrel of laughs at six in the morning.

Next, I turn left at the north property line and head west on the neighbor’s road.  Occasionally, I catch a glimpse of Kaylee in her morning rambles—right before the snowflake hits my eyeball.  I whistle at the turn to let her know I’ve changed course although she’s probably perfectly aware of my location at all times.  Heading west isn’t nearly as bad and I can search for the dog a little more carefully on this heading.  I finally spot her about 100 yards ahead of me crossing the road at a lope.  She’s not chasing anything, just looking for good smells, reading the stories of all of the denizens who travel our little patch of earth.  I scan the sagebrush for coyotes, but don’t spot any.  We have come out of the trees now and are at the high point of this leg.  I like this route because for most of the walk I can see far enough around me to spot the coyotes well in advance.

The grey curtain of snow this morning had cut visibility down to just a few hundred feet.   It is really coming down heavily now and beginning to accumulate on the ground.  I can feel it hitting the back of my head—guess I get to do my hair again when I get back to the house!  Our nearest downhill neighbor’s house is about three eighths of a mile away as the crow flies, but this morning, I can’t even tell there is a house there.  As I turn left at the end of this leg to head south along the property line I try to keep Kaylee close enough that I can see her.  She is mostly a black spot running along the hillside, but it is amazing how many hidden folds and large clumps of sagebrush there are capable of completely concealing one medium sized dog.

Finally, we make the last left turn to head east up our driveway.  This is the uphill leg leading back to the house.  I never made it up this stretch at a run even when I was running marathons.  Now I labor and puff my way up the road.  Kaylee always gets pretty far ahead of me, and today, she disappears into the trees in the wash.  As I reach the gate, which marks the beginning of our property, I see her standing on the road ahead of me staring off to the north.  I follow her gaze and see the grey shadow of a coyote perched on the far bank of the wash.  As I unlimber my rifle to take aim at her, she spins suddenly and vanishes into the concealing snow.  I pop off a shot anyway, reload, and head for her last known position to take up the chase.  But after wallowing my way across the wash and up the bluff, I never catch sight of her again so Kaylee and I head directly back to the house.

Oh, don’t be too shocked and concerned.  My rifle?  It’s an air rifle, a pellet gun more correctly—but to every 11 year old Ralphie out there, it’s a BB gun.  It’s not even a really nice BB gun, purchased for maybe $20 at most.  The best I can ever do is put someone’s eye out.  My intention in chasing the coyote down is not to injure or harm her, but to train her to stay off my property and leave my dog alone.  And amazingly, it seems to be working.

All this pretty much started right after we got the dog.  At first, I thought it was mere coincidence.  We would go for a walk and accidently run into a couple of coyotes.  After we “accidentally” ran into the coyotes a number of times, I finally realized that it was no coincidence.  They were thinking “Oh look!  Snacky dog!”  And they were waiting for us.

There are four of them in the pack I think.  The two I see most often I named Frick and Frack.  Frick and Frack are not afraid of people and once they’ve spotted their prey, will follow doggedly (pun intended) wherever we go.  They are probably the same coyotes that got my cats.  Then there are the invisibles.  I first saw Mr. Invisible on a day when the coyotes did not see me down cleaning the horse corrals.  All three were trotting east along David’s trail probably sniffing Kaylee’s tasty dog scent and scheming to “invite” her over for lunch.  Later, I saw Mr. Invisible from the house a few times trailing along with Frick and Frack as they tracked the scent trail we left on our walk.  And now I’m pretty sure there is a Mrs. Invisible, but that comes later in the story.

One day while I was riding the horse, we ran into them.  I saw them and Kaylee running through the trees above me on the bluff of the wash and pretty much freaked out.  I called Kaylee down to me and spent the rest of the ride keeping her close.  They followed us for about a mile, then met us on the way back down and followed us almost all the way home—very annoying.  I tried to get Max (the horse) to chase them, but Max wasn’t too enthused about it, while Kaylee thought chasing them sounded like a marvelous idea so I had to give that up.  A couple of days after that, they were waiting for us on our walk and followed so closely that I could throw rocks at them and almost hit them.   Anybody whose ever seen me throw rocks will know that’s gotta be pretty close!

That was the day I had had enough.  I e-mailed David at work and asked him to pick up some bird shot for the 22.  I figured that I could try to shoot close enough to scare them and if I accidentally got too close, birdshot would mostly sting, but not do any real damage.  David informed me that he would be bringing home a wrist rocket instead.  Huh?  Having never been an eleven-year-old boy, I had no idea that a wrist rocket is your basic slingshot.  I was picturing those little crossbow things the bad guys were using in The Road Warrior only somehow firing little RPG’s.  It kind of seemed like overkill to me, but finally David straightened me out.  I suspect he was just nostalgic for the days of childhood when he and his friends would go around shooting rocks at each other and anything else that seemed worthy of targeting.  He also brought home a box of pellets for the pellet gun.

I went on the Internet and googled “how do you get rid of coyotes?”  The ideas were pretty much in line with what I was thinking.  Most pages suggest using noise and shooting at the coyotes with paint ball guns or other non-lethal projectiles.  One interesting fact I found was that if you kill the coyotes, the alpha female will just begin producing new litters of pup to replace the ones you killed.  Because of this, it’s apparently almost impossible to wipe out the local coyote population. Personally, I just don’t see the point of killing them.   If it were possible to train them to leave me alone, I would rather do that.  If I started killing them, I would just have to deal with the next untrained generation.

So I spent a couple of days shooting driveway gravel at fence posts, clumps of sagebrush, trees, cargo containers and pretty much anything else that would stand still long enough. I got to where I could hit a target if it was large enough and not moving.  Now all I need are large, immobile coyotes!  And I saw no coyotes—naturally…  A few days later, though, I ran into a pair on the ridge as we began our walk and it was game on.  I don’t think I actually hit either of them, but I came close a few times.  One of them took off pretty quickly, but the other circled around as if to follow us on our walk so I went after it.  I pursued them very aggressively because the web pages had said that it wasn’t enough to just make them run away—you have to pursue them until they leave your territory.  So I kept shooting rocks and chasing even after they began to run away. Kaylee joined me in the chase and I finally realized that when she chases coyotes, it’s not to go off and meet them, but to chase them out of her territory also, so we were a team.

Pretty soon, I saw two coyotes disappearing over the lip of the wash almost 200 yards away at a dead run.  Kaylee rejoined me quite proud of herself and we headed back towards the house—I figured that was enough excitement for one morning.  We were working our way through the trees that fill the wash through our property when we encountered the invisibles.  So Kaylee and I had another fun chase until the invisibles high tailed it out of our territory.  At first, I thought that Frick and Frack had circled back around, but as I thought about it I realized there simply hadn’t been time for them to run all the way back up into the trees.  That’s when I decided there must be a Mrs. Invisible in the pack.

After that, I started carrying the pellet gun on every walk.  It is kind of heavy and annoying.  I felt a little silly walking around like Stewart Granger in King Solomon’s Mines (only he had better hair and a much bigger gun).  But I have discovered I’m much more accurate with the pellet gun at a longer distance than I am with the slingshot.  I can even hit the occasional T-post on purpose now.  After our big encounter, however, I didn’t see any coyotes for weeks.  They obviously got the message loud and clear.  In fact, my encounter in the snow was the first coyote sighting since I chased them off and I would say that the alacrity with which she scooted out of there only proves that this really was an accidental encounter.

Since then, we’ve chased off the occasional coyote.   We still make sure they “leave the territory” every time.   I’ve stopped living every 11 year old boy’s dream and walking around looking like Ramar of the Jungle, but I continued to carry the slingshot for a couple of months.   The other day, Kaylee was outside.  I looked out to check on her and spotted her trotting around collecting good scents out in the sagebrush when I spotted a coyote down below her on the hill.  She looked up and saw it about the same time.  I watched, wondering what would happen.  Kaylee began to trot in the general direction of the coyote until it spotted her (they were still about 200 feet apart).  Suddenly, the coyote dropped its head and ears, put its tail between its legs and slunk quickly away into the trees.  Kaylee stopped, satisfied that she had done her job.

 

We’ve gone to the dogs! Finally…

Nothing beats having a week off and STILL having to go into work everyday.  And the hell of it was that I couldn’t even sleep in and mosey in late in my sweats and flip-flops.  Why?  Well may you ask.  It all started when we got this dog.

You see, we are dog people.  Even my husband, who was dog deprived for a good portion of his childhood, is dog people.  We did not buy our first house because we wanted a house—we bought our first house because we wanted a dog.  And ever since we took possession of our new house, we’ve had a dog or two around.  Until a couple of years ago, that is.  We had two aging border collies and, knowing that the time was near; decided maybe after they went we would choose to be dog free for a while.  Dog ownership is great, but the logistics of having to feed and care for dogs make it difficult to just pick up and toodle off for a weekend in Death Valley or Yosemite.

And over the years, we have had some logistically interesting dogs.  Pockets, who was our first dog, was insanely loyal.  One time while out camping, David drove off on the motorcycle leaving Pockets in the tent at camp.  He told the other campers to let Pockets out after a little while and he would be fine.  Pockets, once freed, proceeded to track David down…12 miles…on his motorcycle…and found him.  This created a monster because he figured he could just track us down if he looked hard enough.  We couldn’t leave him with anyone when we went off on vacation because he would go off looking for us, but we finally did figure out that we could have David’s parents come over to the house and pick him up and take him home with them.  That way he didn’t feel the need to track us because we hadn’t “abandoned” him.

At one point, we even had a down-on-his-luck friend living with us.  Other people might think this was a little awkward, but it was great because he: a. did not eat our food; b. helped David fix things; and c. took care of the animals when we were on vacation.   In fact, we never charged him rent because; as you pet owners are already thinking to yourselves, it was more than worth the price for part c alone.  Unfortunately, our friend moved on and we now have to deal with our own animal travel logistics again.  So we thought we’d go dog free for a while.

Then we got hit by the quadruple whammy.  We lost both old dogs, the horse, and the old cat all within a 10 month time frame.  It was a rough patch for both of us and instead of being dog free for “several months,” it took us over two years to get back in the game.  At first, any dog we saw reminded us of our little lost Ringo and BC and we would dive head first into the vast pits of maudilinity that threatened to consume us.  Eventually though, we began to find ourselves afflicted with a strange sort of magnetism that sucked us over to any dog we happened to encounter.  We were like little kids who just wanted to pet the nice doggie.  We finally realized the “dog free interlude” was far past its expiration date when we went down to Mule Days last year.  We spent as much time during the parade and show ooohing and aaahing at the dogs people were walking around as we did looking at the mules.  When we started actually fantasizing sick and twisted plots to kidnap certain likely looking dogs, we knew it was time.

Fortunately, I have a neighbor who volunteers at the pound, so I asked her how to get in on the dog walking action.  The obvious danger with this strategy was that I might wind up bringing home half a dozen dogs on the first visit.  I needn’t have worried since most of the dogs at the pound turned out to be Pit Bulls or Pit Bull crosses.  I’m not saying Pit Bulls are not nice dogs, just that we are pretty confirmed Border Collie/cattle dog type people.  I can resist Pit Bulls.  Time turned out to by my other ally in this because (isn’t this the story of my life?) by the time I got the dog-walker training and was cleared to volunteer, I was back at work and had no time to walk dogs.  But I was able to sneak in a few days of walking here and there and my neighbor, alerted to our plight, kept me informed by e-mail whenever a likely dog came through.

It was on our Thanksgiving break that I met Stella.  I actually had a day free to go in and walk dogs and there was a cute Pit/Bulldog cross named Ria that I liked, and there was Stella.  My first thought on seeing her was that she is a McNabb or Border Collie/Queensland cross.  She is black with the white ruff speckled with black speckles and the black white mottling extends down her stomach and legs—definite cattle dog territory.  Of course, she heeled like a sled dog.  All of the pound puppies do.  I have this theory that it is because so many different people walk them and some let them pull while others don’t, so they just pull like sled dogs until they get a walker who makes them heel.  But she kind of tried to heel when I asked her to which is more than some of the dogs do.  She also had “that look.”  Border Collie people know whereof I speak.  So I kept thinking about Stella over the next week.

The following week, I had an appointment with “the dentist who never works.”  I have to take a full day off to see him whether it is a marathon torture session or a simple follow up because he is in the office (a 60 mile drive) for approximately 5 minutes on alternate Wednesdays if you’re lucky.  This was a simple follow up, so I went to walk dogs afterwards.  And I walked Stella again.  That Saturday, I took David in to meet Stella.  He fell for “the look” too, and after signing many, many forms and promising that we would hug her and pet her and love her and squeeze her…  no wait…  wrong story… we proudly walked out with OUR new dog.

We immediately agreed that we hated the name Stella and after a bit of good natured arguing, came up with Kayleigh—a good Scottish name to go along with her likely Border Collie heritage.  Only we decided to spell it Kaylee so that people wouldn’t have to bring up too much phlegm figuring out how to pronounce it.  How do you say that?  Kayleecchh…?  When I opened the truck door and said get in, she launched herself into the back seat as if to say “it’s about time!”  When we got home to our wild open sagebrush I crossed my fingers and let her off the leash and we haven’t needed it since except for trips to town.  I don’t know if she’s as insanely loyal as Pockets yet, but she made it patently obvious from the start that we were her new world.

Which was where our trouble started.  She was picked up as a stray, so we have no information on her background, but given how quickly she bonded to us I’d say there was someone out there she was very strongly bonded to.  I don’t know if it was getting lost and having that bond broken or spending 4 months in the pound with no clear “master” or if maybe she was this way to begin with, but she definitely suffers from severe separation anxiety.  We picked her up on a Saturday morning and spent the weekend having fun with our new dog.  Monday morning rolled around and I decided to leave her in the laundry room for the day while we both worked.  Our yard is good, but a determined dog could escape and I didn’t know how she’d be just loose in the house.  So I left her with toys and water and some treats and headed out for the day.  When I returned, it was to complete disaster.  Everything even remotely strewable was strewn.  My favorite fleece jacket had one arm chewed off.  Kaylee had ripped the molding strips from around the door and the fake window pane dividers off of the window.

And did Kaylee feel bad about it?  Dear God, the dog that met me was a completely different dog—frantic, penitent, manic and horribly ashamed of herself.  It was all I could do not to sit down and have a good cry with her right there.  But I managed to pretend that everything was okay and stay calm until she could calm down also.  After sending David pictures, I cleaned up the mess.  I still didn’t trust her in the yard and after what she did to the laundry room, wasn’t ready to let her have a crack at the rest of the house so I cleaned as much potential flotsam and jetsam out of the laundry room as I could find so that she would have “less to destroy.”  Haha!  The next day I came home to find that she had gotten into the furnace closet, pulled out the filters and destroyed them.  She had also begun chewing her way through the laundry room door into the house proper.

Both days, Kaylee greeted me with the same panic-striken look of fear mingled with shame.  “I’m so so sorry about the mess, but I was so afraid that you had left me forever and ever and ever and I’m so happy to see you and I’m so happy you came back because it was so lonely and scary abandoned in this frightening place without you to protect me all day long and now you’re finally back when I thought you were never coming back and did I mention I’m really, really sorry about the mess?”

I couldn’t leave her again.  She was rapidly reducing our laundry room to a scattered pile of atoms!  I knew if I gave her a crack at the rest of the house we were going to have to put rocking chairs on the porch and take up the banjo to explain the mess.  Fortunately it was December and I had also noticed that she seemed very at home in the truck.  So Kaylee began going to work with me every day.  And we began working on the separation anxiety.  Every day, I would get up, get ready, feed horses, walk the dog, then go through my “leaving” routine.  I would close all the doors, give her her treat ball, tell her to be a good girl and walk out the door to the car.  Then I would go back in the house and say “Come on Kaylee!”  And she and I would go to work.  At first, the interval of abandonment lasted no more than 30 seconds and even then, I would return to the same frantic dog that had greeted me after working all day.  But gradually, she began to understand that I was, indeed, going to return and she began to act calmer.

Amazingly, she was absolutely fine in a vehicle all day.  I would walk her on my prep period, but otherwise, she was alone.  Pockets spent a lot of time in the truck as a young dog when I was still shoeing horses, so I suspect she had led a similar life.  The truck, to her, was security.  And other than the separation anxiety, she was the best behaved and most well trained dog we have ever owned.  As time went on, I began to gradually increase the time I was gone until I was sitting in the car playing on the phone for several minutes before retrieving her and heading to work.

When Christmas break rolled around, I was planning to “work on the dog.”  I found out it’s kind of difficult to do any sort of abandonment training when you have family visiting and David home on vacation.  I was only able to leave her a couple of times right towards the end of Christmas break, but I figured she was doing so much better so let’s give it a try.

The first Monday after break, I left her in the house, presumably on the theory that she was ready; besides which, she had run out of things to destroy in the laundry room.  Bottom line?  She wasn’t ready!  That day, she tore all of the carpet out of the hallway and began chewing her way through the other side of the laundry room door.  She also attacked several of the miniblinds and destroyed a couple of them.  That one was tough to ignore, but I clamped my hand firmly over my mouth and jerked my head in a way that was supposed to indicate “let’s go for a walk,” and we walked until we were both okay and I could talk in a normal voice again.

So she kept going to work with me and I kept extending her morning interval until I reached the point where I was actually driving off down the driveway until I was out of sight, playing on the phone for 15 minutes, then driving back up the driveway to get the dog and go to work.  This led to some interesting encounters as the few other neighbors who live out there kept driving by and asking me if I was okay.  “I’m training my dog,” seemed like a kind of weird response, so I would just pretend to be on the phone.  I also discovered that there are very few places in our area that are actually out of sight of our house.  I wanted her to get used to me leaving her, but if she could sit and watch me out the window, that wasn’t exactly going to make her feel abandoned now was it?  But by the time our February break rolled around, I was ready to try for longer periods of time again.

Only I got sick.  This was no ordinary tickle of the throat, delicate snuffling into a tissue kind of sickness either.  This was down for the count, can barely crawl out of bed without hacking up a lung, need to stop and take a nap halfway to the kitchen because I’m so exhausted sickness!  But I was bound and determined to train the damn dog no matter how sick I was, so I dragged my sorry carcass out of bed at 5am each morning, hacked my way through pretending to get ready for work and drove off and abandoned the dog.  I actually went to work and did some filing for a few hours before heading home to “rescue” Kaylee and fall nearly comatose back into bed.

But by Wednesday, I simply couldn’t do it.  I got out of bed, pretended to get ready, then went back to bed—Kaylee’s training was going to have to wait at least one more day.  By Thursday, I was feeling even worse if that was humanly possible, so I combined feeling sorry for myself and dog training by heading into the clinic in Carson City.

Now anyone who lives 45 minutes from the nearest grocery store knows that you can’t just go into town to do one thing.  I don’t care if you have to hire someone to wheel your hospital bed around Costco (pausing by each sample table to administer a syringe of whatever goodies they are selling into your IV), you will inevitably have a list of 4000 items that you MUST not return home without.  Plus, I had to stop at Costco to pick up the supposedly life saving antibiotics prescribed by the clinic.  I was just thankful I didn’t have a list for Home Depot, but I did have to stop at Raleys and pick up the things I couldn’t buy at Costco.

And the clinic?  “Well…., you’ve only been sick six days and usually we don’t like to give antibiotics until it’s been seven days… but since you drove so far…”  Then they told me to get lots of rest, drink lots of fluids, and take lots of Mucinex—all of which I’d already been doing—lots.

But the end result was that Kaylee spent an entire day in the house and didn’t destroy anything.  I was ecstatic and croaked liberal praise in her general direction as I crawled back to bed to pass out!

It hasn’t been all sunshine and butterflies since then, but we’ve progressed to the point where she stays home in the yard all day now.  She’s never even attempted to escape from what I can tell.  She still carries an edge of hysteria in her daily greetings, but she has chosen to confine her destructive tendencies to merely tearing up the yard trying to get the lizard that just ran under the back porch.  Since our landscaping theme could be best described as “Weeds of Nevada,” this hasn’t really been a big deal.

At least filling in a hole is easier than figuring out what to do with the hallway.  But even that has its silver lining.  When Kaylee ripped up the carpet, we realized that there was actually linoleum under the carpet.  It needs some work since the people who built the house spattered paint over it (after all, they were going to put carpet over it), but with a little sprucing up, it will look nice and wear better than the cheap carpet anyway.  And when she ripped the molding strips from around the back door, Kaylee revealed that the gaps between door frame and house frame had never been properly sealed.  So we did her one better and ripped the molding strips from around the front door and found the same thing.  Now our front door doesn’t whistle during windstorms anymore.  We suspect Kaylee may have had a past life as an interior decorator and was just attempting to reveal the flaws in our house to us.

I still wonder about her past.  She is almost freakishly well behaved.  She does not beg to go with me in the morning even after of months of riding to work with me every day.  It’s as if she was used to being left behind and accepts it.  She is great with the horses and loves to surf on the center console and stare longingly at the herds of cattle we drive past in the valley.  She will chase the horses if they get crazy and run around, but will come back when called which is more than I could ever say about Ringo.  She mostly spends her roaming time chasing lizards, squirrels and rabbits.  Naturally, I encourage the squirrel chasing!

So I’m curious about her past because I can’t imagine how she ever got lost or how her previous owners didn’t tear apart heaven and earth trying to find her, but really I don’t want to know.  I don’t ever want to have to give her back.

 

 

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?

THE WATER PROJECT FROM HELL!

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…