We had a simple plan…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uh-huh!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dad:  “Mmmff mmmff mfff…”

David:  “What?”

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

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

Dad:  “Mmmff mmfff?”

David runs outside and crawls under the house.

Sounds of banging on pipes.

Sounds of muffled conversation.

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

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

And dad would yell “Mmmff mmmff mfff…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

I want to write…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enter, the wilderness

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

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

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

a.  eat my food

b.  don’t clean up their own messes

c.  carry diseases that could possibly kill me

d.  might bite me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And your skin will be nice and soft…

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

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

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

“Compare it to the other arm!”

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

I’ll admit it—I’m a tough sell.

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

Does it come with a set of knives?  Hmmm…

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

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

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

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

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

Some highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some shopping highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

And how are ewe doing today?

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

“We’ve got these sheep down here…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And where’d you say you are?”

“Antelope Valley, off of Eastside Lane.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Okay, that’s a good idea.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you (insert name) take this horse…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s the wrong horse Gromit!

Some of you know by now that I have pretty much given up ever trying to get Dolly sound enough to ride consistently again.  She can still walk 30-45 minutes a day, but, beyond that, things start to fall apart.  So when this friend of mine, Craig, told me he had the perfect horse for me, I got to thinking that I’d like to ride a wee bit more than Dolly could handle.  Not that 30 minutes at the walk is so bad.  It’s just that that sort of implies two fat old gals out for a casual relaxing evening stroll which is about as far from reality as you can get.  Dolly is one of those horses who NEEDS to get out and MOVE.  Take that away from her and she begins to get a bit—shall we say—flighty? rambunctious? downright wacky?  I kind of want to ride…on a horse that can go faster than a walk…and isn’t wacky!

I have been trying for weeks now to set up a time to pick up this horse to try out, but it never seemed to work out.  Finally, we said 2 o’clock Sunday.  I dutifully hitched up the horse trailer, then called him to see if we were still on.  Problem is, the pack station he runs is out of phone range, while his home is down here in the valley.  I was under the impression that the horse was at his home, so that’s where I went.  He wasn’t there, but his brother Travis was.  Travis walked out of the house and said, full of self assurance, “I know which horse you’re getting!”

So I believed him…

Which maybe I shouldn’t have…

Travis is an interesting character.  Born with multiple handicaps, my understanding is that doctors said he wouldn’t live long.  But they didn’t reckon with Bart Cranney, Travis’s cantankerous old grandfather.  As soon as it was feasible, Bart strapped Travis to the back of a horse and began hauling him along on pack trips to the back country.  Some of my earliest backpacking memories of the area are of passing pack trains with Travis tagging along in back.  I didn’t even know him then, but got to know him when he became a student at the high school.  He moved along a couple of years ago, but still comes by to visit us from time to time.  But sometimes I think Travis thinks he knows what is going on, when he really doesn’t.

I even asked him, “Did Craig tell you which horse I’m taking?”

To which he replied, “I know which horse you’re taking.”

So I followed him out to the pasture, a dry lot, really.  The front section is maybe 10 acres and the back section is about 5.  There is a fence between them, but the gate was open so that the animals had access to the whole thing.  There were maybe a dozen mules and 5 or 6 horses out there.  Travis set off confidently across the field and I dutifully followed.  He led me up to a nice looking bay horse that was maybe an appendix quarter horse.  He was also a gelding. That’s when the alarm bells should have gone off.  The little voice in my head that says rational things was saying “maybe you should just wait to hear from Craig.”

Instead I said. “This one’s a gelding, Craig told me it is a mare.”

Honest mistake really.

So we looked at all of the other bay horses out there and they were also all geldings.  But then we spotted her, a rolly-polly bay mare hidden in the center of a cluster of mules.  She looked more Morgan to me, but I conceded that she could be a half Arab.  I mean, what do I know?  The other half could be Clydesdale!  As soon as we turned our attention towards her, she left.  And all the boys followed.  So did Travis and I.  So we all walked up to the gate and through the gap into the other section of the pasture where she exuberantly took off and all the boys did too.  They stopped short at the far fence line where she apparently felt safe back amidst her cluster of admirers.  So that’s how it is!  She’s the queen bee!

Only now we had them up against a fence line, so we were in a better position to try to get nearer to her.  The funny thing was that most of the other mules and horses kept clustering around us saying “pick me, pick me.”  She was the only one playing hard to get.  After Travis made several attempts to get a halter on her, she somehow ended up nearer to me, so I bent down and reached out my knuckles for her to sniff.  She gave me a sniff, I stroked her neck and she figured the game was over and let us halter her.  Then we took her back up to the gate followed by a whole train of mules and horses.  Getting her out without any of her posse tagging along was the biggest challenge, but after that, she jumped right in the trailer.  As I pulled out, I heard her yelling and several of the boys galloped hopefully along the fence line yelling right back.

Things were not so relaxing at the other end of our little trip.  After all, what is a queen bee without all her peeps to run the hive!  She bulldozed her way out of the trailer covered in sweat with a decidedly un-queen-bee look in her eyes.  She danced around for a moment astonished at the lack of workers and drones amongst which to hide.  What ever is a girl to do?  I grabbed a carrot stick for self defense and we headed for the corrals.  Dolly let out a lusty yell which assured my charge that we were, at least, heading in a more promising direction.  I thought we were going to be okay in spite of the fact that she was walking like an really animated stork in about a foot of water when, all of a sudden, she stopped and her eyes practically popped out of her head.  I turned just in time to see Annie come sauntering over.

She, of course, was thinking “Hey guys! What’s going on? Hi there new horse…”

While new horse was thinking “A giant grey mouse!  Eeeeek!”

Good thing I had the carrot stick for self defense!  I waved it at Annie.  “No!  Stop!  Don’t come any nearer!” As the mare began to simultaneously crouch in preparation for a giant leap and swell up to twice her size in absolute terror of whatever horror was about to befall her, I was getting a better grip on the rope and wondering if I was going to be able to hang on when the storm broke.  Fortunately, at that moment Annie, choosing to be insulted by our obviously uncouth behavior, turned on a dime and stomped off in a huff.  Annie, apparently, doesn’t qualify as a peep.

Somehow, we made it over and into the corral.  I only had to bop her on the nose once to keep from getting run over, but it was obvious that in her panic, she wasn’t about to observe anyone else’s personal space.  She wasn’t much comforted by the presence of Dolly and kept looking around and yelling for her boys.  Smart mare really, Dolly, too, is a queen bee.  And though I would never scruple to propose the sport of horse fighting and would be horrified at its mere suggestion, still, the evil voice inside my head said “I wonder who would win?…”   Wisely, I placed her Bee-ness two corrals over from Dolly.  The vet has seen far too much of me in the last few years!

Once safely in the corral, we played a little bit.  Move your hindquarters.  Move your forequarters.   Back-up—not much back-up there…  Come around me, then turn and face.

Bend your neck—stiff as a board to the right, but some bending to the left.  When I first asked her to back up, she stood rigid.  I just gently bumped her nose with the halter and she got the idea.  After a couple of steps backwards, she lowered her head and licked her lips.  She visibly relaxed and her eyes got much softer.  Okay, maybe there’s hope here.  Only problem is she already reminds me too much of Dolly.  Oh, I like Dolly.  But she’s been a lot of work.  Our personalities don’t necessarily mesh very well.  I’ve certainly learned a lot from her.  I’m just not sure I want to buy another horse that is just like her.  Given the choice, maybe I’d like a different poison this time!

Still, I could work with her for a couple of weeks.  I could comb all the knots out of her mane and trim her feet.  I could work with her on the ground and see if I could get her relaxed and focused enough to ride.  Maybe I’d even be able to ride her enough to get some of the weight off and get her in a little better shape.  And maybe once she got over the shocking change in her lifestyle, she would prove to be a very different animal.  You never know, right?  So I went up to the house satisfied that I was at least willing to give it a try.

Then Craig called…

“You got the wrong horse.”

And you know, before we got hit by lightening, things like this used to surprise me, but not anymore…

The right horse was at the pack station and Craig had been busy dealing with a sick horse and etc, etc…  I said “why don’t I take this horse up to the pack station Tuesday morning and exchange her for the right horse?”

Judging from the alacrity of his answer, I think he was relieved at the suggestion.  He told me the horse I had was also a half Arab, named Rasmin.  The horse I was after was named Jasmine.   Maybe this is why Travis was confused?  (Or maybe all bay horses look alike to Travis…)  He said Rasmin was a real sweetheart and I should ride her on Monday.  I was pretty sure that wasn’t going to happen, but I didn’t want to insult him by suggesting that his horse might be just a little bit, you know, SCARY, when not surrounded by other equines.  Anyway, I had appointments in town Monday morning and by the time I got home, the wind was blowing 50 miles per hour and it was raining.  It was snowing in the mountains.  Not exactly riding weather.  That’s June for you.