Sunday, December 31, 2006

Horse Plans for 2007

I want to keep working with Lena, to continue to improve my riding and her horseness.

I want to learn more about body work so I can help keep her healthy and sound as she gets older and as we do more with her. (Plus it's a fun way to connect with her physically.)

I want to learn how to tow a horse trailer.

I want to take Lena out and do different things with her, be it cutting or trail riding or barrel racing.

I want to be brave enough to do some article submissions to some of the magazines I read.

I want to be more willing to trust her, less willing to doubt myself.

Trail adventures

Lena doesn't have a lot of trail experience, yet, and so - in the spirit of helping her grow and breaking up her routine just a little - we walked down the road a ways to a nearby orchard. In order to get into the orchard, however, you must cross "The Puddle In The Ditch." I, being the leader in our little parade and on foot, sloshed through TPITD, primarily for Lena's benefit, though also to test whether the new cracks in my old boots are admitting water, yet.

Steve and Lena started to follow but then came the distinct sound of metal horse shoes clattering to a stop on asphalt - the horse version of slamming on the brakes. She has gone through the ditch before, even with a little water in it, so he very patiently walked her around in a circle and tried again. No go, so serious negotiations began. Steve worked through the sideways dance, the circular spin, some walking up and down the side of the road, not to mention the added bonus of waving cars past us in the middle of all that.

She did finally concede and make her way through TPITD, receiving much patting and praise for her bravery, only to sink nearly knee deep in the spongy, squishy orchard ground. But with much snorting and squelching - and use of her big, strong, healthy muscles to pull her feet out of the muck - we made it to firmer ground. More patting and praise occured, of course.

Not too bad for a horse stuck with two humans as trail ride partners.

Saturday, December 30, 2006


This is probably not in the safe-activities-with-horses category, but it was fun nonetheless.

Steve was riding Lena yesterday and walked up to me after warming her up so we could switch. On a whim, I ran off to my left, Lena's right, as they faced me. We'd done this a few times before, but not for awhile, and with varying reactions from her.

This time was different.

Those big ears went back, her head came down, and for all you'd have guessed from watching her, I was a cow. Well, probably not really, but she nonetheless went right into cow-mode and it was awesome to watch.

I only wish I had four legs and more stamina. :-)

Definitely a case where I could tell she was having fun not just going through the motions.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Weird horse wound update

I think in one of my very first posts, down at the bottom of the August archive, I said that if I actually knew all the things that could go wrong with a horse, I never would have bought one. So I'm exceedingly glad of my ignorance even still because it's less for me to worry about, leaving more room to enjoy her. Not that we don't still call in the vet occasionally.

In fact, Dr. Leslie was out yesterday because Lena's lip still hasn't healed. The good doctor says Lena looks healthy and athletic, though, so isn't particularly worried about auto-immune or systemic things. (Like I even knew to worry about that before she mentioned it!)

Turns out there is a build up of granulated tissue (proud flesh) that isn't allowing the skin to come over the sores and close them up. There are some on the edges that are healed, so we just have to keep Lena from licking off the special concoction Dr. Leslie mixed up for her so we can get her lips back to their normal soft, furry state. Not an easy task. The next thing to try - if she keeps licking - is meat tenderizer, which sounds a lot like one of those old vet remedies you hear rumors about, but I trust Dr. Leslie even if it does sound a little wacky.

I suppose I could be more worried about Lena's immune system, but worrying without just cause isn't helpful and won't change the outcome of a situation, so why waste the energy. If the lip owies don't start to heal in a couple of days, I'm under strict orders to call Dr. Leslie anyway, and we'll just go from there.

Besides, riding is more fun than worrying any day.

Horse Thoughts - Year One

We're a little past the one-year mark - it was in August - but I've been thinking about this post for at least that long, so I thought I'd actually write it.

If I could summarize this last year in one word, it would be a minor miracle.

Strength and power. Sun, wind, rain and dirt-in-your-nose. Stillness of spirit balanced with primal energy. Frustration with and challenges from the horse, myself, and other humans. Learning to dance with all four feet. Mud. Horse poop - a lot of it. Laughter, joy, and the simple pleasure of being in this universe.

In just one word? "Wow," probably sums it up best.

Only a little more than two years ago, the concept of Lena was a foreign idea - one not even in the realm of possiblity. Now, we can't imagine life without her and are even trying to figure out ways to add to the horse contingency. It's wacky, I tell you!

Lena has added so much to my life - not only in the riding and handling of her sweet, sometimes spoiled, spotty self, but in the time spent with Steve and Katie. The opportunities we've had together to work with Lena, as well as take her out into the world for new experiences, have provided lessons of self that have helped me grow in ways that might not have otherwise occured - even with years of intensive and expensive therapy.

Not to mention I finally have a really good excuse to drive a pick-up truck. I guess year two will include learning to tow, trailer maintenence and rigging that poop slingshot I mention in here to use on tailgaters. Possibly even horse number two - as yet unknown - too.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

It's Ike and Cheri's fault

I sometimes feel like a stranger in a strange barn.

We love our crazy horse, and we are learning what we need to do to channel Lena's natural exuberance into reasonable arena behavior, but we're not perfect and that sometimes creates conflict with other riders. This is also exceedingly difficult in winter when stuck indoors, by the way.

Oh, my kingdom for a trailer and another horse, but we're not there, yet. Oh, and no rain, either.

Here's the thing. We learned to ride up at Slide Mountain, where sometimes you have to ride through the craziness because that's what you do, that's part of how you build the relationship with the horse. The horses Ike and Cheri raise are strong and energetic and fun to ride, so you work with it because it's more fun, more rewarding, than just sitting on a horse's back and letting them do all the work.

It's definitely not that you let them get away with bad behavior, either. Ike and Cheri are just more accepting of horses with Lena's energy level and of people like us who love to work with that energy.

And why work with a horse like Lena? Because you can feel it when she taps into the power in her own body. It comes up through the saddle into your spine, straight up into your heart and soul - a simple joy that feels like flying. It's not even speed, per se. It's whether she's having fun or just going through the motions because it's better than being in her pen. And, yes, I can feel the difference and the experience is infinitely better when she's having fun.

Lena is a lot of horse and working with her isn't easy, but it offers more reward than almost anything else I do every day. (Even if it does make my arms ache on occasion.)

Ike and Cheri taught us to love horses like Lena, horses that challenge you and help you grow as a rider. I guess that makes us wild and crazy, too, but life's too short for boring.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Big Horse Shows

Big horse shows are big.

A week ago today, Katie and I were on our way back from our whirlwind trip to Vegas, back from our first experience with a big horse show. We decided if we do this next year, staying one more night would be good. Of course, Katie is already planning Lena's Paint Vegas barrel racing debut, too.

Back to last week. Because the arena had to be completely reconfigured, cutting was scheduled for the last day. On one hand, we missed most of the events, but on the other hand, things in the barn were pretty quiet.

The hotel itself is set up as an equestrian event center, with permanent stalls and a good-sized arena. All you had to do to find the barn was follow your nose. Some poor kid spent all day Sunday vacuuming the carpet of the alcove that led to the barn.

We got to our room - up on the 23rd floor - and managed to catch Cheri and Tiffany by phone right as Amber was going down for a nap, so had a couple of hours to kill.

We went to have lunch, then went to find the horses. Cheri had told me they brought seven horses from Slide, but when we got to the stalls, we only recognized six of them. I saw Vinnie first, then Cooper, Truly, Annie, Too Much Pepper and Peaches. But we couldn't figure out who number seven was. Turns out it was "Lena," another Lena, who they were using as a help horse.

We perused the gift show - gravitating instantly towards the most expensive headstalls available. Katie declined the opportunity to watch some of the Western Pleasure events and we headed back to our room. She didn't quite run away screaming, but close. On our way back through the hotel casino, where we dodged dazed gamblers and cheerful cocktail waitresses, we found Ike. He suggested Katie go up and change for the upcoming practice session right as Tiffany called me to say Amber was up from her nap. Nice timing all around, I'd say.

Amber and I hung out, trying to stay out of the way and find somewhere to sit after the cleaning staff kicked us out of the stands. Katie helped keep the horses warmed up, trotting and loping them in the practice arena, switching out as the horses each took turns with the practice cows. The cattle were - according to Tiffany - gross and nasty, running headlong into the horses instead of moving away.

The cattle did improve the next day - here are Ike (and Vinnie) watching as the helpers settle a group of cattle.

It was hard to watch the cutting and watch Amber, but there were some great runs on some truly excellent horses. Unfortunately, my pictures are mostly blurry because of how fast everyone was moving and because we were indoors. Amber spent time watching the cutting, watching me take pictures of the cutting, looking at the pictures I took, and climbing up and down the stairs with me right behind her. I got a great work out! Probably the most amazing thing was how long Amber played with her Play-doh. I don't think I've ever seen a 2-year old play with anything for 4 hours straight. Ever! I did get in trouble with her, though, for yelling "too loud" during Tiffany and Truly's Non-Pro run. I told her I had to, it was for her mommy. :-)

All of Ike and Cheri's horses made the finals, which was really cool, and Tiffany got reserve champion in both the Open and the Non-Pro categories. In the Non-Pro, she was only behind the leader by a measly 0.5 points, but she had a really exciting ride. (Hence the aforementioned "too loud" shouting.)

It was a fast trip, and I would have liked to spend more time with the Slide folks, but the time we did spend was pretty special. I got to watch Katie reconnect with riding and with people who really treat her as if they like her. (Because they do, of course.) I got to be reminded that there are people out there who really appreciate and enjoy wild and crazy - and smart - horses like Lena. That was a pretty special suprise to get out of this trip and one of the many reasons it was worth going.

And it was wonderful to come home to Lena Rey and Steve and share the after-glow of that gift with them.

Congtratulations, Slide Mountain crew! You guys are awesome!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Paint Vegas tomorrow

Katie and I leave tomorrow morning, early. We're all packed, big belt buckle and all.

It will be interesting, we think, no matter what all happens.

More to come, I promise. :-)

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A little spoiled

Okay, so I'm a little spoiled.

Owning a horse is a luxury I'm lucky enough to be able to afford, one that I work hard for and am thankful for every single day.

Riding has become such a part of my day, my life, that doing without it is nearly unimaginable, but I know I could. Since I was afraid of the big beasts only a few years ago, that seems like living without them wouldn't be that hard.

But now? While Lena seems excessive or extraneous in the master scheme of things, I know not having her would leave an awfully big hole for me, and for Steve and Katie, too. A small hole in the universe, to be sure, but since I'm a mere spec in the universe, I get my soul sustenance where I can.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Riding is not a luxury

I know a lot of people think that riding horses is a luxury, but it's not. I do concede that owning a horse may seem like a luxury, until you're cleaning out the stalls. But riding Lena saves my sanity in a way not many other things do, which makes it a necessity in my mind.

Work has been a little hectic lately because of some overall organizational changes that are going on. The best part of my day sometimes - most times - is walking away from it and plopping my butt on Lena's back and working out whatever it is we are working out that day.

I got stuck at the office yesterday and by the time I got to the barn, Steve had ridden Lena and put her away. I was so disappointed I almost cried, but at least she got ridden and Steve said they had a good ride, which are both good things.

Doesn't stop the disappointment, mind you, but at least she's getting the attention she needs even if I'm not getting the exercise or - more importantly on any given day - the grounding she provides. I think I'm good for her, too. I work with her in an entirely different way than Steve does, which gives her training a nice balance.

Handling her - grooming, my lightweight version of body work, etc. - is soothing, too, but there is something about riding, about communicating with her using physical contact of one form or another rather than words, that is very centering for me. And hopefully remotely educational for her. :-)

I figure riding actually makes me a better employee. Sadly, I don't think my employer would see it that way were I to ask to work from the barn. Though there is wireless there. :-)

So, because I'm not independently wealthy, I have to do what most horse owners do and balance work and what I really want to be doing - riding. Sometimes that means I miss out, which isn't any fun. I guess if there is a luxury component to this, it's that even if my riding skills start to deteriorate, Lena is still getting lots and lots of attention. There are a lot of horses that can't say that.

I'd still rather be riding.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Horse trailer update

We think we found a horse trailer that at least has all the features we would want and not any we don't.

It's this one from Trails West - only the bumper-pull, two-horse, slant-load version, not the one in the picture. We went to the one of the local dealers, poked around his lot, and this one fit the bill pretty perfectly. Here are the floor plans.

Aside from the basic features above, it's got what they call a telescoping divider, but what that means to non-trailer-savvy folks is that the divider actually shifts over where it attaches to the wall so you can have a large compartment in the back for one horse, or two compartments - depending on who you're hauling. Nice mechanism, says the engineer among us. (Steve, that is.) Not overly-difficult to move, but solid like you would want something keeping horses in place to be.

It's steel, and I know that some people recommend aluminum to fend off rust, but aluminum trailers tend to be about twice the price and since we are pretty diligent about vehicle maintenance in general, guarding against rust will become part of that routine. (But, hey, if I could find a good aluminum trailer for the same price with the same features, I'd take it, too.)

There is a nicely set up and equipped tack room, including a 25-gallon water tank, which will come in handy for what we want to do. (Horse camping and such.)

It has drop-down windows on the "head" side and slat openings on the "butt" side, which you can cover up with Plexiglas during bad weather.

I wanted to mount spotlights on the back in case someone starts to tailgate, but Steve said that it is illegal to blind other drivers.

"How about a poop catapult?" I asked.

Maybe my friends at Make Magazine can make me something that would do the trick. It would have to calculate the angle so as not to hit the windshield and block vision, but to at least strike the hood of the offending car with great gooeyness and splattering.

If the judge I get after being arrested for causing traffic problems is a horse-owner, I bet I only get a mild warning.

Weird horse wounds

Here's a horse injury that you might not think of until it happens.

Most of us out there have gotten our tongue stuck on something cold, even if only momentarily. I admit that I once lost a bit of the end of my tongue to our freezer.

The other evening, I was rubbing Lena's nose and lips and felt a dime-sized (or so) sore there. I got her to hold still so I could see it and it looked an awful lot like she had ripped off part of her lip when it got stuck to one of the metal bars around her paddock. (It's been really cold the last week or so, and the bars had ice on them.)

I can only imagine her reaction at having that very sensitive and flexible top lip glue itself rather firmly to the bar. Hopefully, it was less painful for her than removing my tongue from the door inside the freezer was for me.

I did check her tongue, too, which appears to be unscathed.

She seems to be healing fine, and I can only hope she has learned the same lesson the rest of us have about cold things and moist body parts not mixing well - though she probably has less of an embarrassment factor than humans do. Maybe.

Horse breaks

One of the greatest things that owning a horse has done is get me outside. I know that sounds obvious, but it's been a long time since I've spent this much time outdoors and it's one of the things I've come to appreciate a lot.

The other morning, it was all of about 29 degree when I got to the barn - warm by some folks' standards, but pretty darn cold for a California girl. And, like every good California girl, I grumbled about it as I pulled on my hat and gloves.

Then I started thinking about how much time I spend outside and the gift that really is.

If I didn't have Lena, I would drive straight into the office every morning, warm and toasty inside my car. And while I would be warmer, I'd be insulated from the early morning air. I'd miss the way the frost makes even barren pastures look magical. I wouldn't see the mist rising as the winter sun makes every valiant attempt to warm the ground. Not to mention never seeing the way the cloud of Lena's breath swirls around her spotty head as she watches me come up to her paddock.

The horses get frisky in this kind of weather, bucking in their paddocks, racing each other in the pastures. Right after I took the picture below, the mare on the right - Gypsy - came galloping up to the fence to see what I was doing. Or maybe because she thought I had treats. Or maybe just because it's fun to kick up your heels when the air is crisp and clear.

Life is full of excuses to hide inside. Lena gives me an excuse to be out and I love it. Even when my nose gets cold.