Sunday, June 28, 2009

Slide Mountain Revisited

Slide Mountain Ranch
Steve and I went back up to Slide Mountain Ranch for a quickie weekend and realized just how much we missed being up here.

Slide is where Lena came from, and the people and place that got us far enough to want to have horses in our lives. And not just horses but interesting, curious, fun, energetic, horses.

Thank goodness for Slide and Lena or I might have had a much harder time staying with Bar through all of our troubles.

Eclipse the wonder horse

I got to ride Lena's half brother Eclipse, which is a pretty special thing. I wrote a post about him a few years ago, calling him the horse ambassador. He is now 26 and has slowed down some from when I first met him, but don't tell him that. He still teaches his rider with every step, and my lesson was to pay attention and not assume just because he is the best horse on the property, he won't try to eat the veggies growing in the garden. Cheri is worried he's starting to develop Cushing's disease, which can happen to older horses. He may be, but he was still willing and eager to come out and play and even thought maybe we should head out on the trail instead of getting a bath.

Eclipse getting a bath

I also got to handle Dandy, who was the first horse I ever rode at Slide. She is a Paint mare and one of their best trail horses. Calm and steady, willing to go over or through just about anything. She's the horse that, after we had loped (read galloped) up a hill with me clinging on for dear life and yet laughing the whole time, Ike turned to me and told me to trot through the creek because "that horse likes to roll in the water."

About a year ago, Dandy had a bad accident while tied up that lead to some serious neurological problems. They nursed her until she was more stable, then turned her out with their other horses on their 100-acre ranch and watched as she regained her coordination. She is not as confident as I remember her, but she is back to bossing around the small herd she's with, so that is a good sign. Steve rode her very gently because she is still getting back into shape, and then we took her down to have a bath. She was a little apprehensive about being near the hitching rail, and you can't tie her, yet, so I spent a lot of time just talking to her and hitting some of the acupressure points I could reach. Finally, standing in the sun after her bath, she dropped her head and cocked a back leg and just hung out there with me like that for awhile. Pretty cool.

Slide has a whole crop of new youngsters they are really excited about, too. Mia, a 4-year old Paint mare; BB, a 3-year old nearly coal black mare; Elvis, a 2-year old Paint gelding; and two other young geldings whose pictures I got (above), but names I did not. I could recite which foal came from which mare, but I'll refrain. Cheri is working a lot with BB Cat, who I remember as a tiny little orphan, but has turned into a beauty. Her personality reminds me a little of Lena's--won't hold still and thinks you are obviously there just to pay attention to her--but she's a fun and interesting horse and I'm looking forward to seeing how things go with her.

BB Cat and Cheri Bunney

These two little colts pictured below were also a hoot. I haven't been around many babies, at least not with a significant amount of horsemanship under my belt. These two were so curious, so interested in everything I was doing, I felt like I needed horse eyes to keep track of both of them. As it was, I used my arms and kept my head swiveling as best I could.

Jess and two Slide colts

Steve also got to ride one of Lena's other half brothers, Junior. He acts a lot like Lena and is a really awesome trail horse. The trails Ike has built behind Slide are definitely challenging in some spots, but wonderful for making horses slow down and think about their feet. It really made me wish I had brought Bar because both Junior and Cloud, the horse I was riding, have downhill worked out really well and Bar could use a little tutoring in that department. (Not surprising--racetracks don't have a lot of up and downhill, after all.)

Junior, Lena's half brother

I also love knowing more about where Lena came from and seeing a horse like Eclipse--so similar in personality--still wanting to come out and play at age 26! Their dam, Buttercup, was apparently quite the horse. The picture below is of Buttercup as a yearling, and is a little distorted because it was taken in the semi-dark at an angle of a picture that hangs in the bunkhouse, then cropped to cut the frame out. But, hey, it kind of worked! You can certainly see where Lena gets her build and her beauty. I can't tell, though, if Buttercup gave Lena those wonderful, curly, expressive ears.

It may seem weird to go on vacation to ride other horses, but I came back with a renewed faith in myself as a horse-woman, and some new ideas for working with Bar. I also came back knowing we have a place to take Bar and Lena that will not only accept us, but help us be better horse people. That means a lot to me.

I also got to check out where my daughter Katie would be staying when she goes up to work for Ike and Cheri this month. I'm almost jealous! It will be an interesting and once-in-a-lifetime experience for Katie and I am so glad to know people who can offer that to her.

That's a lot for one post, but it was a lot to cram into three short days. The next trip will definitely be a little longer and include Bar and Lena. I wonder if that means the next post will be twice as long? Maybe so.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Steve and I did some necessary chores today--he whacked weeds and I cleaned winter's leftovers off (and out of) the horse blankets.

They got new Hug blankets last year, waterproof and mid-weight, which is all California horses really need. (Okay, Northern California Coastal horses, anyway, and some might argue they don't even need that much.) Bar, however, loves his blankie. Lena sometimes still pretends to have blanket anxiety issues, but just until it's cold and wet and she sees Bar wearing his and feels left out.

As horse owners everywhere know, blanketing is somewhat of an art. Blanket too much and they don't get any winter coat. Don't blanket enough, and hard keepers (horses who have trouble keeping weight on, like Bar), expend too much energy keeping warm and drop weight. Hardest are the few times a year here where it gets into the 30's at night but up into the 60's plus during the day. Then you get sweaty horses during the day if you can't get out to de-blanket. No,our barn is not one of those fancy full-service barns, but it's better for us that way in lots of other, more important ways.

But I digress.

Blankets get gross after a full winter of wear and tear--caked with mud, poop, and sweat--so every year you can keep them intact, you get to blanket cleaning time. I could send them out--I know of at least a couple of good blanket cleaners/menders in the area--but I haven't gone that route yet. I usually bring them home, spread them out on the porch, and clean them up with the hose, some mild soap, and a scrub brush of some kind.

These blankets had a new twist for me. They are dual layer, with mesh inside to aid in air flow and also help with shedding. This however led to an interesting glob of stuff in the corners of the blankets, which presented a bit of a challenge when it came to removing it. I ended up cutting a hole in the mesh, shaking the wads of hair and mud into that corner, and turning the corner of the blanket inside out through the hole in the mesh. It worked, though I was left with a pile of odd looking hair wads and dirt.

I did notice (again) that Bar and Lena's hair are completely different textures, his being much finer and softer than hers is. The hair wads were kinda cute, but no, I didn't save them.

For now the blankets are relatively clean (though still smell nicely of horse) and I can look at them and tell what color they really are (e.g. not mud-colored) before I fold them up and put them away until it starts getting cold and rainy again. The caterpillar who came along to inspect them said I did a fine job, too.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Running into horse people in odd places and experiments with tack

Dad landed back in the hospital this week, so I spent more time there, some of it fairly traumatic. The good news is--at least at the moment--he's doing much better. He is getting a pacemaker tomorrow, but assures me that the procedure is very routine. He is also looking at some physical therapy as well to help build up his strength and ensure that we don't all panic at the thought of him living alone.

As it turned out, his nurse the other day has a son going to horse camp this summer and a partner who is a horse person. She even knows a horse vet up here in Sonoma County! Not that we need one, but still. It's kind of an odd connection for a Berkeley nurse to have.

At any rate, it just goes to show you I can indeed find a horse connection in almost any situation.

As is so often the case when riding--as well as writing--I am in need of a smooth transition and I'm not sure I can carry it off. But if I don't carry it off, it means two blog posts and I really only have energy for one right now. That means combining odd horse connections and the benefits of connecting better with the horses by using new and different tack.

Steve and I have been wanting to try an English saddle on both horses for awhile, so he did some measurements and we made our way to the used tack store nearby to see what we could find as a starter saddle. Mainly, I wanted the closer contact and lighter weight of an English saddle, and I think Steve was also curious to see what effects that would have.

Lena was first, and she loved it. From my vantage point on the hill watching them, she looked much more collected and light. Steve's position also looked better, though both of us struggled a little bit with leg position. We also understand now why English riders wear pants inside their boots. Riding with your jeans shoved up to the top of your boots is a little uncomfortable. And distracting.

Bar was next, and I told him he looked very, very handsome in an English saddle, though he's not being particularly photogenic in this picture. He liked the saddle, too, though he really would prefer if I could just relax a little more and have more fun. Like I told Katie earlier today: "Logically, I know I need to relax, I just have to get the message down to my butt."

I really love how much contact I have with the horses with an English saddle, and I think it will really help get them more responsive to body movements. Lena is already pretty responsive--even before you get to reins. Bar is sometimes responsive, but was always been trained to go off the reins--that was his job, after all--so he and I have some work to do. But it's fun work, and we're both learning a lot. It's all good.

So. Not the most coherent blog post, but it's all I've got to give for now.

Scam alert

Sometimes I am really ashamed of my species.

One of the horse rescue places I follow found out recently that someone had been supposedly raising funds for them, but not really. These folks had their wares out and would get permission from a retailer--Wal-Mart in the last two documented instances--to be there, supposedly raising funds for a worthy cause. In this case, NorCal Equine Rescue.

Only they'd been doing it for 3 years and NorCal had never actually received any of the funds. Funny, that.

Here are the folks to look out for.

Click here and scroll down for the original story. (Look for the picture of the front of a Wal-Mart.)

What's really sad is that it casts suspicion on anyone fundraising, and that means small non-profits will have to work that much harder to get more face time in their communities. Ugh. Stupid scammers.