Riding 29 year old Sandy in 1997

Sunday, October 7, 2012

It once was lost, but now is found....

I found myself with no returns I could actually work on today so did a little project in my laundry room (putting up doors across the washer/dryer cubby and using my new Lint Lizard to get you wouldn't believe how much lint out of the area beyond the lint filter) and then decided to go ride Dawn.

My riding buddies were all gone for the day so I decided to ride her in my own arena and MAKE HER CANTER.  I put the treeless western saddle on (you almost have to throw yourself out of this saddle to fall off) and her usual bridle that I ride on loose rein (not the dressage bridle) and took her to the arena instead of the round pen.

I cleared a path so I had the full circumference of the arena -- there are logs and barrels and other obstacles for trail training out there -- and did some ground work, mostly emphasizing the voice commands I've been teaching her.  When I had her going from trot to canter and back to trot on voice command pretty well, I got on her.

I had the "buck stopper" on her, which is a rope that goes under her upper lip and over her head with a rope attaching the whole thing to the saddle horn. If you've read my book, this is similar to what I used to keep Sandar from putting his head down to roll.  What it does is punish her if she tries to throw her head down to buck.  I've used it on her for her recent cantering sessions to ensure she wouldn't be able to buck like a rodeo horse.

I started out trotting around the arena (which is about 100 feet in each direction) and when I had her settled and going well, I asked her to canter.  She swished her tail and pinned her ears but launched into the canter and I felt her hind end go up but her head never went down.  This told me the buck stopper had done its job the times before when I had used it and I didn't need to worry about her actually throwing a bucking fit so I pushed her on through it and made her keep going.  I did this several times, asking her to canter in the same place in the arena and making her go on past the point where she kicked out (because by now I knew she was just kicking out, not bucking, and it was not unseating me in the slightest, and she was not escalating into any other undesirable behavior).  A couple times after she had been snarky, I doubled her and made her turn tight circles as punishment, then asked her to move out again with no break.

Every time I asked her to canter in a circle to the left she kicked out but eventually I got her to where she would go almost all the way around before I would ask her to stop.  And, boy, can she stop!  She'll be doing slide stops before too long.

When I asked her to canter to the right, however, she did not kick out at all and would keep going until I asked her to stop.  I know she needs to be adjusted and I thought maybe something was pinching her when I asked her to circle to the left.  After doing a full circle to the right, I thought I would test that theory and turned her to the left again.  

So much for that theory.  She took the canter without protest and went the full circle.  I told her what a good girl she was and got off.  

I'm still going to get her adjusted, but either the cantering and tight circles popped something in place, she  learned to canter through the discomfort, or she really was just being snarky all along. 

Anyway, this was a real milestone for both of us.  After all those years trying to overcome the damage Dutch had done to my nerve . . . I have found it again.  Because with all the kicking out she did, it never made me afraid, never made me want to get off her or stop -- it made me determined to make her do it.  And that's how I used to be, way back in my youth and early adulthood.  I always sought out the difficult horses and never got off them when they acted up, and if they got me off anyway, I always got back on, more determined than ever.

And it feels so good to have found again what I thought was lost for good.

I still credit my dressage lessons for improving my riding enough to enable me to do this.

At the end of the session, Dawn was sweaty and I was tired, but I had had FUN, even though she had swished her tail and pinned her ears and kicked out and not wanted to do it -- I had made her do it anyway, and it was fun.  And I look forward to our next session, maybe tomorrow if I'm lucky.

And that's the latest from the Ranch.

The End is in Sight

No, not THAT end, just the end of tax season.

The Suburban Cowgirl in real life is a tax preparer and the past month has been spent cranking out tax returns for the clients who requested extension for the 2011 tax return.  The corporate deadline was September 15, and the deadline for personal returns is 8 days from now, October 15.  And then I will get my life back until it all starts again on January 1.

This has been the busiest and most hectic year I think I've ever lived through in my life.  But it hasn't been all work; I've had eight months of weekly dressage lessons, never missing a single week since I started.  And that's a good thing because it is making me a better rider and has restored my confidence in my riding and got me past my nervousness about riding Dawn when she wasn't in a 100% compliant mood.

These last few weeks on Dawn have been interesting.  She's had her fourth dressage lesson and is still doing well, although we've had a couple of tense moments when a particularly sexy gelding caught her eye in mid-lesson and I had to do some circling to get her attention back on me.  But there hasn't been a bolt or a crowhop even once, just a bit of tension and animation a couple of times.  

I'm looking forward to the end of tax season, and the cooler fall weather that has just begun, so I can start riding her every morning and working on cantering and teaching her to collect.  But she's getting better at yielding to the bit even with just being ridden once a week for the last couple of weeks, at the lessons, and not in between.  She generally does best if she is ridden several days in a row so I'm looking forward to seeing how much progress she can make once my time is my own again.

My boarder, Vanessa, wants to ride today so I'll take a break from the taxes later on and we'll go out.  Her horse has been ailing lately and is finally released for work again, so we plan to ride out on Dash and Dawn and pony Dakota off Dawn. Hopefully that will work out.  Dawn usually gets along with everyone, whereas I think if we tried to pony him from Dash, she would likely kick at him, since she is the Queen and he is one of her subjects and she is adamant about keeping her subjects in their place.

Dawn doesn't think she's superior to anyone so she shouldn't care if he's walking alongside or behind her.  They've shared a corral fence since April so she knows him better than Dash does.

The weather should be nice for this ride, highs in the low 80's, blue sky with a few clouds, no wind to speak of.  And it will be a short ride since Dakota has been idle for a couple of months while she sorted out his problem.  But it will get me away from the computer for an hour or so.

And at some point I need to light the pilot in the heater and fill up the woodbox and get a chimney sweep log to burn in the woodstove and get the ashes from last April out of there and get ready for winter.  It was 35 overnight and I wore a jacket to feed the horses for the first time this morning.

It's just such a shame that the nice weather goes with ever-shortening days.  It would be lovely to be able to ride till 8 when the temps are in the 70's, but the temps are in the 90's when the days are long and the 70 degree days go with a 6:30 p.m. sundown, reducing to 5 p.m. (and 50 degree days) by the winter solstice.

My hay is bought; I shouldn't need to buy more until next June.  I pray the prices will be down next year. These last two years of droughts and fires and floods and heavy monsoons have kept the price at an all-time high, more than double the "normal" price.  If this keeps up, it will be horrible for the horse industry because soon only the 1% will be able to afford horses at all.  I'm barely outside the 47% and can barely feed the two I have left after leasing Dottie out.  If this economy doesn't pick up soon (Obama hasn't done anything for us, maybe Romney can -- at least his wife has horses) I suspect a lot of horses will be taking that one-way trip to Mexico after being sold at an auction for ten cents a pound.  And the sad fact is that once people get out of horses, they rarely get back into it.  Ranches, once subdivided, will never be turned back into pasture again.

So pray for good growing conditions next year and a stronger dollar to keep so much of our hay from going overseas so people can continue to own and enjoy these wonderful creatures that give us so much pleasure.

And now . . . back to the tax returns.

And that's the latest from the Ranch.

Monday, September 10, 2012

A lesson from a goldfish

My niece once saved a "feeder" goldfish at a petstore, one that was destined to be fed to larger fish in an aquarium.  She put the goldfish in a goldfish bowl, and it went with her to college and came back home with her afterward, living to quite a ripe old age for a goldfish that was supposed to be fish food.

It was a very pretty goldfish, and when visiting one Christmas I had occasion to see it and it was floating in the center of bowl, just staring out through the glass, occasionally twitching a fin to keep itself levitated in the middle of its universe.

I said to my sister, "I wonder if it is bored."

She said, "Well, it's probably a lot better off than being in a lake, being chased by bigger fish, just trying to survive."

And it struck me in that moment -- it is the predators in our lives that give our lives purpose.

I can't imagine being HAPPY being a goldfish in a bowl, even a well-tended bowl like this one had, with my niece doting upon it, providing food, cleaning the water frequently, and occasionally looking in and maybe talking to it.  There is more to life than eating and pooping, which is all that goldfish had.

Would you like to be in a nice, safe rubber room, with your meals provided, safety assured, and NOTHING TO DO?  Even if you had a deck of cards or a book, are we really MEANT to simply exist?  To eat and die and accomplish nothing in between?

Ask any prisoner, who essentially lives in a goldfish bowl, with safety and meals assured and little to do.  If it was all that great, they wouldn't dream of breaking out, being on the run, being chased by their predators.

There is something to be said about the accomplishment of SURVIVAL.  I suspect that fish would have been happier if it had to look for its food, and had the occasional thrill of eluding capture.  And at some point, when it actually got captured, it would die having SURVIVED up until then.  Not just existed.

There is no sense of accomplishment in having stuff given to you.  There is satsifaction in making it through the hard times, finding ways to survive even when times are tough.  There was a time when this was part of our national culture -- the desire NOT to take a handout.  Taking a handout was seen as a personal failure.

But now . . . sadly . . . a large percentage of our population thinks it's just fine to be a goldfish in a bowl, having meals delivered up and not having to work for them.  It's fine to have a roof over your head that you did nothing to acquire. 

But how much more satisfying would it be to FIND the way to survive.  To WORK for what you receive.  To help someone else, so they can help you, and you can both survive. 

I think the predators in our lives give our life meaning and purpose -- the predators of the banker, who wants that loan repaid that you took out to buy something you didn't need or more house than you could afford, the grocer who wants to be paid for the food you eat, the doctor who cured your illness, the plumber who fixed your toilet -- you can run from them by filing bankruptcy, but how much more satisfying to make it through life through YOUR efforts, rather than by taking from someone else.

Embrace your predators.  Rise to meet their challenge.  Win.  Or die trying.

That is what life is about.

And that's a philosophical moment from the Ranch.

Saturday, September 8, 2012


Well, I finally did it.

I've wanted to do it for the last four years.  I actually did it once two years ago, for about three seconds.  

I've known I should do it.  I've wanted to do it.  I was pretty sure I could do it.  I knew it would be wonderful and I knew I would do it someday.

But I was afraid to try.  For four years I've been afraid to just do it.

But I did it today.

I rode Dawn at the canter.  She's seven years old. I've been riding her since she was three.

Okay, you're all rolling your eyes.  What's the big deal?  Well, the big deal relates to my post from a month ago "Staying on."  

You see, when Dawn went to the trainer at the age of 3, she couldn't canter properly.  She cantered like her hind legs were hobbled together, and she was unstable and the trainer did not feel safe riding her like that.  I had the vet examine her, and he said there was nothing wrong, but he felt she just needed to develop more strength in her hind end.  So the trainer trained her at the walk and trot only and we figured eventually I'd have to get her cantering myself.

Well, it wasn't all that much of an issue since I mostly trail ride and there's not a lot of places where it's even safe to canter because of the rocks.  But periodically I would make an effort to sell her (which has always been my intention with Dawn) and I didn't want to sell her with the disclaimer of "she's a great horse but I've never cantered her" so two years ago when I was using her to get myself in condition for the week-long ride in France I thought maybe it was time to try.

But Dawn was still attitudinal then.  When I was trotting and posting to get my leg muscles in shape, I would try putting leg on her to get her to extend the trot and she would resent it, and switch her tail and toss her head and act like Dutch just before he would "blow."  So I would let up and she would resume her nice steady trot and I wouldn't push the issue.

But one time when I had managed to ride her every day for a week and she was being very nice and compliant, I took her in the arena and got her in a trot, and put leg on, and she sped up, and then she just fell into the canter -- a lovely, smooth canter for about four strides -- and then she fell out of it back into the trot.

And the next time I asked her to canter, she switched her tail and tossed her head and gave a little leap and I didn't want to take a chance of falling and getting hurt and not being able to take the trip I was looking forward to so I left it alone and didn't try again.

Other people have tried.  My farrier's better half was with him one time when I was talking about the fact that I'd never cantered her and she said, "Oh, let me get on her," and she got on and cantered her and it was fine, and then the second time she did it, Dawn gave a little crowhop.

And someone else cantered her awhile ago, and she gave a little crowhop.

And my niece was riding her one day and got her to canter a few steps and she gave a little crowhop.

So . . . as far as I was concerned, Dawn would reward every effort to get her to canter by giving a little crowhop.  And I knew that due to the "Dutch effect" if she gave a crowhop with me I would shut her down and that would be the WRONG thing to do.  So I was hoping someone else would be the one to get her cantering -- someone who would ride her through the crowhop.

We'd talked about Tessa doing it for me -- being young and fearless like I used to be -- but she's gone all the time with her job and has two horses of her own to ride when she is here and it's just never happened.

But after the "staying on" incident last month, I've been thinking I needed to just do it -- I'd proven that I could ride her out and I really felt that if she could just get in a canter she'd be fine.

Today we went out for a ride and I worked Dawn in the round pen before we went, and we got down to the wash and Tessa said, "Do you want to do a trot?" and we did a trot in the wash and Dawn was fine.  And then we had to stop for a quad to go by and when we started off again she asked if I wanted to go in front.  So I put Dawn in front and while we were trotting, I put leg on her and she went faster without any attitude or tail switching.

So then we stopped and talked about it and Tessa suggested we try a canter and I decided I would, but I'd let Dawn decide if she wanted to do it or not, I wasn't going to make an issue of it.  So Tessa started to trot and we followed and then she went into a canter and Dawn started trotting faster and finally I put my right leg into her a bit and she rocked into a lovely canter.  I let her go about five strides and then called for a stop because I didn't want her getting excited and going too fast.  So then we did it again and this time she didn't respond when I put leg on, but I just told her "canter" (which I've been teaching her to respond to in the round pen) and as soon as I said the word, she started to canter and we went further that time, about ten strides and she was fine, her ears pricked forward and her head up, and not a crowhop at all.  And she stopped on a dime when I told her "whoa."

So . . . I finally did it.  I finally cantered Dawn, and it was lovely and smooth like I knew it would be.  And now I can honestly tell people who might want to buy her that I have cantered her and she has a lovely canter.

I think she's grown up.  And maybe I have too.

And that's the latest from the Ranch.

Seven year itches?

It seems to me that every seven years I make a change in my life.

At 7 I was in the third grade where I discovered the Black Stallion books, which were a huge influence on my life.  From 7 to 14 I did a lot of reading, a lot of observing, a lot of book learning, especially about horses.  I was a good student, but had few friends, being a confirmed introvert.  At 11 I started writing stories, and at 12 I finished a story that years later would be turned into my first novel.  This was the era where I learned about life, and learned what was important to me.

At 14 I came out of my shell somewhat.  In high school I was in speech and debate, the drama club, the biology club, the creative writing club.  I got involved in some efforts lobbying for change at our school.  I was active and involved.  I had different friends in high school.  I got a job at the Dairy Queen at 14, which enabled me to get a horse at 16.  I graduated at 17, sold the horse, and spent a year at community college and a year at the University.  I quit my first job and got others.  At 19 I got my first "real" job, moved out of the house and started supporting myself.  I got married at 20.  This was the era where I found myself, developed marketable skills, became independent, and went out in the world.

At 21 I got Sandy, and later other horses, and that was the era of the horses, and cows, and chickens, and life on a mini farm.  I barrel raced and learned to ride a motorcycle.  My husband and I took the horses camping and rode the motorcycles around Arizona and even as far as Colorado.  We tried and failed to start a family.  We bought a house and filled it with the stuff that young married couples get, equipping ourselves for life.  It was the era where we together found our place in the world and tried to find our path through it.

At 28 I went back to college and got my degree in accounting.  We moved to California to find better job prospects, and the horse was put out to pasture because there was no time to ride any more.  It was the era of my professional life, promotions, bonuses, advancement.

At 35 I finally decided what I wanted to be when I grew up, and it wasn't a corporate slave.  I quit working on my MBA and wrote a book, then started another. I went to writers' conferences and took classes in police procedure and investigation and improved my writing skills.  We got into a motorcycle club and rode all over the western United States.  At 39 we got divorced.  At 41 I rode a motorcycle across country with a boyfriend and his daughter.  I had taken control of my personal life.

At 42 I took control of my professional life when I quit the corporate rat race and became self-employed as an accountant.  I promised my horse if I couldn't make a go of it on my own I would sell the house before I would sell her.  She died a few years later, my new career flourished, and I moved to Norco and bought more horses, two dogs, a bunch of chickens, and the cat population went from 2 to 4.  I wrote "Tails" of a Suburban Cowgirl and self-published it.  This was the era of proving myself, regaining my independence, and living the life I had chosen.

At 49 I found myself unemployed -- my biggest client that represented 90% of my income closed the facility I was working for.  I sold my house in Norco at a huge profit and moved back to Arizona with my horses, cats, dogs, and chickens.  A few years later the economy collapsed and the accounting practice I had built up in the Payson area began to dwindle as clients struggled and went out of business.

At 56 I started to think about grown-up things:  retirement, health care, the fact that I had way more animals than I needed or could take care of.  The economy collapse had taken a chunk out of my investments.  I took money out of my Roth IRA to buy a house at the bottom of the housing market collapse and became a landlord to supplement the income from my dwindling accounting practice.  I borrowed money to buy a second rental house, put them in control of a property manager, and started putting order to the chaos my life had become.

And that's where I am now -- at the age of 57 -- looking into the future and trying to secure a comfortable enough retirement.

I've reached the conclusion that I can't keep three horses any more.  The price of hay has skyrocketed while my income has plummeted.  So this past week I have managed to lease Dottie out to a family with three small children so she can spend her golden years teaching the next generation to love horses.  Dawn is listed for sale.  Dash never will be.  I'll live in my truck before I'd sell that horse.

I am trying to divest myself of two of the six housecats, while worrying about the seven ferals I feed in my garage.  There likely will be a move to Oregon in my future, and I wonder what will become of Jessica, Bashful, Licorice, Sheba, Pops, Moose, and OJ if I'm not here to keep their feeder full.

And I'm clearing out the house, going through all the stuff I've acquired in my life and getting rid of anything I don't see a need to move again.  I feel right at home in the local thrift store now because everywhere I look I see something I donated.  But I can now walk across my back bedroom.  I've gone through it and the closets in both of the other bedrooms, and I've purged clothing which is bagged up and ready to donate.  My next project will be to purge my dressers of clothes I will never use again.

So . . . this is the start of the seven-year era of regrouping, reorganizing, re-establishing priorities.  The next major change in my life will come at about age 63 when I likely will semi-retire (I'll keep doing tax returns probably until I die) and move to Oregon where a friend lives with her horse.

People talk about the "seven-year itch" and I think it's true, at least for me, that every seven years I go through a major life change of one kind or another.

Life is a journey, not a destination.  My journey seems to come in seven year chunks.

And that's the latest from the Ranch.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Staying on

I'm sure everyone has caught at least some of the Olympics recently.  The greatest riders and horses in the world have been soaring over fences, galloping across country, and performing the intricate dance of dressage, some coming to triumph, some to tragedy, others there to give the winners someone to beat.

I was once the greatest rider in the world -- when I was 15.

Then I met Molly, who put me on the ground and broke that bubble for me.  No longer could I cling to my illusion (delusion?) that, being unthrown, I was unthrowable and therefore clearly the best rider in the world for surely every other rider in the world had hit the ground at least once.  And I hadn't.

Until I met Molly.

Ah, you can read all about Molly in my book, "Tails" of a Suburban Cowgirl, but Molly was one of the horses of my past.  The horses of my present are Dash, Dawn, Dottie . . . and up until a few years ago, Dutch.

Dutch made a mark on me like no other horse in my past ever had.  I got Dutch after Sandy died, when I got back into horses a few years later.  I had bought Dottie to be my broodmare and Dutch, a beautiful palomino gelding, as my riding horse.  Except Dutch and I never really got along.  I was later to discover that part of the problem was saddle fit, but Dutch was unpredictably explosive.  We could be riding along  in perfect amity, enjoying the day, and all of a sudden, for no apparent reason, he would "blow."

Mind you, I fell off him exactly twice -- once was a buck-off while warming up for a local horse show in Norco.  That was caught on tape by a friend who was with me, and it took three bucks for us to part company.  The second buck-off occurred right at the end of the rodeo parade, when a kid whizzed by on a skateboard, spooking Dutch and several other horses and he broke in two and put me on the ground, then nearly fell on me.

But it was those little explosions on the trail -- often right after going up a hill, when he would leap into the air and leave my stomach somewhere up above my head -- that took the toll on my confidence.

I got to dread riding him because I never knew when he was going to blow.  Probably my anticipation of the explosion was directly connected to the likelihood of the explosion occurring.  Anyway, Dutch and I just didn't get along and eventually I leased him to a 12 year old girl whom he predictably bucked off, but who continued to work with him and eventually had a level of trust with him that I'd never had with any horse in my past.  (And then he died of colic.)

But those "blows" had etched themselves into my psyche and affected my relationship with other horses.  Dottie was fine -- I'm not sure she even knows how to buck, and she's one of those horses who is just plain willing to do whatever her rider wants.  She passed that on to Dash, who likewise is just happy to be chosen for the ride.  She's the one I can ride in a halter and a bareback pad and know that I will have a happy ride from start to finish.

And then there is Dawn.

Dawn came out of the womb fighting.  The moment I laid hands on that 15-minute-old scrawny ugly foal I knew she was going to resist.  Dash was born friendly; Dawn was born suspicious.

Dawn has grown up into a friendly and sweet mare, however.  She's a fearless and competent trail horse; her bare feet are as tough as the rocks I ride her over.  She's sensitive to bit and heel, will stop on a dime at the slightest "whoa," will stand in one spot as long as you want, without fussing or fidgeting, will push through manzanita thickets, climb over rocks, tuck her hocks and slide down a slope.  Just a fantastic horse in every way.

Except sometimes she cops an attitude, and blows.

And her first "blow" came after cantering up a somewhat steep slope after Tessa's horse, whereupon she gave a bit of a crowhop, and memories of Dutch came flooding back.

There have been a few other times when she has "blown" and again Dutch leaped into my mind.  And every time this has happened, it has done something to me.  It has made me not want to ride her, and made me apprehensive when I do ride her, waiting for that moment when my normally quiet and responsive mare is going to . . . do something.

And knowing how hard the ground is and how long it takes to heal and being ever-mindful of the fact that I am alone, with nobody to help me if I were to become injured or disabled, I am leery of taking the kind of risks I would have thought nothing of when I was 15, or even when I was 30.  But at 57 if I am to be totally honest, I have to admit I am a little bit afraid to ride.

So . . . it was with this in mind that I started dressage lessons in February.  While I dreamed of someday riding those Grand Prix moves that are so beautiful to watch in the Olympics, I mostly wanted to be a better rider.  I wanted to regain that sense of oneness with my horse that I had enjoyed with my beloved Sandy, back in my youth when a fall from a horse did not make me afraid, but made me determined to WIN, to show that horse that I COULD ride it, and the thought of selling a difficult horse never entered my mind.  My first horse, Chang, bucked me off on a regular basis; I just held onto the reins, reeled him in, got back on, and continued without another thought.

So I've been taking those lessons faithfully, without missing a single week, for nearly six months now.  And I've noticed that I seem to be better balanced, and more secure in the saddle than I was before I started the lessons.

Tonight I rode Dawn on a trail ride.  I've barely ridden her at all in the past couple of months but tonight I decided I just had to put her in the rotation and it was her "turn."  So I worked her in the round pen for about 20 minutes, then rode over to Tessa's and we headed out into the woods.

It was one of the nicest rides I've ever had on her.  She was just wonderful, quiet and responsive (which is how she is most of the time) and we had a nice long ride.  Coming back, we were riding in the wash and the four dogs were running around chasing their lizards.  I said aloud to Tessa, "She has been SO good today," and the words were barely out of my mouth when out of the corner of my eye I saw one of Tessa's dogs right next to us, up on the bank (which was probably about 8 feet high; the dog was about level with my face).  And then he came sliding down the bank directly at Dawn.  I didn't even have time to gather reins or even think that she might react, and she whirled to the left, away from the dog, and just stopped.

And I was still in the saddle.  I don't even think I'd lost a stirrup.

Dawn was very calm about it.  I don't think the dog actually scared her, I think she just wanted to get out of his way.  And as I rode over to Tessa, I realized that my heart was not pounding, I was not upset, I was not frightened -- and neither was Dawn.

Those dressage lessons were paying off.  As she whirled away from the dog, I simply had gone with her.

So we were talking about that, and talking about how Dawn had not remained excited but had simply stopped once she was out of the dog's way.  We rode on down the wash to the "get out" place.  Tessa let Poncho trot up the slope.  I told Dawn to walk, but when she gathered herself to trot up the hill, I just let her do it.  Only the trot turned to a canter and the canter to a buck.

I lost my left stirrup on the third buck, and if there had been a fourth I probably would have come off, but she stopped at that point and I straightened up the saddle and regained my stirrup.  Tessa commented that Dawn had not been malicious about it; it seemed to her that the buck had come from playfulness.  She had never pinned her ears and had stopped of her own accord and had not really been trying to get me off at all.

And I had stayed on.  And my heart was not in my mouth, and I wasn't upset, and wasn't scared, and didn't want to sell her -- and I realized that 30 years ago . . . I would have thought it was actually fun.

And what's really funny is that I am not dreading my next ride on Dawn; I'm looking forward to it.  Because I think that what she did today is probably as "bad" as she's ever going to be -- and it's not that bad, and I was able to ride it out.

Staying in the saddle is half the battle.  And I stayed in the saddle.

I'll never be the best rider in the world again; after all, I'll never again have the naivete of a 15 year old.  But maybe I'm good enough to ride my own horses.  And that's really all that matters to me.

And that's the latest from the Ranch.

Friday, July 27, 2012

When sheep aren't sheepish.....

I was nearly cut in half by a sheep the other day.

Yes, a sheep.  My sheep, the one whose first haircut was described here a few posts back.  John Deere, my weedeater.

I sometimes tie him out to eat weeds and with the monsoon rains and my regular watering of my orchard (I have the drip system on timers now) the weeds had gotten nearly waist-high lately so I got the cable system and rigged it up in the orchard.  This system is a 100 foot cable that I ran from the orchard fence to the big tree on the other side, wrapped the cable around it a couple times, then wrapped it around a second tree about 10 feet away and tied it off.  (The orchard isn't 100 feet across so I had to use up the excess cable.)  There is a pulley that runs on the cable, and a second cable snaps to the pulley and the other end attaches to the sheep's collar.  You've probably seen dogs tied out on a system like this.

So I've had John out there for a few days eating the weeds.  Monday night we had a hellacious thunderstorm, lots of lightning and rain, and I chose to leave him where he was rather than risk my life trying to bring him in during a lightning storm in the pitch black.  He's a sheep; sheep are out in storms all the time, he had trees to shelter under.

He survived the night.  The next day I had a friend here helping me convert my guest bedroom into a room for my female cat, Alfie (long story), and on one of our trips out to the garage to get something, we noticed that John was very agitated and there was a bit of thunder and it looked like a storm was going to hit.  So I decided to take him off the cable and put him in his pen, where he has a little roof to get under and he's close to the horses where he feels safer.

John is not a tame sheep.  He does not come when called.  To catch him, I usually have to corner him.  I keep a one-foot piece of lead rope hanging from his collar, and usually once I catch him he will walk on leash like a dog.  To catch him when he is cabled out is a bit of a challenge because he runs from me until he hits the end of the cable -- and then he doubles back.  If I'm between him and whatever he is tied to . . . well, it can get interesting.

It got interesting Tuesday.  I walked toward him and he turned and ran toward the big tree that held one end of the cable.  I walked quietly toward him while my friend Marty stayed outside the orchard to avoid making him any more nervous than he already was.  He ran to the tree, turned around, and started back toward me.  As he got near I grabbed the tie cable.  And then the fun began.

Instead of continuing to the west on the north side of the long cable (I was on the south side of it) he turned back with me holding the cable that was attached to his collar and before I could realize what he was doing and get out of the way, he circled me.

The long cable was hanging about waist high at that point.  When he circled me, the tie cable wrapped across the front of my stomach, and when he completed the circle he had me trapped against the long cable -- right at the pulley.  He came around again and as he tried to run to the west, he dragged me and the pulley with him.  My polo shirt got caught in the pulley, which effectively anchored us all in that spot, but I was being painfully pinched between the two cables.  

I lost track of the action at that point.  I remember him rearing up (I was desperately trying to drag him back around but couldn't because I was trapped) and kicking me once; later I found the bruise on the back of my right arm.  

Once Marty saw I was immobilized and trapped, she came in and managed to get hold of the sheep and lift him off the ground enough to prevent him from moving.  I squirmed out of my shirt and got free of the cable and quickly detached the cable from his collar and grabbed his lead rope.

He was agitated all the way back to his corral but I got him put up.

Marty couldn't get my shirt out of the pulley so we went in and I looked in the mirror at the result of this ordeal:

Where the cable pinched my left side, just below the ribs, the red streak is of the nature of a rope burn

The next morning I went out to see about cutting my shirt out of the pulley.

The yellow thing dangling in the center is my shirt, hanging from the line

See where the shirt is and realize that my skin was right under the cloth

The dirt area on the front shows where the cable was wrapped around my waist in front as he ran around me

I freed the shirt by manually rolling the pulley backward and then pulling the shirt out after it had backed off some

 Ironically, a couple days before this happened I had noticed that John was tangling up in the 12 foot cable he was attached with and was having trouble freeing himself because the cable was getting some permanent bends and kinks in it.  I was worried he might cut off circulation to his leg one day; I freed him Sunday and I think the cable had been around his leg long enough and tight enough to put the leg to sleep.  He was limping for awhile after I got him out of it.  So I doubled the cable and shoved it through a six-foot section of garden hose so it couldn't wrap around him any more.  It worked great and he no longer could get the cable around his leg.

I shudder to think of what might have happened if I hadn't done that, and he had been able to loop me two or three times with that narrow cable.

What saved me from worse damage was the fact that the tie cable was run through a piece of garden hose
But if you look at this last picture, up where the thing attaches to the pulley is a section not covered by hose and has two snaps, one snap is attached to the pulley and the other snap is snapped to the bottom of the first snap.  It was THIS part of the cable that had me in a vise and caused all the bruising.  

I iced the injuries right away the day it happened, but today is the third day after and we have reached the painful, itchy phase and the bruises have colored.  

So this is the end result of the damage done by one skittish and strong sheep.  I now have a 12 foot lead rope on him that I can get hold of and use to pull him away from the long cable before I take hold of him.  Don't let this happen to you:

And that, painfully, is the latest from the Ranch.