Riding 29 year old Sandy in 1997

Saturday, December 31, 2011

A resolution I can keep

I barely remember 2011 and in two hours it will be 2012.

How many rides did I take?

How many rides did I not take "because"?

Which is the bigger number? Sadly, probably the second.

I tend to ride if my riding buddy rides. I tend to not ride if she doesn't. Since she works fires for the Forest Service and they send her all over the west, she was gone A LOT this summer. So I rode less.

I need to find a backup riding buddy.

I am planning to start dressage lessons soon, something on my "bucket list" that I need to do before I get too old to even think about posting. I may not do them for long, but I want to try it long enough to decide if this is something I want to participate in, or just enjoy watching.

I hope to make another trip to France this year, in the fall, to ride the Dordogne area and see cave paintings. I might work in a day or two in Paris to see the Louvre and other famous Parisian sights.

I hope to get more work, to publish my third book, to start advertising the first two.

I need to get another tenant for one of my rental houses, and maybe obtain a third rental house if I can get financing.

I have projects around the house to do that I never seem to have time for. Well ... let me amend that, I have plenty of TIME, what I lack is energy and motivation.

But mostly I hope to ride more. Dash's recent illness (which we now suspect may be a urinary tract infection) has reminded me how fragile these horses are, and reminded me that I need to ride whenever I can because I don't know how much time I have left with her.

So there is my resolution for 2012. Not weight loss, not financial security, not fixing up the house -- RIDING.

Because nothing else really matters that much to me. Nothing else gives me the joy, the freedom, the peace of mind that riding brings.

I live to ride. So ride I shall.

Happy New Year from the Ranch.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Poop, wonderful poop!

Horse people are a different breed. Probably nobody else in the world can get quite as excited about a pile of manure as horse owners -- especially a horse owner with a sick horse.

There remain a lot of mysteries about Dash's ailment -- what caused the fever (blood tests were all normal), why will she eat anything except the teff hay, was she impacted or just empty -- but last night things started to "come out" all right.

Anyway, I'm still cutting her meals into smaller chunks for another day but it appears whatever was ailing her no longer is.

Since the vet gave her a bucket of mineral oil Tuesday morning about 10, she has pooped six times. Three of them were since 5 p.m. last night.

My theory? Friday night she decided, for reasons I can't fathom, to stop eating the only hay she was being offered, which is this lovely teff grass that I planned to feed all three horses this winter. It's a wonderful hay, highly nutritious, palatable, fresh, clean, weed and mold-free. But I think Dash took exception to it for reasons of her own.

I had noticed Saturday that there was uneaten hay in her bin but didn't think all that much about it because I give them a LOT of hay these cold nights. But Dawn and Dash have access to each other's feed and they go back and forth all the time so I did have a moment to wonder why Dawn hadn't eaten the leftovers. But I didn't think all that much about it.

I think Friday night she ate the 2# of Strategy pellets and left all or most of the hay. I think Dawn ate Dash's hay Friday night. Saturday morning they only got hay. I think Dash didn't eat it and Dawn ate what she wanted and got full (since she already had a double meal the night before) and left some.

I think Saturday night Dash probably only ate the pellets and Dawn probably helped with the hay again.

Sunday was Christmas. I didn't pay much attention to what might have been left in the bins when I fed. I was gone all day. My neighbor fed at night and didn't have reason to look to see if hay was still left in the bins. I think Dash ate the pellets Sunday night but probably not the hay.

Monday I didn't feed; I swept the loose hay out of the garage into a huge pile and let them eat that. Some of that hay was alfalfa and bermuda, so Dash may have eaten some of that, but most of the sweepings were teff.

Monday afternoon Dash had the fever. She pooped around 3 and again at 4:30 and that was when I realized she was sick and refusing to eat. Gave her a fever reducer and expected her appetite to return when the fever broke (less than an hour later).

But Monday night she ate only the strategy pellets but didn't touch the hay and I finally noticed that fact. She pooped once overnight.

Tuesday morning she still hadn't touched the hay, but I gave her 2# of senior feed and she ate that.

Vet gave her oil about 10 a.m. in case she was impacted although she really didn't have any symptoms of it.

She was offered alfalfa and ate that. That was when we realized she was only "off" her feed if her feed was Teff hay.

She pooped once that afternoon. Sunday's pellets?

She pooped once during the night. Monday's pellets?

She pooped once Wednesday afternoon. Tuesday morning's senior feed?

Finally sometime after 5 p.m. she pooped twice, and then once again during the night. The small meals she was fed at intervals on Tuesday after the oil was given? There was oil in this poop.

Anyway, if I am correct that she started refusing hay Friday or Saturday, the lack of pooping may have been due to a lack of anything to poop.

But . . . we'll never really know.

I'm just glad to see that wonderful poop out there and know that she is NOT plugged and everything that has gone in, has come out.

And if you are not a horse person . . . you don't "get this" . . . but the horse people do, and are rejoicing with me over those piles in the corral.

And that's the latest from the Ranch.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Still puzzled

Had the vet out for Dash this morning. All her vitals are back to normal, she's got gut sounds, but she didn't pass any manure since about 9 last night. She could just be empty, if she actually had gone off her feed the day before yesterday, or she could be developing a mild impaction.

The vet gave her some mineral oil by stomach tube and another dose of Banamine. But we're both puzzled by the fever, so he took blood for some tests. In the meantime, I took away her uneaten hay, except for a very small amount and I'll watch her today to see what goes in and what comes out.

Will update as things develop.

And that's the latest from the sickroom at the Ranch.

Update, 9:30 at night:

She's refusing to eat her normal hay (teff) but hungry and willing to eat some alfalfa or her strategy pellets. But she's only pooped once since about this time last night, and she normally goes about 8 times in 24 hours.

She's feeling better but until stuff starts coming out the other end, I'm restricting how much goes in the front.

Should have blood results in the morning.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Ignoring the clues......

Well, Dash is on the sick list.....

Went out about 3 to get her for a ride. She was lying down, which did not concern me, but I thought it odd that she was lying in the shade, not the sun (clue #1 overlooked).

Ran the other two horses in, she didn't follow them but stopped in the front yard. (Clue #2 overlooked -- why didn't she follow the other horses?)

Haltered her and took her to the tack room to saddle her. She stood quietly on a loose tie while I groomed her. (Clue #3 -- why wasn't she fretting about being led away from the others?)

I cleaned out all four feet. She stood quietly without attempting to take a foot away. (Clue #4 -- she usually objects to her right hind foot being lifted)

Thinking she would be fresh and energetic, I took her in the round pen and worked her both directions. She performed calmly, flawlessly, obeyed my every command. (huh?)

Got on her and went over to Tessa's. She sniffed noses with both her horses without any pinned ears or squealing.

Went on ride. She did everything I asked her to, didn't seem to care about anything. Rode at a walk for about an hour, easy ride, only a very little incidental climbing, mostly we were down in the wash.

On the way back, I commented to Tessa that she was being so good I wondered if I should be worrying THAT SHE MIGHT BE SICK.

I had noticed when saddling her that the hair on each side of her tail was rubbed off. After feeding her after the ride (she showed no enthusiasm for her food, but that's not unusual since they're rarely without food long enough to get particularly ravenous) I sprayed ointment on her butt and noticed what looked like a worm "there" so I went to get some wormer.

When I came back out, she had left her food and was standing in the corner of her corral. I haltered her and gave her the wormer (oral syringe of a gel) and she only tried to take her head away from me ONCE. Major clue at that point. Alarm bells starting to go off.

After getting the wormer she stood in the back of the corral with her head down.

Got the thermometer -- 102.2 (about a degree or more high). Checked pulse -- 42 (high). Checked respiration -- 40 -- very high.

Called vet.

He thinks she may have a respiratory infection going on. I found the Banamine (pain and fever reducer) and gave her a dose of that. She tried to evade that dose (I didn't halter her) so she had some spunk left but in the end I hand-twitched her and got it into her without having to resort to the halter. Can't normally do that; usually have to halter and fight to get any meds into her.

So . . . she's definitely one unhappy horse right now.

I'll go check temp again in an hour and may take her in tomorrow to have Drew check her too.

Never a dull moment at Rancho Mucho Caca.

And that's (unfortunately) the latest from the Ranch.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

My non-annual non-Christmas non-letter

Dear Friends and Family and Fans,

Life in the country can be rough sometimes and it seems in recent years most of my emailed "Latest from the Ranch" letters announced the demise of one or another of my cherished critters. But, assuming I'm not jinxing myself by declaring it seven days prematurely, Rancho Mucho Caca has made an entire year without a death. Thank you, Lord!

It also went an entire year without new kittens in the garage for me to raise. Thank you, the Friends of the Ferals free Trap, Neuter, Release program that paid to spay and neuter about 15 of the resident ferals that visit my garage.

The only animals to leave RMC this year went to new homes. After leasing him out for over three years, the mustang Nevada came home in May and was permanently re-homed three days later to a wonderful new home on three acres with a knowledgeable and loving owner. A few months later she entered him in his first ACTHA (American Competitive Trail Horse Association) competition and he won the Pleasure class and the Best Groomed award. So they are happy as can be with him, and I am as happy as I can be with them, and I think the horse is pretty content with his life too. I signed him over to them in July so my official horse count has finally dropped to three for the first time since Dawn was born six years ago.

Also leaving the ranch were five of my remaining seven chickens. I gave them to my neighbor and riding buddy because I was getting over three dozen eggs a week and I eat about three eggs a month. The only condition was that I was to get a couple dozen eggs for my Christmas baking every year. So those five hens are happily supplying Tessa and Dan with eggs and my two remaining hens, Marilyn and Britney, lay an egg or two every week or so which supplies me with an occasional egg to go with an occasional pancake.

Finally leaving the ranch two days ago were Taz and Hissy, the cats I've tried to give to every friend, relative, client, and visiting stranger, and a few online acquaintances on the other side of the country for the past year. These were formely feral kittens that I raised and then due to them becoming ill was not able to adopt them out through the Humane Society. They recovered quickly but I just haven't been able to rehome them and there were conflicts with my other four cats, primarily with Princess Alfie, who was displaced as the baby and was no longer the sole female.

The nightly cat fights between Alfie and Hissy came to an end when I called in to Trades n Sales, a small town radio show where people can call in with stuff for free, for sale, for trade, or stuff they are trying to find. I had barely hung up the phone when "Billy" called and expressed interest. I took the cats over to Billy and his wife, Crystal, spent some time with them, then left the cats. I'm hoping all will work out because I told them I'd take them back if it didn't, and I'm REALLY enjoying sleeping through the night without being awakened by a snarling catfight under the bed.

Peace at last.

Returning to the Ranch was Dottie, who has been in Oregon for a year on a lease that didn't work out after she developed crippling arthritis. After a cold wet winter last year, I decided it would be better to have her winter in Arizona where it is warmer and drier so I flew to Oregon in October and my friend Jackie and I did a three-day road trip with horse and Jackie's dog Sydney to bring Dottie home to her daughters.

We've tried an HA injection that seems to have eased a lot of her arthritis symptoms and she's enjoying her semi-retirement with her daughters, Dash and Dawn. I wrote about Dottie a few posts ago when the kids were up here.

While I loved having her in Oregon up to her knees in grass all summer, I'm glad to have her back for the winter. I wish I could let her go back to Oregon in the summer again but the travel is hard on her and the gas bill is hard on my budget so I think she's home to stay.

The ranch is now populated by three horses, Dottie, Dash, and Dawn; the sheep named John Deere (my weedeater); two dogs, Daisy and Lacey; two chickens, Marilyn and Britney; four indoor cats, Bugsy, Bernstein, Alfie, and Max; five resident feral cats who live in my garage, Jessica, Licorice, Moose, Pops, and Bashful; and probably a half-dozen transient feral cats who come by for a meal but don't regularly stay in the garage, including Sheba and Stripes whom I often see coming and going, and who knows how many others who slip in during the night to eat and are gone by morning. (I go through a LOT of cat food out there!)

I have embraced the label of "crazy cat lady" and wear the term like a badge of honor.

Oh . . . I live here too.

I'm still doing accounting and tax work for over 100 clients, and have had a few book sales this year. My book is now available for e-readers and there have been some sales! I feel like a real writer now that some total strangers have bought a copy, many in Australia and the UK and even one to someone in China. Wow! Ha ha, I'm an internationally published author now. Go figure.

The other noteworthy thing I've done this year is that I have joined the newly-formed (a year ago) Gila County Sheriff's Mounted Posse and a few months ago spent three days on my first search, two days on Dawn, and one grueling day on Dash (see "Riding with the Boys" in the October section of my blog).

I wish everyone a Merry Christmas or Happy Hannukah and a healthful and prosperous new year.

And that's the latest from the Ranch.

Monday, December 19, 2011

From solstice to solstice . . . the cycles of the seasons

The winter solstice is upon us. In a couple of days, we will pass the point where days are getting shorter, and change to where days are getting longer.

I remember when I moved here seven years ago. I brought sixteen chickens with me, 15 of them laying hens, most of whom weren't actively laying at the time of the move, but a few were. Two eggs were laid en route. One egg was laid the day after I got here. Then nothing. I moved here December 9.

I had to do my baking. I had to buy eggs from the -- gulp! -- store. I baked some of the cookies, and then the day of the solstice arrived -- and one of the hens started laying eggs again. I finished my baking with fresh-laid eggs and fed the rest of the store-boughts to the dogs.

The animals know.

I don't know how they know, but they know.

Two summers later, Dutch had a mild colic near the end of June. When I called the vet about it, I was told that several horses had colicked that morning. "It seems to happen on the solstice," the receptionist told me.

No idea why.

I look forward to the solstices, both summer and winter, because by the time they arrive, I am ready for the change in seasons they herald. In summer, the days have been getting longer, and hotter, and the evening rides have been delayed longer and longer, waiting for it to start cooling off. We're ready for the reduction in heat that the shortening days will bring. And the monsoon rains usually start a week or two after the solstice, bringing further relief from the increasing heat.

In winter, the enjoyment of cooler weather and the delight in the snows have been replaced with a chill in the bones that won't go away. Rain and snow have brought mud and chill. Horses are filthy. It's hard to clean corrals, and evening rides have been moved to mid-afternoon, if at all, because the sun is down by 5 and it's pitch black by about 5:30. By the time of the winter solstice, we can hardly wait for the days to start lengthening and warming into spring.

So now, we are about to achieve maximum gloom of night and start turning around. It will be three more months before true warming will occur at this elevation, but the increase in daylight will lift the winter gloom and bring promise of long rides under sunny skies, just around the corner.

Right now, I look out my window at solid gray skies from rain that has threatened all day, but not arrived. It's cold out. Yesterday's rain has left the corrals a muddy, mucky mess. Dawn, the creamy white double-dilute, is a dirty tan from rolling in the mud. Even Dash is muddy. The only one who looks clean (although she's as muddy as the others) is Dottie, the dirt-colored buckskin. Even if I wanted to ride, it would take too long to groom one to leave any time for riding.

So they will stand idle another day.

Our high today was a chilly 47; it will stay within 2 degrees of that for the rest of the week, finally warming to 51 for Christmas day, when I will be in the valley enjoying probably 70 degrees under sunny skies.

But each day, we will gain a few more minutes of sunlight, a degree or so of warmth, and before we know it, the spring equinox will be upon us and life will renew again. The trees will bud and bloom, the bees will arrive to work the orchard, blades of grass will appear on the denuded ground and we will be able to ride in the evenings without having to put on parkas and wool caps.

And then it will get hot, and we will look forward to the summer solstice, and the slow march toward winter.

It's interesting to live in a place that actually has four seasons. For much of my life I lived in Phoenix, where there were nine months of summer, two months of winter, and a couple weeks each for spring and fall. I remember standing at the mailboxes talking to a neighbor in Phoenix in the middle of January one year, in shorts and bare feet, discussing a blizzard back east that was claiming lives. It was 75 degrees where I was standing.

Do I miss it? No. Winters in Phoenix were like summer up here, but summers in Phoenix were like . . . hell.

For now, I will put on my jacket and rubber boots and go out into the cold and gloom and mud and feed my filthy horses, and look askance at the muddy, uncleaned corrals and hope it will warm enough tomorrow to enable the ground to dry enough for me to go clean the manure out of the hoofprints, and maybe the sun will come out long enough for me to justify taking a curry comb to Dash and getting on her back for a short ride. And know that the next ride will get to be a few minutes longer because the day will be a few minutes longer. And the solstice will be behind me and I will look forward to the lengthening rides that come with lengthening days.

And that's the latest from the Ranch.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Not riding? No excuses.

Not riding is hard for me. Something about the sight of my horses' backs makes me just want to get on and go.

When I was a child, my horse-buddy, Regis, and I swore that if we had a horse we would ride every day. We couldn't understand how the owners of all the horses in "horse alley" could let them stand idle day after day. How could they NOT ride that beautiful steed waiting for them in their yard? Why would they even HAVE a horse if they weren't going to ride it?

Well . . . it didn't take long for me, as an adult, to understand it.

In a way, the "not riding" makes the "riding" more special. The riding is the escape from all those things that make "not riding" the norm for most adults, most of the time. Teenagers can ride every day, and when I had Chang when I was 16 -- I rode every day. Or nearly every day. Certainly the riding days far outnumbered the "not riding" days.

But as an adult . . . especially now as a single adult . . . it's the other way around, especially in winter. There are just so many other demands on my time. Work, of course, is a big one. When there is client work to do, meetings to go to, payroll taxes to file or pay, even when it's time for me to get my own billings out so I can get PAID for the work I did -- it gets in the way of riding.

Laundry, and cleaning litter boxes, and bringing in firewood get in the way. And, as always, there are corrals to clean and water bins to fill or clean, and frequently fence repairs -- due to the unridden horses becoming bored and mischievous. It's a vicious circle.

Cold weather gets in the way, especially if raining or snowing. I'll ride in the snow, but not in a snowstorm. Wind will keep me off a horse (or get me off, one way or another, if I was silly enough to try to ride anyway).

Gloom of night will keep me off a horse, and since this is the time of the year when there is more night than day, that is a factor.

But the thing that keeps me off a horse most of the time is just -- exhaustion. I just don't have the energy I had 40 years ago. So often, even if I have the time, I don't have the energy, because of all those "things" I had to do. And if the horse is muddy that adds to it, because it will take energy just to get a horse clean enough to saddle.

However, there is a remedy for all of those "reasons for not riding" -- and that's a phone call or text from my riding buddy across the street -- my 29 year old neighbor -- saying "wanna ride"?

Because while I can make excuses to myself about, "I'm too tired, the horse is too dirty, I have to do laundry, I have to do this, I have to do that," I can't make those excuses to HER. Because they are not reasons not to ride.

If you truly love horses, and are lucky enough to have them, the riding should come FIRST. The laundry and litter boxes and firewood and billings will all still be there after the ride.

I know a young man who is in a wheelchair, and I was driving to the valley with him one day (he was driving me to pick up a car) and I moaned about "not having time to ride much" and this young man who will never ride a horse, but who drives and rides a quad out into the forest by himself, and who doesn't know if he will live to see 30 or not said to me, "You have to make the time for the things that matter to you most, because you never know when your time will be up."

I think of Matt often when I'm out in the yard, looking at my horses' backs, yearning to ride but having "all those things to do" -- and I halter Dash, lead her to the corral fence and climb on. I might only ride for five minutes, but I take the time for the thing that matters to me most, because I don't know when my time will be up.

Ride. Because you must. Because you should. Because you will never regret riding, but you will regret it if the last thing you did in your life before God called you home was -- laundry.

Thanks, Matt, for sharing the wisdom of one who truly knows the precious value of time with one who had grown to take it for granted.

And that's the latest from the Ranch.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Justice for a murdered horse

I've been silent for a few days because my thoughts have been so consumed with the senseless murder of the rodeo horse Credit Card and the abduction and torture of four of his stablemates. Jaci Jackson, upset because these other rodeo horses were better than hers, arranged their theft, watched as her accomplice shot and mutilated Credit Card, and left the other four horses tied to trees to die without food or water.

Luckily the other horses were found, alive but in poor condition, nearly two weeks after they were stolen in the night along with a horse trailer and tack.

It's hard to even put into words my thoughts about this, which is why I've been silent. The theft of any pet is only a tiny step below the kidnapping of a child. So many people treat their pets like family, think of them as their children, refer to themselves as the pet's "mama" or "daddy," ... and grieve as long and hard when they die.

I can understand someone through need or greed stealing an animal for monetary gain. But to steal an animal for no other reason than to deprive its owner of the animal, and to ensure that the owner will have only pain and anguish left, blocking out all the happy memories, because they are overwhelmed by the reason and method of the animal's death is a cruelty beyond imagination.

I'm reminded of a story someone felt the need to post on Facebook about a man who decapitated his handicapped stepson -- okay, I can understand the motivation of a frustrated parent ending the burden of care -- and then left the head for the boy's mother to find. And there is NO understanding THAT. Bad enough to kill; but to inflict that horror on the mother who loved the boy -- WHY???

And this is the same thing. If you're twisted enough to want the horses dead, fine, shoot them. Let them be dead. But to torture them by tying four of them in the woods to suffer without food or water for over a week? What is the point of that, other than to let their owners know that their horses suffered horribly? Shooting Credit Card was bad enough. But to mutilate and cut up his body? That wasn't directed at the horse, it was directed at his owner, to maximize the owner's pain.

I just can't wrap my brain around such unspeakable evil.

I'm torn between wanting that soulless bitch locked up for life and wanting her released so that TRUE justice can be done. For it's nearly certain that the court will not give justice for that murdered horse and his suffering owners. Likely she'll get some token sentence, probation, an order to never own another horse (what good will that do? It wasn't HER horse she abused), and probably monetary restitution for the market value of the horse, which will probably be paid by her accomplice mother.

That is no justice for her cruelty.

I have written to the judge in the case and asked him to give the maximum sentence. Thousands of others are likely filling his inbox as I write this, likely the letters will be ignored. But maybe some will be read.

She's already posted bail. Her $100,000 bail was approximately equal to the collective market value of the horses and trailer she stole. No acknowledgement that this wasn't an inanimate object, this was a living, breathing, beloved animal she murdered. Her bail should have been a million dollars. $100,000 is an insult to Credit Card and his owner.

I can only pray that judge will look beyond the notion that this was "just a horse" and realize it was not "just a horse" but the death of a young man's friend, companion, partner -- and his dreams. His love of horses will be forever tarnished by the memory of the one a jealous, insecure, demented lunatic butchered with no more thought than swatting a fly.

She can pay him for the horse. But how can she ever make restitution for the permanent damage done to the joy in his life that was once provided by a horse named Credit Card?

Stealing a horse used to be a hanging offense. Maybe it should be again.

And that's the latest from the Ranch.

Note: they are asking that people NOT contact the judge in the case but to direct comments to the prosecutors:

David Bulter is the prosecuting attorney in Arkansas! Make sure to drop him a line to!
P.O. Box 727
Magnolia, AR 71753


Saturday, December 3, 2011

Loving the snow

I love snow. I love the silence of the snowfall as it gently coats the landscape with white frosting. I love when a breeze shakes the freshly-fallen snow from the tree branches, making mini snow storms with every gust. I love the first foot prints in new snow. I love the way it clings to the wire of a chainlink fence, sometimes completely filling the little square openings.

I love to watch the dogs play in it, running through the drifts, throwing snow up with their feet, sometimes pushing a muzzle into it and shaking, throwing snow from side to side, or digging to find a suddenly buried chew bone.

I love a foal's first snow, and their wonder as they run through it, and paw holes in it, and, yes, shove their muzzles into it and shake their heads too.

I love to watch a feral cat dash through the snow, trying to leap from one spot of bare ground to another, eventually giving up trying to keep feet dry and dashing through the snow to the safety and warmth of my garage, where food and a heater and soft beds await it in the loft.

I love the quiet the snow brings, at least until the snowplows clear the road and highway traffic resumes its hum in the distance. I love how snow muffles sounds as we ride through the woods in it, and how the snow-laden branches dump snow down our backs as we, laughing, have to bend lower than usual to duck under them.

I love the way the horses' warm breath makes little blasts of cloud in the frigid air. I love cantering over deep snow in the wash, where we don't have to worry about avoiding rocks because they're 8 inches below the horses' hooves.

I love to watch the dogs bounding through the snow as we ride, pausing occasionally to shake the snow from their fur before leaping over a bush to continue pursuing invisible rabbits.

I love the unique grayness of the snowclouds, and love trying to predict how much snow is coming by the color of the overcast.

I love to sit here in the warmth of my living room and watch my own housecats as they look out the window at the falling snow, trying to figure out what manner of flying creatures are swarming the house, and plotting to get to them and save us from the white horde.

I love using my quad to carry hay to the horses when the snow is too deep for me to pull the little hay wagon, and then putting it in four wheel drive to ride down to the mailbox, where it inevitably turns out that our mail carrier DID let snow and rain and gloom of night stay her from the swift completion of her appointed round. But I enjoy the ride there and back, making new tracks in the snow on the road.

I especially loved riding Dottie to the mailbox seven years ago after my very first snowfall here when I didn't have the quad yet and was reluctant to drive my little Toyota Echo in the snow just yet.

I especially love that first moment when the sun breaks through the clouds, and the dull gray landscape turns into a field of sparkling diamonds.

And, since I've only been here for seven relatively dry winters so far, I even love getting out my show shovel and shoveling a path to the garage and the chicken house.

Yes, I love the snow.

Ask me how I feel ten years from now, when the novelty has worn off, as I'm sure it will someday. But for now . . . I love the snow.

And that's the latest from the Ranch.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Horse slaughter -- the US Government finally gets it right

The subject of equine slaughter is an emotional one, to be sure, but it SHOULDN'T BE.

The death of any loved horse is a sad event but we need to be practical about it. Several years ago due in large part to a letter-writing campaign by schoolchildren who were brainwashed by well-meaning adults, the US Government voted to end funding for USDA inspections of horsemeat, effectively killing the horse slaughter industry in this country.

"We don't eat horses here!" was the rallying cry. People in Europe for whom horsemeat is a staple in their diets were reviled as barbaric. No, no, no, we can't let them eat Trigger or Black Beauty!

Well, let me tell you -- each horse will die exactly once. No horses' lives were saved by that well-intentioned but ignorant decision made by Congress in 2007.

But some horses suffered horribly, for days, weeks, or months because of that decision, instead of for the minute or two it would have taken in a properly-operated local slaughterhouse. Horses turned loose instead of going to slaughter have died horrible slow deaths by starvation or death by predators. Many hoarders ended up facing animal cruelty charges when they sympathetically "rescued" horses headed for slaughter, then found they couldn't afford to feed them and the animals starved to death in their care. Death by stun gun is far more humane than many of the alternatives.

After a GAO report established that just as many horses were being slaughtered since the ban as were before -- only in Mexican or Canadian plants -- and that those doomed horses instead of being trucked a few hours were being crammed into trucks and hauled for DAYS without proper food, water, or space, then slaughtered by barbaric methods (in Mexico at least), Congress finally reversed itself in November and restored funding for inspections of horsemeat.

What will this mean?

Old, unwanted, or crippled horses will be able to be sold for slaughter, returning cash to their American owners who in this economy may desperately need it. The horses will be spared the anguish and terror of long rides in a cattle trailer to another country. People who currently are turning their horses loose to starve because they can no longer afford them and can't justify spending hundreds of dollars to euthanize them and dispose of the carcass will be able to take them to a local auction and know that the horse won't end up in Mexico getting its spinal cord severed so the terrified animal can't thrash around while its throat is cut.

Money currently being funneled to horse rescues can be funneled into people rescue instead.

There is a hay crisis in this country right now. In the next few months, as the price of hay climbs to the predicted $500 a ton, more and more people will have to give up their horses. It's not just that people can't afford the hay; THE HAY ISN'T THERE TO BUY. If every horse owner won the lottery next week, the price of hay would get bid up to $10,000 a ton and horses would STILL starve because there ISN'T ENOUGH HAY.

It's a simple fact that in this rough economy there simply are more horses than there are people who can or want to have them.

What are we going to do with them? The anti-slaughter bleeding hearts never had the answer to that question. They want them humanely put to sleep instead -- and do WHAT with the carcasses? Fill up landfills with them? Why waste the meat if someone is willing to buy it?

A horse who ends his life providing food for humans or animals has never lost its usefulness.

If you're opposed to horse slaughter -- don't have YOUR horse slaughtered. But don't tell me what do do with mine.

It's about time Congress realized what knowledgeable horse owners, including myself, have been telling them for the last four years. Thanks to the GAO report, they finally have.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Dottie's last ride? Not quite.....

My grand-niece and nephew, Erica and Tyler, are up here for Thanksgiving this week, and of course one of the highlights of a visit to the Ranch is riding the horses.  Dottie has been gone for the past year+ so Erica was delighted to know she was back and she was the only one in the family light enough for me to be willing to let her ride.

It was cold and gloomy and we were busy stuffing ourselves yesterday so this afternoon after hitting the sale at Wal Mart (at 10 a.m. NOT 10 p.m.) we set about getting ready to ride. But Dottie wasn't looking so good; I had noticed her stance this morning when I went to feed and thought she was uncomfortable, and she was definitely limping so I warned Erica that we might not be able to ride her, but I would at least let her sit on her for a few minutes.

But after watching her be led back to the tack room I had a feeling the problem was nothing more than a rock in her hoof, and after digging out the gravel and dirt that was packed in there and putting on her Cavallo Simple Boots she was walking fine again.  So we put the bareback pad on her and Erica got to ride her.

We tacked up Dottie and Dash, and they took them out front to ride while I saddled Dawn and worked her in the round pen a bit since she hadn't been ridden for over a week and was likely to be fresher.  By the time I had her saddled and led her out front, I was informed that Dottie had trotted of her own accord, and was limping again.  Tyler was riding Dash.

I got my camera to take what I expected would be the final pictures and video of Dottie being ridden that I would ever get.  If a few minutes of walking was making her limp, this would probably be her last ride.

But after noticing that she wasn't limping any more (and I have the video to prove it) I suspected it was nothing more than a little ouchiness from the trotting and Erica rode her for about 15 more minutes at a walk.  I gave the camera to Susan and Val and got on Dawn.  The three of us played a game of "chase the sheep" with John Deere, whose idea of evading the horses was to run under their bellies.  Then Erica wanted to ride Dawn so I gave her Dawn and we tied Dottie up, thinking she was probably tired by then.  Then Tyler got tired of riding Dash so Erica took Dash and I got on Dawn again, and asked someone to bring me Dottie so I could see if I could pony her from Dawn, so she got to walk around some more.

Later Erica was tired and Susan got on Dash and Tyler took Dottie and led her around awhile, and then the kids started kicking a soccer ball around in the arena while Susan led Dottie from Dash and I followed on Dawn.

It was a fun, slightly chaotic riding session and old Dottie got quite a bit of exercise, one way or the other, even if only at a walk and was still not limping at all when we decided we'd had enough and went to unsaddle them.

After stripping them all off we left them loose in the yard while Tyler went to get the quad so he could play with the quad in the arena.

And then the rodeo began!

I've never seen Dottie move so fast!  The three horses had wandered over to the garage to see what Tyler was doing, then all of a sudden Dottie whirled around like the cowhorse she was born to be and took off at a GALLOP with her daughters chasing after her.  They raced around the house and back to the garage and I flagged them away and they kept going, slid to a stop at the fence, spun back around and took off the other direction.  Dottie was so determined to regain the lead in this bizarre race that she actually bowled the sheep over at one point. He always joins in their races, bringing up the rear, but when they all suddenly turned around he ended up in front of Dottie and couldn't get out of the way fast enough.  (No, he wasn't hurt.)  They raced around like that, back and forth around the house (there's a circular dirt driveway that goes around the house so it makes a great racetrack), with the sheep running with them, for about ten minutes while Tyler tried to get out of the garage, having to wait for them to race past before he could get the quad out.

Eventually they settled down, he made it to the arena, and the horses finally got down to the business of nibbling at leaves and weeds.

I can only guess that the gentle walking Dottie had done had limbered up her arthritic old joints and that HA injection she had about 2 weeks ago is having an effect because not only was she galloping around like a young colt, but she was doing it without the stiffness she has been showing for the past year.

I still don't think I'll have any adults riding her any more . . . but at some point I'm sure I'll climb on her back and walk around the arena one last time.  And I'm going to start ponying her out on some of the shorter evening rides.  The exercise clearly is good for her!

It made me feel really good to see that old mare still had it in her to gallop around and play with her daughters.  I just wish I'd had the camera in my hand to record it.

I have a feeling Erica will be riding Dottie for some time to come yet.  That old mare isn't ready to hang up her stirrups just yet.

And that's the latest from the Ranch.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

How do we get the "horse bug"?

I just watched a commercial on TV, something about a race car driver, they said something about nobody knew how he got hooked on racing but it started young.  Then they showed a baby in a crib looking at a mobile of race cars over his head while he kicks at a pedal to make the mobile spin faster and faster.  Message being, of course, this driver was born wanting to race.

So how do die-hard horses lovers get the bug?  Are they born with it?  Is it hereditary?  Can it be developed in later life?

I don't know the answers to those questions.  I know I got it young.  My earliest childhood memories were about horses.  The only toys I wanted as a child were horses -- stick horses, model horses, pictures of horses, coloring books with horses.  I wanted to be a cowboy.  I learned all about being a cowboy from all those Saturday morning westerns, especially the Roy Rogers show, which is currently showing on RFDTV three times a week.  He was my hero, and all I ever wanted was to be like him, riding a beautiful horse and shooting at the bad guys.  I remember Santa Claus coming to the home of a friend around the corner.  How old could I have been?  Six?  Seven?  Younger?  "And what would you like for Christmas?" he asked with the trademark "ho ho ho."  "A gun and holster," I replied, and lo and behold he pulled out a wrapped gift from his sack that turned out to contain a gun and holster set.  (Dang, why didn't I say, "A pony"?  I had my chance and missed it.)

My father had ridden horses a few times.  My mother had gone to a dude ranch when she was 18 and been bucked off and had a permanent fear of them.  My sisters enjoyed riding on our annual trips to the riding stable at Christmas, but neither of them were asking Santa for a horse, or praying to God for one in church on Sunday, or scheming to find a way to afford one so they could try to talk our parents into getting one.

No, I didn't inherit this bug.  I don't know if I caught it from those Saturday morning westerns, or if I was just born with it.  But I've got it, and I've got it bad. And that's good.

I was thinking about that today as Tessa and I rode through the woods on a cold and breezy day, trying to squeeze in one more ride before the rain moved in, possibly later today.  Tessa grew up with horses; her family raised them.  Today she mentioned that they had once imported two horses from their native Switzerland.  She may have inherited the bug from her horsey parents.  Tessa is half my age and is determined to ride as much as she can -- just like I was at her age, and still am to large extent.  I might be sitting there thinking, "I really don't feel like riding today," but all it takes is a phone call or text message from her asking "Wanna ride?" and I'm ready to saddle up.  I think in the past year and a half that I've been riding with her there have been maybe once or twice when I had to turn her down, and that was because of work.

Yes, I've got the bug and I've got it bad.  I've known a couple people who didn't get into horses until late in life and it's sad, because being able to enjoy horses when you're young and fearless and don't need to hold back for concern about how you will support yourself, your family, or even take care of your animals if you got hurt creates such powerful memories that the placid trail rides of middle age and beyond can never compare.  I have been lucky and never been seriously hurt, but I know that my high-speed barrel racing days of my young adult life are over.  They are cherished memories -- I'll never forget the thrill of galloping full speed on Sandy, or the challenge of riding horses that bucked as a matter of routine -- but they are just that -- memories.  I won't barrel race on Dash.  I know my back won't take it and I've had enough mishaps in recent years to know that I don't bounce back from a fall like I did then.  A no-speed, slide off, "oops" kind of fall that I would have dusted off and laughed off thirty years ago today results in painful bruises, a trip to the chiropractor, chugging down Motrin tablets for a week, and the sad realization that I'm no longer young.

I would have horses even if I couldn't ride.  I would live in my truck before I would give up my horses.  They'll get my horses away from me when I'm comatose and no longer able to object.  And if that happens . . . I hope I don't come out of the coma.  Because I can't imagine a life without horses.  I wouldn't want to wake up if I knew my horses would be gone.

Other people get other "bugs," probably at the same age I caught mine, and the same age that TV commercial portrays that race car driver catching his.  For some, it's the fishing bug, and they can't imagine life without being able to go fishing.  For others, hunting, or football, or collecting stamps, or building birdhouses.

For me, it's horses.  They are what has made my life happy and complete.  They are what makes my soul happy.

And they are what are waiting in the yard, ready to greet me with a nicker and come over to the fence for petting, when I go out to feed them about an hour from now.

May they never find a cure for this "bug."  I don't want to recover from it.

And that's the latest from the Ranch.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Living in a small town

I spent well over half my life in the suburbs of major cities -- first Phoenix, then various cities contiguous to Los Angeles.  I finally in 2002 moved to my first "somewhat" small town, Norco, California, but with a Home Depot, Costco, Sears, Wal Mart, Kmart, Outback Steakhouse, and all the other comforts of big cities within five miles of the town limits, it really wasn't small-town life.  But it was close.

But I left Norco in 2004, seven years ago next month, for what was at the time an unincorporated area of Gila county, about 6 miles from Payson, Arizona, which with a population of about 12,000 qualified as a small town.   There's a Home Depot and a Wal Mart, a small Sears appliance store, two grocery stores, and for the most part everything else in town is small, locally-owned, and struggling to survive ever since the Wal Mart opened up.  A year after I arrived, Star Valley incorporated and included my rural neighborhood, so I now live in a real small town with a population of only 2000 people and a large herd of elk.

The Suburban Cowgirl is in the suburbs no more.  I've graduated to a "small town" and the next stop on my way to nirvana will be when I actually move to the country, on 5 acres or more, out in the boondocks somewhere, at least 10 miles from the nearest town.  I have aspired to that all my life.  Will I make it someday?

Life in a small town is unlike life in the city or even in the suburbs or even in a quasi-small town like Norco.

City:  concrete jungle, nowhere to ride, nobody knows their neighbor.  Think rat race.  Think laws.  Think teenagers drag-racing down the street.  Think sirens in the night, helicopters spotlighting alleys, cops calling through a bullhorn to stay inside.

Suburbs: bigger lawns, can find somewhere to ride within a few miles, probably know your neighbors' names, probably are friends with a few of them.  Could borrow eggs or flour from at least three neighbors. Teenagers more restrained because someone might actually know their parents.  Sirens in the distance.  You might be able to hear a rooster crow somewhere.

Norco:  Horsetown USA.  Bridle trails alongside the streets, open, protected preserve just a few miles away where you can ride for miles.  Everyone has animals.  Neighbors look after each other's horses and loan hay instead of a cup of flour.  Teenagers are in the local barrel races.  No street lights in most areas; you can actually see stars at night.  Moonlight rides.  You probably have a rooster in your own yard; don't need to borrow eggs because they're out in the hen house.  The local Horsemen's Association meetings draw 100 members every month.

Small town:  Wow.  National forest 100 yards from my gate.  Lots of people have horses, the rest of them used to have them, wish they did, or are hoping to get one soon.  Nobody thinks anything of it if someone walks into a local store with a gun on their hip; after all, there could be rattlesnakes out there.  You know all your neighbors and will hop a fence to drag their escaped horse out of their vegetable garden while they're down in the valley.  The local Horsemen's Association might draw 15 members on a good month.

In a small town, you can hardly go anywhere in town without running into at least one person you know at the grocery store, post office, gun shop, or thrift store. The day I moved in here, I left my car at the storage yard where my stuffed-full UHaul truck had been left by my moving assistants two days earlier and drove it to my new house to await the unloading crew I had hired.  But I was stuck there because the movers were late (they actually never showed at all, and I had to hire a local moving company to unload the thing two days later) and I didn't want to drive the UHaul truck to go anywhere.  I hung around my driveway until I saw a car coming from the far end of the dead-end road I live on.  I flagged them down and asked them to give me a ride back to my car at the storage yard 2 miles down the road and they gladly did it.  I was a complete stranger to them.

So that was my introduction to small-town living.  Total strangers saying, "Sure, hop in," and helping me out of an awkward situation.

In a small town, directions are given as "Go just past the Baptist church and turn right" or "It's the place with the orange sign just east of the Circle K."  My own street is "Between the county maintenance yard and the restaurant."  The two main highways intersect "at the McDonalds."

I heard a mail clerk today tell a customer, "I can't find the parcel right now but if I find it later on I'll take it home and bring it to you." (The customer was her neighbor.)

The last few members of the now-defunct square dance club still meet on the third Thursday of the month at a local restaurant, just to keep in touch with each other.  And I just now got the phone call from the former membership chairperson, reminding me that tomorrow is the day for that.  I've gone ONCE in the past year and a half since the club folded, but she calls me every month.

When my corrals flooded in the monsoon a few years ago, the neighbor down the street came with his little bobcat front loader and spent 5 1/2 hours building up the corral with granite and wouldn't let me pay for anything but the cost of the granite itself.  I think of his generosity of spirit every summer when the rains come and my horses remain high and dry in their stalls.

People in this small town are hunters and cowboys and have that independent "I can do it myself" attitude. We have four-wheel drive trucks and SUV's. We don't wait for the county or town to send the snowplow.  Whoever has the equipment will clear the road for themselves and their neighbors.

If we can help someone, we do.

I've lived a number of places and haven't hated any of them, but this is the first place I've lived where my soul was happy.  There is a peacefulness here that I haven't felt anywhere else.  Ironically, I'm earning less money in this small town than I ever have in my life . . . and I've never been happier.

I still yearn for acres of grass for my horses, and maybe someday I'll achieve that last goal, but for now, living in this small town of Star Valley is all right with me.

And that's the latest from the Ranch.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Getting old ain't for sissies

Dottie will be 23 in April and has been suffering from arthritis for a couple of years now, which has been treated with a glucosamine/chondroitin/MSM/HA compound.  But it got worse during the year she was up in Oregon, possibly due to the cold and humidity.  She had a particularly uncomfortable winter up there as in addition to cold and damp, her corral was ankle-deep in mud pretty much all winter.  She was acting uncomfortable enough that we added a low-level of bute to help ease the pain.  It seemed to help, and once the horses could be turned out to pasture, she would run and buck and seemed to be feeling pretty good and happy with her life.

But the harsh winter was the reason I decided to bring her back.  She was left up there for a warm summer at grass, and I brought her back to Arizona about three weeks ago.  Hopefully the drier, warmer climate will help.

Yesterday I had our local equine vet, Drew Justice, come take a look at her.  Last week, I ran out of the glucosamine we brought back from Oregon and I decided to leave her off it until Drew saw her so he could better evaluate her condition without her symptoms being masked by medications.

He was here yesterday and checked out her arthritic back end.  The arthritis is worst in her left hock, and she also has a sticky stifle problem on that same side.  I told him she was retired from riding, although if a small child showed up here I wouldn't hesitate to put a kid on her back and lead her around.  But my plus-sized butt will not be riding her down a trail.  I do hope to get her pain-free enough to be able to "pony" her (lead her from the back of another horse) on some easy trail rides since exercise is good for arthritis.

We decided to try an injection of HA (hyaluronic acid) which I had heard of people injecting into arthritic joints, both on humans and equines.  He preferred to give a systemic injection, which would help all her joints, not just the hock.  So we tried that.  The shots aren't cheap -- about $100 or more -- but he said older horses often see a noticeable improvement, especially during winter.

In addition to that, I will put her back on the glucosamine solution I was using before she went to Oregon.  I'll probably blanket her more.  Normally I don't blanket unless temps are below 25, and I only blanket Dottie.  Her daughters had to endure a minus 7 night last winter without blanketing but they have a covered stall with windbreak, were able to cuddle up with each other, and they get tons of hay at night.  (Digestion of roughage creates body heat so they get most of their hay at night.)  But for Dottie, I don't want her wasting calories keeping warm so I blanket her when it gets really cold.  I think this winter I will make 32 the blanketing threshold.

Then he took a look in her mouth.  Dottie historically has needed her teeth floated about twice a year; most horses can get by with yearly floats.  She needed it again, so he rasped the points off her back teeth.  But she has a hole in one of her lower incisors and the upper above it is cracked.  We'll keep an eye on that and hope it cracks off by itself because an extraction would be a major surgery that would have to be done by an equine dentist.

Knocking out an errant baby tooth in a young horse is no big deal and routinely done by vets as part of a checkup but the permanent teeth in an adult horse are a few inches long and go deep into the bone.  Horses' teeth grow constantly throughout their lives, with the surfaces being worn down by chewing.  When they don't wear evenly, you can get points sticking up from the molars which is what the vet rasps when he "floats" the teeth.  But because those teeth generally don't wear down to gums until the horse is 30 or more, and Dottie is only 22, she still has about a third of her tooth length encased in bone.  So trying to extract that cracked tooth would mean digging out about 2 inches into her jawbone, which is no small matter.

Hopefully it will crack off on its own, and the rest of the tooth can just continue growing out, eventually wearing down the other side of the tooth (the part that will be left after half breaks off) until the tooth is level again, maybe in about ten years if she lives that long.

Anyway, we've got a plan for her care.  I've got a grass hay I bought special for her because it helps her keep her weight on better (it's called Teff and it's wonderful stuff but hard to find).  She gets four pounds of Purina Senior feed every day with a little olive oil in it to help prevent dry skin and keep her coat shiny.  Every month, all the horses get a seven-day treatment of psyllium, to remove any sand or dirt from their gut and prevent sand colic.  The vet took stool samples to test for worms, and if any of them have them (there's a good chance they don't) they will be wormed every 8 weeks.

The water buckets have heating coils in them that will keep water from icing over.  It's important during winter that horses drink plenty of water and they'll drink more if it's warmer than freezing.  Plus, I get the added bonus of not having to put my own aging back out bashing through ice with a crowbar.

I keep a salt block in each of their hay feeders so they get salt whether they want it or not while they lick the last morsels of feed out of the bins, which also encourages them to drink.

Each horse has a covered area at least 10x20 with walls positioned to block the wind from all four directions.  Usually they all have common access to the arena and each other's pens.  I've noticed they seem to congregate in Dash's stall a lot, and they keep each other warm by huddling together when it's cold.

And that's how old Dottie will get through this winter.  With a little help from me and my vet, hopefully she'll be comfortable and warm and relatively pain-free this year.
And that's the latest from the Ranch.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Memories . . . .

I published "Tails" of a Suburban Cowgirl seven years ago this month and just realized that I don't think I've read it since.   I moved here a few weeks after my first order of books arrived and was busy with moving, unpacking, getting through the first winter here, getting corrals and barn set up, learning to live with snow and cold, and then Dawn was born, and through it all I was trying to re-establish an accounting business.

Bottom line, it's been seven years since I read that book.

A funny thing happens when I write.  Once I have committed something to paper, I lose the details in my memory.  I noticed that when our little dog Rags died.  I grieved for months, then finally wrote a story about how we had acquired her and my memories of what she meant to us.  Once I had it on paper I could let go of the grief.  But when I re-read the story later on, I realized I had forgotten many of those details after I wrote it.  It was like once the memories were safely in print (or saved on a hard drive) I didn't need to leave room in my brain for them any more.

The same thing seems to have happened with the stories of my horsey youth.  When I published "Tails" in Kindle version last week, I downloaded a copy to my own Kindle, and decided to read it again.

I'd forgotten so many of those stories from my youth.  It was like I was reading a book written by someone else, except there was a sense of familiarity about it.  But I found myself laughing out loud at the chapter where we had figure out how to give a cow pills . . . and crying when Sandy died.

Sandy is the horse at the top of this blog.  I had her for 23 years (that picture was taken two years before she died) and it was a treat to re-live some of our adventures by reading my book again.

It's time now to start recording memories of Dottie, and Dutch, and Zipper, and Dash, and Dawn, and Nevada -- the horses I have owned since I got back into the horsey life a couple years after Sandy died.  In the past ten years since my arrival in Norco, I've issued many emails to friends and family that closed with "And that's the latest from the Ranch" that documented the more recent "Tails" in my life. 

The other thing that has happened since Sandy died is the proliferation of digital cameras, which has enabled me to include pictures in  my writings.  So the sequel to "Tails" of a Suburban Cowgirl can be illustrated, which was not possible with the first book.

It's going to be fun, digging out those emails and starting to edit them for publication -- another trip down memory lane.

As much as I loved Sandy, and never thought I would ever say this about any other horse, I love Dash even more.

I hope I never have to write the final farewell to Dash.

And I hope to ride Sandy again some day, in Heaven.

These horses that have shared my life have meant so much to me, and given me so much joy.  I hope to convey that to my readers so they can share in that joy. 

And once the stories are written down, I won't have to worry about losing them forever to my increasingly failing memory.  It will be fun to see what I've forgotten, and get to re-live it.

And that will become the latest from the Ranch.  Again.

Monday, November 7, 2011


First snow of the season here today.  Won't be much and won't stay long, but I'm sitting here watching it fall.

If it keeps falling at this rate we could get some significant accumulation, although the forecast is only for "trace" amounts.  About 38 out there right now, heading to hit a high of 45 around 11 a.m. and will stay 45 until sundown when it will get colder.

Don't think I'll be going anywhere today, even though I have a 4WD truck and could if I wanted to.  But I have a lot of work I need to do on the computer today so I think I'll stay in.

I will have to drag myself out there in the next hour to feed the horses.  For now I'll sit here and watch Mother Nature frost the pine trees in front of my house.

And that's the latest from the c-c-c-o-o-o-l-l-l-d-d-d Ranch!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Snow tomorrow?

Wasn't it just a week ago that I was describing a lovely ride on Dash on a 72 degree day?  Yesterday had a high of 46 following a night of cold rain and chilling winds.  Based on the accumulation in empty buckets, we got close to an inch of rain that night.

Well . . . tomorrow's forecast says "Chance of snow showers."  To be sure, if we get it at all it is likely to be a dusting that will melt within seconds to minutes of hitting the ground -- no "horses and dogs playing in the snow" photo ops.  But there is something significant about the first snowfall of the season.

Any unprotected plants will freeze.  The last apples clinging to the trees will probably drop, adding to the collection already on the ground.  Flies and most other insects will disappear until spring -- unless we get another warm spell, which often happens in Arizona just before Thanksgiving.  The remaining leaves on the deciduous trees will fall.

And given that the overnight low tomorrow night is expected to be 20 degrees . . . it's time to start blanketing old Dottie.  I don't blanket the young horses but Dottie is a hard keeper and I don't want her wasting expensive feed keeping warm when I can throw a blanket on her instead.  I hope to bring her through winter without any ribs showing.

And that's how winters at the Ranch go.

Friday, November 4, 2011

In Memoriam

Today, November 4, was the birthday of my beloved Aunt Rina.  She passed away about 8 years ago, while I was living in Norco.

Aunt Rina was one of the people in my life who understood and encouraged my love of horses, for her own daughter Lynda (my cousin) was also bitten by the horse bug at an early age.

"Auntie" would take us horseback riding when they visited our family every Christmas when I was growing up.  My own mother was afraid of horses, but Aunt Rina and my father would take the three of us and my cousin Lynda riding at Cactus Stable every year that I can remember in my early childhood.

The last time I saw my aunt, she gave me a cutting from one of her geraniums.  (She had a green thumb and her property was covered with flowers and shrubs) I stuck it in the ground as she told me, and it grew into a huge plant in the yard of my Lakewood, California, home.  Shortly after that, I took ten cuttings from that plant and stuck them in the ground when I moved to Norco.  They also thrived.

The day she died, one of those ten plants burst into bloom out of season (the others were flower-less).

Unfortunately, the cutting I took from that plant did not survive the winter when I moved to my current home in Star Valley, Arizona.

But I think of my aunt frequently, especially if I see a red geranium blooming.

Thanks for the memories, Auntie.  And happy birthday.

Suburban Cowgirl Book and Calendar now available

My writing career didn't start with this blog.  Seven years ago, I published "Tails" of a Suburban Cowgirl, which has recently been converted for Kindle, Nook, and Ipad.  See links at the bottom of this page.  I've also been creating an annual calendar, The Manure Makers of Rancho Mucho Caca, since 2003, and the 2012 edition is now available.

Links for all these items are at the bottom of the page.  Great gifts for Christmas for the horse lover in your life, especially if you're a friend or relative who actually cares about the critters who share my life.

Even if you're not a friend or relative, if you love horses, you'll love these items.

And that's the latest from the bookshelf.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

It was fun while it lasted.....

Took a ride tonight with my riding buddy neighbor.  Went out about 4, took light jackets, and came back just as the sun was setting and it was starting to get chilly.  Nice ride.  Nice day.  But getting dark at 5:30 now, and dark = cold this time of year.

Today I worked outside bringing in firewood.  It was warm and sunny and wonderful.  The high today was a perfect, delicious, wonderful 72 degrees.

But all good things must end, even if they only lasted a week and a half, which is about how long our "temps in the 70's" lasted this year.

Tomorrow's high:  60.  No, that is not a typo.  I did not mean to type 69, which might be a normal high temp for the day after a 72.

But Thursday's high IS projected at 68.  Which is not bad.  Sweater weather but not cold.

And then comes Friday:  59 and rain.

And Saturday:  49 and rain.

And Sunday:  55 and rain.

And Monday:  54 and rain.

Overnight lows will get below freezing tomorrow night and stay that way.

Winter is upon us.
 Glad I got the wood box filled up today.  Time to light the woodstove.

But today's ride, and the few rides we had in the last week, were wonderful.  And I need to cherish them because from now on I'll be riding in a jacket, with a vest, and maybe thermals underneath the denim shirt that will be my normal attire until about April.

The truth is, we wouldn't appreciate the 72 degree days as much if it weren't for the 98 degree days that preceded them and the 48 degree days that follow them.

And . . . riding in snow is fun too . . . and I have that to look forward to.  So bring it on.  It's all good if you're on your favorite horse.

And that's the latest from the Ranch.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Geting ready for winter

I just looked at the weather forecast.  Within a week, our lovely highs in the mid-70's and lows in the mid 30's will have been replaced with highs in the 50's and lows in the 20's.

We will have had about a week and a half of autumn.  By this time next week, winter will have arrived.  I barely remember summer, autumn went by in the blink of an eye, and winter will be here.

So . . . it's time to clean last year's ashes out of the woodstove and fill up the woodbox (before the wood gets rained on this coming Friday and Saturday).  Time to turn off the water to the orchard and drain the water lines.  Time to winterize the garage bathroom and turn off the water there.  Time to take the timers off the barn faucet and have to start filling water buckets manually.  Time to get out the immersible water heaters and install them in the horse buckets, and get out the heated water bucket for the chickens and feral cats to use and set it up behind the pump house.  Oh, and time to plug in the heat lamp for the pumphouse (or get around to wrapping heat tape around a couple of pipes in there).

Time to rake the leaves that dropped three days ago and add them to the manure cart to be turned into compost by the guy down the road.  He's been taking my manure for four or five years now.

Time to get the gardener over to rake the last of the fallen apples from the orchard and add them to the manure trailer too.  Time to finish cutting down the tree that was hit by lightning a few years ago and cut it up for next year's firewood.  Time to then haul off all the piles of branches from earlier yard work to the brush pit a few miles away so they can be burned.

Time to dig out winter blankets for horses to use if it gets below 20 degrees.

Time to put that 300 gallon water tank I bought earlier this year into the alleyway in the barn between the stalls and fill it up.  Time to put the hose bib on it and be ready to use it to water horses in case I lose water sometime during the winter.  Time to coil up extra hoses and find a way to run the three I need to use above the ground so they don't get buried and frozen if it snows.

Time to find my vests and jackets and insulated gloves, and time to make sure each vehicle has emergency food and water in it.

Time to straighten up the leaning carport I park the truck under during snow season so I don't have to shovel snow off the windshield to use it. 

Time to put away the portable air conditioner and the window fans.  Time to plug in the heater in the garage that I turn on for the feral cats when it gets extremely cold.

And just about the time I get all the above done . . . or so it will seem . . . the first robin will appear and the cycle of life will begin again.  And it will be time to reverse all the above (except the leaning carport thing -- it can remain upright) and prepare for summer.

And that's the latest from the Ranch.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Different critters

I was in the house when my neighbor called me on the phone.  Usually she calls to tell me something is amiss with one of my animals, or my dog has showed up in her yard.  This time she described a huge bird with long legs that had flown over her head and landed on the topmost peak of my two-story garage. 

I grabbed the cell phone (the camera wasn't handy at the moment) and peeked out the back door over to the garage.  Perched there on the roof, looking down at the world, was this huge bird -- not sure if it was a crane or a heron.  No idea why he was here.  The nearest water is nine miles away.  I've never seen one here before.  I'm told we might be on the migration path for cranes though.

My guest and I went to the valley for a concert that night.  On the way home about 10:30 I was driving through the dark desert with only my highbeams to light the way.  I saw a shape in the road ahead and went for the brakes. It was a raccoon, waddling across the road.  I was relieved that it managed to waddle just outside my path of travel -- I suspect my tires may have brushed its tail, but I was reluctant to swerve more than slightly at the speed I was going.

As we neared my neighborhood, I was explaining to Jackie that I hated driving a certain section of roadway because it was an elk crossing zone and there were a lot of elk strikes in that area.  I went on to mention, as I was turning onto my road, a friend of mine who had hit two elk, about a mile apart (and a year apart) on a certain section of road while driving to Winslow.  I told her that we had an elk herd that came through my neighborhood every night, and pointed out where they usually came in from the woods.

But as I neared my house I was explaining that in the nearly seven years I have lived here, I had never seen the herd actually on the road in front of my house, although there was plenty of sign that they had been there -- tracks and droppings.  I was in the process of describing elk droppings (they look like olives, mostly) and getting ready to turn into my own driveway when she said, "What are those?" and pointed.

Caught in the glow of my headlights, five full-grown cow elk were just walking out of my neighbor's yard.  They looked at me, then turned away from my headlights and trotted down the road ahead of me.

Okay, so make a liar out of me!

In six weeks, I will have been in this house for seven years.  And FINALLY I have seen elk in my neighborhood.

It was a "wild(life)" day.

Oh, and the concert was great too -- Celtic Thunder.  I highly recommend it.

And that's the latest from the Ranch.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Road trip!

I have just returned from a trip to Oregon to bring Dash and Dawn's mother, Dottie, home.  She's been up there at the home of a friend of mine for about 15 months on a lease that didn't work out due to the mare developing severe arthritis.  So I flew up there Wednesday, and Thursday through today (Saturday) we drove down here in my friend's rig to bring her home.

We came through northeast California and stayed the night in Susanville.  Dottie was stabled at a private ranch while we stayed in a cheap motel (cheap being $55 a night versus the $88 we were quoted at a name-brand motel).  The second day was a hard drive through Nevada -- 11 hours on the road, about 2 of which were due to innumerable construction delays.  By the time we found the stable in Vegas, the sun had set, we were both tired and cranky, and the "cheap motel" for that night was $110 versus the $190 quoted by the first place I called.  Everything is relative.

The $110 motel was a Hampton Inn, the room was spacious and immaculate, the beds cushy, the walls soundproof, and the drapes blackout.  The shower was hot, the towels fluffy and plentiful, and a free hot breakfast awaited us this morning.

You could have put three of the first motel's bathrooms into the one that came at the Hampton.

After a good night's sleep, we picked up Dottie and headed out.  After a relatively short 7 hour day, we arrived in Star Valley at about 4 p.m.

The highlight of the trip was being stopped by a cop who looked to be about 19 years old for driving faster than the "vehicles towing trailers" limit of 55 on an otherwise 65 mph stretch of virtually deserted highway in California.  But he was nice and let us off with a warning to slow down from the 73 we had been going until we saw him.

The second highlight of the trip was seeing a couple of wild burros in a small town in Nevada.

Other than those two things, the trip was uneventful.  We listened to audio books on the way, I had my wifi unit with me and was on the internet some of the time, reading my kindle some of the time, working on a manuscript edit some of the time and trying not to fall asleep pretty much all of the time.

We ate a lot of fast food and somehow managed not to visit a single Dairy Queen along the way, although we did take note of all the DQ's we passed.

Dottie handled the trip fine.  We stopped every couple of hours for gas or food, and Thursday and Friday we unloaded her around noon and walked her around a bit.  We had her legs wrapped and she traveled fine and there was never any sign of swelling in her legs.  She was eating well and feeling energetic.

Now she is home, and of course neither of us had camera or even cell phone in hand to get a picture when Dottie met her daughters again for the first time in over a year.  After they all sniffed noses, I separated alpha mare Dash from the other two for the first night, leaving Dawn between Dash and their mother.  A little later I got to witness something I've never seen before -- Dawn and Dottie with their foreheads touching over the gate between their pens, Dottie making an unusual "huh huh huh" sound and neither of them offering to squeal or strike, which usually happens when two mares meet.  I really think Dottie recognized that this was her daughter and was greeting her.  It was a sweet moment, but I'll have to remember it in my heart -- the Kodak moment came and went before I could even think about trying to get a camera.

So now there are three horses at Rancho Mucho Caca.  Dottie is believed to be unrideable although I will be talking to my vet about possible treatments that might ease the arthritis in her hock enough to allow her to do some light work, maybe as a lesson horse, or pulling a cart.  I think she would be happier with a job than just standing around all day doing nothing but we'll see what the vet thinks.

I do know that she is nowhere near wanting to be put to sleep.  Her pain has been easily managed with a low dose of bute and regular glucosamine.  We brought her back to Arizona because she didn't winter well in Oregon between the cold and the rain and mud so maybe she will be more comfortable in a warmer and drier climate.

She presented me with two foals who have grown into the beautiful mature mares pictured on this page and I will do what I can to ensure her comfort and happiness until she and I both agree it is time for her to go.  She's a sweet beautiful mare and I'm glad to have her back home again.

I'll post a picture of her tomorrow when I get a chance to find my camera.

And that's the latest from the Ranch.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Getting my life back

At midnight tonight I will officially get my life back for the next approximately ten weeks.  Today is the deadline for filing tax returns if you requested an extension.  Normally it would be October 15, but since that day falls on the weekend, the deadline is extended until today.

I have one return I'm working on and will finish in probably an hour (waiting for the client to fax me one last document), one return that I got the data last Thursday and the client has responded to neither email nor phone request for additional information -- but he's getting a fat refund either way so if he files after the deadline there are no penalties involved.  Then there's a client who has been out of town for two weeks that usually ends up owing who told me she'll call me today.  I just hope she doesn't wait till 5:00 to call because her return is a little complex.

And then . . . I will go to bed and wake up tomorrow without tax returns hanging over my head.  Okay, so there's ONE corporate return who files with a March 31 fiscal year end that isn't due until December 15 but that won't take more than an hour or two in November to finish up.

So . . . what do I do when I actually get my life back for two months?

First I will fly to Oregon in two days and drive back with a friend and a horse of mine who has been up there for the past year.  So first I will get a "road trip!" with a good friend.  We should be back here by Saturday, and Monday we have concert tickets to see Celtic Thunder in Mesa.  My friend will stay here for a week or two before driving back, and the State Fair is running so we'll probably go there for a day.

I'm about to close escrow on a rental property in the valley so I'll probably spend part of the next two months getting it ready to rent out.

I've got piles of branches to take to the brush pit -- after the gardener finishes cutting down a dead tree (lightning strike about two years ago) now that I finally got the chainsaw fixed.

I need to fix a wall and re-insulate the pipe that burst last winter so it doesn't burst again (although I have since found the water shut-off to the garage and will probably just turn off the water completely this winter -- someone remind me to winterize the garage toilet and sink).

And I need to clean out the garage and put my tools away.

At least I don't have any barn or corral repairs waiting for me.

And all those long winter evenings will be spent working on manuscripts.  I plan to publish my other two completed books and work on the sequel to "Tails" of a Suburban Cowgirl.

Well, that's the plan, anyway.  Reality is I'll be lucky to even get the branches to the brush pit.  I've been planning to spend long winter nights writing ever since I moved here nearly seven years ago and it hasn't happened yet.  But one of them is one final read from being submitted to Kindle so at least I'm making progress.

January 1 will be here before I know it, and then it will start again -- first come the 1099's and W-2's I have to issue for my business clients, and by mid-January the easiest returns will start to trickle in.  I'll do a draft of my own tax return, but by the time I get all the "Important Tax Documents" in the mail to check my figures against -- I'll be buried with everyone else's tax returns.  I've had to file an extension for my own return for the last three years.

And that's the circle of MY life at the Ranch.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

That pesky detail of making a living

I'd rather be riding.

Pretty much any time I'm NOT riding, I'm wishing I were.  Well, maybe when I'm cuddled up with one of my cats I might not be thinking about riding, but pretty much the rest of the time I am.

Unfortunately, it's crunch time for tax returns and I'm trying to finish up the last three before the extension deadline Monday.  There actually should be six returns on my desk, but I haven't heard from three of the clients I filed extensions for, so . . . they're on their own.  Or I'll be hearing from them about 5 p.m. Monday, which is the deadline since the 15th is on Saturday this year, hoping I can squeeze them in before midnight.

And so, instead of being out on Dash or Dawn on this lovely clear warm fall day . . . I am working.

And the sooner I hit "post" and get to it, the sooner I CAN ride, maybe tomorrow evening.

And that's the latest from the Office.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A perfect ride on a perfect horse on a perfect day

I love my beautiful bay mare, Dash.  I expect to be buried with her someday.  Bill Gates doesn't have enough money to buy her from me.  She's one of those once-in-a-lifetime horses that you know is your horsey soul mate.

That is Dash.  I bred her from Dottie, a mare I chose for her beauty and disposition, bred to a stallion I met personally before Dottie was bred to him because it was important to me that the stallion not just be beautiful and well-bred, but I wanted him to be nice, and friendly, and manageable.  And Poco's Super Buck was all those things.  I became friends with his owners and occasionally took care of their horses while they traveled, and "Buck" was one of those good stallions that you don't have to handle with chains and a pitchfork.  He was manageable and mannerly and a joy to handle.

So the product of Gold Poco Dots (Dottie) and Poco's Super Buck was Buck's Poco Dash, followed a year later by Buck's Poco Dawn.

Dash was named before she was born.  She came into the world on St Patrick's Day, and she was friendly and sweet and curious from the moment she hit the ground.  I had just been laid off, and was in the process of preparing to move to Arizona, so I had plenty of time to bond with little Dash.  Every day for the first month of her life, I haltered her, led her, handled her, brushed her, and started the process of desensitizing her to things that might have frightened her.

She had a two-foot-tall black and white stuffed penguin for a toy.  An old tarp lay in her corral and was dragged all over the place by the curious filly.  The sprinkler that watered her 20x100 foot grazing strip ran a river across the south entrance to that area, so she learned at a very young age to cross water without fear.  At 11 days old, I led her on a loose rope into the horse trailer -- in front of her mother, not following her mother.  She was an absolute joy, and learned faster than any other horse I'd ever owned.

Fast-forward three years -- after trying to train her to saddle by myself, I realized I didn't really have the nerve to finish the job so I sent her to a professional trainer, Sally Wills of Pine, who sent her back to me six weeks later with an outstanding start.  She was a bold and willing trail horse who would go anywhere you asked her to go, and would stand quietly for mounting -- in fact Sally taught her to sidepass over to a mounting block or fence on command.  She was light and responsive to weight and leg cues, would stop in an instant on the word "whoa" and move hind or forequarters in either direction from leg pressure.  She would back on a loose rein with a light stroking of heels on her side.

She's now seven years old.  She's developed into a gorgeous, classic foundation Quarter Horse mare, and still has that calm and willing and friendly disposition that she got from her mother and father.

And I ride her in a halter, with a bareback pad.

Yes, I sometimes put a proper bridle on her -- mostly if I'm riding with people who might be worried about my ability to control her without a bit, but most often, the bridle is just hanging on her face for decoration, and I am actually controlling her with the halter under the bridle, and using the doubled lead rope for a rein.

On the ride up Gibson's Peak, described here previously, she wore the bridle but I never touched the reins.  She went up and down that hill under control of the halter and lead rope.

She's so amazingly responsive -- I can ride her under a tree, stop her on a dime, try to break off a branch that is in the way, apply the calf of a leg to her side and have her move sideways if the branch doesn't break, back her up, turn her 180 degrees in place, then turn her up or down a hill and ride around the tree, all without ever even tightening the lead rope that is tied to the halter.  The more I ride her the more she seems to be able to almost read my mind.

Tonight was one of those "after this I can die happy" nights.  My neighbor and riding buddy, Tessa, wanted to go for a long ride.  I chose Dash and the bareback pad and rode over to meet her.  We headed into the woods on our usual trail, rode over to trail 433 and headed toward the wash.  En route, we heard a quad coming, moved off the trail until it came into view, put up a hand to slow it down, then motioned it forward.  It rode past us while Dash stood like a statue on loose rein, then I lightly reined her after it as it rode up the trail away from us.

When we reached the wash, Tessa took the lead on her mare, Jessie, and we cantered awhile, and I relaxed into Dash and she rocked along in Jessie's wake until Tessa felt like stopping.

There's no better feeling in the world.

We turned back, rode most of the way home, then turned down another wash that I'd only ridden in once.  There were trees to duck, logs to step over, a few times we had to climb out of the wash to go around fallen trees.  Dash was such a joy, doing everything I asked, calmly, with no protest, and all on a loose rein.  I could feel her muscles moving under me through the bareback pad.  It felt so good to just relax and trust my horse and not have to worry about her bolting or acting up or refusing to go as would have been the case with so many of the horses of my past.

The weather was 75-degree-perfect, only the merest touch of a breeze, and we rode through the wash toward home, arriving just as the sun was setting.

If there are no horses in Heaven, I don't want to go; I think I may already be there.  Because I'm not sure anything can top the ride I had tonight, it was so perfect in every way -- a wonderful, sweet horse to ride, with the closeness and bonding made possible by using the bareback pad instead of a saddle; a good friend to ride with; perfect weather to ride in; and the natural beauty of the forest to please the senses in every way.  Even the smell of the air was heavenly -- the cool pine scent of a forest recently rained upon.

No, it doesn't get any better than this.  I have been truly blessed to have this special horse to share my life with.  And I am double blessed -- her sister Dawn is almost as perfect, and even smarter than Dash.

But Dash is the one who stole my heart over seven years ago as a newborn foal, my firstborn foal, and I treasure every ride on her.

And that's the latest from the Ranch.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Kids at the Ranch

If you read "How it all began" you'll understand why I enjoy sharing my horses with children.  If I can possibly avoid it, I will never tell a child, "No, we can't ride today," because I remember how precious and memorable it was for me whenever someone shared a horse with me when I was a child.  So I was particularly happy when my niece Susan (whom I taught to ride at age 2) wanted to bring her family up here for the weekend  -- because her family includes two kids, Tyler (age almost-13) and Erica (age 11) who both love getting to ride my horses.  Her significant other, Val, is not a horse person but has gotten on one for a few minutes once or twice.

But "going to the Ranch" isn't just about riding horses.  They were barely out of the car late Saturday afternoon when I pressed Tyler and Susan into service helping me put away about 10 bales of hay that I couldn't stack by myself.

That night the friendlier three of my six cats got more attention than they knew what to do with from all the visitors.  Susan and Val plotted to kidnap Bernstein, the larger of my two solid black males, who loves visitors and will get in anyone's lap within about 30 seconds of arrival.

I made homemade chili and fry bread for dinner, something I rarely do when alone.  We watched TV awhile then the visitors went to bed by nine.  Cats made the rounds during the night, and by the end of the night, everyone had been cuddled by at least one of the resident felines.

The next day, after a good night's sleep, Tyler and Erica picked apples from my orchard so we could make pies that evening.  Then they took the dogs with them and went for a hike in the woods.  By the time they came back Susan and I had gone to the grocery store and gotten the ingredients for taco salad and a few ingredients I needed for apple pies.

And THEN I got out the horses.

I saddled both Dash and Dawn and Erica said she wanted to ride Dash, so she started on Dash and I put Tyler on Dawn and we all went into my arena and the kids got to ride.  This was their third or fourth time riding Dash and Dawn so they were more ready to do some trotting on their own instead of being led at the walk.

The horses aren't terribly responsive to the kids because the kids' signals are less clear than mine are, but they are both good-natured and tolerant of the confusion and after awhile (and a few pebbles tossed at the horses' rumps by Auntie Debbie) both kids were managing to get both horses to trot.  Later they changed horses and I was surprised to see Dawn willingly trotting in a circle for Erica.

After about an hour of watching the kids ride and taking pictures, Val got on for the typical three-minute walk and then I started noticing signs that Dawn was getting cranky so we put the horses up and my visitors got apples from the orchard and made lifetime friends out of the two horses by feeding them fresh apples.

The grownups went in to relax, Val took a nap, and the kids took Daisy Dog for another walk, having decided that Lacey wasn't minding them on the first walk.

Susan and I sat around talking, and about an hour later I got a text from my neighbor and riding buddy, Tessa, asking if I was up for a ride.  So Susan and I went back out and saddled Dash and Dawn again, took Lacey with us, and went to meet Tessa.

We met the kids coming back from their walk at the gate leading to the national forest where we ride, so we took Daisy with us and the kids went on home.

Susan hadn't ridden in over 20 years, but enjoyed the pleasant ride on Dash while I rode Dawn, who showed residual signs of crankiness for the first 10 or 15 minutes, then settled down and we had a lovely ride.  We rode to the wash and had a long trot, then turned around and came home again.  Susan wanted to ride in the arena a little, and Erica wanted to ride some more, so she got her helmet and I put her on Dawn and she got to ride for a few more minutes before the sun started to set and it was time to put the horses up and go in for the night.

Susan and Erica helped unsaddle and feed them, then we all reluctantly went into the house.

By the time we got back in, we found that Val had already peeled and sliced the apples and the first pie was in the oven.  None of us had ever made a homemade apple pie before, so I had found recipes on the internet and we were comparing two of them.  Just as we got back, the first pie was ready to come out and the second went in shortly after.

Susan put herself to making the fresh salsa and chopping ingredients for taco salad.  We already had ground beef I'd cooked the day before when making chili that I'd held back for tacos, so it wasn't long before dinner was ready.

And while tacos are great for dinner, apple pie for dessert is even better, and we each tried a slice of each of the pies.  The consensus was we liked the texture of the second pie better but the stronger spices of the first, so if I do this again, I'll use the second recipe and increase the cinnamon and nutmeg a bit.

Monday morning the kids went for another walk -- and Daisy refused to go.  I guess two walks and a ride with the horses the day before wore out her 11-year-old self so the kids went alone.  By the time I took a shower and woke up enough (after a breakfast of leftover pie) Susan and Val had already cleaned the corrals and the horses were out munching hay.  We watched the horses eat until the kids came back.  I never get tired of looking at those two beautiful mares.

One of the other "favorite things" about the Ranch is my quad.  Tyler loves to ride it, and Erica loves to be a passenger on the back.  So when they got back I asked if they would help me by driving the quad with trailer attached around the property and gather up garden tools, aluminum cans, and other trash.  So the yard got cleaned up and the kids got to ride the quad.

They enjoy helping around the Ranch and I love having the help.  But mostly I love the smile on Erica's face when she's on a horse, and love watching how Tyler's seat develops more each time he rides -- he seems to be a natural rider.

Frankly, it's what I live for -- passing a love of horses on to another generation.  I never had children of my own, so I have to borrow other people's kids.

I can't wait for them all to come back again.

And that's the latest from the Ranch.