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.