Riding 29 year old Sandy in 1997

Sunday, October 7, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that's the latest from the Ranch.

The End is in Sight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now . . . back to the tax returns.

And that's the latest from the Ranch.

Monday, September 10, 2012

A lesson from a goldfish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is what life is about.

And that's a philosophical moment from the Ranch.

Saturday, September 8, 2012


Well, I finally did it.

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

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

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

But I did it today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that's the latest from the Ranch.

Seven year itches?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that's the latest from the Ranch.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Staying on

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

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

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

Until I met Molly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then there is Dawn.

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

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

Except sometimes she cops an attitude, and blows.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that's the latest from the Ranch.

Friday, July 27, 2012

When sheep aren't sheepish.....

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 9, 2012

Passing the torch

Sometimes you just need to find another way around it.  Seems those times are happening more and more, the older I get.

I went riding with my riding buddy, Tessa, yesterday while it was still relatively cool.  Because of forest closures on our side of the highway, we had to ride through an underpass to get to the trails that were still open.  (Nope, I have no idea why we can go south of the highway but not north; both sides are as flammable as matchsticks right now)

I'd never been on these trails, but Tessa has run them on foot so she was leading. At one point we got into a wash.  There actually was water in a couple places, which surprised me, but we were actually in a branch of Lion Springs, not just a runoff wash.  The dogs liked that -- they got to get a drink and Lacey got to lay in the mud.  

But going down that wash we came to a couple of what were, to me, scary parts.  I was on Dash, the horse I rode up Gibson Peak, and there were places that reminded me of some of the places on that mountain where we were going down a steep slope and had to step down a ledge.  One step-down in the wash was probably about 18 inches but it was in the open (not next to or under a tree) and I just sat still and let Dash figure out how to drop her front end down, using her hindquarters to hold herself in place.  She did great.

In another place we had to do a double step-down and had only a narrow passage to go through and a six-inch tree limb was diagonally over the place where the horse had to start the descent -- just at the height of my head.  Tessa had gone through it but I hadn't seen how she did it and I couldn't figure out how to get my head on the downhill side of the tree limb before Dash got to the edge where she had to figure out how to get down.  So . . . reluctantly . . . I got off.  I ducked under the branch and stepped down into the wash and led Dash to the edge of the drop off, and she maneuvered her way down.  I got back on and we continued the ride. (Tessa later told me she had leaned BACK to go under that limb, something I wasn't willing to try; I wanted to see where we were going.)

But there was another place that was even more treacherous.  We had to go down a slope covered with loose granite, where we had only a narrow path to go down, and a misstep could cause us to slide sideways down a slope.  Tessa got off and led Poncho down to the bottom, but when I tried to do it, I was having trouble with my own footing.  So I handed the rope to the more sure-footed (and younger) Tessa, and she led Dash down for me while I held Poncho.

Dash willingly came down, sliding sideways a bit, but stayed upright and I got back on and we continued the ride.  It was a bit challenging compared to our usual rides but really no more dangerous than anything I've encountered on the posse rides.

There were a few places where I didn't choose to follow Tessa, and rode around a scary part because I didn't feel like ducking branches.  

Gone are the days where I feel I have to prove I'm as tough as anyone.  While I consider it "wussing out" to some extent to get off my horse and lead it, discretion is the better part of valor and I'd rather stay safe than feel I have to prove something.  (One reason I wear a helmet now.)

Thirty years ago I would have been the one offering to ride or lead someone else's horse through a "scary" part; but thirty years ago I was about Tessa's age.

The torch is passed.

And that's the latest from the Ranch.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

One Bold Chicken

It takes a brave chicken to decide to roost inches from where its distant relatives have been barbecued, but apparently my hen Britney is not faint of heart.  I came back from a six day trip to Oregon to find "evidence" that one of the hens had been roosting on the shelf on the side of the barbecue grill.  I brushed away the evidence and went about my day. 

About 5:00 I went out to turn on the grill in anticipation of grilling a steak, potatoes, and corn on the cob for a Fourth of July feast.  My hens go to bed early, and with the cloudy skies "dusk" seemed to come earlier than usual.  Britney was already on the shelf.

I opened the lid, turned on the gas, lit the grill, and closed the lid and she didn't move an inch.  Over the next hour and a half I opened the lid several times to turn over the foil packets of potatoes and corn and eventually to put the steak on, and turned it over a couple times, eventually removing all the food, shutting off the gas, and bringing it in to eat.

She stayed put the whole time.  You'd have thought it was a bit warm through all the cooking but she was more determined to keep her spot.  Silly bird.

The two Araucana hens, Marilyn and Britney, are the last of the sixteen chickens I brought here from Norco seven and a half years ago.  They're about nine years old now.  Britney still lays an egg for me now and then.  Her eggs are light olive green.  When Marilyn was laying, hers were blue-green.  They're sweet hens -- Araucanas are friendly -- and I can pick them up if I want.

Lately they've been pretty much living on the porch with the dogs, and of course the porch is where the barbecue is.  They've been eating the dogs' food so I don't even have to feed them any more.  I just need to make sure there is water they can reach.

Anyway, I took these pictures of Britney on the barbecue grill:

They were named Marilyn and Britney because there originally was a third one, Madonna.  As chicks, they were all yellow, so I named my three blond chicks after three blonde chicks, Marilyn Monroe, Madonna, and Britney Spears.  I later gave Madonna to a friend.

So that's a chicken tale from the Ranch.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Learning something new!

I've been taking dressage lessons at Patterson Ranch in Star Valley, AZ, since the middle of February and this week my cousin from Switzerland was here and came to watch what was probably my 18th lesson.  Sissi took some pics and video of me on "Paul," a 22 year old 16.2 hand appendix Quarter Horse gelding that I use for most of my lessons.  My instructor is Shari Patterson. 

On a 20 meter circle

I think I need to keep my elbows in more here

Ending a 20 meter circle in the other direction

Shoulder in

Starting haunches in

I was able to see some areas I need to work on, such as keeping my heels down and my lower legs more still.  And . . . the 15 pounds I gained since Thanksgiving is very much in evidence!  But overall, I'm fairly pleased with my progress so far.  I had described myself as riding "like a sack of meal" before I started and I think I'm a bit improved over that characterization.

Click the arrows to start the videos.  Most are brief; the fourth one is over six minutes.


And that's the latest from the Ranch.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

John Deere Gets a Haircut!

In the five years that he has lived at Rancho Mucho Caca, John Deere, my weedeater, has never had a haircut.  He is a Barbados sheep, which is a breed of "hair" sheep as opposed to the "wool" sheep most people are used to thinking of.  (Most people who see him think he is a goat.)  The hair grows out into clumps that sometimes fall off or get caught on the fence, but mostly it's just a thick ugly rug after awhile, with a side order of dreadlocks:

No, he's not wearing an old carpet.

My boarder, Vanessa, took a class in sheep shearing and was eager to give John a trim, so this morning I caught him up and tied him in the hay shed while I laid out my various clippers, none of which were meant for sheep shearing.  Vanessa arrived and the fun began!
Click to see videos:

We got a lot with the clippers, with Vanessa clipping while I pulled the loose hair off.  Later we just had Vanessa hold him still while I got some with the scissors.  We didn't get it quite all off but quit at a point where all the mats were gone.  He'll never win a "best groomed" award, but he'll be a lot happier now.

After the trim, John looked like a new sheep!  Much younger and handsomer than before the haircut.  I guess I will have to give him a haircut every summer from now on.  He must have been miserable with all that hair on him.  I didn't know how much was hair and how much was just fat sheep, but he's actually quite trim.  The hair had almost doubled his width!

We didn't quite get it ALL off, but doesn't he look cooler!
 (Sorry for cutting off your head, Vanessa!)
All this hair from ONE sheep!

Back in his pen now, the rodeo is over!

He should be a much cooler sheep this summer.

And that's the latest from the Ranch.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Rough Month

No, I didn't fall off the face of the earth.

Tax season ended April 17, just over a month ago.  Since then I spent a couple weeks doing some much-needed work at the Ranch, primarily installing cabinets in the garage and finally getting some semblance of order in there.  Things tend to pile up during tax season and I was desperate to put order to my scattered tools.

Then I went to California to do some accounting work.  I've sub taught four times in the past month.  I made several trips to the valley (100 miles away) to visit my sister's 95 year old mother-in-law, who was in a rehab center recovering from a broken hip and the surgery to fix it.

And then last Saturday my parents were in a car accident that has left my mother still in the hospital a week later, suffering from 10 broken ribs -- not a good thing in an 88 year old woman.  My father suffered a few cuts from glass but is otherwise unhurt.

Two days later my sister's mother-in-law had a stroke.

I spent three days in the valley last weekend, Saturday through Monday, returned on Wednesday, then again yesterday.

Last night the mother-in-law passed away.  A very sweet woman who lived a very long and full life has gone on to a better place.

My own mother seems to be improving and is being moved from ICU to a regular room tonight, and hopefully to her own rehab center by Tuesday or Wednesday.

I canceled a planned vacation that was to start this week.

Anyway . . . it's been a very hectic and stressful month since my last post.  At least all the animals have been fine.  I wish I had time to ride one of them!

This evening I will experience the total eclipse of the sun.  I might do one of those things where you watch the shadow cast by the light going through a hole in a piece of paper or cardboard.  But somehow that just doesn't seem to be all that exciting, and actually watching the eclipse could leave me blind so I may give it one quick glance when I think it's complete and I can say I "saw" the eclipse, which sounds like it's pretty much a once in a lifetime thing to see.

Hopefully smoke from the several fires won't obscure it.  Although that might make for a unique experience too.  Last week the smoke from the Sunflower fire drifted across and the sun was a bright red spot behind the haze, appearing about the size of a dime.  Guess maybe we had a different kind of eclipse that day.

Anyway . . . there's been no time or energy for blogging this past month, and things will continue to be chaotic until my mother gets home again.

And that's the latest from the Ranch.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Cantering old Dottie

It's been nearly three years since the time I cantered Dottie under a rider and it felt like she was bucking.  I tried again bareback in case the saddle was the problem, and when the problem persisted I decided her arthritis was too bad for her to canter any more.  So she was put on walk-trot only.  She was sent to Oregon after that, where her arthritis worsened and she was retired from work there.

I brought her home this past October and she was introduced to the miraculous HA shot that eased her arthritis and restored her usefulness.  Several weeks ago I rode her again, and have had her out on the trails about three times before today, but only at a walk and the occasional spontaneous trot.

Today I took her out and we rode all the way to the wash and for the first time since 2009 . . . we cantered.

She fell in and out of it a few times but she actually cantered without any stiffness or hopping for quite a ways, then pranced all the way home.  She's feeling great and I couldn't be happier for her.

She's so much spunkier than either of her daughters, yet completely controllable, stopping and standing any time I asked her to, but ready to move right out at the slightest touch.

I think I may offer her to my dressage trainer for their summer kids' program, I think she'd enjoy that.  But it's clear to me that this horse is a lot happier being used than retired.

And that's the latest from the Ranch.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Final results on Dash's situation

No surgery.

The ultrasound today shows the ovary back to a within-normal-range size and the conclusion is that it was, indeed, a corpus luteum, although the largest one my own vet and two equine reproductive specialists he consulted with had ever seen.

But no need for surgery.  And her symptoms of discomfort have disappeared.  I think her urine volume is still a bit low but that may be the result of her emptying her bladder when it wasn't really FULL for the last four months so it may need to just stretch a bit.  It may have lost a little elasticity in the meantime so I'm not overly concerned about that.

Anyway, it's a relief.  While I was willing to do the spay, the last horse I sent to surgery never came home and there's always a risk of something going amiss in any surgery.

And that's the latest from the Ranch.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Work gets in the way

I can't wait till Tuesday.

What's so special about Tuesday, you ask?

Tuesday is the end of tax season.  The Suburban Cowgirl in real life is an accountant and tax preparer and these last two weeks have been crunch time for me, and it won't be over until Tuesday, the 17th.  I'll spare you the explanation of why it is the 17th, not the 15th; you can thank the residents of Washington DC for that.  Go Google it if you don't know the reason.

But to update the Dash saga . . . after consulting with some equine reproductive specialists and sending blood to the best lab in the country, the lab results did not indicate a reason for the ovary issue.  So the specialist suggested treating it as if it were a lingering corpus luteum (google it) so she had a series of three shots this past weekend that will shrink it, if that's what this is.

Nobody seems to think it is, but better to treat what can be simply treated instead of jumping to surgery only to find it was just a CL.

So that's where we are now.  Next Thursday we will do another ultrasound.  If it did shrink, it was a CL, and all will be fine.  If it did not shrink . . . it will have to come out.

Oh, BTW, we're getting snow Saturday.  Those robins in my orchard lied.  It's not spring at all yet, no matter what the calendar says.

And now I have tax returns to do.

And that's the latest from the Ranch.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Still waiting....

Insurance company required blood tests for Dash.  Still waiting for lab results.  Thought we'd have them Thursday but no word yet.

New boarder coming in tomorrow, another horse named Dakota.  My girls will have a boyfriend again.

And that's all from the Ranch for now.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Not such a great birthday present

Most people would get their horse a bag of carrots or a new bridle for their birthday, but Dash got an ultrasound.

For the last nearly three months Dash has been "off."  Not really sick, but not quite herself, sleeping a lot, standing like she was in discomfort, and seemed to have difficulty peeing.  But most of the time was fine, and I've been riding her when weather permits.
After ruling out things with blood tests and urine tests, today we did an ultrasound and discovered her left ovary was the size of a softball.  Normally they should be about the size of a golf ball, maybe a little bigger than that.
We're waiting to hear what the insurance company wants to do next but spaying is a likely option, which would be fine with me since I don't ever plan to breed from her and had been thinking of having her spayed anyway due to some hormonal behaviors over the last few years (that might actually be related to this problem.)
Dottie and Dawn are fine, fat and lazy and shedding, but they're going to have to stop being lazy now since I won't be riding Dash until this gets resolved.  The other day I rode her and it was the ride from hell which has NEVER happened with her before, and I think she was in pain. 
Hopefully we'll be able to treat her quickly, even if that means spaying, and get her more comfortable soon.

And that's the latest from the Ranch.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Happy birthday, Dash and Bugsy!

Today is Dash's eighth birthday and my cat Bugsy's ninth.  Dash got carrots, Bugsy will have his favorite canned tuna cat food later on, and I ate the birthday cake.

Those two are my "favorites."  I know, a good mom wouldn't have favorites, but Dash is clearly my favorite horse and Bugsy has just been through so much with me.  He's the only cat left who moved here with me from Norco; the other two, Miss Kitty and Munchkin, have both gone on to the Rainbow Bridge.

Bugsy is the one who will come when called (well, Max usually does too), who sleeps with me every night (so does Max), and who will fall asleep wrapped in my arms (Max has done that once or twice too).  But Bugsy is the one who knows when I'm a bit down and will seek me out and get in my lap and just be there for me.  Little Max is not yet two and hasn't achieved Bug's level of sensitivity yet.

Bugsy is the one who, if for whatever reason I could only have ONE of the animals I have now, is the one I would choose.

I hope I will never have to make such a decision because I love all my animals and would live in my car before I'd give any of them up.

Dash is a very close second.  I hope when I retire to get one of those humongous living quarters horse trailers, load up Dash and my cats and dogs (Dottie will probably be gone by then and Dawn hopefully sold) and go traveling.

And now, Bugs is in my lap and I need to give him his birthday kisses.

And that's the latest from the Ranch.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Nearly thirty-six years ago I bought my beloved Sandy, the beautiful buckskin mare I am riding in the picture above.  She was eight years old at the time, just entering what I consider to be the prime of a horse's life.  By eight, they're well-broke, they've been exposed to a lot of things, they know their job, their personality is pretty much set (well, THAT may happen by eight DAYS, LOL), and you really know what you've got there.

I had her for more than 23 years before she died.  It was a wonderful relationship, I trusted her and she was the kind of horse who didn't want to be fussed with, groomed, bathed, or clipped -- but when you came at her with a bridle, she'd shove her head into it and grab the bit as if to say, "All right!  Let's go have some fun!"  Eventually I learned to ride her bareback and she's the only horse I ever really felt connected with that way.  I could gallop her full speed with a bareback pad and felt totally "with" her.

She was a sensible horse.  There were a couple of times when we could have gotten into a major wreck and many horses would have struggled until there was one, but she just stood quietly and let me get her out of whatever mess we'd gotten into.

In three days, on March 17, my beloved Dash (the bay) will turn 8 years old.  I've been blessed to get to share her first eight years with her, which I missed with Sandy.  But the result has been much the same:  I have a horse entering the prime of her life, who is trustworthy and dependable, who loves to go for a ride, and amazingly, who can be ridden in a halter and lead rope.  I don't even need her to grab a bit for me when I bridle her.  I often ride her with just the bareback pad, too, but I'm not yet as secure on her as I was on Sandy.

I don't know if I'll have 23 more years with Dash; with horses, anything can happen.  I never expected to lose Dutch at age 9, just in the prime of HIS life.  But I hope Dash will be the last horse I ride before toddling off to my nursing home.  She's beautiful, and friendly, and has a sense of humor, and will go anywhere and do anything I ask her to do.  And I love riding her so much.  Poor Dawn is often neglected because, as wonderful as she also is, I just plain prefer Dash.  She was my first foal, and came to me at a time in my life (I'd just been laid off and was about to move to Arizona) when I had time to work with her, and play with her, and develop a bond even stronger than the one I had with Sandy.

So the age of eight is a bit of a milestone for me because now Dash is the age Sandy was, so I can now compare the things I did with Sandy to the things I will do with Dash.  Will I find history repeating itself?  Not likely.  I was 21 when Sandy was 8 and I'm about to turn 57 right after Dash turns 8.

Sandy was the horse of the excitement of barrel racing, with some trail riding thrown in when we could haul out somewhere.  Dash is primarily a trail horse; likely I will never barrel race her.  But I find myself yearning to ride Dash in all the places I used to ride Sandy and will probably do some of that.

It's hard to believe it's been eight years since I was anxiously checking Dottie's udder for changes and poking her rump to see if she'd "softened" yet (I had NO CLUE what I was looking for) only to be surprised 10 days before the expect due date with a leggy stranger in the corral and I met Dash for the first time.

She was friendly from the first moment, loves people, and has been an absolute joy to raise.  Now she is truly an adult and is such a wonderful and sweet mount.

Unfortunately, with the chaos of tax season deadlines, there will be no time for a party for her.  Maybe on Dottie's 23rd birthday on April 26 I will throw a party and celebrate all three birthdays at once.  Dawn will be 7 June 2 so Dottie's birthday is pretty much in the middle and would be a good time for a party.  The weather should be nice then too.

And that's the latest from the Ranch.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Memories of Bonnie

I had occasion to see my old riding buddy, Diane, at a birthday dinner yesterday.

She was the riding buddy of my youth -- I was about 21 when I met her, and we were riding buddies for about 8 years when we shared a back fence in a horse-allowed suburban neighborhood in west Phoenix from about 1976 to 1984.

We trained horses together, barrel raced together, trail rode together, battled a developer together, spent nearly all our spare time together.

While reminiscing about horses we'd owned, she reminded me of Bonnie -- the only animal I've ever been afraid of. I thought I'd share part of the "Suburban Horse Trainer" chapter from my book here:

I’ve never been afraid of any animal in my life. When I was three years old I stared down a bull -- a bull who was staring back at me across a distance of maybe twenty feet. We found this bull roaming loose somewhere on the Arizona desert near a spot my dad had chosen for an impromptu picnic on the way to California. No doubt his cows were nearby, but we did not see them, only the bull. This was not some tame Ferdinand on Grandpa's farm, but a herd animal whose only contact with man was branding time. I remember no fear, only a desire to pet it. I had no reason to be afraid of the bull; I had no way of knowing it could hurt me.

My mother, on the other hand, was screaming.

Growing up with a wildlife biologist for a father, we learned to love and respect but not fear animals at a very early age. We learned to identify and avoid the poisonous snakes and lizards and scorpions of the desert, but not to fear them. We learned that the larger animals, from coyotes to deer to bears, were "more afraid of you than you are of them".

Animals were my life, at least in my fantasies. But while my father's footsteps led into the forest where the Bambis and Thumpers of the world lived, my heart led me to follow the path of Roy Rogers and all my other cowboy heroes.

I wanted to be a cowboy.

And a cowboy couldn’t be afraid of a little old bull with big brown eyes. I knew this even at the age of three.

Twenty years later, my best friend Diane and I were the neighborhood horse experts, and we had some success breaking our various horses of their various bad habits, using those books and magazines as our guide. We had been lucky and never had any accidents of any importance. We thought we were pretty good "cowboys".

Until we met Bonnie.

Diane’s children had outgrown their pony so she advertised it in the paper. Someone who was interested in the pony had a young Appaloosa mare that was only green-broke, and they wondered if Diane would take the mare in trade for the pony. With the idea of finishing the mare's training and selling her at a profit, Diane agreed to the deal, never guessing what would be the outcome of that optimistic decision.

Bonnie was a pretty little mare, red bay with a nicely spotted blanket. She was basically sweet and easy to handle, but had not been ridden much and had not been handled properly up to that point. No problem. We would soon have her eating out of our saddlebags, so to speak.

As we began to work with the mare, we discovered she had one teensy little bad habit that manifested itself whenever she was scared. She would do a backward somersault. She didn't exactly rear up and fall over backward, but she would scramble backward so fast she would get her hind feet up under her belly and she'd sort of sit down and roll over backward. This was all accomplished at lightning speed.

This usually happened when we tied her up (she would throw herself backward and break the rope) or saddled her. But she never did it when Diane tried to mount or after she was in the saddle.

We worked with her for several weeks and she got a lot better. Our saddle club organized a trail ride in the desert one weekend, and Diane decided to bring Bonnie to see how she would be around other horses.

Actually, she was fine – perhaps the tiniest bit skittish, but it was all new to her, and Diane handled her patiently. Up till then, Diane had been the only one riding her, and my role had been largely that of advisor. (I had this authoritative way of leaning against the corral fence, one foot on the bottom rail, arms crossed on the top rail, saying "Pull her head up a little," and "She's on the wrong lead". You know – the really helpful stuff.)

As the day wound to an end, some of the riders wanted to ride over to the faucet at the other end of the picnic area to water the horses, so Diane grabbed a water bucket and started to climb on Bonnie's back. I was on the other side of the horse trailer and didn't see what happened, but I heard later from Diane that she had mounted awkwardly with the bucket on one arm, it rattled as she was in the middle of swinging up, and Bonnie just stepped sideways and Diane landed right on her tailbone in the dirt.

X-rays showed that Diane didn't break anything, but she did bend that tailbone and was unable to sit a horse for some time after that. So here we were with a green horse in the middle of training, and the last thing the horse remembers was stepping sideways and losing her rider.

Well, any good book will tell you that you can't let the horse have the last word like that, so somebody had to keep riding that mare or the combination of that mishap and a prolonged lack of exercise would make her even more skittish than before. We'd be back to square one.

Now, you have to remember, I had been a witness to this horse's progress and I knew she had those little quirks about flying over backward for no apparent reason. I also knew she wasn't a malicious horse, only nervous, and simply needed some gentle but firm handling so she could develop confidence in herself and her handlers.

One week after the mishap, I confidently groomed and saddled the mare with Diane looking on. There were two things going through my mind. One, I had no idea what this mare might or might not do (or maybe the problem was that I DID have an idea what she might do!) but I knew if I didn't get her training right back on course she might never be fully trained.

The second thing on my mind was my best friend, standing there (because she couldn't sit) a week after a fall, and knowing she hadn't been able to get back on after the fall, and that the longer she stayed off the horse, the greater the risk that she would develop a fear, if not of riding in general, then certainly of this mare.

But I wasn't afraid. I had never feared an animal in my life, going all the way back to the bull I had met at the age of three, and I certainly wasn't going to let this upstart of a mare be the first.

I led the mare into the front yard to mount her, and just as I put a foot in the stirrup, she blew up, throwing herself onto her back, legs flailing in the air, the saddle pinned beneath her. Luckily my foot slipped back out of the stirrup and I was able to jump out of her way. Heart pounding, I watched her struggle to get back up, and for the first time in my life, I knew what it felt like to have my "heart in my mouth."

I also knew for the first time what if felt like to be absolutely terrified of an animal. I really did feel like I was choking on my own heart as I gritted my teeth and scolded, "Bonnie! Get up from there, you idiot horse!" Of course, I had to laugh and smile around the lump of heart that was trying to climb out of my lips while I was saying that. In the two seconds the horse was on the ground, I knew that there was only one thing I could do if I ever wanted my friend to ride with me again.

I had to pretend this was no big deal. With a nonchalance I did not feel, I tugged the reins authoritatively and said, "Now, stand still, you silly horse. Nobody's going to hurt you!" To Diane I said, "That was my fault. I pulled on her mane when I went to climb on. I must have scared her."

"Easy, girl, it's okay." I stroked the mare's neck, which was already damp with perspiration, and tried to choke down the fear that was screaming at me, "You idiot! That horse could kill you! What are you trying to prove? Get away from this lunatic! She's not even your horse! You don't have to do this!" Fear is a very talkative companion.

I glanced at Diane, who was watching my every move, and I saw the flicker of fear in her eyes. I knew what I had to do. I swallowed hard, took the slack out of the reins, grasped the saddle horn, and swung quickly into the saddle.

Bonnie danced around a little when my weight hit the saddle, then she settled down. My heart returned to its proper place in my chest, and I crossed the road to the empty lot and began to work the horse.

It was years before I could admit to Diane that I had been terrified of that horse that day. She had bought my confident act and believed that if I wasn't afraid of Bonnie, she didn't need to be. She eventually rode Bonnie herself and finished her training before selling her several months later.

I look back on that time with mixed emotions now. I know if I had it to do over again, I would do exactly the same thing, but I can't help feeling the whole thing was very foolhardy. Diane’s two children watched the whole incident, and I wonder what they carried away from the episode.

Did they think I was brave or foolish? Or did they learn that sometimes you have to face fear and conquer it in order to live with yourself later?

Hopefully they learned that animals are usually "more afraid of you than you are of them" and that overcoming that very mutual fear is the first step to understanding them – and ourselves.

And maybe my mother had good reason to scream when I started to toddle toward that bull.

And that's the latest reminisce from the Ranch.