Riding 29 year old Sandy in 1997

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.