Riding 29 year old Sandy in 1997

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.