Hi, I'm Ev. I'm training to become a horsewoman. These are my adventures and misadventures. I'm green as hell, but so far, so good. I'm now learning from Bo (and sometimes his wife DeDe) at D&D Ranch in Pope Valley. I am extremely lucky to have this opportunity, I feel quite blessed, and I feel that they, and horses, have really turned my life around.
Solomon is my baby- a big old flea bitten grey Appendix gelding who is very kind and way too smart! I love him so very much. He is a rescue and was meant to be co-owned rehabbed, and maybe rehomed to a good home. He turned out to be over 25 years old with injuries that ultimately do not make him riding sound, so he is retired.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Conspiring horse is conspiring.

This morning when I went to pull Solomon out of his pasture, Remmy got to the gate first. Remmy is a young horse, but he certainly has more clout than Solly does.

Ever look and someone and have a silent communication with them? You know, where you're in some situation that requires special handling, and you look over at someone and have a whole conversation with your eyes? You just both agree on what needs doing without saying a word.

Well I swear to you that Solomon and I had a moment like that today. Remmy chased Sol off the gate, and Sol moved away. Then he casually turned his butt to me so he was perpendicular to Remmers, looked at me, and we just had this silent agreement to take a certain action. Solomon casually moved inwards towards the middle of the pasture, and then we both casually snuck around Remmy. I even said "come on come on quick" even though Solomon moved doubletime once he was past Remmy. He slipped right through that gate and I had it shut just as soon as Solomon was through.

Remmy tried to make tragic eyes at me, and Solomon made sure to stand juuuuuuust out of biting range while he took big mouthfuls of lush, green grass.

Of course, Remmy got revenge a little later.

After cuddling my boy for a moment, I ran and mixed up his feed pan and pulled out his grooming box. Lately I've been grooming him completely loose. And I have been picking his feet while he has been eating. It is good to have your horse willing to give you his feet while his head is down and he is doing something that is relaxed, a little vulnerable, and happy-making.

I do have to say, now that Sol's back feet are barefoot, they take a lot less time to pick. Shoes are such a pain to clean feet out under.

Once Sol was settled, I watched Bo work with Lilah.

Lilah used to be a broodmare, and was never really effectively broke for riding. Someone once tried the "let her buck it out" approach, and this did not work. Bo says that Lilah is a "snorty" mare. She is a nervous horse and snorts a lot. She tends to get wound up and then has a hard time winding down. She isn't the brightest mare in the world, but is a big time anticipator. The problem is that she often anticipates trouble, or anticipates and takes action before everything is set up and a cue is given.

I watched Bo slowly, patiently build on little things with her, starting with grooming her while she ate treats from a feed pan, just as I had done with Solomon a little earlier. This, she took to quite well, and she took well to Bo approaching, doing something nice, and departing again and again. She was a lot less enthusiastic about having a bareback pad placed on her back, but Bo gently worked her through it and took her out of it again before she got herself really worked up.

Next, I put on a coat because I was feeling pretty cold. So there I was in a big long black coat with a bit of fake fur at the cuffs and collar. I went over to visit with Teddy Bear for a moment, and she was quite interested in my coat. Ever-so-gently, she began to wiggle her lip back and forth on the fake fur. She looked so very serious as she smoothed it all down for me. Awwwh!

I wondered what the horses in the pasture would think of it.

Kizim was nervous about the coat. Remmy tried to yank it off me. And my hat. He tried to steal the halter. He grabbed the lead rope as I haltered Kizim so many times I lose count. And I could just not chase him off. I got him to back off a little a few times, but as soon as my back was turned or I started to lead Kizim, he was right back at his antics again. He would not let me take her through that gate. He wanted to go instead.

Finally DeDe took pity on us and held him back while I slipped Kizim through.

Kizim, well, she has decided that her job is managing the herd in the pasture. She wasn't really in the mood to work today, I'm afraid. But we made it through alive. We had some struggles, but I pushed through it, and when she got really upset, I tried re-directing her energy by backing her, which actually helped.

Instead of focusing quite so much on my riding form, I focused a lot more of my energy on the horse. I looked where I wanted to go instead of staring at her ears so much. I tried to keep my heels down, but keep my body relaxed. I tried to be more firm and keep her moving. We managed to do a good number of circles around the pen, though she did pause a lot. We also managed some big figure 8s. Overall it was a great lesson, though I felt bad that she got upset. I made sure that we ended on a positive note, however... I dismounted after we walked across the pen together while her ears were perked forward. The dismount was nice and quick too.

By that time, Solomon was actually running back and forth, wanting to get back in the pasture. I tied Kizim to the trailer and walked out his way. As soon as he saw me, he came trotting up, nickering, and walked next to me with his head peeking over my shoulder. We ended up jogging to the gate together, and I let him in.

Kizim was a lot less patient about the whole matter, and by the time I got her walked to the gate, she was whinnying up a storm and trying to rush off to the herd. I did manage to get her still long enough to take off her halter, then got to watch her go running off to the herd.

After lunch, I walked back outside, and there was Solomon, staring at me from across the pasture. Actually, you know I could almost swear he was watching me eat lunch in the house too. It's funny but I almost always just have this sense of where he is when I am at the ranch. It's like there's this long, thin thread between the two of us, and I can feel just the slightest pull on it, turn, and there he is.

Well I said "hey you want to come say hi?" and Solomon came right over, then followed me to the gate.

I went inside and threw my arms around him. Solomon sighed into the hug, and very much enjoyed the skritches I gave him. I rubbed his face, and then lowered my head. He pressed his fuzzy grey head, full of whorls, up against my smooth one, and very very gently rubbed it against me. I petted him and gave him a lot of little kisses. He is such a love.

When I walked out again, he stayed at the gate, staring at me the whole way. I told DeDe I thought he seemed to know somehow that I wouldn't be back for a while, and she said he probably did know. Sometimes horses, they just sense things. He stood there and stared at me, and I felt bad for leaving for a week.

It wasn't until I got in my car and turned it on that Solomon slowly turned around and walked away.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


Today I followed Bo around as he worked with a couple of horses.
First he worked with Lilah, who has always been a broodmare and who is kind of nervous about this whole stuff-on-her-back thing. Bo worked with her very slowly and patiently, running ropes around her butt, lifting a leg with a rope, putting a bareback pad on her, and eventually even cinching it up! Lilah was spooky and snorty but Bo was so patient and moved so slowly that he got a heck of a lot done with her today. Everything he did was a success that he then used to build into another success.

Bo took Breezey for a short little ride in the roundpen. She was taught to run, run, run, but never taught to stop, so mostly what he did with her was stop, and show her that it was okay to just hang out. You could tell by the way her lips twitched that she was really thinking this stuff through.

After that, we went out to the pasture. The horses started heading over to us, and when Bo called, Remmy came running. Solomon was coming too, but he saw no need to hurry, choosing to amble instead. Bo told me to choose a horse, either Solomon or Kizim. Kizim also came by, but veered off to scavenge some hay. Solomon gave me some cross between a nicker and a whinny, and came up to cuddle before begging to be let out.

I decided hey, why not make both horses happy? So I opened the gate to let Solomon out, shut it again, and went over to get Kizim. Kizim was a good girl and put her head in the halter, following docilely alongside me.

Here is Solly doing his very tough job:

(Photos today are courtesy of A___, one of my fellow boarders.)

After I brushed Kizim out and picked her feet, Bo put a saddle and bridle on her! Well, this was new.

First, Bo had me work at leading Kizim to the mounting block. He had me work on lining her up well, holding the reins properly while I stepped up on the block, and
getting her head turned just a little bit toward me so that if she moved while I was mounting, she'd move around the block instead of away from it. This is a lot safer.

Then I rode her around and around. Well, as much as I could get her to go around and around!

I am working hard on getting my heels down and my hands in the right place. I think I improved with that today, though I am still having trouble getting everything moving in sync!

And then Bo said "okay Ev, we're gonna have you come outside of the roundpen!"

Well, well!

I'll say this. I passed the stupid bar test. I ducked and I did not hit my head!

I was feeling pretty good about my steering abilities at first.

(No, my feet are not in the stirrups. Screw stirrups.)

Though it started to get difficult when I had to steer her around Solomon. She might have wanted to go beat him up a bit, or maybe just go say hi. With some struggling, I managed to get her to go around... you can see I wasn't doing all that great with the reins there, heh. I need to keep them shorter... I always let the reins out and out and out and then if I need to signal with them, I end up doing crazy stuff like this.

I sort of steered like a really drunk person, heh. Kizim wanted to go to that pasture that was behind us in this photo. I wanted to follow Bo to a big tree a little ways further down. I discovered that I was not very good at steering Kizim without some nice panels around me.

We did a lot of weaving back and forth, hah. She is such a tolerant girl though, really she is.

Though at a certain point she decided she'd had quite enough, I think, of my not so skilled riding, and she told me she wanted to go back to that pasture.

I think right after this photo is when she burst into a trot.

It's a nice trot, actually. She has a pretty extended trot. Bo was calling out to me to stop her. I tried going "whoa" and sticking my legs out and forward, leaning back a bit, but this didn't really deter her. I started to lose my balance a bit. I really don't have much in the way of trotting experience, I guess you could say. Almost none is another way of putting it. I could hear Bo shouting "lift those reins ev, lift those reins!"

But at the time I thought "naw, if I try that I'm either going to go over her head or over her butt," and I focused on not falling off. Ended up grabbing the horn, but hey, I didn't fall off! I knew where we were going though, and I did get her stopped once we reached the pasture gate. Or maybe it's that the gate, which was closed, got her stopped. Apparently I was also laughing through this entire process, though I wasn't really all that conscious of that.

"Hey, no laughing, this is deadly serious!" Bo yelled to me in his best "stern" voice.

This made me laugh harder.

Anyway, after that Bo had me practice turning Kizim in a circle this way and that, and then he had me ride her back into the roundpen, which actually we did pretty well at. Bo was driving her from behind on Remmy, but I got her in there, ducked under the bar, and didn't get a foot caught on a panel, either. Victory!

After Kizim had some time out of the roundpen, she was actually a lot softer inside it. And it seemed a lot less challenging to me, too.

We managed to go around that pen a good number of times, but I decided that I was getting pretty sore, and I wanted to stop before I got really tired and started making big mistakes. End on a positive note, ya know? So Bo told me to bail out while Kizim was walking. Another first for me- a voluntary dismount from a moving horse.

I'd "dismounted" involuntarily from Solomon at Hossmoor a few times.

I landed on my feet though, yay! Somehow I ended up landing facing away from my mount, but it was a fine landing, and a quick one, without me getting caught by my shirt. Victory!

I gave Kizim lots of loves and a cookie.

As the sun set, Bo and I talked about human nature, horses, religion, history, psychology, tribalism, fear, and joy. A typical conversation at the ranch!

A friend of mine recently said, "you focus too much on your worries instead of your joy." And I thought, you know, that's true. And it's true of humanity in general as well. We feel this major need to control everything, and I think a lot of need for control is born of fear. We think about the ways in which we messed up instead of the ways in which we succeeded. We worry about what might go wrong instead of thinking about the good things that might happen. We fear death instead of celebrating life.

So I am working on finding my joy. Immersing myself in it. Remembering that our world is a good one. And instead of trying to find some way to escape, like drinking a bottle of wine or losing myself in a game, there are horses. They are life, and life is good.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Pasture fun.

The other day I arrived at the ranch to discover that Solomon was in the big pasture!

In the pasture with him were Kizim, Remmy, Sissy, Lena, Poco Joe, and the Little Bay Gelding.

Kizim, Sissy, and Lena are mares, and Bo explained to me that really generally in domestic herds, the mares run the show. The boys might go charging around trying to be in charge, but really it's the mares.

Kizim's form of leadership is to charge at the biggest baddest horse in the herd, snapping her teeth, and then spin and kick out. If the horse is smart, she'll get out of the way.

I decided that, since Bo and DeDe were going into town for the day, I'd use the opportunity to observe the new herd dynamics. That setup won't last a long time... Bo is just mixing things up for a bit. But it was interesting to watch.

I went out to the roundpen to talk to D___ (a boarder) and her mother, and to watch the herd from a distance. Solomon and Poco Joe were a bit exiled from the main herd, though LBG was also hanging around them a bit. Kizim chased Solly up to the top of the hill and then eventually lost interest.

After a while, either Kizim gave some far-away cue too subtle for me to pick up on, or Solly decided to have a run. He used to run up and down the hills at Hossmoor when he was feeling good, so maybe he just decided it would be fun. So he went tearing off down the hill, head high and tail flagging, Poco Joe glued to his side like a foal.

There was a time when Solomon was known for being a very fast horse. That time has passed, I have been noticing. He is not very fast at all now. He really seemed to enjoy his little run around the pasture, but he wasn't all that fast. When he was most of the way down the hill, the LBG came tearing after the two of them at speed. He made his choice, and he stuck with it for the rest of the day. In a less certain environment, the two young boys looked to Solomon for comfort and leadership.

DeDe came and took Kizim out before they left for the day. While Kizim went batty, pacing her pen and calling for the rest of the day, tranquility fell upon the main pasture at once. In the power vacuum, dynamics actually became a lot more clear.

Remmy wanted to own the two mares, but after having been cowed by Kizim he didn't really have it in him to pick on them much, and he kind of covered at the peripheral, as if to say "I am guarding my mares. I think?" After a while, he went over and hung out with Solomon. Usually he picks on Sol and chases him around a bit, but I think he actually kind of appreciated the calm at that point, and they grazed together, albeit facing each other instead of facing the same direction.

Eventually Remmy wandered off to the mares who had gone one direction while the two young boys had wandered to the opposite side of the pasture. Solomon looked at Remmy's band, then his own band. But instead of going to either, he turned around and looked at me. Nickering, he decided, and came to me. I decided the fastest and safest way to get him out was to just open the gate and let him through.

He came out the gate, blew his hot, sweet breath against my shirt, and dropped his head to graze.

You know, that's always a great feeling. I mean sure, he knows that coming to me means green grass and a feed pan. But he also could choose any spot of green grass on the property, and he knew I wasn't holding his feed pan. But he stopped and grazed right next to me. And he decided to come to me, away from the other horses at that moment. I think that I must be doing something right.

After I gave Solomon his massage (yeah there are a lot of perks to coming to mom) I left him to eat and got his feed pan and grooming supplies. When he saw what I was carrying, he came trotting over all excited of course. I've started feeding him probiotics, and so far his poop is way better. No more green apple splatter, yay!

But nothing excites him like his senior feed. He'll take it over alfalfa, he'll take it over apples, carrots, and cookies. He'll even take it over peppermints. It's such good stuff.

While he ate, I picked Solomon's feet. It's odd to see his back hooves barefoot after all this time. The farrier said he didn't think his rears being barefoot would hurt him one way or the other, and so far so good on that. Not sure if the slowing down is a bit of tenderfootedness or if it's just because Solomon has had a rough life and is getting older now. But he seems to feel fine. This is good, as anything that can save some money is really helpful right now.

As I was picking his feet and grooming him, I reflected on the number of people I'd come across who wouldn't do anything with their horse without putting him in cross-ties. And I was thinking, you know what, probably if they were less afraid of their horse and more willing to be calm and trusting, their horse in turn would become more calm and trusting, more trustworthy, and they probably could easily kneel on the ground and pick their loose horse's feet. If people didn't get scared and feel like they had to smack or punch their horse every time he showed that he wasn't an emotionless machine, they could have a much better relationship with him, and wouldn't have to worry about nasty behavior as much. Ramping down the energy really does work a lot of the time, I think.

I'm not a master horsewoman, and while Solomon is in my mind a special horse, I think that most horses are like him in that they just want to get along. I think that if you can really believe that your horse will be good for you, he will try very hard to do so. But you have to decide what kind of leader you are going to be.

It isn't enough to just be a leader. There are leaders who bully everyone around them to get their way. Kizim is that kind of leader. She loves to chase the other horses around and be the biggest, baddest, toughest mare in town. Breezey has a calm, orderly herd, and keeps everyone in line with a gesture or a look. Both keep control, both have a leadership role in a herd, but Breezey's style is much healthier overall.

That being said, I have a long way to go before I can really be an effective leader for Solomon in all things. I did a little work with him on the single long line, doing some ground driving, but I had a very hard time getting him to move away from me, and I didn't manage to turn him at all. I also couldn't move him out away from the roundpen at all. He was much more interested in eating grass, and I just could not get him to take me seriously. Bo, I am sure, could have done it.

So I got him out and trotting as I drove him, and decided to end things on a positive note. When I told him "whoa" he whoaed and stayed in the right place instead of running in to throw his head over me. I decided that this was a great place to end things. So I took him back out to the pasture, and went inside with him.

Solomon followed sedately behind me, and we walked around together a bit. We picked up Poco Joe at some point, and then we picked up the Little Bay Gelding.

Solomon is not a really strong leader. He's kind of a bit of a middle-man, though in a big herd he will form a sub-group of his own, usually made up of the really young and really old horses. But with his two boys out in the pasture, he was handling things pretty well. Just a little ear pin and head toss now and again got things settled, and all three were soon standing with one hip cocked in the "chilling out" position.

So I decided to do some observation and experimentation. I gave attention to each horse in turn to see how the other horses would react. Solomon was more okay with me loving on Poco Joe than LBG, with whom he is more strict. Poco Joe is a little Bodhisattva horse, however, complete with serene, enlightened smile. He follows Solomon around like a baby all over that big pasture. the LBG is a bit older and a lot more willful, but still seems to have decided that Solly is the best deal.

I crouched down on the ground, pretending to be at rest, and Solomon immediately moved closer, hovering over me and strongly gesturing at the other two boys to keep their distance. Lots of ear pinning and a tail swish or two.

Finally, I turned and faced Solomon. I backed him up a step or two, but then relaxed and let him come to me. He very very lightly, feather-light, leaned his cheek and muzzle against me. Slowly his head lowered in those gentle little jerks which told me that he was starting to doze off. His eyelids fluttered closed, he sighed, and fell asleep.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Farrier and mucking

Hey folks, I am so sorry, I forgot to update!

Yesterday I was in bed all day, worn out from the panic of the night before. But tonight I can update, and tomorrow I am going back to the ranch.

I am very sorry to say, I have forgotten a lot of details about my day at the ranch. Unfortunately my memory goes really wonky after something traumatic happens- the trauma tends to over-write other things.

But I joked with the farriers, Roberto and Grant. Roberto showed me photos of his lovely horse. Solomon only got front shoes this time- so far, so good with that. I have grown quite fond of those farriers.

I worked Solly in the roundpen before I took him to get his feet trimmed and shod. He voluntarily cantered, having spent a day and some change in a stall because of the storms. Solomon is not a stall kind of horse, and he quickly gets to weaving.

He was still really antsy with the farriers, and headbutted me a good number of times, despite my being fairly firm with him. I let him loose to graze for as long as I could. Sweet Roberto called me over and said "look at him, look at how good he looks! You've done a great thing for this horse." Awwh!

Hot tea was drunk, of course, and conversations were had. They're in my head somewhere, but I can't pull them up. I've been trying to consciously remember. It'll come to me.

Bo and I cleaned 6 stalls together. I raked and he mucked. It was really pleasant, actually. Companionable, honest work. I love mucking. Maybe if I did it all the time every day I wouldn't. But it makes me feel accomplished and it's meditative. And work is much more fun when shared.
I watered I don't know how many horses. 11 I think.

Tomorrow there should be some sun.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Spinning out.

I hit a patch of ice or something on the road today. Maybe it was some oil. Maybe at 45 miles per hour I hydroplaned. Spun out. Well first I swerved a bit, then spun. Ended up perpendicular to the road, staring at a big oak tree that was about 6 inches from my front bumper.

The strangest thing was the silence. There wasn't any sound when my car started just going where it wanted to. I didn't make a sound. Maybe I said "hmm." I can't really remember. But I just sort of stayed calm.

Thought maybe a tire went out or something at first. You could say I wasn't thinking straight. I put on my hazards and checked. Everything was fine of course, my car just slipped. Nobody stopped to check and see if I was okay. I was glad I wasn't stuck out in the country with no cell reception, I tell you what.

So I got back in my car, started it up, thanked the gods for watching out for me, and drove like a grandma the rest of the way home. Very stressful drive, I tell you what. I'm pretty shook up. But I made it. I feel pretty lucky.

Some of the not freaking out at the time was shock. Some of it, I think, was experience dealing with horses, who sometimes will go where they want instead of where you expect them to. At great speeds. Hah. And when that happens, you HAVE to stay calm, you absolutely HAVE TO. To freak out when on the back of a horse is to invite a big wreck.

I'll update about my day tomorrow probably when I have calmed down a bit. For right now, I have a glass of mead under my belt, and I think it was a good choice.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The big, cold day!

I dressed with care that morning, donning three layers of shirts and two layers of pants, knee-high socks and my ever-present boots. I'd read on weatherundersground.com that it would be 25 degrees at the ranch at 7am. I took my time getting ready. As it turns out, this was probably a good idea because it ended up being 20 degrees at 7am, and I hadn't thought to bring a scarf.
Now, the Bay Area rarely reaches freezing temperatures. It is always something of a shock to go outside and find that everything is dusted in white frost. To find ice on one's windshield, well, that's rather shocking. I do not own an ice scraper. As a San Francisco Bay Area resident, it does not generally occur to me that such a thing even exists, let alone that I might have need of one at some point. I spent a long time blasting the heating vents at my windshield, as there was a pretty good layer on ice on it. Later DeDe told me that you can pour tepid water on it to melt it, but never hot, as hot would crack your glass. Eek!
Eventually between the heater, my sleeve, and the windshield wipers, I was able to get on my way. There was frost everywhere for the entire drive up. Frost in every shadow. Frost on every west-facing hillside. It was an odd contrast- white ice to the right and green grass to the left. I know that in many places people are getting inches and inches of snow right now, but here in the land of fire and mud, ice is kind of rare.
It makes the world glitter like it has been dusted with billions of tiny diamonds.

Once I got to the ranch, I chatted a bit wiht Bo and DeDe.
Walking out to where Sol lives, I idly tossed a rock into the pond. Instead of splooshing, it clacked, then it skidded across the surface. Frozen! Of course it was frozen. It just didn't occur to me that water would freeze out here. In fact, Bo and DeDe had gone around and broken the ice on all the troughs.
Then pulled my horse out of his pasture. There is a cute gelding there whose name I haven't memorized yet, but who has just recently come back home from being leased out. He is afraid of Solomon, probably because Solomon is a grey and he is not used to grey horses. Well, that's fine if it means that nobody is getting beat up! And advantageous, since this fellow sometimes crowds you at the gate. He is just scared enough of Ol' Solly that we are about to go through without any drama.
I let Solomon graze for a short while on the frost-covered grass, and laughed as he sneezed at the cold wetness of it. Then I took him down to the Patience Tree and gave him his usual quick hoof-picking and grooming. He got a little feed pan with senior feed and a touch of alfalfa leavings. Then it was time for work!

And work we did.

Bo had me gather up the thick white cotton rope he's having me practice with, and he brought out the two thinner black ropes that he turned into ground driving reins. But first he had a little exercise for me to do with him. He told me, "Ev, you're going to need to trust me here," which was no problem, as I do trust him.
So we did a bit of role-playing, where I played the horse and he played the human. He took the lead like in one hand, and I took the other end of it. He had me close my eyes and we walked. The first time we sort of meandered and he said "well, how was that?"
"Oh it was fine," I replied.
"Not a lot of guidance though, was there?" he asked me.
"Not really... wait, who was supposed to be leading?" I asked him.
"There you go, that's it exactly!"

So then he had me close my eyes again, and he lead me around with a much more consistent hand and presence. I found myself feeling a little bit more relaxed because I wasn't having to guess where I was supposed to go as much. Bo explained that horses can be the same way. We work on going softer and softer with our cues, but they still need to be CLEAR enough for the horse to know what is being asked of him, and to feel confident about it. If he feels secure, he'll feel a lot happier.

I don't remember if I talked about this last time, but I find that I am much better at being firm and clear with Kizim than I am with Solomon. This is in part because if I am not really firm (not unkind, just firm) with her, she'll just drop her head and eat. But it is also because Solomon is my baby. I have been spoiling him. And I also tend to look to him for support a lot more. I take much more of an attitude of trusting partnership with him, but at times I do him a disservice, because at times he does need me to be a lot more clear and firm so that he is not confused, and so that he has a clear idea of what he should be doing and where he should be going. If I keep this in mind, I think he will feel more secure with me. There's more to it than that, way more, but it's a starting point.

My biggest sticking point is getting Solomon to take me seriously and move out. It's a matter of feel, it's a matter of TIMING, and it's a matter of projecting the right kind of energy with him. In part because I have clung to him for support so many times, it is very hard for me to tell him to move away from me and mean it. I spent more time moving him in circles away from me today, learning where to focus my intent. Lightly tapping his hide with the tips of my fingernails on his shoulder and his neck, clicking and kissing at him until he moved away. That took a while, but it started to work. I tried applying more energy to his shoulder, and more energy to his neck. I worked on lightening up the cue until it was no longer effective, and then carefully ramping it up a bit more until it worked again. The next step was to get him to continue to move off so that I could drive him.

That, I did not do quite so well with. But in time I think we'll get it to work.

Bo got him out there and moving, and I worked on driving him a bit.

Then Bo had me drop Sol's line, and he demonstrated something to me. He walked around in a circle with me, then he took my wrist and spun me around him. He asked me to try, and I took his wrist and hauled with my arm, moving around him as I moved him around me.

"No, no, see that's exactly what you're doing with Solomon," Bo told me, and he spun me around again.
"Now what am I using to move you, instead of my arm?"
"Your shoulders?" I ventured.
"I'm using my whole body. And I'm backing up a tiny bit then keeping still. You can't give ground or move, they are the one that is supposed to be moving around you."

So I tried again, and that time I think I did manage to do what Bo had done. And it was easier! I was more balanced, and I could tell that I was more clear in my cue.

Bo worked on Solomon a bit, and it was clear that Solly had picked up on the game. He not only spun inwards when Bo asked him to, but he even got a little excited and hopped from one side to the other, spinning on his hind feet with his fronts in the air!

So, Solomon understood what was being asked of him a lot more, and I understood more about how to ask it.

I got him to do it, too! I got him to turn many times, which was a big improvement from the last time when he just ran in to me and pivoted on his fore. Somehow once they got the camera out there, however, I couldn't do it. Hah! And then I needed Bo to drive him out again. I did manage to get another spin or two out of Solly before I was done.

But here you can see me driving him some more. Oh, and I didn't hit myself with the rope nearly as much this time, heheh.

Look at him, pretty well framed up with a nice long stride!

I'm not good enough with the ropes or the cues yet to use two lines. I'd get us both all tangled up, not good! Bo, however, has been doing this for a long time, so he worked Sol on the two lines.

First, there was hooking him up. Solomon was not entirely sure about that. But Solomon obeys Bo. He knows the game is up with him.

My ewe-necked boy. I think that as we continue to do this, especially when we finally get him dragging something heavy around, he will learn to put his head down more. It will be easier for him to work and pull things with his head down. This positioning, where you picture yourself as the point in a kind of triangle, is great for this kind of from the side ground driving. It's good for having your horse pull a plough. And it's good for giving very strong and clear turning cues to a horse who is very new to it all.

It takes a lot of deftness and timing to get the ropes in the right spot... one straight to you, and one behind the hocks. Solomon is interested in something here. All this trotting is very good for him.

And here he is turning. He's still rather unsure of things, but he does a pretty good job of it.

Trucking along, nice and steady.

Another turn! I really need to wash his tail. But he is getting the picture here.

And here is a whoa!

Bo says that he's kicking himself. He says that he should have done this right when we first got Solomon up to the ranch and were still trying to teach him to be a riding horse. Because after all the tricks we tried with Mister Barn Wall and the backing chute, what he really needed from the start was some ground driving to teach him what a backup really is. And we are doing all of this stuff with just a halter!

Here Solomon is really getting into it...

By the end of the lesson, Solly was just plain done in. He had been exposed to a lot of stuff, and his brain was just full. He wasn't sweaty at all, just mentally done for the day. He was also, I noticed, being especially careful to not crowd anybody. Even me. He was very calm and relaxed. He'd gotten clear leadership, and he felt safe and secure. Nobody had to beat on him or get him all worked up. He just understood his job a little better, and had learned to trust the people telling him to do it more.

Meanwhile, DeDe decided to let Shin loose for a bit. Shin is a 27 year old thoroughbred, and he was quite ribby when he first got to the ranch. He was also barely able to hobble around.

"Ev," Bo asked me, "what did coming up to the ranch do for you?"
"Well Bo, it made me a lot healthier both mentally and physically."
"Right, it was a positive change in environment for you."
"Yeah, it really was."
"Well then," he said to me, grinning, "why can't it be the same for horses?"

And then there was Shin.

After Shin decided to deign to get caught again, we all went into the house for hot drinks and lunch. DeDe looked at me and asked, "Ev, did you bring yourself any snacks today?"

I allowed that I hadn't, but that I'd had some venison for breakfast.

So while Bo and I talked about horsemanship, DeDe fixed us all a wonderful lunch. I had cheese and ham and a couple of slices of persimmon. Persimmon is one of those fruits that has to be perfectly ripe or it'll make your mouth go numb. This fruit was perfectly ripe, however, and to me it tasted like honey. Thank you so much, DeDe!

I hadn't realized how hungry I was, or how much I needed my mug of hot tea. The cold really eats at you, though.

So then I went out, caught Solomon, put him away, and pulled Kizim out of her stall. She gets pretty excited when she sees me, despite me making her do work. I think we do get along pretty well. She even spins her butt out of the way when we go through gates. I say hello to her on the way to Solomon's pasture, and she always nickers and follows me, giving me tragic eyes when she realizes that I'm not pulling her out yet.

We take walks together. Sometimes they're short and sometimes they're long. That day, I took her to the back of the property, where we navigated the wood yard. At one point I stood on a stump and had her stand next to me. She stood for me and was a good girl, but I decided to also be good and resist the temptation to hop on.

I took her to the steep dry pond, and we picked our way down into it then ran back out. She jumped a log for me, and then she was excited so we ran together for a little while.

I am not sure if she really enjoys the running (well, okay, she trots because I can't run fast enough for her to bother cantering) or if she is anticipating because it has kind of become a part of our routine. It might also be that once we have run for a while I get a bit of an asthma attack, which means I have to stop moving and then she gets to steal some bites of grass. Hah!

After we took our walk, I picked her feet, which she was very good about. Compared to Solomon's feet, her hooves are so HUGE. Kizim really is much better suited for me as a riding horse. Her build is very heavy and sound. The fact that she does not have much "go" is nice at this point too. Eventually, Bo says, he'll put me back on Teddy Bear at times, as she is a much more forward horse. But for now Kizim is what I need.

So after grooming and brushing, Bo told me that I got to do everything myself this time. He was working Sissy, who was on a break from work for a while because she ran through a fence. So it was my responsibility to roundpen Kizim, put the bareback pad on her, mount her, and ride her.

This made me feel quite proud. I liked the little responsibilities. And I knew that Kizim would be a good girl for me.

I took Kizim into the roundpen, and she did have some ants in her pants! Bo said to me, "now you be sure and work her well in the roundpen before you get on her!" and he was right. She was quite willing to trot for me. She even spun fast and got in a buck or two! I turned to Bo and asked, "do you think I can get her to go into a canter?" At the word "canter," she did just that! I'd never gotten her to canter before! But this time, she burst right into it. I managed to get her to canter for me a few times in both directions. I said "good girrrrrrl!" in a happy low voice, and she answered me with a nicker. It wasn't a really long roundpenning session, but I did it long enough for her to decide that maybe she didn't want to run around so much, and that just walking sounded pretty good.

Then I cinched her up in the bareback pad. I had Bo check it to make sure I had it tight enough but not too tight. Then he left again, and it was up to me to mount her.

Kizim was a really really good girl for me. I can't really stress this enough. She really is finding a work ethic. At least, when I leave her standing somewhere, she says there! She stood still while I went and got the mounting block. She stood still while I got up on it and tested a bit by stretching one leg over her. She stood still when I hopped on. After a few moments she did walk in a small circle, but that was okay because she and I got to stretch out and get used to each other a bit. Then she stood for me while I tried to get myself nice and balanced.

I have to own that I didn't balance quite as well today as I did the last time I rode. I'm not entirely sure why that is, but I didn't. I still have trouble holding my hands the right way on the stuff lead rope, but my biggest difficulty is keeping my heels down and my toes up. There is a lot of coordination that goes into that. And with Kizim, especially since I'm not great with my seat or with cues yet, to keep her moving I need to do that very very gentle tap tap tap with my heels and calves in time to the walk I want her to do. The problem is that for some reason today I couldn't get a steady rhythm going, and I couldn't even tap both my feet together at the same time! Every time I tried to get my heels down and my toes up, I'd lose my balance a bit, Kizim would stop in her tracks, and I'd pitch forward. Hah. She'd go one step, and stop. Two steps, and stop.

Well, I will certainly learn, in time, to balance when presented with a sudden stop! And Kizim, that sweet mare, she was just taking care of me really. She could tell I wasn't balanced well. And I wasn't communicating well. So she'd stop.

Okay yeah, she isn't really all about doing a bunch of hard work, either, but what we were doing was really easy stuff. Bo sometimes rode around the outside of the roundpen on Sissy, and Kizim would lock on to the two of them and follow. I worked on steering, which sometimes I was successful at and sometimes not. I worked on balance. On moving with the horse without thinking about it much. Bo told me he was going to keep me on that horse for as long as I could stand it. "You need hours in the saddle, Ev," he told me, and I got a full half hour that day.

About halfway through, DeDe came out and started to direct me a bit while Bo went off to work with Sissy. DeDe has a different teaching method, and I found that combining the two of them, Bo's and DeDe's, gives an even better and fuller picture. She was great as well, giving me clear goals, letting me know what I was doing and not doing, encouraging me to keep working at it, to flap my lower legs and not my upper legs, and to not let Kizim buffalo me.

I did something I'd never done before! I decided to try asking Kizim to back up. And she did! She backed immediately, smoothly, and in a straight line. I backed her up 5 or 6 steps and then stopped, amazed, and said "hey, hey did you see that? I backed her! I even MEANT to do that! Ya know, on purpose! And she did it!" I was quite proud.

Finally Bo peered out of the trailer and said "okay Ev, you're getting tired, time to stop!"

I dismounted, which I admit I did a little bit more limply than I thought I would, and gave Kizim a lot of head skritches. I took off her pad and rubbed some of the indentations in her hair out. She didn't sweat at all. It was very easy work for her! I put her away and gave her some cuddles and a kiss on the nose afterward.

I left as the sun began to set. I can't think of a better way to have spent my day. Thank you, Bo and DeDe!

Monday, December 7, 2009


Quick and dirty horse art for today:

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Driving and riding!

Heya folks.

Today I have a few photos, yay!
I finally recovered from my illness and was able to go to the ranch. I have a pleasant, uneventful drive, and when I arrived it was nice and peaceful there. Just Bo and I. I had really missed our conversations about philosophy, human nature, and horses. We had some tea and chatted for a while, then Bo had me Take photos while he demonstrated beginning ground driving training on Kizim. She was a good girl, and while she was new to it, she picked things up rather quickly. Maybe Bo will let me borrow some of those photographs so I can post them here and show people what it's all about?

After he demonstrated the techniques again, Bo let me do a little bit of work with Kizim using one line. I think I did okay, actually, and Kizim was a good girl.

When we were done with the first ground driving lesson, I took Kizim for a little walk. Somehow she knew when we were passing the bull pasture behind the big mare pasture. She froze and snorted a couple of times, but decided to trust me and keep on going. As a reward, once we were well away from the bull pasture, I started running. She doesn't tend to like running in the roundpen, but she gets all excited and amped up when we walk in the back of the property, and really seems to enjoy trotting alongside me when I run.

Well, and she also enjoys it when I have to stop to catch my breath, because she usually managed to get a few mouthfuls of grass. The rest of the time when I'm walking her, I usually manage to stop her from eating. She is one horse that really doesn't need to eat extra food. "Easy keeper" doesn't even begin to describe her.

Plus, the more she learns to focus on the person she is with when in "work" mode instead of just doing whatever she wants, the better. She IS a good girl. Just very food oriented.

Then I caught Solomon and worked on some of the same things with him. He still really didn't want to go counter-clockwise. We are beginning to wonder if maybe he cannot sea as well out of his left eye. There's something that makes him not want to be driven in that direction when he isn't sure what's being asked of him. He does fine when I am roundpenning him, however.

Today I mostly worked on getting him to move away from me counter-clockwise, with his left side to me. Moving away, instead of coming in and knocking me over with his shoulder... he regresses to his old ways. Bo says he may well have ten years of just throwing his head over short people and being the boss that we'll have to work through. But mostly it's a matter of setting clear boundaries between work time and cuddly-time, and learning to communicate my desires clearly to him. He just wants to know what to do and where to go, and when he feels insecure about those things, his first reaction is to press up against me. My fault! But it's okay, we will work through it.

I tried various tools and techniques to move Solomon around me without him crowding me. The one that worked almost the best, and this is kinda funny and sad really, was
a plastic grocery bag. Yeah we went there!

Then Bo showed me the best way for moving him, which just involved holding his hands up and projecting one's intentions. It really was a matter of energy, and Bo made him move fairly effortlessly. Then I tried it and... nothing. Zip. Nada. No effect. I was feeling pretty despondent about it. But Bo said he's been working on it for decades, and I wasn't going to master any of this in just two lessons. He said it was okay, we were just figuring out there I was at.

But I kept trying, and somehow at the end it came to me. I managed it. I managed to get Solomon to take me seriously. I managed to get him to sense and understand what I was trying to project to him. I got him moving away from me again and again, and I managed to drive him after I got him going. We stopped there, ending the lesson on a positive note. I felt so much better. I think Solomon did too, because he knew just what I was asking and felt a lot more secure about it.

He got groomed, he got his feed pan, and a bit of grazing. then he went back to the pen he is staying in while the north pasture fence gets repaired. He'll probably go back out to pasture tomorrow.

After a brief intermission, I caught Solomon again, who went back to the pen he is staying in while the north pasture fence gets repaired. He'll probably go back out to pasture tomorrow. He really hates being penned, and tends to weave. Weaving is not a good sign. When the winter storms come, it will not be fun for him. But I'll do what I can to give him breaks from his confinement.

Then I pulled Kizim out again. Whenever she sees me now, she comes up to the fence and calls to me. I'm falling in love with that mare. I wish I could afford a second horse, really. I think she's wonderful.

She seems to like me too.

So I pulled her out again and Bo stuck the bareback pad on her. A luxury! I've sat on her with no pad to help me stick to her back. Have to admit the pad is nice. It has some sort of suede top to it. Much less slippery than horse hair!

These days I don't even want to ride in a saddle. I sit on a saddle and I think, "where did the horse go??" I've never liked stirrups, though I admit they do help me drop my heels more consistently.

Bo rode her briefly, and then had me hop on. There really are advantages to riding a short horse when you're a short person. I can easily get on her back, instead of having to haul myself up like I did on Solomon. From a mounting block, of course. But it makes a big difference. I have stumpy T-rex arms and legs to match! That, coupled with a long torso, makes reaching a horse's neck without tipping forward pretty difficult for me. Or getting on the horse in the first place, hah!

As the months have passed, however, I have been doing more and more at the ranch, and I have grown stronger and lost more weight. I think my total is now about 34 pounds lost. And I went from wheezing just walking to Solomon's pasture to charging around the ranch all day, being able to run, being able to go hiking... being able to do all kinds of things that I thought were lost to me. So yay for horses, and yay for Bo and his patient, subtle ways, and DeDe and her hints about helping out with chores a bit.

Anyway, so there I was on Kizim's back, and Bo told me to lift my knees off her sides. He demonstrated the difference between to position in certain English disciplines, and toe position in Western. Toes straight forward is painful for me. I have wide hips. My legs have to twist a heck of a lot to try to go in that direction. It's easier for men to do, but still it doesn't feel nearly as natural as pointing one's toes out a bit. Of course, in either style one's toes should be up and one's heels should be down. I do not do as well at this as I thought I did. Bo kept calling me "Tinkerbell," if that's any indication!

Then he had me, knees still off her sides, lift each leg in turn up, then bend it way back. That's when we discovered that there is something wrong with my right hip joint. When I move my leg back, I get a very sharp nasty stabbing pain. When Bo moved my leg back for me, I got the same pain. It's the leg I had sciatica in before my back surgery, but I don't know if it is related to that. It could be a bone spur, a calcium deposit, or something else. Now that I think about it, that leg has been popped out of joint a few times.

Now that I'm sitting at my comptuer, I'm getting a steady stabbing pain there. I might need to not try to do that again...

Anyway, my leg felt fine at the time so long as I didn't try to extend it really far back behind me while sitting on Kizim's back. I failed a flexion test there, I'm sure!

So Bo had her walk around while I practiced moving with her and lifting my hands independent of each other, while keeping my elbows still. Once I did that for a while, he had me practice tossing the lead rope over her head so I had it on one side or the other. From there, he had me "open the door" by taking one leg off her side, then pull the lead rope in that direction while applying a bit of pressure on the opposite shoulder with my other leg. She was a good sport about it, and we worked on me removing the pressure sooner so that I wasn't just spinning her in circles. I have to work on that.

Then Bo attached the rope to either side of her halter as if it were reins, and handed it to me. He said "okay Ev, I'm going to go get my camera, so you have to not die while I'm gone." I told him I was pretty sure I could manage that!

So around we went, and Kizim was a pretty good sport about it. She did keep stopping, and eventually I managed to resort to very lightly tapping her with my feet, keeping time to the pace I wanted her to move at. This is how Bo rides his reining horses, and it is challenging for me... It's another movement to combine with moving one's hips with the horse while keeping one's torso and hands steady, steering with the reins, and not tipping forward, backward, or to either side. But I managed it okay today! I was driving with my hips too much, but I eventually settled in to it. I still have a very long ways to go, but I would say that overall I have made a lot of progress, and Kizim was extremely tolerant of my novice ways.

So here are three photos. I am doing some things wrong in all of them, but I feel like I'm learning to do things right as well. My three biggest problems are keeping my heels down, toes up, keeping my elbows still at my sides, and holding the reins properly. I have no idea what the heck I'm doing with my hands in these photos! And often when I thought my heels were down, they were not. I got better at the elbow thing, but will still need to work on it. But as I told A___, any day where I don't fall off and die is a good day! :D

Believe it or not, my heels are almost lined up with my hip bones in this one. I just have a big butt, hah! I am doing the Tinkerbell thing though. Kizim, however, is being a good girl, and quite relaxed!

Yay, my heels are down! What the heck am I doing with my hands though? I have no idea. I was not aware that I was doing that. But what I AM doing is smiling. I was grinning like a fool for most of the ride.

Er well my back is straight, my heels are up, and my mount is relaxed! Heels need to be back and down, what-the-heck hands are happening as well, but still, whee!

It is very good for me to see photographs so I can tell what I am doing right and what I am doing wrong. Quite often one thinks one is doing one thing in the saddle when one is actually doing the other. Everyone has some sort of challenge. I have a lot, as I'm still quite new and I still have a fair amount of physical challenges to overcome.

I'm pretty hard on myself, too. Comes from my days as a gymnast. The philosophy in gymnastics is "if it hurts, do it more, and harder."

There's also a reason why not many Olympic gymnasts are older than 13 or 14. Their bodies just can't hold up to the abuse. I'm trying to take a bit of a saner approach to my equestrian pursuits. I'm 30, and my body is not going to get any younger. It's also the only one I've got!

So Kizim started to get a bit fidgety, being So Done With The Newbie, and we decided to end the lesson there, while things were still happy and good. Earlier when Bo dismounted he showed me a different method, swinging his leg up over Kizim's neck and hopping off her, facing away from her instead of towards her. He told me that you aren't always going to get to choose how you dismount, and you should figure out how to do so as safely as possible in a variety of ways. He also told me that most falls happen while mounting and dismounting.

When it was time for me to dismount, he said "now don't try to do what I did, or you'll fall on your butt!"

I, being willful and disobedient from time to time, said "no I won't!" and did what he did. It was actually a lot easier for me to swing my leg over her neck than it is for me to swing it behind me over her rump. I could have hopped off a little more- I partially slid, but I did manage to land on my feet. Yay! Okay, it was bad of me for being defiant. But it was fun.

After I dismounted, I walked Kizim to the trailer, telling her what a good girl she was. I slipped her a piece of cookie and a kiss on the nose. Then I brushed out her mane, curried her coat, and brushed it until it was shining in the sunlight. I even brushed her face with a soft brush. At first she was suspicious, but then she decided it felt quite good and leaned into it.

After I put away, I grabbed a wheelbarrow and started mucking out pens. After a while Bo came out and joined me with a second wheelbarrow. It felt good to do some honest work. I'm paying for it a bit now, but I do not regret it. It's rather meditative, and soothing. Kizim did try to eat the wheelbarrow, however.

At the end of the day, Bo showed me the photos he took and we discussed what was good and what I needed to work on. I left the ranch grinning, happier than I had been in a good long while. I really hope I don't get sick again any time soon. I'm aiming to go back to the ranch on Tuesday.

When I left, I called out goodbyes to Solomon and Kizim.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Ground driving

Hello folks,
Very sorry for long delays! I went out of town, and then I got very, very sick for a while.

So the last time I went up, we started Solomon on ground driving. He was quite baffled, but I think I was equally confused, hah! I was clumsy and I kept hitting myself with the rope. Well, more for me to work on!

We spent a lot of time driving Solomon at the trot on a line, then pulling him and moving to his other shoulder, switching hands and spinning the rope to drive him in the other direction. We discovered that, especially with me, he didn't easily turn inwards. It was not, so much, attitude as it was confusion. I have to learn how to communicate what I want him to do more clearly, and he has to learn what it is that is being asked of him. When he turned away from me, wrapping the rope around his own hocks, we used that opportunity to teach him to turn back around, winding him up and then spinning him out.

There is a lot to keep track of. Keeping the proper slack in the rope, keeping the proper body position, keeping yourself in the right area in relation to the horse, keeping the rope spinning JUST enough to get him moving, but with as little pressure and effort as possible, keeping the horse moving at the desired pace... Bo made it look effortless, and I was quickly exhausted. I felt like a wimp, hah!

After a while Bo put a second line on Solly's halter, and drove him around. He actually did pretty well with that, given that this was probably the first time he'd ever had someone try to ground drive him. Bo demonstrated how to drive Solomon and how to get him to turn this way and that, and do figure 8s.

Eventually we'll rig a collar to him and hitch him up to a log. He'll stay in shape and live longer with a job to do, and dragging logs is quite a job! He'll learn how to pull farm equippment, and maybe eventually someday he'll learn how to pull a little cart. Can you picture Solomon as a carriage horse? He'd look pretty, that's for sure. We'll have to see how he likes it.

I am really hoping that by Saturday I will be well enough to go up to the ranch again. I get really frustrated when I get sick. I always want to just will myself better, hah! There was a day there where I was barely aware of who or where I was, and the man was out of town. Scary times. But don't worry, I am starting to feel much better!

And by next year I should have a camera again. I've found that the photographs help me remember what happened better, and they help me write. Thank you for your patience. It's been a bit of a rough month, but it should get better from here on out!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Quick note folks!

Very very very sorry for the long delay!
Next year I will have a camera again.

In the mean time, Solomon is getting A JOB!

We started his first ground-driving lessons yesterday. They were hilariously imperfect, mostly because of me not quite getting it, or figuring out how to communicate to Solly what he needed to do. His version of "upset" for this was to fall back into his "spin to face you on the forehand so you can't make me do anything" tactic. We'll work through that for sure.
His other tactic is to cuddle up to me all gentle and soft and making these whimpering sighs, nostrils flared, pressing against me all trembling and tense. "MOM I AM SCARED AND OVERWHELMED PLEASE MAKE IT STOP!

So we've pit in an order for adamantium heart shields for me, so that I may somehow resist is sad, sad pony pleas.

Meanwhile, we got him working with two reins eventually More on all that next time.

Someday he can PLOW. And even pull a CART. He'll have a job and he'll live longer. Yaaay! I want a Celtic war chariot. Can I get one of those?

See Ev.
See Kizim.
See Ev halter Kizim.
See Eve and Kizim walk down the road.
See Bull.
See big bull.
See Big bull see Kizim and Ev.
See Mares in pasture.
See mares charge to fence.
See mares bucking, farting, screaming, and running amok
See Kizim fight like a champion to Not Lose Her Shit.
See Kizim snort.
See Kizim giraffe neck.
See Kizim jig like a dressage horse.
See Ev.
See Ev desperately cling to the line while making soothing noises.
See Ev almost get trampled.
See Ev grab Kizim's mane and hold on for dear life, still letting the hose know that all is well
See horse eventually look aroung, realize bulls are gone, and grass s awesome.
Exciting day.

It was great to chat with bo bout so many things. Good night folks, more soon , maybe after the weeked,

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Today I rode on the back of a friend's motorcycle, and I discovered that I SUCK at it! I tried to move with his body, leaning this way and that, but my body just kept instinctively trying to remain centered. My hips moved with the bike but everything above that stayed upright! Hah.

A consequences of riding horses that I had not considered...

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


On Monday morning I visited Solomon. There's not a lot to report, as not a lot was done. He was groomed and fed, he was roundpenned, which he did pretty well at, getting a long workout. Then I took him around the property to graze for a couple of hours. Since the only other people around were a couple of boarders who do everything in the roundpen, and since we made out way to the back of the property, I sang to my horse for a little while. Would feel silly if there were other people around, but we were alone and it felt kind of nice to sing. Solomon kept an ear swiveled in my direction as he grazed, raising his head to stare at me whenever I stopped singing. I think he enjoys it.

I might not be able to get to the ranch for a little while, as I am currently broke, yet again. :( I am very grateful that I know my boy will be well taken care of even in my absence. I miss everyone there when I can't make it out, however.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Cutting and penning!

Jeez, I really wish my camera still worked!

Today I brought my friend J___ up to watch a local team penning event. J___ went to and then worked at a horse camp all summer for 6 years of his youth. I'm really hoping to get him back into horses. Perhaps because I do not live in the country, I don't often meet men who are horsepeople. Most men I talk to actually tell me that they are afraid of horses, or that horses "hate" them. I have a little theory that a lot of men are used to being the biggest, strongest thing around, and that they don't know how to deal with something that is bigger and stronger than they are. I could be wrong though!

Anyway, J___ isn't like that, and is a friend with whom I get along well. He's the type of friend you can get into a friendly shoving match with. Being a rather playful person once I come out of my shell, I can appreciate that.

So we drove up to Pope Valley together from the city of Richmond. He has satellite radio, so we listened to "blue collar radio" for most of the drive. I had no idea such a thing existed, hah. An hour and a half of Jeff Foxworthy types, each way. A little different from my usual diet of Rammstein and Siouxsie and the Banshees, but it was amusing enough.

Everyone who was just a part of the audience, and 4 of the people in the event, were from D&D Ranch, or guests of the ranch. I think there were only 8 or 9 riders total. It's a small town and it was the last penning event of the season.

I think I only saw a cow get penned 2 or 3 times, but I did see a lot of smiling, and I heard a lot of laughter. There were a number of people there who had never worked cattle before, and at least one person had never ridden Western before. Bo did a lot of teaching that day. It was a great deal of fun watching everyone run up and down the arena on their mounts, whether they were supposed to or not, hah! They all did much better than I would have. Would have loved to have tried it!

After the event, J___ and I went to the ranch, along with the rest of the crew, which included KizmetRanch, who was visiting for the weekend.

The ranch was so full of activities! People were trying all kinds of things. A woman rode the Little Bay Gelding English-style. She decided that he was an English horse, though J___ and I shot back that he was SO a Western horse, hah. He's in the Western camp for sure. I don't mind either style, though I have come to philosophically prefer Western because there is not constant bit pressure, and the horse (when ridden ideally, of course) has a loose rein and the ability to balance himself without needing help or extra direction. Oh, I'm going to get told by my English riding friends now, haha!

For cow work, however, you HAVE to be able to throw the reins away and let the horse make split-second decisions.

I got to see Kizim cantering, too! J___ got to watch a head-tying for the purpose of teaching rein cow horse moves demonstration. And Solomon, of course, was a sweet, good boy. J___ and I brushed him, fed him treats, and generally spoiled him horribly. Aside from some roundpenning and a bit of playing cow-horse (he nickered at me as we dodged around together) Solomon pretty much got to eat young green grass all day.

It was a pleasant day, spent idly at the ranch. I think I may be able to drag J___ up again. He lives in the same town as me, and it would be great to have a local horse buddy. Perhaps if he gets a job here soon I can talk him into taking some lessons... he would be a re-rider, with a fair amount of experience, but he has not tried reining, and he really enjoyed watching Magic (Bo's Magic, not the Arab) spin. I think it would be good for him. And hey, good for the ranch, too!

The weather, by the way, was perfect. Amazing how quickly the discomfort of summer fades from one's mind.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Soft as a cat.

I sure wish my camera was still working so I could share photos of today with you all.

Today the weather was just gorgeous!
Early November in Pope Valley is lovely. I pulled Solomon out of his pasture soon after arriving at the ranch. DeDe was kind enough to give me a ride up to Solly. He came to me at a stately walk. Well, stately except for all the nickering. I don't mind that one bit.

Solomon's winter coat has come in, soft as a cat and sparkling white like filaments of diamonds. We only made it a little ways down the road before a patch of lush green grass tempted me too much to continue. I knew it would make Solomon very happy to graze on it for a bit, and I also knew it would be a very comfy spot to lie down. After an hour and a half of driving (half of it in crazy traffic) I am always happy to take a rest.
The grass was so fragrant, especially strong when Solomon cropped it short. He ate around me in a circle, mouth occasionally nuzzling my side as he picked out particularly tasty blades. I felt quite safe, even when, at one point, one of his front legs pressed lightly against my feet. I caught his leg between them for a moment and said "I gotchya, Solly!" Solomon, for his part, just rotated an ear at me and continued eating. He knew just where I was, and he is not one to spook these days.
After I let him graze for a while, we continued on. I tied him to the trailer instead of the patience tree today because some people were doing a pre-purchase exam on the Little Bay Gelding. Solomon took it in stride.
He picked up his feet very nicely for me, once again only needing me to tap the first fetlock gently. After that he just picked up whatever foot I stood next to.
His feet, by the way, are looking just excellent. They have completely turned around! The farriers did an amazing job and he seems to feel very good. Still no signs of the black slimy thrush or white chalky yeast. Just clean, tough feet. They were quite easy to pick out as well.
Solomon got a nice deep feed pan of very fresh LMF Senior, which I bought from the little tack store at the race track today. It smells so good when you first cut the bag open. Nice and soft, too. Solomon dug in with gusto, munching away while I watched the vet run the LBG around and around on a lunge line for the PPE. Then they took him in the roundpen and ran him around on the lunge line with a lunge whip. Silly vet... the lunge line in a roundpen with a Western horse is kind of redundant. :p
Once they were done and Solomon was finished eating, I took him into the pen to work him.
And wow, did we have a great day with that!
I discovered something that I think he enjoys. It is surprising to me, but today he actually felt like cantering, and even broke into one voluntarily a couple of times. He got going really fast, too! So I decided hey, what the heck, let's try a rollback at the canter. So I gave him the signal and said "SPINNNNNN" and he did! He spun himself around and went running the other direction. And he was excited! No grumpy face today... in fact, his neck got a little arch to it, and the ear that wasn't turned to me was perked forward. He sped up, and went tearing around the pen... well, tearing around for him anyway. "SPINNNNN!" And he spun again. We did it a good number of times, until his chest and shoulders were drenched in sweat. Then I had to get him calmed down enough to walk out for a little while, which he was pretty good about. After I signaled him to walk around a couple of rounds, I had him follow me, which he did very well, even rolling back with me.
I took him to the wash rack and hosed him down. He raised his head when I washed his neck, but did not panic, letting me spray him all the way to his cheeks. He has come to trust me a lot more these days.
Then it was time for me to become Evil Darth Mom. You see, Solomon was due for worming today. When he saw the meds, he tossed his head and then begged me to not make him take it, ducking his head low in his "pleading" stance. I was acclimating him to the tube when Bo came up and taught me a neat little trick- sticking the lead rope in his mouth like a bit. He chomped at it, and I was able to shove the tube of wormer right in. He spat out the little wads of grass he'd been saving somewhere in the back of his mouth for a treat and made a lot of faces. Then he huddled up to me for comfort. I praised him for being a good boy and stroked his neck.
Next we went out to his favorite tree, where I set him loose. He rolled and managed to get grass stains all over his body, including his face. Go, Sol!
I ended up lying down in the grass again, and Solomon ate around me. A few mares came running over to the fence, heads low, peering at me through the wire. They were wondering what on earth I was doing lying there, I'm guessing. A couple of vultures circled overhead, but Sol and I ignored them.
I went and chatted with D____, a boarder who also rides some of the ranch horses to help keep them in shape. She had a very very stoned mare who had her tear ducts flushed earlier. The mare was snoring on her feet, her lip and ears drooping as low as they could go. You could almost hear her saying "Whoa man... whoa... have you ever looked at your hoof? I mean like, REALLY looked at it?"
Bo told me to catch Solomon and put him back so I could bring out Kizim. I did so, and Kizim was a good girl, excited about coming out. We trotted together part of the way down the road. I picked her feet, and for some reason while I was cleaning out one of her back hooves, she spooked and did a little hop sideways. She was quivering a bit, neck high and tense. I am not sure what spooked her, but I just breathed gently into her nostril, and she calmed down nice and quick. It's a trick that works with a lot of horses... it's a friendly, reassuring communication.
After she calmed down, she was a very good girl about her feet again. Might have been that helicopter that was buzzing around really low.
In the roundpen I wasn't able to get her to go faster than a trot, but that's okay. She got going and got the ants out of her pants.
Then Bo put the bareback pad on her and had me hop on!
She is a very easy horse to mount, being, in my estimation, quite a bit shorter than Teddy Bear and Solomon. It might also be that I have gotten a little more flexible and limber.
Kizim is a great mare. Full of opinions, but quite sweet. She's kind of like sitting on an oscillating, ambulatory sofa. She was quite patient with me. I am very much an amateur. A novice, really. Still learning how to not fall off! But after a while Bo looped the lead rope over her neck for me and let me learn a bit about steering her. There were some ear pinnings and tails swishings when I leaned while trying to turn her, but she was a good girl. I very much enjoyed my ride, and found myself wishing that I could afford to purchase and take care of a second horse. I think she might get sold soon, and I confess that I will miss her.
She got a cookie for being such a good girl. :}
After I put Kizim back in her pasture, I had tea and helped Bo with some computer stuff. Had a great day!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Good news about Solomon!

The farrier said that Solomon's feet looked great, with no sign of thrush now. He said his concavity was actually nice, and he was just growing out and shedding his summer sole and frog, which makes things look bad... plus his feet grow fast, so by the end of the 6 week cycle they are very obviously due.
It was fun bantering with the two farriers, Grant and Roberto. They're not only very skilled, they're also very funny guys. Roberto the Italian Stallion is single, by the way, ladies. I would have gotten a picture of him today, but my camera will no longer turn on. Shoot. Sorry folks, looks like no photos for a couple months. The plus side is that if I get a camera for Christmas, it'll probably be nicer than the one I have now.

Of course, anything is nicer than a silver brick that won't turn on, hah.

Anyway, Solomon worked hard in the roundpen after his trim, and he clearly felt great. He was very lively and hardly pinned his ears at all when cantering. He'll often make at least a bit of a grumpy face, and I think his hips get a bit stiff, but overall he's looking okay. He worked up a sweat again, go Solly! There's a gorgeous new lunge whip to use now too... it's a pretty blue and it has a very nice whoosh and snap to it. Not that I need to use a lot of energy with Solly at this point- we're pretty in tune to each other in the roundpen.

I also really brushed his tail out today. This is a pretty major production, as it drags on the ground and is pretty full. His hair is finer in general than the hair of the other horses at the ranch. Maybe because he's a grey? Or maybe it's his breeding. It tangles really easily and it breaks really easily. So while Grant and Roberto were working on the fronts of a couple other horses, I soaked his mane and tail in Cowboy Magic and brushed them out. His tail looked so nice by the time I was done, and it was a lot fuller than I'd realized. He looked like a fairy tale horse. Then he farted in my face.

Good old Solomon.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

A minor miracle!

Well, when I was up at the ranch last, I decided to clean and refill the trough in Solly's pasture. Poco Joe, who was just being playful and curious, pulled my camera out of my pocket by the strap and dropped it in a deep puddle. I was sure it would be completely dead, but I immediately removed the batteries and let it dry out for most of the week. Today I was able to retrieve the pictures I took Monday! I don't know if the camera is back 100%, but it hasn't been at 100% for a good while now. I asked for a new one for Christmas anyway, :}

There is a unique joy that comes with introducing someone to horses! My friend Susan is a self-proclaimed city girl. She had only ever seen vultures at the zoo, even!

She'd ridden on one of those short guided trail strings a couple of times when she was younger, but had never really had the chance to interact with horses.

I'm so grateful that my Solly is such a sweet boy!

I told Susan to hold her hands out so Solomon would follow them.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Mirroring- the other direction.

It is said that horses mirror us. If we are afraid, they will be afraid.
I think they are very sensitive and will most certainly react when they sense fear!
Some also become afraid.
Some become aggressive, because if the person won't be a leader, somebody has to!
Today I brought a friend to meet my horse, Solomon. She was afraid of him. She's a city girl and not used to being around animals bigger than dogs. Solomon could sense that she was afraid and unsure.
How did he react?
Very very gentle. Very carefully. He was so incredibly quiet and calm with her. I could tell that he knew she was afraid. She was broadcasting it loud and clear, though she wasn't always aware of it. He watched her quite intently, and was ginger with his movement. But he responded with serenity. He made an effort to reassure her. We talk a lot about being a calm, confident, consistent person for horses. But sometimes I think that there are horses who will do the same for us.

When Solomon and I were in horse hell, we often looked to each other for mutual comfort. There was a lot of touching and lightly leaning on one another. Solomon could always tell when I was about to have a panic attack. He could smell the chemicals my body produced as it prepared for fight or flight. Sometimes my unease made him uneasy, but as time went on he came to react differently. When I began to feel the panic welling up inside of me, he would crane his neck around and press me up against his body with his head. I would shake and hold on to him, tears soaking his mane. But he would hold me there and just breathe with me until I came back to myself.

So when my city friend was afraid, he did what he had done with me. He became a rock. A secure, reassuring, steady calm presence. He told her, though most of the time she didn't understand that he was communicating at all, that everything was fine. That he would not hurt her. That he was friendly and not threatening. That he could be strong and calm if she needed that.

So tell me a story about a time when you needed a friend to support you, and your horse was there to comfort you.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Aaand we're walking, we're walking...

Yesterday I woke up sometime around 5am. Maybe 4. I'm not really sure, but it was cold and dark.
"Yay," I thought blearily, "I can get a head start on going up to the ranch!"

By the time I arrived, the sun had come up, but the world was enveloped by mist. The starlings singing in the muffled half-light was eerily pronounced.

DeDe was just getting ready to feed, so I hopped in to help her. She showed me the "shotput" method of hay flake tossing, which was much more effective than my spinning toss. I was not entirely awake yet despite the hour and a half drive, and mistook Shin for Solomon. A-durrrr. They are both grey, that's about it. Heh. But feeding got done. I love the smell of alfalfa!

Next, I photographed and filmed a little demonstration by Bo about tying back the head of a horse, and why it is done. It isn't really something done in English, but Western disciplines that involve cow work require a lot more lateral movement. Lateral flexion is important in training a horse to do rollbacks. Rollbacks are when a horse spons on her hind feet, crossing her legs over in front. This can be a very VERY fast maneuver, and is essential for working cattle. Picture a cow running along a fence. A horse runs up beside the cow, and then overtakes her. She must then spin back towards the cow to turn the cow, and she cannot do that by spinning her head AWAY from the cow- the cow may try to squeeze past, the cow may attack, or the cow might not understand that she is being chased in the other direction. This spin must be very tight, very fast, and very controlled. It is also the foundation of the crazy fast, tight spins you see in reining.
So, first you tie the horse's head to one side, enough that she is bending but not so much that she cannot get relief from the pressure by bending a little. Then you gently move her in the roundpen so she turns, following her nose. She learns to be supple and follow the cue with a loose rein. The purpose is not just to teach her a cue, however- it's also to train her body to make those tight spins on her own, as she will have to use her own judgment with cattle at times.
Once you have done a good number of SHORT, simple, and to the point lessons with roundpenning, and she is physically attuned to that kind of movement, you can start roundpenning her and asking her to do rollbacks on the fence. Next, you can take those lessons to the saddle, and do tight turns and rollbacks.
So head tying, done properly, is a method which accomplishes a number of things. It trains the horse's body. It gets the horse thinking. It gets the horse stretching. It gets the horse supple. It prepares the horse for future maneuvers in reining and cow-work.
I have videos, but I'm going to wait for Bo's go-ahead to post them here, as they are for posting elsewhere first.

But I did want to show off his lovely mare, Magic. Magic the Quarterhorse, not Magic the Arabian who is boarding here. She is a fine horse and the dam of Cali, that lovely little sorrel filly I've shown you.

Magic ground ties like an angel and clearly just loves Bo. She watches him wherever he goes, and stands so quietly. She's still getting into shape, since her foal has just been weaned, but she really is a nice mare.

And wow can she move fast! The way she canters is completely different from the way Solomon canters. There's barely any rocking motion to her... she's low and quick and I think she must do really well on cattle. Truly a rein cow horse.

After I watched Magic do rollbacks, spins, stops, and backing, Bo sent me off to take Kizim for a walk.

On the way, Shin and Magic the Arab were looking cute.

Solomon, whose pasture I passed, was sad that I was not pulling him out yet. I promised him I would though!

Kizim is living in a big pasture with Remmy these days. Remmy has become a lot more polite, incidentally. He stays back when I tell him to, and he seems to respect Kizim's authority.

So I decided, with Bo's permission, to take Kizim down the country lane that the ranch is on. I wasn't sure how far we would get, but I figured it would be a good workout for both of us. On the way out, going someplace new and all, Kizim was pretty noodly. She kept going back and forth, back and forth. I think she was hoping to eat everything on the sides of the road.

We passed cows and barns, vineyards and houses. Kizim tried to steal some Halloween decorations, but I anticipated this and she did not manage to reach them. Good thing, because otherwise I would have had to explain to the neighbors why their pumpkins had big bites taken out of them. Heck, she even tried to go for some dried corn husks! She was very good about standing on the side of the road with me when cars and trucks passed, however. I got a couple of weird looks. I guess people usually just ride their horses down the road instead of hand walking them. One fellow thought that Kizim was a loose horse, haha!

So we just kept going and going, and somehow I wasn't getting winded. My feet started to get sore, but I just put one in front of the other and shouldered in to the work. Kizim eventually settled in and walked quietly beside me. She was clearly happy though... relaxed but very bright, ears perked, interested in the world around her.

And then suddenly we were at the end!

I guess that road is around a mile... I'm not really sure. I'll have to remember to drive down it sometime to find out.

The whole way back Kizim was a very good girl. She had a "been there, done that" attitude, and was quite happy to just walk along.

The countryside is lovely this time of year. The first bits of winter grass are coming up, and the grape vines have turned their autumn colors.

She called to the big herd when we finally got back to the ranch. Jewel and Lena came running over, and Jewel thought Kizim getting walked past the pasture was just SO exciting that she was running and bucking for a good half hour afterwards.

When I put Kizim back, Solomon was just beside himself hoping that I'd pull him out next. He trotted alongside me all down the fenceline, nickering nonstop. When I picked his halter up, he started nickering very very loudly, adding some higher notes in for emphasis. He wanted to just come right through the gate when I opened it, but he backed up like a good boy when I asked him to. He was so eager that when I lifted up his halter to start to loop it over his head, he shoved his nose down into the nose before I even had it ready for him, and I had to disentangle him from it, haha.

All the way down the road he was soft and sweet.

Once I had him tied, though, he was a mister Antsy McBeggypants. This is in great part my fault, because he knows that after grooming comes his feed pan, and he gets so excited about his pan that it's hard for him to focus on getting groomed.

His frogs are shedding right now, so much that I was a little alarmed, but DeDe told me it was nothing to worry about. It's just that it's moist now, and the seasons are changing, so all four of his frogs have a good quarter inch thickness, maybe more, peeling off at once. The entire frog! Good thing the farrier is coming on the 30th.

I really wish he could walk without being in a lot of pain barefoot. Oh well. Been there, tried that. Might try it again but it just seems unkind to do it to this horse. Now, Kizim? She'll never need shoes. Her feet are huge compared to Solomon's, and so nicely shaped and solid. I joked that I was going to steal her hooves. But Solly, well, he was NOT bred for good feet. I don't know what the heck he was bred for... not longevity either, I don't think. :( But I'll do my best!

Once his grooming was done, his feed pan came out. He was a total beggypants then. He does this head duck when he wants his food. It's kind of pretty, actually.

Oh Solly, it's almost as if you know how to collect. Almost.

My horse is now spoiled absolutely rotten, by the way. SPOILED.

Yeah, those are carrots AND peppermints... though he eats his senior feed before he eats the treats.

After his pan, I took him grazing. There is oat hay sprouting everywhere!

And for the first time since late spring, I was able to comfortably lie down on the ground in soft green grass instead of stickers and star thistle. I put my hat over my face to shade it from the sun. Solomon stuck his nose under the brim to check on me from time to time. He had sweet grass breath.

The next thing we did was roundpen work. Even though my horse is retired and spoiled rotten, he still needs to stay healthy, and to keep his back from going out more than it already is, he needs to work his topline. This means trotting, and lots of it. Solomon was VERY VERY good with the roundpenning yesterday.

I don't know what happened to the lunge whips, by the way, but the are both pretty much destroyed. What the heck? It looks like a whip-eating monster stuck onto the ranch in the middle of the night and went to town on them. I was able to use the end of my break-apart lunge whip okay though, despite it being a lot more BENDY at the last half than it had been. Hmmmm.

Solomon understood everything I asked of him. He understood "eeeeasy jog trot" and "fast trot," he understood "out on the rail" and executed a series of rollbacks that I hadn't thought he was capable of, crossing over with his front feet beautifully. *boggles* well I'm not complaining! I had him do a little bit of cantering, which he wasn't as enthusiastic about, but he did it for me. His whoas were pretty good too! It was a great time, and I felt very proud of my boy. Our communication is so easy and fluid these days. It amazes me sometimes how far we have come and how close we have become. We both take a great deal of comfort in one another.

Also, I had him wear my hat. He wasn't so enthusiastic about that.

Solomon got a back massage after his roundpenning, and then I took him back to his pasture. He had a nice long drink, which Poco Joe joined him for.

Then Poco Joe wanted to come cuddle.

Solomon Did Not Approve, however, and chased him away! Then he tried to follow me out the gate again, and he made the saddest tragic-eyes at me when I pushed him back in and latched it. Awwwh, I'm sorry Solly, but you wouldn't fit in my car to come home with me!

On the way back I mucked a couple of stalls. This is a much grosser task in the winter, but I still kind of enjoy doing it. It's soothing and gives me a sense of accomplishment.

I chatted with Bo and DeDe on the porch at the end of the day. Bo said that it was great that Solomon was showing such joy at the prospect of spending time with me, and that there was no higher compliment that one could get from a horse than them expressing that you are the highlight of their day. That made me feel nice and fuzzy inside. He said that was something even many big name trainers don't get out of the horses they work with.

Then they gave me a bottle of white wine with little flakes of gold in it as an anniversary gift. Today is my one year wedding anniversary. How about that? I can't believe it!

Now I'm going to go get ready, as the husband and I are going off to a Brazilian steak house to celebrate. They bring giant skewers of meat to your table. OM NOM NOM NOM!

Have a wonderful evening, everyone!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

And the raven watched over me.

Today I did something that I thought I would never be able to do again.

Today I climbed Wildcat Peak.

Bo says that people are very good at limiting themselves. They say "I can't, I can't I cant." I said to him this past spring "I can't hike up to the tops of hills any more." He told me I would be able to do it again someday, and I didn't believe him.

But he was right.

I wanted to share this day with you all, even though it is not really horse related.

I decided that it was time for me to try my hand, er, legs, at hiking. I drove out to Jewel Lake.

First I explored the little nooks and crannies on the way to the lake.

I love the tunnels of greenery, sweet bowers of fecundity. The soil is rich and pungent here, and brilliant green arches over your head.

A little stream ran to the lake.

I think maybe a raccoon passed through here.

Near the lake, there was a watering trough and hitching post. I wouldn't give that nasty water to my horse unless he was in duress and desperate for water, but it's cool that it's there.

The lake was gorgeous.

Were these guppies or pollywogs? I couldn't tell.

Yoga turtle is having a zen moment.

See this? Don't touch it. On pain of... pain. And itchiness. Horrible rashes. It is poison oak and it adds to the excitement of hiking by growing everywhere.

Once I got to the lake, I decided I was feeling just fine. I guess I do a lot more walking than I realized, because I wasn't winded at all.

So I decided to give in to the temptation and walk on a bit of the trail that leads up to Wildcat Peak. Wildcat Peak is both an old friend and an adversary. That is the hill that I would run down before I hurt my back. Running down it most certainly contributed to my back injury and my tendinosis. But sometimes to get better you have to not just treat your body... you have to treat your mind, and you have to treat your heart. Emotionally, hiking is very good for me.

So I started in, and at first my legs were a little sore from riding the other day. I thought, "Maybe I am not ready for hill hiking. Well, I'll go a little ways."

It had been at least three years, but everything was so familiar. It felt good to be on the trail again.

This trail is like a biome parfait. There is the lake level, which is thick hedges of greenery with scattered fields of irises in the spring. There is the eucalyptus layer, which to me is unsettling. It is invasive, an alien in this area, and it does not belong here. There is the mixed oak and bay laurel layer. There is the chaparral layer of thick scrub brush. Then there is the scattered scrub and grass layer.

The eucalyptus layer was almost entirely the trees themselves and poison oak, because poison oak is just nasty enough to survive the tannins that eucalyptus trees soak the soil with. Lately, however, a bit of bay laurel has been coming in.

For a little while the trail weaves between native and non-native forest.

I was surprised that I got to the native forest level. And my feet kept moving. It was hard, but not as had as I thought it would be. And I just kept going. I got to the scrub level.

This little fellow was rather worried about me walking past him.

After a great deal of walking, I looked back to see the tops of trees below me.

And the valley.

Little daisylike flowers occasionally dotted the hillside.

The scrub rattled in the breeze as vultures circled overhead.

The top of the hill was still very far, however. I didn't expect to get there. This isn't even the peak- it's a false peak, and the real one is behind it.

This tree is an old friend, and one of the last before the top. I have leaned on it many times. Never thought that I would see it again.

Humans aren't the only creatures to use these trails. Deer do too.

I wish that I could tell you the sounds of the city had faded away. But there was the constant rumble of the freeway, there were planes and helicopters overhead, and there was often the distant wail of a siren. But closer to me there was birdsong, the rustling skitter of small creatures in the underbrush, and the air was fresh and sweet.

I paused many times, and I thought about stopping. I thought "I shouldn't be doing this. I should turn around."

But then a man walked past me, and he gave me a quick once-over type of look, followed by a "what is someone like YOU doing HERE?" Of course, that could have been my perception! But he was the first person I had come across, and everyone I have run into up there has been skinny and pretty fit. So it might have been my own insecurity more than the look he was giving me, but I got angry. And the anger inspired me to push on.

I reached the grassland layer.

And the trail wound up and up and up, every turn revealing more length, more walking that I had to do to get to the top. But I was so close! So very close. It is 1280 feet above sea level at the top. I think I remember the hike being a couple of miles, but I'm not really sure. I walked for a long time.

When I reached the top, there were nice people there. They took my picture for me.

The city was far below me, across the bay.

I told the nice folks up there how I had been badly injured and unable to sit up or stand on my own a few years back, and that this was my first time making it to the top again. They were eating little golden apples, and the woman came over to me and told me, "We have an extra apple and what you've done is something worth celebrating, so here, have it!"

Made my day right there. Sure, it wasn't exactly Atkins compliant, but I knew my body was going to just burn it right off, and I needed the juice that the fruit held. Thank you, random nice folks at the peak!

After they left and I made that video, I sat down at the stone ring that rests on the very top of the hill. Next to me was a section of straight stick, about as thick as my thumb. A stave. I carved some runes into it to make a little offering to my gods, and a request for my self.

Wunjo, for joy.
Uruz, for strength. Primal, wild strength.
Raitho, for my journeys.

I threw the stave and it caught in the scrub, hovering between earth and sky.

I closed my eyes.

I heard the whoosh of great wings, and when I opened my eyes, he was there.

A great glossy raven, resplendent in onyx plumes. A sacred bird in my faith. A bird of the god Odin, to whom I feel particularly close. He hovered on an updraft maybe 4 feet from my face. And he just stared into my eyes. It made it all worth it. I felt so close to my gods.

I said to the raven, "thank you for sharing this with me."

The raven circled me twice. I managed to overcome the awe enough to snap this photo before he floated away.

And then the butterflies came.
First there were a couple floating around. Then they were dancing around each other in groups of three and four. Then 6 or 7. Butterflies everywhere. Painted ladies, which I always associate with Baldur in my mind because of something that happened years ago, and these black butterflies with reddish-orange wingtips. I couldn't tell if they were mating, or warring, or both. But they were beautiful and they swarmed the hilltop, flying all around me. Really it is impossible to capture something like that on film. They were too quick. And a static photo just doesn't show you the magnificence of the complex acrobatics they performed, swirling around each other in a riot of colors.

I felt like I could almost fly myself.

But yeah, then there was the matter of getting back down off the top of the hill.

I thought I'd be clever and take a couple of shortcuts... except that THIS:

Turned out to not be a shortcut to my trail, and went the wrong direction entirely a couple of times. I managed to get myself kind of lost in the wilderness, but I did make my way back out again by backtracking, thank the gods.

The sky was darker for my descent, and I was truck by the beauty of the bay laurels.

It is a glorious day to be alive. Cherish every moment!