Reluctant Cowgirl


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Being Neighborly

I’m leaving for a week in Florida tomorrow. The timing couldn’t be more perfect because the temperatures have recently gone south of reasonable again and I’m over it. This morning’s low was -4.7 °F. You can take that and shove it.

So today was my last day of work, and I got up around 7 to start chores before a couple conference calls and bunch of loose end-tying. The home phone rang as I was in the middle of soaking alfalfa pellets. It always startles me because no one calls our land line. It’s basically just there for calling 911 in an emergency because we live in the middle of nowhere.

On the line was a gentleman who lives down the road. We met last year when he just drove down the driveway on a random Tuesday at 10 am the way country people do, to ask if he could use our covered arena to break some colts. There were about 16 feet of snow on the ground (slight exaggeration, but not much) and it’s hard to break colts in those kind of conditions, apparently. I asked around to make sure he wasn’t some kind of swindler and got good references, so I thought if he followed up and agreed not to sue us if sh*t went sideways, we’d say sure. He never called because winter just got worse and even I couldn’t access my arena.

Fast forward to this morning, and he’s calling my landline at 7 in the morning asking to use the arena again, today. Sure, I say, because what the heck else do I say? No, this is weird, how in the world are you country people so unabashedly unafraid to ask for things?

A couple hours later there’s a truck and stock trailer with five horses, one man, one wife, and one three year old child in my driveway. They leave the child sleeping the running truck (“the babysitter”) and take a chestnut with a blaze and a tall grey to the arena. Don’t sue me!, I call in my head as I watch them go and hustle inside for conference call number one. The remaining three horses stay at the rig, two tied inside and one out; I watch them fidget during my call.

A couple hours later I take lunch break and stand in the corner of my arena, watching these strangers work their colts. (One is a mare, by the way, which always bothers me about the term “colt-starting.”) They are five years old with about 20 rides on them and very sweaty. I make a bad joke about how I should let them work with the mustang for a bit – he hasn’t sweat since I bought him. They are desensitizing and working on lateral flexion. The mare is very cowy-looking and spry with those prototypical QH hindquarters. The grey is more my style; maybe appendix bred. They tell me he’s “lazy.” I like him even more.

They ask me questions about my mustang and I kind of ho-ho and ha-ha my way through the responses. I feel like I know nothing, suddenly, confronted with these life-long cow horse people who have seen my dressage saddle hanging on the fence and my fat mustang munching hay in the paddock. I don’t know how to explain that I am just returning to horses after a long time away and taking my time. I don’t cowboy and I have no horse friends and I am standing awkwardly in the corner of my own arena freezing my face off and feeling like an outsider. I did my best to be friendly but might have used too much of my social defense mechanism, sarcasm.

There’s another grey and a grulla, and they get the next workout. A black and white paint does not get worked; he’s “already broke.” I don’t get to see the second pair of horses working because I’m in frantic mode at my laptop, watching horses and small children get shuffled around outside my window while I check in for my flight tomorrow and speak to engineers in Mableton, Georgia about a project in Michigan. They load up and leave around 3 after neatly scooping their poop and saying thank you.

I moved to the middle of nowhere and bought a property with one of the largest (and only) covered arenas in the county, and sometimes sh*t gets weird for a neurotic, introverted Yankee like me.


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Dogs and Horses

I’m a dog person. If my whole life had to be about an animal it would be a dog. If I had to take one animal to a desert island? Dog. The dog is my heart animal, in that everything that has to do with them is done with my heart. I’m not that interested in training or competing or doing much of anything with them except everything – the daily travails of boring sit by my feet during the work days to the weekends full of adventure on trails and in cities, swimming in mountain lakes and chasing rabbits across the sagebrush for fun. All of it, a dog or two by my side. If I could only choose one animal to have for the rest of my life, I would take a dog. Not a horse.

But! This is not a world where we have to make those kind of choices, thank goodness, so now I have both. Dogs AND horses. And I have this blog that I thought would be about horses but guess what, winter is long here and sometimes there’s only so much to say about horses. So let me tell you about some dogs.

  1. The Brown. She’s numero uno in everyone’s heart and has earned it. She hails from squirrel hounds in Tennessee but has lived in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Oregon. She’s aging gracefully with bunny hair between her teeth and an elk bone buried nearby for safe keeping. She takes the spot closest to the wood stove and the horse poop pile furthest from the mule. We jokingly say that her motto is, ‘ I do what I want,’ and she largely does.
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It almost looks like she’s being obedient here.

  1. The Grey. This dog is half wild but somehow entirely domesticated. We took her in when her redneck, deadbeat owners refused to care for her and she came begging to the neighbors (us) for food during her pregnancy and raising puppies. (Her puppies looked like full-bred border collies. The dad was not much of a border collie. The Grey is not much of a border collie. Dog genetics are weird.) She’s probably got husky in her and she loves to run and hunt. But indoors she is a princess and she has adapted to life by the fire with gusto. She has way more livestock experience than The Brown and thinks that chasing horses and mules when they’re wound up is fun. (Spoiler alert: it’s not.) She’s an outstanding ambassador for the canine race otherwise and her biggest concern in life is going up to every human she sees to ask them whether or not they think she’s pretty. (Spoiler alert: she is.)
  1. The Fosters. This year we decided to pitch in and give the local animal rescue a hand by fostering dogs. This entails providing the bridge between whatever situation they came from (it’s best not to even imagine) and their forever homes. So far we’ve had two: Little, a heeler-border collie mix who was an adorable, energetic sprite of a mutt, and Daisy Deuce, who seems like she could be a mix of a golden retriever and a river otter, except colored like a border collie mix. She slides around in the snow otter-like and spends much of her time in repose on her back, a hoard of toys and socks and towels she has collected strewn about her. We’ve had her less than a week and the transformation has been astounding. I might have cried a little today watching her play, after witnessing the shut-down, timid creature that walked in this house a week ago. That’s what I mean when I say dogs are my heart animals, everything about them pings at that big old muscle in my chest.

A good ranch/barn/farm is not a good ranch/barn/farm without some dogs. There will always be as many as we can fit on mine.

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Dogs and wide open spaces; two of my favorite things.


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Gratuitous Horse Shopping

I don’t need another horse. I still can’t believe I own three. But I’m so in love with the mustang that I constantly think I want more. I want like five just in case I ever have five friends visiting at once that want to ride with me? Because I think it would be fun to lead small group trail rides? Because you can’t escape the potato chip joke?

Except replace “one” with “seven”?

Anyway. I’m good with my herd for now. But I learned a thing from Olivia that window/fantasy shopping for horses (and tack and farms and…) and blogging about it is a great way to help with “the wants.”

So I give you…the February 2018 Northern Nevada Correctional Center Saddle-Trained Wild Horse Adoption!

I have never attended a correctional center adoption. I imagine these inmates train with mostly heart and brawn. They aren’t refined competitors or professional trainers. I love the idea of bringing home a horse that they have gentled to finish, but am nowhere near ready for that yet. Still, it’s fun to look.

Can we talk about how chunky these boys are? They all look like draft ponies who have been on unlimited alfalfa, except for a few, and everybody could use a few lessons on self-carriage. But there’s a lot of potential! Most hail from the Little Owyhee or other Nevada HMAs. We’ve got zero greys (boooo), pintos or palominos but some nice bays and blacks. I avoid sorrels and roans for the most part. I’ve got a short, stocky mustang already, so give me long and lean. Here’s my top 3:

  1. Disco. This guy is 16 h and has a super kind eye. I love his three socks and little star. It’s a little strange to pick a horse without seeing his movement, but I can imagine that body working nicely in a dressage setup. He looks like a thoroughbred!

    Disco, 16 h, Little Owyhee HMA

  2. Feather. I need another black horse like I need another horse period. But I think Feather is nicely put together and ready for business. Plus it looks like he has the capacity to grow a metric ton of hair, which is really high on my mustang wish list.

    Feather, 15.2 h, Little Owyhee HMA

  3. Macaroni. OK, I know I said no sorrels, but I’m calling him a liver chestnut and a hunk. All cleaned up he’s gonna be real flashy and he looks well balanced.

    Macaroni, 15 h, Little Owyhee HMA

This rounds out my choice ‘stangs for this episode of Gratuitous Horse Shopping. Who would you pick?


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Trail Ride Success

Heading out off our property has been haunting me since the fall, when I took the mustang on his first overnight (at deer camp) and had one really lovely walk with him and then a second day where he spent 3/4 of the ride trying to toss me off, or at least act enough like he was going to toss me off that I would dismount and he would get his way and there you have it, the opposite of success. This was also coupled with another October experience at a poker ride that ended with me in tears, so let’s just say I didn’t really want to take this horse off the property very badly. But we weren’t giving up, and the mild winter makes for very few excuses, so on Sunday we loaded him in the trailer and drove a couple miles up into the forest to ride on the dirt roads.

You know it’s serious when I get the western tack out.

He was a bit bouncy and did not want to stand still to be mounted, which is consistent with mounting done outside of the arena for the most part. But I can handle forward if he was controlled, and from the start he did listen to me every time I asked for his attention. Three dogs and a boyfriend accompanied us on the trail with three of the four behind us most of the time. It didn’t take long for me to be comfortable enough to ask for a trot, which was again, forward, but not so much that it worried me. I steered him around the icy puddles he didn’t seem to be very concerned about and he followed my aids. During one of our trots he snuck in a few canter strides, which felt like just a little bit of feeling good and not at all about him trying to take off. I thought it would be great to do five miles, but the weather turned to crap so it probably wound up being closer to four. On the way back he did some dancing and a little head tossing, and a few times I obliged the weirdo requests to walk off into the woods instead of staying on the road. I stuck to my guns otherwise, and did not dismount until we were back at the trailer, relieved.

Obligatory cheesy smile because horse is not being a jerk and I can feel my toes. (Toe feeling and smile were lost not long after.)

It wasn’t perfect, and it wasn’t on our own, which is when I’m much more likely to panic and worry about being thrown and therefore immediately hop off and weep, but it was a start. I beamed the whole way home.

My brown dog was such a trooper on this walk. I loved having her by my side.

Of course the outcome of this one, positive ride made me suddenly eager to start doing some conditioning and the next day it snowed but I thought I would still get out there and get a couple miles in. The dirt road was an icy mess and the creek was suddenly under snow and terrifying and it got dark and next thing you know I was walking him back home having realized that maybe the mild part of winter has departed and it might be a good idea to hold my horses on the trails until we can see some dirt again.

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Two things I bought myself (both used on eBay) as birthday month gifts to get excited about more time in the saddle:

  1. A Garmin Forerunner GPS watch. I have been wanting one for years but since I stopped running very much it felt like something I didn’t need. (There are so many phone apps that do the same thing.) But if we’re going to do endurance miles this will be a much more fun and easy way to track time/distance. It’s already motivating me to move more, even unrelated to the equine.
  2. A sheepskin seat cover. This thing is used and I have no idea if it’s contoured for a western or english saddle but I used it on my western this weekend and hoo-boy, was that nice in the cold.

 


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Open Letter to My Horse as He Walks Away from Me

I don’t know what your deal is. I caught you last, after messing with Rube and Sam and not really even intending to make you work that hard. But there you were, walking determinedly away, not really in a big rush or anything, just pushing my buttons. Come on, I pleaded, all I want out of this is to have a relationship where we enjoy each other’s company. I’m not trying to make this some sort of oligarchy. There’s no need to feel like I’m going to push you to do something that isn’t fun for either of us. Do you really never want to work? Is that what this is about? Would you prefer a life of leisure in the pasture doing nothing? Never getting out, never pushing or challenging or learning? Maybe that’s it. Maybe you would prefer to have it your way. Maybe I’m asking too much all the damn time. You had to learn everything in 100 days and it wasn’t fair and now you would like to unlearn it all and just enjoy domestication without pretending to want to be a part of some partnership. I get it. I understand this is all unnatural to you. As much as we talk about ‘natural horsemanship’ it’s really not. I can talk till I’m blue about how I move your feet like the lead mare, how I use pressure and release and timing, but we both know that I’m a human and you’re a horse and there is nothing natural about you allowing me to swing my leg over your withers and ask you to listen to me when I suggest we go in this direction at such a speed. I get it, buddy, I really do. But god willing and the creek don’t rise we’ve got a lot of time left on this earth together, and I think it would behoove both of us to figure out how to do this on a regular basis without the tantrum-y meltdowns. Sometimes I’m going to grab a halter and walk into the paddock and ask you to lower your head and come with me and it would be really cool if you could just say, “OK.”

At least he has a cute butt


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Hello, December (Goodbye, Donkey)

I took November off.

I did not write in this blog and I didn’t spend any time on Instagram. I didn’t know what to say.

The donkey was put down early in the month. I’ve spent a lot of the intervening days thinking about what happened and beating myself up about not being a good enough horse owner. I was afraid to tell people that she died and worried that I’d face more judgement than what I was already heaping on myself. As if the actual heartbreak of losing her wasn’t bad enough.

After two expensive farm calls we realized we’d exhausted the local vet’s knowledge (one of them anyway, the other was inconveniently at hunting camp during this entire episode) and took her to Idaho Equine Hospital. They ran blood tests and took x-rays. Her coffin bones were not rotated. Her pulse was high and so was her glucose. She was behaving more normal than she had been recently, even hamming it up a bit with the technicians as they held her by the computer and she looked over their shoulders at the screen. I held her head in my hands and was completely sure it was adrenaline but tried to convince myself that she was feeling better. We decided to admit her at what would be great expense to let them try her on IV fluids and blue boards for her sore feet. It did not feel entirely dire when we got in the truck and headed two and a half hours back home.

I’ve had my iPhone on Do Not Disturb mode in the nighttime ever since the feature was released. I always worried if a call would come through when I needed it to but never enough to remember to turn it off when there was a chance for that. Who is that prepared for disaster? We’re not morning people and so the Do Not Disturb doesn’t turn off til after 7. When I looked at my phone there were multiple calls and texts and voicemails from a Boise number and I immediately knew it couldn’t be good.

After the adrenaline of the trip wore off things went sideways. They gave her fluids and morphine but she stopped responding. They tubed her and fluid came up. I tried to buy some time to get more blood tests back but the vet called again and said it wasn’t worth it; she was in too much pain. We made the decision to put her down from two and a half hours away, sitting on our couch, stunned.

I’m not good with the hard stuff. I backed away and went into a hole. I want to learn from the experience but still don’t entirely understand what happened. She was overweight. She was possibly laminitic, though like I mentioned, x-rays didn’t show rotation. We’ve had her since March, and were given no indication of previous history with founder or colic. She wasn’t that old. She ate grass this summer, but our pastures are not the green, sugary easy keeper nightmares known to cause such problems, and I still have a hard time believing my husbandry in the eight months since we got her is responsible for her death. But nevertheless, she’s gone.

She was a terrible companion for the old horse we got her to keep company with. She was full of attitude and drama and mischief. She was humorless when you needed to laugh and outrageous when you needed something serious from her. She was a fucking outstanding donkey and I’m sorry we didn’t get to spend more time together.

RIP, Muffin/Sassafras. I hope donkey heaven is full of cake and candy and you get to eat it all, with no consequences.

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#Longearproblems

The mustang and I had a great lesson last week. Unfortunately summing up and building on that work has taken a back seat to  a mysterious donkey ailment.

Donkey started acting off awhile ago. But I am a terrible donkey guardian who lives in rural America where vets are notoriously not great at ‘my donkey is acting weird’ because they’re mostly dealing with ‘my cows that I make my living off of are dying’ or whatever. It’s not like how it is in horse country, or, you know, where people have lots of money and different priorities (and there are oodles of vets to choose from). Anyway. She started laying down more than usual and just acting…uncomfortable. Eating fine, pooping fine, drinking fine. Grumpy and slightly depressed? Sure. But she’s a donkey. The Eeyore character is not a lie.

I got a vet to come out finally, because I was beside myself and couldn’t concentrate on anything else but what a terrible human I was for allowing my donkey to sort of suffer, or whatever was going on. The vet said she wasn’t colicking (duh), she wasn’t foundered (maybe?) but her pulse was sky-high so she was definitely in pain. He gave her an injection of Banamine and then proceeded to talk to my SO about elk hunting for 30 minutes (this is what vets are like out here).

A week later I’m not giving her Banamine anymore, she’s confined to a large makeshift “stall” with lots of soft bedding and no contact with the naughty mule (did I mention she started acting off when he arrived on the scene?) and I’m not sure how much she’s improved. She’s definitely lying down less, but now she alternately lifts her feet as if they are the source of her discomfort. I mostly drape myself over her withers dramatically and tell her she’s a good princess and please get to feeling better and or figure out how to communicate to me exactly what’s wrong so I can fix it. So far this approach has not yielded any helpful results.

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Sad donkey in sad donkey jail.

I’m not entirely sure what to do next but I have the feeling it will involve getting a different vet involved. We haven’t known this girl long, but she’s weaseled her way into my heart and I want more than anything for her to be comfortable and happy. I hope we can get her back to that place.