Friday, January 15, 2016

Meet the Horses, Part 2

So now that you know how the horses came to be ours and how they came to be at the ranch and how they came to have a round pen in which to train, I guess now you can really get to know them.

Big Red is the dominant mare. She throws her weight around, but really is a nice girl. I rarely see her bite or kick the others, although she does try to keep them away from the food. She is affectionate and wants to know what you're doing in her pen, even if she's in your way, keeping you from doing it. She's easy to ride, except when she decides she knows better than you do what your next command is, usually about five minutes into riding. She is a little more skittish about stuff in her way or scary puddles, but once she tackles it for the first time, she's solid and doesn't  shy off. She's a big, plodding teddy bear.

Little Red is more like her daddy than her mom. She is spunky and curious and headstrong and playful and curious and violent to others and sassy and curious. Did I mention curious? She's the one that wants to kiss the cats on the fence, even when they're spitting at her. She bites the Butt, but gives in to her mother. She bucks and kicks and rips out manes if another horse is in her space, but cuddles up to us like a lap dog. She waits until the others are distracted, then eats the remainder of the food. She can't keep her nose out of anything, which scares me with all the rattlesnakes; she'll be the one I have to intubate. She is unfazed by new things and just charges in like she owns the place, but stubbornly refuses when you demand she learn a new way of doing things. She's fun to ride but still youngish and unpredictable; she likes to suddenly drop and roll with a rider on her back. She's the little pasture sprite that you can't say no to because she's so adorable.

The Butt is just a butt. His cute little face and pink-rimmed eyes and fluffy white fur con you into thinking you can hug him and squeeze him and call him anything you want. Do not be conned! This little bugger bites and kicks and stomps on kittens and throws his still-heavy weight around and will throw you across an arena if you try to ride him. With a southwest blanket on, he looks like a little burro and bucks like a angry stallion; no saddle yet has survived his tantrums. He thinks he's the big man on campus, except when it comes to being the low-man on the totem pole, and tries to make his little legs go faster to prove it. He stubbornly refuses to longe and really doesn't care what you think, unless you have food. He generally waits until the girls are done eating before he approaches his remote feeding location, just in case they decide to move in, which they do. He can lose a few pounds, though. We've always hoped we can train him to pull a cart, but the cart may not make it through the training. He's virtually a very angry pasture pet.

Munchkin chose Little Red as her horse during training this last summer, leaving me with Big Red. There were lots of comments about the young ones passing up the old ones, and us old ones showing the young whipper-snappers how it's done. 

As for their digs here on the ranch, they love it. They have acres and acres of grazing land, complete with hollows far from the house where they think we can't find them. The crazy mish-mash of fences from decades of farming various things keeps their minds busy trying to remember what succession of gates they need to pass through to get to whatever it is they want; sometimes they get confused and think they're stuck. They can gallop off into the sunset or the sunrise or any other general lighting to their hearts' content. They ignore the little calving barn in their pasture, and instead tear down the medium-sized barn just from scratching on it; rarely is anyone ever inside. That's coming down this year by their own doing, so we'll have to build something horse-proof that they'll probably never use anyway. They have a large watering trough of concrete out at the windmill; the top of it is just reachable by the Butt's nose, so we have to make sure it stays absolutely full and the green growies don't take over the surface (they are long-established plants with roots that reach through the concrete and stake themselves in the center of the earth, we've come to believe).

We tried to build them a plywood temporary shelter one year; the wind knocked it down and then they stomped all over it, absolutely crushing the plywood they were so curious about when we put it up. Dude and Munchkin had a fire going out there once to clear up the old weeds, and the horses had to be there to supervise the whole thing. They get in the way of the work crews who come out to help us, not by vicious intent, but because they have to personally greet each new face.

I once took Bones out to see them about dusk. I could hear them running when I called, that ground-pounding thunder that results from a dead gallop. I told her to stand still with her arms wide out to the sides. She squealed as the girls ran straight for us, then dodged to either side and circled around behind us, coming to a full stop with their noses by our shoulders. I knew they would do this and wouldn't hurt us, but Bones didn't. She still talks about that experience and how exciting it was. (And yes, she knows not to do that with just any horse).

Sometimes we let them out just to explore. Where can they go out here? Cattle guards and fences keep them from going too far outside the homestead. But instead of finding the tall green, never-cut grasses or visiting the ancient well, they come to the house and knock over the chicken food for a grain hit. Or the Butt stands below the house at the old barrels of coal and loudly scratches himself on the heavy metal lid -- thump, thump, thump. And remember he's Houdini, so sometimes this happens in the middle of the night, waking me from a dead sleep.

It's all a joy to me, though, and to Munchkin. I never imagined my childhood dream of owning horses would come true. Munchkin never really had that dream until she met the Butt. They fill out our lives, though, and will be beneficial out here for exploration, for travel, for exercise and for pure entertainment.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Meet the Equines



I don’t believe I’ve ever introduced you to our horses. We’ve mentioned them in passing, but they need to have a spotlight shone on them for a post or two.

The equine story began not long after we picked up the ranch. In the spring of 2009, we were discovering rattlesnakes around every literal corner. My little 9mm was having a difficult time keeping up with the little critters, and we were trying to find alternative killing machines which could be on duty when I was absent.

We settled on peacocks. Not the transition you expected, I know. No horses. Hang in there.

We found a farm near Little Town which was ridding themselves of critters left and right, since the owner had had a heart attack and couldn’t care for them anymore. We made an appointment to meet the peacocks and talk terms. While there, this little albino pony followed Munchkin relentlessly; being the free-range mini-equine, it was quite an adventure. Munchkin was in love. The owner quoted me only $100 for the pony (I don’t remember how much for the birds), and I went home to discuss the deal with Dude.

The Butt at Queenie's
A week later, a small horse trailer pulled up in the driveway there in Little Town. Munchkin climbed up to say hi to her recent friend. “Can he stay, Mom?” More than delight, she was stunned when I told her yes.

The place was only about an acre and a third, but half of it was a large fenced pasture, filled with ducks and geese and chickens – and no grass. But with the pond there, and a grassy backyard, we figured we’d be able to house him well until we moved up to the ranch. We were sadly mistaken.

Definitely reluctant
Shetland ponies are not known to be easy to handle. He made that sound like an understatement. We had been warned that he was a Houdini, rolling under 3-strand fences and escaping locked pens. He did that and more, sprinting up the rural road to visit other horses in the neighborhood or to munch on weeds in the empty lot across the street. And nearly getting hit in the street. He was small and hefty, too big for Munchkin and me to pull back to the house. So Dude was called in… over and over… to wrestle the monster back into the pasture.

Queenie offered to help train him. She owned a boarding stable about five miles down the road, where I imagined horses went to be run ‘til they couldn’t resist anymore. I was partially right, but we had a lot to learn.

Little Red
We moved the Butt to Queenie’s place, and placed our training and his in the hands of her daughter, Princess, a rodeo queen and equine lover extraordinaire. The first day there, about ten people wandered the stables, working with their horses and cleaning their stalls. We decided to put the Butt into the arena until we could establish his confinement… er, housing arrangements. In the arena already was an 8-week-old red filly with variegated red and blonde tail and mane, running with abandon on her just-barely-not-wobbly spindles for legs. The Butt, having lived with animals of all kinds for most of his life, ran at her with the assumption that she was a new playmate. Little Red, on the other hand, had never seen a creature like this before, and ran the other way in sheer terror. The rodeo that ensued drew everyone to the arena fence for some pure entertainment.

Over the next two years, we grew to know and love every horse and every owner, enjoying not just lessons, but trail rides, BBQs, play days, and pedicures (the horses, not us – we couldn’t afford them after the horses were done). Munchkin worked for Queenie around the stables, and we kept doing our best to learn to ride well, while discovering the finer points of lungeing a very reluctant equine student.

Big Red
In late spring of that second year, Princess decided to sell not only Little Red, but also Big Red, her mother. Big Red was a papered quarter horse, and Little Red’s sire (also a resident there – Big Black) was as well, both from cutting stock (a great boon for any rancher). So we purchased the Reds. After all, we needed horses to ride. They remained at the stables while we remodeled the ranch, just waiting for the day they’d move out. In the meantime, they were added to our lessons schedule, and the focus moved from training the Butt (who made it clear he wasn’t interested anyway, the stubborn creature) to training the Reds.

But every year, it seemed training them wasn’t in the cards. I’d get injured, or one of them would, and I’d spend all summer rehabbing one or both of us. Dude began to expect disaster as soon as the weather warmed up. He was a little sour on the whole horse thing anyway, his parents having run the riding stables at an area park and his sister having showed horses for many years.

Happy at the stables
Finally, in late 2012, we made the move to the ranch, and the horses were the last to move in of all the animals. Princess moved to college, Queenie sold the stables, and even the farrier disappeared (apparently we live too far out in the boonies). A new phase began with three equines in a large pasture and room to run free.

More next time… though I can promise you horse training doesn’t play into the story too early in the tale…

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Complete Gratitude

So in the last two weeks, the snow plow has been out to our place -- and even into our yard -- twice! Only after two months of snow... and multiple times plowing it ourselves or our neighbor doing it. And six times in a ditch or stuck in the snow somehow...
We found out there's a new head honcho down at the road district.
We're baking him cookies.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Dear County, When Will You Clear the Rural Roads?

In our last post, I whined a little about the cold. Just a little... stop laughing.

You have to understand the last couple weeks. We've been having snow for two months now, and some significant accumulations. Not record levels, by any means, but more than we've had in the last five or six years. All of our winter preparations -- or lack of them -- have been tested. And other factors out of our control -- like the county road plows and the power company have added their own roadblocks to our success.

After the first snow of 3" melted off, the power company came out to hook up our new transformer and connect in the Parson's whole power structure. We were told the power would be out for a few hours, probably late morning but they really didn't know. We had lots to do that day, and were trying to schedule around them, but they came out early (first time on this entire job) and left us little time to get our day going after they left and before we left. But in that time, we were reminded of all the things that can't be done without electricity -- a real problem out here when the county forgets we exist, and when it acknowledges us, we're at the very bottom of the list.

So we stored more water, until the stores ran out of the 5-gallon bottles. Now we need to back-flush our Berkey system.

We built one of those clay-pot candle heaters. I know the science, when it's appropriate, and what it can't do, but it was a good exercise anyway. Might work in a bedroom or bathroom, but it did nothing for the main living space, even as little as it is.

We bought the supplies to make a small rocket stove, in a 6-gallon metal garbage can. We never got it built. Besides, that's less effective inside the house.

We tried out two antique kerosene heaters we picked up at an estate sale. One had a stuck wick and the other leaked all over the floor from the two puncture holes in the bottom of the tank. Lovely smell in the house.

We had a winter bonfire planned with a large group of friends, but when we headed to Big Town for the day, the skies again dumped white stuff on our little corner of the desert. We cancelled the bonfire, and sat in Bones and Curmudgeon's warm house, discussing the pros and cons of each of these heating sources. We then carefully picked our way home in the snow, nearly doubling our travel time.

Over the next week, we topped out at about a foot of snow. Dude and I decided to rebuild the old straw dog house that was now housing cats, and to accommodate the Avenger's desire to sleep in the back yard where she could see the length of the ranch. We loaded our bundled selves into the backhoe and inched our way to the neighbor's farm two miles away. The backhoe is not enclosed. I now call it our multi-horse open sleigh. We didn't slide down the steep driveway entering their valley, but it was definitely possible, and we were happy to return home an hour and a half later and warm up by the heater.

So we felt we were handling the winter well. Cold, but safe. We shouldn't have been so comfortable.

A few days later, after another night of snow, Dude decided we needed to plow out to the Gauntlet before it got any deeper. The backhoe fuel gauge was bouncing in the cold, but we assumed we were nearing a need for diesel. With plans for Munchkin to go to town for that and for mail, Dude started the backhoe. One of our wild kitties, one that had produced good babies last year, got caught in the fan and the belts, breaking her leg and throwing the belts off. It took an hour to remove the cowling just to get to her, and once we did, she ran off. I would have loved to put her down and stop her suffering, but wild she was and wild she wanted to remain. Dude was soaked now and we were all cold.

Heartsick, Munchkin loaded up the gas cans and headed for town. Dude restarted the backhoe, warming it up to head out moments later. After about ten minutes, Dude came running in the house, yelled that Munchkin was stuck but physically okay in a snow bank in the Gauntlet, and rushed back out the door to rescue her with the backhoe. Mommy instincts kicked in. I needed to call my girl and make sure she was emotionally okay, this being her first "accident."

There wasn't a single phone in the house. Munchkin's had been near dead, so she left it on a table and took mine. Apparently, in the confusion over the cat, she had taken hers as well; of course, Dude had his own. So, I knew the backup plan was for her to use my phone and my facebook account to send a message to "myself" and I could pick it up at home on my computer. So I sat online doing other things for an hour, waiting for a message that never came. Finally, it a fit of worry, I actually went directly to my message box, where I found a long line of "HELLO!"s and a message that the backhoe had run out of gas right beside Munchkin. Seems that Facebook doesn't send notifications when you message yourself.

I responded that I was on my way, and headed out to Dude's car (the lighter one, if you read the last post). I had to dig myself out of the driveway in front of the house three times, and after grabbing the shovel that was now my best friend, managed to leave the homestead. Halfway to them, though, the poor car couldn't make it up the hill. I dug myself out five times, tried all the "rocking" tecniques Maestro (the ice and snow expert in the family) taught me years ago. Not only was I not making it up the hill, but I was progressively getting closer and closer to the drop-off into a shallow ravine. I packed up and walked back to the house maybe a half mile where I could communicate online that I was now stuck too, and could someone from Tiny Town come save us?

On their end, Dude had abandoned the backhoe, and managed to free Munchkin, who then drove into Tiny Town for diesel. The neighbor from whom we had purchased the straw (also stuck out here in the sticks) brought his enclosed backhoe up, let Dude sit inside and warm up, and then plowed our entire multi-mile road, clear out through the Gauntlet, past the elderly neighbors whose friends had plowed their way into their places, and to the main paved road to Tiny Town. Enough with this waiting for the county thing. At least his plow swiveled, where ours doesn't and can really be a pain.

By now, me not knowing the enfolding scenario, I had roused all of the helpful people of Tiny Town (and others around the county and state) to come to Dude's aid. I now know where every 4-wheel-drive and diesel can is within a ten-mile radius. Our newspaper editor borrowed a can of diesel from the agricultural supply store and trucked it out, only to find Munchkin already had some. So much for me being helpful, but of course I didn't know this. Dude found that the fuel lines had been emptied, but thanks to all the winter work Swamp Man had been doing, there was still a can of ether on the backhoe and it soon started again.

Pretty soon, Munchkin drove in and my mommy neuroses began to relax. I went to hug and comfort her, but she was already headed back up the road to get the car I abandoned.... still with my phone on her. I must re-emphasize to her the importance of proper lines of communication. (But I am a little proud of her drive in times of emergency...) She made it to the house, but not up to the parking area, so we left that until Dude was done plowing in front of the house, and then they pushed it and me up the hill to an easily-left location.

Dude now had near hypothermia. As Munchkin says it, "A 20-minute trip to town turned into a 4-hour rescue mission." She has my flair for the dramatic. So Dude hopped in the shower and then sat in front of the heater to rest and warm up with a cup of hot chocolate and peppermint schnapps. We were just discussing how he was going to get to work safely in a few hours, when lights appeared in our driveway and the Avenger went ballistic. It was Swamp Man, who apparently was bored and jealous of all our fun snow. Sucker for the cold, he is. But I was grateful -- I packed up Dude for a couple of nights and sent him to stay at Bones and Curmudgeon's house for a few days. As he followed Swamp Man and Son out of the ranch, I cried over this answer to prayer and the adrenaline of the day.

He returned the next afternoon. What?! You can't tell me the roads are better now. No, but with the drop in temps, they were more manageable. We spent the day discussing how we need to be more prepared -- not just the snow tires we never put on, but tow ropes and jumper cables and the Sorrels in the backseat wherever we go.

That night, I made another phone call trying to find the owner of a very-well-trained border collie I had found the previous week wandering along the highway in the middle of nowhere. Neighbors there had never seen it before and promised to call if they found anyone claiming him. So I called an old family friend near the area who works with horses and local farmers. He suggested another farmer in the area that I knew, who proceeded to regale me with stories of how evil my political antagonist is before telling me who the dog belonged to. It turned out to be yet another old family friend, who remembered the family name, but not that we bought chickens from him a few years ago. I was on the phone for an hour that night, reconnecting with all these neighbors (broad definition) over a stray dog.

The next day Swamp Woman accompanied me in dropping off said dog and doing an errand in Little Town. As we were leaving the home of the dog (where the owner was not present, being on a long-haul route), I got myself stuck with one wheel in a two-foot-deep trench hidden under the snow, with the other three tires spinning madly. Really? I called the homeowner's neighbor, an old friend of mine; she was vacuuming upstairs in her farmhouse and didn't hear the phone. We hailed a lady in a large truck on the road; she was this guy's aunt and was perturbed I was there until she figured out who my husband is and then offered help if someone with a tow-rope wasn't able to come out (she didn't have one, and wasn't sure if her sister had one available down the street). It was old-home day.

The Parson and family came out and saved us, though I believe he turned around from venturing to Extra-Large City and came back to pull us out. But we weren't sure if he was going to be able to help us, since his phone cut out just before we hailed down the aunt. In the meantime, Swamp Woman had begun to freeze, so we headed back to the car where we thought we could get some warm air. Nope. The heater core keeps filling with goop and we had lost all heat at idle. So at least I was a little prepared: no gloves or boots for her, but she had my second hat and a blanket from the trunk, along with what little heat was still in the car. Until the puppies came out of the barn... we're so suckers for border collie puppies!

Oh, yeah. And when I tried to call Munchkin? Her phone was still in my car. Swamp Man was at the ranch with her, but didn't have cell service, and Dude was still at work. So much for prepared.

Three days later, Dude and I had a weekend trip planned, and were about to put it off if the weather still looked bad. But it didn't, and we happily left our girl with careful instructions about traveling to church in Big Town with the worship music and the sermon video camera. If she was concerned, she could leave an hour early, thus giving her twice as long to get there safely. While in Extra Big Town, the weather again reared its ugly head, dumping on both us and her.

Sunday morning, she messaged us that she was leaving -- two whole hours early. I quickly shot back three options of how to get there safely with the new snow, and I only received one back -- "ok." OK what? Which option? What time should I give her before becoming worried? I settled on an hour, knowing more texts would just make her have to stop the car again. An hour later, the mommy neuroses returned and plagued me until I learned she had settled on option 3, stopping at the Parson's house and following them to church. Smart move, but she left the phone in the car! The Barista assured me she was there safe and that I could destress now. And the Parson would follow her home to make sure she got there fine.

Augh!!! How much more could I endure? ChevyMama keeps telling me to stop asking that question.

We returned after the weekend, calling the power company as we came across ice-ensheathed power lines drooping only eight feet off the ground. I stayed home for several days, praying whenever Dude left or returned from work. The county finally plowed our road one of those days (after two months of snow). Finally, New Year's came around and Munchkin had a party with her youth group over in another Tiny Town. Her only concern was that she wouldn't be awake enough to drive home after, so I shuttled here there. No heat in the car. Oh. My. Goodness. And single digits outside. We had just enough warmth in the recirculated air to clear the lower half of the windshield by the time we reached the paved road, but we had to scrape the insides of the windows. Thankfully, Gypsy invited her to crash... I mean, stay the night... there and we were only slightly frozen instead of totally frozen returning her home the next day.

But I needed heat. When Dude got home from work, we packed up both cars to head to Red and ChevyMama's heated garage -- one to fix the heat, two to fix the blown shock. With only the first one partially done, we headed home, only to have me slide into a ditch on a farm access road three miles from their house. Dude and Munchkin pushed me out, but Munchkin did mention she was impressed with my ability to drift... literally. "It's all in the training, my dear, and yes -- we should schedule you some training with Maestro."

That was yesterday. And then today, Dude ends up in a ditch on the way home from work, nearly flipping the vehicle over. We mentioned that in the last post.

I'm done. So done. But of course, Dude is out photographing a large railroad fire in the next town. Munchkin went with him. Maestro is operating one of the firetrucks. Maybe Munchkin can get that training while they're all out.... You never know when the next icy road will present itself.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Huddling by the Heater... Again

I. Am. So. Cold.

Not "I need a jacket" cold. Not "I'll warm up in the shower" cold. Not "Plug in the electric blanket and put my feet in a bowl of hot water and bring me a cup of hot tea" cold.

This is the kind of cold that takes hours to reverse. It's the "use every measure possible" kind of cold.

I was awoken rather rudely this fine but cold Saturday morning by a call from Dude on his way home from work. "Hey, I'm in a ditch outside of Big Town. Maestro's on his way to pull me out." Grateful I was that he was okay, but awake I now was. And no kiss or coffee to soften the jolt.

His face came across my phone a few minutes later, and then just as quickly disappeared. This is when my blood pressure sky-rockets. What happened now? Why is he trying to call me this quickly? Maestro can't even be out of his driveway yet, let alone on scene. Did the car get smashed by a passing and now sliding second vehicle? How am I going to be able to get there and be able to help him out with only the "antique" pickup that doesn't work in this weather and a matching car to his with only a minimally-heavier frame? Who do I call for help? But as it happened, he was just letting me know a passing monster truck, complete with horse in trailer, had pulled him out. But it was its own adventure, since Munchkin's phone and mine were both nearly dead and not receiving calls.

Through all this, I had been pacing the house in bare feet, summer-thickness lounge pants and a thermal shirt. Being cold, I added my summer flats and sat in front of the heater. Literally 18" from the old radiant heater (the only heat source in the house), my skin can burn, but I was huddled only a few inches from its coils. Finally, I went to the far reaches of the ice house and added a second layer of clothing and winter socks. Oh yeah, and my scandinavian-braids hat. It still wasn't cutting the cold.

I ventured across the vast winter tundra to the kitchen, where I started the teapot. While there, I tried to climb inside the oven, filled with the smell of the lovely meat meal Dude was preparing. It only really helped for a half minute, basically the amount of time it took for the cold air to invade the oven. But the smell of life-sustaining sustenance reminded me that ginger heats me up. At least, that's been the recent experience with some of the lovely ginger beers we've been trying. Maybe I just need to stock up on ginger drinks for the winter...

So then, not finding any ginger tea in the hot drinks drawer, I made my own. With a base of mint tea, I added about a teaspoon of crystallized ginger, and a dash each of dried orange and lemon peels and cardamom. Dude, surprised to find me scouring the spice cupboard or even just in the kitchen, suggested the mix of mint and ginger might be too spicy for me (he knows my wussiness well). I proceeded to remind him that my life's goal at the moment was to locate heat in whatever form possible. I was ordered back to the heater, and he brought me the teapot, mug and strainer when the water was ready. What a guy!

So with temps in the single digits, and me doing the rotisserie thing again in front of the heater, I'm ready for winter to be done. And we're only a week and a half in... Well, you know where to find me. Bring some ginger if you come by.