Monday, December 11, 2017

State of the Ranch 2017

I can't believe I missed the date for this post. Actually, I can. I was so sick and run down, I didn't even know what day of the week it was. Or the significance of any day I did recognize. I guess that says quite a bit about the state of the place, doesn't it?

It's been a difficult year for all of us: the three of us, the Parson and his family next door, Curmudgeon and Bones over the hill, and all the others that are a part of our grand adventure. There are years where you are productive and accomplish so much -- this wasn't one of those. There are years when you plug along, steady and sure, no real big occurrences, no disasters -- this wasn't one of those either. Instead, this was the kind of year you wish you could go back and do over, where it seemed like nothing went right, when you seem to fight for every good day. The Parson talks about how this is part of the Biblical timeline, and it is. I talk about how this is a part of our country's decline, and it is. Dude reminds me I've had years like this before, and that's true. Everyone agrees, no matter what the reason, that it seems to have been the perfect bad storm.

You've been reading (and will read some more in the days to come) about some of the difficulties we've had here on the ranch. Equipment and vehicles constantly down for some reason, flooding that refused to go away, colder weather than even the old-timers are used to after so many warm-ish years (in comparison -- I do not admit they are warm), animals we've lost or almost lost, illnesses and injuries, contractors that don't show up for work, on and on and on.We even had to fight over increases in taxes at more than 100%! And as she sat there and fought me in the adjustment hearing, she knew she'd be sending me more notices this year; I can't even bring myself to open the documents yet, it makes me so angry.

The Parson and River Song are finally on-site next door, but we went thtough every contractor and government inspector in order to get their septic put together -- now that so many "experts" are required to certify these things, no one wants to actually do any work, thanks to our socialist county. But they're here. Now that we're heading into winter, we'll see how their systems hold up. They've done this before -- living in a semi-permanent fifth-wheel situation -- but the ranch seems to have an uncanny knack for making easy things difficult. They even picked up one of our kittens, so hopefully the three of them settle in for a warm winter life up there on the hill.

Curmudgeon and Bones are heading into their second winter experiment in their trailer. Last winter was brutal, and we got used to them visiting our "facilities" in their jammies. Many lessons were learned, more problems discovered, and several plans put into motion, so we'll hope this winter is easier. They love being out near the cows, usually on the deck away from the rattlesnakes and facing our wraparound sunsets with no other houses in sight.

We now have two and a half horses living out here. Our two quarter horses and Squirrel's two quarter horses equal one total, right? And then an old white Arabian and a Shetland pony, so 2 1/2. At one point, my older Red went down with colic, but fought through it just fine. Everyone had hoof trouble with the flooding, but we managed not to let anyone go lame. We learned to inject colloidal silver into abscesses on hooves, and to make excellent hoof boots out of disposable diapers and cheap duck tape. We learned how much hay we really need over winter, to not leave the hose to siphon the water trough back into the well, to rotate pasture usage (now that there are so many horses), and how to let herd dynamics work to our advantage. We learned that ground that looks normal can actually function like quicksand when a horse steps on it, and that horses love their owners enough to try not to land on them. Our love for our farrier and vet was confirmed.

The new addition to the farm last fall was the goat, then more goats, then the four more than were born in February and March, bringing our little herd to nine. We learned about separating mamas and babies from the rest of the herd, about separating bucks from the herd, about protecting tender ears in winter and giving more minerals in summer, about selling off the bucklings, about taming the wild ones, and about exactly how much a goat can eat that you really wanted to keep in the landscape. We spent far too much time fixing fence, rounding up the herd, letting them run free but in the way, and then trying to keep them separated. In all, the current six goats will soon dwindle to four and then the baby goat season will hit before the weather warms again.

The aviary has had quite a bit of change this year. We lost the vast majority of last year's birds to a devious coyote who escaped our notice til about February; this included the turkeys. We brought in about 25 muscovy ducks; turns out we only have two drakes, and the whole batch of them might be fairly inbred. We added a pilgrim goose and his best friend, a black cayuga drake. And then we added a pair of grey stripe geese. Quite a busy little pen out there! We opted to let the birds get broody and raise their own little ones, but we only saw maybe ten total chicks all year, and maybe only two have survived. We confirmed they were being killed by nasty duck queens, when the ducklings started dying at an even faster rate. We saved three beautiful muscovies with blue beaks, but learned they may not be able to breed. The full pond was a huge hit for the ducks, and we think we've found a way to keep it at least swimmable for most of the year. Bones has taken on the care of the birds as her special project -- such a great idea!

The indoor cats included a batch of five kittens born to one of our grey girls, and a very large older "kitten" (now an outdoor huge boy at not even a year old) who loved to play with them. The outdoor cats suffered huge losses from illness this year. I have yet to find any illness that matches the symptoms, so we'll have to visit the vet soon. Right now, we're down to three indoor cats, one indoor-outdoor "kitten," five friendly/touchable outdoor cats, and seven wild outdoor cats. I know there are some living out in the barns that have only been seen once or twice, but that's really still not enough for this whole place.

The dogs are doing well, on the other hand. The older pyr is still having joint issues, but loves this cold weather and seems to be more agile this time of year; she is going somewhat blind and deaf, just reacting to things slower. The younger maremma/anatolian has really come into her own. She is responsible, loving, and yet on guard 24/7. She protects everyone out here, not just us and the animals. We're hoping to get another younger livestock guardian dog to give her a little more help, and let the older girl rest comfortably.

Not much canning got done this year; that will be in my next post. Too many injuries and problems kept me out of the kitchen or away from the gleaning fields. Thankfully, we have plenty of most things stored up to get us through this winter too.

The majority of the projects around here -- other than the Parson's septic system and electrical hookups -- was centered on water abatement and building up the roads. We fixed the cattleguard a couple times, and put in the new culvert under the driveway. We added more gravel to bare areas  of the road and filled in potholes.

The only thing that happened in the house was the switching of the doors -- somewhat successful, but a frustrating project. There just hasn't been any time or ability to do anything more.

So, like I said, not a great year. Not even a so-so year. We're just grateful it's almost over.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Home at Last

They're here! The Parson and River Song are finally on-site!

It was a long almost-two years. There were far too many government-induced interruptions and delays. There were far too many local flakes masquerading as contractors. There was a scary winter or two where nothing productive happened. But here they were at last.

The Party Bus -- all aboard!
We have a huge group of friends between the two families, but for some reason, everyone was busy on the scheduled move-out day. It ended up being just the two of them, the two of us, and Uncle Si moving most of a lifetime of stuff from their rental thirty minutes away. It wasn't as efficient as our normal moving skills, but it happened.

And the Party Bus was a big part of that success. Parson and River Song had purchased this used community transport months earlier. The thought was that trucks and dozer buckets are great for ranch work, but sometimes things need to be transported in covered conditions, whether they be paper goods or people. He was right, and this was the perfect use for this vehicle.

I loved the thought of how that bus looked driving through town. Next time, it will be people and we'll be having a great party inside, because now our friends are here!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Country Science Fun

There are some major benefits to living in the country. Lack of oversight by nosy environmentalists being one of them.

We used to have a tree in the front yard, a giant elm named Clarence. (Search under the tag "big trees" for the post on his removal.) When he was removed, we tried to make sure his roots were gone as well, but by means that didn't involve burning them out. Because of the house and other flammable, important things nearby, you know. But it was a sciency bummer.

We're science geeks. We admit it. Munchkin grew up waiting for those moments when something broke down so we'd let her take it apart and see how it works. Dude is the mechanical/electrical/physical science kind of guy, handy when things break down, making everything last far longer than it should before tossing it to Munchkin. I, on the other hand, am more of a theoretical scientist. I love all the facts, but I'm less adept at "how stuff works" at the practical level.

That doesn't apply to fire. I love fire. Not in that creepy arsonist way. Just in the fascination/love of this amazing natural element. It provides heat. It destroys waste. It's useful in so many ways, from cooking to metalwork to combustion engines. (I think... do combustion engines really involve fire? I'll have to ask my experts....) My point is: fire is the fun side of science.

So when ant nests started showing up at the front step, right where Clarence used to stand, we turned to our favorite science tool. We had burned out giant red-ant nests in the past; we couldn't have our farm animals being bit by little nasties. It worked well. And then we read about fun things like pouring molten metal into underground ant nests, which is an amazing visual of how extensive these nests can be. Someday, we'll be able to make one of those things... maybe I'll display it in the garden... but I digress yet again.

I saw two small holes in the earth. Ants were scurrying in and out of them, moving in their eggs and food supplies from whatever previous homestead they had abandoned. I couldn't have that. If they were allowed to domesticate the front yard, they'd soon be in the kitchen during canning season. Unacceptable.

So Munchkin gathered up some old gas (every farm has some) and poured a little into the holes. If the ants were there, I surmised, the roots weren't. So it was safe, right? Out came the super-long matches and fire was accomplished. I basked in the minor glow of flaming insects and waited for the fire to dissipate.

When the flames subsided, I danced past the spot to return the gas can (yes, I was that delighted). A small flame shot up next to my shoe! Really? Oh, this is too much fun! I called Munchkin and Dude back to the front door to see my new favorite pasttime. As I was jumping up and down all around the two entrance holes, a third one erupted nearby. The ant nest was already fairly expansive, I guess. So like any safe person, I continued to jump on the small patch of ground that thankfully resisted collapsing beneath me.

Cheap, sick fun. But mission accomplished. No ants in the kitchen or in the front yard. Science fun had. Safety precautions demonstrated to the teenager. All good.

We love the country!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Springy Thingies

Washed out Tiny Town
It was a whole 'nother world. (Such a strange phrase... so non-grammatical and hillbilly-ish. But all too common... Enough musings... back to the post...)

It had been drought-ish for so long. I had never seen the ranch in wet conditions. And other places around us were different too. It was a constant discovery of new features in the landscape we had never seen before.

Flowing falls
The tiny town we had to cross on the way to the Big City was flooded every spring as the canal system was filled, but this was different. The road that crossed the usually-damp-but-passable creek bed was now a torrent of flowing water, so much so that they had to barricade the road. The crazy people, like Curmudgeon, drove through it anyway. He almost didn't make it across, to Bones' chagrin. It was out for weeks.

Further north, the valley walls showed off new waterfalls. In April, we counted at least 26 major ones in the short 31 miles to the next town. By the way, stopping to photographs these falls, when you're stuck between a giant lake and vertical rock walls, is dangerous. Just a tip for ya....

Driving these familiar desert roads, we were familiar with hollows that we assumed had water back when the great flood that carved this area happened. But we had never seen them full, or even wet, for that matter. Now they were overflowing and beginning to brim with bugs and birds and blooms.

Filled hollows
Dude as photographer
Dude began the annual flower documentation. Besides sharing some of those here on the blog, we have no idea why we keep these thousands of flower pics. Such tiny, delicate plants in such harsh conditions. Such brilliant life in the midst of what most passers-by think is just dry, brown desert death. The odd thing we discovered this year was that the flower season was compacted -- the whole season (usually March to July) compressed into a shorter span (April to June). Flowers that never touched were this year playing together in wildly-diverse fields of color. We photographed new flowers we'd never seen before, and searched in vain for some that never appeared.

It was surreal.

And as our regular lives dragged on -- a car accident, a new job, Munchkin's first year of public school and FBLA competitions, family and church and hobby activities, and just life in general -- there was this continuing sense of awe that streaked through it all. Yes, we were discontented because we couldn't get anything done that was already on the this-much-to-do list. But it was beautiful and shocking and memorable.
New flower

Springy Thingies
I hope you can listen to this little video -- it's more of an audio track. Sixty seconds of frogs and crickets and the soothing night sounds that make it so lovely out here. Springy thingies and their lovely songs of peace and hope and love...

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Ranch Rainbows

We didn't have many storms this year. Even the thunderstorms were few and somewhat lackluster (with one exception). This pic is from March. A beautiful double rainbow, mirrored in the flooding in the horse pasture. Enjoy!

Monday, November 20, 2017

Yet More Guarding

The neighbors' pond, above the guard
It seems the cattleguard will be a thorn in our side. After rebuilding it last year, we've now had to repair it three times -- once due to flooding issues, and twice because the support structure keeps caving in. Argh.

So after replacing the cattle guard in the early spring, mid-spring came along -- with all that flooding I mentioned. While we were pumping the lake below the house across the driveway, the lake in the next valley over -- the one that leached under the driveway into the Mammoth Pond -- was backing up against the new cattleguard supports. This particular water hole is on the neighbor's property, but could wash out the driveway, and then our pond, and then create a new wadi in the horse pasture. Bad version of the string theory.
The Mammoth Pond, below the guard

Dude, Curmudgeon and Bones went out to fix it. What an operation! Up came the pump and giant water hose from the other driveway operation. Some water had to be pumped across, just to make the regrading job easier and to get a jump on draining this uppper lake. Rakes and sticks and hoes were used to move the rocks around and respread the gravel under the guard. New trenches were dug to redirect the water toward the cattle guard. And the path to the Mammoth Pond was cleared for just enough water flow to keep the system moving, without washing it all out.

Creating the creek grade
It was a detailed chore, and took far longer than this little blurb suggests. There was lots of wading out into the cold water (with large rubber boots, yes) and digging and moving and removing. The angle had to be just right. The flow rate had to be controlled.

Dude has always used the trenching method of moving water. I'd prefer a buried pipe or something so the visual order is maintained, but I've come to accept that his little drainage ditches are a fact of ranch life. They're cheap, functional and definitely get the job done. Someday -- when my to-do list is shorter -- I can come back and line them like little river streams. Maybe.
Cattleguard Creek is born

The guys loaded up the gear and drove it back to the house. Bones and I sat on an eco-block and just listened to the babbling brook we had just created.

"We need to bring out lawn chairs."

"And a bottle of wine."

It never happened. But we did stop to "check on the water flow" each time we crossed the guard. I just wanted to hear the creek. Maybe next flood.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Water Sports

The Mammoth Pond
I was so excited about the ponds on the ranch until I met them. They're murky, clay puddles, and any disturbance creates a nasty appearance that only appeals to livestock. But it's water in the desert, so I can't really complain.

As the tide rose this spring, there were numerous jokes about kayaking in the Mammoth Pond, and then the lower yard, and then every pond in nearly four square miles of sagebrush. Eventually, they weren't really jokes anymore. It became a sardonic complaint. "For goodness' sake, when will we be able to do anything out here?" Not funny. Not at all.
Maestro in the willows

So it was quite a surprise in June when my father, Maestro, brought the kayaks up and offered to take me out on a pond or two.

Now keep in mind, I've never been kayaking. He bought these things as a way to connect with his sons-in-law several years ago. Some of my sisters have been out. Munchkin grew to be pretty good at it in her several trips to local lakes with her grandfather. But me? Nope. There's always "this much to do." But being a fish, I've always been jealous.
Around the farm truck

And so Maestro taught me to kayak in the Mammoth Pond. How many people can say that? I learned on my own land! How cool.

But there are drawbacks to this. Kayaking requires balance, and most training involves purposely flipping the rig to learn how to escape safely. I was not interested in that in these mud holes. Being very careful, I was able to keep upright and non-muddy. Yay! What a relief. Even Munchkin wouldn't kayak in the nasty ponds.
Rounding the truck

We started in the Mammoth Pond, and progressively moved north. We did several circles around the tules, before beaching ourselves and hauling the kayaks over the fencelines. That was probably the deepest pond of the day; we estimated it at 12' deep this year.

"I don't understand..."
Next, Maestro took on the lower pasture. By now the water was pretty low, just barely enough for a kayak to glide over the growing grass. I knew I didn't have the arm strength to pull myself along with an oar into deeper water, so I watched in amazement as my father did. Out into the willows, around the farm truck, and up into the lower yard... Not something I imagined I'd ever see. The dog had the same thought -- she was very perplexed by the whole ordeal.
Lower yard, note house to right

We loaded up and headed out to the Big Spring and the overflow lake. The Big Spring is the main year-round water hole for the larger of the cattle operations. It's an artesian spring, and only dries up when the cows fill the hole with mud as they slosh around in it. It's muddy and nastier than the ponds by the house, but this year it's the perfect kayaking lake. We snuck the kayaks into the water between the yarrow, wild irises and other flora, and headed out on the water, maybe a third of a mile to the Big Spring.
Big Spring overflow lake

It was so peaceful. Wild ducks told us exactly how offended they were at our presence. Little flowers that reminded me of a cross between fish-tank plants and lily pads floated in clumps around the far bend. I took note of a patch of noxious weeds we needed to pull in an area we never inspect. And the cows made a good show of being brave, but eventually gave in to their fear and stampeded away. These were not welcome, the talking blue creatures invading their drinking fountain.
Big Spring and angry cows

By the time that trip was over, I was an old hand at this kayaking thing. So, with the sun heading for the horizon, we headed out to find just one more pond. We ended up on the southeast corner of the ranch, in the water hole for one of the ancient homesteads -- a bit smaller and definitely shallower than the Mammoth Pond. Nothing exciting, but representative of the many puddles found everywhere this year.
homestead pond

Thanks to Maestro for the great, once-in-a-generation experience! At least we hope it is... there's still "this much to do."

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Spring of Our Discontent

1940s, Old Man Apple just left of middle

When we last discussed the weather, it was a far-too-long season of cold and ice and whining. If we only knew…

Sometime at the end of March and beginning of April, the white stuff began to melt. Nothing unusual at first: the typical ponding, the muddy slush, the rivers flowing through the yards and across the driveway. But as time wore on – months beyond normal – it became clear this was no normal spring.

1940s flooding
In sharing photos with Dude’s extended family, we discovered pics from the 1940s, taken from the hills around the homestead. One showed a well-organized farm, Old Man Apple (younger then, but still well-established), Grandma’s house, and several ancient buildings. It was clear it was a younger farm at the time, with newish construction and a sense of order we don’t recognize in the disorder today. With it was another picture from that same timeframe; this one showed the lower yard flooded. It was flooded in a way we’ve never seen since (we know because the family was obsessed with taking pictures of big changes, while ignoring the every day – as we all do). It never made sense to us, since we knew there were animal pens in that area, and even the Red Shack, which pre-dated D.O. and Hattie buying this place. One weird, unexplainable picture. Not to mention the weird double image on the water surface, but only near the old military road building, but that’s not important now…
March 1

Then this spring sprung.

The lake eventually spread from the driveway, about two football fields to the north. Through the round pen  and lower yard, through the willow stand in the lower pasture, lapping at the wood foundations of the Red Shack, through the main garden gate, up past the ancient well, and across the fenceline into the neighbor’s valley. With the exception of the spring overflow of the Big Spring, this was the biggest body of water we’ve seen on the entire ranch. The lake seeped across the driveway and down through the horse pasture for over a mile.

March 8
The well complex below the house – I don’t know that I’ve adequately described it here before... There are two windmills, about 15 feet apart. Beside the northern one is a concrete access port to a well-cavern. Dude’s mother was once down in it in a drought year; like the others, it’s only about 10-feet deep, but of a different shape. Our driveway curves around it, and this year, we discovered that even in the middle of the driveway, the ground is only a foot or so thick. Standing akimbo, we could rock side to side, and the earth would move with us. Dude dug down only several inches and found muddy water. Terrifying when we considered the number of large and heavy vehicles we were driving across it.

March 10, lower pasture
So to protect the structural integrity of the driveway, and the continued success of our septic system, we began pumping the water from the lake, across the driveway and out into the pasture. It was nearly day and night for a couple months. We actually lost count, except for the count of how many motors we burnt up in the process.

The horses began to have hoof problems from standing in the water to find the nicer grass; the farrier had to reassure us that this is normal in other places, and our horses would be okay as the ground dried up. The chickens, on the other hand, loved it. Or should I say, the ducks and geese loved it. The old septic trench that stretched the entire valley beyond the house and through the horse pasture, now long dried and empty, suddenly came to life with a natural duck pond – some water pumped there, some flowing through old pathways under the driveway. They splashed and swam and played all spring. They may have been the only ones who appreciated the whole scene. There was this much to do, and no ability to do so.
March 10, supposed to be a garden

Elsewhere on the ranch, the Big Spring overflow merged with the seep lake opposite it, forming the largest lake, bigger than the one by the house that I thought couldn’t be surpassed. Creeks turned into streams, ponds turned into lakes, and water emerged everywhere, blocking all passage to anywhere. Swamp Man and Woman found this out one day, when they appeared without warning – both to us and to them. Even the four-wheeler was too heavy to travel into the undeveloped lands.

April, note tire escaping from tractor
So we watched every day for signs of receding waters. It was like Noah’s flood: the waters continued to flow day after day, drowning trees and equipment and projects left half-finished. Tires floated across the pasture, from the old tractor (now an island), into the lower yard. Frogs laid their eggs, raised their young, and sang to us every night. Wild ducks visited us, hiding behind the willows from our view. It seemed an eternity before we saw significant land reappear, and even longer before we could move any kind of vehicle into those areas; in July, we still had to turn the tractor around on the way to the main garden gate because it was still too wet. Neighbor farms were still reporting getting their equipment stuck in the mud in August, and one wife threatened a trophy for the one stuck most often (20 is the reigning number right now).
Still quite wet in May

“It was the spring of our discontent…” as Shakespeare would nearly say. We just hadn’t seen any sign of this summer he kept talking about.  Water, water everywhere….

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Crossing of the Guard

The rains finally came. The lake reappeared in the front yard. Sloppy dirt appeared in the house with every passage through the front door. White animals converted to black ones. The tops of every piece of junk was now clean, even while the bottoms were coated in splashed mud.

And that’s when we got busy outside.

We’re good at timing like that. But there was an element of strange weather: we went straight from summer highs to severe winter lows in a matter of a couple weeks. By the time the snakes hibernated, the snows were already on the ground.

Tearing it up
Apparently, our power company has the same idea of timing. While we were out in 20-degree snow putting up chicken wire on the chicken pasture, a convoy of vehicles show up to drill for The Parson’s new power poles. Clearly working on company time, they left 20 minutes later. Maybe they were cold. We definitely were.

As the weather warmed and the winter rains began, they visited a few more times. We were still out working on fence and cellar preparations and vehicle maintenance and putting in our own poles for various projects. Our backhoe was tearing up the road and the gate areas, so we started digging rock from a nearby hillside to firm things up. We have no idea what the power company’s puny little backhoe was doing up on the hill – we were too busy to go look. But the onslaught of huge vehicles was beginning to take a toll, not only on the road, but also on a more important feature – the cattleguard.

If you know nothing about farms with cattle and other stock, or you’ve never been out into rural America, let me explain this to you. Cows, horses and other large animals have a natural fear of holes (actually, that’s common with pretty near all creatures, including Dude). Those with tiny feet are especially jumpy when it looks like they can get across it, but the path is too narrow for solid footing – think of a skittish teenage girl on a rope bridge. Entertaining until someone gets their foot stuck and is hanging upside down. Not that we’ve ever seen that happen.
old railroad ties

A cattle guard is a hole, the width of the road, covered by a grate of some sort which is supported at either end and spanning between sections of fence. Bessie looks at those round bars (or whatever the farmer had on hand that day) and thinks about how much she weighs and whether her feminine little cloven hooves will support her, and chooses her own safety. She thus stays on her own side of the guard, where her farmer doesn’t have to chase her down across the countryside. We posted a pic here before where the cattle on our southern pasture stood on one side of the guard, chatting with the llamas on the northern side. “And never the twain shall meet…”

So another feature is the fence on one side of the cattleguard that opens to bypass the guard, for times when you want to ride your horse without trailering them just down the driveway. It’s also useful when the cattleguard fails and you need to allow power company equipment off your property.

They were out blasting holes in the basalt on this particular day. (That was like watching an episode of Mythbusters from a great distance. Fun, but not enough boom.) Just before the blast, Dude discovered the lowest support on one side of the cattleguard had cracked in several places and was falling in under all the heavy weight lately and the wet soil. Just after the blast, Dude and Swampman tore out the guard. Like I said, great timing.

putting in new(er) ties
The backhoe came out and dug out the grate, pulled out the wooden supports, and cleared the hole. Dude found a 1928 date nail in one of the bottom supports; who knows when it was put in, but it’s still yet another piece of history out here. His family was here in 1926, and this road put in around 1950, so it’s quite possible it was a recent reject from the local short line.

New (to this project – because very little here is new) beams were stacked on either side of the crevasse, the gravel replaced and the tall end pieces put back in and connected to the fence again. The old phone line that ran down the driveway in pre-cell-phone days was disconnected. It all seemed so beautiful.

Then came the idea that we needed a gate, one that kept out the looters and vagabonds running from the law (yes, we get those) and looking for some remote cattle trail that would take them out of the reach of law enforcement. We decided on eco-blocks, those giant concrete legos that make up driveway barriers and temporary roadblocks. That was it’s own adventure, since the local concrete companies (well, semi-local) are booked for the next generation helping the government reline canals and helping the big farmers build new potato sheds. Delivering eco-blocks to a remote location isn’t exactly high on their list (despite the fact that Red works at one). He managed to bring us about eight of them one time, and they were sitting and waiting for just such a moment as this.
guard back in place

The guys removed the bits of fence connecting the cattleguard sides to the fences, and placed a block on each side, just on the outside of the guard. Eventually, there will be a large bar at this location. Maybe then we’ll feel a bit more secure. Maybe stopping to get out and open the gate will end up just being a hassle none of us want. We’ll see. For now, it looks more substantial and less county-approved. Add to that the large “no trespassing” sign, and maybe people will realize they’re not on the county road anymore. Maybe.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Beginning Horseplay... er, Work

One of the great little tidbits we gleaned from our time at horse training was that we have great horses. Great bodies, built for work. Beautiful lines, faces and coloring. Intelligent. Read that in the alternative, though: high-strung, stubborn and independent, and needing to be worked every day. And not fully broke. “Do something with them every day, even if just for 15 minutes,” she said. “Don’t just go out and ride in the hills – get their respect first,” she said. “Good ground work will always make saddle time easier,” she said.
The Butt gets his turn in the round pen

Yeah. Every day doesn’t happen – too much to do, extreme weather conditions, exhaustion and frustration of riders, etc. When we do get good time in, it’s mostly effective. We get their respect, at least while we’re in the round pen. We do our best to practice ground work, allowing for areas of the round pen that aren’t solid and could twist their ankles. When we’re on their backs, Big Red is compliant in the pen, while Little Red is still belligerent and obnoxious. So Little Red gets more longe time. Big Red gets ridden outside the pen… where she wigs out.

Little Red and Munchkin
One hot day, Munchkin was babysitting Squirrel’s munchkins while she took her equine to horse camp. On her way home, she brought her mount out for an impromptu ride. We walked them first, up the north road to the Big Spring. All the girls were in heat and the wind was howling through the valleys, so there was an understandable amount of jittery-ness. But Big Red panicked at the thought of being away from her daughter, meaning I had to physically manhandle her several times on the one-mile walk. Squirrel was testing her horse too, but managed to ride her several times. I was entirely jealous.

We returned to the round pen, warmed them up, and threw on the saddles. Big Red was beautiful in the pen, but again started wigging out as we headed for the driveway. This time we headed south, past the lower cattleguard that neither horse was willing to traverse. Halfway up the hill, Big Red began to back up. Even when I halted her. Even when I spurred her on. Even when I turned her in circles. Squirrel was up at the top of the hill, and even her mount was wondering what all the fuss was about. So we took a side trip – up over the sagebrush hill and down a valley and around the corner to… a corner of the horse pasture where her daughter was waiting. Crap. Out we went to the road, and more backing up. So back over the hill because maybe she’d want to go that way and we could reinforce the “riding is fun” idea.
Big Red in the round pen with Mrs. Dude

Nope. Halfway down the valley, I lost a stirrup. I halted her so I could put my foot back in. She didn’t halt. She was angry that I was trying to keep her from her daughter. She took off at a gallop through the sagebrush. I lost the second stirrup. She continued running. I started to slip sideways off the saddle. She kept running. I clung to her mane and the saddle horn for dear life. She finally came to a halt at the fence. I stayed on her back until she mellowed, then slid off to solid unmoving ground. So bad. So much to unlearn now. We walked home and then stood tied for an hour. Argh.

Big Red outside the pen with Mrs. Dude
So these days, we’re redoing some basics. No calling to each other allowed while under halter or saddle. No riding for a bit. No bringing both girls to the round pen at the same time. Less round pen time and more longeing in open spaces. Big Red works on paying attention to me and not her daughter. Little Red works on quick obedience. Both go on long walks in new areas just under halter. I hope, I hope, I hope… but there are days I wonder why I’m spending so much time on them.

Today, the vet did their annual shots and wormers. The Butt pulled a rodeo over the wormer. So ridiculous, and three of us ladies trying to hold him in place. Little Red was jumpy, but did okay, after pulling out a solidly-buried railroad tie over fly spray near her head. Big Red was actually well-behaved after doing her best to avoid being haltered.

I love them. But sometimes I don’t like them. I hope someday I’ll like them again.