Thursday, January 29, 2009

Samantha and the Butterflies

It was early Spring 1993 and California had just come through an unusually wet rain season which had been preceded by drought years. Wildflowers were abundant and the wild grasses were high. I was outside one afternoon when I saw butterflies, lots of them, and all flying from south to north. I was fascinated because I had never seen so many at once. They came on and on, fragile wings carrying them northwards.
Due to the conjunction of drought and then heavy rains, and temperatures being just right, there was a rare mass hatching of the Painted Lady butterflies. They hatch out in the desert of extreme Southern California and northern Mexico, then fly northwards. There were not just thousands of them, but 100,000's of them. This was truly a once in a lifetime event. The entire migration lasted a little more then a week.
On a sunny afternoon, at the height of the butterflies, I got my good gelding Cloud Dancer and saddled him, then got the coming 2 year filly, Samantha to pony with us. I had been taking her along since she was a weanling. Once we were away from home, I turned her loose to run and romp and follow along. With no vehicle traffic on the back dirt roads or the creek bed, this worked very well.
We were up on a high ridge, in a big open meadow when we found ourselves in the midst of a heavier then usual clump of butterflies. Samantha was about 30 feet from me and I saw her through a cloud of butterflies. It was one of those shining golden moments that will remain in my memory.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Rabbits Make Noise!--Who Knew?!

Actually I have known for a long time that rabbits do make noise. They scream when captured by a predator and are about to be eaten. But last night I heard something I have never heard before, in 25 1/2 years up here.
I was filling up a horse water tub and my mind was off in la-la land when, from behind me, I heard a {{noise}}. I came back from la-la land long enough to note I had just heard a strange noise then I was back into la-la land. Then again, a {{noise}}. This time I turned around and saw only two rabbits grazing on the sprouting weeds about ten feet from me. I turned back to watch the water and once again, a {{noise}}. I turned again, and again saw just two rabbits eating. This time I kept my mind in the present and stayed turned. With no warning, one of the rabbits jumped up in the air, mostly straight up but somewhat in the direction of the other rabbit, while making the {{noise}}. The other rabbit moved and the jumping rabbit took over his grazing area. Picking up my jaw, I realized that this was a dominant move and noise, designed to move the lower ranking rabbit.
Oh my, how to describe the {{noise}}. I really can't do it justice. Sort of like "fffttt", but not really with a moderate pitch and loudness. Sort of like an old stiff nylon coat rubbing, but not really.
Is this something all rabbits do? or just this one rabbit? Will I ever again hear it? Or was this a one time blessing? These were the wild cottontails doing this dance and song.
Rabbits--how interesting.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Coming of Nova, The Dog

It was August, 1989. It was hot and I was crabby from the hot. I was finishing up the morning chores, the horses were all watered and settled for the day and I was heading for the house, when a ruckus came up my driveway. The ruckus turned out to be an Arab mare in flaming heat and she parked herself by the fence of the first stallion she came upon. I turned around to the tack room, got a halter, got her captured without injury to me, her or the fence, and into an empty corral. I then recognized her as belonging to a neighbor a little more then a quarter of a mile down the road and around a couple of corners which put them within view of my place and not that far in a straight line. It was way too hot to return her now so I got her a tub of water, some hay and left her there in the corral.

That evening, after I had finished my stuff and the sun had set, I took the Arab and myself on a walk to her home. The person who owned her was an absentee owner. Pancho had bought the 10 acres on the creek (only seasonally wet) but lived in East L.A. He had renters out here who took care of his animal collection as part of the rent deal. I got to the driveway to find, oh joy, the Drunken D’s in their car. The Drunken D’s lived on out the road about a mile from me and earned their name each and every day. You could smell them from yards away. They jumped out of their car, yelling that they were so glad to see I had Cece and she was safe. Turned out the renters had pulled out with no notice so Pancho had the Drunken D’s feeding for him. Of all the people on the mountain he picked the absolute least reliable. They opened the gate for me and I took Cece in where there was hay waiting for her. Guess the D’s thought she would magically reappear? They offered me a ride home which I declined as I wanted a long and healthy life.

The next morning, I went on down to Pancho’s to check the animals and sure enough everything was out of water and had no feed. I fed rabbits, chickens, Cece, goats, all sorts of fowl, and petted the lonely dog while feeding her. Note that last one; that is what did it for me.

The next morning, I was at the barn setting out hay for that night’s feeding and the lonely dog comes trotting up the hill, greeting me as a long-lost friend and with the attitude that of course I am glad to see her and that of course I love her. That was her attitude with which she greeted people her entire life. I was hooked, of course. I fed her, petted her some more, named her Nova & had to go on to work. She was waiting for me with the rest of my dogs when I got home and stayed all weekend up at my place. That was the weekend that Pancho rounded up some friends and removed all his animals. Guess he did not miss the dog.

Nova did not spend all her time at my place at first. She continued to check out Pancho’s place and another neighbor’s place. At that time the other neighbor did not know where she lived but they enjoyed her. And that made the setting for one of the famous Nova stories that they tell to this day. Seems they were having a barbeque when Nova showed up. She got petted by all and was happily enjoying the attention. Just as the steaks were ready, she jumped up, grabbed a one pound porterhouse off the grill and took off, leaving laughter behind. They had been calling her Thicktail, because she did have a thick tail, and when they found out that I had adopted her, they just had to tell me their Thicktail story about her and the steak.

Nova was with me for nearly 16 years, passing on at age 19. And she was correct—everyone was always glad to see her.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

No Home Telephone

There is no dial tone on my home phones today. Verizon can't get out to fix until Wednesday. So I'll have no computer Sunday and Monday at home. I'll be back at my store on Tuesday. Everyone have fun while I'm gone!

Prehistoric horses at Borrego Springs

These photos were taken Thanksgiving Day when I was at my parents down at Borrego.

For more information on these sculptures see

Friday, January 16, 2009

Not such a good ride, or "Lil'Red, you are being a nut!"

I knew we would not have consistency yet but I did not expect the near meltdown of yesterday. At morning feeding, I saw that Lil' Red seemed a bit hyper so I planned on ground work first. He was fine doing the ground work, so I saddled up & got on & we started out good. But once out a ways, he started into wanting to turn for home and when he was not allowed that, he would want to blast off in any direction, also not allowed. He just would not settle at all and this was the hottest he has been for me. We made a big loop that gently headed in the direction of home. Once home, instead of heading for the tack room, we went to the arena and worked on thinking, breathing, giving, stuff like that. Took a while, but he finally gave one big breath and sigh and offered a stop and was able to stand still. Once I was off, instead of going to the tack room, I untacked him out at the far end of the arena then we went on a walk. Once he was dry and cool, we went to his corral.
Lessons learned--more ground work needed for him in general; when I observe high behavior in the corral, push him harder in the ground work to see just how high he is and deal with it in the arena or round pen instead of under saddle on the trails; I'm a better rider then I thought I was, as he showed me yesterday, but I am coming 58 years & stopped bouncing a long time ago & would prefer to avoid certain antics.
This time of year, although the weather is grand, is frustrating because the days are short so I have no time for horses except for non-store days. Oh well, he is only coming 7 years now, so there is time.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Lil' Red's photo

Could not post this yesterday as I was at home with slow dial-up and it just would not load. Today I'm at my bookstore, so can get up a photo. This was taken the first day he was here.

Monday, January 12, 2009

My New Morgan Horse

It has been far too long since I had a good riding horse. I sold some good ones in the ten year sell-down from 1995-2005 and was left with retired horses or complex horses that needed more savvy then I had at the time. Until this fall, I had six horses here, four retired ones and two to bring along for riding. My palomino Morgan (the photo I use in my profiles) was coming along slowly, but that is a story for another post. The “lit-up” sabino roan TWH was needing time too. And I was having a hard time motivating myself to get out there and do the necessary work with them. In November, I took back one of my home-bred Morgans (Spirit Seeker, see post below from a few weeks back) but he needs some physical healing time for his belly to recover from very bad sweet-itch; no chance of wearing a cinch for a while for him.

I got to thinking of my past best riding horses. For the most part, they were from one family of Morgans, that of Lippitt Miss Nekomia. The Nekomias were tough horses—dominating, pushy, intelligent, bold, love-to-go, argumentative, opinionated, and very happy to be the leader of the horse-human partnership. Rarely a good horse for a beginner, my ex-husband and I started our Morgan life with two strong Nekomia mares and we both loved them and got along well with them. A long time Morgan breeder, who bred this family, once told me that the reason Lippitt Miss Nekomia did so well on the Vermont 100 Mile Endurance ride (Back in the late 1940’s, she was bred every year for an early foal so the foal could be weaned by the time of the ride. She won it one year and placed top ten the other years.) was that “she was too damm bullheaded to let another horse in front of her.” They are tough horses but once you win their respect, they will never quit on you. I realized that I missed the attitude of those bold and eager riding horses.

As has been said, “Be careful what you ask for because you may get it.” And I got it. Right into my lap dropped a little Morgan whose pedigree is ¼ Nekomia and he has all the Nekomia personality and temperament. Of course there is a catch—he lacks breed type and is a conformational train wreck. A friend and I have combed his pedigree and all we can say is that despite all the good horses in his pedigree, he lost the genetic crap shoot, getting the bad genes from his few dubious ancestors. With each leg pointing in a different direction, I hope he will stay sound for many years but have serious doubts about that. What he has going for him is that he was not only unridden until a year ago at age 5, but untouched too; I am within his weight carrying capacity (he is only about 14 hands and very slightly built) and I am starting him on good supplements that hopefully will do him some good for joint wear-and-tear. The woman I got him from did a very good job with his training. He is adjusting to his new person and environment. He has only really known one person who has now disappeared from his life to be replaced by me, so his worry comes up at times, but we are working things out. And being a Nekomia, he is going to question my leadership every day we are together but he is happily accepting my answers more quickly as we progress.

But the very best part is how confident I am riding him. I was on him the day after he arrived here. We did ground work first and I liked what I saw and got on to ride in the arena. The second ride was on the property and the third ride was out on the trails. He is sometimes hot, he is no beginner’s horse, and he requires that I really pay attention and use horsemanship. He has bucked once from exuberance, done some very quick moves, has spooked once at a large covey of quail blasting off all around us—and I am amazed at how easily I sit him with no fear! For someone who has spent most of her riding life riding with fear, I am happily beyond delighted. The confidence he has given me has carried over to riding my palomino, whose riding work is now progressing ever so much better now that I have the confidence he needs.

As I was riding him last week, it came to me how alive I felt, how right I felt. The small depression I was doing battle with the previous months is just gone. My life is now complete. My little Nekomia horse, who looks like generic horse and who has the worst set of legs I’ve ever seen, has earned the name of Lil’Red and a major place in my heart and life.

PS—I wrote this earlier last week, then set it aside for a bit. On Wednesday, Lil’ Red and I had the best ride we have had yet. Everything just clicked for us. We covered a lot of ground and saw some places to explore in the future. It gave me a good look at what we will have on a consistent basis before much longer. We were truly dancing together in harmony.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Coyote Visitation

I was late getting out of bed yesterday morning and when I did get up, Hestia, the calico cat, was sitting on the window ledge staring outside intently. I looked out to see a coyote sitting at the top of the driveway. Oh-oh, was this going to be another case of Coyote warning? In southwestern Native American lore, Coyote is the Trickster and the harbinger of troubles coming. Then another coyote appeared from behind the old trailer and then a third coyote, and finally, a fourth one, who had been lying down, now got up and became visible to me. WOW—I had never before seen a pack of coyotes; certainly I have heard them often over the decades, but never before had the privilege of seeing a pack. The four then strolled to the front of the house. I went to another window to find Sky, one of my Maine Coon cats, staring out at the coyotes. Sky was shrinking downwards, giving recognition to a larger and more dangerous predator then he. The coyotes continued on to the west side of the house, each stopping in turn to lift a leg on the cat litter box dumpings under the desert willow tree. They moved in such a causal manner that I had time to really look at them. I have had many glimpses of coyotes but the only other time I’ve had such a good look at one was the time one came riding with me, but that is a story for another post. Then they continued on to the fourth side of the house, making a complete circle. At that point, the word “protection” came strongly into my mind. They were renewing an ancient circle of protection. For those whose spirituality takes a different direction, this was simply a pack of coyotes walking a circle around the house. In any case, it was awesomely, beautifully magnificent. If I had gotten up and outside on time, it would not have happened. If I had not looked out the window to see what Hestia was watching, I would have missed it. But the Universe brought it all together and it was wondrous.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Night the Run-in Shed Blew Down

Back in the early ‘90’s, we had our handyman, Joe, build some run-in shelters in two corrals. They were both 12’ x 24’, designed for two horses. Since we are up on a ridge, we designed them to withstand strong Santa Ana winds. They were made with strong, large lumber for the supports, well concreted into the ground, and had open eaves for wind escape. They did a good job, housing many horses over the years.

In December 2004, the forecast was calling for a strong Santa Ana wind event. There was a large and strong high pressure ridge over the Great Basin states which was forcing air to the California coast, compressing through the canyons and passes into a major wind event. The winds are notional here; sometimes we get little to no wind while other areas of So. Cal. are being ripped, and sometimes it is the other way around. This time, the winds had been howling in other areas all day but did not start here until late afternoon. It had become apparent that I would have to move the back hillside lot horses into the barn; their hay would blow away before they would be able to eat it if I left them out. I got the barn set up, putting hay into each stall, filling water containers, then moved the horses. By the time I was done, it was dark and I still had the run-in shelter horses to go feed. By this time the wind was so strong that I could scarce walk into it, and I was cussing at myself that I had not started sooner. I got up the hill to the two top pens and was able to look up and see—nothing. I did a double take and sure enough, there was no run-in shelter in the one corral. It was in the next corral over, which had an 18 foot aisle way between the two.

The two mares in the now shelterless corral were huddled in the far end staring at the wreck. The stallion in the other corral was huddled in the far corner looking at the wreck that had tried to get him. I blew back down to the tack room for halters and figured out where I could put these horses. I could not leave the mares with no shelter as they would not be eating if I did that, plus who knew what dangerous wreckage was still in their corral. I could not leave the stallion by himself with dangerous wreckage in his corral. The two mares had not been with me all that long, so I hoped that they would be easy to catch and lead in the dark howling wind. I went into their corral with the attitude that they would come through for me—and they did.

With them settled, I went back for the stallion. He had been here even less time then the two mares and we scarcely knew one another yet. Plus, his gate was right near the wreckage. He was easy to get and so we headed towards the only way out. When we got nearer the wreck, I felt his hesitation, so I stopped him and backed him up before he could stop himself. Then I stepped him forward one step, then back one, up two, back two, giving him something else to think about. When he was ok, we moved forward again, until he hit his threshold. Did the dance again, shorter this time, and went forward again. This time, he did a sort of half-halt and we cruised right through the gate and out to a temporary corral for him. He, too, came through for me. I was pleased with all three horses, but then I had expected them to come through and I have found that horses very often do live up to one’s expectations when handled with some thought and feel.

The next morning, the wind was still blasting, but I headed into the wind and went for a look at the wreck. The shelter was totally demolished, splatted onto the ground into many pieces. The wind had pulled concrete anchors right out of the ground, and then flipped the thing over the v-mesh fence, 20 feet into the next corral. There were nails, shattered lumber and sheet metal pieces everywhere. Once the winds were gone for this time, it took Joe and his helper Mike most of a morning to pick up the mess and move it out of the way and run a large magnet over and over the area, checking for nails.

What I most strongly recall about this incident was not the destruction of a perfectly good shelter and the ensuing clean-up, but how good the three horses were that night of wind and flying buildings.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Propane War--or why I will never again be doing business with Ballard Gas Service

In retrospect, I should have seen this coming, maybe. Back last April, I checked the gauge on my propane tank and saw it was at 20%. That did not seem right as it had been 20% a month before, so I took a rock and whanged the gauge and it fell to nearly 0%. I called Ballard Gas and said I needed propane the next time they were up my way. The woman on the phone asked me the percentage in my tank and I replied “Almost down to zero.” She then went into a long speech about how I would have to have my system checked since it was zero and it would cost $30 and I had to be home at the time. I said it was not zero, close but not there and that I still had propane. She just rolled on, not listening, busy reading her script. I just gave it up & figured the driver and I could get the right thing done. In a few days, the propane truck arrived and the driver got ready to do a check. He looked at the gauge and said he could not do a check as it was not zero. I said that I knew that but the woman on the phone would not listen to me. He rolled his eyes and gave me the propane. I have used Ballard Gas since 1983 and this was the first time I have ever had any trouble with them; this was someone new to me in the office.

That 100 gallons lasted well, and in late November it was only down half way to 10%. I called on December 1 to find out the delivery date so I could have the gate unlocked, which I told the gal on the phone. I was told December 11, but no propane arrived that day. I called on the 12th and was told that I was wrong and the delivery was the 18th. Well, ok. That day also came and went with no propane. I called on Friday 19th to say I needed to know the new delivery date so the gate could be unlocked (my third time of saying the same thing). The woman put me on hold and was gone a long time, coming back to tell me she did not know and had to talk with a driver. I was thinking that this was poor office procedure, that the people answering the phone did not know any schedules. She promised to call me back. That never happened.

On Dec. 22, a Monday, I called again to say the same stuff again and again got the “have to talk to a driver” spiel. What-the-hey is going on with this place, I am now really wondering. No call back and no propane. I call again on Tuesday morning to be told that someone made a special trip out to give me propane but the gate was locked. After a stunned moment, I blurted out “Of course the gate was locked, no one told me anyone was coming!” I am now really thinking that things have changed for the worse, with a lack of communication in the office and with customers. The woman then went into her script reading about how she had to talk with the drivers before she could tell me about delivery. I allowed myself to dump on her at this point, telling her that there were some serious problems going on in the company, it was looking like. I then told her the gate would be unlocked that day. No propane.

The next morning I simply called and said the gate would be unlocked again. No propane. That afternoon, I called and wished her a happy Christmas as mine would be cold since I did not now have enough propane to run my furnace and it was a week past the delivery date. On Friday, I did not bother to call. No propane (such a surprise). I wrote a letter, mailed it Saturday. On Wednesday, two weeks after the scheduled delivery date, I got a call saying the delivery would be on that day. No mention of my letter, no apology, nothing. I laughed and said that it was too little and too late and I was done with Ballard Gas forever.

I am able to be done with them because my handyman, Joe, built the new system shown in the photo. This is two portable tanks hooked into a dual valve. I have a third tank so that I can take two at a time in for refills. No more dependence on messed-up companies. If I run out now, it is my own fault and I happily take that responsibility. Too bad about Ballard Gas though, as they used to be good. Since this has happened, I have found other people who have left their service due to problems with the office.