Reluctant Cowgirl


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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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New Year “Goals”

I’m not really a goal-oriented person. I love reading and once picked up the book DRIVE: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us and never finished it. That about sums me up.

H’s goal for every ride: get home in time for dinner.

But here are a few intentions for 2018, anyway. (See how I avoided using the word goals there?)

  1. Start lessons in spring instead of fall. Last year a lot of life was wrapped up in the jostling required to buy this ranch. I made excuses all year and did not have a single lesson until October. No bueno.
  2. Attend another clinic. I loved going to the Mustang Rendezvous this fall, and hope to attend again in 2018 if scheduling permits. But I should get to something closer, either with my own trainer or another bigger barn that hosts clinicians. Maybe trail obstacles or beginning cow work. There’s also a desensitizing clinic every spring to benefit a local 4-H or FFA club, which would be great.
  3. Complete a trail ride off the property without either of us having a meltdown. I can hack out all over our property with very few, minor issues. But beyond the confines of these acres we have not been so successful. I tried to do a “poker ride” at the end of the aforementioned Mustang Rendezvous and got into some very nasty arguments about who was in charge and ended that day defeated and deflated. I’m thinking that going out with a trainer or other experienced horse people who are willing to give me some pointers and or reassurance will set us up for success.
  4. Depending on how soon #3 happens, try some endurance conditioning and an introductory ride. I still get all starry-eyed when thinking about getting into endurance but have not gotten the mustang going enough to see how he handles being out there for more than a few miles at a time.
  5. Go camping/do a short pack trip. We had one successful camp trip this fall; the mustang stayed out all by himself in a possibly non-electrified electric tape corral for two nights, one of which included several surprise inches of wet snow and a really rowdy visit from the livestock guardian dogs working at a nearby sheep operation. I figure if he got through that, he’s probably pretty safe to take camping. Hopefully this goes along with more successful trail rides.
    • Adjacent to this is getting the mule to a place where I can trust him enough to take him somewhere and not have anybody die.
  6. Continue to be a good student of the horse. There’s really so much to learn as a returning rider. Everything is different from what I knew as a kid, when, as they say, we ride with 90% brawn and 10% brain. I want to continue reading and watching and learning from the great horsemen/women and develop a higher understanding of this partnership I’m cultivating.
  7. Calm down, stay present, seek peace. I’m a slightly anxious, very sarcastic and somewhat pessimistic human by nature, and I’d like to continue to try to leave that aside when I’m working with the horses and mule and remember to breathe and stay positive. I believe it really does help. I’m not going to be doing any sitting-on-pillows meditation anytime soon, so I’ll continue to try to find that happy place in my time with the hoofed ones.
  8. Keep writing! I have attempted to keep about 47 various blogs in the past decade, and this is the only time I’ve kept one alive this long (by far). I still don’t tell people about it or do anything else that might grow my meager readership, but hey, baby steps.

Happy New Year!

 


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Winter Water Woes No More

The winter of 2016-2017 was brutal here in northeast Oregon. From late November to early March the temperature got above 32 degrees F maybe as many times as I can count on one hand. Probably fewer. I did not keep accurate records. But it was cold. The average temperature for December and January was probably about 10 F. I could be exaggerating but probably not. I take being cold very seriously.

We had just moved to the little off-grid ranch we now own, and at the time had no idea what we were in for. The only frost-free hydrant near the barn was busted from cows itching themselves on it for the few years that this place sat unoccupied by humans. The other frost-free was far enough away that if you walked a 5 gallon bucket from there to the barn the water might freeze in the time it took you. We wound up hoisting buckets of warm water from the kitchen sink. I’ve complained about this before, probably on this blog, so I apologize if it’s getting repetitive but believe me it was terrible and I can’t forget about it.

Enter winter 2017-2018. “Winter” here is a thing that starts in November definitely, maybe sometimes as early as September so it’s best to be ready by August. We didn’t close on the place until mid-September, and then because we had shoveled so much money into the actual home-buying process it took me a month or two to dig deep and buy the non-electric horse waterer of my off-grid dreams. Then it took a few more weeks to find the free time (and more money) to rent a little mini excavator and buy the other supplies needed to install said dream waterer. We were cutting it close, folks.

BUT! I am happy to report that on the second weekend of November we still had cooperative weather and capable human hands and enough money in the bank to rent that digging machine and make dreams a reality.

This is how we did it.
Step 1. Get to know your excavator.

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Step 2. Employ a very serious supervisor (or two).

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Supervisor No. 1

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Supervisor No. 2

Step 3. A bunch of technical stuff that I didn’t pay much attention to because plumbing is scary and I am not qualified.

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Toward the end of the technical stuff

Step 4. Demonstrate and hope your animals are smart/thirsty enough to figure it out.

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Ta da! (Please also note all the chew marks on his face from play fighting with his brother)

The old horse is persistent/belligerent and has very little fear of anything and therefore was the first to learn. The mustang is probably the most intelligent, but a little more wary, so he was next. The mule, who is supposed to be very smart, was also very nervous about the New Thing in his paddock and therefore waited a couple weeks to catch on completely. I saw him drinking from puddles and generally acting very put-out until he finally decided that since the others were doing it the thing must be safe enough to approach. We don’t have the greatest water pressure so if it’s not filling fast enough he tries to put his hoof in there to show us all how frustrated he is. The waterer was available with an optional chew-guard which we did not elect to purchase. I may suggest they also offer a hoof-guard.

We’ve had some wicked cold nights already, and the waterer is reliably providing above-freezing (taking the temperature of the water coming up is on my to-do list) water on demand to our three equines. When the snow really flies we’ll have to make sure it stays cleared, but otherwise it’s pretty low-maintenance. I was a little worried about the cold metal paddle being brutal to touch with a muzzle in frigid temperatures, but so far no one seems to care. I only have to water the chickens and ducks each day now, and I could not be happier about that. Bring it on, winter.


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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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