Sunday, August 31, 2008

How Far We've Come!

Yesterday I was up even earlier than usual to finish an essay for a writing contest a friend encouraged me to enter. If I win, Paul Taylor's, here I come and I'm walking out with a fine new saddle! That finished and e-mailed off, I hung around the house until about 11am or so, doing as few chores as I felt I could get away with before heading north to Heather's. I kept stalling at the door, feeling as if I were forgetting something, since almost all my gear is up there. I felt so empty handed!

Heather, Nita and I are always recycling/exchanging tack. I have an over-the-door rack in the laundry room that had become a tangled mass of halters, headstalls, reins, lead ropes, etc. several layers deep. The top and most often used stuff is already up there. Heather had suggested I might need still more stopping power with Pokey, and that I bring the rest of the bits and headstalls so we could experiment.

One item buried at the very bottom of one of the hooks served as a reminder of how far Poco has come: the stud chain I used to have to use on him. When his former owner's job caused him to have no time to spend with Poco (nee Cappuccino), care and feeding duties were relegated to his wife and kids. Bossy, pushy Pokey, 150-200 lbs. heavier than he is now, walked all over them, figuratively speaking.
If he ever had manners, he had most certainly forgotten them, and added some bad habits and appytude to an already unsafe repertoire of tricks. That's the horse this naive newbie brought home. I bought the stud chain within the first 2 weeks, and it was obvious he knew exactly what it was, because from the second I put it on, he had total respect for it, before I ever had to yank him up. I used it for several months, until I felt confident he wasn't going to pull some boneheaded move like trying to toss me around like a nerf ball. I gave it to Heather for O (Sugarbush Harley's Classic O), the harlequin draft stallion standing at her place, who had busted one two days earlier.

Sure enough, when I got there and showed Heather what I had brought, she grabbed one of the bits to use on Cayenne, a green broke QH filly. In turn, she gave me a different, slightly more severe bit from her own tangled mass of headstalls to try on Poco. Dang it, I can't remember what it's called. Heather tacked up Cayenne, Nita rode Diesel (nee Stevie, OTTB), and Jim saddled his favorite mount, a QH gelding called Doodles. The plan was, we would play "ponies on parade," a simple workout for everyone. For Cayenne, this was to be a lesson in basics. For Poco, it was a lesson in how we act around girls.

As we all know, plans sometimes don't execute as well as we'd like, and this was one of those cases. Cayenne had a bad case of the I-don't want-to's, which turned into a bad case of the stupids. Heather wisely made the decision to make this a ground lesson, and got out the driving reins, staying at the near end of the arena. Diesel had been worked hard the previous day and just didn't seem up to the workout, while Doodles was a little too fresh and rarin' to go for Jim. Jim and Nita decided to trade horses, then tack, so they were up at the barn dinking around with all that for quite awhile. Meanwhile the lesson with Cayenne had deteriorated, so Heather ended on a win and called it good. I was glad, because every time Poco saw Cayenne act up, I could feel him react, like maybe he thought that was a fun idea he'd like to try. I was grateful for the new bit.

For awhile, Pokey and I had the whole arena to do as we wished.
Heather was too far away to shout instructions, so we were on our own. We did a lot of trotting, with me trying to hold him back to a nice posting rhythm, rather than rushing into that stage of trot just shy of a lope. Again, the new bit really helped, and I was able to ride with a lot less contact. I was trying to do as little head reining as I could, and was actually able to negotiate some turns with just leg and rein cues. I think at some point, I'm going to want to take a few western lessons. I get the concept, but lack finesse. In other words, we're doing it, sort of, but it ain't pretty. But I have no reason to complain and every reason to crow, because one more time, that little horse worked his heinie off for me. Sure, I got some 'tude -- that's just my horse. Wouldn't be my Pokey if I didn't get a little 'tude! We've come a very long way from that fat, crazy, unpredictable beast at the end of that stud chain. I am so proud of him, it brings tears to my eyes.

Jim, who had knee surgery recently, decided he'd had enough, but Nita eventually joined us on Doodles, and we played follow the leader. Like Diesel, I think Pokey was feeling the two days of hard work in the hot, humid temps -- mid 90s with 94% humidity by noon -- so we cut the lesson a tad short. He got hosed down and drank a bucket of weak Gatorade, then got put back with his buddies, Jaz and Quaker. If I get back up there again over this long weekend, I'll either ride Jaz or one of Heather's horses, and let Pokey rest. I think he's earned a few days off.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Ponies on Holiday

The past couple of days have been busy ones indeed at Casa Fry. Last Saturday, Mike and I headed to the farm Co-op in Gainesville, TX, to price weed, seed and feed options from the nice Ag man. We didn't have the trailer hitch on the truck, so although we knew what we wanted, we were unable to take it with us. Mike said he’d come back sometime during the week and pick up the hopper of our custom mixed seed/feed mix. The weeding will wait.

I don’t know if it was a failure to communicate, a misunderstanding, or if I just didn't listen, but on Tuesday afternoon, it became clear to me that Mike intended to seed and feed the very next day. No provisions had been made for the horses; the question had not even been asked: are the horses safe on the property as we spread 170 lbs. of seed and, more importantly, fertilizer (read that: chemicals) per acre?

I was dumbfounded (and pissed) that Mike would even consider doing such a thing without having asked that question. He, in turn, deftly tossed it back on me – I should have asked the question. Well, I would have, had it been clear the implementation of the plan was imminent. He took it a step further, saying I had messed up his plan, and how he was just trying to help ME and make things better for ME and MY ponies. Whatever. He should know by now I don't do guilt, and besides, there’s already a St. Michael. This had all the earmarks of a nasty brawl in the making, but I chose the high road (or the path of least resistance) and pleaded mea culpa. I then began the search for the answer to The Question, from which to create an appropriate plan of action.

To make a very long story not quite so, I was unable to get a straight answer. The best I was able to glean was that the process would be futile if the horses remained on the land. Yeah, okay, but what about my only concern: the health and safety of my horses? We finally settled (or so I thought) on putting the horses in the round pen until I got home from work and could transport them to Heather’s. Mike did ask the Co-op the next morning prior to bringing the stuff home, and they assured him the horses would be fine. Maybe so, but had I been there, I would have put them in the round pen anyway.

Heather had not received my phone message nor had she checked her email, and was taken by surprise when I told her Wednesday afternoon I needed to bring the horses up later that day. This plan had been in place, albeit nebulously, for about 4-5 weeks, and she is nothing, if not flexible, so it was no problem. Jaz would be turned out with the herd, while Poco would be kept separate with the geldings and a yearling stallion, who is already taller than Poco. Call me a sap, but I was actually getting teary at the thought of not having my Boyz at home for at least the next month, maybe longer while the rye grass and oats become established.

The front of the stock trailer still had hay in it from when we loaded it up early this month, but there was plenty of room for the horses. Mike loaded Jaz while I went to grab Poco, who was in rare form. He was trotting around, tail flagged, like "nanny-nanny-boo-boo." I finally walked back to the house and pulled out my secret weapon: the treat we call "horse crack." They are little crescent-shaped apple cookies that, try as they may, the horses cannot resist. They may hate what's about to happen to them, but the cookies win every time. He tried, but in the end, it was like one of those cartoons where the dog floats up in the air on his back, moaning in ecstasy. Another one bites the dust hey hey hey. And once loaded, they thought they had died and gone to pony heaven in the dining car.

When I got there, the plan changed. O (Sugarbush Harley’s Classic O), a magnificent harlequin draft stallion, had jumped the arena fence at 1:30 the previous morning, and could no longer be trusted to stay penned therein. So Pokey and Jaz got to stay in the arena instead, while O was sent to solitary confinement in a stall. He was not happy. I brought all my tack, feed and supplements, so it took awhile to unload everything. We also distributed the rest of the hay from the trailer to some highly appreciative horses. There was a lot more hay in there than it originally looked like. The chickens did their part in helping to clean out the trailer, and Nita even hosed it out for me. I am leaving it there. I was too tired to ride.

Next day, I worked from home (telecommuted) until about 4pm, then headed back up to Heather's for a lesson. Nita rode Quaker, a darling, bombproof QH gelding, I rode Pokey, and Heather officiated. I'll admit, I had my own agenda and mostly did my own thing. Heather helped me with body position, bending, and keeping Poco at an ideal speed for the maneuvers we were doing -- he gets a bit over-zealous and likes to rush. I'm really working hard on #1 communicating effectively and consistently with him, while maintaining control (always a plus, eh?) and; #2 being solid at a trot. I am determined to sit a trot and soon! Poco did fantastic. I got the tiniest bit of attitude, but he worked hard for me. I kept watching his ears and I could tell he was really listening to me. He was responding to leg cues so well, Heather had me take the reins in one hand just to see if he still remembers neck reining. We did pretty well at serpentines but not so well at actually turning. He's a little rusty (a pun, since one of his former names was Rusty), but with a little instruction for us both, I know he'd pick it right back up.

Quaker and Pokey were both sweating profusely, so they got hosed down, then stalled for some grain before being turned back out. Heather, Nita and I sat, drank Gatorade and watched the sun set and darkness fall, as the herd thundered in for their evening visit.

I had thought I might make it up there today again to ride some more, but the rest of life got in the way. There's a chance of rain this evening, which we're hoping is not just Mother Nature being a tease, as she often is this time of year in North Texas. I'm grateful and excited for this long weekend and the opportunity to play some more with Poco. Heather and Nita both expressed an interest in riding Jaz, who first belonged to Heather's ex, then to Nita, so it's like a reunion for them. I'll be headed out there tomorrow for more fun and adventure. Rain or shine, I'll be a happy camper.

And maybe, I'll remember to actually take my camera out of my truck and take some pix! One of these days, with Heather's permission, I'll show you some of her horses of which I'm particularly fond.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sunday Walkabout

It was a beautiful morning here in North Texas, with the promise that temps would be in the 90s by about 11am. I was not of a mind to work the horses in the round pen, so I decided to take Jazu down the road. Jaz is always a good boy, but even his patience was tried by the audacity of the flies. Although I sprayed him really well before we left, they were giving him fits. At one point, I thought for sure he was going to rear. I could feel him flinching and trying to hold himself back. They were brutal!

Here are some pix.

Poco, of course, threw a hissy fit when we left. Here he is as we returned. Can you see the Appytude?
I was tired and hot, but I still wanted to give Pokey a go. I saddled him up and rather than the Bitless Bridle (Dr. Cook's), I used a moderate snaffle for a little more stopping power. We did a few turns around the front, and he was pretty good. So I got brave and took him out the front gate. At first, I rode him on the property next to ours, which is undeveloped. Still did pretty well, responded very well to leg cues; resisted a little, but easily corrected. So we headed down the road. He was a little excitable, but totally under control. He didn't like it when we got to the place with the 3 Labs that carry on when you go past, and he balked. I turned him around and asked nicely for him to move out, but he planted himself and started to back up. I asked again with more leg and a cluck, he still wouldn't do it. I calmly and ever-so-slightly tapped him on the butt with the crop and he totally overreacted -- you'd have sworn I really whacked him -- and did a little hop. I stayed calm, waited a sec for him to relax, then asked again for the walk and got it. I pushed him way out of his comfort zone and wouldn't turn around until he wasn't resisting me. On the way back, I asked for a trot, then for a few wonderful seconds, we were actually loping, which was very cool. Although you can't see it in the pix, most of those grassy areas along the sides of the road are chock full of flat rocks, so the footing is not as sure as it seems at first glance. My horses are not shod, so there are only a few places I'm comfortable asking for anything other than a walk for more than a couple strides.

I have to keep both hands on the wheel, so to speak, when riding Poco, so no on-board pix. Here's my little tank, minus headstall, prior to being tacked down, just about to yawn. Note the tongue and the rock star mane. It must have been a somewhat positive experience for him, because when I untied him, he lingered with me for quite awhile.
It was a lovely day to attend the Heavenly Church of the Divine Walkabout.

PS - Forgot to mention that Poco actually lifted all four feet for me to pick and didn't try to lean on me as he was doing it! This is huge, and the best he's ever done. He picks his feet up, but even Jon the farrier has to work so Poco doesn't lean on him.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Hill o' Beans

Today, I'm sharing my secret recipe for pinto beans with you, so shhh, don't tell anyone. This is an easy, hearty recipe made even easier by that wonderful invention, the crockpot. Fair warning: I don't measure anything, I don't usually write things down, and the recipe will vary according to what I have in the pantry and what I feel like adding to it. What follows is what went into this pot of beans. You can do this in a pot on the stove, of course, but if you do, it needs tending.

Ingredients for a LARGE crockpot
Dry pinto beans (I'm guessing I had at least 3 cups)
3 bay leaves
1 32 oz. box of fat free chicken broth
3 14.5 oz. cans of diced tomatoes with jalapeños (or green chiles)
1 lb. ground turkey
1 12 oz. tube Jimmy Dean reduced fat sausage
1 large onion, chopped
LOTS of minced garlic (I used maybe 4-5 heaping T, but to taste)
1 bunch fresh cilantro
Ground cumin (maybe a little less than a T)
Powdered chicken bullion (heaping T or a bit more) - I use Orrington Farms Chicken Flavored Soup Base and Food Seasoning
Ground chipotle chile (caution! use sparingly! 1/4 t is lovely, more only if your mouth is lined with asbestos) - Spice Island brand makes it

Soak the beans overnight or at least a few hours. Drain and place in crockpot with bay leaves, chicken broth, and bullion. I had a lot of beans so I had to add a little water, but only because I didn't have any more chicken broth. Turn on high for about 2 hours -- the beans will NOT be tender at this point. Remove the bay leaves.

In a deep skillet (I use a wok), brown the meat, onions and garlic. Add cumin and ground chipotle. Drain the fat.

Add meat mixture and tomatoes (don't drain them) to beans and stir well. Continue cooking on high until the beans are tender, stirring occasionally. When tender, reduce heat to low (or mine also has a setting called "keep warm"). Chop cilantro and stir in. You can also use more chopped cilantro as a garnish for individual bowls, as well as shredded cheese. Serve with fresh flour tortillas, corn chips or warm cornbread.

Here's your bowl. Hope you brought a spoon.
Extra super special slap-your-granny-good treat: Fried Burritos, my son's favorite thing. I usually make these when we're getting down toward the end of the pot. You will need: burrito size flour tortillas (the big ones), reduced fat Velveeta, and a light cooking oil (I use Smart Balance).

Drain the beans in a colander. By this time the broth will have thickened, so let them sit in the colander for awhile so they are as dry as possible. Slice the Velveeta about 1/4" thick or thicker, then cut each slice into 3 strips. You will need about 2 heaping T of beans and 2 strips of cheese for each burrito. If you know your way around tortillas, this next part is more info than you need, but I know a lot of people don't, so here goes. Take the tortillas out of the bag, lay them on the bag, then on the carousel in the microwave. Cover them with a plate or bowl, waxed paper or even a moist paper towel. Nuke for 20-25 seconds, flip the stack and nuke again for the same amount of time. They don't need to be hot, just warm and pliable, or they will crack -- not good.*

Keeping close to the center of the tortilla, place your beans in a sort of long, narrow mound horizontally. Keep away from the edges. Lay the cheese strips overlapping end to end on top of the mound. Take the tortilla by the edge facing you and gently fold it up and away, a little more than halfway up. You can use this flap to slightly mush the beans down and make it easier to fold. They will be slightly flattened, not fat and round -- it shouldn't look like a big egg roll. Now fold the sides in toward the center - the side flaps will be maybe 1 1/2-2". With your fingers holding those folds in place, flip the entire burrito away from you. It should be a neat little rectangular packet, with all the flaps down. Gently stack your burritos flap down on a plate.

Cover the bottom of a shallow skillet/sauté pan with oil. Heat on medium to medium high heat. Lay burritos flap down in the oil. Use a spatter screen if you have one. Watch them closely until you see how quickly the bottom browns. Ideally, you want them to cook for about 2 minutes or so per side, so they get hot enough all the way thru to melt the cheese. Gauge your heat accordingly.
They should be a deep golden brown, although the darker they are, the crunchier the outside, which is how we like them. Drain on paper towels. They should be crunchy on the outside, gooey on the inside. Serve with salsa, fresh pico de gallo, guacamole, sour cream, or any combination thereof.

*If the tortillas crack, or if stuff oozes out of the flaps, they are going to spatter and pop and make a big mess on your stove. And that oil is HOT, so handle with care.


Monday, August 18, 2008

Pushing the Envelope

We've been reveling in significantly cooler temps in the low to mid 80s these last few days. We've had close to 2.5 inches of rain, and although it's been humid, it's a far cry from 108! As I write this, a very light rain is falling and the horses are grazing a few feet outside my window.

I got outside at about 10am yesterday morning and walked out to check the footing in the round pen. I love it -- although wet, the water had drained well, leaving the sand clumpy, but not at all slick. I tacked Jaz up and we worked on the basics again ... on me, that is. I did a lot more trotting, alternating from posting to trying to sit through it. No cigar, I'm afraid.

I tacked Poco up and took him out to the round pen, and once again, he was as close to perfectly behaved as he ever is. His trot is much smoother than Jaz's, so I did better on him. Poco has a lot of GO, and he'll sustain a trot and not peter out, as Jaz sometimes does, so I got quite a workout. I had a few moments of near grace, but mostly, I was just bad poetry in motion. And I was shaking from all that posting.

You might remember the last time we rode, we were fine in the round pen, but Poco was a little much to handle as soon as we stepped outside to head back to tack down. I decided to do it again -- ride him back across the dry creek bed to the hitching post. He took one step outside that round pen and I could tell he was fixin' to take off, so I tightened up on the reins. Keep in mind, I'm using a Dr. Cook's Bitless Bridle. I was absolutely determined that we were going to do a little walkabout and that I would remain in control. We did and I did, but let me tell you, I was standing completely upright in the stirrups and holding him with all my might. He was throwing his head, balking. There was a time when I'd have gone for a minor win, played it safe and called it good. But it was a good day to die! I made him do several turns around the front half of the property and held him to a super contained trot. I'm going to see how he does next time. If I have to, I'll go back to a bit with him. Man, my shoulders ache today!

This is the way it is with him and me. He'll find a way to mess with me until I figure out how to get the better of him. Then he'll think of something else for next time. He always pushes me to a point beyond what I previously thought I could handle. It really is all about confidence. As long as I keep my head, relax and don't allow anything he does to intimidate me, we do fine. I just can't ever let my guard down with him.

My mom always told me she hoped I'd have a kid just like me when I grew up. I lucked out with my only son, but I think Poco is my kid just like me. He's giving me a run for my money, that's for sure!

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Nice Man Cometh

Earlier this week, a County Ag Extension Agent came and give us some recommendations for restoring, revitalizing, and maintaining our land. There are several issues we knew we needed to address, but we're not farmers and had no idea what, when or how to implement them.

The first thing we did when Wayne, the nice Ag man, arrived was walk the property. When we got to where the horses were grazing, he approached them in a non-threatening manner with his hand out. Jaz came ambling over, his usual happy-go-lucky self. I was standing about 5 feet from Poco. As Wayne turned to him and put his hand out, Poco's eyes got as big as saucers, he snorted and set his shoulders. I could see and hear his breathing accelerate. I moved closer to him and reached out to touch him on the withers, but he flinched hard and sidestepped away, never taking his eyes from Wayne. It's been awhile since I've seen it, but he's obviously not over his fear and distrust of strange men. He doesn't act that way around women he doesn't know, just men.

Typical of the Red River Valley, we have reddish gold sandy loam soil, with an emphasis on the sand. I'm told this is ideal for growing all sorts of melons (and a mighty nice round pen), but at any rate, it's better than the black clay "gumbo" we had when we lived further south. The disadvantage is that when we get our annual quota of rainfall in oh, say, half an hour, we're subject to massive erosion. This is not helped by frequent drought and overgrazing. Two horses on five acres sounds like plenty of land, but there's the house, a lot of trees, a dry creek bed, washed out areas, and it's easy to understand why it looks the way it does. According to Wayne, in our area, there should be 3-4 acres per "animal unit." Silly me, but an animal unit does not equal an animal. An animal unit equals 1,000 pounds. My Boyz are between 1100-1200 pounds apiece, and are straining the resources.

Mike and I were expecting a really dire report. We have work to do, but it's not that bad. The primary thing we need to do is some cross-fencing to allow areas to rest. This will go a long way in helping the land to recover. He advised us to divide the land into three sections, but even two would be better than none. He also suggested we create a small catch pen in a sacrifice area where we can confine the horses during times of drought or when all the land looks like it needs a rest. Although this is all good news in terms of the long-term prognosis, it just means more work. I will certainly help him, but the brunt is going to fall on Mike. Dividing it in two is easy enough because we had it cross-fenced at one point. Mike was doing some work out in the back and it was easier to remove the hot fence than to go all the way around the house to the other side. We just never put it back up. Some of the T-posts are still in place, but we'd need to put in about 6-8 more.

We need to sow rye grass and oats in the shadier areas around the trees (front and back) to allow it to become established in the late fall and early winter. This will also help some of the erosion if we can get the seed to take hold and not get washed away.
I find it amusing that our drainage ditch is actually on the map as the Little Elm Fork of the Trinity River. It cuts our property not quite in half horizontally. The bank (above) got torn up when the backhoe guy set the culvert pipe (top left of pic) and graded the area for my round pen. Mike has had to work really hard to reestablish grass on that steep slope.

Most of this area is just too shaded for much of anything to grow, although the horses like to hang out there when it's hot or sometimes when the weather's bad.

We need to sow more common Bermuda, which loves our heat, to fill in some of these sparse areas.
And finally, we need to get after the weeds, particularly spurge, which is prolific around here and can take over a pasture before you know it. Wayne gave us a packet of info, including different weed killers, and kits to take soil samples, which is the first thing to do. I was surprised at how little that costs. Typically, sandy soils need lime, so we'll be able to find out specifically what types of fertilizer will work best in this soil. I thought he was going to tell us we needed to shovel and compost, but he said dragging a harrow over it would be enough.

Coincidentally, friends of ours have recently decided to sell their home and become permanent RVers. They gifted us with a big bag of rye grass seed yesterday, so we're on our way!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

My Other Passions

"Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't
matter and those who matter don't mind."

--Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss)

If you have ever felt that you were living a life somehow not quite your own, that's probably because it's mine. As far back as I can remember, I felt like a misfit in my family. Let me be clear: this was entirely me -- hell, you already know how I am -- not them. To me, they were just people I lived with. I didn't understand them, they totally didn't get me, and I gave up trying to let them know who I really was. I struggled just to get along. I was thoroughly convinced I was adopted. I even made my mother show me my birth certificate, but then I believed it to be a forgery. As I got a little older, I was so uncomfortable and maladjusted, I was sure I must be an alien they found at some remote crash site. In my teens and twenties, recreational hallucinogens cemented this belief (hippie alien).

There were two things I wanted more than anything when I was a kid. One was a horse. Not a Shetland Pony, but a real horse. But you can read about that here. And the archives of this blog will tell you how it's turning out so far, including the fact that I had to wait fifty years for it to happen.

The other thing I really wanted was a dollhouse. Not one of those metal or cardboard dollhouses with brightly colored kiddie plastic furniture (although they are worth a small fortune to collectors these days), but a real dollhouse.

I didn't get that either.

I am what happens when you don't get something you really want as a kid. I am middle-aged with enough disposable income to be dangerous, and I have been blessed to be able, with the encouragement of the long-suffering, indulgent Mr. Fry, to make my dreams come true. Now, I don't just have one, but two amazing dollhouses.

I built this puppy from a kit. It is close to 3 ft. wide and 2.5 ft. tall. It is 1:12 scale, i.e., 1 inch = 1 foot. It opens from the front like a book and is at times filled with wondrous things from all over the world. Right now, all the furnishings are packed away pending installation of the kitchen cabinets. It is completely electrified, with incredible English chandeliers, no less.

The pink house is a Queen Anne which is also from a kit, but I acquired it already built and finished on the outside. It is freakin' MASSIVE. It is also 1:12 scale. The inside is a blank canvas, and I have already collected many lovely things for it. I also build a lot of the furniture from kits, as well as make window treatments, bedding, etc.

Over the years, I have done many smaller projects, (smaller, meaning less involved) most of which were given as gifts to special friends and family (I'm a friendly alien, after all). I call them vignettes. There isn't room here for pix of all those projects, but if you are interested in seeing some of them, click here. I really am in my own little world!

I used to do miniatures a lot more before I got horses, but it's good for the dead of winter or if I were to, say, break an ankle.

I am living my dreams. I'm living the life now I thought I should have had fifty years ago. Whenever people bring their children (especially girls) to my house, they go bonkers over the horses and my dollhouses. The parents give me that "help me out here" expression. I just smile quite smugly and, while looking at the parents, tell the kids I hope they don't have to wait as long as I did to have their dreams come true.

My other passion you also already know about: writing. My horses have helped me find my voice. I wanted to write more, but I'd go blank every time I sat down at the keyboard. The horses are an ever-renewing source of inspiration, drama and humor.

I wanted a horse and I got two. I wanted a dollhouse and I have two. I wanted to write, and I discovered blogging. All things come to she who waits, and maybe double for having to wait a long time.

P.S. I almost forgot -- I have two blogs, too!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Good Rides Today

"If you find that thing you love, it doesn't necessarily matter whether you do it well or not -- you just need to do it."
- Stanley Tucci

I managed to get myself out the door by about 8:30 this morning to work with the horses before it got too hot. There was a nice little breeze that held the temps in the high 80s rather than the high 90s, where it has been for the last week at this time of the day.

Not having a barn means that going for a ride is somewhat akin to taking a baby somewhere. It probably takes me 6-8 trips to get the grooming kit, tack, my helmet, a crop, boots, boot jack, halter & lead rope, fly spray, etc., etc. from my laundry room and spare bedroom out the back door to the hitching post. I guess that's the price I pay for having the horses right outside my door, and I'm not complaining.

I might have opted for an easy mosey down the road, but Mr. Fry made a comment about how he was disappointed not to see me working the horses. Translation: "Woman, I worked my tail off and spent lots of money getting that area ready for you. Get out there and use that round pen!" So Jaz and I did your basic newbie stuff -- walk, trot, reverse, yo-yos, spiraling turns in and out (bending), and some figure 8s. Mr. Fry took some pix. Yes, I know my posture and my seat leave a lot to be desired, but I'm workin' on it, I'm workin' on it.
How do you like my raspberry helmet?
A fashion statement, to be sure.

I have no idea how long we actually worked. I lose all track of time when I'm with the horses. My guess would be 30-45 minutes, but don't get me to lyin'. Poco followed us back and I debated for a few minutes whether to tack him up or call it a day, and decided for the former. Given his behavior in the last few days, I was expecting some 'tude, but it was a good day to die (as Heather says), so I decided to go for it. We walked a few laps around to allow him to relax (he gets himself all worked up), and I showed him on the ground what we would be doing. He stood perfectly while I got on and waited calmly until I asked for a walk. Throughout the entire 20-30 minute ride, we only had two very minor challenges, but he took the correction well and did as I asked 98% of the time. I could not have asked for more or better from him.

I'm getting better at posting a trot, but I sure would like to know the secret to sitting a trot. I'm still all over the place unless I post. Jaz has one of those straight-up-and-down, teeth-jarring, choppy trots. Pokey is much smoother; he glides. Riding him is like riding a couch.

"WHEW!" is what I was saying. Dang, it was HOT! We were both sweating. My hair was literally dripping.

Probably the iffiest moments were after we were done in the round pen and I decided to ride him back across to the hitching post. I guess it's like when some trail horses realize they're headed back to the barn and want to get there in a hurry. I had to really work to hold him to a walk. I didn't want to go any faster because we had to cross the dry creek bed and take a narrow path through the trees and I didn't want to put my head and bare shoulders at risk from low branches. Even if that were not the case, I needed to hold him back... because I decide how fast we go.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Guess He'll Go Eat Worms

Pissy Poco is sulking, big time.

I went out a little while ago and called them to come and get some watermelon rinds. Jaz, the chow hound came a-trotting, with Pokey bringing up the rear. Remembering Mugwump's logic about hand feeding and my resolve to not do anything Poco might construe as weak or submissive, I decided to put it in their rubber bowls. I have also been feeding Jaz first just because Poco expects he will always be first in line for everything.

I put half the rinds in Jaz's bowl and before I was even out of the way, Poco was pushing him to take his food. No sir! I stood in front of him, poked him in the chest with my finger and made him back up. He took a step back, but then came right back and tried it again. Lather, rinse, repeat. He did it again and I kicked him in the chest this time. So he wheels that fat ass around and gives us the cold, butt. Now, in the midst of all this posturing, I still have half the rinds that are supposed to be his, and his bowl is maybe six feet away. I show him my bowl and try to get him to walk over to his own bowl. Nope, not gonna. Rather pout. He wanted Jaz's. I even walked over and put the rinds in his bowl, walked it over and showed him his bowl and the pigheaded brat still wouldn't budge! Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face! I stood by Jaz and wouldn't let Poco take his food.

I tried one more time to get Poco to come and eat from his own bowl, but he wanted no part of it. Jaz came over and began eating the other half of the rinds out of Poco's bowl, while Poco lapped up the slobber from the bottom of Jaz's bowl. Finally, he came walking over, but I wouldn't let him run Jaz off. When there were only 2 small pieces left, I made Jaz move and let Poco have them.

Earlier, when I opened the grain locker, Poco actually stood a respectful arm's length away. When he took a step closer, all I had to do was point at his chest and he backed up.

We've been to this place before and it's my fault for being too soft with Mr. Studly Muffin. This is an example of how it will go for a time. He'll sulk and pout and we'll have these little showdowns until he gets back with the program. I'll have to be the cafeteria lady for awhile, maybe even carry a crop when I feed them. Done it before. It's okay -- I know I'm on the right track when he reacts like this. My challenge is to not get complacent and keep him on the straight and narrow.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Addicted to Pony Luv

How much is that pony in the window?

Look at that face. That face is why I'm such a sucker, a pushover. I cannot resist those Appy eyes. That freckled muzzle makes my knees weak. Yeah, I've got it BAD for that BAD BOY. You have no idea how hard it is for me to be a tuff girl with him.

Poco was so out of control when I first got him that I had no choice but to be a big, bad, mean mare. He had no respect whatsoever for anyone smaller than he is -- and that's when he weighed 150-200 lbs. more than he does now. If you're just joining us, Poco was allowed to have his way with the little wife and children of his former owner. He swung those kids around like rag dolls, and the son was taller than I am. So, like the late, great Rodney Dangerfield, I got no respect. It took some serious cojones for me to stand up to his macho pseudo-studliness. Heather made me come out to her place and hang out with the herd to watch how the horses treat each other, especially how the dominant mare (Clydesdale) treats everybody else. There's no such thing as "fair," there's only "because I'm the boss and I say so." It was so hard for me, but I did it. I did it because I had to. And Poco responded.

Poco is dominant to the extreme. There have been times when I've had to get right up in his face, growling through my teeth. I've chest-butted him. I've thrown buckets. I've kicked him. If there's such a thing as equine bi-polar disorder, I think he has it. We can go for months and he'll be fairly sweet, docile, and compliant. It's always just long enough for me to think that maybe, just maybe, this time he's turned the corner for good. And I slack off and get all mushy with him, which he absolutely loves. Then, without warning -- scary violins -- Psycho Gelding appears again! He'll get really mean to Jaz, not letting him near me. He'll try to run Jaz off, not just one pile or one bucket, but all the food. And then I have to play cafeteria lady to make sure poor lil' Jaz gets to eat and doesn't get bullied. He'll start getting pushy with me, impatient, crowding me, uncooperative, non-compliant, especially under saddle, because he knows that's where I am the weakest. I go back to being super bossy for awhile, and things mellow out again until the next time.

It's finally sinking in that I need to be overtly dominant with him all the time. It's just the kind of horse he is. He thinks he's a stallion, and I have to handle him just as if he were. I need to avoid behaviors that might suggest weakness or submission to him. As much as I love the way he comes up and sticks his head in the grain locker and nuzzles my hair, bites the feed bags, etc., I need to resist that trembly lower lip. I need to not let those sleepy, mottled eyes wear me down. I need to enforce my space. Paraphrasing Mugwump, he can't invade my space, but I can invade his as much as I want, any time I want.
I already know this works and works well with him. I just need to be consistent and not backslide, even if he's behaving well for the moment.

I have gotten more confident in the saddle. It's not that my riding skills have improved all that much, it's that I'm not intimidated by him anymore. I should say here, he has never kicked or bitten. He has only ever shifted his weight to suggest to me that he could rear or buck...if he really wanted to. But he never has. I remain wary and cautious, of course, but with him it's all about intimidation. The more I ignore the nonsense -- change the subject -- the sooner he just gives up. I can't out-ride him yet, so I have to out-think him.

So, I'm j-j-jonesin' for that pony luv. I'll have to lay some lovin' on that funny little Arabian who doesn't particularly like being mauled. And did I mention that Poco goes off the deep end when I love on Jaz? Withdrawal is hard on everyone.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Weekend in Pictures

More triple digit temps this weekend. It was 105 yesterday. Today, it's supposed to reach 107, with a heat index of 112-115. Needless to say, whatever we've had to accomplish outdoors has been done early in the morning, since it was already 95 and dead calm by about 9:00am.

Yesterday morning, we took the last of our bales that we had loaded the previous weekend to Heather's. This hay is a trade for them keeping my horses when we sow some grass later this year. We were there and gone before they were ever even awake. Then we headed to Nita & Jim's old place (they are moving out to Heather's place) and picked up a hay ring. We did a few minor chores outside, then were inside for the rest of the day. Mike opened up the dog's yard, which we do every few weeks to let the Boyz graze. The horses love it back there, and Mr. Fry loves to not have to mow -- a win-win love fest.

Poco & Jazu mowing the dog yard.

We went to a pool party "in town" last night, which was lots of fun and GREAT food! Our friend James is an awesome cook and he'd been grillin' and smokin' all day. We had chicken, amazing beans, kielbasa, homemade queso and pico de gallo AND mini ice cream pies made with homemade ice cream - YUM. I made
pomegranate martinis and a good time was had by all.

We were up early again this morning and headed to Robin's across the road. There are countless busted bales littering the barn and it is free for the throwing. Only the exposed upper surface of all that hay is brown; the next layer is as green and lovely as when it was put up late last summer. The long-suffering, ever-industrious Mr. Fry. The hay on the ground is the equivalent of 2-3 flakes deep. You have to be careful to not pull in too far for fear of the exhaust starting a fire. Much of it is still dry, intact flakes. There are whole bales minus baling twine on either side of the alley. We stuffed the trailer full, then closed the gate and stuffed some more over the top.

Since we don't have a barn, the trailer often serves as hay storage aka the Honey Hole.

If you look closely at the photo above, you can see how green that hay still is. You can also see the enormous crude firebrands on my little tank's shoulder (R + S + rocker) and hip (no telling). What were those people thinking? Trying to deter nearsighted horse thieves perhaps?I like this shot of Jaz because it makes his head look a little dished.

Mike and I walked the property inspecting the effects of the short but heavy rains we had twice this week.

It's usually a little greener back here, but it got torn up from the backhoe work to set the culvert pipe across that dry creek bed (on the map as the Little Elm Fork of the Trinity River) and grade my round pen area. I'm grateful the horses have a place to escape this oppressive heat.

We are inside for the rest of the day, and I can't come up with a good excuse not to vaccuum and do some laundry. But give me some time...

Saturday, August 2, 2008

My Will Be Done

Front pasture, awash with Indian Paintbrushes in late Spring, 2005.

Am I the only one that needs a reality check/attitude adjustment every now and then? Whether it's with a relationship, a job, or horse ownership, it's easy for me to get so caught up in just getting by that I forget who I am or temporarily lose sight of what I need to be doing. Add to this the fact that every day I realize there's even more I don't know than I realized the previous day. When it comes to horses, I am continually humbled by what I don't know. This is not surprising, since I operate more or less in a vacuum. Although I can always turn to Heather and Nita for help, I don't see them every day, or lately even every week. More often than not, my advice and instruction comes in the form of phone calls, emails, magazines, books, or I'm left to figure things out for myself any other way I can.

When I first met Heather & Nita, I was embarrassed by my lack of knowledge. I hated to get on a horse around them because I was afraid of looking foolish. Have you ever heard of anything so ridiculous? Their kindness and acceptance (well, that and Heather bailing the first time she rode my horse) helped me to get over it. I no longer have any problem at all looking like a complete idiot in front of them...and do so fairly often. I want to learn and I am teachable

In addition to being a creative outlet, the blogosphere has become a valuable resource for me. There are so many knowledgeable horse people who -- lucky for me -- blog about their experiences and are very generous sharing what they know. I honestly didn't know you aren't supposed to walk under the lead rope when your horse is tied. Never even thought about it. Thanks to a recent blog post, I do now, and you can be sure I won't do it again. And then there's the stuff that I do know, but for some reason -- laziness, sloppiness, whatever -- I've temporarily forgotten or at least lost clear sight of it. Which brings me to my point today.

This week, while reading the ever-growing number of horse blogs I follow, I realized that I have become lax and inconsistent when it comes to demanding respect and manners.
Part of it is I'm still somewhat infatuated and sometimes tend to let lesser etiquette infractions slide. Part of it is immaturity; I've been at this less than two years. But the point is, I know how important it is, and I have been slacking off. I was gently reminded this week that this is not only counter-productive, but potentially dangerous. As one comment to the post so aptly put it, I have fallen into the "pet the pretty horsey" mindset. Oh man, guilty as charged.

I think it's a perfectly natural thing for we humans to try and create the world in our own image and likeness, as it were. Anthropomorphizing animal behavior helps us to make sense of things that sometimes make no sense to us. Horses are not people. They're not big dogs. Sometimes their behavior may appear to resemble dogs or people, but it's a superficial similarity. And while anthropomorphism can make for compelling storytelling or help convey a concept to non-horse people, ultimately, it's non sequitur. I know this too, but maybe it's the triple-digit temps that have caused me to go stupid. Regardless -- guilty as charged.

Reflection is worthless if not followed by action. I need to pay attention and insist on manners and respect from both my horses at all times. Jaz is not a problem; he's submissive and always respectful. But it's no damn wonder Poco's such a jerk. Yeah, he came with a lot of baggage, and when I first got him, I was a real hard-ass -- I had to be. Over time, I've softened. I've allowed him to take a step backwards by letting him get away with the small stuff. No more. I'm awake, I've smelled the coffee. My will be done!

Thank you, Mugwump Chronicles, for your thoughtful posts this week. You have no idea how much you have helped me. To all my other favorite horse bloggers (listed at right,) know that I benefit from what you share. No one ever has permission to bash me, but I always welcome help and advice.
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