And, February, just because you have an extra day this year, don't even think about messing with me!
I am not one to see a whole month as being evil, but, January, you really did me wrong.
It all started on the 3rd, my 49th birthday. The nines have been historically difficult for me; 29, 39, 49. The tens always come as a relief; 30, 40, ... 50? How is that even a birthday? It feels like a death sentence. When I was 17, 50 was like old. Grandpa old. Now I am married to a 50 year old. Turning 49 was like a sock to the gut. I might have cried a few times. I hope 50 is as much of a relief as 40 was.
About the time that I acknowledged that being older was better than the alternative, the second week of January slammed into me. I apparently wasn't feeling enough gratitude about merely being alive, so the Universe thought I needed to be reminded of my mortality by giving me a little shove. Here, have a cold, you ungrateful little snot.
Just when I was feeling like I had life back under control, I had a CDS Chapter meeting which got me home after 9:00 pm. I leave for work around 5:30 a.m., so it was a hellishly long day. I had to work late into the early evening the next day, and then yellow dog started to have her stifle issue. Which by the way seems to have cleared up, but still, I missed another three days of riding.
By the middle of the month, I was starting to wonder if I would never again ride my horses on a Wednesday. I must have had a premonition because that's about the time I started worrying about the pimple that was really a spider bite. Dealing with that monstrosity really ate up the next week. The last steri strip just fell off this morning. I now have a reddish bump which I am hoping will eventually fade.
I started looking forward to the final week of January. There was no way it could be as jammed packed with visits to doctors as the first three-quarters of the month had been. I had an earlier dental appointment, but since it's not on the calendar, I must have still made it to the barn. While at the dentist, he found a tiny little something that needed shoring up, so it was back to a medical professional on the first day of the week. I guess I should have been grateful that it wasn't on a Wednesday.
And here we are on the last day of the month. It took paying homage to the gods of Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and I might have had to sacrifice a few cute bunnies (not really), because I've finally gotten back on schedule. I actually managed to ride on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Both horses seemed a little surprised.
Always one to find the silver lining though, I read through my entries for the month and noted that we had some really good riding days. There were some wonky ones in there too, but let's not look at those. So for now, good riddance to this first month of the year. My fingers are crossed for a quieter February.
And, February, just because you have an extra day this year, don't even think about messing with me!
California's Central Valley is not known for being verdant and lush. It rains only in the winter, and only a few times at that. California's Central Valley is fed by melting snow, or runoff, from the nearby Sierra Nevada Mountains. As such, valley farmers rely on a vast system of canals to water the valley's massive agriculture output.
Unlike a lot of the rest of the country, our green shows up in the winter only to turn brown and die by mid-spring. Winter grass, as we call it, is a welcome respite from the dry hills we see most of the year. Last year, California had a fair amount of rain which contributed to the 2019 wildflower Super Bloom. When you live in a state as water starved as ours, flowers are pretty exciting.
Our green period only lasts through the winter. Once the weather warms up, everything dies. Right now, my boys are loving the green grass. And even though both of them live in large dirt pastures, Speedy loves to get turned out.
While I ride Izzy, Speedy gets locked in the alley between the pastures. When I am not riding, I let him loose to wander where he may.
We have a new pony at the ranch, Baloo, and Speedy has taken a liking to him. He lives directly across from Speedy, so while Speedy was turned out on Sunday, he and Baloo spent some time visiting.
Izzy also enjoys the winter grass, but he still needs some supervision.
Spring is just around the corner for us, but its arrival always signals the end of the lushness of winter. In its place, we prepare for the arrival of the brown and yellow hills. We're not called the Golden State for nothing.
A week or so ago I wrote about horse hair jewelry and how, initially, I found it creepy. After thinking about it, I decided that I liked the idea of a bracelet made while my horses are still alive. I am still waiting for it to arrive.
Lytha, from A Horse Crazy American in Germany, said something that really resonated with me. When she finds horse hair from her heart horse, Baasha, she feels a sense of nostalgia. I had a nice nostalgic moment myself the other week.
Ten years ago this week, I lost Montoya DSA, the best horse I will ever own. She was spectacular. Not only was she gorgeous, but that mare could do it all. She ate up the endurance trail with an appetite that knew no end. If you needed more, all you had to do was ask. I never found her maximum. I remember crossing the finish line at the Manzanita 75 miler to find a vet waiting for us. Her pulse, after riding 75 hard miles, was 36 beats per minute. Riding her was an absolute privilege.
Losing her to colic was hard. To this day it remains the most painful loss that I have experienced. I cried in bed for three days. But life goes on. I already had Speedy, whom I really hadn't connected with, but as soon as Montoya was gone, Speedy filled the hole. The very same day that we put her down, Speedy came up to me and rested his head on mine. He knew she was gone. I am not sure who was comforting whom.
It was really cold last week. Too cold for my regular long sleeved shirts and a vest. It wasn't quite cold enough to ride in a jacket, so I opted for a sweatshirt. If you're anything like me, you probably have of a big pile of sweatshirts from which to choose. I reached down to the bottom of the pile and pulled out one I haven't worn in at least 7 years, maybe more.
When I shook it out, I smiled. I had forgotten about this sweatshirt which surprises me because it was hard earned. On the front, both of our names embroidered.
On the back, you can see the event where it was earned, the Death Valley Encounter, 200 Miles in 4 days. The race was held annually for many years. It began on the 28th of December, culminating with a big party on December 31st, Near Year's Eve. My husband and I spent 6 days with our 2 labs living in a 2-horse trailer with pretty small living quarters. It was an extraordinary experience.
I wore the sweatshirt every day for a week. It's still sitting on my closet floor; used riding clothes get recycled before they're washed. I can't quite clean it and put it away. I like seeing it there.
Reminders. This one made my heart swell with love.
Even before the pimple that wasn't, I had been cursing my stack of sports bras as though their mission on Earth was just to annoy the heck out of me. I will admit that the oldest was more than 7 years old and maybe even 12.
How do I say this? My "girls" aren't particularly ample, so I can get away with moderate support. My sports bras were so old and stretched out that they no longer provided any support. I was nearly falling out of the top because the bras were sagging down to my belly button. They were simply doing more harm than good.
Since the wound on my back was still healing, the doctor insisted that if I absolutely needed to wear my sports bra - I didn't even try to explain how doing an extended trot braless was likely to give me a black eye, I should be extra cautious that the straps were well clear of the wound.
I tried one on and was happy to note that the clearance was more than acceptable. That's when I truly owned that my bras did just suck, they sucked rotten eggs. I immediately got on Amazon and placed an order.
I ordered a set of five and they arrived on Sunday. I love you, Amazon Prime. I barely made it through the door before I stripped off my riding shirt and nasty ass sports bra to don one of these beauties. I am not exaggerating. I giggled from the sheer luxuriousness of the fabric and fit. It fit. It didn't sag, it didn't fall off my shoulder, it clung to my body, hugging me ever so gently.
The bras came in a package of 5 for $32.99. If you're a more busty lady who needs a bit more support, these probably aren't for you. If you're shaped anything like me, and you need to update your sports bras, these are sold in sets of two, three, or five. I would totally buy them again in a hot second.
The old ones? I tossed them in the trash without even an adios.
Did I ever have a weird week. Have you ever woken up and immediately thought, ouch, what's that? I got out of bed to check my back and was horrified at the huge pimple that had popped up over night.
It was gross. It was gross the next day, the day after that, and the day after that. In fact, it stayed gross for more than a week. It hurt like hell, especially since it was just under my bra strap.
The damn thing would just not go away. By the second week, I was begging my husband to just stick a needle in it. He of course refused, loudly while swiftly getting the hell out of Dodge. It was planted right on my shoulder blade, so no amount of contortion would allow me to actually poke it with a sharp object. I tried.
Somewhere after the second week and maybe into the third week, I told my husband to look at it. And I meant REALLY look at it. He might have shrieked a bit. He definitely made a noise.
I mentioned that I should maybe go to the doctor. Uh ... yeah, you think? Was his immediate response. But really, who goes to the doctor for a pimple? What 49 year old woman even gets pimples? Setting my pride aside, I called during my lunch break and got an appointment for later that afternoon.
I couldn't see the doctor's face as she was examining my pimple, but I could hear her. THAT IS NOT A PIMPLE, was her diagnosis. It's not? I stupidly asked. Although she didn't come right out and say so, she must have thought me incredibly stupid. Um, no. It's an insect bite, probably a spider, and it looks as though it bit you THREE times. Oh, that must be why it hurts so damned bad.
I'll spare you the worst of the gory details, but she numbed it - that hurt like a mother forklift, and then she lanced it. Google how do you lance a wound if you really need to know. As a side note, I once had to have a sore on my eyelid lanced. This was nothing compared to that.
When the cutting was done, she sent me home with the wound zipped up tight with Steri Strips topped with a pressure bandage. She also loaded me up with a bottle of antibiotics and insisted I come back a few days later for a check up.
I was more than a little disappointed that I wouldn't be donning a mask and shooting webs from my wrists, but being told to NOT wear a bra for the next few days sort of made up for it. I spent most of the week babysitting my shoulder so that the knife wound on my back wouldn't break open and bleed all over my shirt.
I discovered that I must do a lot of talking with my hands as I was really sore at the end of my first work day. Oh, and we had our pest control guy out the very next day to spray the inside of our house. I made him do our bedroom twice.
Saline solution, iodine, packing material, pressure bandage, digging with a sharp object ... all that's missing is the duct tape. Holy hell, I just had an abscess.
Squares are awesome. I ride them with Izzy all the time. They get him sitting and help him balance. I don't ride them as often with Speedy because they're harder to do on him. If you didn't catch yesterday's post, here's yet another photo demonstrating how much he hates to sit. This one is BRILLIANT.
Although, if I ever try to sell Speedy, I'll have to delete these blooper posts as no one would even think of trying to ride this out. Honestly though, his bucks and kicks are super easy to sit, and usually I bust out laughing because they're all drama llama. If you'll notice, I'm always smack dab in the middle of his back without getting pitched forward, backward, or to either side. You've seen me ride. I am not particularly talented, so me staying centered isn't because of my fabulous riding. Speedy just likes to voice his opinion, but he's never trying to unseat me or buck me off. He would be mortified if that ever happened.
The lesson had one real purpose: get that inside leg to step under and over. To achieve that, Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, had me ride a square. A lot of squares. In the corner of each square, she had me compress Speedy's frame while riding with his haunches in with activity.
We started in the walk. First, I bent him around my inside leg and then opened my outside rein and brought it back to send his inside hind under his belly. At the same time, she encouraged me to tap, tap, tap him with the whip to keep the hind leg very active. Once out of the corner, she instructed me to give him a big release. The point was to show him that he can bend and push at the same time.
Then we did it at the trot. All of the blooper photos from yesterday were taken when he refused to make the corner with his hind end underneath him. To the right, he desperately wants to "save" his inside hind by swinging his haunches out. Sorry, buddy, that's not going to work. That's okay, he nearly has it figured out. We used the same strategy, compress, compress, compress, followed by a release without letting him pop his head up.
After the trot came the canter. Since the canter is already a gait with more suspension, these corners were a lot easier, especially on the left bend.
Compressing the stride in the corner where he takes smaller, but active steps behind will help later in the canter pirouettes, but for now, it will help our half pass. You can see how much harder it is for him to the right.
Another way to do the exercise, especially when Speedy was feeling frazzled, is to walk the corner, and then either trot or canter out of the corner. When we did canter, walk, canter, his transitions got a lot crisper. I love this canter depart.
After getting him truly active behind, we did a few canter half passes. They still more or less suck, but at least they're improving. At the very end of the lesson, we took the energy that we had built and let it rip. Our very last medium/extended trot was heavenly!
Speedy can do this - Third Level, Fourth Level, the FEI Levels ... It's just up to me to figure out how to convince him that he can do it. And of course, I need to learn it first.
Over the weekend, Speedy and I got a long overdue lesson with Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables. With our move to Third Level this past summer, Speedy and I have struggled with bend and forward. He can either bend, or he can go forward. What he can't do, or at least what he thinks he can't do, is go forward with bend.
The exercise Chemaine set up for us attacked both of those things, the bend and the forward. Because Speedy was so adamant that he COULD NOT DO IT, I have to show you a series of photos, all captured from one, 10-minute video, and truthfully, most of the photos were from a 5 minute stretch.
They are hilarious, and they are posted in order. I can't guarantee that the statements below were what Speedy was thinking, but I think it was pretty close. It all started with a gentle warning ... his to me.
Stay tuned for the actual lesson ...
Like I said on Monday, I am still learning about Newt. Every time I pull out my owner's manual, I discover some new option or feature that I didn't know Newt has. This weekend, I discovered some pretty good-to-know buttons.
Sitting smack dab in the middle of California's Central Valley, Bakersfield is flat. It's hard to test out a tow mode that holds a lower gear when you're driving on flat ground. I live on the east side of town though where the valley butts up against the very southern part of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. My husband suggested I haul up to the top of Round Mountain Road. He assured me there was a good spot to turn around up near the top. As it turns out, that spot was too muddy and bumpy, so I went further on up the road.
While two vehicles will fit across the road, it's pretty narrow, and there is no shoulder. Or better said, there's no useable shoulder. As I wound my way up the road, I started eyeballing even that questionable shoulder because I wasn't finding any kind of spot suitable to turn my 27 foot long trailer around. Not only is the trailer long, but Newt adds another 14 feet minus the 2 feet where the trailer is hitched. It's a lot of rig to just "turn around."
I eventually came to a driveway. I stopped in the middle of the road, which you can do when there is zero traffic, especially since I had reached the end of any buildable land. From that point on, the hills are dotted with nothing but oil derricks. I gave that driveway the stink eye, and made an executive decision: I was going to make a three-point turn.
Let me paint you a picture: a road barely wide enough for two cars, no useable shoulder, and what shoulder there was, was muddy, a down-sloping gravel drive way, and a driver who had only driven this truck and trailer combo around the block. Once. Two months ago.
As I took stock of the situation, best friend's voice rang in my ear, she can back that thing up a gnat's ass. And I did. It took a few back and forths, but within five minutes, Newt and I were facing downhill. I smiled smugly to myself, I love girl power, and headed back home, tow mode engaged.
Rather than just park and unhitch, I decided to pull up near the hose and give my trailer a quick spray wash. I've done this a zillion times. Once most of the sitting around for two months gunk was gone, I backed up to my parking spot. Or at least I tried to. I realized that I was hitting the gas, but my truck wasn't moving. For a moment, I panicked, certain that I must have backed into the hedge. I jumped out to take a look and realized that both truck tires were planted deep in the marsh that had formed around the leaking spigot.
I shook my head and could only laugh. Just a few days before, I had asked my husband a question about engaging Newt's 4-wheel drive. Blue Truck had 4 wheel drive, and back in my endurance days, I used it with some frequency. It had been close to 10 years since I had used it though. While perusing my manual the day before, I had done a quick verification that Newt's 4 wheel drive worked the same as Blue Truck's.
With no shift on the fly, I hopped out and locked the hubs in place, clicked the knob to 4-low, and gave it some gas. Newt popped out of the mud with ease. Rather than press my luck, I drove around instead of backing up.
The moral of the story is that I can only back it up a gnat's ass. Any wider than that, and I am SOL.
Oops. This got published by mistake. Since I can only delete it, not un-publish it, you get Friday's post a few days early.
With the regular flow of rain this winter, not something we've seen much of over the past decade, our arena has taken a real beating. Thanks to the ranch owner, we have excellent footing. It's so nice that even after a heavy rain, I can ride without fear of slipping or sliding.
No matter how nice the footing though, it needs an occasional drag to smooth out the inevitable ridges that form in the corners and along the long sides. We had quite a trench forming. On Monday, we decided that it had finally dried out enough that the DG could actually be dragged around.
Reggie, the ranch's fixer of all things, is an excellent hand with the tractor. We had a good chat about where the problem areas were - the long sides and the short side at A, and with that, Reggie set to work. He used the tractor's bucket to slice off the high ridge, and then he dragged the DG down into the channel that Speedy and Izzy had made.
I can watch the tractor all day long. That thing is hypnotic. I was itching to get up there myself, not that I've ever driven a tractor, but it looks like such a zen thing to do. Like vacuuming.
Once Reggie was done, I dragged out my meter tape, cones, and t-squares. I first built this dressage court last summer, and I've redone it a few times since, but I kept forgetting to bring the t-squares out to the barn. Man, do those things ever help!
Once it quits raining, I am also going to have to replace my letters. The weather has definitely left mine in less than readable shape. Good thing they're cheap.
Building a dressage court definitely takes a lot of time, even if it is made of water bottles, orchard poles, and pvc tubes.
Now that I have one though, I can't go back to just guessing. Having those letters and square corners has really helped my riding. Imagine how much better I'll get with fresh letters. Hey, I can hope!
Equestrians are all about buttons. We want cute ones on our breeches, tricky ones installed on our horses, and if your truck's got some cool ones, all the better. Over the weekend, I learned how to use some of Newt's.
I haven't talked a lot about Newt since she joined our household, but I've sure been enjoying the heck out of her. So far, our adventures have been limited to making the trek to work to the barn, and back home again. Day after day, week after week.
One of my favorite things about the truck is the over-sized fuel tank. It holds a whopping 48 gallons. I only have to stop for diesel twice a month, and frankly, I could probably go three weeks on one tank. For convenience, I pop by the gas station every other weekend. So far, I generally put in about 35 gallons which costs me about $135.
I haven't hauled the horses anywhere yet, but over the long weekend, I thought it was high time to hook her up to my trailer again and learn how to use the manual shift option and the tow/haul button.
As I was finishing hooking up, I switch my dash screen to "towing" and got a nice little surprise.
After going through the checklist, which I found pretty cool, I took Newt for a longer drive up around our closest mountain. It was about a 40 minute round trip. When I got back, I got to try out one of Newt's other buttons. Stay tuned ...