It’s a Privilege

“Fi is seventeen hands what?”  Alisa is standing at the shoulders of the big, bright bay mare.  Fi’s withers rise at least six inches above Alisa’s head and Alisa is not short.  She replies, “seventeen something. I’ve never measured. When I bought her she was 16.2.  That’s as tall as I wanted her to get, but she was still butt high so I knew she’d grow some.”  Fi may actually be eighteen hands.  Half Dutch Warmblood, half Thoroughbred, she is magnificent.  We don’t see Alisa and Fi at the arena very often.  Alisa is in her thirties, in an accomplished equestrian and competes in three day events. Alisa had arrived at the same time as we did.  She said, “I’m doing grids, want to join me?”  The girls all wanted to eat lunch and decided to do just that before deciding on anything else.  I turned to Savannah, who was sitting on top of a picnic table, eating a sandwich, and said, “Do you want to do grids?”  She said, “What are grids?”  I said, “I thought you’d know.”  This is how i ended up standing in the arena talking with Alisa, who knows a great deal about grids.  I explained to her that the girls were down in the dumps today.

Today was clean the tack room at Campo day.  This was Stan’s idea.  He’s the barn owner.  After six years of renting his barn, he finally agreed to remove the four, ancient, Schwin bikes that he was storing in there and that were taking up about a quarter of the space.  When he pulled the bikes out, he found a carpet of rat droppings.  I cleaned those up, but the discovery motivated him to schedule a clean every corner project, which he expected myself and the girls to participate in.  None of the girls, except Sara, were very happy about this, though it was actually very considerate of him to have us work with him.  Quite simply, I don’t want anyone but us moving our gear about.

Sara showed up at ten and I set her to work cleaning and organizing the tack cleaning supplies and the horse washing supplies and what not.  Clean, well ordered gear is a delight to Sara and she took to her task with relish.  Savannah, Jackie and Rachel all showed up about half an hour later.  Jackie, who is allergic to hay and dust, had to stay outside with Sara, but Rachel and Savannah, both equipped with dust masks, were set to work hauling saddle racks, storage boxes, tools and grain cans out of the room.  Once the room was cleared, Stan got the shop vac and set to work.  Relieved of their tasks, Rachel and Savannah started to use the grooming gear to comb and braid their hair into two long braids each, which matched the way Sara was wearing her hair.  Then someone noticed that Jackie’s hair was only in one pony tail.  Over Jackie’s objections, they set about fixing that pronto.  I don’t remember why, but while the girls were giving Jackie two braids, Jackie mentioned that her parents had been in a bad mood that morning.  She mentioned it again while we started to tack up.   Then Sara said, “Do you want to know what my parents said to me?  They said I had to do track and field in the spring.  My mom said I had to do more than one sport.  My dad said if I don’t do track and field than I can’t ride horses.”  This stopped me cold.  Sara is very serious about school.  She regularly curtails her riding time in order to meet her own high academic standards.  She is also expected to take piano lessons and practice every day.  Jackie is also expected to practice piano every day.  Turns out her father figured out this morning that because of all their family obligations, they wouldn’t be home till after 10pm and told Jackie she needed to practice instead of go to horses.  He said to her, “Horses are a privilege!” Both girls were sick at heart.  Sometimes they come out to the barn and all they can be is sad and that makes it kind of hard to ride.

Even though they had no heart for riding, Jackie and Sara sat on the fence and watched Alisa put Fi through her paces.  A grid, as it turns out, is a series of poles, in this case five of them, that you gradual raise bit by bit.  First the middle set was raised to one foot, then the last set, then the middle and last were raised to a foot and a half, etc…  They watched in awe as Alisa cantered Fi the Magnificent with precision over the series of poles.  What was a trot pole of Fi was a jump for Stoney and the spacing was off for Stoney.   Even so, it didn’t take long for Rachel to take up the challenge of riding the grid.  Where Rachel goes, Savannah is soon to follow and she and Dancer decided to give it a try.  On entering the arena, Dancer took one look at Fi, stood stock still and looked shocked.  He just did not know what to make of a horse that size!  He also hardly knows what to do with trot poles or what to do in an arena, for that matter, but they gave it a try.  It took Stoney five or six go round before he figured out how to co-ordinate his feet with the poles and he finally did so nicely, but not at a canter.  Unlike Stoney, Dancer did not need to jump to one foot poles, though he was not the least bit bothered if he knocked them down either.  Fortunately Meera had shown up by this point and we had someone on the ground to set them back up again.  Sara tried to get Chavali over the grid and got frustrated, then took Jackson over the grid, which was not frustrating, but he also knocked them down.  Meera was able to get Chavali over, but could not get her to trot around the arena as she is a fussy horse.  Finally, Alisa set the middle and last poles at three feet and we all watched in awe as the magnificent Fi flew effortlessly over the grid.

The girls were quiet for a bit, then got going again in their own way.  Savannah started working on her training of Dancer and the Spanish walk.  Sara decided to tease Rachel by pretending that Stoney was her horse so Rachel decided to tease Sara by pretending Cowgirl was her horse.  They had a teasing competition that escalated into hysterics.  Meera got it all on video.

We rode home the short way with Rachel and Sara talking CG and Stoney back to Quail while Meera, Savannah and I were left with buckets and paddock cleaning and finishing putting everything back in the tack room.  With the barn chores finished, Savannah and Meera headed over to Quail and I waited at Campo for the horses to finish eating so I could let Jackson, a normally mild mannered horse who gets positively psychotic around food, all of which he thinks should belong to him, out of his stall.  When I arrived at Quail, about ten minutes later, the girls were sitting in the middle of the paddock making a racket and squishing each other.  They kept at it all the way home.  What I don’t understand is how a healthy, fun day is considered a privilege.

Article for the Town

The quarterly newsletter published by the Town of Los Altos Hills is always looking for submissions with a local interest theme. In an effort to promote horse awareness, I decided to interview Linda McKell, who’s lived and owned horses in LAH for decades.  As I was writing, it occurred to me that Linda’s story should be posted to the KLH blog.  I think she’s a pretty special person.

Linda McKell, Longtime LAH Resident and Horsewoman

“My father grew up in Utah, but my mother was from Palo Alto, so when they got married, that’s where they moved to. We moved to Los Altos Hills when I was around ten, I think, because my father wanted to be in the country. We had an acre on Westin with an apricot orchard. One year, the cannery worker were striking, so my dad picked the fruit and I had a little fruit stand on the corner where I sold the fruit. It was all much more open then. I have a panorama from an 8mm camera that just shows a few trees and lots of open space. Nobody had fences and we wandered or rode horses where ever we liked.”

As she talks, Linda, caretaker for her 95 year-old mother, is sorting the weeks medications. We are talking in her kitchen, which has a bay window overlooking the backyard. Once every five minutes or so, I’m distracted by the sight of Duke, Linda’s twenty-eight year old chestnut gelding, who periodically decides to walk from one side to the other of his spacious paddock.

“I’ve loved horses since I was four. There used to be a man with a pony who’d walk around the neighborhood so kids could get their picture taken on it. My dad put me on the pony and I knew that was what I wanted most of all. My dad was a horseman. He could hop up on a horse bareback and ride it wherever he wanted just holding on to the mane. That’s why he bought this property here, so we could have horses.”

Linda’s family had moved to Utah for a short time and then to Los Altos. It took another seventeen years before they were able to buy property in LAH and even longer before buying a horse.

“After finishing my master in library science, I got a job at HP and started riding at Ramos Ranch [now Page Mill Pastures]. There was a horse, Shanghai, that I liked that was for sale. The owner wanted $800 for him. I only had $400 in savings. I took the money in cash to her and along with the $12.50 I had in my purse at the time, offered it to her. She grumbled a bit, but then sold me the horse. People are different when you show them cash. I did the same thing when I bought Flash and Dancer.”

Linda has always had two horses so they would have company, but when Prince, her equine companion for twenty-one years, died, leaving her dad’s horse, Duke, alone, she decided to partner up with another horse owner to find a companion for Duke. She found Rob, who’s horse Dillinger, shortly after moving in broke his leg and had to be put down and it was Rob, looking for a new horse, who found Dancer and Flash.

“When Rob first went to see them, back in September, the smell coming from their stalls was so bad the man told Rob everyone else who’d come to see them had refused to go any farther and turned back. Rob was the first one who actually took a look at them. I kept having nightmares about them. I finally took my garage sale money, which was a lot less than he wanted for them, and sent Rob down with it. He took the cash. I’m the kind of person who when they see a problem, they try to do some-thing to fix it. Besides, I always wanted to rescue a horse at some point in my life.”

Dancer and Flash had been stuck in 10X10 stalls for almost a year. By the time Linda bought them, the manure was 3 feet deep and Dancer was close to death. Flash has stayed at Linda’s with Rob, Linda’s friend and horse helper. Dancer moved to the Jensen’s barn in LAH and is owned by Deb Goldeen. Both horses are now healthy and happy.

Linda has owned horses for over thirty years. Most of that time they lived on a ten acre pasture off Old Page Mill. She said, “Most of the time I’d ride around on Stanford land [the dish], even though you weren’t supposed to. I didn’t start riding on the pathways until I moved my horses here, seven years ago.”

There is a pathway that runs between her property and an adjacent property. Because of the topiary trees planted and sculpted by Linda’s father, the locals call it “the lollipop trail.”

“When this house was built, the town mandated that pathway be put it. You’d think it would be an invasion of your privacy, but because of the pathway, we’ve gotten to know all our neighbors and we’ve enjoyed that very much. Also, knowing your neighbors can be very helpful if there is a problem of any sort.”

Also, without the pathways, there would be no way to get the horses out. “I still get Duke out three times a week. I can’t stand it when horses are stuck in stalls or small paddocks. It’s just not right. You can’t just part them like a car. They need to be cared for. They are like family.”

Earlier she had told me about how Shanghai had died. He was out in the pasture off of Old Page Mill and had a bad colic. John Ramos called to tell her and said he’d take care of it. At this point in her story, she paused for a minute and her eyes became moist. She continued with, “even though I wasn’t there, I couldn’t go to work for three days. Even now, I still feel,” and here she paused again, briefly, then finished, quietly, with, “a little sensitive.”

I asked Linda what the neighbors thought of the horses. She said, “When those new neighbors moved in on the backside of the paddocks, they were worried about smell and about the flies, but we clean the paddock twice a day and they aren’t bothered at all. In fact, like most people, they love seeing the horses. Many neighbors, some from half a mile away, bring their grandkids to see the horses every week.”

“When I was a little girl, every birthday and every Christmas my parents would ask me what I wanted and I’d always say, ‘a horse!’ Finally it got to be they’d ask me, ‘what would you like besides a horse?’ You know how sometimes you want something and it doesn’t turn out to be what you thought? For years I wanted to play piano and I finally did it. After three months, I said, ‘forget it!’ But with horses, it turned out to be just as good as I thought, even better. They bring you peace. I used to drive up to the pasture after work and all my stress would just disappear.” Hear, hear.

Linda McKell and Duke, her twenty-eight year old Morab.

Linda McKell and Duke, her twenty-eight year old Quarab.

Yes Ma’am

“What does that sign say?”  It was a row of Konji.  The traffic was slow on Hwy 92.  Instead of whizzing by, all the signs, sculptures and plants for sale were providing some entertainment.

In her level, but resonant voice, Jackie replied, “That’s Korean.  But even if it wasn’t, I couldn’t read it.  I don’t know very much Mandarin.  My brother and I went to Chinese school, but we hated it.  The teacher was from Taiwan and used to hit us with a golf club.  We told her ‘that’s child abuse! This is California, not Taiwan!’  Besides, Chinese is so aggravating.  It doesn’t have an alphabet!”

Sophie said, “We have a boy who only speaks Chinese in one of our classes.  He he started taking pictures of four of us when we were sitting around talking. We all got mad at him”  Rachel added, “that’s so annoying!”

I said, “Rachel!  For heavens sake.  How would like it if your parents put you in a school where everyone spoke Chinese and you didn’t.”  She said, “I know. During the whole year I was in China, I didn’t learn a single word.”  Then she added, “Five years of Hebrew school and I don’t even know the Aleph Beth.  The Rabbi completely gave up on me.”  I know her mother has hired a tutor this year for her to work on her Mandarin.

Meera is also in the truck with us.  She was busy on her iPhone posting pictures to her instagram page.  She has many to chose from as we are on our way back from the beach.

I’m not fond of Poplar Beach, or any Half Moon Bay beach for that matter.  The cliffs are twice as tall as other parts of the coast; the surf is up close and rough with a steep slope down to the water line.  It feels ominous.  If the surf gets to high, there’d be no where to go.  Also, because of the rough surf, the sand is coarse and scratches rather than soothes the feet.  The majority of the coastal beaches extend for only a mile at most and are broken up by rocky outcroppings.  Like all bays, there really is only one beach and it is about ten miles of unbroken sand and surf.  Poplar Beach, is one of only two beach access points on the coast between San Francisco and San Luis Obispo, that has parking for horse trailers, the other being more than a hundred miles to the south.

We had a hot week. 93 on Monday.  101 on Tuesday.  102 on Wednesday.  In summer, these temps do in riding for the day, but in fall we can squeeze in a nice ride between 6pm and the end of civil twilight, even on the hottest of days.  Saturdays are another matter.  With a high of 90 predicted and only three riders on the schedule, there was only one real option.

The last time we went to the beach, the saddles came off in the first fifteen minutes and didn’t go back on until it was time to head back to the trailer.  Sophia and Jackie are not really into the full bareback swing of things yet so we brought a saddle for Jackson, but none for Stoney or CG.

For most people, riding at the beach means riding down the sand in one direction, then turning around and riding back.  For people who don’t ride horses, but think that riding a horse on the beach is something that sounds like a peak life experience, the idea of riding on the beach means galloping through the waves.  There is a wonderful picture that got sent around Facebook a couple of years back.  A trainer was introducing a young horse to the ocean.  The picture is taken from behind.  What you see is a horse high up in the air, all four feet tucked tight up under his belly, on a beach facing the incoming surf, with the trainer holding the lead line.  The person who took the photo is a professional photographer.  He thought the woman holding the lead line was in mortal danger and was horrified by the horses reaction.  Anyone who knows horses sees the picture and laughs.  Unless a horse grows up living on a beach, this kind of reaction, though not quite so large, is generally what is expected from a first encounter with the surf.  Stoney will stand with his front feet in the surf.  Jackson will stand near the surf, but run backwards when it heads his way.  I don’t know what CG does.  She’s OK being at the beach, in fact running in the sand seems to feel good on her compromised body, but no one wanted to try and find out.  Chavali becomes a complete mess as soon as she smells the ocean.  The poor horse sweats from her hooves in fear so we don’t bring her, although Meera keeps lobbying for it just so she can see it for herself.

Fortunately, the girls are much more creative at the beach than simply “go for a ride”.  The trot down, then race back, then trot down then race back.  First Rachel on Stoney, Jackie on Jackson and Sophie on CG.  Then Meera on Stoney, Sophie on Jackson and Rachel on CG.  The girls discover a “big hole!”.  Rachel doesn’t get the memo, races CG right at it.  CG swerves to miss the hole, which was more like a small crater, sending Rachel flying into the sand.  Rachel fell off three times at the beach, each time coming up laughing. “You don’t have to tell my parents I fell off.”  Seems to me, being able to fall off in deep sand is one of the best parts of being at the beach.

At first I thought Sophie and Jackie would share Jackson.  Sophie was a late addition due to a scheduling miscommunication.  I knew that Jackie didn’t care how much she rode as long as she was at the beach.  Jackie loves, loves, loves the beach.  Meera loves, loves, loves the beach.  Rachel loves, loves, loves the beach and almost never ever gets to go.  In fact the family doesn’t do very much outdoors at all because her mother is allergic to sunlight.  I was surprised that Sophie wanted to go, but guess what?  Sophie loves, loves, loves the beach.  She says, “I’m a water sign and water signs need water!”  Not so sure of that logic, but I’m not going to argue with her affections.  Sophie already has plans to retire in Half Moon Bay.  But not only were we at the beach. We were at the beach with horses.  As Sophie said, “Two of my very favorite things combined at the same time!”

After Rachel took the steam off of, and came off of, Cowgirl, Sophie decided she’d give bareback CG a try.  A naturally cautious person, she said she was going to keep her at a trot.  But the deep sand softens the gaits profoundly.  In a very short time, Sophie found she could canter along, bareback on Cowgirl, with the best of them.  Meera, who had tried to convince me we should even leave Jackson’s saddle at home, decided that bareback on CG and bareback on Stoney was not what she wanted.   While Jackie took pictures of Rachel and Stoney in the waves, Meera headed off down the beach on Jackson.  She went way, way down the beach, as in, is that little speck in the distance Meera down the beach.  I admire her desire to explore, but it did make me a little nervous.  Sophie gallantly offered to follow her on Cowgirl, which she did before I could say anything.  I sent Rachel after both of them and Jackie and I started to trudge along on foot after the riders.  Meera found what she was looking for and met us half way back with the good news that she’d found a jumping log.  There were then jumps all around except for Sophie who positioned herself at the base of the log for it’s picture taking opportunities.  But the horses only trotted the log and this got boring.  Sophie had been to the school dance the night before, then on a sleepover with four friends.  Never one to have great endurance, I was concerned she’d not be able to hold up, but she’d done remarkably well, until now.  After three or four jumps, Sophie was no longer taking pictures, but had instead become a horizontal human addition to the jumping challenge. She’d given in to the temptation to lie down and had started to doze off, cozied up next to the log.

Although the girls would stay until the sun sets, the horses are the ones doing the running through the sand and three hours is more than enough of that.  By 2:30 we were back in the truck and heading to the barns.  After untacking Jackson at Campo, Sophie headed home to “watch some TV and take a nap.”  Jackie, having gotten up at 6:45 because of her brothers baseball game, probably did the same, though with no TV.  Meera and Rachel were stuck getting a ride home with me, which involved parking the trailer in Portola Valley.  Meera also looked tired.  She told me she’d slept until 8:30 that morning.  I said, “but what time did you get to sleep?”  She crinkled up her nose and got a wicked twinkle in her eye and said, “Oh, 12:30”, which probably means 1am.  I would have preferred her parents pick her up, but she’s the kind of person who thinks the world will end if she isn’t the last person to leave the party.  I gave up trying to do anything else with her long ago.

There are two other horse girls who love the beach, Kate and Savannah.  In fact, the whole idea of going to the beach in the first place was to placate Savannah Yee.  When it comes to squeaking wheels, no one squeaks more persistently than Savannah and all I need to do to put a stop to it was to take her to the beach one last time.  She has minimum days on the 15th, 16th and 17th of December.  She said if we can’t work out a beach trip soon, we can go then.  I’m guessing she’s never been to a Northern California beach in December.  Even though she’s scheduled to ride on Saturdays, she couldn’t come.  It was the same day as the Westwind Hoedown 4H mini horse demonstration.  She’s spent three years training Tex the mini to pull a cart and this is her one day to show it all off.  Not being able to go to the beach was painful for her, but her she is loyal to Tex.

Yesterday’s high in Los Altos Hills was 80, not 95 and thank heavens for that for Savannah’s sake.  When I returned to Quail after helping Sophie with Jackson, I asked Rachel, “Do you know when the mini horse demo is?”  She did.  It was at 4:30.  It was now 4.  “How would it be if I dropped you guys off at the Hoedown and then came back for you after I’ve parked the trailer?”  The classic jumping, squealing and waving of hands was the clearly affirmative reply.

I got back to Westwind around 5.  It took a while, but I finally found Rachel and Meera in the round pen, sitting in Tex’s pony cart, being pulled by Kate, who also participates in the 4H mini horse project, and being pushed by Savannah and Kelly.  Getting them to separate from their 4H friends was like taking a bone from a dog.  After succeeding in that, we had to run the fun horse related activities gauntlet set up by LAH rec.  We left Westwind around 6.  Next stop was Quail to feed, then Campo to muck and Mountain View to take Meera, who was so tired she’d stopped making complete sentences, home.  She tumbled out of the truck and stumbled to her door.  It was 7pm when I finally dropped Rachel off at home.  She said, “Another two hours and it would have been twelve hours out with the horses and barns!”  This child has it in for me.  If I’m not mistaken, she’s hatching a plan.  It may involve several of the horse girls moving into my house for the summer.  It definitely involves spending twelve hours at the barns.

Even though it is a long and exhausting day for me, I get to have conversations with the girls that don’t take place otherwise. Also while driving home from the beach, Sophie continued talking about how the music at the school dance was too loud and it hurt her ears and she didn’t like school any ways because she didn’t like sports or academics or the social scene so there was nothing there for her but lunch with her friends and on Friday she didn’t even get to skip PE because there was no “health”.  Health, it was explained to me, was where you sat around and talked about feelings or parents or sex or nutrition, but mostly it was just “you have to eat eight servings of vegetables a day and two sliced of bread and this is just stupid because the bread in our house tastes like sawdust” etc…  Even though it sounds like a good idea to be able to talk about your feelings in junior high, they don’t actually do this.  Rachel said, why would they talk about how they feel when they don’t trust the people they are talking to?

It was Rachel, my thirteen year-old task master, who insisted I write a post about our trip to the beach.  I’m betting she wished I’d written more about what the girls and horses do on the beach like ride barefoot, which makes Rachel feel like she is “doing something illegal like riding without a helmet only with my feet.”  But it’s the stories the girls tell that interest me the most and if she wants the posts to be any different, she’s going to have to start a blog herself.

Picture of Rachel and Stoney taken by Jackie

Picture of Rachel and Stoney taken by Jackie

Selling Dancer

As Kate and Jackie cantered off, Dancer tried to follow. He swung his big, brown body around to the front of my bike and pulled at the lead. Being left behind is an ordeal for all horses, but even more so because this horse loves to run.  Even Savannah, the most advanced KLH rider, is barely up to the task of riding Dancer to the arena.  He’ll be in the paddock three days straight starting tomorrow, which means taking him out today was imperative.  As Dancer swings around, Dante, who I am holding with the other hand, says, “Ack! Big horse!” and comes to a complete stop.  Fairly often holding the horse in one hand and the dog in the other results in me almost getting jerked off my bike.  It’s like this, stop and start, stop and start, all the way to the arena and all the way home, which is very close at this point.  I feel for Dancer.  He is the kindest horse I’ve ever met.  However, despite be only ten and relatively untrained, unlike other horses, he doesn’t fight me.  He fusses a bit, then moves back.  The only time rushing ahead of the bike is really a problem is when we are in a “squeeze”; walled in on both sides like the small section of path that connects Orchard Hill to the driveway that leads to Newbridge.  When we come to that spot, Dante hesitates thinking “there’s no room for me!”.  I have to slow down, which frustrates Dancer who then tries to crash through the bushes.  I had to have a “conversation” with Dancer making it clear that, in these circumstance, he had to stay behind the bike, kind of like asking a two year-old child to sit in a room full of toys and not touch any of them.

Heading home from the arena, Jackie was in the lead on Jackson and Kate was riding CG and ponying Chavali. I don’t remember exactly why Kate rode CG to the arena.  I think if Savannah had told me a little earlier that she was going to ride CG tomorrow, we would have left her at the barns.  As it was, Kate was riding CG, bareback, and ponying Chavi because she had wanted to ride Chavi in the arena.  Kate is big hearted enough to take on a difficult task for the sake of getting CG and would have stuck it out to the end, but I knew she was well past being tired of it.  At the top of Orchard Hill, I took Chavi from Kate, secured Chavi’s lead rope around her neck and, to Kate’s relief, sent Chavi off, riderless and leaderless, behind Jackson.  Freed from the hindrance and complication of ponying a horse, the girls sprouted wings and rounded the corner at the property with the two Bernese Mountain Dogs before I even managed to get back on my bike.

Dancer doesn’t get frantic, but he was as close as he ever comes.  Having your best buds run off without you is just not on the horsey agenda.  He stayed behind me as I rode my bike as fast as possible through the loose dirt of the next section of pathway, but as we rounded the corner, a twenty foot section of pathway that is unusually narrow and closed in on both sides by high fences, Dancer was done and he decided it was time to try and take the lead once again.  He smashed into my bike, I smashed into Dante and the fence.  We never go very fast so nobody got hurt, but it was a very unpleasant moment.  It was also a very brief moment.  We all stopped, smashed three abreast in between the fences.  I looked at Dancer.  He sighed and, without any motion from me, backed up ten paces and took up his place behind the bike.  That horse: He’s one in a million.

Usually Saturday’s are full with a wait list.  Though we can accommodate six riders, this fall, it’s only Jackie and Kate are riding regularly.  Sophie, and also her sister Bella, have been cast in a play.  Sara is overwhelmed by school commitments.  Rachel, who, given a choice, would ride eight days a week, has been restricted to Wednesdays.  I had hoped all three of them would ride twice a week. Buy they are not the only ones.  There are five riders who are the perfect age to ride twice a week and for whom money is not an issue, yet none of them are.  Not until the second week of school do I know where I stand in terms of income.  It’s clear that this fall will not be one of the more profitable ones.  Yesterday morning I made a list of the riders and how often they were signed up to ride.  Eleven riders at $240 a month plus one at $400 comes to $3000; $600 to $800 short of what I need to make expenses each month.  Consider the fact that a rainy winter means that income could drop by a third and it’s clear there won’t be enough money coming in to support six (actually five and a half) horses.

Bay can be a boring color, but Dancer’s coat is has a coppery tinge that makes him look like a precious metal.  He has a long, thick, black mane and wide, deep eyes.  Unlike the rest of the herd; Jackson with his arthritic hips, Stoney with his weak back and damaged hocks, Cowgirl with her calcified hamstring, Chavi with her too long legs and Gumby neck,
Velvet with her upright pasterns and poorly formed hooves; Dancer is a real horse; sloping shoulder, strong back, full haunches and a neck that’s set neither to high or too low.  The other five have their best job with me, helping young people learn to ride.  Despite his knock knees, he has value beyond lessons.  But what would his chances be of finding a home?

I forgot my lunch and thermoses at home.  Erik rode his bike out to the arena to bring them to me.  When he arrived, he said, “I saw Rob.” Then added, in a derogatory tone, “he was walking his horse.”  Rob was also probably yelling and swearing at his horse.  Rob wears sunglasses and a permanent from.  His teeth are always clenched.  Arya was with us once when he rode by.  She said, with some distress, “He not a very good rider, is he.” I replied to Erik with, “Rob does ride his horse.  He’s not very good, but he does try.  His horse is well fed, lives in a large, clean paddock with fresh water, is loved, sees the vet when needed and gets out on a regular basis.”  Despite his emotionally challenged owner and the fact that out means running the gauntlet of the Los Altos Hills Pathways, I can count on one hand the number of horses I know, excepting mine, who have it so good.  A “good” home for Dancer means a rider who will take him out and ride him, but too hard and without proper care, then abandon him, probably with permanent injuries.  The other option is his getting basic care, but mostly abandoned in “pasture”, left to the mercy of flies in the summer, ticks in the spring and mud and cold in the winter.  It’s a common misconception that it’s good for horses to be “out on pasture”.  Pasture is good only so long as the horse still has people interacting with it.  And even those homes are hard to come by, which has a lot to do with how this spectacular horse ended up stuck in a stall for a year standing on three feet of manure.  But why should I be out of pocket $10K a year for other peoples children to ride horses?  KLH can make do with five, but the decision to let him go makes me feel like I have to throw up.

It’s Labor Day weekend.  There are usually kids in town on holiday weekends and it’s a great time to take advantage of the extra school-free time and ride.  This weekend only Meera said she wanted to ride on Monday, but her mother had not committed.  It being Friday and not wanting to waste time holding out for anymore riders, I texted Nancy, Meera’s mom: “Meera says she is riding this Monday.  If so, she is my only rider. If not, I’m going to cancel riding for that day.  I’d like to know ASAP so I can plan my weekend.”  Nancy, ever one to consider my welfare, replied with: “Please cancel and take the day OFF!  Take this golden opportunity to have an extended weekend!!!!”  This was huge relief.  I needed to spend a day home and just cry.  I’ve known Nancy for a very long time and felt comfortable being honest.  I texted back with, “I will do that.  Having a hard time. I can’t afford to keep Dancer.  Please don’t tell Meera.”

Nancy would have none of it.  “Nooooooo!  I love him too! I bet other horse families would be willing to chip in too!  I’ll make Anil ‘invest’.  I’ll get you more riders.”  This this is paraphrasing what she said as she was much more detailed.  I replied with, “I’m crying too hard to think.”  She continued, “There’s got to be a way . . . don’t give up!  Everyone will help . . . I’m sure of it.  I’ll do a fundraiser for Dancer if I have to!!!”  By this time I was sobbing and couldn’t reply at all.

Turns out, Nancy is a whiz in PR.  After a decade of refusing to advertise, I came to the conclusion last week that I need to if only to find parents whose values are more in line with what I do.  There are so many pressures on kids and parents.  In some ways, that’s not a bad thing, but it’s all too easy to loose track of what’s really important.  In the chaos and hubbub of soccer practice, piano recitals, test scores and back to school nights, sanity seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle.  The thought that the work with the horses is every bit as important as math or music or literature for their child’s future success in life isn’t even on the radar for these parents.  Which is more painful, the damage done to the kids through their obliviousness or the unnecessary hardship for the horses? I don’t know.   If families can be found who do think horses are important, Nancy’s gift for PR should be able to do it.  I’m betting I’m more likely to find them in Mountain View or Sunnyvale then in Palo Alto or Los Altos.  One things for certain, Meera will get priority when it comes to riding Dancer.

Back to School!

“You are rude! Stoney! You need manners!”  Savannah waved her muck fork menacingly at Stoney, who backed off and headed back into the paddock.  She then turned to me, muck fork held upright in classic farmer fashion.  “I’m in a bad mood!  I’m tired! I don’t know why I’m tired!” Slapping her hands on her her thighs to add emphasis, she said, “I mean I got twelve hours of sleep last night!”  I’m not exaggerating with the exclamation points.  Savannah always talks with exclamation points.  And Stoney was being rude.  Sometimes you have to duke it out with him before he will agree to respect your space.  But it’s the second week of school and we are all crabby.  Sara is stressed by a math teacher who only gives a days notice for tests.  Shani is irate that they are spending the first week doing “getting to know each other” exercises.  Kate is being assigned essays in her math class that have nothing to do with math and she loves math so how could they do this to her!  Allison has been just plain irritable.  Arya, who is seven, is having a blast.  But she’s the exception.  Rachel, who I picked up because her dad’s car is in the shop, was beside herself at not having seen the horses in sooooooooooooo long!!!!!!!

On any given day, I need to arrive an hour or more before the girls as there is lunch to feed, paddocks to muck, meds to give and the occasional hoof to soak.  Add to that moving mats, distributing shavings, stripping stalls, cleaning the hay room and loading in hay and you had Wednesday’s extra long list.  I’d spent the entire morning running barn errands.  Since both Rachel and Meera have minimum days on Wednesday, I picked up Rachel early, told Meera riding started at 3, dumped both of them at Campo with instructions for feeding lunch followed by please clean the paddock and drove back to down town los altos to get lunch.  When I returned, Savannah had joined them.  The three of them working together had not managed to get the horses fed, though they had managed to have a very thorough discussion of how best to do it.  Minutes later we got a call from Sara.  “Where are you guys?  I’m at Quail.”  She missed the memo about riding starting at 4:30.   Sara made it to Campo in time to shove the scissors into her half chaps and walk around cutting open bales of shavings that Savannah, Meera and Rachel were strategically locating around the paddock.  This ended up involving a lot of waiting because Rachel and Meera kept dumping the bales out of the wheel barrow unintentionally and Savannah just kept getting in the way.  Last task at Campo was moving two heavy, floppy, 4′ by 6′ stall mats.  Each girl took a corner and tried to lift but mostly only managed to flip the mat back and forth and on top of each other.  In the end it took Meera shoving with her feet while bracing herself against the hay bales to finally get the second mat into place.  Since we were all so crabby i figured we might as well just get all the barn chores done, but I also figured, with all of them working together, it wouldn’t take very long, which turned out to be the opposite.

We barely made it over to Quail before Kayla arrived.  We were all still pretty crabby.  Kayla, however, looked with gusto and the hay bales that needed moving, sunk a hay hook into a bale and started having at it like a dog with a tug toy.  It still took four of them, two pulling and two pushing, to move a bale, but they finally started to enjoy themselves.  Half way through moving the second bale, Rachel says, “Let’s just ride the horses to Bullis school and play in the play ground!”  An idea, like many of Rachel’s ideas, that was greeted as the best idea ever.  There is an honest to goodness pathway easement through the school yard so we are breaking no laws when we ride the horses through.  But we usually do so at the end of a ride, when it’s getting dark and parents, if not actually waiting for kids, will soon be.  And every time someone says, “One of these days we should stop and play in this playground.”  And that we did, but not before taking the herd on a run across Clark’s field.  As they were all skilled riders and I had both a tired, hot dog and the responsibility of cleaning up the horse poop, they got to the playground well in advance of me.  They parked the horses in the dodge ball squares.  Whether they enjoyed themselves in the playground or not, I don’t know.  I was stuck with Sara, who’d had her toe stepped on by CG, holding the horses.

They all got picked up from Quail and we did a pretty good job of getting everyone back at a decent time.  Certainly by the time they were picked up, no one was crabby anymore.  Savannah’s dad had to pick her up later than usual.  I had promised to drive Meera home.  Not wanting to leave Savannah alone, I had Meera wait with her while I walked back down to the bottom of Quail to remove a manure pile.  I arrived at the pile at the same time as an older man was walking past.  He said, “What’s with all this manure on the pathways?  It’s everywhere!  I’ve lived here for three years and there’s manure all over the pathways.”  Seeing as I’d walked down the hill to remove manure, it was rather a rude thing to say.  I should have had Savannah deal with him.  She would have put him in his place.

Redwings – By Myself

The small sorrel mare had white flecks on her chest and face.  Whether this is a particular color trait, I don’t know.  But I do know is that her back was covered with loose hair and dust that I was vigorously scratching off with my hands.  Sara, the Redwings ranch manager, had started me out with, “Tucker, Ricky and Hank all need lunging.  Then there’s the horses who’s tails are a mess, it’s fly season, you know.”  I guess they get their tails all knotted up from constantly whisking away flies.  There were sixteen horses on the list.  Sara ended with, “Or you could groom.  Pretty much every horse on the ranch needs to be groomed.  We’ve been short on staff this summer.”  Lunging done, I was on to the tails; rats nests the size of softballs hanging at the end of each doc.  The sorrel’s name was also Sarah and I was doing the best I could with my hands to give her a quick groom before tackling the tail.  Distracted by talking to Sara, the person, I didn’t notice the apple sized patch of scar tissue until Sarah flinched as I raked my fingernails over it.  “She broke her back.  She was working a [cattle] feedlot.  She pulled back while tied and fell over backwards on the asphalt.  That’s how we got her.  Six months of confinement and she’s all better, but no riding.  I’m actually surprised they were still working her.  She’s twenty-five and has fused knees and all sorts of other problems.”  She was more than likely still being worked because she was a really good horse as is evidenced by the fact that she is one of only a few at the ranch that they can let little kids handle and groom.  Maybe they were still working her because they loved her.  For most horses, a horse that can no longer work is a dead horse.

Google Maps says it takes two hours twenty-one minutes to drive from Palo Alto to Redwings, which is in Lockwood.  When the alarm went off at 6am this morning, I thought, “I can’t believe I’m doing this!”  Our first trip to Redwings, back in February, was a huge success, only it was 90% tour and 10% helping out, which frustrated the girls.   I talked with the staff and they were most agreeable to seeing to it that on our next visit, the girls would be put to work so I scheduled two trips this summer.  The first trip had only Rachel signed up.  She wanted to Savannah to come, but Savannah hemmed and hawed and finally said that she was still upset that there were so many horses at Redwings that just needed a little training to enable to have useful lives and that hadn’t or wasn’t being done and wouldn’t we all rather go to the beach anyways.  At the beach the horses rolled in the sand and Stoney rolled in the waves.  The girls jumped sand dunes and logs and raced up and down the beach; all bareback, riding with impunity with the guarantee of a soft landing in the deep sand.  The girls took hundreds of photos of sand spraying and manes flying, some of which were posted to the KLH instagram. We all had a marvelous time at the beach.

I’m not sure when parents expect these kinds of trips to take place.  They balk at the idea of taking their kids out of school for them, but when school is out, they head off to Paris or Amsterdam or Israel.  “We have to get in one last vacation before school starts!”  Jackie is on a cruise.  Sara is in Seattle.  Kayla was off in the sierras where her mom had plans to climb Mt Witney.  Shani has band camp.  When I brought up the trip to Kate, she frowned.  When I told Savannah we’d be leaving 6:30am, daggers shot from her eyes.  Rachel had plans to go back to school clothes shopping.  Meera was actually signed up to go, but she didn’t want to go without a friend to keep her company and, after a fifteen hour day at Disneyland on Tuesday, she really was in no shape to go.  Loath to go back on my word, I went by myself.

“I hope I can be helpful”, I said upon arrival.  “Oh yes!” was Sara’s enthusiastic reply.  “I’m so glad you are here!  You have no idea what a treat this is!”  Spoken like someone who needs to drink a gallon of water, but is so thirsty and so used to being thirst that half a cup seems like a miracle.  She repeated her gratitude several times.

My first assignment involved working the three horses that are being prepared and rehabbed to the point where they can have useful, productive lives.  One of the horses, Hank, a horse with an enormous heart and powerful spirit, is recovering from a bowed tendon.  Sara handed me a set of polo wraps for Hank.  There was enough of the wraps left to still work, but just barely as they were full of holes.  The lunge whip was broken in the middle and patched with duct tape.  Later, when I was detangling tails, and also attending to clean up, the only manure forks available all had broken tines.  However, despite it’s being fly season, their manure management is so good, for a ranch, the flies are negligible.  In fact, I’d arrived on “drag day.”  There was a truck with three tractor tires attached to the back that was methodically making it’s way through all the paddocks.

Not only is their manure management really good, but the condition of the horses is excellent.  They’d love a new set of manure forks and whips and polo wraps, but gear is second to the welfare of the horses.

My second assignment was tails.  It took me twenty minutes per tail.  By this time it was noon and the sun was beating down on me.  The expected high that day was 86, a cool day for Lockwood in the summer.  I made it through four tails before deciding it was time stop.  Back home, the Campo horses needed their supplemental feed and meds, Chavali needed her proud flesh treated and Dancer needed a hoof soak for his abscess.  If I didn’t stop soon, I would run out of steam without caring for the KLH herd.  I promised Sara I’d come back in October, but thought maybe another trip before Labor Day because of the short staff.  Sara admitted the truth was they were short on help all the time.  “It’s just we are so far out.  But where else can you afford to keep all these horses?”  Certainly not anywhere within an hour and a half of the bay area.  I only can manage the KLH herd because we occupy the few, teensy, tiny remnants available, and, according to my financial advisor, whether or not we can afford them is something he’d like us to reconsider.

It’s the oddest thing to me.  Parents complain no end about how their children are spoiled and entitled, but then they whisk them off to London or Rome or Disneyland or to Taylor Swift concerts.  In the same breathe, they couldn’t give a hoot about a service work trip.  One of the newer riders mentioned recently that she just couldn’t wait to go on one of those “fun” trips like she’d seen pictures of in the KLH Instagram, as if the trip to the beach could be bought and didn’t need to be earned.  I wonder what this girl would make of “fun” trip to Redwings?

I sent the girls pictures of Hank and Tucker and Ricky.  They sent me pictures of themselves eating french fries.

I really don’t think I can schlep down again until October.  But I keep thinking about the twelve horses who still have softball sized knots in their tails and my heart sinks.

Horse Camping

The truck, “Best West Plants”, is almost as big as a house, pulling a trailer almost the same size full of full sized trees.  Not only does it block the entire pathway, it takes up half the street as well.  We had just had to ride in the street up La Paloma as a 550 diesel with a compressor attached behind had parked across that pathway.  The diesel with the compressor was now approaching from behind.  Velvet hesitates with every step.

As we passed under 280, with sound so overwhelming, conversation becomes impossible.  As we canter up the path next to Duval Court, I can’t tell how Cowgirl and Sara are doing because the noise overpowers the sounds of her hoofbeats.  By the time we reach the bridge to Foothill College, Sara and I decide we need a break and let the horses graze.  Sara actually feels a little sick.  We ended up riding for two hours, but at no time during the ride were we free of the sound of a compressor, a leaf blower or a diesel engine.  It was the first ride after returning from Jack Brook. Both Sara and I were feeling a little shell shocked.

“That was amazing!  That was soooo amazing!”  Rachel’s grin is so wide it looks like her head is going to split in half.  “Can we do that again?”  All the trails at Jack Brook start with a long descent, followed by stretches of somewhat level trail that is dirt road as often as it is single track, which, in this case, had allowed the girls a full throttle canter for an uninterrupted three quarters of a mile – no trash cans to dodge, no driveways to slow down for, no trucks to turn and face.

Jack Brook horse camp is nothing short of a miracle.  Surrounded by every kind of park imaginable; La Honda open space, Memorial Park, Portola State Park, Butano State Park, Purissima Creek Redwoods, Big Basin, Mindego Hill; the list goes on and on and I’ve hiked every single one of them.  They are nice hiking, but the northern end of the Santa Cruz Mountains range is, as California mountain ranges go, fairly pedestrian; most of it too steep to be pleasant or too sunny or too shrubby, with an occasional smattering of lovely spaces.  Not Jack Brook.  Whoever picked that spot, must have known those the territory like the back of his hand; a sweeping expanse of meadow; a road the undulates accessibly along a wide ridge.  Best of all, grove after grove after grove of, oh my gosh!, old growth redwoods.  All of this exists in a climate where the fog keeps the air clean and cool, but burns off by mid morning allowing the camp to warm up to floating temperatures.

The trails at Jack Brook are not like any other park.  Who set them out and why has yet to be explained, but certain sections make no sense.  The bottom of the Jack Brook loop is one such section, I have several copies of a cheap map and one copy of a map I paid $5 for.  The better map was still tucked into the grooming gear pockets in the trailer.  Turns out there’s a loops trail not on the cheap map. We ended up briefly lost and had to retrace our route.  Rachel got her wish as we were forced to canter the same 3/4 mile stretch a second time.

For our second ride at JB, we took a much longer ride.  We rode down the Jack Brook Trail to the Pomponio Trail, up to old Haul Road, then back up Tar Water Creek, probably a fourteen mile loop.  As hers is the only saddle big enough for my fanny, I was riding Velvet.  She doesn’t do downhill very well, leaving me bringing up the rear.   It’s down hill all the way to the creak, so I was still in the rear as we approached the crossing of Pescadero Creek.  Somehow I thought with the drought the creek would have very little water in it, but it was not the case.  Dancer, it seems, had never crossed a creek before.  Savannah H was delighted by the challenge of encouraging him to cross the creek.  Back and forth and back and forth they went until finally Dancer sucked it up and charged across.  It was quite the little drama that distracted me from the fact that I didn’t know if Jackson had ever crossed a creek with a significant amount of water in it before either.  Turns out he had and he had a very strong opinion of just what he thought should happen.  He pawed energetically at the water two or three times, the with positive glee, dropped his left shoulder right splash down into the creek, anticipating a nice, wet roll.  It took all of us by surprise, especially Kate, who was riding him.  She did finally figure out that her best option was to get off, but not before he rolled on to her ankle.  I got off, had her get on Velvet, and then hand walked him across.

I was expecting to see Erik, my spouse, who was out on a bike ride, on Old Haul Road.  But we didn’t see him, or anybody else for that matter.  Not horse nor hiker.  And it is quiet and peaceful.  It is hard to describe the change that comes over the horses when we are out there.  Jackson acted like he could go all day.  So did Freedom, Stoney and CG.  Chavali willingly leads when at Jack Brook, which is unheard of otherwise. Velvet steps out.  Jackson started to gait, something he hasn’t done in over a year.

We stopped for lunch at the beginning of Old Haul.  As far as we know, Stoney still has issues with Dancer.  Not wanting to take any risks, Dancer, with me holding him, were relegated to the far end of the road.  Out of boredom more than anything else, I asked Dancer, out loud, how he was liking Jack Brook.  He hugged me.  It absolutely shakes me to my core when horses do this.  You don’t believe it until it happens to you, but it does.  I thought, “oh crap!”  and, “well I guess three trips with the trailer was worth it after all.” It had only been at the last minute that I had decided I had to bring Dancer at all.

Old Haul Road, at least the part of it we ride, is a four mile stretch of wide, gradual incline, the entire length of which is shaded by redwood trees, clear beams of sunlight piercing the shade and nothing but the sweet smells of redwood forest and horse sweat.  Most of the road is ridden at a dead run, the width of it giving us the freedom to ride side by side or in formation, rather than a rigid line.

The route back was up the short branch of the Tar Water Creek Loop, after recrossing Pescadero Creek via a bridge.

Certainly during the rainy season, Pescadero Creek would more rightly be called a river, but Tar Water is an honest creek; with tar in it.  Just a puddle to jump; not enough to interest Jackson in another bath.  But enough water to again give Dancer pause.  He balked and spun and jumped backwards up the hill away from the water again and again, missing the sharp end of a log by a fraction of an inch each time.  Savannah H, by now, felt it was a point of pride to convince him to cross and that she did.  After five years of riding with me, horse camping was going to be Savannah H’s last few days with KLH.  Same for Skylar and Julia.  The horse girls had been bemoaning the anticipated loss of Savannah H., Skylar and Julia.  But I didn’t share their woe.  Savannah, Skylar and Julia are three well trained and accomplished equestrians.  Savannah had the skills and knowledge to cope with a real challenge and did so with clarity of purpose and ease.  All three of them will head off into the greater horse world as competent, capable, well trained equestrians.

From Tar Water Creek, the trail rises quickly up out of the canyon to join the Town Fire Road, the road that traverses the ridge.   By this time, I was completely out of steam. I got off Velvet and hand walked her, while the girls flew back to camp.  When I arrived, a good twenty minutes after them, horses were being groomed and bucketed.  Skylar was half way through cutting all of Cowgirl’s mane off as it was decided the best look for her would be a mohawk.  Rachel was saying to Savannah Y, “I could live here!  I could truly live here!”  Savannah Y said, “Me too!”

The girls had laid their sleeping mats out in a square just feet from the pipe pens.  They got to watch the horses as they did did their morning stretches; Velvet placing her hooves on the bottom bar of the pen for a little extra leg stretch.  Jackson decided the best place to pee was in his lunch bucket.  I guess he didn’t want mess in such a small pen.  Later he peed right next to where they had their mats.  I was horrified, but they weren’t bothered at all. Chavali was terrified of the wild turkeys.  The could hear the breathing and the snuffling of the horses all night long.  In the morning, Savannah H said, “this is just the right amount of time with the horses; 24/7.”

Skylar was up at the crack o’ dawn, bustling around feeding, cleaning, grooming, taking off blankets.  Julia slept until ten, though she asked the other girls to please not let her sleep past nine going forward.

There was only one request for our trail route for day three: No stream crossings!  We descended on a different branch of the Jack Brook loop, heading towards a trail that stayed on the north side of Pescadero Creek.  There was more noise on this ride, all of it coming from us: “Oh I am soooo sore!”  “Ow! My butt hurts!”  “Oooooh, my legs!”  “This is sooooo beautiful!”  “I love it here!”  “Ow Ow Ow Ow!”  We had another fourteen mile ride planned and we were determined to go the whole route despite the agony in our bodies.  Along with mysterious routes, Jack Brook also has “esoteric” trail signs, which, along this north side trail, diverted us on to yet another unmarked loop trail.  It’s a new loop trail through an old growth grove far more magnificent than any on Big Basin.  The chorus of “eee!  Ooww! Oh wow!” echoed amongst the majestic giants.

Actually, there was one among us, Julia, who was not sore.  As far as we could tell can, this was attributed to the fact that she sleeps like a log and sometimes even on a log, as was the case when we finally stopped for a break.  The girls were so tired that Skylar and Sara lay down in the middle of the road.  Savannah H and Savannah Y draped themselves across their horses, Savannah Y belly down on CG’s back, Savannah H across Freedom’s generously sized posterior.  Like a snake in the sun, Julia chose the top of a log and did, indeed, doze off.  i stayed awake watching  the one spruce tree surrounded by redwoods sway ominously in the breeze.  Without periodic fire, the spruce have taken hold where in the past they would have burned.  The drought has weakened more than a few trees.  One such tree had fallen across the road to camp the day before, delaying Sara’s arrival by an hour.

We took the longer branch of the Tar Water Loop trail home.  This branch rivals the Old Haul Road for uninterrupted canter through redwoods and oak woodlands and open grassland.  We did actually see one person at the end of it, an ambitious motorcyclist who had made the trek down the long, windy road into Pescadero Creek Redwoods County Park, a road so long that by the time you arrive, you have barely any time to hike as he had found out.

Besides pain that didn’t abate in the least through the entire ride, the girls, except Julia, were all bleary eyed from lack of sleep.  After all, who would want to waste time sleeping when you are in heaven.  Not that this slowed them down any.

At this point, my memories are not so clear.  The KLH “graduation” party for Savannah H, Julia and Skylar was underway.  Sophia, Kate and Sierra had arrived and were busy preparing dinner for camper and party guests.  Jackie and Lainey had arrived, but they were both recovering from being carsick from the drive up.  Meera and Kate decided to hole up in the bathroom and stop interacting with anyone else.  Rachel was worried about what would be the best timing for her present, a KLH year book she’d spent the better part of two weeks, including one of them while she was on vacation, putting together.  I think we should have sung a song for the “graduates” and I wish I’d given out awards.  Sophia would have gotten “only rider to post on the correct diagonal.”  Skylar would have gotten, “best braider.”  Julia would have gotten, “only person, youth or adult, myself included, to always shut the gates.”  I have an award for everyone.  But that didn’t happen.  They did cry; a lot.  Lack of sleep and exhaustion along with most of the girls being thirteen didn’t help much.  It took a awhile, but I finally got them corralled back to the camp fire where they wrote in each other’s year books and told scary stories.  They gave surprisingly little resistance when told to go to sleep, though no one noticed that Jackie, who is allergic to hay, ended up having to sleep right next to the hay and in the morning, when Kate and Meera got up to feed, the threw the tarp from the hay on to sleeping Jackie.

Arranging the departure of the party guest and packing up camp was a jumble of madness and mayhem, but when the dust cleared what was left was the Wednesday six; Skylar, Julia, Savannah H, Savannah Y, Sara and Rachel; and an hour and forty five minutes for one last ride.  Riders come and go.  Schedules change as do plans.  There will be the same group of riders on one day for a couple weeks or a month, then it all shifts.  But not with Wednesday.  By mid-November, 2014, Wednesday’s had settled into these six riders and stayed that way through the entire school year.  If there could have been a better matched group in skill, style, temperament and ability, I don’t know, but I’ve not seen it.  They rode together in a boundless joy that comes from effortless, heartfelt, open communication and a genuine desire to promote the welfare of their fellow riders over their own needs.

There is story about a man who did some great deed and was rewarded by an angel who said he would grant one wish.  The man wished to see heaven and hell.  First he was taken to hell.  In hell, there were many people seated around a great banquet table overflowing with all sorts of delicious foods.  But they were tied to chairs that were placed too far away from the table to reach it.  They had been provided with long utensils that could reach the food, but was so long they were unable to get the food into their mouths.  They were all starving and wailing and furious.  Then the man was taken to heaven.  It was the exact same scene, only in heaven the people were using the long utensils to feed each other.  So it was with the Wednesday group.  Many people never get an experience like this in their whole lives.  It is my fondest hope that the year of Wednesday’s will not be their only experience of heaven on earth, but I am old enough to know that if it isn’t, these experiences will still be the exception rather than the rule.  The Wednesday Six had one more hour and forty five minutes of heaven and heaven it was.  The day after we left camp, the high was 85.  The following day, 90.  But on our last day, the air was magic. The girls charged up the Town Fire Road like they’d won the super bowl.  Chavali gave her all for Skylar as the two of them sprouted wings for the last charge.

Returning from camp is complicated and intense.  Skylar’s mom picked her up at the Sam MacDonald parking lot, where the trailer was parked, leaving Savannah Y by herself with the task of untacking three horses at Campo.  When I returned for the second load, the girls told me that the camp had been over run by the next group of horse campers; a group of about thirty horses.  It had been a chaos of trailers and unfamiliar horses.  Sara and Rachel were spent. I sent them to Quail with Stoney and CG while hustled up to Campo with Jackson.  Rachel lost her water bottle and forgot her clothes.

I made it back to Sam MacDonald parking lot for the last run at 7:15pm.  Savannah H and Julia have exceptional endurance, but even they were looking worn.  As we drove 280 through Los Altos Hills, Savannah commented that this would be the last time they’d go this way. I was feeling badly that they’d had to wait so long for their ride.  As we approached 85, I said, “you know, it’s just as well that we didn’t come down this stretch of road any earlier.  Even just fifteen minutes ago, this section of freeway was stop and go.”  I had been watching the traffic reports on google maps with some anxiety and it had been true, but it was smooth sailing now. Savannah lives in Saratoga and Julia lives in Los Gatos.  Both of them had an immediate and visceral response to the reference to rush “hour” traffic.  Savannah said, “Oh, we know!”  A look of profound relief crossed both their faces at the same time as the realized that it was going to be the last time they would have to drive home through south bay rush hour traffic after having been out with the horses.  Freedom will now live at Garrod’s Stables in Saratoga. As we drove up Pierce Road, Savannah got happier and happier.  “All this time, I’ve had vaulting at Garrod’s and Freedom in Los Altos Hills.  Now they will both be in the same place!”  As great as our loss is, it’s time.

I get one day off after horse camping and then I am back at it.  The horses don’t care.  They need to get out, but we all felt empty and somewhat at a loss as we quietly milled about the arena a couple of days later.  But bit by bit Rachel started coming up with ideas, Sara started taking an interest in riding Dancer and I realized, with enormous relief, that I no longer have to struggle to keep Savannah Y and Savannah H straight.  One and only one Savannah is more than enough for me.  What I am going to do about the fact that there are now three Sophie’s, I don’t know, but I’m not going to worry about that just quite yet.

Jack Brook 2015