“Do we want to bring the hard saddle or just the fluffy for Jazzy?” Kate, age 15, is looking at me intently, finger poised and ready over her iPhone with the Notes app open. It’s 10:10pm. We are both sitting in the front seat of my car. I’m staring glumly at the back of her parents Toyota that’s parked in her drive way hoping this is going to be over soon and I will get to go home.

Kate is relentless, “Which girth should we bring? Oh, and we have to talk about meds.” The light dawned on her that Jack Brook was six days a way moments after getting into the car at Quail. I suggested that she should take it easy on Dancer on Saturday because horse camping was Sunday. She said, “Horse camping is Sunday?!” Moments later she had her phone out. “We need to get organized!” By “we” she means, she will organize me.

Kate had plenty of time to work at it in the car. I had to drop Sophie off in Mountain View and Arya off in south Los Altos first. Arya’s plan was to drop Kate off first and her off last. Actually, Arya’s plan was to never leave the barn at all, but even in summer, 9:30, the time that Arya got dropped off, is pretty darn late for a ten year-old to get home.

Arya, age ten, and Sophie, age nine, are lucky they get to stay out late in the first place. In fact, they are lucky they get to come and ride in the late afternoon and evening. Most parents are set in the idea that they need to “have an activity” for their kids in the morning. I sympathize. I’m teaching four mornings a week all summer long. But by 10am, the glare in the staging area at Campo is almost unbearable; the glare from the roads and cars not as bad, but still constant aggravation. And Los Altos Hills doesn’t stop because it’s summer. Far from it. On our hour long ride on Monday morning, we crossed paths with three dump trucks, two garbage trucks and one tree shredding truck and trailer. The majority of these vehicles are driven by Latinx who are wonderful about how they drive so carefully and considerately when they see the horses, so it is less of a problem that it would appear. But it’s not fun.

By 7pm, we have the town to ourselves. Not only that, but we are now in rebound time. The majority of humans experience the energy pattern of peak, recovery and rebound. Mid-afternoon is for resting, but evenings are for fun. Evenings are also the natural play time for horses.

During the school year, there’s not much that can be done about it. Kids need to get home for dinner, homework and bed. But in summer, the idea that there might be an activity that will take place during what would normally be dinner time doesn’t seem to connect for parents. Except parents like Shaliza, Arya’s mom, who brought us all dinner at the arena at 7.

Sophie and Arya are both in the plan for horse camping. Horse camping wasn’t supposed to happen this year. Last year, the parent who was supposed to transport the hay up, cancelled last minute. The parent who was supposed to provide Saturday night’s dinner, along with deciding it was also a good time to take up the issue of how she thought I was stressing her kid out, off-loaded the task onto the one already overloaded parent who was actually providing some help with the camp who then then complained abundantly about it to me and two inebriated women affiliated with the yearly San Mateo Horsemen’s Association camping trip for whom the rules don’t apply, spent one entire evening bullying me because I had the nicer campground reserved and was clearly, in their mind, just a bunch of kids was not using the good site to it’s full potential. There wasn’t any family drama last year, or snotty clique behavior from eighth graders, no one called from the gate (2 miles from the camp) and demand that I immediately come up and open it for them and no parent drove down the one lane road at the wrong time; all past horse camping events. But it was enough.

When you put the word camping in a sentence, it automatically conjures up images of burning marshmallows, latrines buzzing with flies and dusty hikes with bored children.

If the parents don’t hear “camping”, they hear “camp.” “Oh, you’ll do it all! It’s an activity provided for my child where they just have to show up! Where do I drop them off?” Followed by complaint about the expense. “How can a camp site cost $200 a night?!”

Jack Brook was a hunting camp before it was a horse camp. There is an out door bar with dancing pavilion, huge, cement fire pit with permanent, comfortable benches on all sides, a small cabin which contains microwaves and refrigerators, flush toilets, hot showers, a shed stacked with several cords of split logs, an outdoor double sink with overhead lighting and hot water and San Mateo County Parks trucks out the manure once a day.

When I describe all this, the parents say, in a derogatory tone, “Oh, that’s glamping!” The idea that there are many hours of preparation involved, as demonstrated by Kate’s list, in moving horses in the first place because you are essentially moving the entire barn, much less that their child would benefit enormously for the development of organizational skills, responsibility and hard work, plus the huge boost in self esteem they get from the obvious accomplishment in their contribution towards making the trip happen, isn’t on their radar.

When I tell the parents that the fee only covers expenses, that I will am on call 24/7 for five days straight, that I don’t get a penny for any of that time and neither does my husband who also volunteers his time for several days and that we all work together doing the food organization, cooking and clean up, they get a momentary glazed look in their eyes, then quickly dismiss the slightly uncomfortable thought and return to this image of dropping their kid off at the barn with a sleeping bag and tooth brush. When they do so they will say something like, “Whoopsies! I forgot the tent I’d promised! You’ll be OK, won’t you?” And of course the whole experience should be provided for $50 a night.

To be honest, not all parents are like this. But most of them are to some degree or completely.

No, I wasn’t planning on taking the kids camping this year. I was planning on taking myself camping. LAHHA, the horsemen’s association, takes a yearly trip. Turned out, I was the only one planning on going. Kate had been so much help, she really deserved to come along. And what about Sophie? It would be so much fun to have Sophie come. If Sophie came, then Arya should come also. And there you have it. A KLH horse camping trip. But it’s for the children of the few parents who when I say, “riding in the evening is so much better!” they say, OK and then also show up with dinner.

Arya almost didn’t get to come. When pleading with her mother, she said, “Mom, if you knew me and you knew how much this meant to me, you’d make it happen!” Actually, the first scheduled time got cancelled because the shifter in the truck malfunctioned, which turned out to be a small detail that was overlooked in completing the last repair. Unable to bear a summer without time at the horse camp, I reserved another date, which worked for Arya. I don’t think her mother does understand how much it means to her. We just figured that God intervened on her behalf.

Years ago, when KLH had just moved to Los Altos Hills, I was able to take the kids on overnight trips down to a ranch in Paicines; south of Hollister. The caretaker of the ranch was formerly affiliated with Trinity Ranch, a now defunct therapeutic riding program whose umbrella I had initially worked under. Taking the kids to the ranch was like watching flowers blossom. It was like drinking water or breathing for the first time.

Even though we love them because they are full of horses, boarding stables and equestrian centers are barely better than zoos. The riding that is learned is tense, fraught with fear and distress and only just functional. The riding the girls do on the pathways develops their skills as equestrians to a far greater degree than the stables, but it’s like trying to learn how to ride with someone throwing trash at you all the time. The girls do it because they love the horses, but it’s far from ideal. At the ranch, without the constant oppressive presence of thousands of automobiles, with the sounds of birds and the rhythms of daily animal care taking naturally woven into life, they got a glimpse of what horses are really all about; a vision of life as it could be lived.

Access to the ranch was curtailed by the owners. Horse camp is what has filled in.

Sophie has made her own packing list for camp. Arya has volunteered her parents to bring Indian food for dinner, though she hasn’t told her parents. I’ve ordered full seat breeches for both girls, a purchase that was overdue as the breeches help them stick to the horse.

Odds are in our favor that we will not run into any bullies so all should be good.


“I’m riding on Saturday, right?” Sammie’s head was tilted to the side and she had a slightly quizzical look on her face. Arya piped up with, “I’m riding too, aren’t I? How many little kids do you have coming out?” There were two “little kids” coming out in the morning, but after that I didn’t have anyone scheduled. Sammie had taken over a couple of her sister’s lessons on Saturdays, but isn’t scheduled to ride regularly on Saturdays and Arya had told me her family was leaving town.

Loath to give up a rare, unscheduled Saturday afternoon, I hesitated for a few moments, but fairly quickly succumbed to the desire to take the kids out whenever there is a chance to do so. If Sammie and Arya were available to do so, they’d be welcome out for a ride on Saturday afternoon. Then I couldn’t find the microchip.

Jazzy, new to the heard as of September, has not been chipped. The chip has to be purchased from my small animal vet and inserted by my equine vet. Kristin, the equine vet, was scheduled to administer vaccines on Tuesday. The chip was not at the barn. I was positive I’d left it in my carry-all basket, which was in the car and would she please let me know next time she was at Westwind and I’d ride Dancer up and get him chipped then.

Shortly after that, Kate’s mom called. Kate was grounded from horses for the week. Then Mikatrin’s mom called asking if Mikatrin could ride Friday morning. Then the vet called saying she’d be at Westwind Friday morning, which was, “great! Mikatrin will get to ride,Dancer will get out and he’ll get his microchip.”

On Thursday, I turned the barn and house upside down looking for that chip. No luck.

There was only one thing for it: Turn Saturday afternoon riding into a barn clean up day in order to find that darn chip!

Then Kate’s mom called again. Kate had stepped up to the plate, the horse ban was lifted and she wanted to ride Friday afternoon. When she arrived I told her she’d have to ride Chavali because I’d ridden Dancer to Westwind to meet the vet for a microchip implantation.

Kate said, “Did Dancer get his microchip?” I explained that he did not because I couldn’t find it. She said, “Doesn’t he already have a microchip?” So it was just as well the chip was lost as yes, it was, and still is, Jazzy, who needs the chip.

Kate then asked if she could finish Dancer’s “trace clip” while were doing the barn clean up and maybe also clip CG? As Dancer and CG live at the Quail barn, Kate said she’d pony CG over and bring the clippers and do the clipping at Campo.

Arya and Sammie were all in for the barn clean up. Sophie, age nine, and seven year-old Lola 2 (as opposed to Lola Bacchi who is Lola 1) rode in the morning, but Sophie came with lunch and the desire to stay and clean till the cows came home. Lola 2, not to be left out, insisted on sweep the tack room as her contribution to the clean up and made me promise that next time we had a barn clean up, she’d get to stay all day!

Kate showed up in time to lead the ride with Sophie and Arya. She was, as promised, leading Cowgirl and carrying the tote bag with the clippers in it. As she rode past the staging area, she said, “Does the microchip come with a blue tag and metal ring?” It does.

Thank heavens Kate was intent on clipping. When she joined us in the staging area and dismounted, she pulled the missing microchip out of the clippers bag, where I’d put it to keep it in a safe spot. No amount of barn cleaning would have found it.

Kate handed me the package with the chip in it and said, “Where do you think would be a safe place to put it?” I handed the package back to her and said, “of the two of us, you are the better one to figure that out!” She put it on the upper shelf of the cupboard above Stoney’s saddle – visible, but secure.

Around noon I got a text from Sammie’s mom saying that Sammie needed to talk to me about the chocolate and that she felt that Arya had betrayed her.

KLH has been having chocolate problems. The chocolate basket lives in the tack shack at Quail. It is generally stocked with their favorite flavors and, for the first part of the school year, they were all pretty good about sticking to the limit of two rows of any bar at a time. But over the past two months, more and more chocolate has been disappearing. Most of the kids have had a hand in it, but it was, of course, Sammie who took it just a little farther than the rest and at the wrong time. This is par for the course for Sammie. It’s just her fate. But the problem was not Sammie. The problem was how to manage the barn chocolate. All of the girls were charged with the task of helping me come up with a better solution.

For a number of reasons this lead to some serious miscommunications over text message between Arya and Sammie, which left both girls in tears.

Lola 2 was scheduled to be picked up at 1:30, but her mom was running late. Lola got to ride Jazzy bareback down to the end of Campo. While we were waiting at the end of Campo, Sammie arrived. Lola dismounted and Sammie rode Jazzy back to the barn.

First thing out of Sammie’s mouth was, “I have an idea for the chocolate. You should prepare the chocolate portions of each kid of their favorite chocolate before their lesson and just have that out.” Several parents had offered solutions, but of course, Sammie’s was, by far, the best.

When she got to the barn, she ran to Arya, told her she was sorry and gave her a great big hug.

We then started into the cleaning in earnest, which involved pulling every single item out of the tack room. When the inevitable desiccated rat carcass was discovered, screaming and wailing ensued, with Kate saying, “here, don’t touch it without gloves!” And Sammie saying, “We have to give it a burial.” Followed by Sophie saying the rat needed a name. “We can call it Squeakers!”

It was decided that Arya would be the one to pick up and transport the carcass to the burial ground in the manure mountain. Kate found the gloves and Arya found that she really wasn’t up to picking up something that had died so Sammie did it.

Squeakers was laid to rest with short ceremony and a few tears with the grave marked by a red Christmas bow that had failed to make it back into the Christmas decorating supplies and had been languishing on the floor of the tack room for months. Joining the mourners were six year-old Zinnia, who lives next to the barn, and her visiting cousin, who had dropped in to check out the cleaning party and had stayed to get some time grooming Jazzy.

After their mission was accomplished, the cleaning continued. Sophie, Arya and Sammie set to work washing and scrubbing the grime off all the grooming supplies. Kate, with the help of Zinnia and Celeste, got started on clipping Cowgirl, who’s coat is thick enough to protect her from an arctic winter and suffers terribly if we don’t relieve her of some of it.

Mucking the pasture was next on the list, but Arya was starting to fade. She lay down on top of and under a huge pile of saddle pads and went to sleep while Sophie and Sammie headed down the hill with muck forks and the wheel barrow. After finishing the scrubbing of plastic, mesh, hanging grooming gear pockets, I joined Arya and Sammie and took over pushing the wheel barrow.

Arya is normally a non-stop energy dynamo. Her being asleep came as a surprise to Sammie. “What she doing sleeping?! Did she not get enough sleep?” I told Sammie truth was she had been extremely distressed at the thought of potentially losing one of her dearest friends and she was so relieved that Sammie still loved her that she’d collapsed and gone to sleep. Sammie said, “Yeah, I was feeling the same way. I was so distressed I had to think about math to distract myself.”

Arya had roused herself by the time we returned with the wheelbarrow. She was propped up on one elbow offering Kate advice on what to clip and what not to clip.

But the big question remained: Who was going to get to sweep the tack room, now cleared of all equipment? Arya had no interest in getting off the pads. Sophie was torn, but ultimately decided that getting to finish clipping Cowgirl, Zinnia and Celeste having gone home, was the better option. Sammie, to her delight, got the plumb job of making the tack room look pristine.

The girls ended their day by each picking a saddle pad to take home. There were twice as many pads at the barn as needed. Sending one home with each girl, including sending the camouflage pad with Sammie to take to Lola 1, may not get met with enthusiasm by the parents, but it solved a problem. I expect the girls will keep those pads until they have their own horses. Sophie’s mom, Lauren, told me that Sophie sleeps with a saddle pad in her bed.

Sophie and Arya left with Lauren and Sammie walked with them up the pathway to Campo Vista where her mom was waiting. Always best when girls all leave the barn at the same time.

Kate managed to perfect Dancer’s trace clip before 5:30, which was the time she was scheduled to be picked up and whisked away to a family vacation in Half Moon Bay.

I am going to sleep tonight with the satisfaction of knowing that the barn is immaculate and that it will continue to be so for the next forty-eight hours as there are no lessons tomorrow.

Picture below is of Sammie, Kate, Arya and Sophie in their “cuddle pile” with Dante, my dog, in the foreground.

Cuddle Pile

Winter Break 2017

“Do you really need a truck tire?” Shaliza, Arya’s mom, was crouched on the verge just outside the barn aisle at Quail. I was standing in the aisle holding the hay room door open in order to better supervise Sophie and Arya who were making supplemental feed “buckets” for Dancer and Chavali.

“Yes. I need a truck tire.” I replied.

“That’s what Arya said. She said, ‘We need to buy Miss Deb a truck tire for Christmas!’ ”

“You don’t need to buy a tire. You get them for free. But I don’t need one any longer. Sophie’s dad is bringing one this afternoon.”

I got the idea from “Snowman.” Truck tires are, supposedly, used to train horses to ground tie. That didn’t work for Snowman, who managed to jump a series of pasture fences with the truck tire still attached to the lead rope and halter, but I think, for my purposes it will do very well as a fourth tie up, of which we are always in need of at Campo. One horse gets tied at the cross ties, another at the rail next to the paddock, a third clipped to the high tie in the barn aisle and the fourth horse can be tied to the tire in the staging area across from the barn aisle making something of a square, leaving ample room to maneuver and face most of the horses butt out rather than in.

Arya hadn’t planned on coming out this morning. In fact, we hadn’t managed to make plans for Arya to come out at all. The whole of California now seems to manage all it’s business via texting, which has left me scrambling. Arya’s aging and ailing grandfather has moved into her house to be cared for by Shaliza, which has left Shaliza scrambling. Between the two, we forgot entirely to put her on the schedule.

I had intended to have Arya come out yesterday. When Savannah heard this, she said, “I love Arya! I will come out tomorrow also no problem.” Shocker of shockers, Savannah has lots of time on her hands. This is like the earth stopping or the Red Sea parting. Savannah with lots of time on her hands has, to my knowledge, never happened. She has decided to spend that time this break out at the barn with Dancer. And also mucking and helping put boots on horses and riding double on Jazzy with small bodies and putting Dancer and Stoney through their ground work paces, etc… Merry Christmas to ME! and Arya.

Just after giving Chavali and Dancer their buckets, Chaitra and Kimmie arrive. And so does Savannah. Chaitra is somewhat subdued as the presence of Savannah, a teen, has her taken a back a bit. Kimmie is still at half mast, having just rolled out of bed half an hour before

After tacking up Dancer and sending Savannah off riding Dancer and ponying Chavali over to Campo, Chaitra, Sophie, Kimmie and Arya all pile into my car to get squished by Dante the dog as we drive over to Campo. Between long days and loaning out my car to house guests, Dante didn’t get to come out to the barn for a whole week. He has a sore on his foreleg that the girls keep pointing out. The compulsive licking that created the sore is his way of expressing his distress at having been left at home so many days in a row. When he finally got to come out yesterday, he spent an hour going from Erin to Kate to Savannah to Lola to Sammie, rubbing up against them and making them pet him; he was just so happy to be out amongst “His girls.”

At Campo, the girls spill out of the car to open the gate for Savannah. Of course it takes all four of them to open the gate. Then they run, en masse, down the hill to the barn at get to work; Kimmie helps me muck, Sophie and Chaitra tack up Velvet and Arya braids Dancer’s tail. Unfortunately, when it comes to putting on the boots, the nastiest task of all, I’m one of the few people who can do it. The girls pick the hooves and fasten the velcro, but the rest is up to me. However, for the first time, the boots are color coded! Lola dragged her dad to the barn yesterday. We put him to work installing hooks and bridle racks. He also brought blue, pink and orange spray paint for the boots. Lola did the spraying. Jazzy’s boots got sprayed with the pink, Lola’s favorite color for Lola’s favorite horse; “Jazzy is a lot like Bella,” she says. For Stoney’s boots, Lola sprayed blue on the front of the front boots and on the rear of the rear boots. Velvet’s boots got the neon orange; not very attractive but surprisingly and delightfully visible, so much so it’s almost worth getting her a pair of rear boots too.

If putting boots on hooves is a dreadful task, at least now, thanks to Lola and her dad, getting the right boot to the right hoof to the right horse is a breeze. More Merry Christmas!

As skilled a rider as Arya is, she’s still just a tad too small for going solo on Jazzy. We are waiting for Chavali to heal up. But in the mean time, she rides double with the older girls, which, today, is Savannah. Chaitra rides Stoney because she has a strong enough personality to read the riot act to Stoney when needed. Kimmie rides Velvet and Sophie, who wants to have someone hold the lead rope, rides Dancer because whoever is riding Dancer who is not Savannah or kate, needs to have me holding the lead rope, which I am happy to do.

On the way to the arena, Chaitra had to wrestle with Stoney six or seven times over grass. She triumphed every time, which is no small feat. Kimmie had to maintain control of Velvet so she didn’t try and race Dancer. Sophie had to work to keep Dancer moving at a decent walk. It took superior effort and determination on all their parts. I was very proud of them. However, by the time we got to the arena, they were all ready for a break. This was fine with me as Dancer and Stoney needed ground work performed by Savannah. Arya grabbed the giant, purple, rubber, exercise ball, threw it over the low, baseball field fence. Arya, Chaitra, Kimmie and Sophie clambered over the fence after the ball and all four girls ran, with ball, to the back stop where they played an exceptionally fun game of dodge ball for half an hour while Savannah worked first Dancer and then Stoney in circles at a canter and over the pinwheel of ground poles that Kate had set up.

Kate had her lesson at Westwind in the morning and got dropped off at the arena. She had ample time to indulge her ground pole design whims and had set up an elaborate course. The last time Kate was at the arena she put the girls to work setting up the ground poles. Victoria, who is home from vet school in Scotland for winter holidays, was watching. As a rather extraordinary arrangement of poles and blocks started to emerge, Victoria said, “What is she doing?!” Truly I had no idea. Kate is clearly on her way to taking arena pole and block design to a new level.

Chaitra and Kimmie got picked up at one. This left Sophie and Arya putzing around with hula hoops and using Jazzy as a jungle gym while Savannah got Stoney to behave himself on the end of a lunge line and Kate schooled Dancer through her poles course.

At one thirty, Rachel arrived. Savannah was sitting eating a container of almonds that had been left by one of the young riders in my bike bag earlier in the week, or maybe the week before or the week before that. When her mother learned she was planning on staying out till five without eating, she blew a gasket so it was stale almonds or go home. When Savannah saw Rachel, she abandoned the almonds. “Rachel!” she yelled and started to run to the fence, but not as fast as Sophie and Arya who got there first bear hugged Rachel right through the fence.

Arya and Sophie didn’t get to play with Rachel for much time as I had promised to have them back at the barns by two thirty. Rachel, Savannah and Kate headed off on a trail ride past Byrnne Preserve and Sophie and Arya and I; Sophie riding Velvet, Arya holding Velvet’s lead rope and sitting on my bike rack and me riding my bike; headed back to Campo. Sophie and Arya sang every Imagine Dragons song ever written, and probably some not yet written, on the way back.

As we got close to the barn, I got a text from Sophie’s mom: “I have the truck tire. Please send the girls up to the top of the pathway so they can help get the tire to the barn.” I waited at the gate in the fence at Campo while Arya and Sophie gleefully sent the truck tire flying down the pathway. I think it will do just fine as a tie down.

Arya had a friend waiting, which left me with all the barn chores. I was just finishing up, with the help of a Campo neighbor, six year-old Zinnia, when Rachel, Savannah and Kate returned to the barn. I thought they must have ridden very fast to make such good time. Rachel assured me they had not. “It’s berry season, you know” she said. “We spent most of our time throwing berries at each other.”

Zinnia got to ride Chavali bareback back to her house as Chavali had to return to Quail and Zinnia’s house is en route. Rachel went to Quail with Kate and Savannah where Savannah and Kate stayed and did God knows what to Dancer with the clippers. I will find out on Monday, but i don’t know now as I left long before the clippers were even plugged in.

Most of winter break has been this way. As winter breaks go, this one was a veritable bumper crop of good times. We should all now be well stocked up with horse happiness, which will hopefully keep us all going through most of the rest of the school year until the summer horse party can begin.

I don’t have any pictures that will go well with this story. It’s hard to take photo’s when you’ve got a lead rope in one hand and a bike in the other. But I did get one pretty photo of Stoney. In his latter years, he’s gone from looking rather motley to a stunning white. Nothing special about the photo other than that it was taken today and will serve as a memory for some really good times.

Beautiful Stoney

The Trials of Job

“I’m sorry Deb, I can’t make it out. Sami [a dog] is throwing up and I need to stay home to take care of her.” That was cancellation number three in less than twelve hours. Dorina had cancelled 8pm the night before. Jill cancelled Kali at 10pm because when the grandparents left, she had a total melt down. I’d already turned away riders because the day was full. But lucky Sammie! Too young to go on long rides with many riders and too busy to schedule a “special event”, riding to the best parts of the hills could only happen on a blue moon. Sammie got her moon.

The girls love riding horses so much that all the chaos and commotion of riding around the semi-urban parts of the hills doesn’t matter to them, but peace descends when you ride up the Artemas Gintzon trail and into Byrnne Preserve. Sammie is skilled enough to canter as much as she liked and Rachel rode with her to keep her safe. For a young rider, you can’t get any closer to pure joy.

The day was turning out to be hotter than expected. Due to the unparalleled opportunity of a stellar ride, we were more than an hour later returning than expected. But that’s what summer is for.

Along with Savannah’s text early in the morning, was an urgent text from my vet. Dr. Carlson, the surgeon, had finally looked at Skipper’s X-rays. He said he thought Skipper needed another set of X-rays and he could come by that afternoon.

Skipper had been three legged lame for almost three weeks. He’d been kicked, hard, by Bella and, at first, looked like he’d heal up. But seven days after the kick, all of a sudden, his right, front leg hung limp from his body.

In Bella’s defense, Skipper was asking for it. He just doesn’t take no for an answer.

Skipper showed up on the Los Altos Hills horse scene about a year ago and never was there a more perfect pony for training kids to ride. The ideal height of 13.2, he was backyard bred, which meant his legs weren’t as straight as they should have been, but it also meant he was bad at bucking, unbelievable good tempered, happy to go forward at any gate desired at any time at any position in the line. Finding a pony like this is harder than you’d think. When I purchased Cowgirl, she was the only one out of two hundred for sale at the time that even came close to being appropriate for training kids. Finding Skipper was like finding the needle in the haystack.

His most remarkable quality was that he was bomb proof. People say this about horses all the time and I’ve never, ever known it to be true, except with this horse, though the reason why ended up being the reason he died.

I didn’t think I had a prayer of ever buying him, but as it turned out, Judy, his owner, had purchased him to save him from living in squalor. He was really too small. The same month I retired Cowgirl she asked me if I’d like to buy him. She could have demanded triple what he was worth and I would have done it.

From the get go, he loved the girls and they loved him, no one more so than Arya. Small, with brown skin and black hair, they were a matched set. Arya said she was going to marry him and take him to college, though not sure in what order. All I knew is that I finally had a horse that her skilled, but petite, body could wrap it’s legs around.

Dr. Carlson arrived at 4. He travels with an assistant, which Kristin, my regular vet, does not. Strong as Kristin and I are, Dr. Carlson has the advantage of testosterone, which allowed him to pick up Skipper’s good leg, something necessary to get more thorough X-rays, but that required hoisting up about 300lbs of horse.

Arya, Sophie and Jaya had all arrived at the end of Skipper’s photo session. Dr. Carlson was in the barn examining X-rays when they arrived and the girls got busy giving Skipper a spa treatment. It didn’t take him long though. I don’t think the girls noticed when he walked out of the barn, leaned back against the grill of his Chevy Suburban and said, “There’s bone chip in there all right and it’s moving. There’s a good chance it’s the cause of the problem but we won’t know until after we take it out.” The girls also didn’t hear him continue with, “but we have to take a look at the joint first. If it’s good, taking the chip out will be worth it. If the joint is trashed, we just won’t wake him up.” Even if they had, I’m not sure they would have understood what that meant.

After Skipper was properly primped and preened and the commotion of the vet exam was gone, Sophie announced, “I want to take Cowgirl to the arena and practice vaulting!” To this, Arya added, “And I want to ride Bella double with Jaya!” Jaya, who talks to me only when she has to, nodded a vigorous assent.

By vaulting, Sophie means practicing jumping on and off Cowgirl. Sophie is a talented acrobat with long limbs so Cowgirl, despite her retired status, doesn’t mind this at all.

I don’t remember what the girls talked about getting the horses ready and riding to the arena, but three happier horse girls there never were. For my part, I was taking every spare second to send text messages to the dozen or so people connected to Skipper who needed to know of his dire situation and to rearrange the next day for the contortions necessary to trailer him to the horse hospital in Salinas the next day.

Mostly they all practiced jumping on and off of Cowgirl in the arena and practiced standing up on her back while one of the lead her around at a walk.

Arya and Jaya did ride double on Bella to and from the arena, but with me walking carefully placed beside them, lead rope firmly in hand. At one point, Arya looked down at me and said, “I feel sorry for you, Miss Deb, having to walk so much.” Though it was cool now, I’d been up since six, I’d sprinted on my bike up to Westwind that morning and I was ready to be done for the day. But I said, “I’m a little tired, but if it means keeping you safe, being tired doesn’t matter at all.” Even when all hell is breaking loose around her, Bella is near perfect on the lead line, but you do need to be holding that line.

There was no prying the girls away from the arena until sun had started to set and we had just entered nautical twilight, what most people call “night”, as we descended Quail Lane to the barn where their parents were waiting. With no school the next day and no camps, the girls then fulfilled their dream of taking care of all the evening barn chores at Quail with their best friends. It’s sad to me that this can only happen once or twice a year, but it did happen and that’s what summer is for.

It was well past nine when I finally left Quail for Campo. It was nearly ten by the time I started to drive away from the barn. The next day would involve getting up at six, walking the dog, feeding the cats, packing provisions, cleaning and feeding at Quail, cleaning and feeding at the barn where Dancer lives, driving to Saratoga;involving several miles on narrow, twisty road; to hitch up the trailer, driving back to Los Altos Hills, stopping to fill up on the way, inching Skipper all the way down Campo Vista to the trailer, then shoving off by 10:30 at the latest as they wanted him in Salinas as soon as possible.

Dinner, damage control in the house, and several dozen, lengthy Skipper related text messages left me dozing off to sleep at midnight. Moments later I woke with a start remembering that I had failed to refill Skipper and Velvet’s water tub. So it was back out to the barn, in my bathrobe, and back in bed at one a.m.

Skipper was as chipper as any horse with three legs could be. He hopped out of the trailer at the horse hospital an into the prepared stall with little fan fare. Dante and I walked around the grounds a bit to stretch our legs before the ride home. When I returned to the stall, they were preparing him for catheterization. The first time Kristin tried to catheterize him, two weeks prior, Skipper had pitched a fit. The calm, co-operative, agreeable, sedated Skipper, tried to rear and strike. Kristin looked at me and said,”this horse was late cut [castrated late]”, which explained a lot.

After warning the techs, I put my heart in my hand and put my hand on his forehead and said goodbye.

It was noon. And then it was two. At four, text from the vet said they now had one horse in front of him. At six, text said they were bringing him into surgery. Allison texted me same time: What time should she walk Cowgirl? I told her what was going on with Skipper and that I had to feed and clean at both barns, but she was welcome to come along and keep me company. She said she thought she should come along for moral support.

On the way to pick up Allison, at text came in from Shaliza. Never one to take life sitting down, Arya had set up a GoFundMe account to raise money to defray some of the medical expense. She wanted to know how much to ask for.

Allison and I got to the barns at seven. We mucked and sorted and fed and groomed. By eight, there was still no word. Allison left at 8:45. I had one last bag of pellet to schlep into Quail. It was nine and the call came. “We can’t see much of what’s in the joint, but it doesn’t matter. With Skipper under anesthesia, we were able to take much more thorough X-rays. That bone chip? It’s huge. And so is the fracture – it runs right through the joint. The only tool in the country that can fix this is at Texas A&M and even then, the odds on recovery aren’t good. I recommend you let us put him down.” I have never had a vet say that to me. When a vet says, “I recommend,” what they really mean is, “If this were my pony, I’d do it in a heartbeat.”

It was another late night with another early morning: Dog walked and fed, cats fed, provisions packed, Quail fed and mucked, at Campo by 7:40. Shana, whose life has extenuating circumstances, hadn’t been able to ride all summer. She was supposed to ride the day before, but it had been too hot. She was supposed to leave for Boston that afternoon, expecting to be gone for the rest of the summer. She said, “If I sleep well, I can ride from eight to nine!” Riding from eight to nine would only be possible if I was there to tack up. I still didn’t know if she was coming, I had to be at the Robleda barn by 8:20 at the very latest. There was no response to my text asking whether she would make it.

Shana showed up at 8:10, still needing to leave at nine. Rushing around like a chicken with my head cut off, we got Velvet tacked in record time, but not so little time as to not check the girth, which was loose, before Shana took off.

It was supposed to have cooled off Saturday, but it ended up being hotter. But ten, it was already eighty. Julia, Jaya, Sammie and myself were walking from Quail to Campo when Shana’s mother, Cara, called. I let it go to voice mail.

Everyone was grouchy that morning because of the heat, which gets particularly intense in the exposed, unshaded staging area at Campo. It was a fight to get the girls moving to groom and tack. At one point I had to have Sammie toss one of the stirrups and stirrup leather. She did so without thinking and unintentionally smacked my had with the stirrup. I started to see red and said, “I need to go away and go calm down!” I made my way to the back of the barn without losing my temper. Sat for a bit and decided I might as well listen to Cara’s message. It was a three minute rant about how Shana had come home in tears because I’d so mean and condescending to her and how I’d ruined her whole day and didn’t I know she was leaving for Boston and so on and so forth. I texted Cara saying I’d just put a horse down, I was tired and had a lot to do that morning and to tell Shana she needed to not take anything I did or said personally. Cara texted back. “I’m sorry for your loss. But that still doesn’t excuse your behavior. You need to learn to be less abrupt!”

Skipper’s injury was the fifth serious and first fatal injury we’ve had at the Campo barn, any of the other four having been serious enough to be life ending. One of those was directly the fault of the barn owners. Three were indirectly the fault. As for Bella’s kick, someone like Jan, the Quail barn owner, would have noticed the escalation in Skipper’s overtures to Bella and also her excessively aggressive behavior during feeding. If I’d had any say in the matter, I would have had Bella stalled for every feeding. But the Campo barn owners are do resistant to action not of their own idea that it took me four years to convince them to allow me to muck the paddock. The owners are concerned about damage to their barn, not about

The night before Skipper’s surgery, I had a dream where Jan had moved all of my horses to her barn. She’d figured out how to cordon off part of the orchard so that there was room for all of six of them as well as a couple of rescue steers. When I told Jan my dream, she said she wished she had that kind of property. If i can find a property that would have room for all of the herd, my dream would be to take Jan with me.

The real culprit in Skipper’s death was his “stallion” state. The only reason I know of to castrate late is if you are thinking a particular horse might be a good stallion prospect. With his knock knees, overly long back and sickly hocks, I couldn’t imagine anyone thinking he’d be a stallion prospect. But there is another reason for a late cut. As a “stallion”, Skipper was heedless of his life. I saw that first when Stoney and Skipper had at it at Campo one afternoon. Although I was able to separate them, it wasn’t before witnessing Skipper’s wanton disregard for his own safety. That incident was not intentional, and I never let them out together again, but for a few moments I was seriously worried that Skipper would get himself killed.

So what makes a horse spook? They want to preserve their life. With no instinct for that, Skipper was fearless on trail; a good reason for a late cut, but one that comes with other problems.

Several of the girls have asked if I will replace him. This idea is not even on my radar yet, but Skipper was irreplaceable.

Even though we had to let him go, Arya went ahead with her GoFundMe campaign anyways. Kayla, Kate and Rachel have promised to make a memorial poster of all their pictures of him. On things for certain, we will all be sad for a very long time.

Rest in Peace, Skipper.

Erik Loves Ponies

“I could do it right there.” Kristin, my vet, is pointing at the patch of dirt next to the cement next to the gate at Quail. “You need a soft spot so they don’t break a leg as they go down. Janice can get the winch through the gate. But you’ll want to schedule the euthanasia for a Tuesday or Wednesday. Definitely not a weekend.” Janice runs a tallow company, which is the fate of almost all horse carcasses. The horse that Kristin and I are talking about is Cowgirl.

I don’t know why I didn’t notice the string halt/calcified tendon when I first bought her, but it must have been there. Not that it would have made any difference. Out of the 200 ponies for sale at the time I had to buy, she was the only one who wasn’t advertised as “will bring home blue ribbons as a show jumper” or was simply completely untrained. She had been a pony party pony and a summer camp pony and who knows what else. She was advertised as being thirteen, but vets guess was her being twenty; plenty of time to inflict irreparable damage. Certainly the untreated Cushings was masking the problem. As soon she started getting medication for the Cushings, about three months after she joined us, the limp in her step started to show up; a little at first, but more and more each year.

Cowgirl nipped at the kids from the get go. Savannah, now fifteen, at age seven wrote an entire book all about Cowgirl. It goes something like this: “Cowgirl has brown hair and a white blaze and she tried to bite me.” Followed by, “Cowgirl is my size and has a red saddle as she tried to bite me.” And so on and so forth. Sometimes the nipping is just a bad habit. More often it is a sign of pain. Cowgirl got massage and acupuncture and pain meds and chiropractic and craniosacral therapy and cold laser treatment and any and everything I could think of that would help her body.

Despite the nipping, Savannah’s book ended with “I love Cowgirl more than anything.”

Inside the door of the hay room at Quail is a two and a half foot high picture that Maya drew of Cowgirl when she, Maya, was nine or ten. Maya did very little art so this picture was special. She intentionally drew it to be as close to life size as possible. Maya probably rode Cowgirl more than anyone else. She galloped up Rhus Ridge on her. She rode her all over Arastradero Preserve and through all the trails at Jack Brook. When I first got her, except for the objection to being saddled, Cowgirl went any and everywhere with us. With the right rider, she’d even careen around the arena and leap the jumps like the other horses. In the first year I had her, Cowgirl jumped a three and a half foot fence. She was being pursued by a loose dog, but she jumped it never the less.

It was on our third trip to Jack Brook (horse camp) that she started to have trouble carrying a rider up the hills. I would ride one horse down, then switch and run up the hills behind Cowgirl, without a rider, holding her tail. It was three years ago that she started slowing down on our regular rides. Maybe it was Cowgirl getting older or maybe it was the girls getting heavier. It was hard to tell. She started coming along footloose and fancy free, running between the horses without a rider, which she enjoyed very much. But last year, at Jack Brook, she stayed at the camp for half the rides.

In the arena, it can be hard to tell if a horse is having trouble physically or if, because her primary riders are all novice, she’s just fed up with every single rider doing the wrong thing. Up until nine months ago, she’d show pep in the arena when the older girls would have her race with Jackson.

About a year ago, Kayla started riding her, but Cowgirl seemed to have lost her “go”. Was it the way Kayla was sitting? Did she need to improve her skills? Kayla wants Cowgirl to live at her house when she retires. She talks about it endlessly. Kayla would have done anything for CG to make riding work for her. It wasn’t Kayla. It was Cowgirl.

She started to drag with the beginners even more. She’d walk at a slow pace. Nothing the riders could do to make her move any faster, then finally she’d burst forward, often unseating her young rider in the process.

If she can’t carry a rider, where’s she going to go? Unless a horse has a situation where it can be taken out and brushed and walked and otherwise cared for, retirement for most horses is a fate worse than death. Standing around in a paddock day in and day out waiting for the end is like being in jail for the rest of their lives. Putting Cowgirl out in a pasture is an even crueler death sentence. It wouldn’t be right away, but founder or laminitis would be inevitable, both being excruciatingly painful conditions. And while she waited for death, unbearable, constant itching from untreated sweet itch.

I need a pony. I see these small bodies on my small horses and most of the time it’s fine, but I want these kids safe and for some of them, that means a pony, which means how the heck am I going to have time to tend and care for Cowgirl on top of the other six when I’m about ready to keel over from exhaustion all the time anyways to say nothing of the $600 a month it takes to simply keep her alive. Who will pay for that? Not the parents, that’s for sure.

But maybe she just needed a little schooling? I walked her to the arena and back, insisting she “maintain the gait” there and back. The next morning she was so stiff she could barely walk. There is not need for schooling. Her body just can’t take the work anymore.

Allison will probably take the prize as being all time most unique rider as in she doesn’t ride at all, but rather insists on spending every Sunday morning doting on Cowgirl. On Monday, when she comes out and keeps me company with the young riders, she usually spends the entire time recounting, in minute detail everything and anything that Cowgirl did, how she ate her bucket, how she kept nudging Allison, how she was tired and slow or how she felt lively when Allison walked her.

Allison is as indulgent as they come. I used to insist that Allison ride along with us, on CG, but she’d inevitably get off and hand walk her saying that Cowgirl just wanted to walk right now. They’d get far behind, but with Allison being fourteen (now fifteen), I didn’t worry and knew they’d make their way back to the barn safely.

Allison’s email name is “Am a Pony Lover.” Her Instagram name is ponyness_who_all_warship (worship). (Kayla’s Instagram name is cowgirl_the_pony.)

It was Allison’s dream for years to train Cowgirl to pull a cart. I was so hoping for this. It had the potential for extending her useful life. It took about a year to find a cart that would work. We were lucky and got it on sale. Allison used her Bat Mitzvah money to pay for it. But training a pony to harness is no simple task. You can get hurt worse by an untrained cart horse than you can riding. Training takes a lot of time. With the summer between middle school and high school coming up, there was hope. But her parents decided Allison needed to attend summer school, which left no time for training.

Last Thursday it was raining. Sophie and Arya came out for a barn day, as delighted to clean and organize the tack room as they are to ride. Allison came out also. As a teen, I never know if Allison will show up on any given day or not. I was surprised to have her there. Although I usually enjoy her company, it was the day after I’d decided that I didn’t have any other option than to euthanize Cowgirl. I took the opportunity to sit out of the way, behind a hay bale, trying to hide my breaking heart. But Allison was not particularly interested in engaging with the munchkins. She kept talking to me. She finally said, “I had a nightmare last night. I dreamt that something bad happened to Cowgirl.”

I hadn’t intended to tell anyone. Not even Jan. Cowgirl was going to be in retirement in Montana or Mississippi or Texas. But Allison knew anyways.

I talked to Al, Allison’s dad, a couple days later. Would they like to step up to the plate and help pay her expenses? Could Allison commit to taking CG out three or four days a week? Al said, “That’s not what Allison needs in her life.” Followed by, “I’m sure Allison will understand.” He added, “How old is she? She probably wouldn’t live much longer, would she?” This is not true. Ponies live a long time. Cowgirl is twenty eight. Assuming she gets decent care, she could live another fifteen or twenty years. Ideally a horse will be able to work up until the very end of it’s life. Chavali certainly shows signs of doing so and Stoney will come close to it. What happened to Cowgirl is what happens to all those lessons horses and pony ride horses and trail ride horses. The stresses and strains of carrying nothing but people with no skill wears them out in three to five years. Cowgirl lasted longer than that, but it’s the “I just want to go for a ride!” attitude or the “riding is for fun!” attitude or the idea that it doesn’t take any skill or commitment is what kills these horses; all those parents who put piano and the talent show and skiing and anything and everything else above and in front of horses and then come with the attitude of “what am I getting for my money!”, who view the horses as a carnival ride, that cause their demise. Cowgirl came with the damage done so far that I couldn’t stop it, much less reverse it, though God knows I tried.

Allison was out again yesterday, along with seven year-old Kali. As Kali and I brushed Velvet, Allison stood in the staging area, rubbing Cowgirl’s ears. “Cowgirl’s just a love sponge! She’s getting all the love she needs!” Cowgirl was enjoying Allison’s attention so much that her head was nearly on the ground. (For the record, Cowgirl doesn’t let me touch her ears.) As Kali and I tighten the girth on Velvet, Allison leans over CG and starts stroking her sides. Allison says, “I love Cowgirl so much!” At this, I turned to Allison and said, “If you had to come out here three days a week to walk Cowgirl in order for her to stay alive, would you do it?” Allison’s head popped up. With fierce determination she said, “Of course! I’d come out here five days a week if that’s what was needed!”

I had to drive Kali home that evening after riding. Before she got out of the car, she looked at me pointedly and said, “What’s going happen to Cowgirl?” I said I didn’t know, which was a lie.

Erik (my husband) knows about my decision. He’s been party to every twist and turn. He came home to find me lying on the couch, emotionally comatose. He lifted up my feet and sat under my legs. Then he turned to me and said, “We owe Cowgirl a retirement. In a few years time, when Kayla is older and can take responsibility, she can go live at Kayla’s. But for now she needs to stay with us. I don’t care what it costs. I make enough money and we can pay for it.” He keeps saying things like that and I guess he means it. When I wrote about how KLH couldn’t afford to keep Dancer, it was Erik who stepped up. Everyone else just begged for me to keep him, but didn’t offer any real support. He’s doing it again for Cowgirl, bless his heart. Clearly he loves the ponies as much as the girls do. Despite what her father says, I feel confident that Allison will, indeed, walk Cowgirl as much as needed. After all, she can ride her bike to the barn.

Selling Bella

“I’ve never seen that before!”  Kristen, my vet, is standing in front of the hay, one hand on her hip, the other with her pointer finger tapping her top lip, a habit she has when she’s thinking.  Propped on the hay is her lap top.  On the screen is an X-ray of Velvet’s right hock, the brown one, not the white one.

We had trotted Velvet on a circle, flexion tested her, compression tested her and pulled fluid out of the swelling (a hematoma/bruise).  The swelling had gone away twice and come back twice, the second time being cause for the vet call.  In the wet weather, the horses are fed in the stalls. As is common under these circumstances, Velvet got cornered in a stall and got her hock banged up in the ensuing scuffle, but the swelling should have been gone by now.

“You see that?” Kristen pointed to a thin, dark line above the talus bone. “That’s the joint space of the upper hock joint.  It’s collapsed.  See when hock joints degenerate, it’s usually only the lower joint.  There are four moving surfaces in the hock joint, three on the bottom,” here she points to the lower part of the joint with it’s collection of small building block like bones, “and one on top. When hock joints degenerated and fuse, it’s usually only the bottom three, but that doesn’t matter because the horse can still walk, trot and canter with the lower joint fused. But that upper joint always has to move no matter what.” What this means is that Velvet, every time she takes a step, is experiencing bone on bone pain.  Nothing can be done to relieve this pain.  As Kristin said, no wonder she was having trouble lifting her leg for the farrier.

The most likely culprit in this situation is Bella.  Not that it matters.  Bella is an alpha and that’s what alphas do.  Karen had been begging me to lease Bella for months.  Chavali’s fracture was taking a long time to heal.  She needed a break.  Problem was, Bella didn’t end up replacing Chavali.  She and Velvet occupied the same spot.  I could take one out or the other, but not both so Bella had to go.  I decided to help Karen find a new owner for Bella.

Dorothy used to breed Morgans, but that was years ago or so she told me as she meticulously scraped mud off Bella’s backside. She’d owned a couple of quarter horses, but they were a little on the boring side for her.  She was so excited about the possibility of getting a Morgan.  A horse with a little pep. But did Bella have a nice, gentle lope?  What she loved most was a nice, gently lope.  That’s kind of like saying I want my sports car to also be a camper van.

Nicole lived on Morgan horse breeding ranch as a teenager. She was in her sixties now.  She’d owned a six year-old warm blood who would “get the bit in his mouth, pin his ears back and take off bucking around the arena! He finally threw me and I fractured three vertebrae. The trainer I gave him to said he was the most dangerous horse he’d ever encountered!”  No kidding.  The horse she owns now is a quarter horse with so many physical problems she can’t be ridden.  “She’ll probably end up being a brood mare.”  “And how tall did you say Bella is?”  She asked this towards the end of our conversation. “Fifteen hands.” Actually, Bella is fourteen two, but I didn’t know that at the time.  Not that it mattered to Nicole.  She said, “Fifteen hands?  That’s not tall enough for me.  I don’t look good on a horse that is smaller than fifteen two.”  I asked her how tall she was. “Five seven.”  I’m five six and I think Bella is the perfect size.

Then there was Sheila.  “How do you think she’ll do in endurance?”  I think Bella would love to ride in an endurance race.  Sheila had a property of her own.  “I need an alpha mare to keep my uppity gelding in line.  Would she do that?”  I definitely think she would.  Sheila was sounding more promising by the second. She was the first inquiry who I felt confident could actually ride Bella.  Then she said, “I’m so excited! I’ve always wanted a black Morgan!”  I said, “Bella is dark bay.”  What followed next was a long silence and an “Oh.”  And that was the last I heard from Sheila.

I posted horse for sale signs in Woodside and Portola Valley and at Webb Ranch. I hadn’t been to Webb in maybe ten years? The center of the sprawling “facility” is a huge, old, wooden barn. It is now surrounded by chain link fencing with “Danger!” and “Peligro!” signs all around it.  The covered lesson arena no longer has a cover.  Just eight, twenty foot high posts holding up the air. Like most local horse facilities, Webb is on Stanford land.  Always on edge about when the five thousand pound gorilla with start stomping around, Webb is hesitant to make any improvements.  They do their best, but it’s hard to not think of Webb as a tenement for horses.

I also posted signs at Indian Hills.  They have a really nice covered arena, with cover still on. But that’s about it.  The “pastures” are knee deep mud interspersed with tenacious weeds.  They used to have back road access to the nearby county park.  Turned out, that access was a private road and the new owners don’t want horses on it.To get to the trails, you have to ride your horse down Calaveras Blvd., a narrow, two lane country road with traffic going 35mph and one section, about thirty feet, with no shoulder, riding directly into oncoming traffic.

Portola Pastures actually does have nearby trail access, and good trails to boot.  Unfortunately, in an effort to keep costs down, they buy the cheapest hay possible, hay that has killed at least one horse with botulism.  Also on Stanford land, they don’t want to put money into maintenance. The arena maintenance is so poor that a horse broke it’s leg being worked in one.  The trainer at Portola Pastures was seriously interested in Bella.  She’s a good woman and Bella would have a stable home.  But to earn her keep she’d have to jump 3′ regularly.  Even 3’6″.

Whispering Creek has good trail access also.  Unlike Portola Pastures, they buy good hay.   But WC has no electricity.  Kristen, the vet, told me about how when she has to take an Xray they have to trailer the horse to the nearest gas station as ask to use their electricity. There isn’t anyone at Whispering Creek who wants Bella so I guess it doesn’t make sense to mention them other than the fact that after visiting all those stables, I’m flummoxed that getting people to move their horses to LAH is a hard sell.

The selling of Bella is now entering it’s third month.  From this experience, I’ve concluded that the world of horse people consists of kids taking lessons, trainers (who generally know what they are doing) and loopy adults with materialistic priorities.  Not great prospects for the long haul of a horses life.

Towards the end of the vet exam, the Jensen’s, who own the Campo Vista barn, came down to chat with me about another matter.  In talking with Kristin, I mentioned the fact that kidslovehorses never makes enough to cover expenses; how I’m always out of pocket for something.  The Jensen’s looked alarmed.  I said, “What I’m doing is about saving horses primarily so that’s just to be expected.”  Then I told them the statistics: 170,000 unwanted horses a year in the US.  My horses are all wanted horses. Velvet is a wanted horse.  I had to leave in a hurry, so I didn’t fully confirm the prognosis, but from what I could tell, it sure seems like Velvet  probably shouldn’t be ridden anymore and even if we continue riding her, it shouldn’t be for very much longer.  So, it seems, Bella may not be for sale any more.  As heartbreaking as the situation with Velvet is, it seems that because of it, Bella will now have a home with KLH.

A Break In The Rain

“Look Deb! Did you see how dirty Stoney was? We got all the dirt off him!” I’d been delayed at the Campo barn talking on the phone with the vet. Sammy and Lola had arrived at Quail about ten minutes before me. Stoney was standing quietly in the middle of the mats. He must have been very dirty because he was still dirty and they were proud of how clean they’d gotten him. They had also draped a silver tinsel garland with candy cane motif around his neck. Stoney can get testy with the younger riders. Fortunately he has taken a liking to Lola. He nibbles her helmet in mutual grooming while she uses the mud scraper on his neck.

Sophie has come with me, having been dropped off at Campo. She starts grooming Cowgirl, who I have haltered, and says, eyes wide, grinning ear to ear, “Who am I riding? Cow Girl?!!!” It’s cute that Sophie loves to ride CG because CG is not all that much fun to ride. She’s a grumpy, old pony with a saddle that can be a challenge.

“Yes, you are on CG. Sammy will ride Velvet, Kimmie will ride Stoney and Lola will be on Bella.” Lola perks up. Lola loves Stoney, but she loves Bella more. Lola says that all horses are a nine for her, but that Bella is a ten. Up until recently, Bella has been too much horse for Lola. But I’ve been schooling Bella. So has Tara and Suzanne, another adult, has been taking her out. Between the adult riding and Lola improving, Lola is probably now within a month or two of being able to handle Bella completely on her own. But I can only say she can ride her to the arena because I have Kate’s help today and Kate will run alongside, just in case.

By this time Kimmie, Sammy’s twin sister, who was at tutoring, has joined us. For this winter quarter, I have no regular riders scheduled for Thursday. But we have RAIN forecast for Saturday and it rained yesterday, leaving me with four novice riders today.

While I check Cowgirl’s girth, Lola maneuvers Stoney to the second terrace, making it possible for Kimmie to mount up. Sammy will lead CG with Sophie riding and Lola will lead Stoney with Kimmie aboard. Sammy and Sophie are ready, but Lola is still fussing with Kimmie’s stirrups. Kimmie is not helping. She’s stuck her foot in the too long stirrup with the metal bar, not the rubber safety, facing out. “Kimmie, look at your foot.” Kimmie looks down and says, “What?” I tell them to forget about it, Kimmie will ride without stirrups over to Campo and I will fix them there. It’s getting colder and darker by the minute. The sun sets at 5:06. That’s fifteen minutes more daylight than we had in December, but it’s still not very much and we need to hurry.

Lola takes off at trot: Lola doesn’t do anything on a slow speed. Kimmie is bouncing away, unperturbed, in Stoney’s saddle. Sammy, CG, Sophie and I do our best to catch up.

Walking up the drive to Campo, Lola, who has slowed to a walk, asks if we can trot on the pavement. No, we can’t. Lola says, “oh right. That’s because it doesn’t feel good to them?” It’s actually damaging to their joints, but that’s close enough.

Moments later, Lola catches sight of Kate. “Kate! Kate! Kate!” Kate is in the middle of getting hugged by Dancer. I don’t know if he’s doing it because he loves Kate or because she’s trained him to, but it’s awfully cute.

At Campo, Bella and Velvet need their bridles on, Kimmie needs her stirrups properly adjusted, Bella’s boots/; she wears boots on all four; needs to be checked, some one needs to grab half a dozen strings of Christmas lights and “Oh my gosh my hands are freezing!!!” (Lola and Kimmie) “Do you have any gloves?” Before we manage to shove off,Sammy got caught leading Velvet around in a way I have told her never to do, Lola has tried to get on without a helmet and Sophie almost let Cowgirl drag her over to the Jensen’s lawn.

Riding to the arena, Sammy has to be reminded to not let Velvet run into Bella’s butt, CG keeps running Sophie into the bushes and Lola makes it about half way before deciding she would like Kate’s help with the lead rope. Kimmie, with me holding Stoney’s lead rope, is doing surprisingly well. She has managed to figure out how to almost perfectly co-ordinate with me to keep Stoney from grabbing for grass.

As we start the steep, but short, ascent of Westwind Way, Sophie suddenly sits up very straight in the saddle and says, “Did you remember to tell Lola the joke?!” Arya said the same thing to me yesterday and no, I hadn’t. We all collect jokes and riddles for Lola. Arya reminded me what the riddle was: What do ink and pigs have in common. Kimmie, who is right next to me because I’m leading Stoney, says, “Pink!” This is just the kind of answer I would come up with, but it’s not the intended answer. Lola, who is almost at the top of the hill, has to have me shout the riddle because she didn’t hear it the first time. Sophie, Kimmie and I proceeded to have a discussion of why Pink wasn’t the answer. But it doesn’t take Lola long to figure it out. Moments later, she shouts out, “Pens!” Lola has a laser brain.

As we ride up Concepcion and then Purissima, I can’t help but notice how Sophie’s heel is constantly rising up. This is driving me nuts. Keeping your heels down keeps you on the horse. I spend the next ten minutes, the rest of the way to the arena, nagging Sophie about her heels.

Because of the rain, the bottom third of the arena still has a few small pools of water. All the girls except Lola get to work creating an obstacle course using poles, blocks and cones to keep the horses out of the wet area. Lola is fiddling with the lock on the shed. “Lola, what are you doing?” “I’m freezing!” Turns out she’s only wearing one sweatshirt. Temps are now in the forties. Lola is not the only cold kid. When she drags out the collection of jackets and sweatshirts, the others descend upon the box too. Kate has to spend the next ten minutes dressing them in many layers.

Lola’s next task is to set up a barrel. She wants to do barrel racing with Bella. I told her she could start with one barrel. Kimmie helps her push the barrel into the arena. I tell them over and over, “kick the barrel. Use your feet.” The continue to push. Then the gloves come off and they are freezing again. “Why did you take your gloves off?” “They were wet.” “Yes, well that’s why I told you to use your feet.”

Lola races around her barrel with cold, bare hands, undeterred.

The girls don’t have much time to ride. I spend most of that time trying, unsuccessfully, to convince Sammy to do a turn on the haunches at the far end of the arena.

Because of the cold, the girls don’t have a fit about leaving when their mom shows up. Kate and I strap strings of lights on all the horses, a reflective vest on her and a reflective quarter sheet on Bella, the dark horse. Kate heads off on Bella, ponying Velvet. She can keep up a good clip and I quickly lose slight of her. I’m left with my bike, Stoney and CG. We move in fits and starts in the increasing darkness down Purissima. During November and December, the girls loves to do the lighted rides back to the barns, but we have enough daylight now so I don’t have to have to them along to get their ride time in and I’m glad of it. This year, as we all know, people are particularly grumpy. Even though the horses are lit up like Christmas trees, one driver, who could see us coming for half a mile, drove by too fast and yelled as he passed, “What are you? Stooopid?!”

My goal for the year is to try and convince the horsemen’s association to take an active role in installing a few traffic calming measures. But this will take more than the horsemen’s to establish. All the residents I know well complain about people speeding. Helen, who lives on Robleda, very near where the path to the Campo barn branches off, had someone smash into her fence one night. As fate would have it, I ran into her today as I was leaving Campo for Quail. I told her that a little traffic calming would go a long way in terms of making life work well for riders in Los Altos Hills, “You know, maybe a few speed bumps by the little league fields?” She said, “and people do drive awfully fast on the straight stretch of Robleda. But I hate speed bumps! I could never go for that!” And Helen is progressive, forward thinking and loves horses. Problem is, people always prefer the demise of others to their own inconvenience. Helen is, apparently, no exception to this rule. Slowing the traffic would make all the difference in the world of difference for riders and horses. Better conditions for riders and horses, means more horses in the hills and happier horses with a more secure future.

The future for KLH does not at all feel secure. The primary goal of kidslovehorses is to keep five or six horses happy and alive. Maybe it’s global warming, but this year the ice I’m skating on seems very thin. The attrition continues. Allison has dropped out of riding in favor of feeding and pony time on Sunday mornings. Delaney is spending January through March at ski high school in Tahoe. Lainey needs a job to pay for a choir trip to Ireland. She may be able to ride on Sundays, but that’s not for sure. Last time I saw Jackie she dropped a hint about being “really busy next month.” By this I’m guessing she meant she won’t be able to ride as her mother hasn’t paid. Rachel won’t ride without Jackie or Savannah. Savannah’s life is like a suit case that she’s stuffed with too many things and she’s jumping up and down on it to get it to shut. Either she will succeed or the suit case will break. Jury is out on that one.

I do so like this latest crew, though: Sophie, Arya, Jaya, Anna, Lola, Sammy, Kimmie, Mikatrin and, probably, Julia; Horsegirls, Gen 4. Not since I started with Haley and Katie have I had so many beginners and so few advanced riders. It’s hard to help the beginners learn without the inspiration and guidance of the older riders. But I’ve done it before so I guess I can do it again. If the ice would thicken up, that would help.

Tomorrow starts with carting four yards of walk on bark into the paddock cum mud pit at Campo. Jaya’s dad will help me. Then there’s a vet exam for Velvet. Her hock has swollen up again. After that, Kate and Kayla come out and will get to gallop all over hell and yon on what will be the last dry day for a while before rain sets in again on Saturday.

Rain will bring a break in teaching, but not for me. I can long line Cowgirl, which will hopefully encourage her to be a better pony to ride and also Stoney, who will just need to get out, and, of course, damage control in the paddocks and feeding and tending Velvet’s hock. As the old saw goes, no rest for the wicked.

Happy New Year everyone! Wish me luck.