38 Acres

“She wouldn’t even let me use her arena to try a saddle on and she lives across the street.  I don’t know how she exercises her horses.  They live in tiny paddocks and the barn is all walled off from the street so no one can see them.  People walk by my pasture all the time.  They love seeing Quila.”  I had been discussing with Carol my sadness at my realization that quite a few people don’t want the horses in the hills.  But my experience at with my horses at Jan’s barn mirrors Carols.  There is a parent who brings his children to the barn almost every morning, at the children’s insistence, to see the horses.  Unlike Carol’s property, which is on a moderately traveled thoroughfare, the Quail barn is out of the way and up a hill.

I don’t get to talk with Carol very often, but she coordinated the registration at Play Day so we got to catch up a bit.  The girls like to think they run Play Day.  In a sense they do.  They run everything that is important to them; the games.  However, as far as they know the registration sheets composed themselves and lunch magically appears from out of the sky.

Not to belittle their contribution.  Sophia, who is twelve, dedicated the whole day to narrating the games.  As I talk with Carol I hear her in the background. “Now, this next game has you riding your horse to the end of the arena, getting off you horse, bobbing for an apple.  Oh, wait, no, what? It’s not apple bobbing? Oh.  Sorry!  Wrong game.  Now, lets start over again.  This next game is carrot eating.  What’s carrot eating?  Does anybody know?”  Sophia was the only horse girl willing to MC, she gave up being able to participate and by the end of the day, after six hours working in the sun, she looked like she was ready to keel over.

While Sophie was frantically trying to figure out what was going on, Meera, Serena, Kate and Chloe were sitting on their mounts, looking bored.  The rest of the girls were milling about. “Do we need poles for this one?”  “I don’t know? I thought we supposed to get buckets.”  “How many carrots?  Does anyone know how many carrots?”

The girls had been thrilled to learn that we were short on parental help this year.  They said, “We will run Play Day!”  But as the day got closer and closer, there was still no sign of planning on their part.  I finally insisted that take a few minutes to list the challenges in Run the Gauntlet.  The last challenge they came up with was balloons.  I said, “who is going to bring balloons?”  Savannah said, “I probably have some around my house.”  No one thought about water for horses or food for the day or how to set up the obstacle course or where should they put the buckets, etc…  Sara and Skylar stayed after riding on Saturday to help.  After resting up a bit they spent an hour hunting for bugs for Skylar’s science project.  They then spent an hour and a half creating an artistically elegant sign.

Some Play Days run like clockwork.  Other’s serve to provide more in the way of amusement.

Erik rode his bike to get the balloons, but lost most of them riding back to the arena.  The mother who asked a fee reduction for her children in exchange for sweat equity and had promised to come do the photography, forgot, then apologized saying she “has ADD.”  Two fathers stopped me mid-stride to demand an explanation to why horses are afraid of mylar balloons.  A dressage trainer with her client and international level dressage horse showed up mid day needing to use the arena for a lesson.  The vegetarian sandwiches had turkey in them and so on and so forth.

As expected, the horses and kids all did really well, the only hint of an incident being when Meera started to get on a horse without a helmet. There were six of us who stopped her.

At the end of the day, Kathy LIccardo said, “I don’t know how you do it!”  Answer is, I don’t do it all.  In fact I did almost nothing for clean up.  Six adults stayed to help as the young riders who were “running the show” having either been picked up and whisked off to another activity or having ridden back to the barns.  But by the time 7pm rolls around, I’m near comatose and laid flat on the couch, the only reading material within reach being the Palo Alto Weekly, which occasionally has inspired articles, but which was not the case last week, leaving me with nothing better to do than peruse the real estate ads.  Standing out like a sore thumb in the center off a dozen pictures of enormous “Tuscan Villa”s and “private retreats”, was a picture of scrubby oak surrounding a dirt road driveway and the address of 222 Portola State Park Road.  My first thought: Did the property connect up to Jack Brook.

Thank you google maps! 222 Portola State Park Road property boarders the southeast corner of Pescadero Creek County Park, a hop, skip and a jump from a landmark turn on the Tar Water Creep Loop trail.

“Can you see the house?”  The advertisement claimed there was a two bedroom house on the property, but only provided one, blurry picture.  Erik brought the overhead view of the house up on the iPad.  “It’s got a flat roof.  Probably a 70’s tilt up”, which means a tear down or even an almost falling down.  Portola State Park Road is a road in name only.  “How would you go about building a house on that property?!” Erik said, “Well first you’d have to hire a contractor to come and build a road.”  Our conversation ended there.

Dream come true?  Would I want to live out in the middle of nowhere even if the horses loved it?  That’s not what I really want. I like what we do. I like that a half a dozen people come by one barn or the other every day to see the horses. I like that we get stopped every day to have people take our pictures.  A couple of weeks ago I had one woman get out of our car and ask to approach the horses.  The girls stopped and obliged.  She stroked Freedom’s neck for a bit, then started to hug him and to cry.  She’d just lost her partner of 25 years.  They’d owned horses.  As we rode off, she said, “you have no idea how much that meant to me.”

But I’d like to be able to do what we do and be able to relax a little bit. I’d like people to be careful when they move their trash cans.  I’d like speed bumps on Robleda and Purissima.  I’d like more than one signed horse crossing.  We usually cross the road “Pony Club style” because it is the most effective and efficient communicator of our needs, but at the arena crossing, the one and only official horse crossing, the girls always insist on crossing in a line, one horse after another, staying within the lines of the cross walk.  It feels so good to have official recognition.  I don’t even mind picking up the manure, though I can do with out the woman who became slightly hysterical as she explained to me her panic at the thought that her son might ride his bike through manure and then track it home to their garage thus exposing the entire family to tetanus.  (!)

Most of all I’d like the girls and the horses to be welcomed and accepted.  Why not?

Dancer

“You’ve gotta come see this! These two horses, they are standing in three feet of manure and they’ve been starved!” Rob is not my favorite person, but his love for horses in unwavering. He is ranch hand for Linda McKell. I don’t know if Dancer and Flash had been listed for sale and he was going to see them or if he’d gone to the barn in Gilroy to see a different horse, but find Dancer and Flash he did. Both horses were a “2”, where a 5 is normal and a 1 is three hooves in the grave. Given in lieu of payment for a debt, the owner simply had no idea how to care for a horse. How long they had been stuck in their stalls, I don’t know, but possibly as long as a year. It goes without saying that neither horse had seen a farrier in the same amount of time. The infection in Dancer’s legs from standing in filth was so bad, he would have been dead within a month.

“He’s twelve. What did the other vet say he was? Ten?” Linda’s vet had said, “under ten”. Kat Dayharsh, my go to girl for training, thought he was seven. Kristin, with twenty-five years of equine veterinary work behind her, is probably correct. Kristin continues: “He’s got a nice sloping shoulder and his back is good, but he’s knock kneed and narrow at the base.” Linda offered the owner her “garage sale money” and had ended Dancer and Flash’s ordeal the day after Rob’s call. It’s been five months now since the rescue. Both horses are back on weight and, after intensive farrier work, their hooves have healed. It has also become apparent that it was a case of neglect, not abuse. Kat had Dancer trotting around the arena with a 10′ length of mylar flags draped around his head and he was fine.

Flash came with “papers”. With training, he’d be worth $20K. It reminds me of a statistic I heard that 60% of dogs who end up in shelters are pure bred. He’s one of the nicest looking horses I’ve ever seen; full on high level performance potential and yet here he was, rotting in a stall. Rob has fallen in love with him. Tootling around Los Altos Hills may not fulfill his “potential”, but with Rob, he’d have a home for life. It helps that it seems Flash is equally enamored of Rob.

Dancer’s fate is not so sure. He’s not a big horse; no overweight American’s for him. Even worse, his knees and stance rule out reining or hunter/jumpers or endurance or any of the other “activities” so many adult riders are keen on.

“Savannah, when he pulls away like that, don’t getting into a tug of war. Turn him or keep the steady pressure until he backs up, then stop.” This is old instruction and Savannah knows it, she just hasn’t had to use it in a while. She finally manages to ask him to back up instead of bolt forward at the pressure from the reins, then drops the reins. Dancer sighs and licks and chews. When I tap his shoulder to move him, he looks confused. I use the lead rope to make my request clear, then I try again. He moves, snorts, sighs then, again, licks and chews. He’s liking this. He leads, ties, wouldn’t kick at a person to save his life and accepts a rider. Someone did some good work, but no one has worked with him in a way that engages his intelligence and he likes it. A more clear minded, inquisitive, teachable horse I’ve never encountered.

“When am I going to get to see Dancer! I want to ride him! Can I do jumping on him?!!!” Meera has never been known for restraint. Her idea of horse bliss is to spend two hours riding a jump course. Though the girls can jump some, this isn’t a dream I can provide. But she does not let up.

“Meera, of all the horses born, maybe one in twenty have the conformation that can withstand lots of jumping. That one in twenty is worth a lot of money, but what about the other nineteen? Are they just to be thrown away? The question is, do was reject Dancer and try to find a horse we can jump all the time, or do we take Dancer?” Meera does not lack for intelligence. She knows how many horses end up with poor fates and how small Dancer’s real chances are of ending up in a decent home. Meera returned my stare with a sober and stead gaze and said, “We take Dancer.”

Linda wants KLH to take Dancer. Rob wants KLH to take Dancer. The girls want KLH to take Dancer. KLH is losing two horses and needs a replacement and it is unlikely I’m going to find that fine of an equine mind in another horse anytime soon. Taking Dancer means thousands in training and extra expense, plus six months to a year before he really comes on line, but I do want to take him.  He still has to pass “the test” at the Jensen’s. He’s due for a stay this coming Friday and if his pasture behavior is not with boundaries of what the Jensen’s consider manageable for their pasture, he will have a different fate. I have promised to pay for a month of training with Kat, then he’d be up for sale. We are all on tender hooks.

Even with all that, there is one more question: Does Los Altos Hills want KLH to save Dancer.  KLH has the blessings of the owners at both Campo and Quail.  For that, my gratitude knows no bounds.  But the residents? Not so much.  We are on the pathways all the time.  It’s great for the kids and great for the horses and it’s completely within our right to do so.  But many residents feel that their town exists for their residents and I understand how they feel.  About thirty percent of the residents of Palo Alto feel that only residents, their guests and people servicing those residents should be on the streets.  It’s selfish, but it’s also a natural, protective human trait that is simply stronger in some than in others.   I love the opportunity that town provides for the horses and the young rider and don’t take it for granted for a minute.  But if I can find any other reasonable option, I will take it and I haven’t given up looking.

Dancer and Flash seeking comfort from each other immediately after their rescue.

Dancer and Flash seeking comfort from each other immediately after their rescue.

Redwings

“I call first Deb hug!” I’m not fully awake yet. It’s a little earlier than I’m really happy about and I’ve been focusing my energy for days on the demanding task of safely driving seven young horse lovers two and a half hours down to Lockwood, CA where Redwings Horse Sanctuary is located. Rachel, Sara and Savannah have had a sleepover. They were sitting waiting on Rachel’s porch and are rushing at me as if they were one body. Fortunately, before they can knock me over, they got distracted by trying to decide where they are going sit, they careened to the left and went tumbling into the borrowed Ford Expedition.

Next stop was Skylar and Jaclyn’s house. “I call first Skylar hug!!!” The Expedition has been stopped for less then a second. The doors fly open. They manage to fly out of the SUV without knocking each other to the ground and then race to the front door. To their chagrin, Skylar came around the back, forcing the three of them to sprint along the front of the house and leap a small hedge.

With all sorts of thumping and bumping they rearrange themselves in the SUV. “I call first Stoney hug!” That was Rachel Loran. She has a thing for Stoney. We haven’t left the driveway, but the girls know we have to stop at Quail to pick up Sierra. Sara and Savannah are faster than Rachel. Sara got to Stoney first. She didn’t do this intentionally. She just loves to hug the horses.

Savannah H was our last passenger. They didn’t knock her down, but I saw her knees buckle as the “gallop girls” piled on for a group hug.

It was party time in the Expedition all the way down to Redwings and I don’t remember very much of it because I was focused on driving. Although I did notice that none of them seem to be very good at twenty questions. They didn’t know that an onion was not a root vegetable, etc…

Our tour started with a lecture, the first part of which I missed because I was still in the car putting on sun screen. But I joined the girls in the office at the point where Sara, the woman primarily responsible for all the horse care, was saying, “and when you buy a horse, you are taking on a thirty year commitment”, an opinion she then repeated five or six times. Evidently, Redwings gets ten to fifteen calls or emails a day from people asking them to take their horse, mostly because it’s inconvenient for them to keep the horse or because they just don’t want it anymore. All the horses are Redwings are truly extreme cases. There’s Patrick, the sway back former roping star who was left padlocked into a stall without food or water at the Salinas fair grounds. There’s Autey and Apollo, horses foaled at Redwings from mares that had been confiscated in an animal abuse case and had been severely malnourished. There’s Calypso the Premarin mare who’d spent much of her life confined to a straight stall; not allowed to lie down because it would disturb the apparatus used to collect her urine while pregnant and deprived of adequate water because the urine needed to be concentrated. Most striking to me was the herd of horses confiscated from a man who was trying to breed his own Pryor Mountain Mustangs but by the time the herd came to the attention of law enforcement, there were thirty eight horses living on three acres, none of them gelded with goodness knows how many generations of inbreeding; a greater variety of misshapen horses cannot be imagined.

There are thoroughbreds saved from slaughter and discarded cutting and reining horses with grapefruit sized knees. There is a horse that was being used in a “horse tripping” event at a rodeo and horses that were too badly breed or starved or beaten to every be ridden. Of course they have the requisite collection of donkeys and minis, the former which breed like rabbits on BLM land and the latter that are, more often than not, purchased with as much thought as one would purchase a toy. Redwings is a living museum of all the ways that humans have abandoned responsibility for the equines they created and the array of complications and suffering that is created in their lives as a result.

The effect of that suffering was not lost on the girls. If I’d been towing a trailer, we wouldn’t have left without it full. They have decided on five “must haves” for my program.

Before I took her on, Chavali was skin and bones, left in a pasture with liquid rust for water. Stoney had been abandoned. CG was rescued from pony purgatory. Velvet was never in trouble, but at present, her owner is dependent on the income she earns as a lesson horse in order to be able to keep her. Jackson was loved for a couple of years but then neglected. Freedom is cared for and always has been, though he’s not really part of the program as he and Savannah mainly just keep us all company. But all the rest of the horses work for their keep and I work for thank yous and hugs.

It was Shana who started the hugging. She insists on hugging each and every horse and horse girl when she arrives and when she leaves. She met us after a ride at Rancho San Antonio last week. After hugging each of us, she turned to the stranger who’d walked with me down the hill and hugged her too. She’s been so persistent in her hugging that pretty much all the horse girls hug all the other horse girls all the time and also me.

Freedom will be leaving the herd in June. Jackson will be either going into a lease or back to his owners in October. Katie Dayharsh wants Stoney for a lesson horse. Jaclyn and Skylar want to lease Chavali and move her to Page Mill. For the first time in more than a decade, I really am in a position where I could, in good conscience, let all of this horse business go. Sara, Savannah Y and Rachel met me at the barn with their usual group hug. I thanked the because my spirits were low and I explained how I was faced with a choice. Savannah, with fire in her eyes, turned to me and said, “If you quit, I’d DIE! I’m serious.” It’s safe to say she speaks for all the horse girls, not that they are all specifically dependent on KLH, but it is the general idea.

Parents see the riding as an extra. One dad told his daughter “I pay for private school so why should I pay for riding.” This family owns a house in Hawaii. It’s been my experience that private school is worth every penny, but truly, if it was left up to the girl, she’d ditch the school in favor of horses in a heart beat. Most parents only want to pay when the child rides and if the child only rides twice a month, then there’s more money for their ski lift tickets or dinners out in Cancun, whereas the costs of having a child who rides twice a month or every week on my end are the same. I had one parent who complained for years about how tight her budget was. I finally gave in and allowed her daughter to ride for a shamefully low price only to find out shortly there after that the family of four was going skiing for presidents day weekend. When confronted, the parent said, “well of course we have a tight budget. How else could we afford to ski on a holiday weekend?” These people are by no means the exception. More than half the parents a pinching pennies in order to afford a big ticket; a week for four on Maui, two weeks in Denmark, skiing in Whistler; vacation. Every year I hope I will break even. I have not yet done so. March is one of my most expensive months. As of tomorrow, I have $3,100 in board and insurance due. I’m short $1,200 in the KLH account. Even if I could afford a trip to Hawaii, I couldn’t afford the cost of the horse care while I’m gone. But it’s a choice. When I visit Redwings I feel a lot better about my choice. I’m willing to put money on the fact that almost all the horse girls, when they are grown and owning their own ponies, will make the same choice.

On the way home from Redwings, Rachel realizes that she hasn’t gotten “first hug” once. She’s almost apoplectic and she won’t shut up about it. The parents are meeting us at Quail. Rachel is bound and determined that she will get out of the Expedition first and get to hug Stoney first! Sierra, who is mild mannered and long suffering, ran out of patience. She says, in a dead pan, “I’m sitting on the side of the car that will be nearer the barn so I will be able to get to Stoney before you and get first hug.” She kept up the facade until just minutes before we got to the barn. She never had any intention of getting out before Rachel, but had to confess her intent when it became clear that Rachel was just seconds away from committing a dastardly deed and yes, Rachel got first Stoney hug, the hug, that we all know is the only hug that really matters to Rachel.

Horsegirl Rachel and Sage the donkey, resident of Redwings Horse Sanctuary.

Horsegirl Rachel and Sage the donkey, resident of Redwings Horse Sanctuary.

Mutiny

“If you feel along his lower leg, you can feel the cannon bone and then the big tendon at the back of it. Between these two is another tendon that feels like a #2 pencil.” This is the way the vet described it to me and I couldn’t think of a better description. “You slide your hand down the tendon, using it as a line of ‘sight’ to where you feel a grove in which there is a very small soft space that feels like an uninflected balloon.” This is where you feel for the digital pulse, which, at this moment, on Jackson, was throbbing. Shana, Sara and Savannah were all able to feel the pulse. Fortunately, there was an unusual absence of a ride on this Saturday. Jackson was not at all pleased about being left at Campo, but he’d have been a whole lot less pleased if we’d ridden him!

With all the added tasks of caring for Jackson’s abscess, so we didn’t get to the arena till 12:30, just barely in time to meet Savannah Y who was getting dropped off there. Sara and Savannah Yee headed off to the round pen with Cowgirl. Jackie practiced her posting on Velvet. Savannah H worked on having Freedom maintain his gait. Shana set up trot poles and Emma worked on simply riding Chavali in a circle, which, if you haven’t done, must understand is much, much more difficult that it looks as Chavali prefers the amoeba shape.

We had some brief entertainment in the form of two women who showed up with horses, one of whom was a real novice. When she mounted up she reflexively pulled back on the reins for balance. The horse took this as a cue to back up, to which the rider responded by pulling harder, which cued the horse to spin, which panicked the rider who pulled even harder and then did not manage to stay on the horse. Then more experienced rider responded with a number of questionable maneuvers, including, to the astonishment of the girls, ponying the nervous horse by the reins. The two women did manage to complete a short trail ride without incident. Savannah H’s comment was, “Yeah, most of the riders at Garrod’s are like that.”

By this time Rachel and Skylar had joined us and Emma and Jackie had gone home. I’m not entirely sure what happened after that, but it involved Shana jumping Chavali and Skylar jumping Chavali and Skylar jumping CG and Sara jumping CG and Sara jumping Stoney and Rachel jumping Stoney and Sara and Rachel riding Freedom bareback and Skylar roping CG and Savannah H perfecting her mount up which is now so accomplished she looks like she just floats up on to the horse. The entire time, Savannah Y is taking pictures and pictures and pictures and pictures and if you want to see them all you will have to subscribe to her instagram feed, which, I think, is Cowgirlsavy. Her feed puts the KLH feed to shame.

We don’t always have so much fun at the arena. In fact, sometimes it’s downright miserable there; too hot, too cold, too much direct sun, freeway too loud, too much hubbub from the little league fields. But yesterday, it was all good. They didn’t want the party to end, but they also don’t understand that their instructor/supervisor has dishes at home waiting to be done and dinner to make and she simply wants to make it home so she can do these things before collapsing.

I managed to pry them away from the arena by 3:30, but needed to make a pit stop at the toilets before we headed down Purissima towards Clark’s Field. While I used the restroom at the Little League Fields, they decided to park the horses:

park your horse

The only remarkable event associated with riding to Clark’s Field was the fact that, restrained by Dante’s need to stay at a “trot”, I couldn’t keep up. The flew down Purissima and they flew down the path that borders the bike path on Arastradero and they flew up the path into the field. For whatever reason, CG decided to trot Clark’s Field and Stoney, shortly after Rachel got him to canter, screeched to a halt, turned sideways and shoved his nose in the grass. Rachel is remarkably adept as a rider, but for whatever reason, she can’t negotiate this particular situation with Stoney. He only does this with her. I think it’s partly because she wants to let him eat grass because she loves him. But between the two, I finally caught up.

Once across Clark’s Field is never enough. Dante and I sat at the end of the field while Freedom, Stoney, Chavali, Velvet and Cowgirl, with Savannah, Rachel, Savannah, Sara and Skylar up top, headed back across the field. Actually, Skylar wasn’t up top. Cowgirl wanted to graze and Sky had to dismount and drag her. I decided to stay out of it.

Coming back, the girls took the non-trail, long route around the edge of the field. For reasons known only to herself, Cowgirl decided it was just her cup of tea and that it was time to race the other horses. Savannah H said she looked to her side to see CG shoot past her, full speed ahead. By the time they rejoined to main trail, tiny CG was proudly holding the lead. Savannah Y knew this was going to happen and had sent me the text: Camera! By the end of the day I just want to enjoy what I see, not take pictures of it. Savannah Y has decided I’m fired from being the photographer.

The ponies did get to graze after this as an adorable Border Terrier, with family in tow, was let loose in the field. All the girls had to get off and meet him up close, attention the pint sized dog soaked up. Savannah Y said, “We need a small dog also”, as in I should get another dog to bring along besides Dante, who they all think of as an essential participant to their equine adventures.

By this time the light was starting to fade and I told the girls it was time to go. They cried, “No!!!!” I said, “I told your parents to be at Quail at 5:30 for pick up.” Savannah Y, again, said, “Call them and tell them 6:30!” Despite this they did agree to finally return to the barn. I think if I hadn’t been there, they would have returned long after dark.

They were all in such a buoyant mood, which had to do in large part to perfect weather, both for rider and horse, that they willingly agreed to move bales of hay around at Quail, a nasty and strenuous job, so that CG could have her stall, which is often used for hay storage, back. I was stuck at Campo for about half and hour and finally made it over to Quail. Most of the hay was moved, except for two bales out on the drive way. Rachel was making good use of them in practicing “the flippy thing”, a vaulting move that Savannah H has shown them where you push your body up out of the saddle and throw your legs crossways so you end up, in one clean movement, facing the opposite direction on the horse. She had gotten quite good at it.

As the parents arrived, I tried to stop the girls. I said, “It’s time to go home!” They completely ignored me. Finally convincing them to leave may have been the meanest thing I’ve done in ages. I made it home with enough energy to eat dinner, but I passed out before the dishes got done.

Shana the Christmas Elf

A bronze BMW SUV was pulled over in the private drive that is at the base of the pathway up to the campo barn. It looked familiar and then became recognizable as Shana stepped out, getting ready to head up the hill. “Shana! What are you doing?!” “Oh, Deborah. Didn’t you get my text?” No, I hadn’t. I don’t check the phone while driving or biking and this morning I was doing the latter. I looked at my phone and there was the text, having been sent ten minutes ago. We always start Saturday mornings at Quail. Finding her heading to campo was disorienting.

“Shana, I’m OK with you being solo at Campo. It’s just that I need to know ahead of time, an hour or two preferably, but half an hour at the minimum.” That particular morning I knew for a fact that Sara was eager to see Shana and was waiting at Quail for her. Shana agreed to give me proper advance notice in the future.

Last night I got a text saying she wanted to spend time with Velvet this morning and would I mind if she went to campo instead of Quail. Sara and Sophie met me at Quail. We cleaned the paddock and groomed and tacked CG, then headed over to Campo. Shana had Jackson and Chavali out and tied and was trying to make a dent in the many layers of caked on mud in Chavali’s coat. Savannah H had just arrived. As the girls got busy grooming, I started to tackle the stalls, but didn’t get very far before Shana, in a slightly operatic voice, called, “Oh Deborah! I think you didn’t look very closely at the door to the bar-arn!” Tucked into the vertical, metal joint of two door panels was a blue and white checked envelope with a card inside that said, “WHAT? Did you find a clue? I bet you’re wondering where it leads to. This is White. And where you write. Ba-dapa-badapa-doo!” Sophie, Sara and Savannah had all dropped what they were doing and joined me at the white board searching for the next clue, which Shana had secured behind it.

“This is circular. And the color of Stoney. It’s where the horses. Eat their baloney. In ONE of the homes. That has a roof which they roam.” This, of course, wasn’t too difficult and all three stalls are outfitted with grey, metal feed tubs.

“Down the hill and through the woods. Where they eat their hay. These mats,oh, very could. Make them feel so gay.” Shana had to slog through about about one hundred feet of six inch deep mud to reach the feed mats, which are not presently in use as most of the paddock is about in inch of rain away from becoming a swamp. Sophie, who does not like mud, stayed up at the barn. Fortunately Sara doesn’t mind the mud at all and happily stomped through the mud to retrieve clue #4.

“Near the three tall trees. Is something you don’t want to see. It’s the companion to pee. And … you’re going to have to DIG for ME.” When the paddock is dry, which it is most of the time, the flat area right below the three redwood trees is where we dump barrow full of manure from cleaning the paddock. The stack right now is about three feet high. If Shana had wanted to be exceptionally “lavoratory”, she could have stuck the clue under a fresh pile. Digging through the fairly well composted pile really wasn’t all that bad.

“Step away from the poo. And into the barn if you may. This is your final clue. Look all over that hay (and say neigh neigh).” On top of the eight foot high stack of hay bales sat eight, red velvet stockings, each stuffed with a peppermint swirl lollipop and an ornament. This is exactly what she did last Christmas, but not with the treasure hunt.

“Deborah, did I surprise you?!” She totally did. I did not expect it at all. Not even in the littlest bit.

Shana the Christmas Elf

The Perfect Day

“Should I go to Campo?” Sara’s text came in at 9am. Most of the riders are out of school for the week of Thanksgiving and riding was starting at 10. The answer, of course, was yes.

Me: “I have to meet Rachel and Emma at Quail, but I will send Savannah Yee to join you at Campo as soon as she shows up.”

Sara: “Yeah!”

Rachel and Emma and Allison meet me at Quail. Rachel and Emma start sweeping and raking and tacking. Allison has put the halter on CG and starts to leisurely brush CG’s back. Allison starts in on her favorite subject. “I found a video that actually shows you how to hook up a cart.” This reminds me that I have failed to look at Allison’s most recent set of links about pony carts she has sent me. “They demonstrate with a mini [horse], but it’s about pony carts.” She strokes CG’s back with the brush a couple more times than continues. “How fancy a cart do you want? I think we should have a sun shade. Would you like me to make one?” At the thought of making a sun shade, Allison’s face has brightened considerably. Emma and Rachel have finished tacking up Stoney, have raked the paddock and mucked the stalls. Allison has now progressed to the middle of Stoney’s back with her brushing.

“Rachel, why don’t you mount up and you and Emma can go keep Sara company at Campo while Allison and I finish tacking CG.” It’s now 10:20 and Savannah has not shown up.

“Riding started at 10. We are about to leave Quail. Where is Savannah?” To this text her father replied, “Asleep.” Savannah had assumed riding was in the afternoon. “If she get’s to Campo before we leave, she can ride.” She did. She arrived at 11, shortly after Allison and I finally made it over.

The air was still cool from the cold November night, but the sun was strong enough to warm the skin. The air was fresh and clear. More importantly, for the first time since mid-August, we weren’t in a hurry. Savannah finally uploaded the video of the other Savannah doing her “flippy thing”. Rachel and Emma tried to get a video of Chavali making her fart noises, a source of amusement for years that has never been captured on video. They gave up and settled instead for taking pictures of Stoney sticking his tongue out. Sara and Savannah finished the set of mini, upright ponytails in Cowgirl’s mane that make her look like she’s got a cock’s comb. Allison swept out the tack room and shook out the mats. We were all really just waiting for the farrier to finish with Freedom, but we probably would have dilly dallied for almost that long anyways.

We headed off at noon. Within two minutes, Sara says, “Let’s play the leaf game.” This was followed seconds later with Savannah saying, “No, let’s wait for berries!” to which a chorus of “Berries! Berries! Berries!” was to be heard from Emma, Rachel and Sara. Never was a better use put to the cascades of pyracantha berries that compete with the feral plums for most common roadside shrub in Los Altos Hills. The berry game is a variation on the leaf game, which, as far as I can tell, involves a lot of throwing of berries at each other, while riding.

The girls harvested arm loads on La Paloma, the first good berry site, all of which have been carefully plotted by them, and berry throwing commenced. Even Allison, who usually eschews such frivolity, joined in.

When it comes to order of horses, Velvet is always first, because she fastest and will race anyone in front of her, and Chavali second because she also fast, probably faster than Velvet, but is chicken and refuses to lead. But after that, it’s a toss up, mostly because we don’t know what Cowgirl will do on any given day. Her speed and desired line position depends on her mood, her aches and pains, the air temperature and on whomever is riding her. Being a seriously bad ass pony, she prefers to follow right behind Chavali, regardless of whether she’s up to keeping up or not. She was not. By the time we got to Foothill College, she had to be moved to the back of the line. We took off on one of the many nice “canter up a hill”s, this one being behind the baseball field. We stopped at the top. I turned around and counted four horses behind me. Allison had decided to get off and walk. She and CG could be seen at the very bottom of the hill, taking their own, sweet time. Even mounted I don’t think they would have done better. Much of the time Allison seems to be on another planet. When she rides CG, CG goes and joins her there and is perfectly happy about it.

The berry throwing, and picking, continued till we reached the Rhus Ridge parking lot. Allison, who has a three hour limit, tops, got picked up and Kayla took her spot. Sara traded horses with me because Velvet loves to blast up Rhus Ridge Road and so does Sara, while Freedom and I are content not to.

Being the day before Thanksgiving, it was actually quiet. No gardeners, no construction, no trash trucks. With the silencing of human activity, the natural world delightfully comes alive. You can hear the insects and the birds. You could feel the grass, newly sprouted from recent rain, ecstatically pulling sunlight in for photosynthesis as this would be one of the last days in many where there would as glorious an opportunity to do so. Everything smells wonderful rather than full of fumes. The dirt/rocked road is still slightly springy from the rains as opposed to rock hard or slick as it often can be.

Sara, Emma, Rachel and Savannah made it up to windmill pastures about ten minutes before Kayla and myself; all of them beaming with happiness after flying up the road, while Freedom and Cowgirl were beaming with happiness at not having had to fly up the road.

Cowgirl was happy to fly along the trail that wiggles it’s way between the pastures and the trail into Hidden Villa, as were all the horses. Savannah said she felt like she was running barrels.

Sara and I had switched horses again. I followed the rest of them down the hill, dismounted and leading Velvet as it is not only difficult for Velvet to walk down hills, but it is easy for me to do so. I met up with the girls at the tree covered picnic area next to Adobe creek that is at the base of the Hidden Villa trails. I wasn’t far behind them, but they’d had enough time to bring all five horse’s faces together so that they were in a star shape. They said they made this formation in order to take a picture to use for the instagram profile of KLH. I have yet to see it.

They insisted we get a group picture at HV. Shortly after taking the photo, a truck pulling an empty cart rolled, slowly, down the road. Though we are regularly passed by huge, roaring beasts of vehicles of every make and model, this rather tame, slow moving cart was something Chavali just couldn’t abide. This is only a so-so picture of her response. What’s not clear are the fact that her eyes are totally bugged out:

Chavali and the cart

Rachel, on Stoney, was in the lead now. After the dreadful cart passed, she headed towards the entrance at a brisk trot. There was a herd of pigs that were being allowed to forage in the field next to the road. On seeing the trotting horses, they all lifted up their heads and their tails and trotted jauntily and side by side in a long line, right at the horses. The pigs were obviously as happy about the day as everyone else and more than pleased by the appearance of trotting horses. The horses were not happy about the pigs. We stopped trotting.

There were no pigs along Moody road and though there are times Moody could be classified as a highway, today we had no traffic, except a few cyclists, one of whom being my sister who was on her way back home after going on a bike ride with my husband. She took pictures of us as we zipped down Moody, trotting or cantering most of the way; no one too hot, too cold, too tired, too stressed, too hungry; everyone just plain happy.

The last twenty minutes was spent throwing berries.

When Kayla’s mom came to pick her up, I asked Kayla, “if you were to give this ride a number between one and ten, what would it be?” Without a moments hesitation, Kayla enthusiastically replied, “A Ten!”

The cold weather starts on Friday, with rain on it’s way Friday night and staying for the next week. Chances of a ride this nice happening again anytime before March is slim. Awfully nice when beautiful weather coincides with a school holiday. It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, boy is it sweet!

The Power of Love

“I think there’s something in her ear.” Savannah had just got the bit in Velvet’s mouth and was about to loop the poll band over her ear. The base of Velvet’s left ear was crusty and oozing. I grabbed a tube of antibiotic and headed over. I expelled some ointment onto my finger and started to reach up towards her ear, but Velvet threw her head up high in the air. Velvet is one of the more co-operative and amenable horses I’ve ever met. She stands stock still as you squeeze any number of compounds; wormer, bute paste, banamine; into her mouth. You can dress wounds, give her shots or spray her for flies without her even flinching. But apparently she does NOT want her ears to be touched. Savannah Yee is a naturally gifted horse trainer with far more patience than I as well as a great deal of kindness. I handed Velvet back to her and said, “See what you can do about getting her to let us touch her ears.” She spent the next twenty minutes on the project. Velvet glared at her menacingly the whole time.

Later in the day, after sending Velvet backwards up the driveway when she threw her head up and by also moving very fast, I was able slap some antibiotic on the ooze. I did not, however, get a good look at it. After a couple of days, it was clear that the vet needed to come out and sedate her in order to get a good look. Even with sedation, Velvet was not exactly co-operative. The vet injected what was most likely an infected tick bite site with antibiotics and left us with steroid antibiotic cream. That was a month ago.

Velvet loves Shana. Or at least I am under that impression. Velvet is a particularly agreeable, big hearted horse, but she does prefer Shana. She softens and her eyelids half close when Shana strokes her neck. That Shana loves Velvet is without a doubt. Shana used to say, “I have a spot in my heart of all horses, only I have a bigger spot for Velvet.” Recently, Shana had a dream that Lisa, Velvet’s owner, had to sell her. Shana woke up sobbing. We are hoping that is just not going to happen.

Today Shana noticed that the ooze is back. Only Shana would have noticed it because it is only a tiny bit of ooze, but the tick bite site is undeniably starting to fester again. I tried to examine Velvet’s ear: Nothing doing! The Saturday crew was all assembled and getting geared up. Putting everyone on hold for an hour, maybe more, while I played “wrong thing hard, right thing easy” with Velvet and her ear was out of the question. I turned to Shana as said, “I need you to see what you can do about having Velvet be a little better about having her ears touched.” At best, I expected Shana to be able to get her hand within an inch or two of Velvet’s ear without her pulling away, but not more. Two minutes later I looked over at Shana and Velvet to find Velvet’s head dropped practically into Shana’s lap. Shana had her hand on Velvet’s ear and Velvet looked like she was thoroughly enjoying having her ears scratched and massaged.

Well I’ll be!

Velvet's Ear