“She says to go 3.2 miles past the turn off to the Pinnacles, then left on to San Benito Lateral. Pass Old Hernandez Road. Their ranch is the second large ranch on the right. It has the classic turquoise ranch entrance.” Maddie pauses for a moment, a little confused and then we all get it at the same time and start laughing. (None of us had ever heard of a turquoise ranch entrance, much less seen one before this.) Maddie is reading from the directions sent to us by my friend Michelle Borland. Michelle and her husband, Tim, were hired last fall to manage the 770 acre Windmere Ranch. Their first task was to train to saddle more than sixty horses, most of whom had never been handled. (Michelle accomplished this daunting task in four months.) What’s left are the two stallions, eight mares and six foals, too young to be separated from their mothers.
Besides Maddie, Katie, Oona, Shana and Claire were also in the truck. (Horsegirl Maya and mom Julie were following in their car.) All of them were excited about the trip, but we were really going for Claire.
For every horsegirl (or boy) there is one aspect of the horse world that holds their passions more than any other. For Katie, it is training. For Maddie it’s horse rescue. For Nathan it’s three day eventing. For Claire it’s babies. I had been getting a little worried about Claire. She enjoys the horses and riding very much, but it felt like she was still just on the surface, like she needed to grab ahold of something.
Claire, who is ten, doesn’t do a lot of talking. There are only two subjects she talks about at all: her friends and her cousin’s babies. I have no idea what finally made it click, but we were on a ride in June, where I suspect we were talking about babies, when I turned to Claire and said, “I bet you’d like to work with a baby horse.” Her eyes went wide and she smiled and nodded hard in agreement. Going on the premise, if you can’t give it to them in reality, give it to them in fantasy, I said, “Maybe someday kidslovehorses will have to take on a rescue pregnant mare and you’d get to raise and train the baby.” She was happy with this thought for the rest of the ride. But I felt for Claire. Kidslovehorses can provide almost anything horse related to some degree, but access to foals just isn’t on the menu. You’ve got more chance of riding a $100,000 race horse than you do of handling a foal in the bay area. When I remembered about Michelle in Paicines, it was like the Red Sea had parted. Needless to say, Claire was overjoyed at the thought of spending a day working with foals.
When we arrived, we found that Michelle had brought the herd in from pasture for us and the mares and their respective babies were all in separate pens (one mare and one baby per pen). Pointing to the first baby (all the foals were between two and four months old), Michelle said, “That one’s Angel. He’s the only one with a name. Can you help us name the rest of them?” Several girls mentioned at once, “One of them needs to be named Oona!” We all think Oona has the coolest name ever and there should absolutely be a horse of the same name.
I looked past the mares and saw the pony Midnight. Midnight, now in his thirties, is in retirement with Michelle, but he spent a lot of time with both me and Michelle helping youngster learn how to ride. His coats was matted and in dire need of attention so I left the girls to sort the foals out by themselves, grabbed brushes and had at Midnight. Kylie, Michelle’s six year-old daughter, wanted to ride. We passed the pens as we lead Midnight into the barn and I could see that the girls had indeed sorted themselves one to each pen. Katie, our trainer to be, had been given the largest and worst tempered foal to work with. She named him Mirage and spent the better part of two hours keeping one hand on him no matter what he did. Both of them found this an immensely satisfying experience. Oona was stroking Oona’s neck. The foal had her eyes closed and feet spread apart with the pleasure of being touched. Maddie held up her foals head and said, “I call him Sparky, as in Spartacus. Isn’t he beautiful?!!!” Claire named her foal Scribbles, for what reason I was never told. The other two foals; one a dun, the other a red roan; were named Vienna and Isaac (Izzy for short).
While the older girls groomed and lifted feet and started work no the concept “give to pressure”, Kylie and Shana and I headed off to the arena with Midnight. Kylie rode first and showed off her posting. Four year-old brother Colton showed up. Not to be out done, he got on. He said “see, I can ride with no hands!” He promptly stuck both arms directly out from his sides like wings and then asked me to make sure the pony didn’t canter. Two year-old sister Maddie also clamored for a ride, though she holds tightly to the saddle horn with both hands. Kylie said that Michelle had promised to give her a lesson when she had the time. At this, Shana stepped up to the plate and most seriously started instructed Kylie, who was a most willing student at the end of which Shana decided she should demonstrate jumping by setting a rotting two by four about six inches off the ground by balancing it on a couple of upturned helmets. Six inches is all thirty year-old Midnight is up for, but he did a spectacular job of it.
When we returned from the arena, it was time to let the moms and babies back out to their pasture. Though happy to be released, the friendly and curious foals allowed the girls to stay with them and be close to them, even in the pasture. (The picture below is of Maya (human) and Oona (equine).)
Nobody wanted to leave. After four hours of being out in the hot sun, Maya and Shana had to be pried away from the horses with a crowbar. Maddie and Oona cried and moaned on the way home about their aching hearts. Katie made us all work together to think up proper names for the AQHA registry (Falcon’s Easy Oaks, Tel A Dun A Doc, Doc’s Sierra Scribe, ect….). You have to come up with six possible names per foal, which took an hour and a lot of argument. All of the horsegirls have plans to return. Maddie plans to move in.