A Day at the Ranch

Nate got to drive the back hoe. A trip to Paicines had not been his idea. In fact he wasn’t the least bit happy about it. He glumly followed us around for a while, but before an hour had passed he was hanging his body from Lauren’s waist and moaning. He said he was tired and he wanted to go take a nap in the car. Lauren (Nate’s mom) looked at me and said, “I’m not letting him go. There’s a video game in the car.”

Fortunately for Nate, only moments later, Tim drove by in the back hoe. Fortunately, for us, Nate was still feeling co-operative enough that he agreed to join Tim in the cockpit (?) of the hoe.

Moments after we had arrived, a heavy duty truck and trailer pulled in. A friend of Michelle and Tim’s had come to help them fix their fence. In the cab of the truck was seven year-old daughter of friend, April. In the trailer was seven year-old horse of April’s named Doc. April and Doc had come along to help cut cattle, but that wasn’t going to happen for a couple more hours (and when it did, it didn’t work because, according to Michelle, “the cattle are stupid! They ran right through the fence!” Though since I wasn’t with them I honestly don’t know what happened with the cattle or what they finally did with them, but I’m sure the kids – eight of them? – who were assembled in the back of the pick up truck, enjoyed watching the fiasco.)

To fill the time, April and Doc joined myself, two year-old Maddi (riding on my shoulders) and six year-old Kaylee, riding on Midnight. April, who’s mother is a professional barrel racer and who, herself, rides like a pro, was puzzled by the lunge whip and lunge line (items she was unfamiliar with). I told her that we needed them for working on trotting when we got to the arena.

The arena is in the process of being renovated. It’s been graded, rimmed with railroad ties and is awaiting a load of sand. It’s also had all the panelling removed, as in there is no fence, hence the need for the lead line.

Even though April’s horse is very well trained, April has more skill than many adult riders I know and she is fully in command of Doc. She did, however, want a turn on Midnight. It was with great satisfaction that I watched her persist and persist when Midnight tried to grab for grass until he did bring his head up. “You’ve got to make sure you catch them the first time because if they do it once, they’ll always want to do it!”, says a sage April (to an amazed Deborah). In the arena, she persisted and persisted until Midnight took up the trot like she asked him to and rode an even, practiced post around the arena until the moment that Midnight took it into his head to leave the arena, at which point a slightly alarmed April pulled back on the reins with ever millimeter of muscle in her body. This slowed Midnight down quite a bit, but didn’t bring him to a complete stop.

Quickly setting Maddie down in the sand and handing the reins of Doc over to Kaylee, I did manage to make it over to Midnight before he wiggled the reins out of Aprils hands, which he was in the process of doing. April said, with some seriousness, “that was scary.” (I’m sure if Midnight had made a beeline back to the barn, all of 100 yards away, April, who can race barrels, would have had no problem staying on, it’s just that she knows the difference between having the horse paying attention to you and one that’s not and just why that is so important.) But I had showed her the “emergency stop” (where you pull one rein to your waist and the horse is forced to circle). Stepping over a railroad tie as we re-entered the arena, April said, feeling determined, “I learned something today. I learned the emergency stop.” She appeared fascinated by this tidbit and I feel fully confident she will remember and make use of it.

Besides the arena, we took a short “trail ride” along the dirt road that heads out to the pastures with the cattle. This was the area that Tim was working, using the back hoe, for goodness knows what, and we were met by the hoe, bucket full of dirt, being driven up the road. Behind the wheel being none other than an utterly delighted Nate.

Nate is Sammy’s older brother. Sammy has been awaiting this trip eagerly for many, many months. Grooming is Sammy’s specialty. She groomed Paloma, a palomino mare, until she sparkled. Sammy, in particular, wants to show one of the foals in a halter class, which also involves judging the grooming job and she also spent time grooming the foals. Despite her commitment to the skill, a seven year-old can only groom for so long and, shortly after Midnight tried to get his way, Sammy joined us at the arena.

Obviously, Sammy wanted to ride. Maddi, by this time, was seated on the chastened Midnight. April, most graciously, offered Doc for Sammy to ride. April was confused that another seven year-old was not able to simply canter off like she could. But she grasped the situation quickly and set to work giving Sammy careful and enthusiastic instruction aided by lots of dragging a remarkably compliant Doc around by a lead line. April put her whole heart into it. She thought Sammy should be able to ride just as well as she could and, darn it, she was going to do something to make that happen. Now that’s my idea of a hero.

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