They are akin to currency in my life, those clips. The kids show up with lunch boxes, jackets, water bottles and sometimes homework, all of which is supposed to be magically transported to the arena. With all the gear hanging off them, the horses can end up looking like bag ladies. Said gear is secured to the sparse rings and loops on the saddles with carabiner clips. The clips come in a broad selection of bright colors, making them easy to keep track off. They slip in place one handed, making them of extraordinary practicality when the other hand is often occupied holding a horse (or horses). When the jacket – lunch box – water bottle – homework is removed from the saddle, more often then not the clip goes with it, never to return. Beg as I might, it is the rare parent who hears my plea and purchases replacements or returns the clips. But the children have not been deaf.
Last Saturday, Shana triumphantly returned with a cherry red clip, which had been attached to her back pack for many months. The clip was quickly used to secure Victoria’s lunch box. At the end of our day, Victoria, who’d headed down a pathway to get picked up by her waiting parent, came running back up, clip in hand. This is how the clip ended up in my pocket, not back on a saddle.
The next day was a rare Sunday trip to the ranch. Victoria and Maya came with me. They brushed Mindy, taking a boulder sized ball of hair off of the shedding horse with almost an hours worth of grooming. They got a lesson in leading foals and helped with cleaning feet, mucking stalls and tending wounds. While Maya and Victoria doted on the foals, I had a minute to survey the tack I’ve brought down and discovered there was one overlooked clip (blue) that quickly got removed and deposited in my jacket pocket along with it’s red cousin.
At one point, Michelle mentioned that maybe “we should go on a picnic”. This entails riding to the top of one of the many steep hill/mountains that surround the small Shields Valley, taking five minutes to inhale half a sandwich or a protein bar (because the brood mares are only minimally trained and that does not include standing still for any length of time) and descending the near vertical trail back to the pastures.
First it was going to be just Maya, Victoria and Kailey (Michelle’s six year-old daugther), with Michelle and myself on foot. Maya was most comfortable on Midnight, but Kailey needed to be on Midnight, so Maya should probably ride Bubbles, but Bubbles was going to be turned out with the stallion so maybe she shouldn’t go so maybe Maya should ride Paloma, but if Maya rides Paloma who is Victoria going to ride, and so on and so forth for at least half an hour until it was finally sorted out who was riding whom and then Haley shows up and says, “You all are going on a picnic? I want to come too.” And the sorting started all over again, with another mare being fetched and after another half hour Maddie, who’d been in the house napping, shows up and says, “hey, which horse am I riding.” It must have been two hours after the idea of a picnic was proposed when all participants were mounted and ready to roll.
Maddie and Haley wanted to “do more than walk”, but when they cantered, Denty (who Maya was riding) had a fit and Michelle had to put her on a lead rope. Kailey had to bounce along in the not so comfortable kids western saddle because Midnight trotted more than walked to keep up with the horses and in this manner we, bit by bit, made our way through the pastures to the base of the ascent. Just before pointing out the fossil rocks and just after discussing where to cross the gully so that the horses didn’t leap over it, Maddie says, “Michelle, when are we turning the stallion out with the mares?”
Michelle has decided to breed four of the mares: Bubbles, Gracie, Summer and Strawberry and today was the day to let them loose with Teladoc in their own special pasture, but I’d not been told this. No horse is more beautiful than a stallion showing off for the mares and it is a sight few people are lucky to witness even once in a life time. Victoria was expected at a church service in Los Altos at six. There was precious little time for the picnic, much less for turning Teladoc out. We did an about face and made our way back through the pastures to the barn as fast as possible.
I don’t know squat about the ranching business, but I suspect that most ranches are set up similarly to the one Michelle is in charge of in that it has numerous pastures set up like one of those slidely square puzzles, allowing the ranch manager to control how much grazing goes on where and when. Each gate has a different closure contraption, from an easy to use sliding and locking bar to a cryptic series of jerry rigged chains and clips. At the last gate, Michelle stopped and said, “You go on, I’ll close this one.” As each gate is unique in it’s arrangement, I wanted to make sure I to watch Michelle properly latch each and every one of them. She said, “no, no, you go on.” Turns out this last gate was secured by two rusty pieces of baling wire and Michelle was more than a little embarrassed by it.
The time we arrived at the barn was just five minutes before the time we should have left with Victoria. Thinking it would make the process more efficient, Victoria, Maya and myself waited by the pasture where the mares were to be turned out while Haley, Maddie and Michelle fetched the horses. Haley and Maddie easily walked two mares a piece who were pleased as punch to be let out into fresh pasture. They were followed at quite a distance by Michelle leading the not very well trained, five year-old Teladoc. Michelle led him around behind the hay barn and into a chute of sorts as she explained that there were several safety measures you wanted to take when letting a Stallion out with mares, this being one of them. She then was able to let Teladoc out without fuss or risk of getting herself kicked. In a glorious burst of equine splendor, Teladoc catapulted into the pasture and, to our amusement, headed in the wrong direction. As he was heading for the hills (not the mares), Michelle suddenly looked stricken. She said, “The gate!” My hands were in my pockets, with the right hand fidgeting with the two, precious carabiners, linked together. I pulled them out and held them up. Michelle said, “Yes! Thank God!” ,snatched them out of my hand and dashed off to the far end of the pasture.
The gate in question was shut,but needed some reinforcement, easily provided by a couple of colorful pieces of aluminum originally intended for use climbing mountains. I should see if I can buy them in bulk.
(Teladoc did figure out where the mares were and went to join them, though he was pretty much ignored. Victoria was twenty minutes late to church, but the service before ran late so she ended up making it just in time.)