Year of the Horse

“Don’t you even think about it poo!”  Chloe, age seven, lifted her manure fork and aimed it like a javelin at the offending pile. “Chloe,” said Maizie, Chloe’s older sister, with exasperation, “Poo can’t think because it doesn’t have a brain.”  Chloe is now jousting with the manure.  “Look! It split in half and inside it’s all green!”  To my delight, Chloe has turn out to be a champion paddock mucker and we are having at the pasture/paddock at the Campo Vista barn, after which follows the task of tacking and walking Freedom, Stoney and Jackson to the trailer, parked half a mile away on Robleda.  

Having Maizie and Chloe assisting with barn chores has not been part of the original plan.

“Forty bales of hay is only two-thirds of a load.  It won’t cost you any extra if you get someone else to take another twenty.  But yeah, we can deliver sometime next week.”  To the best of my knowledge, forty bales is the most I can fit in Cowgirl’s stall.  Cowgirl loves her stall.  It’s her safe place.  Loath as I was to have her give it up, there is no hay crop in California this spring.  All the California livestock that normally relies on pasture is going to have to eat hay imported from Washington and Canada, I’m guessing.  I’m willing to bet we are going to see hay going for $40 a bale before the year is out, hence the sacrifice of space for hay while I can still get it at $24 a bale.

“Can we deliver tomorrow?  The trucks loaded.  We’ll be there around 9:30.”  Next week would have been better, but the housework can wait.  Linda, who has agreed to take twenty bales to fill out the load, is also going to be home and it will be a good time for her.  Packing hay into Cowgirl’s stall involves pulling hay off a truck that’s parked on a hill at about twenty degrees, rolling the bale down a short verge, up and over a low fence, through a narrow aisle and into the corner stall.  Thinking it would be only decent to provide helpful help, as opposed to me who would be probably more in the way than helpful, I call Michael who agrees to help as long as his mother-in-law agrees to baby sit Elyse, who at four, is much too young to be at a barn where 80lb bales and hay hooks are being swung around.

A couple hours later Jake, the hay guy, calls again. “One of my men has a sick mother and can’t come in early.  We should be able to leave Half Moon Bay by eleven [getting to Quail by noon].”  

Another call to Linda.  Another call to Michael.  Out the door at 9am; to the bank; buy cat food and nature’s miracle; to the tack store to buy wormer because Velvet’s butt is itchy; hitch up the trailer; drive from Portola Valley, where the trailer lives, to Los Altos HIlls; park on Robleda in one and only parking spot that thankfully can accommodate forty feet of rig; schlep dog, lunch, jacket, ropes, wormer up to Quail; clean stall and pour gallon of miracle on pee spots; barricade horses in paddock; clean out hay room; drag 4 by 4’s down from top of hill for hay supports.  By now it is almost noon.  The only spot where there is enough cell reception for a conversation is up the hill from the barn at Jan’s parking pad.  “The guys are just finishing up their lunch.”  It’s fifty minutes from the feed store in Half Moon Bay to the barn. “Jake, if they don’t make it here by one, I’m screwed!”  This is no joke.  Dogs aren’t allowed in Rancho (Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve).  Kyle, age eleven, will be taking Dante for the afternoon, but I have to rendezvous at Lincoln park, trailer loaded and ready to roll, with Kyle’s mom at 3:10 because she has to pick up younger sister Kayla from school.  Bucketing, mucking, grooming, tacking; walking horses to trailer and loading will take an hour and a half, if I’m lucky.  There actually is one other open spot closer to the barn where the rig could be parked, but last time I tried to load there an irritated driver slammed the side of her mini-cooper into Freedom’s backside, hitting his hocks as we were crossing Robleda.  I won’t load there ever again.  But that means walking three horse, one in front, one beside and one in back, down half a mile of busy road; three horses that aren’t necessarily inclined to co-operate.  

Last Friday, in my first attempt to stock up on hay, I’d loaded Godzilla to the gills and brought sixteen bales to Quail to stack in the orchard with the intent of being unloaded and stacked before Maya, Priya and Julia arrived.  But I just couldn’t do it.  I don’t know why, but i just couldn’t.  “Julia, Maya, Priya; you have to help me stack this haaaaaayyyyyyy!”  If you don’t have to do it that often, stacking hay can actually be fun and Julia, with her gift for order, space and design, excels at the task, but it cuts into their ride time. In exchange for their willing and cheerful assistance, today we will be trailering to Rancho for our ride, though also for the fact that sometimes we just have to get the hell out of Los Altos HIlls.  It still being January, we also needed to beat the sunset.  We failed in that respect.

Michael showed up with Maizie and Chloe a little after noon.  They cleaned the paddock and groomed and tacked Stoney.  Maizie got a splinter in her finger from helping to move wood.  Chloe swept the mats.  Both girls came attired in paddock boots, breeches, half chaps and helmets.  They knew it was a work day not a ride day, but they were going to be prepared just in case.

At 1pm we walked to the bottom of Quail, where it intersects with Robleda, to flag down the hay truck as Quail Lane can be hard to spot.  Chloe and Maizie climbed around the sides of the stone bridge and explored the creek while we waited.

At 1:20 I called the feed store.  “The truck left about fifteen minutes ago.”  That’s how Maizie and Chloe ended up “helping” me at the Campo Vista barn and Michael, bless his soul, waiting for the delivery.  To their delight, Maizie rode CG and Chloe rode Stoney over to Campo.  

Around two, a text comes in from Michael. “The hay guys want to know where they are supposed to go next. They don’t have a GPS so they need directions.”  Chloe and Maizie are busy mixing and mashing the pellet and bran that Chavali and Velvet will eat for lunch.  I’m keeping an eye on the water level as I fill a tub and I have no idea what Linda’s address is.  Linda agrees to drive over and escort them. 

After mucking and tacking, there is another text from Michael. “There was only one invoice for the whole load.  I made check out for $1,626.  Hope that’s OK.” And oh was so not!  

By this time it was clear that the best way proceed with horses to the trailer was to have Maizie ride on her own while I lead Jackson and Stoney with Chloe on Stoney and of course there was Dante also.

As we made our way down the driveway towards Robleda, Maizie says, exuberantly, “Daddy’s coming!  I can always smell him.”  True enough, moments later, Michael appears at the bottom of the drive and just in time to take Freedom and lead the way along Robleda.

Just past Beatrice, not half way to the trailer, a sheriffs patrol car, coming the other way, slows and then stops as he sees us.  “Is that your truck and trailer?”  I replied in the affirmative, but was puzzled.  We kept walking.  He crossed over to the opposite side of the street, facing the wrong direction, and on to the pathway to stop.  We didn’t stop.  Sheriff or not sheriff, we stop where it is safe to stop and at that spot, it wasn’t.  When we did stop, he’d gone, but he’d left his calling card on the truck with a note saying it was blocking the line of sight from the driveway it was next to. 

Miracle of miracles I made it to Lincoln Park, loaded and ready to go at 3:10, handed off Dante to Kyle and Jill without a hitch and made it to Rancho at exact same time as Julia, followed minutes later by Priya and Maya.  Thank heavens all that mess and stress was gone and done with!

Keeping up with the horses on foot is challenging under normal circumstances and impossible at Rancho.  The girls galloped off up the long fire road, while I wheezed and ambled my way up a short cut trail.  Jackson ambles.  It’s gait number two of his five gaits, the other four being walk, trot, rack and canter.  Amble falls between walk and trot.  I knew that walking would be too slow, but what I do can’t really be described as jog, so amble it is.  As jogger after jogger whizzed by my, none of them failing to say, “you’re almost at the top!”, I kept thinking, “there has got to be some way to get my legs moving faster, but I just can’t think of how.”

As the girls have been progressing with their riding, more and more of them are able to ride for short periods of time without me.  But it still makes me nervous.  After we reunited at the view spot, I decided that I’d reached my limit on being apart and said they could do one more out and back, which would allow me to be on the same trail as them, but not have to keep up.  Besides, the alternate route was just a little too long and I estimated it would get us back to the trailer about ten minutes after dark.  There was a nice canter trail on the way out, the coyote trail, but this trail is inevitably full of throngs of walkers and joggers forcing the riders to stick to a trot.  The out and back would bring us back to the parking lot at dark, but after all the effort to get the horses to Rancho, we all wanted to make the most of being there.  Even if we did end up riding in a few minutes of darkness, this wouldn’t be a problem for the horses or us and we rode after dark regularly.

As we started to descend the trail, it seemed to me that Rancho was starting to empty out.  I thought, “Maybe everybody is going home for dinner? I wonder if this means the girls will get to canter up the coyote trail after all?”

Shortly after the girls passed me at a canter going back up the trail I was coming down, I got into a conversation about horses with two men jogging down hill.  One of them has a daughter who rides at Fremont Hills.  Our conversation inconvenienced his companion and as we parted I apologized for delaying them as they must be getting chilled.  They had started to jog away, but one turned back and said, “Oh no.  We’ll just blame you if we get locked in. They lock the gates half an hour after sunset.”  It was five-thirty; sunset exactly.  Whether or not they defined sunset as the time the sun sets or as the time that civil twilight ends, which is half an hour after sunset, I don’t know, but I sure didn’t want to find out the hard way.  

With no one ahead of them the girls didn’t just canter up the coyote trial.  They galloped.  And I found out what it takes to get me to progress from amble to jog to downright run.  The girls made it back to the rig as darkness set in, followed by a very out of breath me about ten minutes later.  To my great relief, sunset, in regards to closing and locking gates at Rancho, is actually the end of civil twilight and we exited the preserve without any difficulty.

As we drove back on 280 towards Los Altos Hills, the new moon, with a very tiny sliver of light on the bottom of it, was visible rising over the Santa Cruz mountains to the west.

That really should be the end of the story, but I’ve just gotten another text from Michael.  I’d left the kids love horses check book with him so he could pay the hay guys.  He put it securely in his back pocket then threw his pants, along with all the kids barn cloths, into the washer.  He is, right now, busy ironing out the check book in what is probably a vain attempt to salvage it.

Looks like it’s going to be an interesting year.  

Happy year of the horse everyone!


Shortly after

After finishing the mucking, there is another text: 


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