The small sorrel mare had white flecks on her chest and face. Whether this is a particular color trait, I don’t know. But I do know is that her back was covered with loose hair and dust that I was vigorously scratching off with my hands. Sara, the Redwings ranch manager, had started me out with, “Tucker, Ricky and Hank all need lunging. Then there’s the horses who’s tails are a mess, it’s fly season, you know.” I guess they get their tails all knotted up from constantly whisking away flies. There were sixteen horses on the list. Sara ended with, “Or you could groom. Pretty much every horse on the ranch needs to be groomed. We’ve been short on staff this summer.” Lunging done, I was on to the tails; rats nests the size of softballs hanging at the end of each doc. The sorrel’s name was also Sarah and I was doing the best I could with my hands to give her a quick groom before tackling the tail. Distracted by talking to Sara, the person, I didn’t notice the apple sized patch of scar tissue until Sarah flinched as I raked my fingernails over it. “She broke her back. She was working a [cattle] feedlot. She pulled back while tied and fell over backwards on the asphalt. That’s how we got her. Six months of confinement and she’s all better, but no riding. I’m actually surprised they were still working her. She’s twenty-five and has fused knees and all sorts of other problems.” She was more than likely still being worked because she was a really good horse as is evidenced by the fact that she is one of only a few at the ranch that they can let little kids handle and groom. Maybe they were still working her because they loved her. For most horses, a horse that can no longer work is a dead horse.
Google Maps says it takes two hours twenty-one minutes to drive from Palo Alto to Redwings, which is in Lockwood. When the alarm went off at 6am this morning, I thought, “I can’t believe I’m doing this!” Our first trip to Redwings, back in February, was a huge success, only it was 90% tour and 10% helping out, which frustrated the girls. I talked with the staff and they were most agreeable to seeing to it that on our next visit, the girls would be put to work so I scheduled two trips this summer. The first trip had only Rachel signed up. She wanted to Savannah to come, but Savannah hemmed and hawed and finally said that she was still upset that there were so many horses at Redwings that just needed a little training to enable to have useful lives and that hadn’t or wasn’t being done and wouldn’t we all rather go to the beach anyways. At the beach the horses rolled in the sand and Stoney rolled in the waves. The girls jumped sand dunes and logs and raced up and down the beach; all bareback, riding with impunity with the guarantee of a soft landing in the deep sand. The girls took hundreds of photos of sand spraying and manes flying, some of which were posted to the KLH instagram. We all had a marvelous time at the beach.
I’m not sure when parents expect these kinds of trips to take place. They balk at the idea of taking their kids out of school for them, but when school is out, they head off to Paris or Amsterdam or Israel. “We have to get in one last vacation before school starts!” Jackie is on a cruise. Sara is in Seattle. Kayla was off in the sierras where her mom had plans to climb Mt Witney. Shani has band camp. When I brought up the trip to Kate, she frowned. When I told Savannah we’d be leaving 6:30am, daggers shot from her eyes. Rachel had plans to go back to school clothes shopping. Meera was actually signed up to go, but she didn’t want to go without a friend to keep her company and, after a fifteen hour day at Disneyland on Tuesday, she really was in no shape to go. Loath to go back on my word, I went by myself.
“I hope I can be helpful”, I said upon arrival. “Oh yes!” was Sara’s enthusiastic reply. “I’m so glad you are here! You have no idea what a treat this is!” Spoken like someone who needs to drink a gallon of water, but is so thirsty and so used to being thirst that half a cup seems like a miracle. She repeated her gratitude several times.
My first assignment involved working the three horses that are being prepared and rehabbed to the point where they can have useful, productive lives. One of the horses, Hank, a horse with an enormous heart and powerful spirit, is recovering from a bowed tendon. Sara handed me a set of polo wraps for Hank. There was enough of the wraps left to still work, but just barely as they were full of holes. The lunge whip was broken in the middle and patched with duct tape. Later, when I was detangling tails, and also attending to clean up, the only manure forks available all had broken tines. However, despite it’s being fly season, their manure management is so good, for a ranch, the flies are negligible. In fact, I’d arrived on “drag day.” There was a truck with three tractor tires attached to the back that was methodically making it’s way through all the paddocks.
Not only is their manure management really good, but the condition of the horses is excellent. They’d love a new set of manure forks and whips and polo wraps, but gear is second to the welfare of the horses.
My second assignment was tails. It took me twenty minutes per tail. By this time it was noon and the sun was beating down on me. The expected high that day was 86, a cool day for Lockwood in the summer. I made it through four tails before deciding it was time stop. Back home, the Campo horses needed their supplemental feed and meds, Chavali needed her proud flesh treated and Dancer needed a hoof soak for his abscess. If I didn’t stop soon, I would run out of steam without caring for the KLH herd. I promised Sara I’d come back in October, but thought maybe another trip before Labor Day because of the short staff. Sara admitted the truth was they were short on help all the time. “It’s just we are so far out. But where else can you afford to keep all these horses?” Certainly not anywhere within an hour and a half of the bay area. I only can manage the KLH herd because we occupy the few, teensy, tiny remnants available, and, according to my financial advisor, whether or not we can afford them is something he’d like us to reconsider.
It’s the oddest thing to me. Parents complain no end about how their children are spoiled and entitled, but then they whisk them off to London or Rome or Disneyland or to Taylor Swift concerts. In the same breathe, they couldn’t give a hoot about a service work trip. One of the newer riders mentioned recently that she just couldn’t wait to go on one of those “fun” trips like she’d seen pictures of in the KLH Instagram, as if the trip to the beach could be bought and didn’t need to be earned. I wonder what this girl would make of “fun” trip to Redwings?
I sent the girls pictures of Hank and Tucker and Ricky. They sent me pictures of themselves eating french fries.
I really don’t think I can schlep down again until October. But I keep thinking about the twelve horses who still have softball sized knots in their tails and my heart sinks.