A Break In The Rain

“Look Deb! Did you see how dirty Stoney was? We got all the dirt off him!” I’d been delayed at the Campo barn talking on the phone with the vet. Sammy and Lola had arrived at Quail about ten minutes before me. Stoney was standing quietly in the middle of the mats. He must have been very dirty because he was still dirty and they were proud of how clean they’d gotten him. They had also draped a silver tinsel garland with candy cane motif around his neck. Stoney can get testy with the younger riders. Fortunately he has taken a liking to Lola. He nibbles her helmet in mutual grooming while she uses the mud scraper on his neck.

Sophie has come with me, having been dropped off at Campo. She starts grooming Cowgirl, who I have haltered, and says, eyes wide, grinning ear to ear, “Who am I riding? Cow Girl?!!!” It’s cute that Sophie loves to ride CG because CG is not all that much fun to ride. She’s a grumpy, old pony with a saddle that can be a challenge.

“Yes, you are on CG. Sammy will ride Velvet, Kimmie will ride Stoney and Lola will be on Bella.” Lola perks up. Lola loves Stoney, but she loves Bella more. Lola says that all horses are a nine for her, but that Bella is a ten. Up until recently, Bella has been too much horse for Lola. But I’ve been schooling Bella. So has Tara and Suzanne, another adult, has been taking her out. Between the adult riding and Lola improving, Lola is probably now within a month or two of being able to handle Bella completely on her own. But I can only say she can ride her to the arena because I have Kate’s help today and Kate will run alongside, just in case.

By this time Kimmie, Sammy’s twin sister, who was at tutoring, has joined us. For this winter quarter, I have no regular riders scheduled for Thursday. But we have RAIN forecast for Saturday and it rained yesterday, leaving me with four novice riders today.

While I check Cowgirl’s girth, Lola maneuvers Stoney to the second terrace, making it possible for Kimmie to mount up. Sammy will lead CG with Sophie riding and Lola will lead Stoney with Kimmie aboard. Sammy and Sophie are ready, but Lola is still fussing with Kimmie’s stirrups. Kimmie is not helping. She’s stuck her foot in the too long stirrup with the metal bar, not the rubber safety, facing out. “Kimmie, look at your foot.” Kimmie looks down and says, “What?” I tell them to forget about it, Kimmie will ride without stirrups over to Campo and I will fix them there. It’s getting colder and darker by the minute. The sun sets at 5:06. That’s fifteen minutes more daylight than we had in December, but it’s still not very much and we need to hurry.

Lola takes off at trot: Lola doesn’t do anything on a slow speed. Kimmie is bouncing away, unperturbed, in Stoney’s saddle. Sammy, CG, Sophie and I do our best to catch up.

Walking up the drive to Campo, Lola, who has slowed to a walk, asks if we can trot on the pavement. No, we can’t. Lola says, “oh right. That’s because it doesn’t feel good to them?” It’s actually damaging to their joints, but that’s close enough.

Moments later, Lola catches sight of Kate. “Kate! Kate! Kate!” Kate is in the middle of getting hugged by Dancer. I don’t know if he’s doing it because he loves Kate or because she’s trained him to, but it’s awfully cute.

At Campo, Bella and Velvet need their bridles on, Kimmie needs her stirrups properly adjusted, Bella’s boots/; she wears boots on all four; needs to be checked, some one needs to grab half a dozen strings of Christmas lights and “Oh my gosh my hands are freezing!!!” (Lola and Kimmie) “Do you have any gloves?” Before we manage to shove off,Sammy got caught leading Velvet around in a way I have told her never to do, Lola has tried to get on without a helmet and Sophie almost let Cowgirl drag her over to the Jensen’s lawn.

Riding to the arena, Sammy has to be reminded to not let Velvet run into Bella’s butt, CG keeps running Sophie into the bushes and Lola makes it about half way before deciding she would like Kate’s help with the lead rope. Kimmie, with me holding Stoney’s lead rope, is doing surprisingly well. She has managed to figure out how to almost perfectly co-ordinate with me to keep Stoney from grabbing for grass.

As we start the steep, but short, ascent of Westwind Way, Sophie suddenly sits up very straight in the saddle and says, “Did you remember to tell Lola the joke?!” Arya said the same thing to me yesterday and no, I hadn’t. We all collect jokes and riddles for Lola. Arya reminded me what the riddle was: What do ink and pigs have in common. Kimmie, who is right next to me because I’m leading Stoney, says, “Pink!” This is just the kind of answer I would come up with, but it’s not the intended answer. Lola, who is almost at the top of the hill, has to have me shout the riddle because she didn’t hear it the first time. Sophie, Kimmie and I proceeded to have a discussion of why Pink wasn’t the answer. But it doesn’t take Lola long to figure it out. Moments later, she shouts out, “Pens!” Lola has a laser brain.

As we ride up Concepcion and then Purissima, I can’t help but notice how Sophie’s heel is constantly rising up. This is driving me nuts. Keeping your heels down keeps you on the horse. I spend the next ten minutes, the rest of the way to the arena, nagging Sophie about her heels.

Because of the rain, the bottom third of the arena still has a few small pools of water. All the girls except Lola get to work creating an obstacle course using poles, blocks and cones to keep the horses out of the wet area. Lola is fiddling with the lock on the shed. “Lola, what are you doing?” “I’m freezing!” Turns out she’s only wearing one sweatshirt. Temps are now in the forties. Lola is not the only cold kid. When she drags out the collection of jackets and sweatshirts, the others descend upon the box too. Kate has to spend the next ten minutes dressing them in many layers.

Lola’s next task is to set up a barrel. She wants to do barrel racing with Bella. I told her she could start with one barrel. Kimmie helps her push the barrel into the arena. I tell them over and over, “kick the barrel. Use your feet.” The continue to push. Then the gloves come off and they are freezing again. “Why did you take your gloves off?” “They were wet.” “Yes, well that’s why I told you to use your feet.”

Lola races around her barrel with cold, bare hands, undeterred.

The girls don’t have much time to ride. I spend most of that time trying, unsuccessfully, to convince Sammy to do a turn on the haunches at the far end of the arena.

Because of the cold, the girls don’t have a fit about leaving when their mom shows up. Kate and I strap strings of lights on all the horses, a reflective vest on her and a reflective quarter sheet on Bella, the dark horse. Kate heads off on Bella, ponying Velvet. She can keep up a good clip and I quickly lose slight of her. I’m left with my bike, Stoney and CG. We move in fits and starts in the increasing darkness down Purissima. During November and December, the girls loves to do the lighted rides back to the barns, but we have enough daylight now so I don’t have to have to them along to get their ride time in and I’m glad of it. This year, as we all know, people are particularly grumpy. Even though the horses are lit up like Christmas trees, one driver, who could see us coming for half a mile, drove by too fast and yelled as he passed, “What are you? Stooopid?!”

My goal for the year is to try and convince the horsemen’s association to take an active role in installing a few traffic calming measures. But this will take more than the horsemen’s to establish. All the residents I know well complain about people speeding. Helen, who lives on Robleda, very near where the path to the Campo barn branches off, had someone smash into her fence one night. As fate would have it, I ran into her today as I was leaving Campo for Quail. I told her that a little traffic calming would go a long way in terms of making life work well for riders in Los Altos Hills, “You know, maybe a few speed bumps by the little league fields?” She said, “and people do drive awfully fast on the straight stretch of Robleda. But I hate speed bumps! I could never go for that!” And Helen is progressive, forward thinking and loves horses. Problem is, people always prefer the demise of others to their own inconvenience. Helen is, apparently, no exception to this rule. Slowing the traffic would make all the difference in the world of difference for riders and horses. Better conditions for riders and horses, means more horses in the hills and happier horses with a more secure future.

The future for KLH does not at all feel secure. The primary goal of kidslovehorses is to keep five or six horses happy and alive. Maybe it’s global warming, but this year the ice I’m skating on seems very thin. The attrition continues. Allison has dropped out of riding in favor of feeding and pony time on Sunday mornings. Delaney is spending January through March at ski high school in Tahoe. Lainey needs a job to pay for a choir trip to Ireland. She may be able to ride on Sundays, but that’s not for sure. Last time I saw Jackie she dropped a hint about being “really busy next month.” By this I’m guessing she meant she won’t be able to ride as her mother hasn’t paid. Rachel won’t ride without Jackie or Savannah. Savannah’s life is like a suit case that she’s stuffed with too many things and she’s jumping up and down on it to get it to shut. Either she will succeed or the suit case will break. Jury is out on that one.

I do so like this latest crew, though: Sophie, Arya, Jaya, Anna, Lola, Sammy, Kimmie, Mikatrin and, probably, Julia; Horsegirls, Gen 4. Not since I started with Haley and Katie have I had so many beginners and so few advanced riders. It’s hard to help the beginners learn without the inspiration and guidance of the older riders. But I’ve done it before so I guess I can do it again. If the ice would thicken up, that would help.

Tomorrow starts with carting four yards of walk on bark into the paddock cum mud pit at Campo. Jaya’s dad will help me. Then there’s a vet exam for Velvet. Her hock has swollen up again. After that, Kate and Kayla come out and will get to gallop all over hell and yon on what will be the last dry day for a while before rain sets in again on Saturday.

Rain will bring a break in teaching, but not for me. I can long line Cowgirl, which will hopefully encourage her to be a better pony to ride and also Stoney, who will just need to get out, and, of course, damage control in the paddocks and feeding and tending Velvet’s hock. As the old saw goes, no rest for the wicked.

Happy New Year everyone! Wish me luck.

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