Kids Love Kate

“If Sophie rides Chavali and Kayla rides Cowgirl, who is going to ride Velvet?” Kate is standing in the paddock at Quail holding CG for Jaya who is grooming CG.  Kayla, who has just arrived, overheard Kate’s comment. “I’m not going to ride Velvet because I don’t like being in the lead.”  Jaya doesn’t say anything because Jaya doesn’t say anything. Well, OK, sometimes she does say something, but not very often. I say,”Well one things for sure, we aren’t taking Dancer out.”  Kate says,”because he can’t be ridden.”  I said, “No, he can be ridden.”  Dancer got X-rays two days ago.  The coffin bones in his rear hooves are rotated backwards.   The farrier, who is scheduled to come tomorrow, is supposed to radically trim the toes, which will allow the coffin bone to sit at the correct angle.  Technically, today, he can still be ridden. Kate puts her hands on her hips and stamps.  “No! Dancer is not going to be ridden!  He needs to rest and get better!”  Clearly the matter was no longer up for discussion, not that we could have discussed more if we wanted to because at that moment Arya and Sophie showed up and with gleeful squeals threw themselves headlong at Kate.  Sophie cried, “Group hug! Group hug!”  Kayla and Jaya happily piled on.

The group hug proceeded to take several different forms, most of which included someone being on someone else’s back.  As I was standing in the driveway thinking, “Oh my.  How am I ever going to get them focused on riding?” It occurred to me that Arya’s mom was still there and “wouldn’t it be nice for you all to get a ride over the Campo rather than walk, although someone is going to have to stay with me and tack up CG.”  Kayla scrunched up her nose, pursed her lips and glared at me,which means,”How could you even consider someone other than me to ride CG?!” While Arya, Jaya and Sophie are glared at me and clung to Kate, which meant, “Don’t you dare separate us from Kate!”  And so it was.

By the time Kayla, Cowgirl and I arrived at Campo, Kate and the munchkins had Chavali, Velvet and Jackson out. Sophie was energetically grooming Chavali. Arya was holding a bridle in one hand and and tugging at Jackson’s cross tie with the other saying,”Lower your head!” I suggested this may not be the best approach.  She was in the mood to listen, followed my instructions and within minutes had successfully bridled the horse, no small feat for a seven year-old.

Jaya was standing by Velvet doing nothing. “Jaya are you OK?”  I had her walk over to me. She said, in a very quiet voice, that she was tired. “Well, then, you should like down.”  Kate got a horse blanket out. Kayla picked out the most padded saddle pad for a pillow and we had Jaya lie down.  “I’m tired too!” , said Sophie and she dramatically yawned and stretched.  “So am I!”, said Arya.  Both girls joined Jaya on the blanket, though Arya didn’t actually lie down. She squatted for a bit, then bounded around and over the other girls. Jaya wasn’t getting much rest, but she also didn’t actually seem that tired. I looked at Kate and said, “Does Jaya know?”

Jackson will be leaving.  It’s hard to find a good home for a horse.  Jackson’s owner didn’t seem to have the persistence or the motivation necessary and she’d been dragging her feet saying his former owner, the woman who bred him, had wanted to be informed should he be up for sale, but she’d been impossible to get a hold of.  Although the girls had been informed he was up for sale, I didn’t expect him to leave anytime soon.

On Monday I got a text from Emma, his owner.  “His old owner wants him back!”  Good news indeed, but sad news also.  I texted Emma that he was scheduled for horse camping in the end of July. It would create enormous problems for me if her were to leave before then.  I sent a couple more texts about how sad the girls were that he was up for sale and how much they loved him. I also called and left a message asking if we could discuss his departure out of consideration for the tender hearts that loved him. No response.

On Tuesday I got a text from Emma’s mother, Fiona. “What’s this about Jackson being in a summer camp? I’m making arrangements for Jackson’s transport (to Tennessee). His old owner is eager to have him back as soon as possible. I’m seeing if I can move him next week.”  When explained, Fiona understood about horse camping and agreed to let him stay through July.  It would have been better for the girls to have had him stay through the summer.

Unlike the other horses, Jackson never became anyone’s favorite horse.  Almost all the riders become passionate about one horse over the rest.  He also wasn’t fast enough and fun enough to be interesting to the skilled riders, leaving him primarily the tasking of schlepping beginners. No horse should have that fate indefinitely.  He was put up for sale at my suggestion.  Of course, now that leaving was on the horizon, the girls all began to pour attention and affection on him, the skilled ones taking him out for rides.  At the same time, Kate, who weighs in at 90lb, figured out that she could ride double on Jackson with a bareback pad with riders like Jaya, 40lb, and Arya, 34lb.  Jaya in particular benefitted from this arrangement.  Riding double with a skilled rider is the fastest way to learn how to ride. Jaya’s riding ability improved exponentially.  It was with a sinking heart that I watched, just weeks before, Jackson become Jaya’s most beloved horse.

Now we had to tell her.  But Kate, ever ready to save the day, said, “Remember the beach trip?” I had forgotten.  Kate has been an enormous help this summer.  Actually, more than enormous.  It’s not too far fetched to say that she is single handedly saving kids love horses.  Because of the less than ideal riding environment we have to work with, it’s very tricky and exhausting to work with a new rider under the age of ten.  I decided to focus on starting riders eleven and up.  Problem is, a kid who loves horses, but who’s parents wait until they are eleven or twelve to get them lessons is a kid who’s parents don’t support horses.  When the parents don’t support or value horses, it makes my life very difficult and has come near to putting an end to KLH.  Also, KLH depends on a group of well trained older riders who can aid and assist with the next generation.  I’ve “raised” four crops of riders – takes about three years per crop. The first three crops all helped out with the next group.  Several of them are still helping out.  This forth crop hasn’t been fully trained, because they started later, are too busy or aren’t inclined to help with younger riders. This break in continuity has created a rift in the continuum of horse education that is almost insurmountable.  Not only do I not have parental or older rider support, both of which have been abundant in previous sets, but, having realized that the best riders and parents come from the kids that start between the ages of six and eight, I’ve taken on the heaviest load of young riders ever. Kate has been doing half of the work with every single lesson this summer.  I felt she deserved more than just money.  She asked for a trip to the beach.  A trip to the beach with Jaya and Jackson.

“Fiona, would it be OK if Jackson stayed on just a couple more days?  I’ve promised a beach trip with him and the earliest it can be schedule would be August 2nd.”  Fiona thought that Jackson should be reunited with his old owner as soon as possible.  She said she was thinking of the woman’s feelings, but I suspect she wants the whole business done and over with.  I pleaded Jaya and Kate’s case.  I told her I needed to know what they plan to do as I pay board tomorrow and would have to give notice to the Jensen’s (owners of Campo barn).  The last I heard from Fiona was, “what day does Jackson come back from the horse camping?”

I’m not sure that Jackson leaving sunk in right away for Jaya. But by the time I’d finished going back and forth with Fiona, I’d figured out what was eating at Jaya:  Arya was getting a turn at riding double with Kate.  Jaya know’s she gets the lion’s share of time riding double and she knows she has to share.  Even still, the thought of not getting to ride with Kate was almost too much to bear.  Jaya loves Kate as much as she loves horses, which is pretty much as much as it is possible for Jaya to love anything.  Jaya talks to Kate.  She talks non-stop to Kate. She has a need to talk to Kate.

The final arrangement of riders was Jaya, who, despite her reticence and youth, can actually lead, on Velvet, Sophie on Chavali, Kayla on her beloved Cowgirl and Kate and Arya on Jackson.  Kate said, “Why don’t we just go to Clark’s Field and play around and ride back and forth in different combos.”  And that’s exactly what we did.

First Kate rode with Sophie and Kayla.  Then Jaya got a turn riding double with Kate.  Then I told them Jackson needed a break.  Kate and Kayla got on Velvet and Chavali and blasted across the whole field and back. Arya announced that she didn’t want to ride at all, but wanted to have a foot race in order to “get some energy out.”  Sophie did not enjoy the foot race at all and suggested they play games instead.  Arya suggested a contest. I didn’t think this was such a good idea. Sophie said, “I don’t want to play tag because that would involve running.” I said they could play hide and seek in the tall grass, except there might be snakes.  At this point, Kayla and Kate came charging back, with Chavali trying to overtake Velvet.  Kate said, “Can I take just Chavali across the field?  She seems to really want to run” and off she went.  I looked at Arya, Jaya and Sophie and said, “You know, there’s a perfect fort tree about half way across the field.”  They all turned on a dime and headed out, marching off like the three musketeers.  They got the bush tree confused with the fort tree and had turned back in disappointment at the same time Kate made it back with a sweating and well run Chavali.  Kate, still on Chavali, was quickly dispatched to escort them to the proper tree.  Kayla, on Cowgirl, and me, leading Jackson and Velvet, slowly followed.  The fort tree was a huge hit with all three youngin’s scrambling around in the branches with Kate coaching from the ground while Chavali grazed.  It was only then that I looked at my watch.  “Oh dear!  It’s time to go.”  If looks could kill, I would have been slayed three times.

The fun of riding with Kate is that she rides Jackson in the rear, holds him back at strategic spots, then canters to catch up.  The girls will hold their arms out to the sides like wings.  It was a brisk, fun ride back to the barns.

Jaya, Arya and Sophie, all of whom were about forty-five minutes short of bedtime, got picked up at Quail.  While I stayed with Jackson for a bit at Quail, Kate and Kayla rode Chavali and Velvet back to Campo.  When I joined them at Campo, Kate said, “Kayla and I had a race to see who could put all their tack away fastest!”  Whenever they are together, this is what they do and they enjoy it enormously. “Who won?”  “Me”, said Kate. Kayla is unusually deliberate in everything she does so this did not surprise me. “Can we feed the barn?”  Since the Jensens are out of town, the task of feeding fell to us this evening. Off they raced, down the hill with the wheel barrow full of hay, to return very shortly with Kayla in the wheel barrow, laughing hysterically, and Kate pushing.

As I was finishing the last details of clean up, Kate settled down on a stool to check her phone.  I said, “Kate, pick up is at Quail.  We aren’t staying here.”  “We aren’t?” By this time she was a little tired, but not that tired. Seconds later, her eyebrows popped up, she sat up straight and said, “That means Kayla and I can finally race!!!”  Kayla and Kate have been wanting to race from Campo to Quail for months. They’ve tried three times, only to be foiled by parental pick up plans each time.

They piled their phones, whips, chaps, water bottles and helmets into and on my bike and were off like a shot.  By the time I arrived at Quail, they were sitting on the floor of the tack shack chattering away.  Kate’s mom was already there.  Kate was not ready to leave.  I had to wait until Kayla’s mom showed up so Rebecca, Kate’s mom stayed to chat.  Kate and Kayla were now playing a game that involved throwing a water bottle back and forth at each other it and, from what I could tell, were enjoying it immensely.  Rebecca said, “I wish more parents would come and follow you and the girls around every now and then so they could see what goes on. They’d have so much more appreciation for what you do and how much good it does for the kids.”  I suspect she’s right. Though if Jaya, Sophie or Arya’s parents had tagged along, the girls would not have played. They don’t always play like that and they almost never play as much as they did today, though it was clear that all three had a crying need for it.  I do know for sure that Arya, Sophie and Jaya’s parents got tired, happy children tonight.

Of all the riders, it is Kayla who has been most deeply affected by the defection of the older girls. After tonight, Kayla’s faith was renewed.  She knows that as long as she’s with Kate, she will be OK.  Riding to Clark’s Field, Kate said, “Who’s going to ride Dancer in the Halloween Horse Show?”  I said, “you are.”  Kate is eager to do some showing and the Westwind Halloween show is one of only two that are available without extraordinary effort.  I thought she meant ride in the show, but she was referring to the costume class.  “I thought Meera was going to ride him as a bumble bee.”  Meera has THE best costuming ideas, but zip on follow through.  “No, Kate, you are riding him.”  Kate said, “You know how Rachel thought that Stoney should go as a royal horse and have his rider dress as a princess?”  I pretended to remember that. “Well, I’d like to ride Dancer in a knight’s costume.”  Whether she manages to come up with a knights costume for the Halloween show or not, we will see.  But she sure does seem to be riding to the rescue of KLH this summer.  I know it won’t last.  School will start and the younger riders and I will have to make our own fun for ourselves.  They should all be far enough along by that time for that to be possible, and although they won’t like it, it has to happen sometime and they all do eventually have to stand on their own.  But we ought to have another good month or so left and we will enjoy every minute of it.

Kate and Kayla, I expect, will be riding together for a very long time to come.

Queen of the Jumps

“Where are you?  Are you close to the arena?”  It was Shaliza, Arya’s mother calling. ” I got the time of the choir concert wrong and I need to pick Arya up now.” Arya was not going to like this.  Her pick up was already going to be half an hour earlier than usual.  Saturday morning is young rider morning, or munchkin morning, made possible by reliable assistance from Kate. She held Cowgirl’s lead rope while coaching Arya through picking hooves; she pushes the wheel barrow at Campo while Arya, Jaya and Sophie scoop the poop and then pushes the girls, giving each a turn, in the wheel barrow after dumping it; she keeps the girls running back and forth fetching tack.  Today she even insisted on coaching Sophie, who is seven, through putting on Velvet’s bridle.  Without Kate, I think these girls would never learn to ride.

We now have a bareback pad for Cowgirl.  Cowgirl hates the saddle.  The kids hate Cowgirl’s saddle.  The little kids can stay on Cowgirl at a walk with the bareback pad, which is sticky, and learn better riding position that way.  We left Stoney at Quail for Rachel and walked Cowgirl to Campo with Sophie riding and Kate leading. I followed with Dante and fell behind. By the time I got to Campo, they had Cowgirl tied and had grabbed muck forks, ready for the next task.  But before they headed into the paddock to clean, Kate turned to me and said,”Sophie cantered on CG!  She liked it and wants to canter again!”  As Sophie is not the most ambitious rider, I was astonished; even more astonished at the fact that Kate can clearly keep up on foot with Cowgirl’s canter going up hill.

I got the call from Shaliza while walking up La Paloma.  Rachel and Lainey kept riding up La Paloma in order to have a fun canter over the Via Arline pathway while Kate, who leading Sophie on Cowgirl, Jaya (on Velvet) and me, leading Arya on Dancer turned right to take the shorter, but much steeper, route up Westwind Way, at the top of which, we met Shaliza, coming to pick up Arya.  Arya’s loss was Sophie’s gain as Kate, now mounted on Dancer, was able to pony Sophie on CG and canter for several long stretches, Sophie riding Cowgirl like a pro, me with my heart in my throat. When we got to the arena Kate told me that Sophie wanted to show her mom how she cantered, but didn’t have it in me to tempt fate and told Sophie we were going to have to wait for another day.  When we got to the arena I also got a text from Shaliza. Arya had cried all the way home.

It was just as well that Arya and Sophie had to leave early because Jana rode over from Page Mill Pastures on Binki to school Rachel and Kate.  We put CG and Chavi in the round pen.  While Rachel and Kate got their lesson, Jaya rode around on Velvet and Lainey and I sat in lawn chairs.  We talked about PE and music and summer plans and Lainey ate half of my lunch.  Kayla also showed up around this time.  She was not so keen on watching and chatting and started to put Cowgirl through her paces.

Jaya got picked up at one. Kayla was eager to put out trot poles, but I asked her to wait a bit until the lesson was done. By one thirty, both Kate and Rachel had that blank look that comes with being unable to take in any more information. It was time for Jana to go anyways.  Kayla and I set up the trot poles for CG, which she cantered and jumped over. Kate got on Chavali bareback and started zipping around. Rachel flopped down in a chair next to Lainey, said she felt “totally zen”, then proceeded to eat the other half of my lunch.  Lainey, who had been alternating between sitting and talking, hugging the horses and flitting about, decided that the best place of all was Rachel’s lap.  About this time, Sammy, Kimmy and Lola showed up. I see them every year at the arena.  Their brothers play baseball. They gravitate to the horses like bees to honey, usually led by Sammy, who has vibrant, auburn hair. She walks towards them with her hand slightly outstretched, eyes full of longing.  She looks like she is being pulled forward by a magnet.  Kimmy was wearing a sequin horse T-shirt.  Sammy was wearing a spray paint horse T-shirt.  I ask them the same question I ask every year, “Have you started riding lessons yet?”  Sammy says, “No, but my mom says I can go horse back riding for my birthday.”  Lola says her mom says she has too many activities, like soccer and basketball and gymnastics.  I said, “but do you like soccer and basketball and gymnastics better than horses or do you like horses more?”  She likes horses more. The girls will be nine next month. I have yet to meet the parents.

Kate started having problems with Chavali.  I told her that even riding bareback, when she was trotting she needed to keep her hands still relative to the horse rather than letter them bounce around.  Chavali feels a constant tapping on the bridle when she does that.  Kate looked at me like she’d die if she had to do that. I said, “Kate, you’re tired.”  She said, “No I’m not!”  I said, “Here, why don’t you get off the horse and eat this last chicken leg.” She said OK.  Next thing you know, it was Kate who was sitting in Rachel’s lap, which some how ended up with Rachel and Kate on the ground, Rachel supporting Kate, who then took a short nap.  Lainey spent that time lolling about on Chavali. Kayla, not having had a lesson with Jana, still had tons of energy  and was zipping around the arena on Velvet.

Eventually Kate revived enough to take up her next task: schooling Dancer. After drilling him in pushing off out of his hind end, she set up a wide, low jump.  While Kate took Dancer over the wide jump, Kayla worked CG over a smaller jump.  Rachel stood in the middle of the two jumps, supported by one of the jump blocks, driving whip in hand, making sure that Dancer kept to his side and CG to hers.  She said, “I feel like one of those switching things for trains.” Then added. “I’m the queen of the jumps!”  Indeed.

It was the usually prying of teeth to get them going in the arena, followed by the usual prying of teeth to get them to leave the arena, with me frantically texting all the parents saying we will be fifteen minutes later than expected, which was already half an hour to an hour later than I thought we’d go in the first place.

Because of Dante’s injured hip, I rode with the girls, on Velvet, behind Kayla, riding CG with the bareback pad.  After three falls, and with CG not having the easiest gait to ride, Kayla has been erring on the side of caution with speed. But today, off the went at a canter, with nary a word from Kayla. And so it continued all the way to and through Clark’s field. In the course of riding, the girls always get to a point where, almost by magic, they can stay on the horses no matter what.  Today, with Kayla, we have started to turn that corner.


Riding home, Rachel told me that her parents asked her what she felt was her next step with horses.  This was a puzzlement to me.  Her parents are reasonably supportive, but they are also the ones who consider horses a “luxury”, an expendable activity.  Nor are they willing to drive her even as far as Woodside.  Rachel’s “next step” will involve being in high school.  It is too soon to know how much time she will have for horses and even if she did have the time, what her parents don’t know is that any serious next step involves driving to Santa Rose or Elk Grove or Paso Robles.  Whatever happens, I will see to it she keeps getting to ride Stoney.  She’ll have a good, long summer of riding as much as she wants, but it’s clear her reign as queen will be coming to an end.  Kayla, however, is ready and waiting to take her place.










Happy Spring!

Three pads and one girth, I think, have tumbled out of the car and on to the pavement.  There is a second girth, but I don’t know if it is on the ground or in the car.  The girths are black and it’s dark. I’ve brought everything home to be washed, but it was late and I was having a hard time keeping everything together. Kate got a braiding book for her birthday.  She and Sara barely got started in on the braiding last Saturday before they had to leave. I promised Kate she’d have time the next Saturday.  Most of the time, the girls will braid half a mane and then go on to something else or the braids become fatter and fatter and are almost certainly not rolled up.  Or the braid, usually in the tail, starts out perfect, then moves sideways and stops before the dock as the braider maybe decides they’d rather not take any more time out of their riding.  Not Kate’s braids.  Her braiding book gives instructions on how to lace a needle and thread through the braid to pull it up and tie it into a proper little bun.  Sure enough, there’s Kate, needle in hand, eyes focused on her work like a cat on a mouse while controlling her hands and the braid with so much care and precision that Chavali hardly even notices the art being created out of her mane.

“You ready to go yet?” I was about five minutes early picking up Kate.  She answered the door in her tie dye stockings.  Bouncing on her toes, she says, “Can I grab my jacket?” It’s 9:15 and we need to be the barn by 9:30 to meet Sophie, Jaya and Arya, ages seven, eight and seven.  Arya has just recently asked to be able to ride on Saturday again because she misses her friends.  Not only is Kate’s assistance invaluable, Sophie is particularly attached to her and would probably sit like a lump and glare at me should Kate not show up.

Sophie is the first to show up.  She and Kate immediately set to work grooming Stoney.  Arya bounds up moments later.  She has a birthday party to go to later in the day, which, fortunately, doesn’t conflict with riding, but if it had, she informed her mother that she’d chose to ride rather than go to the party.  Stoney is in the middle of his month long spring shed.  A carpet of white hair now covered the ground.

Arya’s mother told me she seems to be allergic to something at the barn.  Seeing as one in five people are allergic to the hay, when we got to Campo, I told the girls they would no longer get to play on the hay bales.  Sophie said, “that’s OK! We can run up and down that hill!”  Mostly they walked up the hill (the short driveway down to the barn) and ran down it while Kate and I sat and looked on in awe at their energy.  Kate said, “The next generation of gallops girls for sure.”

Very soon it was Arya and Sophie being the baby horses and Jaya being the owner, then the Sophie horse got stuck on a stump (the mounting block), though what stuck her there was Arya sitting on top of her, then the Arya horse had to be tied up in the cross ties – lead ropes clipped on to her collar, and so on.  Unfortunately for the play, Sophie had a noon pick up time and if we didn’t get started with the tacking and grooming, we wouldn’t make it.  I told them to start grooming Chavali, but only two of them and the third one should groom Jackson.  This they did not like and ignored, Sophie and Arya on one side, silliness on full blast, and Jaya on the other.  Not quite ready to put the damper on their high spirits by insisting they focus on their work, I let them be and set to work picking Dancer’s hooves, but only for a moment.  Gallop Girls part 2, had been having just a little too much fun and failed to notice Chavali sticking her nose towards Stoney and nickering, which, as most experienced horse girls know, is usually followed by some flirtatious waving of her hooves.  It was Jaya who got kicked; in the thigh.  Being Chavali, she didn’t even end up with a bruise.  The now sober girls were most cooperative with everything else that was needed to get done.

Cowgirl is still recovering from he hoof wound, she’s not sound enough to be ridden, but sound enough that she can and must get out.  She was with us at Campo.  Kate rode Dancer and ponied Chavali who was being ridden by Arya.  Jaya, the most competent of the younger riders, rode Jackson, while I led Stoney, who was ridden by Sophie, and also led CG and Dante.  Cowgirl got loose and got a head of me as we left the Jensen’s.  Then she headed off to Gardner Bullis school when the girls turned left to head to Orchard Hill.   When I got CG back, Dante got away, then Stoney lurched off for some grass, and so it went until we were half way up La Paloma and met Shana on Velvet coming the other direction, returning from her ride.  At this point, Dante was cowering in fear from Stoney who was baring his teeth at him and CG’s lead rope was just about to get stuck under the fender of my bike.  Shana very graciously agreed to take CG back to Campo with her where she would spend the rest of the day hanging out with Velvet, much to everyone’s relief, especially mine.

Sara and Rachel joined us at the arena about the same time Jaya, Sohpie and Arya all left.  Rachel will come out to the horses for any occasion, but Saturday was a special occasion for Sara and Kate.  Jana was coming at two.  “Would any of your girls be interested in a show?”  “Did you know there’s a good schooling show at Garrod’s  next month? Are you taking anyone?” “I’ve got some extra hunt coats for horse shows.  Are your girls going to be needing them?”  For years Jana has been pestering me with these questions.  When she heard that Kate and Sara were interested in showing, she was more than delighted to volunteer her Saturday afternoon to coach them for a couple hours.  Within fifteen minutes they were practicing trot to canter transitions and quarter circles and four square halts and they kept at it for an hour and a half.

Kayla also usually rides on Saturdays.  She had a birthday party earlier in the day and couldn’t show up until 3:30 and thanks heavens she could because Rachel had to leave, making us one rider short from being able to ride home through Clark’s Field. Kayla apologized for her wet hair; from swimming; as I snapped the chin strap closed on her helmet.  Thinking she’d be tired, I asked her if she was OK not getting picked up until 5.  She put her hands on her hips, wrinkled up her nose and gave me an incredulous, “Are you kidding me?!” look.  I said, “So I should tell your grandma to pick you up at six?”  She nodded a vigorous assent, got on Jackson and trotted off to join the rest of the riders.

Kayla, Sara, Kate and I left Rachel putting away jump poles and blocks, me leading Jackson and them riding, and headed off to Clark’s Field around 4.  We had to make it a straight shot through the field as we were running a bit late.  Sara had slept in till 11, but she was still tired and we had arranged for her to be picked up at 5.

By the time we got back to the barns, Kate’s legs were so sore she could barely stand.  She’d been going without a break for eight hours by that time. She collapsed in a heap as Kayla and I got the to horses “lunches” ready and put away tack and mucked.  But she roused herself in a short time and started in on what she’d been wanting to do all day: Braiding.  She braided while be fed.  She braided while we mucked.  She braided while I sprayed weeds with horticultural vinegar.  She braided while I took Kayla over to Quail to get picked up and also to feed Stoney and CG.  She was still braiding at 7pm, when I returned to Campo.  And she was only two thirds done.  Now it was my turn to barely be able to stand.  As I swayed a little, trying to remain upright, I pleaded with her to go.  I didn’t have to pry her fingers off Chavali’s mane, but almost.  There’s about a quarter of the mane left unbraided.  With any luck, Kate won’t have much homework tomorrow and she will be able to finish up after we are done with our ride.  That or she’s going to braid while she rides.  If I know her, not finishing will not be an option.

The Square Nail

“Deb! Cowgirl is limping! I mean really badly!”  Rachel, who rides Stoney, had ridden ahead to Quail, while I finished up at Campo.  My first thought was that CG was feeling so good after her chiropractic adjustment that she’d over done it and had injured her stifle or fetlock joint.  Rachel, implacable in almost every situation, comes to pieces when horses are injured and often exaggerates the severity. But CG was limping really badly; barely putting pressure even on the tip of the toe.  I didn’t even have to lift her hoof to see the floating 1/2″ square, metal plate, held in place by an exceptionally sharp, square sided nail, stuck firmly into the tip of her frog.

“Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! Is she going to be OK?!!! I mean, ack! You hold this!”  Rachel shoves CG’s lead rope into my hand.  Then, voice quavering, says, “Is that blood?!”  A veterinarian she is not.

The nail had not penetrated very far, only 1/8″ or maybe 3/16th.  There was a few drops of blood, but that wasn’t what Rachel was referring to.  I had immediately splashed iodine on the sole of the hoof, leaving blood stain looking puddles on the stall mat.  What I didn’t do was soak the hoof in epsom salt and poultice it with Icthymol.  I now know that’s what you should do, but I had promised Rachel and Lainey a ride home.  Both girls had homework looming.  Riding already makes getting the homework done a bit of a squeeze and neither of them had welcomed the delay.

The next day, Cowgirl was one very lame pony.  The first words out of Kristin’s mouth were, “I hate puncture wounds. They are the worst!” Not an encouraging statement from a veterinarian.  The hoof is not made to be punctured.  When it is punctured, it doesn’t really know how to heal.  If infection sets in, it fairly often doesn’t respond to antibiotics.  Extreme surgical methods can be used, but not on a 27 year old pony.  Cowgirl got immune booster, injected bananime and powerful antibiotics.

Six days of poultice and soaks later, she was right as rain.  She went out for the Clark’s field loop on Thursday.  I watched her carefully on Friday.  I couldn’t tell if she was or if she wasn’t favoring the punctured hoof.  I asked Jan, my landlady at Quail.  She didn’t think so.

The Saturday morning horse girl mob scene got off to a rip roaring start and it was back to business as usual, heading to the arena with plans to work Cowgirl in the harness in preparation to start in with the cart.

Saturday’s are now divided into two parts with mornings dedicated to “the youngins” and afternoons to the older crew.  The two overlap, which creates a bit of tension as the older girls chafe at the restrictions necessitated by the presence of inexperienced riders and the young ones try to hang on for every minute they can squeeze out of me, resenting the fact that they have to go and the older girls get to stay.  Thinking I’d give the older girls a chance to ride undisturbed in the arena, the three young riders and I set to giving Jackson a bath.  With my attention firmly fixed on keeping track of three, small, quick moving bodies and one marginally co-operative horse, I didn’t notice when Cowgirl started limping, nor did anyone else.  With her string halt, it’s hard to tell if she is actually lame.  But limp she did.  I was scheduled to board a plane to San Diego late that afternoon and only managed to wrap her hoof and ask Rachel to dose her with more banamine before I rushed off.  The last thing I did before I left was take a look at her jugular vein. It was pounding.

I returned from San Diego 10pm Sunday and drove straight to the barn.  Cowgirl was still limping; more banamine and a call to the vet the next morning.  Kristin said, “Puncture wounds can do that.  You think they are done, then whaboom, they erupt.”  She asked if I could feed a digital pulse.  I thought I felt a pounding pulse in the pastern, a sure sign of infection.  It must have been my own pulse pounding in my fingers because  Kristin didn’t find a pounding pulse. She injected her with more immune booster and antibiotic and told us to soak and poultice, which we did.  Not knowing if it was better to leave the bandage off or on, on Tuesday I left it off to see what would happen. I showed up Wednesday to find a pony who could hardly walk.   Something had gotten much worse. Savannah had met me at Quail and knew something was very wrong.  She walked Stoney over to Campo to join Jackie and Sara, who had already shown up and I drove.  I called the vet and got permission to max out her banamine doses, did my best to put on a brave face and told the girls I wanted to muck the paddock at Campo, although Savannah wasn’t fooled.  She probably guessed I didn’t want them to see me cry.

When the injury first occurred, I warned the parents that there was a small possibility that Cowgirl might not survive this.  Kayla insisted on coming to see Cowgirl and she cried and cried.  So did Allison and Kate.  Arya had her mom text sad face icons with tears to me.  None of them knew that the injury had returned.

Rachel is a hugger.  So is Savannah.  So is Sara. Getting hugged is part of my job.  I’m guessing Savannah told Sara about Cowgirl.  As I maneuvered the wheel barrow back out of the paddock and through the gate, Sara was there, a look of concern on her face, her arms outstretched.  I cried and cried.  Savannah joined the hug and I cried more.

With just Savannah, Jackie and Sara riding, none of them needing much in the way of supervision, I was able to follow at a distance on my bike and cry even more.  By the time we had returned to the barns for the evening, I had managed to regain some semblance of composure.  Jan met us as we returned with Stoney to Quail.  She rested her arms on the rail that borders the aisle and talked to us as we untacked and fed.  “Have you ever had a puncture wound?  You know how painful it is?  You know how it can just hurt for weeks and weeks?”  I didn’t, actually.  “What I’m thinking is we need to put some kind of stiff pad under her foot.  Some cardboard, or plastic.  When I injured my foot, I had to have it in a boot for weeks.  I couldn’t walk otherwise.  I think that’s what Cowgirl needs.”  It was certainly worth a try.

Twenty five years ago, I taught art classes.  With the exception of pens and paint, all the materials were salvaged; mountains of it.  With every spring cleaning, piles of supplies have been passed on to grateful parents and preschools, with only one, large square of cork board remaining, a piece of material that never found it’s purpose until yesterday morning when Jan and I sat down on the stall mats and fashioned a plate to affix to the sole of her injured hoof.  “Why don’t you make a cut out where her frog goes? That should make a nice, raised platform.  Here, if you place the template like this, you’ll use your material more efficiently.”  Jan has a masters in mechanical engineering.  She also worked as a vet tech during high school.  She said, “They didn’t use to have ready made splints or boots.  We had to figure out how to manufacture what we needed to help the animal heal properly.  Never had any experience with horses, but seems to me it’s kind of the same problem.”  I fitted the plaque neatly to Cowgirl’s hoof using duct tape.   Jan took the lead rope and said, “why don’t we try this out?”  She lead Cowgirl out on to the driveway.  Sure enough, the pony was walking.

Then next stop was to pick up more banamine from the vet.  On hearing of our success, Kristin said, “That makes sense.  If the puncture had been something round, like a screw or an ordinary nail, you wouldn’t be having this problem.  You know how when you get a crack in a windshield and they fix it by drilling a round hole?  That’s because the pressure from sharp corners focusses the stress and it spreads outwards.  That explains why they heat sensor picked up injury towards the outer edges of the hoof, not near the site of the puncture.”  The nail was imbedded in the hoof for some time before we found it, no doubt being jerked back and forth as Cowgirl limped about.  Probably the only square nail in all of Los Altos Hills and it ends up in her hoof.

Today I found out about a type of boot with an orthotic gel insert made specifically for horses recovering from laminitis or puncture wounds.  It will be a week before we get it, so cork board and cardboard will have to do until then. Cowgirl is not out of the woods, but she’s not near the grave either and I am hopeful. In our culture, we are fed a daily dose of the idolization of individualism and self absorption and egotism.  But in real life, it’s team work that gets the win.



Barn Chores

“Ugh! It’s stuck!”  Jackie has one corner of a tarp.  I have the other.  The tarp has about 200 lbs of tan bark on it.  Jaya and Sophie, ages 8 and 7, also riding today, are in the bed of the truck doing what they can to kick another 200 lbs of tan bark out on to the driveway.

Jackie’s strong and so am I, but we are still having trouble.  We need to pull the tarp sideways, but it likes to slide down hill, which at the gate into the paddock, means catching on the gate post.  Sara, normally known for her punctuality, is still adjusting her sleeping schedule after a week in Hawaii and has not yet arrived.  Savannah is just plain sleeping and also has not yet arrived.

In years past, I’ve arranged for wood chips to be dumped at the barn, but this is complicated as you have to chase the wood chip truck down, they dump their entire load in the driveway, blocking the driveway, which then takes an hour or two to clear.  The El Nino rains are just around the corner and the paddock is slick.  Jackie likes to come out a little early.  It was now or never with the tan bark, picked up at the garden supply yard, and Jackie is a sport about helping out.

Saturday morning is a good time for adding in barn chores to the riding program; we have the time.  Learning how to ride is hard on the ego.  Emptying a truck bed of tan bark, especially when you get to do so by sitting on your fanny and shoving with your feet, then spreading it out in a muddy hillside knowing neither you nor the horses will now slip, is inherently satisfying.  Accomplishing the task leaves the young person with a positive balance in their confidence bank account, which they can then spend on another block of effort in the very long process of becoming  an accomplished rider.

I don’t tell the girls this, but the occasional Saturday morning chore is just the tip of the iceberg as far as horse care goes.  I actually wrote out the complete list recently:

drive to HMB, load hay into truck, unload at Quail, stack in hay room;           go to feed store, procure supplies, refill pellet/bran at Campo;                    meet the vet, farrier, trimmer, body worker, equine dentist – all requiring        multiple hours each;                                                                                                          clean and repair tack;                                                                                                        take Dancer to arena for training;                                                                                    train, drill, perform physical therapy on all other horses;                                  maintain and organize battery operated colored lights used for night;                                       clean and repair horse blankets;                                                                              put on and take off horse blankets;                                                                                   feed, muck, medicate, procure medication from vet – long drive to far stable;                                                                                                                                   perform paddock improvements – replace gutter at Campo, rock stall at Campo, which involves  carting by wheel barrow several tons of rock, compacting said rock, hauling in stall mats;                                                   attending meeting for political organizations that promote horses in LAH;   organize and supervise Christmas caroling;                                                              organize, manage and produce Play Day (about 60hours);                                                       last but not least, on the rare, but regular, occasion that a horse needs medical care, my life gets turned into a pretzel as I often have to adapt to some kind of round the clock care for what was once eight weeks.

As obvious as all this work is to an equestrian, I am more and more convinced that most parents are totally oblivious.  The arena we use is almost two miles from the barns.  I had one parent run into us on our way their and I was, as usual, on foot.  The parent said, in astonishment, “You mean you walk this every day?!”  All I could think was, “Oh Lady, you don’t know the half of it!”

The girls would be on these tasks in a heart beat.  The parents seem to think all the girls want to do is be silly and take pictures for their Instagram.  That’s part of what goes on, but all the girls love to work and would do all of it in a heart beat were they allowed the time.

With the tarp and bark half way through the gate, Sara and Savannah finally arrive and help us drag it the rest of the way.  Leaving the girls to the bark, I step away to pick a few hooves instead and to take a minute to text parents pick up plans.  There is a text on my phone from a parent, but not from one of my current riders.  It’s from Barry, Skylar’s dad. “Are you at the barn?”  Silly man!  It’s Saturday.  Where else would I be?

Skylar was hoping to visit a bit.  What a treat!  I texted Barry times a locations then went about my work, biting my tongue.  The girls miss Skylar.  Skylar’s passion for cutting and reining, plus the fact her mom bought a quarter horse, was clear indication her days with KLH were coming to a close.  But her departure ended up being unnecessarily sudden and final, to the lasting distress of Savannah, Sara and Rachel in particular.  Rachel normally rides on Saturdays, but today she is attending a cultural event, one of her parents many expectations for her.

Rachel’s parents don’t want her to be spoiled and to understand that riding is a privilege.  Rachel is expected to pay for about half of her riding fees.  She does this through dog walking; not exactly regular work.  On top of the requirement she get straight A’s, play flute, have an active social life and sing in choir, it often forces her to chose between working and riding.  I do have a job for Rachel.  She could earn her riding with it. But it’s on Sunday’s, the one day I take off, and her parents tell me it’s not an option because that cuts into family time.

Rachel rides Stoney. Not only does she ride Stoney, she rides him really well.  Maybe one in ten; one in fifteen riders can ride him well.  For that one in ten, the rider needs that particular horse as much as that horse needs that rider.  First there was Kat, followed by Haley, followed by Maya.  Each girl went through a period where they rode four or five days a week and for that time, mostly during 8th grade.  This is the first time where “the Stoney rider” has had her riding so restricted and Stoney suffers for it.

Fortunately for Stoney, today Sara is perfectly happy to ride him.  We have a full forty-five minutes at Campo to groom and tack, but the two young riders, Sophie and Jaya, take a lot of attention and Sara, Savannah and Jackie are not at all accustomed to having any sort of time restriction on Saturdays.  Skylar is planning on meeting us at the arena at 12:15.  We are riding out of Campo with less than a minute to spare.

Half way to the arena, I tell Sara and Savannah that I have arranged for a surprise for them at the arena.  As we pass Fremont Hills Stables, we are overtaken by a cobalt blue, light duty pick-up.  A blond head pops out of the passenger side and starts to wave energetically. Sara looks puzzled, then surprised, then ecstatic.  “SKYLAR!!!!!”  I say, “Well, what a surprise.”  (Savannah was in the lead and I couldn’t see her reaction.)

Skylar’s older sister, Jaclyn, was driving the pick-up.  Sara and Savannah are in tears.  Chavali was probably in tears on seeing Jaclyn.  As Sara and Savannah and Skylar got caught up, Jaclyn gave Chavali an ear massage.  If horses could purr, she would have.

Skylar’s purpose in her visit was to drop off a Christmas present.  It was a ceramic mug she decorated and had fired.  On it she painted six horses pulling Santa’s sled.  The first horse is Velvet, who always leads, followed by Chavi then CG then Freedom then Stoney then Jackson.  Because the horses are very small, in order to fit them around the circumference of the mug, at first it was hard to tell who was who.  Then I noticed that along the reins that connected the horses to the sleigh, were Christmas lights.  I checked for Stoney’s color first.  Yep, Stoney had blue lights, Velvet purple, Chavi pink, etc…  Santa’s goody bag was filled with dressage whips and one manure fork.  Following the sleigh was one loose horse; a bay horse with reindeer horns attached.  Only way I can figure this is Skylar, who left KLH same time Dancer came on, forgot about him and this was best, and very creative way, of including him.

This mug is precious.  I’m terrified I’m going to break it.  I’m  thinking the best plan will be to give it to Sara for safe keeping.  It will make the other girls jealous, but truth it, with her Swiss-German cultural heritage, she is better qualified than anyone else I know to care for a precious possession.

Savannah texts Rachel to tell her Skylar is visiting, but I won’t do so.  It would be salting a wound.  The day before I’d suggested that she consider changing her plans.  Right now, Rachel is short on funds.  She hasn’t been able to afford the “unlimited” package and she is rationing her rides.  I tell her that she might want to consider the fact that starting Sunday, el nino rains will be starting up and rains are predicted for Wednesday, her scheduled ride day.  She responded with, “If I make a commitment, I stick to it”, admirable moral temerity for someone of any age.

Earning money to pay for your activities, in a perfect world, does the kids a lot of good.  They value their ride time in a way that other kids do not.  Unfortunately, there are so many other requirements put on these kids it makes the head spin.  Rachel doesn’t want to play piano. Her parents are forcing that.  Add to that the parents won’t let the girls ride their bikes anywhere.  If they are to go somewhere, they have to be driven.  Not the end of the world, unless the parent insists, like Rachel’s parents do, that the driving be at their convenience.  It’s like telling the kids it’s OK to play in the sprinklers, only don’t get wet.

Julie Desai’s daughter Maya was one of my first students when I moved to Los Altos Hills.    Julie is a veterinarian, now volunteering her skills at Nine Lives Animal Foundation, and also a horse lover.  She would frequently comment to me about how much more Maya was getting and could get out of what KLH provided than a regular boarding stable riding program.  She had a deep appreciation for the level of care I am committed to providing for the horses.  She often told me how grateful she was.  She readily stepped up to volunteer for special events and have Maya help out in any way she could.  Towards the end of Maya’s time with KLH, Julie wrote me this email:


Hi Deb,

I wanted to elaborate on what I meant by saying that you give your students, and Maya in particular chances to develop in very important areas that they might not otherwise get.  In particular there are assets that they need to be successful.  These come from the list of 41 assets identified by the Search Institute and promoted and taught by the YMCA and Project Cornerstone.
The external assets that you give by virtue of your small, personalized program and who you are include:
Support Asset #3 Other Adult Relationships-Young person receives support from three or more non-parent adults (Only about 50% of kids report having three adults other than their parents that they can go to for support)
Boundaries and Expectations Asset #14 Adult Role Models, Asset #15 Positive Peer Influence, and #16 High Expectations
Constructive Use of Time  #17 Creative Activities and #18 Youth Programs
The second half of the Assets are internal and I know that Maya has benefited from your program and your attention in many, many of these areas.  Part of the beauty of your program is the long term relationships the kids develop with you, the other students and young women like Katie and Haley.
Commitment to Learning Asset # 21 Achievement Motivation
Positive Values Asset #26 Caring, #28 integrity, #29 honesty, #30 responsibility,  #31healthy lifestyle and restraint (risk taking behaviors)
Social Competencies of Planning and Decision Making (only 54% of elementary school kids and 35% of middle school kids report feeling that they know how to plan ahead and make choices!!!), Interpersonal Competence, and Resistance Skills
Positive Identity Asset # 37 Personal Power,(Only 37% of middle schoolers feel that they have control over things that happen to them)   #38 Self Esteem, #39 Sense of Purpose (Only 48% of elementary school kids report that their life has a purpose)
The percentages I’ve given above come from 38,000 elementary, middle school and high school students in Silicon Valley.  In an area with so many well educated and wealthy people, it’s appalling to see our kids feel so undervalued and not feel a sense of purpose or control in their lives.  You do so much to change that for the kids you teach and I really appreciate all that you do.  I know how much time, effort and money you invest and it’s remarkable to me that you keep at it day after day, every day of the year, for years on end.  You not only make dreams come true, like Maya riding her horse to school, or going to the beach, or the races, or camping etc, etc, etc. but you are helping develop these kids character and their self esteem.  That’s a big job and you do it really well.
This month in Project Cornerstone we are reading Long Shot:  Never Too Small to Dream Big.  The lesson is about finding your SPARK (what  really gets you excited) and setting your GPS (Goal setting, Planning, and Shifting gears if necessary).  I know you have them set goals in their riding which are short, medium and even long term goals :-)
Thanks so much for all  your great work with the horses and the kids.  I hope this helps you to understand just how valuable are to the kids and their parents and society as a whole.
Have a great day,

I was so touched and humbled, that I read it once then couldn’t bring myself to look at it again for a very long time, but I think the time is now to make it public.  Clearly I am not the only person to think along the lines that I do, but I’ve never been able to put why I do what I do into words.  Julie did that for me.

The girls have recently made up a Facebook page for KLH.  They did a brilliant job setting up the page.  I did, however, decide to change the description of KLH.  My short description of KLH is “saving the world one horse and one horse girl at a time.”  According to Nancy Shulins, for AP Press writer and author of “Falling for Eli”,  it is estimated that 170,000 horses a year in the US become “unwanted”, of which 100,000 are sold for their “can price.”  Because of KLH and the girls who ride here, Chavali, Stoney, CG, Velvet, Jackson and Dancer are NOT in that statistic.

Skylar doesn’t stay very long.  As much as the girls would like to believe she’d still be riding with us, Skylar is a busy girl with precious little time to spare.  Meera shows up and joins the party and the girls putz around the arena till two, when Kate shows up and we have a rider for each horse.  With the coming rains, it’s probably our last ride through Clark’s field for months, though with four years of drought, this crop of riders doesn’t quite get that.  The girls ride lickety split as Jackie will be picked up three pm sharp to go visit her grand parents.  Savannah also has to leave shortly after three.  Meera and Sara finish up chores at Campo while Kate and I spread the remainder of the tan bark at Quail.  All three of them get a ride home with me in the truck.

As I drive home from Sunnyvale, where Kate lives, I have time to think about all that goes into making KLH run.  In the heart of silicon valley, it is a minor miracle we can exist at all.  Surviving as a presence in Los Altos Hills is a constant struggle.  But everyday we have people stop us and tell us how they love seeing the horses.  I had one woman go so far as to tell me that the girls riding the horses was what made Los Altos Hills beautiful, that it was the only thing beautiful about Los Altos Hills.  It is but by they grace of Jan and the Jenson’s, who cherish the beauty and profundity that these animals bring to our lives and by the grace of God who, I am convinced, has had hand in all this, that KLH continues to exist.

At the time, I’d thought I’d continue to get parents like Julie, but that hasn’t been the case.  I do have parents who have the same level of appreciation, but they are all one’s who’ve been with me a long time.  The newer parents, not so much.  When I think about how extraordinary it is that KLH even exists, what an extraordinary gift it is to the kids and what an extraordinary amount of effort it takes to sustain it, the fact that it is ever dismissed as a privilege and a trivial, inconsequential pursuit of no real value is utterly beyond comprehension to me.


Sophie and Jaya helping with the tan bark:

Barn chores.jpg







Happy Holidays!

There were hoof prints in the mud in front of the barn.  It was ten in the morning and I’d arrived to take Dancer to the arena for training with Kat. “Who took the horses out?!”  And it wasn’t just one that was out.  They are all barefoot now for the winter so it was not possible to tell which ones.  As I grabbed Dancer’s halter and headed out to the paddock, I thought, “It rained at 7pm; a lot.” Whoever took the horses out must have done so late at night or very early in the morning, as the prints were made after the rain.  Then I thought, “Oh oh.”  A quick glance towards the hay revealed that Stan’s neatly piled stacks had been knocked over and restacked.  The top of the bale had been “vacuumed.”  Sonja, who feeds in the morning, had clearly reset the meds because they were sitting neatly, too neatly, on top of the bran and pellet can, but the bungey cord was undone.  Sure enough, the can was down to it’s last quarter.  On closer examination, the hoof prints left a trail all over the staging area – up the hill side, on to the grass.  I don’t know if it was me or Stan who left the stall door unclipped, but one of us did.

Dancer was at the bottom of the paddock taking a mid morning nap.  Was he worn out from the night’s adventures?  He didn’t get up as I approached and only got up when I insisted on it.  It was a good bet that Jackson got the lion’s share of the pellet, but clearly Dancer had a belly full too.  And what about Velvet?  She was “napping” also.

This has happened before, but in the past the can has not been full.  That night they consumed about forty pounds of pellet and bran.  Top priority for the day became finding a solution where by this would never happen again and solution I did find at Orchard Supply after about five hours of driving around and shopping.  It wasn’t until the necessary storage unit/meds feeding station had been secured that I realized I might actually  have a colicking horse, or horses, on my hands.

It was five p.m. by this time and almost dark.  Jackson was the biggest concern.  He was showing no signs of distress, had gut sounds, normal heart rate and voracious appetite, but sub normal poops.  I walked him, let him graze a bit, then fed him warm mash with a cup of mineral oil and left him locked in a stall at Quail, finding, at Quail, that Allison, who had fed, had put Stoney’s blanket on in a “creative” manner.  “Allison, we need to talk blanketing.”  “Why, did I do something wrong?”  “Yes.”  “Well you didn’t ever tell me how to put on a blanket.” “If you didn’t know, why didn’t you ask?” ” Because the phone was low on battery.” “OK, can you come to the barn tomorrow morning and learn how?”

Next text was to Meera with the news that her birthday ride might have to be cancelled, to say nothing of the caroling on Sunday also, and went home to a night of fitful sleep, with the cell phone next to my bed.  By eight a.m. I knew Jackson was OK because I had not heard from Jan.  Not only was he OK, but, Jan informed me when I arrived, that he’d pooped up a storm.  She’d filled two muck carts from his stall that morning.  Forty pounds is a lot of pellet!

“OK Rachel, you ride Jackson and Jackie you ride Stoney.”  Rachel glared at me.  “No, I’m serious.  Jackie is not up for bareback or ponying.  You have to ride Jackson and pony CG because I don’t know where Meera is!”  At this point I get a text from Meera that says, “Am I supposed to go to Campo?”  To which respond, “No! we need another rider at Quail.”  She says, “So I go to Campo?”  Savannah, also on the thread, though not riding because she has Tex the mini at the Christmas parade, says, “I think she means Quail.”  At this point Allison, who I’d forgotten about, shows up for her blanketing lesson.

Meera does arrive, gets on Jackson, Jackson, happy to finally get the heck away from CG who has been menacing him all morning, is as eager to head out as a race horse. Meera says, “WAAAAHH!” Eager to not start her birthday with an injury, hops off and hands Jackson over to Rachel.

When we arrive at Campo, Kelly and Sara have Dancer and Chavali tacked up and are working on Velvet. “Who is going to ride who?!”  Sara’s hand are placed indignantly on her hips.  She taps the toes of her left foot for emphasis. “Yeah” says Meera, “there are six horses and five riders.”  I said, “are there?”  I had one beginner student, who was seven, tell her mother that I didn’t know how to ride at all.  These girls know I ride, though they often forget it.

Kelly did not want to ride in the fluffy and Sara did not want to ride CG up Rhus Ridge, or back down and she slides forward on to her withers, which is painful, so I rode Intrepid and Rachel ponied CG until we got to foothill college where CG was allowed to go on her own with the lead rope tied up around her neck.  We proceeded across the college grounds in fits and starts, first Dancer spooking at a barking dog, then CG deciding she wasn’t going to follow after all but stop to graze.  Somehow we did make it to Moody and even managed to catch CG before she crossed the street on her own, but now it was Sarah’s turn to pony the pony, while I rode in front to give Dancer confidence.  Kelly is a very experienced rider, but even so it was clear taking the lead on Dancer on a trail he was unfamiliar with was proving more than she had bargained for.

I don’t know how they horses behaved going up Rhus Ridge.  I do hope they got a good canter in.  I was hanging on to CG’s tail, wheezing pitifully and doing my very best to go as fast as possible as she was furious at being left behind.  We tried her solo again as we headed towards Hidden Villa.  Not to be left behind again, she shot up in the line behind Chavali and stayed there all the way down to the last river crossing in Hidden Villa.

Dancer snorted and snuffed his way through all the new smells; goats, chickens, sheep; as he minced his way along.  You could feel Stoney’s frustration build.  What on earth was this numbskull doing in the lead! Even though we ended up on familiar trail, we were riding the opposite direction from what Dancer was familiar with.  He would trot, but not much more.  The ground was springy from the rain; horse heaven.  On the last good canter spot, off they went.  Rachel held Stoney back a bit, but he was so full of suppressed pep, he caught up in half a second.  This was more than CG, who was now being led by me, could take.  She started bucking on the end of the lead top and pulled herself free, managing to run full speed with her head tilted to the side so as to keep the rope free of her legs.  I hollered at Rachel to turn and come back to me, in part to slow CG, but also to give Stoney another turn at the run, which he obviously needed.  Rachel made it half way to me when Stoney decided to turn back. Rachel said, “Oh no we can’t!” To which Stoney replied, “Oh yes we can!!!”, turned on a dime and was off like a rocket.  Rachel thought he wasn’t going to be able to stop, but every now and then he does precisely what his Quarter Horse breeding has designed him to do.  We did get the message and put Stoney in front and Dancer in back for the rest of the ride home, with Cowgirl being led by Sara.

We are an hour later than planned getting back to the barns.  The girls head off to Meera’s sleep over while I finish up at with the feed.  Another text comes in.  It’s Allison.  “Are you at the barns?” “Yes.”  “I have something for you.”  “OK, I’ll meet you at Quail at five.”

Allison’s car is already at Quail by the time I arrive.  She’s standing in the street waiting for me holding and contraption that looks, from a distance, like a mini guillotine.  It’s a bit warmer; one for Campo and one for Quail.  Allison informs me it is also very good at warming your hands.  We set it up in the hay room and she gives me a demo.  I didn’t get home till six.

This morning was Christmas Carol Sunday.  It was supposed to rain, so I’d delayed the start of decorating by an hour.  It didn’t rain, but I would have been on my way early anyways.  There were going to be four riders, which meant leaving the car at Quail and biking CG over to Campo. On my way into Peet’s to fill a couple thermoses with hot cocoa, I get a text from Lainey.  “I can come!  See you soon!”  Oh crap.  That meant getting Stoney also, who, as it turned out, was covered in mud, and biking Stoney, Dante and CG over to Campo.  I can’t believe no one has ever taken a picture of me doing this.

Jan met me at the paddock.  In the past couple of weeks Cowgirl had been down in the dumps; creaky and unhappy in the morning.  Jan said, “What did you guys do yesterday? Cowgirl was feeling great this morning!”  I bet.

Mr. Jensen has asked that we not put Stoney in a stall, which means putting Dancer in a stall.  Dancer may be inexperienced on trail, but he is no fool.  He saw Stoney coming and he put himself in a stall.

Even if we start decorating at nine, the girls are not done by one, when we need to leave for the ride up to Westwind.  Kate and Sara, having been overnight at Meera’s party, showed up late.  Kate said, “I went to sleep at midnight, but everyone else stayed up till three.” Sara’s eye’s looked glazed over.  Mikatrin didn’t show up till almost noon.  She is a notorious foot dragger.  Before I could express my discontent, she stuck a sheet of paper in my face: Deck the Halls (Horse Version) – Fast away we are galloping, fa la la la la la, la la la la; Hail the new ye mares and stallions, fa la la la la, la la la la – all six verses converted to equine sensibilities.It’s about time!  Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukah to me!  I thought this was going to come from one of the older girls, but no, the nine year old had at it.

Only moments after Mikatrin arrived, the gate in the fence opened again and Victoria peeked her head through.  “Am I not feeding today.”  I said, “did you check your email?”  If she has a new phone, she has not told me so there was no way to text.  An hour behind schedule, with two sleep deprived assistants, one puzzled seven year-old (Serena’s younger brother) wandering about and Lainey obsessed with spraying pink snowflakes on Chavali’s butt, I’d lost all hope of getting the horses even partially decorated.  But the arrival of Victoria, who had with her her friend Shannon, changed all that.  Not only did the horses get decorated, the girls actually practiced all the songs and developed a plan.  The day wasn’t turning out so badly after all.

After her exciting romp the day before, Cowgirl should have been feeling a little mellow; not so.  The ground was just too perfect.  The ride up to Westwind was a little too lively for comfort, though Kayla, who has the makings of a serious equestrian, figured out about half way that if she could get CG trotting a few seconds before everyone else started trotting then CG would not be able to bolt.  It was a little tricky co-ordinating getting Kate, Lainey, Mikatrin and Serena all trotting within seconds also, but they did it.  Thank you Kayla.

I’m not sure the singing was as much tun as they expected.  The horses wouldn’t stand still, it was hard to hold the caroling books while on horseback and nearly impossible to turn the pages while wearing gloves, which both Lainey and Kate were doing, though Kate was also wearing only a tank top, which was a bit of a puzzler.  Kate and Lainey did get to sing into microphones, which they enjoyed and the “echoes” in Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer were perfect, though nobody except Kayla’s mom and grandma seemed to be listening.  The girls and horses did, however, look spectacular.

Oddly enough, the girls had the best ride home ever; very tired at the end of it, but a very good ride.  Why?  I really can’t say.

I guess this post doesn’t have much of a point other than, “Oh my goodness, what a busy weekend!”

Barn Lighting

Kate, Lainey, Serena (who does not like her picture taken), Mikatrin and Kayla









It’s Freezing Outside!

Temps have been in the low 30’s at night for the better part of a week now. Jan has attached an electric pipe heater to the tap at Quail to keep it from freezing. Michael, father of Maizie and Chloe, says he’s always amused to hear a California girl complain about cold weather. But he said this to me after finishing the feed at Quail around five by telling me that he and the girls were chilled to the bone.

It’s not all that warm during the day, either. On Wednesday, the last half hour of the ride was spent with everyone complaining about their cold hands and feet. I carry hunting gloves in the bike basket. Rachel snagged herself a pair, but Jackie and Savannah refuse them. Savannah says they make her hands feel suffocated. It’s also that time of year that we have to belly warm the bits. With the cold weather, Stoney’s winter coat has grown in. At the age of seventeen, his winter coat is now almost completely snow white.

Saturday was a little more rushed than usual. Savannah had a sleep over she wanted to go to and needed to be back at Quail by 2:15. Kate had had a long week and needed to go home by 3. I was suppose to leave for Carson City at 3:15. Jackie likes to be out at the barns as early as possible and got to Quail at 9:30, but she’s fine on her own. Chloe showed up 9:30 also. After years of waiting, Chloe is finally old enough, 8, to ride regularly and I can finally fit her into the schedule. No holding that girl back! Having woken up realizing I hadn’t packed, I managed to forget entirely about Jaya until I was almost at the barn and got so alarmed that I rode my bike to the wrong barn, making me fifteen minutes late with Jaya having also shown up by the time I got to Quail.

Like it or not, I often have to pack Saturday with novice riders and that was the case with this day; Jaya, Arya and Chloe all in one go. Being only half their final height, the young ones can’t do much more than pick hooves and buckle girths. With hard packed clay in the hooves, the young ones can barely make a dent in the hoof dirt, though I must say all of them are getting adept with the girth buckles.

When we arrive at Campo, Savannah has already gotten blankets off and haltered Chavali and Jackson. All the Campo horses wear blankets in this weather except Chavali, not being particularly bright, refuses. Jackson especially appreciates the blanket. With all his metabolic issues he’s unusually sensitive to both heat and cold. The cold in particular aggravates his arthritis. It’s worse for the horses to be stuck with blankets when it heats up than not have them at night so I won’t blanket if they can’t be taken off in the morning. I don’t have much help with this. Lisa, who owns Velvet, says she can’t ever commit to being able to come out before 11am. The Jensen’s refuse to take them off. The girls would do it, but they are at school most mornings. I’ve been able to take care of this task all week with Saturday having landed in Savannah’s court. Savannah being Savannah I did not have to tell her to take them off.   I can’t wait until she drives. It will solve a lot of problems. Along with hoof picking and girth buckling, the younger riders are able to contribute by mucking the Campo paddock. Busy with teaching Arya how to lift a hoof, mention the paddock needs cleaning. Savannah needs no more direction, grabs a fork and the wheelbarrow and heads into the paddock, Chloe and Jaya in tow. As she latches the gate after her, I ask her to take extra care. As I will be gone for two days, there will be no cleaning of the paddock again until Tuesday. Savannah glowers at the horror of the thought. If she could drive, that would be different.

We are finally all tacked and ready to go by 11:30. Savannah says, “wait! There are seven people and six horses.” I explain that Kate is there to help and will walk. Savannah says, “Then Kate can walk next to me!” which Kate gladly does.

We arrive at the arena shortly after noon. Rachel it there waiting for us. The younger riders love Rachel’s enthusiasm and energy, but Rachel, like most of the older riders, has limited patience for those who can’t ride or pick any and all hooves with ease or catch bridle and train a horse to ground tie. If they are young, it’s even worse. There’s another ten minutes or so of arena instruction for the young ones before they leave. I ask Rachel to please be sedate until they are done, but sedate just isn’t in her playbook. She stands next to Stoney, legs crossed, looking like she’s been pilloried. Her trial ends soon, though, as Jaya and Chloe depart and Arya and I get to work setting up the grid.

I’m not quite sure what all the girls did for the next hour. I remember coaching Kate on canter with Chavali and Jackie getting a lesson on Dancer from Savannah. Rachel was bareback on Stoney, but doing what, I don’t remember.

At 1:30, Tera, Savannah’s mom show’s up. At Savannah’s request she’d brought mini-pumpkin pies and whip cream to celebrate Savannah and Jackie’s birthday, which is on the 30th. After finishing their pie, I said to Rachel and Savannah, “Now you two need to go and you need to go fast!” Rachel says, “what?! We barely spent anytime here at all!” Compared to our usual Saturday, that’s true, but I can’t get the horses home unless the girls ride them and Savannah said she needed to leave at 2:15 sharp.

Arya, Kate, Jackie and myself leave about ten minutes later. I have to put enough distance between Savannah and Rachel and us so that Cowgirl will not hear Stoney and Chavali and decide she would rather be with them and us and take off.

When we get to Quail, Rachel is looking downright peevish. Anything less than six hours on a Saturday for her is deprivation. I explain to her that sometimes things like visiting my dying father on his 80th birthday take precedence over staying at the barns till the cows come home. But she’s right, everything does feel rushed.

For once I’d like to be able to leave town and not have it be an ordeal. I spend so much time trying to arrange for feeds and horse care with half a dozen different people, all of whom need instruction, that I end up like I did that morning without even time to pack. It was only at the last minute that I’d arranged for Michael and his girls to feed the Quail barn on Saturday.  Maya, who I was counting on, hadn’t checked her email and had yet to get back to me.   Even with all that, the care in my absence is not ideal. Jackson’s owner will come out and give him his meds on Monday, but that’s all. The other horses will have to skip a meal because I can’t get anyone to feed their lunch, nor is there anyone to blanket and unblanket. Rachel, Savannah, Meera and Kate would do it in a heart beat, but they are dependent on parent drivers who are already either over committed or plain just don’t understand. Sara lives close enough to bike over, but her mother won’t allow it so she can’t help either. It’s going to be 34 overnight tonight in Los Altos Hills, too cold for Jackson’s arthritic hips, Velvet’s aching joints and Dancer’s thin skin.

Erik arrives at Campo with Dante to pick me up as Kate and I are finishing up the lunch feed. I have to bike back to Quail where the car is and where I will leave my bike for a few days. Jan is driving up as I am walking my bike up Quail. She says, “It’s sure been cold. I left Stoney’s blanket on this morning because it was too cold to take it off.” Him, I do not have to worry about, but I can’t help thinking about how owning property where the horses and I can both live would make caring for them a whole lot simpler.