Tuesday, October 11, 2016

A Fork in the Road

It’s October now and we are on the far side of a great week with the kids. There was a lot of deer hunting going on (though nothing was harvested by us) a great deal of rabbit meat was processed, thanks to my son and the ranch owner’s eldest.

My big brother came up and the girls  had a fantastic time falling in love with Uncle Bob. They ran around on his 4 person ATV, and played in the Octopus tree, where Bruno and Mr Potamus kept watch over the girls. Heath ran some sheep around until I decided they'd had enough of him.

Bella, the girls' English Mastiff met Copper, the couch bunny

and yes, one day Bruno and Mr Potamus came in to visit and we had 230 lb of Maremma, 100+ lb of Mastiff and close to 100 lb of sheppies, for a grand total of about 450 Lb of dogs in our little house. There wasn't much room to move, but there are also no crumbs on the floor.


Kinley flirts with the cowboy driving the tractor while they skin a deer

Just too much cuteness!!!
We did some family target practice with my son refreshing my gunmanship, which was never all that much. I was good with a rifle in my younger days but not so much with a handgun, so it was nice to get more familiar with my Glock. We all had a good time, I totally enjoyed shooting both my own gun, my son’s and my brother’s AR rifle (which is not the demon the media and politicians would like you to believe), which is a very fun gun to shoot. Even the 8 and 5 year old girls got to shoot it, as it is designed to have very, very little recoil and is a dandy gun for women, or elderly people or someone like me, that fit both groups with severe RA problems to boot.

"It IS a fun rifle to shoot!"

The girls get their turn and more instruction from their father. They are both growing up knowing the dangers of, and gun safety.

I spent the rest of the week pretty sick, and trying to avoid everyone so they didn’t catch it, and now they have all gone back to their own state and are home snug and safe.

So here I am again, faced with the same dilemma that has been eating away at me for the past several years, only now has become intolerable.

My illness has left me with chronic pain and extreme weakness. It’s a deadly duo for the life I have always lived. I was always a bit of a type A and energy charged individual and spent my life, training horses and riders, raising my kids, improving my home and landscaping my yard. We went snow skiing, water-skiing and scuba diving, among other things. Moving to the Alvord ranch in 2007 was exciting for me, as it was everything I had dreamed of doing. Being able to get up early each morning to saddle my horse, learn new skills, work cattle, and for once in my life, not be alone. As a youth, I dropped out of school early as I couldn’t deal with the boredom of the classroom and the “mean girls” at school. Instead I went and got my GED with no effort but never had cause to use it. I spent my middle years alone, mucking stalls, feeding and training horses in the barn at my house while the kids were in school, seeing people only during their lessons, or competing with their horses. It was a lonely, but busy existence and I didn’t mind too much, but now, a whole new world was opening up and the chance to learn the skills I had always been attracted to, but never had the opportunity to learn, such as cutting, and reining. I had gotten ill and developed multiple auto-immune issues a few  years before we moved here but it had only slowed me down at that point.

Once we moved in, I found that my strength and balance had both been badly affected and my reflexes had all but vanished. I struggled to mount a large thoroughbred type horse the boss had loaned me for the summer, not realizing I was losing the strength in my arms and my quad muscles rapidly. It got harder and harder to mount and deal with his deeply ingrained bad manners so I purchased a green horse that seemed more suitable  and in short order got both my collar bone and shoulder broken. After a painful surgery and an 11 month recovery it was beyond my ability to deal with him as he was quite spooky and silly. He had also been injured when I broke my shoulder and never went sound again so we had to put him down. I then purchased a mare from a client I had trained many, many horses for, and unfortunately, after not riding for a year, my balance, strength and reflexes were compromised even more than before.. She bucked me off on a frozen morning into a pile of rocks and broke my ribs, puncturing a lung. After an emergency surgery I was laid up another year. By this time, I had very little left to work with. I purchased an old cowhorse from the current ranch cowboss and  he faithfully carried me around for a year as I began to regain some strength. That’s when the rheumatoid disease completely destroyed my left  knee and it was too painful to walk or put weight on it anymore so a total knee replacement was in order. Another season was lost. I fought my way back to regain strength and skills as I was ablle, riding Wimpy as much as possible, but was finding myself having greater balance challenges as well as weakness and extreme fatigue. My right knee also began hurting immediately and it had to be replaced as well.

As I lost the ability to stay horseback all day, I forced myself to learn new skills. I bought my first Jersey cow and learned to make butter, sour cream, cream cheese, yogurts, mozzarella and other dairy products. I was constantly cooking, making ice creams with 16 fresh egg yolks and heavy cream, baking all of our breads, canning and using the bounty of the garden I put in. I took up soap making and developed some lotions that I began selling on the internet. I raised sheep, had two Maremma Livestock Guardian Dogs that kept them all safe along with my couple of goats and flock of free range hens. Each day, hoping to get stronger, waiting to ride again. I went to a couple of branding but didn’t have the stamina to help long. Still, it fed my soul, even for that little bit.

Over the next couple of years, cowboys or someone would let me know if they were going to do some light riding that I could manage, but I couldn’t even manage that.

So now, that the inflammation has invaded my wrists, hands and ankles, and my back and core muscles are incredibly weak from being sedentary so much of my life, milking, cooking, feeding stock, making soap have all become difficult for me to do. Where being alone all day never really mattered because I stayed busy, now loneliness is a constant and fearsome enemy which has given way to deep depression. I have battled it unsuccessfully for months. Actually, close to a year, but the intensity of the past few months made it feel as though my life was over and everything was dark. Even the few really important things such as my husband,  seeing my family, or life with Heath were unable to diminish it.

Drugs are ineffective and with no friends to visit, being unable to hear and talk on the phone, too far from town to try the aid of a psychologist or a physical therapist, there has been no way to release some of the emotional pain. Letting off small amounts of the pressure online, but unable to express myself fully, and not wanting to burden or alarm anyone, my life began to resemble a black hole. Most of my days spent reclined on the same chair I have to sleep in because of the chronic pain, waking up alone because TheMan has to go to work before I wake up and isn’t really back until  dark or shortly after, with only my wonderful dog as companion, I was caught in a downward spiral and losing my grip. I almost never step outside our front door as I can’t make it up the road to visit the boss’ wife and I feel uncomfortable around people anymore, almost to the point of feeling panicky. I have never been an outgoing person, but I knew I was in trouble when I was desperately lonely, but did not want to seek out any kind of company. It's bad, for someone who has spent her life loving the outdoors to spend months at a time without stepping outside.

I’ve prayed for many long years for relief, but now I was in such a bad frame of mind and my health so compromised that it alarmed me. I felt an urging one recent afternoon and even though I have only been horseback about 3 times in the past several years, I asked one of the cowboys who happened to stop by to talk to TheMan if he could catch my bay horse for me and stuff him in the empty corral. He generously agreed and I spent the night praying that the next day would bring change and be a turning point in my life. TheMan agreed to saddle my horse for me at noon as I can no longer lift a saddle. I hoped that I could just take a short ride somewhere with Heath, and that maybe trying to do that a few days a week, it would help me some.

I was saddled up, ready to go but Heath was not behaving safely, having never seen me on top of a horse before. I was afraid he’d get himself hurt. In addition, Wimpy, my gentlest and most trustworthy horse was being belligerent and my balance was so bad I actually had to grab my saddle horn to feel semi secure at an inconsistent walk. My heart fell, then I asked TheMan to call and see if one of the guys might be doing some slow work that afternoon, where I could follow along, and not be alone. I had to quit riding with everyone else years ago because they usually long trot for miles to get to where they have to work cattle, even after trailering as close as possible, then having to dismount to open gates along the way because the ranch is so large. I was unable to keep up with them and could not, in good conscience slow down these hardworking riders who work so hard for such long hours everyday.

As it turned out, one of the cowboys WAS going to be riding out to separate a few pairs that afternoon. He said I was welcome to come along. I loaded Wimp in the horse trailer and followed him in our truck so if it got to be too much for me, I could make it back without inconveniencing him.

We went about 3 miles down the road to the processing corrals. I got Wimpy out of the trailer and was struggling to tighten his cinch as my hands were too weak and it hurt so much to try and pull it through. Sambo (the days cowboss, and an old friend of the boss) asked if I needed help. I admitted that I did, hoping it wasn’t going to be a portent of how I managed the rest of the ride. He was very kind and even remembered my name. I had met his wife briefly a couple of days before as we were heading out to town and she also struck me as a really nice person. (Most people, even really nice ones, make me nervous, even a lot of people I know) As we headed down a fenceline, he asked if I could trot along okay. What most people might not realize, is that long trotting in a stock saddle is HARD work as you are behind the horses’ motion and of course you won’t be doing it on level, spongy ground like in an arena, so if you are not in shape, you will be fighting to stay in the middle, keep posting and bear with whatever pains it may cause in various parts of your body. I said yes, and to my surprise, did pretty well all the way down the fenceline. I felt comfortable enough with him to let him know that along with my other “assets” I am very hard of hearing. He laughed and said he is too. I asked about his wife and if she rides with him and gathered that she normally does but had a bad accident and hasn’t ridden for awhile. I am hoping she will and maybe I can develop  a friendship with her.

We went into the big weaning field where pretty much all the cows are, except the fall calves. Sambo made it really easy for me to understand what we were going to do and to follow his directions and I was also able to hear him. I am guessing we rode for about 4 hours or so, gathering the cattle and moving them to the far corner of the pasture which in itself is probably bigger than most ranches. Wimpy and I kind of kept them all bunched up while he drifted out pairs and sent them back across the ditch in the direction we had started from. There were a couple of snarks that tried to cause trouble, but nothing got too out of hand, I never felt stressed that I was doing an inadequate job, it felt amazing to be back on my horse, out on the part of the ranch that I love, among the cattle. I loved watching Sambo work the cows, learning a little bit just by observation. I spent most of the time just thanking God for the experience, for the beauty and perfection of the day, for the patience of the man and the generosity of my husband to have saddled my horse, put on my boots and spurs for me and all, so I could do this. At one point, I couldn’t stop the tears of gratitude, it felt so good.

One can't appreciate the vastness of this ranch without actually being here

This is just a small number of the group which probably spread down the fenceline for a half mile or so, but the easy way out was at my end so Wimpy and I kept the peace here.

He finally decided the herd was getting restless and harder to hold and we’d cut out enough for the day so we started pushing the pairs he’d cut out back across the pasture. I was starting to hurt as my body had reached it’s limit and my pain pill had worn off some time before, so I was just walking along behind the group I had while he trotted off west to grab some that had headed off the wrong way. I got that strange feeling like I was being watched or something was going on. He then told me we needed to hurry up, before the rest of the herd caught us. I looked back and sure enough, they were all heading across the ditch, making tracks our direction. I clinched my jaw against the pain and pushed Wimpy up and we pressed the cattle across the pasture and into the corner. He got there in time to open the gate and push them through. Really, it could have all gone south on us, but we did it ahead of the big group and it all went just right. He asked how I was doing and I told him “okay”. He said “you’re doing great, you are out and about”. I don’t think he knew how very true that statement is. It was a fantastic afternoon, and although I hurt a lot, I was totally relaxed and content. He was easy to ride with and easy going, as most (but not all) cowmen are. He went off looking for his dogs and sent me in the direction of the corrals, where I was anxious to get in my truck as the pain was making me nauseous, but it was still a far piece to go and I didn’t have it in me to go any faster. He caught up and let me through the gate, but had trouble closing it back up as it’s kind of a goofy situation with multiple gates hanging together. At that point, I was really sick and about to fall off, so I dismounted and hung my head behind a fence post. He caught up to me and asked if I had dismounted or fallen. I tried to laugh and told him I’d got off on my own power because I was feeling sickly. He took my horse for me and said he’d bring the truck to me. I retched a few more times then tried to stand up. It wasn’t happening. I laid on the ground, exhausted and in pain, hoping I could get it together before he came around the corner and saw me. I didn't want to alarm him and make him wary of letting me ride again. I finally rolled around and made it to my feet but that was about all I could manage. He pulled up in the truck, I got in on the passenger side and got sick all over again. I convinced him I could drive myself so he didn’t have to come back for the horsetrailer, so he agreed and I took off.
I don’t think I have ever been so at the end of my strength. I barely staggered into the house where a grateful Heath showered me with affection. I put a chair in the shower as I had no strength to stand and washed off, then fell on the bed where I must have stayed for an hour before I recovered enough to get dressed. I spent the night rehydrating, but unable to eat, or get up. I was forced to stay in the chair all the next day with ice, heat, muscle relaxers and pain relievers.

Today is the second day after. I am back up on my feet, managed to clean the kitchen, fold up laundry and do some housework. Tomorrow I think I will be ready to do it all over again.

The turning point I had prayed for has come, and the depression has lifted from me so much, it feels as though I have been pulled out of the rubble from a great earthquake. I have hope, and happiness back in my heart and instead of sitting and waiting for an end, I am making plans for my life. I've located my slicker, long johns and silk scarves I will need for cold winter days. At the top of my list is making sure that of the limited opportunities I am given to spend each day, I spend them wisely and spend more of them on what nurtures me instead of just what I am supposed to do. I’m so grateful for a God and a husband who love me.


  1. Kim, I read this this post with a very heavy heart. My sister also deals with a severe depression. I feel so helpless in knowing how to help her (or you). Finally I felt a great sense of relief that you are feeling more at peace. God is Good. I will pray for more days in the saddle and less pain. Sending big hugs and friendship, CAROL DEE

    1. Thanks so much Carol Dee. Being able to ride again is an answer to so much prayer and it will help to strengthen my body as well as boost my spirit and give me a purpose again. I pray for your sister. It is such a dark place and we are helpless to help ourselves...it can be so very hard. Just love her and listen to her along with your prayers. I know it has been very hard for me to have no one to lean on, other than God. Yeah, He should be enough, but sometimes, we need someone we can see and hear to care.

  2. Kim, I've spent many hours in the valley of the shadow of darkness. My prayers will be with you this winter, that you're able to enjoy soul-sustaining moments that keep you going.

    1. Thanks, and I hope you stay out of that dark place also!! I can't wait to train the Heathen to ride with me :)

  3. I'm so sorry to hear of your long struggle with depression, although no wonder! For much less reason than you, I, too, have known that Black Hole when you're so far down it seems there's no way up or out. I'm thankful to the Lord that He heard your prayers, lifted you up, and set you on the Rock that is Him. I hope and pray that there will be many other blessed days. I pray, too, that He will grant you relief from this relentless pain and suffering. Training Heath to ride with you will be a great goal to work toward! Love and hugs, Susan

  4. I enjoy reading your posts. So sorry you have been having a hard time. Prayed for you yesterday. I hope you get some relief and maybe friendships that can brighten your days.


  5. Kim- I've followed you for years, although never comment. Your pictures and words are true poetry. I get excited every time I see you've posted. You're in my prayers as you continue your journey of healing.

  6. Kim - I've read your blog for years, but only commented once, many moons ago. Your pictures and stories are true poetry - I get excited every time I see you have a new post. You are truly in God's country and I'm keeping you in my prayers as you continue on your journey to healing.

  7. I read your very moving and personal post with trepidation, then joy. I am so glad you found the strength to try - to rise up out of the darkness. I hope and pray that you continue to be in the light and to be, occasionally, on horseback or anywhere that brings you happiness.

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