Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Back in the Day

The yard and showbarn from under the upper pergola-fall, flowers fading

It’s been snowing a lot lately, and quite cold and that has caused me some issues with my health, so I’ve been spending far more time than I would like, stuck in the house doing…well, pretty much nothing. So, of course a lot of daydreaming goes on.

Most recently I have been looking back at the past, at the things I loved and miss. My home, my job, my kids, my gardens. I do miss those simple, productive, wonderful days.

Like now, I spent most of my time alone, but it didn’t bother me because I always had something to do. We had a beautiful home in the Tehachapi Mtns. I had spent over 20 years landscaping it and making it as low maintenance as possible. We had a large patio with a pergola, from which gorgeous, delicate and fragrant purple wisteria blooms hung below, leaving inches of fallen petals on the ground each night and large black bumblebees who buzzed overhead, drunk on the fragrance each morning. Sadly, it only blooms one month out of the year, but the show was worth it, and the fast growing vines would quickly cover the pergola giving us deep shade in the summer, and allowing the warmth of the sun through in the winter when it was dormant.

Two large whiskey barrels stood as sentinels on either side of the back kitchen door with Jasmine growing up a stake and colorful flowers gathered at their base. I had a dutch door that the top would open so I could enjoy the fragrance of the Jasmine throughout the house if I wanted. There was a whiskey barrel waterfall with 3 tiers that made it a calming and peaceful place for me, when a respite was needed. At the far end and sunny part of the patio, was an archway made of 4x4’s covered with trumpet vine. It was covered with large vermilion flowers that were a magnet for the many hummingbirds that lived in our yard. Another trumpet vine wound up a column at the end of the shaded patio, and grew along the roof line so we could see a hummingbird show from the living room as well. A small walkway with thyme filling in around  stepping stones led to some railroad tie steps ascending to the upper garden where there was a large Sycamore tree, and an Alder providing shade, as well as a smaller pergola that my son had built me when he was just 13. It was a hidden place almost like my own Secret Garden. There was just enough room for 2 comfy papasan chairs and a small table and the garden was filled with Roses, Daisies, Lavender, Rudbeckias, Coneflowers, and many other colorful, seasonal flowers as well as low growing evergreen shrubs to maintain a pleasant view in the winter. There were seasonal changes and in the summer I loved to sit with a glass of lemonade or wine, and watch the many butterflies, huge Yellow and Black Tiger Swallowtails  and bright orange and black Monarchs flit from red and blue Penstomens and other flowers and floating on the air currents. It was a blessing, a home and a paradise for me.

We had a small barbecue area out back surrounded by white rail fence and a large entrance with colorful Paprika Climbing Rose growing up and over the top. Many cookouts were enjoyed there with our kids and grandkids and I can still remember the laughter, the love and the warmth I felt having everyone near.

Flowers were integrated into that area as well, with Sunflowers, Hollyhocks, Clematis and many other children’s favorites as well as my own.

Everything was on a drip system that was put on automatic timers. It was densely planted and heavily mulched to discourage the growth of weeds so even though it was large and complex, it was a very low maintenance garden, the work consisting mostly of cutting back the dead flowers in the spring before new growth began.

My typical days began early mornings, sometimes before the kids headed off to school, sometimes after, heading down to the barn to feed both our own horses and the horses I had in training. This could be anywhere from 7 to 20 horses. After filling waters, I’d head back to the house for a cup of coffee and time on the patio while they ate. An hour or so later, I’d saddle the horses I would be riding first and let them settle while I cleaned the barn stalls and the mare motel. I had a set of cross ties in my breezeway barn and a great saddle rack that TheMan custom made for me that hung on the wall and held all of my saddles, my jumping saddle, roping saddle and stock saddle. Other saddles I used for lessons or for occasional bitting were hung in the tackroom. The stall at the very back of the barn held all the rest of my tack and training equipment, such as several different kinds of snaffles, sizes of bosals, lunge ropes, stock whips, spurs, saddle pads, first aid kits, grooming equipment, blankets, shipping bandages, buckets and the like. Next to that was a 12 x 16 stall with a closed circuit camera I used for foaling mares, and at the end was the cement wash rack. The other side of the barn had (3) 12x12 box stalls.

There was a doctoring chute outside next to the washrack, also made by TheMan, where a horse could be confined closely on all sides and safely worked on treating injuries, insemination or breeding exams. Allowing for a 16’ driveway to take the tractor up to the arena, there were then 2 covered mare motels for both extra horses and foaling mares, one being used as a feed room with a heavy sliding door so no horses could break into the feedbags and founder or colic themselves or worse. At the very end of the Northeastern-most stall was a small down hill surrounding a large oak tree that was dandy for either finishing steers to put in the freezer, or keep my milk goats and sheep.

After a cup or two of coffee and having gone over my plans for the day of which horses needed working, which needed a day off, etc. I went back down and started riding colts. Each horse got hosed off after working and put on the hot walker which was on the east side of the showbarn. It made a handy babysitter for our two little girls, as well, with a couple of cinches put together to make a swing we could hang off one of the arms.

It’s been too many years, but I still remember how amazing it felt, to be riding different horses throughout the day, working with each different personality to help them understand what I was asking of them in the most comfortable way for them. Refining form and gaits was especially  gratifying, as I could lope one off with the lightest press of my calf or lift of a hip, listening to the hoof beats as the breeze from the movement whispered through my hair and the horse softly rocked beneath me. A 1000+ lb of pure muscle and power, working with me as a team, respect and affection that was equal between us. When they had achieved my desired amount of proficiency in their lesson for the day or in the event of an off day, just ending on a positive note, we’d side step over to the gate, I’d lift the latch, swing my mount’s haunches around and sidepass the other way to close it, then amble down the hill to the barn to unsaddle and hose off. I’d usually ride 5 of 6 horses each day like this, letting the others either work in the round pen, or have a day out in the pasture.


Once they were all done, I’d set up whatever courses I had to use for the afternoon students, either trail obstacles, jumps or markers and rest-up until they showed up after school. We’d work on lessons until feed time then put the horses and tack away, pick out stalls and feed for the night.
Throughout all of this, my sons were often key assistance in getting everything done, from cleaning stalls, to assisting me with a dystocia, or abnormal presentation on a foaling mare, and helping to deliver the foal safely.


Then it was time to head back up to the house, fix dinner, finish laundry and whatever other quick housekeeping chores needed doing and spend time with the family. Even back then, I rarely left the house except to go to the store or to horseshows, where it could be a little overwhelming with the number of people around, dealing with owners, horses, students and getting the horses I was campaigning for them warmed up and ready for their open classes. Pretty much the only folks I knew were the vet, the horseshoer, my clients, and one or two of my neighbors. Although I had a good relationship with most of my clients, I didn’t have much in the way of actual “friends”. You know, the kind you could share intimate thoughts with, or go have a fun weekend together, or just count on one another to be silly. Someone you would just feel you had to sit down and give a call to, or drop in with some donuts to share over a cup of coffee and small talk. I didn’t actually realize it, as I had been the same way as a kid going to school, just tolerating the time spent in class then jetting off to see my horse, getting home usually just before dinner. I loved every minute I got to spend with my boys, and I loved my life, reaching out to the horses and working with them everyday. It is a life I sorely miss and I still struggle with accepting it is my past, and will never again be in my future. And I am beginning to appreciate the awareness that I not only lack close friends and social skills, but have found I have a great deal of anxiety when around many people, even if they are people that I know.


Even so, if I close my eyes and concentrate hard enough, I can still smell the pine shavings, the horse’ sweat and hear the creak of leather and occasional jingle of a spur, along with an equine sneeze as one settles down and prepares to eat its morning hay and grain. I can feel the sleek coat under my hand and the dents and bulges of powerful muscles as I run my hand down their body. I feel myself reach for a hind foot just as a tail swish catches me across the face and I chuckle. The horses usually willingly lift their hoof to my hand so I might clean it out and check for debris  or fungus. I feel their hot breath against my ear as one of them, usually Mister, blows on the top of my head while listening to my heartaches as I curl up in the corner of his stall, tears run down my cheek  unchecked, because he is a safe and willing listener. And I once again, feel my heart swell with gratitude when I throw my arms around one of their long, powerful necks for a mighty hug, amazed that I fought for and got to live the life I had longed for since I was a child. Yeah, these are the memories I cherish and hope no matter how old I become, I never forget.


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Angel in a Fur Coat and a Lot of Changes

As often happens, my remission of the last blog was short lived, but that doesn't mean good things didn't happen still. One of the many things I am excited about is that The Heathen has finally decided it is ok to ride on the quad with me, which enlarged our world quite a bit. We've made a few short trips on it, and one on horseback and he's doing nicely.

Having a phone I can use for the first time in 10 years is pretty exciting, although most of the use goes to playing scrabble.

Either the disease itself or the meds make me extremely forgetful and absentminded. I finally had to submit all of my prescriptions to a company that packages them together in 2 daily doses for me, labeled with the date and time they are to be taken. You would think that would solve my problem. Well, not exactly. Especially when I am feeling my worst. I might wake up, grab a cup of coffee and my pills, only to find out that it's Friday and the last time I took my meds was Tuesday. No matter where I put them, I forget. By the coffee pot seemed like a good idea, but I don't drink coffee everyday and I don't drink it at night. The dinner table seemed like the next best thing. Nope. We usually eat in front of the tv these days. Finally, TheMan suggested I train Heath to bring me my pills at the appointed times. It was easily done. The best time for me to take them is before I get up. That way I can't get sidetracked, so I set an alarm for the morning and taught him that when that particular alarm rang, he was to bring me my bag with the pills in it. It took him about 2 days to start doing it on his own. I then forgot to set the alarm, but no problem. Heath has an internal alarm, it seems, so he brings me my meds automatically at 7:45 both am and pm. If I need painpills or something else in the meantime, I need only ask him to bring them to me.  The bag is kept on a trunk that serves as a coffee table in front of the couches where I sleep. He always returns it to the same place, but woe to me, if I put ANYTHING else on that end of the trunk. ie: magazine, book, hairbrush...  It makes for a very disgusted sheppie who huffs loudly and throws my med pack into his toy basket with maximum volume then proceeds to glare at me accusingly. I'm learning. He even brought them to me when we stayed at a motel when we got snowed in in town...
THAT was a great trip!
We went to town the night before we needed to, because a big storm was expected and I didn't want to be driving 4 hours on desolate icy roads.
Got breakfast and went to a farm store and still had some time left so we went looking for the car dealership. Of course, we hit an icy spot and the truck went into a spin and we wound up going off the road into a field, just missing some big old pipes that came up out of the ground. Yeah, I'm ready to get my own 4 WD. TheMan doesn't like putting the truck in 4WD, because it will "wear it out". My argument of "wearing it out is better than totaling it and killing us" doesn't seem to stick with him.
 Heath  has given me back enough independence to get my license back, now I need something to drive so I can get myself to town and maybe take some road trips. It won't be til spring but I am really looking forward to it. It was snowing heavily when we were at the car lot and Heath really liked the little golf cart with the roof and windshield. I think he would prefer I replace our 4 wheeler with one of those, if he had his say. I test drove a used Jeep SUV, but didn't like it that much. Then we saw another one I LOVED, but decided it wouldn't be right to drag a vehicle that nice home to live on a ranch where dogs will jump on it, and it will live in the wind and dust with rocks banging off the bottom and the windshield as we drive down the 50 mile gavel road. I told them if they got one like it that looked like an old rust bucket, with the interior of the car I liked, consider it sold.
The Heathen had to wear his boots, because of the salt on the sidewalks and EVERYONE had to comment on them. TheMan and I could have been standing stark naked and no one would have noticed because they were fascinated that a Service Dog wears boots. Too funny.

As we left the dealership, the snow was getting pretty deep. We drove down a back street where the dogs could get out to pee and noticed a little delivery type car off the side of the road at the end of the street. People were driving by it from both directions. I asked TheMan to make sure they didn't need help. He said they didn't. I asked him again to just check, especially when we got close enough to see it was a young girl. We got out and hobbled over in the snow and sure 'nuff she was stuck. The vehicle was light enough that with both of us pushing, and her driving we got her up to where she had traction and she drove away. I laughed when I considered an "old" guy and a handicapped lady pushed her car out of the snow...sometimes it just takes a little help.

The first  night we stayed in a place that had a hot tub in the room. It was a nice place, but no chair so I was hurting pretty bad by morning from laying down all night. The worst part is that Scottie, TheMan's dog was also with us. Scottie is a dog that doesn't listen to anyone and barely listens to TheMan.  He's a snide little feller who does what he pleases when he pleases, much to my consternation. Well,  Heath woke me up early because Scottie had to pee. Now, TheMan has an ugly little habit of having to shower every morning before he gets dressed. He has a routine that is absolutely inflexible. So while he showered, did his hair, put on his makeup, picked out his outfit for the day and got prettied up, I had to drag both dogs to the elevator that neither one of them liked, with nothing on Heath, not even a collar, and my lash wrapped around Scotties neck, to take them outside in the snow, to pee. I was unable to bend far enough to get my boots on because of the pain so I was barefooted. Scottie did all in his power to pull me to the left so he could pee on the Christmas tree in the lobby, while I  directed both dogs to the exit. Walking over the icy sidewalk to the empty lot next door, I let go of the leash so they could do their business...just then an old gentleman walked around the back corner of the hotel with his cane. Scottie took off after him, barking and growling (he can be a nasty, unsociable little creature) and Heath followed wagging his tail with every intent to jump on the guy with an enthusiastic greeting....all on the ice. Thankfully I had on my shepherds whistle and with a blast on it and a "GET BACK HERE, NOW!!!" both dogs changed their direction and came back to me. I informed TheMan, that from this point forward, he will be responsible for taking care of his OWN dogs needs.

We were still snowed in town so we stayed a a less pricey hotel the next night, which was the Holiday Inn in Boise, which I highly recommend. The rooms are great, the staff is friendly and helpful and the breakfasts are pretty good too. Heath made an impression, as he still had to go everywhere "naked" due to our needing his leash to control Scottie. He wiped his feet each time we came in through the front door, and stayed by my side perfectly. I could not have been more pleased. The staff all got to know him and he felt like quite the star. I was so impressed by his perfect behavior when I had no controls over him. He was absolutely Mister Manners, until we would get back to the room, where he would become super silly, racing around, grabbing my pantleg, jumping on the bed to maul me with kisses and generally just spill over with joy and enthusiasm. It made for a great trip. For someone who is such a homebody I never wanted to leave, even to go to town and go shopping every 3 months, Heath has brought me to a point where I am really looking forward to getting my own car and going on road trips with him. It's an important move for me, because the auto-immune has gotten increasingly worse again, and depression is getting harder and harder to fight, being stuck inside a house along all day everyday. This will be a real game changer.

So for now, I stay home and we enjoy the company of our overly affectionate dogs.

100+ lb Bruno steals Heath's favorite spot while he's not looking...