Thursday, December 8, 2016

Mom and Bill's Christmas Card Surprise

We have Mom and Bill's herd for a few days, and since we were going to take Christmas pictures with our horses, how hard could it be to do Christmas pictures with theirs?

Washoe the Wonder Idiot and Jesse were angels - they were easily caught and willing to play dress-up without a problem. Ranger Danger, on the other hand, well ... let's just say I got a lot of exercise trying to catch him. I might have given up a time or two, but there was no way I was going to get Christmas pictures of only two of their horses. If I couldn't get all three, then I wasn't going to do it. And, by God, Mom was going to get her Christmas pictures, so Ranger and I had to come to an understanding.

Eventually, he deigned to be caught and was a perfect gentleman for his 30 seconds of fame. Jerk.

I didn't know what to do with the pictures once we took them, so I decided that I'd make Mom and Bill some Christmas cards to send out. Now, this is risky, because I don't know if Mom has already sent out her cards. Just to be on the safe side, I didn't put the year on the cards in case she needs to hold them until next year. How's that for thinking?

Mom's herd wasn't super excited about having to play dress-up and pose for me. They do great for Mom and Bill, but I'm not really their human. There was no getting happy ears from them for the pictures. They stood nicely like I asked them to, but that was the extent of their cooperation. It was like taking pictures of sullen teenagers. But the pictures are done, and Mom's going to love this surprise, dammit.

Clockwise: Reba, Washoe, Ranger, Jesse, Humans

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Christmas Card Win

Monday was an exercise in persistence. But we did manage to get enough decent pictures to assemble a card that makes us smile.

Clockwise: Pearl, Skeeter, Copper, Speed Racer, Gizmo, Pongo, Allie-bird, humans.
Maybe next year we'll be able to get a group photo.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Christmas Card Fails

It's been two years since Jay and I attempted a Christmas card with all the critters, so I decided this was the year. It was going to happen. In my mind, I could picture it - the horses all standing nicely in their American Mustang halters and their Christmas scarves, lined up behind us, and Allie-bird sitting nicely on the ground in front of us. It was going to be perfect.

However, I've been around animals enough to know that what I want to happen and what actually happens are two different things, so I had a back-up plan.

After I decided to make the horses scarves, I decided that we were going to get pictures of the cats too and made them scarves. They were Not Thrilled.

I set up a mini photo studio (read: red fleece draped over a chair that I could plunk the cats down on to snap a quick picture) and started chasing them down.

Pongo was after the treats and didn't want to sit still.

Gizmo has a demon inside her, I think.

Speed Racer is going to kill me in my sleep.
Eventually, I did get pictures of the cats that are usable, not perfect, but usable. I turned my focus to making the horses' scarves. I wasn't sure how long they needed to be, so I took my first attempt out to try on Skeeter.

It wasn't nearly long enough and she tried to eat it.
I doubled the length, added some fake snow stuff to the ends and tried again.

This time, both Skeeter and Pearl tried to eat it.
I realized that we had a big storm coming in, so my window for getting the "perfect" pictures was closing. Jay was off today (Monday), so I took a personal day so we could get the pictures done. I expected it would take an hour.

It took three.

Instead of the perfect card I had imagined, we ended up having to go with our back-up plan of individual pictures of each horse. The wind was kicking up and we've gone one heck of a winter storm moving in, which made the horses a bit full of themselves.

Miss "Cranky butt" Pearl

Skeeter "the Goofball" Bang

Copper "I don't wanna" Casanova
I was not kidding when I said it took three hours to get the pictures of the horses. The girls were fairly easy to catch, but Mr. Copper was a turd. It took lots of work to get him caught. Lots of work.

We finished with the horses and ran into the house to change into not-horse-snotted clothes. The wind was really kicking up by then and our window of opportunity was closing very, very fast.

Pongo the photobomber and Allie-bird just wouldn't cooperate.
Eventually, though, we did come up with picture of all of us that we could use to make a passable Christmas card.

The thing is, I kinda wish we'd used all the outtakes for our card - they are a much more realistic view into our world.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Riding Day

Mom and Bill hauled the horses down today to do something we've been planning for a while: go for a ride on the farm road. It's not a big deal for their horses, but it is a big deal for ours. Besides, we have a brand new hitch rail to break in!

First things first, though. We had to put out a new bale, which meant that we got to try out our new anchor post.

Slip the end of the tow rope over the post, kick the pallets into place, and away we go!
Until two days ago, unloading the round bale required us to wrap a ratchet strap around one of the support posts for the shed, attach it to the tow rope, and then driving out from under it. It was truly a two-person job. This anchor post makes unloading practically a one-person job. You know, if the horses would ignore the fact that a new bale was being unloaded, it would be a one-person job.

Mom and Bill hauled their horses down and had them tied to their trailer, so we had three fewer "helpers" than we normally do with putting out hay. It was all Very Exciting, and the 3 Mustangeers had to move their feet. Between having visitors and getting a new bale, they were beside themselves.

Once they were all settled down (read: had their faces buried in the new bale), I pulled Skeeter to put her to work. Eventually, we'll take all three of them out on the farm roads, but we had only three riders and six horses. Some had to stay behind. Leaving any of Mom's herd behind was out of the question.

Skeets did amazing being hard tied to the hitch rail, though I was always in her sight. I've been saddling her one-handed for so long that she wasn't excited about being saddled while tied, but didn't move around too much. With more practice, she'll remember to stand still.

I decided that her black bridle was never going to adjust small enough to be comfortable for her, so I changed to a different headstall that I could adjust better. Even that was too big, so while I went digging around for the leather punch, I handed Skeeter off to Mom and Bill to get a crash course in being ponied.

Jesse's on Injured Reserve, so she has to be ponied too. She's not thrilled.

It didn't take long to fix Skeeter's bridle, so I sent her in a couple of circles just to see where her mind was. She was ready to go.

But she didn't want anything to do with the mounting block (yeah, we need to work on that), so with the success of mounting from the ground under my belt from Posse training, I decided that I'd just climb aboard. Little missy had other ideas. She forgot how to keep her feet still and at one point threatened to bite me, so she got to move her feet a lot. There were a handful of times I could have just pulled the running mount out of the archives, but there's no need for that. I don't want to have to spend time breaking a bad habit in the future, so we worked through it.

Foot to stirrup - oops, you moved off, now you work.

Foot to stirrup - oh hell, no, you did not just nip at me, now you work.

Foot to stirrup - you stood still, good girl, back off.

Foot to stirrup - oops, you moved off, now you work.

Lather, rinse, repeat. I have no idea how long we were at it, but Mom and Bill's horses were very patient while we worked through it. Eventually, Skeeter stood still through the whole mounting process. She did move off before I could get my right foot in the stirrup, but my butt was in the saddle and I was settled, so I just pulled her to a stop.

I moved her feet a little bit, doing figure eights both directions in the back yard until I felt calmer and her feet slowed. Once we were comfortable, Mom and Bill joined us in the yard and we practiced wandering around individually, then we followed their horses, and walked side-by-side with Ranger Danger.

I had to get a between-the-ears pic of the moment.
I would have been perfectly fine riding in the back yard, but Mom and Bill came down to be my support crew on my first ride off property, so I sucked it up and we headed to the road. I'll admit, I was stressed and worried. Why, I don't know. Skeeter has never been "bad", she's a bit pushy on the ground and unafraid of lots, but she's never given me any reason to doubt her.

Both of us breathing deep to relax. I found it funny that we had identical expressions.
Skeeter completely ignored the fact that there were three other horses with us. On one hand, it's great because she's got the confidence to go out by herself. On the other hand, I've never had a horse so thoroughly ignore other horses in a group. She basically did the same thing at Posse training.

I kept her to a slow(ish) walk, though she really wanted to stretch out and go. I know I'm slow to trust her, and that's my issue, but we'll be working at a walk for a while yet. We rode out only about half a mile. Mom and Bill and their horses could have gone a lot further (and they do at home), but that's about all my nerves would take. I never used to be a nervous rider, but now I can't seem to get out of my head.

Not knowing how Skeeter would react riding home with Copper and Pearl being flying goofballs in the pen, I elected to dismount and walk back. Only ... I have an issue with dismounting that is a new issue. The last two times I've dismounted from the left side, Skeeter has kicked out and I've gotten one of the ridges of my boot caught on the stirrup and haven't been able to get free. I can dismount on the off side no problem. She doesn't care, I don't get hung up, and life is good.

I started to dismount the proper way and just froze - I couldn't force myself to do it. So, I dismounted from the off side. We'll be working on getting us through our dismounting issues in the future, but the ride was going well and I didn't want to screw it up.

We followed Mom and Bill back without a problem, though Jesse wasn't so excited about having us follow them.

Cranky mare
Being on the ground gave me a free hand to take a couple of pictures of Mom and Bill riding together, which made me happy.

About halfway home, I realized that I'd inadvertently signed myself up for cardio and who wants to do that? They offered to wait while I re-mounted, but that sounded like a whole lot of work. More work than walking.

When Nebalee and Deejo were gymnasts, the gym had a rule about "one last time". Once you finished a trick, you never did it "one last time", because that's when you'd get hurt. I thought it was a good rule and passed it on to my kids. In fact, every time they did something "one last time" someone ended up hurt. I wasn't willing to risk the "one last time" by climbing back up on Skeeter after I'd declared our ride finished.

After our ride, we turned all the horses out together for a little dinner buffet. Introducing the two herds a couple of months ago paid off - there were no fireworks. They all bellied up to the hay bale and dug in.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Human Work Day (picture heavy)

For a while now, we've been wanting to put in a hitch rail. While we can saddle the horses one-handed, and they do okay with it, it would be awfully nice to have a place near the tack room to park the horses. Now that business is slowing down for Mom and Bill, they were able to pencil us in to spend the day helping with "farm chores".

My friend was absolutely wonderful and came over last week to dig the post holes. I actually asked him to bring his tractor over with the auger attachment, but he said it was much easier to just dig it by hand. I admit, I was being lazy by asking to use the auger. The last time I dug a post hole was back on my first day working for Bucky at the livery, almost two decades ago, so when he wanted to dig by hand I did not argue.

Jay and I bought all the supplies and then couldn't wait to see what it was going to look like, so we mocked it up briefly.

We knew it was going to be awesome!
Unfortunately, Jay had to work today, so it looked like it was just going to be Mom, Bill, and me. However, once Mom and Bill got here this morning, they brought the bad news that Bill had jacked up his back while getting ready to come down. The "heavy lifting" was going to fall to me and Mom. Luckily, we're both badasses. Just ask us, we'll tell you. ;)

Jay reminded me late last night that I have built in slave labor in the form on my children, so this morning I sent Digger a message to see if he wanted to come work play for a little bit. He didn't get back to me right away, so we started without him.

Getting the center post ready to be attached

Yes, I'm short, and, yes, the hitch rail is very tall

Of course, he had to check our work. It was killing him to have to stand aside.
We bolted the rail together, made sure that it was all level, then started in with the pouring of cement. I bought ten bags of QuickCrete thinking that would be enough, and it was ... barely. Mom and I took turns mixing the concrete, while Bill had the very important job of keeping the wheelbarrow from falling over. I'm not even being a smart ass - the wheelbarrow has seen much, much better days.

After reading Bill's blog about their ride yesterday, I knew I had to inscribe something into the freshly poured concrete. Just so happens we had three posts and three horses with three different brands. It was a no brainer. (I don't know why blogger rotated the pictures, so forgive me that you have to cock your head to the right to read them.)

Skeeter: 10-247888

Copper: 10-858120

Pearl: 11-858621

Digger arrived just as we finished up with the concrete on the hitch rail, so we put him to work digging a post hole in the horses' pen. We decided to put in an "anchor" post to help with unloading hay from the truck and also to use as a patience post if necessary.

Gizmo (the cat) must have thought she'd get put to work too!

It took Digger no time at all to get the hole dug.
Since we used all ten bags of QuickCrete I had purchased, we had to run back in to town to pick up another couple of bags to set the anchor post. We had originally intended to use the left-over 4x4 from the hitch rail, but I was concerned that it wouldn't be strong enough to withstand repeated use pulling 1,200# round bales from the truck. We decided to get a metal pole and fill it with concrete to make it strong enough to do the job we need it for.

Once we had the anchor post in, we went back to finish the hitch post. Despite using deck brackets to hold it together, Jay and I decided we wanted to use lag bolts to attach the crossbeam to the uprights. We did allow Bill to do use the drill to make the guide holes, because there wasn't much chance of him hurting his back even further.

My badass mom looks like she's in her 30s! How does she look 10 years younger than me?


We had to try it out - looks good!
We didn't actually tie up the horses, as they're not hard-tied often, but that's going to change soon. We'll give the concrete a couple of days to cure before we start tying them.

They did well pretending to be tied, so we introduced them to the new anchor post in the middle of their pen. Our concern, of course, is that they'll find some way to hurt themselves on it, so we put a couple of pallets around the pole just as a visual reminder that it's there.

They're such goofballs. I love them, though.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Sheriff's Posse Training

I posted the other day about my pre-posse worries and it dawned on me later that night, just as I was falling asleep, that I had never mentioned a posse other than the HellHat Posse and maybe know one knew what the hell I was talking about.

Back in Feb/March, I put in an application to join our local Sheriff's department's Mounted Posse. I had just about given up on my application, when I received an email that I'd been accidentally accepted, but my acceptance was a mistake because I had failed to disclose an arrest in my application. (Seriously, take time to go read why I was arrested. I'll wait.)

In my defense, I was told that once I completed my probation that the arrest would be off of my record. Well, I had the easiest probation on the planet - don't let Gizmo beat up any other dogs in that particular town for one year - since Jay and I had since moved to a different town, that was something I could easily do. Since I'd been told that my arrest wouldn't show up on my record, I didn't disclose it on my application.

Turns out, law enforcement can *always* see arrests, even those that have supposedly been removed. Who knew?

Anyway, I was pretty disappointed and apologized to the Under sheriff for leaving it off, explained what the arrest was for, and asked if I could re-apply at a later date. I got an email back the next day telling me that after looking into my criminal history (just typing that cracks me up), the Sheriff decided I could join the Posse. Turns out I'm not a hardened criminal. Whew.

Stepping out of my comfort zone is very difficult for me, but I put on my big girl panties and attended my first meeting last week, and planned to attend my first training. In my earlier post, I think I mentioned that my concern was more about trailering Skeeter to the arena, not any of the riding.

Saturday morning was beautiful and I bounded out of bed determined to conquer the day. I made lunch, loaded the truck with everything I needed, and then got Skeeter. Jay helped me load her and it took maybe ten minutes. I had allotted way more time than ten minutes to get her loaded, but I wasn't going to complain one bit.

I'm in. Can I come out now?

Me. Trailering my own horse. I'm like a real cowgirl or something.

Jay and Skeets went on a short walkabout.

A round pen! We don't have one of those at home.

All dressed and ready for warm-up.
Jay didn't have to be at work until 12:30, so he followed us over and hung out for a while. He has not turned in his Posse application yet, but plans to do so.

I had accomplished by biggest goals before we even started warming up. My first goal was to get Skeeter loaded. Check. The second was to safely trailer her to the practice arena. Check.  Everything else we accomplished was going to be icing on the cake.

After having my tack checked, I went to mount up, but couldn't find a mounting block. Uh-oh. I haven't mounted Skeeter from the ground in ever. The ground helper told me to give it a try before I went looking for something to climb up on. So I did. And I managed to do it. I haven't been mounting from the ground because A) I'm very short and those stirrups are way up there and B) as much as I weighed, I didn't want to torque her back. However, I've lost just over 20#, and found it was much easier than I anticipated it would be. Skeeter stood like a champ while I climbed up.

We then rode a couple of laps around the arena, which I desperately needed, because everywhere I looked I saw potential spook hazards. The arena is right next to a road where cars, bikes, trucks (big 'uns), ambulances, etc. go whizzing by. There are bleachers for people to sit on. There are empty horse pens on one side. I mean, the place is surrounded by things that could set a horse off.

Did Skeeter care?

Not one bit. In fact, she marched right on by the big plastic wrapper that comes around a case of water bottles without batting an eye. A couple of the other Posse horses had to stop and snort at it. Skeets being rock solid in the arena helped my confidence level immensely. By the time we were done with our "freestyle warm up" and ready to get into our guided warm up, I was feeling much less anxious.

I told our team leader that I wasn't comfortable trotting her yet, so we planned on me just pulling into the center of the arena during the trot periods.

I wasn't sure how Skeets was going to do with so many strange horses, but she did great. The other riders kept their distance until we were both more comfortable. After guided warmup, we started into drills. I was given a copy of most of the drills we do, so I have a vague idea of what was expected of us. We hung to the outside or back for the most part, and completed most of the drills. Again, when the drill called for trotting, I just peeled off to the middle and picked back up at the walk.

That's Skeets on the right, keeping her distance in formation.

She was much more comfortable once we moved up two paces.

You can barely see us, we're so far in the back.
The riding portion was pretty difficult for me mentally. I felt like I was holding everyone up and I wouldn't do the trot portions and Skeeter started acting up. I definitely began feeling like we were in over our heads, especially the more times I had to peel out of formation to move her feet. She was shaking her head, stomping her feet, and swatting with her tail. I thought maybe a deer fly was bothering her or something. If I kept her moving, she would calm down a little bit, but if we stopped, she'd get all worked up again.

My stress level was rising, because I felt an imminent blow-up and I felt like we were being a huge distraction. One of the Posse members looked at me and said, "it's okay if you want to get down and take a break." Those words were music to my ears. We peeled out of formation - again - and went to the rail where Jay was. I had him hold her while I dismounted, because I didn't want her blowing up in the middle of me getting off.

As soon as I was off, she calmed right down. Wasn't a fly, after all. Princess Skeeter was sweating like a whore in church and was done with riding, thankyouverymuch. While she's been getting ridden, it's fairly inconsistently, and never for more than an hour at a time. By the time I dismounted, she'd been getting ridden going on two hours (on top of being round penned) and fat girl don't like to sweat. I can't blame her, because this fat girl don't like to sweat either.

Drill practice only ran for a few more minutes, so we didn't miss out on a lot.

After a short break, we moved on to desensitizing. I felt like such a failure in the riding portion, but once we got to desensitizing, I felt much better. That is something we've worked on and it showed. I think the trainers expected her to be more reactive than she was, but she was an absolute rock star.

She had one little flinch when the umbrella flapped and she wasn't expecting it, but it was truly just a flinch. After she realized what it was, she tried to eat it. I finally felt like I'd done something right in her training. When we broke for lunch, I was feeling pretty good.

I sat with the Posse members for a little bit, until Skeeter started hollering from the trailer where she was tied. I was going to let her "cry it out", but then decided to just go sit with her. If I was feeling insecure and out of place, not knowing what was going on, she had to be too. (Yes, I'm anthropomorphizing.) As soon as I sat down on the tongue of the trailer she quit her hollering and settled down enough to eat.

After lunch, we had trailer training on the schedule. I was super excited, because I know that's her biggest weakness. Actually, that's incorrect. Loading into our trailer is her biggest weakness - she loads like she's been doing it her whole live in other trailers. Unfortunately (or fortunately), the trailer we used for training was a beautiful 3 horse-slant with all of the dividers folded back and one large gate that swung open, so it looked like a stock trailer.

When it was our turn, Skeeter self-loaded her front half, but then thought she was done. I backed her out and lead her in. She stepped up so nicely and quietly backed out when I asked her to. She made me look good. I should have worked with her more on driving her into the trailer, because that's how she *has* to load in our trailer; there just isn't enough room to lead her in and safely get out now that I've removed the center divider. But, I was feeling confident and didn't take the time to drive her completely in - a decision that bit me in the ass a short time later.

After trailer training, the horses got to stand tied at the rail while the trainers came around and checked our knots to make sure they were quick-release. I've used a "Bank Robber's Knot" forever, because the horse can't get loose if they pull back, yet one quick tug by a human will release the knot. It's a knot that is different from the quick-release knots that the others use but the trainers gave me the thumbs up on using it. Thank goodness, because I'm all thumbs at learning knots.

They decided to call it a day after tie training because about half of the members had to go get ready to work the Cattle Baron's Ball.

I was soooo proud of Skeeter. She did an amazing job and held it together even when she was feeling stressed. I couldn't wait to take her home.

Unfortunately, she had other plans. You see, asking her to load into our trailer was One Thing Too Many. My girl was fried. She was tired and had done everything I asked. She surpassed my expectations, but she was D-O-N-E.

After an hour of trying to get her into the trailer using every trick we collectively knew (making the trailer a nice place to rest, bribes, leading her in, driving her in, and even picking up her feet and placing them in the trailer), I decided to take a break and call in reinforcements. It's not that she's afraid of the trailer - that we can work through - it's that she was just over everything. You could see her mule ears grow by the minute. That girl had her stubborn pants firmly in place. The harder we tried to get her in the trailer, the more stubborn she got.

I sent the others off to get ready for the Ball and I called L.E. I assured the others that we'd be okay, that we just needed a break, and that I thought Skeeter would do better with people she was familiar with.

I turned her loose in the round pen and sat to collect myself while waiting on L.E.

The break was exactly what we needed. Well, a break and the magic granola bar L.E. showed up with. I have never been so relieved to see someone in my whole life. I needed some of her special Zen.

She walked over to the round pen with me and you could see Skeeter say, "Thank God it's someone I know!". I put her lead line on, walked her to the trailer, L.E. positioned herself with the magic granola bar in the escape door and that stubborn mare self-loaded like it was her idea. It took less than ten seconds to load Skeeter.

In half an hour we were home and she was back in the pen with the others.

We were both absolutely exhausted. It was a long day full of learning for both of us, and despite her mulishness about getting in the trailer to come home, the day was a great success. I can't wait to do it again next month!