Mugwump/Big K Clinic: Day 1, First Ride

“So, what are you guys wanting to accomplish this weekend?”
I was surprised that Tim (the Big K) hadn’t ridden his horse out into the front to face us – instead, he sat in the lineup, resting easy on the trim little black mare.  He leaned forward, resting his forearm on the saddle horn, hands idly flipping the loose, looping reins.
The mare was gorgeous – coal black, trim, babydoll head….and short.  Tim should have looked too big on her. She might have been 14.2 on her tiptoes, and Tim – well, I don’t’ know how tall he is, but I’m pretty sure it was over 6 feet, and most of that was all spidery long legs.  He should have dwarfed the mare, but it worked somehow.  Seeing how comfortable the mare looked, I realized I’ll never worry about looking too big on a horse again.
Speaking of horse height….Caspian’s tallness worked for me.  I’d parked myself at the end of the line, but I didn’t have any trouble seeing down the row of participants. 
Even though he still felt like an overly-sensitive firecracker underneath me, he stood politely, although his head was high and his neck was stiff.  I think we both shared  the same, tight “what’s gonna happen next?”  look on our face.
Tim had an easy, personable way of speaking – friendly, calm, and just really easy going.  I knew that Mugwump had mentioned that as first-timers and newbies we wouldn’t be seeing the cold silences and disapproval we’d read about in the Sonita stories… but it was still a relief to see it in person.
“So, I’ve never really done a clinic like this before – usually I have an idea where people are at with  their riding, or what they’re hoping to accomplish. Why don’t we go down the line and we can talk about where you’re at, and what you hope to get out of this clinic?”
… and so we did.  Flying lead changes, more efficient stops, tracking the cow better without anticipating, spinny circle thingies (do you like my technical jargon?) – everyone seemed to have a pretty good idea what it was they wanted to work on.
Except for me.
“I… uh…. I just want to ride?  I just got this gelding, so, uh… I just want to learn how to ride him better?”  I shrugged my shoulders at Tim, and threaded my fingers through the salt and pepper strands of Caspian’s mane.

“Well, we can probably handle that.”

Honestly?  Not having an agenda really left me open to learning some truly awesome things…. But in the future, maybe I should sit down and think about my goals ahead of time. 

I should probably try to analyze my riding method a little better, too, because here’s where I’m just going to come right out and say it: 
The thing I loved most about the clinic was also the thing I initially hated the most.  And what did I initially hate the most?

Tim flat out refused to tell us “his way” of doing things.

Me:  “How should I cue him for flying lead change?”
Tim:  “Well, how do you usually try it?”

Me:  “What’s the best way to cue for a stop?”
Tim: “Well, how do you like to ask for it?”

Etc, etc,
Even though I understood why he did it, it was a bit frustrating for me at the beginning, because I’ve always been a bit lazy about learning the basics of horseback riding.  Well, let me rephrase that.  I’ve been lazy about learning the technical side of horseback riding.  I took a few lessons when I was 12, and then a few more when I was 16, and the rest I’ve picked up by watching other people and sticking with what worked,  or by listening to people tell me how they want me to ride their horse. 
In some ways it has worked for me, because everybody has a different way that they like their horse ridden, and I’ve been able to pick and choose what seems to work best. 

The downside is that it’s also left me a little bit lazy.   How do I cue for a stop?  Uhhh… I dunno?  However you want me to?

I didn’t HAVE a system or a method that I followed – that’s what I was hoping to get at the clinic (spoiler:  I did walk away with “a method”, and it actually was based upon Tim’s way of “not teaching.”

But right then, on the first day of the clinic….   I was in the mood to be spoon fed, darnit, and apparently everyone expected me to chew for myself.

Tim didn’t expound upon much when he explained things, but there was theme he kept coming back and repeating over and over throughout the weekend – there is no magic “method”.  If you had a way of getting things done, there was no reason to throw that just to adopt “Tim’s method” simply because he was the clinician you’d paid for.  At the end of the day, that was just going to confuse you more.

Instead, he wanted to help us be more effective with the tools we already had.

Anyways, back to the clinic:  after a little discussion, it was decided that we’d just work on circles so Tim could get a feel for where each of us was. 

The goal was to lope your horse in a couple of big, fast circles, and then slow your horse down and lope several smaller, slower circles that fit inside your bigger circle.

The trick for the circles was that you had to touch the same beginning point on the circle each time, whether it was big or small – in other words, if you were going to do a figure eight (which we eventually did), you started at the very center, and you needed to touch the center point of the 8 every time, whether it was a big circle or small circle.

For those of you who do reined cowhorse, you’re probably wondering why I’m bothering to explain this.  It’s pretty elementary stuff.  But I know that somewhere out there there’s someone just as ignorant as me who might go to a future clinic, and now that person doesn’t have to lean over and whisper “What the heck does ‘Go do some circles’ mean?” 

Yes, yes, I know. I probably should have read up on reined cowhorse before showing up.
I should also probably eat more vegetables, and put away all my laundry, and drive under the speed limit.

Anyways, after a little glancing around to see who was going to go first, Summersmom  volunteered and headed out to the middle of the arena…..

And that’s where I’m going to break in and say that it kind of sucks for you guys.

 One of the best parts of the clinic was how much I learned when I wasn’t actually riding… and I’m not really going to share a lot of that with you.

The problem is, I learned most of the cool stuff by watching other riders – seeing what they did right, and what they did wrong, and how they used (or misunderstood) the directions they were given.  In other words, I learned a lot by watching other people learn…. And with a few exceptions, I’m not going to write about most of those lessons.

The problem I’ve run into is that I don’t feel comfortable critiquing other people’s riding, and some of the strongest lessons came from seeing someone do something, and thinking, “Well, if they just did ‘X’ like he told them to, it would work so much better,” etc, etc.

Unfortunately, that’s the kind of lesson that is awesome to learn but really hard to write about without making it seem like I think I’m a better rider than them.
And, after all, there was only one person who fell off at the clinic (Cough. ME. Cough), so I’m not exactly in a position to be snobby about riding.
Anyways,  like I said, it kind of sucks for you guys, because I did learn SO MUCH from watching other people, and except for a couple of instances, I can’t really put it down into words.

That said, here is one lesson that I saw that did kind of stick – I’ll call it the “Ten/One Rule”:

Gtyyup was far and away a much better rider than me.  She knew what she was doing, and you could just see the partnership between her and big bay gelding,Colt – long hours spent with each other, and a solid understanding of where they were, and where she wanted to be with him. 

Anyways, at some point while loping circles, she was asking Tim for advice on how to fix something that I couldn’t even see. Seriously – that’s how far advanced she was vs where I was – she was there, trying to fix something technical… and I didn’t even have any idea what she was really trying to do. 

“Tim, when I ask him to blow bubbles (or whatever it was), he braces, I correct him, he does it for a bit, and then he quits as soon as I release.”

“That’s because you’re not really correcting him. You’re nitpicking, and then never really releasing.  Here’s what I want you to do – think of correction in terms of 1 to 10.  When you correct him, I want you to correct him at an 8.  Really get after him –  and then as soon as he responds, release him down to a 1.  Right now you’re just doing more of a 4/3, 4/3 – you’re never really getting after him, but you’re also not really releasing him.”

And so off the two of them went again, Colt loping smoothly under a morning sun that was gradually getting uncomfortably hot.  As Gtyyup rode, she corrected him – harder than she was before, but, honestly, it wasn’t anywhere near an 8.

Twisting in the saddle, Tim looked over at us.  “So, what do you guys think?  Where do you think she is on the scale, correcting vs releasing?”

None of us really wanted to venture a direct opinion, but after a few moments and a little murmuring, we finally came to a conclusion – instead of the 4/3 she had before, now she was more like a 5/2.

Tim nodded, and we all went back to watching the pair lope their smooth circles in the arena.

When she came back, Gtyyup was all smiles.  “Boy, that made a huge difference – thank you!”

Tim nodded, and then looked over at Summersmom.  “So, what did you see with her out there?”

“Well, you weren’t really getting after him.  You didn’t really step it up like he said.”

“Really?”  Gtyyup looked shocked.  “I felt like I was really getting after him, and then throwing him away.”  She looked at all of us, but all of us were kind of shaking our head.  

So out she went again – and this time, when she corrected Colt, she corrected him at an 8.  His head flew up and his eyes bugged slightly, but the second he did what she asked, she laid the reins completely down on his neck, and gave him miles of slack in the reins.  Before she’d even finished her second circle, even I could see the difference.

And that was the beauty of the clinic – learning from other people’s mistakes, and then making your own.

Speaking of my mistakes…. In my nervousness at Caspian’s nervousness, I had decided to leave the spurs behind at the trailer.  During his skittery warm up it had seemed like a good idea, but after more than an hour of dozing in the hot summer sun, both of us were feeling really lazy. 

Of course, even though I’d relaxed as I watched every other person ride, the second it was my turn I felt my stomach go all cold and nauseous again.  I’m sure there are some people out there who enjoy people watching them ride, but not me. There’s something about riding with eyes on me that makes me freeze up.

Still – I hadn’t come all this way just to sit on him in an arena, right?  I stepped him out of the line up, walked out to the center point, gathered my reins just in case, and cued him to a lope.

Caspian stepped out in a big, smooth gait (at some point I’m going to have to figure out what he does – is it a running walk?  A foxtrot?  A pace?  Eh.) Whatever it was, it wasn’t a lope.

I cued him harder – pressing my heel into his side, and gave a long, loud kiss.

He gaited faster.

I kicked a little harder.

He ignored me.

I twisted my toe out so I could really dig my heel into his side, and kicked him. Hard.

He ratcheted his head up into the air, and broke into a hard, jouncing trot. 

For the record, it’s taken me quite a while to be comfortable with Caspian’s trot.  It’s big.  It’s jouncing.  It pounds the ground pretty hard – or it used to, back when he thought he was being bad every time he broke into the trot.  Part of the problem is that it’s pretty obvious nobody ever wanted him to trot under saddle.  I mean, not that I blame them – his gait is incredibly smooth, and covers a lot of ground… but still.  When he breaks into a trot he has a tendency to throw his head up in the air and hollow out his back, anticipating correction… and that just makes his big trot that much more uncomfortable.

Anyways, I’ve figured out how to sit his trot now, but on that particular morning, with  only three or four rides on him under my belt, and with me sitting all stiff and awkward in the saddle under the weight of all those stares ….

I tried to sit my way through that trot so I could push him past into a lope, but I felt like I was going to fall off at any second.

So I stopped him, collected myself, and tried again.

 I made it again to that hard, jackhammer extended trot, right to the point of feeling like I was about to fall off/be bounced out of the saddle, and I quit. I couldn’t even post to it, because every third or fourth stride he would break into a pace before going back into the trot, so I was forced to “sit” and bounce on his back while I tried to convince him to lope – flopping about all over the place like a five year old on her first lead line lesson.

It took almost three tries around my half of the arena before I was able to finally cue him into a smooth lope – and by that point, every single spare drop of blood my body didn’t need to keep things running was pounding in my face – it was the blush to end all blushes.

Hi, my name’s Becky, and I just trailered a thousand miles to learn how to make a horse lope.   You guys go ahead with your fancy rollbacks and sliding stops and cutting cattle – I’m going to learn how to ride a horsie.

Caspian’s best gait is by far his lope (canter?  Eh, whichever.)  I’m pretty sure he invented the term “rocking horse” canter.  I’d only ridden it once before, the first time I met him after my parents bought him, so when he finally transitioned from that teeth-rattling trot into that smooth, controlled motion, it felt like I was flying…. Unfortunately, it still felt like I was about to fall off.   His canter was so big, and so up and down that I felt like I was slipping and sliding all over the place. 

When I mentioned it to Mugwump later on in the day she said I looked fine, but I sure didn’t feel like it.  I really was just one small lean away from completely falling off, and it was completely disheartening.  Had I completely lost my ability to ride a horse?  Was I too fat?  What the heck was going on, that I couldn’t even sit on a horse without almost falling off?  

I later discovered that the cause of it was the saddle – I had my suspicions, but when Kathy (Mugwump’s friend) let me borrow her saddle, I instantly discovered I had my seat back. While the saddle fits Caspian and doesn’t hurt me, it’s so- I dunno, flat?  The way it sits on his back places me high up that it feels like it’s impossible to sink down and find my balance when he moves. 

In order to keep from tilting off I was unconsciously clamping down on him as he loped.  Like a good boy he would go a bit faster, at which point I would ask him to slow a bit- and he would immediately drop back down into a jouncing trot.

I’d kick him into the lope, he’d comply, I’d start squeezing to avoid falling off, he’d go faster, I’d check him….And that’s the way we went around the arena – a few strides of loping, then trotting, then loping.  

At some point Caspian realized that I was only somewhat in control, and he started to have fun.  Whereas when we entered the arena even the slightest touch of my calf muscle would send him flying forward, now he was completely ignoring me, even when I was pounding my heels into his side shockingly hard.  
I’m pretty sure I’ve invented the  next big exercise craze:  Kick the Stubborn Horse.  Let me assure you that it is a complete workout.  Long before we got to the “slow circles” my leg muscles were screaming for a rest and I was dripping salty sweat into my eyes.  Eventually I called it – halted him in the middle and said, while gasping for breath, “I’m sorry.  I really need to just take a break – I’m beat.”  It was completely embarrassing, but at least I had a new emotion to worry about instead of the constant nervousness that had plagued me for the last few hours.

Tim nodded.  “Sure thing.  Do you guys wanna break for lunch?” 

Lunch was amazing – it was deceptively simple, but still one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.  Tim’s wife, Dawn, made sandwich wraps – basically, it’s just a sandwich, but instead of bread she used flour tortillas, and instead of mayonnaise, she used ranch dressing.

It actually sounds kind of gross when I describe it like that, but believe me, it was incredible.

The lunch atmosphere was a lot more relaxed than the breakfast atmosphere was – a lot more joking, and laughter, as we began to get a feel for one another.  Before long we were headed to grab our horses, and that’s when my body finally decided to relax.

I’d like to say I knew I was relaxing because I felt my shoulders muscles loosen, or something like that.

Nope. 

I knew I was relaxing because I began to burp. Apparently my stomach decided that since I wasn’t going to die, it should actually begin digesting all that food that was just sitting there, and the best way to do that was to make me burp.  A lot.

How sexy is that?  No wonder nobody’s based a spy novel on me.   How does James Bond relax?  With a martini – shaken, not stirred.

How does Becky Bean relax?  With great big belches that would do any 12 year old boy proud.

It was really hard trying to muffle them, too.  I mean, it was almost a shame.  These were epic belches, and I kept having to hide them behind a hand, or an elbow, lest I become known as “That Burpy Blogger” in everyone’s write ups.  I

Still, gross as it was, with every burp I felt better.  I’d gotten the worst out of the way.  I’d survived the drive up, my battle with nerves, the fear of failure, and the first ride.  It was Friday afternoon, and I was finally ready to get down to the business of learning.

Singing

I love singing.

I mean, don’t get me wrong – I’m not great at it.  I’m just kind of okay.  I can mostly stay on key, I don’t normally sound like nails on a chalkboard, and if you hold a single note for 5 or 6 seconds straight, I can even find harmony. Sort of.

For the record, in my next life I’m going to have a voice like Julie London, or maybe Ella Fitzgerald, or Etta James – all smoky and sultry, and come-hithery.

In fact, since the majority of you will never actually hear me sing.. can you just imagine I sound like them? Please?  And in this imaginary daydream, can I be wearing some kind of evening gown, and I’m all draping myself over the back of my couch, crooning some jazzy thing, and I’m holding a drink in my hand, and it’s not sloshing over the side, because that’s just how cool I am?

Thanks.

Anyways, back to singing.  I love to sing, and one of the things I was most looking forward to was singing to my boys as they got older.

I could just see it – I’d sing them soft little lullabies, and eventually they’d get old enough to sing along with me, and we’d just totally bond….

I just remembered right now I’ve already written a blog post about what happens when I try to sing with my kids.

That video?  It’s still like that.  I’ll start bursting out into song – REAL song, not loud, goofy Rickrolling –  and my beloved offspring will do everything they can to make me stop.  “Mama?  No singing.  Please.  STOP.  STOP.  NO SINGING.  NO, I NOT WANT TO SING WITH YOU.  NO, I DON’T WANT YOU TO SING.  NO SINGING, PLEASE.”

I’d be insulted, but they think Carly Rae Jepsen is better than Etta James, so I don’t really trust their musical taste.

Anyways, this brings me back to this afternoon.  The boys went down for a nap, and The Bean was studying for the last section of his CPA exam (woot!  You’re gonna do great, babe!), so I snuck down to the barn for a little quiet time with Caspian.

The truth is, I don’t get much quiet time with Caspian.  I know this is going to come as a shock, but it’s actually not very relaxing, trying to clean and care for a horse while chasing after two hyperactive little boys.  It’s better than the alternative of not owning a horse, but still.  Trips to the barn aren’t quite as soothing to my soul as they used to be.

To throw another log on the fire, up until a couple of weeks ago, I was really having problems bonding with Caspian.  Oh, that doesn’t mean I don’t really enjoy my time with him, and he’s an awesome horse – but he’s no goofy, puppy-dog gelding.

(Spoiler:  Last month we had an unbelievably awesome breakthrough that I’m planning on blogging about later.)

He’s an awesome horse, gorgeous to look at, wonderful to ride, sound, steady, sane… but for the most part, while he’ll stand for you to hold him, or love on him, or even hug his head, his heart really isn’t in it.

Except….

After our ride today I had him in the cross ties in the barn aisle way so I could untack him and brush him down.  He’s starting to shed, and it’s actually been kind of amusing watching him try to remain stoic and “manly” when I scratch his itchy spots (another spoiler:  He totally can’t.  I win every time.)

I’d finished everything and was getting ready to put his lead rope back on to lead him to the stall, when I felt him lean in towards me.

The thing is, with Caspian, his friendship offerings are very quiet.  If you aren’t desperate for them, like I have been, you’d probably miss it – but the barn was quiet, and I was moving slow and quiet, and I felt it.

He’s so good – so very good, with the boys, with their craziness, with my fumblings, with everything – that I’ve been trying to respect his desire to not be pawed on.  I mean, I want to hang all over my horse, and scratch under his chin, and play with his lips, and kiss him on the soft part of his nose….. but he would prefer that I don’t.  He’ll let me – but that’s just it.  He’ll let me, because he’s nice, not because he likes it.  And since he gives me everything I ask for, and more… it seems like the least I can do is not force my neediness on him.

The thing is, ever since I made that decision and quit trying to force him to be something he’s not, he’s been relaxing more and more.  And this afternoon, as he leaned towards me that infinitesimal amount, it felt like such a gift.

I stood there beside him, leaning my forehead on his strong neck, right behind his head.  With Jubilee, I used to lean in the hollow of his withers, but with Caspian, it’s the dip where his neck meets his head.  And I leaned there, ignoring the way his shedding hairs were starting to stick to my chapstick, and I felt him enjoy me being there.

We both just stood there, motionless for awhile, while I reached under his jaw with my free hand so I could cup the other side of his face and scratch his cheek.  And then, I’m not really sure why, I started to sing.

I was singing very, very softly, mostly because for all that I felt alone, I knew that someone could come into the barn aisle at any moment, and it felt like such a personal moment that I didn’t want to share it – I wanted to be able to hide it if they did see, and just pretend I was grooming him, or something.

But the thing is – when I started to sing… Caspian leaned into me heavier.  His head dropped, and his neck curled slightly around me… and as I stood there, with the rain pouring hard on the tin roof of the barn, and my finger curling through the bristly hair of his cheek, I felt my horse listening to my song.

His head dropped even further, and his breathing became very soft, and I watched, amazed, as his eyelid fluttered lower and lower, until finally, it closed.

And that, my dear blog friends, is why I’m selling my children so I can spend more time with my horse.  Because he lets me sing him to sleep.

And, also, because he’s better looking than they are. Hopefully by the time they get old enough to search the internet, this post where I admit that will be so far buried that they’ll never find it.

Conversations with Caspian

“Hey, handsome.  How are you, you sexy beast, you?”

I’m hungry.  Do you have food?

“Dude.  You’re not hungry.  You eat around seven flakes of hay a day.”

I am.  I’m starving to death.  Do you have food?

“No.  I don’t have any food.  I missed you.”

No food?  You’re boring.  

“Well, that’s not very nice.  Can I give you a hug?”

I have zero interest in boring people.  I’d much rather stare alertly into the distance and pretend you don’t exist.

“Hey, wanna go for a ride?”

Food?  Can I eat on this ride?

“No.  No food.  Just a ride.”

….. fine.  It sounds somewhat interesting.  I’ll give it a try.

“Thanks for the vote of confidence.  Hey, you’re all dirty.  Let me brush you.  Does that feel good?”

Silence.

“How about over here.  Does this feel good?”

Silence.

“I can see your lip trying to twitch – it’s okay.  You can tell me if it feels good.”

Okay.  It feels a little good.

“How about this? Do you like it when I scratch right here?

Really?  Do you really want feedback?  I think I should just stand here, and not move.  The First Person who trained me said to never move.

“You know darn well I’m serious. We’ve been through this a million times.  Please let me know if you like this.”

IN THAT CASE, YES.  YES. SCRATCH RIGHT THERE.  KEEP SCRATCHING…. you stopped?  Why?

“Because it’s time to tack up.”

Oh, is it that time?  Here.  Let me suck in more air than any horse you’ve ever known in the past. First Person always cinched too hard…. let’s see you try cinching that up, lady.

“Dude, really Caspian?  I need to get this past the fifth hole – it won’t even reach the first.  How is that even possible?”

That’s as tight as it goes.  Any tighter and I’ll die.  Do you have food?

“It’s not time to eat right now.  Let out your air – I promise I won’t overtighten it.”

Who is that?  That horse has food.  Maybe he’ll share.

“What that horse is doing is none of your business.  Stay where you are.” 

Can I say hi?

“No.  Focus.”

I think I’ll go say hi.

“NO.  GET BEHIND ME. NO SAYING ‘HI’.”

I’M GONNA DIE!  I’M GONNA DIE!  I’M GONNA… Wow.  You just shouted at me with your body.  I think I love you.  You’re the most amazing person I’ve ever met.  Hold me.  Shout at me some more.  Can you do that for me?  You’re so incredibly interesting, did you know that? 

“Well, I’m sorry I had to yell.  I’d rather not have to do that again.  Here, let me scratch you for a bit while I wait for you to get distracted so I can cinch you up.”

Nope.  Not interested in being scratched.  Shout at me again.

“I’m not shouting at you, Caspian.  You can focus your attention on me when we’re just hanging out – you know that, right?  We don’t have to go through this whole “let me work you hard and remind you I’m in charge before you love me” EVERY time, do we?

Hit me.  Just a little bit.  Please?

“I’m not hitting you.”

You’re boring.

“Quit being rude, and just relax and have a good time.  Can you do that?”  

I’m not particularly interested in you if you’re not going to use me.

“FINE.  I’ll ride you.  Are you happy now?”

Yes.

“You’re weird, but I love you anyways. Hang on, I’m getting up…. HA!  Fooled you. At least the girth’s on the third hole now.”

Can you yell at me again?  It makes me feel safe.  You’re amazing.

“Caspian, can’t you like me when I’m being sweet to you? Also, I don’t want to have to yell at you – let’s work on listening to me when I ask quietly.  Sound like a plan, Stan?”

My name’s not Stan.

I’m just teasing you, handsome.  Where’s your smile?

You’re not funny.

Lighten up, Caspian.  You’re so serious all the time.  It’s okay to relax and have a little fun, you know.

I’m saddled.  Are you going to make crappy jokes all evening, or are you actually planning on getting some work done?

“Dude, you have issues.  Alright, I’m up.  Walk forward.”

To the left, is that correct?

“No.  Straight forward, please.”

Ahh, to the left.  I’ll walk to the left.

“NO.  WALK STRAIGHT.”

Mmm, yeah.  I like it when you yell at me.  Alright.  Straight it is.  Wait… who is that?

“None of your business.”

This arena is fascinating.  Mind if I check everything out?

“Caspian- you’ve been in it a million times.  Pay attention to me.  I’ll let you know if there’s anything worth looking at.”

Who is that?

“FOCUS.”

Yeaaaah, yell it, baby.  Now you’ve got my attention.

“Let’s step it up – how about your fancy running walk gait thing?” 

I don’t know how.

“Yes, you do.  See?  Go faster… yes, perfect.”

Oh.  Like that?

“Yup.”

Okay.  I’ll trot then.

“What?  No, do your gait thing.”

Huh?  I can’t hear you.
 

“Fine.  Trot.  We can work on that if you want to.  Please work a little harder – step out a bit more and collect your body a little bit.  If you want to trot, let’s do it right.”

Huh?  What’s that?  What is this ‘trot’ you speak of?  I’m a gaited horse.  I only gait.

“Caspian, I swear…..  Fine.  Gait.  I like it better anyways, you big dork.”

Who is that horse over there?  They seem nice.  Can I go say hi?

“NO.  PAY ATTENTION TO ME.”

You’re so pretty when you yell at me. I think I love you.  Ask whatever you want – I’ll follow you to the ends of the earth.

*******

Getting to know a horse who spent 7 out of his 8 years of life as a stallion is really interesting – I’ve never dealt with a personality like his before. 

Also, someone needs to teach this horse that it’s okay to have a sense of humor.  I don’t think he appreciates me laughing at him as much as I do.

Person, why are you just standing there, pointing your phone at me?  I’m starving.  Literally.  Quit messing around and get me food— and none of that grass hay crap, either.  I want REAL food – alfalfa, or maybe beet pulp, before I die of starvation….  Are you laughing at me?  IT’S NOT FUNNY.

Mugwump/Big K Clinic: Day 1, Breakfast


 Before I continue on with the next day, after I published the last blog post I remembered why we didn’t set up Summersmom’s air mattress – it’s because the batteries were dead on the little air pump we’d brought along to blow it up.  It wasn’t that big of a surprise – Summersmom father-in-law mentioned we would probably need new ones, and we just forgot to pick some up.


“I’m going to go check on Summer and see if she’s settling in nicely.”

“Sounds good.”  I didn’t turn around to look at Summersmom as she exited the tent, busying myself instead with rearranging my duffel bag on MY side of the tent juuuust so.

Because, obviously, if I didn’t see her, then she wasn’t actually there, and I was alone.

It works for ostriches, why not for Beckies?

As soon as she zipped the tent door shut I dropped my bag and headed over to her side of the tent.  I figured I could set up her air mattress for her while she was gone – not only would it be a nice thing to do, but it would help us get to bed faster – and I knew I needed sleep to hit the reset button on my mood.

I unrolled the air mattress, dug out the little air compressor, connected it in the darkness via the light on my cell phone I was holding under my chin, clicked the “on” switch….

And nothing happened.

I double-checked everything, and then flicked the on/off switch a couple of times.

Nothing.

I knew deep in my heart that it was the batteries that were dead, but I couldn’t bring myself to believe it.

I unplugged and plugged it back on, and clicked the “on” switch forcefully.

When that didn’t work, I unplugged it, blew on it (it worked for Nintendo cartridges, why not battery-operated air pumps?), shook it a couple of times, blew on it again, and then clicked it.

Nothing.

I sat there for a moment, fuming.  All I wanted was to go to bed.  That’s it.  I just wanted to go to bed.  Was I asking too much?  REALLY?

After a few moments, I realized that I didn’t care if the air pump was working or not.  I had decided to set up Summersmom’s air mattress before she came back, and by golly, I was going to do it.

I dropped down, sitting cross-legged beside it, and put my mouth on the hole and exhaled.

And then inhaled through my nose.

And then exhaled through mouth.

And then proceeded to repeat this process for 10 minutes straight, fighting the dawning realization that there was no way I was going to be able to blow the air mattress up by myself, unless I stayed up until dawn.

A sane person would have laughed, and quit.

At that point, I wasn’t exactly a sane person.

I was completely prepared to sit there on the floor of the tent and blow the damn thing up, even if it killed me.  Tonight, Summersmom was going to dream comfortably, resting peacefully on a mattress of Becky breath.  If that wasn’t friendship, I didn’t know what was.
I obviously wasn’t trying hard enough.  I just needed to breathe harder. 


And so I did.

For about five minutes.

I sat there and hyperventilated and wheezed into that stupid air mattress until the cheeks on my face went numb and I could see pretty little sparkly lights dancing at the edge of my vision.   But I didn’t stop.  I had to breathe anyways, right?  Breathing in is a necessary part of life.  If I had to inhale anyways, why not just breathe it out into the air mattress? It’s not like I wasn’t breathing anyways.  I mean, EVENTUALLY it would have to fill up, right? 

 I didn’t want to admit to myself that with 15 minutes of solid effort I may have succeeded in removing two wrinkles in the plastic as I filled it with a tenth of a centimeter of air. 

And that’s how Summersmom found me – red-faced and pissy and wheezing noisily into the air mattress.

“What are you…” she started her question when she was still outside the tent, stepping through the opening cautiously.   “What are you doing?”

I ignored her.  I mean, it was pretty obvious what I was doing, wasn’t it?  I was filling her bed with my used breath. 

As her eyes adjusted to the light of the tent, she burst out laughing.  “Are you trying to blow that up?  I thought you were trying to scare me – or creep me out. I could hear you huffing and puffing from halfway down the road.”

I took my mouth from the hole, fighting the dizziness.  It was one thing to be a stubborn idiot in the privacy of the tent.  It was another to do it in front of someone watching me.    “The air pump has dead batteries.”

She laughed.  “I figured as much, seeing you trying to blow it up.  I’m serious – I could hear you from far away.  I couldn’t figure out what you were trying to do… pretend to be an angry animal?  Or maybe you were trying to pretend that you were doing something inappropriate with someone…?”

Nope.  I was just having a nervous breakdown because I WANTED TO SET THE AIR MATTRESS UP, AND NOTHING WAS GOING TO GET IN MY WAY.

Nothing except reality.  I plugged the hole on the mattress, screwing the lid on tight.  After all, I didn’t want to lose any progress – if we didn’t find any batteries, I might find myself huffing on it in desperation the next day.

****

As you all know, I finally gave up and we spent a comfortable night (not touching!  YAY!) on my futon.

The next morning I woke up to this view outside of the tent window



and immediately felt a million times better.

I snuck out of the tent at a little after six in the morning, crunching down the dirt drive to go feed Caspian.

He was doing great – a little more tucked up from the long drive and not drinking enough than I would have preferred, but obviously doing great – there was plenty of pee and manure in his stall.  He’d completely drained his water, so I threw him some flakes of hay and refilled his water before searching out the coffee.

On my way to the barn I passed by Gtyup’s husband – who looked like he’d walked straight out of a Louis L’Amour novel.  “He was a tall drink of water…”  immediately flashed through my head when I saw him. I didn’t recognize him, so I just figured he must be one of the Big K’s ranch hands.   It was obvious his name was Slim, or something like that.

I gave him a half-hearted wave, averting my eyes so I didn’t have to make any polite conversation.  My mood was definitely improved, but I just wasn’t feeling it quite yet.  The funny thing is, I’ve scored “extrovert” on every test I’ve ever taken…. But, honestly, it turns out that I’m only an extrovert if I get my introvert time. 

Besides, I had an excuse – I still hadn’t had  any coffee.  I finally located it in the barn office.  There was a fresh pot just starting to brew, and as I waited for it to finish, The Big K’s wife came in with the beginnings of breakfast. 

I smiled at her and said hi as she began to set up… and then slipped out the side door her back was turned. 

I figured that instead of hovering around her while she set up, I could take a tour of the barn, which was pretty much one of the coolest barns I’ve ever been to.

First off, it was ridiculously tall.

I honestly don’t know why any barn needs a 90 foot roof (realistically I think it was only 40 feet tall?  I don’t know.  I have terrible depth perception and am an even worse judge of distances.), but it certainly looked cool.

The horse’s pens were constructed out of RAILROAD TIES.  Giant, dense, solid railroad ties.

(If you really want to know why there’s a freerange toilet in the barn, the answer is:  Because it’s a barn.  It’s been my experience that weird stuff always ends up in a barn.)


I’m pretty sure they could have safely housed an elephant in the stalls if they were a little larger.

The horses were all gorgeous –  well fed, shiny, with pricked ears.  A couple of the younger ones were a little snorty if you moved too fast, but they always came back and poked their heads out curiously.

As most people do when they’re in someone else’s barn, I immediately went “shopping” and “bought” a little black gelding in the stall at the far end of the barn.  He was a trim thing, with a big hip, a babydoll face, a pretty neck, and was just put together really nicely.   I wish I’d taken a picture of him.

After enough time had passed I went back to the office, and was relieved to see that the Big K’s wife had left.  She actually was really, really nice – but she was also very pretty, and had showered, and had nice hair… and I just wasn’t up to doing anything more than grunting at people with so little sleep under my belt, and she seemed too nice for me to just hover around and avoid eye contact.

My relief at being alone immediately drained away when I realized the coffee had shut off.… before it finished brewing.

DRAT.

It was immediately obvious a fuse had flipped with the extra breakfast things being plugged in to heat up.

I peeked around, both inside and outside, and found  Gtyyup – and I’m just going to come out and say it, that woman is ridiculously tiny.  It’s not just that she’s not-tall (see?  I can be politically correct.  I didn’t call her short!) – I’m pretty sure she wears a size -2 jeans.    I have no idea how she manages to saddle her gelding, Colt, who is a sturdy 15.3 hands, but I know that I deliberately gawked every time she mounted from the ground. 

That woman swings gracefully up from the ground…. And in order to do it she has to lift her foot to the height of her boobies to get it in the stirrup.

I’m sure she appreciates me writing that, because from now on, whenever you see her standing next to her horse, you’ll probably take a peek at the height of her stirrup, which means you’ll also be eyeballing her chesticles, and that’s kind of rude to me to point out…..

But it was like watching a Cirque de Soleil act –  technically, you know it’s impossible for the human body to do it… and yet right in front of you,  someone is doing it.  Easily.  And as you watch them, you can’t help but realize what an uncoordinated slob you are.

HOW THE HECK DID SHE DO MOUNT SO SMOOTHLY FROM THE GROUND ON HER GIGANTIC HORSE?  She just swung up so easily into the saddle, every time – the way a normal person would swing up on a 14.2 horse… BUT HER STIRRUP WAS AT THE SAME HEIGHT AS HER BOOBIES, AND HOW DO YOU EVEN COMFORTABLY AND NONCHALANTLY LIFT A LEG THAT HIGH UNLESS YOU’RE A CHEERLEADER IN A SKIRT, LET  ALONE IN A PAIR OF JEANS, LET ALONE STAND UP IN THE STIRRUP AND SWING OVER, AND I AM STILL CONFUSED AS TO HOW SHE MANAGED.

Anyways.  Ahem.  Moving on.

Gtyyup and I went on a hunt to find the fuse box, and then I proceeded to use all of my extensive electrical knowledge and training to fix the problem.

Which, basically, meant I just started flicking switches back and forth and hoping for the best.  If we hadn’t found the switch pretty early on, I might have had to resort to blowing on the fuse box.  Or crying.  Honestly, I really wanted a cup of coffee at that point.

Thankfully, we did fix things… and the coffee started brewing… and eventually the pot filled up enough for me to pour a nice, steaming, black cup of Joe….

And then I immediately dump a bunch of heavy cream and International Delight’s creamer, and all sorts of sissy city stuff into it, because that’s how the kind of hardcore person I am.

At that point people started showing up for breakfast, so I smiled widely, went out to greet them warmly, introducing myself with ease and engaging in flawless small talk for hours.

You guys realize I’m lying, right?  When people started showing up,  after I said hello, told a couple of people my name…. and then I snuck out the back door of the office, moved a metal panel enough to create an opening, and  snuck up to the barn and finished my cup of coffee while I hid behind my horse.

For the record, a 16.1 (16.2?) hand horse makes a wonderful barrier to hide behind.

I could only hide and drink my coffee for so long before I grew bored…. so I eventually braided his tail.  Sure, it was a reined cowhorse clinic, but that’s no reason for Caspian not to look pretty, right? 

I swear that this whole clinic write-up isn’t going to be about how I hid from people.  I started warming up about noon on that first day.  We’ll just chalk it up to tiredness and nerves, shall we?

Speaking of nerves….

Breakfast was delicious (Spicy Jimmy Dean sausage egg burritos – even tastier than they sound – and fresh fruit)… but breakfast was over all too soon, and before I was ready it was time to saddle up.

And doesn’t that sound just sad?  I had waited seven years to own a horse and had just travelled nearly a thousand miles to ride… and at that point I would have given anything to have a decent excuse not to swing up. 

Caspian led easily as I took him up to the trailer – trailing behind me on a loose lead, ears pricked, looking around with interest….. and I trudged in front of him like I was on a death march.

Look, I don’t show.  Never have, and I probably never will.  I’m not used to riding in front of anyone, let alone in front of a bunch of strangers as I get “picked on” by a trainer. 

To make matters worse, I barely knew my horse.  Oh, sure I’d ridden him a few times back in February when I visited my parents, but that was different.  That was in an arena right by his stall, where he was in his bored comfort zone, and I was not pushing him hard at all.

Now, with everything – the people, the new location, the new horse… just… with everything, I developed a serious case of stage fright.

And the more nervous I became, the more I realized that Caspian needed me to be calm, or he would start picking up on my nerves and acting up.. which, of course, made me even more nervous.

By the time I had him saddled  and had led him back up to the barn, breakfast had stopped digesting and was sitting in a cold, greasy lump  in my stomach.  I swear I could feel every corner of not-chewed-well-enough tortilla, and that spicy sausage felt like it was fermenting.

Awesome.  I was probably going to puke.  And everyone on this blog knows from all my pregnancy complaining that I am not a quiet puker. 

And Caspian would probably be so scared by the roars of my vomiting that he would spook.

And then I’d end up flying around The Big K’s arena, vomit flag fluttering behind me in the wind, until we crashed into a mountain and died.

And what a ridiculous obituary that would be:  “Becky Bean, 32, waited 7 years to own a horse again and then only a week after she got it she died from puking on a it because she’s kind of stupid that way. In lieu of flowers send sympathy cards to her embarrassed family.”

I finally quit procrastinating and dragged Caspian over to a rock to mount up – as tall as he is, while I can physically ground mount, I sure ain’t no Gtyyup. I  hate the way I haul on his back when I crawl up from the ground, so it’s mounting blocks for me.  Maybe that will change as I get my riding muscles back, but for right now it is what it is. 

(Cow trough to the left, rock in the center, Mugwump’s trailer to the right.  ENORMOUS arena waaaay in the back – it’s the sandy area in front of the trees.  It’s further (and bigger) than it looks.



While Caspian normally stands rock solid, patiently, as soon as my butt hit the saddle he walked off, head high and more than a little tense.

It’s really not surprising, considering how calm (ha, ha) I was.  I could hardly blame him, although I did make him stop until I could find my other stirrup.

We were definitely the last people in the arena – and by arena, I mean dragged-dirt-area-so-ginormous-it-could-be-paved-over-and-used-as-an-airplane-landing-strip. 

(View from the center of the arena – note you can’t really see the cow trough or rock from over here… or the sides of it.  This is only the middle third or fourth of the actual arena.)



The Big K says he likes a HUGE arena, because then when he shows, all the other arenas feel small, and it gives him an edge of confidence.

Well, his arena was almost ridiculously big.

It was also really busy. 

The Big K, Mugwump, Gtyyup, Gtyyup’s husband, Summer, and Michelle were all milling about on their horses, warming up.  I know that may not be a lot of horses for some of you, but for the uninitiated it was a lot of movement to walk into.

Caspian stopped at the entrance – which was fine by me, because the two of us needed to take a moment and just stare at it, bug-eyed.

I realized, at that moment, that I’ve never actually ridden in a really busy arena before… and from the way my horse felt underneath me, neither had he.

It was controlled chaos – it reminded me of the 405 freeway in downtown LA  – the trick was to keep moving, and not slam on the breaks when you changed lanes, and you could hopefully avoid running into anyone.

Hopefully.

When I urged Caspian forward, I could almost feel him rolling his eyes at me.  “ARE YOU NUTS, woman?” he seemed to say.  “It’s chaos out there!”

I’ve honestly never been so glad to own a gaited horse, because I was so worked up inside that I couldn’t get my body to relax – and Caspian’s trot is kind of huge and heavy and I still haven’t figured out how to post the darn thing, probably because he only does it for a couple of steps before gaiting again.  If it weren’t for how smooth he was, I would have been popcorn popping as I slapped up and down in my saddle. 

As tight and tense as he felt, I kept my legs completely off of his sides, trying to let him just move out without asking him for much.  He felt like a piece of well-behaved, short-fused piece dynamite underneath me.   As nervous as we were about everything (and, honestly, he probably would have been a million times better if I wasn’t all worked up, so don’t feel like I’m blaming him), I didn’t feel like I should ask him to collect.

I did briefly touch the reins and ask him to lower his head… which he did for a few seconds – and then he immediately started grinding his teeth in the most nerve-wracking, obnoxiously loud way possible.

As soon as I quit asking him to do anything but steer around the other horses he stopped grinding his teeth– and, seriously, with all the stress  I’d thrown at him in the past week, I figured I could do at least that for him.

While everyone else moved in a lazy dance pattern around the arena – performing slow lope circles and practicing stops, Caspian and I tootled about in our endurance saddle and braided tail with absolutely no pattern to our movements whatsoever.  We probably looked like a drunk audience member who jumps onstage during a performance of the Nutcracker.  Basically, instead of actually warming up,  I was riding around towards wherever I could see a nice, big hole between horses, trying to give the two of us a chance to calm down.

At one point I had to ask Caspian to slow to avoid crashing (okay, maybe I wouldn’t have crashed, but I’m serious when I say it was a completely new experience for me.  In the past, when I rode, if an arena had more than 1 or 2 other people working on the rail or on the other end of it, then I just waited or went on a trail ride).  He was still stiff necked and feeling explosive…. And when I asked him to stop, he ignored me.

Well.  That wasn’t good.

I direct reined him to the left, asking him to circle around the horse and rider instead….

And he politely gave to the bit, turning his head sweetly to the side… and charged straight on forward as if nothing had changed.

Well.  Now.  That wasn’t good AT ALL.

Thankfully he wasn’t really being that horrible  – his sides were still sensitive and I was able to correct him by booting him over in a very no-nonsense way…. But I have to admit, I now get what Mugwump was saying when she said she doesn’t like to flex her horses too much, because she wants them to follow where their nose goes.  I don’t see a lot of standing still and flexing/giving to the bit exercises in Caspian and my future.

As the minutes passed he never completely relaxed, but eventually I felt like he was listening to me again, and not stressed to the point of exploding.  I  tested out his sides – trying to see just how little pressure it would take to ask him to do a large figure eight…

and then looked around and noticed that almost everyone had finished warming up and they were now lined up on one side of the arena, watching me.  Since I was late to the game I had only had a few minutes of warm up – all of that done at a walk or his gait, and none of it at a canter (lope?  Canter?  Seriously, what do you call it if you don’t ride any particular discipline?).  I briefly considered doing just asking for it, because I figured we were going to be asked to do it at some point, and I’d only ever cantered on him once, way back in February. 

Obviously, I should try warming up and practicing it before we were in the teaching portion of our lesson.  I was here to learn about how to work with my horse better, not do beginner’s balance lessons about how to sit a canter.

The only thing was… everyone was done, and watching me ride since there was nothing else to look at… and with the weight of all those stares I chickened out, pulled him down to walk, and lined up beside everyone else.

Because, after all, that’s how I roll.  I drink weak coffee with so much creamer I might as well just chug the creamer straight out of the bottle, and I chicken out when people watch me.

I didn’t have very much time to think about it, because about that time, the Big K started to speak.

Mugwump/Big K Clinic: The Drive

“Are you packed yet?”

Someone asked me that about four days before I was due to leave for the clinic.

Ha.

Ha, ha, ha.

Wednesday the 24th was my birthday.   It was also the day I was due to start the roadtrip. 

I honestly couldn’t think of a better way to spend my 32nd birthday than heading out to Montana with my horse.

COUGH.  HEADING TO MONTANA TO SPEND TIME WITH MY HORSE.  COUGH.

Y’all are going to get real sick of me repeating “my horse” and “I went to Montana” reaaaaal quick.  I’m like that barely pregnant chick who walks around with her hand on her still-flat belly, simpering about “the baby”… or the newly-dating couple who constantly drops “my BOYFRIEND/my GIRLFRIEND” hints  every other sentence.

Feel free to hate me a little – it doesn’t mean I’m going to stop.  I’m just saying that you can hate me if you want to

Anyways,  instead of blowing out candles on a cake, I spent my birthday running around, sweating, and trying to shove various articles of clothing and tack into whatever bag I could find.

Actually, that’s not quite right.

I spent the morning running errands, doing laundry, and hanging out with my family…..

 and then about two to three hours before Summersmom (we carpooled to the clinic) was due to arrive I started frantically shoving stuff into suitcases and bags, dashing to the grocery store for food, speeding to the barn to get hay, etc, etc, etc. 

One day. 

One day I will pack things ahead of time, and spend the day of a trip lounging and relaxing  as I wait for my departure time to come around.

Of course, one day I’m also going to have tan, toned thighs… so if I’m imagining the “I packed ahead of time” scenario, I might as well imagine me in a cute little pair of short shorts, getting appreciative whistles from everyone who drives by.

Also, my hair isn’t dry and I don’t have any frizzy split ends.

I mean, if you’re going to imagine something, make it good, right?

Moving on.

By the time I was ready to head to the stables to meet Summersmom and load Caspian into the borrowed trailer I was a frazzled mess.  I had my stuff packed – at least, I thought I did.  I wasn’t  really sure what I had in my bags.  It might have been helpful if I could have referenced the cute little packing list I’d made a couple of days ago… but who the heck knew where that was?

I will say that it could have been a lot worse – my mom and stepdad drove up to help me take care of the boys, so I was actually able to get stuff done without having to keep the boys alive at the same time. 

Let me take a moment and say three big cheers for them – it made the clinic go SO MUCH SMOOTHER knowing my boys were in great hands.

And while we’re at it – three cheers for The Bean, who not only agreed to this crazy venture, but funded it through lots of overtime.

I mean, think about it.  How many husbands would agree to the following?

“Hey babe, I want to go blow almost a thousand bucks hauling a horse we can barely afford to a clinic up in Montana.  Huh?  How will we afford it?  I’m not quite sure.  I’m sure we’ll figure something out. 

What is the clinic?  It’s a reined  cowhorse clinic.  What’s that? It’s a horse sport.  No, I’ve never talked about it before because I don’t ride reined cowhorse, why do you ask?  What do you mean ‘Why go to this clinic’?  Are you high?  IT’S THE MUGWUMP CLINIC!

Huh?  Who is Mugwump?  Well, it’s some chick I know through the Internet – she wrote some blog stories about some dude, so I figure I should go travel almost two thousand miles round trip so they can tell me how to ride better.

How am I getting Caspian and I there?  Oh, I’ll be sharing a trailer with some other chick who has a blog –  her name’s Summersmom. She seems nice – I mean, from what I’ve read, at least.  We’re Facebook friends, so that means we’re, like, practically sisters… at least in the Internet world.

Who is hauling the horses?  Well, that chick I am hauling with once met some dude from the Internet, and he said he’d be interested in going if we paid for the diesel. so we’re going to go get in his truck and head off to Montana.  I’m sure he’s nice, too.  What’s that?  You want to know if it’s a safe vehicle?  Of course it is.  It takes diesel.  That means it’s big.  All big trucks are safe.  Really, after so many years in the car industry, I shouldn’t have to explain stuff like this to you. 

Where am I staying?  Well, the first night we’ll be staying at my carpool buddy’s  in-laws.  Who are they?  I dunno.  They’re her in-laws. What a silly question – how am I supposed to know who they are if I haven’t met them yet?  Where do they live?  Somewhere in Washington.  I’ll text you the address once I see it. 

Oh, you mean where’s the ultimate destination?  It’s in Montana, silly.  I told you that.  What’s that?  You want more details?  Umm… it’s on a ranch?  Does that help?  I’ll get you an address later.  I know it’s outside of Roundup…. Where’s Roundup?  I don’t know – I’m not responsible for driving.  I already told you it’s in Montana.   Geez, what’s with all the questions?”

Etc, etc.

Poor Bean.  I bet he daydreams about being married to a nice, sedate, organized little housewife who gets all hot and bothered when she gets to balance the checkbook and arrange the canned goods in alphabetical order.

Anyways, back to the story:  I pulled up to my barn about five minutes after Summersmom and Owen (the guy with the truck) arrived.  It would have felt weird, saying hello….  Except I was feeling too guilty about running behind.

I caught a glimpse of them as I scurried past – and was vaguely disappointed to notice that Summersmom was wearing a cute little outfit and was really quite pretty.  If I’d known we were allowed to be pretty I might have taken a little more time – but we were on a horse road trip.  I thought it was against the rules to wear makeup. 

Anyways, after saying hi to Summersmom, her cute little paint mare,  and her ridiculously intelligent little boy (the kid JUST turned four and reads better than most fourth graders), I met Owen… and Owen’s dog, Gracie.  Summersom had warned me that Owen would be bringing his dog on the trip.  Considering he had a giant diesel truck and a brother who lived in Montana, I expected to see a shaggy ranch dog – some kind of heeler or border collie mix.

Imagine my surprise when this came trotting up to me:

Gracie was the most disgusting, adorable little dog in the world, and she made the drive a lot of fun.

I’ve never met a dog who could so thoroughly disgust me… and yet still make me want to pet her.  She sneezed on EVERYTHING, farted, burped, snored, and had a strange habit of wanting to press her little bunghole against you. 

See?  GROSS.  And yet… I still wanted to hold her on my lap.

She was a seriously cute little dog – mellow, happy, and just a likeable soul.

While Gracie cavorted around our ankles, we finished introductions and I ran in to the barn grab Caspian from his pasture and lead him to the trailer.  We let him and Summer sniff noses, and I was pleasantly surprised to see only a polite, friendly interest from both horses.  Sweet – we were off to a good start.

“Is he good about loading?” Owen asked, as I led him up to the trailer.

“Well… we’ll see?  I’m assuming yes, since he came off the trailer just fine earlier this week.”

“You don’t know?”

“Nope. I don’t really know him.  I’ve only owned him a week – he seems nice, but I really don’t know what to expect from him on stuff.”

I’m sure that look on Owen’s face meant he was happy for me and my new horse… it looked suspiciously like the “Oh, crap” expression I’m so used to on The Bean’s face, but I’m sure I was just reading it wrong.

It turns out that Caspian loads trailers like a dream – he stepped right up ,with zero hesitation…. And then stepped right back out when I directed him, because even though it was a slant load it was physically impossible for him to fit in one slot – Summersmom and I had taken into account height when figuring out which trailer to use, but I honestly hadn’t considered how LONG he is. Whoops.

Thankfully it was a four horse trailer, so we had plenty of room to pull out a divider and give him two stalls while still having enough room for hay and tack.

Owning a BIG horse really is a new experience for me.

A couple of bits of tack and a little rearranging later, and we were on our way…..

Right into downtown Portland traffic.  Drat.

It took less than ten minutes in traffic before I turned to Owen and asked him what he did for a living…. And had my suspicions confirmed that he hauls (He used to be a truck driver and now started his own business.)  It was obvious from the way he handled the trailer that he had a LOT of experience hauling things – the trailer never jostled once, even when people cut us off.  If you’re ever looking for someone to move your horses for you, I heartily recommend him. 

I quickly sent out a text to The Bean: “The guy who is driving is a professional truck driver – like, semi trucks and all that – so yaay!  You don’t have to worry about us anymore.”

See?  The Bean’s a worrywart.  I obviously had everything under control.

The first night’s drive up to Summersmom’s in laws  (the Tri-Cities area of Washington) was uneventful… and tons of fun.  To be honest, half the fun of the clinic was the drive.  The three of us hit it off and had a LOT of laughs on the way up, and even when the conversation slowed or stopped, it was a companionable silence.  It’s been awhile since I’ve been on a fun road trip like that. 

We arrived in the Tri-Cities area a little later than we had hoped (closer to midnight), and after we unloaded the horses and got them set up, we didn’t get to bed until closer to one in the morning.

Despite the comfortable air mattress they had set up for me, I had a little trouble falling asleep. When Summersmom woke me up at a little before 5:30 in the morning, I was pretty groggy.  I stumbled off to the shower, hoping it would wake me up….. but it didn’t.  I finally gave up, and shut off the water.  I pulled back the shower curtain to grope sleepily for the towel.  I couldn’t seem to reach it, so I leaned over further….

And promptly fell out of the bathtub onto the floor.

I want all of you to know that when I fell, I floated gracefully to the ground, like a dainty fairy elf.

I did NOT sprawl out of the tub and slam onto the floor with a giant grunt and flop around like a beached seal trying to get to my feet.

Also, since we’re talking about stuff that didn’t happen, Summersmom definitely didn’t start making fun of me the second I got out of the bathroom.  She also didn’t share what happened with her in laws.  And Owen.  And Mugwump.  And The Big K.  And, basically, everyone who was at the clinic.

We left her son at her in laws  and got on the road at a decent hour – which was good, because it was a loooong day.  We stopped every three hours with the horses, giving them a break, and offering them food and water.  Neither pony was interested in drinking water until late in the evening, which was a little concerning….. but we soaked beet pulp and rice bran in a LOT of water (basically turning it into runny gruel) and got liquid into them that way. 

The drive was long – not gonna lie, but WOW, it was beautiful.

 The Gorge in Oregon:

A beautiful photo of Wednesday night’s giant full moon cresting the hill – isn’t it magnificent?

Yeah.  I don’t know what I was expecting, taking that photo.

The drive on Thursday did get a little boring at times.

Some of us slept through the boring parts.

Others of us amused ourselves:


Aarene (from HaikuFarm) loaned me her hat when I visited back in June… and I accidentally brought it with me when I left.  Since I kept forgetting to mail it back, it went with me on a roadtrip to Montana.

As we left big cities behind and headed deeper into more rural territory, it got a little…..different:

(This billboard contrasted so much with the “Botox now!” and “Free breast enlargement consultation!” signs I was used to in SoCal that I just had to take a picture.)

A truck hauling a trailer hauling a boat.  How the heck do they back it up?

And now for a confession:  I have to admit – I’ve been kidding myself ever since I moved to Oregon that it was as beautiful as Montana. 

I’m sorry Oregon.  You know I love you, baby, but… yeah.  You’re not Montana.  You’re Montana’s easy-going sister – you kind of look the same,  and you’re more chill to hang out with, but it’s obvious you’re not the beauty in the family.

In order to fully understand, these photos are all Montana – taken with a cell phone with a blurry camera (weird – cell phones and their cameras don’t seem to like being dropped in toilets.  Whodathunk?).  I took them from the backseat of the car, through a dirty windshield.  Also, those hills in the distance are actually mountains in most of the photos – the sky of “Big Sky Country” is just so clear that the distance is misleading.

I had to stop myself at some point, because I didn’t want to take 600 photos and fill up my memory card.

With all the stops for the horses, we didn’t get to Roundup until really late.  The Big K had us call once we hit town so we could ask him for directions….. which was a little silly, since our GPS worked just fine, and the directions Mugwump wrote on her blog were clear as day. 

I was all for just using the GPS and  blog directions…. But Owen drove the ENTIRE way, so I owed it to him to sit back and relax and allow him to do what made him feel comfortable… and what made him comfortable involved following K’s directions to the “T”.

This involved quite a bit of “I don’t see that street sign… it’s closed off for detours. We’re on Fourth Street now, but I don’t the turn you’re describing isn’t there….”

I sat in the backseat, fidgeting, and doing everything I could not to howl “JUST PAY ATTENTION TO ME – I KNOW HOW TO GET US THERE.  HANG UP THE STUPID PHONE AND GO WHERE I SAY!”

I don’t know about you, but I deserve +10 life points for refraining.   I’m normally more patient than that, but by that point I just really wanted out of the truck.

Finally, FINALLY (Did I mention FINALLY?) we pulled up to the ranch.  By that point I think we were all over the excitement of the road trip, and just wanted to be out of the car and in bed…. Or maybe it was just me. 

One of the hardest part about becoming a parent, for me at least, is the lack of alone time.  I really enjoy hanging around with people… provided I get some time to myself.  I prefer at least an hour or two each day, but I’ll settle for five minutes, even if it’s just five minutes of hiding in the bathroom from the children.

The road trip was TONS of fun… but a truck is not a big area, and there’s really no chance to be by yourself when you’re trapped inside it with two other people and an adorable, farting pug.

All this to say… by the time we parked the truck and unloaded Caspian, I was in a foul mood.

I know, I know.  I should have been giddy at being at the clinic, and ecstatic to be in Montana, and thankful for my horse and family who made it all possible, and overjoyed at the blessings in my life…..

But I wasn’t.

I was in a sour, nasty, no-good, very bad mood.

I wanted to be left the hell alone. 

I wanted to be by myself, in silence, to settle in my horse, and take a few breaths.  Basically, I needed to find my center again.  I felt like my skin was raw from too much contact with other people – even if they were people I genuinely liked.

Of course, that wasn’t possible.  We had to get the horses settled, and the tent set up, and a whole host of other stuff.

Basically, this means that the first time I actually met Mugwump, all I could think was LEAVE ME THE HELL ALONE. Don’t look at me.  Don’t touch me.  Don’t even get near me.  I don’t want to say hi.  I don’t want you to have an actual face that I need to look at, or a voice I need to listen and respond to.  GO THE HELL AWAY BEFORE I HIT SOMEONE ON THE HEAD WITH A ROCK.

Nice, huh? 

I could tell I was being a complete jerk so I did my best to stuff it down and just avoid eye contact.  I’m not sure how successful I was – probably not very.

Both horses unloaded like a dream, with no drama.  Caspian did give one call when we arrived, but frankly, I love to hear him neigh.  Jubilee had a silly little whinny – he sounded like a weanling filly. Caspian has a deep, almost sexy neigh.

Yes, I said sexy.  And yes, I’m totally in love with my horse.  Nooo, not like that.  You know what I mean. 

Anyways, aside from being a teensy bit stocked up on the leg he had to brace with (his stall was doubly wide, so he couldn’t lean on the sides), he seemed fine.  The Big K had set up large pens inside an enormous indoor arena, so Summersmom and I tossed our ponies in pens next to each other and made sure they had feed and water.  Caspian walked into the pen like he’d lived there his whole life, rolled, and started eating and drinking.  He seemed to be doing great, so I left him alone to have some peace and quiet (at least one of us got some) and went with Summersmom to set up the tent.

The tent.

That idiotic, who-the-heck-designed-it tent.

I feel like I shouldn’t complain, because it was a lovely tent, and even better, it was borrowed (yaay for free things!)  As far as comfort goes, the tent was incredible.  It felt like a Harry Potter tent – it was large from the outside, and absolutely palatial inside.

But, oh lord… setting it up. 

We opened up the box it came in…. and out fell three large bits of canvas, 712 strange-looking poles, and a bunch of stakes.

Normally I can figure out tents easily – but this one was confusing.  Now, in addition to a blurry picture on the front of the box it did come with an instruction book… an instruction book that started on step 7, contained a picture of an already set-up tent, and showed how to stake the already set-up tent down. 

Gee.  Thanks.  That’s very helpful.

The problem with figuring out the tent was that while there were slots for the poles to thread through at the top of the tent… but there was nothing for them to attach to on the sides or on the bottom.  I wish I’d thought to take a picture of what it looked like. It was weird. Every tent I’ve ever set up had slots for the poles to go through that went all the way down to the bottom, and then the bottom of the poles connected to little tabs in the tent.

Not this tent.

This tent had poles that sort of attached at the top, and then just kind of balanced on the ground – completely independent of the bottom of the tent.  The way you stretched out the bottom of the tent was to physically pull it out and stake it down.

The way the poles kept it upright is that there were three upside bars (Imagine an upside, square “U”).

The center upside down “U” was vertical.

The left and right upside down “U”s balanced at a forty five degree angle, with the top leaning to the outside, and the legs leaning towards the center of the tent.  There was no set angle for them to be at – you just wiggled and adjusted them against each other until it felt like the tent was going to stay up by them “pulling” against each other.

Weird, huh?

It seemed like such an unstable design that I just couldn’t believe that was the way it was supposed to be set up.

To make it a little more stressful, the whole time we were setting up the tent I felt like The Bad Neighbors.  It was late.  Like, really late.  We had to use the lights from Owen’s truck to see things, so he couldn’t go to sleep until we did.    Also, as a diesel, his truck made enough noise to raise the dead, so I’m sure Gittyup and her husband had a fun time trying to sleep through the ruckus.

Basically, in Aarene’s book Endurance 101, she has a chapter where the Bad Idea Fairy pulls into ridecamp… we pretty much followed the entire script, only we substituted a diesel truck for a generator.

Sorry, Gittyup.

More than once, Owen hinted that we should consider just sleeping under the stars and figuring out the tent in the morning…. But Kacy was in a good mood (frickin’ night people) and said she didn’t mind trying to get it set up tonight, and I was in a pissy I’VE DECIDED I’M GOING TO SET UP A TENT AND SO THE TENT IS GETTING SET UP EVEN IF I HAVE TO DIE DOING IT mood (frickin’ morning people), so I ignored him.

Setting up that tent took over 45 minutes, and by the time we were done I’d thrown all civility out the window.  “PICK UP THAT POLE AND PUT IT OVER THERE.  MUGWUMP, GRAB THAT CORNER AND PULL.  I DON’T  CARE IF IT’S DIFFICULT WITH ONLY ONE HAND, JUST DO IT BEFORE I EAT SOMEONE. ”

Finally, FINALLY, we got the tent set up.   We dug out our sleeping stuff and tossed it in. 

I was really excited about my “bed”.  In addition to normal sleeping bag and pillows, I’d brought an old queen-sized futon I’d found in a “Free” pile at a garage sale.   Sure it was bulky, but this was my extravagant vacation – why not indulge a little, if we had the space to bring it?  I was really, really excited to stretch out by myself, all alone, on my beautiful queen sized “mattress”.  The thought had warmed me those last few hundred miles – I just had to hang on, and soon I’d be all by myself on my little futon.  Summersmom could sleep on her little air mattress waaaaaaaay on the other side of the tent, and I could be by myself in my little corner.  It was going to be wonderful.

Unfortunately…. none of us felt like trying to find, much less figure out how to inflate Summersmom’s air mattress at past midnight.

“I’ll just roll my sleeping bag out on the ground for tonight,” she said, cheerfully.  “I need the air mattress for my bad back, but I’m sure I’ll be fine for tonight.”

I glanced at the lumpy ground, with the rocks clearly visible through the bottom canvas of the tent…..  and then glanced at my spacious queen sized futon mattress.  And I seriously thought about it.  I seriously thought about ignoring her, and letting her sleep on the rocky ground, so I could be “by myself”.

Because deep down inside, when it’s late, and I’m sleepy, and grumpy…. I’m a jerk.

But at least I’m not a total jerk. 

“Fine.”  I stifled a sigh. “You can sleep on my futon with me.  Just DON’T TOUCH ME.”

“We’ll be snuggle buddies!” joked Summersmom, smiling broadly.

“No.  I’m serious.  DON’T TOUCH ME.  You stay on your side of the futon, and I’ll stay on mine, and DON’T TOUCH ME.”

And no, sadly that’s not an exaggeration.  That’s exactly what I said, and at that point in the evening (morning?) I meant it.  I’m not sure what I would have done if she had tried to touch me – probably snarled something incoherent and dragged my sleeping bags out of the tent, or something. 

For the record:  Sorry I’m such a pill sometimes, Summersmom.  I promise I’ll be nicer about sharing my futon at the next clinic.  I was just having a… a “moment”.

I realized I sounded like a pissypants, so I tried to soften it.  “It’s okay if you touch me.  I mean, that sounds weird.  That’s not what I meant.  I mean… oh, never mind.  We’ll make it work.  We’ll just have a nice nap, and worry about it in the morning.

About that point Mugwump decided to head back to her trailer to get some sleep.  “Morning comes early.  I’m glad you called it a ‘nap’, because that’s what it will be. See you tomorrow.”

With Brockle trailing at her heels she headed back down the road.  Summersmom and I zipped ourselves into our sleeping bags (with me wedging myself onto the absolute furthest corner of the futon to avoid any accidental contact)… and lulled by exhaustion and the sound of the wind in Montana grass, I passed out and slept like the dead until my alarm went off at 6 the next morning.


Caspian Strawberries Bean

“Alright, Squid, are you ready to choose?”
“Yeah.”

“Caspian.”
“Capsweean.”

“Gilead. Like from the hymn Mama likes.”
“Geeyeead.”

“Tiberius.”
“Tibeerus.”

“Okay, Squid, which name do you like?”
“I like strawbewwies.”

“Aaaaalright.  DragonMonkey, how about you? I already know my favorite, and Daddy’s favorite… which one is your favorite?”

“Capsian.”
“Caspian?”
“Yeah. Capsian.”

Three votes Caspian, one vote for strawberries.

Caspian Strawberries Bean he is.








Not-Hodor is Here

Good grief, he’s finally here.

I slept like the dead last night.  I wish I could say it was because I’d been up for two days in a happy excitement….

But, honestly, it was because I was so nervous.

When did I become a nervous, fretful person?  The 8 year old tomboy in me is so disgusted.

Wednesday morning Not-Hodor (as much as I love that name I took one look at him as he got off the truck and realized, “Wow.  He does NOT look like a Hodor.  Like, at all.  Well, that sucks.  What do I call him now?”)  was due to be picked up around one pm.

At 10:30 in the morning I received a call from the transport company.

“Hi, is this Becky Bean?”

“Yes.  What’s up?”

“Well, our drivers called CHP about the road your horse is on, and it’s just too tight for them to make it.  So we can’t go up the road and get your horse – you’re going to have to trailer him down to meet us at the mouth of the canyon.”

“Uhhh, that’s not possible.  I’m up here in Oregon.  Are you sure?  I’ve seen semi trucks on that road lots of times.” 

Inwardly I was thinking, Geez.  I booked this almost two weeks ago, and did follow up calls to make sure there were no issues. I was very specific about where he is located.  You couldn’t have looked into this yesterday?“Well, maybe you can have your parents trailer him down?  We can’t bring our rig up there after the CHP advised us not to.”

“No, sorry, we won’t be able to make it up.  Unfortunately, you’ll have to meet us down there.”

“If we hadn’t rescheduled to today, that might have been a possibility… but my mom is hundreds of miles away in Orange County, and my dad is two hours away, moving RVs.  We only have the landlord there to help him load.”

“…maybe call a friend?”

“I guess I can try?  It’s been almost ten years in that area, but maybe I can find someone?”

So began an incredibly stressful couple of hours.  They flat-out wouldn’t come up.  We flat-out couldn’t come down.  The whole time as we tried to fix things, I did alternate research….. and realized that if he didn’t make this transport, the chances of him making it here in time for me to be able to take him to the clinic were about nil. 

Eventually one of the dispatchers realized that her daughter lived near where  Not-Hodor was located – so we called up the daughter’s husband, and he was able to trailer him down to meet the transport at the mouth of the canyon. 

Only he needed cash to get it done, because he was broke and needed to buy gas.
Only there was no one on hand to give him cash.

Etc, etc, repeat ad nauseum.

It was a fun time  I’ll cut out the several hours of trying to coordinate movements from the trailer company, my parents, the guy doing the short trailering, someone who would bring him money, etc, etc. 

When I finally confirmed Not-Hodor was on the big rig and headed north (Huzzah!), I let the trailering company know that there was a change of plans as to where he was being sent…. because the barn I shopped for and had chosen was now closed due to an outbreak of strangles.

Surprises were more fun when I was a kid. 

“Surprise!  We bought you a new backpack!” was a lot more fun than, “Surprise!  Your new barn has a highly infectious illness running through it!”

Yesterday morning, after driving over to double check the new barn had room for a big rig, I called up the transport company.

“Are we still on for 1-3pm drop off?  If not, let me know. I understand things happen.  I’m just going to have my kids at the sitter and don’t want to keep them there unnecessarily long.”

“Yes, it’s 1-3.  The driver will call when they get close.”

“Okay, sounds good.”

I arrived at the barn at about one.

By two I abandoned hanging out in my car, when my dislike of faking being social with strangers was overcome by how stinking hot it was in my car, in the sun. 

If it was the barn I was going to be staying at long-term, I would definitely have made a huge effort… but yesterday the idea of chatting with new people just sounded exhausting.  I hate small talk. 

“Nice to meet you!  How’s your day going?”

“I’m exhausted and really itchy.  Even though the poison oak on my private parts has finally faded away, I got a new batch of it all over my arms and legs.  Even worse, the puss is getting everywhere, and that’s just gross….wait.  Where are you going?”

No, I didn’t say that.  But it’s what came to mind when someone asked me how I was doing- and then while they stood there, waiting for an answer, I had to raffle through my mental box of “Boring but safe replies” to throw at them.

I seriously hate small talk.

To make matters worse, I’ve discovered that I’ve completely forgotten how to speak horse.  I feel like a complete beginner – and I sound like one, too.

“So, what kind of horse do you have?”

“Uh, he’s a big grey – part Iberian – maybe Andalusian, maybe Lusitano -and part Tennessee Walker.”

“Oh, he sounds great.  What are you planning on doing with him?”

“Uh… ride him?  On his back?  Maybe lead my boys around on him?”

“No, I mean, are you a gamer?  A 4-H-er?  Barrels?”

“Uh… I just want to sit in the saddle?  Trot around, and maybe canter some?”

Eventually I snuck off and found a tree to sit under, where I could read Shogun (again) and wait.

Finally, at four pm, I gave up and went to pick up my kids— who had missed their naps and were dangerously grumpy from being over-tired.

Finally, a little after 5, the trailer showed up.  It was a pretty legit trailer – each horse was cross tied in their own expensive-looking box stall, lots of clean bedding – I’d probably go with the trailer company again, even with the issues.

Between chasing the kids and general business, I didn’t get any pics of him unloading. 

I led him to his microscopic box stall (they are in pasture during the day, and stalled at night), and gave him a moment to drink and eat before leading him out to the pasture area that’s now his (for now, at least):

It looks green, but there’s really not much to eat… which is good, because it means he can stay outside all day instead of being dry stalled to avoid founder or colic.

I took a couple of pictures, just to prove he was here, but he looked tired and kind of gaunt in most of them.  He came off the trailer pretty thirsty – that boy is going to have to learn it’s okay to eat and drink on a trailer.  He’s also a bit too thin – which is definitely not my parent’s fault.  When my mom had her accident they had to leave the mountain in a hurry (obviously), and leave the landlord to throw feed at him.  She owns a bunch of easy-keeper 14.1 hand Quarter Horses – I don’t think it was on purpose, but he just wasn’t getting enough for his size. 

That’s okay, I like fattening up horses.

My boys were in awe that they actually owned a horse.  I didn’t tell them he was coming… mostly because I didn’t want to hear “IS HE HERE?  IS HE HERE TODAY?  WHY NOT?” a bazillion times a day.

The fact that they had a horse, and that they get to visit him every single day was blowing their minds.

“See, howrse?  See my twuck?  Look!  It’s monsta-twuck!  Look, howrse!  Look my monsta-twuck! You wike my monsta twuck?”

“I love you, Not-Hodor.  I love you so much.  You’re my favorite horse.  I love you. You’re pretty. You’re a big horse.  I love you.”

Even better, Not-Hodor seems to really, genuinely like kids.  He could have “grazed”  anywhere in the pasture, but chose instead to graze right by the fence…despite the fact that every time he got remotely close enough to touch, two skinny little pairs of arms shot through the fence, straining to touch him.

Eventually I decided to quit torturing him with all the noise and activity and we all went home for the day.

This morning the DragonMonkey came bursting into my bedroom at crack of dawn.  “C’mon, Mama.  Get out of bed.  Can we go see the horse?  Please?  Let’s go see Not-Hodor.  Can I ride him?  Can I walk him on his leash?  Please?”

On the one hand… go away, child.  I’m in bed.  You are up waaaaaaaaay too early.

But on the other hand….

We headed out of the house at a little before 9 to get to the barn, which is less than 2 miles away…. and we made it there by a little after 11 after meltdowns, and early naps, and even some lovely pukings.

Getting to the stables used to be easier before children.

I also discovered it’s nearly impossible to lunge a horse and take pictures and/or a video at the same time.  Maybe after Not-Hodor and I get some practice? 

I did get a somewhat decent video, that shows off his movement a little bit.


The video on my phone is much higher quality (although still just as bouncy)… anyone how to upload to Youtube without losing quality?

I’d forgotten how calm he is – he doesn’t ground tie yet, but he’ll respect the leadrope in the hands of a very tiny child, so I bet I’ll have him doing it by tomorrow or the next day.  I led both boys around on him and then rode him for a little bit. 

He’s just as nice as I remember, with the only downside being that I have no idea what cues to give him to let him know that trotting is okay. I get the impression he thinks it’s wrong to trot under saddle, and it’s something I’d like to fix.  Any time I try to correct his trot (ask him to collect), he thinks I’m getting after him to gait.

Don’t get me wrong, his gait is a dream to ride, but since you have to really push him to stay in it, and the second you relax he breaks into a walk, I’d like to work on his trot, which comes effortlessly to him.   Even with work on his muscles and regular exercise I don’t see him being able to keep that gait up over lots and lots of miles (cough, endurance, cough.) 

I asked The DragonMonkey to take a picture of me on him for the blog, and he did.

So, here you go:

I look good on him, don’t I?

Yeah.  I don’t know what I expected.

The only bad thing the horse did in the two and a half hours we were there was try to roll while I was leading the DragonMonkey around on him (WITH a saddle on). 

To be honest, I wasn’t sure if he was rolling, or if he was laying down to take a nap (I swear I saw him settling down, rather than preparing to roll), but I wasn’t going to just let him lay there to find out which it was.  That’s one thing I absolutely won’t stand for, so I reprimanded him pretty convincingly – hopefully he won’t try anything like that again.

For the record, I’m very proud of the DragonMonkey.  He hopped off without me telling him to, dashed to a safe distance while I convinced Not-Hodor for about 2 full seconds that laying down with a saddle/rider on was a horrifically scary, potentially fatal mistake (lots of noise and backing him up.)  As soon as we were settled again the DragonMonkey came trotting up on his skinny legs, with zero fear, and asked to get back on.

We’ve come a long ways from the kid who freaked out when he touched a sticky peanut butter sandwich.

Anyways, it was pretty incredible, getting to spend the morning with a horse…. MY horse.

Tomorrow, when I go ride him again, the stirrups will be exactly where I left them. 

Those of you out there who constantly borrow horses and saddles, like I did for seven years – you  know exactly how exciting that is.

Anyways, here’s a bunch of photos of Not-Hodor.  I’m sorry I don’t have better conformation photos, but some idiot took about 10 minutes squaring him up PERFECTLY for photos….  and then proceeded to take a bunch of 1 second videos instead of pictures of all his angles, as the phone was set to video instead of camera. 

Some idiot didn’t have the heart to do it twice.

Anyways, here’s a bunch of pictures… although, I admit, they’re more a reference for me than they are for you.  I can’t wait to see him not only chubby, but all muscled up.

 Crappy picture, but it kind of shows his presence at the trot.

 The Squid is MUCH further away from him than he looks in this picture – also, I did a test run and with even a minute amount of pressure the leadrope slips from his fingers.  I’m not planning on making this a regular thing – I just hadn’t figured out where the hitching post was in this barn yet, and if I put the rope on the ground he tried to follow me.

    I love greys, but I’m kinda sad that hind stocking greyed out – I think he used to have four socks. I bet he was pretty flashy (not that dappled grey isn’t.)

I’m in love with his neck.

              This is the DragonMonkey.  Squid’s feet don’t even reach the bottom of the saddle skirt.

A different “Between the Ears” pic – The Squid smiled like this the entire time he was on his back.

His stall, like all of them, is located right on the arena.

I couldn’t get him to stand right on the cement, which was disappointing, because the light was much better for pictures, and the wet made my cell phone show his conformation better.  He kept hunching his back legs up underneath himself, like they are in this picture.  It took me a long time to figure out this is his “HOLY SH*T I’M TERRIFIED.  PLEASE GET ME OUT OF HERE” face – he was too well behaved to do anything but silently plead at me.  I wonder what happened in his past?

He’s sunken around his tail – free feeding and beet pulp/rice bran will help that.

His cloudy eye.

You can see why I can’t call him Hodor. 

I’m hoping to have a name picked out by the end of this weekend, because I can’t keep calling him “the horse” or “Not-Hodor”.   

T-Minus One… No, Wait… Two Days?

Friggin’ horse transport companies.

They’re running a day behind and won’t be picking up Hodor until Thursday, instead of tomorrow.

We all know why.  Despite what they say, it’s because they found one more run to add to the list.  On the one hand, I understand it’s a business, and I don’t reeeaaaaalllly blame them – it’s a business, and they need to make money.

On the other hand….

DUDE.  You can’t push it back a day.  I’ve been waiting seven years.  One more day after seven years is an eternity.

Of course, when Hodor does get to my new barn, he’ll get out of the trailer, glance around… and then load right back up on another trailer to go to a different barn located about 10 miles away.  For the first time in 23 years, my new barn closed its doors to incoming borders – they’ve got some kind of weird equine flu going around, and they don’t want to chance anything. I appreciate that, but I admit I’m a teensy bit disappointed.  Once everything clears up they’ll trailer him back to his new stall.

On the other hand, it’s definitely a good safeguard, because I don’t want him to get sick…..

SEEING AS HOW I GET TO TAKE HIM WITH ME TO MUGWUMP’S CLINIC IN MONTANA.
 (I know I’ll be cussing his height when I have to remount after a long ride… but look how tiny and petite I look on him! I’m a dainty fairy of a girl.  It’s obvious I wear a size zero and weigh less than my husband – you can tell from how delicate I appear in this picture….. also, also, he’s a little parked out/hollow backed because this saddle was a VERY poor fit for him – we found a much better one later on.)

Yeah.  I’m kind of tipping the scales on the luck-o-meter lately. 

Summersmom (whose little sister is the person who cuts my hair – and DANG she does a better job than anyone I found down in Orange County) has a friend who is willing to drive us, so all we need to do is split gas.

Holy crap.

In a little over a week I’m going to be loading up MY HORSE into a trailer and taking him with me to Montana for four days of pure riding and no children.

Just…. wow.  Seriously, wow. 

I love my husband  He’s currently working 12-14 hour days (some days even longer) to make this happen for me.  He’s pretty awesome.

Also, in other fun news, after my sister read my last post,  she sent me this email:

“When you described Hodor why did you leave out the Andalusian?  I think that half of him is more prominent than the TWH.  If my memory is correct, and not saying it is, he was described as an Andalusian/Walker mix….probably TWH.  Of course, my memory can’t be quite certain if it was Friesian or Andalusian….I just keep leaning towards Andalusian.”

Breed means nothing, really.  if I know what label to apply to him, it’s not going to change his conformation (which I think is awesome) or his personality (which I also think is awesome).

But….

Dude.

C’mon.

It’s a LITTLE bit cool that I had some kind of Iberian horse (even if it’s just a half breed, like me) just fall into my lap by accident.

On a side note,   I loved all of your comments on my last post – it’s kind of cool to be celebrating with a bunch of people I’ve never met “in real life”.  You guys all rock.

…..And then I feel almost lost, because soon I’ll have everything

It’s kind of amazing to me that I started this blog in 2006.  Sure, it was only the last few days of 2006, but still.  I didn’t realize it had been so long.  It’s 2013 now.

Time sure flies when you’re busy squeezing out angry babies, doesn’t it?

A lot has changed.

I was only 25 when I started this blog.  Now, in a couple of weeks, I’m going to be 32.  During that time I got married, had a a kid, got an office job, had another kid, helped The Bean through school, moved out of California to Oregon…. And those are only the big points.

In other words, I’ve done a lot of living.

And now I think it’s time to make another change.

Dear Internet, meet my new horse.

Oh, yes.

You read that right.

My.

New.

Horse.

Here is his backstory:

My parents bought a membership at the dude ranch where I used to be a wrangler.  The head wrangler at the ranch was a bit of a horse trader – and I mean that in the bad sense of the word.  My stepdad met and fell in love with the big grey gelding, and she encouraged them to buy him.

Don’t get me wrong – he’s a *GREAT* horse…. it’s just…

The gelding was 7 (he’s 8 now).

And he is 16.2 hands (I think?  I need to measure him.)

And he had ONLY BEEN GELDED FOR THREE OR FOUR MONTHS when they bought him.

Did I mention my stepdad is a beginner rider over 60 who is a professional Santa (and thus, due to the holiday season, the horse would be unridden in a pasture for at least a quarter of every year?)

In other words, yes, I mean “horse trader” in the most negative sense of the word.  Who the heck sells a gigantic, recently gelded baby to older beginning riders? Even if they really love his personality? 

I think my parents lucked out, and I think they have excellent taste in horses and could recognize the gem that he is, but it’s a situation that could have gone so much worse than it did.

So, we don’t know much about his back story – the horse trader bought him from “some Mexicans”….or something?  I’m not sure.  I will say that whoever raised him did a great job – he has excellent ground manners, and if he was ever used as a stud, there doesn’t seem to be any sign of it.  He has an old eye injury to his right eye – it’s cloudy, but he definitely still has vision in it.

He’s said to be a Tennesee Walker, and he does gait nicely under saddle (although you have to really urge him to keep him in his gait), but he doesn’t do it at liberty.

To be honest, I don’t know – he may be Tennessee Walker, but I really wouldn’t be surprised to find something else in his genetic haystack – he has some pretty fancy movement, especially at the canter – the Tennessee Walkers I’ve met didn’t have very elevated movement in front, but then again, I’m not very knowledgeable about the breed.

 

When I went down to California last February I was able to spend quite a bit of time riding him.  Because of the Santa holiday season and some moving chores, and everything, it had been about four months since my stepdad had even had a chance to put a saddle on him. 

I was impressed by how calm he was, for having spent so much time in his stall.  He had a lot of energy, but he was too well-mannered to really do anything about it.  It felt like sitting on a very well-behaved firecracker – he never took a single misstep, or even jigged, but you could tell he would happily ignite, if you asked him to.  I was very impressed with his brain, and friendly attitude.  By the end of my time there, with getting out of his stall regularly and being ridden often his energy level was much, much lower.  If I had been given a choice, I might have chosen a different horse for my parents (something in its teens), but the gelding had what was most important:  a calm, friendly, forgiving nature.  Even though he was younger than I preferred for them, he wasn’t actually a bad match, provided they turned him out (they moved to a place with pasture soon after, which solved everything.)

His gait was wonderful to sit, his trot was horrible (the western saddle I was in was too small for me so I couldn’t post, and all that beautiful movement was hard to sit), and his canter was like something out of a dream – the elevated movement and restrained power made it feel like I was riding an Andalusian, or some kind of heavily dressage-trained horse. 

Overall, he was just a really nice (and tall!) horse, and I was happy for my parents. 

…… and then, about three weeks ago, my mom was kicked by a cow.

I know, it doesn’t sound like much, but it was one of those freak accidents that just go wrong.  She ended up with a compound fracture (where the bone is sticking out of the skin) and the medical care she received in Bakersfield was like something out of a horror film (bone was out and exposed for about 14 hours, splinted with cardboard and towels, forgetting to give her any pain medicine following her surgery, etc.) The surgery itself to fix her was botched so badly that there’s a specialty team at UCI who may have to redo the entire surgery.  They had to move back down to Orange County to see what happens next.

In other words, they are out of horses for the forseeable future.

And that’s where I come in.

They need to find a home for their gelding…. I’m looking at getting a horse…..

So, yeah.

He’ll be arriving on the 17th.  I found a little self-care barn near my house – it has turn out during the day, and small little box stalls.  It’s a tiny little thing, with no trails, and the only arena it has was kinda cramped-feeling compared to some of the huge ones in other barns I saw…..

But it is, hands down, the most kid-friendly barn I’ve ever been at in my entire life…. which means that I can drag The Squid and The DragonMonkey with me there during the day, instead of trying to sneak away to see the horse like I’m conducting an illicit affair.

So, I’m getting a horse.

I know I should be more excited, and jumping for joy, and using huge capital letters in bright bold, and red, and flashing colors and everything, but I feel almost subdued about the entire thing.  I’m worried about getting too excited about it, because it doesn’t seem like it’s actually going to happen – like there’s so much that could go wrong.  I don’t think I’ll actually let myself believe it’s happening until I get the call from the horse transport company that he is loaded, and on his way. 

Because, honestly…. once he’s here, that’s it.  I’ve achieved all of my life goals.  Oh, sure, I still have other life goals – I want to be a published author, and run a half marathon, and compete in endurance, and learn a third language, and travel overseas, etc, etc…..

But it’s just… if you read this blog, from my first entry in 2006, until this past year, it has had two prevailing themes:

  • I want to move out of California (check mark on that one)

and

  • I want to own a horse again  (check mark on that one on July 17th.)

Dude.

I’ve got nothing left to complain about. 

Like, nothing.

I don’t know what I did to deserve all this, so I guess I’ll just grateful.

PS:  I know I keep calling him “the horse”, as if my parents didn’t name him (they called him Roman), but I’m planning on changing his name (sorry, guys!).  The truth is that I’m leaning towards Hodor.

I LOOOOOOOVE the idea of going out to the pasture, leaning on the fence, and calling out “Hodoooor…”.  (It’s from Game of Thrones, for those of you who don’t get it.)

I’m pretty sure I’d still be snickering about it, years down the road.  Also, he’s a big, grey giant, kind of like Hodor.

On the other hand it’s also kind of a silly name, so I need to see him in person before I settle on anything, because it might not fit him.

If any of you have any cool name ideas, feel free to pass them along.  I admit I’m heavily biased towards cool names that start with the letter “B”, because I think it would sound cool if I ever win any endurance awards.

“And the award for most awesome goes to Becky Bean on Bucephalus…”

Anyways, there you have it.

I’m getting a horse – and it’s not some nebulous, really far-off date, either. It’s in a week.

Crazy, huh?

Mother’s Day Weekend

Things that embarrass me:

It’s been over two days since I took a 15 minute horseback riding lesson, and I still can’t walk right.

Ow.  My thighs.

OWWWWWWWWW. 

Ever since I moved up here to the Pacific Northwest I’ve been wanting to take a lesson with Dory, the trainer over at Fish Creek Farm up in Washington.  My desire to take a lesson was due to a variety of reasons….. most of which boiled down to:

  1. Dude.  She’s totally affordable.  
  2. Everyone who trains with Dory speaks of her lessons and riding ability in hushed, reverent tones.  I find it intriguing, because the people who are so in awe of her are serious horsewomen themselves.
  3. No, seriously.  She’s affordable.

Friday morning I dropped the boys off at a friend’s house and made the drive up past Seattle to Fish Creek Farm. 

Yes, that’s right.  For Mother’s Day I ran away from my kids.

Come on.  You can admit it.  Isn’t that what every mom really want for Mother’s Day?
Who doesn’t daydream of a little quiet time to herself and a full night’s sleep with no responsibilities? 

Yeah.  Me too.

The drive was uneventful (AND QUIET!), but since I got a late start I arrived a little later than I had originally planned.  As I was running behind schedule, I had thrown on some half chaps and was up on a horse almost before the dust from my tires had even settled.

For the record, that is the way that all road trips should end.

Also for the record:  I may or may not have put my half chaps on the wrong way and walked around with them facing completely backwards until someone let me know.

Don’t worry – one day, with a lot of practice, you can be just as good at horse stuff as I am.

Once I got straightened out Dory threw me up on Gangster – a sweet faced paint with a nice, solid build.

In the picture above this I look like I’m just kind hanging out in the saddle, leaning too far forward.  
The reality is that I am deep in conversation with my legs, begging them to ignore the build up of lactic acid and do what Dory was asking.

I know, I know.  All of you English riders are snickering under your breath.  You guys have probably been holding two point and stuff like that since you were six years old.  You’ve got thighs of steel and can crush beer cans with only a slight twist of your knees.

I don’t.  Apparently, I have flabby, useless thighs.  All of this “hold two point with no stirrups for two laps around the arena” stuff was really new to me, and my legs let me know that they did NOT approve.

I wasn’t even aware that it was possible to drip sweat and gasp for breath just riding a horse at a walk.

I was wrong. 

Fifteen minutes later, legs visibly trembling from the “warm up exercises,  I had to crawl off the horse and hand him back because I had broken him.

I never actually got the official word on what was wrong with Gangster – it might have been tying up from “the heat” (a whopping 75 degrees – all you desert people can engage in a deep belly laugh right about now) or the beginnings of founder, or…? 

All we knew is that a normally good-natured horse was sulky and refusing to trot, sweating way too much for the amount of work he was being asked to do, and the muscles along his flanks were quivering in a steady tremor.

I gotta tell you, I hate breaking other people’s toys.  Even if it wasn’t really my fault, I still felt a little guilty.

Since the lesson was cut short we headed back to Aarene’s place, who had graciously offered to let me crash in her spare bedroom.

Lounging in the grass, drinking good root beer and watching chickens and a horse graze simultaneously is the way all Friday evenings should be spent.

We spent the evening roasting hot dogs and visiting with a couple of of her friends who dropped by. I’d like to say that I was fascinating company, but the truth was I spent 90% of the night poking a stick into the fire and trying to remember how to interact with other adults.

It turned out that I didn’t need to worry about being interesting – Aarene’s friend kept us in stitches with stories about her father-in-law “The Hammer”.  No, that’s not me coming up with a code name.  She really does have a father-in-law that everyone calls “The Hammer” – an 80 year old manly man who was recently thrown out of his local YMCA for brawling.  The stories just got better from there.

Some people’s families are just cooler than mine.

The next morning we got up and headed north to drive to Greener Pastures.  Duana was originally slated to drive – a roadtrip of four horse women all crammed into an adorable Mini. Unfortunately, she had forgotten her passport at home so the three of us (Aarene, Siri, and I) piled into my Scion and headed north.

That far north the view on the 5 freeway is both beautiful and monotonous.

If you look to the left, you see green trees.

If you look to the right, you see green trees.

If you look in your rearview mirror you will see some green trees you’ve just driven past.

Up ahead, if you squint reeeaaaaally hard, you can make out– you guessed it:  Green trees.

I spy with my little eye… something green.

Aarene, who is honestly one of the coolest people in the entire world to go on a roadtrip with, was regaling us with stories about the places we past, complete with local history and interesting side notes.

Seriously, if you ever get a chance, roadtrip with a gregarious librarian.  It’s informative AND fun.

About halfway to the Canadian border, as she was speaking, I noticed that I began to get a little lightheaded.  I’m not prone to carsickness unless pregnant, and I knew that wasn’t the case, so maybe it was just too stuffy in the car?

I cracked the window, tilting my face into the breeze, but the feeling didn’t go away.

Maybe I was nauseous, and my body was interpreting it strangely?  I was already chewing a piece of gum, but it wouldn’t hurt to get a new piece.

Nope.  That didn’t help either. 

In fact, it was getting worse.  Not only was I edging from lightheaded to just plain dizzy, my heart had begun to race violently.  I reached my fingers up to the side of my neck and discreetly tested my pulse – not only was faster than normal, but it felt like each heartbeat was two to three times harder than it should have been.

Now, I don’t know about the rest of you guys, but I really don’t like getting sick in front of people.  Call it pride, or fear of showing weakness, or whatever, but if I’m going to get sick I like to do it in the privacy of my own home, without anyone watching.  It’s one thing for me to tell this story in retrospect on the internet – it was another thing to go through it in front of witnesses. I was feeling really, really weird, but I didn’t want to say anything about it.

I shifted in my seat, uncomfortably, and tried to slow my racing heart by taking deep, even breaths through my mouth.  The air felt stale, almost too thick.  I lowered my window even further, hoping to clear my head with the fresh air.   What the heck was going on with me?  Was I having some kind of weird caffeine reaction to the cup of coffee I had earlier? 

“You know,” Aarene said.  “They’ve tried to develop this land around us quite a few times, but it’s never worked out.  Strange things happen in these mountains.”

I glanced at the mountains rising up around me – at the towering, thick layer evergreens all around me….. shadowed, impenetrable.  Foreboding.

I took a few more deep breaths, but they didn’t help.  My heart was absolutely racing, I was downright dizzy and for some inexplicable reason my hands were beginning to shake.  I gripped the steering wheel tightly, trying to clamp down on it and get control of myself, but it didn’t help.  

What the hell was going on with me?

“The locals weren’t surprised when nobody can make anything work out in these mountains – if you talk to the local tribes, they all stay away from this mountain.”

I blinked hard, and shook my head to try to clear it, but whatever was wrong wasn’t going away – it was just getting worse.

There are many places where it’s inconvenient to either pass out or have a total nervous breakdown.  Driving 70 mph down a busy freeway with two passengers in your car kind of tops the list.

“Hey, uh, Aarene?”

“Yeah?”

“Do you drive stick?”

“Yeah, I do.  You getting carsick?  You need to pull over and puke?”

“… I’m not nauseous. I just… I just don’t feel right.”

“Well, I really don’t think you should pull off in this area.  It’s just…”  She shook her head.  “It’s just not a good area.  There’s a rest stop just up ahead, but I just really don’t recommend it.” 

I squeezed the steering wheel tighter, trying to control the shaking, and debated whether or not I could make it to the rest stop, much less anything further.

Nope.  It wasn’t gonna happen. 

Whatever was wrong with me, I needed to get out from behind the wheel of this car, immediately.  I felt like my heart was going to rip out of my chest from the force of its beats – what if I passed out and killed us all in a car crash?  I was keeping it together, but just barely. 

I turned on my blinker, crossed four lanes of traffic in about ten seconds, and pulled the Scion to a stop on the side of the road. 

Aarene exited out her door and around the back of the car and I crawled over the center divider into the passenger seat.  I put on my seatbelt and leaned forward, burying my face in my hands as the tears began to flow, trying to get control of heart, my breathing, the shaking in my hands that had now traveled all the way from my hands to my arms… and most importantly I tried to dampen down the overwhelming sense of dread and fear that felt like it was gripping my chest in an icy band.

I began praying, but I’m ashamed to say that I couldn’t really think of the right words.

Five minutes later we were approaching the outskirts of Bellingham, and I was 100% recovered, except for a lingering sensation of acute embarrassment. 

I decided to try to put whatever had happened behind me.  Was it some kind of spiritual attack?  Was it some kind of panic attack?  Maybe I had some kind of an ear infection brought on some kind of allergy?

The day was young, I was on my way to Canada, and I was about to visit the Greener Pastures horses.  I could think about what happened later on. 

We crossed the border and finally arrived at the barn.  It felt almost surreal to actually see the horses in person – for those of you who aren’t friends with me on Facebook, I’ve been actively stalking Greener Pastures for two years.  Not only do I fully support what they’re doing (rehoming retired Standardbred racehorses), but I love the work they do with each horse.  All their horses are fat, shiny, and healthy – the ones who underweight or who have dull coats join the ranks of fat and shiny within a few weeks and/or months. 

I support any rescue who can show improvements like that in such a short time.

Anyways, onto the horses.

They had about 10 horses on the property, but only a couple really fit what I was looking for. 

Although I knew we weren’t really going to be buying a horse until later in the summer, I was really excited about seeing Chester in real life.

I’d had a big crush on him when he went through the program last year, so when he was returned due to financial hardship, I couldn’t help but get a little excited.

He was just as cute in real life, and MUCH larger than he appeared in his photo album.  The lady on his back, Alina, is about 5’11 in real life – and about 90% of that is in her legs.  She makes him seem like a nice, boring size.  In real life he was tall enough I had trouble trying to imagine how the heck I would get in the saddle without a mounting block.

Despite his beautiful movement, there just wasn’t any click, so I didn’t spend much time with him.

Horse number two was called Heart to Beat:  She’s an older mare, early teens, and built like the side of a barn.

She also had the world’s most ridiculous “scratchy face”.  This picture just doesn’t quite encapsulate how stupid of an expression she was making.

I liked how solid she seemed, but despite her friendliness she was a little bit mareish – nothing bad, but she would need a few lessons to remind her where she needs to be in the pecking order.  If she’s available in August, when I’m hoping to get a horse (DUDE.  I’M IN THE MARKET FOR A HORSE.  CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?!) I will definitely check her out.

The third horse, Red Star Vamp, is the one who really stole my heart.

 I’d say something about the slightly stoned expression on my face, something like, “What the heck is going on with my face?”… but, yeah.  That’s kind of how I look like every time I get a hug from a horse.  Did you really expect anything different?

I gotta be honest – Vamp is much, MUCH younger than I would really be looking for.

She’s only three.

Or rather, her third birthday is in a couple of days.

Her personality oozed out of her— and I’m talking “whipped cream oozing out of the world’s most delicious cream puff” typing of oozing, not “puss from a rotten wound” type of oozing.  The filly just radiated an aura of friendly happiness.  When you combine that with her nice conformation and her overall mental maturity, well…

It was a pretty intoxicating combination for someone as horse-starved as I was.

She was a pretty decent mover, too, for as young as she was.

With horse buying not occurring until closer to the end of summer, there’s a decent chance somebody else will snap her up before I am ready. 

I really hope that she’s still around, though.  I mean, look at her.  She’s adorable.

Anyways, that’s what I did for my Mother’s Day Weekend.  What did all of you guys do?