And after the rains…

The seemingly endless rains of January and February brought lots of green grass to the hills of Northern California.

The trails beckon enticingly, but the hilly terrain means that they are still treacherously slippery in places.

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The view from the top of Starlight’s hill. Makes you want to go explore those trails, doesn’t it? There are COWS in them thar hills, pardner!

We need a few weeks of warm, dry weather before Star and I brave the herds of cows and head out on the trails.

If you look very closely at the picture below, you will see a flock of geese is checking out one of our outdoor arenas. There is a small lake in it from the latest downpour.

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To my surprise today, a large flock of enormous Turkeys blocked the road out of the Ranch today. They went up on the hill as I grabbed my phone. Can you imagine what a horse might make of them? They look small in the picture but they were about three feet tall.

These were huge turkeys (no really!), exclaiming “gobble, gobble, gobble“, just as turkeys should! Wish I could have caught one with the tail fanned.

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Poppies! California poppies. Of course, whenever my husband and I see them, we hark back to the Wizard of Oz and the witch saying, “Poppies…poppies will make them sleep…”

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Meanwhile, Star is happy as a pig in mud – emphasis on “in mud – to bask in the sun. She seems to enjoy applying a light coating of mud.

Right now she is the oddest color I call “Hyena” since she is dappled brown/black/dun. 

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Yes, this used to be a clean blanket…and the horse was clean yesterday when I last saw her.

Soon she will be a gorgeous shiny black…for a few weeks, until her dedication to sunbathing bleaches her to a nice shiny dark bay for the summer.

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Cue the smiles: baby pictures of Starlight

Like any fond parent (“horse mother”) I see the beginnings of greatness in the picture below of Starlight at One Day old, kindly sent to me recently by Janne Rumbough, Starlight’s breeder.

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Look at Starlight cantering already on those long, spidery baby legs. Her momma is pretty gorgeous, too, if you ask me. Here’s a close up of one day old Starlight…IMG_1293.JPG

You can see she from her coat and gangly legs that she’s really just newborn, and yet she already looks like a nice package. It’s amazing how quickly they get up and get running! Essential, of course, because in the wild they might have to run from a predator, but still amazing when you think about how long a human baby has to be carried around.

Below you’ll see Ms. Starlight at Three Years Old. Notice that her mane and forelock are roached, and her dock is trimmed. This is traditional for the presentation of Andalusian PRE mares.  If I were showing her in breed classes I would need to prepare her this way.

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Now she’s looking pretty grown up and elegant, with a lovely reach and an eager expression. That star stands out nicely against her black coat!

The picture below shows her cute backside. She’s almost saying, “excuse me, are you admiring my nicely rounded hindquarters? Humph.”

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Such fun for me to see baby pictures of my big grown up girl, who is now 16.1 hds. The same sweet and interested expression is there, and the same leggy elegance, but now she is filling out and muscling up.

Here is her wise, kind face in July, 2016. I just love to kiss that nose – and she doesn’t seem to mind it.

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Love affair with a mare

My dear friend, Velda Ruddock, professional photographer extraordinaire, captured something special in her lens…

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Oh yeah, THAT’s the itchy spot, mom. Keep currying there please…ahhhhhh…..

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What are we going to do today, mom? Something fun I hope? How about a nice trail ride?

 

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Starlight, today you’re going to learn Tempi Changes, Piaffe, and Passage!

Ha ha, just kidding. It will be the usual walk, trot, canter.

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That was a good day’s work, mom. I like being with you.

 

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Let’s just snuggle. You wouldn’t happen to have any sugar, would you? I do love that stuff.

At last! Bill is accepted into Star’s herd

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Who is this interloper? Perhaps that carrot is poisoned.

It took only took a few weeks before Star began to relax with me, but it was about four months before she fully accepted my husband, Bill, as one of her herd. We could not figure it out. Bill is wonderful with animals and is my right hand man at shows, helping with trailering, horse handling, and so on. He is show and clinic photographer, horse holder, and giver of treats. He worked so hard to woo her – gentle pats, carrots, helping me brush her… but the suspicious look remained.

What does this strange man want from me? Why is he here with my mom? He’s going to make me go in the trailer, I just know it.

Actually, I think that might have been the problem: almost every time Bill showed up, Starlight had to get in the trailer and go somewhere. While she was willing to go in the trailer, it did worry her at first. That was THEN; NOW she happily LEAPS into the trailer (“Oh boy, free food, let me at it! And let’s go on an adventure!”).

Instead of greeting Bill with wary suspicion, Starlight now looks at him with soft eyes of anticipation: treat for me, my friend? Surely you have something for your best mare buddy?

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Picture this recent scene: I am braiding Star, while Bill stands at her head, stroking her and murmuring to her. Soon I hear him softly singing her lullabies while her eyes drift closed. Is that a snore I hear? Not quite, but clearly she is entranced.

Somehow, her relationship with Bill has turned a corner: now she loves him. I smile: all’s well with the world.JD_DwanHorse_160708_0102

Your horse is talking: are you listening?

Your horse communicates with you all the time, and I don’t mean that he actually talks, like Mr. Ed the talking horse…

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Or Telepathically, as some think. I take issue with long distance animal communicators who “discern your horse’s thoughts from hundreds of miles away” – so long as you give them a credit card. Really good animal communicators may exist, but I suspect they need to be close to the animal. However, I digress.

Your horse wants to communicate to you. Yes, YOU, her person! Every day she is communicating to you.

How? Body language. Ears, of course, expression, tail swish, and so many more little hints IMG_1943that as we pay attention we begin to just know what our horse is thinking (at least some of the time). Some examples:

  1. I bought a Mio Fly Sheet. Nice and soft. My horse seems to like it fine. However, it rips easily, so I bought another fly sheet, more expensive, but sturdier. Horse wore it for a few days but started turning away when I brought it out. I had to ask her to hold still to put it on and the look of disgust was clear: Yuck, I HATE that blanket. Eyes squinty, head up, holding still, but not happy. Why are you making me wear it? I washed the Mio fly sheet and brought it back and her look of relief was so obvious. Now she happily stands still to be dressed, almost like she enjoys it. Communication: let me tell you which blanket I like (silly human).
  2. Saddles. My former horse was more and more difficult at the mounting block. Fidgeting, he didn’t want to line up with it, and would swing his butt away. Hmmm…saddle problem? I changed saddles and voila! Within a day or so, no problem at the mounting block. Do you think he was telling me something?
  3. My mare knows where I keep the sugar cubes. They are only rarely administered, but Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 7.49.54 PMwhen she sees me go to get one, oh, the look of intensity: yes, yes, please, please, please bring it to me NOW, you must bring it NOW. Her eyes bore into me as she mind melds with me: BRING ME THE SUGAR, HUMAN SLAVE. 
  4. This article has some interesting scientific studies on horse to human communication: http://www.thehorse.com/articles/37681/study-confirms-horses-talk-to-human-handlers.

When we are busy we miss the clues are horses are giving us about important things. What are some of the things your horse might be telling you?

I need more time to learn this. Slow down a little.

Something in my body hurts. I need some time to heal or I need my routine changed up a bit. Please be sensitive to my body and how it feels.

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I don’t like this. It feels scary/hard/confusing. Help me with it.

Do you know what you’re doing? I need you to be in charge. If you’re not going to be in charge, I will have to take charge and that makes me nervous.

Let’s go on the trail today! Let’s jump today! Let’s gallop now!

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Could we snuggle for awhile?

How about some sugar now? Or carrots? I’m so beautiful and you love to give me something, don’t you?

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This pony is very motivated by cookies. Heck, aren’t they all?

 

Oh joy! Out on the trail.

Hooray! My barely six years old Andalusian mare – dressage diva and beautiful princess – turns out to be a Trail Horse Extraordinaire!

While I enjoy dressage and my intent is to go as far as I can with it, sometimes I just have to get out of the ring. All that round and round in circles and being perfect makes me LOCO.

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Just arrived at the Woodside HorsePark. Note: no sweat marks (yet). If her front feet look a bit funny (lumpy), it’s because she has bell boots on.

Today, Starlight and I went with our friends, Karen and Xaleo (a lovely Lusitano gelding), to the Woodside HorsePark. We traversed hills (good for those haunches), and wandered through the little trails on the back side of the Park.

Star was so good that I forgot she’s never been on these trails. I was relaxed and chatting with my friend just enjoying the day. Then I realized, wait: I’ve never taken her on a real trail ride before! Hang on, this horse is a FANTASTIC trail horse!

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I’m fumbling with my iPhone taking pictures when I realized Star has never been out on the trails with me before, so maybe I should put the phone away and pay attention…The white horse is Star’s buddy, Xaleo (Lusitano).

I know her former trainer took her out on the trail, but still, I didn’t know she’d be THIS good. Wow, so grateful!

Oh joy! The happiness of being out with a good horse, one who is sure footed, alert to its surroundings, sensible and not spooky. Smooth and comfortable to ride, with a good ground covering walk. This is a GOOD trail horse. Maybe we’ll just give up dressage (ha, not likely. But it’s nice to know that we have options).

On the other hand, I must confess that she would probably not make a good eventer. She spooked a bit at some of the cross country jumps. Fortunately, I do not want to jump them anyway. Yikes, WAY too solid.

Happy Trails, everyone!

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Star went ahead of Xaleo after this and led the way for much of the ride. She prefers to be lead mare and he loves to just follow her like a nice herd mate.

Unicorn: found

The search for a new horse can begin to feel as fruitless (and hopeless) and the search for a mythical beast. Will I ever find my horse? Or was I looking for something that didn’t exist?

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Inside me, though, the “still, small voice” that some of us call the voice of God said:

“Your horse is not ready yet. Just wait and be patient. It will come.

One day I went to try a horse only about an hour from my home. He wasn’t exactly what I was looking for (a breeding stallion? really?), but he had some things going for him, so – why not? Well, as it turned out, the trainer wasn’t five minutes into the ride before I told her, “no, thanks.” Way too much STALLION for me, even if I gelded him.

Then she said, “no problem, but I do have this mare…she’s not really on the market, but the owner said maybe if the right person comes along, and I think she might suit you. Do you want to see her?” She described her and the mare sounded PERFECT. Great size, age, color, breeding, experience, temperament.

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“Your coat may be bleached by the sun, but you are still beautiful and so sweet and kind eyed. Come live with me and be my girl.”

I rode her and she was FUN! She had a kind eye and pleasant demeanor, and even though she was very forward she felt safe, comfortable, and just plain right for me. I looked at her and could see what she might become some day (future FEI dressage horse, yes!).

My head and heart agreed that this mare made sense for me. While she didn’t have all the training I had been looking for, she has Temperament and Talent in spades. She will be a pleasure to train. And I just plain like her. In fact, I’m falling more in love with her daily.

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Starlight surprising me with a medium trot!

Meet my new unicorn:  Starlight, a black, Pure Raza Espanol (Andalusian) 2010 Mare. No really, she actually WILL be black when she sheds the bleached coat, at least for a little while. I know it’s hard to believe.

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Starlight in her new home at Stanford Stables, getting ready for her first ride.

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Edie acting very bored with the concrete trashcan: “Ho hum, this trashcan is so boring, Starlight. You don’t care about it all, do you? Want to come closer now?” So many new things to explore at her new barn!