Sunday, February 27, 2011
Friday, February 25, 2011
To be fair, I never really set Breeze up for success in this venture. I took a horse that I knew needed little encouragement to become slightly mental and completely rocked her world.
From miles of flat cotton rows with a horizon that goes on forever to hills and rocks and trees and limited vision.
From just the two of us, maybe three's a crowd, to the cowpony horde.
From the dog is following us to following the doggies.
There was no gradual acclimation to the change either. We arrived on a Saturday and by Monday morning, earrrrrly Monday morning, we were gathering the pasture named Chico. . . .
The sun was just peeking over the bluffs when we pulled up to the white gate with the red bar S welded on. One truck and trailer waited for us on the shoulder of the road, another topped the hill just as we pulled in and more would trickle in shortly thereafter. Dew clung to the long blades of tawny grass and the cool air nipped at my cheeks and ears as we unloaded horses.
Being a mare and an outside horse gave Breeze the dubious honor of riding at the back of the long stock trailer and being the first unloaded. I untied her and allowed her to turn around and step off. Later, I would learn that the cowboys preferred I keep her head facing forward and have her back off the trailer. It was one of many things I learned that summer.
Her snort punched at the air as she stood at full attention with nostrils flared and head held high. At that moment, she looked more than capable of creating flames deep within her chest and letting them erupt from her nostrils.
I gained Breeze's attention long enough to lead her out of the way so the rest of the horses could be unloaded. Had we been at home, I would have taken time to do groundwork until her state of mind was a little less volatile. But we weren't at home and the cowboys' horses were already saddled and bridled and I still needed to get a bridle on a head that was eight feet in the air and showing no indications of coming down. I sure as heck wasn't going to make them wait on me.
I hastily bridled as the others mounted and made their way over to Grant, who was already sitting on his horse in a little open area. I tightened my cinch, thrust my foot in the stirrup and threw myself up on the moving target that was my horse. Gathering the reins tightly in both hands, I rode over to the circle of cowboys.
Cowboy hats and leggins' and compact cowhorses.
Ballcap and hoodie and Gee-raffe.
We were the proverbial sore thumb.
The cowhorses stood quietly. Bay, dun, and sorrel. Their eyes were soft, their heads were low and reins hung from their bits with a generous drape.
The Gee-raffe and I argued over the idea of standing still for two seconds.
Jig, jig, jig. Snort. Head toss. Jig, jig, jig.
She puts her left foot in, I back her left foot out.
She swings her butt on in and she shakes it all about.
We do the hokey pokey and we turn ourselves around. . . .
Although not a single cowboy raised an eyebrow at our antics, I became worried that we were a distraction so we excused ourselves from the cirlce and found a little space to the side and began doing serpentines. If moving her feet is what she needed to do then move our feet we would. We made our own circles. Many, many, many of them.
I kept one eye on the cowboy gathering until, in unison, they turned and pealed off into the pasture at a long trot. I pointed Breeze's nose in their direction and released her from our endless circling. She powered forward at a ground eating trot, her long legs eating up the distance between us and the stream of cowboys in no time at all.
We passed one cowboy then two, three, and four. My fingers ached with the stress of clamping on the reins. Breeze's chin was tucked tight to her chest as we performed a piaffe born of ignorance. All the while Grant's advice to not ride in front of the cowboys echoed in my mind.
Boy, was I ever screwing that one up.
Friday, February 18, 2011
It had been raining for two days straight. The world outside the window of my little house was painted gray. Clouds hung close to the earth, heavy with their burden of yet unspilt precipitation. The west Texas streets, having not been built with monsoons in mind, had turned to canals.
That morning I had made the best of being trapped indoors by painting the walls of my kitchen a warm shade of green. Several windows were cracked for ventilation and the sweet must of rain rode in on a breeze. Mekka lay on her bed in the living room with her head resting on her front paws. Her dark brows raised to accomodate the upward lift of her eyes as they watched my progress.
When I finished, I cleaned my brush, tapped on the lid of the paint can, and then stood with hands on hips and looked out at the water that meandered down my street. Clumps of debris had caused sporadic eddies to form and the combination of dirt and dark asphalt underneath gave the pseudo river a mucky brown hue. I looked over my shoulder at my dog and she popped up as if I had called her name. It was long past time that we did something outside of the house and she had been waiting on any indication that I was ready to do so.
I laughed at her as she did an excited dance over to me, soft woofs punctuating her lithe, snake-like moves. Bending over, I roughed the hair on her shoulders and she swiped my chin with a quick kiss.
"You want to go out Mekka?? Wanna play in the rain??"
Yes, yes!! I thought you'd never ask!!
Her eyes sparkled and she bounced up and down on her front feet in excitement.
We walked down the entry hall and I opened the heavy inner door. We both gazed out of the storm door at the streams of water, one winding up the road and and one pouring from the sky. Our breath making two foggy circles on the glass.
A great plumed tail waved wildly in answer.
I punched the lever and together, as girl and dog, we burst over the threshold and into the rain. We raced about erraticly, both of us enjoying the reprieve from the house that had been our prison for two days and the cool sensation of water splashing up, over, around and down onto our bodies.
Mekka whizzed past me as I stood in the middle of the river-street and let out hoots of encouragement. Her rear end was tucked up underneath her in a flat out pig run and water exploded up in the air from the force of her churning feet.
An attempt to goose Mekka as she ran by resulted in a scramble as the flimsy plastic of my flip flop popped and gave way. I lost traction and landed with a splash on my backside in the murky water. Sitting up, I raked sodden hair from my face just as something hit my chest with enough force to knock me back down. Shock gave way to laughter as I found myself being mauled with love by my soggy dog.
I wrapped my arms around Mekka's great neck and hugged her to me. The joy on her face was a reflection of my own.
Always a water dog. . .in a lake on a trip to Santa Fe.
Monday, February 14, 2011
I'm a chicken.
March will be here before I know it and with it will be the start of many a cowhorse clinic. All of which I will not be able to attend unless I get over my fear.
Oh, I've thought of another one: lily-livered.
My Ruby is out of commission until the end of March while she recovers from having bone chips removed from both of her knees. Luckily, I have another horse that is talented enough to ride in these clinics, my dad's gelding, Socks. There is only one problem with Socks: he has my number.
Socks has made up for lost time.
Socks makes Breeze look like a good ride, or at least a safe one.
Socks has thrown me off five times.
The ornery gelding is a six year old half brother to our two mares, Ruby and Snakebite (same sire, The Hot Express). He's big, handsome, and super smooth. He had been Grant's personal ranch horse until we brought him home from SCR last April. He even has a cameo dragging calves in a coffee table book called Dust and Smoke.
I gathered on him twice before we took him home and both times he was rock-solid. In fact, he earned my trust on one of those rides when the weather turned ugly. That day we spent a few hours in rain that turned to hail and then snow and even wound up ponying a horse through some of it. Through all of that Socks remained steadfast.
We took him home and I rode him out on a few hacks. He was golden on those occasions as well and had become my second-favorite horse to ride, next to Ruby, of course.
Until one disastrous day in May when he bucked me off three times in a row. The first time it happened I had just climbed on and we had taken a few steps before he exploded. It was a complete shock. I'm not sure I realized exactly what had happened even as I sat on the ground with pain pulsing in my hip and the sharp points of goatheads stabbing the palms of my hands. I caught my horse, convinced it was a fluke, and immediately climbed back on. We walked a bit and then trotted some serpentines before I finally asked him for a lope.
This time the feel of the leather reins burning thru my fingers registered in my brain as he threw his head down by his ankles and erupted again.
To this point, I had never before ridden anything bigger than a dolphin buck. This was turning into a competition between me and this big, stout gelding and I was far outmatched. Nevertheless, my emotions had shifted from shocked to pissed and the third time I climbed on I did so with determination.
And achieved the same results as the first two times.
S P L A T !
This time when I got up it was slowly and my shock and anger was replaced with frustration and a niggle of fear. I caught my horse and stood beside him. I rested my forehead on the saddle and cried. They were tears of frustration and tears of worry. My greatest fear was that I had just ruined a good horse.
I rode Socks several times after that day and each time I climbed on there was a solid knot of fear in my throat that stayed no matter how hard I tried to swallow it down or how good he had been the time before.
Maybe it's cause I braided his hair and damaged his manly ranch horse persona. . .
Number four happened in front of the cross country kids I coach. Pride made me hop back on. He didn't buck and we finished the ride.
On number five he began bucking as soon as I swung my leg over. By this time I had a nightlatch on my saddle and leather gloves on my hands. I held tight for three jumps before I landed in a heap. He bucked a sixth time that day but I finally stuck it out and rode him.
I haven't gotten back on him since.
Now that I've finally stuck I have no wish to get back on him, which makes no sense at all. Like I said, Socks has my number.
I want so bad for there to be a fixable reason for the sudden change. Like that his teeth are bad or his back is out. But, so far, the vet and the chiropractor haven't given me the excuses that I'm looking for.
Is it my fault? Was the first time really a fluke and when I came off so easily he realized that he had an eject button at his disposal?
Muddy K over at A Fearsome Beauty put it best when she said the following of her relationship with her horse after a fall:
"Suddenly, she was something that could hurt me, and I was something that could hurt her. Everything was different. I was outside of myself, displaced as a rider, displaced as Scout's person. Once my head got involved, my body checked out, taking with it the confidence and skill I had freely and un-self-consciously used all those years go."
By no means do I posess the level of confidence or skill that she speaks of but what little I have has been damaged in respect to riding this particular horse. It has definitely become a head game for me.
So, for now, Socks is a beautiful pasture ornament and I don't have a mount for the Les Vogt clinic in March.
My roommate snapped this as I got up from the ground for the third time that day in May.
Thursday, February 10, 2011
I arrived at the ranch on a Saturday afternoon. On Sunday I helped Connie prepare enough food to feed the cowboys for the next two days. She's a hard worker and I was bushed by the time I went to bed early that night.
My alarm clock read 9:15 mst and I was lying in my bed in the little dwelling called the bunkhouse, which was actually more of an efficiency apartment. I could hear the breeze coming throught the blinds of the open windows and the occasional yip of a coyote. I knew that I needed to shut my mind down and go to sleep, 4:15 would come quick, but it was racing about like a rat in a maze, bouncing off walls and constantly switching directions.
Which was probably exactly what Breeze was doing down in her pen: racing about, bouncing off fences. Besides the occasional break to eat or drink, I don't think her head had been below her withers since I'd unloaded her.
We were both excited and worried, a volatile combination.
I thought about the things Grant had told me about earlier that evening. About the cowboy etiquette that I would need to follow. Grant was a man of few words at this point in time so the lecture was short, sweet, and to the point. He would later open up and talk a whole dang lot, mostly to give me a hard time, which I understood and reciprocated a lot better than all that stinking quiet.
The most important thing, he told me, was to never ride in front of the other cowboys. There was an heirarchy and, understandably, I would be at the bottom of it. This rule also carried over in to the branding pen where most of us would be on foot. Not only was this a sign of respect but it would also prevent wrecks from occuring.
I had no problems with being a follower. My entire reason for coming to the ranch was to learn. Breeze, on the other hand, was a boss mare through and through and I was concerned that it was going to take more muscle than I had to keep her from trying to get to the front.
I finally fell asleep but it turned out to be a fitful night. I dreamt of riding a great red dragon with fire flaring from its' nostrils. There were cattle all around and the ones that weren't burnt to a crisp were taken out by giant swings of the dragon's great tail.
Monday, February 7, 2011
It was the year 2006 and I was in my second year as the assistant women's basketball coach at Lubbock Christian University. I was living in a house that I owned and Mekka was six months old. I also had an Australian Shepherd that I had adopted from the vet clinic named Bo.
Bo was a mature, neutered male and was rather large for the breed but had beautiful blue merle coloring and a pair of ice blue eyes. He was a truly good dog with a horrible case of separation anxiety that I'm pretty sure was the reason that he came to be an adoptee to begin with. He had been with me a little over a year by this time and I took him with me everywhere. By everywhere, I mean work, class, church. . .every-stinkin-where. I had a little Jeep Wrangler and I had taken out the backseat and the windows so that Bo had shade, a breeze, and plenty of space because he spent a lot of time there. Oddly enough, the little escape artist had no wish to leave as long as he was in that vehicle.
So when Mekka came he was less than enthused by his new job as puppysitter. He still got to come with me most of the time but there were also times that he and Mek were left in the backyard. Stupidly, I thought that he would be more likely to stay if he had a companion. I was wrong. He just took his little charge with him.
My little house was only 5 minutes from the university but to get there one had to go via the underpass of the major thoroughfare in Lubbock: the Loop.
On one of those days that I had chosen to leave my children (or dogs, if you prefer) at home my cell phone rang on my office desk. Expecting a return phone call from a prospective athlete or fellow coach looking for a scouting tape one can imagine my surpise when it was none other than an employee from one of the local cemetaries. Specifically, the cemetary just up the road from the school.
"Lubbock Christian University, this is Coach Wilson."
"Hello, this is Belinda at Resthaven Funeral Home and Cemetary. I believe we have your dogs here."
At first, my mind was thrown for a loop. My dogs? At the cemetary? I mean, I've been guilty of driving to the bank when I meant to go to the dry cleaners but I realized it before I tried to cram my clothes into the tube. But my dogs at the cemetary?? Surely not.
"My dogs?", I said.
"Yes ma'am, your dogs. Their tags say their names are Bo and Mekka and this was the number on them."
"Oh, no. I mean, yes ma'am, those are my dogs. I'll come right over and get them. Thank you so much for calling."
"Well, sure. They're really sweet. They were just trotting right down 19th street. Not on the road or anything, just toodling on down the cemetary. I saw them through the window so I thought I'd see if they had any tags cause I sure would've hated to see them hit."
"Okay, I'm leaving right now. Thanks again."
"We'll be right her under the awning waiting on you."
I pushed End and grabbed for my keys and purse. On the drive over, the whole two blocks of it, I alternated between cursing my nutty, blue-eyed Aussie and saying prayers of thanks that they hadn't been hit and that the lady had been kind enough to actually go out of her way to stop them. It wasn't until I was about to pull in to the parking lot of Resthaven that I realized that in order for Bo and Mekka to have gotten to this point they had to have crossed the Loop. I could picture it in my head clearly: Bo, in his working dog trot with a look of fierce determination on his face and Mekka, tall and gawky, ears pulled back with worry, her tongue hanging out, and struggling to keep up. All the while, cars whizzed by, some honking in warning, and others having to stop to keep from hitting them. My stomach turned over at the mere thought.
I shook my head and cleared it of the nightmare. Under the awning, just as promised, were my dogs. Bo was leaning against the black skirt of a stately older woman. His tongue was lolling out of the side of his mouth and he gazed up at her in adoration as she stroked his head. Mekka was lying on the sidewalk nearby with an exhausted expression on her face. She had a front leg on either side of a bowl that had probably only moments before held water.
When I stepped out of the Jeep Bo immediately trotted over, his expression showing nothing less than pride. No doubt he believed he had accomplished his goal. In fact, he had done one better: instead of having to come all the way to the school, as was his intent, we had met halfway. Perfect!
I opened my hand for him to place his muzzle in and continued walking toward the woman and Mekka. Mek's tail beat the concrete as she recognized me and then she immediately flopped to her side and raised one hind leg to show me her belly. I bent to rub it and then looked up to the guardian angel named Belinda. I noticed the long, white hairs clinging to her black skirt.
"Thank you so much. I live just over the highway, they must've crossed it to get here. I'm lucky they made it this far and I really can not thank you enough for calling."
"Oh, you're welcome. They're nice dogs and I sure hope someone would do the same for me if mine were lost."
We made small talk for a bit longer as Bo danced between us and Mekka caught her second wind and then I loaded them up and took them home.
Bo would escape many more times in the three years that I would have with him after that, before lung cancer would take him from me in the spring of 2009. Mekka never went with him again. I can imagine him asking her just before he made his exit and her raising her expressive, dark eyebrows at him as if to let him know that she thought him crazy. She was nothing but confident in my love for her and harbored no doubts that I would return. That and she was a big believer in energy conservation.
Sunday, February 6, 2011
Mekka kisses 2009
I met Waltraut Zieher in 2003 while working at the vet clinic in Levelland. She and Doc had formed a friendship when they had worked together at the Lubbock Emergency Clinic some years ago. Wal trusted Doc and so she drove the 45 minutes from her home to our clinic just to see her. I had grown up with Labs and thought my dog, Jasmine, to be decent sized. Jas was at work with me that first day I saw Wal’s dogs and they made her look like a pocket pet. She brought one adult female, Iblis (Ee-bliss), and two six month old pups, Nugget and Nockerl. The pups were gangly with youth but Iblis was beautiful. She was a giant dog yet still very elegant. Her coat was long, straight and soft and the color of mature wheat, except for her face, which looked as though it had been dipped in the darkest of chocolates. The hair along her ruff was also black tipped as was the very point of her long tail. Her eyes were her best feature though. They were almond shaped, lined in black and were a warm mahogany brown. They were soulful eyes that spoke of an innate kindness. Jasmine had the same kind of eyes and she was by far the best dog I had ever had.
Waltraut was from Germany as were the dogs. They were called Leonbergers and she had been one of the first to import them into the US sometime in the eighties. She bred one litter a year and for the eight weeks that litter was with her they were given all the love, care and attention one would give a human child. They were weighed, fed, and cosseted, exposed to sights and sounds, different people and animals, and housetrained all within the safety of Waltraut’s puppy house and yard. She had a waiting list of prospective puppy buyers and she was very picky about who ended up with one of her dogs.
Over time I got to know Waltraut well. I dog sat for her several times and helped her with the O, P, Q, and S litters. My parents got two puppies from the first litter I helped with, Ondra Omyto and Osea Me. I was in college and living in an apartment at that time and didn’t get my first Leo until the P litter. I met my Perfect Mekka von Stutensee before she was 24 hours old. My dad gave me a hard time about the Perfect part but she was. She was absolutely perfect for me.
Waltraut and two of her Leo girls