Sunday, August 11, 2013

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.

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Friday, August 9, 2013

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.


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Thursday, August 1, 2013

Bubbles the FreeRange Kitty


I keep wanting to blog about the clinic, and I want to get it all out while it's still fresh in my head.

Needless to say, I had the world's most incredible time... and in addition to having the time of my life, I learned so much my brain hurt.  In some areas of how I approach horses I experienced a completely revolutionary shift in thinking... which was both weird and awesome.

I have a ton of pictures to go through - I'm only about halfway through going through them, and I have over 50 "favorites".

I even took a bunch of notes on the long drive home, so I know exactly what I want to write about.

And then I woke up on Tuesday, physically exhausted but happy and ready to write....

And a freak accident occurred, and we lost our kitten Bubbles.








Even though he was still young, he was just an AWESOME cat.  He was one of those one-in-a-million cats.

I mean, we drove him to the DragonMonkey's  preschool for show and tell and handed him around to twenty different preschoolers, and he never even complained, or tried to wriggle away.

That's a pretty awesome cat.

On the one hand I'm just incredibly sad, although I'm not as devastated as I could be... mainly because when I lost my best friend (also another incredible cat) when I was in my early 20s,  I spent about three months just going through the motions of life, feeling like I had a hole where my heart used to be.... and I realized how ridiculous that was.

Our pets do not live as long as we do.  We live 80 years.  They live about 15 years.

I knew I couldn't survive having my heart destroyed every 10 or 15 years, and I made a conscious decision to not lose myself completely in any of my pets again, at least not the shorter lived ones.  Oh, I still love them passionately, but I just don't let myself completely go with them.  In the back of my mind I realize I'm going to outlive them.

Hey, maybe that's not the healthiest way to approach it, but it's what I had to do to keep myself from flinging myself off a bridge if I ever lost another pet.

Which I guess is why it surprised me that it hurt so much when Bubbles passed.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised - he was an incredible little cat, and I bottle fed him from the time he was about 5 days old.  Once they were old enough his sister found a home with my very good friend here in town, and we kept him. 

So, anyways, before I go on and post anything about the clinic, I just need to take a moment to say goodbye.  I kept trying to just keep it to myself, because I didn't feel like writing about it, but the sadness was seeping into my clinic posts, so I realized I needed to do this.












Miss you, Bubbles.  You really were the best of kitties.  I'll see you again someday.








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