This is mainly going to be a photo montage from my last day at Madrone Ranch Stables. Enjoy.
(L-R: Nitro, Trooper, Goober, Ben)It was always a constant battle of keeping enough grass for the horses in the limited turnout we have. The erosion from the rains fell near the gates of the three fields, and you can see that in the small drain there isn't much grass at all. We plant winter rye and fertilize but...there are just so many horses. Plus, we have recently been attacked by yellow starthistle, which evidently is a neurological toxin to the horses and they're all breaking out in hives, limiting our turnout even more. But: The horses were never happier than when they were outside.
You're My Hero
Admittedly, Hero was always my "pet," the cutest and the most intelligent 12.2 hands of pony money can by. Hero was not given his name, he earned it. He can go around a course at National Pony Finals and then tote a six year old across crossrails and still look good doing it. Despite his Napoleon complex, Hero understood what some horses never learn: if you do your job well, they stop bothering you. Hero will always be "the pony I never got" that I finally did.
Some of these guys could never fail to make me chuckle, such as the Mason-Goober dynamic. Pictured is Mason, a sweet, gentle soul who likes to get into wars across his fenceline with Goober, a mouthy, giant goober of a horse. Sometimes I would look out into the runs and see the two playing tug-of-war with a broom or a piece of rope that Goober had dragged with his extremely talented lips away from the cross ties. Mason was always curious, all the time, and his nose led the way in every adventure.
(L-R: Knickey, Bix, Petey)
Led by Bix, the ultimate hound-dog, you could not be stabled next to Bix and not immediately spend your days staring longingly at the mares in the field. I call Bix "Saint Bix" because of his incredible tempermant and tolerant personality. However, he has an eye for the ladies, and spends his time scoping out the nearest mare, Ovation, who lives at the end of the row. When I took this picture, they were all gazing out at Espy and Mardi, two pony mares. I called their names to get their attention, and to me they look like little boys caught with their hands in the cookie jar. They look downright guilty. Who, me?
The Great White
I call our 8 horse trailer "The Great White" because we called our old 6 horse that looked like a giant white whale (it was a lot taller and wider and stouter) "Moby." This is a 1987 Lightline Sundowner (aluminum) that I bargained down to a steal of a price from the person selling it. It used to be navy blue and you could hardly see the aluminum. I never realized just how big this mammoth thing was until I tried to take a picture of the whole rig today. It looks almost half the size of the barn! No wonder it hurt my back. It was a great trailer though. They don't make them like that anymore. As a note, the new manager Beverly is inside the tack room but you can't see her.
(L-R: Peppy, Caroline)
I have learned so much over the last four years. One of the lessons that I learned was that I enjoy teaching. Sometimes it's frustrating and sometimes it's rewarding but mainly it is just a fascinating experiment in rider-horse relationships. Peppy is the horse equivalent of Tippy, the barn dog. He has been so beat-down and trained so much that he is almost lacking in a personality. Somewhere behind is bug-eyes there is a little spirit of a horse that knows that when a child tips forward and loses her balance, he needs to stop and stand still. Peppy has taken meticulous care of his tiny riders and has done nothing but work hard for me this entire time. I'll miss his flop-ears and my favorite trick to show the kids at the end of the lesson--how Peppy would "cut" me, follow me step by step wherever I went in the arena, turn on a dime when I turned, and stop right next to me when I stopped. Peppy thought we were partners and most times, we were.
Employee of the Year
When we first arrived at Madrone Ranch, the barn had not been completely built. So we stabled a few horses at Rusty's adjacent barn at his home, and we would ride there in his small arena. Some days, Kelly and I would ride the horses through the adjoining trails to ride them in the larger arena once we had put up jumps in it. Rusty's dog Tippy would always come along with us, trotting ahead and occasionally chasing the odd rabbit or deer. Then, one day many years ago, we finally were able to move horses into the barn. Rather than trailer them over, we rode them to the ring and then put them away in the barn. Tippy followed us over to the barn as usual that day, but that night when we left the 4 horses we originally started off with in their new stalls, happily munching on hay, Tippy stayed behind. Tippy never went back to Rusty's house again. For a while, he tried to drive her over there and feed her steaks and scraps and try to bribe her. She would always run back. Then he tried not feeding her anything so that she would have to return to his house. She wouldn't eat for days. Tippy never went back to Rusty's. She lived with me when I lived at the barn and I remember how she didn't know what carpet was. She tried to dig it into a hole like dirt during the winter. I would put towels down but that just scared her. Tippy worked all day--I used to joke she was the best employee we had. She would herd the horses back to the gate, barking and grabbing at their tails with her teeth. She loved to bite at water coming out of the hose and would run in circles around the outside edge of the arena when I would teach my lessons. Tippy has an insatiable desire to please and to work. I'll miss her greeting me at my car every morning.
¿Cómo Podía La Vida Ser Mala?
(Jesus Castillo aka Chuy)
Chuy had a favorite saying. I remember the first time he told it to me, when I had dragged him over to Rusty's house to help me get a horse trailer and take a horse to the vet. He said this, of course, in Spanish, but it was probably the most consecutive words I have ever heard him say. It went something like this...
The english translation of that is: I've got a nice woman next to me, in a nice car, with a nice trailer and a nice horse inside--how could life be bad?)¿Tengo una mujer agradable al lado de mí, en un coche agradable,
con un acoplado agradable y un interior agradable del caballo -- cómo podría
la vida ser mala?
It didn't matter to Chuy that he didn't own the truck or trailer,
or the horse, that I was his boss, that he had to clean stalls every day. He
was in that moment able to find happiness and point it out to me. Chuy showed me how to be greatful and appreciate those things which sometimes go unnoticed.
In the time I've known Chuy, I've watched our relationship go full
circle. He used to drive me crazy when I was young and impatient and had a
chip on my shoulder. He wasn't always a saint--he'd wear his shirt unbuttoned all the way down to his belly button, he'd show up drunk and hung over and he was always making rude grunting comments about how terrible life was. Then, at some point, he left and I grew up. When he came back, I realized how fond I was of Chuy. He was an open book who spoke his mind and I of all people could appreciate that. He suddenly was friendly and helpful and I could ask him to button up his shirt and he wouldn't just storm off. I had learned not only how to manage Chuy, but my own emotions as well.
Today when I took the above picture, he had come into the office to say goodbye. I was sitting there talking with him and one of the other
guys and I saw him just absentmindedly button up the top button on his shirt. It was like this sudden disbelief that I had finally gotten him to respect himself and be proud of what he was doing. He wasn't buttoning up his shirt because I had told him to but because he finally takes pride in his work and understands the
honor and importance.
I'll miss Chuy the most. I'll miss the fact that I can finally understand more or less most of what he says, and that I can tell jokes with him and laugh at things that not everyone can find humor in. I'll miss having Chuy
around as a true friend.