Carrying Heavy Objects Around

It appears my new exercise routine is moving barrels. I’ve now moved the nephew’s barrels many times. Today they became part of my new horse playground. I was told the old playground was on the septic field, so no plodding horses are allowed there. Okay!

It might be work; it might be play

The barrels are for a project, but until Anita’s house is done, I get to use them. I made two circles that can make a figure 8, with a central barrel, a slalom for trotting and turning around, and a jump thing. The last was not made of barrels. It includes my fine new horse jump making stands, in red, of course, combined with some of my wooden poles.

That, at least in my mind, is figure 8.

Both my poles, which had been in the round pen to annoy Apache, and the cones were dangerous objects, as well as heavy. There were healthy fire ant nests under the poles. Worse, there were entire nests IN the cones! That made them hard to move. But I did it.

The horses just watched and waited for their food. I got finished too late for actually using my fine setup!

Pool of Dreaming

So, it’s 2022. Is that swimming pool finished? Of course not, but as the daylight grows stronger, it gets closer and closer.

At least it LOOKS done.

Today the intrepid pool guys braved biting winds and chilly temps to finally finish with the landscaping. They had a wheelbarrow and a bucket, but filled in all the gaps at last.

It really looks complete now. The Pool of Dreams looks like a dream oasis in a desert with all the natural rock.

So, what’s missing?

In addition to the rocks, the guys labeled all the valves, installed the thing that will eventually dispense salt, and got us our remote control.

They also tried to do work on the fire pit, but their drill wasn’t long enough. And that’s what’s left: the hot stuff. I was happy to hear that we are on the list at the propane company to get hooked up. I’m dreaming of a hot tub in winter!

Bonus work.

Lee took advantage of the fence being open so the pool truck could get in to bring dirt in to smooth out behind the pool. Progress!

So, between working hard and getting stuff done, things are good, except my favorite ring fell apart! When I woke up this morning, the beautiful inlay was gone. I’m sad about that. Maybe I’ll find it one day.

The Equine Scholar Escapes

It was beautiful this morning, with spectacular fog over the creek.

Foggy morning.

The fog had cleared by the time I got out to feed the chickens. Of course, I checked the horses. Wait, one was missing. Drew was not in his pen. The gate was open! Someone busted him out. My guess is that their name both started and ended with T.

It was so bright outside I couldn’t see which horse was which.

Yep. Drew was out and interacting. I watched the horses interacting, and it was quite interesting. T chased Drew all over the place, pinning her ears back in classic mare mode. My guess is she is responsible for this.

It’s like he got shaved.

The buckskin buddies ignore Drew, as does Mabel. They tend to cluster away from him, like the cool clique in high school, while T is the bully.

Hey, friend. We will stick together.

Now, Apache and Fiona have been taking good care of Drew. This morning I enjoyed watching Fiona and Drew really playing. She created up and flailed her legs, but I quickly realized they were having fun. A minute later this was them.

Morning friends.

In the afternoon, I came out to check on them, I found Drew alone and forlorn and everyone else together. I went out to him and he came up for love, poor guy. But then, up came Apache and Fiona.

I’ll be your friend.

Each of them said hello nicely. Apache and Drew exchanged friendly nose touches and neck nips. Then came Fiona. There was a whole lot of mutual head flinging.

Love love love ❤️

Then my heart melted. Drew proceeded to groom Fiona from head to tail, gently nibbling her, inch by inch, as Fiona patiently waited.

You have some burs in here.

It was so dang sweet. Indulge my large collection of pictures.

Eventually the love fest ended, because Drew is still a kid. Vlassic distracted him and those two started playing! I got two pictures, though Vlassic is invisible in one. I’m glad Drew is used to dogs.

After work, I was able to work with both Apache and Drew, and all was well. These guys truly make my life better. No foreboding joy here, just happiness. I’ll keep focusing on what is good in my life, not endless contagious diseases and such.

The Equine Scholar Returns and Causes Trouble Immediately

It’s a big day! Drew is home from Colt College and ready to be a productive member of society. Well, actually he’s going to get a nice sabbatical while he eats, plays, grows, and practices what he’s learned so far.

I want to be a happy teen.

I managed to collect everything for both Apache and Drew and be ready to go on time this morning, then we got in a really good lesson, in which I succeeded in all kinds of trotting here and there outside of the round pen. The secret was that the trainer rode him first and dealt with his initial disinclination to follow instructions.

Look at us being happy.

I did fine after that and learned a lot about keeping him straight and paying attention. Such good progress! (Next there will be another struggle, because that’s how it goes).

Next I did all of Drew’s exercises myself, which gave me much confidence. I even rode him with much more success than last time. When we start back up, it should be easier. I won’t ride him at home, just do his exercises.

The final pre-departure requirement was trailer loading. He sure is better at THAT now. It’s a miracle! I learned how to load him from the outside using a long lead rope. That was a good trick. He entered and exited three times, which made Apache impatient!

Let’s go, already.

We made it home and everyone exited nicely. Drew is installed in the small fenced-in area as he gets used to the other horses. It all seemed to be going well.

So, we went off to Cameron in search of Timothy alfalfa pellets, which they did not have, so I got a little Timothy hay to tide Drew over. Oops. Lee is allergic to all grass, so I ruined his car and his breathing. But that was only part of it.

Let’s talk about me for a while.

When we got home I looked to be sure all the horses were okay, as usual. That’s when I spotted T way down the fence, holding her left front leg up. That looked odd. I quickly guessed that she had somehow gotten her leg stuck in the fence, which I thought was a safer kind for horses.

I ran down there to find that, sure enough, she’d gotten a hoof through a square of fence. The poor dear must have been messing with Drew and gotten caught. She was dripping with sweat. I did not panic and squeal, since I learned my lesson from the dog fight.

I tried to call Lee, but no answer. So I texted him to bring wire cutters, and ran back to fetch some myself. He met me with the cutters and I rushed back to T. I was a little concerned she’d hurt herself on the wire, but nope, it took one snip and she removed her leg.

She stood there a second, while I looked for blood. Then she walked off a little stiffly, but fine!

She is shiny with sweat.

T went straight to the hay, while I fetched a rope to take her for first aid. Well, she had a cut on her head, which I predict a young gray horse may have inflicted, but her leg is fine! It was very sweaty, but fine. WHEW.

No cuts. Just sweat.

I blocked off the second small pasture so there can be no more interaction across the fence. They can all still get to know each other at the pens. I’ll see what trouble Drew can initiate there.

T head. Her cut is to the left of her Star. She moved too fast.

All in all I feel lucky everyone is fine, other than Lee and his sinuses, and proud of my horse progress. Onward to the next phase. Back to work tomorrow!

Our Community Is Growing

As a winter storm is barreling its way toward us, it brings hope and possibility. Thanks to the rising costs of housing and the never-ending gentrification of affordable neighborhoods in Austin, my son and his partner have made the hard decision to come out here and start over.

A place to start

In a lucky coincidence, our sweet tenants in the old cabin on the ranch property we share with Sara’s family moved to south Texas right when Declan and Rollie ran out of Austin options. We agreed to offer it to them as a more affordable option.

Such a fine deck

We all have good memories of this place. Ten years ago, this is where we celebrated New Year’s, while Sara’s house was being built. It’s quirky, but cool, so we weren’t sure what our young folks would think. So, they came up last week to look it over.

I was so touched to see how much Rollie was charmed by the place. Rollie has experience with basic living conditions. They can see potential and charm, like I can. Declan will have a harder time, but we think we can work it out. He will have his own music room! And hobby space.

We met to figure out rent and expectations. The plumbing is sensitive, so much must be taught. Vlassic helped.

Tonight we had our traditional meal. Those young folks ate a lot. That always makes me so happy.

Pork loin, cornbread, black-eyed peas, rice, collard greens, cole slaw (bonus cabbage)

Declan and Rollie wanted to go back and look at the cabin again. Did I mean toon it’s the oldest structure on the property? It predates all the neighbor houses. So we went, even though it was getting dark.

Ten years after my first New Year’s sunset, Rollie enjoyed one.

They took lots of pictures to help them figure out where to put stuff. That’s when I let myself believe they will actually move up here in a few weeks. That lowers my concern for them so much. They can find plenty of stuff to do here to meet expenses.

I’m glad to be able to provide options for these two as they figure things out. They can have their independence but not feel alone. And they can plan their next steps.

Meanwhile, Harvey is glad there are no steps to get into his new giant water dish, and Goldie says thanks for the sandbox.

I have no expectations. We talked about it tonight. This weird time has helped us learn a lot about ourselves. We don’t have to expect others to be anything other than themselves. But if I can help, I will.

One day at a time, with intention, off we go in our expanded family compound. Thanks to Sara and her family for helping us help our family.

Have You Ever Had to Apologize to a Chicken?

Well, I had to tell our beautiful Easter Egger hen, Betsy, that I was sorry I’d been putting her down for so long. I was telling everyone what a useless hen she was, because she hadn’t laid an egg yet, and I’d had her a long time. I mean, even little Billie Idyl was finally laying.

How dare you doubt me? And look, I have pale ears, which means pale eggs!

But today when I went to look for eggs, she was in the box, sitting like she was going to lay! And she kept making those noises hens make when they’re working on an egg. I was all excited that finally I’d get a beautiful green egg. Nearly all of these hybrid chickens lay eggs of some interesting color or another.

I also have a fluffy butt.

An hour or two later, I checked back in and found a gorgeous blue egg…which I knew was from Blanca, the Whiting True Blue hen. And there beside it, was this little darling.

It’s darker than ivory, but lighter than tan.

That is a light brown egg. In fact, I’d gotten a light brown egg every day for the past three days, thinking it was one of Billie Idyll’s that was just a little darker than usual. Betsy HAD finally started to produce, along with the rest of the newer chickens, who think it’s now spring.

The new ones are on the right.

I’m sorry, Betsy. Now all four of last year’s hens have laid eggs, and good ole Star is also laying. They are going to be all surprised when it gets cold this weekend. But I’m happy to be getting enough eggs again that I can share them with Lee’s brother, who loves eggs almost as much as I do.

In other news, we still have interesting bugs, not only a wheel bug (I love those), but also one of these guys, a painted hickory borer (or a mesquite borer, but it matches the hickory one better on iNaturalist).

And in just a bit of horse news, Sara and I are feeling good about our horses. She and Aragorn came over today, and he was so calm and centered! He has made a lot of progress in his ability to come here to visit. He even trotted calmly and collected. What a guy. And Apache did extremely well today in the round pen. Sara was impressed and just smiled so much at me. I felt good. He’s still not good outside the pen, but he was doing his stopping and backing so well. I just wanted to acknowledge that improvement.

No horse photos today, but here’s where I wish I could ride.

Our animals are such a source of joy, and we really need it right now. Everyone seems to be getting sick, no matter how hard they try to stay safe. Traveling friends are faring the worst, and it makes me so concerned. The flu is also going around here now. Great. But all my family and friends who are struggling are finding support from their communities. I’ve had some good reminders of that lately and am very grateful.

Goldie has a head as big as at least SOME horses.

Who Needs an Attitude Adjustment? Me.

I’m anxiety prone, not someone who gets depressed often. But, I’ve been pretty down, what they’d call situational depression. I’m just riding it out and seeing what I can learn. I appreciate that suggestion from a friend!

Even the spa is trying to cheer me up. It’s green!

Yesterday I got it into my head to ride a bunch of horses and convince myself I don’t totally suck as a rider and leader of horses. I actually had a good time with Apache, and just need a bit more cooperation in staying on the rails at a trot. But it was fine.

Not too bad.

Then I took T over and saddled her up. I’m still not totally confident in my Western saddling, but I got it on.

You want me to do what?

I failed at bridling, however. Nope. She wasn’t gonna do that. So I put reins on her halter and took her in the round pen. She did better in there, calmed down a bit, etc. she did fine for mounting, though that was when I realized I hadn’t tightened the saddle enough. She did a bit of a jump when I asked her to walk, so we just sat there a while and breathed. We then had a reasonable walk, though my foot aids were not enough and she ignored the reins.

Still, I didn’t fall off or get upset, so I told myself it wasn’t all bad. My dismount was rather graceless, to say the least. The saddle fell down and I had trouble getting it off. The sweet girl was patient. Maybe we will do better after her feet are fixed and someone shows me a bridle she likes.

Why? Oh why?

Then I said, fine. I will ride Dusty. Maybe HE will let me walk around and do trails. Well, he did better with tack, but not with riding. He’d go about 20 steps then turn around and trot back to his friends. Repeatedly.

No amount of foot and leg helped. I ended up doing the reins the old way, so I knew it was time to quit. I’ll try again. Maybe I’ll get help from Sara or someone.

I did work today, and that was nice. And I saw a bug. Little things help! I’m hanging in there.

A Different Winter Wonderland

I’d planned a fun nature walk with my little group yesterday, but thanks to COVID, I ended up on a solo walk. I explored a part of the woods that’s near the house, but not often visited. It was warm and sunny, but still a winter wonderland to me.

A dream in green

The green you see is a mix of rye grass and chickweed.

And mushrooms!

I went over to the tank/pond on the other side of the woods from the one behind our house. It’s the most attractive one and is always full of life.

Cows love it, but they haven’t pooped all the life out of it.

It’s often hard to get to from our place, because there’s a fence marking a property line that ends in a place that stays damp for a long time after it floods. But, the recent tree-killing knocked it down in a spot, so I could explore the pond while it’s full.

We only have a couple of months when the trees have no leaves. You can see more!

This pond has lots of aquatic plants in it. Some are blooming. I forget what they are, but it’s pretty.

The water looks brown, but there are lots of fish.

It always smells nice and earthy around the pond when it’s wet. Admittedly, some parts smell more cattle-y. It smelled fresh today.

Looking towards the dam.

The highlight of my little walk was checking out where the water comes into the pond, which I’d never seen from this side while the stream was flowing.

Coral berry lines the little stream.

The stream had dozens of minnows in it. It was fun to watch them dart around. In the photo you see their shadows better than them! I also figured out that the stream comes out of a spring at the base of our pond. It doesn’t seem to drain our pond, or if it does, it’s slow.

I felt like an explorer in my own back yard. I found a freshly dug hole where some animal lives.

And I encountered an ant swarm on a log. Probably fire ants but still cool to watch. I didn’t stick my fingers in there to check.

Can you see the ones with wings?

It is always refreshing to hang out in nature, no matter what time of year. It’s healing and reminds you of the big picture. None of us is alone. Please enjoy more images of our small, green wonderland.

Christmas for Two

And we aren’t really traditional Christians. Still, I’ve always enjoyed the gatherings of family and friends each year. But it’s 2021. Not a year for fun, comfort and joy, or peace.

It’s okay to be sad this year. We’ve all lost a lot, one way or another. For me, I’ve been sitting with the sadness and allowing peace to replace it in my heart.

My husband loves me. My dogs, horses, and chickens love me in their animal ways. My family love me, from their respective holiday locations. My dear friends are full of love as well. I’m grateful for all the kind messages. Nothing cheers one up quite like newborn baby pictures, so I’m happy to have my unofficial grandchild.

Peace to baby Ruby!

So, since the damned COVID kept our intended guests from coming, I told them I’d send pictures of how I decorated for the meal and relaxing with snacks. I was making lasagna, and Anita was bringing the other stuff. Here’s my decorations:

I also spent an hour or two getting the back porch ready for guests. Everything was dusty and dirty from pool construction. I swept everything, which is so futile, since the wind deposits Alfred hair in every corner as soon as I sweep. And I arranged the newly cleaned cheap patio furniture in a way that gives us a shady sitting area and a sunny one.

I’ve enjoyed butterflies today, so here’s a gift for Anita, Declan, and Rollie to say I miss them but am glad they are being responsible.

And Kynan. I miss you.

Downward Spiral of Confidence or Competency

I’ve been putting off writing about this for a day, hoping to get some insight into how my little brain works. One thing I know for sure, or think I know, as Lucy Barton in the books I’m reading would say, is that once I lose my confidence in one thing, I start screwing up other things. That’s how it’s been the last 24 hours or so. I’ve had lots of time to ruminate, however, so maybe I’ll find that I’ve had a good learning experience.

The source of my downward spiral. Who couldn’t love that face, though?

Yesterday was, for the most part, a pretty rough day for me and horses. The challenges just kept building and building all day. First, I went to get Apache ready to go to a training lesson. He just seemed to be in a very uncharacteristic bad mood. He didn’t seem to want me near, and kept coming at me with his teeth. He has only bitten me once, and that’s when I stuck my hand in his mouth quite foolishly. But, he acted like he didn’t want me around. Too bad, we had to do this stuff. Yep.

Mr Grumpy was all manners and goodness later, when he got a slight hoof adjustment.

He was all shifty and stompy when I groomed him. This is a horse who usually stands still and enjoys the grooming experience. He didn’t like being tied, no matter where I took him, either. At least he got into the trailer nicely and was not too hard to tie up, though the teeth came at me again. What the heck?

Once we got to the training place, he was fine, though, and other than truly not being interested in trotting, did well in the round pen. The trainer said she could see improvement in our relationship, which cheered me up some. She got on him to work on straightness and walk-trot transitions. Apache was not thrilled and was really not thrilled when he was asked to do shoulder-in walking, which makes sense, due to his internal issues, which I’d hoped to resolve a bit today, but that’s another part of the story.

Unhappy Apache not being allowed to curl in his neck.

I even got on him and practiced walking, trotting, then backing. I had some trouble at first, but in the end, I had an aha moment, and now that is really a nice thing to do, and we both seemed happy. This was the highlight of the day. The video below is what I was doing. Thanks to Sara for taking it.

I was being good at this!

Sara’s videos and photos really made me sad, though, because I can see what a little, old lump I look like in the saddle. Even when I’m doing well, I look pretty awful. No wonder I have to start over.

There’s a reason her arms are crossed. I look clueless.

Next, we took Apache back to the trailer to hang out while I did a lesson with Drew. This is where I did another thing that messed with my confidence. I tied Apache next to Aragorn with a hay bag between them. I guess my knot that Chris insists I use doesn’t tighten well enough, so Apache was too loose. It enabled him to show what a bad mood he was in by kicking poor Aragorn. We got a call from the trainer’s son saying the paint was kicking the white horse.

More lumpy Suna riding. Good news is his head is down and he looks more relaxed.

I was mortified and afraid the expensive horse had been hurt and I’d never be able to apologize enough. Sara went to move Apache and was upset about my knot, which she didn’t know how to untie it (it just unties itself once you undo the last pull, but I obviously suck at knots). I also feel awful about that.

Yesterday was already not a great day for me emotionally, since I was still pretty shaken up about Ted dying and the five or six other deaths I’d heard about that day (really, SO many people lost their mothers!). The Apache thing got me shaky.

Then, when I was asked to longe Drew over his hill, I just could not do it. Yes, I was unable to guide a horse going in a circle. I completely lost my ability to do this thing that I thought I knew how to do in my sleep. Well, I need to do it differently now, and hold the rope a certain way, move my feet a certain way, never nod my head, put my elbow into my stomach, and keep level with the horse’s rump. I did none of those things correctly.

Drew being longed properly.

I asked Drew to speed up too violently (I did it the way I’d been told to do with Apache) and was told I’d traumatized him. Then I went into a downward spiral of doubting everything I was doing, and being afraid to hold the rope. When Drew got out of control, I was told to draw him in, draw him in, and I blanked on what that meant I was supposed to do. It meant to shorten the rope and bring him closer. Makes sense NOW.

It was a total cluster of insecurity, loss of confidence, and incompetency. I have no idea how I will ever do anything with Drew other than pet him when I get home. He is so sensitive, yet so boisterous. It’s great, and he is wonderful, but I only have experience with a horse that is slow and ignores me. Versatility eludes me. I have lost my positive outlook. Where did it go?

I ended up pretty damned weepy and wondering what the heck happened to my carefully nurtured equanimity I’ve worked so hard on this year. I’m glad my step-mother called so I had to force myself to be cheerful for a few minutes. It’s always good to hear a few stories from Flo.

Of course, the trainer had kind words for me, and pointed out that all training is peaks and valleys rather than a straight incline, and that we all have our bad days, both people and horses. I know she’s gone through her own bouts of feeling incompetent and judged, so I appreciate her insight, even if it will take a while to set in.

I love this photo showing what all the horses are probably doing, at least mentally, while we analyze their behavior endlessly.

I did eventually get able to watch Sara’s lesson and see how she and Aragorn (who didn’t seem too badly injured and was happy to do his lesson) deal with straightness and transition issues, just at a higher level. Those folks who say the problems stay the same no matter what gait you’re working on are right about that.

Aragorn is making lots of progress and you can hardly see where he got kicked.

We decided that Apache will go in for some training next month when I go on my next condo sabbatical. He will get worked and I will get to stare at my favorite beach. It should do us both some good. The trips are truly helping to keep me on an even keel.

Whining Digression

What I suspect is actually bothering me is my regrets about my family and people who were once close to me. They really build up during the winter solstice period. Most of the year I am at peace with the fact that so many people I love and care deeply for do not reciprocate the feelings. This year I am down to ONE person biologically related to me for Christmas, now that my sister also no longer cares for me. Not all of this stuff is my fault. Or their fault. It’s all gray. I just miss them.

And I wondered why I was surrounded by circling vultures all day…

So, I will hug Lee, Anita, Declan, and Rollie on Christmas and thank the Universe for the larger community of caring folks who do surround me, even if I’m grumpy, sarcastic, negative, harbor unpopular opinions, and am just hard to live with. Most people are, to some extent. I’m smiling as I write this, so I’m not feeling too sorry for myself. What would that help, anyway?

Back on Topic

On the horse front, I’d expected to spend most of the day with them again, but Trixie forgot about our bodywork appointment. It’s all for the best, though, because I finished a secret Christmas gift, and Sara also got some work done. That’s the attitude we need. Sure, there are setbacks, but there are good things that can come from them.

Merry Christmas to all of you out there. You are a true gift to me! My gift to you is this pink evening primrose I found blooming in the pasture this afternoon. I took it as a sign of hope.

Katie Zapfel

Children's book author. Mom blogger.

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