27 November 2009


Early Risers -- two

This morning, again, there's a tinge of nip in the air. Excellent weather for saddling up and going for a ride. It's quiet, really quiet, even the water in the large irrigation canal across the street has slowed it's gurgle as it passes us by on the way to parts unknown. The company that manages irrigation for the entire metro area lowers the water levels this time of the year for cleaning and repairs. December, January, and February can be wetter months than the rest of the year, even with 'monsoon season' which starts in June and ends the end of September, so there's little need for irrigation.

I digress...it is an excellent morning for a ride. Traveler, short for Traveler's Grandson, is my Missouri Fox Trotting Horse. He can certainly use the workout, it's been a long time. I know he'll be over-eager and I'll have my hands full for first 20 minutes or so until he works the kinks out.

Traveler thinks I'm being unfair, and I can feel the power under me as we go through this little routine we go through everytime we leave the house. We prance and dance sideways. We just want to go, but for my safety we can't do that, so he starts to shake his head, pull the bit, and snort his displeasure while I try to make him walk at a slower pace. When that doesn't work, he has this little crow-hop and stiff-leg dance we do until he figures out Mum isn't going to let loose of the reins and let him have his head. He snorts again and settles into the slow gait for which his breed is known, an easy 'fox trot'.

Once around the corner and onto the big irrigation canal road, I let loose of the reins a little and let him have his head. There is a noticable relaxing of the power under me as he picks up his pace and smooths out again into his 'flat walk', which can carry us up to eight miles in an hour.

My plan is for an easy workout since it's been a while and he's out of shape. Along the canal road past the house to the end of the dirt track. I slow him a little at the end of a construction fence. I want to turn him up the hill, a light heel to to his right side and he turns. He digs in and up the hill we go. At the top, he knows he needs to catch his wind, so he stops. He's already starting to sweat. I can feel it under his mane and the heat coming off his neck as I tell him what a good job he's done.

There's been a bunch of construction in the area; new roads have been cut into the hill for a new housing project where just three years ago there was just desert. It's depressing to see where these homes will be built when the economy gets better. It will certainly take something away from the ambience of future rides. I want to avoid the new construction where the streets have been paved, so I move him down the hill away from the project and onto the old canal road. I can let him have his head again here and drop the reins to fish out a cigarette. Instead of making a headlong dash, he moseys along. It's like he knows what I'm about. We wander to the end of this dirt road and cross the paved street to a shallow ditch where we water horses on big rides. He goes into the water without encouragement and takes a big long drink.

I've been dumped in this ditch a few times so I'm attentive to what he might do next. Sometimes, he will start splashing and stir up the mud on the bottom. I think he just likes to play in the water, he does the same thing with the water barrel in his pen, but I remain vigilant all the same. It's just chilly enough to be cold if he decides to go for a swim with me aboard. He stops splashing and takes another long drink as I gather up the reins and start to turn him out of the water.

We head back the way we came and he thinks we're headed home again, but I have another plan in mind for him. We turn left at the paved street and make our way along the street to the bottom of the mountain. We're going to take the 'Rock House tTrail' home. It will take us within fifty yards of the house when it ends.

The narrow trail is challenging in places with loose rock and shale along the way. there are plenty of dips and plateau's for leg strengthening, and a hearty climb to the remains of the old rock house. Its a short trail, not more than a mile and a half but a good workout. We'll take another break there before we start down the trail that goes through a neighborhood toward the house.

As I sit at the rock house while Traveler blows, I look out over the city. I can see a large part of it. It's a clear morning now that the sun has come up and the brown cloud that usually shourds the valley floor is not evident this morning. Apparently, the wind has blown it clear, at least for today. The view is spectacular.

It's so quiet up here. The noise of the fifth largest city in the United States is a distant thrum. I sigh thinking how much I'd miss the wide open space of this metro area were I to leave it and move somewhere else. I know I have issues with the excessive heat in the summer months. But this is the time of the year I like best, the fall, winter, and spring. Sure, I'll admit I miss the change of seasons of the northeast, but I certainly like the wider open spaces of this part of the country, too.

Traveler is getting impatient under me, so I turn him down the steep hill toward home. I let him have his head and he picks his way down the shale laden slope to the dirt road below. We cross the dirt road and continue to the canal road where we started. He knows where we are and heads in the right direction. He moves easily beneath me.

As we turn the corner towardhome, he picks up the pace, anxious to get back to his stable buddies. I have to collect him up and slow him down. I never allowhim to race into the yard where I keep him. Allowing behavior like that incites the other horses to chaos and running along the fences. Once in the yard, we stop at the hitching rail and he stands quietly.

I'm going to struggle out of the saddle. It's been a while since I've been in the saddle and I know I'm going to be stiff. I make it to the ground, lead rope in hand and tie Traveler off to the rail. I loosen his cinch and take off his bridle. He shakes his head releived to be free of it.

He looks around at me as if to say? 'How about a drink of water?' I tell him not yet, I want him to cool down a little more before we do that and I fish out another cigarette and walk away. He stomps in place and shakes his head as flies start to gather on his sweaty flanks.

I've got to walk around for a few minutes, stretch the legs and get them circulating again. I can already feel the stiffness setting in. Comes with semi-advanced years, letting myself go, and not riding often enough to keep the muscles in shape.

Traveler will wait a few minutes. I don't hurry turning him out after a ride. I like him to be almost dried off before I put him up. It's too chilly yet, for a bath which I sometimes do to wash off the sweat and salt. This morning I'll scrape him down with a sweat scraper. The sweat scraper looks like a long flat flexible serrated knife that will bend in the middle to get into tight places where sweat collects and can breed all manner of things that irritate a horse's skin. Traveler actually likes the sweat scraper, he gets these funny looks,scrunches his nose up to a blunt point like a dogs nose. I call it 'elephant nose'. He gets to liking it so much he will lean into me.

Almost dried off and saddle pad laid out for drying, we walk to the pasture gate. i turn him into the pasture and he bolts for the far end of the pasture. He's so cool to watch when he'shappy. He comes back to the gate just to make sure I'm still close, he knows theres a treat for him in his pen. He walks away and finds the dustiest driest place he can find, he drops and rolls getting right back up again, then he walks around in circles and drops again rolling on the opposite side. Up and off again he races for the far end of the pasture tail flying high. This time he's calling to the neighbors horses saying, 'Hey look at me!' They return his call and he comes back to the gate.

While I'm hooking his lead rope, he's searching my pockets for the treat he knows I have hidden in my back pocket. He can smell it. I've already put three pounds of carrots with a small flake of alfalfa in his pen. It's a short walk to his pen and we walk through the gate right to the feed I've left for him. Now, I can pull of his halter and leave him to the rest of his day.

As I close the gate and latch it, I look at the sky to try and determine what time of day it's getting to be and how long I've been gone into this world where it's just Traveler and myself. Flipping my phone open, it's just before nine AM, I still have all day, too.

22 November 2009

Mum's Last Love

This story starts late summer of 1998. Mum and I had taken some time away from the house, loaded the truck and dogs and headed for the high country. We chose the KOA campground in Williams, AZ for our few days stay.

They had horseback riding. You could choose an hour ride, a two hour ride or all day. No matter what you had to go with a guide/wrangler. Being that I've always been in love with horses, I couldn't resist. It had been a really long time since I'd been riding too. I tried to talk Mum into going along, but she opted out, she wanted to stay with our dogs and just enjoy the day.

Later on I walked down to visit with the gal who was doing the cooking and taking care of the horses. One thing led to another and I discovered she lived at the stable the owner had running full time in Phoenix. She told me to visit next time I was in town and gave me directions to the facility.

After I left on my next trip, Mum decided to check the place out. It never looked like much, but was always busy, people coming and going, riding, caring for horses boarded there and from the little saloon next door.

Mum made friends with the wranglers and was introduced to the owners, Barbara and David. I was gone a month that time and by the time I got back into town Mum had started volunteering at the stables. She took reservations, answered the phones, and was learning the different horses so when a group came to ride she could tell the wranglers which horses to pull out and load. I could see she was enjoying every minute she spent there, and I was happy she had found something to do that took her out of the house more often.

Mum introduced me to Oreo. She'd taken a liking to him. He was this all mixed and jumbled black and white paint horse with friendly brown eyes and a big white blaze down his face. He had this bored look about him that instantly made me think of "Eeyore", Pooh's friend. Most days he stood in the dude line waiting for someone to pull him out of the line to go to work.

Mum explained they didn't use him much because he had an attitude and wasn't likely to follow the leader especially if who ever was on him didn't know what to do when he decided to stop. I wondered if maybe he wasn't just bored, he looked so sad most of the time. I later found out, the behavior wasn't from being in the dude line every day, but from poor feed.

I asked to ride him. He and I, we got along fine on the ride except he tripped a few times. I had to wonder if perhaps he needed new shoes or trimming or something. The next time I went to the stables Mum stayed home and I learned more about Oreo.

As the story goes, the owner bought him as a yearling colt off the reservation with intentions of making him his 'Mountain Man' horse. He moved as if he was a walking horse breed. I later learned they suspected he was 1/2 Tennessee Walking Horse and 1/2 mustang. He had the gait when he wanted to wanted to walk it, but because he was in the dude line, he rarely got a chance to strut his stuff. The kind of riding at the stables is mainly done 'nose to tail', a follow the leader thing.

Oreo was stout, well built and David was a big man, over 220 pounds and over six feet tall, but apparently David didn't think Oreo had the stamina, so he was never used. Apparently after they gelded him, he didn't suit the owner's needs which was to carry David on the 130 mile Mountain Man Ride from Williams, AZ down to New River, AZ. It's a strenuous ride, 130 miles over rough terrain, across mountains, and through the woods.

Oreo developed other issues, too, while he was growing up. David wasn't noted for feeding the best feed to his animals and Oreo was one of those horse that had a really sensitive stomach. It seemed he was prone to colic every time David bought a different grade of alfalfa. The vet had been out for him twice in the few months we'd known the people at the stables. I was witness to one such occurrence. I spent an afternoon walking Oreo. We walked for hours before the wranglers were able to put him up for the day.

When Mum and I went by the next day, Oreo was tied at the hitch rail in front of the office where Mum sat to sign in riders. We found out that he'd gone down again the night before and they were waiting for the vet. The long and short of it after the vet came out was that Oreo wasn't likely to recover without surgery.

I left on another run the next morning, so I wasn't able to check on Oreo before I left, but when Mum and I talked that evening she was ecstatic. "Guess what I did, today?" She prompted me. My response was "I dunno, what'd you do today?" "I bought Oreo." She said. Now it was my turn to be surprised. I'd have never guessed she'd have done that, but apparently, Barbara made her a decent deal. Mum put down a down payment and Oreo was moved into a private stall to recover from the visit from the vet again that day.

I wouldn't learn until after Mum's death that Barbara had threatened to run Oreo through the sale. The truth of the matter was, Barb and Dave were in the business of selling horseback rides and selling horses. If they had a horse they couldn't use in the dude line or they couldn't sell, it was of no use to them. The animal went to the sale for whatever it would bring.

Mum saved Oreo from that fate. I have to say, Oreo never had colic again after Mum bought him. Weeks later, Oreo would recover sufficiently to be returned to the dude pen with the other geldings. Mum made daily trips to the stables and the wranglers got him out for her so she could brush him and spoil him with treats. There was a new farrier in the neighborhood and Mum called him to have a look at shoeing Oreo. JD, the farrier, would become close friends with us over the next months as he worked to get Oreo's hoofs back into shape and would continue to shoe our horses for a long time to come.

I came in after a particularly long run. I think, I'd been gone six weeks. In that six weeks, Oreo's eyes were bright and alert. He had a new halter and lead rope, he had brushes and combs. He appeared genuinely happy to see Mum when we were there. The days she volunteered, he was brought out and tied to the hitch rail where he could be close to her. It was easy to see the bond they had formed. I wondered if she would ever ride him.

It was getting close to Christmas and Mum didn't have a saddle yet. A buddy of mine suggested we split the cost of a saddle for her. He knew what she wanted. They'd been to the tack store enough times together. I agreed. I bought the pad for her too. Christmas day we took Oreo's new saddle and pad up and tacked him out. He looked like a king and thought he was pretty special. It was one of the few times I witnessed Mum get on Oreo for a ride.

She'd bought herself some riding lessons and was making progress getting her confidence back. "Let's face it," she'd said, "It's been 50 years." That Christmas Day was a special day for both of them.

Mum started letting Barb's daughter ride Oreo when she was around, and a couple of wrangler's had started to work him for her. She wanted him ready when I got back in the next time. I'd made her promise she would ride Oreo to the T-Bone Steakhouse for dinner.

I was seriously thinking of coming off the road and hadn't yet broached the subject with Mum, it was something we had to sit down and talk about. dinner at the T-Bone would give us that opportunity. I wanted to do some regional and local running and see if we could sustain things around the house, and I wanted to be home more often. I did come off the road in April that year. It was 1999.

We spent most of our time at the stables. I was volunteering for Dave and Barb now, too, so I had been able to ride most of the horses in the dude line and some of the horses used for 'wrangling'. Now, I rode most of the time as a wrangler and I'd found a horse I wanted to buy. A four year old Missouri Fox Trotter filly named Sally.

We took off and spent the 4th of July weekend in Forest Lakes, AZ with some family. When we got back, I had decided it was time to make a bid for the filly, but I was too late, she'd been sold the day before to a cowboy who ironically lived in Heber, AZ. I kept riding Oreo while I looked for another mount of my own.

In September I'd taken a run out of state for a couple of days. Mum had gone to the feed store and picked up two large bags of feed for Oreo. I don't know what she was thinking by trying to get the bags out of the truck by herself, but in any event she wrenched her back, or thought she did. When it was all said and done, the doctor said she'd pulled the muscles around her spine and cracked a vertebrae. He didn't want her riding for atleast a few months, and he definitely didn't want her lifting anything! She couldn't sit comfortably so she wasn't going to the stables often, and when she did she didn't stay long.

Three months later, she was gone and Oreo was lost. After her death, it dawned on me, she was saying her goodbyes to Oreo, even though her death came as a complete shock to me and everyone else we had made friends with the last two years.

Oreo tolerated me, I think he loved me in his own way, but our bond wasn't the same as it had been with Mum. Each time I went to visit, he would head right for the booth where Mum used to sit. On more than one occasion, he went through the door looking for her. His ears would twitch and his nostrils would flare, but he never found her. His attitude which had improved over the last two years, reverted to; 'Oh, bother, do I have to?'; that Eeyore thing was back.

A month after Mum's death, I took Oreo to the annual Wickenburg ride. A fifteen mile ride from Morristown, AZ across the desert and through the hills to Wickenburg, AZ. I'd taken time off from work. The day before we left, I spent the time to give him a bath and clean him up. He looked pretty, all blue and red roan colors, mixed up and he definitely looked like Oreo cookies in milk.

On the way out to our camp area, Oreo fell in the trailer and Barb had to stop to get him on his feet again. She was terrified he'd gotten hurt. No worse for the wear when we unloaded him in Morristown, his legs and belly were covered in rich green manure. I had water with me, so while the others saddled up to take the horses to the water spot, I cleaned Oreo up again. As the other riders rode out, Oreo started to call. He called long after the other horse had gotten out of site. It was the first time I'd ever heard him call. Oreo and I would have a lot of firsts. This was just the beginning.

More later.....

The pix at the beginning of this post was drawn by my niece, Marisa, when she was in Phoenix after her grandmother's death. She met Oreo.

08 November 2009

Early Risers

As I came up the drive this morning to my neighbors where I keep my horse and stay with an 8 year old from 0300-0745 AM (when she goes to school)...another neighbor's domestic black bunny scoots across the drive in front of me. He doesn't stay in a rabbit hutch like most domestic bunny's, he roams freely in their backyard. This morning he's wandered a goodly distance from security causing me to wonder if it's for forage, or just curiousity. I know very little about bunny's and their habits, so my immediate concern this morning is he's going to dart away in the wrong direction, get lost, become coyote bait, or get hit by another driver using our driveway.

I've already been up over an hour and fed my too many kitties at home and I've walked in the door at my neighbors to be greeted enthusiastically by the four 'yappy' little dogs and 3 large cats they have. Two small dogs go outside immediately the other two run for cover under the bed. They don't like me but that's another story for another time.

Grandma is still getting dressed for work, so, to settle down the critters, I go about setting out food for them and changing their water dishes. By the time Grandma emerges from dressing, they're settled down and out from under foot. She and I will have a chance to talk for a few minutes before she leaves.

I sit on Gramdma's porch every morning, it's where I have my coffee and smoke. Sometimes the quiet of this time of day can be deafening, but most days it's relaxing. This morning one of the two dogs in the backyard is barking at who know what. I suspect there's something in the pasture that's got her going.

Traveler (my horse) is in the pasture, but he's quiet .... more than likely trying to sleep through her noise. So there's no real cause for concern. I'd worry if he were calling, dancing and prancing about making all kinds of noise, but he's not, sooooo. Grandma keeps 7 horses here, I've mentioned mine, there are three other large sized horses and three miniatures (they are horses, not ponies). I don't expect any of them to stir much before daylight. Then they will begin a chorus to let me know it's time to eat. There isn't much patience when it's time for food.

Cows are lowing this morning. There is a large dairy two blocks away. They have 5,000cattle they breed and use for milk. An occasional car passes the house at this hour, but within the next hour the traffic will pick up considerably. Our street is an alternate route for the major street a mile to the north. I can hear the muted hum of traffic on the freeway which is 5 miles away, too. The airport comes to life about four AM and air traffic begins to increase - depending on the wind direction - we are in the flight path, sometimes.

I like this time of day...I can watch the few clouds scudding by obscuring the 'Little Dpiier' which by the way, stands on it's handle this time of the year. I can pre-write my blog for the day undisturbed though I don't usually post until a few hours later. Before I post, I re-read, correct my thoughts and/or modify it entirely.

Little tinges of daylight begin to appear on the eastern horizon telling me it's time to wake the young miss to get ready for school. So starts another day for the early riser.

01 November 2009

Another day in Paradise?

Hi everyone,
It's been another beautiful day in the desert. I guess it's why people live here in AZ. I was born and raised in New England, and things....life in general is really different out here than in New England, but that aside. I don't deal very well with the excessive heat of the summer months. I live for the cooler weather. Love it this time of the year.

Why do I live in AZ? I brought my Mom out here 12 years ago to escape the excessive humidity of Florida. Why didn't we go back to New England? I don't know that we ever discussed it. I knew I couldn't get home regularly to the north east states as an over the road driver, and I was already having trouble getting home to Florida for time off, so I think we chose AZ not just for the weather, but for the fact that I would be able to get home more regularly while I was driving over the road. Truck drivers (over the road) generally get home 4 days a month. Many large companies give 1 day for every 7 the driver is away from home. I was driving for a sizable organization back then.

That's the past, this is now. This summer just past, I hid in my house trying to keep cool. It wasn't that I didn't want to go out, I didn't have much reason to go out except for feeding the horses every morning and doing weekly errands. I've been unemployed since May. The job market in construction trucking had been dying a slow death for many months before I was even laid off.

The economy is so bad, here, there is nothing going on in the world where I work as a truck driver. I suppose I could have gone back over the road again, but that doesn't suit me as I much prefer to sleep in my own comfortable bed every night versus the bed in a sleeper in a big rig. There are other factors too, such as not being able to take care of my cats or my horse every day, they would miss me....and wouldn't fit well in a big rig with me. Yeah, you can chuckle. It's a reality I share with them.

Anyway, I started paying attention to what was happening inside 'the beltway' (it's where our elected legislators take care of business) and I've become a real cynic, I think. I haven't had health insurance for four years, I can't afford the monthly premiums at $300.00/month.

So, I am really interested in what the Obama White house is going to do with health care reform. When I became unemployed, I couldn't qualify for the State run Health Care Program. I made $129.00 a month too much to qualify.

Literally after taxes I take home $948.00 a month on Unemployment, and that's too much to qualify for what the state of AZ offers. On this unemployment of $948.00 a month, I'm expected to pay my rent, electric, propane, and other expenses every month, including keeping a car on the road to get around with....Ya think it's happening? Not! So, I'm a very frustrated person these days.

I've made it work this year, and my unemployment has been extended through the end of February 2010. I certainly hope I'll have another job by then. My next wishes are to not have to spend another summer sitting in my house trying to stay cool. To have decent money coming in to pay the expenses, and eventually move out of AZ. Where will I go when I leave AZ? I don't know yet. Definitely somewhere where it's cooler year round, so what if it does snow, as long as it's somewhat affordable to live with my horse and cats.

'Nuf said for today....much more later.