Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Apprenticing Life

There was a CCPA (California Cattle Penning Association) penning this past Saturday. Show days means waking up early in order to drive out to La Grange (a two hour drive on a good day), get the horses fed, wash and groom the horses we'll be taking, loading everyone into the trailer, changing into show clothes and hitting the road. This is roughly how my Saturday morning:

- Wake up at 12:30 (I don't usually go to bed until 12:30!)
- Ride with my fellow apprentice two hours to La Grange (he drives, thankfully!)
- Get caught up to speed with my trainer
- Wash four horses (in the dark, mind you)
- Groom up said horses until they shine (still in the dark!)
- Help feed the remaining horses
- Gather all the tack we'll be taking with us and store it in the trailer
- Help load the horses into the trailer (sun's just coming up)
- Check the trailer then hit the road!
- Arrive at the penning and unload horses
- Touch-up grooming and tacking up
- Warm up my trainer's horse
...all before the 9:00 start.

Once the competition started, I helped out by working the gate. If you're planning on competing in any event, I definitely recommend working the gate at least once. It's the best seat in the house, and I learned a lot -- not only from watching the runs, but also from the commentary between teams. They discuss their game plan as they enter the arena, they talk about what they did right as they leave the arena after a good run, and they talk about what went wrong after a bad one. Also, the teams waiting to go into the arena will analyze the run of the team that's in the arena, so there's tons of information milling around that gate. Plus, everyone in the CCPA is extremely friendly, so they were all willing to answer any questions I had about strategy, the cows and the rules.

Besides that, I really liked being able to wish each team good luck as they entered, and congratulate them as they left, no matter how their run went.

After the show, I helped break down all the sponsorship posters, which gave me a chance to talk to the president of the association. Once that was done, it was time to take the tack off of the horses, groom and load everyone in the trailer for the trip back home.

I did get to see Kachina, briefly, and try on her fancy new halter (which I tried to get a picture of her wearing, but it was too dark!). We fed the horses their dinner and, finally, packed up for the two hour drive back home. I was in bed at 11:30 -- long day!

Sunday more than made up for it, though; P and I took a drive to Mt. Tam. It was beautiful and warm and we scored tons of this great, soft, green rock that looked almost like jade. No idea what it is, but I want to do something cool with it eventually.

For those of you who have followed Kachina's twitter, you know that I've been dying to make Cash a rattlesnake skin collar all summer. Well, with Ana's help, I finally got it done on Monday (even though she was freaked out by it). It looks amazing! I can't wait to take tons of pictures of him in it. Now I just have to get him a Good Dog Tag and he'll be all set.

It's been a long, long week, and it's only Wednesday. Expect some pictures of Kachina next week, as well as a little dive into her family history!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Goodbye, Rico

I haven't meant to neglect this blog. Actually, I felt like I couldn't post in it without first closing the chapter on Rico, and I haven't had the heart to do it. But I've had a little time, and it isn't so raw anymore (though still painful), so I think it's time.

First, I wanted to thank you guys for your support and kind words in the last post. I really appreciated every one of them. I'm not going to post about Friday, but I do want you guys to know that Rico went as peacefully as I could hope. The doctors at UC Davis are amazing, and I felt like they really cared about Rico, as well as understood how I felt. I couldn't have asked for kinder people.

When we bought Rico (for $600!), he had been surrendered to the stable because his owner was behind on board and couldn't pay. He had used Rico in illegal races, and Rico had been so abused that he was absolutely terrified of being ridden (he had scars on his sides from being spurred so hard and so often). It took four people holding him, and almost forty-five minutes for me to just get on his back the first time -- he would move around, come up in the front and just try to get away. When I finally mount up, he just froze and trembled and, when I asked him to go, he took off.

To be honest, I was afraid of him, but that was because I didn't understand. I had to learn to let go of my presumptions (like he wasn't just some psycho horse that had it in for me!) and figure out the root of his problem and how to best address it. It took me over a year to get Rico to trust me but, once I did, there was nothing I couldn't ask him to do. Rico would follow me around without a halter or lead; sometimes we would go racing through the stable, but when I'd stop or slow down, he would match my pace.

Rico was never stubborn or disrespectful, he never refused to do anything I asked and he never showed an ounce of aggression. In truth, he loved to work more than anything. I rode in my first parade with him, and when I started doing gymkhanas on him he took to it like a fish to water.

I learned so many lessons from Rico -- lessons that I've applied to all things in life, not just with horses: patience, understanding, trust, and how to let go of the past and start over are just some of the gifts he gave me.

So good bye, Old Man, and thank you. I hope you find endless space to run, and lots and lots of pretty Spanish mares to court until I see you again.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Stepping Up, Letting Go

I had this great post planned for this week about how well Kachina's been doing in training, her first interaction with a cow, a practice penning we did on Sunday, the holiday...

But I just found out that Rico -- who in only the span of a month has developed a large growth that is very likely an advanced form of cancer -- will need to be put down. Suddenly the thought of writing a light, fun post flew out the window (just typing the words "put down" just now gave me a sudden wave of nausea).

I got the news yesterday, and was told that an appointment had been made for today, and that a vet from the track would do it, and then..take him away. I knew that the decision was coming up, but I had no idea that it would be so sudden, or that I would have less than a day's worth of time to come to terms with it.

P and I went out to see him yesterday, and feed him lots and treats, let him spend time with Gypsy and just be with him a while. My mother and her boyfriend came out to see him, too, but I noticed that there was something strange about the way they talked around me. Finally, she said to me: "I don't want you coming out here tomorrow. Don't come." I protested that I had already made arrangements to be there, and that I didn't want him to be alone. But she just kept asking me, very adamantly, not to come. "Promise me that you won't come, please." Suspicious, I pressed her until she finally told me: "They're going to take him around the back and shoot him."

After the initial shock, I tried to assure her that our stable manager had arranged for a vet to come out and put him down. She only shook her head and told me that the manager himself had told her that the plan was to take the money, then take him around the back of the stable and shoot him. I was furious. They lied to me, and they lied to my grandmother, who was under the impression that her horse -- a horse who had once belonged to the manager's wife! -- was going to be put down properly and humanely. It wasn't a vet they'd called, but some yahoo with a pistol and a pickup truck.

Of course, there was no way in hell I was going to let that happen. I immediately called my grandmother, then the manager, and made him cancel the appointment (it's hard to stay professional when you're that angry). I couldn't believe that they would flat-out lie to us, especially in regards to something so important and heartbreaking, knowing how much we love our horses. That stable has never been paradise for horses, but I was ill at the thought of such blatant disregard for not only the treatment of the horses, but the feelings of it's boarders (not to mention that they've known my family for a few decades!). This is why I'd never take Maverick back there.

But, I'll get off my soap box.

I plan to call UC Davis today. Mom said she would help me haul Rico there, and I've made arrangements to take the day off from work. It's strange, in the course of only a few hours, I've gone from not knowing, to being afraid to be present, to spearheading the entire task. But under all the weight and sadness (and there's a lot of it), I feel a little better -- a little lighter -- knowing that I'll be making sure that he has a proper, easy and peaceful sendoff, surrounded by people who love him and with kind, knowledgeable doctors who care.

I owe him that much, at least.