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Sunday, March 4, 2012

Horsin' Around

It's about time that I woke up! I hear you. I only got to sleep at 3:00 am and saw many of the hours after that as my eyes would click open and then I would drift off again. No bueno!

My "sleep schedule" is somewhat less than desirable and does not fit the AMA approved cycle for persons of my age. The problem being two-fold; a lack of sufficient oxygen intake, and a brain that won't go into REM, ever. Yes, I have tried the CPAP routine and I either get sinus infections or bruised lungs and chest muscles from the machine. As for the brain which never drops below "problem solving" activity level, they don't know what to do with me besides heavy medication. I am scheduled to do yet another sleep study this month. BAH!

The weather for beautiful downtown Fallon will be an abundance of the golden orb, with an amazing 66 Fahrenheits caressing our bodies, and no raindrops falling on our heads. What breeze we may see, will be from the SE if it is enough to register. Again we appear to be; Tornado, Tsunami, and Tumbling Tumbleweeds, free in our forecast. And no Blizzards, Locusts, or Volcanic eruptions, but I am keeping quiet on Earthquakes.

Colour Sergeant Mikki of the Highland Regiment of the Border Patrol and her faithful tigger, Hurrican Jessi, are facing a dilemma of ear bending proportions. The door is open to the sun room and they can not decide whether to nap inside, or outside. Like a child in a revolving door, they just go 'round and 'round, each side being better than the previous. The older dog favors the sun shining on her body and having a position from which she can launch her defense of the realm. The younger one tends to want to be closer to her humans, but being a tigger, can't stop bouncing.

I am a slow typist and made even slower by my thought process in which I relive the story and then try to put that experience into words. Throw in the frequent interruptions of the daily life we live, and a three year old kid with a crayon is going to leave me in the dust. Even if I don't stay within the literary "lines" with my writing style, assuming of course that I have some kind of style.

It takes me about two hours on a good day, to write the blog that you read in two minutes. This is number 22 and I am still enjoying the writing. I hope that you good folks out there are enjoying the reading. I wish I knew who was reading these stories.

Horsin' Around

Growing up in South Florida around a dairy and among horsemen, it was only natural that I was on a horse from the time I was very small. Old, gentle horses were often used as baby sitters with little kids plopped on their backs. They just walked slowly around grazing and the children thought they were cowboys. Or they wished that they could get down, but it was really, really far to the ground so they stayed and tried not to fall asleep and fall off. I did a little of both from what vague memories I have of those situations. With my parents working or otherwise away, my care fell to my older siblings who seldom missed a chance to park me thusly, freeing them from paying attention to what I was doing.

I never missed a chance to ride after that, and got to do many horse related activities growing up; from riding race horses, to busting half-crazy cattle out of the Everglades, to riding bulls in the rodeo. As an adult I have ridden Habash horses in Afghanistan and Arabians in Northern Africa. All of these have their own stories waiting to be told I suppose, but not today.

Today I want to tell you about my very favorite horse of all time, "Bob". He had a much longer and I felt, goofy, registered name, which wasn't uncommon for purebred animals. But to me, he was just Bob.

His lineage was very impressive, he truly was "royalty" in the Quarter Horse world. His grandfather was the great Three Bars, the thoroughbred foundation sire of Quarter Horses, who not only made money racing, but sired hundreds of champions who made even more money.

Bob was born in California in 1968 and his original owner (supposedly for inability to control the young horse) decided to geld him. This changed his purpose in the horse world forever, as he could now never perpetuate his great bloodline, and he was sold.

My cousin somehow got the horse and began a long association with him. Training and competing in barrel racing and rodeo events where the great speed and agility of his breeding dominated. He spent many years going from rodeo to rodeo and showing his stuff with both my cousin and her daughters aboard.

When I got to Nevada in 1985, Bob was living the life of a pasture mower. Occasionally pressed into service but more often than not, just hanging around getting fed. His fastest days were over and new, younger colts were being brought in to fill the need for speed. Bob was retired!

Enter this crazy guy who just happened to hit it off immediately with this buckskin senior citizen (17 years old). I rode the horse and felt that the power and confidence of his step was still there. My cousin was tired of feeding him and not having a use for the old boy. I had a solution for her, and Bob had a new home.

I was stationed at NAS Fallon and they just happened to have a stables for both people who owned horses, and a few horses that were available for those stationed there to ride. I lived in base housing not five minutes from "May Ranch" and was there at least twice a day, every day, riding and caring for my horse.

I could count on picking up some "hay money" at least once a month with a trick that my cousin had taught Bob. If you are familiar with horses, you know that quite often they do not want to get into a horse trailer. I would bet people after watching them struggle to load a horse or pony (they were the best "marks") that I could load my horse either without touching him, or if they had more money to bet, from one hundred feet away. Very few new people wouldn't take that bet. Once the money ($20 minimum), mine and theirs, was safely in a "judge's" hands. I would throw the lead rope over his back and tell Bob to get in the trailer. Jaws would drop as he walked over and stepped inside. I would collect my money and go to the trailer and tell him to "back out", which he did. He always got a carrot for his troubles.

Once I was challenged to load him from across open area into a specific trailer out of five sitting side by side and the bet was $100. I asked if I could "introduce him" to the trailer that I wanted him to get into and was given permission to do so. I lead the horse up to the trailer which was number 4 from left to right and patted the center bar of trailer and said "this is your trailer Bob." And then lead him away to the far side.

The guy who started this bet made me walk the horse in a circle, and then positioned us across from the far left of the row. When all was ready, I tossed the lead rope over his back and told him to "load up". The old horse walked across the open space and down the row nosing each trailer as he walked by until he got to number 4 and then got inside.

How could all of this be possible? Was the horse that smart? Well, he was very smart, but it wasn't really that hard for him. I had been holding a chunk of carrot in my hand letting him nibble on it and getting my hand full of carrot bits and slobber. When I patted the center bar of the #4 trailer I wiped carrot scent on it. Bob had been trained as a colt to get into his trailer to be fed and loved carrots. I could put him in the back of a pick up truck without a ramp if need be, but I hated taking the chance of him getting hurt slipping on the metal getting in and out. It was hilarious to see him riding down the road looking over the cab of a truck, with his mane blowing in the wind. He looked like a 1,000 lb dog going for a ride!

Riding old Bob out into the desert and mountains east of the base was more fun than any other horse activity I have ever done. I trusted this horse with my life and he never failed me.

Once we were riding with another person along on their knucklehead mustang, and we came to a bridge to cross. I was leading and Bob stopped when I pointed him at the bridge. He wasn't afraid of bridges, (some horses do freak out at the hollow sound), so I wondered what his problem was. My friend being less patient, started around me on his nag. I told him to just wait a minute and let me figure out why my horse hesitated. I turned Bob to the side and we went down into the dry wash beside the bridge and could plainly see that the support beams under the old dry-rotted wood had collapsed. If we had walked out on those boards our nearly 2,000 lbs of weight would have crashed through, very likely causing serious injury.

Another time we were riding through a series of gullies, going up and down the elevation changes when Bob stopped dead in his tracks. Again my companion wanted to push on and I called out to him to stop, that something was wrong and I wanted to find out what before we moved. I had him sit still where he was and turned Bob left and back to the right, and even reversed him. No problem. When I asked him to go forward again he refused. I rode down the high edge of the gully a short distance and pointed him across it and he went just fine. I then entered the gully and started up hill towards where my friend waited and Bob stopped before I got even with him. I exited the gully and rode up to my friend.

I was so puzzled that I dismounted and handed my reins to my friend and walked down the edge to find out what was wrong with THAT spot. Bob started whinnying and tossing his head which freaked me out a little. The walking sure was harder than riding over that uneven terrain.

I am fortunate in a small way in that I was raised where I was, doing what I did, because otherwise I might not still be here. I know that was very cryptic, but it is OK, it was meant to be.

I smelled a very familiar smell and stopped in my tracks, not daring to move. Bob was acting up and driving my companion crazy trying to hold him and keep his own, "ready to bolt" mustang in check.

I carefully scanned around my buckaroo boots and leaned down slowly looking under the brush closest to me. I saw nothing, so I backed up very slowly, stepping in my own boot prints. Once I had six feet of clear ground around me in all directions I started to breathe again. Looking around I found a fairly sturdy branch of  about five or six feet in length and trimmed the excess off of it, except for the last branch at the base which I left about three inches long, in essence making it a "hook" shape on the end.

Carefully advancing back into the gully I reached the spot where I smelled what warned me, and reached out with my stick and pulled the brush to the side. When I did so a veritable concert of buzzing rattles sounded.

The smell that I recognized was snake scent. I grew up with snakes and I could smell them when I couldn't see them. I always trusted that smell as a warning.

Under the brush that sat in the center of where we would have crossed, was at least a dozen adult western rattlesnakes all in a pile. They had flat rocks to warm up on, brush to shade them when it got too hot, and a rodent freeway down the center of the gully, (based on the tracks in the sand and the scat everywhere.) It was rattlesnake paradise and we were intruders. This also proves that rattlesnakes don't always sound off when you think they will. Had I not shaken the brush with my stick, they may have struck without ever making a sound.

Unlike my companion, I did not feel the need to "Kill'em all!" We rode a wide path around them and left them alone. Score another big win for trusting my dear old Bob!

We had many other adventures riding the mountains and deserts, both in company and sometimes alone. We careened down rocky hillsides shouting "The man from snowy river was a wimp!" (Which only makes sense if you saw the movie and remember his ride down a mountainside), and rode across the ridges on top of mountains where the eagles were our company.

Maybe I'll tell more of his stories some time. There are many others, where he showed his fire, or showed his gentleness, and always, his big willing heart.

Old Bob did well until he was 21 then he went blind and started dropping weight for no reason. I couldn't stand to see his dignity taken away from him as he stumbled around, cut himself on everything, and pooped in his own food. When he wouldn't respond to my voice any more I knew it was over. I had him put down. It was the kindest thing that I could do for him. I had trusted him with my life and I gave him his back with the relief from suffering. Twenty-three years later it still saddens me to think of him being gone.

That old horse taught me valuable lessons about trust and how "unlike a supreme being" we humans are. And how much we still have to learn about sharing our planet with other species as good neighbors.

Horsin' around was a definite step up from the usual human behavior. Glad I did it.

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