Saturday, December 27, 2014

Short, Cold, Low, Dark, Busy

Short and cold describe the days of winter, low describes the position of the sun, which is essentially always in my eyes throughout the day, dark describes some of the conditions I have to work in when managing my horses at the moment, and busy describes the trails.  Every summer I can't wait for winter, and I wonder why I didn't ride more often in November, December, and January the previous year.  This post is to remind me why.

The days are so short that the horses are literally eating the majority of the day.  By the time they finish their breakfast, it's time to feed them dinner.

It's cold.  The nights get down to freezing and some mornings I wake to ice on the ground.  My fingers feel like they are going to fall off if I don't wear gloves.  Flip-flops don't cut it with a quick trip to the barn anymore.  I must take the time to put on socks and boots or my feet will go numb.

The sun is low and to the south.  Hence, endless squinting between sunrise and sunset.

It is often dark outside when I wake up, so I either have to wait for dawn to break to feed the horses, or I have to go outside with a flashlight.  At night, I have no choice.  Because I have to lock each horse in separate stalls during meals to make sure everyone gets his fair share of rations, that means I have to hike outside in the dark with a flashlight to let them out of their stalls so that they can sleep in the soft sand in the arena before I go to bed.  If I fall asleep before letting them out, they wake me up by kicking the metal railings and banging the gates.

Just in the past couple of weeks, the number of hoof prints, shoe prints, and bicycle wheel prints on the trails has grown exponentially.  It's almost impossible to go for a quick spin on foot, on bicycle or on horseback without running into someone.  That means I have to always be in training mode with the horses since they get hyped up over something as non-threatening and mundane as somebody sneezing.

Today I took Lostine for a stroll and stopped to admire my favorite coyote.  She comes around to our place to catch rabbits from time to time, and she's really good at it.  She caught one and almost caught another in one chase the other day, but the bunnies have the perfect hiding spot under our porch if they can make it there in time.  I see her out in the desert in the same general area.  I've looked for her den, but can't find any definitive signs of one.

She ignored me when I made kiss noises at her, though that usually gets her attention.  She ignores my voice and whistles, but she'll usually stop to look at me when I make kiss noises.  Then Lostine and I both realized that the coyote was watching something.  We turned our heads simultaneously to see a drifter headed our way.  I've learned the difference between hikers and homeless campers, and I try to stay away from the drifters because I never know their state of mind.  Many are mentally ill or on drugs, and I don't want them to attack me or my horse.

We headed away from him, and he followed us on a parallel trail.  His trail was straighter than ours, and if he was moving at the pace of a hiker, he should have passed us as we moved at an angle, but he didn't.  I decided to make a big move to get away from him, so I led Lostine directly across his path toward another trail where we could head in the opposite direction.  During most of the walk, Lostine meandered around, alternating between walking behind me and beside me, but as we approached the drifter, she very deliberately hugged me and used her body as a shield to me.  After we passed in front of him and turned in the opposite direction, he yelled something at us, but I didn't hear it.  I spent a lot of time looking over my shoulder after that.

Then we passed a couple of horseback riders, and even my old lady horse who has been around dozens of horses her whole life, and who even gave birth to many of them, managed to break into a jig.  I wish there was some way I could explain to my horses that there is no need to put on airs and vie for a higher position in the pecking order with every horse they come across on the trail.

The other challenge I have is that it gets dark fast, so if something is distracting my horses from getting into their stalls at dinner time, I have to come up with ways to steal their attention away from whatever mesmerizes them in order to avoid feeding them in the dark or having to go back to the house to get the flashlight.  The woman who hand-walks her horse at sunset and perches with it up on the cliff at the back of my property is usually the problem.  I understand that she enjoys visiting my horses, but I've got time constraints.  My horses won't tear themselves away from a strange horse in the back yard to go eat hay, so I have to pour grain in the feed barrels first, and then lock each one into its stall before another horse picks a fight over the grain.  It can get tense.  Normally, if there are no distractions, my horses each just walk right into their stalls so that I can lock them up before I bring the food.

Then there's the man and his wife who bicycle back and forth in front of my house with their dog.  I bring my dogs outside to go potty, and if they see the other dog, my dogs bark and charge until they hit the end of their leashes.  If that dog has passed in front of our house anywhere up to a half hour earlier, my dogs can smell it, and I can't get them to stop pulling on their leashes toward the street, and focus on getting down to business.  So, now we are back to having "accidents" on the carpet since my dogs can't concentrate with the bicyclists' dog hanging around.

Anyway you look at it, having extra bodies around makes more work for me with my animals.  The holidays are challenging too, because the dogs get conditioned to bark at every little noise because they get so excited over package deliveries and visitors.  They are even barking at my husband and me when we walk in the door now.  Verbal reprimands are pointless since Scrappy is deaf and they can't hear anything over their chorus of dog voices anyway, so I have to drop everything I'm doing to deal with the dogs on a physical level to let them know that barking is not allowed.  They settle down temporarily until we have another package delivery or another visitor, and then I have to deal with training them again.

The other side-effect of busier trails is the trash.  I find myself spending more time heading out on foot with trash bags, gloves, and my claw on a stick to pick up messes that others left behind.  The one, most common form of littering that drives me nuts is broken beer bottles.  People smash them right on the trails where I hike, bicycle and ride my horses, so I have to worry about my feet, my horses' feet, and my bicycle tires getting stabbed.  It takes forever to pick up the shards.  I really need a hoe to rake them off the trails.  Also, I don't know how or where they do it exactly, but people keep finding unlocked gates or cutting fences to drive their trucks into the desert to dump concrete, appliances, and old furniture.  Apparently, the thought of having to pay a disposal site to accept their trash is beyond their comprehension.

So, that's what my December has been like.  If I begin wondering why I'm not spending more time in the saddle next year, I can come back to this post to jog my memory.  Hopefully, I'll be better prepared for the short, cold, low, dark, busy days now that I've been around long enough to see the patterns and know what to expect.


How Sam Sees It said...

I'm off this week - do you want to ride? LOL - I just have to remember it takes longer than I think to get to your house! :)

Cheryl Ann said...

I love how you take your horses for a walk. I need to start doing that with mine. With 9 1/2 acres, we could do plenty of walks! Gigondas is always very good...Scout would test me...Sunni would be right with me...Quad...who knows? He's so unpredictable. Lucille would be fine. And, it would help me start to shed those "Christmas pounds"!
Take care. We're heading for some freezing nights here, too. In fact, I covered my one lemon tree last night!
Cheryl Ann

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Sam - I would love to ride. Any day is fine with me except Friday... and hopefully not too early when it's freezing cold. I can meet you halfway.

Cheryl Ann - It is good exercise, and having the company of a horse tends to prevent me from thinking about how bored I am walking for the sake of walking.

achieve1dream said...

Wow I'm appalled at the littering! Broken glass is the reason I don't ride in the ditches... I hate staying on the pavement all the time, but it's better than glass in my horse's foot. :(