The Unusual Fruit Tree

This is no ordinary willow tree.

We’ve ridden past this tree every single day without incident.  But I know now that was because it’s fruit take a loooong time to ripen. A year maybe.

The Goat Tree
The horrific sound of ripe fruit falling to the ground is enough to scare the boldest horse into an early grave.

The reason we have the tilty, blurry photo of the sinister tree: I was taking the picture while Hudson was in the first phase of a cow horse one-foot spin and bolt. Or, if we prefer in dressage lingo, a pirouette at the hand-gallop.

Hudson warns of tree danger
Jane. Something is Wrong with that tree. I’m SO outta here. You are taking a PICTURE?!? HANG ON.

Something WAS wrong. The tree looked like one half was attacking the other half.  There were a lot of branches bending, bobbing, whipping up, wildly thrashing…this was one heck of a freaked out tree.

I got off Hudson and we walked cautiously back. The tree stopped moving.

Uh, trees do not stop thrashing around when they hear hooves. I suddenly realized no breeze had made it thrash around in the first place. The air was utterly still.  

Cue spooky music. Forget Hudson. I was ready to jump out of my skin.

I get back on, we tiptoe past the tree, which remains perfectly still. Hudson’s ears swivel back questioningly: What the heck was that all about? 

I pat him on the shoulder: Don’t know.  You sure were good though, thanks.

I can feel his mental shrug, and we go to work in the arena.  Once he’s done for the day, and settled back into his paddock with The Worlds Largest Happy Meal, I walk back to the access road. I want to see if I was part of a mass hallucination, or the tree is perfectly ordinary.

It’s not. The willow is wildly attacking itself.  Is there a gap in the time/space continuum here? Did we fall through a worm hole?  Other than tree noises, there are no sounds.  No children are playing in the greenery.

Suddenly, a large roundish white thing falls out of the tree with a loud thud. Bizarre fruit? Branches tremble above where it landed. The tall grass rustles and I hear the unmistakable sound of tiny hooves scrambling as a small white goat launches itself back into the branches.  A second later, a gray round thing falls out, scrambles, and leaps back into the tree to continue play fighting.

An hour later, I see a herd of little goats quietly grazing in the tall grass near the tree. The willow was able to completely camouflage 15  tumbling, rambunctious goats.

A Goat Tree. I love my life.

I told Hudson goats grow on trees.  And that our Goat Tree had fruit just about ripe enough to start falling to the ground, and goats being goats, they thrash.

He gave me a dubious look.

“Could be worse?”, I say. “They could have planted llamas.”

Running Water, Chaos Theory, and Sparrows!

There are two ways to look at this:

  1. I’ve been riding Ginger for Laurie.
  2. Laurie has graciously indulged me by allowing me to ride Ginger.

I think the photo below shows that #2 is the correct pick. They’re beautiful together:

Copyright: Centerline Photography
Copyright: Centerline Photography

Ginger is an orange ball of fire: opinionated, believes “forward” is an understatement, and is…impatient…with the idea of anything approaching what she would call ‘sedate’. Anything less than Mach 10 is sedate to Ginger.  Slowing down takes far too much time and energy. She’s also a total glamor girl. Think Lucy before her comedic talent was discovered.

Lucille Ball famously said: "I'm not funny.  I'm brave." I think Ginger would say the same thing.
Lucille Ball famously said: “I’m not funny. I’m brave.” I think Ginger would say the same thing.

She’s also a mare’s mare. She reminds me what it feels like to be a hormonal teenager: out-of-sorts and crampy, making a benign issue a problem because we girls just feel like THERE IS A PROBLEM. THAT THING I JUST SPOTTED MUST BE IT. FIX IT, dang it.

I so get this.

During a recent ride, Ginger decided the wash rack that butts up to the arena was The Problem. There was a hose.  Water was coming out of it.  WATER. Do I understand what she’s saying?!?  WATER at one o’clock!

This is a horse that loves her baths.

We went backward, forward, skittered sideways, bounced up and down, and in general showed our displeasure at having to pass near running water at a speed below Mach 90.  I identify. When hormones are involved, I do NOT back down once I’ve staked out an issue, true or not.

Fairly soon, we’re standing quietly opposite the wash rack, while the water is running, talking to a friend. (We know it’s still going to kill us, but we’re very brave.) We try to focus on the conversation.  Sparrows are flitting in and out of the arena, picking up hair for their nests.  All the horses are shedding.

A bit later, we quietly go to work, and it’s awesome. We are cantering nicely in our least favorite direction when it happens.

Two sparrows come tumbling over each other into the arena, straight at us.  I don’t know if they’re fighting, or it’s spring baby making time.  I feel a wing hit Ginger’s belly. Birds whapping near one’s privates are definitely an allowable meltdown issue.  Ginger pays no attention to the birds. Not even a blip on her radar. We keep cantering.

This is where Chaos Theory comes in.

A plot of the Lorenz attractor for values r = 28, σ = 10, b = 8/3.
Whatever. It’s a butterfly! If they flap their wings in Australia, we WILL have a tsunami in California. Who knew?

The birds should have tumbled out, right?

No. Because we hit a Chaos loop.  Running water scared us, therefore the universe hurled us squalling feathers. Her hooves gathering upward in the canter pushed the rolling ball of birds up and in between her front legs.  I feel them tumbling and richocheting between her legs, their little heads whapping like ping-pong balls.  I feel a wing hit a stirrup, feel the Ball ‘O Birds being gathered back up and into the churning cycle of her front legs. They tumble and flap and toss.

I gauge Ginger, wondering if she is going to go all “Today is a good day to die” on me.

Calm cantering.

Except for the sparrows bouncing and rolling and flapping between her front legs, just another day in paradise.

If I stop her, it’s likely the birds will crash to the ground and get pulverized in the process.  If I don’t, she might notice at some point BIRDS are pinging around between her front legs. My slow thought process takes a couple more canter strides to come up with a solution.  (Hey. How often do birds get caught in our horse’s legs?! It’s not like I’ve had to practice this!)

Down into the trot. Hopefully, that will give the birds time to get out sideways. We trot, the birds shoot out of the spin cycle (they’re fine), and Ginger politely asks to canter again.

As if a downward transition to release frantic, trapped sparrows was a normal part of any workout.

And she thought the hose was the problem?

Note to self: next time I decide THAT THING OVER THERE is the problem, check for sparrows.

Run Like the Wind!

A cold stiff wind swept down from Alaska. Trees bent over, wires swayed, barn roofs groaned, moaned and made scary noises.  The wind was blowing hard enough to roll the gravel down the driveway. I had to lean into it to walk.

Every horse I saw was higher than a kite. Nostrils were flaring, with heads tossing all over the place.

Uh Oh.

Better turn the boys out before I ride.

I have to halter each of them before I can get their sheets off: I can’t trust them to stand still.  That’s insane with these two: they stand still.

But this is Black Stallion level wind. The kind of wind that makes every horse believe he is The Black, and must RUN, run NOW, wild and FREE.

I wonder if I should lead one at a time to the turnout.  Usually I have one in each hand. Problem. Whoever is left will likely have a complete meltdown: I’ll have my hands twice as full bringing out Left Behind Horse.  So I take a deep breath, and lead them both.

Correction: they lead me.  Jigging.  Tossing manes. Rolling eyes. Heads high in the stratosphere. Luckily, it’s only about 50 feet from paddock gate to arena gate.

I get them in, figure out the logistics of how I’m going to turn them loose without getting run over or accidentally kicked, and unbuckle halters, one at a time.  I’m expecting immediate, crazy-assed running.

They drop like stones the second the halters are off. Their knees are buckling before I can get the buckle unhooked.  Got to ROLL.

Dinero heaves himself up, shakes off in a cloud of dust, and takes off bucking, squealing like a stallion, and galloping.

Hudson heaves himself up, shakes off, puts his head into the wind, and trots clumsily toward the rail.

Huh?! Where’s the fireworks?

Dinero is exploding around him like a crazed bottle rocket: crow hopping, kicking out, rolling back, twisting, charging around, including racing up to Hudson to incite his wild side.

This is Hudson, running like the wind:

(It was so windy, the trees are blurry.)

Continue reading “Run Like the Wind!”

Disagreeing With a President

No no no!  Not Obama.  A dead president.

Thomas Jefferson believed the wild turkey, because of its grace and beauty, would be the perfect national bird for the U.S.  Fortunately, not everyone shared his vision.  A joyous “Thanksgiving bald eagle dinner” doesn’t have the same ring, does it?

There is a flock of wild turkeys at the barn.  A big flock.  Last time I saw them all together and counted (pre-Thanksgiving) there were 32.  Most of the horses are simply annoyed by turkeys.  Scared?  Not on your life.  They want to chase them for sport.

Hudson and I cooled out on the access road after a nice loose workout.  Covered arena and parked horse trailers on the right, pipe corral paddocks on the left.

We rounded the same corner that hissed at him unexpectedly awhile back, causing the good spook.

What is UP with this corner?  Is it the Bermuda Triangle of Surprise!!!?

A mass of writhing, flapping, pecking,  squawking turkeys on the left.  (There’s another menace ahead, but we’ll go with one at a time.)

A brilliant idea occurred to one independent thinking turkey:  I’ll perch on the pipe rail.

Clearly, turkey moms everywhere missed classic mom-lecture 101: “Would you jump  off a bridge because the other fledglings do it?”

Continue reading “Disagreeing With a President”

The Good Spook

Getting my billets fixed turned into a nightmare that involved flocking being added and removed without permission, etc.  Gee, did you know you the reason that a saddle might smash on a horse’s withers (a horse it fit perfectly two days earlier) is because new billets need to stretch?  Me either.  Helllooo…new saddles fit great without stretched billets. Okay, you get it. Jane is traumatized in a 2-glasses-of-wine, 6-slices-of-cake, sort of way.  On a weekly basis.  For two months.  Yes, I’m wearing my fat jeans.

Continue reading “The Good Spook”

Mental Illness in Horses, Updated


Update: New information has come to light about Hercules. I no longer believe, even one iota, his mental illness is organic.  We found out that Hercules was severely mistreated when no one else was present, by someone connected to the barn.  His owner is in grief over this: she’s the barn owner, and there was no way she could have known. This man deliberately harmed Hercules mentally and physically, to get “back” at the barn owner: he believed she was responsible for problems he was having.  We know in detail what happened to Hercules now: his reactive behavior matches perfectly with the kind of abuse he suffered.  I’m glad a brave person came forward and told us what happened.  I feel awful that he suffered, and continues to suffer, from the fear of it happening again.  The positive: now that what happened to him is known, it can be addressed with better accuracy, and he stands a better chance of being loved and understood.  That he continued to trust other people at all is a testament to his loving nature.

Hercules is in some stage of a nervous breakdown.  Given I know his entire history, I believe it’s organic: not human caused.  As he aged, he got more skittish, then abruptly less.  Then he would react to something that only he could see, in a wild and dangerous manner.  Hercules is dead honest, and sweet.  He does not want to spook, he does not want to be afraid, he doesn’t want to unload his rider or engage in bad behavior, he wants to be the best horse in the world for you.  He wants you to be happy.  He has Sunshine, his half brother’s, heart of gold.  I will do anything for you, anything. He is not intellectually challenged.  He’s smart.  You show him something once, he’s knows exactly what you want, and can repeat it easily.

He reacts instantly to perceived danger, yet even the dishonest and spooky horses in the same arena not only don’t spook, they avoid him.  They shrink.  They try to become invisible.  A horse bolting in terror is enough to set off honest horses: it’s herd mentality.  Certainly this should set off every dishonest or spooky horse for miles.  Yet they want to quietly get out-of-the-way, blend into the rail, or ask their rider um, can we leave now?

When Hercules is terrified, not one horse reacts to him with normal herd behavior.

We recognize this in people, when we’re standing in line somewhere, and the emotional temperature changes around us abruptly.  We look to see who walked in.  It’s primal.  We feel it: the new person perceives a world that  tilts a little too far from the reality we recognize.

Continue reading “Mental Illness in Horses, Updated”

Creative Dismounts: Daisy’s Story

Neither of us has any shame…hopefully our combined stories will entice you to drop any remaining shred of dignity!

Daisy’s story


Remember the scene in The Black Stallion where Alex takes his first ride on the stallion on the beach?   And they galloped along in perfect harmony?  Well, my best dismount was like that.

Without the harmony.

And with a bay gelding instead of a black stallion.  And in an arena instead of on the beach.  So really, the fall was NOTHING like that scene, except for the bareback part.

Me and my friend Holly were feeling exceptionally silly one night.  I decided I was going to get on my 17.3 horse (Bing) bareback, using an English hackamore (which I had never tried on him).

Holly gave me a leg up.  I kicked.  Nothing happened.   I could feel Bing thinking “Can’t …Move…don’t understand how this bridle/nose thingy works.”  I look at Holly.  I know how to fix this.

“Holly, just unbuckle the noseband so there is no pressure.”  (Not that there was much pressure to begin with.)

So off we go…trot, trot, trot, and FLIP!  Noseband flips over his head behind his ears.  Here is where The Black Stallion scene begins.   No steering.  No brakes.   Bareback.  And he BOLTS.  Did I mention Bing was 17.3?

With my ongoing need to be funny, somehow I manage to scream “Emergency Dismount!”.  And I did.  On my face.  I slid face first into the dirt, like sliding into home base, only forward and face down.  Possibly with my mouth open.

There was not one tooth that didn’t need to be flossed several times to remove all the dirt.  There was dirt in my ears.  At the time I wore glasses – they were so encrusted with dirt I couldn’t even see through them.

At first I thought I had really hurt my arm – but Holly and I were laughing so hard I couldn’t even get the words OUT to tell her how bad my arm hurt.  And standing in the corner was Bing…looking down at me…COMPLETELY confused as to what awful thing he had done to be subjected to such a stupid activity.

Creative Dismounts: Jane’s Story

I thought I’d go first, to lower the mortification bar, so no one is too embarrassed to send in their Creative Dismount story.

It was the dead of winter.  Here that means rain and mud.  Lots and lots of mud.  The kind of mud that might suck a limb off along with your boot if you step in the wrong place.  I’d already ruined a very expensive pair of tall boots out of sheer stubborness, so I bought my first (and last) pair of rubber tall boots.  I thought I could slog through the muck and ride without changing footwear. It seemed the ideal solution: slog and ride. I was too lazy to switch muck boots for riding boots and vice versa after the trek from barn to arena.

It was 40 days and 40 nights mucky.  This was thoroughly unacceptable to the fancy schmancy barn at which I was boarding.  They were horribly embarrassed to have muck anywhere, let alone from barn to arena.  A ton of gravel and a bobcat were waiting for a cease and desist in precipitation to fix the situation.

My gorgeous 16.3 OTTB (Jasper John) and I arrived super early to work in the indoor arena.  A limo was scheduled to arrive in two hours bearing an Uber Famous Name Dressage Trainer (UFNDT) who had been flown in from Germany, all expenses paid, after much wheedling and a first class ticket, to hold court at $500 a pop.

Continue reading “Creative Dismounts: Jane’s Story”

Forecast: Hair

It’s spring.  Hair is in the Air.

Ahhhh…the sweet shedding season.  Grooming: the horse that was itchy and bristling with hair  is now sparkly and slick, you who were sparkly and slick are now filthy and bristling with itchy hair.

Shedding season with Sunshine is complicated.  Originally, Katherine kept him heavily blanketed AND clipped in the hopes he wouldn’t grow a winter coat.  No such luck.  She finally gave up when he retired.  Right now he looks like an elegant Yeti.

Sunshine is an Anglo-Arab (Thoroughbred and Arabian mix, for the non-horsey).  He’s got Arabian sensitivity to his surroundings, and both Arab and TB reaction times: 0 to 90 before you can say “Whaaa…?”

He is one fast, sensitive, spooky guy.  He’s honest though.  The only thing that consistently frightens him are flat objects on the ground, double boogie man points if object is white.

Our first spring together:

I arrive ready to be worshiped from the cross ties.  Sunshine LOVES to be groomed.  It puts us both in our happy place.  I give Sunshine a peppermint.  He closes his eyes and sucks on it as if it’s the most exquisite taste ever created.  He’s made one peppermint last 18 minutes.  I can’t make a peppermint last 18 minutes.  He loves the rubber curry with it’s rounded massaging fingers.  It’s how we start.  Occasionally, the circular rubbing will knock him out completely, causing him to drop the peppermint and snore.

I start currying.

Remember, I’m thinking snore, zoned out, peppermint sucking, relax.

Continue reading “Forecast: Hair”

Metropolitan Mounted Police (England)

This is Sacked Out on steroids.  Whoa.

Spoiler note below, don’t read it if you can easily watch to 5 minutes!

Note for people with short attention spans who can jump bigger jumps: watch past 4:45 and ask yourselves the following:  can I jump those jumps 3 across?  Going between two horses jumping the opposite direction?  Through FIRE?  How about jumping while removing your buttoned up jacket?  And then putting it back on?  How about jumping while removing your SADDLE?  After removing the reins?  I won’t even tell ya about the grand finale jump.

Budget cuts are forcing the city of Boston (Massachusetts) to eliminate their mounted police force.  Article from U.S.  National Public Radio here.   Petition you can sign to (hopefully) save the mounted police here.

Though where the money is going to come from, fill in the blank.  Any ideas?

While some people think mounted police are outdated…that was one heck of a packed stadium.  Do you remember petting your first police horse? Anything that gives kids and adults the warm fuzzies around the police is worth looking a little deeper into the budget for, in my opinion.

Mounted police do MUCH more than create a positive link between the public and the police force.  But wouldn’t having mounted police be a no-brainer, gold standard for public relations?  Just a thought to Boston city officials: maybe mounted police don’t seem as necessary because they’ve prevented more than you know?