Along for the ride:

Sunday, April 13, 2014

I was going to bitch and moan...but I changed my mind

A party was had, and enjoyed by all, at La Bodeguita Cuban restaurant, last evening. Six riders, one (birthday girl) trainer and The Artistic One. TAO's an honorary member of our little gang. It's a pretty special group of women, to include an old guy who doesn't ride, or even speak the same language. He pulls his weight when cooking or driving tasks come up and can converse with three of the group, who speak French, or through our translations. He makes it quite obvious that he loves to mingle this way and feels right at home. In fact, the other day, when I told him I was planning on riding a horse at another barn, he asked right away "You're not giving up on your girlfriends, are you?"

The horse pictured here is one I tried out yesterday. I'm the pre-selection vanguard, now it seems, weeding out horses that are completely unsuitable to complement and enlarge our school horse herd. Size, price, aptitude, character, training and soundness are like ingredients in a secret recipe. One flavor too weak or too strong can upset the balance, but some compromises make sense.
This horse had no official name. A 16h1" thoroughbred who had not been near a race-track, he's five years old and a little skinny. The owner is moving abroad and needs to sell quickly.
The photo we saw in the ad. showed No-Name doing a creditable job of jumping. His owner said he rode around the countryside a lot and had also played a few games of polo. NoName has good ground manners and is polite with people. Those are important ingredients in a school horse environment. 
The footing was terrible, where I rode him. The sand arena was bumpy, overgrown with weeds and pitted with gopher holes.  Sure-footedness was checked off the list. 
The arena was next to a field that was being prepared for planting. A bulldozer and a big grading machine trundled around a few feet from us and NoName ignored them as well as the three corgis who tried to herd us the whole time. Desensitization, check.
The gelding was quite a bit greener than we had imagined but had no major negatives to unlearn. He was willing and cooperative and accepted contact. Canter leads need work but nothing disastrous. The two things I liked the most were the fact that he carried himself well and he gave an impression of sanity. I quickly felt he was trustworthy. I don't often put trust in an unknown horse.
NoName has a lot of positives and the negatives are in our favor for justifying a realistic price. I'd be seriously tempted to make an offer myself if I didn't have as many unresolved issues in other areas. The old time and money connundrum.
I'm waiting to hear what happens next. I'd love this horse to come to us. I know I'd enjoy riding him. The trainer's concern is that he's not instantly ready for more general use. I think, if she'd make the trip to ride him herself, she'd see that he'd be very easy to get in shape and let's be realistic. You can only get so much for a steal of a deal. 
He's an hour away. He'll cost her half of her day off, one way or the other. I think that's a big sticking point. I think he's worth it, but it's not my final call. I'll let you know what happens next.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Poignantly Positive

I rode in my own saddle today, for the first time in three decades. Originally, when we moved to America, it was intended to be a two year escapade, so our personal belongings were in storage, in France. After several postponements to our return, we decided that we would ship our stuff to California.

Naturally, our container was loaded onto a truck that overturned between Los Angeles and San Francisco and everything was spilled across the freeway, in a rainstorm. Broken shards of a baby mobile that my parents had chosen for our daughter; Miscellaneous clothes and furniture, much the worse for wear. All were finally delivered and trashed, rather than included in our new lives. One of the few survivors was my saddle, given to me by my last employer, before I teamed up with The Artistic One on our life together in France, prior to the decision to export ourselves.
When I left my position as groom to the show-jumpers of the owner of an equestrian center near Nice, my boss cut me a deal on a retired Event Horse named Hardi Petit. 17 hh, big liver-chestnut, with white blaze and socks. We built a stall in back of our farmhouse home, and I rode Hardi Petit through the vineyards and past tourist campgrounds every day; sometimes stopping to collect Thyme on the hillside, and whistling loudly during hunting season so as not to be mistaken for a target, by gun-weilding locals who embibe a certain quantity of locally made alcohol, from their hip flasks, to help pass the time spent waiting for a wild boar to wander across their sites. Hardi was also a convenient height for the collection of apricots from the branches of the trees planted throughout the vineyards.
Hardi Petit turned out to be my last "own" horse. After a couple of years, we undertook a joint business venture, which led to a move and no free time. Hardi was sold to a great home but I still cried for weeks. It was a pragmatic decision, not one from the heart.
The saddle, which was already old when it came to me, has side flaps that are worn through at the bottom, from repeated friction of thousands of stirrup-leathers, and some stitching that needs repair. There's a drip of dark green paint on the cantle, the color of the old tack room trim and a brass number on the back, so that it could be matched up with the right horse. There's some scuffing that I don't remember, that is probably road rash from its tumble on Intersate 5.
Quite some while ago, I brought my saddle into view. It's been sitting on a railing that divides entry from living-room. My talisman; my promise to myself that I'll never again give up on such an important part of who I am; to serve notice to those around me also, lest they forget.
I had to modernize to new stirrups that have a safety release on the side, protocol at most riding establishments and I've been oiling and nurturing leather, grown stiff with neglect, all the while questioning myself, whether the saddle would be a good fit for a horse I might ride and whether it would still be a good fit for me.

When the stables, at which I've been riding, moved to a new location this year, there was a transition of ownership of horses and tack. There was some temporary downsizing, which worked to my advantage. I bought a full size Stubben saddle, in fine condition, for $250. It now sits on another railing, on the way to our master bedroom. Writing this has reminded me that there was always a saddle in my bedroom, as a teenager. That last one must have moved on with Trescoe, the horse of that era. 
I love leather and saddles and horse gear. There was a tack shop in a little alley way, in the town where I attended school in England. After class, I'd often visit with the saddler, before catching the bus home. Enjoying the quality of hand stiching and the perfume of neatsfoot oil, I'd put purchases on lay-away and bring in my earnings from my weekend or summer jobs, until whatever I'd been coveting was mine. The saddler told me that I could take my purchases and pay him later but I preferred my way and it gave me an excuse to stop in often.
My old French saddle made it out to my car recently, with its shockingly shiny stirrup irons and the leather girth that came with the Stubben saddle. I carry a spare leash in my car, in case I encounter a dog, why not a saddle in case of a horse?
This morning, I knew I was to ride Patrick. He's quite a fancy, spirited chestnut sent over to be tried out as the new addition to the school-horse herd. I rode him on Friday already and he had a lot of good aspects for the advanced riders. He's "forward", not a slug by any means, with a huge canter stride. Quite a sophisticated ride. The negatives, and the reason he's been sent home this afternoon are that he dies over poles and showed a tendancy to rear. I felt that the rearing was something we could fix. He chose a rear as an evasion today when I wanted a left canter lead and asked him three times in a row to pick it up correctly, after being perfect on the other rein. My secret weapon in a situation like that, is my voice. Rather than get into a fight, which he stood a good chance of winning, I touched him between his ears and roared like a maniac. "OMG, Dragon on board!" flashed through his head and we were suddenly moving forward rather than up, with all four feet on the ground.
Patrick's reaction to poles was inexplicable. He didn't evade or try to avoid them, he stepped on and stumbled through the poles on the ground and ploughed through the small cross pole jump, which he could easily have taken in his stride. It wasn't like a young horse, who doesn't know better. It had the feel of a learned behavior or panic attack. It could be really dangerous to horse and rider. That being said, I had a great, interesting and exhilarating ride, except for the poles. 
My old saddle has been put back to work, it was as if I'd not missed all those years. I felt right at home. I did feel a bit nostalgic when I remembered that my last ride on that saddle had been the last time I rode Hardi Petit. That choked me up for a moment.
There's a saddler, I have discovered, whom I have yet to visit. Saddlers are a rarity here. Even the tack shop could only advise taking my saddle to a shoe repair person. I heard about this guy through the grapevine of riders. The saddler is an import from France, himself. He learned his trade working for Hermes, in Paris. Now I feel it will be worthwhile getting some repairs done and I have high hopes that I've found a new source for my leather fantasies.

Monday, March 31, 2014

That Elusive Pony...

I've been riding a bit more now that the longer evenings allow. I've also leased a horse at another barn, on a month's trial. She's for sale and/or lease, which fits my needs nicely. I fell in love with the idea of her, before I met her, based on some photos and what was written about her.
Sammi is six, going on seven; a three-quarter thoroughbred, one quarter Clydesdale cross. She's 17 hh but more leg and wither than bulky draft.
My involvement in training Chief and then finding him the right home, combined with a temporary dearth of suitable horses to choose from at our recently relocated stables, led me to an addiction for the ads for horses for sale. I wasn't really intending to do anything concrete about it, as time and money are always an issue and so I felt somewhat immune to the danger, not expecting that something might appeal to me and be within my budget.
There are a lot of Western riders here, advertizing smallish horses that can spin around a barrel, carry a Flag, or a Rodeo Princess. There's a gentleman who wants to make a combination deal, selling horse and trailer at the same time.
If I owned a gun, I could trade it for a horse. That particular advertisement has no photo and no details of either the horse or the desired firearm. It just says that that's the only trade they will consider. It is in a woodsy "off-grid" area, so the imagination boggles for all kinds of reasons.
Sammi isn't going to be the horse of my dreams. Her owner loves her and sees her through that filter. She's also a recent arrival from Southern California and may be too caught up with believing the PR that she wrote.
You can't describe a horse as "in ongoing training" just because the way you compensate for her keep is to allow her to be used in lessons, admittedly by the advanced riders. You can't call a horse a dressage prospect when her conformation is so bad in her rear end that she has trouble cantering, even without a rider on board and she needs regular chiropractic adjustments to her spine.
Sammi also looks underweight to me. Lack of proper nourishment in a horse with a skeleton this size does not bode well for her future. One of the reasons I was looking at younger horses is the probability that there would be less vet bills to start off with. (Not always the case I know, but I'm trying to stack the deck in my favor).
I'm going to ride her a few more times. It's as well to evaluate fully. As a friend said yesterday, it sounds as though I'm talking myself out of her....
There's a big grey Irish Hunter, named Thor, that caught my eye, just because he's so different from everything else that's available. He's older than I thought I wanted, more money too. I'd prefer a gelding.
Note that he's being jumped in a western saddle:)

There should be support groups for this. I'm Jonesing for a horse of my own.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

More Walk-Thru than Walk-In, Closet

We've survived wall to wall floating nastiness. We have slept, despite the jet-propulsed roar of fans and air-filters. Our whole lives are condensed into half the space it was before and, now that the Asbestos and Lead-Paint abatement crew have left, We have a see-thru style home, minus two of the vanities, and a toilet that was really quite useful.

A couple of things that have been keeping me awake are the random cigarette butts that the abatement crew saw fit to drop around my patio; the, same, lazy and inconsiderate bastards that tramped through the front door and sullied our small uncontaminated area upstairs, rather than use the back door. Especially compared to the marvelous, considerate and hard working,emergency clean up disaster crew, who spent almost ten days here, without messing up a thing. Lest I forget to mention, they obstructed our heater, which I can understand. I don't really want asbestos blowing around the rest of our living quarters. However, don't leave me to discover for myself, at 7pm in the evening, that I have no heat for the night. Don't promise me an update the next day by 5pm and slide silently away, like the worm you are, and leave us to shiver once again.
The City Utilities' insurance adjuster kept congratulating me for being "Reasonable". I'm pretty convinced that he understands the word reasonable to equate with "Stupid". His enlightenment will come in due course. 
My renters' insurance covers everything, except other folks water, shooting in reverse direction up my pipes. My landlord just decreed that he has bills to pay and will not be reducing our rent for the duration.
I detoured to my office this morning to pull the file I needed. Our lease, signed in 2008, clearly speaks to pro-rated reductions in rent, if portions of premises become uninhabitable. I believe the terms stay in effect, even after expiration of such a document.
I know exactly who will answer that for me, once he returns to his office after a few days away. The other clause that will be of interest is one describing the award of legal fees to the winning party in any dispute.
The Shark is sure to smell blood in the water.
The five paintings, behind the sodden cardboard, are original ink stippling on paper. Thousands of hours to create each one. They all have high tide water damage that cannot be redeemed, as far as I know. These are part of a collection we've purchased one at a time over a long time period, from an artist we used to represent, when we had a Gallery.
I Googled a search on him and several articles popped up, not least of which is an interview by a major Newspaper stating that these works were selling for between $5,000 and $12,000 each, five years ago.
I don't usually "Go-Legal" but, in this case, I've been informed that I'm going to be making a claim against a government entity and all sorts of rules apply. Best share whatever compensation we may get with a proven pro at this kind of thing. If he can arrange a hit on my landlord, whilst he's at it, or expose him for the cheap scum he is, all to the good. That would be the best sleeping potion I could wish for.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Happy Un-Birthday to Me:)

As I walked the dog early yesterday morning, in the silver grey negative light world, I heard the wild turkeys rippling like a busy stream, chattering over and around thestones and pebbles on its path. Oh tranquil moment, how you had me fooled.
The front door of my house was standing open on my return; curious and self-posessed cat had taken up sentinel duty outside. I'm not the person who forgets to close a door properly, so was unsurprised that mahem was afoot beyond the 7am threshold.
My organized and high-functioning friend, who is in residence for a few days, was flapping about, not unlike a rudely awoken wild turkey. The sound of gushing streams was real and erupted from downstairs shower and toilet, carrying toxic sewage debris in an ever-flowing inch thick wave, across family room, bedroom, office and laundry room.
You know the true value of a friendship when a, usually pristine and glamorous, buddy is prepared to don a pair of rubber boots and wade through shit, with a smile, in order to rescue what can be saved from the black water tsunami.
Said friend was left in charge of a seemingly unstoppable waterfall, as I had to leave to meet with clients. I had turned off the house water, which made no difference, other than leaving us to clean our teeth with bottled water. My property managers were not answering their emergency contact line and I had left messages for them and the owner of the home that we rent. I had a cell number on file for, what turned out to be their bookkeeper. I woke her up and she responded like a champ. Calls went out to plumbers and I was rather happy to have a good excuse to drive away.

During my meetings, I received several "updates" from my poor beleaguered house guest. Her adreniline was running as high and fast as our own personal tide of excrement. King Canute would have been overshadowed by her passionate pleas for the waters to receed. Two hours, and counting, into the smelly inundation of our living space, my valiant Defender of Dry Spots had laid down barrages in doorways, using every towel I own, and still not seen a plumbing professional in her sights.
I was in a clean dry place with pleasant people, having creatively satisfying discussions about their kitchen pizza oven and fireplace design plans. I was actually bringing to fruition a couple of client contracts, in order to be able to continue to pay the rent on my sodden abode.
In the meantime, my Gladiator of Contaminated Cascades had called 911 and been put through to City Utilities who concluded that a City water main had ruptured and all of that water was gushing up the pipe of least resistance, as my house is at the lowest point in the neighborhood.
I returned home to find men in orange vests down a manhole at the bottom of our garden and a fleet of green vans loaded with green T-shirted heroes, wielding an arsenal of effluent-vacs and bio-hazard plastic bags, also descending to our rescue.
You don't need all the gory details. There were smells; there was sweat and elbow-grease; carpets were removed and chemicals were sprayed. There are noisy, but necessary dehumidifiers in every affected corner and the clean team will return on Monday to remove the wooden flooring.
No one was hurt. Nothing of great value was lost. We even have an alternate guest room for our much appreciated friend to move into, which she has already transformed into a much more stylish and attractive space than it was as just my home office.
We were even able to escape for a couple of hours to a pre-arranged gathering with friends for a wine tasting and birthday cake, afternoon tea, without the tea.

Tall Gerber Daisies, in, what looked to be, tribal neck braces, and a besprinkled cupcake, were the perfect antidotes to the floating darkness of the first half of the day. We sat at a table in the shade of a large tree, animated by wood-peckers and squirrels, sipped a nice chilled Viogner, from the vinyards around us and watched the trail riders festoon the steep hillside in ribbons of good natured horse ornaments.
This morning dawned another beautiful day. We grilled marinated kebabs and ate in the sun on the deck, overlooking the garden. After our early lunch, Cassie met her new furever Dad and left us to start her Happy Endings.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Burnt Soup & Memories of Africa

I went to visit Chief, yesterday. Here's his "Proof of Life" picture. He's happy as can be, in a much busier environment. I found him tethered with a front row seat of the action and a horde of teenage girls who couldn't wait to tell me that they're only part of his new fan club. 
I did ride Chief in a lesson, for old time's sake. It reminded me of my childhood when someone else had been riding my bicycle and the seat felt funny for a moment.
We have a new foster family member in the house. Cassie is a ten year old collie girl who has been loved her whole life. Unfortunately, her owners have fallen on hard times. Their future is uncertain so they did the best they could in signing Cassie over to us to be rehomed. This gentle soul is free of anxieties and psychosies. She walks around with a smile and a wag for everyone. She'll be a great companion for someone.
Yesterday afternoon, I left Cassie at home with The Artistic One. Knowing I wouldn't be back for several hours, I asked him to take her out for a potty break sometime befor he left to join me. That's not as simple as it sounds. We have a house with stairs down to the back yard and a dog with a history of having broken her leg, when slipping and getting hung up on just such open backed stairs. Cassie doesn't do stairs. This means leashing up and going around the house or across the street, to find some enticing lawn, on which to pee. The additional complication is that The Artistic One is  semi-disabled, with one leg much shorter than the other and the balance problems that have increased with age. "Please walk the dog" is not something I ask lightly. I couldn't ask TAO to go for a spin with a more rambunctious canine but Miss Manners (Cassie) is an exception, so he agreed.
After riding Chief, I headed for our business, to meet with G, whom we've known for decades and who is in a similar profession and needed samples of something we carry, that he does not. He has also lined up investors for several projects over the years and has a good understanding of the specialized aspects of our enterprise. I had mentioned to him that TAO needs to retire and that we're looking to sell to, or joint-venture with some new blood. He has someone in mind and wanted to chat more before making his presentation. TAO planned to meet us there at 5pm.
G visited, asked questions and then told us about his potential investors. He has two brothers in mind, who are looking to place some family money in America, where they grew up. He has known them since his school days. 
If there's one country that comes to mind when anyone starts a conversation about suspiciously large sums of money in need of a home, Nigeria has to be top of the list. Is there anyone alive who has not received letters, faxes and now emails from "Very Trustworthy" lawyers for, or descendants of Nigerian Generals or high placed government officials?
My parents lived in Nigeria for ten years, before I was born. My Mother flew home to England, gave birth to me at my Grandparents' house in Cornwall, then travelled back to West Africa with me, a six week old babe in arms; in the days when planes had visible whirling propellors and multiple refuelling and mechanical readjusting stops along the way; planned or forced.
I was three when the family moved back to Europe. I'm not sure how many of my "memories" are from those young days or from the home movies, flickering across the bedsheet screen that Dad would occasionally errect and we'd sit in the dark with the click, click, click of the projector in the background and listen to his and Mum's narration of life in Africa.
I know that I was a happy, chubby, blonde child in an inflatable paddling pool with a Nigerian Nanny who had her work cut out to keep me from downing fistfulls of red hibiscus flowers and dirt, that I could reach by leaning over the squishy side, uninhibited bare bottom skywards. Nanny was from Biafra. Those troubles hadn't started yet, when we left. Dad often wondered aloud what became of her. My parents had purchased a small shop for her as a parting gift but had no means of staying in touch.
Joey, our African Grey parrot, was a part of my childhood. He was very vocal; immitating phones, voices, dogs barking. He was also quite scary. Joey loved and trusted my Father, who had rescued him and brought him home from the marketplace. Joey's red tail feathers had all been pulled out to be used in JuJu magic. Joey did not like humans, other than Dad, with whom he would lie on his back, in Dad's hand, for tummy rubs and take food from between Dad's lips.
Real memories linger of playing on the living room floor and suddenly freezing as Joey alighted on my shoulder. His talons alone could be uncomfortable and he was not averse to nipping an ear, with that beak, strong enough to crush nuts. Our dachshund always made herself scarce when Joey was out of his cage.
Fast forward to 1978, when I was nineteen. My parents had left the rat-race and bought a general store and bed'n breakfast on the Cornish coast. Out of the blue, an old colleague of Dad's came in to buy a newspaper. He was on holiday and had no idea that he would find my Father behind the counter of a little shop, in a village that lived from tin-mining, fishing, farming and tourism.
A very short time later, Dad received a job offer to return to Nigeria for one last contract, as a consultant for the Nigerian Government; overseeing the construction of eighteen oil refineries, by a miriad of foreign sub-contractors. 
Anyone who has owned a small business knows that it's a lot more work, worry and time obligation than you ever imagined. I have a fridge-magnet that reads "The only thing more overrated than natural childbirth is owning your own business!" Truer words do not exist.
Dad didn't really want to go back and asked for some impossible terms, to deter them from wanting him. They accepted immediately. One of his conditions had been that he could bring his family with him, but you can't walk away from a business and suddenly leave it in the hands of strangers. I was working with horses in a Jumping Yard in Epping Forrest at the time. I gave my notice and came back to run the shop where I'd worked before and after school and during summer vacations in my early teens. Mum went to Nigeria with Dad for six months and then we traded places.
Landing at Lagos airport, skimming jungle, interspersed with plane carcasses, left over from the Biafran War; in a country that had no metal recycling industry, wrecks stay by the road or runway, wherever they expire. 
The arrivals area was my first experience of tropical heat and humidity, as well as of being a minority. Hundreds of dark black faces, bold printed clothes and robes and a few ex-pats with agents to guide them though and pay the ubiquitous back-dash bribes, in order to be reunited with luggage.
I received a Nigerian drivers' license, without ever taking a test. An agent went to pay off the appropriate authorities and voila! I only drove on Victoria island, the safe suburb, near Lagos, where we lived. If I went farther afield, I had a driver.
There are two many anecdotes from that six month period, when planning receptions and dressing for dinner were an important part of my daily life. This post has taken on a life of its own, as it is.
When it was time to return to the airport to go home for Christmas in England, I should have expected that the surprises were not all behind me. If you've ever been bumped from an oversold flight, you know how frustrating that can be. In this case, our plane came in from Kano and was already fuller than it should have been. As we waited in line to head out through security and cross the tarmac on foot to our waiting plane, it was obvious that such a crowd were never all going to fit on the plane we could see a few hundred yards away.
I was at the airport with a British nanny who worked for the British Ambassador and his wife, Candida. (Perfect name for the job:) We were with a group of Irish Lads, with whom we'd had some fun during our stay. I have to give them points for initiative. They opened the large windows and we stepped outside, followed by a steady stream of would-be passengers. The walk to the plane became faster and faster until we ran to claim a step on the boarding ladder. The simple system in place appeared to be "He who has his behind ensconced in a seat, when the plane is full, gets to fly home". We made it but there were people I knew, with valid tickets in hand who were required to disembark and try again another day.
When I arrived home from yesterday's meeting, I found our garage door wide open and, from outside, could hear the angry shrill of the smoke detector. TAO had started preparing one of hismagnificent vegetable  soups, that we portion out  and freeze for future consumption. Unfortunately, he'd turned the stove on high and left. Three hours later, the large cauldron of water had evaporated and leeks, carrots, potatoes, watercress and onions were blackened and nasty, odiferous smoke filled the top two feet of the house, from the ceiling down. I carried the offending pot into the garage, turned on the stove vent and began opening doors and windows. 
Cassie was upset. She's not keen on loud noises. She didn't realize she was lucky to be alive. When TAO came in I felt sorry for him for the loss of his soup, which he so looks forward to. He offered to take us out to dinner to compensate but I was a smelly mess of horse hair and residual smoke and couldn't abandon poor Cassie again that evening. 
We always have something edible in the house. It wasn't hard to come up with a meal, especially to feed one who wouldn't dare complain, for once. We had radishes, fresh egg pasta and ham with several glasses of wine.
I had a hard time sleeping last night. I'm not sure if it was Spring allergies or smoke inhalation but breathing was hard, even after a dose of antihistamine. I also had all the possibilities of selling our business and all the memories of Africa, that the conversation had evoked, trotting around behind my eyelids with heavy hoofbeats.



Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Eleventh Hour for Chief

Chief is safe! He's moving to his new home tomorrow. After some false hopes and rejections, Chief is no longer a throw away horse, he's headed for a reputable local riding school, who see him as a potential Western lesson horse for adults.
I'm greatly relieved, as Saturday is moving day at our barn and was to be Chief's deadline for auction. I'll even be able to check in on him from time to time.