I missed going out to the ranch this week. Stuck in the city. Last night when I stepped outside with our dog, Mocha, I thought of Traveller huddled in his winter coats against the cold and the darkness.
It has also helped to remember last Monday’s ride (which I failed to write about) with Randy and Deb out into the valley. The land was swathed in a huge light, our shadows cast long in the late afternoon glow. We stopped momentarily to watch farm labourers prune and rake their way down the endless rows of blueberry crop.
The first snow on Golden Ears fell over the weekend. The mountain was modest however and hid her pristine beauty behind a covering of cloud, teasing us with momentary glimpses of her icy grandeur.Let me not fail to mention the lesson on opening and closing electric wire fences from the back of a horse. Deb makes it look easy but mastering the skill of moving the horses ever so slightly forward, then ever so slightly sideways, then on a pivot etc takes quite a bit of practise. (In case you are wondering, the fences were turned off for the lesson!).
Horse-riding is a bit like marriage: you are initially lured into it by the glamour and the romance. No one tells you to wear your grubbies. It’s only after you are committed that you learn about the hard work and the mess of it all!
The sun made a courageous showing in the valley this afternoon, though after weeks of incessant rain the damage was already done. I had to put on rubber boots to bring Traveller in from the field so sloshy was the ground where he stood minding his own nose-in-the-grass business.
I pulled the mud-caked blanket off his back then groomed the mud-caked layers off his neck and mane and legs. Meanwhile, Oliver, who had the day off school, was inside mucking stalls and learning about the day-in-and-day-out of horse care: raking and sweeping up old sawdust and droppings into a pile then wheelbarrowing the lot to the outdoor manure mountain, then back to the stall to lay fresh saw dust and start the cycle all over again.
Of course Oliver and I are just playing at ranching. Sarah and Deb are the real thing. They were working with Georgia in the outdoor arena when we arrived in the early afternoon and they were both still at it, storing grain and spreading hay, when we left. As Deb says, you can always pick a farmer out of the crowd, “They are the ones with true strength.” Muscles, yes, but more importantly, staying power.
Deb texted to say there was hay-hauling to be done at the barn today but by the time I got to the valley through city traffic the work was done. Gosha sat in her truck drinking tea from a thermos, looking out at the sopped in skies. The saturated fields held gathered pools of rain where the horses stood drooping under the warmth of mud-crusted blankets.
I was determined to ride despite the rain and Deb generously agreed to accompany me. The horses were bothered by flies as we saddled up. Traveller pawed the ground with his front hoofs and stamped with his back, his tail swishing up and back in irritation. Gosha says the flies are due to the unseasonal warm spell last week which hatched a fresh batch of eggs. Everything was wet. I had to swipe a puddle of water off my saddle with my forearm before I pulled myself up into it.
The dikes were quiet save for a group of rain-hooded farm hands pruning back the fire-red fields of blueberries. Mallards and buffleheads were gleaning the left-overs off harvested cranberry fields.
The rain persisted. No lucky breaks like last week. Still the contact with earth and sky made me feel alive. Connected. Grateful. One of my favourite philosophers, Meister Eckhart, a German mystic from the 13th century, once said, “If the only prayer I ever say is ‘Thank you’ it will be enough.” There is much in life for which to be thankful.
The rain was coming down in buckets as I made my way out to the ranch this afternoon but I was determined to ride despite the weather. I reasoned that cowboy originals and mail carriers and the cavalry and Oblate missionaries and indigenous travellers and explorers-of-old all saddled up and headed out regardless of weather conditions so who was I to be deterred by a mere smattering of rain.
Deb was sweeping out stalls when I arrived and asked if I wanted to haul to the indoor arena. “No ma’am”, said I. “No indoor riding for this mountie.” Though when I started to pull on my polyester rain-proof biking pants Deb looked at them askance. “Traveller might get spooked by that material. It makes a noisy schwish-schwish sound and reflects light in an unnatural way.” She pointed instead to a stiff, weathered, leather, full body-length, riding coat hanging on a hook amidst the harnesses and horse blankets.
It looked to me like something John Wayne might have worn on the big screen back in the day.
With some regret I didn’t have the chance to try out the all-weather get-up for just as we were finishing tacking up the horses, the skies broke. “It’s a miracle!” noted Deb. And indeed, it did seem to have cleared just in time to see us on our way: out the gates, through the soggy fields onto the forested trail at the back of the property.
The afternoon ride was bliss. The forest still arrayed in the yellow hues of fall and high dike trails overlooking flooded cranberry fields.
We rode, talked, trotted a bit, checked out the swollen Allouette River and looked out over the great sprawling valley floor toward the mountains, and in that two-hours out on the land everything that may have seemed wrong with the world, was righted again.
This morning I ventured out in the downpour through the pumpkin fields of the Fraser Valley to the Cornerstone Arena on Mt. Lehman in Abbotsford. Two cutters from Grassroots Ranch – Deb and Meredith – were registered to compete in the final show of the BC Ranch Cutting Horse Association 2016 season.
I’m still on a hefty learning curve when it comes to understanding all the elements that cutters are judged on. The basics: a tight box for the back-and-forth horse/cow face-off in front of the judges, minimal prompts from the rider (let the horse do the work), and, of course, keep the cow from escaping back to its herd.
Regrettably Meredith was scheduled late in the day and I had to leave before her round was up. But check out Deb and Brie on their first of two entries:
Click here to watch Deb cut!
Congratulations on (what to my novice eye) was a solid performance!
Cornerstone has all manner of spectator comforts: a well-lit, clean and spacious facility, bleachers set up along the competitors ring (a welcome new feature as last year we stood on our tip-toes to see over the barrier), upper viewing loft, good sound system with a great music selection, gourmet Italian pasta from a food truck…and, best of all, watching is free!
Can’t think of a better way to spend a rainy Saturday morning in late October.