Apple and Stevie

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From the moment we bought the ranch I knew that I wanted to provide a home for a couple of rescued burros. I had never been around burros before, but there was something about them that I was drawn to. I felt that the ranch needed ‘burro energy’, so adopting burros was on my To Do list. But when you have a ranch your To Do list is so long that it reaches to the end of the valley, and I got caught up in a lot of the other To Do’s. Getting burros was constantly on my mind, but I never took steps to follow through. IMG_3416

Well, Kent did. For my Christmas gift in 2008, Kent gave me Apple and Stevie. And what a story they were.

Kent spoke with our friends Tom and Debbie Barkley of Barkley’s Freedom Mustang about where he could adopt a couple of rescued burros. Tom and Deb decided that they had the perfect pair for him. It was an honor that the Barkley’s let Kent adopt the burros because they are very particular about whom they allow to adopt. In fact, they are so particular that I think we were some of the first people they ever let have any of their rescues!

Apple was a wild burro that the BLM had taken off the range. She had been adopted out to what sadly turned out to be an abusive home. Tom and Deb, who do follow-up inspections on BLM adoptions, confiscated her from the abusive environment. At the time that the Barkley’s took her she was so emaciated and weak that someone literally picked her up and put her in a truck to take her to the Barkley’s ranch.

Tom and Deb immediately began to give Apple the care that she needed, but they weren’t sure if she could recover. To make things even more difficult, they soon discovered that she was pregnant. Somehow she managed to survive, and then to IMG_3228thrive. She gave birth to a son who they named Stevie.

When Kent adopted them, Apple was 6 years old and Stevie was 2 years old. Apple didn’t have much use for humans. She had received love and care with the Barkley’s, but prior to that she had first been taken from her home in the wild and then she was put into an abusive environment with these strange creatures called humans. She had no reason to trust anyone.

Stevie, on the other hand, knew nothing but love and attention. He is like a big dog. He would curl up in your lap if he could. He loves people, and he loves social interaction.

Of course, when I received my Christmas gift of Apple and Stevie I was so excited. They are everything I had hoped for and more. They are such fun. They run and play together, and they are wonderful to interact with. Apple is coming out of her shell, and she has become not only accepting of people but even a little trusting. Stevie is smart and attentive and he wants to learn. Kent loves hanging out with them and he has given them good ground training. They are easy to care for and are the sweetest and most gentle creatures you could ever imagine.

Someday, maybe Apple will want to curl up in our laps too.




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Benji. The Soul of a Horse. Joe Camp.

Joe is the writer/producer/director of the famous Benji movies, and he is the author of the beautiful book The Soul of a Horse. I met Joe and his wife Kathleen in the summer of 2007 when I signed up for Pete Ramey’s barefoot hoof trimming clinic in Valley Center, California, which Joe and Kathleen were hosting. We discovered that our horse-keeping philosophies were very similar, and we became friends. As I learned more about Joe and Kathleen’s horses I discovered that two of them were for sale. Sort of. The Camp’s wanted to reduce the size of their herd but Joe didn’t want to part with any of them, which was a bit of a dilemma. But initially he agreed that they were for sale, so we went to their ranch to meet these horses. One of them was Scribbles.

We spent the afternoon with Joe and Kathleen and I rode Scribbles. I really liked him. He was well trained and responsive. We needed a riding horse because Sophie IMG_1510was too young to ride and Silent was still lame. But we were incredibly busy and eventually we realized that we didn’t have time to devote to another horse. Besides, Joe had decided that he didn’t want to sell the horses after all. This time for sure. We understood how he felt about them, so that pretty much was the end of that.

Except that Kent had other ideas. He knew that I liked Scribbles, so unbeknownst to me, Kent contacted Joe in early December and Joe, Kathleen, and Kent agreed that Scribbles would become our newest horse. With Joe and Kathleen’s blessing, Scribbles became Kent’s Christmas gift to me.

Kent picked him up on Christmas Eve, and Scribs was introduced to his new home. On Christmas day I found out about and met the newest member of our little herd. I was thrilled and surprised beyond words…

One good thing about Scribbles was that he didn’t have any physical problems. He was in great shape and had been properly cared for. Joe and Kathleen had transitioned him to barefoot and his feet were beautiful. He had been fed all the right food. He had been trained and ridden with Natural Horsemanship principles. He was easy, and it was nice.

While Scribbles may have been physically healthy, he did have some emotional issues. He’s a somewhat fearful, reactive horse, and he’s a bully. He built his self-confidence by picking on the other horses. While it worked for a while, after a few weeks it backfired. Ivy, while small in stature, has a big presence. She’s the IMG_1623boss. Initially Scribs challenged her and took over the herd leadership, but it didn’t last long. Ivy was too smart for that. She took back ownership of the herd in a kick-butt-take-no-prisoners way, and Scribbles was left dazed and confused. After he lost his crown it was obvious that he didn’t know how to act. He didn’t know his place.

We put him on two homeopathic remedies to address his emotional shock, irritability, anger, and fear, and we also gave him some flower essences to balance his emotions. Scribbles is now a well-adjusted and happy member of the herd. He is not in charge and he is fine with that. He knows his place—which is what he wanted to know from the beginning—and he is relaxed, comfortable, and is becoming more and more confident.

You can read more about Scribs at Joe’s website and in Joe’s book The Soul of a Horse.

Scribbles (See Me Scribble) is an APHA registered sorrel Overo Paint gelding, born 3/31/98.

Grandfather: Scribbles – 213 Lifetime APHA points; 25 times Grand Champion; 14 times Reserve Grand Champion.

Grandmother: CB – 52 Lifetime points; 8 times Grand Champion; 6 times Reserve Grand Champion; APHA Champion 2/12/78.

Sire: Scribbles Foreman – 203 Lifetime points; 5 times Grand Champion; 7 times Reserve Grand Champion; APHA Champion 4/16/89.



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Ivy came to the ranch as a boarder along with Silent. She was a fat little pony who had been fed the stuff that ponies shouldn’t eat. By the look of her dished and misshapen front hooves, it was obvious that at some point in her life she had foundered. No doubt, since she was an overweight crested-neck metabolic disaster looking for a place to happen.

Ivy was a jumper, and she had won many competitions in her class. She had lived her entire life from stall to arena and back again. When her owners decided to sell her I worried about what would happen to her. I really liked Ivy, and she had IMG_792_2become one of my favorites at the ranch. She was the smartest horse on the ranch and she had plenty of sass, but she was also very sweet. I could tell that she had been abused during her life and she had the emotional scars to prove it.

So in the early summer of 2007 we adopted her (along with Silent). Kinda crazy, because what were two adults going to do with a pony? Kent and I are both tall so we’d look pretty silly riding a pony…but Ivy stole our hearts and I knew that she needed to have a forever home with us.

Ivy’s feet were a mess, she had weight problems, and she had attitude problems. Since she had never been out of an arena, everything on the other side of the corral fence frightened her. We put her on a proper diet, feeding her the low glycemic low protein hays that she thrives on. We tailored a wellness program for her weight, metabolic issues, and emotional scars. She was given a series of homeopathic remedies and vitamins/minerals to help her metabolic problems. We also gave her flower essences for her emotional issues. As is always the case with the right remedies, she responded quickly and dramatically to the program. We also gave her a proper barefoot trim on a 3 to 5 week trim schedule to rehabilitate her feet. Since I now trim all my horses’ feet, I pretty much keep to the 3-week trim schedule.

We started taking her out of the corral and riding her around the ranch. At first she was reactive and frightened of everything, but before our eyes she has morphed into savvy little trail horse. She can pick her way through the rocks, erosion gullies, and rough terrain (barefoot, of course!) with the best of them, and nothing IMG_780_2intimidates her. She does whatever we ask of her. And I love to ride her. She is stocky and strong and can carry my 145 lbs easily. We ride her bareback with either a rope halter or a bitless bridle. She has smooth, comfortable gaits, a fast walk (she has to walk fast to keep up with the big horses) and she is a joy.

Being the smartest horse on the ranch, it was natural for her to be the Alpha Mare in our little herd. When Scribbles first arrived in the group his bully nature caught Ivy by surprise (I think she was smitten by the tall, handsome stranger and didn’t see it coming!) and he pushed her off the top rung of the ladder. Ivy resented this and she plotted revenge. While initially she appeared to accept her new position, after a couple months as a follower she saw her chance and she took back her rightful place with vengeance. It was quite a sight to see. She turned the table on Scribbles—he didn’t see it coming. Ivy triumphed as the herd leader again, and she remains in that position to this day. She’s the boss.IMG_0392


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Coincidences—I don’t believe in them. I believe that everything happens for a reason.

Sophie was no coincidence. She is the manifestation of my childhood dream of raising a palomino Quarter Horse filly. How that dream became reality is beyond me. All I know is that she is here, now.

It is Sophie who started us on this long path of living (and loving) the ranch life. She is the beautiful free spirit who reacquainted me with the grace and beauty of horses. She is my Avatar.

Sophie is a Quarter Horse, but she is not registered, so we do not know her IMG_958_2bloodlines. That does not matter to me. What matters is the joy that she has brought to us as we watched her grow from a gangly foal into a beautiful adult. What matters is how much I have learned, being around and working with a baby horse. What matters is the relationship I have with her, and how much we are teaching each other.

Since we purchased Ortega Mountain Ranch in part as a home for Sophie, she has had the good fortune to grow up in open space. From the time she was 8 months old she has spent much of her time roaming freely about the ranch. I figured that among other things it was excellent trail horse training for her—getting her comfortable with open space and new stuff, and teaching her how to interact with other horses. We have spent a lot of time watching her explore the ranch, and while exploring her territory she more often than not chooses to go cross country through the rocks, brush, and trees. She is sure-footed, independent, and terrain-savvy. She also makes a point to go to every corral and visit each horse at the ranch. She pretty much gets along with all the horses…good social skills are valuable, and I think it’s important for her to be able to get along with others.

Sophie was born in March of 2005. As I write this she is 4 ½ years old, and I am just now starting to get serious with her training. I strongly believe that it is important to let a horse fully develop before riding them. Horses aren’t physically mature until they are 5 years old. Rarely are horses allowed to develop completely before being ridden because it is not cost-effective to do so. That’s very unfortunate, as it contributes to physical problems in the horse. Putting stress on joints, ligaments, tendons, and bone that aren’t fully developed is a recipe for causing breakdowns.

Prior to now we have done a fair amount of ground training with her, and I have been on her back a few times. Sophie is very intelligent, and she has the typical and ideal (for me) laid-back Quarter Horse temperament. Very little fazes her. She has never been frightened of ropes swinging over her head or around her body. She IMG_795never flinched the first time she was saddled. The first time that I got on her back she turned around and looked at me as if to say “what took you so long??” I enjoy every minute of training her, and I look forward to the day when we are able to ride out on the trails together. She has been ponied on long trail rides, and she has responded like a seasoned trail horse. Of course I am biased, but I believe that she has the potential to be an outstanding riding horse and a partner to me for life.

The wonderful thing about raising a foal is that you get to mold them into the horse that you want. One of the joys of raising Sophie is that we were able to start her on her life’s journey in a way that will keep her healthy, and we are able to keep her in an environment that will give her the freedom that a horse deserves. She is strong, sound, and she has terrific feet—well balanced and easy to trim, hard as rocks, and very healthy. She will never have shoes nailed to her feet. She will never have a bit in her mouth. She will always be loved, she will always be treated with kindness and respect, and I know that we will share many happy trails together.

It is all good.IMG_965

Silent–in Memoriam

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Somewhere…somewhere in time’s own space, There must be some sweet pastured place Where creeks sing on and trees grow, A place where forgotten horses can go. —author unknown

Silent was one of the forgotten horses—discarded because he could no longer work. He had been a working cow pony on a cattle ranch and had been ‘rode hard and put away wet’ too many times. He was lame, so he was going to be sent for slaughter. But good fortune stepped in and he ended up being given to a family to be used as a recreational riding horse. Prior to us buying the ranch he was brought to Ortega Mountain Ranch for boarding. Problem was, he could only be ridden if he were drugged to mask the pain. The family soon decided that they didn’t want horses any more so they wanted to sell Silent. Who would buy an older lame horse? No one. We knew that the outcome wouldn’t be good…so we adopted him… IMG_752_2 Silent was one of the wisest horses I have ever met. He was older—about 20 years old—so he had been around the block a few times. An appy Quarter Horse, he had the gentle calmness that comes from breeding and experience. He was terribly lame, though, so I began a wellness program for him that over time produced excellent results. We discovered through x-rays that he had a calcification of his flexor tendon due to an old injury. That was partly responsible for his lameness, but he had other problems as well. His wellness program was extensive. He was too lame to ride, so it was a priority to get him sound and healthy. We started at the beginning and put him on an herbal detox to rid him of the toxic residues from all the drugs he had been given. We designed a vitamin/mineral/supplement program that we continually modified as he improved. He was treated with various herbal remedies, and he was given a series of homeopathic remedies to stimulate his body’s healing response. As lame as he was, he went barefoot, and his trim cycle was initially every 5 weeks, then when I started trimming his feet it went to every 3 weeks. Holistic healing is like peeling away the layers of an onion. When one problem is solved, more underlying problems will usually surface. This was true for Silent. Later problems weren’t noticeable early on because there were bigger problems IMG_1014masking them. I could see that as Silent became healthier and more vibrant, he was also stiff and out of balance. So we did some bodywork sessions on him, and that made a huge difference. His fluidity was noticeably improved. His hind legs had always been stiff and he couldn’t raise them very high, but after his first bodywork session he could raise his hind legs as lightly as if he were a youngster. The results of his wellness program were next to miraculous. It took a while, but he had a lot of serious problems that hadn’t developed overnight. He became sound, healthy, and could finally run for the first time in at least 3 years. He was happy, and he was such a wonderful horse to be around. In his wisdom he was a great mentor and teacher to young Sophie. Sophie loved him, and she looked to him for leadership. He always gave it to her, too, in the right way and at the right time. One time in particular sticks in my memory. We were ponying Sophie on Silent, and for the most part she was well behaved. She kept her head at his flank on a loose lead, but occasionally she would speed up and get her head almost to his head. Whenever she did that Silent would turn his head toward her and give her that ‘get back where you belong, kid!’ look and she immediately retreated. Silent never broke stride when he would discipline Sophie. It always made us laugh, because we didn’t teach him to do that nor did we ask him to do that. He just did it. He knew what his job was and he knew what Sophie’s job was as well. IMG_1790Life was good in our little herd. Each healthy step that Silent took made my heart soar. All of our hard work had paid off and had given Silent his life back. Then it happened. On Sunday, August 2nd 2009, we lost our beautiful Silent. It was a tragic accident. He broke his neck. We don’t know how…it was a clear, warm, dry day…we can speculate forever but we will never know. The bottom line is that he was gone. Dead. Our hearts were broken. As ranch owner, it is my job to contact others to tell them that their horse needs a vet, or, in the worst cases, to tell them that their precious and beloved horse has died. I have been there to give love and support to horses whose lives were being terminated. I love all the horses, and I take my responsibility seriously. Each loss is also a personal loss to me. I often wondered how it would be when it was our turn—when it was one of our horses. Sadly we found out, all too soon and very unexpectedly. After losing Silent I asked myself ‘Why do we do it? Why do we have horses?’ I look at what it takes to keep a horse. They are huge animals requiring huge quantities of food. Bales of hay, 100-130 pounds per bale. It takes giant tractor-trailer trucks to bring enough hay to the ranch to support the horses for a few months. Feed comes in 50-pound sacks. It is an enormous task to trim feet. Grooming them, cleaning up after them—all require tremendous effort. Moving them requires big trucks and big boxes to put them in. And when they die…burying them requires heavy equipment, as does removing their bodies…And the vets? They are the unsung heroes. They spend most of their time driving in trucks stocked with everything they might need in the field. The good ones have no lives. The dedicated ones are on call 24/7. On the day that Silent died, we were our vet’s 6th emergency, and it was his wedding anniversary. And it was Sunday. Most people would be spending their Sunday relaxing or doing something for fun. We spent the day watching our beloved horse die. I look at what it takes to keep small animals. I can clip my 3 cats’ claws in a total of 5 minutes. Feeding them is easy, and the logistics of everything else are simple. So why do we do it? Why do we have horses? I don’t know. I wish I knew the answer. The amount of work is ridiculous, and the reward is personal—it’s not financial, except on rare occasions with very few people. Kent and I jokingly ask ourselves instead of a ranch, why didn’t we buy a cottage in Oregon overlooking the ocean where we could sit on the porch and watch the sunsets, take vacations, and lead a comfortable life. We could have, but we didn’t. There is some sort of otherworldly attraction that draws us to these huge, graceful, and beautiful creatures who are strong enough to kill us, yet are willing to do what we ask of them. I don’t know why we do it, but we do. And it doesn’t look like we’re going to stop any time soon. We love you, Silent, and you are deeply missed.

Silent's Memorial Garden

Silent's Memorial Garden