Captain, the Horse Who Wouldn’t Walk

wp-1473284576708.jpgMy first memories of horses comes in the form of a buckskin pinto named Captain. He was my mother’s horse, and he held all my dreams behind his blue eyes. I loved him from the moment I realized I could love, and I wanted to be on his back long before I knew how to ride.

Sometimes after riding my mom would set me in her Western saddle and lead Captain around, or sometimes she would swing up behind me and we’d ride double around the pasture. I was pretty sure I was as close to heaven on earth as I could possibly be.

I grew a little older, and my budding confidence around horses took on an edge of boldness. I was sure I could ride by myself, and I remember clearly the first time my mom unhooked the lead rope.

Captain promptly stopped walking.

I clicked. I kicked. I kicked harder. I commanded him to move. I even smacked his back end with the reins.

He sighed hugely and didn’t lift a hoof, and that’s when I learned my first important lesson:

The horse knows you better than you do.

He knew I didn’t have the confidence, the will, or the know-how. I understood the motions, but he knew I didn’t understand the language.

I tried a few more times over the next year or so, but every time I got on, he refused to move. The times my mom held onto his bridle to get him going, he came to a halt the moment she let go.

I considered myself a failure and doomed to love an animal who would never love me back. I remember crying over it at least once. Having a dream die is hard on an 8-year-old.tmp_5926-img_20160907_140543-1286490898

I was 9 when I attended Pony Camp at a nearby stables, and after a week of “training,” I returned to Captain with something new: determination. Combined with greater confidence and increased knowledge, it meant I felt ready to ride anything.

Thus came the day when I sat on his back by myself, and I kicked. He stood still, but I noticed a flick of his ear, and I knew for the first time he was listening. I kicked again, told him to move, and I think I called him a Big Lug.

And Captain walked.

It was the beginning of a complicated relationship, but that day was all victory. He walked!

In that moment, my dreams returned to life.

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Adventures in Iguana-sitting

tmp_12552-lizard-1085553_1280900534698I was 15 when my friend Anna asked if I would care for her young iguana while her family took a trip. I knew nothing about the reptiles, but I said, “Are you kidding?? Absolutely!”

Okay, maybe I didn’t say it that way, but I distinctly remember thinking it. How cool would it be to have “Iguana Caretaker” on my relatively short resume? In my mind, way cool.

And so, Pikkel came to live on the Blue Star Ranch for a month. I rearranged my room in order to make space for her large aquarium, and I iguana-proofed everything per Anna’s direction. Anna handed me a piece of paper of instructions, kissed her iguana goodbye, and left me staring at a 2 foot lizard and wondering what on earth I’d gotten myself into.

7/10 (the first day)– “Pikkel is so attentive! She has free reign in my room, and she likes to be up high. The first time I came in to check on her, I didn’t see her at first. I thought she’d gone into the closet, which I accidentally left open. Then I saw a tail swish and found her on top of my big dresser mirror!

The second time I checked on her, she wasn’t on the mirror, or on the window screen, or in her cage. My gloves were on the floor, so I bent over to pick them up, and when I stood to put them back on my coat rack, guess who I found 3″ from my face? Pikkel, lounging across the rack.

…Pikkel’s a great jumper. She startled me when she jumped up from the floor onto my bed (where I was reading), nearly into my lap!”

I wish all of my journal entries from that time were as detailed. Over the 3 weeks I iguana-sat, this was the most I ever spent on the subject except for a few lines about shedding feet and refusing a meal.

I remember the first time I gave Pikkel a bath quite clearly. I expected her to walk around in the shallow water, but the instant her claws hit the water she took off with the most elegant movements! I had no idea iguanas could swim, and she clearly loved every minute of it.


She loved to be stroked and held, but by the last week it was clear she missed Anna. I never thought a reptile could look so sad, but she did, and the day Anna arrived to bring her home was a happy day for everyone.

I came away from the experience grateful for it, because it completely answered my question of whether or not I wanted an iguana for myself. The answer? Decidedly no. Fascinating creatures, but the level of dedication and care they require far outweighed my desire to own one.

To this day I’m still learning about iguanas thanks to Pikkel, because it was during the writing of this post that I learned that green iguanas live 15-20 years and can grow up to 7 feet long! (You would think I’d already know that after almost a month of babysitting one.)

So thank you, Pikkel, for giving me a glimpse into the life of an amazing animal, and while you’re no longer with this world, your memory definitely lives on.

Dudley, the Rooster Who Jumped for Grapes

wp-1472072552860.jpgChickens were always a part of the Blue Star Ranch, but it wasn’t until Dudley that I realized that sometimes ordinary birds are capable of something extraordinary.

I don’t remember how exactly I discovered Dudley’s particular fancy for grapes, but once I realized that my young rooster would navigate an obstacle course for them, my then-12 year old self began to wonder. Could he do more? He hadn’t even found his spurs yet, but I set about seeing just how far he’d go for a grape.

I trained him to run around the perimeter of his yard. He started out slow, almost dragging his feet, but he sped up with each corner he passed, his neck stretching out farther and farther as his feet raced faster and faster down the homestretch towards the grape I held in my hand.

That led to simple mazes, then more complex mazes. Once it started to take me more time to build them then it did for him to navigate, I eventually gave that up in search of less time-consuming tricks.

Like jumping.

At first he learned to jump vertically, and as he grew so did the height of his jumps. He never missed the grape between my fingers, except once when he caught my thumb by accident. We took a few days off after that.

Next I set up mini pole jumps and taught Dudley to leap over them, and he took to it gamely enough. It was all for grapes, after all.

I was a horse girl without a horse, but I had a chicken who could run and jump on command. How cool was that? I showed him off to family and friends, and to this day he remains the chicken I remember most.

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Dudley was an Ameraucana chicken, hatched on our ranch.

While writing this post, I stumbled upon an Aesop’s fable that I found interesting, and while not directly related to chickens, it is directly related to jumping for grapes! What happens when the thirsty fox desires the grapes on the vine? Read The Fox and the Grapes to find out!