Archive for February, 2015

a day in the life of a horse trainer

Dirk and Samantha went on a field trip to do adjustments on some horses in another part of the country. I was left alone the whole day, and I worked six of their horses for them. Talk about making myself useful! I lunged Santiago first thing, then Constantine and Buschido. By the time I came back from lunging the latter, I found Santiago wandering around outside of his stall. Tsk tsk. I walked up to him and herded him back to where he was supposed to go, easy as pie. I think he was bored of his freedom anyway. With all sand and no grass, it kinda takes the fun out of escaping. I spoke with a groom about his pole being put properly across his gate, and we briefly made idle conversation. 

Next, I retrieved the Quarter Horse JB from his stall and took him for a walk. He must be lunged or ridden in a particular way to help his back heal, but he needed the exercise, so I took him for a 20 minute walk. It was remarkably similar to walking a dog. I walked him past several paddocks down to the river bed, then back up the road. He was excitedly smelling everything  and clearly didn’t get out much. I planned to walk him to the end of the road and back but he stopped and looked curiously at the turn that went to my house, so I acquiesced. I told him about the weaver birds who have a nest next to Sam and Dirk’s house, we had a good long gander at the boat which is a big as my house next to my cottage, and walked past the big house with the pool. He was a perfect gentleman out on our promenade. I already felt silly this week because I had spent much time walking horses from point A to point B, and that ain’t the cowgirl way. But this was not embarrassing, and I wish I could go walking with JB the Gentleman again. 

Speaking of, all of the horses ended up with nicknames from me. Buschido was Bushy, Constantine became Teeny (an ironic sort of nickname). I called Santiago either Sant (saint) or Iago (Shakespeare villain) depending on if he was doing well or behaving badly. Rakbah, as much of a scaredy cat as he is, just looked like a Rocky to me. And last but not least, Dodo. What do you do with a name like Dodo? I tended to say “Do-dee-doooo” in a sing-song and less than polite manner. There were others that they sometimes worked, including Certainty and Bonfire (the two new horses), a Friesian stallion named Tjerk (Tyerk became Jerk), an Arabian named Tareef called Kudu (like the animal), and the most sway backed creature I have ever seen called Buya. I didn’t work with them (except occasionally grabbing/brushing/treating with carrots one of the first two). I have never taken to renaming others’ animals the way I did in Namibia. Then again I have never taken to 6 animals the way I did there either. 

Remember how I said the dust kicks up in little tantrums here in the desert? There was one lunging arena which was terrible for throwing sand in the air. On this day I wore my long-sleeve shirt, cap, sunglasses, buff pulled over my nose (for the dust), gloves (for the lunge line), and riding trousers tucked into my boots. It occurred to me that I looked like a color-blind ninja who was prepared to sneak somewhere but was accidentally wearing bright clothes. Outside of my ridiculous wardrobe, the only problem that day came from Dodo. I began lunging him counterclockwise, a direction he took great exception to. He only behaved when I swapped sides and started going the other way first, a preference I did not notice before that day or after. I was halfway through working Rakbah, the last horse of the day, when I noticed the groom from earlier that day was watching me. I startled and said too loudly, “how long have you been there?!” I looked ridiculous with no skin exposed to the sun whatsoever, and I tend to have entire conversations with the horses while we work. Private conversations. An outsider might even say “Silly.” He replied, “not long,” and I spent another 8 minutes in a completely self-conscious state before retiring Rocky to his sandy paddock. 

After my own lunch, I fed carrots to all the guys, coupled with fly spray (to all except Dodo who lived up to his name and refused the helpful treatment). I washed saddle pads and girths, lounged by the pool, and generally worked up an appetite. Dad, you won’t believe that I spent 2.5 hours cooking (delicious) Mexican food for three, do you? I’m practically a grown up! Samantha and Dirk arrived too late to join me, but I lay my head down that night happy. I realized that I had spoken more words to horses than I had to people, and yet it was a great day. Namibia seems to be full of those. 🙂


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Lovesick Lovebird, Hippophagic Pig, Dumb Dogs

Do you know how great it is to wake up excited for the day? 

 I lunged Santiago again first thing and told him, “yesterday was my first time lunging. Now I’ve done it three times, and it’s a new day. You won’t be able to pull any crap today.” Either he understood me or my body language was more confident, because we had a great time of it. Even skinny as a rail, he looked beautiful. I passed Dirk when I was walking Santiago to his stall and he asked, “How did he do? Was he supple?” I replied, “I don’t really know what you mean. He did everything I asked, and he seemed less tight than yesterday,” (which means I knew the answer to his question without knowing I knew the answer). I lunged Dodo next and he was a dream. (I learned later that he was just on his best behavior.) 

 My routine of the week would be work horses and assist Sam and Dirk until 1 or 2, have lunch and a break, then clean tack. The late afternoons and evenings were all mine, which ain’t a bad life at all! The farm where we lived and worked was a bit of a menagerie: bunnies and guinea pigs, geese and ducks, a (terrifying to one squirly Arabian) pot-bellied pig that roamed around, parrot and love birds, and dogs that shared their dog pen with tortoises. The dogs have been known to “nibble” strangers and familiar grooms alike, and are let out during the lunch break and at night. 

 As the horses had the previous weekend off, they were only lunged the day before, but today Samantha and Dirk had to lunge and ride all the horses (except Santiago who became my project). I stayed busy fetching horses, tacking them up, walking them to the lunging arenas, etc. As previously mentioned, Zena’s Anglo-Arab Rakbah is scared of new things, including but not limited to the pot-bellied pig. Every morning camels are led through the river bed past his pasture. Dodo, his friend, looks up, thinks to himself, “There go those weird not-horses again,” and continues munching his hay. Rakbah stands and shakes as soon as he sees them and only stops when they are out of sight. I was leading Rakbah to the tack room for Samantha to work with him when he promptly stopped dead in his tracks and refused to move. Sam was watching and said, “It’s the pig!” She came over to help try to coax him into walking past it, but it was a failed effort. We aborted the mission and walked him the other way around, and I muttered to myself in disgust. (Note: the horse pictured is clearly not Rakbah.)

 The sun didn’t feel particularly hot but it is quite strong, requiring high SPF, a hat, and loads of water. It being a desert and all, there are minor dust storms that kick up and leave me coughing. I made a mental note to get my buff (a multi-purpose traveler bandana) out tomorrow to cover my nose. Sun glasses are a must once the morning fog has burned off. After the horses were all worked, I had lunch, goofed around (by which I mean lots of reading: the grand total was 4 books in 8 days) and cleaned bridles.


he first day I took the bridles and saddle soap over to the aviary to hang out with the birds. There was much chirping about their peace and personal space being disturbed, but I did make one friend. There were at least a dozen love birds, a nest in one corner, a pair of sun conures and one ring-necked parrot, who came over to say hello each time I stopped by for the rest of the week. I can’t help but worry that the un-paired birdie may have been inappropriately attracted to me because of my bright turquoise shirt. He whispered sweet nothings to me through the bars of his cage. (I never have been good at noticing if someone is hitting on me.) 

This time I took two more bridles and sat on my porch blaring music while I cleaned the tack. My music was so loud and I was so absorbed in my task that I didn’t notice the groom walk past me until he was right next to me, and my hand flew to my heart as I yelped. The poor guy felt so bad for startling me! If I stayed around long enough, he would realize just how often an occurrence that is… 

 One of the owners of the stables and grounds has a lovely large house at one end at the edge of the river bed. (The “river bed” which Dirk has seen flowing twice in his 10 years living there.) Said owner, having lovely taste, has a beautiful desert-plant garden and pool in her back yard which I was allowed to make use of since she was out of town. I spent at least an hour frolicking in the lap pool then reading with my feet in the water, utterly content. Since there was no hot water at my cottage, I had keys to let myself in the house and use the shower too. I tend to view showering as a waste of my time, since there are so many other things I could be doing with my life! Surprisingly, this was one of the best showers I’ve ever had, doubtless due to the fancy bathroom, fantastically loud Taylor Swift music, and generally happy day. I had a visible pep in my step as I walked in my towel back to my cottage. Until the dogs showed up. 

 From their perspective, some interloper was walking from The Boss’s house after hours and needed to be shredded, pronto. From my perspective, that is the most calm I have ever been staring down two 100+ pound bounding balls of barking teeth.

Let me briefly digress and tell an amusing story of one of the most embarrassing things I’ve ever done. 

I visited a dear friend in Amsterdam, Ben, for a long weekend during study abroad a few years back. We had a fantastic time catching up after our 3 years apart. One day we were casually holding hands and strolling down a residential street, as friends do. I looked up from the pavement and saw a large German shepherd loping towards us, and the small reptilian part of my brain took utter control of my body. I pulled Ben’s hand, shoving him in front of me and hiding behind his body from the terrifying creature, which continued on its path beside us without even a passing glance. THAT is how scared I am of strange running dogs. Luckily, Ben is still my friend, but unfortunately he doesn’t hold my hand anymore. 🙂 

 Back to the story. I am so content with life that I am practically skipping on the sand between the olive trees, when I am interrupted by loud hellions bent on a destructive path only 100 yards away. Without panicking a jot, I started yelling in as calming and high pitched a voice as I could manage, “It’s Bimbo and Shackra! Look at Bimbo and Shackraaaaaa! Bimbo and Shackra would never bite such a sweet girl because I gave belly rubs to Bimbo and Shackra just a few days ago!” I had absolutely no idea which one was which, but I figured the only thing that would keep me in one piece was convincing them that we knew each other. I could see the wheels turning in their heads. “Stranger! Dangerrrr! Must protect territory!! Stranger… Is not running? Stranger knows my name??” They slowed their speed down to a trot and gave another halfhearted (yet still terrifying) woof before walking close enough for me to pat them on the heads. I said to them, “Shackra and Bimbo, thanks for not eating me, boys!” They reveled in the attention, tongues lolling, and we parted ways as friends. No harm, no foul, right? I patted myself on the back for handling the situation so well, walked back to my cottage (walking through the door instead of the window), and promptly crapped my pants. It’s much safer to fall apart after the emergency, innit?

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Keys, Lunging, and Love

Once at the farm after the grocery store debacle, I followed Dirk as he checked on all of their horses, especially the 2 new ones. I very intentionally made friends with the giant/terrifying guard dogs Bimbo and Shackra. I am so willing to trade belly rubs now for hesitation before disembowelment later. I set up my stuff in my guest cottage and was warned there isn’t hot water for the shower, the bathroom sink leaks, there is a trick to shutting of the toilet, there isn’t a kettle or fridge, the bed squeaks, is it too hot even with the ceiling fan? Does the bed look good enough? Are you sure this is going to be ok? They progressively got more worried as they listed the caveats and tricks. It seemed helpful that they know just how low my standards are, so I mentioned I had spent 2 months living on a beach in a tent in Greece with no hot water or electricity, and I really would be fine.

During that time in Greece when I was offline for days at a time, Mamalady had a rule: I must message my mother at least every third day, and if they had no word from me for 5 days, they would put Michael on a plane to come find me. I made a point to tell my mom before I left this year that I know another Watson fellow who didn’t write to his parents for 3 months, but I don’t think she got the message. Keeping that “Taken”-like timeline in mind, I asked Samantha if I could message my folks that I arrived safely. The internet signal was so weak, I eventually had to send an email using her email address telling Michael I was alive and with good people, and there would be no need to call Samantha’s phone in the middle of the night. At the end I wrote, “P.S. This was not sent under duress.” Michael and I now have a better secret code to indicate if I am under duress. I love my quirky family.

Saying goodnight, I tried the key in the lock and it wouldn’t budge. I gave it a few tries and trudged to their place to ask if there was a trick to the door as well. Dirk helped me but the key bent as I was taking it out. 😁 Oh dear.

The next morning I was so excited to get to work and see what I could see! I made tea with no kettle, fixed cereal with UHT milk (meaning it doesn’t need to be kept cold), cleaned myself up without hot water, and made my way to the locked door. With the bent key it was difficult to get it to turn the first half way, and impossible the second half because the key broke off in the damn lock.

Now, this wasn’t a grocery store, so I didn’t panic. Being the resourceful young woman that I am, I tried to open it with tweezers, various parts of my pocket knife, the broken handle. Nada. I took another sip of my tea, definitely not thinking about how a claustrophobic chick with no internet connection or working cell phone was trapped in a cottage out of sight of her hosts. Nope, not this one. I’m far too clever for that. After another 15 minutes of trying the lock, I did the only sensible thing I could do: I climbed through the window. Easy.

The next part was a bit harder. “Umm, Samantha? I have a predicament,” I started, and showed her half of the key. “Oh my word!” was her response (and I would later learn this phrase covers everything from mild inconvenience to utter dismay). She said it again when she realized I was on the inside of the cottage and not the outside when it happened, and I definitely turned pink when I sheepishly answered how I’d gotten out. Since it was entirely my fault, I offered to pay for the key replacement. In an effort to be accommodating and low maintenance, I said, “If we can’t get it fixed today, I don’t mind using the window. It wasn’t so bad.” This only served to elevate me from “Girl Who Broke the Key an Climbed Through the Window” to “Strange Girl Who Doesn’t Mind Using a Window as Her Main Point of Entry.” Oh brother. Apparently it was a weird thing to say. Apparently. This in addition to “World Traveler Who Loses Her Cool in Grocery Stores.” I’ve got some ground to cover before I can rehabilitate my reputation.

I knew that we were going to get along just fine when I followed Samantha and Dirk to the tack room. Sam said, “You can hold Santiago while Dirk does an adjustment on his back.” Dirk is an osteopathologist and does work similar to chiropractics on horses. Dirk replied, “No. You can start by GETTING Santiago.” I’m a happy chappy when I get to actually be useful, so I practically skipped off with the bridle and returned with a skinny black horse. I held him and followed commands like walking him away, keeping him still, or backing him up.

Then we went to the arena to lunge him. Dirk handed me the whip and lunge line and asked if I’ve ever done any lunging before. Confessing my inexperience, I got a 5 minute lesson on lunging and was left to it. Next up were Buschido and Rakbah (one of zena’s horses who is in training to be sold). Buschido was well-behaved and Rakbah was fine except for a moment when he thought his pasture-mate and friend Dodo was walking past the arena. He wriggled on the end of the line like a fish on a hook and then went back to his circles like nothing had happened. With each horse I worked, I got more comfortable handling the whip and lunge line, and confident in knowing what to do. I went from having no hands-on experience to having lunged 3 horses! I was so chuffed, I thought the day couldn’t get any better. But it did. 😀

Throughout the day I busied myself fetching horses, helping grab tack, and the like. Then, I saddled up JB, the American Quarter Horse, with his western tack for Dirk. My god, that is the heaviest damn saddle in existence, I just know it. As we walked to the arena, Dirk said, “Do you want to ride him?” It was difficult to contain my glee. Do I want to ride a quarter horse in a western saddle for my first day in Namibia for a successful trainer? Better question: is there anything I want more? I had a 15 minute lesson-type instruction. I learned about what is wrong with JB’s back, a bit about arena rules, and some dressage riding. I definitely fell a little in love. (With JB, not Dirk.)


After lunch we made a trip to town to have a new key made, a quick internet stop at a cafe, a jaunt along the beach, and then to get more groceries. When we walked in the grocery store I started getting vegetables then stopped, looking around a bit lost. Sam said, “are you overwhelmed?” This one knows too much… ☺️

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First day in Namibiaaaaaaaaaaa

Emphasis goes on the AAAAAAAA! At the Johannesburg airport I stopped to pick up lunch I planned to eat at my gate. Little did I know I had to go to the international departures gate which takes you through security again, where they deemed my coke to be a threat but at least left me the curry. (I garnered strange looks in the line from my fellow travelers.) The curry proved to be a problem at my gate, because the Indian food was spicy, my drink was confiscated, and I was short 3 rand for a soda (or “cool drink” as they refer to any drink preferably consumed cold). What’s a girl to do? I explained my predicament to the the smartly dressed woman next to me who spotted me 5 rand (essentially 50 cents). SCORE. Being shameless works out sometimes. 🙂

On my flight to Walvis Bay, Namibia (on the coast) I counted 15 passengers total and a single flight attendant. The man next to me was silent nearly the whole flight until he asked me if I speak French? Nope. Portuguese. Sorry man. Spanish? Ah, sí! I helped the Spaniard fill out his boarding card which was in English and then we chatted about our travels to Namibia. I stuttered and sipped and stumbled through my rusty vocabulary and sentence structure, but he complimented my Spanish anyway. I mispronounced “dollar” and said “pain” instead (“How much pain do you plan to spend in Namibia?”) but quickly realized my error. He giggled at my word choice for “car” and say I was so Latin American, which actually just made me proud. What I was most proud of, though, was telling this story in Spanish.

Last summer I was swimming in the sea in Menorca. A boy started pointing in the water and saying, “My glasses!” So I looked and asked, “Are they in the water?” He kept repeating “I don’t have my glasses!” and pointing excitedly. “Medusa! Medusa!” he would say. “What is medusa?” I finally asked. Looking under water, it clicked. “Sí, es medusa!” I yelled as I swam away. And that is how I learned the Spanish word for jellyfish. 😉

We exchanged many comments about the starkness of the desert once we could see it from the plane. I translated for him to the border guard an we both sailed through to the tiny airport. I learned the Spanish word for rolling suitcase, picked up my backpacks and mumble the overly formal “go with God” goodbye. I perched on a chair to wait for my hosts, pre-arranged by Zena. After 20 minutes passed, I asked for a pay phone and was loaned someone’s cell. Samantha and Dirk were waylaid by horse and traffic troubles and would be another hour at least. There was another traveler whose taxi had forgotten him. This is a 2 flight per day airport so I was eventually evicted from the building to wait outside. Reading in the shade, I didn’t even notice the car pull up until the airport employees for my attention, much to their amusement.

Samantha (English) and Dirk (German) and Amy (terrier) welcomed me to Namibia with a dusty drive to Swakopmund. I tried to be less “overwhelming” which was Zena’s advice and suss out what they think about horses. It was an easy subject to broach with two horse trainers.

They had been out of town all weekend and had driven 2 new horses up from the capital, Windhoek, that morning (hence the hour and a half delay). Since they were out of food, we stopped in Swakopmund to grab some.

Of all the countries I have been to, languages I’ve heard, monuments I’ve visited and cultures I’ve studied, do you want to know what ALWAYS overwhelms me? Grocery stores. For crying out loud, a grocery store in a me place makes my brain shut down. “What do you need to eat?” ceases to be a simple question when I have too many options, possibly written in foreign languages, and I’ve no idea where to look or what the protocol for bagging fruit is. I swear, I didn’t buy any food the whole week I was in Portugal because my IQ drops to zero every time I walk in a market. (Which was twice in Portugal. One time I literally walked out empty handed.)

I explained this, in less horrifying detail, to Samantha in the hopes that she wouldn’t draw too many conclusions about my personality and intellect based on the next 20 minutes. She chuckled and did her best to remind me of stuff I could borrow or obvious things I’d forgotten. Luckily for me, my Novel Grocery Store Stupidity evaporates once I leave said premises, and usually doesn’t stick around past the third visit to a shop. Let us just say I was happy to be done with that particular errand, and that I did manage to collect some foodstuffs that would last most of the week (though the latter is mostly due to Samantha’s patience at wandering back and forth through the aisles, endlessly.) I am a strange combination of clever and ditzy, my friends. 🙂

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Headed to Namibia (1/31/15)

It is frustrating the responses I get for being from Mississippi, all around the world. Here are some real responses I’ve gotten to the “Which state are you from?” question.

“Like… The, uh, river?” (Rarely said with certainty.)
“What’s that?” (Rarely said with tact.)
“I see you are wearing shoes!” (Yes, I am, in fact, not barefoot and pregnant. Gold star for your observation skills. Now go away.)
Oh, that’s where the slaves went.” (Compliments of a little Irish granny who has lost her filter.)
“I saw on Top Gear they really hate gay people there.” (I can see this is going to be a fun conversation…)
“Like the film Mississippi Burning! Is it really that bad…?” (Ditto above.)
“Wasn’t there a big storm there recently?” (They mean hurricane Katrina, and their sense of time is loose.)
“You can’t possibly be from Mississippi. Where’s your accent?” (At home, which is the same place you left your manners.)
“I’m sorry.” (I wanted to punch the Yankee that said that. Instead I opted to lecture her.)
“I LOVE jazz!” (This is by far the best option.)

However, Ish, (my boss Zena’s friend who keeps the books on the farm in South Africa) gave me a new one as we drove to Bloemfontein. “Isn’t the Ku Klux Klan from there?” I was surprised by this and embarrassed not to know the answer. (It’s Tennessee, I now know.) At the time I said, “either Mississippi or Arkansas…” I must apologize to my second home, Arkansas, for throwing you under the bus. Ish and her husband were driving to Bloem for their granddaughter’s birthday party and offered me a ride so I could catch a plane to Namibia the next day. We had an interesting conversation about race in the southern US with a few comparisons to South Africa. I was not as frank as I wanted to be, but Ish had the most fair opinion I had encountered since arriving to this country.

In the backseat with me was Malephoi, a 10-year-old friend of the birthday girl. We talked about fashion (hair styles, what colors I’ve dyed my hair, which ear piercing hurt the most, favorite colors in general), her Sesotho name and English name (Juliet) as well as how people mispronounce both, learning to swim, and how many countries we can name. She was bright and made for truly delightful conversation. When I clarified that I am from the U.S. and not England like she thought, Malephoi said, “Is Obama really your president? I thought that was a joke.” She told me a mixed race person is called “colored” here, which made me squirm even though it is the correct term.

That night I took a quiz and named 136 counties. I texted Ish to tell Malephoi, who (with much prompting and correcting) named 15 countries in the car. She was so much fun to talk to and learn from. AND she shared her candy. What a Class A Kid.

In Malephoi I had a clever kid to talk to, whose ignorance of Mississippi was an easier obstacle to overcome than a misinformed stereotype or inappropriate question could have been. Sometimes skipping “where are you from?” can pave the way for a proper conversation.

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