March 2017: At Long Last by Kelli

At Long Last by Kelli Kozak

“If you come at four in the afternoon, I’ll begin to be happy by three.”

― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

 

Dunrovin is beginning to rouse. I see the grounds sheared of snow. I see equines spurred into play by the sun. I see pairs of birds sweeping the sky.

I’ve been looking down too long, watching my boots navigate the ice rink that was the parking lot between my office and SuzAnne’s. My parka has swaddled my face, and I’ve been thinking a lot, too, which I accomplish better undistracted by what’s above. Besides, the white mountains on all sides of the ranch have been tucked into the white sky, and there hasn’t been a lot to see. An exception: four wild horses, their dark coats obvious against the snow, high on the mountain to the south. Otherwise – written with a bit of hyperbole – I haven’t looked up in months.

Looking up in the spring is synonymous with looking ahead, and there is much adventure in the offing. Harriet, the storied osprey, is expected to return; Lonza is due to foal; my horse, Doc, will be moved onto the property; the ranch calendar is filling up with classes and guided rides; the accommodations are being booked; the ice on the Bitterroot riverbank is receding; and the trees will leaf out, the flowers will bloom, and the grass will start to grow like crazy.

This time of year raises our hopes that Harriet will have a successful migration back to Dunrovin. One can’t look forward without wondering about her. That osprey, whom I’ve yet to see in her magnificently feathered flesh, occupies much of my waking time. The Days at Dunrovin web cams stream live on my computer while I’m in the ranch office, and as the office is midway between the nest cam and the ranch cam, I peek out one window, then the other, to confirm with my own eyes what is happening outside. What I know about ospreys comes from the marvelous folks on the member chat. They are a library of information…no…two libraries, as well as a fount of wisdom from lives well lived. They don’t say much about Harriet until I bring her up, then they’re off to the races. Perhaps they don’t want to jinx her flight north to us, but they can’t restrain themselves from sharing their enthusiasm with this neophyte.

Clearly, a whole lot of people are anticipating the opportunities for growth that spring brings. And what better way to do that than with a horse?

I discovered that the horse is life itself, a metaphor

but also an example of life’s mystery and unpredictability,

of life’s generosity and beauty, a worthy object

of repeated and ever-changing contemplation.

—Jane Smiley

This month and continuing into April, we’ll fluff up the gravel and erect the stalls for the herd. They’ll be brought in from their winter pasture and put into their usual stalls, their nameplates attached. Their saddles will be fitted and adjusted as necessary. They have a big job ahead of them, taking guests on ranch rides, river rides, and part- and full-day rides across the Bitterroot river and into the mountains. We’ll ride them all beforehand, tuning them up. We’ll adjust their feed, too, so they maintain their weight and energy. They’ll be shod. All of this is streamed live on the Days at Dunrovin ranch cam, so I’d better be on my best behavior (or not). And it’s come to my attention that the ambient mic on the nest cam picks up everything!

I’m also looking forward to excited children once again meeting their favorite horses and digging into the work of learning. This season, a science unit has been added to the usual horsemanship curriculum, and the Pony Clubs and Homeschool Groups will get a healthy dose of equine-based science. In May, my inner excited child hopes to have the time to work with Hashknife Horses’ Brandon Carpenter, who will be back at Dunrovin sharing his experience and knowledge in a clinic with a group of eager horse owners.

That’s just the beginning. Summer brings weddings, Trail-to-Table dinners, Equine Wellness clinics, film festivals, and lots more…and all of it streamed live.

An expectant Lonza in her winter coat

SuzAnne’s mare, Lonza, is due to foal in April. We’ll soon prepare the birthing stall and keep an even closer eye on her. I can’t wait for the blessed event. There’s nothing cuter than a new foal, all wobbly legs and curiosity. I look forward to the looks on the geldings’ faces when they first see the newest member of the team. It might be a good idea to include Lonza in Dunrovin’s Mother’s Day event; I bet she could use some open-air yoga by then!

We’re planning for the spring arrival of my thoroughbred, Doc. I’m going back and forth on when it’s best to drive to Washington, load him up, and bring him out to Dunrovin. There are considerations I can’t control: will there be a late, deep freeze once he’s here? He has no natural winter coat at the moment, but lots of good turnouts. He tends to drop an astonishing amount of weight very quickly in the cold, as do many other thoroughbreds in cold climes. Will the passes be clear? There are three significant ones between us, and it would be dangerous, not to say stressful, for both of us to attempt to cross them in icy or white-out conditions. I’ve been receiving e-mail updates from his trainer back in Washington, as well as videos of his progress. I miss him, and I can’t wait to look up and say, “Well, buddy. We made it. Welcome to Montana!”

 

Doc

 

This neck of the woods is already home to my dogs, Aero, Inu, and Max. We have explored the riparian when it was swathed in snow. Now I anticipate lots of splashing and gulping at the water when I introduce them to the Bitterroot sans ice. Interestingly, it’s Aero, the city dog, who loves water more than Inu and Max, my country dogs from Colorado.

I’m looking forward to learning the ropes – no pun intended – of packing horses for trips into the backcountry. I can ride, but I’ve never packed a horse. One of our expert wranglers, Maggie, a true Montana cowgirl, will be onsite starting in early April and we’ll head up—way up—into the mountains to clear trail for our summer guided rides. Here’s how it goes: We load the horses we’ll ride, plus one, into the trailer, drive over miles of washboard-rough dirt roads, pack the chainsaws onto one of the horses, and ride the trails, cutting up trees that have fallen during the winter. I’m tough, and with any luck at all, I will soon be Montana-tough, which is an entirely different thing.

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