Things That Make Me Happy

  • Watching leaves and bits of grass dance on the wind, whirling around and glistening in the sun like some dancing spirit.
  • The shape of a big, stocky horse butt.  Who am I kidding?  ANY part of a horse.
  • Watching birds in the trees without them realizing I’m watching them.
  • Seeing a baby doe run across the field, stop, and look at me just as bold as brass knowing I’m standing right there; she reaches down to eat grass like I’m part of her safe world.  I am.
  • Looking out into the pasture to see my pregnant mare, Kat, roll – or try to roll.  Preposterous.  She loved it; so did I.
  • Seeing cats curled up together.  It makes me wish I were tiny so I could curl right up with them.
  • Dogs running.  Anywhere.  Anytime.  Even better if there’s some degree of tongue lolling happening.
  • Over single one of Ree Drummond (The Pioneer Woman’s) shows.  Pure joy.  If I saw her, I’d probably hug her and she’d think I was a weird stalker.
  • Family; who knew that with so little of them left I’d be taken under the wings of other families. 
  • Friends; no matter how nutty or random I am, no matter if I’m having a bad day or great one, true friends make life a complete joy.  I could do another 47 years with you all.

What makes you happy?

Playing Well with Others; Socialization and Training the Horse – Part I

Part I:  Cash’s Introduction to Herd Dynamics

Most of today’s clinicians and horse training experts rely on techniques which, in turn, rely on the horse’s natural social skills.  But when your horse is – to put it kindly – socially inept, then what?  Teaching your horse proper manners on the ground is vital to riding, even if the lesson is his first.

A little about Cash

Recently we brought a new horse into the herd:  Flash, aka CashMoney.  Cash is a lovely 5-year-old gelding who comes to us green broke from the family who raised him.  While not papered, Cash’s bloodlines promised the potential for nice movement, intelligence, possibly a little cattle work and reining.  His dam was on site – a really good looking buckskin with a great disposition.  I could tell from first meeting that Cash was going to be fast, catty, and a thinker – meaning he would want to know why we had to do everything and not just blindly accept that we *were* going to do everything I say.  That was fine with me because I like a horse with a mind.  To me, he seems bold – he certainly moved that way.  So I bought him.

Cash comes home; Rodeo Days

Cash had never been in hauled in a trailer, a project that I’m sure will be carried out here for you all to see – fun!  We managed to get him loaded and home.  The first day of transition we had him stalled up so everyone could take a good look at him without getting at him.  This also gave him a chance to become acquainted with my very old mare, Queenie.  Everything seemed great.

When we took him out eventually to become acquainted with the other horses, we had the usual of what I call “Rodeo Days” – meaning everyone had to run, buck, chase, posture, show what big ol’ tough horses they are, and so on.  Fair enough – horses have social orders and the new kid in town shook things up.  Usually Rodeo Days last about 3 days and then everyone gets over themselves.  Egos deflate, bruises heal, and I can stop worrying.

After three days, however, we realized that Cash was still running terrified from everyone except  Queenie – and the mini cow.  (Nothing runs from the mini cow; the most she can do is lick you to death with that long scratchy tongue of hers.)  The more Cash ran, the more other horses were determined to bully him.

Horses seem to be a lot like kids in elementary school; if you dare to cringe, you are guaranteeing that you will be the target of abuse until you are past graduation.  That being said, this was just too much.  Then it dawned on me:  Cash doesn’t know how to be a horse!

Our realization about Cash

Cash was raised with his momma only – no herd.  He apparently spent a lot of time in a pen next to her, not with her where she could push him around, pin her ears at him but not do anything really, and just basically teach him to keep out of her personal space.

When I lead him, I get the feeling that he’s a 2-week-old colt and *I* am his momma.  Colts have a funny way of sticking to their moms like glue sometimes, invading that personal space in a way that the mare would never ever tolerate from any other horse.  When Cash would see something new, all 1100 pounds of him would be quite firmly stuck to my side – a bit intimidating since he is fast as his first name – Flash – states.

Cash has been schooled by humans, but not by horses

Cash has experienced some Clinton Anderson techniques.  For example, he will back up if you shake the lead a bit in front of him facing him.  However, it seems to me that he doesn’t really know things like personal space, manners, and that standing 1 foot in front of your much-shorter owner with your head above her head isn’t the thing to do.  Cash is neither doing these things because he is bad nor because anyone has neglected anything in his upbringing; he is just being a horse that has never really experienced a herd environment.

What a horse learns in a herd and why it is important

The thing is – herd manners are vastly important to modern training techniques such as that by Anderson and others based on the teachings of Ray Hunt and company.  The body language and thinking used to teach a horse on the ground and then in the saddle are based on a horse herd dynamics.

In a herd, a horse learns that if one horse pins his ears and comes at him, he needs to move and move quick; however, you do not have to keep moving like you are on fire when that other horse releases that pressure.  In a training environment, body language is used to move a horse forward in a controlled way.

In a herd, Cash would have been nipped and probably kicked for getting up in other horses’ spaces – no matter the reason.  In a training environment, the trainer uses personal space pressure and physical pressure to teach a horse to think about personal space.  In a herd, walking up to the alpha mare (in this case: me) with ears pinned back would have resulted in a lesson in manners.

A proper herd would have taught Cash that horses, by nature, are too lazy to chase you for a mile if you will just kindly heed their warning and move; continued terror is not necessary.  In training, when a horse does what you want the pressure you used to get that result is immediately released.

The horses get the teaching job – for now

I was going to begin Cash’s training 3 days after he arrived.  However, when you see a 40 inch pony chasing a 1100 pound/15 hand high gelding around who is terrified – you realize that he might need some adjustment time.

Now Cash is fine.  We locked up the Tiny Terror (PonySue) so that Cash could taunt him over the stall without fear, Kat and Dante got over their jealousy, Jo never cared much either way about chasing Cash, and Queenie has loved him from the start.  Cash is getting to learn how to move in a crowd with  manners and without fear, how to think instead of reacting – a vital skill for the training process.

Now that Cash seems to understand a little more about how to be – well – a horse, we can go forward in his training on how to be an awesome horse.  I am excited to share this with you in the upcoming segments.  I hope you join us, Cash and myself, for our adventure.

Every-color Rice with Chicken

Do you ever have one of those days where you want something warm and comforting, but you just do not seem to have the fuel your body needs for a big meal?  So do I and today was one of those days.  I needed a food-hug to get through the day, so I decided to make a spin-off of a meal my momma used to make.

This meal is not only colorful, it’s delicious.  This is an awesome way to sneak veggies into your meal in a soothing way.  You can also adjust this recipe for nearly endless variations which makes it a great staple in your book of recipes.

I used two pots today, but you can just as easily use one very successfully.  If you use one pot, then you get all the delicious, caramelized chicken bits and pieces in your rice dish – a real benefit.

Let’s get started.

Ingredients:

  • Chicken, uncooked, cut into tenderloin sized-pieces.  Breast or thigh.
  • One package of “yellow rice”**
  • One cup or small can of black olives.
  • One handful or a cup of frozen peas.
  • One handful or a cup of frozen or fresh peppers.*
  • Various seasonings.  My favorites are garlic powder (not salt), Lawry seasoned salt, salt & pepper
  • Olive oil
  • One medium  or small yellow onions.
  • Two to four garlic cloves (optional if you have garlic powder around).

Some ingredient notes:

*On peppers, the more colors the merrier.  I look for sales on  the red/orange/yellow peppers because they add sweetness and color to a dish.  There are also bags of frozen strips of tri-colored peppers in some grocery stores.  These are an inexpensive way to keep beautiful and delicious peppers available at all times for your dishes.  Just a little handful adds a ton of beauty to a dish.

**Yes, there really is a product called “yellow rice”.  You can also make this with regular rice and saffron, but I’m a lazy creature by nature and the package takes a whole lot of work out of this dish.  You can also use white rice, but really – the color of yellow rice is absolutely stunning – a perfect foil for all those pretty colors you’re going to throw in.

Preparing ahead of time takes away some of the pressure.

I like to have as much of my cooking goodies ready ahead of time so that I can just throw ingredients into the pan like some mad scientist!  If you are like me, then go ahead and slice up your onion into medium-thin slices, slice your olives in half if they’re whole, chop up some garlic into tiny dices.

Cook the chicken first.

The first task at hand is to get your chicken going and pretty and colorful!  I give you the option of using either breast meat or thighs.  I confess:  I used to think that chicken thighs were the worst thing ever.  In fact, I told my boyfriend that I never eat chicken thighs and I sure didn’t intend to start.  Yeah, I’m that hard headed.   Every once in a while, however, something will get through my thick skull and makes its way into my thinking process and this time it was chicken thighs.

Chicken thighs are really flavorful in a dish like this where the juices and flavors of the thigh will be cooked into the dish as a whole.  I really feel that thighs are the way to go for this dish because of a certain richness they add without being overpowering.  That being said, feel free to use breasts if you like them better.  I recommend having them cut into tender-sized pieces no matter what you choose.

Heat up your pan and, when hot, add a little bit of olive oil into the pan – just a bit.  I usually make an S-shaped swirl.  This gives you enough lubrication for your chicken without weighing down the dish.

Season both sides of your washed and dried chicken with generous amounts of salt, pepper, garlic powder, and a little Lawry’s Seasoned Salt or similar product.  When your oil is hot enough and the top of it isn’t smooth but is dimpling a little, then go ahead and set your chicken pieces down in that oil.

Did you know foods have personal-space preferences?

Remember, all foods have their own sense of personal space.  Some foods like onions and other vegetables are social creatures and don’t mind being heaped up all in one pile.  Meats and mushrooms, on the other hand, like a little personal space.  Give the pieces enough space around them to where they don’t necessarily touch.  You’ll find that they always color up and cook a lot more happily.  Happy food makes happy tummies, and I’m all about the happy tummy!

So nestle those chicken pieces on into your beautiful olive oil and listen to them sizzle.  Give each one a little wiggle so that some of your olive oil gets beneath them so that they brown better and stick less.  A little sticking is perfectly fine; every little piece that sticks and really browns is going to enhance your dish in the end.  So don’t sweat the small stuff.

Developing color and moisture in the chicken pot.

The temperature should be medium-hot.  The goal is to let the chicken get colored up on one side to where you have a beautiful browned and interesting surface.  This also sears in juices, so resist the urge to poke and worry the chicken.  It knows what it’s doing; let it be.

If you’re new to cooking, just take a peek now and again by lifting the chicken pieces and looking under them.  If the chicken looks pale, it’s not ready to be turned.  Wait til it’s something you’d want to see on your plate before turning it over.

When your chicken are pretty and colorful, go ahead and give them all a flip.  Remember to wiggle them so that they don’t stick.  Then let the other side color up.

When the chicken is nearly the color you want, I throw in the pieces of bell peppers with the chickens so that they can warm up.

When your chicken is done, take the chicken and peppers and set aside.

Two-pan method versus the one-pan method

Two pan method:  while the chicken is cooking, go ahead and saute some onions in a pre-heated pan into which you’ve added olive oil (again, an S-shape) which you’ve also heated up.  I like to throw a little Italian seasoning over my onions as they cook.  If you’re using garlic, throw those in when the onions are nearly done and just browning.  If not, then put your garlic powder in when you put the onions in; seasoning them before they’ve released their moisture helps distribute the seasoning flavors throughout your onions.

One pan method: when the chicken is removed from the pot, throw the onions in and cook as in the two-pan method.

Prepare the onions and rice.

Either way:  cook the onions until they have sweated out a lot of their moisture, but are still retaining their shape.  They should be a little soft and nicely browned without being completely caramelized.

When the onions are done, pour 2 and 1/2 cups of hot water into the pot.  Bring to a boil.  Once the water is boiling vigorously, not just little bubbles… (I know, it’s very hard to wait for that moment) then pour in your yellow rice.  Stir and continue to boil the rice/water/onion mixture for one minute.

NOTICE: Most packages or  yellow rice are the same; however, if your rice calls for less or more water – then use the amount recommended on the package.

My stove tends to stay really hot so I’ll actually turn my  heat down to 2 or simmer when I’ve added the rice.  In my case, the water will continue to boil as I stir it and stirring it helps it come down to a simmer temperature.  You can try this as well so you don’t scorch your rice.

Stirring at this point helps you to keep the rice moving around and not sticking to the bottom of the pan.  The olive oil in which you cooked stuff helps, too.  If you are using the one-pan method, use this time to scrape all the good chicken bits from the bottom and into the boiling water.  That’s the good stuff!

Put everything together.

After your minute has passed, take your chicken and nestle the pieces into the water-covered rice.  Make sure that all the pepper pieces go as well.  Then dump your frozen peas and black olives on top.

Cover and simmer for 20 minutes without stirring, or until all of the water is absorbed into the rice.

Finish your beautiful dish.

When you see all the water is absorbed, take the pot off of the heat.  Add two pats of butter and give the whole gorgeous thing a good stir.  Enjoy the beautiful yellow, red, green, orange, and black colors in your beautiful yellow rice.  Don’t forget to take a nice deep smell of this super-comforting dish.  It really smells like home and happiness and love and chickeny-goodness!

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Serve up a heaping dish for yourself and your family and enjoy!

Every-color rice and chicken.

Every-color rice and chicken.