Tag Archives: Horses

Halleck Creek Ranch turns 37


Joy in giggles. I don’t think I have ever been to a birthday party where laughs and smiles between adults and their charges were more a focus than cupcakes. I don’t think I even saw one cup cake in the trash separated from the top after being smeared around someone’s mouth.

HAPPY 37TH BIRTHDAY to Halleck Creek Ranch!

Nearly every Saturday a respectful caravan of vehicles converge from, at times, all 7 Bay Area counties and drive along Halleck Creek to participate in what may be the most unique program in the country. Nicasio’s own Duane Irving, who sadly died in 2010, had been working at the National Park Service’s Morgan Horse Ranch when he became aware that horses could be a way to get kids into the natural environment. Along the way Joyce Goldfield began volunteering and they started focusing on the importance of getting kids with various physical and cognitive challenges outdoors. The program just took shape.

It has since grown to 45 weeks of riding for 250 participants on weekdays and Saturdays. Currently the age range is 3 to 76; however, about 80% of their riders are typically between the ages of 3 and 21.

Calm. This word really captured the day. When I got there everyone was sitting around calmly. Soon the second morning ride returned, calmly. Indeed, families had arrived as usual for their 9:00 a.m. ride knowing that for many kids their weeks revolve around these Saturday rides. The ride just might be more important than home churned ice cream.

Bread and Roses, Dick Miner host, provided perfect atmospheric music by Dick Bay on accordion and Peter Bellal on guitar. Dick and Peter of the Babushka Brothers band played lively blues with a sense of calm and even their spontaneous jam session with Dexter, one of the afternoon riders, was calm while being lively and spirited.

During the musician’s break people meandered over to tables covered with hamburgers, hot dogs, salads, lemonade, and a wide range of trimmings. Joyce and one of the kids in attendance slowly churned ice cream without anyone seeming to notice. However the option of root beer floats later brought on the closest thing to a rush that day. An amazing homemade cake, cookies, and cupcakes guaranteed a sugar high for all.

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Two dedicated staff members, Molly Scannell and Mesa Nordbye took over the mike and started with a quiz. How many total volunteer hours were clocked in the past year? The first guess was around 1300. Someone then quickly added another zero and got much closer to the 13,500 hours that were worth over $300,000. But what every volunteer there knows, the pay of these support people can’t be measured in dollars.

The donated horses too are priceless. Currently they have 11 horses, 6 below the desired target of 17. When horses are donated, often from local ranches, they are first taken on a trial basis. When a horse can no longer work they are given pasture and equine companionship for the rest of their natural lives. A brief glance at their eyes and their coats reveals that the horses are very well cared for.

Calmness pervaded the afternoon ride as well. The certified horse trainers saddled up the horses and then calmly stood with them until their turn to be mounted. Then they were calmly led to the mounting station appropriate to their impending rider. There were at least three, sometimes five or six, assistants to help each rider get safely mounted. Calmly the horse accepted their new rider and then calmly walked to a large open covered ring where they slowly walked until everyone was mounted and comfortable. Then calmly they walked out single file and on to the trail. I did not witness one horse trying to rush ahead or hang back. Calm and steady was their ethic. Calm and steady and caring.

Halleck Creek provides a wide range of activities throughout the year, most of which are listed on their website. They participated in the Human Race this past May with Claudia Johnson being the top finisher for their team. Claudia has been a program participant since she was 13 and now is Board Secretary. (Please see their website to learn more of their accomplishments.) They had three riders in the Marin County Fair who won 1st, 2nd and 3rd places; and many riders participated in Western Weekend. Campouts are amongst their many other activities. Needless to say, tuition (many are on scholarships) manages to cover about one-third of costs. Look for details about their fundraiser November 14th.

Having just gone to Marin County’s “Happiest Fair On Earth”, I think they have stiff competition for the Happiest Place On Earth.


If there were ten thousand web sites for Kentucky Mountain Horses I would have visited them all. That’s probably better than telling everyone I visited ten thousand sites, if better means sticking to what seems plausible. I could also say it felt like ten thousand, or might just as well have been ten thousand, by the time I gave up from sheer, irritable exhaustion.

Day and sometimes nights for months I’d been writing to the breeders, getting into phone conversations, explaining that I wanted a the dark brown “chocolate” color horse, with flaxen mane and tail with white leg markings no higher than the knee. They told me they were so rare I wouldn’t find one unless I was willing to wait for years, and even then, I’d probably miss out. A horse matching this description would be snatched up by local breeders and would not be advertised on line. This was the paragon, the ideal horse within the breed, most highly prized as a show horse and I had to admit, for sheer stunning beauty they left my Cooper in the dust.   Their flaxen manes were three feet long, their tails touched the ground. One breeder said to me, with undisguised scorn, that she bred for riding and not for color and I almost said, well I guess you’ve never imagined being drawn up to heaven in a chariot by a winged horse. I should have said it. But in those days I was trying to monitor myself.

At night, looking up at the stars from the hot tub, I would think about the horses in Plato’s fable of the soul.   The horse on the right is said to be upright and cleanly made: he has a lofty neck, an aquiline nose, and dark eyes. This is the horse of our nobility, the lover of honor, modesty and temperance. Guided by word alone, no hand need touch him with the whip. But his partner is that horse you never want to own; put together anyhow, short-necked, flat-faced, with blood-red complexion and lousy conformation. A creature of undeserved pride and insolence, lust and disobedience, uncontrollable by whip and spur, an altogether bad fellow. I thought I was probably old enough now to have tamed lust and disobedience, ready to follow the gods in modesty and holy fear. Wasn’t I? All I needed was the world’s most beautiful horse.

Village wisdom came to my aid again. I wasn’t a breeder, I wasn’t local to Kentucky, it might seem ostentatious for a relatively new rider to be seen cavorting with the world’s most beautiful horse. Who could disagree? The sight of not exactly a spring chicken astride this paragon might strike some people as incongruous.   I should keep riding and taking lessons and wait for the right, older, local horse to come along. Invitations came pouring in, sometimes from people at three or even four degrees of separation: through the waitress at the Station House, whose mother’s mother-in-law’s sister lived in Inverness. And there was the open invitation to ride the Danish Warm Bloods, one of which had already been picked out for me. I never said, ‘Yes, but do you have Kentucky Mountain Horses? And is one of them a dark, chocolate brown with a flaxen mane?’

I         knew I was always a step ahead of myself, wanting a horse before I knew how to ride, insisting on a young horse before I knew how to buckle a bridle, dashing off after a particular kind of horse when I’d only ever seen one of its kind. The Woman from the Paris Café thought that I was learning in the best way possible what an open-hearted and generous village we had chosen. Not that I ever took anyone’s advice. Waiting, insisting on the impossible may certainly have given the appearance that I had given up hope

Horses bring out the best in people. Equestrian generosity can be found even in the cyber world, as I discovered when a message came in from a complete stranger in Tennessee. I must have written to her months before when I was still desperately seeking a Kentucky Mountain Horse, hopeful and excited until it turned out there were no horses like the horse I had met at the Morgan Ranch. Of course not, he must have been a vision. She suggested I write to Jim and Diana Sarber, breeders of Kentucky Mountain Horses in Bedford, Kentucky. Their website announced that the family “attended Milton United Methodist Church and was dedicated to the Lord and living by his word.” To live by the lord’s word was not the same as living by magic but these devotions shared an affinity, both requiring a certain kind of risky trust. For sale were: Dakota Kate, an experienced trail mare, a lovely creature with a high head, winner of show prizes. A gelding called Copper, a chestnut with a mane 24 inches long.   Copper, whose name was almost Cooper, had one of the prettiest heads the Sarbers had ever seen.

The horses for sale were as beautiful as the horse I had seen at the Morgan Ranch and had all the fantastic characteristics his owner had described. I wasn’t exactly in love with them but it was time, I told myself, to accept the world as it is. They were affordable and available and all I had to do was fly down to Bedford to meet the Sarbers who had invited me to stay. Why not go? I was pretty sure I wouldn’t have to buckle anything.

On the other hand, one’s true nature sometimes doesn’t change over night. I can’t speak for others but mine didn’t. I had caught a glimpse of the Sarbers’ stud horse, a marvelous creature named Chisolm, with his dark chocolate coat, his flaxen mane and tail and four discreet white socks. All at once, it seemed the most natural thing in the world to have found the horse I was looking for. The months of trying and failing fell away, the drama was gone, I didn’t shout or cavort, I sat quietly gazing at his photograph. They were displaying him because he had sired a number of their colts and fillies but he was not for sale. Not for sale? Why would I be deterred?

It’s probably not wise to go about harboring convictions but a conviction is not really something you can choose to have. They roam around looking for someone to inhabit, anyone who will offer them a long stay and not easily trade them in. I’m as willing as the next person to change my mind but somehow I never get around to it. One minute a conviction doesn’t exist, the world is a tumultuous hazard, the next minute you know beyond any question of doubt you can get something you’ve wanted. I don’t know if it’s good or bad to be chosen by a conviction but I know it won’t let go once it’s taken hold. In that sense a conviction bears a striking resemblance to our local ticks.

Jim Serber and I were having almost daily conversations. He was a man who liked to talk, I a woman who loved to listen. He asked me if I went regularly to church and I answered without hesitation. My church was Millerton Point and the Vedanta and Bear Valley and the rocks up near our house where the land slopes down roughly into the bay. There are two year-round ponds (of course I refer to them as lakes.) During the rainy season another shallow pond shows up where white herons like to congregate. My bird book says that herons are a solitary bird but I saw seven of them at one time together in the seasonal pond, startled off over my head when I got too close, in an anxious flurry of white feathers. Omen? It didn’t matter.

Jim told me he was getting on in years and was tired of breeding and raising horses. Before Chisolm had been cut, he had fathered a filly that looked exactly like him: dark chocolate, flaxen mane and tail, a perfect blaze like the tail of a comet. Jim and Diana Farber were looking forward to showing them off together, father and daughter, a perfectly matched pair. Jim told me he would only sell his horses to people who would love them and never mistreat them. I ventured the opinion that Christian people, if they were true Christians, could not possibly mistreat a horse.   “Not if they follow the word of God,” Jim replied; an awareness on his part, I thought, that not all who call themselves Christians deserve the name. But could it also mean that people who did not call themselves Christians might live by the values the Sarbers’ believed were Christian?

I thought so. And that’s what I was counting on. Why want something if it is possible to get it?

Kim Chernin is a fiction and nonfiction writer, feminist, poet, and memoirist who lives in Point Reyes Station. She has just published a book together with her wife Renate Stendhal, Lesbian Marriage: A Sex Survival Kit.




Chariot Of The Gods

Do I deserve my dream horse? I have been pondering this. Does it help that I am concerned about my neighbors and gather signatures? Deserving requires measurement, sufficient amounts of having been good or tidy or obedient or silent or respectful or whatever else grown people want from children. The accomplishment of these brings pride; which, as Freud said, is the consciousness of deserving to be loved. How many signatures do I need to become deserving? Magic travels in different company.You can’t earn it or deserve it, there’s no one to impress in order to get it, it is never owed to you and does not respond to bargains or negotiations. There’s something capricious about it, can’t be predicted, tends to show up when least expected.

Does magic happen to people who don’t believe in it? Definitely not. Does believing in magic bring it about? Probably not. You get something you’ve always wanted; it happens unexpectedly for no particular reason. There it is. It has arrived. What are you going to do now? When magic happens, to believe in it is a form of gratitude. I’ll never get what I want through deserving it. I’m simply not the kind of person who deserves things. If I am to get them there will have to be magic. But what kind of magic? In the traditional kind, If you want to catch an animal you draw its antlers on the walls of a cave, put on its skin, lie down in a clearing and wait for it to come to you. Or, if you want it to rain you punch a few holes in the bottom of a pot and walk through your fields watering vegetables, suggestively hinting.

When I was a kid in Los Angeles I used to gallop around slapping my thighs and making tock tock sounds with my tongue. This behavior was meant to work magic and persuade my hard-working parents to get me a horse, with no questions asked about where we would board it or how we could afford it. I am aware that my neighbors here in the village might look at this behavior with the same expression I see in their eyes as they converse with me.Therefore, I’ve been lecturing myself: “Conversation needs a vigorous editorial function. This you say, this you imagine, this you confide, this you shut up about.” It’s crucial to avoid situations where these hesitations might be compromised but this is not easy in a village where lines are constantly forming, where I might be tempted to hold forth about magic.

Next door to us we have cows, young heifers who come running when we walk by their corral. We have nothing to feed them and they must know by now so I assume this is a friendly, even neighborly gesture. As the mist and twilight come in over the hills the heifers frisk and frolic, kicking up their hind legs in what I thought, when we first moved out here, was a most un-cow-like way. Many animals, I have learned since, grow frisky as it gets dark. The deer leap and bound through our garden as if they were celebrating something; our cat, usually lazy and docile, races up the oak tree. We know the universe is full of mysteries that bring great joy until you try to explain them. I call this natural magic, the kind that is there all over the place if we bother to notice.

I talked about the magic of nightfall to our Village Clipper while she was cutting my hair. I knew she had some twenty different animals on an acre of land behind her house. In exchange, she told me about her cow who used to push the neighborhood kids on a swing tied to a tree, gently of course, using her big head. This same cow took care of the neighboring horses. Whenever their owner didn’t drive out to feed them she would push hay under the fence. When Catherine whistled the cow came, fast as a cow could, across the pasture. This is the magic of interspecies love. Imagine a doubled universe—ours, where things go haywire, are chaotic, force people from sheer terror to believe in the omnipotence of gods. In our world no one ever gets used to the suffering of the innocents, genocide, ethnic cleansing, wars, mass murder, the things we tend to bring upon ourselves in (almost) every generation and in every generation blame on god.

Now imagine the other universe, a light to our darkness, where there is no omniscience and therefore no being to hold accountable or blame, no reason to grow bitter or curse life. Things happening the way they happen; apples growing on apple trees and not on fig trees, for example. There is a simple order to things, rain falling on our heads not up into the sky, babies starting out new-born, growing older and not the other way around. This magical order is a kind of intelligence, far beyond any we’re likely to achieve for ourselves. All we have to do is align ourselves with it by stating our desires. This is spokenwish magic and reveals a perfect faith in the goodness of the universe. I started hanging around at Morgan Horse Ranch. I looked, I stared, I stirred up dust with my toe. I watched Black Mountain turn black on an overcast day and pronounced my wishes. I gazed at the horses and their straight-backed riders coming in off Bear Valley Trail and made myself stand straighter. I frowned, I narrowed my eyes, I came closer, I retreated to a distance, muttering my wishing- words. None of this worked until one long darkening afternoon, as the wind was rising, he was there. Right smack in front of me, burnished in the long light, exactly as I had imagined Plato’s horse, tossing his head to make the tiny bell on his bridle announce him: a copper-colored horse with a long flaxen main and tail and four perfect white socks and a diamond blaze on his forehead. I ran over as the rider was removing the saddle.

“I just had to touch him to believe he was real.” “I know what you mean. Same thing happened to me.’ “What is he? Is he one of a kind? I mean, the only one like him here on earth?” “Don’t worry. There are others. Horses of this breed come from Kentucky. They’re called Mountain Saddle Horses and the fantastic things you hear about them are true.”

I had never heard anything about them but I was ready to believe in the fantastic. “The breed doesn’t trot, it ambles. I mean, as fast as most other breeds cantor. You just sit there and relax as you go on your way because the walking-gait doesn’t change. No posting, no nothing. No one believes it until they’ve tried it.” Here was a horse even the most severe realist in the village could approve for me. She handed me the reins.

“Walk him around a bit. You’ll get a feel for how gentle he is. The breed is magical, I don’t know why anyone rides anything else.” The breed is magical? She had actually said it. “Do I have to give him back?” I handed her the reins. “I love Sinbad, I mean, I got him on my 12th birthday so of course. But honestly there are, you know, the dark brown horses with flaxen manes and chestnuts and whites and palominos, and reds and sorrels and all of them with two-foot manes and long tails that brush along the ground. If you’re looking for a horse, you’ve found him.” A fleeting thought of young Cooper, now suddenly discarded. How fickle could I be? All those months of pining and I had thrown him over, just like that? But maybe that’s how magic works. You cut yourself free from one obsession before you start wishing on another. I watched the trailer drive off, not sure if I was saying goodbye forever to the most beautiful horse in the world, or had been pointed in the direction of the right horse for me. My intended. Not that I deserved him. How could anyone deserve Plato’s winged horse who guides the chariot of the gods?