January 3, 2011
Horse stall under water

Photo by Audrey Pavia

All the heavy rains we’ve been having have made a mess of our stalls.

Southern California has a reputation for being sunny and warm nearly all year round. And for the most part, it’s true. So when we have occasional bouts of bad weather and complain about it, we are no doubt perceived by the rest of the country as spoiled whiners.

But the amount of rain that has come down on my urban farm community the last two weeks really is ridiculous. It’s been raining on and off—mostly on—since, well, before Christmas. 

The Santa Ana River runs through the northern part of town, bringing watershed down from the mountains that surround our valley. Normally when it rains, the river swells for a day or so and then subsides as it empties into the ocean about 30 miles away. But this year, the nearly constant deluge of rain proved to be too much. During a large downpour, the river breeched the banks and flooded a riding stable located way too close to this active flood plain.

TV crews were all over the place as horses, up to their chests in water, were evacuated from the stable. Pipe corrals were collapsing and it was complete chaos. One of the horses, an expensive roping stallion, opted to bolt in the opposite direction from the rest of the herd and was swept away in the rushing water. Despite flyovers by helicopters and small planes, he still hasn’t been found a week later.

Meanwhile, the horses at my urban farm must feel like they are going to be swimming soon. The normally bone-dry decomposed granite that provides the footing in their paddocks has turned to ankle deep mud. Picking manure out of such a mess is no easy task. It takes twice as long to clean the stalls and the strength of Hercules to move the trash bins filled with wet manure to get them out to the curb for pick-up. 

During brief periods when the rain stops, I rush to get my horses out of their stalls and onto the community trails so they can stretch their legs. It’s hard to find a dry arena to turn them out, so Rio, my 3-year-old, is pretty full of it as I try to pony him along the trail. The erosion from the water on the hilly sections has created deep ravines that we need to maneuver, and Rio uses these moments as an excuse to rear, buck and generally act like a lunatic. Thank goodness for Milagro, who has become a steady pony horse and helps me not fall off while dealing with my crazy baby.

The chickens aren’t very happy with all this rain, either. They joyously run out of their coop in the morning when I let them out and then droop with disappointment when they feel the drizzle hitting their backs. If it really starts to come down, they all huddle underneath a bench I have near my tack shed, waiting for the rain to stop so they can continue their never-ending search for bugs and seeds. I can only imagine their misery the night it rained so hard, the wooden coop roof became saturated and began to leak. Mr. Mabel, always the chivalrous one, took the worst spot on the roosting pole and came out in the morning soaking wet. 

The silver lining to all this is that when the clouds finally part and the sky turns blue again, those of us wading through the mud will be treated to a glorious sight: The mountains that surround our valley will be covered with snow. It’s something we warm-weather types never get tired of seeing. 

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