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Ranch is perfect home for horse-crazy ranchgirl

By Ellen M. Shehadeh

Point Reyes Light
June 1, 2006

Ashley Arndt has her work cut out for her in these coming weeks. From now until the end of July she must turn two rambunctious newly weaned 6-month-old lambs into 4-H show material. She’ll also be showing Heather, a black and white Dutch rabbit along with Heather’s sister Daisy. Both rabbits are natural love bunnies and will present no behavior problems.

Ashley wouldn’t trade her ranch life for anything. Her home on The Historic "M" Ranch in Inverness is an ideal location for this spirited girl who calls herself  "horse crazy." She’s able to ride on the property whenever she wants. Horses figure into much of her conversation. She and her friends even spend time on Internet sites looking at horses and fanaticizing about which horses they might buy. Ashley also works with other animals on the ranch. She acknowledges that kids who live in town aren’t lucky enough to have her all opportunities.

Twelve-year-old Ashley lives with her parents Joyce and Rob Arndt and sisters Jessica, 10, who is also showing in this year’s 4-H competition, and Katie, 9. The picture window in the living room looks out onto a rolling green vista worthy of a Tuscan villa, but with hills dotted with Angus and Hereford Cross beef cows rather than grapevines. Ashley and her family also share the sprawling 1200-acre property with her grandparents, Jackie and Richard Grossi who live next door, two rental houses, horses, rabbits, lambs, and an assortment of dogs and cats.

Although Ashley’s parents were once members of 4-H, Ashley did not automatically choose to continue the 4-H legacy. She "thought about it a very long time" before joining up. It was finally friend Michelle McClure who convinced her, not to mention the lure of attending 4-H camp in Anguin.

A 6th grader at West Marin School this year, Ashley had "amazing" physical education teachers and a "funny" core teacher who took the students on memorable field trips to places like the De Young Museum in San Francisco. Her favorite subject is math.

Ashley has shown lambs in the past and once came in 2nd place with a lamb that had good muscle but needed a bit more fat to earn first prize. This year she’ll practice her showmanship skills with her grandfather, Richard Grossi, who runs the ranch and knows a thing or two about showing animals. They’ll do practice trials, with her grandfather taking the part of judge and giving pointers on how to set up and control her lambs, along with the important reminder to always smile at the judge. A smile, says Ashley, can give you that extra point that might put you into first place.

Ashley has deep roots in West Marin, on both her mother and father’s side. Her mother, Joyce Grossi Arndt, grew up in the very same house where she is now raising her 3 children. Joyce, who used to exhibit beef cattle, has a curious theory about showing animals. Although not scientifically verified, she believes counter intuitively, that the animals you don’t bond with, or the ones with whom you have a personality conflict, seem to work the best for you in competition. "I can’t explain it but it has happened with every animal I have ever had." This illustrates why it is important that Ashley not to become attached to the lambs, or even give them names. Besides, they just might end up on your dinner plate, something that will never happen with Heather and Daisy.

On her father’s side, Ashley is the great granddaughter of pioneer environmentalist Sis Arndt who died 3 years ago at age 83. She has some fond memories of her great grandmother and grandfather, and remembers them sitting on chairs every Halloween night, distributing candy to the local children. Each year they’d count how many trick-or-treaters stopped by, and then compare the number with previous years. Ashley recalls that whenever she visited her grandmother, "she always asked if I was hungry."

Ashley Arndt continues a long family 4-H tradition, sustaining her family’s love and respect for ranching, and for the bucolic West Marin environment.