Thursday, May 28, 2009

Me and the Big K

"I shouldn't be doing this."

Sonita was blowing hard after a tough work-out on the cattle. She had been fugly aggressive and had either snapped hide off the cattle or reared to strike every time we went into the catch pen to bring a cow in to work. The cattle were pretty used up and she had become a one-horse tent revival, determined to inspire every cow she was put on to give her some action or see Jesus. It made for a tough go.

"Shouldn't what, work these sour cattle?," K said, "The princess needs to work whatever cow she's given. It makes the fresh ones feel so-o-o-o easy."

"I know and so does she," I gave Sonita a half-hearted slap on the neck.

She pinned her ears and ground her teeth. Sonita made it clear if I wanted a fight she was ready to bring it.

"I'm talking about the World Show. I'm not good enough for this and neither is Sonita."

I looked K straight in the eye, I needed him to understand I wasn't whining, I was serious.

"What brought this on?" He asked.

The Big K was truly puzzled. The World Show was a month away and I hadn't flinched. I had been working my horse with deadly intent. My usual touchiness was put aside and I had taken every blast of his temper, every shouted instruction and every sarcastic comment in stride.

I had taken giant steps forward in the last few months and my mare was was tuned past any horse I had ever ridden, much less owned. I had found the entry fees for both me and the kidlet and paid them with barely a whimper.

I had become so focused even the Big K suggested I step back and take a breath. The only time I was working Sonita was twice a week with him. The rest of the time I put her in a snaffle and loped or went on a trail ride.

"Have you looked at who's going to be at this thing?" I asked.

"Of course I have," K's slow, easy grin spread across his face,"I do believe I'm the one who showed you."

"I mean, c'mon, Teddy Robinson, Bob Avila, Tod Bergen...I'm freaking out!"

"Why? They aren't competing with you, they have their own worries. They more than likely won't even see you go. I thought you were excited to get a chance to meet them." K was looking a little concerned now.

"I guess I am, but what if Sonita gears up like she is today?" I asked.

"I can guarantee she will if you keep talking like this. No wonder she's all over the place, it's not the cattle, it's you."

I sat back in my saddle and slung my leg over the saddle horn. Sonita craned her neck in the air and stamped a hind foot. She hated it when my weight was off-center. I poked her in the neck with the toe of my boot and she quieted into a sullen stand-off. Sonita wasn't ready to go to work yet and she knew we'd be at it if she didn't settle.

Normally the Big K would be quick to come up behind and lay his romel across Sonita's butt. He hated it when I sat a horse like that and was always ready to show me how much trouble I could get in if my horse bolted while I had my leg slung over her neck. On this day my belligerent glare stopped him.

I didn't want to tell him what was really bothering me.

Twice a month at my facility I ran a Cow Night. It was open to the public. Each rider was given 2 goes at four minutes for $25. I would help if requested and keep my mouth shut if not. I was protective of the cattle and made sure nobody got hurt.

I had a good crowd show up most nights. We had a lot of fun, tipped a few beers, got into some great discussions and for the most part learned quite a bit.

There was a couple who came to most of the Cow Nights. They were of the "keep my mouth shut" variety. The wife, Becky, had put a couple of nice horses in training with the Big K. She herself had not gotten much done in the show pen and was quick to inform us it was because of her bad back. She was proud of her horses and felt she could be a big help on Cow Night. To everybody. Including the folks who were there to work with me. As soon as Becky let off shouting non-stop instruction at her poor, green-rider husband she was quick to dive into everyone else.

I, on the other hand, was mildly resentful and extremely intimidated by her. She had been around cowhorse quite a while longer than I had and was extremely good at pointing out my inadequacies.

To be fair, my first years in the show pen had been pretty disastrous. My mare did not have a good reputation and I was affectionately treated by the trainers I competed with like their favorite mascot, Festus, or Roofus, or Blue Belle, you get my drift.

But I had slowly started to get a handle on my horse and the sport I was so wild to learn. I had begun to place, I had earned a little money and my students were becoming competitive. Most of the folks I rode with were happy for me and had quit treating me like the comedic relief for the day.

Except for Becky, who kept showing up at my Cow Night, every single time, full of advice.

I was able to ignore her for the most part, but she had really zinged one home the last time I had seen her.

I was having a rough night with Sonita. She didn't want to frame up, she didn't want to stand still, she didn't want to do anything. She was anxious and angry, lunging at the other horses in the warm-up and loping her circles with her head slung high in the air, her nose poked to the outside and her boogery eyes rolling every which way.

I knew this wasn't a night to work cattle and I was trying to honor the Big K's wish for me to lay off her.

So I pulled her down and walked her to the side of the arena and let her stand. I figured I could let her air up and just sit on her while I coached the other riders.

"I can't believe you're taking that mess to the World Show," my good friend Becky said as she climbed up the fence and made herself comfortable on the top rail.

I sighed.

"We'll do the best we can. It will be a good experience," I answered.

"Nobody around here understands why you haven't sold that thing," Becky said helpfully, "and to think you're wasting all that money to take her to a World Show."

"I'm honored to have earned enough points to qualify. I guess it will be all right," I was feeling bad and angry all mixed together.

Sonita shook her head and rattled her bit. I knew she was picking up my agitation.

Becky laughed. "You did have a lucky season. You know you're going against the Peters. There's no way you could touch either one of them in this lifetime, especially on that mare of yours."

Sonita squealed and struck the fence with a forefoot. The resounding clang made my little buddy Becky jump in the air and scramble to hang on to the rail.

I rode off and scratched Sonita's favorite spot under her mane. She was a good little Doberman sometimes.

I tried to act like Becky hadn't gotten to me, but here I was, two days later, riding with the Big K and working myself up into a complete panic. I also didn't think he needed to hear me bitch about one of his clients.

"Look K," I said, "Pure luck got us qualified. I can't hold my own with these people."

The Big K looked at me for a minute or two. I tried to hold his gaze but ended up staring at my saddle horn.

"You worked your way to the World Show," he said, "I would have told you if I didn't think you were ready.

"I'm not going to keep trying to talk you up," he went on,"all that ever does is make you disappear on me."

We sat in silence for a few minutes. I was starting to cry. Which immediately pissed me off. I could feel Sonita starting to tense again.

"When we first got the buffalo Little k (his wife) was afraid to work them," he said.

"I told her to pull herself together and work the buffs. She wasn't having anything to do with it."

"I don't blame her," I answered, "those things are pretty freaky."

He ignored me and continued on.

"She finally started bawling and just sat on her horse, not looking at me, no matter what I said. I told her it was fine and to put her horse up.

"After I had finished riding I headed into the house. It smelled wonderful in there. Little k had baked some cookies. I knew she was feeling bad and trying to say she was sorry. I grabbed one and told her, 'Honey, these are just great. I appreciate it. But I have a question for you. Do you want to ride and win cowhorse or do you want to bake cookies? 'Cause we don't have time for both.'"

"What did she say?" I asked.

Little k had a ferocious temper and an unreasonable love for her husband. I couldn't imagine how she'd respond to that one.

"What she said doesn't really matter," K told me, "I just want ask you something. Do you want to ride cowhorse or do you want to bake cookies?"

I looked back up at him. He sat there looking back at me, dead serious, waiting for an answer.

"I guess I want to ride cowhorse."

"Then go git you a cow."

I rode Sonita to the arena door and pulled it open. I ignored her when she skittered at the drag of a sliding door she had heard hundreds of times before. When I rode her into the catch pen she lunged at the first heifer she saw. I spurred her in the belly and cracked her hard on the butt with my romel.

She settled immediately and waited for direction.

I cut the ugliest, rankest, smelliest old cow out of the herd.

"C'mon Becky," I said to the heifer, " we got a show to get ready for."

Sonita shoved Becky into the arena and we settled down to work.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Wordy Wednesday

This entry comes from E-squared. I am trying to post these stories as they come in, but got really screwed up somehow. I have them all saved and am trying to get them organized, I just get distracted reading the stories...

I have a little bit of insight I would like to share before I turn you loose with Esquared and her neat little horse.
I have had requests for more photos of Sonita and recently more of my yellow mare. I also have been asked to put up some video.

I have thought about this and come to a few conclusions.

The Internet can be an extremely hurtful place. When I first started writing this blog there was a commenter who liked to come on and critique my writing style.She was quick to let me know she was a writing instructor at a good school. It was basically positive, but with an underlying sarcasm that made me uneasy.

Now I was a little confused, because I wasn't trying to come across as Ernest Hemingway, I was just writing a blog about horses and horse training. I was tickled to death to have people tuning in to read and write and share. I wasn't sure where the subtle hostility was coming from. So I checked out this commenter's blog. She was writing some really rotten things about me. I was hurt and surprised. I commented on her nasty little blog something about being excited to have been hired as a writer for a paper and looking forward to learning more about writing. Then I told her she made me a little queasy, or something like that. She disappeared.

This was my first lesson in being careful on the Internet. I have tried to be pretty up front with how I think about things and have been absolutely honest about my experiences and knowledge. I make damn sure I don't exaggerate about the level of trainer I am, because I know how even a little of the Mark Twain influence could reach up and bite me on the butt.

I'm protective of some of the people I write about and go ahead and name others, but only if there is no way to attack them. I still worry about someone getting hurt because of me. Shoot, I won't even tell you who the blogger was who was so eager to flame me.

I became even more gun shy when I wrote the piece about reining and cowhorse styles and urged you all to look at the video of Blue Allen. The reception was pretty good, except for one young kid going to school to train horses who just had to crawl all over the guy from the quality of his horse's style to the way he dressed. Besides the fact that she showed her total ignorance of the sport, I was blown away how quick this inexperienced little kid was to go after a World Champion and also somebody I had clearly said was my friend.

Then there's Fugly ( I have made it clear that I think that her red-headed, passionate, obsessive, radical little self is a boon to the horse world. She is crazy mad over the way some horses are treated and will really put herself out there in defense of the animals who need her most. She is braver than me. Maybe a little crazier than me, but probably not by much.

Do I always agree with her? No. Does it matter? No. Would I dream of trying to destroy all of the good work she has done because we walk a different road? No way.

There are people out there so eager to tear her apart they have made a blog dedicated to talking smack about her. I can't believe it. I guess I can because I had to check it out. I am stunned people have nothing better to do with their time. Of course I found the gal who was so determined to rip me a new one commenting on that stupid blog. Of course I did.

This makes me very careful of how much of myself I'm willing to give away. I like this blog and the people who post on it. But man oh man, there are some vipers out there. I don't want to get bit.

So forgive me if I don't show up on YouTube. I'll still post photos I think are relevant, but it would break my heart to have somebody tearing apart my over-the-knee pigeon toed little yellow mare. Because I think she's just about perfect.

So anyway, back to E-squared. I'm sorry the Sonita story is being so skittish, I've had a bunch on my plate. I'm hoping for tomorrow.

A year ago I bought a scraggly bargain three year old. He had good breeding, a splashy blaze, and splashy socks. He also had overgrown hooves with a big crack in one of the front ones and hadn’t been messed with in over half a year.

When I first went to see him it was wet and cold and no one was quite sure why we were looking at this horse. I wanted a reiner and he was butt high with a low set thick neck… my friend wanted a super safe pleasure horse… but for some reason we found ourselves there on that Saturday.

We got there, we talked a bit with his owner who I still email back and forth with, and then we played with him a bit. He was cute, but didn’t know much… neither did I when it came to ground work.

I decided to buy him, just for the heck of it, and he was home by Monday. This was late March.
I had all sorts of schedules and charts, lists and ideas of exactly how and when and what to do with this horse. The weather had other ideas. Eventually it was August and so far I had round penned him a bit (he knew his verbal’s pretty good), put a saddle on him a few times (and just about gotten trampled doing it), and had made a feeble attempt to sack him out with a tarp.

For the first time in my life I did NOT want to get on a horse. I procrastinated and contemplated
trying to just sell him unstarted and eventually I sucked it up and just got on. We walked around bareback with him in his halter and me with my helmet. I survived and found he moved off my legs and weight pretty darn well.

A few days later I walked him with a saddle on. The next day (terrified as I was) I sucked it up and we trotted. And the next day we loped because somewhere I found some iron resolve that
it had to happen now or it might never.

And as time passed my little flashy bargain gave me back all the confidence that I had lost somewhere during the last 4 years I’d been riding.

I began to ride him bareback in the arena. And then in the pasture. And then in the
fields around my house. We galloped, we scrambled, we ran and I loved it. I began to ride my other horses bareback.

I said it was because I was too lazy to saddle, or because it was too cold, there were a million reasons but really I just felt free with just me and the horse and my hackamore.

And then yesterday I fed him his hay and picked up the twine off the bale and decided to go for a ride. So with a burst of inspiration, a whole lot of trust, and a bit of poor judgment. I looped that twine around his nose, tied two ends of another piece too the ring around his nose and managed to lead him to a fence and clamber on without it slipping off. With just a bit of contact to
keep my brakes from falling off we were off and walking, and then trotting, and then loping around that big pasture.

The whole time I knew I didn’t have a helmet, and maybe I felt a bit guilty, but more than that I felt free from the world and a whole lot more connected to my bargain pony than my skimpy piece of twine could ever represent.

And for one of the first times since I got the bargain pony I realized that I had a horse, who despite being a failure at jumping (which is what I want to do) and showing promise in reining (what I’d like to someday learn to do), had more value for what he’d given me than what
I’d taught him.

Friday, May 22, 2009

More on Trailering

I was putting this in the comments, but it kept growing so I guess I'll put my Sonita story off until Monday. Kidlet has graduated from High School. We have a whirlwind of activities this week-end, so I probably won't be posting. Whoop!

I have a fairly basic approach to horses who misbehave in the trailer. I don't take them out.

Yes, I've had some get cut up. I still don't take them out.

When the horse is quiet I go get them. I also won't unload a horse who is pawing or whinnying.

Keep in mind, there is a mentality here that I have in all aspects of dealing with my horses.

I don't travel with a horse loose in a trailer, ever. Except for new babies.

My horses know how to stand tied.

I don't untie them until they are quiet.

I don't feed them unless they are quiet.

I don't tolerate much goofing when I'm handling them period.

So when I ignore a temper tantrum in the trailer my horses have already learned what it will take to get me to come back. Once again, the time to work on this is not the day of a show.

I don't feed my horse in the trailer either.If it's such a long trip they need to eat I plan on stopping and feeding out of the trailer. They'll need a stretch anyway.

Sonita was a bear in the trailer. I worked with her on some things and not on others.

She had legitimate reasons for being afraid. She had been hauled without incident maybe three or four times when everything came undone.

A horse standing next to her in a straight load two-horse pitched a fit as we were hauling down the road. The commotion was HUGE!

We pulled over to the side of the highway and found the other mare had actually lifted the divider and dumped it on Sonita.

The divider was trashed and we were several miles from home. So we put the divider in the back of the truck and loaded both mares in the trailer without a divider.

When we got home we opened the doors to find the other mare had beat the crap out of Sonita. Her face, neck and withers were torn to shreds. She was cut and bruised from the divider. It was a nightmare, mainly my poor filly's (she was just three) and I ended up with some trailering problems.

Sonita became claustrophobic. So I made sure she had enough room to spraddle her feet and steady herself, no more solid dividers. She was afraid of horses coming in behind her, so I loaded her last. If she had to go first in a slant load I made sure the horse next to her couldn't reach over the divider and touch her.

But other than those concessions I expected her to behave. She didn't always, but eventually she became pretty good again.

I have had horses refuse to get out of the trailer. I have used different methods to get them out.
I have put two ropes on the halter, run them through the front legs, put a strong person on each rope and pulled them out.
I have gotten in the stall next to them (two-horse front load) reached underneath the divider and wacked the front legs until the horse moved back a bit, hesitated, whacked, you get my drift.
I have also been known to leave the horse in the trailer until she felt like unloading. I will check once in a while and offer to help her out until she gets out like a lady. I've had this approach take 3 days though, so be prepared.

Those situations were with horses I needed NOW and didn't know they had an unloading problem.

If I know the horse has a problem I'm a little classier about my technique. I start by backing the horse around the yard. Over logs, up slight hills, down hills, through cones all backwards. I set up my poles and make him back over those. Lots of rest. I don't make him back more than ten steps at any time.

When he's good at this we load. By good I mean I can direct him with a hand on his chest and no pulling back.

I practice in a slant load if possible. I let the horse turn around to get out until he is ready to back out. I don't punish a horse in a trailer unless he crowds me, then I'm pretty nasty.

I bring him to the trailer. I get one front foot in. We back.
I start again. And again. And again.
Then I go to two feet and we back out. Again and....
Then three.
Then four.
Right at the back of the trailer. I don't lead them all the way in.
Over and over.
Then I bring them in about three feet and we back out.
Over and over.
If the horse charges me I will get him out of the trailer and kill him. We will practice staying off me with vigor.
Then we try again.
This has always worked for me.
Once again, a good balance between unending patience and solid discipline is the key.
If you have to talk nice and you have to give treats, do it when you are completely done for the day.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Wordy Wednesday

I have to butt in here guys, I got a question I absolutely have to answer....
lopinon4 said...
Mugs, I know of a mare who is REALLY having a trailer-loading issue. I tried your method last night (and it would've possibly played out better if I had experienced help with me), and although we almost got her inside, she just wouldn't commit to the final few steps...lopinon4 goes on to say they tried drugs, then muscle and now have an injured, freaked out mare.

First off, don't feel bad about the drugs or the muscle. I'm simply suggesting you don't go there again. Your situation explains why.

One of the biggest problems we have is forgetting to be patient. Especially if you have an unhelpful audience telling you they know best.

I'm going to walk you through getting her loaded. You need to dedicate all the time in the world to letting her decide to get in there. You have to insist there is nobody around except you and your help. Be an absolute bitch about this if necessary.

This mare has just had it proven to her the trailer is the worst place in the world to be. When she thinks about getting in the trailer she is pushed, dragged, whipped, drugged, then beaten. I'm sure she has no intention of letting this happen again.

So our job is to be kind, patient and firm and let her know this is no big thing.

Step one: Promise not to feed, coax, talk baby talk, nothing, until after the mare is loaded. Then feed, coax, talk baby talk and have a beer with your assistant, not the mare. You need to be calm, quiet and clear with your body language and goals.

Step two: Talk through your plan with your assistant. I like to man the whip, but it takes finesse to work the lead rope, so it's your call.

Step three: Understand your tools. I like to use a 40 foot soft rope as my lead rope. My horse can pull back all the way to China and she'll still quit before she runs out of rope. Whoever mans the rope needs to be wearing gloves. The lead rope is only to keep the horse looking at the trailer. Don't try to pull them in. If the horse pulls back you send her forward with the whip. The goal is to keep the rope relaxed. The whip is the driving force here. Keep Mr. Muscle away from it. You only want to whip hard enough to move her.

Step four: Understand your positions. Whoever runs the whip needs to stand to the side parallel to the point of the horses hip. This is why I like to use a longe whip. It keeps me well out of kick range. Remember to get the hind feet moving, so go after the fetlocks. You can sweep along and be really annoying without actually stinging the horse. But I will sting if I'm not getting forward motion. Whoever has the rope will be in front of the horse looking into the trailer. If you have to step into the trailer stay well in front of the horse and don't look at her. Have your escape door opened. If you have a two-horse straight load, run the rope through the front window and around the side. Be prepared to hold, not pull. If the horse sucks back simply hold on enough to create some tension, let the rope run through your gloved hands. The person with the whip will get the horse forward again.

The rest of it: Plan on taking from three to several days to fix this. This is vital.

Have your hitched trailer parked in a safe, clear area. Tell Mr. Muscle to clear out.

Start at least 20 feet away from the trailer.Lead the mare toward the trailer with a loose lead rope (I prefer about 6 feet). Walk with a firm and confident step and look toward the trailer, not at the mare. Your assistant will follow with the whip, flag, bag of kittens, whatever.

When she balks hard enough to stop you, have your assistant whack at her hind fetlocks, just enough to create a forward step, then quit whacking. You will continue to head to the trailer, not watching your mare, until she quits again, then have your assistant move her again.

You might get a rearing, arguing mess here, but stick to your guns. The whip doesn't stop until she moves her hind feet. This is only about moving her feet forward.

When it comes to the whip and how hard to use it, I go by the horse. I will pop them hard enough to make them move, but always start soft. Before long the horse will move of the soft pop. But I will make them move.

Anytime she hangs on the lead, have your assistant start with the whip.

Choose a place to stop her, well before the trailer.

Tell her Whoa, then back her two or three steps. Then let her rest.

She can't look away from the trailer though. If she does, start again.

Keep this up until you're at the trailer.

Ask her to look inside.

Whip her forward if necessary, but all she has to do is look.

Once she looks inside back her away from the trailer about 10 steps.

Then take her forward, get her to look inside and back her again. Make sure to back her away before she thinks of it.

If I'm loading into a walk-in trailer, I'll walk in first and head to the end of the trailer. I don't look at her. If it's a two-horse I run the lead rope (which for this situation is my 40 foot soft cotton rope) through the window and have my assistant work it. I take over the whip.

If she balks hold her steady and have your assistant whack her fetlocks until she just thinks of getting in.
It can be a shift of her feet, a foot inside the trailer, just stopping flailing around, you don't need much. Relax, let her rest a second and back her away from the trailer again.

NOTE: If the mare goes flying backwards go with her and start whipping with some energy. Don't pull on the rope, just go with her and have your assistant whacking the tar out of her fetlocks (or as close as you can get) until she stops. Then immediately quit whacking on her, everybody take a breath and start over. It is not a problem if she does this. She has just cause. Just make sure she begins to understand flying back is a really bad idea. Really bad. So is wrapping around to one side of the trailer or the other. That gets the same treatment.

Keep this routine up until I get one foot in. Then back her up. Quit letting her rest at this point.
Back, go forward, get a foot in, hesitate, and back out. Start again. The only rest she will get is when she's standing there with a foot in the trailer. Then it's a small one.

Keep this up until she is willingly walking up and putting that one foot in. She can back out anytime she wants, but she'll get whipped again if she does anything more than step down. Then she immediately gets put back in.

Now up the ante and ask for two feet in. Be extremely patient here. Don't ask for anything else until she's been backed out several times. Try to back her before she decides to back out herself. But again, she doesn't get in trouble for backing out. She simply gets driven back in. The whip is only for forward (and stopping wild sucking back). At no time should you try to pull her in by the lead rope.

When she willingly walks up and puts her two feet in it's time to get her in the rest of the way.

Ask her to step in, usually with a cluck and then get your assistant to start with the whip. The whip stroke should be as soft as possible, but once you increase pressure commit and keep it up until she loads. She has to get in the trailer, but she doesn't have to stay there. She can step right back out. Let her out, let her take a breath, then start again. Remember, the lead rope only keeps her looking at the trailer. You don't pull on it to try to get her in.

Go again. Make her get all the way in, but let her back out.

Go again. Rinse, repeat.

Eventually she will offer to stay in the trailer. Back her out. Really.

I only back them out once when they offer to stay. I am making a point by controlling their movement, but I don't want my horse to get confused. After all, it is about getting in the dang thing.

Put her in again. Tie her, shut the doors, go around the block (10 minutes at most!) then let her out and be done.

Do this again the next day.

On the third day, take her to a coffee shop (or bar, depending on how hard this has been) have your coffee and take her home.

For the next several months make sure you have gloves, whip and rope with you when you go somewhere.

I hope this helps. I know it works. Be patient. Let her back out, but make sure she gets driven forward again. Only use the whip until her feet get moving. Only use the rope as a guide. Be prepared for a wild west show, but if you hang in there you will win.
No drugs. No Mr.Muscle. Only Horsaii and common sense allowed.

I loved this story. It's a classic "survival of the fittest" tale. It also got me thinking about the cowboys in my past who taught me a bunch, even if they had unorthodox approaches...I found this story in my files BTW. If you sent me one a while ago and haven't seen it, send me a whomp up the side of the head, would you? I'm trying to post them in order, but, well it's me, what can I say. Order is not a word that has a lot of hang time in my vocabulary.

( this is from there:

When I was around 11 or 12, a fellow-horse crazy friend named Cherrie told me about this old guy who had horses and ponies, and who would let you ride them if you cleaned the horse and it's stall.

It happened that he was renting the barn that belonged to another friend, Karen's, grandmother.This was tantamount to heaven on earth for a horse-poor daughter of clinging-to-lower-middle class parents.

And so I came to meet Buzz.Buzz had prepubescent and pubescent girls fluttering around him like bees around apple blossoms. Before you jump to any conclusions: he wasn't a pedophile - unless pedophiles endear themselves to children by saying things like "Hey, chicken legs - where the hell do you think you're going with that horse, did you brush his tail?" or "Get back on that goddamned horse, you goddamned farmer!"

He loved his horses; young girls on the other hand - with their high-pitched voices and daily dramas - he sometimes barely tolerated. I think of him as a New England cowboy - and a real oldstyle horseman. He didn't ride any more by the time I met him, but was keeping around all his old horses because he owed it to them, I think.

Occasionally too, he would add to the herd after trips to the Shrewsbury auction on tack or supply runs. He didn't have a trailer, he'd just toss the horse into the bed of his pickup and bring it home.

Days he worked as a meat packer at the Finast Supermarkets, unloading sides of frozen beef from trucks. He'd start work at 5AM, and then he'd come to the barn around 3-3:30 in the afternoon to open up - the door was padlocked shut.

He liked his beer, and after a six-pack or two he sometimes would tell us stories of his riding days. One that I still remember was about his beloved Harry the Horse, a big paint he'd ride to the Oaks, a bar in Billerica. He said he and Harry would both get shitfaced drunk - apparently they served horses there.

Then he would laugh, and say that one time, when riding home along the Shawsheen River after an evening at the Oaks, he and Harry tipped over and fell in. He'd laugh, take a sip of his Schlitz, and say "Harry was a hell of a horse..."

In hindsight, I have to say that he had a pretty sick sense of humor: "Harry the Horse"? "Little Richard" (a stud hackney pony he usually referred to as "Little Dick")? But it all went way over my head back then - I was pretty naive.

Every afternoon when Buzz arrived, speeding up the dirt drive in his Chevy pickup, we'd be waiting. The horses would be too: we could hear them nickering their greetings from inside. He'd unpadlock the bolt and slide the two doors wide, letting in the fresh air and sunlight. Then they'd be set free: he'd go to each stall, open the stall door, take them by their halters to the opened door and let them go, standing back to watch each one of them gallop out into the unfenced field, tails up, manes streaming, nostrils flaring.

There was about 15 acres of land, and those horses and ponies never wandered off it. The newly-added horses would stay with the herd, and he never had to chase down a horse who'd gone walkabout.

It never occurred to me at the time that any of this was odd - the fenceless turnout, the horses locked up tight until 3 or 3:30 in the afternoon - I was a kid, it was what it was. The horses didn't seem to care, either - or not that I remember.

Maybe I'm just romanticizing it: knowing what I know about horses now, I can't imagine there NOT being a lot of neighing and kicking and carrying on to be let out FIRST. Instead what I remember is feeling an incredible thrill standing next to Buzz to watch them running, kicking, bucking, and cavorting with each other.

We were blessed to witness it, and we knew it: young and old, they drank in the glorious smells of grass and trees and flowers; they channelled their inner wild horse - and we got to watch.It was and continues to be a sight that takes my breath away.

As for letting us ride: Buzz had a rule. Well actually, he had a lot of rules and some of them we actually followed - at least when we were within his eyesight. I'm pretty sure he knew about our transgressions too, but he never let on. We really were brats.But this one rule was one we couldn't bend: no saddles - he didn't want us falling and getting our feet caught in the stirrup and dragged.The "falling" part was a given; the dragged part was what he was interested in avoiding. So we all rode bareback.

That wasn't to say he just said "Here, clean this horse - clean his stall - you're good to go, have fun!" Nope. You had to *earn* the right to ride one of his animals. Buzz had a system to cull out the dilletantes in his gaggle of horse-crazy sycophants: It was named Zero.

Zero was a paint pony of about 13hh, with the attitude of Godzilla with a hangover. Zero hated little girls. While grooming him, he'd try to bite you, kick you, and stomp on your feet. Once you'd finished, and after Buzz had inspected him for cleanliness and an untangled tail, the real fun began.

This was the routine:Lead Zero out to the driveway, keeping his teeth an arms distance away from your body. Gather up the reins, grab a hunk of mane, and face his back.Block his attempt to bite your butt. Watch his hind leg for a muscle twitch heralding an attempt to kick you in the leg.Chase Zero around as he does spins on the forehand, all the while trying to cow-kick your knee.After about 10 rotations, launch yourself at his back.

If you're lucky you get on and don't flip over his back to the other side, because he stops spinning the moment you're airborn, and he'll stomp you if you're on the ground.Wrap your legs as tightly around his fat belly as you can and hold on to that hunk of mane, because the next thing that happens is you're on a pony who's galloping across the field bee-lining for some trees to knock you off on, meanwhile tossing in a few bucks and crow-hops just to let you know he can.

Zero was the great equalizer.I'm proud to say I survived him - many fell by the wayside - literally and figuratively - and were so disheartened they were never seen at the barn again. Those of us who managed to survive Zero and kept coming back - and that's not to say we didn't fall by the wayside literally ourselves, we just were too stubborn to give in - were offered another mount after a couple of weeks.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Just Stuff

You sneaky little things, having fun while I'm gone.....Just kidding. I loved it. But now you get my 2 cents.

When I taught you guys the "over-and-under" technique it was to get a horse to listen to a smooch. This had nothing to do with transitions, it simply is an effective way to make them go. I think I have mentioned, somewhere, this works with a crop or dressage whip or romel. The equipment doesn't matter. You can use a bag of kittens if it suits (of course no kittens were harmed in the course of this exercise and all were properly spayed, neutered, vetted and appropriately placed in forever homes). Laura's approach with her son points out the need to stop, regather and ask again in order to get the lope.

The idea is to be done with your swatting, except for an occasional tune-up, once the horse understands he needs to move out when you smooch.

It is often easier for a horse to lope from a standstill than from a trot. When he gets faster and faster in the trot he is actually stringing himself out and will make it harder to transition up, not easier.

Keep in mind I like my horses to walk, trot and lope before I take hold of their faces. So collection comes after my horse can pack me comfortably, not before.

There is no over and under needed anymore when I begin to ask for trot/lope transitions. If I do then my horse isn't ready to collect.

I will allow a young horse to trot into her lope for quite awhile. No death trot mind you, simply trot 5 or 6 steps to find her lead.

I do this because I want to keep a level head and quiet tail. If I sit back, stay out of her way and look ahead into my circle my little one can usually find her lead.
I keep about 5 more pounds of weight in my outside pocket, my thighs relaxed and my outside calf muscles lightly asking her outside hind leg to step in and pick up her lead.

My outside seat bone is slightly further back then my inside. If I look down, sitting like this will put my inside knee slightly ahead of my outside.

I help a young horse by lightly holding my inside rein up to about her ear and my outside rein might come back towards my hip-bone as needed.

I don't ask for collection here either.

Once your horse will lope and take her leads whenever you ask its time to transition. The upward and downward transition itself will help your horse collect.

I ask for transitions in this order:
Walk/Fast Walk/Walk
Walk/Trot/Extend Trot/Trot/Walk
Walk/Extend Trot/Walk

I never ask for a lope from an extended trot. I always come down to a slow, cadenced trot before I ask for the lope. My horse can still trot into her lead, but she must hold the slow trot, or at least not fall into a death trot.

I am big on using my corners to start collection. I will walk into a corner, ask for a trot through the corner and back to a walk on my straight away. Then I'll walk a straight away, trot my corners and ask for a lope on the other side.

Does this make sense?

My cues to transition up are: From a walk I will (1) activate my seat, (2) bump in a slightly faster rhythm (3) cluck for the trot.

From the trot to the lope (1) deepen my seat, (2) position my weight and legs to ask for my lead, (3) smooch

My cues for a downward transition are: (1)Drive my horse forward into my hands (light contact) (2) relax my calves, (3) deepen my seat

I am patient and very consistent. I will walk/trot through my cones both serpentine and like I'm running a pole pattern. This does more to prepare my horses to lope than anything.

Cherry Hill western arena exercises are great tools and fit well with how I ride.

Sally Swift has many things I use and many I don't. Not because they are wrong, but because they don't fit my needs as a western rider.

So there's my 2 cents. Want three?

Somebody asked why I haven't seen my Dad in so long.

Because I was a horse trainer.
Let me amend that. A small time horse trainer who did all of her own work.

I was responsible for an average of 15 head at any given time, plus whatever the barn owner threw at me.
In order to leave town I had to arrange for someone to take care of my horses. For some odd reason they always wanted money.
I had to credit my clients with the time I'd be gone.
In order to be gone for 5 days I had to be willing to eat close to 3 weeks pay.
I also invoked the wrath of whoever owned the barn I trained out of.
I simply couldn't afford to take a day off.
So I didn't for almost 15 years.
Except for the time I went to see my Dad for three days, 8 years ago.
I'm telling you, horse training is one sucky profession.

Someone questioned Lynn Palm's ethics when it came to selling horses. I don't know her, so I can't say. I simply like her approach as a trainer. I wasn't discussing her selling technique. I do believe I have discussed the horse trading biz' ad nauseum. We all suck, us trainers, every single one of us, some way, some how. Remember that.

So there's my 3 cents. I only have two nickels to rub together so I'd like my change please.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Taking a Break

I have snuck off and am visiting my Dad for the first time in 8 years or so....I'll be back on track on Tuesday!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Lynn Palm

I personally think of trainer Lynn Palm as a rock star among trainers. Way back when I was first trying out my training wings I read a lot of Lynn and Sally Swift. I first saw the possibilities of using dressage techniques in my western training because of what I read. Over the years I picked up anything I found one of her articles in and read it.

So you guys can probably imagine how excited I was when I got to interview her for our paper.
I'm going to post my interview because I'm still tickled silly I got to talk to her and I want to share.

I am beginning to understand how cool this job is.

BTW, she is an incredibly nice woman.....

Lynn Palm Comes To The Fountain Valley
by Janet Huntington

The horsemen in the Fountain Valley are being offered a rare opportunity to ride with one of the most innovative and successful horsewomen in the country.
Lynn Palm and fellow trainer and lecturer Cyril Pittion-Rossilon are offering a three-day “Ride Well” Clinic at the MM Equestrian Center at 12393 Squirrel Creek Rd., Friday, May 23 through Sunday, May 25.
Almost everybody who rides horses, whether it’s English or Western, in the show pen or out in the field has heard of Lynn Palm, rider and trainer of Rugged Lark, the two-time winner of the AQHA Super Horse Title.
I first found Palm in a series of articles written in Horse and Rider Magazine in 1997. I was fascinated with her idea of dressage principles incorporated with training a western horse. I had a small lesson and training business going in Green Mountain Falls and eagerly latched onto the concepts she shared.
I learned to think past my saddle horn and into the world of dressage. As my horizons broadened so did my ability as a teacher and trainer. My horses became more flexible, balanced and easy to handle. I also learned to explain what I wanted from my students with a much clearer voice.
Once I moved forward into the sport of reined cowhorse I carried the principles and open-mindedness I had first learned from those articles written by Palm. It enabled me to grasp the overwhelming amount of information I had to absorb to become competitive in an extremely complex event. It helped me convince the hard-core cowboys I rode with I was worth teaching a thing or two.
Palm is considered a pioneer among men and women in the horse industry. Her “Palm Partnership Training” brings her unique melding of dressage and absolutely any equestrian discipline to the educational schools and clinics she offers in the United States and Europe every year.
She is a regular commentator on Horse TV and RFD-TV, and is steady contributor to a wide array of equine publications. Horse & Rider, Dressage Today, Western Horseman, Horse Illustrated, the Paint Horse Journal and the American Quarter Horse Journal fill out her impressive list of articles.
Palm is also known for her bridleless exhibitions on her horse Rugged Painted Lark. The beautiful pair does a dressage exhibition along with a reining and western exhibition. They demonstrate not only the versatility of the horse, but the spectacular results of her riding and training approach.
If you haven’t seen her ride before, check her out on, or just hit “Lynn Palm and Rugged Lark” in the YouTube search engine, it’s a great example of what hooked me in the first place.
In a recent interview with this writer Palm was eager to share her methods.
“I’m open minded and love to work with every kind of horse and rider,” Palm said, “we always try to improve the rider in order to improve the horse.
“I come from a dressage background. What dressage really means is ‘Train the horse.’ This concept certainly applies to any discipline,” she said.
“The more balanced the rider the more balanced the horse will be,” she continued,” I don’t care if you’re turning a barrel or making a fence turn, the better your balance, the better the performance of your horse and the better a turn you’ll get.
“We work to define and understand the natural aids, the seat, leg and hands, and the artificial aids, the crop and spurs. With a better understanding of balance in the horse and rider and the knowledge to correctly use both natural and artificial aids we create lightness in our horses.
“You won’t see any over-bending the neck or spur stops around here,” Palm ended with a laugh.
Palm and Pittion-Rossilon offer a relaxed and open-minded approach to their clinics.
“We can adapt to any group of riders who come to the clinics. I love a mix of dressage, western riders and hunter jumpers at all levels. I do ask that the riders be able to walk, trot and canter their horses,” Palm said.
My guess is she’ll be just fine if you decide to lope too.
The cost for all three days is $395. Spectators are welcome at $25 a day and if you pre-register you can bring a friend for free! Call 200-2906 for stall reservations.
This is a rare opportunity to ride with one of the country’s best trainers and clinicians, I hope I’ll see you there.
Go to or call 1-800-503-2824 for more information.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Q's and A's

Pines4equines says-All of a sudden, I had the idea, even if the pack of horses gets ahead of me, I halted him, backed him. Sometimes nice and soft, sometimes harshly depending on how harshly he was treating me. IT was like night and day in his behavior change! Is there something to this backing that's maybe the secret ingredient? Please explain.

This worked for you because you created specific movement away from the other horses and are giving him a command that will refocus him. Instead of hanging on his face you made him back when he pulled against your hands. So the discipline was a specific command, back, instead of simply pulling or holding. I think the worst thing a person can do is take a hold of a horse's face without a specific command in mind.

This can work (like it did for you), but sometimes making a horse back on the trail will cause them to panic and rear.

I will half-pass my horse a few steps left, then right,then left, etc. until he is soft in my hands and focused on me, then release my reins and let him go again, rinse and repeat, until he's where I want him. This makes him slow and focus, but doesn't actually take him away from the herd, so it keeps the anxiety down.

If backing works, than go for it.

Endurance Granny says-My question is about the "death trot". I'm struggling with my arabian mare on rating. She has a go-a-holic trot...I'm desperately wanting her nice little ground work trot to occur under saddle. You know, the nice little soft pitty pat trot that doesn't rattle your teeth. Would you care to help an aspiring endurance rider smooth out the trot? I'd be ever so grateful. I find myself all to often in the reins, as she pushes faster and faster. I need a loose rein, and a collected trot.

I work on rate initially in the arena or in an area both my horse and I feel safe in. I ask for the trot and the second it gets bumpy or unpleasant I pull my outside rein (rail side) and turn the horse the other way. I pull hard enough to make the turn unpleasant, but I'm not tearing up the horse's mouth either.I just want to pull hard enough to pull my horse out of the death trot, change the direction of her feet and her forward motion.
I immediately relax my rein and ask for the trot again. As soon as she gets bumpy I pull and go the other way again.
Eventually, my horse will hesitate before slamming into the horrifying trot, because I have been yanking her around every time she sped up.
When I feel the hesitation I'll give her a big "Good Girl!" and pat on the neck then just sit quiet until the trot speeds up again, then I'll pull her around again. I keep this up until she'll hesitate or slow down for at least a couple of steps from just a lift of my rein before she speeds up again. Then I quit for the day.
If I practice consistently and religiously she will learn to hold a steady trot.
The key here is to expect your horse to beat you to the punch and slow down before you pull her around. I am very slow with my hand when I'm doing this. I bring up my hand slow enough for at least two beats before I even make contact with her mouth.

I use this same approach to cure jiggers and chargy horses. I don't give them anything to pull against. The reins are loose until the horse goes beyond the speed I ask for, then I change the direction of their feet. I've never had it not work as long as I was consistent.

This can take awhile, it all depends on how ingrained the horse is with her expectations of being held.

Londoner-Her problem is stopping. She will stop anywhere - in the middle of a long, unfamiliar hack, at the arena door before we have set off, even in the driveway on the way back home. So I would call it napping, but with no clear direction of where she wants to nap to. The best way to get her out of it is to take my legs completely off her, or get off and lead. I would like to teach her to respond to leg pressure in these situations, as it's how she was started, but she will crow-hop and buck, sometimes rear.

This problem is pretty basic. Your horse has stopped her feet. Once her feet stop her brain stops. The key is to get her feet moving again.
If I am on a stuck horse I make standing still just about impossible. But I only focus on one foot at a time. I don't kick her directly forward with both feet. I'll kick the haunch over, move a shoulder, rattle my reins back and forth, push a rib, ask for a half pass, turn a step or two into a turn on the forehand.I'm not particularly nice about it on a horse I know well enough to get after, but I'm careful with one who will buck or rear.
If she's rearing I kick over her hindquarters first, which will drop her down on her front end again. If she's crow-hopping I get the shoulders moving to get her rocked back on her hindquarters. I also make a lot of noise.
The key is to get all parts of her moving and make it uncomfortable until she steps forward.
The second she moves forward I relax, look forward and assume she's going to be good from now on. If she's not I do it again.

That's all I've got today, gotta get typin'....

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Crystal, Fallon and Sonita

Crystal always had a weakness for babies. Not when they were tiny, with milk dripping from their whiskery muzzle as they peered from under their mother's tail. Crystal didn't fall for them when their baby coat began to fall away to reveal their true color either.

Crystal fell for the weanlings who raced in a wild herd around her. Her tender heart went out to the rowdy little boogers who were still sure the world was theirs.

She loved their curiosity and timid gestures of friendship. Crystal even loved the mischievous nips and carelessly thrown kicks from impudent colts and fillies who had no thought of halter, bit or saddle.

Which is how Crystal ended up with Fallon.

Fallon was slim-legged and delicate. She was a fairy-like filly with big eyes and a dished face. The little filly with a deep chestnut coat was a surprising stand-out from her solid boned, coarse headed brothers and sisters.

Crystal had said she was done with babies. She had bought her good Arab/Quarter gelding, James (his registered name is Bond, James Bond), as a yearling and had invested heavily in his training. He had become a solid minded citizen, but not without a lot of work, patience and money.

"Next time I'll buy a broke horse," she swore, "for what James cost to train I could buy a good one."

Of course that was before she met Fallon.

Crystal bought her and then kicked herself in the butt pretty regularly for doing it. When she brought her to me for training as a two-year-old she kicked herself in the butt and started writing checks too. Oh well.

Fallon broke out fairly easy, except for only running backwards for the first three or four rides. She was flighty and sensitive, but showed a lot of promise. Crystal took regular lessons and kept up with her filly's progress.

When Fallon turned three we started her rein work and a little bit of cow work. She was capable and willing with enough spook and blow to keep her interesting.

Crystal took her out on the trails and worked through many of Fallon's fear issues. It was starting to look like Fallon would make a decent show horse.

I got to show Fallon for the first time in the spring of her 4-year-old year. She looked at her cow in the herd work and ran a clean and decent reining pattern. She handled the chaos of a NRCHA, AQHA, NRHA combined show and was calm and relaxed about being stalled for the first time. She out-scored Sonita in her reining. Crystal was happy, excited and proud.

Her little filly had the makings of a competitive cowhorse.

One night I got a late call from Crystal.

"Hey Crystal, what's up?" I asked.

"Fallon's colicked. The vet is going to do surgery," Crystal's voice was shaking and I could feel her pain and tears through the phone.

"How can Norm do surgery? He's not set up for it. I'd think he'd send you to Littleton Large," I said.

Our vet was great and reliable but had a mobile practice. I was a little confused.

"I couldn't get a hold of Norm, so I'm using one of the boarder's vet, Dr. Death" she told me..

Of course that wasn't his real name, or the name Crystal gave me. It was the name this clown had earned after several botched cases where the only common thread was a dead horse at the end of the story. He was notorious for jumping into colic surgery.

I became very still.

"What's wrong?" Crystal asked.

"I think surgery is pretty drastic, I'd sure want Norm to look at her."

"I don't know what to do, he's prepping right now."

Interfering with a client's choice about a serious issue like this one is a treacherous road. As her trainer I knew I could influence Crystal easily. If Fallon died because I stopped her from operating on her filly it would weigh on my shoulders for the rest of my life. I stayed silent, trying to decide what to do.

"What would you do if it was your horse?" Crystal almost begged.

The panic and pain in her voice tore me apart. Crystal was my friend. Friends say what they feel, at least the good ones do, even if the outcome isn't ideal.

"If it was me, I would load my horse up and head for Littleton Large, I would trust the vets there to help me make an intelligent choice. I would feel safe there," I said in a rush.

"But Dr. Death said she could never survive the trip!"

I could tell Crystal was crying now.

"Crystal, why did you call me?" I asked as gently as I could.

"I don't really know," she said.

"If you called me because you have a gut feeling this man shouldn't operate on your horse, than go to Littleton Large. If you called me because you've made your decision and need support than I'll come out there and help you."

Crystal took Fallon to Littleton Large. The veterinarians listened to Fallon's gut, did some blood work and told her surgery might give the suffering little horse a 10% chance of survival.

Crystal had Fallon put down that morning. She told me she was done with babies.


Two years later, I was at the barn, saddling my second shift of horses. Crystal was hanging out, grooming Sonita for me and visiting.

"I've been thinking," she said.

There was something about her voice that gave me pause. I turned around and looked at her.

Crystal's eyes were huge, her face pale and strained. She tangled her fingers in Sonita's mane. Sonita jerked her head up and pinned her ears.

"I think I want to buy Sonita," she said.

"Are you sure?" I asked.

Crystal drew in a deep, quavering breath, "Yes. I'm sure. I can give you a down payment now. We're taking out a loan. I can pay off the balance when you get back from the Worlds."

Good enough. I had sold my horse.

Wordy Wednesday

Here's a great new Wordy Wednesday. I love these stories. I'll try to have my next Sonita post by Thurs. night or Friday......

What We Do for Love!

It was the third evening of my first wilderness pack trip. We'd had a lot of adventure, so we went to bed pretty early -- about 9:30 p.m. Sleep was quick to come and I crossed my fingers that the day's ride was enough to keep Maxine quiet for the night. If only! At some point in the night, I was roused by nervous pawing.

I rolled over and asked Travis what time it was. I prayed that it was at least 5:00 a.m. so that I would have an excuse to start her breakfast to quiet her down. Travis checked his watch and replied, "It's 11:00 p.m."


Tired and groggy, I rolled out of the tent and walked to Maxine's clearing. The nearly full moon flooded the wilderness, so I could see without a flashlight. A strong wind had come up -- the haunting tree-top wind that brings monsters and ghouls from lands far away. I looked at Maxine. She was calm in my presence, but I could see fear in her eyes. "Momma, how could you leave me tied here, alone, as bait for a cougar or whatever creature might be lurking in the shadows?"

My heart sank.

I turned to walk back to the tent. As soon as I passed the trees, Max started to fuss again. I knew what I had to do...

"Psst. Give me my sleeping bag," I said to Travis.


"Give me my sleeping bag," I repeated. "She's scared and I can't leave her up there alone. She might tie herself up again. I'm going to sleep with her."

"Do you have to?"

"Yes, I do."

I quickly returned to Maxine's clearing -- sleeping bag in one hand, chair in the other. "This is nuts," I thought, as I placed the chair near her head, hopped in my sleeping bag, and settled in. Fortunately, my sleeping bag unzips from the bottom, so I was able to stick my feet out (in case I needed to get away in a hurry).

With the bag warmly over my head and flashlight in hand, I closed my eyes to get some sleep. Max stood quietly above me, making happy mule sounds.

I wish I could say that we fell asleep then and there, but that wasn't the case. Max was quiet but still very aware of her surroundings. Every so often, she'd freeze, staring into the woods behind us.

Now, the sensible part of my brain knew that there was nothing to be scared of. We weren't in bear country and it was highly unlikely that a cougar would attack a giant blue worm in the middle of the night. Still, I was surrounded by darkness and the unknown, so I wasn't quite so sure about my safety.

I drifted in and out of sleep for about an hour. Then, at about 12:30 p.m., Maxine locked on something in the distance. Something was walking toward us -- an animal that sounded to be about 120 to 150 pounds. I froze, cursing myself for bringing my flashlight but leaving my knife safely in the tent.

The animal came closer.

"Sit or stand?" I thought. "Sit or stand?"

Finally, it was too close for comfort. I leapt from my chair and shined my light into the forest. The animal gave out an eery cry, "Eeeugh!" It turned and headed further into the forest. It cried again, this time from a much greater distance. I stood frozen for a moment, then I looked around at Maxine. She dropped her head and began quietly licking and chewing. Content the creature was leaving, I returned to my chair and sunk lower in my sleeping bag.

Personal observation: I never did see what crossed our path that night, and no one else heard our visitor except my husband Travis (so I'm not completely insane). The general consensus amongst the group the next day is that it was a deer that was headed to the lake for a midnight drink. Mom had seen a doe in the area twice, so it made sense. Travis and I later listened to some deer sounds online, and it's quite possible that it's what we heard. Deer or not, it was creepy as hell in the middle of the night!

I woke up again around 2:00 a.m. The wind had died down and the moon was about 20 minutes from dropping beyond the horizon. I knew it would be really dark soon and I'd be much happier if I were safe in the tent. I'm not sure why I feel safer behind a millimeter of nylon, but I do.

Maxine was sleeping soundly, so I tip-toed to the tent. I waited for her to stir as I unzipped the door, but she remained quiet. I happily snuggled up next to Travis, who hadn't gotten much sleep either. He was too busy worrying about me.

Exhausted, I was soon in dreamland.

Of course, this was just one adventure from "The Pack Trip from Hell." You can read about the rest on my blog, Mule Musings, at

I hope you enjoyed my story!