Monday, November 30, 2009

Mouthy Monday's

This story is from a regular reader, it's a hard one. It's a reminder of how the gift of a horse, especially for young girls facing tough times, can save them.

I'm posting tomorrow on the great comments we got going from the Pete stay tuned.

Have you ever stood in a barn full of horses at dinner time and just listened? There is a rhythm in the sounds that has always comforted me.

Sometimes I stand in our boarding barn where I work in the twilight with my eyes closed and just let it wash over me. The sounds of hay being shaken and chewed, the stomping of hooves, the quiet snorts of content animals are all sounds I feel like I have known in my heart long before I met my first flesh and blood horse.

As a child I dreamed of them, read every book I could get my hands on, and made entire fantasy worlds full of horses to play in. I was always a dreamy child, and uneasy around people. I was a little insecure and found more happiness in books or with animals. Other kids were often mean to me because I rarely stood up for myself. A bully once told me that he had harassed me for no other reason than that I was an easy victim.

There was never a time that I remember that I didn’t want a horse. I have no idea where it came from. I grew up in a suburban neighborhood with parents who never had pets other than an occasional cat.

I was lucky that my mother, not a horse person at all, recognized I was a child that was vulnerable to the world without a horse in my life to focus me. Or maybe she was just trying to make up for her own mistakes.

Regardless, the result was on my 12th Christmas, the one following my parents divorce, I finally got a pony named Applejack. Her new boyfriend had horse property and it gave her an excuse to move us in with him.

This night in particular, about a year after we got him, I had snuck out to Applejack’s paddock late to lay full length along his back. I didn’t worry about tack or a helmet. I didn’t even know any better at the time. That night I just wanted to be close to him. I was 13 and I’d been grounded again from riding.

Apple was only 13.2, the perfect size for me to hop up on without a saddle. He was a bay leopard POA with a thick arched neck, a stout body and respectable length mane and tail. His face and neck were red roan but the rest of his body was stark white with large chestnut spots. His legs were a wild blue roan pattern with a mix of black stripes and spots. His mane and tail were striped with black and white.

As I lay there in the cool night air I could feel the warmth of his body radiating up and taking off the chill. My legs dangled down his sides and I’d scooted back to rest my skinny arms on his withers and laid my head on my arms. My long wavy hair curtained my face. There wasn’t anywhere in the world I would have rather been at that moment.

My golden retriever, Misty, lay on the ground outside the paddock fence cuddled up with our rooster, Red. They were an odd pair but she was the best dog I’ve ever known and tolerated his play affection. He only used her to pull out tufts of her beautiful deep gold-red coat so he could go running back and use them to pad his nest. For almost a half an hour that night I enjoyed my own small piece of heaven.

Listening to the occasional clucks from Red and feeling Applejack breathing beneath me as he happily munched his hay I started to get drowsy.

I was half asleep and totally content when the warning came. I heard the deep baritone growl rise from Misty’s chest before I saw him coming. There was only one reason my dog ever growled. She hated my mom’s boyfriend.

Golden’s are happy dogs. They love almost unconditionally and can forgive most stupidity. The fact that she hated anyone should tell you as much about the man as anything else I can tell you. He was not a good man. I slipped quietly from my pony’s back landing softly and waited for him to come. Misty slunk to my side, keeping low to the ground but silent now that I was alert.

“What are you doing out here?” he asked.

“I just came out to check on Apple. I heard a weird noise and though he might have gotten out.”

“I don’t want you near that pony until you learn to listen to me.”

“Fine,” was my tense reply. “I’ll go back to my room then.”

I knew it was hopeless to try to reason with him, and I needed to get myself out of the dark yard and back near the rest of my family immediately.

“Haven’t learned yet then that I’m going to win this one, huh?” The moonlight glinted off his teeth as he smiled cruelly in the dark.

I had been grounded not because I hadn’t done my homework, or for fighting with my siblings. He’d grounded me for being upset when he tried to force me to hug him tightly enough to feel my growing breasts pressed against him through my shirt.

He hadn’t broken me enough to let him do what he wanted. Now he was using Applejack to try to make me vulnerable; taking from me the thing in my life I loved most and knew I could trust.
I shrugged dismissively in the dark and managed to slip through the fence boards and run back to my room in our converted garage which I shared with his two daughters. My dog chased after and planted her body in front of my bedroom door to stand guard. Sliding under the blankets I shivered but it had nothing to do with the cool night air.

Every day I would get home from school a couple of hours before my mom and her boyfriend would be off work. I rode Applejack down a busy road to a lake near our house. Every day Misty would follow us. Once we hit the levy trail I’d kick Applejack into a canter. By the time we reached the top we’d be at a dead run, his short legs flying.

I’m not sure I’ve ever trusted another horse to go full out like that. We’d run miles down the trails around the edge of the lake back to another busy road which I rode home. Fast, faster…fast enough to run away from my life for a little while.

Oak trees flew past in a blur as we covered the gently rolling hills. We were caught in our own rhythm with nothing between us but my red fleece bareback pad. His feet hitting the trail kept the tempo.

I pretended to be an Indian girl and he was my spirit guide. Misty would run too dragging behind sometimes so far I could barely see her but she’d catch up by the time we hit the road again. She was always loyal about staying with me.

I knew it was dangerous. No one knew I was riding so far from my home and I always went alone. I couldn’t help myself. Those rides gave me time to think and enough freedom to keep my sanity. I had a good dog, an even better pony and I was armed with the knowledge even at a young age that there was evil in the world, but you could try to protect yourself from it. It was the beginning of learning how to stop being a victim.

What my mom’s boyfriend never figured out, because he could never understand anything about love, was how much strength having Applejack lent me even when he was trying to use it against me. I don’t know if I could have fended off his advances alone for the years that I did without having horses in my life.

Learning to ride taught me how to take control of a situation, when to have patience and when to be firm. It taught me to be strong for something else when I wasn’t strong enough for myself.

There were times it was difficult not to let anger overwhelm me. Other times I was so numb from trying to block out the pain that anger felt like the only thing left that even made me human. When I was angry enough that it could have destroyed me, could have made me hard as stone forever, that love gave me enough heart to find my way back again.

I was finally able to plead my case to my mom that being grounded from riding wasn’t a good punishment because taking care of my horse was a responsibility and not just a privilege. It actually worked and built the foundation I need to move Applejack to a show barn so we weren’t tied to her boyfriend when it was time to get out. When that time finally came, as ugly as it was, we were ready.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


Here's Pete

We need some questions. Anybody got some? Send 'em on over. I'll go check my email too.

I'm thinking about Pete. He likes to dump on his front end as he approaches his stops. Which makes for a very icky stop. And painful.

Our run downs start nice and collected with plenty of drive. He rides straight with light contact on the bit and and then begins to speed up. We aren't speeding up because I'm driving across the arena. We're speeding up because he's beginning to dump over on his front and he's scurrying with his front legs.

It's a very icky, run-offy kind of thing. He folds over the top of the bit which turns it into a loss of control feeling. Ew.

I can see where this could turn into a honest to God runaway if I was worried about it. I'm not that worried about horses running off with me in an arena, especially a big one. I can just let them rip and practice my queen wave or something until they're done. Then, because it's me and I like to point out the bad side to running away, I will kick them up and we'll keep running and running and running until the poor horse thinks not only was it my idea, but it was a very bad idea at that.
We run until the poor, foamy baby is thinking, "Man, next time she wants to run I'm going to just lope instead. No way will I run again!"

But I don't think Pete wants to run off. I think it's coming at him because he's losing his push from the back and so he begins to pull with his front legs. This gets him all scattered and he speeds up trying to catch up. Does this make sense?

Which, for the first time gets me thinking, what actually creates a run away?

I know about bolt and go for the barn, that one even makes sense if you think about it.

But I'm talking about the oozing loss of control we start to feel sometimes, especially during arena work. Maybe a shoulder will leak out or the horse suddenly feels heavy on my hands and as I reach into my bag of corrections I suddenly feel a loss of connection.

Sometimes the horse leaves and I'm doing the queen wave, sometimes we whip across the arena and out the gate, shoulder first, whatever.

This kind of thing has always pissed me off, needless to say, and we have a bit of a go-round.

But riding Pete and feeling the loss of control during his run down has me thinking.

He's running because he is having trouble keeping his drive and staying balanced. He's such a mellow guy I know he's not trying to be bad. I can feel his anxiety build as he starts to come undone.
He doesn't have this problem in his circles. It's the long straightaway that's getting him. It's hard for a horse to travel straight and something I don't think we cow horse folk work on enough.
We circle and circle and circle. But we don't spend enough time learning to be forward and straight. I've become aware of this problem and am working on it. Which is how I've been able to find Pete's problem.

It's got me wondering how much of our troubles come from not feeling that brief moment when the horse comes undone before he bolts, or takes his shoulder, or bucks. If we can catch the moment maybe we can assure them, help them regather and avoid the problem.

It makes me completely rethink some of the wild behavior I see in the young horses as I train them.

Maybe it's a simple matter of catching them in the few seconds they give us before they come undone.

So while I chew on that (and hopefully you guys too) here's what I'm going to do to help Pete.
It has become clear to me this is a strength issue.
He has trouble keeping his back up through the long run, so he hollows out and starts flinging his legs around trying to rebalance. He speeds up because he can't get regathered.

I'm going to start by lengthening my seat (isn't that what it's called Pandora Mckinna?) before he comes undone. Then I'll drive again by sitting back and pushing with my seat, then I'll lengthen, I'll see what happens.

My other plan is to let him start down the arena, then as he comes apart I'll drive him off the line and start to lope a spiral. When I feel him come together we'll continue down the arena.

My other plan is to take Pete out into the miles of soft, good dirted two-track roads I found which take me all over the back fields of Fountain (hee hee) and just let him run.

He can go on a loose rein until he finds a good place he can hold and we'll work on speed transitions.

Which brings me to my next point on Pete. The boy will never make it as a movie horse.

How many times have we seen Trigger carry Roy home when he's been shot and too delirious to steer.

Silver always knew where the water hole was in the desert. The Lone Ranger could always fill his canteen as long as he rode his trusty steed. And Scout wouldn't carry his name if he couldn't track down the bad guys, right?

I went on a leisurely amble with my friend Kathy yesterday. She brought Rosie out and we went on a ride on the very roads I'm planning running on in the near future.

We enjoyed the sun and exploring some new riding ground. We mostly walked because we were visiting and having fun.

When we came around to head home Pete suddenly got nervous. He whinnied. He slew his head around. He looked behind us.

He rode on for awhile and tried to turn back.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

Pete whinnied again and kept looking back.

Kathy patted Rosie and looked a little smug.

He tried to turn back again.

I finally realized Pete was lost. He didn't have a clue where we were.

He kept it up the whole way back. He never jigged or pulled on me. He would just roll-back around and try to head back to whatever fantasy place he had in mind. He always turned back around, but then he would cut loose with his sad little whinny again.

When we came around the corner and he saw the barn he jumped. I swear he looked just amazed. Sigh. Pete, I'm afraid, is kind of a dork.

Monday, November 23, 2009

A story for your blog:

I have been riding since I was eight and quickly got a reputation for my Velcro seat and, (like many of us as children) my fearlessness.

The barn I rode at was a Thoroughbred breeding barn. The owner/trainer bred her mares and trained the stock as race horses. The ones that did not make it to the track were sold on or kept as lesson horses.

She used her more advanced students as the colt starters, trainers, and exercise riders. I am pretty sure anyone now-a-days would have a fit with what she let us do, but I learned a lot in my early days.

It was a very run down barn- held together with barb wire and hay string. Lessons were always group and 10 dollars a day.

She was not a very good teacher; she taught large lessons of ten or more children with all of us circling around her lawn chair. Our lessons were the same everyday; walk trot canter-change of direction-walk trot canter. She would yell a few canned responses at us as we trotted around-heals down! arch your back! and of course my favorite; Don't fall off. Sometimes she fell asleep.

I often infuriated her with my enthusiasm and my constant questions that she would refuse to answer. When I was good enough I would breeze the horses in training for her before my lesson.

I did not learn much about correct equitation, horsemanship, technique or training, but I did get to ride a bunch of crazy thoroughbreds. She had about 50 horses at a time and they were all the colors of the rainbow of green, sour, buckers, rearers, even a horse who liked to sit down! Her horses were also amazing horses that had talent and vices in equal shares and some just had hearts of pure gold.

As a teenager I rode anything. My favorite mount Velour was deemed an unpredictable runaway and was hardly ever used at the time. Velour was a 16.1 flea bitten gray Thoroughbred who could jump the moon and also run away with you like 'Pepé Le Pew '. He was the first horse I ever saw dump someone-it was at my 2nd lesson ever. Anytime he was frightened he would take off at a dead run with his head up in the air like a giant goofy Arabian. He was very dangerous.

When I moved up to the status of "pick out your own darn mount" I always picked him. I had the winning combination of traits to ride him. I could stay on, I was not afraid, and I was sensitive enough to know when he was going to bolt.

He was also perfect for me. He was sensitive, and responded to reassurance and encouragement. He only needed support and kindness. Under this regime he blossomed. I never did take a fall off of him (as long as you don't count a horrendous crash we had on a cross country course one time, he fell first!).

When ever I went on vacation I would come home to stories of the other children who had tried to ride him. In addition to bolting he would also buck but only on two conditions: If you hit his mouth over a fence, or if you hit him with a crop.

He had a real elephant memory in general, I never knew a horse that could hold a grudge like he could. He kicked a girl in the face for seemingly no reason. She had spit coke in his face though and I always suspected that he had been biding his time for a good opportunity to get her back.

More likely she had scared him of course. He was a real spook.

Velour was my first love. We did everything together- hunter shows, jumper shows, trail riding, fox hunting, cross country, and hunter paces. For a horse that was so spooky he made an excellent cross country horse. He never refused a jump! He would spin and bounce and jig and snort waiting for his turn to enter the time box.

People around us would be calling up to me "So you want us to hold him? Are you ok? What is he doing!!??" I would answer he just wants-to-go. As soon as we entered the box he stood stone still and would launch into a forward but controlled canter at the cue. Ears pointed forward bounding as eager as a hound.We won everything we got our little grubby under-bred hands on.

At the age of 15 I left. I was offered some rides and some money at a new barn. A barn with cross ties and clean stalls and fancy ponies so I moved on. I asked the owner if I could buy Velor. He was the same age as me so no longer a spring chicken. She gave me a price that I would never be able to save up for.

4 years later she gives me a call and offers me Velour for 800 dollars so of course I come running. We are both 19 and had both seen better days. He had grown melanomas and was on the ground with colic when I came to get him. The woman's reason for selling him was that he was old as dirt and still would not stop throwing people.

I got him home and retired him. We would go on walks together in the woods with just a halter. He still had the best canter though no jumping anymore! I am so happy to have gotten to pay him back for all of those wonderful rides.

Thinking back on it he truly was a "problem" horse. I know I would label him one now. Despite all of his troubles and misgiving with people though he still gave me a chance. I think I can fairly say that I never let him down, nor did he ever let me down. He always looked out for me when my parents were too busy and my trainer was neglectful. He saved my butt on many a trail ride that got out of hand and many a crowded charged hunt field.

I know I saved him from making many stupid decisions as well :)

He passed away Last February. He was diagnosed with Cushings and immediately went on medication. He just got worse so I found a ride for him to the local equine hospital. Ultrasounds showed congestive heart failure and tumors all over his body internally. When I got the bill from them they took off all of the in house fees. The vet wrote me a card that read something like "We were really touched by a girl and her pony we do not get to many of your type in here." The hospital is in Ocala.

He got off the trailer that day running and bucking. He passed away 2 weeks later and I buried him under his favorite tree. He got to have 5 years with me though and I would not trade them for the world. My happy childhood is all thanks to him without it I would have been another lonely girl. I count myself as lucky to get own the horse of my dreams even if it was only in the twilight of his life. Thinking back on it though he was always mine.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Maggie Z

I wrote a post on May 18 2008 about the bravest woman I know.

What has always impressed me the most about this woman is her determination. When I first met Peg the fear was so huge she could barely talk herself into trotting around an arena on an old, Steady Eddy school horse. She would talk to her horses in an eternal stream of nervous chatter as she road.

"OK, now trot Slowpoke, trot, there yougo, good boy, good boy, now trot, c'mon, let's go....."

Peg would freeze and go fetal over an unasked increase in speed, even at a walk, she would clench her reins in a panic if her mount turned his head to look at something.

Her problems weren't all in her head. She had an extremely screwed up back. The tension from her fear added to the stressed muscles in her back and she would end up a spasming mess.

She was extremely difficult to instruct. Not from her attitude, but because of her fear. Peg couldn't trust me enough to relax and do the exercises I knew would increase her confidence by increasing her balance.

She was so wrapped up in her fear she couldn't hear what I was saying half the time.

I have been known to run off students and clients. Sometimes I run out of patience. Ahem.

But not Peg. Because she is Horsaii. Through and through.

No matter how great her terror I could see the love shining through her eyes every time she went to tentatively pet her horse.

Nothing stopped Peg from coming to her lessons and trying again. I don't think she could have stopped if she wanted to.

So I buried my impatience as best I could and kept giving her the best I had.

I thought about Peg and her issues a lot and tried to have a plan every time I saw her.

Eventually I had to have two plans.

Because sometimes Maggie Z, the alter-ego, showed up instead of Peg.

If Maggie Z came to ride we could work on transitions. I saw soft hands and a rider who could get through a serpentine without going rigid and falling to the inside.

We could honestly evaluate Maggie Z's progress and where she was with her horses.

But then Peg would come back. After an agonizing amount of ground work she would finally climb up. We would walk her horse, often with me on the ground, around the small arena and talk. We talked about our kids, our jobs, maybe a little about the horses, but mostly not.

I got so I could tell who was getting out of the car. Peg or Maggie Z.

So I aways had two lesson plans.

Peg /Maggie Z and I went from dude horses to her own horses, to horses I helped her buy.
Peg stayed with me through three barn changes and countless adaptations of my training process and what I expected from my students.

Peg learned to explore options without me. She worked on her groundwork and studied the clinicians hard to figure out her place in the horse world. She studied folks I'm not particularly excited about (you thought I didn't know, ha!) and ones I liked. She started to hear me.

I pushed harder, Maggie Z got ticked and Peg cried.

She still came every week, month in, month out. Peg became my friend.

I liked Maggie Z too, which is a good thing, because she started showing up more and more.

Maggie Z started loping circles out in our huge unfenced slide track. She helped shag cattle when we were working cows. Sometimes Peg started her ride and stepped up to do the same, she was starting to feel brave.

Peg figured out that Cougar, the good ranch horse I had sold her several years before, was not only a good cow horse, but eventually, her friend.

She started to show. She started to place. She started to eye the reining pen.

Then I retired.

The client I worried the most about was Peg/Maggie Z.

But by now Peg knew she was Horsaii too. She knew she wanted to keep learning.

She ended up hauling out to whoever she could find with cattle for her to work. If they were good or at least good enough, she kept going. If they were bad she moved on. She started to go to local open arena nights the area clubs offered and got so she could work her horse in a crowd.

She ended up riding with Jeff and Gerrie Barnes at Barnes Ranch.

They are a couple of good teachers and Versatility Ranch competitors who run a straight up riding program.

Maggie Z has just bought a 17 year old well trained cow horse. I think this mare is exactly the right next step for her.

I think Peg is ready to fly.

This means we all can.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


I went to Kiowa to visit my three booger heads.I brought my mother for company. She's an interesting talker and appreciates the beauty of a cold Colorado landscape as much as I do. We drove the back roads to my friends ranch and she kept saying, "Just how far out is this place?"

I spent so many years with an hour commute to my job this trip seems reasonable to me. But I guess it is pretty far out there.

Loki came up to greet me as I pulled in. Leland stood his distance but stayed alert and friendly.

And then came the yellow mare.

100 MPH racing through the fields with her best friend, an equally goofy TB mare.

They circled us, tossing their heads, making sure we properly admired their wild mustang impersonations.

The couple who owns the C&S ranch call them "The Cheerleaders."

They are beautiful to watch and although I try not to humanize them, they seem awfully vain. And prissy.

I opened the arena gate and they all flowed in.

Have you ever noticed how horses will gather their forces and just blast into any open gate they can find?

Cattle on the other hand stop cold, and stand in a giant, solid clump, staring at the opening as if it's leading them to the pits of hell.

Anyway, the herd willingly ran into the arena and stood around staring at us, a communal, "What's up?" on their faces.

Worming was what was up.

Leland, the unbroke, barely handled 2-year-old stood quiet when I caught him, took his wormer like a champ and hung out for a few seconds to get a wither scratch. I'm starting to really like him.

"He's really sweet," my Mother said.

Loki smelled the wormer and began her rapid fire head toss. She stood quiet but had her head slinging around like a nut job.

I stuck my finger in the corner of her mouth, pulled tight and hung on until she sighed, relaxed and let me worm her.

"Does the wormer taste bad?" My mother asked.

"I don't think so, Loki quit her nonsense as soon as I got the wormer in. I'm pretty sure squirting the wormer in is some kind of insult. I've never quite figured it out," I said.

The entire time I'm doing this the yellow peril was flitting around, coming up behind me to nose my back, spinning and taking off, circling up, nosing Loki, biting Leland, trying to pull the lead rope off my arm, you get the picture.

I bet you guys thought my horses had manners didn't ya? Well, most of them do.

When it was the yellow butt head's turn she trotted up to me, neck arched, knee action waaaay too high for a respectable AQHA quarter horse.

I scratched her neck, went to tie her halter and she sniffed at some wormer on my knee.


She was gone.

She tossed her head, bucked to the moon and tore around the arena.

I swung the lead rope at her and chased her around some, waiting for her to decide to quit.

She finally stopped, looked at me and waited.

As any of you round pen guys know, this is usually a good time to catch a horse. It's a clear signal telling me she's ready to listen.

Unless of course the horse is screwing with you.

I prefer my horses wait for me to come up and catch them. I don't ask them to come to me. I don't mind a friend coming over to say "Hi" like Loki did. But when they're being enough of a goober to need to be worked before I can catch them I want them to wait for me to approach.

I was two steps from Pumpkin-head before she looked at me like I was a pit viper and took off. Now she was trotting a big lofty trot, her tail curled over her back like a husky and her head waving back and forth like, well, a smart-ass.

So I worked her around some more. The arena is a good sized one so I had to do some running. I was glad I've taken up jogging again, I'd of died out there if I hadn't been.

It went something like this, swing my rope, sawdust-for-brains takes off and heads for the gate along the rail. I sprint across the short side, swing my rope, turn her and send her down the other side and stop to catch my breath.

Blond and beastie circles around and bolts for the gate, I race to head her off, turn her and send her down to the other side.

"She keeps kicking at you," my mother says.

"No,she's not really kicking at me," I told her.

"See how she keeps her legs tucked in? She's just sassing me."

"How are you going to catch her?" Now my Mom was gently stroking the end of Lelands nose.
She smiled at him while he carefully sniffed her coat.

"He sure is pretty," Mom said.

"Oh, I'll catch her," I replied between ragged gasps.

I staggered down the arena and Bomb-shell Barbie pricked her ears and looked pretty.

I was right. Two more goes around the arena and she stopped next to me, put her head down and waited for the halter.

Her eyes crackled with the fun of it all.

I got even. I wormed her.

She spit half of it out.

I scooped it up, dirt and all, and stuffed it in her mouth.

The yellow beast chewed at the wormer-mud-ball and swallowed. She had a deep inward, thoughtful look on her face. Then she turned and sniffed my hands. With a quick lick she cleaned the rest of the wormer off my muddy fingers.

I scratched her neck and rubbed her forehead. She leaned into me and let me wrap my arms around her neck. She stretched up and rested her head on top of mine for just a second.

When I let her go she spun off and and bolted, one last kick and a fart daring me to catch her again.

"You always like the wild ones," Mom said.

As we drove out my mother looked back at the horses.

"I like that one."

Her eyes were soft as she looked at Leland.

Madonna ran with us all the way to the gate.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Mouthy Mondays


I had taken lessons for nearly 3 years, I had begged my parents for a pony since I could talk, I spent my weekends scanning the classifieds for a potential mount and I had begun trail riding with my cousin who owned Buttercup’s sire. My grandmother was mired in a battle with cancer. I was 13.

I met Buttercup on a blustery winter day, we were trail riding in a state park. My cousin was riding her, he said she was one of John's babies and she was 5 years old. She would toss her head, sometimes step into a smooth jog, other times prance sideways- always her head high. More horse than I had ever sat on... she made my trail mount, an ancient chestnut Quarter Horse named Jay Boy look like an absolute dud. My cousin asked if I wanted to ride her... I stared at Jay Boy's mane and shook my head "no" I was terrified of her...
And yet strangely fascinated...

She had been passed around. I heard she was a Christmas gift for a girl as a weanling and was eventually broke to ride but was too much horse, so she was sold to a couple who rode her for 30 days, despised her and tossed her into the pasture. Then my cousin came across her, always interested in John's foals, he bought her with me in mind.He never said a word.

The wheels of fate were turning... I ran home to tell my parents and grandmother about the horse my cousin had... her name was Buttercup, she was blonde colored, she was 5, she was AWESOME.

My parents went to look at her, my Dad patted her neck and said "Yup, she's a horse. All I know is they can kick you and bite you." My cousin asked if I wanted to ride and I dug my toe into the ground and again shook my head no... I was almost too scared to hold her lead rope, no way could I ride her.

She was too much horse I told myself... she'll be like the others, no use getting your hopes up.

Then the letter arrived...

The doctors had told her the cancer was terminal... she had fought it for many years but nothing else could be done. My grandmother set out to make sure her grandkids got what they had always wished for.

In the time she had left she wanted to see her grandkids' dreams come true... So she wrote a letter to her cousin, the one who bought Buttercup. What was said in the letter we'll never know. My cousin to this day has never said what she wrote, says that was between him and her. My grandmother would always say "It's a secret" when we inquired about it and she kept that secret to the day she died.

Fast forward a month or two... it's early on a Saturday. The phone rings. My Mom answers, chats and then runs into my room...

"Get up! Get up! They're bringing your horse down!!"

I sit up and glare... "That's cruel," I say, "if you wanted me to get up, just tell me to..."

Mom stares at me, half laughing, a grin on her face. "I'm SERIOUS. You need to get up now... they'll be here in an hour and you need to figure out where you are going to put her! Wait till your father finds out!!!"

OMG... I, me, Daphne... has... a... HORSE... A real, live HORSE! And she'll be here in like, an HOUR! An HOUR?!

I bolt out of bed, throw on jeans and my boots and head for the barn. We have a 10 stall barn... once a horse barn, recently it had only housed our bottle fed calves.

Today, it would be a horse barn again.

I picked the first stall on the right, it used to belong to Poke, the pony of the former manager's daughter. From here on out it would be Buttercup's... MY HORSE.

There was a flurry of cleaning, there were cobwebs to sweep, a stall to bed down, there was dust in the manger, she would need a water bucket, hay... everything must be perfect.

After all... this was going to be her new home! She would be here any minute...Right then I heard the trailer, I was grinning from ear to ear. My horse was here. MY horse, nobody else’s...

The rest of the story can be found on my blog: or my second blog

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Thank You

You guys are great. Wading through this emotional mess is tough. As of today I may have some answers.

There is a family with two horse crazy girls. Their parents are willing to let them get horses. They want horses for their family property. BUT they also have the wisdom and financial ability to lease two horses for a year at a boarding facility with the daughters under the tutelage of an instructor.

So maybe, just maybe things will fall into place here. The horses they are interested in are Loki and an OTTB I broke out for the folks who have called me about this arrangement.

If after a year everybody is happy they will buy the horses. This might work out just fine.

It doesn't matter if they go English or Western, Loki doesn't care.

Kidlette took some basic jumping lessons on her and she's comfortable trotting through poles and going over up to 18 inch jumps.

All my horses go in a snaffle and willingly ride in contact with a bit and most of my horses can pass a level 2 dressage test. I know that's not much, but after that our paths split off.

While not excited (I really would prefer to just keep her) I don't have the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach I had when I first wrote about this and asked for your help.

Thank you so much for your thoughtful answers and input.

Even if the lease deal doesn't happen I have decided to bring her in to fill Pete's spot if he goes on to the school. I'll ride her daily then, loosen up her tight spots and truly be able to evaluate where she should go. My yellow horse will have to wait a while (sigh).

I think the comment that came through the clearest was this one....anon. said -"So many of us would be denied great horses if owners didn't think they would ever find the right home, or if no one could care for that horse like they did."

Believe me, I read and listened to every one. Thanks again.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


I realize I've disappeared on you guys. Part of it is work, part is my current horse life. I am considering taking a huge step and it's simply locked me in place.

I am in the middle of talking to a private school with a large riding program about donating Pete and another of my horses, Loki.

I'm OK with the Pete donation. It's a great place for him to land and it's time for him to go on to his next home.

The program this school offers is an excellent one. The woman who runs it runs the English side of things and her assistant does the western side.

Both are accomplished, sensible trainers.

The program matches a horse to a child for an entire semester, so it's not like the horses will be being yanked and banged around by a bunch of beginners.
They have won national group championships, they are serious competitors and value their horses.

So it should be a good thing.

But, I think I might be nuts not putting Loki up for sale. She's a cracker jack horse and sound. She also has some emotional issues from being over-shown and over-trained (Another story coming....). While the tax write-off will help Pete's owner, I don't make enough $$ for it to help me.

I know if I sold her she would be back in the show pen. She would end up in training again. I owe this mare a lot and I can't help but think it would be a disaster for her if she's sold.

The school will give her back if she doesn't work out. They have had horses donated with the very same problems. Their policy is to keep them home to learn on if they can't handle show pressure. Right there they had me hooked.

So, here I am on the verge of giving away a pretty stinking valuable mare. I think I might be nuts.

I'm certainly going nuts. AHHHHHHH!

What do you think?

I will find a picture of Loki tonight and let you have a gander...

Monday, November 9, 2009

Mouthy Mondays

Yo! I'm back! Long week, glad it's over, glad I did it. I truly appreciate the input on stretching and loosening my mare. I'm inclined to lean towards some of the long, slow, dressagey kind of exercises, I liked HOC's recommendation a bunch.
Ruckus Butt almost busted me...yes I do have a lot of opinion and thoughts on flexing and loosening a horse. But I love getting outside input. My mare has more emotional issues than physical, I'm not ruling out the chiro, but I'm going to try riding her through her tightness first.
She has stiffened in defense. My guess is it has to do with the weaker side of her rider (not me) and how she turned a little tightness into an evasion, then on into a locked up fearful mess. By listening (reading) to all of you I get a much bigger picture on what I want to work on to get my girl back on track So thanks. If you want I'll come back to the program I'm putting together for her.
This is a cool story. I'd have posted it sooner, but it was sent to me as a blog link. Pleeeeaaaassssse don't do this to me. It creates all kinds of work for me. I love to share the space, but prefer to be able to cut and paste.

I have a barn buddy who is actually a guy. He doesn't go out to the barn for horses necessarily, but more as our junior fix-it guy when the fix-it guys aren't there or need help.

He likes horses. That's about the only horse-related thing we have in common.

He can ride, but only if he has to (and I laugh when he does).

When it comes to carpentry, I can drill a nail in, drill a hole, and use a hammer. Barely.

We both laugh when I'm given the task of driving a nail into some piece of wood. I'm usually only given it because I'm a last resort. And it doesn't need to be done well. I admire his handiwork, he admires my dressage riding. Nonetheless, we have other teenagery things in common: football (he plays, I watch with an educated eye) and school, friends, movies, the like.

So I was excited to show him a bit of my horsey world when we and and his grandmother -a friend of my instructor - made the long trip from Austin to Seguin (near San Antonio) to visit a gigantic tack store. His grandmother and my instructor were to pick up other items for their horses, I went to try out a saddle I had seen online.

We walk in and my jaw drops at the size and selection of the place, and then we all dispersed. They go and look for bridles, and I go on to admire the beautiful tooling of all the western show saddles.

My guy friend tags along with me and asks questions like "who would pay this much for a saddle?" and I tell that someone who wanted to look good and get attention in the ring would.

"God, I miss riding western sometimes. All the tack was super pretty. Dressage, everything is just black."

"So, get one of these! You're looking for a saddle right?" I look at him in horror.

"I'd get disqualified!"

He laughs. "Damn, they're that picky?" I laugh too.

"You have no idea..... oooh, they have an English section!"

I drag him over there. He watches me gaze in awe at the $3,000 Passiers and delicately set them on the plastic horse model and try them out.

"This is amazing!"

"It's just a saddle."

"Just a saddle? It's a Passier! A Passier!"


I jokingly scoff at his ignorance, remembering that my instructor and I were probably the only ones in the group who realized the amazing-ness of a Passier. I then saw the saddle I actually had intention to buy elsewhere: my Wintec synthetic. I try it on, and my instructor and I gawk, and then go to look at bridles. I, of course, eye the pretty ones with the padding and the crystal browbands. No intention of getting one, just admiring what I usually only see on the Internet or in magazines or on Grand Prix horses.

Guy friend finally speaks out, "Why do you want to get all of this stuff?"

"I don't. I'm just admiring. Greta and I already have everything we need."

"No, I mean, why get stuff like this in the first place for your horse? She's not top of the line."

Why I oughtta....

I could not laugh this one off. My instructor froze and turned around. He had just pushed the envelope. Not top of the line! He knows just how much I love Greta! How much I dote over her and spend an hour-and-a-half after a 30 minute ride just grooming her. Again. I was being a bit materialistic, true, but how could he say this?

"She most certainly is top of the line! Her sire was imported from Sweden!" my instructor says, and lightly pops him on the head and walks away, leaving me to deal with it.

I sigh, cross my arms, and shake my head, trying to give the best "I'm very disappointed in you" look I could give: something I have learned from watching the parental units. Not the best, but I tried.

"I don't care if she had been sired by a godawful-looking grade and then [foaled by a goat] she is my horse and I am allowed to spoil her. Besides, it's none of your business what I do and don't get for my horse. Just stop me if you see me getting one of those wire bits they had over there."

He shrunk away. We didn't really talk much afterwards until he apologized later during lunch:

"Sorry about what I said in the store-"

"I could see where you were coming from." He raised a brow.

"You just worded it very wrongly. What you should've said is, 'I understand you love Greta very much, but she doesn't care whether or not you get her the $3,000 Passier or the $50 used one off of Craigslist. She could care less if you ride her at all. She could care less who her parents' parents' parents were. What she does care about is that you are her human and that you care for her and watch out for her as she does for you despite all of your antics. You do, and that's all that matters. Though nice saddles are great, too.'"

"I don't know if I could've thought that one up...."

"You didn't need to. It was just a personal eureka." And then I went on to sprinkle some salt on the chips.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Mouthy Mondays-Late Again

Hey guys,
I'm getting this cool story about endurance riding up, it says a lot about getting out and getting it done. I may be missing this week, I am a judge for the Oklahoma Press Association annual competition. We judge each others papers, which is really cool, I'm honored to have been asked to be a judge. Plus I'm learning tons reading all these columns.

I'm also drowning. I have so many articles to read, judge and comment on I'm a little freaked. And really short on time, so I'll be gone for a bit, at least until next week.

In the mean time I'll throw out a question. My daughters retired show mare, Loki, is getting ridden again, by me, after three years off.

She is extremely tight and ungiving on her left side. It's hugely obvious in her lateral work and during her spins.

I haven't been on the horse for at least five years, nobody has ridden her for three.

She's sound and willing to work, but really resistant through the neck, shoulders and ribs. This explains a bunch of the trouble my daughter was having with her during her last show season.

Now I'm planning on fixing her issues. What would you guys do to loosen her up? I have all the time in the world to tackle this.....

I have put her back in a ring snaffle, no other mechanical devices, no drop nose bands etc.

Whaddya think?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

I achieved my goal, and finished in less time than last ride! I placed 9th... out of nine... but only 2 minutes after the 8th place finisher!

Summer is finally heating up here. And last weekend's ride was on the first real warm day we've had.

So even though I groaned when I realized I would have to wake up at 6am, I was happy we were scheduled to start an hour earlier than normal.It was a nice relaxing morning for me. I got to the barn by 7 and was on the road by 7:30. I actually arrived on time for once - no rushing!

I got signed up, tacked up and was actually waiting around for the ride to start. Unheard of! It was overcast and breezy, but you could feel the heat coming, so we were all anxious to get started.

I stood around with all the experienced endurance horses at the start line. They were all anxious to get going... Willow was more anxious to get as much grass in her stomach as possible. The time keeper finally said it was a go and we were all off quickly.

Willow and I stretched out in a nice trot, but we were quickly outdistanced by the others. That was OK, I had one person behind me; he had a young horse and wanted to teach her to not gallop like a mad thing at the start. Willow was too sensible to do something like that... that would be too much like work!

We maintained a good trot for about a mile and a half before we were passed by the rider behind us. But that didn't last long as I called him back from the wrong trail.

We continued on. All of a sudden, a pack came up from behind us. I was confused! These people had long outdistanced me! They had taken the wrong trail. Willow and I had a BFO (blinding flash of the obvious)... this meant we were in the lead!

We'd NEVER been in the lead before! Now she got excited! I asked if they (six of them) wanted to pass. But they said Willow was setting a good pace. This surprised me as Willow was 2-3 hands shorter than all of them. And she wasn't even doing her power trot!

Willow was determined to stay in the lead, even though I could feel that she wanted to slow to a walk. She realized that they would then pass her. So she started playing her passive-aggressive/ psychological games. She would suddenly swerve, with no warning to me or the horse behind her, from one side of the trail to the other; like a car in movie chase scene. She would spook at nothing, as if to say "ahhh! It's gonna eat us! Turn around and run away! I'll distract it while you escape! (hehe)". And turning to give the evil eye while dancing around and casting a voodoo hex.

OK, so the last was an exaggeration! BUT SHE WOULD IF SHE COULD!!!Finally, after a mile, I pulled her back and let them pass. I didn't want her to blow her wad, all at the beginning. I got off and walked for a bit, let her cool down. Then I got back on and we began motoring again.

Around mile 6, the rider with the young horse came up behind us. Luckily it was a mare, so Willow wasn't tempted to kick her head of. The ONLY gelding she tolerates seems to be her son. Interesting.

My riding partner had done lots of endurance rides in the past, competing at the Nationals last year, so I took the opportunity to learn. He set the pace, but very soon his young mare refused to pass Willow. She was quite happy being second. And that's how Will liked it!

It started to heat up. We got off and walked a mile or so, trying to get them to drink at the many puddles. I was just hoping Will wouldn't get down and roll like she had last year here. I brought extra shoes this year.We got back on and tried to finish the loop quicker to give us more time for the second one.

We ended up pulsing down in the same time as last ride - 2h 53m. But this time we had already done 15+ miles. I was satisfied.I ran Willow through her vet check - well actually she ran me! I practically had to sprint to keep up with her. The vet said she looked great. She had actually improved on a few of her scores and her slight limp from vet-in had gone away.

We wandered over to the trailer to get some food into Will. I had made up a bowl of soaked alfalfa cubes before I left. I added some ground flax and another 1/2 litre of water and pushed it in front of her. She slurped it up double time and then went over to her hay. I mixed her up a second bowl; 3/4 lbs Grow N' Win pellets, 1+ litre of water and a dose of electrolytes (safe to give her now that I got some water into her). This too disappeared in short order.

I scarfed down a sandwich, then started brushing her off. We were ready ahead of time at the end of our hold, so I let her have some more grass. She needed the water and electrolytes in it for the second loop - it was heating up.

I set out with my riding companion of the first loop.Neither horse was feeling really excited to be leaving camp. By five miles into the second loop, my legs were killing me from constantly urging her on. My companion had given up even any pretence of trying to pass me and set a quicker pace. The young, inexperienced mare wasn't prepared for this type of work and wasn't really feeling like moving very fast.

If I had been alone I could have probably completed faster, as Willow wouldn't have been constantly waiting for the mare behind her. We could have cantered more and made things interesting for her.

While I did cross the finish line before him, I had problems with my HRM and so we pulsed down 2 minutes after the young mare. Oh, well. I had still obtained my goal for the day and was very satisfied with Willow's performance.Willow once again raced me up and down for the trot-out and got great marks for the day. Actually prompting the vet and the scribe to say that this was the best they've ever seen her at a finish, even though she did complete it faster.

Awesome!My goal for the next ride is to keep her in shape over summer and at the August Spruce Woods ride, to complete it another 15 minutes faster. ... now I just need to get hubby to stay home and watch the other animals for the weekend!