Monday, September 19, 2011

Mouthy Monday Returns!

Heidi the Hick is a talented writer from Canada with a very fun blog. I bumped her up in line a little because she'd like some input on her horse....


When it comes to this little horse, any shred of logic I've ever had disappears.

So I've been really busy this week.

My tiny mare came up lame last weekend. She walked past me Saturday evening totally normal, got a drink at the trough, and came back with her right hind sort of... dangling. She's had her hind legs wrapped up good and tight since then.

And she's walking on it. Trotting and loping too, actually. 

The thing about Copper is that she's been a strange combo of fragile and resilient her whole life. And we are stupefyingly in love with her. She's so cute. Look at her up there. Everything about her is short and compact. We joke that she's got a big head compared to the rest of her, but that big head is little compared to any other horse. I buy stuff for her in the pony section which suits me fine, cuz I buy my clothes in the kid section sometimes. 

The kid section? She belongs to my kids. This summer we've had to finally admit that they have both grown out of her. We knew it would happen. So what? She stays. I'm not outgrowing her. She's got a home for life. If I'm the only person who ever gets on her back from now on, that's fine.

I decided years ago I'd probably not use her in lessons, partly because she is ridiculously sensitive and responsive. I can stop her without touching the reins, just a shift of my weight and a quiet "whoa." She moves from a walk to a jog and back again the same way, just with me shifting my seat. Having an inexperienced rider would frazzle her. She kind of spoiled my kids, having learned to ride with her, because they can't get why every horse isn't like that. I'm not saying she's easy to ride; you have to be on top of every cue or she gets confused. She's so eager to please she almost turns herself inside out get it right for you. But it's not work to ride her.

I'd also not use her for lessons because she's had problems with That Leg before.

I mentioned fragile and resilient.

She's had all kinds of crap to deal with. As a weanling, the other two foals in the herd only let her up to the feeder for leftovers. Last year I figured out that her new bitchy snappy behaviour was due to a stomach ulcer. She got a nail in her hoof a couple years ago and before that had to have stitches in her forehead. (See why I'm paranoid about sharp things???) And before that, when she was a yearling, soon after she arrived at the Ol Homestead here, she had a broken leg.

Yep. Right hind.

We fixed her up the best we could. Our vet couldn't promise anything. We knew that... and decided to keep her anyways. She healed up quite well, and I went ahead and saddle broke her when she was three, always keeping an eye on That Leg. She didn't take a wrong step, although her back end has always been a little... swishy. I don't know how else to describe it. She would probably have a little swagger anyways but it seems like her stride is just a tiny bit shorter on one side. But then, I admit that I am looking for it. Always looking for it.

We have enjoyed nine years with her. She taught my kids to ride, which I would never recommend - young green horse plus little kids? Nooooo! - but under my watchful eye they all thrived together.

For nine years, it never left my mind that she could possibly end up really, terribly lame again. I was always looking for that limp. Time bomb.

All the crap this horse had dealt with, and she just goes with it. She still wants her forehead rubbed. She's always happy to see us.

When Dr Rob the Vet came to look at her on Tuesday, after I'd been wrapping her for a few days, I opted not to do the $200 Xray. What difference does it make if it's cracked or sprained? The treatment is the same: wrap her legs, keep her still as possible, mild exercise, a little bute for painkiller, some mineral ice gel to help with the swelling... and no promises.

I lived over an hour away the first time she was damaged, and had two small kids, and couldn't do much to care for her. Copper got put on stall rest and got walked twice a day, usually by my dad. Dr Glen the Vet was amazed at how this little yearling filly walked at the end of the lead rope with her head level, well behaved after being in her stall all day. I wasn't there: no bandages and no fussing. Now, at the age of ten, I don't know if she'll heal as well as she did then. I'm cautiously optimistic.

I don't wanna talk about that right now. Like I said, cautiously optimistic.

Look at the muscles on this little fart.

If she hadn't been injured, I think she would have been one hell of a competition horse. She is blindingly fast, and can turn on a dime. Just plant one hind hoof and pivot. (Hmmm. Wonder how she hurt herself this time?)

I've been putting her in a stall overnight, with the top of the barn door open so she can get lots of fresh air and see the other two, who are in the corral overnight. During the day, they go in the pasture and she stays in the corral. They have to be in her sight or she'll go berserk. She can't function unless she knows where they are. She'd hurt herself worse if she's left to spin and fret in her stall, worrying about the other two.

This way she can see them, without them pushing her around, and also get some exercise as she walks in the corral.

I make no money with this horse. I can't afford to spend a whole lot on these horses at all but it's especially hard to justify for the little pet here. I don't care. For the cost of a few bags of shavings to bed her stall, I'll stable her at night for stall rest. It doesn't cost anything but time to wrap those legs until I see the limp go away. Maybe it's a stupid priority to keep feeding her when she's not the most useful horse in the herd, when I've got debts to pay and a truck that needs work, a husband who needs to go to the dentist and kids who need to go to college some day. I don't know... My farmer's daughter practicality tells me it's foolish. My foolish heart tells me I can't let her down. She deserves to be taken care of.

...those blinky eyes and brown ears, and that soft pink muzzle...

Oh hell, what's a few hundred bucks a year for a couple hoof trims, a few squirts of dewormer and a rabies shot?

She's priceless.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Me and the Big K

My first glimpse of him was from the distance. I paused on the rutted road to the main barn and stepped out of my truck to wave.

I could just make out three cowboy hats, pushed back on the heads of three people kicked back in the shade of the porch. They all stood and waved back. I recognized the lean, ungainly silhouette of K as he waved me on to the barn. They began to walk down a trail parallel to the road.

I unloaded the horses and took them to a deep, cool, cement watering tank. They buried their noses in the mossy green water and snorted and played while they drank deep. A breeze came down the valley and cooled the back of my neck.

The Big K walked around the corner, his big, welcoming grin was warm and his eyes matched. I was grabbed and hugged hard by his new bride, AKA. From over her shoulder, I could just see the shy grin from K's friend and all around ranch hand, Tyler.I made sure to take his hand and thank the newly returned war vet for his service.

K and I had an awkward moment, he stepped towards me like he thought he should do something.

"I haven't hugged you in all these years, I'm sure not starting now," I said.

The relief on his face was plain, "Oh, thank goodness, I'd hate to break procedure."

"Hi," I told him.

"Hey." We grinned at each other like a couple of gomers."I've got a lesson coming, so you'll have time to get settled in and then we'll go gather."

AKA stuck with me while K and Tyler saddled a couple colts and rode out to the outdoor arena pad to greet the students.

After the horses were settled I had time to admire the huge roomy box stalls and look through K's saddles and training gear. Lots of snaffle bits, a few complete bridles and hackamores and not much more adorned his wall. I admired a beautiful hand braided 1/4 inch bosal and hanger that I hadn't seen before.

"That was a gift," AKA explained, "it's so beautiful we had it hanging in the house, but it looks like it's part of the using equipment now."

She sighed and rubbed a finger on the beginnings of a sweat mark inside the nose piece.

"I think it's even prettier when it shows some use," I said.

"You and K both." She shook her head.

The afternoon sun was beginning to fade when I grabbed Madonna and tied her to the trailer. She screamed and fussed at being separated from her travelling buddy. Odin hollered just as loud and I could hear him causing a ruckus in his stall. The Big K and Tyler headed into the barn to switch horses.

"Buddy sour?" K looked over the back of his colt, nothing but innocent.

"Hey, I'm a non-pro now, so my horses are too, what can I say?"

"Do you need to round pen them before you can ride?" he asked sweetly.


I gave him my best dirty look, finished saddling my squalling brat and swung up. She evened right out and we headed across the road to the arena pad.

My dignity was restored when my mare rode off nice as could be. She was sure and quiet and I gave into the temptation to show off a little. K was riding his futurity colt and did a little showing off himself.

The colt was gorgeous, quiet and calm. He was also deadly talented. Heavily muscled, lean and fit, he flowed past me with an assurance I was never able to put on my three-year-olds. The horse had a confidence I couldn't remember seeing back in the dark old days of the split between me and K.

I settled in to watch as we headed up the mountain to find his herd of cattle. The smell of the trees and lightly sweated horses filled me with their heady aroma. I had missed the serious purpose of horses on the job and the room to relax and let them do their thing.

We pushed cattle out of hiding from thick brush and tree filled gullies, and headed back towards the round pen. K was fretting because we were missing four head, especially when he spotted them in the valley below us, nimbly hopping the cattle guard onto the neighbors property.

"Stinking longhorns," he muttered and then said, "me and Tyler will go after the escapees and you and AKA will have to get the rest penned. They'll try to head back up at the split in the road, but other than that you should be fine."

With that said the guys took off down the hill and left us to handle a group of grumpy heifers with no intention of being part of our cutting practice. It took them awhile to find the missing longhorns, which was a good thing, because it took us a while to convince the cattle we had to get themselves penned. My good little rat terrier, Charlie, remembered how to quietly move a herd of cattle and put himself on point across from me. AKA pushed from the back and they finally meandered their way into the holding pen.

"Should we go ahead and put them in the round pen?" AKA asked. "It would sure make us look good."

I agreed and while AKA held the gate I went to drive the mixed herd of black Angus and Longhorns down the hill and into the pine slab 100 foot round pen. It should have been easy, but one of the stupid (why do we always say stupid when we should be saying, 'smarter than me?') longhorns led the herd straight down the hill and hid in a line of pines butt up against the fence.

Madonna stood at the edge and focused on the cattle. The heifers sneered at us and crowded closer together, surely planning their next snide comments. My intent mare took a step over the side and flicked an ear at me.If she really wanted to play "Man From Snowy River" then I guess I couldn't play the chicken.


Madonna pinned her ears as we slid down the hill and Charlie ran around to stop them from scooting back behind us.With just a few slaps in the teeth from some low hanging branches we kicked the cows into the round pen.

K and Tyler came around the bend with the runaways just as I latched the gate.

"Look K, we penned 'em and are ready to go," AKA said with just a bit of pride showing through.

"No problems?" He asked me.

"Nope," I told him, we both ignored the sweat trickling down my temples and Madonna's flanks and went to cutting.

Later in the evening after stuffing ourselves on ribs and corn we shoved back our chairs and had our first real conversation of the trip.

There wasn't anything of real importance said, but the ease between us was clear, our friendship was back in place. Each of us had come a long way in acceptance and learning what to lay down and what to stand by. I began building the base of a new friendship with AKA, the newest and most important person in his life, and teased Tyler about his right wing leanings.

When dinner was done and we dragged off to bed, I curled up with Charlie and hoped the miles I had put on during the day would fight off my insomnia and give me some sleep. I thought about my friend, the calm and happy place he had found in his life, and the way it reflected in his horses and the people around him.

His barn was filled with well mannered, quiet, healthy horses. I had watched several go during my first day at the ranch and they were sound and solid, both in mind and body. It's so easy to become righteous in our anger and to refuse to allow a second chance. The Big K and I had come so close to losing something important because we are stiffed-necked and defensive people by nature.

When I saw the growth and serenity that had come to him, and therefore to the people and animals around him, I realized he had seen big changes in me too. Changes I wouldn't have known about if I had completely slammed shut the door between us.

I nodded off to the sounds of Montana, grateful for the coming sleep and eager to begin the next day.

We still have big differences. In our opinions and our horse training. If we hadn't given each other this opening we would have missed some serious, positive changes. We would have missed the influence we have on each other and the friendship we will continue to build in the years to come.

So enough of the mushy stuff, next post will be on the glitches in my riding K found and then I'll get the Mort post done and up...promise!

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Big Sky

I was given lots to think about while having way too much fun. For now, I'll be sharing a little of last weeks fun.
I'm also introducing my new invention....the bra cam.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


I am on the road for the first time in too long. I'm in Wyoming at the moment, will be riding with the Big K tomorrow afternoon  in Montana.

Pics for the moment, more to follow, Mort story half written, fodder for posts in the making, bear with me...

I'm in the middle of a wicked single malt, so I can only hope I'm coherent.

Yep, I'm in Wyoming. An eight hour drive and I never turned on the radio....

This is where your horses end up when you don't get your stalls arranged in least in Sheridan.

Tomorrow, Montana and the Big K!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Taking My Time

I may have retired from training, at least within the parameters of the IRS, but I have found I just can't stop.

I guess it's in my bones, this unending hunger to insinuate my thoughts and will into the mind of my horses and to create a desire on their part to do the work I ask of them.

When I first moved my horses to our "retirement home," I had visions of long trail rides, lazy days reading a book creek side while my horses grazed, and going back to the days of my youth, when just hanging out with my horse was enough.

I don't know who I thought I was kidding. When I chose my barn it wasn't coincidence it was run by a family of professional trainers and competitors. My mouth actually watered the first time I kneeled to check the dirt in the beautifully maintained outdoor arena. The ground was deep enough to work cattle in and smooth enough to create a good slide. The owner immediately offered up his cattle for practice, at a price I could actually afford. This was the kind of facility I could get along at.

I continue to work and train the two horses I have left, and now that I've quit trying to force myself into a life of leisure I'm having a great time.

There is a huge difference in my life now, compared to the unending work, hurry and worry of my days as a trainer. I do have days when I sit creek side and simply enjoy watching them graze. It has to be after we've all had a good work out though, or I'm too edgy to relax.

I also go on long trail rides, not as many as I'd like, but enough to see an improvement in the steadiness of my very flighty mare. The colt is a natural trail horse. He's inquisitive and calm, and has a lovely, move it out kind of walk and trot. I still approach the darn things like a training course though. Hills become exercises in collection, we work on giving hips and shoulders as we wind through the trees, and I work on lead changes as we lope through the nature preserve.

I just can't help myself!

What is different is the lack of pressure. I can think and I can allow my horses to think. I can wait for them to sort out the knots I put in front of them and to find the right answer. It's absolutely luxurious.

My mare is eight-years-old and still riding in her hackamore. She is more than ready to step up into the two-rein, but I'm not in a hurry. I've learned so much about using a hackamore and the feel of a horse truly "broke in the face" that it's hard for me to regret being what would be considered way behind on my mare, if I was training for the show pen we wouldn't be able to compete at all. She's too old for the hackamore and because I showed her once in the two-rein she can't go there again.

I don't miss showing, at least part of it. I hated the pressure, the scramble to get and keep clients, the toll it took on my horses. I do miss the show pen, the butterflies in my stomach until I hear the gate close behind me, and then the intense focus and calm I can feel seep through me and into my horse. I miss the feeling of letting my fellow competitors see my horse, the horse I trained for this complex and difficult event.

I also miss the competition. There is a saying in reined cowhorse. You don't compete against each other, you compete with each other. For the most part, I found this to be true. The competition is between you, your horse, the cow and the judge.I was coached, assisted, joked with and teased by my fellow competitors. Once I stuck it out long enough to show I was serious the other trainers became friendly and supportive. The friendliness stayed once I crawled my way into placing once in a while and became more than cannon fodder.

What I miss most of all is watching a good, finished bridle horse in his work. Being able to see the horses ridden and/or trained by the best in my field and taking notes, what do I like, what don't I like, where are my holes, how are my horses stacking up?

All this being said my time off has opened some incredible doors. I can spend days thinking of ways to work Madonna's sticky right rib.

The hackamore becomes less mysterious and more of an amazing tool as time goes on. The holes in my riding have become much clearer now that I have time to analyze and I'm picking away at myself on problems I would have called insurmountable not too many years ago.

My mare is becoming more correct, more athletic, and best of all, calm and happy in her work. Our lines are straight and our lead changes clean. She doesn't become fired up or anxious when we go to cattle, she becomes thoughtful and calm.

I'm beginning to think the biggest problem with professional training is time. It takes years to develop a good horse and rider. 5, or 10 or 20 or 50. It can't be done in days. Not 60, not 90, not 120. What's the answer? I'm not sure.

I just know I'm grateful my life has forced me to take stock, take time and slow the heck down.