Jun 27, 2008

My Dream Horse

Windy was born May 26, 2002. Her dam was John’s grade mare, Ginger and her sire was my friend's Pitzer bred stud, Watch Creek Starr. I was so new into horses that I didn’t realize this wasn’t the smart thing to do – to breed a grade mare that could never have a foal registered. I was just excited to have a foal from our good mare!

Windy was named appropriately, as she hit the ground on a very windy day! I recall looking out to the corral, not expecting her for a few weeks, and seeing a cute, bay foal barely standing in the wind; born among the herd. Unlike the other foals born here that year, she was friendly from the get-go and easy to handle. I do, however, recall she left a pretty hoof mark bruise on my thigh one day when she was in play and I didn’t dodge her fast enough!

This was in the day when we had “too many horses.” And we did. I was trying to calm an irritated husband by downsizing, when a friend of a friend offered to buy Windy. It was after the first of the year, I recall, so I guess she was a yearling, but not yet weaned. We met the new owner & rode for a bit, Windy trailing behind Ginger. When it was time to leave, Ginger was loaded in our trailer & Windy in another; being sent to her new home. My heart was broken; I hated to even look in Ginger’s eyes.

I never saw Windy again until the fall of her two-year-old year. I was in awe of how beautifully she had grown up; even thought about offering to trade Gunner for her, my colt by the same sire who was the same age. My heart still ached. At this time, the kids were riding Blue and Mikey. I’d sold Maxi, I’d sold Purdy, I’d sold Bo, and Gunner wasn’t broke. The old mare, Daisy, was just that -- too old. I was in need of a horse. But I wanted a trained horse. An easy horse. Windy had barely been started! And she wasn't for sale that I knew of. It wasn't long after when a friend offered to sell me her appaloosa gelding they weren't using anymore. Jo was trained and of a good age. He seemed to be what I was looking for and came to live with us.

I think choosing a horse is like choosing a friend or a husband. You have to mesh with the horse; have to want to be with the horse. You have to feel a bond. I’m not sure how that bond comes about – but you know when it’s there and you know when it not. No matter how hard I tried, I did not have that bond with Jo. It felt too much like an arranged marriage. When another friend was looking to lease a horse that rides and drives, I offered Jo to her.

It was an emotional day when she came to get Jo and it had nothing to do with him. I remember standing at the barn on crutches, my foot in a cast from an accident the previous weekend. My heart was once again broken as we had just lost Gunner in a pasture accident a few days prior. I assured my friend the loss of Gunner didn’t change the lease agreement. I told her I was still "looking for my dream horse” and Jo wasn’t it. I didn’t know then how close I was to finding her.

A few weeks later I saw Windy on the trails. Although in the same group of friends, she was owned by someone else. I watched her. I sat on her. I took pictures of her next to Ginger. I wanted her back. And it wasn't long before I got the phone call that she was for sale and I was given the first opportunity to buy her back. I had to have her back.

She originally came back to us as “John’s horse” – a “wifely manipulation” to hasten the sale, but in my heart of hearts, she was mine. Years ago, John had given me the title to his MG convertible as a birthday present. A few weeks after Windy was safely in my pasture, I offered John the car title back in exchange for Windy. He easily agreed. It wouldn’t have been necessary -- he knew... And now I knew MY horse would never be sold again.

As that summer progressed, my cast was off my ankle and I was riding again. Windy wasn’t an easy horse. I’d never had a mare as my primary horse before & she brought along a little attitude that was unlike any horse I rode before. Not scary, really. She was sassy, a bit uppity, but also showed me a lot of warmth. The old saying “you have to discuss it with a mare” was evident. There were a lot of “discussions” and challenges. But I was eager to trudge on. Actually, I decided my horse buying days were over and money would be spent making her the horse I wanted. I engaged in the help of a trainer to bring her to another level. Riding lessons helped me get there as well. Together, we progressed.

This is our 4th year on the trail together. As in any relationship, we’ve had what seemed like hours of frustration and moments of elation! She can be lazy and moody one minute and then show spirit and courage the next. She can be high maintenance and a bit of a princess. I’ve loved her and hated her at the same time. I have forgiven her things that I wouldn't have a better or lesser horse. I have given her an education as she has given me. I have hugged her neck in excitement and wiped tears in that same mane. And we have shared more time together and traveled more trails together than any other horse I have ever owned. We have come together as a team and share trust and respect. I finally found my dream horse, my friend. And she was mine from the start.

~Written June 2008

Jun 24, 2008


“I am never getting on a horse again!” shouted my friend, Kathy Newberg following our eight hour ride to and from Harney Peak. “Until tomorrow, “ she added. I felt exactly the same way. The trail ride up to Harney Peak was beautiful, treacherous, breathtaking, challenging and by far the most awesome trail I have ever been on. From the views of the Black Hills from 7,200 feet to the snow we found in the canyons on our way up, it was like no trail I ever traveled. And as blue as the sky looks in the pictures, in real life, it is even bluer. Harney Peak, I learned, is the highest point this side of the Rockies. When looking down from above, I never knew my eyes could see so far.

As the horses rested at the top of Harney Peak, I stared at them in awe. We took them out of their environment, trailered those horses over 500 miles and asked them to do what we ourselves couldn’t: climb to the top of a mountain! And carry us they did! Our flatlanders took us up over 2,000 feet for about 8 miles in unfamiliar territory on terrain they were not accustomed to traveling. And if that weren’t enough, they took us back down that mountain. And we thought it was hard on us! What amazing creatures!

My sons are finally starting to appreciate the beauty of the country from the back of a horse. It warmed my heart to hear them say such things like “oh my gosh, look at that!” or “isn’t that beautiful!” And McCain said he can’t wait to go back! Although I chronicled our vacation on my blog, it wasn’t until after I got home and had a chance to look at the pictures, that I realized how blessed we are to be less than 12 hours from the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Later in the week, our horses walked into the barn at Ft. Robinson near Crawford, their shoes clinking on the brick floor, not unlike the 12,000 horses that populated Ft. Robinson in the early part of the 20th century. And as we were riding through the buttes with the Messicks, Brenda kept commenting that she felt like we were in an old western movie. And it did. You half expected someone to be watching you from above. What a history our own state holds. And it’s great to explore from the back of your horse!

I’m so glad I can share these memories with my sons. I’m pretty sure they will tell their kids what we saw along the trails. (And that they slept on cots in the livestock part of the horse trailer, too!) I hope they appreciate that we gave them the opportunity to experience this piece of Americana in a way that is uncommon to other tourists… from the backs of our own horses.

See pictures of the trip: http://horsetrailriders.com/vac07.htm

Jun 23, 2008

Pictures from the Trip

Outriders Trail Head at http://pets.webshots.com/album/574912381yFmzPQ

Harney Peak at http://pets.webshots.com/album/574911579CIVYYS

Deerfield Lake at Hat Mountain at http://pets.webshots.com/album/574914078EFNaSW and  http://pets.webshots.com/album/574913071ELZuYb

Fort Robinson (to be added soon)

Day 9 - The End of the Road

“This is no longer a vacation, this is a quest!” And the quest was almost over and I was looking forward to a quiet ride home. We hooked up the trailer, loaded the horses, cleaned the stalls, and left the Fort at exactly 8:22 AM MT. We have a car game that we play where we all guess our ETA. I guessed that we would pull into our yard at 5:08 PM CT. The kid’s guesses were in that neighborhood because they know I have an uncanny knack for always being either right on my guess or within minutes. John wasn’t quite as optimistic and said 7:00 PM. With the 2-way radio on for frequent chit chat with Kathy & Rich, we turned south down Hwy 71 heading for Hwy 2.

We knew the first hill would be hard. But with our newly repaired truck, were not anticipating any problems. But John found it strange that we were not picking up any speed to attempt the hill and we were on the flat. I radioed to our friends that we were pulling over before we hit that hill. The hood was popped open, John and Rich in deep conversation. Some adjustments made and we were on the rode again.

Remember that children’s story about the little engine that could? “I think I can, I think I can!”…. I kept that it mind as we chugged up the hill, the long hill, the never ending hill. The hill from hell. Dear God, let there be no other hills like this! We made it. But this was just the start of our journey. With 50 MPH as our max speed and dropping to 35 MPH on hills, the 5:08 ETA looked harrowing.

What was wrong on the truck and wasn’t it fixed? Listening to Rich & John talk about engine stuff is like listening to Charlie Brown’s teacher. But evidently the dump thing-a-ma-jigger on the turbo wasn’t working right. As we chugged along, we reviewed our options – and not in any particular order:

1) Continue as we were, knowing we will get home late
2) Call the truck dealership in Weston to see if they would rent us a truck & send one of John’s workers out to meet us and pull the trailer home or call (a list of many) friends or neighbors to head out to meet us with their truck & pull our trailer home.
3) Drop trailer and horses at John’s cousins in Arthur.
4) Drop trailer and horses at a place offered by some good samaritans near Hyannis who had stopped to offer assistance

The lack of cell coverage made most of these options unavailable at the time, so we kept on going. Deryle and Nadine came up behind us and at the next fuel stop, offered to take Blue to help us lesson our load. Although thankful, John declined; he didn’t think the weight of one horse (though he does have a fat arse) would made that much difference. I truly think Nadine just wanted to steal Blue! (I’m kidding!) We truly appreciated their support but told them to continue home; we were going to continue to do the same. Nadine left us with a big bag of popcorn which came in so handy when John started to tire at the wheel. When the popcorn didn’t help, John and I did something we haven’t done since high school. Switched drivers while driving.

We headed down Hwy 2. The GPS recorded one stretch at an average of 39.2 MPH -- it was very hilly. Kathy and Rich had taken Case with them, so we didn’t have children bickering to add to the stress. McCain laid down on the back seat and slept. As we neared Broken Bow, we told Kathy & Rich to go on ahead so they had time to get something to eat and we would catch up with them.

At Broken Bow, I pulled into the diesel lane but had to go through and turn around due to the position of the pumps. I made a big circle, did a little backing to position myself and just as I was ready to head in, some little SOB in a ½ ton red truck with 20 county plates zoomed in front of me and took that pump. We had been driving close to 200 miles at non-warp speed and my nerves were shot. Although my friends can attest that I have a bit of the rage when driving, I have never acted on it. I jumped out of the truck and chewed on that man’s arse for being so inconsiderate. I am pretty sure John wanted to disappear from my little road rage episode, but I felt damn good about it! I only wish Case had been with us – he loves when I get fired up at telemarketers – he would have had a heyday with this one!

After fueling (5.45 MPG average), we begged our good friends, Rich and Kathy, to go on home. That we would be fine. That we were close enough to home that if anything happened; we have people we could call. Again, they would not leave us. Rich’s mantra was “we came together, we go home together”. They went above and beyond the call of duty! And I love them for it.

After the detour by Clarks, John took over the wheel again. About 70 miles and we would be home. Our new ETA was about 8:30 PM. When we hit the flat area, John even shifted into overdrive and the truck moved out at 55 MPH! We were elated.

“Oh $#!^”, I hear John say exactly 4 miles west of David City on Hwy. 92. "What!?" (He has a tendency to draw out the drama and leave me hanging. He is shutting the truck down and coasting over. The oil gauge has went crazy; it shows 0 for oil pressure! We are 25 miles from home.

Rich and John are once again in Charlie Brown teacher language mode checking dip sticks and discussing quarts…. Its not good. There is no oil. It’s gone. From what I can gather, its just worked to hard and drank it – again, I am sooo not mechanically inclined and sooo bored with the conversation. Does the truck run? No. That’s all I need to know. I start making phone calls.

The first call was to our neighbor a couple miles away. His wife answered and Dave was home but out to the barn. I told her what was wrong and to just check to see if Dave had a gooseneck hitch in his truck before calling him in. She looked and said “no”, just the bumper hitch. I told her not to worry him & if I needed him to come with his bumper pull stock trailer, I would call them back.

My second call was to Kragh Johnson – those on the Platte River Riders may know Kragh and his wife, Shirley, as they ride mules. Yes, Kragh would come and pull our trailer home. John called a buddy in David City and had him bring oil.

We had it under control and I really wanted Kathy and Rich to continue on. They took our boys and we parted ways as the sun was setting. All I can say is what an incredible couple they are and dedicated friends. They went above and beyond the call of duty and I will never forget that. (And they will probably NEVER vacation with us again! LOL!)

At about 10:30 PM, Kragh pulled our trailer into the yard, unloaded our horses to the delight of the “B” team herd! We were home. We were singing Zippity Do Da out our a$$ because we are so blessed! I am so blessed.

I am so blessed because despite the inconvenience of mechanical failures of truck, electrocution of the trailer, missing horseshoes, flat tires, hail storms and lightning… I had an awesome vacation with my husband (who worked harder than he vacationed), our boys and our friends. My horses were tested and true as were friendships. We came back healthy and our horses came back healthy and we have great memories of our nine-day quest. I can’t wait to do it again!

Day 8

John went to the barn early to feed. He mentioned that Butter was pretty nerved up. “Side passing” back and forth in her stall, he said. “Stall weaving”, I said. We don’t stall our horses and I am pretty sure she wasn’t stalled with the previous owner. She wasn’t out the day before, so probably a bit claustrophobic. I had planned to ride her on the morning ride, so really wasn’t too worried. Until I opened her stall!

She was a handful! Took her out to lunge her and had a hard time even leading her. A lot of bucking and jumping on the lunge line. Even after “whoaing”, she would again take off. I’m sure in the Parelli world, this could be described as “whatever” brained – the bad one! Lead her around and just let her graze and relax. I knew she wasn’t 100% down, but decided to saddle her and go from there. Lunged a bit with the saddle on and decided to go for it. As soon as I mounted, she high-tailed it for the barn. One reined her, but she would stop the forward motion, rear up and move sideways. It went from bad to worse and at the first opportunity to safely do so, I dismounted.

I had already decided I wouldn’t ride her – I was pretty shaken, as she has never frightened me before. But I also didn’t want to leave on that note. Dave was kind enough to come over; help me back on and lead me around. And then he rode her and got pretty much the same reaction I did. While he continued to work her, I went and got Windy out. Still shaken, Brenda helped me saddle. Once mounted on my very best horse, I relaxed. We had a nice ride in the buttes again with about a dozen friends; the riders in our group were as young as 8 years old to mid-70’s. All demonstrating fabulous horsemanship skills!

We were fortunate enough to come upon the big horn sheep (are they sheep or goats?) We were careful to be quiet so our group could all see them and get pictures. The horses were pretty high headed and big eyed over these “new” creatures. We continued on down the trail. Had the opportunity to do some pretty nice climbs high above the Fort.

On the way back, those same sheep (or goats?) were on the trail. This time, they didn’t want to move and the horses weren’t sure they wanted to continue past them. Kathy Newberg did her best “scat sheep” sounds to get them moving. Definitely would have been a sound clip worth hearing! The day was the warmest so far; we returned to camp after a four-hour ride.

John and I later went back out. He rode Butter and I took Blue and ponied Ginger. Butter was a little feisty at first, but demonstrated none of the disrespect she had shown that morning. Once out in the field, we let Ginger lose from the lead and she trotted quietly next to Butterscotch as we rode about a mile.

The entire trip, I missed one thing. A campfire. It had been too chilly or wet the previous evenings. So John made me a campfire and enjoyed the evening chatting with those who stopped by.

I lost Case. When I returned to the trailer, he told me he and his new buddy were heading to the cabin and would be right back. A half hour later & nearing 11:00, he hadn’t returned. The lost was found within 10 minutes, thank goodness. Our campground was full of friends – he was in good hands.

With the newly repaired truck, courtesy of $187 and the Chevy dealership in Chadron, we were ready to pull out on Sunday morning – the end of our nine-day vacation…. Or “quest”.

Jun 21, 2008

Day 7

John left for Crawford at about 8 this morning in a quest to find a repair shop. After 9 stops in Crawford and Chadron, he finally found a Chevy dealership that will work on it Saturday morning. We may make it home yet!

Left the kids sleeping and hitched a ride to the barn with Robyn. Saddled Windy and waited with the group that was taking the lower ride. (I wanted to save the bluff ride for when John returned.) Departed the barn with Suzanne (Anita’s friend) as our trail boss and about a dozen riders. Rode the lower pastures and out to the lake. It was a pretty ride with a couple of water crossings and on the scale of 1 to 10 in difficulty, definitely a 1! Kept looking to the buttes and hoping to get a ride out that direction soon. We returned to the barn after about 2.5 hours.

Visited with friends in the afternoon and when John returned, we headed back out with Brenda and Tom Messick to climb the buttes. I rode Blue on this ride. Anita gave us great directions as we climbed the high trails to nearly 4900 feet. The horses handled the climbs like a pro and the views were incredible. At one time, we saw a group of riders far below us. Through binoculars, we could identify most of the horses. Surprised to learn when we returned that they had seen John on the butte above them, as well.

Brenda saw a rattlesnake. And she had to tell me about it! Over and over again! Ergh! Just glad it was her that saw it and not me.

We took an incredibly steep trail off the butte’s that was by far the most challenging I have seen here. Blue dropped down on his hindquarters and maneuvered it well. By this time, the storm clouds had rolled in (do you see a theme going here?) and once off the hills, we had to high tail it back to camp! What a rush!

The rains came and the temps dropped. But by 8:00, the sky cleared and we were able to have our Horsetales Pot Luck Dinner. Someone counted 52 people! How cool that something we planned in the fall of 2007 has finally came to fruition successfully! It was good to share the evening with everyone.

Day 6

Awoke to hail beating against the trailer about 2:20 AM! The picnic table was covered with hail; almost looked like snow cover. Saw Rich out trying to get the hail off his awning. And thought of the horses in their outdoor stalls being pelted by marble sized hail. What did we get them into?

The sun was shining brightly when we got up. The hail from the awning still on the ground as we made a traditional breakfast of bacon and eggs. Started to tear down camp hoping that the truck part would be in by noon and we would be on our way by late afternoon. John noticed the trailer had a flat tire – what else could go wrong? Rich and Cheryl of Deerfield Lake Resort were kind enough to allow us to stay until we got the final truck prognosis.

John morning quest was to put epoxy on Windy’s shoe to where the hoof had chipped to help secure the shoe and reset Butter’s. He started by pulling them out of the wet corral and tying them to the hitching post and drying them off. John is becoming quite good at this farrier stuff. Both the horses were reshod and ready to go.

Ginger wasn’t herself this morning; she wasn’t eating her hay and just generally seemed a little (for lack of better word) “pissed off”. I think she was tired of being cold and wet every night and the hail was the final straw. Cheryl told me to let her graze over by their shed, so I brought her out and she quickly cleaned up the area. It put her back in a better state of mind, I think.

Kathy, Rich and I saddled up and headed for Hat Mountain. We were told this is the second highest peak to Harney! It was a gorgeous ride up through the pine and aspen trees. Also a lot of the area has been logged. The horses slowly climbed the 6800 feet to Hat Mountain. The sky was bluer than blue – the clouds made for awesome pictures.

When we reached the top, we took our obligatory pictures and took in the view from all directions. Paradise.

Upon return to camp, John was back, no part to be had. Load up and head out on a wing and a prayer. We departed Deerfield Lake Resort and started our climb up the first hill at 12 mph in 4WD low. And we made it. At one point, John told the kids to settle down; be quiet because we just “never know when the truck will blow!” Case was very quiet for a long while & then at one point told me he said a decade of the rosary. I asked why and he said he was scared of the truck exploding! He too the “blow” literally! Poor guy!

After driving for quite a while in yet another major thunderstorm, we arrived safe and sound at Ft. Robinson at about 10:30 PM MT on Thursday, June 20. Ginger proudly walked into Barn 106 and was bedded down in her stall that guaranteed her no rain, no hail and no cold. I could almost sense her satisfaction.

Day 5

After I wrote yesterday’s blog, John and the kids returned from fishing. When Case opened the trailer door, he got zapped with electricity! I thought he was exaggerating and just perhaps pinched himself, but shortly thereafter, McCain turned on the tack room light from the outside of the trailer and got zapped, too! What the heck!? To get us through the very cold night, we switched the lights to battery and plugged the space heater directly into the electrical site. Add trailer wiring to our list of woes.

We awoke to rain and hail beating on the trailer. Hoping the afternoon would clear up, we went into Hill City to take Hi-Ho to the repair shop, ate breakfast in town and picked up hay. A part needs to be ordered, so we brought it back. By noon, the sun had come up and we saddled and headed over to Deerfield Lake.

Today was by far the warmest day; probably in the low eighties. All the extra jackets and raingear stayed tied to our saddles. Windy’s repaired rear shoe held up for the entire ride even though this would have been one ride that we could probably have done barefoot for the most part. Unfortunately, right before the end of the ride, Butter lost a front shoe. We were making a climb, and we assume she overreached and pulled it off. We found the shoe as soon as it happened. Dog gone it!

As I mentioned the trails was pretty moderate terrain wise. The horses settled in nicely for what was to be a twelve-mile ride. Ginger had her uppity moments. I wish she and John could find a way to come to terms with those times. Both are pretty bull headed! We rode in some forest area and then along the lake for some magnificent views. The sky was an awesome blue with plenty of clouds.

We stopped high upon a peak to break for snack. There were boats below us that kept the horses’ attention. I think I got some really cool pictures of my herd looking toward the lake, head and ears held high. At one time, Windy saw a herd of cattle. She watched them for a while and then started trotting in their direction. I quickly caught Blue and Butter so she wouldn’t have “partners in crime”. When she realized she was on her own, she came trotting back up the hill.

We rode hills high above the lake and then down in the fields surrounding with plenty of water crossings. The pine trees provided a beautiful backdrop for the trail. We saw a lone elk eating in the sunshine. She noticed us, but was undisturbed.

One area of the trail was closed due to nesting season for eagles. We had to detour around. Took a picture of what I thought was an eagle in flight, but still not sure. We’re told they are plentiful in this area.

Rode back in after five hours. Horses still had plenty of energy to move quickly that last stretch into the campground. The owners of the campsite met us at the stable area, anxious to hear how our ride went. Once again, Blue garnered the most attention. Sheryl said we could most definitely leave him with her! He is a good boy and was a perfect partner for McCain today.

Groomed the horses & put them back in their stalls with hay and water. Returned to the trailer for Colorado Pork chops which were cooking in the crock-pot all day (hooked directly to the electrical post!)

Tomorrow we take the truck back to the shop for the part. Hoping to get a few hours ride while repairs are being done. Guess I’ll earn more Cabela’s points on the Cabela’s card as no doubt repairs won’t come cheap! Will probably be at Ft. Rob in late afternoon at best.

Day 4

The good, the bad and the ugly….

A mixed day. After eight hours on the trail yesterday, we were looking forward to a shorter ride to Mt. Rushmore today. To make a long story short, we had only planned to ride TO Mt. Rushmore, have one of our trucks waiting for us in the overflow parking lot & then head out to our next destination, Deerfield Lake. However, we found out the parking lot we planned to park in was closed, so we would have another 8-hour day. We decided to load up early and head to Deerfield to ride.

The good. Woke up to a gorgeous, sunny day. Warm temps, no humidity. Fed horses and then tore down camp. Drove over to “the heads”; took pictures where we have taken them the two times we have visited before. It will be fun to see how the kids have grown since the last time we were here.

The bad. As we were loading up horses, noticed Windy was losing a rear shoe. (Have I mentioned how much I hate shoeing horses?) Decided there were enough nails in it to hold until we get to the next camp. Headed out for our 30-minute drive.

The ugly. As we left Hill City, we started to climb some monster hills. The Hi-Ho’s temp gauge started creeping up, but would return to normal on the decent. The last hill – 2 miles from our destination – seemed to take forever. The temperature gauge hit an all-time high with smoke coming out of the hood. We could only pull over. Kathy & Rich said they would go unhook and come back for us. But there was no way we could unhook the trailer on the incline that we were on. I was ready to saddle Blue, Ginger & Butter and ride them in; figured with less weight, we had a better chance of getting in. John added water and the temps started to drop. Decided to try to make the top without overheating & if we did, we were home free. We were. Coasted into camp at about 1:00, not sure if we will ever be able to leave!

Settled the horses in and had lunch. Kathy, Rich, McCain and I decided to explore the area while John worked on the truck and Windy’s shoe. What a sport that husband of mine is! I held Windy while John did a repair job on her shoe. Then saddled Butter and McCain took Blue and we headed out to the trails around Deerfield Lake. Beautiful trails, lots of pine trees. The trails weren’t well marked; never did find the one we were looking for, but found another one and we weren’t picky. Very easy riding and you could ride a barefoot horse here pretty easy. The owner said there are elk, deer and mountain lion (oh, my!) in the region. The only wildlife we saw was whitetail deer. Kathy steered me around a snake, thank heavens! There was a running creek along the trail; the sound of nature at its best.

Butter was pretty full of herself! Surprised she had any energy at all after an eight-hour ride yesterday! Such a different ride than Windy and she definitely made me work for it.

About an hour out, the sky started to turn dark and there was thunder in the distance. A few raindrops started coming down and we decided we had better head back. The rain started coming a little steadier, so we moved into a trot and Kathy and Rich into a fox trot behind us. Before long, we were on a nice surfaced lake road and moved into a fast-extended trot, which Kathy told me later, they had to canter occasionally to keep up. McCain and I quickly opened and closed the three gates we had come through. At the last gate, Kathy and Rich told us to ride on ahead and they would catch up, so we kept our trot going all the way into camp. I really don’t think I have ever trotted that long, but it felt good. Butter has a trot you can sit no matter what speed. I noticed McCain was trying to post with Blue. Wasn’t doing a bad job at it, but did say he had a side ache. Would have liked to have moved into a lope, but wasn’t sure how far we had to go and knew they could keep pace at a trot. Rich’s GPS said we did over 5 miles, so we figured we trotted close to two of those 5.

Blue is getting a lot of attention this trip. Many people have commented about the “big black horse” and surprised to find he is 100% quarter horse! I love watching McCain and Blue, together again! What a team. I can’t believe I almost didn’t bring Blue. Of all of our horses, he is just made for stuff like this!

Made it back to our trailer and sat under the awning as it rained and then spit out pea sized hail. There seems to be a theme here. But as I sit here now, the sky couldn’t be bluer. The boys and John are fishing in Deerfield Lake and I am enjoying the peace and quiet of the vacation.

I am still in a sweatshirt and coat. I wish I had brought more sweatshirts. I am trying to remember if we were here in June or July last time. I’m thinking late June and it wasn’t this chilly. I’m not complaining… prefer these cooler temps to heat and humidity!

Tomorrow, we are planning a longer ride around the lake. There are about 75 miles of trail, so we can eat on the ride. If Windy’s shoe doesn’t hold, we will pull off the backs and call it good. I can take the milder trails at Ft. Rob or ride Blue if I need to.

The campground here, Deerfield Lake Resort, is nice. Small grassy campsites with full hookups. Once again, I am surprised we are using them for heat instead of A/C! This place is privately owned and small; the wife is a horse person. There are only 2 other horse people camping. the rest are RV or tent campers here for a family reunion. The owner was very helpful, working with John on the truck repairs and letting him use his garage.

Prognosis of Hi-Ho? Who knows. We have an appointment at a repair shop in the morning. John is hopeful that minor repairs will get us out of South Dakota. Once we hit the flatlands, he is sure we can make it home. Hi-Ho is only used for recreational purposes – pulling a trailer. He has to do his job and I can’t afford a replacement recreational vehicle. So another tank of gas & back on the road again! (Name that song!).

Jun 17, 2008

Day 3

Alls well that ends well.

At this moment, I am in my flannel pants and sweatshirt sitting in the trailer instead of around the campfire. Its 10:00 PM and darn chilly outside yet! The kids just came back from running around with the other RV park kids and have reluctantly settled in for the night.

The rains let up after about a ½ hour. Our horses were chilled; visibly shaking. We didn’t bring stable blankets and wouldn’t have had any water proof ones anyway. We took our sweat scrapers and got the water off them. Hand grazed them while the sun started to come out. I was sure glad I had the fleece riding breeches I had packed on impulse!

We saddled up about 2 hours later than planned, but nothing that would set us back for the day. A group from Iowa was also saddling. Probably close to a dozen or more horses at this stable area. One of the KOA employees came down with a skid loader to work on cleaning the manure dump. Truly, I didn’t even notice he was there; kind of immune to the noise of a loader as we use one. As John & I were walking Windy & Ginger back to the pens after saddling, so we could fetch Blue & Butter, that skid loader started banging the bucket on the top of a huge roll-off. Ginger spun to see what was above her. Windy literally started bucking on the lead! The first thing that crossed my mind was she was bucking at the rear cinch; took a moment to realize it was that skid loader bucket. The poor KOA guy had a dozen horse people yelling at him to “shut it down, shut it down”. Seemed like all of our horses had quite a moment over that!

Today’s destination was Harney Peak. The maps were kind of confusing; one said 8.8 miles while another one said 6 miles. So it was anyone’s guess. I set my GPS so I could watch the mileage & elevation. The terrain was rough; very rocky and a lot of places the horses literally had to step up. The horses (and kids) handled it very well. I was in awe of the beauty. The smells. The lack of litter. Either people truly respect this land or the Forest Service has a heck of a maintenance budget!

Our first stop was in some rock formations like none we had ever seen. You walked thru a tunnel into a little cove area. The horses stood quietly and rested as we explored this little canyon; took a lot of pictures. We figured we were probably 1/3 of the way to Harney.

The trail took us along the outer side of the mountain with views to die for! A few times the kids would dismount and go look “over the edge”. The horses welcomed these breaks from the climbs. The trails were well designed with plenty of switchbacks to lessen the severity of the climb, but it was work none-the-less. We didn’t push them; took plenty of breaks and rested when needed.

About 4 hours later and 5.3 miles traveled, we arrived at Harney Peak. They provide tie-offs for the horses & then our walk to the top begins! Made me appreciate the work the horses did to get us to this point. The views from the top were incredible; “breathtaking” is cliché, but fitting. We had our lunch while there; gave the horses about a 45-minute break & then started our descent down a different trail. It was longer, but considered “moderate” on the map compared to the “difficult” one we just got off of. At first there were some very steep stair steps the horses had to jump down with both feet. My stomach was a little nervous on the first few and then Windy found her rhythm and we made it down without incident. Where the first trail was rocky and steep, this one followed a creek; the switchbacks were a lot of rock slabs, but also some less rocky trails as well.

About 5 miles into the return trip, Windy was getting irritable with the rest of the herd. We had fallen in 4th for most of the ride; sometimes bringing up the rear. Very respectful in her place. But now, my little mare was getting cranky. A couple times I caught her trying to bite Butter’s tail or giving “the look” to whatever horse was behind us. We moved out into the front & she quickly picked up a 3.8 mph pace. I think she was just tired of being in the group & wanted to stretch a bit. I could relate; my mother hat was slipping in about the 6th hour, too.

We made it back to camp just as the string horses were being returned to pasture, so we got to follow the herd. The GPS showed 7.7 miles return trip. We’d been on the trail for 8 hours.

Never once did I take off my jacket. And under it I had a sweatshirt and t-shirt on. Many times I put on my riding gloves and ear band. John was cussing that he didn’t bring his “Elmer Fudd” wool cap. But you know, I would rather have the temps as they were today than hot and humid. It was a lot easier on the horses and on us.

Ginger had a superficial cut on the pastern & Blue had a gall sore under his front leg. It wasn’t under the cinch but where his leg made contact with the cinch when he stepped. I doctored him up tonight and will keep it medicated the rest of the trip.

Tomorrow we leave for Deerfield Lake Resort. The weather promises to be….. well, anyone’s guess! Wish us luck!

Jun 16, 2008

Day 2

We arrived at our campground in South Dakota in mid-afternoon. The trip was hard on ol’ “Hi-Ho Silver” aka our truck. With four horses and a ½ dozen bales of hay – not to mention living items for 9 days, pulling those hills took all of the power the one-ton has and more. Just as we thought we needed to pull over as the temperature gauge was maxing out, we started to descend. And although we put new brakes on the trailer, we are starting to hear some noise from the rear brakes on Hi-Ho.

The first two days we are staying at the Palmer Gulch Stables associated with the Mt. Rushmore KOA. We chose this location because of its close proximity to the trails heads going to Harney Peak and Mt. Rushmore; two places we planned to ride. Its an RV park at its best and unlike any horse camp we have ever stayed. Our horse trailers are in-line with huge $100,000 motor homes with slide-outs and satellite dishes.

We are at the end of the park and the horse stables are right across the way. Our horses have a large pen that they share; Rich and Kathy opted for individual corrals for their horses as they don’t house well together. Next to the corrals is the pasture for the Palmer Gulch rental string. When their 50 head were returned to pasture after the day yesterday, our horses were sure big eyed watching them come running through to the pasture!

The kids are in paradise as this RV USA has a ton of things for them to do. There is swimming, volleyball, hot tubbing, biking and a trampoline along with other kids to play with. We had them help clean out the trailer after unloading the horses & then they were off, periodically checking in before making another run to some other place. There is wireless internet here, but I can’t get a connection. I was able to connect to Sprint long enough to publish to the blog yesterday, but lost the connection before I could read emails. My Alltel phone has “no service”. Odd with this being such a tourist area that there is no service.

It was very chilly here last night. I had my ear band on and a coat as we ate supper. When we made reservations in a full service campsite, we were sure we would be running our air conditioner, but instead, ran a space heater all night. Weird weather indeed! We didn’t bring blankets for the horses; John said they were shivering this morning.

As I was making coffee this morning, I saw the trail string horses being taken to the stable. There were probably 50 of them lead by one wrangler and another wrangler bringing up the tail.
We didn’t ride after arrival; we have two big days planned; so spent the time setting up camp. It gave the horses a nice break after the long ride here and the long rides planned in upcoming days. Today we plan to ride 18 miles round trip today. We are at 5,000 elevation right now and plan to ride to over 7,000 later today. If the weather cooperates.

With leads me to the bad news. South Dakota has a Big Fat Lying Weatherman, too! Today was to be 70 degrees and sunny with a 20% chance of rain. It is not yet 7:00 AM and the sky is dark and rumbling of thunder. I’m holding out hope that it is passing by, but without internet or radar, I just can’t tell. We’ll tune into Rich weather radio in a few minutes. And as I am typing, the rains have begun. Banging down hard on the trailer. Oh, &$*(#&$()! Now there is hail with severe lightning. I can’t call Kathy’s trailer because there is no blasted cell service. So no clue what the weather today holds. Nothing but shear frustration at this moment….

Jun 15, 2008

Day 1

There was no cell coverage at the Outriders Trail Head south of Chadron. No Alltel, no Sprint, no bars to be had. And I didn’t miss it…

We left home at 8:47 AM Saturday morning. Headed down Hwy. 92 toward St. Paul. Detoured a mile north of 92 at Hwy 30, due to surface damage, but just took us 2 miles out of the way. No biggy. Met our traveling companions, Rich & Kathy Newberg, in St. Paul. Fueled up and back on the road. Had 90 items listed on a piece of paper for an “I Spy” game. A little friendly competition between the Newberg truck & ours. At last count, they are still in the lead.

About 9 hours and $235 of fuel later, we reached Chadron at about 4:30 local time. Our best mileage was 7.62 MPG and worse was 6.44 MPG. That I am sure is a result of following some morons through the hill country that could not hold their speed or let us pass. But I digress….

The Outriders Trail Head is managed by the National Forest Service & is located just north of Chadron State Park. It is free to overnight, offering some well-constructed corrals and running water for the horses. We unloaded the horses and set up cots for the kids. John and the boys hiked up the hills. Had a light dinner when they returned. Jerry Schumacher, formerly of the Forest Service & who has been active with the recent Forest Service letter drive, stopped by to visit for about an hour. Watched the moon rise, the night cooled & we hit the sack about 10:30 PM listening to a distant peacock crow (do they crow or sing?)

The night was crisp. We were wondering if we shouldn’t have brought a space heater although without power, it wouldn’t have helped us this particular night. Once out in the sun, the day we warmed up. Pretty sure the temps were in the low 70’s and no humidty. We saddled up and rode the trails above the camp to the Black Hills lookout point. If Ft Rob trails are anything like this – which is in the same vicinity, I am glad I opted to shoe the horses. The views from above were as incredible as I remembered them; off to the east you could see the damage to the trees caused by the fires of 2006.

We ride out on the narrow ridge trail that we rode when we were here in 2004. It was just as scary now as it was then. At one point case was climbing nothing but rock that was reminiscent of “Cougar Rock” on the Tevis ride. At that point, we decided not to move on (see Kathy, I’m not telling any stories!) and it was a hairy moment watching Butterscotch get her footing on “the rock” and pivot to come back down.

Enjoyed a two hour ride and broke up camp. Since this was our first camping trip of the season, we learned quickly last night the things we forgot. Just finished our Wal-Mart shopping and have just crossed the state line in to South Dakota.

Jun 13, 2008

Holiday Road

“This is no longer a vacation. It’s a quest. It’s a quest for fun. I’m gonna have fun and you’re gonna have fun. We’re all gonna have so much (beeping) fun we’ll need plastic surgery to remove our (beeping) smiles. You’ll be whistling ‘Zip-A-Dee Doo-Dah’ out of you’re (beeps)!” --Clark Griswold from the movie Vacation.

I’m a planner. When the Horsetales group decided last fall that our spring group ride would be at Ft. Robinson, I started planning. Not just the Ft. Rob trip, but extending the vacation to include the Black Hills. Started putting some money aside to cover what then I thought would be $3.50 diesel. As the price ticked past $3.50, I started saving more. I wasn’t going to let the blood sucking oil company ruin what will probably be our last long distance horse trip because of the price of fuel!

I started conditioning horses. My family isn’t all that keen on riding at home. So I tried to put time on all four. And when one of the travel team about bucked me off, I started riding his replacement. Not in the plan, but a definite advantage of having seven horses! If one doesn’t work out, try another! Then the rains came and my conditioning plans went kaput!

And I just can't seem to leave well enough alone. A few weeks ago I learned we had some wood flooring left from our bathroom remodel. Just enough to do the floor of the living quarters in our horse trailer! So John and I spent an afternoon installing a new floor. It looked great, but the rest of the trailer then shouted for an upgrade. So between repairing fence from the “every other day flood” we seem to have lately, baseball games, farrier visits, and the pesky thing called a “full time job”, we painted trailer walls, replaced trim and refinished cupboards. Not in the plan, but it sure compliments that new floor!

And while spending so much time in the trailer, we found out our batteries weren’t holding the charge any longer. We had them checked out and sure enough, they need replacing. Both of them! In addition, the truck needed a new headlight and 2 new windshield wipers along with the obligatory oil change. More unplanned expenses. So we are now 3 days away from departure & John decides perhaps he should check the brakes on the trailer. Now being the planner, I suggested he do this like back IN MARCH! (Big sigh). Yep, you guessed it. Time to install new brakes!

The budget is shot and we haven’t even left the driveway yet! I haven't been out to the pasture in 24 hours, but am hoping there are still 16 shoes on the travel team! I am thinking of all the clichés: “Whatever can go wrong, will”. “Expect the unexpected.” “One step forward and two steps back”. And “for everything else, there is MasterCard”. I can see Chevy Chase with that forced smile, white knuckling the steering wheel… “this is no longer a vacation, it is a quest!” It’s going to be quite a ride!

Jun 11, 2008

How Many Horses Do You Need?

I recently posted on Horsetales how different it would be to have one horse rather than seven! Since I started riding Windy three years ago, it seems like she is my only horse. I’ll occasionally ride Butter or Blue; even Ginger for a change – but nowhere near the hours I have put on Windy. And the hours put on one horse makes for a good horse. I have really felt she has went to the next level this year and couldn't be more proud.

Blue and I shared many miles before Windy was even born. He gave me back my courage. He put up with my novice ways and carried not only me, but each of my boys behind me in the saddle for many, many miles. And when they were old enough to ride alone, they each chose Blue at different times in their lives. Today I ride him for the familiarity of those first few years. I know how he feels and what he does. He’s like the old sofa; soft and comforting.

In the early days, Ginger was my nemesis. Fiery and fast, I always felt she taunted me. That she just couldn’t wait for me to get on and she would prove who the boss was! I watched her from afar as she carried John, and occasionally one of the boys behind him, down the trail. After four years, I finally found the courage to not only ride her, but to take her out alone. I took her to Cowgirl Weekend in 2004 and again, on my first competitive trail ride later that same fall.

We bought Butterscotch for Case in 2005 from a friend. We knew the horse; we knew the seller and she has turned out well for my son. I enjoy riding her and if she were given the same time as I put on Windy, she would be even better.

Then there are Baby, Black and GinnyBelle. The “B” team, as I call them. Two are green broke at best and Ginny is just getting started. Sometimes I’ll ride Baby just for a change. More out of guilt that no one has ridden her than for my own entertainment value. And she is fun to ride, in a BIG sort of way! She gets pulled out of the pasture each year, spiffed up and taken to the Saunders County parade for no reason except it’s something she can do.

I bought Black as a weanling; had him broke as a two year old. None of us had much interest in him after that. At four, McCain decided to start riding him. He followed the rest of the herd down the trail okay. But in obvious need of more wet saddle blankets. McCain has a lot of other things to do: dirt bike, video games, football. Riding Black isn’t on his list of priorities. And it isn’t on mine, either. If it weren’t for breaking a young boy’s heart, he could easily find a new zip code.

Ginny is coming three this year. I went through the three year old year with Windy and am not up to doing it again. If the lottery numbers would come in, I’d send her out for 60 days and have someone start her right. But while I wait for that to happen, I’ve been working with her at home. Round penning bores me to tears, but she and I have had a few sessions. Easy rides. Even barebacked down to the pasture following John and Baby. Yeah, she will be nice….. If someone would just put some time on her.

Someone once told us there are four riders in our family; four horses are all we need. They were right. On another chat list, someone referenced their extra horses as “guest horses”. Looks like I have quite a few for the guests! Anyone want to ride?