Jul 31, 2009

With a Little Help From Our Friends

A recent post on Mugwump Chronicles kind of pulled at the heartstrings. She tells a story of a young Mugwump, excited to be invited to attend a competitive trail ride with a friend and her mother. The friend, knowing Mugs hadn’t the money or the opportunity to learn about the sport prior to going, does not help set her up for success by sharing her knowledge, but rather watches in the shadows at Mugwump’s humiliation for the lack of it. We’ll never know if the friend’s motive was to score better or to make Mugs look bad. Regardless, I am sure there are many times in both our childhood and adult life that we have felt ambushed by so called friends.

I'd be lying if I said I hadn't met some folks like Mugwump’s friend, whose bravado must be measured by other’s failures or short-comings. Some can be a bit patronizing, others downright mean. I’m not sure if this comes from their own insecurities or just plain taking pride in seeing someone else struggle. Although I wasn’t born in the saddle, I’m thankful my skin is as tough as leather. It’s a rough world out in equine land! But I won’t blame the activity. I see these same people at our boys’ sporting events and other activities I have partaken in over the years. There are some in every crowd. I bet even those scrapbooking people get cut-throat on occasion! (And no offense to the scrapbookers – it just struck me funny thinking of someone saying “did you see how she handled those pinking shears?”)

On the flipside, in the years that followed the purchase of our first horse, my address book as changed considerably. I’ve had the privilege of meeting some people through horse activities with whom I would have never met in my other walk of life. These friends have been instrumental in making me a better horsewoman. They have done so by setting a good example, having the patience of a saint and most of all, a sense of humor. They know how to offer advice without criticism and lead by example. Some of these friends have had horses all their lives and others, like me, come into the sport with a strong desire and little experience beyond a childhood pony. (Thanks, guys. You know who you are.)

Some of my best horse memories were those shared by friends. Having almost a decade behind us, we have a lot of “remember when” moments now. I heard a statistic once that said 80% of new horse owners will have called it quits in the first year. Of those 20% that stay with it, 80% of those will be out of it in 5 years. So out of 100 new horse owners today, using this theory, only 4 would still have horses five years from now. (And feel free to check my math because it’s NOT my strong suit.) I am pretty sure that statistic would be higher if they had horse friends like mine!

We are all busy in our lives – horse and otherwise. And admittedly, I am guilty of looking down my nose at a new rider or two who had tried my patience in a particular activity. (Those who know me well know I lack in the patience department.) But I am going to make it a point to pay it forward as a thanks to those who didn't look down their nose at me. I'll try harder to make a new horse owner feel like they belong. To reward the try, advise without criticize (when asked) and lead by example. It doesn’t matter what I know or don’t know, nor does it have to be a lifelong commitment to that person. It only takes a moment to offer kindness, support and a pat on the back and hopefully that gesture will perhaps give that person the courage to continue this crazy sport another day.

Who’s your best horse friend? Did you have a mentor or worse, a nemesis? Feel free to share your story in the comments.

Jul 26, 2009

Sunday Stills - Toys

This week’s Sunday Stills challenge is “Toys”. And mine are fur, leather and steel. And it’s not what you are thinking! Once again, I’ve taken my camera to the barn and the farmyard to capture this week’s pictures.

Everything I have related to my horses are my toys, so to speak. We have 5 horses and they each have their own bridle or two. Or in Windy's case, three. My idea, not hers. I've never had a daughter, so I get to play dress-up with my horse.

And of course each of us have our own saddle and trail gear. And then whatever ointments, sprays, wraps, and other supplies that are in the tack room of the barn are duplicated in the trailer.

When we first got our horses, I guess I didn’t think much about riding beyond our own pasture or driveway. But after about 6 months of horse ownership, I came home to find a “new to us” one ton truck in the garage and before we even got it licensed, we were trailer shopping. Today we have a 4-horse gooseneck trailer with living quarters that we use when camping. (I know it's sick and wrong, but most often the trailer is cleaner than my house.)

Time went on. The boys got older and had better things to do than riding horses with their mom. John works out of town a lot in the summer. It seemed like such a waste to load just one horse in that big trailer to meet a friend for a short ride. So I started looking for a smaller trailer to use when it was just me. A majority of the time, I hook up to this 2-horse Sundowner. Now I'm thinking "why use the 1 ton to pull this small trailer?" (Was that out loud?)

Any horse person knows that least expensive part of horse ownership is buying the horse. It's the toys that go with the horse that set us back a dime or two.

Jul 23, 2009

One Week & One Thousand Hours

Peace and quiet. I am not afforded this luxury very darn often! The boys are at camp and John is working out of town and I have the whole place to myself! Here are the highlights:

  • Supper has mostly consisted of a bowl of cereal or salsa & chips. But last night I walked on the wild side and had a late night dinner at the Cracker Barrel after our ride and didn't get home until midnight!
  • The only light on in the house is the room that I am in.
  • The television hasn’t been turned on in several days.
  • I hid from the Schwan’s man so I didn’t have to tell him “no ice cream”.
  • I can hear the locusts.
  • I’ve rode my horse almost 6 hours in 2 days. I have scared her off!
  • Ritz is the best guard dog in the world!

I lack that maternal gene that drives some mothers crazy with worry when their children are away. Case in point: I remembered sometime between the first and second snooze alarm this morning that I’m pretty sure McCain forgot his hoodie. And although I hoped he wasn't too cold, I yawned, hit the snooze button and went back to sleep with the peace of knowing he learned a life lesson: Pack your own bag!

I bet Case was thinking his camp was going to be all fun, friends and games. I neglected to mention that when asked to bring a cassock and a rosary and that a “Bible will be provided”, there is no doubt that a little religion will be on the agenda! (Evil grin!)

Okay, I miss the little devils… but not until tomorrow.

Yesterday was a milestone day for me. While riding with the Platte River Riders, at exactly 7:30 PM, I marked the 1,000th hour in the saddle since I joined the Trail Time riding program in 2006. Combined with the AQHA hours logged prior to Trail Time, I’ve ridden 1,464 hours which equates to over 4,300 miles. Shhh! Don’t tell John. It will only confirm what he already knows. “You spend too much time with those horses!”

Jul 22, 2009

Trail Clearing

This past weekend, our group from the Nebraska Horse Trails Committee met at Rock Creek Station near Fairbury for a trail clearing. While some manual labor was required, most of the work was done from the backs of our horses (and mules). And I really appreciate how well the trail horses will stand as we trim from the saddle, branches falling on their heads and necks and down around their feet. Or the steadiness they exhibit as we reach down to pull dead timber from the trail. A work day can be a great learning experience for a horse! Many hands made light work and by noon on the first day, the major trails were cleared and dirt work done and we got to ride, eat and relax the rest of the weekend. Many of our parks have experienced huge budget cuts, so giving just a few hours of time to our trails can help out the management who makes trails available for us.

Scenes from Rock Creek

I did not participate in Sunday Stills this past week. The subject was “nuts”. Keeping it horse related, I am sure I could have photographed a nice looking stallion and related parts, but didn’t have the opportunity!

On another subject, I have to admit I am not a fan of Facebook. I joined the “community” at the invitation of some friends and quite frankly, I don’t really get it. Maybe my age is showing, but there isn’t a lot that interests me out there. I see a lot of surveys such as “if I were a car I would be a VW Beetle” or “my butt looks like Tina Turner’s”. Notes from casual acquaintances tossing out a one liner about how much they hate to do laundry or that their significant other is having some sort of medical procedure that I know MY husband wouldn’t appreciate me sharing with cyberspace! People give me fake animals which I don’t understand at all and I occasionally get “friend requests” from people I don’t know and it scares me! Luckily I found the “hide” button, so I can tune out some of the dribble. I consider myself a pretty hip person (don’t ask for my kid’s opinion on that) but if Facebook went away tomorrow, I wouldn’t miss it.

On the plus side (always looking for good in everything), I have been able to connect with some friends from my past with whom I’d lost touch for no other reason than miles and time. And that is worth every imaginary flower I have to plant in Facebook’s cyber garden, (whatever the hell that is all about.) And while on the subject and knowing people Google their own names, I have lost touch with a childhood friend named Donna Willett, daughter of Bob (can't remember her mom's name), sister of Wayne, Mike & Desmond (?), who moved from Nebraska to Kansas probably in the early 70’s . We lost touch after a few visits back home. Donna shared my love of horses – had one on her acreage that we would ride. I hope she is well and happy and if you read this, Donna, email me! I would love to say “hey” and see where life has taken you.

Jul 16, 2009

Of Boys and Horses

Did you ever have one of those days planned that should run like clockwork? And you can pinpoint down to the minute when it all falls apart! Today was one of those days.

Backing into the day, Case is spending a couple days with Jess' son, Wade, so Jess and I decided to meet at Two Rivers tonight, ride for a bit and then Case would go home with her. What Jess doesn’t know is I would have paid her good money to take this child – or any or all of them! My boys have been out of school since early May and they need a separation, badly! I would offer them on eBay right now if I could! It’s become a war zone at home and they’ve designated me their referee and somehow think I will magically pick their side and break up their fights while I am at work. I swear, today one called me on my cell phone to narc on the other and while I was talking to him, the other was calling my desk phone with his side of the story! I about had a breakdown!

Anyway, since the boys had sports physicals today, I took off early to take them to the doctor (maybe get some meds prescribed to me so I can make it until school begins next month) and then McCain would go to his friend's house and Case and I would hit the trail. Case was due for his tetanus shot and the doctor said he couldn't leave until 20 minutes after administered. So while the boys finished up their physicals, I ran home to get the horses. How hard can that be? Well, here is where it fell apart!

The horses are usually in the barn in the afternoon, but wouldn't you know it, I found them out in the west pasture today. As a rule, I don't take treats to the horses when I fetch them because they are easy to catch. Really, I don't give treats much at all, so they never expect them. But since I was walking out that far & getting two of them, I figured perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to have a little insurance policy so I wasn't walking the entire 25 acres after them and grabbed a small bag of treats from the trailer.

As I approached my small herd, Butter initially walked off from me, so I gave Ginger & Blue a treat. When I moved with the lead, Ginger walked away from me. Blue was still a bit sore from last night’s ride, but I really didn’t care who of the other three I took, I just needed two horses. Butter walked back up to me and I gave her a treat and slipped the halter on. Blue, Ginger and Baby came back for more and I shook the lead rope at them and they retreated. With Butter's lead tucked gently under my armpit, I turned and began to halter Windy, who was on my other side.

All I can say is my herd must be frickin stealth! I didn't hear them approaching until I heard Butter take a kick from one of the herd. She jumped to get out of the way, right as I turned to see what happened and she came down right on my foot! Can you see stars when your foot gets pounded? I think I did. And THAT is what I get for breaking the treat rule.

So I hobble back to the house supporting myself using Windy's neck as a crutch and leading Butter. No, I don't think anything is broken, but it hurt (still does) like a sonofabuck. I load them up in the trailer and notice then my back tire is low on the trailer. So I have to move the trailer toward the garage where the compressor is, hobble around to hook up the hoses and pump it up. By now the kids called & said they left the doctor’s office & are running wild in town! Cruise control is your friend when your right foot is smashed.

Case & I met Jess on time, believe it or not. Vic also joined us for a ride. Case knew I was hurting and even saddled his own horse. (I knew he could). What a beautiful night; a wonderful breeze & I swear, I had goose bumps. I couldn't trot with a throbbing foot, but Case & I loped for a bit. But by now my energy was drained and we cut the ride shorter than normal. Of course I couldn't get out of there unscathed. Case got impatient while I was still unsaddling and started to load Butter. I had bent down to take Windy's boots off and Butter bumped into her from the other side. Windy then stepped over and bumped into my head and I swear, shortened my neck about 2"! Truly, I was driving home thinking I've been beat to almost death today by horses and can't wait to do it again tomorrow! That is so sick and wrong!

Jul 12, 2009

Sunday Stills

Sunday Stills is a place to hone your photography skills. Each week Ed issues a new “Challenge” that gives us the opportunity to pick up what ever kind of camera we own and try to meet the challenge. This week's challenge was "textures". So once again, keeping my blog horse related, I ventured to the barn with camera in hand.

Yeah, I had a bad day yesterday. Things have been building up slowly and then the ruination of my 7- year- old washing machine was the icing on the cake. My friend Cindy called about the time I was teetering on the edge and, bless her heart, had a Maytag in their shed that they weren't using – I just needed to pick it up. Amazing how a major appliance can cause such grief and happiness all in one day. Cindy obviously wasn't expecting a major meltdown when she called me yesterday and really came through for me. I am grateful to have such a good, caring friend. I owe you one, girlfriend.

John hustled up a few leads that look promising. Unfortunately, he’ll have to hit the road again, but at least the work is there for now and hopefully this project he’s been yo-yo’d on for so long will come to fruition by the end of the summer. And if not, he'll continue to move on. You do what you have to do.

This blog is scheduled to appear Sunday morning. Right now, my trailer is packed and ready to go. I’m going camping with my "bestest horse" and my girlfriends. I’m back among the living!

Jul 10, 2009

Bad Moon Rising

Life Lessons from Today (and not necessarily horse related)

  1. Being a grown-up can really suck
  2. It’s a long way down when you were sitting on top of the world
  3. Even as you reach middle age, there are times you still want your mom (and it makes me miss her even more than I thought possible)
  4. Trying to keep weight off is as hard as taking it off initially
  5. Sometimes you just have to cry
  6. Good friends are a precious commodity
  7. Pick your battles wisely
  8. Yes, tomorrow is another day but it might be worse
  9. An Amana washer & dryer only last 7 years. What kind of freakin’ product is that?
  10. Road rage my ass – some people are just asking to be flipped off

Like everyone else, I have my ups and downs. I always try to keep my cup half full. Once when I felt it was draining, my boss told me to pour it in a smaller cup. It made me smile. There are days when I’m pouring it from a shot glass to a thimble, but trying to stay ahead of it all.

John & his crew restored the roof & steeples of this church

John has been self-employed most of his life. He’s a steeplejack, specializing in rebuilding church steeples and their roofs and fixing whatever else needs fixed, even stained glass windows. About any challenge put in front of him, he can do. And he’s the hardest working man I know. And anyone who knows him well, would agree. Although churches have always been his specialty, he does just about anything. Yep, a jack of all trades. MacGyver.

This economy has been really hard on his business. We felt the impact last year, now we are feeling the blow. Bids he was awarded are now backing out. After 30 years of having a pretty good business, he is now faced with the possibility of giving it all up and trying to find employment with someone else who more than likely is facing the same challenges in this business during unstable times, not to mention hundreds of other men also trying to find work. But they won’t find a better man than John.

I try to be supportive. But I get angry, too. And I know it’s not his fault. I blame George Bush. (I have to put a face on this mess and his keeps coming into focus – but no, I’m not swinging this blog political.) The house of cards came falling down all around all of us from all different places and we are just a statistic of that collapse.

It’s hard to tell the kids “no”. It’s always been so easy providing for them in the past. McCain thinks we are poor. I told him if he were poor, he’d be a Prague Panther and not a Bishop Neumann Cavalier. That scares him! And I tell him I am just trying to protect the college fund and the retirement fund or what is left of it since last October. And they can still have Nikes, just not the Turbos. (Hell, I remember when my mom couldn't buy me a Duncan YoYo!) As long as there is food in the frig and they aren’t hungry, we are fine! But it’s hard for teenagers to see the big picture and I’m sure they secretly blame my horses like I blame GW.

Ebbs and flows. That is what my sister and I call it. Some days are diamonds and some days are stones. I got gas in my truck and hay in the barn and a mane to cry in. Life is good.

I’ll be back soon with the regular scheduled program.

Jul 6, 2009

Nettles & Noggins

My horse is a bit of a princess. Not only is she the prettiest bay mare in the world, she is also the most sensitive, it seems. Sensitive to what, you ask? Urtica dioica. Nettles. Stinging nettles.

I’ve known this for several years, but had written it off as just one of her idiosyncrasies. Ginger, her dam, walks right through them without any problems. So do the rest of our herd. But the first time Windy encountered them several years ago, she started stomping and trying to flee the area. Subsequent times, it has turned into a Mexican hat dance of sorts. All four of her legs keep moving and she tries to chew and spin at the same time. My best defense when I know my horse is in trouble is to dismount as soon as it’s safe and that can be quite a challenge when she is in “full nettles rage”. Picture hanging on to the saddle horn, horizontal, with my legs straight out behind me, as she spins like an out of control carnival ride! Okay, a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea.

If I know I am going to be on a trail that might have nettles, I will put boots on all her legs. And ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the time, I can avoid the weeds by taking another trail or picking our way around them. Not truly understanding what she was feeling, I guess I also thought maybe the shock of touching them initially is what sends her in the rage and perhaps she just needs to get used to it – get over it already! Okay, you don’t have to hit me over the head more than once for thinking that. I get it now! It hurts her. And I think it always will!

We came down a hill this weekend and she reacted before I even saw the nettles. She lunged forward off the trail. I’d come short of calling it bolting because there was really nowhere to go in the wooded area. There were horses in front of us, a horse behind us and a very low downed tree that we both wouldn’t fit under. As I was looking for a place to bail just in case she thought we’d limbo, she turned to the right, lunging forward once again. I flopped like a rag doll, coming down toward her head just as her head came up. And we collided. I didn’t see stars but heard the vertebrae in my neck pop rapidly. At first I thought my sunglasses were broken, but realized I wasn’t wearing any. I got her stopped as quickly as it seemed to have started and quickly dismounted as she stood quivering.

I know one other horse who responds to nettles this way. Normally a very steady ride, nettles will send him in almost the same rage as Windy. I’m curious if any of the rest of you have encountered this?

I also wanted to show you my helmet. If you read my earlier blog about helmets, you’ll see that I agree that statistics show that most of the time we will probably end our ride without a head injury. Helmets are there just in case we don’t. Well, I think I had better go buy a lottery ticket because this is the second time in less than a year that I believe a helmet has saved my noggin! No, I probably wouldn't have died, but I would have been a hurtin' cowgirl!

I don’t know about the rest of you, but as I get older, I’m finding it harder and harder for my brain to work right on a good day. It can’t afford very many crunches to it. My helmet – right at the visor – took the impact from Windy’s head when collided. I felt it and I heard it. The visor broke away from the helmet when her head slammed into mine. The inside foam casing has a small crack in it. I had a mild headache for about 24 hours and a stiff neck.

I didn’t put my helmet on thinking I was going to get bucked off. And I certainly have never entertained the idea that I would need it for a head butt. Like any other time I ride, I didn’t really think about my helmet at all when I put it on that day. It has become as much a part of my gear as my boots. It’s nice to know, however, that it was there when I needed it and I'll live another day. Perhaps you'll put yours on today, too.

Jul 5, 2009

Sunday Stills

Sunday Stills is a place to hone your photography skills. Each week Ed issues a new “Challenge” that gives us the opportunity to pick up what ever kind of camera we own and try to meet the challenge. This week's challenge was "wildflowers".

I had seen some different flowers in the ditches along our roads, and yes, most are probably classified as weeds, but no matter what they are, they add color to the landscape this time of year. We have had so much rain in the last month, that everything is green and lush. I saddled up Windy and headed out our drive. We didn't have to go far to find what I was looking for. This was one assignment she was going to like! I dismounted and let her start eating at the clover buffet.

As I took pictures of my horse eating in the ditch, the neighbor was bringing in his crop of hay bales across the road. I'm sure he was scratching his head, wondering once again what I was doing on my hands and knees by my horse, and at one time almost under her.

Although driving down the road, I saw prettier flowers, by using the purple clover, it was easy to meet this challenge and still keep with the horse related theme of my blog.

Jul 2, 2009

Just Small Talk

It's been my goal to update this blog at least twice a week. When I find one of my favorite blogs isn't updated, it's like going to the mailbox and not getting any mail. But I find it hard to write if there is really nothing on my mind. And even though I am never speechless, at times I'm at a loss of what to say when my fingers need to do the talking.

Occasionally I will go through my picture file to look for inspiration. I've used the good ones over and over again and sometimes wonder why I save the not so good ones. But then think back to the pictures we have from growing up, mostly taken with Mom's Brownie camera and then later she upgraded to some sort of Kodak instamatic complete with flashcubes. Most of the pictures were bad pictures by today's standard. There was no photoshopping to improve the quality or to erase the unknown person who just happened to walk into your shot. But we kept them because they were all we had.

These team penning shots were taken at Golden Hills in 2002 by a friend using my 35mm. In both pictures, John is on the left on Ginger and I am on the far right on Blue. Our friend, Tammy M. is riding the grulla. It was our first attempt at team pennng and we had a ball! But only a few pictures exist and the scan quality combined with photoshopping still didn't bring them to life. Today we could set the function to "continuous" and out of 60 or 100 pictures, I'm sure we could find some great action shots to really reflect our true performance that day! I think we were only slightly better than the team with the guy who only had one leg. Or was it an arm? I know he only had 3 of the 4 .....

The following picture is an oldie but a goodie! Taken in 2003, then 6-year-old Case had a bloody nose while on the trail. I'm thinking he must have been pretty impressed that I had a "cottonball on a string" to put in his nose to stop the bleeding. Someday he'll hate me for sharing this picture.

But in 2004, I joined the digital age. It was only then that I could capture what we don't normally see -- like John falling off Ginger! Okay, technically he wasn't on her when he fell... he slipped on moss growing from the stump he was mounting from and fell off the stump. But it was still incredibly funny and having pictures of it is even better than the memory! Notice, his horse didn't move except to get out of his way & looks pretty disgusted!

Since I've ventured into digital photography, I've gone through five cameras! Yikes, don't tell John! Actually, didn't even realize there were that many myself. The first one was a little cheapo without an LCD screen. So I still had the "unknown picture" until I plugged it into my computer. The next one, a Nikon, lasted quite a bit longer. I'd probably still be using it if it hadn't fallen from the counter into the dog water bowl. I then upgraded to a Canon SX3, which I used up until a few months ago. And since then, purchased a smaller Canon point and shoot for my saddle bag while getting to know my new Canon SX10IS.

I'm still learning to take good pictures. I've mentioned before that I see things that would be awesome in a photograph, but capturing that image from my eye to the camera is a challenge. And every now and then I get lucky. Not exactly the shot I was looking for, but fun in its own way.