Nov 28, 2010

Jurassic Park

Lions and tigers and…. dinosaurs? Oh, my! We came across this bag of bones on the trail yesterday and I swore it was a raptor from Jurassic Park! But no, just a dead deer lying in the middle of the trail. The horses weren't real keen about going around it. A lot of snorting and some big ears before they finally concluded it was harmless.

We stole another day from winter yesterday. Highs were in the low fifties and surprisingly, no wind. I met Robyn and Sam at Camp Moses. My heart sank a bit when I went to register at the visitor's center and the sign said "Horse Trails Closed Today" implying wet trails. We hadn't had any rain or snow lately, so I was surprised. I called the park manager and said he was worried that there could be ice under the leaves. Since I know the trails so well, he agreed to let us go ahead and ride at our own risk and just asked that we stay away from the steep trails. I was so thankful he agreed to let us ride there. Not that we wouldn't have found somewhere else we could go to ride, but we wanted to ride Camp Moses.

Before we rode out, we had plugged in a crock pot at the campsite. After about a 3-1/2 hour ride, we came back to the trail head for a mini-feast. Who would have thought we would be sitting at a picnic table, outside in Nebraska on November 27th? It just doesn't get any better than this. The weather today calls for more temps in the fifties, but the wind has returned, so it won't be that pleasant.

Nov 26, 2010

In the Still of the Night

John went to work today, the boys were with friends and I was home alone. I don't have to be back to work until Monday and had really hoped to get some horse time in. The temps did reach the mid-forties, but once again, the wind was so strong that I was not even tempted to saddle up and ride. There are nothing but baron fields around here now; no break from the wind.

I made a quick trip into town. My Black Friday shopping consisted of going to Bomgaars farm store and buying a package of ten hand warmers for $10, a Mr. Heater for the trailer ($59.99), some miscellaneous light bulbs and wintergreen mints. When I got home, I put the new tires that I had picked up on Wednesday on my little Sundowner trailer. I'll need to have John tighten the lug nuts in the morning and then I'll plan to haul out and ride tomorrow. It's supposed to be near 50 degrees.

I was going crazy sitting in the house tonight. Nothing on tv except stupid football to which I have NO interest in (zilch, nada, none). No one to chat with online. (They must all be watching football!J) So I put on my coat and headed to the barn. Wow. No wind. It was almost pleasant.

I didn't see the horses by the barn, so I called for them. I love when I hear the thundering hooves before I catch sight of the horses. I put a couple bales of alfalfa in the near empty round bale feeder and they quickly jockeyed for their spot. I stood between Ginger and Butter, giving Butter, who is at the bottom of the pecking order, the opportunity to eat undisturbed. Windy was on the other side of her. In the distance, a dog barked. They all quit chewing and looked in that direction. After a few moments, Ginger put her head down and started eating again, the others following her lead.

Later, I went back to the barn and put some more alfalfa in the hay bunks. Eventually, Windy and Butter will be pushed from the feeder and hopefully they will find this second stash of hay. The rooster had already found his spot on the stall wall and was not too pleased I turned on the light. Two of the cats were in the tack room; one of them lying on a saddle pad I had strategically placed for just that purpose. As winter progresses, I'll have fewer nights like this. The temperatures will be so cold that I will rush through the barn chores without savoring the moment.

The Bucket Brigade

On another subject, have any of you followed "Kathleen's Wild Ride"? Kathleen left Oregon in May with two of her horses and for the last few months has traveled across the U.S. to her final destination, New York City. Now her friends are putting together a "Bucket Brigade" and are asking for volunteers to trailer Kathleen and her horses back home. I have volunteered to haul from the Omaha area to Grand Island or Kearney. She will need help in every state, most generally following Interstate 80. If you would like to be a part of her Bucket Brigade, visit her Facebook Page. You can read her story on her blog, You Might Think This is Crazy.

Losing Gunner

I was going through some old pictures the other day and found one of Windy's sire; Watch Creek Starr, aka "JC". JC was owned by a friend of mine and she offered me a breeding in exchange for John working on the chimney of their house. (Funny how that works out – he does the work, I get a colt.) So we bred Ginger that summer of 2001.

Did I ever tell you how the first few years we got into horses; we got in way over our head? Well, we did. While we initially bought Ginger, Blue and an old mare, Peggy, for the kids, before long we had a thoroughbred gelding, some yearling colts and a couple more bred mares. It's like we were hooked on the equine variety of crack. We needed to get some control….

So almost a year after those foals were born, it was time to start cleaning house. One of the babies went to Wyoming, another to a local sale. And you all remember I sold Windy to a friend of a friend. We got rid of the broodmares and the young untrained geldings and were trying to get our herd to a manageable number. However, one slipped through the cracks; Gunner.

Gunner, owned by the same friend who had Windy's sire (different dam), was the same age as Windy. Although I didn't need another colt; I was trying to get rid of our own, there was just something about him I liked. Maybe because I had regretted letting Windy go and he was a close match. Who knows? In the end, I traded my friend a side of beef for that young colt.

Gunner was a good boy. Friendly, easy and a bit of a Houdini, always slipping into somewhere he shouldn't be. He would sneak up behind me without me realizing it; I swear he played games with me. By his three-year-old year, the kids would sit on him in the pasture. When John saddled him the first time, it was really a non-event. I rode him for the first time on Mother's Day that year. And ten days later, he was gone.

As is common in the spring, heavy rains flooded the creek that runs through our pasture. Some dry timber had washed up and was lodged in the fence. Somehow, perhaps running by the fence too closely, Gunner was impaled by a dead tree branch. I found him standing alone that morning, off from the herd. I slipped a halter on him and he stood quietly while we waited for the vet to arrive. Any hope of saving him ended when it was revealed the stick had penetrated his stomach wall. We lost him that morning, the spring of his three-year-old year.

This isn't meant to be a sad post. Although it broke my heart to lose that colt, things turned out in the end. A few weeks later, I had the opportunity to buy Windy back and started the next phase of my horse journey on what would become my favorite horse, my dream horse.

I had a picture of Gunner on the screen the other day and Case walked by the room and commented about it being a picture of Windy. I said no, it was Gunner. He looked closely and said he was surprised they looked so much alike. When I pulled up a picture of JC, we were even more surprised how much Gunner resembled his sire. They both have the long, narrow nose, where Windy's is shorter and more like her dam's. Although you can definitely see the resemblance in the first three horses, I think Windy favors Ginger more so than she does Gunner or her sire. It would have been cool to have raised them side by side.

**All pictures above are of Gunner

*** I just realized this was not the first time I told this story on this blog. Sorry for the repeat. The purpose of this story was to show the pictures and how much they resembled each other. If it weren't Thanksgiving yesterday, I probably wouldn't remember what I had for lunch, so not surprised I had forgotten I had posted about Gunner once before. Just goes to show, a good horse is hard to forget! ~TV

Nov 23, 2010

Off Topic

I was warned by those in the know that contrary to my belief that just because I no longer have to carry a diaper bag or employ a daycare provider, the easy years of child rearing are far from over. The terrible twos evidently were nothing compared to the trials and tribulations of the teenaged years. While I usually reserve this blog for my horse related adventures, I am a mom first. Reading Mindee's thoughts on the teenage years over at Our Front Door, gave me the courage to mention my own struggles with parenting teenagers and may explain why some days, I just want to ride.

Yes, its cliché but kids do grow up so fast. As much as we want to see them show some semblance of independence and demonstrate an inkling of common sense, we still cringe when they make mistakes. And it's not just about study habits and grades. It's watching your kid make abrupt changes in his life with a blink of an eye that leave you scratching your head. New friends, secrecy, and a bit of rebellion. Half-truths or lies and a short fuse.

Although none of these changes are life shattering -- heck, I remember similar behaviors when I was his age -- as a parent, they are exhausting. Having grown up with every Movie of the Week depicting some teenager in peril, I am constantly watching for signs of drug abuse, binge drinking, suicide, gang association, teenaged sex, anorexia, drag racing and devil possession. And that's just this week's worry.

Being a child of the 70's, I have a pretty keen eye for drug use and I don't see it. I do his laundry and don't smell smoke on his clothes or in his car. I have never seen my kid drink or smelled booze on his breath. He is going through some changes in his life right now and has made some unwise choices; maybe not been as good a friend as he could have been and I hope he has learned from it. Those of us who survived high school and didn't make any mistakes were either very lucky or are a liar.

It takes a village to raise a child. I am lucky. "My village" are those family and friends, teachers and staff, and even my boss, who commiserate with me and (as hard as it might be) support (or perhaps accept) the kid's desire to change his hair color, not to mention his lack of allegiance to the state's beloved Huskers. They feel my pain when working to improve his grades. These people work for him, not against him. And obviously have not forgotten what it was like to be a kid.

Then there are those village idiots, disguised as adults, who continue to spew rumors and gossip as if they were still in high school themselves. To what purpose and what end? When they should obviously be setting an example of how to be the grown-up and have an opportunity to demonstrate forgiveness, they continue to throw stones. Long after my son forgets whatever injustice these people believe he did or didn't do, in the end, he will always remember how they made him feel and no doubt, it's hardened his heart. Shame on them. Dealing with outside nuisances and intrusions makes parenting even harder

There. I got that off my chest.

For the record, I think my son is a very smart young man. His grades would be better if he applied himself and even though I want to beat him senseless over Chemestry, he can pull out A's in Algebra and Spanish without effort. I'm not sure who's gene that comes from!

Parenting is not "the hardest job you'll ever love. " There is nothing to love about fighting with someone 30-some years younger than you about housekeeping, curfews, how to drive a car or keeping peace with his brother. There is nothing to love about broken bones or ortho payments. There is nothing to love about the insurance premium or worry for a teenage driver. I don't love nagging about late homework, bad report cards or being called to the principal's office when I am 49-years-old. But I do love my kids; unconditionally.

I don't know what I thought parenting would be like. And as the kids got older, I realized how unprepared I really was for the whole parenting thing and sometimes wonder just how I thought I could pull this off? As weird as it sounds, I take comfort in knowing there are parents worse than me out there and their kids turn out okay. So maybe the odds are in my favor.

Although it's easy to concentrate on the disappointments in parenting, I have to say for the most part, that I am proud of my boys. They may not be honor students but are a far cry from being juvenile delinquents. They'd rather have fun than work. They'd rather smile and laugh and run with friends and make every excuse in the book not to be home doing chores. They love their Nana, they grieved when their Grandma died, and are kind to animals. Although they have both told me on numerous occasions that I have ruined their life in some way or another, in a weak moment they show me that isn't true. Good or bad, I think they are a lot like me.

Some days I want to press the fast-forward button and some days I want to rewind. And sometimes I just want to pause….

Nov 19, 2010

A Good Little Mare

Does this fleece make my butt look fat? Jeez, I look like the kid from A Christmas Story with all that padding! But it worked and I stayed warm. A couple times I was almost too warm.

There is nothing wrong with this little mare that couldn't be worked through with a little consistent riding. She tossed me a couple of bucks, but both times were when Kathy and Moon were running out ahead. When I let her lope out in front, she collected into the nicest little gait. So other than that indiscretion, she was almost as good as she gets today. I do have fun riding the Butter-ball-butt.

Kathy's Zuni has been laid up with a cut on his foot, so on the last few rides she has brought her old faithful, Moon. Can you believe he is 25-years-old? (Click on his picture for a closer look.) Kathy bought Moon as a 3-year-old and they have shared a lifetime on the trails. Don't tell Moon he is getting old. He doesn't know it or look it. He just boogies on down the trail like a horse half his age.

I ordered new tires for my little Sundowner bumper pull and had hoped they would be in by now, but are not. One tire on the trailer is suspect and the spare is not to be trusted. By the time I got to Branched Oak today, I was losing tread. So Kathy and I changed the tire before I headed home. I figured I would take my chance on the spare rather than risk changing it on the shoulderless highway half-way home. I wish car tires were as easy to change as trailer tires.

Goin' Riding

It's 43 degrees with wind gusts up to 19 mph. Why must wind always be a factor? I may have to put on another layer, dang it. I don't like riding in bulk, but my windproof/winter Kerrits do not seem to do the trick. But maybe it won't be bad in the trees. Just in case, I'll throw in my fleece pajama bottoms. Combine that with my hunter orange fleece jacket, I'll be making quite the fashion statement. But, gotta ride while the sun is shinin'!

Did I mention I'm taking Buckin' Butter? I might need that extra padding. May the force be with me....

Note to self: Take the spurs off my boots.

I'll report back later.


Nov 15, 2010

Butter Needs a Rider

Butter needs a rider. I think "her boy" has ridden her once since we were on vacation in July. The last few times I have thought about taking her anywhere, she copped an attitude. She thinks she is still on vacation. So I would lunge her to get a real gauge on her potential performance, she would literally throw a fit. I’d work her in the round pen, unsaddle her and go get one of the other horses to ride. I ain’t no fool!

So yesterday I take the camera out with me and go through the same motions of getting her ready to ride; so sure that I would have some butt-kickin’ video to show you. But alas, she just wouldn’t perform to the camera. Oh, she threw in a few bucks and kicks, but nothing like the last few times.

Laughing… my lunging efforts are lame at best. Holding a lunge whip and running a camera – while watching where those back feet were - was quite an effort in itself. (I added music to the video because the wind was bad & I hate hearing my own voice.) I did have John come out and ride the buck out of her before I got on her. She did have some attitude, but settled pretty quickly. After that, I felt safe enough to get on. I didn’t ride her long but enough to get my groove back with her.

I’ve missed riding the Butter-ball. Standing only 14.2hh, she is very well put together. I’m 5’9” and have never felt too big on her. And she has the cutest, smoothest little jog trot, something my mare is missing. She can be a fun ride.

This video of Case riding Butter was taken in 2007. Boy, she has packed on the pounds since then (and my baby was so little!) If ridden regularly, Butter stays pretty focused. But since that isn’t happening too much now, she is pretty barn & buddy sour. She has also picked up some bad habits along the way from always having a child riding her and not correcting her fast enough.

She's not for sale. I keep thinking perhaps I should lease her out so she gets ridden more consistently but she needs ridden more consistently before I’d feel she was safe enough to be leased out. The endless circle. I am not sure I have the gumption to put the time on her that she would need; I have a hard enough time finding the hours to ride my own horse. I haven’t ruled out having a trainer put some time on her either, but then the circle spins the other way and we would have to rides on her to keep her consistent after she came back from the trainer.

I keep thinking in my huge circle of horse friends that there is someone out there who is horseless, who has experience, who enjoys a challenge and wouldn’t mind putting some time on a horse that is rusty but otherwise trained, in exchange for having a horse to ride again. I haven’t found that person but I guess I haven’t asked. Maybe I should…. I wonder what her boy would think?


Nov 13, 2010

Herd Dynamics

It’s hard to tell if Ginger or Blue is the herd boss. I always think its Ginger, but there are times I see Blue moving her around, too. They are very attached to each other and probably, in some ways, share the role. We brought Ginger home when she was three and bought Blue, a then four-year-old gelding, a few months later. They have been together for ten years.

We bought Baby as a weanling from the same place we got Ginger. So really, Baby and Ginger have been together the longest. But due to the age difference at the time, Ginger has always been the leader over Baby, the boss mare. Baby took on the role as the “guard”. Blue and Ginger do not get aggressive with Windy or Butter because they have Baby around to do their dirty work.

Had Windy not been separated from the herd for those two years, I often wonder if she would have ended up higher than Baby in the pecking order. After all, she is Ginger’s baby. She’s a scrapper, though, and I think she has worked her way up to at least being an equal to Baby. Oh, she’ll back down if Baby comes at her with ears pinned. Heck, I would, too. That big girl is scary looking when she’s mean! But as long as there is room to get out of her way, Windy is not shy about bellying up to the bale with Baby and many times, will eat next to Blue and Ginger at the bunk in the barn.

Then there is Butter, the poor girl. She joined the herd a couple months before we brought Windy home again. But her ranking remains at the bottom. The first weekend that Windy returned, we turned her out with Butter and they never had any “getting to know you” wars. I think Butter was glad to have an ally. I see them fight sometimes like siblings. I recall one time when we were riding, Butter kicked out at Windy. Windy spun and double barreled Butter before I even realized what was going on. Windy is an earpinner, but for the most part, she isn't a kicker. But something about Butter can bring out the worst in her. But when we travel, its Blue and Ginger in one pen and Butter and Windy in the other; that’s what works. Baby doesn’t usually make the travel team.

Last night it was raining and cold; snow was in the forecast. Ginger, Blue and Baby were in the barn and Windy was standing in the lean-to going into the barn. Poor Butter was left out in the rain. I dropped some hay down in the front of the barn which is separated from the area where the horses were standing and moved Butter and Windy to that side of the barn. I filled a tank in the run, hoping it wouldn’t get too cold that it would freeze. It didn’t. This morning, I found both of the young mares standing in the doorway to the barn with the east sun warming their backs. I think they all had a good night.

Five horses are a manageable number when making arrangements to keep everyone dry. It worked okay when we had six, but when the numbers were higher, it was more of a challenge. Someone always was left out in the cold. I appreciate how easy horsekeeping is with the smaller numbers and enjoy my time out in the barn keeping harmony among the herd.

Nov 9, 2010

A Full Weekend

One of the Pioneer Woman's blogging tips is to "blog often". Sometimes that is easy; I have so much to say. And other times that is so hard. Not that I have nothing to say – gosh, I always have something to say – but I lack time or a theme. Or worse yet – pictures! I think I have said before how I hate posting without pictures. And it is not that I haven't taken any, I just haven't had any GOOD pictures lately. I really need to start concentrating on not just capturing the moment, but setting it up and making it a picture perfect moment.

The snow hasn't found us yet; still hanging in the 60's and low 70's. Usually I am crying about "gray November" right about now, but there is certainly no complaints from me this year. I told John this past weekend that I was going out to play and he couldn't stop me, and I rode every day. On Friday, I took Windy out and we just rode around here, but the rest of the weekend, I trailered out.

On Saturday, I met Jules, Steve and Joni at Branched Oak. Being that they are westerners (Hastings, that is), they have never ridden at Branched Oak before, so I had the opportunity to introduce them to these trails. I took Ginger for a little change.

We rode a little over eight miles. And just for the fun of it, I tried out Ginger's fast gear. We topped out at 25.5 mph - not as fast as John would ride her, but faster than Windy and I go. I was pretty sure she might just keep on running home. I was surprised when I pulled her in to find Jules had opened Trey up, too, and they were right there next to me. For those of you who have followed my website, the palomino that Steve is riding in the picture above is GinnyBelle, our Baby's baby. Steve and Julie have had Ginny for a couple years now. She has really become a trail horse deluxe! (For that story, see & scroll to 4/6/05 A Baby for Baby).

My riding buddies & me: Julie, Sandy, me, Joni, Jess & Tanya

On Sunday, the same group, met at Wilderness Park to ride with the Nebraska Horse Trails Committee. I brought Windy for this ride. There were eleven of us on the trail. Another fun day. Highs reached about 75 degrees.

Ducking under Old Cheney Road

Crossing the ricketing bridge.

Of course, each day was followed by eating out – and we didn't pick any healthy heart restaurants. There is nothing like fried food after a day on the trail!

Yesterday, I had to work. When I got in my Durango at the end of the day, it read 74 degrees. I hurried home and changed clothes. Ginger was the first horse I could grab and I saddled her in record time and we headed down the road. I was thrilled that she settled into a slow lope on a loose rein. You all know slow is not Ginger's style. I rode out about a mile and a half but was losing daylight quickly. (Damn this time change!) I rode back onto the place just as our yard lights were flickering on. A short ride is better than no ride.

Although not quite as warm, it still looks fairly decent through the weekend. We are just stealing time from winter and I love it!

See, I guess I had something to say afterall.

Nov 3, 2010

Riding My Trail

We are experiencing another week of mild temperatures, so I took Monday off to ride. Well, originally I took it off because the kids were out of school, but turns out they had plans that didn't include their mom, so I had a free afternoon. Hmmm. Clean house or ride? Clean house or ride? Such a tough decision! I loaded up Windy shortly after lunch and headed over to Valparaiso to ride the Oak Creek Trail.

A former railroad bed, the Oak Creek Trail was converted by our NRD to a 12-mile hiking and biking trail. In early 2000, the Nebraska Horse Trails Committee was given the blessing by the NRD to clear the land running parallel to the limestone trail for an equestrian trail. John and I were new to horses and to trail riding and this was a good opportunity for us to meet other horse riders, so we joined the mission. Ten years later, I still consider those who lead the cause, Rich and Kathy, Mike, Mary and Dwight, Pattianne and Jamie and Vickie, very good friends and we have remained active with the NHTC.

There are so many places along that trail that hold special memories. There is a sign along the first mile that never fails to spook Blue. Hang on tight if you are loping him! And there is the huge cottonwood tree. Although the picture above is blurry, I am glad I saved it. I am not sure if I am in awe more over the enormity of that tree or at how small Case was at that time!

It was not only a group activity but a family project. The kids got in there and helped move logs and branches. They would tire after awhile and go exploring. There is one trail I call "Dead Deer Trail" because that is what they found. They also found rail road spikes, deer sheds and other treasures along the way.

About midway to Loma, we call it the Long Mile; that portion of the trail runs diagonally between the two county roads. And it is the prettiest section of the trail and my favorite. In the spring and summer, the leaves form a canopy above us and in the fall, you experience their brilliant colors before they fall along the trail.

My favorite trail leads up to the "dreaded culvert." When clearing the trail, we didn't think anything of continuing the trail up and over the right hand side of the culvert shown above. However, it is the area of most concern on the Friday Before Mother's Day Ride, so I always flag it so the riders know it is coming and can detour around it if they feel it is necessary.

After about six miles, the trail goes through a dirt road town called Loma. To those who are movie buffs, the Patrick Swayze movie To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar was filmed in Loma in the mid 1990's. In the movie, the town was called Snyderville and you can still see evidence on one of the old buildings in Loma. The trail continues on another 4 or so miles into the town of Brainard. That stretch is pretty open, winding through cornfields and soybean fields.

Clearing the trail was a labor of love; the trees, the bridges, the views.... the memories. I never tire of riding it. I know it as well as I know the pastures and gravel roads around our place. I am always overwelmed with pride as I meander along the paths that we made and feel a sense of ownership toward it. Riding the trail alone this day, just me and my horse, it was a coming-home sort of feeling. It will always be "my trail."