Dec 31, 2010

The End of the Year

Two thousand ten gets filed away as one of the not so better years. Not as bad as 2005, but close. And I can't really put my finger on the reason. It started with the snow storm from hell resulting in the longest winter and from there, it seemed like a struggle every step of the way. Now here it is the last day of the year, and snow pellets are once again hitting the window. Fortunately, it's been a mild winter so far; perhaps the sign of good things to come.

Call me corny, but I log all my ride time. I belong to the Nebraska Horse Trails Committee's Trail Time program and the AQHA's Horseback Riding Program. It's become a habit to jot down my ride hours and other notable items about the ride; a diary of sort. Plus I'm a stat junkie, so I love looking at the end of year data.

I usually set my riding goals in the beginning of the year; hopefully riding more than the prior year. With the weather we had this past year – too cold to ride in the early months and too hot to ride mid-summer – I had to re-evaluate my goal. Luckily, with a mild fall, I made my new goal. This year I logged 250.25 hours in the saddle riding just over 700 miles.

Other than riding at home (23%), I spent the most time on the Branched Oak trails (17%) in preparation of our Trail Challenge; followed by Camp Moses, Oak Creek and Two Rivers. New locations added to the list this year included Medicine Bow and Vedauwoo Devils Playground in Wyoming.

As usual, Windy got the most ride time: 197.75 hours. The rest of the time was divided closely between Blue, Ginger and Butter.

My favorite ride of the year was the Competitive Trail Ride I did at Indian Cave. It was a spur of the moment decision, the weather was Top 10 and the ride was as close to perfect as Windy and I ever get.

Thanks to all of you who ride the trails with me; virtually through this blog or in "real-life".

Happy New Year.

Dec 26, 2010

Dogs & Horses

When we lost our outdoor dog, Jo-Jo, to bone cancer a few years ago, my criteria for my next dog would be one that had the stamina to come along with me when I ride. We talked about it a lot on Horsetales. Everyone had their favorites, but I was on the fence. I knew I didn't want a heeler or any of those that are typically cow dogs. No reason except those dogs really weren't "my type", not that I really had a type.

I grew up with a terrier, Mitch, as our house dog. Had an assortment of other dogs in my life; some big, some small. My favorite has always been Springer Spaniels, but my Madelyn has dealt me enough ear infections to last a lifetime, so I've soured on the maintenance. Jo-Jo was a lab/St. Bernard cross and the perfect farm dog. When she was younger, she would follow us when we went riding but as she aged, she would turn for home after a short distance. I felt a giant breed was not the best choice as a riding buddy. When someone mentioned a German Shepherd, a breed I hadn't thought of, I put it on the list as "a maybe."

Perusing Craig's List a few of years ago, I noticed an ad for a White Shepherd. The dog was about 6 months old. The person who listed him said the wife was pregnant and puppy smells were making her gag. The dog had to go. We went over to see him and I was in awe of his regal looks. He was healthy, up to date on everything and appeared athletic. He fit the bill. We loaded him up and brought him home. I renamed him "Ritz"; by definition, ostentatious display of elegance. And he is.

The American White Shepherd is a breed of its own. From what I understand, the white coat was an undesirable trait of the German Shepherds. When bred to colored German Shepherds, it resulted in lightening the colors and the saddle on the German Shepherd, when the standard was rich, dark colors. In 1959, it was written by the German Shepherd Dog Club of America that predominantly white dogs (50% or more) and albinos are disqualifying faults. In 1999, the United Kennel Club recognized the white German Shepherd as a separate breed known as the The American White Shepherd.

When I think of German Shepherds, I think of police dogs; guard dogs, protectors and loyal. What I didn't think about was the "shepherd" part of the name. Definitions of shepherd on the Web are:

  • watch over like a shepherd, as a teacher of her pupils

  • a clergyman who watches over a group of people

  • tend as a shepherd, as of sheep or goats

  • sheepherder: a herder of sheep (on an open range); someone who keeps the sheep together in a flock

Shepherd. "Herder". The herding instinct. Ritz has it bad. And since we don't have sheep, the horses are it. Within the first few months of his young life, he had lost a couple teeth after being kicked in the mouth. Did that stop him? No. He just moves more quickly out of the way. It's funny, he knows that 95% of the time that I go to fetch a horse, it's Windy. So he runs out ahead of me and starts to circle her. She has his number and he doesn't scare her one bit. Actually, I think it has become a game between them. He chases her, she chases him.

Most of the time he is the most obedient, smart dog I have ever owned. But when he is off to herd, he becomes a deaf dog. One of the first times I took him riding with me, some mama cows and their calves were along the fence line near a neighbor's farm. When the cows saw us, they started to quickly move away. And Ritz was in hot pursuit. I thought we were done for it. I'd already decided if the farmer came out, I wasn't going to claim him. I'd just say I never saw the dog before in my life! But as quickly as he started chasing those cows, that farmer's dog started chasing him! And that was the last time he ever chased a cow along our route. Smart dog.

As I am saddling to ride, Ritz gets more excited by the moment. God forbid, I have a tack issue and can't get saddled in the 3.5 minutes or he about goes ballistic. But once we hit the road, Ritz leads the way. If he gets too far out, he'll come back and loop behind us, moving us along. And if I stop to let Windy graze? Oh.My.God, Ritz can't deal with that. He starts to circle us. Eventually, I'll tell him to sit. And he will, but it takes a lot out of him that we are not mobile. Next time we go out, I am going to put the GPS on his collar and see how many more miles he does than I do!

The downside to Ritz is he is very cautious around strangers; men in particular. But his reaction to men is based on how they act toward Ritz. My farrier can drive up and get out of the truck with his hands full of tools and approach me and Ritz doesn't have an issue because my farrier ignores him. The Schwan's man will not get out of his truck if we aren't home because he is afraid of Ritz and shows it. And Ritz knows it.

The other day while riding down the road, some farmers were out fixing fence. Ritz's hair went up on his back as he watched them. I hollered ahead to the men. "Ignore my dog. Don't look at him or reach for him as he can be protective of me." I didn't want to scare them, but I also didn't want to worry. I put Windy in a trot and we quickly passed them; Ritz barely giving them a second look. Unfortunately, I won't take him camping with us because I don't think he would be comfortable with so many strangers. But I would love to take him camping if we were going somewhere private.

Ritz turned out to be the best riding buddy. He can go the distance and then some.

Dec 23, 2010

Longer Days

I keep humming a song… something like:
“The days are getting longer… seasons bound to change.”
I kept thinking it was by The Carpenters
But none of their titles fit.
Maybe it was a Mary Macgregor song.
Remember her?
Coming of Age music.
Wow. That takes me back.

Christmas shopping is DONE.
AND wrapped.
But not under the tree.
Ritz is confused about a live tree in the house
And why he shouldn’t lift his leg on it.
Not that I don’t think he hasn’t figured it out yet.
He has.
I think.
But I don’t trust him.

Someone mentioned on Facebook
That you know we are having a good winter
When the [Big Fat Lying Weatherman]
Can only talk about last winter.
And really,
We are having a good winter.
As far as winters go.

I rode Windy around the perimeter of the pasture today
To check fence.
And then let the herd out to run.
And they ran.
I was sorry I didn’t have the camera.

Speaking of pictures.
This is GinnyBelle.
You may remember her as Baby’s baby
Born here in 2005.
Quite a surprise.
She lives with my friends, Jules & Steve.
She became a trail horse extraordinaire this year.
Jules took this picture the other day.
She captured her perfectly.

My friend, Sheila, has moved to California.
I'll miss her.
Catch her blog
She is a great writer
And I'm looking forward to her
Sharing her new adventures
On the West Coast.

Dec 19, 2010

Seven, Six, Five…..

One week until Christmas. Usually by now I would have taken a day off work to pick up the last few gifts that I couldn't get online. (Online shopping is the bomb!) But this year, I did not even visit or any of my usual online stores. I have not shopped at all. I have a scrub Christmas tree that has one strand of lights and under the tree is NOTHING. I have been a bit panicked about it; I've felt like someone is sitting on my chest. Every time I think about going out the week before Christmas and not only STARTING to shop, but FINISHING it… I get heart palpitations. Surely this isn't what it's all about, is it?

I've only myself to blame. Years ago, I got caught up in the commercialization of Christmas; of seeing my boys' eyes light up when they came down the stairs on Christmas morning and finding Santa had dumped the mother lode under our tree! I wanted them to have the same feelings I had when I was their age. But as they have gotten older, finding the perfect gift is harder and more expensive. They've become individuals with distinct tastes. Shopping is a chore. Oh, how I long for the day when they were entertained, not so much by the gift, but by the box it came in!


Some good friends and I met today for our annual Christmas lunch. Just being around their smiles and friendship has lifted my heart. Jules provided each of us with a huge gift bag of homemade candies and cookies. The things she made were almost exactly what my mom would make every Christmas. I can't describe how much this simple gift has touched me this year. She given me so much more than just goodies; she has helped me feel Mom's presence again. And I've been weepy all day. But it's a good weepy. J

Then tonight, my oldest son asks if I could give him some of the money that I would normally spend on him so that he could buy small gifts for a few of his friends. It was more important that he give them a gift than to have me spend it on him. This has really touched me. Perhaps I haven't failed at all. And if I weren't weepy enough, this has started it all over again.

Dec 17, 2010


It's been a week of back to back events that leave little time at home. Go to work, go to a basketball game. Go work work, go to a school concert. Go to work, go to a basketball game. I swear the schools try to kill the parents the last week before Christmas. And for good measure, the Big Fat Lying Weatherman throws in an ice storm just to keep things interesting.

We came home last night, after the last basketball game of the season, and I noticed tracks on the icy/snowy driveway. I commented to Case that I hoped those were dog tracks, but stopped and opened the door to the Durango and looked closer. Granted, the ground is hard ice, but I was pretty sure I was looking at horse tracks. Damn!

I ran into the house and changed shoes and headed to the barn. The gate to the corral was closed, which was a good sign, but there wasn't a horse to meet me, which was unusual. I walked toward the barn, praying they were huddled inside, but it was quiet. I turned on the light to find the barn empty.

Case and I jumped back in the Durango. After the last escape, I keep a couple halters and leads in the back. We followed the tracks out of the drive and across the gravel road. They appeared to have gone into the cornfield or the alfalfa field – it was hard to see in the dark and with the corn stubble and alfalfa, it was anyone's guess. John started driving the perimeter of the corn field and me, the alfalfa field. John called and had picked up their tracks in the cornfield, so I headed that direction, too. In the meantime, I called the sheriff to see if anyone reported seeing any horses. "No," he said. And told me he would make note of it in case anyone called.

It was so dark. John went north; I went west until I came to a fence line. As I followed it around, I saw what appeared to be a figure in the middle of the field. Yes, there they were. I didn't want to spook them and have them run toward the road & ultimately toward the highway, so I tried to stay in front of them. I stopped a distance away and started to talk to them through the window, calling them by name. Initially, they trotted away and we followed, keeping a safe distance. I then got out and walked toward them, continuing to talk to them. I reached Blue first and attempted to slip on the halter.

When I put halter and leads in the trunk of the Durango, I grabbed older ones that I didn't use much. Crap. I must not have checked for size because no way, no how was this one going on Blue's big head. Ginger had worked her way up and she can be skittish about being caught, but I had to get one of the herd bosses, Blue or Ginger, to get the rest to follow. Luckily, Ginger waited while I put my arm over her neck and slipped the halter on.

We started to make our way back across the field; I was leading Ginger, the herd following and Case behind the herd in the Durango, the headlights helping me to see a little better. The snow and ice on the ground helped, too, but the field was rough. It wasn't easy going. Then, something spooked the herd. They started to rush past me. It took a moment for me to realize what I was hearing with the sound of the ice and the cornstalks and I didn't have time to react. Ginger pulled from my grasp. When I tried to pull her in, I slipped on the ice and went down hard on my back. I heard horse hooves near me and then they were gone.

I slowly got up and looked for my shoe – somehow it had slipped off in the struggle. Man, did I hurt. I heard every vertebra in my neck pop upwards and felt the familiar tinge of pain in the tailbone, an old injury that had finally stopped hurting last spring. I slowly got up, caught my breath and Case pulled up next to me in the Durango and I got in. The horses had run into the night toward the road. I called John and gave him the new destination and prayed they went to the next field and not toward the highway. I was relieved to find them in the cornfield across the road.

I told John that Ginger still had a halter and lead on; I grabbed the other one and started walking toward them. I had Butter's attention and she met me halfway. I easily slipped the halter on her and John caught up with Ginger. The other horses fell in behind and we started the slow procession back to the corral.

I never worry too much when they are in the corral. It is pretty secure with the high panels interlocked and then each wrapped with wire. But, evidently not secure enough for a panicked draft horse. We surmise she was scratching her hind end on the panels and her tail became tangled in the wire. She must have freaked and in her struggle to free herself, brought down the panel. We found a big strand of her tail hair hanging on the panel.

As much as I damn the snow and ice, in this case, it was in my favor. Had I not seen the tracks, I wouldn't have realized the horses were out until daylight today. They probably would have stayed in that cornfield but you never know. I'm glad I didn't have to find out.

Dec 11, 2010

From 55 to 11

It was 55 degrees outside!
It was cloudy and overcast
But the temps
Made it bearable.
I rode 8 miles.
Ritz ran more.

Its 11 degrees
With wind gusts to 49 mph
“Feels like” -12 degrees.
I ventured to the barn
Where the herd had hunkered down.
It’s back, winter is back.

My old Springer, Maddie
Just had to go out with me.
But she wanted nothin’ doin’
With Ritz
As we hurried back to the house.

Blogging, Facebook & Social Media

I was blogging long before I knew there was a name for it. I started as a guide to horse trails in our state. The home page was kind of boring, so I would include horse stories or pictures from our rides or trails. When we took a horse trip to South Dakota in 2008, I started blogging as an easy way to chronicle the trip. Since I am the only one in my family (or extended family) who truly has a passion for all things horse, I continued to blog as a way to share my rides with my friends or others with the same interest. Occasionally, my youngest son will read my blog and look at my pictures, but others in my family have no interest. And that's okay. It's my deal.

Initially, I was real resistant to Facebook. It seemed quite intrusive into our everyday lives and sometimes I found myself embarrassed to be reading such personal things about others. And people who "vaguebook"? What is up with that? But slowly, I started to come around, keeping it generally horse related. Most of my Facebook friends are horse friends with a few family and extended family members sprinkled in. I have also reconnected with some high school friends that I regretfully lost touch with over the years. I keep my business life out of Facebook and will very seldom approve an associate from work. I will "high five" my kids occasionally on Facebook but I rarely share the day to day. My parents are both gone and my sister, brother and I communicate through phone calls or text, rarely through Facebook.

Last night, I took my youngest son and some buddies to a movie. After paying $32 for ticket prices, I took the boys up to the concession counter to get popcorn. A small tub of popcorn and a coke was $10 per child. I didn't deny the kids their treats and tweeted to my friends that after paying $30 for movie treats, I wonder how movies are affordable? The tweet was a bit tongue-in-cheek because those of us who have horses are constantly asked how can we afford horses? A fifty pound bag of horse feed is only $8 with a coupon so it seems like a bargain compared to popcorn! But a non-horse "friend" was quick to point out that if I didn't do things with my horse, I COULD afford a movie and I SHOULD enjoy this time with my kids, taking the whole post out of context.

To those who think I don't spend time with my kids because I am always riding my horse, I'll simply say this: You don't know me at all. Evidently this "friend" wrote the book on how to be a successful parent and believes that has warranted her right to judge. (I didn't know God was hiring for that position?) Admittedly, I struggle with parenting; I am not a natural. Knowing this, her comment was nothing but a cheap shot and I certainly don't appreciate being kicked while I am down. I don't think there has been a time in the last five years that I have missed my mom more: that unconditional support. I think her spirit was in the comments of my real friends who quickly had my back.

But ultimately, I have The Power.

The power to Unfriend.

And I used it.


Dec 8, 2010

Time Out!

Windy had to take the horsy equivalent of a time out today: visit The Round Pen. I keep a diary of sorts of my rides and about a year ago I had posted this: "Windy was wired, so didn't take her out on the road." Today was much of the same, and I can't say I didn't see it coming. She's been a bit disrespectful lately and I've been a push-over. Today it started with her choosing not to stand still while I saddled, not to stand still when I mounted, and scooting under me like the devil had her tail more than once before we even got to the end of the driveway. I had had enough already! I dismounted and we took the walk of shame to the round pen and I promptly put her to work.

After about 20 minutes, she stood like a soldier while I mounted once again and rode over to the arena for some circles and other riding exercises. Then we ended the day with the ride I had hoped for, albeit a bit shorter than planned. I found today's GPS tracks quite interesting as I had the GPS hooked to the saddle horn. The red smudges to the left of the red "balloon" is the round pen & the big red smudge to the southeast of the red balloon is the arena.

Maybe the next time I am struggling with deviant kids, I should take them to the round pen with a dressage whip.

(Did I say that out loud?) J


Kathleen, of Kathleen's Wild Ride, is still in Hastings. She has a ride to North Platte tomorrow, but no place to lay over or a ride out of North Platte. If you can help her, visit her Facebook page.

Dec 5, 2010

Kathleen’s Wild Ride

I've been following Kathleen on her "wild ride" from the Oregon to New York City. She left Oregon in May of this year, with two horses, and has been riding state to state with New York City as her destination. And she made it! Her trip has intrigued me, though not the kind of trip that is on my bucket list. My Alone Trip (on my bucket list) most definitely includes my trailer. I don't have that much of the wanderlust.

Kathleen's return home is turning out to be another wild ride. Dependent only on the kindness of strangers, her friends have been using the internet (Facebook, listservs, etc) to line up volunteers from every state to trailer Kathleen and her two horses back home to Oregon or offer them a place to layover. I have volunteered to take her from Omaha to Grand Island, Nebraska. My friend, Joni, has a place for her to overnight and my friend, Jules, will take her on to North Platte, Nebraska.

Kathleen and her horses need transport and overnights from North Platte, Nebraska into Wyoming. If anyone in that area can help, visit her Facebook page for contact information or let me know via comments & I can put you in touch with her. It looks like she will need that transport Tuesday or Wednesday. If you are curious about her journey, visit her blog called "You Might Think This is Crazy, but…"

Let's get Kathleen home for Christmas!

Dec 2, 2010

Sharing the Sunset

When I came in the door last night, Case met me in the kitchen.

"Did you see the sunset?" he asked.

"No. It was dark when I left work." I told him. "Was it a good one?"

He went and got my camera. He had taken pictures for me to see! I was touched. He knows how much I love the sunsets and would have hated to miss this one. His timing was perfect. I needed to be given a sunset at just that moment.

Tonight I was standing in the check-out line at the Hy-Vee. I glanced out the front windows and once again, we had a stunning orange sunset. I thought of Case and wondered if he saw it, too.

When I got out to the car, I reached for the phone to text Case and tell him to go look at tonight's sunset. The message alert sounded before I started my text. It was a message from Case.

Just one word: