May 31, 2012

Riding at the Ranch

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By your comments on my previous post, I am sure pretty sure when I finished with “More to Come”, I may have inadvertently implied it was a cliff hanger of sorts.  No, not that exciting.  I simply meant there was more to the weekend to share with you.  The prior post was already too lengthy.  However,  I did get some photos from one of the friends I traveled with and she caught Windy and I looking out for strollers near the grassy trail. 


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And she had captured the beaver dam that my kids were sure to destroy.  It’s the mound of sticks right under the rainbow. Damn kids anyway;  just can’t take them anywhere. 


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We had another two hour drive and arrived at the ranch mid-afternoon.  It took about a good half-hour for us to get parked in the big open area that would become horse camp for the weekend.  If it were just us girls, it wouldn’t have been a problem.  We look for shade and strategically place our trailers so that our camper doors open into the “camp” area.  Should be simple enough, huh?  The guys do not get the door concept and instead look for level spots; never mind that one door opens west and one door opens east on the opposite sides and the trailers are two football fields apart.  We told them they would never survive cowgirl weekend!  That accomplished, we set up fencing and pens for our horses.


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The ranch is nestled down in a canyon sitting right on a large creek.  Water to the ranch house is all provided by the aquifer and water comes out of the canyon walls.  It is caught in a cistern which serves as a “water tower” of sorts.  There are several clear water (and cold!) creeks running right through the ranch yard being fed by several water falls.    The same family owned this ranch for 80 years.  It was then sold to a small group who was going to use it as hunting property.  That fizzled and my friends bought it about five years ago.  It is their intent to graze cattle on the land and also enjoy it recreationally.


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We rode out into the pastures checking fence lines, dropping down into the canyons and crossing more creeks fed by the aquifer.  We saw deer and turkeys and some unidentified wildlife in the distance.


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Case and his friend found the Ranger.  They also found lizards and caught a few and built them a desert resort in a large computer box they found in the shed.  They spotted several turkey nests and snuck up to watch a few eggs actually hatch as the mother hen watched them very closely.  It was fun to see him “young” again.   
 


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On Saturday, we rode to the Niobrara River and the boys enjoyed playing on the beach and in the water for a few hours.  The sixteen mile ride there and back was on gravel roads but gave us a taste of the countryside.


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The water in Eagle Creek was not deep and very clear.  The boys walked it one day up to where it connects to the Niobrara River.  I don’t think they disturbed any beaver or other varmint on their travels though I do recall hearing gun shots in the distance.  Perhaps I should have been concerned. 


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I logged close to 40 miles for the Distance Derby this weekend.  I was caught checking my GPS in the picture above.  I am usually the one with the camera so it was fun that my friend caught some pictures of Windy and me for a change.  I keep telling the kids when I die, they are going to wonder why there are no pictures of me.  Because I am the one always behind the camera, not in front of it.


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As always, we ate too much.  Food has become as important to camping as riding.  Well, almost.  Nebraska weather dealt us all kinds of change; from coat and gloves to about four hours of sweltering humidity to one night of tornado watches and high winds.  The rest of the time was just about perfect.  It was so nice of our friends to share their ranch and good to spend time with friends and family in this truly remote place.  


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Case convinced his dad to let him stay at the ranch this week and work with him.  I loaded up my horses and had a nice, peaceful four hour drive home alone.  Pandora radio is my friend.  Do you even hear one song and it makes you think of another and you find that and think of another and then play that one?  Yeah, you know what I’m talking about.  I went from Head East to the Partridge Family, Queen to Johnny Cash, Rock Me Gently to Maggie Mae with a little John Denver, Dan Fogelberg and Jim Croce thrown in for good measure.  I still knew all the words to every song. 



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May 29, 2012

The Long Weekend

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The house is so quiet.  Its just me;  “the graduate” due home soon.  I see on Facebook he has cut his hair.  The same hair that I could not get him to cut prior to graduation.  I’m trying to figure out if it was the result of peer pressure or a request of his new boss.  I haven’t seen him in person yet having been gone for the long weekend and he with his new job and all.


The husband and the soon-to-be sophomore (we all made it through his freshman year!) are working on a ranch up north where I had the privilege to be invited to ride this past weekend.  Yes, we avoided the holiday weekend crowds at the state parks and found a little bit of paradise tucked away in northern Nebraska.  But I’ll get to that soon. 


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John has been working periodically for my friends who own the ranch.  They have a large equine related operation here near the city and family properties.  He has enjoyed the variety of work and had really been looking forward to seeing the property up north which will soon be grazing cattle.  This past week he has been getting corrals ready and repairing pasture fence and other chores needed for this part of their business.  Several friends, including the ranch owners, planned to meet there this weekend for some R & R (riding and relaxing). 


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Being that it is a 200 mile drive up to the ranch, I decided to break up the trip a bit and leave Thursday evening, overnighting at a state park about halfway there; a horse camp and trail I have never ridden.  There are not many miles of trail at this park, so not a likely destination but certainly warranted visiting.  Although I would have loved to have the time alone with my son, I let him invite a friend.  I loaded up Fancy and Windy and the two boys and we took off after work last Thursday.  (By the way, I am really into the Instagram App so you will see all sorts of photo-shop type things going on with my pictures.)


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I didn’t check the weather and we got into some crazy storms about an hour into the trip. Luckily no hail and we did see the most beautiful rainbow.  Case took the above picture from the truck window with my iPhone.  I wish I had the pictures from his iPhone; he took a lot more.  This one does not do it justice.  I tell you, it’s colors were fluorescent.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  Had I not been pulling the trailer on a 4-lane highway in a storm, I would have pulled over with the good camera and tried to capture what our eyes were seeing.  


A couple friends who were also heading to the ranch met us at the state park that evening.  That park is nice.  Very Nice.  Too nice, really, for horse campers.  There was even a camp host, who took his job of monitoring horse activity, teenaged boys and alcoholic beverages (unrelated to teenagers)  very, very seriously.  He warned us that we would be sharing some of the trail with “hundreds of women with strollers” and horse poop on the shared trail must be cleaned up.  Just when I thought the coast was clear and pulled out my Jamaica Me Crazy wine cooler, he came back to tell me my boys were on the beaver dam.  Huh? 


Really, we are good citizens and we do follow (most of the) rules.  I don’t think I ever felt more like a hillbilly.  Most horse camps are like the Motel 6.  No one is real particular because we bring 1,000 pound animals with frequent bowel movements, fifty pound bags of hay and our own shovel and we sleep in the horse trailer, for goodness sake.  We are used to cleaning up after ourselves.  A camp host?   Really?  This was like the Marriott for horses. 


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It was chilly that first night; so much so that I ran the heat strip in the trailer.  We bundled up in the morning in ear bands, gloves and fleece jackets; ready to encounter the hundreds of strollers which have probably already taken over the trail.  I hankered with the idea of riding Windy and ponying Fancy, but in the end, decided to leave Fancy in the pen and take Windy.  It would be good for Fancy to be separated from Windy for a bit.  I wasn’t sure how the camp host would feel about a whinnying horse; I never got the lo-down on that one. 


We encountered one fisherman and one jogger on our 7+ mile ride around the lake.  Not a stroller in sight.  Whew.  Dodged that bullet!

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May 24, 2012

The Poker Ride

And if the Friday After Mother’s Day Ride wasn’t enough, we did it all over again the next day!


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Once again, an annual tradition, my friends (also named) Tammy and John’s anniversary poker ride on horseback.  It typically is the weekend after the Friday Before Mother’s Day Ride but since my ride was a week later, it was the day after that ride.  Whew!  Are you following all that?



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Anyway, (my) John and I loaded up early to trailer the 60+ miles to their house where the ride starts.  There were about 30-some riders saddled up to make the fourteen mile ride to a few local haunts where we would get a card for our poker hand.  Unlike the Friday After ride, there was a wreck in the first quarter mile and while the rider didn’t suffer any major injury, she opted to take a lift in the wagon for the duration of the ride.  Her horse, reportedly a bit spooked by the percheron team has more than become acclimated since the gelding ponied from the cart for the next 14 miles!


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Now Miss Fancy Pants is starting to see a pattern here.  Get with a bunch of people other horses and we put in some long miles.  But I have to say, the mare did very well among the wagon, the people and temporarily being separated from Windy when I would ride away from her.  At every stop, both horses took the opportunity to rest. 


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While I love to put on the miles, I have to tell you that by mile 10, I was getting pretty tired – my smile was starting to become forced. Those next four miles would be tough but the last stop in the local beer garden was a welcome relief.  Once again with warm temps, I kept hydrated with more water than adult beverage, but at mile 12, that cold one tasted pretty good. 


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As we moved down the last mile, I couldn’t help but think of our friend, Renee, who passed away last winter.  On this ride two years ago, she, John and I galloped the last mile down that same road to complete the 14 mile ride.  And I don’t recall her missing a Friday Before Mother’s Day ride for several years.  I miss her very much.  


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The day ended with (my friend’s) John’s wonderful pulled pork and homemade beans and more pot luck.  And cake.  Riding and food.  There seems to be a theme going here. 


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Our mares did close to 30 miles over the two day ride; a good hike but I felt with all the Derby miles, they were well conditioned to handle it.  Windy sure had some get up and go, even on those last few miles.  Every wet saddle blanket is that much more education for Fancy.  She is coming along just fine. 


Happy Anniversary, T & J.

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May 22, 2012

The Friday After Mother’s Day Ride

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For eleven years, I have hosted the Friday BEFORE Mother’s Day Ride, traditionally held …. well, on the Friday before Mother’s Day.  When I found out graduation was going to be on the Saturday before Mother’s Day, I knew there was no way I could plan a ride and a graduation party for the same weekend.  After twelve years, the ride is pretty much on cruise control but planning a party at the house, not so much.  So early in the year, I rescheduled the ride to the Friday AFTER Mother’s Day and started spreading the news. 


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Downtown Valparaiso started to fill with horse trailers a little after eight o’clock in preparation of the 10:00 AM ride.  Kathy, my friend and trail boss for this ride, promptly lead out at the top of the hour.  Unusual for this time of year, temperatures were predicted to be in the low 90’s thus the usually unwelcome wind was much a relief to the horses and riders. 


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I usually have a person counting heads as they cross the first bridge, but due to a tree down on the trail that wasn’t there when I pre-rode a few days earlier, my counter had to do trail clearing duty so there was not an official head count.  By name, I could come up with sixty riders and it wouldn’t be unusual for me to not know half of the riders so best guess is 100 or so.  A little down from the previous year but a nice sized ride none-the-less.


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The Great Horsetrailriders Distance Derby Riders were special guests and we met in Loma for a group picture.  Not all of us by any means, but a good showing.  This group has become very special to me and I am so glad to see old friends and to meet some new ones from the Derby. 


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As is tradition, some riders were fortunate to find a golden horseshoe along the trail and receive a nice gift courtesy of my friend, Jane Shanahan and her husband, Steve.  I picked a lot of the photos from Horsetrailriders Facebook page to share with those of you who weren’t there.  I am never able to see everyone along the 7 mile trail (14 miles round trip), so pictures are the next best thing. 


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I realized two beers over lunch in 90 degree weather was probably not the best plan.  Water would have been a much better choice.  I felt if we went too slow going back to Valparaiso, I might drop from my horse.  So I teamed up with another Distance Derby rider and we quickly put those seven miles behind us. 


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Many of us met at the trail head in Valparaiso following the ride for some beverages, pot luck and stories of the trail.  Unlike other years, there was no ambulance called; as far as I know, all horses and riders faired very well.  Next year, we’ll do it all over again – the Friday Before…. 


Thanks everyone for sharing the trail me. 

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May 20, 2012

Ride Prep

 

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I told myself that today was the day I would get housework done.  Most notably taken down the graduation decorations.  I could say they were so pretty that I wanted to enjoy them for awhile and they were;  but truthfully, I have been so busy this week that even if I wanted to take them down, there was just not enough hours in the day. 

 

It was the week before the Friday After Mother’s Day Ride.  I hadn’t given it too much thought just trying to get through the graduation planning.  And being the twelfth year, it does pretty much run itself. 

 

A ride tradition, I strategically place “golden horseshoes” along the trail.  Those who find them win a gift bag, this year donated by Jane and Steve Shanahan.  I quickly painted the horseshoes and still damp with spray paint, dropped them in my saddle bag to head over to the trail.  I really didn’t want to make this a difficult job; time was limited, so I planned to ride Windy.  As I was putting on her halter, I looked up at Fancy standing next to her and thought, “why not?”  I took the halter off Windy and put it on Fancy.

 

I am sure I have mentioned here before that while I don’t have any issues taking Fancy out on the trail when I ride with friends, I have been pretty apprehensive about riding her solo since our parting of ways this past winter.  Something about the slight angst she demonstrates when I try to ride her away from the barn and the herd gives me a bit more angst.  I know I could and should ride her through it.  But frankly, I’m chicken. 

 

But taking her out alone on the Oak Creek Trail is a good compromise.  It is not riding her away from the barn but it still is a solo ride so should count for something, huh?  John planned to cut up some downed trees at the end of the trail, so he dropped Fancy and me off at the end of the first mile and I’d meet him at the end of the 4th mile.  I made some notion about walking her until I got past the guinea chickens and the dog at the first farm and John quickly scolded me.  He told me I just needed to get on and ride or I was going to scare her.  Sometimes we need that little kick in the butt….

 

 

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I took a deep breath, got on and headed into the trail that I know better than any other trail around these parts.   Immediately I started to relax.  She had a nice, easy trot going.  Curious as usual, looking left and right but hey, as long as we were moving forward I was happy.  We crossed bridges, we crossed the trickling creek, we went over the scary culvert and watched four deer run through the trail in front of us.  We even loped across the open pasture.  The only thing she would not pass were some purple flowers along the trail.  I am not sure if she didn’t think they belonged there or what.  I fooled her, though.  I turned her around and backed her toward them.  When her hip was even with the flowers, we did a turn on the haunches the other direction and went on down the trail.  Cheating?  Yeah.  But whatever works. 

 

Fancy stood quietly while I placed the horseshoes; evidence of her good training.  We popped out of the trail at what we call the short mile and found John waiting with the trailer.  This busy ride week was off to a good start. 

May 13, 2012

The Graduation

 

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It’s Sunday morning.  The Big Weekend which took 18 years to arrive is finally over.  I have one child through high school.  Graduated.  An adult, according to his drivers license.  Still a child in my eyes.  Relieved, nostalgic, sad, happy… lots of emotions; all of them good. 

 

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We had the party at our home.  A few times I questioned myself on that decision but really, wouldn’t have had it any other way.  We have a big old farm house and entertain very seldom.  Someone asked if we were having it in the garage.  Hell, no!  If I’m going to clean for company, I’m certainly not going to waste my time in the garage!  Our house is plenty roomy and with the covered porch and deck, even if it rained (it didn’t), we would have plenty of room for everyone.

 

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Horse related?  My riding buddies, Kathy and Tanya, took decorating to a whole new level.  When they asked what they could do to help, I gave them carte blanche with decorating.  They bought streamers and signs and table clothes and put it all together in a way I never could have imagined.  And I love them for it!  My sister was here to help where I needed; she thought perhaps we should go have our feet done the day before.  Huh?  Bless her heart for thinking of me but there is no time for that at T-minus zero hours. 

 

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After pictures, we headed to the school a little early for photographer/class pictures.  Here is where I was a little sad.  McCain went to our local Catholic School until mid year his Junior year.  When he decided to no longer play sports, his friendships waned.  He was very unhappy and it was showing academically.  I made him a deal; if he got his grades up, he could transfer to the public school mid year.  So for the last 1.5 years, he has attended public school.  While a good school with good teachers and a supportive community, not unlike our Catholic school, none of the kids that he grew up with, that we knew were there.  So it was kind of sad to have lost the 11 years of history he had while growing up.

 

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The party was a huge success.  I didn’t take many pictures because I was too busy talking.  Family on both sides, friends from the early days, horse friends, church friends and neighbors all brought together to celebrate this milestone in our son’s life.  I counted seventy adults that I could recall; I couldn’t begin to count the kids. 

 

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We didn’t run out of food; but close.  Most of the guests were gone before eleven, so it wasn’t a late night.  Other than removing decorations and doing up the serving dishes, there isn’t much clean-up that needs done.  The place still looks nice.   

 

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What’s next?  In a few weeks, he will be moving in with one of the families from his church and starting a summer job in their business doing landscaping.  An internship, of sorts.  Then in August, he’s enrolled in Grace University in Omaha.  Lots of changes going on around here; all good, but bittersweet.  This is what we raise them for, right? 

 

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Being one that left home a week after I graduated from high school, I can certainly understand his excitement and desire to move on.  As a mom, it makes me sad but as a parent, I am ready.  Does that make sense? 

 

This morning I’ll get those pesky dishes done and hopefully find a little horse time. 

 

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One down, one to go. 

 

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May 10, 2012

A Nice Ride

I just hollered upstairs to my almost graduated son (last day of school was yesterday) and asked if he would come help me in the kitchen.  He has already scrubbed the basement, laid some brick tile and smashed aluminum cans, but hey - stuff needs done around here.  He said, "can't I just have a little time on Facebook?"  He needs to be more sneaky about it.  I have managed to clean the stove, oven, frig and freezer AND post some comments on Facebook.  So I gave him 15 minutes off.  Me, too.





Last night I rode the Platte River Riders (Saunders Chapter) ride.  After I was sure there was going to be other riders, I decided to take Fancy instead of Windy.  I haven't mustered up the courage to haul her somewhere solo yet.  Once on the Oak Creek Trail, we headed from Loma toward Brainard.  We don't normally go this direction because it is pretty flat and out in the open.  Translation:  usually too windy or too hot.  But it was a gorgeous, windless, bugless night - so that's the way we went.  Since I haven't been riding Fancy at home and John has been riding more, its been almost a month since I've been on her.


Fancy's biggest problem lately has been separation from her buddies.  The last time John and I rode with the group, I was riding up ahead and he was talking with others several horses behind me.  He said she was quite a handful when she lost sight of Windy.  Last night, there were only three other horses and she fell second in line walking out nicely on a loose rein.




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On the way back, we were about two miles out from the trailers.  One of the riders and I had loped a short distance and then he dropped back.  Fancy kept moving out in front and I let her go.  For the next 2 miles, we trotted back to the trailers by ourselves.  She could have walked if she wanted, but she didn't.  She could have rushed back, but she didn't.  Just a nice even pace.  When we reached our trailer, I didn't let her turn in but we continued another 1/2 mile down the trail, turned around and trotted back to meet our group.  It was the most relaxed I have been on her since we parted ways this past winter.  I needed this ride on her.


I just watched the video again.  John said we should have called her Vera because she is always veering around looking at things.  Even in the video you can see her look to her left, look to her right.... stand up, sit down.... fight fight fight.  (Sorry, couldn't resist).

Vera.  It might stick.

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May 8, 2012

Reminiscing About Competition

 

I’m cleaning.  Or I am suppose to be.  We have that pesky graduation party coming up this weekend.  Its good to entertain once or twice a decade so the house gets the long overdue once over.

 

But while I clean, I find things and as I put them away, my mind wonders.  This time it was my score cards for my four Competitive Trail Rides.  I know I have talked about them before on this blog and on Horsetrailriders but now, eight years after that first competition, I do have a different perspective.

 

I always wanted to compete.  I knew the distance wouldn’t bother me; usually up to 35 or so miles over a two-day period.  But it was everything else that had worried me.  Okay, to be really honest, just one other thing:  the obstacles.  Referred to as “observations” in some circles, it is basically being stopped along the trail and asked to perform some task; be it simply “observing” you riding up a hill or sidepassing over a log.  The whole idea made me a nervous wreck.  My horse won’t do that! 

 

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The first year I completed, back in 2004, I decided to do it only because I had a horse that might do some of that.  I had bought Jo, a seasoned appaloosa gelding, from some friends.  He knew how to sidepass and had the basics down.  Maybe we could make a reasonable showing. 

 

A few weeks prior to the ride, he came down with a sore back.  And if that wasn’t enough, he also sunburned on those sores.  He was a mess.  Blue would never check in sound for a CTR; even at the clinic we took, one of the judge’s deemed him lame not really understanding that was just the way he traveled.  So I either forfeit my ride entry or take Ginger, John’s mare. 

 

Ginger used to scare the bejeezes out of me.  As I got more comfortable in my riding skills, I gradually started including her in my rotation and that year, due to Jo’s issues, took her to Cowgirl Weekend.  I had a great ride there so figured, why not compete on her.  We probably wouldn’t do great at the obstacles, but Ginger loved to go-go-go.  She would do awesome as a CTR horse.

 

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Well, it didn’t quite go as planned.  She hated the vet.  Anytime she would try to look in her mouth, I would lose control of her.  She walked off when mounting.  She forgot how to back, she rushed hills, and she was pissed!  I remember at one vet check, she was just pacing; wouldn’t hold still and I popped her on the head with an empty water bottle.  I was that pissed at her back!  When I tried to groom her after the ride, she raised her leg to kick me.  Ginger never kicked.  My saddle evidently didn’t fit well and she ended up with girth sores.  And to add insult to injury, here I was worried about the obstacles, never mind the fact that I really didn’t know how to ride and MY scorecard reflected THAT!  She was a mess, I was a mess.  I decided I tried it, did it and won’t humiliate myself ever again with this silly game!

 

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Fast forward five years.  Humiliation becomes humbleness.  And like childbirth, you kind of forget the pain.  I’m now riding Windy, Ginger’s only baby.  Far from perfect, but I am once again tempted to complete.  Not wanting to do it alone, some friends also entered as first time competitors and we made the trek to Missouri.  While my score card still reflected a lot of my same issues:  “need to be lighter in the saddle”, “landed heavy in the saddle”, “need better leg and rein aids” and “body position off”, Windy, on the other hand, surprised me.  Although she did raise her leg at the vet, it was more of a reaction to the stethoscope that she didn’t know was coming and I figured if that was the worse thing she did all weekend, we could get through it.  Imagine my surprise when my little mare ended up in 6th place.  It really did whet my appetite for another ride. 

 

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By the next ride that same year, my anxieties were over.  I knew what we had to work on and was pretty sure we wouldn’t embarrass ourselves anymore.  But when I opened my trailer to unpack tack, I found I had forgotten my best saddle pad in my other trailer.  Other riders helped out and offered up an assortment of pads, but following the first day’s ride, she had a little saddle sores where the rigging was off the pad and soreness in her loin.  Her other scores were  remarkable, but not enough to pull us into placing.  But did I have fun that ride!  Finally I was able to relax during competition and enjoy the ride.

 

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The next year, 2010, I was lured into competing in the same ride that I rode Ginger in all those years before.  The weekend was beautiful and my mare was beautifully conditioned.  When riders talk about their “zen” ride, this was mine.  The weather, the trails, the ride… it was all wonderful and if we never placed, I would have left happy.  As it turned out, Windy placed 2nd and for the first time, I came into the placings, too, earning a 4th place ribbon.  It was icing on the cake. 

 

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Where am I going with this?  I don’t know.  Just a walk down memory lane.  A little nostalgic.  I miss Ginger.  I wonder if we would have practiced if we could have done better.  She died too young.  She should have gotten a do-over at this.  And I wish I’d lose the weight I put back on so if I did complete, Windy wouldn’t have to lug around this added poundage.  Might be good incentive for me to consider dieting more seriously.

 

I do recall having a conversation with someone recently about the CTRs and their reluctance to do it because of the obstacles.  I think about where I started with Ginger and where I am at today.  Rather than letting the obstacles become an obstacle, I set out to learn to have better control of my horse so that we could make a decent showing.  With anything, it takes practice and know how and we are still working on all of that, but looking back on that first ride and the last, THIS is what the organization means about this competition helping you to become a better rider. 

 

I’ve kind of got the itch to do it again….. 

 

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