Saturday, August 30, 2008

When You're Strange

A co-worker asked me a strange question the other morning. She likes to do this (ask me strange questions.) She asked, when you think about doing something, do you operate from fear or from hope?

My answer was rather convoluted and somehow, I ended up relating it back to horses. I explained that I am an anxious person by nature, but have learned to manage anxiety relatively well. I told her that in the past six months, I have done a lot of thinking about how horses think. How they operate in prey animal mode and seek comfort, safety, and some, (like My Boy) food, at all times. How they don't think logically. And how as a human, I think completely different from a horse, and yet I often transfer human emotions and feelings onto my horse and expect him to reason like a human. I told her I have to think of what motivates my horse, and to approach our work and play together from that perspective. I have discovered that understanding how to be a successful horsewoman has given me confidence in other areas of my life. And although I don't always operate from or face things in a hopeful manner, I know that as I have matured as an adult, I also operate much less from fear.

That being said, I do believe that my emotions on any given day can transfer to my horse. I think if I am feeling anxious or stressed, my horse feels it, too. Yesterday, when I took My Boy right outside of his pasture gate and attempted to brush him there, something I never do and that was out of our routine. As I tried to brush his face, he acted silly and headshy and terrified of the brush. I have no idea what his deal was, I've brushed his face hundreds of times and he could have cared less. In retrospect, I felt like I was in a bit of a hurry to spend time with him, as I still had to go in to work afterwards for the rest of the day. My head was filled with all the things I still needed to do, I was tired, and my focus was not calm, and it was not on my horse. I honestly believe horses pick up on that energy. Maybe my anxiety was giving him something to be anxious about!

Spanki, the wonder-mother, bunco-playing, picture-taking friend of mine over at the Mills Family blog tagged me for a meme. I have to tell you seven strange things about myself. Do I have to limit it to seven? Goodness, I'm just kidding! I think I will hold off on sharing those things for now, at least not in one sitting. I wouldn't want to overwhelm you. I will probably share a variety of strange things about myself in future posts.

But before I go, because I know you're curious, I'll offer one strange tidbit. For some reason, when I was younger, like a pre-teen kiddo, I really liked these grass seeds. Late summer and early fall, when the seeds would top each long blade of grass, I would enjoy pinching the seeds off and sliding them into my hand. And I would pretend they were something.....pile them up, and release them to new ground, or throw them in my sister's hair. Whenever I see those seeds, I still find the urge to slide them off their blades and hold their feathered lightness in my hand. But I don't think my sister would be to happy if I tossed them in her hair anymore!

In closing, I wanted to thank everyone for their incredible insight and advice in regards to my search for a cowboy! I really enjoyed reading everyone's comments, opinions and personal stories of how they found their own true loves, please keep sharing! And I promise to keep you all posted on the search, which I hope to officially launch with vigor this fall.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

PG's Cowboy Search

Nope, I didn't run off and get married. But Jewel lassoed her cowboy Ty Murray. Lucky girl!

I only know one cowboy right now. Oh goodness, is that sad or what? He is a friend of the family we met through my Auntie J. He has wrangled our sorry tushes on many rides through the desert. He has saved one of us when she panicked on the edge of a cliff when riding by moonlight. He tromped through the date palms to get us a tiny sample of the local flora and fauna. He let us stop at all of the scenic spots along the ride, and took our pictures. He adjusted our stirrups. He likes to do that even though those of us that ride can do it ourselves. He eats the shrimp we can't finish and laughs as we polish off too much "cowgirl lemonade" and get silly. He takes us on secret covert operations. On rooftops. But you didn't hear that here. He is one of the good ones.

Cowboy Deputy Dog on duty.

But. He is not single. But that's beside the point and brings me to a topic I have wanted to talk about. Since I have been back into the world of horses, I realized that it would be kind of nice to find a guy who also enjoys horses. What are my odds? I know they are out there. The horse riding guys. But where do you find them? Not the ones my cowgirl friends warn me to stay away from. But, the good ones, the cultured cowboys?

I will not bore you with the other qualities I am looking for. Aren't they usually the same? Intelligent, good sense of humor, likes kids, compassionate, yada yada. I can not limit myself to a "cowboy," by definition. A man who wants to live in the country and appreciates nature and animals would suffice. I can always try to convert him to horses later. It seems to have worked for a lot of people I know. Easier said than done, converters?

Besides, I am a little concerned about "the cowboy way." After all, what if I meet a cowboy and I completely disagree with his philosophy of riding and training horses? Cowboys can be cowboys and will often ride like cowboys. I do not ride like a cowboy and I am not at all impressed by men that ride or handle horses roughly. After all, I am more into natural horsemanship and cowboys probably poo-poo that with a wave of their tan leathery hands. Therefore, I might butt some horns with an old-school cowboy. I'm all for learning different horsemanship methods, but if I completely disagree with how someone chooses to handle their horse, then what might I think of how they approach the discipline of our future child? I'm just sayin'.

I have to put myself out there. Surround myself with other horse people in horse-related situations. That is where I think I will have the best luck finding someone with similar interests, goals, and dreams. That is one of the other reasons I have been attending clinics and shows and hope to join this new "Parelli horsemanship club" (akin to a book club, of sorts.)

It will be a long journey. But the first part of the journey was finding My Boy, and starting the trip. My Other Boy will come along, too.

And goodness, being single is really okay as well, despite what society says about it. I always have My Boy when I feel the need to be in the company of a big pill. And despite the rising costs of hay, feeding My Boy surely must cost less than feeding a cowboy?

Gus McCrae.....where art thou?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Canter Banter

I suppose the correct term, since I ride western, is lope. But it doesn't rhyme with banter.

Lope. Should we or shouldn't we?

An interesting thing happened on my family horse guest ranch trip a few weeks ago. I loped My Boy for the first time since his silly misfitted saddle pad crow hops earlier this spring. And you know what? I lived.

Let me clarify, I am not living in fear of loping. It's a combination of things that make me more uncomfortable rather than fearful. I do not like My Boy's lope. It is a bit choppy. He is not a flat-kneed loper. In his defense, he is not an awful loper either, it's just not pretty. I always feel like he's going faster than he is. And I do not like loping in small arenas. It seems to make his speed feel faster and the circle less controlled.

In the guest ranch arena, things were different. The arena was huge. The footing wasn't great (wood chips on top of sand/dirt) but it was more level and forgiving then the arena I ride in. I'm not sure what prompted me to ask My Boy to lope during our rodeo events (umm....a little competition, maybe?) but I did and he was fine and I was fine. Even loping on a straightaway, in a haphazard, let's-go gaming kind of lope.

The one other time we had to lope in a circle was during the egg and spoon ride. The two finalists were so good (that would be me and my cousin Jac) that the only way to get a winner was to pick up the pace. I kissed and gave My Boy a little right leg and off he went into a rather slow, collected lope. I kept the egg steady for almost a whole circle around.

So what did all this loping do for me? It gave me confidence. I am not sure what was different about that trip. Maybe it was all of my family's eyes on me, supporting me, offering to pick the wood chips off my chinks should My Boy decided to get silly and dump me (he never has.) Maybe it was being in a different environment. It felt like we were in the "show" ring and My Boy seemed to think it, to. We weren't just riding at home in the backyard. It felt different. I felt like I could have loped him all over that arena.

Where does this leave me? Eager to try loping again at home. Of course, footing is an issue. The late summer rains have drenched the arena and made it slippery again. I'm telling you, summer is over, my friends. I am not sure the arena will see another dry day until next spring. But I am keeping my fingers crossed that I can get some more "canter work" in soon. It is a good muscle builder for my boy. And for me? Well, goodness, I think I've broke out of my lope mope. Sorry, I couldn't resist that one.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Blackberry Monday

I made it up to see My Boy yesterday. It had been a week since I'd last seen him. I haven't gone that long since last winter! I felt like a neglectful mother. He seemed happy to see me (it was feeding time) and ate carrots and let me catch him on the first try. Other than fuzzier hair and a slightly rubbed out tail, he looked the same. I brushed off the dried mud and then took him up to the arena. We did a lot of circling at the trot. He moved out fairly well and I could tell the weather change had him feeling the Autumn frisk. The arena was a bit slick from the recent downpour or I would have turned him loose and free longed him.

Afterwards, I let him graze. He was content to munch on the late summer grass in the fading afternoon sun. Then I fed him his supplement and hay and said goodnight.

Before I left the Painted Creek, I checked on those blackberries I've been eyeing all summer. To my surprise many of them had ripened. I fetched a Tupperware and began to pick. Let me tell you, it was a risky business. I tried to avoid disturbing spider webs, and got bit and grabbed by giant thorns several times (luckily I wore long sleeves.) Goodness, many of the berries were so plump and ripe they fell into my fingers at the suggestion of a touch. A lot of the berries are still red or green, so there is promise of more to come. I have cousins visiting this Labor Day weekend, and I am hoping to throw together a pie. I say "throw together" because I will be mixing the berry filling but pouring it into a pre-made pie crust. Despite many pie-making talents that run in the family, this pony girl will not be making a crust from scratch. Or should I try?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Soggy Sunday Clinic

I just hung up my rain-soaked windbreaker, took a hot shower, and had chicken noodle soup for dinner. Yes, it sounds like something you'd do in December. That was how the afternoon ended at the Natural Horsemanship clinic I attended (audited) today. The day started partly sunny and warm and I was optimistic in a tank top as I donned my sunglasses and settled into my camp chair with my tumbler of coffee.

The clinician was Chuck Kraft from "Horsehandling." If the name sounds familiar you might have read about him in MiKael's Mania Arabian blogspot. She attended a former clinic of his and posted about it in a series of posts starting here.

Chuck Kraft is a long-time friend of Pat Parelli's. He knew Pat before he became known by the natural horsemanship household name "Parelli." Chuck reminded me a little of Pat, in both appearance and personality, as well as style. I liked him instantly.

This particular clinic was labled as "an introduction to natural horsemanship and the seven Parelli games" and had a limit of five participants, including a 9 year old girl that was leasing a 25 year old Quarter pony mare. The other cast of characters included a Walkaloosa (solid chestnut with flaxen mane and tail), a liver chestnut American Saddlebred, a bay Spanish-bred Arabian, and a flashy chestnut off-the-track teen-aged Thoroughbred.

Since the arena the handlers worked in was grass, one interesting thing that Chuck told us is that you can teach a horse when it is okay to graze. He said grazing is good and important, but your horse should have permission to do so. He showed us the "button", a spot on top of the hindquarters, where if your horse were to graze when you didn't want them to, you'd bump them firmly with the carrot stick. Up the head would go. When you wanted them to graze, you'd wiggle the carrot stick (and eventually your hand) low towards the grass and release their head. After a horse has learned this on the ground, it translates easy to riding- if your horse tries to graze on the trail when you don't want them to, instead of pulling on their reins, you can just turn and bump them with your hand on the hindquarters.

Another important reminder Chuck brought up was that horses have no deductive logic or reasoning like humans do. He really stressed that we want horses to be calmer, braver, smarter, and more athletic. If a horse is not calm and is athletic, well, you can imagine the combination and potential for danger.

The Thoroughbred did not like the plastic grocery bag on the end of the carrot stick. He immediately went into prey animal mode, snorting, jumping back and sideways, head up. Chuck worked with him for almost half an hour on desensitization to that bag. He finally got the gelding fairly calm, but not before he'd worked himself up to a lather. Chuck called this "emotional sweat." It wasn't that warm and the horse wasn't working that hard, but every vein in his Thoroughbred skin was peaked with his anxiety.

One interesting thing about this TB is that he was a left-eyed horse. According to Chuck, that meant he reacted from his right brain, also known as the flightier, spookier side. That seemed logical, from watching him play the games. And lo and behold, that horse did everything in his physical power to turn the left side of his head towards Chuck, always wanting keep that clinician in his left eye of vision. This horse had a gorgeous floaty trot and I could tell that if his spark was harnessed and worked with, he could be an amazing dressage horse.

Here Chuck is helping the young girl with her "grandma" Quarter horse. This mare appeared to be the perfect bombproof kids pony, she didn't blink an eye at the plastic bag flopping around. However, she was also in her mid-twenties and set her in ways. She was a bit resistant to yield and stay out of the young girl's space. Although she was kind of a love bug and wasn't really wasn't going to do anything dangerous while in this girl's space, I made the point to the girl's father that his daughter would not be handling or riding this mare indefinitely. Teaching the mare to yield and have respectful ground manners would benefit his daughter and give her valuable horse handling skills to use in her future interactions with other horses. Other horses that may not be as docile as this cutie was! It is easy to develop bad safety habits around overly docile horses.

At one point, someone asked when you know when to quit a session you are working on. Well, Chuck said it's like a war. You will lose some of the battles, but you can still win the war. Horseman are human and sometimes the horse wins a battle, maybe because you missed a cue or body positioning. But the important thing to remember is that it won't undo what you're working on. He stressed the importance of being fair and firm, and that horses work in situations of discomfort and comfort. Discomfort motivates, and comfort rewards. It has to be the horse's idea and they usually figure out where the most comfortable spot is pretty quickly!

Chuck stressed a lot of backing up and sideways work. He said that backing causes horses to think down to their feet, helping them to do everything else better. One thing I will work on with My Boy is his lateral flexion. This starts on the ground, holding a horse's tail, and turning their nose to touch their tail, then releasing. The Walkaloosa had this down and I envied his flexibility! A few horses would turn their noses then their body would follow in a circle. It took some finesse and slow work to get them to flex without moving their feet. This groundwork exercise is important to eventually do in the saddle, as lateral flexion (in the form of a one-rein stop) is the best way to disengage a horse's hindquarters and get them stopped. A horse has a lot of power but once they are having to move that hind end sideways under themselves, it takes the wind out of their sails.

Watching from under the umbrella of a large tree as the rain began to fall.

Around lunch time, those gray thunder clouds rumbled in and it soon began to rain. It poured for the remaining 3 hours. The clinic participants, both horses and riders, were dripping troopers as they learned how to do the seven Parelli games. This was a helpful refresher course for me. I have been doing many of these games with My Boy and he does them fairly well, but there are a few we could play more (such as the driving game and the squeeze game.)

The American Saddlebred mare did not like the rain trickling down her legs. She kept stomping as if she was being swarmed by flies, and licking the water off her ankles.

I would definitely attend a Chuck Kraft clinic again. I liked his confidence and interactions with both the horses and the humans. He was very conversational and informative and I felt everyone got a lot of one-on-one attention, both training with their horse, and help with how they could implement the techniques. The woman who informed me about this clinic also mentioned a natural horsemanship group that meets to have conversation, watch DVDs, and learn more about the practice of natural horsemanship. I am considering joining their group later this month.

Yesterday, I never made it up to see my horse. I was wiped out from a long day at work that included a lengthy Saturday shopping trip to IKEA for my classroom, which included a co-worker locking his keys in his van in the IKEA loading zone.

After this clinic today, I knew I would be inspired to go and work with My Boy (I mean, play. In natural horsemanship, it is considered play, not work!) Unfortunately, the weather turned and driving home on a nearly flooded freeway was challenging enough. I can't get a break! I miss My Boy and hopefully, knock on wood, the weather will break tomorrow and I'll get to rub his speckled neck.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Pink PJ's

It's funny how family (and horse lovers) think a like! On the first morning on our horse camping trip, we all crawled out of our tipis in the morning and guess what? Five of us had on these adorable hot pink cropped PJ pants with brown horses on them!

Talk about great fashion minds think a like! These cute pants are from none other than one of my favorite second homes, Target. FUN! I just love finding "horsey" items at non-horsey stores.

I'm off to work on my classroom some more (I know, I know, on a Saturday!) and then up to see My Boy. Tomorrow I'm auditing another clinic all day, so I will let you know what I learn. Have a happy weekend!

Thursday, August 21, 2008


I have always wished that I had more siblings. Goodness, don't get me wrong, I am thankful for and dearly love having Paint Girl, my one and only rodeo queen sister. And we are lucky to share a common love for horses. But still, I wanted more sisters, and even a brother or two.

Well, it's too late for that. But one thing I do have is a lot of cousins. My mom is one of three sisters, and I have their daughters as my first cousins. And all of my mom's cousin's daughters as my second cousins. When you put this group of ladies together, you have what we call the "cuzettes." Even though we have all known each other since we were little tots, the cuzettes have been bonding increasingly over the past year, particularly over horses and riding. And we have other non-horsey cuzettes that are yet to join our little club, we just need to formulate our conversion plan.

Although a couple of my second cousins own horses, only one of my cuzettes actually owns a horse. However, the rest of them have all shown an interest in riding. They have taken lessons recently, and bought cowgirl boots and western shirts. They rode borrowed horses in our rodeo and galloped home faster than I did! I was very impressed with their gumption and confidence around horses. Even though they may never purchase a horse of their own, being part of this family of horsewomen has become important to them. They may not know it, but it means everything to the rest of us, to be able to share this world of ours with them. On our recent trip, they eagerly offered to help groom, saddle, feed, water, scoop poop.....I don't know how many times I asked a cuzette to hold my horse for me. The trip would not have been the same without our horseless helpers!

As the cuzettes and I begin to plan a weekend gathering of our own this fall, I have come to realize that I am indeed blessed with the bigger family and all of the extra "sisters" that I always wanted.

How big is your family? How many people in your family own or ride horses as well?

P.S. I miss my horse. He is getting a mini-vacation this week as I am back at school setting up my classroom. I will get to see him on Saturday! Woo hoo!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Saddle Up Your Horses

The song "The Great Adventure" by Steven Curtis Chapman was dubbed our trip's theme song.

Saddle up your horses we've got a trail to blaze
Through the wild blue yonder of God's amazing grace
Let's follow our leader into the glorious unknown
This is a life like no other - this is The Great Adventure

Come on get ready for the ride of your life
Gonna leave long faced religion in a cloud of dust behind
And discover all the new horizons just waiting to be explored
This is what we were created for

We'll travel over, over mountains so high
We'll go through valleys below
Still through it all we'll find that
This is the greatest journey that the human heart will ever see
The love of God will take us far beyond our wildest dreams


Goodness, what an adventure it was! Thursday morning started off bright and early and I was a bundle of nerves as we loaded our last few things then fetched the horses. But my sister steadily drove our precious cargo on the longest freeway haul she's ever done, and got us safely over the mountain to our destination.

It was sunny and hot and we quickly found the boarder pens and put up our horses with their buckets of water and a flake of hay. Then we lounged in the shade by the pool and waited for everyone else to arrive.


We slept in tipis. Four of my cousins and I stayed in one called The Spotted Fawn. They were on raised wooden platforms and had cozy twin beds in them with wool camp blankets and down throws.

The tipis were out in the dry pine forest, a five minute drive up on the ridge from the ranch. We were in a naturalistic setting. I fell asleep each night under a full moon, to the sound of cicada and owls and coyotes, and awoke to the sounds of ravens and shrews rustling in the dry leaves around the camp. Every night we checked our beds for spiders and snakes and all things creepy crawly. One morning a chipmunk ventured halfway down a tipi pole.


We had at least at least two horse events planned a day, one of them being a themed and costumed trail ride. We did not plan for the weather. It was 104 degrees on Saturday and 101 on Sunday. What does this mean for horses and riders? Unbearable. Hot, hotter, and hotter still!

My Boy and I dressed for the "vintage cowgirl" ride.

Many of us wondered why we felt like we had heatstroke and red faces and headaches and couldn't stand the thought of saddling a horse if our lives depended on it. A few rides were postponed or cancelled, or some riders opted out. Hot weather riding tip: soak bandannas in ice water, ring them out slightly, and tie them around your neck to help keep yourself cool!

The few trail rides we did venture on led us on dusty paths up onto the ridge, through meandering pines. We crossed far back onto the property and into open territory and saw alpine meadows. We spotted numerous deer and at one point came across what we thought was a small herd of horses grazing in the trees, only to discover they were elk. They moved off quietly but not before our horses caught their scent and raised their heads and pricked their ears.

Returning to the ranch after a ride.


One event was an extreme trail course that we set up in the arena. Riders had to put on a rain slicker, back through an "L" of poles on the ground, shake a bag of cans, walk up to a blown up cactus (think Cinco de Mayo party display) and move rings from one arm to the other, back through barrels, walk over snakes (foam noodles) a tarp, and through hula hoops. My Boy did well and we placed 4th in this event (yes, we had ribbons! And trophies! Oh my!)

Another event was the pink pony breast cancer ride, to honor those in our family that have passed away from cancer. Because it was so hot and we had to wait until evening, we ran out of daylight to do both a ride and the trail course, so we combined them and rode in our pink outfits for the trail event.

Sunday morning started early with a heaven-sent cloud cover in the sky that kept things cooler for our rodeo. Many of us intended to trot our horses through the course (ahem, like this Pony Girl) but when we discovered there were both trot and lope events, we decided to see how the trot ones went and then, well, maybe we'd try the loping. As you can probably guess, most of us ended up loping! Nothing like a little cowgirl courage and competitive spirit during a rodeo to get even the novice horse riders crying "yah!" and galloping home. Yep, me and My Boy even did a lope/trot combination for most events. We placed 4th in Pole Bending/lope, barrel racing/lope, and the barrel racing/trot. We placed 5th in the champagne glass ride and the pole bending/trot. In the egg and spoon ride we placed 2nd. I even loped My Boy while holding an egg on a spoon! I was so proud of myself and my choppy loper. But our big victory was in the keyhole race. My spotted speedy boy won this event in 13.8 seconds! I don't know how he did it but I credit his reining training. We loped into the keyhole, stopped on a dime, and spun around and loped out. I really don't remember a thing about our run but someone got it on video camera and I can't wait to see it again.

Congratulating my rodeo boy!

My sister did very well in the gaming events on her Arabian/Paint, Brandy, which was a completely new and unexplored territory for this quick little mare. In fact, they did so well that she collected the most points and won the Rodeo Princess trophy of the weekend! My sister even got a tiara!

We had intended to paint our ponies for the cowgirls and Indians ride. I love Appaloosas dressed in native costume. What better horse could I have to paint up with some Native American symbols? Unfortunately, that was the hottest day of the weekend and only a few went on that ride. The rest of us dressed in costume and met the riders up at the tipis for pictures. And when we got back to the ranch, as the sun started to go down behind the ridge, I had my sister take a few pictures of me and my Indian boy. I had even handcrafted him a suede braided cavesson with beads and feathers. I put it on under his halter but it wasn't quite the same effect.


The chuck wagon crew was amazing! We had a little cookhouse to ourselves and were literally rolling into our tipis with full bellies every night. It was hard to eat much during the heat of the day, so by the time we sat outside and ate alfresco by candlelight, we were too ravenous to carry a conversation.

We had lasagna and fresh green beans and garlic bread, blue cheese hamburgers and corn on the cob, and homemade enchiladas and cilantro and lime black beans. Oh, and a cheesecake to die for! Chocolate espresso swirl cheesecake topped with homemade chocolate Merlot sauce (okay, wipe off the drool. Do not even ask for the recipe as I can not give it out my cousin B is a pastry chef and she is hoping to open her own bakery someday.)


Our last morning, we packed ourselves and our horses and hit the road for home, beating the first few drops of a humid summer drizzle. When I unloaded My Boy at home and turned him out into his pasture, he immediately went to his favorite dirt hole and rolled vigorously, then galloped from one end of the pasture to the other in glee, happy for freedom.

The sun has set on our first annual Pony Cousins horse and rider reunion. But without a doubt, this will become an annual event. The time we spent together, both with our beloved horses and our family, was a memorable experience for us all.

Happy trails to you, until we meet again.
Happy trails to you, keep smilin' until then.
Who cares about the clouds when we're together?
Just sing a song and bring the sunny weather.

Happy trails to you, 'till we meet again.
Some trails are happy ones,
Others are blue.
It's the way you ride the trail that counts,
Here's a happy one for you.

Happy trails to you, until we meet again.
Happy trails to you, keep smilin' until then.
Who cares about the clouds when we're together?
Just sing a song and bring the sunny weather.
Happy trails to you, 'till we meet again.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Adventure Begins

We're hittin' the trail. Or the road, I should say. It was 10:00 p.m. before we got into the house from hitching and loading hay and getting gas and ice know. I think we might be too tired from trip prep to enjoy the trip!

Yesterday was horse bath day and My Boy was not a pill, he was a PILL! It was about feeding time when it was his turn. He pulled back out of his halter and spun away from me as I was attempting to get it buckled behind his ear (he does this occasionally) and I swung the halter and lead at him. A 10 minute gallop around the pasture session ensued. Tail flagged, snorting, and running so hard I thought he was going to fall and break his leg and so much for our trip. Every time I approached him and he turned away I chased him off again. I was so miffed at him. He finally settled down. He hasn't done that in forever. Why is he so smart? How did he know it was bath time? Anyway, once the bath started, he was a good boy and he felt so soft and clean. Of course, after I hand grazed him, put his sheet on, and turned him back out, he dropped down in the dust and rolled on both sides, grinding in as much dirt as he could to any exposed hair. PILL.

I'm sorry I haven't been able to visit your blogs much the past few days, I miss you all terribly. I will catch up when I get back!

Please keep me, my family, and our horses in your thoughts and prayers as we travel to our destination and begin this 5 day horsey adventure. I promise to return next week with many stories and pictures. Tally ho!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Goldilocks and Her Fear of Bears

As I am getting ready to leave for my trip and have plans for many trail rides in the woods, this topic has come to mind a lot lately.

This is a tale of blackberries. And horseback riding. And bears. Somehow, it will all fit together.

When I was walking My Boy through the little meadow to the arena the other day, I noticed this:

It's a struggling blackberry vine. As an avid blackberry connoisseur, I was excited. However, I will not be picking or eating the berries from this branch. Can you see why?
Luckily, a trek around the farm showed me a few other strands of berries, many still red and waiting to ripen.

Then, there are these. Himalayan blackberries. Invaders of the land. Choking out native flora in it's thorny path. On the farm, they are still finishing their spring blooms. Aren't these blooms delicate? Many of them slightly laced pink.

After the bloom wilts, you can see all of the stamens and pistils (um, that would be technical flower terminology) begin to shrivel and curl up and turn brown, looking like a little nest cradling the beginning of a little hard green berry underneath.

Of course, you can hardly get to the blasted berries once they are ripe because of these:

Have you ever been trail riding and come across one of these deadly arms reaching out to grab you? Hopefully you weren't half-turned in the saddle chatting with the person behind you at the time. If you're like me, you probably had to break a branch off a nearby tree or bush then use it to hold offending sticker aside as you rode by. If you and your horse stand there long enough, one will probably start growing up around your horse's legs.

When I was a child, we often went blackberry picking. There were numerous logged areas of land that were a haven for the new growth of blackberry vines. Off we'd go with plastic bowls or buckets. One time, when I was around 10 years old, I went with my sister, my mom, her friend, and her daughters. We were picking berries and started to hear a strange sound far away. My mom's friend said it was a bear. We kept picking and the sound got louder and closer. It was a strange roaring and grunting sound. I can still hear it in my head to this day. I began to get very nervous. We kept picking and "it" got closer and then someone said "let's go." I don't think I ever ran to a car faster in my life. As we drove out of the logging road I kept seeing huge overturned black burned stumps among the logged brush. To my imaginative 10 year old mind, every one of them was a bear. Who knows if that sound was really a bear (are they really that vocal?) but I am glad we didn't stick around to find out.

When I first started leasing My Boy, he was boarded at a stable that had access to trails near a river full of salmon. With a lot of berries right on the trail. What do bears eat? Hmm....berries and salmon? I tell you this because the first time we rode around the gate at the trail head, there it was. On a tree, posted for all to see.

Well, it didn't look exactly like that one. But it read: "Warning: A Potentially Aggressive Bear has been Seen in this Area." Luckily, the sign was dated several months before we started riding there. But that did not settle my nerves. What aggressive behavior did this bear exhibit to deserve getting it's own sign? Did it attack a dog? Charge a hiker? The friends I rode with laughed it off but to me, it was no joke. I said, um, people, do you know what season it is? Spring? Yes. Do you know what bears are doing? Waking up from hibernation? Yes. Do you know how they feel when they wake up from hibernation? Hungry? Yes! Now do you see why I was worried? I wore a helmet on every ride, and I made sure we talked and chatted up a storm so that bears could hear us tramping down the trails and move far away. Oh- why did I wear my helmet? Aside from it being the smart thing to do on a horse I was still getting to know, I figured if a bear scared my horse and I fell off and the bear attacked me, maybe the helmet would save my head. Goodness, I know that is silly but it made me feel better. I researched bear and horse encounters on the Internet and read what to do and what not to do. Realistically, I know that I will most likely never see a bear during one of our rides. Still, there is a chance. My biggest fear is of my horse reacting negatively to seeing or smelling a bear, spooking and galloping off, leaving me on my bum in the dust with a bear standing ten feet from me.

I was never comfortable riding in those woods. We saw fresh berry-filled poo (skat) all over those trails. We were pretty sure it was from coyote, or a stray dog that ate berries? Hmmm.....

My sister and I made it out on a trail ride for her birthday a couple of weeks ago. Once again, the berries are beginning to ripen everywhere. The country we ride in is just like that logging area where we heard the bear when I was 10 years old. As we started out on the trail the other day, I saw this rather large pile of berry skat.

Now, if anyone is a skat expert out there, please let me know what kind of animal this is from. It was not a huge amount so unless it was from baby bear, I am not sure it belongs to a bear. Probably a raccoon. Or a possum. Right? Please? Since there had been a fresh rain the day before, we were very well aware by the copious amount of prints that Bambi and her whole extended family had been using our horse trails, but could find no other prints other than horse and dog (a lot of people ride with their dogs out there.) But, it definitely raised my bear awareness hackles.

I have had a fascination and fear of bears for many years. I have read books and watched documentaries on grizzlies. I do not know what it is about them that is so intriguing and yet terrifying. I suppose it is their sheer size and ability to be the king of the forest.

So, are my bear fears unfounded? How many of you have encountered bears while horseback riding, or do you know of anyone that has?

Goodness, now I am craving blackberry pie more than ever!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Barrel Racing and Southern Stars

I played harder than I worked this weekend. Now that Monday is here I buckled down to clean tack and start loading the trailer with items we won't need until the family trip. We are leaving Thursday morning!

One of the things I did this past weekend was attend a small rodeo. It was fun to watch the 4-H kids and rodeo queens come galloping in during the grand entry.

There weren't a lot of competitors in the events and despite a mid-summer drizzle that made us think it was October, we definitely enjoyed the show and cheered them all on. One highlight was a saddle bronc that completely went down on it's side with his rider, only to jump right back up and keep bucking, with his rider still aboard! The bull riding was not what you see on T.V. I have a new found respect for bull riders. Staying on a bull for 8 seconds must be a lot harder than those at the NFR or at the Calgary Stampede make it look! I think only one rider made it 8 seconds, the rest barely made it past a twisted buck or two.

Goodness, I loved the barrel racing! I could have watched that all night. Of course, I thought of our blogger friends over at Brown Eyed Cowgirls and Around the Funny Farm! The first horse to run, a big white, stumbled badly around the first barrel. I was worried he could have injured himself (Pony Girl, worry? Shocking!) I really enjoyed watching the horses that had those tight turns down around the barrels, it made all the difference. You'll get a chuckle out of this but we are doing a play day at our family horse camping trip next week and the barrel pattern is one of them. So, I set up muck buckets as barrels in the arena last week and trotted My Boy through the pattern. I will not be loping him. It was fun though, My Boy has a good turn and I posted a long trying to keep my head up and my eyes on the where I was going to the next barrel (okay all you real racers, yep, you can chuckle harder now!)

After the rodeo, we took a reminiscent stroll through the 4-H horse barns, replaying our days of showing at fair. Then I saw this! It appears the in thing these days is to paint and glitter and bling-bling up your horses and ponies. This horse seemed to be a bit embarrassed and hiding in the shadows of his stall. He was a black horse, painted with white stripes to look like a zebra- or wait, or was he a white horse and painted with black stripes?

The weekend got busier as we attended a concert featuring two country western stars. The clouds opened up and we even got a little late afternoon sun. Can you tell who this guy is? Hee hee. I know, I know, he's far away. It is Darryl Worley. Great performer.

What about this one, do you know who this cutie is? She actually is quite humble and charming on stage and can sing, too. I love anyone that can sing southern and twangy.

This shot is for my cowboy readers. Oh wait- I don't think I have any cowboy readers?!

Okay, so it's time to get out the Leather New and get back to work! And miles to go before I sleep..... I hope ya'll had fabulous weekends, whatever you were doing!
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