Thursday, July 31, 2008


Some may consider it morbid, but I like to read the obituaries. Not every day but once or twice a week I will spend a half hour or so reading through the life stories and accomplishments of those the world have recently lost. I am intrigued, not with how people have died, but with how they have lived. I don't know of another occasion wherein ones whole life is summed up in a short paragraph, from the perspective of your loved ones. Their sentiments and perspective is unique and how they choose to portray a life is perhaps the greatest reflection of how it was lived. I notice how some are filled with grief while others celebrate a life well lived with humor and an acknowledgment of the gift that their loved one was. Some read as a resume, making one pause to wonder at the character of a lost life, so summed up by career accomplishments. Then there are the young, whose stories where just beginning or in the middle of being told. Their families most often speak of tragedy and their words are a reflection of anguish and the loss of a promised life. Though they make my heart hurt, I force myself to read their obits as well. When I become caught up in myself and my problems, these young ones in particular make me pause to consider how lucky I am to be alive and healthy and how insignificant and frivolous my issues are when considered against the fragility of life.

There are so many reasons to read the obituaries, to reflect on ones own life and those we have lost, to acknowledge the contributions that others have made in this world, and to recognize those lost to our community. I also find that they make me wonder at how my own obituary will read one day. So often they begin with "Wife, Mother, Grandmother and friend." How will mine read when I do not plan to marry or have children. Perhaps I shall request that mine states, "This ol' spinster lived life large!" Seriously, I want to have contributed to a great good, as cliche as that may sound. I am a "girlfriend", sister, daughter and friend. Is that enough?

What I find most fascinating in the obits is reading the stories of the seniors who were the last pioneers. The people born before cars, computers, and cell phones. Those who bravely fought and survived depression, world war, and who blazed the first trails to settle the land where I live. It is a rare thing, to have seen the world change so much in the span of one lifetime, as they have. They are a rare generation, these unique and remarkable people. And we are loosing them, one by one to time. So I read their life stories while I wonder at my own.

I knew a man named Arnie that was born of such a generation. He was a cowboy. The real kind. I met him when I was about 19, one evening at a horse sale. We had both had come alone and found ourselves in front of the same stall, admiring a sleek bay Quarter Horse gelding. I had noticed him walking around before. He was hard to miss. Shorter than than my 5'5", in a wiry, half bent frame, he wore a old school dove gray 10 gallon cowboy hat perched atop a face that had fallen away with age. A bright red bandanna wrapped around his neck lent some color to his cheeks while a heavy leather vest, dark blue Wranglers and a big silver belt buckle completed the cowboy ensemble. I found myself, by chance, standing next to him at the stall that night. He made some comment about the horse at hand and we started up a conversation that carried us away through the rest of the evening as we walked around looking at horses, comparing notes and telling stories.

Arnie never failed to delight me with his sharp and witty sense of humor or his easy, friendly manner. As young as he was at heart, his body had whittled away over the years and left him with a constant shake that would cause his arthritic hands to make circles in the air when he would point or gesture. While telling me the fascinating stories of his youth, the fading gray of Arnie's once blue eyes would be set alight while his raspy voice would skip and fail to find a force to match the enthusiasm of his spirit. When sale time came we sat in the stands together, talking. Arnie claimed to have been a ladies man in his day. I believed him. He never failed to slip an around around my waist or lean in close to make a point, a half smile on his face. I couldn't speculate on his age, but however old, he was still a man, happily keeping company with a pretty young woman at his side.

When I left the sale that night I wondered if I would ever see him again. Thankfully, I did. Many times in the coming years, at various horse events around town, a big gray cowboy hat would catch my eye and I would find this little old man underneath it. We would welcome each other with a smile and a hug before settling in to walk the grounds together, picking up where we left off, with him spinning a yarn or two. I cant say when it was that I last saw Arnie. It would be years ago now. I hope he is still alive and well, as I hope to see him again some day. Either way, I will carry that man and his stories with me for the rest of my life. The first thing he ever told me, standing in front of the stall the night we met, was that the best riding horses are bay geldings with little to no white. I followed his advice and so far, it has served me well. My old bay gelding reminds a bit of Arnie, wise and knowing and set in his ways. The both bear the battle scars of a hard and long life but wear them with the diginity of a survivor.

I hope to meet many more people like Arnie, that can tell me their stories and impart some of their hard won wisdom before they pass. I read obituaries to learn how other people have lived and to know them, just a little, in passing.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

My many cats.

Besi, my cat, is still missing. I cant focus on much else so I figured I would tell you the story of my many cats. I have a few. Four, as a matter of fact. Right now it is looking like I may have three *muttering a very bad word* I never intended to own four cats, I just happened. Really. Until I moved away from home I had never lived a day without cat. After a year of living catless with my boyfriend (we'll call him MB that for the sake of convenience) I decided it was time to start a campaign to get one. MB was not entirely adverse to the idea but had never owned cat before and had very little experience with them. We had two Rhodesian Ridgebacks that were adult dogs when I came into the family and as they had no previous exposure to cats we didn't know what to expect from them.

I have no idea how many of you, my readers, subscribe to the idea of haunted houses but I would have challenged any a skeptic to spend a night in our home before settling drawing a conclusion. Our house was full of bad energy and something I could only describe as a presence. Over the first year there were many mysterious occurrences of lights flickering, TVs going on or off suddenly and phones ringing without reason. I have watched enough episodes of the X-Files to be skeptical of any one "occurrence" but as whole, our home ranked pretty high on the creepy factor scale. Our Ridgebacks were protection trained and true to their breed, proud, strong, and fearless. But something in our house, unseen and unheard by us, would scare them enough to send them running from their "bedroom" and down the hall with their tails tucked between their legs. That alone was enough to scare me. We considered having the house "blessed" and I tried "smudging" a few times. I would never have guessed that a pint sized black kitten named Halle would be our absolution.

I found her at the SPCA. I had been looking at the dogs for a friend of mine when I decided to stop by the cat section to take a boo and spread a little love. I was about to walk out of the "cat room" when I thought I saw something. In the deep dark recess of a cage I had assumed was empty, I had seen a glint of light. Leaning down, I peered into the cage and found myself staring into they eyes of a very small and very black little kitten. I opened the cage and reached in to pick her up. Hot, limp and heavy in weight, like that of a sleeping baby, she barely stirred as I placed her in the crook of my arm. When she looked up at me, I found myself drawn in to the eyes of an old soul, deep and knowing. I simply knew this was my cat.

Bubs had left for a meeting in the city earlier that day and I had accidentally left my purse in his truck. I had no money and no bank card by which to pay for this kitten. Suddenly, I remembered that I had received a cheque in the mail from Boost (the nutrition drink) as a refund for a spoiled batch I had purchased. This cheque was nearly exactly the amount of the adoption fee. I raced home to pick it up and then to the bank to cash it (where, thank God they knew me enough to do so without i.d.) As I rushed back over to the SPCA, I was terrified that someone might have adopted this kitten while I was gone but was relieved to find her waiting for me when I returned.

After going through the adoption process and getting her packed away in a cardboard box, I started for home. It was right about then that it occurred to me that I had not asked, nor discussed my little purchase with MB. Whoops! I figured that a bit of Scarlet O'Hara "I wont think about that now..." attitude would suffice (as to not spoil my excitement) right up until I pulled in the drive to discover that MB had found his way home early! Cursing Ms. O'Hara, I gingerly picked up the box and walked in to the house. I had hoped that the kitted would be quiet long enough to give me chance to explain but, Murphy's Law, she started howling the moment I walked in the door. MB walked around the corner looking startled and alarmed. His eyes bounced between the crying box and my blank expressionless face. He finally settled on staring at me with a highly skeptical look. I gave him the cutest, coyest smile I could muster, topped it off with some big blue puppy dog eyes and told him, "Honey, we got a kitten!" Bat, bat, bat went my eyelashes.

MB had the sense to look dubious but gamely walked over to look into the box. The wee black kitten let out a soft and desperate meow as she looked back at him. Bubs never stood a chance. Picking her up, he gave me a look like, "Yah, alright, you won this time but don't try that again!" and proceeded to fall in love. We called her Halle.

By the time Halle was six months old we started to notice a significant change in the "creepy factor" of our home. Halle appeared to be able to see things in the house that we couldn't. Her eyes would track these thing as they moved about the room. Occasionally she would growl deep in her throat as they passed. Halle would also spend a lot of time in all of the closets of the house. While it is fairly common for cats to do so, what I found odd was that she never slept in them. She would sleep on the bed or on the top of a bookshelf but never in the closet. What she would do is sit in the deepest corner and "talk", letting out deep to high pitch meows, growls or a deep throaty sound that I find particularly haunting. Within a year, our house had lost all of its creepiness and we have had no more odd 'occurrences.'

Halle is now five and half years old and she still "talks" occasionally. She also bites- most of the time when you least expect it. I love her death but she is a grumpy, mean and lovable old bitch. Never affectionate as a young cat, she has softened with age but still barely tolerates more than a few minutes of love at a time. As I have been typing this, she has jumped up and settled into my lap. I am scared to move. If I do, she will growl and dig her claws into my leg. I have to pee....Did I mention that I really do love her. *Ouch!*

Our second cat, I went looking for. I wanted MB to know how sweet, loving and affectionate a cat can actually be. Once again I found her at the SPCA. I hate to admit it, but originally I wanted her because of her unique and beautiful markings. With beautiful light blue eyes, a creme and chocolate tabby body and silver tabby points on her feet, face and tail, she is remarkable looking. She does not bite. We call her LuLu. She is all stocked up in the beauty department but when it comes to brains, we'll just say that she is not the sharpest tool in the shed. She a brick short of a load. There is a bit too much yardage between the goal posts on this one. I cant say it is a fault, her simplicity makes her all the more adorable. I don't know who first noticed it but she actually has the word "toy" written in the tabby markings along her side. On the other side you can vaguely make out the word "cow". Unfortunately, they are both descriptive markings. LuLu is totally unique in body and personality and she has plenty of both.

The third cat I brought home was not planned. It was Besi, the girl whom we are currently missing. I try to provide my cats with the best food, health and loving care as possible and am a strong believer in spaying and neutering your pets. Over years of horse boarding, I have become hardened to the lifestyle of farm cats but when I saw Besi at a barn one day I just snapped. At only three months old, the resident tom cat was already trying to get her bred and I just couldn't stand the thought of this scrawny, skinny little kitten producing more neglected little kittens. I asked the farm owner if I could have this little kitten and they were all too happy to give her to me. I know that taking one kitten out of millions born every year on farms around the world would not make any difference in the grand scheme of thing but it didn't matter at the time.

Besi grew into a lean, athletic and long legged cat with a short sleek tabby coat and slinky way of moving. Large eyes and ears and sharp features give her a big cat look. She is an exceptional hunter. She is probably responsible for wiping out the resident mole, mouse and shrew population within 5 square miles of my home. As much as we tried, there was no stopping her. She is so instant about being outside that she will jump off the second story balcony or window if her locked in. Even though she is not in house as much as she is out, she is a very sweet and affectionate cat that will follow you around in the garden or for walks on the lawn. For the most part, she will only come into the house to sleep. We call her "Slow Moe" partially as a satire on her incredible athletic ability and partially because when she finally does come in, she is so tired that she appears to walk in slow motion.

My heart is sick with the thought that Besi is lost to us. Right now, I just PRAY that she comes home. I hope that she is safe and sound. I hate not knowing.

The last and final (I promise) cat I brought home is my Bitty. Her original name was Little Bit because she was so tiny when I bought her. The first week we had her, when she was just 6 weeks old, she had an impaction in her small intestine and had to have a surgery that cost a fair dime. Thus her name became Lotta Bit. She was an expensive little kitten but worth every penny. A steel blue color with a long and silky coat, my Bitty is a true beauty. I call her my "fetch" as she never leaves my side and refuses to let anyone else touch her. MB calls her "Little Freak" or "Monkey Face" because despite his efforts to always be gentle and loving towards her she still runs from him when he so much as sneezes. I cant explain "Monkey Face", he has this horrible notion that she has a funny shaped face. I don't see it all...but then I am blinded by love.

Each of our dear little kitties has a personality that is as unique and beautiful as their various color and shapes. I love them each to bits. Oh, please please please come home Besi girl! You are truly irreplaceable.

Friday, July 25, 2008


One of my more adventurous cats has not returned home in three days. I am worried sick. She had done this once or twice before and each time I freak out but in the end she always comes home. I cant help but we worried. She refuses to stay in the house and will jump out a second story window if we try to lock her in. I believe it is partly because her parents were feral. She is an excellent hunter and one of the smartest and most athletic cats I have every known. Just thought I would send out a little prayer that I wake up in the morning to find her sleeping at the foot of my bed.

My Not to Shabby Abby- Part Three

Within the first few weeks of owning AbbyI developed quite the habit of mulling over her progress. Once a week I would make the hour and half hour drive across the border to watch her go under saddle and was always happy with what I saw. Over the passing weeks I noticed how little interest my trainer had in Abby and how much concern and affection her assistant Kari seemed to have for her. I had felt an affinity with Kari from the moment that we met. A blond haired, light skinned woman of about the same age as myself with a pretty face, easy smile and friendly manner that made me feel welcome when I arrived at the barn each week. She would call my mare, "Miss Abby" and often stroked her neck or give her a gentle rub as we spoke. I stopped thinking of the trainer as my trainer and started looking to Kari for updates on Abby's progress.

And Abby did just that, she progressed. Little by little, step by step, she softened. Kari stayed off her face and never once gave her something to worry about. She tried to make each new thing positive, gave her every opportunity to relax and kept the pressure level at a simmer. Not once did Abby take a step backwards in her training. Her feet still hit the ground hard enough that one could hear her loping from a mile away but she was showing less and less anxiety. Never one to hide her feelings, Abby would flap her mouth (or talk as I call it) or she'd bite down on the bit hard enough that her mouth would appear to be set in a grin. If pushed past her comfort level she would develop a very huffy style of breathing and would grunt with each stride. Using body language, she'd keep up a running commentary on her current state of mind.

About a week into her training Kari had given Abby a full body clip to remove the thick winter jacket she had arrived in. The deep russet of her chestnut coat peeled way to a soft apricot fuzz and the true shape of her body was revealed. Her sleek new look showed off the fineness of her throat latch, the cute shape of her face and eye and showed off the fattest arse you have ever seen on a horse! We also discovered that there was not a square inch of her flank and girth area that was not pockmarked with a rowel scars. I wondered at the forgiving nature of these animals. Abby was soft, sweet and willing but it certainly appeared that she had every reason not to be.

Over the next two months Abby developed body control and started to turn around a little. Her head set came down a notch at a time and leveled out around her wither. The trainer felt that Abby's weakest maneuver would be her lead changes because she lacked coordination. She also felt that Abby would be unable to turn around well due to the fact that she was too wide in her chest to get around herself. Three months later Abby could change leads at any point in a circle and while her turn arounds were slow to improve, her roll backs were the tightest and snappiest in the barn. She clearly could get around herself, just fine. Abby's movement had improved by leaps and bounds but was still way to tight jointed and hard footed to be called pretty. Kari started asking her to push up into the bridle and Abby stepped up willingly.

All was going well except for one thing. When Kari would sit down and say "the word" (that would be "whoa" to all you non-reiners) Abby would, in mid stride, straighten all four feet at once and then nearly fold in half before hitting the ground in what can only be described as a splat! "I damn near burst my ovaries on that one!", Kari would exclaim with a smile. Eventually Kari managed to get Abby to actually bend her hocks in her stop, which may have proved a relief to Kari's back but did little to make Abby's stops any less painful to watch.

After only four months of training Abby finally started to look like a reiner. She had slow, basic and correct turn arounds; Pretty and low headed small slow circles; Auto lead changes; and some wickedly tight roll backs. Her large fast circles were still slow and her stops were still inconsistent, deep and stiff up front but she could run a pattern and do all the parts.

I couldn't have been happier with Kari. She seemed so tuned in to my little mare and personally invested in helping her past every hurdle. To this point Kari's ability to read Abby had been our greatest asset. One week I came down and for the first time noticed that Abby appeared to be loosing interest. She no longer seemed to be as engaged as she once was and I wondered if maybe she had finally become so relaxed and comfortable, that she was actually a little bored! I decided to talk to Kari about it.

The last thing in the world I wanted was for Kari to think I didn't appreciate how caring and dedicated she had been in getting Abby over the mental blocks she had started with. We had both focused for so hard and so long on giving Abby the confidence she needed that we maybe didnt catch the exact moment that it had finally happened. Kari had done her job well- Abby was confident and ready to kick it up a notch. The next week, after watching her go around a few times, I brought my thoughts to Kari and asked her if she would try picking up the pressure level and start getting into her a little more. Kari was all for it. She loped Abby off and put her through her paces with gusto....and....

Abby stepped up. Big time. She ate up everything Kari threw at her and then some. She stunned us both with her speed and agility. Kari didn't step a hair out of line, she simply asked Abby to go harder and faster in one step than she ever had before. When Kari rode back to where I was standing I was tried not to smile as I said, "Jesus Kari, I told you get into her not to kill her!" Kari's face fell as the color instantly rose into her cheeks. I had been joking, of course, but she had missed the sarcasm in my voice and thought I was being serious. I felt horrible and apologized profusely. I really can be such an ass! She laughed it off but I could see she was worried that there was a little truth in my tease. I left that day and wondered how thing would be between us next week. I shouldnt have worried. Despite what anyone else said, Kari never once doubted the potential of the horse she was sitting on.
Meanwhile, I mulled over the sneak peak I had gotten of Abby. There was a hell of a lot of horse in there yet to be unleashed. Kari had given Abby the confidence in herself and in her rider to finally let go of her inhibitions and begin to blossom in earnest. We were nearly five months into what was suppose to be a three month commitment and I had yet to so much as sit on my brand new horse! I was worried and started to wonder if I had lost focus. While I was taking lessons on a schooling horse, it seemed that in my eagerness to see the promise of Abby's breeding come to fruition I had stopped looking at her as my future mount. Was she ever going to be something that I could use? And so, I continued to mull over Abby.

To be continued.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

My Not to Shabby Abby- Part Two

I consider myself a fairly lucky person yet I don't play the lotto and while I love going to Vegas, I hate to gamble. In the countless hours I have spent in casino's, I have yet to play a coin slot or bet a single dollar on hand of blackjack. I am a "bird in the hand is worth two in the bush" kind of gal. As such, most that know me found it inexplicable that I would take such a gamble as buying a horse sight unseen. Abby was under priced but by no means cheap.You should know that I am a horse shopaholic. I loath shopping for clothes, shoes, home ware or any other non-horsey items but can browse horse ads for hours looking for a "good buy". I don't contact a seller unless I am serious but regardless if I am in the market or not I constantly update what some call my cyber stable...a collection of my favorite horses for sale. I am an equi-shop-o-holic. Want me to find you a horse? I have considered going in business as a personal horse shopper.

Years of horse shopping has left me a jaded, cynical and suspicious of all sellers. They lie, cheat, and take funky pictures that can distort the conformation of any horse from beauty to beast or visa versa. I swear some are photoeditor geniuses. Sometimes getting information out of them is like pulling teeth. Others wont shut up. They all lie and they all claim to be honest. I have been screwed over by friends and strangers alike. I was simply sick and tired of dealing with sellers and their bullshit. I became hypersensitive, always trying to find the hidden message in the lingo horse people feed you. I became an expert in reading between the lines and fishing out the dirty details. No matter how many questions I asked or second opinions I solicited, I couldn't garner a sense of confidence in any horse I looked at. Along came Abby. Everything inside of me told me not to go and see her and to just buy her! So I I did. At least if she had turned out to be a nut bar I would have had no one to blame but myself. I was willing to accept that. I played and won.

I was lucky in more than one respect. I managed to squeeze my way into the barn of a trainer that was well respected in the area. I figured that the three month commitment they required was a smart investment as I would know within the first month if she was going to work for me and could take some lessons with them if she did. If she didn't turn out, I would be able to use the trainer to sell her. I immediately took a liking to the straight forward manner of the trainer, her neat, well run barn, and friendly staff.

When I came down to see her the first week I was full of anticipation to hear what they had to say about Abby. They gave me the good news first. She seemed to move soundly and was a pleasure to handle on the ground. She did not offer to buck, bolt or rear on her first ride and was overall a nice minded mare with a start on her. She was far from being broke and had very little body control. She had breaks and basic steering but little more. The bad news was that she had some serious issues when you picked up her face and asked her to bit up. She didn't act out with vices but she was very tight and worried about it. She seems scared to move out in her lope and would almost bunny hop, catching the ground with all fours at the same time and set off with a springy, tight jointed stride. You could hear the heavy beat of her hooves as she pounded her way around the arena. When the pressure level increased and she was actually asked to step it up a little, she would mentally shut down. Abby was fat and out of shape. Her movement was course, headset horrible and she showed very little athleticism.

The verdict. She was a nice mare that seemed sweet and gentle. She could use more training to get her better broke but she was certainly not going to make a reiner. It appeared that someone had "done a number" on this horses face and apon inspection they had found a grape size lump of scar tissue on either side of her mouth. It was little wonder that she had resistance in her face but at least she was not sour overall. I left with a lot to chew on. Something about all of this just didn't bode right for me. I believe that conformation, breeding, heart and willingness create a promising mix for athleticism and greatness. Abby had them all.

My instinct told me not to give up on her so soon. I was worried that I was locked in for three months with a trainer that viewed her a "reject". I didn't know that she had already passed her off to her assistant Kari to train in order to move on to more promising prospects. I didnt know how lucky that would prove to be for Abby and myself. Looking back now I find I wonder at all the little lucky strokes of fate we had along the way. How, from one moment to the next, things could have wound up so differently. If I had gone to see Abby before purchasing her. If the ferrier hadnt been there that day or if the hauler had been there on time. If my trainer hadnt passed Abby off so quickly. Lady Lucky is on my side...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

I've been kicked a tag.

Cndcowgirl kicked me a tag. "Six things you dont know about me." I've been blogging for such a short time I am sure that you are more likely to only know six things about me to start with, but I will giver her a go anyways.

#1- I dont work. Not really. I am blessed to share my life with an amazing man that supports me and my addiction (horses). I am young, and really, really happy with my life. Sometimes it scares me how good I have it but I have finally figured out that when you've got it, enjoy it. Today is a blessing and tomorrow comes with no guarantees.

#2- Last year I lost my grandfather whom I called Poppie (pictured above). He was 91 years old. I cant begin to tell you what this man meant to me. He was an anchor and a beacon I could count on to always find my way, to home and solace. Though I never lived there, his home was my home since the day I was born. It didn't matter how long I had been away, what time of the day or night, I could walk in that front door and find him there, a rock of strength and love. He was tough, grumpy and impossible at times. He would kill or die for me, without question. I still measure my conscience by his scale. He helped shape my perspective of the world and taught me many things about how to live a good life. He taught me to always, always stand up for those you love, no matter if they are right or wrong. To do a job right, and to take pride in your work. That no price is set in stone, always barter! The love of a good deal. That no drive is to far if you are going to visit someone you love or if you are likely to get a wicked deal on strawberries ( potatoes, tomatoes, gas, sausage, etc...) To always take the time to sit back and enjoy the view. That said view is always better when accompanied by a beer (Kokanee if you have it.) And countless others. I miss him, so very much.

#3 I have the cutest dog in the world. Seriously, all others need not apply. I claim that title for Hawkydog (Hawk). A five year old purebred Australian Cattle Dog (Blue Heeler) that is the love of my life. I have four cats. I own three. One owns me. Bitty is a blue Persian cross. The two of them are my constant companions.

#4 I dream of writing a book. Writing this blog has been the first time in years that I have really written. I love that I have found an outlet to practice my writing. I hope that it will be a start of something bigger. My sister told me today that she has been reading my blog and that I sound like the Carry Bradshaw of Country Living (Sex and the City.) I really liked that.

#5 I dream of being a famous country western singer. I cant sing. Seriously, dogs howl. Its bad. I do all the time. This dream is terribly unlikely. *sigh*

#6 I draw. I do commission portrait work (when I can get it) of peoples pets. For some reason they are always a memorial type deal. I dont see why I cant draw peoples pets that are still alive. It is starting to give me a complex.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Not to shabby Abby- Part 1

I have a passion for reining, cutting and reined cowhorse genetics and I love a well bred horse. I am not gullible enough to think that it makes a good horse or shallow enough to think it matters, but when you sit on the outside looking in on a sport for long enough, you develop a taste for what some would call the best. I had developed a hankering to buy a mare of a specific breeding, set up in a specific way. I was looking for something exceptional.

Winters in the Northwestern States and Canada are no time to sell a horse. The horrible weather makes for a buyers market- something that I was hoping to use to my advantage. I try to keep and eye on whats for sale at any given time, regardless if I am in the market or not. I often bookmark horses I find nice or interesting and check back on them to see if and when they sell. I pride myself in knowing what sells in what price range. As other woman window shop for that fabulous purse or trendy new accessory, I window shop for horses online.

I found a beautiful mare for sale by a top stallion and a personal favorite of mine, Gallo Del Cielo (known as Rooster). A top 5 all time leading sire of reining horses, Rooster is also a full brother to my all time favorite stallion, Grays Starlight. I only dream that one day in my lifetime I will be able to afford a Grays Starlight mare. *sigh* One day. This mare's bottom line had Freckles Playboy, Doc O'Lena and Doc Quixote. She was bred by the owners of Rooster and had a full sister that was shown at the NRHA futurity that year. The same ranch still owned her dam and should continue to breed her to Rooster or Boonlight Dancer in the future. A promising and well bred dam made for a pretty solid bottom line.

The ad showed a feminine looking mare, pretty as a picture and a deep russet chestnut. "Anyone can ride" it said. She had been in reining training as a two year old but was sold in her third year unfinished. Her new owner had intended to rein on her but she wasn't ready to be shown and he didn't know how to finish her himself so he had used her a high country trail horse for a year or so, hauling her all over and using her to pack, camp and hunt. He was now in the process of a divorce and needed to get her sold, immediately. She was seriously under priced. Suspiciously under priced. Was this another victim of a harsh and unforgiving two year old reining program? A blow out? Physically or mentally? Could be either or both.

She was located eight hours away from me, in the middle of nowhere. As in, a God forsaken, hell hole kind of no where. I'd have to drive through a notoriously dangerous mountain pass and it was already early November. He didn't have access to an indoor or trailer and had two feet of snow on the ground. Even with all of that working against her, she still should have sold at that price. I knew to steer clear of horses like her. I bookmarked her and told myself to forget about it. And I did.....

'Til later that night. The next morning I had another boo. Ever morning and every night for a nearly a month I looked at that horse. I couldn't get her out of my head. She didn't sell. The longer on the market, the better the chances where that there was something wrong. I finally gave in and e-mailed him. He didn't e-mail back. I tried again a week later. It was now nearing December. I asked the basics, soundness, temperament, issues, vices. etc.. but was only getting one word answers in reply. I started to wonder if the seller was in issue, instead of the horse. I tried calling. He was impossible to get a hold of but when I finally got him on the line he had nothing but all the right things to say about her. Her named was Abby. As of yet, not one person had come out to see her. It was no wonder, it took every ounce of my stubborn nature just to get this guy on the phone. I tried to make a date to see her. He was unavailable most of the time that I was. We made a tentative date. A snow storm ensued. I gave up. It was ridiculous to risk life and limb to travel out and see what was probably a busted up, blown out furry nag.

Abby was starting to find her way into my dreams. I phoned a vet and had him make the trip out to see her. It was a small town so I am sure he knew the horse and the owner. Dr. said that she was good girl and didn't seem to have any issues, I was forced to take him at his word. I left a deposit on her. Was I certifiably insane? I did NOT buy horses sight unseen. No way, no how! If I were a big time owner and breeder, sure, maybe. But I only had one old gelding at home and this would be my one and only performance horse. I couldn't be reasoned with. I wanted her, plain and simple. I bought her in the days between Christmas and New Years. Merry Christmas to me!

I found a haul the first week of January and a layover stall for her just across the border (so that I didn't have to pay import costs on her if she turned up insane.) The haulers picked her up the night of the sixth. The next morning I couldn't get a hold of them. I showed up to wait for the trailer at 8am. They didn't show up. They didn't answer their phone. I was frantic. The farm owners tried to make me feel better. These people had raised horses for 30 years and bought countless horses sight unseen. Not once in 30 years had a hauler showed up on time.

A beat up old Ford pulled into the drive hauling a small rusted out 80s style straight load. He pulled around and backed up to the barn. My heart sank. Oh no.... Please! Do not tell me that this rig had just hauled my brand new reiner 14 hours through a blizzard and over a mountain! A man stepped out of the truck. If looks could kill he would have been dead before his feet hit the ground. My voice was a full octave or 10 above normal as I asked, "Are you the hauler?" He laughed. "I sure hope not! I'm the farrier."

Jay, the farrier, was a heavy set man in his mid thirties with a warm and friendly manner. I liked him instantly, and not just because that ol'rig was hauling his gear instead of Abby. We chatted a while and as the hours went by he let on that he was concerned that I didn't have a plan for my new mare. He didn't want me to be the first to get on her...didnt want to see me get hurt. Jay had worked for a number of years for a trainer up the road that was a really good hand, a world champion as a matter of fact. Why didn't he give her a call and see if she could try the mare out for me? At this point it was looking like there wasn't going to be a mare to try, but I it was a better plan than no plan at all, so I gave him the go ahead.

At 8 PM the hauler finally arrived. My stomach was doing this flip flop thing as 12 hours of anticipation and worry started to take their toll. I asked the hauler how she had loaded and hauled. He said she walked on without any problems and had been eating and drinking, bright eyed and happy the whole trip. She had been in the trailer for 22 hours straight. As he walked into the dark recesses of the trailer I held my breath. The yellow light that spilled out of the barn door reached just far enough into the black of the moonless night to reflect and set aglow two huge eyes and a bright white stripe. Abby seemed to look squarely at me with a direct and even gaze. A pony sized body stepped gracefully into the light revealing a shaggy winter coat that only emphasised the width and breath of her heavily muscled frame. She had four legs, four feet and and stepped soundly. I exhaled. My heart beat came up fast. In her full winter coat, with four inches of beard, standing in a barn full of tall, sleek and fancy show horses, she was simply gorgeous. A princess in rags.

To be continued.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Tall and Skinny Bitches

Okay, so the title may be a trifle harsh...but who cares. No matter how great of a rider I become, I will never look as good on a horse as those tall and skinny bitches. I hate them for it. I'm a hell of a long ways away from being skinny. But at one time in my life I was. Other times I have been "shapely", occasionally I was "pleasantly plump" but for the most part I have been a "larger woman". The point is not so much about weight, which is after all in my control. It is all about the leg. Long, skinny legs that seem to wrap around a horses body and pick them up from underneath, the short torso that seems to flow and blend right into a horse. More often than not, I feel like humpty dumpty with two trunky legs poking out either side of an egg shaped body. How many top dressage riders have you seen with long bodies and short stocky legs? Zip, Zero, Nada.

Thank God for reining. If Tim McQuay can get it done, anyone can. This man cant be over five foot and is half as wide as he is tall. Reining horses are notoriously small, more like ponies but his legs don't reach half way down their sides. His saddle has to be about an 18" western. I wouldn't dare make fun of this man. He holds the number two spot for most money and titles won in reining. His daughter is not nearly as wide across the middle but she is the most winning Non-Pro rider in history. I actually feel like I stand a chance in this sport.

I use to dream of jumping and then later, of barrel racing. I wanted to ride in an equine sport that was OBJECTIVE not SUBJECTIVE. I hated the idea of judges that were subject to all sorts of biases. In jumping, if you run the course in the shortest time and knock down the least amount of fences, you win! Barrel racing, same deal, the fastest time wins. You could be three hundred pounds in an Aussie saddle riding a $500 off the track Thoroughbred but if you got the job done, you could win. I loved that. It gave us little people hope. I tried jumping. I loved it. I soon figured out that while it is possible, as slim as that possibility may be (pardon the pun), to win while riding in and on the fore mentioned horse and saddle, it is next to impossible to maintain your self respect while doing so.

On to barrel racing I went. While at upper levels there is every level of snobbery found in any other sport, for the most part, anything goes. What didn't go, was me. By the time I found my way to barrel racing, it turns out I wasn't such a speed junky as I had thought. You can not be thinking, "Holy shit!!! Slow down!!! Oh my god, don't fall!!! Easy, whoa!!" and win at barrels. It aint gonna happen! Here in Canada, the barrel crowd is for the most part of mixed social economic backgrounds. In the States it was a bit of a different story. I didn't fit in at all with all the Bubbas' and girls with Lee in their names. I had to many teeth to qualify. Now who is the snob?

I had this book at home by Western Horseman on Reining (written by Al Dunning.) I had read it but had never actually seen a reining pattern run or ridden a reiner. I was still thinking of giving barrel racing a go. I figured I could always loose a few teeth along the way. I went to see a horse for sale that was a huge grey gelding, built and bred for speed. My legs didn't reach half way down his sides. He was pluggy, dopey eyed and sweet. A far cry from the wild eyed, adrenaline filled barrel horse I was looking for. I thanked her for her time and went to leave when she said she had another horse for sale at a barn down the road. It was a reining horse. Had I any interest? I thought of the book I had read, cringed at the idea of judges and politics, the snob factor and all of that, but couldn't resist seeing in real life what I had read about.

The first thing I noticed was that all the horses were small. Bonus! Most had cute, short faces, compact and powerfully built bodies and huge asses. Now these horses I could relate to! The mare she had for sale was named Roxy. She was a plain bay three year old Peppy San x Doc O'Lena bred mare. She seemed so quiet and soft eyed, it made me feel quiet and peaceful to be around her- so much different than the feel of barrel horses and jumpers.
I explained to the trainer about my lack of experience and was surprised at how friendly, helpful and easy going he was. He gave me my first reining lesson on this mare and helped point out the finer points of what we were doing and why. I had only a limited amount of lessons in the past and had never worked on equitation. I started to grasp that there was a lot more to this reining thing that big fancy stops and spins. I was instructed to put my hand down and keep it there. To ride with my leg and seat. I had never ridden a finished (or nearly finished) western bridle horse before. I simply had to think about where I wanted to go, and she would carry me there. When he set me up for my first spin, and this horse let loose underneath me, I was hooked.

I never looked back. Reining has little do with brawn and everything to do with suttle and supple guidance. It is about touch and feel and explosive but controlled energy. Since that day I have watched and learned as much as I could about the sport and am pretty well versed in both the positive and negative aspects of it. I cant say that it is always balanced. I own a reining horse and have her with a trainer that I trust is fair, loves horses and hates a cram and jam method of training. She is young and still wants to have fun. She still asks a lot of a horse but never more than what they are willing and ready to give. She saves their bodies as much as possible and takes them down the road or out on the trail once or twice a week. They are turned out every day. She was not easy to find. We often talk about the horrors we see at shows, the horses with the blown minds and bodies. As much as I will admit whole heartedly that it exists in reining, anyone that argues that it is not as prevelent in jumping, barrel racing or any other equine sport is fooling themselves. People, money, and the glory of a win never, ever, bode well for the horse.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

My Mentors.

My best girlfriend is a lady whose youthful figure and energy speak little of her years... she'd kill me if I told you her age but I am sure to be more than welcome to say she doesn't look a day over 30. She can drink, work or arm wrestle me under the table any day of the week. She is also a lady with manners and charm. She'll freely admit to being gullible, especially when it comes to missing half the sexual innuendos or advances made on her, by both men and woman alike...and yes, there is a story there. She believes in surrounding herself with youth and vitality, hoping to keep up on her own through osmosis. She rides Grand Entry (the girls that run a million miles an hour caring flags to open a rodeo) and her personal motto is "balls to the walls" (I swear she is a lady in all other respects.) She rides like hell and seems to get more done in a day than I do in a week.

I love and admire this woman, she is a valued member of my family. No one could say she had it easy. Her story is just that, hers to tell. I can only attest that she has as good of an excuse as any to be one of those particularly bitter women. She could be resentful, cynical and/or steeped in hatred and regret. She is positive, outgoing and happy. I see how easy it is for a woman to go one way or another. Because of her, I know there will never be an excuse great enough to fall the way of...well, some wicked woman I know. I want to be like her and my mother- A woman that carries a light around her and sets a spark wherever she goes. A woman that is strong and proud, but that acts like a lady.

I am blessed to share my life with more than one exceptional woman over the age of 40 (whoops...I mean 35!). They are my mentors. My mother preeminently. She is gorgeous, carries herself with class and dignity and never hesitates to talk to a stranger (which has become a family joke). Kindness and warmth emanates from her, drawing both family and strangers to her in times of need. Her laugh comes easy and her love, loyalty and fiercely protective nature is unquestionable. She too has a story. What woman doesn't?
As much as my dear friend believes in surrounding herself with youth, I have found that it best to surround myself with women whose stories are already half told. They tend to lend the best advice. Occasionally I find it necessary to make their same mistakes over again, despite the merits of their advice, or warnings as to the inevitable outcome. I find their experiences are an invaluable reference, regardless of how I implement them in my life. "If only I knew at your age what I know now, I would have done differently." I have heard this many a time...more often than not with respect to a great or profound life lesson. Like to look after yourself first so that you are better able to look after the ones you love. They have forgotten more than I will ever know...from how to deal with men, to how to cook a lasagna that will win you the heart of one.... these women have enriched my life immeasurably.

To them I send my love and ardent gratitude.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Rocky- Part 1

For most of my youth I lived in newer stretch of suburbs, strewn along a hill that rose out of a flat green valley filled with dairy farms and berry fields. A block from my house was a large park with a clear grass lined creek running through it that was just warm enough to swim in the few hot month of the year we get in Canada. In the winter their was a steep hill, perfect for sledding that lay between three pristinely groomed soccer fields. In the spring it wouldn't get quite warm enough to dry the dew but we didn't mind. Right after school a friend and I would run to a knee deep patch of meadow and play horse in the wet grass. I had a white horse with black socks and mane. I could have any color horse I wanted but this pudgy 11 year old girl wanted only one thing, to own her very own real horse.

My mom found a stable that would let me clean stalls in exchange for riding time. They ran a trail riding business so had the usual string of horses that ran the gamete from the nearly dead to the wranglers barely broke colts. My best friend, Melissa and I cleaned 12 stalls in exchange for a half hour riding each. We would force ourselves to bank the time so that on the weekends we could go for a long enough ride to get to the sand beach where we could really let the horses rip. We we only allowed to ride a specific horse. I was allotted Bolt. He was about 15.2 but in my young eyes he was HUGE. A Clydesdale/Morgan cross with a little white on each of his hind feet and a small star on his forehead that appeared to glow outward from the pitch black of his coat. He had this huge arched Clyde neck and a slim body that was all power. I don't know what joker thought to name him bolt...he never did bolt, not once...but boy could that gelding buck.

I took me a while to figure out that no amount of 12 year old muscle could tighten the girth well enough to hold when he'd let loose. I was told that a horse couldn't buck at a gallop so I tried to keep him in that gear as much as possible. I was blazing along a hard backed dirt trail, topped with fine pebble gravel when he let one rip. I figure I rode him for a sold minute while dangling from a saddle that positioned me such that I was able to get a clear view of his lower jaw and lip- while looking up. I finally let go but I was hung up in the sturrup. I was drug for about a hundred feet or so with my shit up around my neck and my back peeling off on the ground. I didn't have a square inch of skin, from hip to shoulder, that didn't sport a scratch or half embedded pebble. From then on I rode bareback and to this day still feel safer riding where there is nothing to get hung up on.

I am not a well co-ordinated person, nor was I as a child. I have lived in the same house for seven years and currently sport a bruise the size of a walnut on my hip from failing to clear the corner coming out of my living room. I have countless other bruises I cant account for. I have no business on a horse or any other object that places me more than a foot off the ground. Falling off was and continues to be an inevitable conclusion for me. I learned to do so gracefully. I fell off of and was run over by Bolt countless times. I loved him to death.

A friend of mine had developed an interest in horses. Not a full on horse crazed obsession like mine, but enough that when she found herself with some inheritance money, with no small amount of encouragement from me, she choose to buy a horse. Alphy was a tall and black pacing Standardbred that left little to question as to why they call them Jugheads. He was fresh off the track. Having coveted my own horse for so many years, I had cultivated a special brand of hate for spoiled kids that found owning a horse a chore but I didn't mind when my new best friend, with her very own horse, soon lost interest.I was able to free lease Alphy off of her for about a year until she sold him to buy some other fleeting interest.

I was left on the hunt for a new free lease. I found a gelding for sale in the paper that sounded perfect but was unfortunately for sale, not lease. I contact the owner and asked if he would consider free leasing him. He said that we could go out for a trail ride and if I handled him alright he'd think about it. We set a time and date and I held my breath.

I was 14 and and as heavy in extra weight as I was short on self confidence. I had pimples and new lumps in places I hadn't get grown accustomed. When we finally met Hanns, the 40 something year old man that owned the gelding we had come to see, I was tight lipped and shy but Hanns had a gentle manner that tempered his size and the strength so that by the time my Mom left, I felt at ease in his presence. He had the grooviest blue eyes and treated me like a young lady.

We had to walk up a long steep hill to get to the pasture where his gelding was. I was trying not to let him hear me gasp for air as we neared the top. He pointed to the far corner and said, "that there is Rocky." Sitting here, typing this now, I am choked up thinking of that moment. He was simply beautiful. A strawberry roan Arabian with a square Quarter horse style head and body, 4 perfectly even socks and a perfect blaze. Did I mention the flaxen mane and tail? He had a big soft eye and tiny pricked ears. I was in love. We walked him and his herd mate Chocolate down to the barn to saddle up for the ride. I had butterflies in my stomach but I wanted to impress Hanns so badly. We talked about Rocky's history and what I could expect from the ride. He warned me that Rocky was a lot of horse and that we would take it slow and see how things went. We mounted up and headed out to a near by trail.

I had the world between my legs. I had never felt a horse so alive. He was all this harnessed raw energy, a bundle of power that could be set loose in a flash. I tried to make my seat and legs as light as possible. I felt like a feather riding the wind. My knuckles were white, I gripped the reins so hard. When I so much as breathed, he would prick an ear. Now? Now can we go? I was terrified and thrilled in equal measure.

The trails started out wide and easy but slowly narrowed. We picked up the pace. We were deep in the bush before Hanns pushed us up to a lope. As I child I had always dreamed of walking on a cloud. I was riding one. A slow rolling , tumbling cloud with wind in my hair and the sun on my face. I couldnt feel his feet touch the ground. My whole being was alight with joy. I didn't notice Hanns' occasional smirk in my direction or that the trail seemed to have given way to narrow tracks of dirt, barely vi sable through the ferns growing along side a very deep ravine. I was unaware that I was being challenged even when Hanns told me that we were going to be heading down into the this gully, and up the other side. It was straight in...straight... without the benefit of an angle. Before I could protest he was gone.

Rocky was ready and willing. He decided we were going, I had little say in the matter. I had watch Man From Snowy River at least a hundred times, rewinding and playing over and over again the scene where Tom and Denny, in persuit of a mob of brumbies, run through and past the group of riders stopped at the top of the cliff, and jump over the edge, running down the rugged and steep hillside on the heels of the wild horses. In slow motion of course. I was Tom. Rocky was Denny. I leaned back in the saddle as Rocky plunged down the hillside, sitting down on his hocks and sliding in the mud to the creek below. Before I could catch my breath he had lunged across the narrow bed of water and was charging up the other side. I grabbed some mane as tears or joy streamed down my cheeks. When I cleared the top and found Hanns with a huge smile on his face. He said, "Good job." and we headed home.

I doubt I will ever have a ride like that again. I don't believe I spoke for at least a day afterwards. I was on cloud nine and was paralyzed with fear that Hanns would not let me lease Rocky. A few days later my Mom said that we were all going to head out to the see Rocky and sign a lease agreement. I didn't stop to consider why it was that my grandfather, aunt, sister, stepfather and mother all were joining me to sign an lease agreement. I was going to lease Rocky, that was all I heard or saw. Brad Pitt could have come along for the ride, I wouldn't have noticed. We all walked down to the barn to find Hanns with Rocky, all tacked up with a pretty green bow on his bridle. I barely noticed- to overwhelmed to question why. My mom handed me and envelope she said contained the lease agreement, I needed to sign it. In a blurr I pulled the sheet of paper out and read the bold title across the top of the page, "Certificate of Ownership". That was the single greatest moment of my life. My amazing mother and my dear grandfather had bought me my first horse. Not just any dream horse, my Rocky.

To be continued.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Risk Mitigation

I have been mulling over some of the comments made on Mugwamps blog yesterday and decided it was as good of time as any to explore risk mitigation in the horse world, a foreign and often repudiated concept. Why is that horse people as a whole feel that they are obligated to keep a horse that is dangerous, insane or simply not a good match? or to risk their lives and in some cases, the livelihood of their families for what one could argue is purely a stubborn and ego gratifying position? How many people do you know that not only willing put their own safety or very life in danger but are willing to put their children in dangerous positions for the same grandiose reason?

In any sport there are risks and in a lifetime of participating you more than likely to have one injury or another but I personally believe in mitigating that likelihood as much as possible by implementing novel ideas such as- Not riding a horse that is known to buck, bolt or rear on any given ride (regardless of whether I can "stick" or not), preferable ones with a good set of breaks and basic steering, oh ya, and that seem to value their own personal safety.

In the past three months their have been three major accidents at the barn I board at. A beautiful, black, WP bred, three year old mare was in the trailer when a truck went by and honked his horn. This mare blew up in such an explosive manner that she managed to break her own leg. She had to be put down on the spot. This was not the first time she had caused injury to herself by blowing up or over reacting. A few months before her death she had flipped herself out of a round pen and narrowly missed landing on a harrow. In my opinion it was only a matter of time, whether it be this year or five years from today, before someone was injured because they were on her or unable to get out of her way during a blow up. As beautiful as she was, she was an accident waiting to happen and I wouldn't have ridden her for all the tea in China.

A few months before that another mare, this time a rusty bay Friesen cross was loose in the arena when something her owner could not see or hear set her off. She ran straight through the end of the arena and somersaulted over the fence, landing on and breaking her neck. She lived. If someone had been on her at the time, I doubt they would have.

The third accident was as a result of human bravado. A woman who had not ridden in a few years but still considered herself capable decided to get back on the proverbial saddle. She is partially disabled. Her chosen mount? A huge 16 year old black Impressive bred gelding that they had owned for about 6 months. He was known around town and had been through a half dozen owners. They had "rehabilitated" him and given him a new name. He had left his crazy ways behind, they were sure. She came home with a broken collar bone. The gelding had his old name back and was sold within a month.

I am perfectly aware that every singe horse out there, regardless of how tested and true is dangerous and capable of blowing up or killing themselves or their rider at any time. But this post is about risk mitigation. Meaning that I acknowledge the inherent risk, but wish to mitigate the likelihood of injury as much as possible.

I know a mare named Jetta. We call her Jub Jub. She is about 20 something now and still carries herself like a queen. Small, square built and gray with the sweetest eye you have ever seen. She is as canny as they come and would eat up a cow. As a young horse she found herself caught up in a bundle of barb wire. The rest of the herd was well out of sight, somewhere in a 400 acre pasture. The owners only came every three days and they figured she had been that way for at least two. They cut her out of the wire but couldn't find a single scratch on her. She is the best horse I have ever known and truly one in a million. In the 18 odd years Jub was used under saddle she demonstrated countless times that she was not only concerned about her own safety, but she would take care of yours as well. Not one person was ever hurt because of that horse. Jetta wasn't trained by a professional and was ridden hit or miss most of her life but mentally she was solid as a rock.

I don't believe you can train a horse to be mentally solid. I do believe you that a mentally solid horse can be ruined through abuse. As much as I love horses and find myself drawn to the challenging and/or complex ones, I owe it to myself and loved ones to make a decision that best mitigates my chances of injury. I wish that more people would do the same, especially for their children.

Often I see a correlation between rowdy or dangerous horses and the personal lives and/or life choices of the woman who own them. The older I get and the more settled I become in my personal life, the more I seem to demand of my animals. I consider them a reflection of myself much as people consider their children. I want well behaved, smart, talented and wholesome horses that I enjoy riding. I'll express my wild side elsewhere.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

I own a stick-cont'd

I had the opportunity to watch a trailer loading demo by my personal Guru, the E.L.T.C.P.I. (Ex- Level Three Parelli Certified Instructor). *grin* He had his hands full. She was a bright bay Arab filly with a typey dished face, huge expressive eyes and a compact leggy bod. She was an Arab with a capital 'A'- in mind, heart, and endurance. She was also just under a year old. I cant remember her name but Freak or Speedo would suit her fine. I'll be nice and go with Filly.

We had spent the past four days on the ground learning and teaching body control and communication. We learned to move a horses body forwards, backwards or sideways using direct or indirect contact. That contact was backed up by a gradual increase of pressure that was only relieved the moment you had an honest try in your desired direction. The basic premise is that the ultimate reward for most horses is the elevation of pressure. You can manipulate a horse into doing just about anything so long as what you want him to do requires less effort and subjects him to less pressure than the alternatives he comes up with.

Anyone who has ever witnessed a horse caught up in a "pull back" situation knows that once a horse has eliminated pulling as an alternative, they will usually try to fling themselves straight through or over whatever unfortunate object they are tied too or being held by. For this reason, the Guru feels it is important that we can "send" our horses into any challenging situation, as to best preserve our safety and to help prepare our horses for having go first into every new situation once we are above and behind them in the saddle. This made sense to me. Leading and following are two very different concepts in a horses mind.

Back the Arab. She had passed Grade 1 with flying colors and had nailed down body control and the concept of seeking the reward in relief. To the trailer we go! A two horse angle haul with black rubber floors and walls and no ramp. Basically a horse eating cave. At the foot, a 12 hand, 400 pound piece of live wire, blood and nerves looking anywhere but in. She had been hauled before. She could be led in without so much as batting an eyelash but as far as she was concerned there was not a chance in hell she was stepping foot in that trailer alone, or for that matter, going forward into anything alone. The Guru figured he'd have her standing quietly inside within 10. It was the first really hot day of the year. The sun was out and the meager shade his cowboy hat afforded him was of little comfort. It had been a long Canadian winter and we were all sweating before the show had even started.

Fast forward a half an hour and you'd find a dripping wet cowboy and a bright eyed bay filly with both front feet in the trailer and her hind feet stretched to an impossible distance on the ground behind her. She looked like a trick saddlebred in full pose. He had worked, inch by inch to get her to that point. Filly knew to within an inch how much of her body she had accepted as being in the trailer as oppose to out. You could walk her away from the trailer and she would, happy as a lark, walk straight in to the exact point she had last been. She'd cock a hip and go to sleep there if she could.

Once she was back to the last success point, he would once again pick up the magic stick and slowly increase the pressure, driving her forward and towards the trailer.

She would balk and move every which way but in....up, down, sideways backwards, into pressure, and away before going directly back to where she had last one step closer. What could he do but reward her for the step?

Pick up the pressure, ask her for another step.

Evasion. Head up, eyes wide, skirting left to right, right to left. Hopping up and down. And then...


The toe of one hind foot touched down in the trailer and rested there.


Her head drops, eyes go quiet, sigh.

He asks her to put her weight in to that foot, moving her body forward.

She backs up out of the trailer. Same reaction. Resistance.

Until she jumps right back to the same point with her hind toe resting touching....*holding my breath*.... heel down, body forward. Sigh.


Back to square one. And so it went. One toe, foot, heel and rib at a time in to the trailer she went.

Some would argue, it was extreme to reward that slight of a try but you simply had to be there when she was kneeling in the trail or if you had watched her quivering toe touch down, and fly away like the floor was scalding hot only to try again and again. How could you not reward her when she finally set it down? Every thought that filly had was written on her face and she had to digest every single one of those inches. I have since watched him help others with loading "difficult" horses and they each had different issues but were simple to work through. Watching Filly was a rare opportunity to see, in an acute fashion, how a horse thinks and the difference between acceptance and tolerance.

I know her owners. She loads into anything, anywhere, every time.

Monday, July 14, 2008

I own a stick.

Okay, so.....I own a stick. It is not orange. Mine is black with a fancy white string at the end. I had a few color options at the time of purchase. I went with the most inconspicuous. I have a carrot stick bias. For those who don't follow the Lords of our sport, the Gurus, the Gods, let me explain the carrot stick.

There is a natural horsemanship clinician that some would call THE God of all things natural, Pat Parelli. In truth, his methods have been used since before he was born by rough neck cowboys. What they didn't have was the gall to package up their methods in shiny black boxes filled with 8 DVDs or to sell them for over $200 a pop. They didn't come up with a brilliant marketing strategy of a graduated level system, must have gadgets, ropes and saddles, special academies or clubs...etc. Simply put, the guy is a marketing genius. I am sure he has done really well for himself, which would be the first strike against him- he actually made money! What a sell out! His demographic is largely comprised of 40+ women that had horses in their youth but were too busy raising babies for the past 20 years to pursue a sport of their own. They are scared of horses and don't know how to handle them safely. The want to be friends with their horses. Its all that lovey, dovey, one with nature, granola stuff that the baby boomers famously eat up like hot cakes. Pat Parelli is their GOD. He actually had the nerve to make ground work games! Games!!!

I don't follow Parelli. I know people that do and they are all, to a tee, insane (please refer back to my first Blog entry where I fully admit all horse people are insane and as self righteous as I am being now.) The Parelli hens are insane. Their horses, crazy. Their methods, dangerous. They all carry around this thing they call a carrot stick, a bright orange 4 foot long piece of heavy plastic resembling a fishing rod with a rope of about six feet or so attached to the end. They use this stick to do their games. I didn't get it. I poked fun with all the REAL horse people. I wouldn't be caught dead with one.

I own a "horsemanship stick". Its black. Did I mention that it is not a carrot stick? Why? Because I am scared of horses and all the other real horsemen are mean people that force you to "cowgirl up" and just go "get'r done", buck up, suck up...all without the benefit of a brightly colored stick to defend yourself with. Or so it seemed... in my eyes. I was twice as nervous in their presence as I was alone because I knew it was only a matter of time before they'd see what a yellow bellied baby I had become. I was desperate. A trainer that was once a "Certified Parelli Level Three Instructor" was holding a clinic. I signed up. He didn't have games. Bonus! He did have levels and an item for sale that conspicuously resembled a carrot stick but came in every color of the rainbow BUT orange. I found this highly suspicious.

First day of my first ever clinic, I found myself standing with a 'horsemanship stick' in my hands. For the next 3 months I didn't let go. It was a crutch, soother, baby blanket, whatever you want to call it but I LOVED that thing like I have never loved something inanimate in my life. It gave me power! There were 10 other people in the clinic. I think maybe three of us had the first clue what in the hell was going on. I started to better understand that it was not so much a flaw in Parelli's system so much as a flaw in his demographic. I believe that anyone, in any equine sport, trainer or otherwise can use and apply some Parelli techniques and become a better horse person, (Please note that I fully appreciate that Parelli's techniques were not developed by Parelli.)

What I learned at this clinic that changed the way I deal with horses in every aspect is this- The optimum point of a horses learning is when the pressure STOPS not when it is applied. I had a epiphany to this effect when I got in to a rental car one day and the damn thing would not stop beeping at me. I could not, for the life of me, make that beeping stop. That beeping was putting pressure on me to find the magic answer. I tired the lights, the radio, the parking brake, you name it. It beeped faster. I was frantic. Finally, I put on my seat belt. It stopped. Whew! Epiphany! That is what all this Parelli stuff is about. The pressure I put on a horse is the beep, beep, beep. When he gets the answer right, the beeping HAS to stop! If the beeping does not stop, he will blow right past the solution and back on to the head lights or e-brake. Sounds simple. Every day at the barn I see horses trying to make the beeping stop. Sally asks her horse to back up by tapping him on the chest. The horse bulks, tries to move forward. Sally adds more pressure, hits harder, faster. Horse backs up. Sally keeps hitting. Beep!

To be continued.