Friday, July 25, 2008

Ft. Pierre to Deadwood - taking the old road

In the spirit of rides I'd like to take some day, check out the Fort Pierre to Deadwood Trail Ride.

Held in honor of the 100 year anniversary of the trail closing, the ride's scheduled to start on July 29th, and follows a 200 mile long historic trail between the two South Dakota cities.

I suspect, given the terrain and rural locale, that there won't be live up-links to anyone's blog from the ride itself, but I'm hoping there's coverage in the news, or by some of the participants later, because it sure does look like fun!

If it rains, South Dakota gumbo will make things pretty sticky/slippery, and I'm guessing they'd have to stay up on gravel & blacktop. I hope they get good weather!

Here are a few links to the coverage so far:
Deadwood Magazine - A Trail Rediscovered

Black Hills News Bureau - Historic Wagon Trains to Meet on Deadwood Main Street Aug. 15th

Black Hills Pioneer & Rapid City Weekly News - Ft. Pierre to Deadwood Trail to Live Again

Places I'd love to ride...

I drove out to Pierre Wednesday for a meeting and T and the kids went along for the ride since they've never been. Rather than come back the same way as always, south along Hwy 83 to I-90, we took Hwy 34 all the way across to 37, and then down.

View Larger Map

I would absolutely LOVE to ride some of that country! I took pictures, but unfortunately, they don't do it justice. While I've been lucky enough in past years to ride in the Medicine Creek area (Medicine Creek Ranch, now owned by the Ness Family), the landscape north of the Missouri is equally spectacular.

We had rain on the way...

And haze on the way back... Now wouldn't this be prettier from horseback?Other places I'd love to ride: Ireland, Australia, Iceland... I keep drooling over the pony trekking articles, but unless I win the lottery, I figure I'd better dream a bit closer to home for now. North and West River SD is probably doable!

The enthusiastic leading the blind

A gentleman I know just somewhat ruefully informed me that his family is acquiring a horse. Not in itself a bad thing. He and his wife have two young children still at home, both of whom are very excited about said horse, as is his wife. He's mostly resigned, I think.

The horse is "free" - although, after shots, wormer, fencing, barn renovation, random, necessary equine paraphernalia... they may be rethinking the "free" slightly!

He's evidently a well-aged (18?) roping horse that needed a new home before he ended up staying somewhere less pleasant... and more briefly. His present owner took him in for the same reason, but can't afford to keep him indefinitely: she has enough horses of her own to support.

I'm pretty sure they don't know exactly what they're getting into. They're all newbies at this whole horse thing. But in the plus column, I'm assuming the he's healthy and sound, as he's currently residing with a vet. Too, they've done a fair amount of work to ensure the old boy will be comfortable in his new home. They've also had the girls take some lessons with him at his current residence. They've had a couple of months to see him handled, and presumably at this point he's been deemed gentle and quiet enough for them to deal with on their own.

Too many horses out there don't get this chance when their first career is over. And if I'm cringing just slightly for the pony - who'll have a trial and error existence for a while, at least - I'm also happy that he's getting a shot at being an ambassador.

The family is doing a good deed, and my fingers are crossed that their first horse experience will be a positive one; that this gelding will be a kind teacher, and the girls - and their parents - will enjoy him. I'm also hoping the girls will continue to take lessons so that they can learn to care for him and ride him properly.

If all goes well, the work and expense of their "free" acquisition will be more than worth it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Office Mascot

Pony Girl, this one's for you and My Boy :-)

This little guy sits above my computer at work and grins down at me all day. A co-worker found him while excursioning, and gifted him this year at the holidays. He's the work of a local (well, South Dakota, somewhere) artist.

Mostly, he just makes me smile he looks so chipper and pleased with himself.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Night and day

Well, maybe evening & morning.

But that's what today's ride felt like in comparison to yesterday's. I followed through on the ground pole plan, setting up six poles so we could walk and trot through them. It was late - after 8 o'clock by the time I caught Sunny, but the bugs weren't as bad, and the heat of the day was gone.

He wasn't look-y, and I'd decided after yesterday that I was just going to ride through whatever he threw at me. He hasn't ever pulled anything major, so I'm more than likely psyching myself out over nothing anyway. And you know how Arabs feed off of nervous riders - lol!

I walked him through the poles on the ground first. It's been a long time since I set distances up, and he's shorter than the TBs & QHs that I took jumping lessons on. He was patient while I fiddled, and once I had things set, planted himself politely for me to mount.

We walked the poles a few times. Picked up trot on the correct diagonal - yeah, me - and continued winding through serpentines and circles. I could feel him engaging his back and stretching over the poles, which was great.

And I figured out something else while I was thinking over yesterday's ride. I think part of his focus problem was not just me being nervous, but also too much contact. Sunny's been ridden western. I've been using the bitless bridle, but on a mostly loose rein. He neck reins, & works off my legs. He's not heavy headed - he never tries to hang his front end on my hands.

When we were working at the walk he was soft because I was soft. It felt familiar. But when I asked for a trot, we started misunderstanding one another.

Riding English I'm used to picking up contact and feeling the reins telegraph the horse's actions: moving them up into the bridle. So, when I was asking Sunny to trot, I was automatically pushing him forward into my hands. But contact for him means something entirely different. We were working on mixed signals. He was hitting my hands and reading stop - I was pushing forward, and he was confused. We spiraled from there.

Tonight when I asked for upward transitions, I pushed him forward, but I also gave him more rein and encouraged him to reach out for my hands instead of trying to gather him up. For the most part it worked. He didn't get hollow and evasive. He let me know when I was gathering up too much, and if I softened my hands and fed him a bit more rein, he relaxed down into them.

When we were done he was actually warm and so was I. He licked his lips and let out a big sigh while I cleaned his hooves and brushed off the sweaty marks. I think we both finished the day more satisfied with one another.

I wish it was possible...

... to order confidence as easily as I order shoes.

The rodeo was fun. This year's weather was great, with only one extremely hot day, and enough rain to keep the dust down without soaking the arena into a giant mud puddle.

Watching the final evening, the drill team looked good, the Riata Ranch Cowboy Girls were still amazing, and the clown/announcer's pat spiel hadn't gotten too old yet.

Every year I watch with a sense of wonder at both horses and riders. I truly think that aside from the circus, rodeo has to be one of the most challenging venues mental-stress-wise we can ask our horses carry us through.

Shows are hectic, but there's a pace to them. Endurance rides are populated mostly by horse people, and have less extraneous stuff going on. Parades? Well, okay, I'll grant you parades rank right up there, too - 20' tall blow-up Garfields and marching bands might be a bit worse!

But at a rodeo we ask them to simultaneously deal with continuous noise, large crowds, rambunctious animals, flags, small children, strollers, dogs, vehicles, etc. It's nuts. And amazingly, almost no one ever gets badly injured, run over, or stepped on except for the contestants who've actually paid for the privilege.


I rode yesterday afternoon. It was hot, but I'd been looking forward to riding all weekend, so I went for it anyway. I wanted to work on really feeling my diagonals, trot transitions, nice round circles, etc. We're still adjusting to English tack, so I wasn't expecting spectacular. Just to spend some time brushing up on basics.

Initially, things were going well. I'd dug out my breeches - so much more stretchy than denim! - I'd forgotten exactly how much extra flex spandex allows my knees. I mounted from the ground and from a bucket a couple of times. Sunny stood for mounting, which has been a challenge lately with the western saddle. We walked some easy circles and serpentines with good bend. He was listening and even stepping over underneath himself off my leg when I asked around the corners. Leg yields both ways - check. Nice square stops - check. Backing - also check.

Maybe I should have stopped there for the day.

Because when I asked for a trot, I got about three good circles and things fell apart. A pheasant flew up in the next field, and his brain switched off. He didn't spook, but he started watching everything. He jigged and made eyes at the bucket I'd used for mounting and at the horse trailer. He pulled for the gate. He looked down his nose and snorted at grasshoppers.

Okay, horse, you've lived in SD all your life. Here. On this farm. Pheasants are not that interesting. You have seen a tractor more than once. The horse trailer is not inhabited by bears. Sheep are not carnivorous!

After working against the jigging for a bit, I thought maybe something was poking him somewhere, but couldn't find anything. He stood for mounting again (good boy!) and, we worked on walk-trot transitions, but his head just wasn't in it. We went back to walking, but our circles had gone bulgy and our corners were flat. Even at a walk he was ogling the sheep as if they wanted to have him for dessert.

In retrospect, what he probably needed was a good hard ride. Lined out down the trail at a working trot for a mile or two, the goofies would have worn off and he might have been ready to focus. What he got was slow work until we managed to get a couple of decent transitions and a few more acceptable leg yields. Then I called it a day.

My goals for tonight haven't changed, but I'm going to set up the ground poles and see if focusing on his feet will help keep his head in the game.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Friday night rodeo lights

No, the tickets didn't surface, but a friend ended up with extras, so things worked out after all. The weather was perfect - mid-70's by evening's end, light breeze, not too many bugs. So many years it's been 90's or low 100's: just plain miserably hot and humid.

The drill team looked good - only 12 members this year, and they didn't get much chance to practice.
Corn Palace Stampede Drill Team 2008

I talked to a couple of the ladies before the show, and they said Thursday's performance was rough. Everything last night went pretty smoothly except for one extremely close pass through. The horses didn't quite collide, but they brushed pretty hard. The impact made one of the riders lose her grip on her flag, and when it fell it stuck in the flag boot - luckily her horse didn't completely freak, and she was able to drop the flag and finish out the routine successfully.

Post-Candy Scramble

Rail-side Munchkins
The kids were rapt - the number parked down along the edge of the concrete multiplied through the evening, as the excitement in the arena drew them down out of the stands.

Hard-working horses

The steer wrestling was a run of highs and lows. A lot of riders missed or overran. There were only a couple of really good runs. I like watching the horses work, though.

Overall impressions: this year's roughstock isn't the best I've seen them bring. A lot of the entered cowboys in those events canceled to go places with better draws, and they turned out a lot of rough stock loose. The crowd had fun, and the main entertainment, the Riata Ranch Cowboy Girls act (I know, I know, but I didn't pick the name!) was pretty thrilling to watch. There were a couple of really sweet barrel runs, but even a 15.90 second run wasn't enough to knock Thursday night's winner out of first place overall.

That's it for now, as we promised the kids we'd make it to the rodeo parade and we need to get them rousted. Looks like it will be a lovely morning for spectating, too!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Blogger weirdness!

Okay, so there's a typo in my previous post - at least one, and I don't think I want to know if you find any others!

But when I went back to fix it, clicking edit brings up a blank edit window. No post text, although the title is there! The post itself is still showing up, and I can preview the text from the Edit Posts page.

Is it possible that Blogger doesn't play well with the Google mapping code?

I guess that typo is stuck there indefinitely. Yeesh!

A change of plans

You know what they say about best-laid plans and contact with the enemy? Well, our plans to attend the rodeo last night didn't survive, either!

We have a book of tickets... somewhere. Of course, it would be helpful if we could find them. Sigh. We turned the house upside down, checked work offices, and then gave up for the evening. Hopefully they'll turn up today. Otherwise we'll go with Plan B, once we decide what that is.

To be perfectly honest, I think I'd be happy enough to get up early, take the kids fishing, and then to the rodeo parade, and spend the rest of the afternoon doing hores-y things.

I got a phone call last night asking if I wanted to ride in the parade. My trail-riding friends are representing a boarding facility where she works part-time doing books, and I have ridden through with them a couple of times in the past. On finding out that they're entry number one hundred one of 150 entries, well... I told her I'd think about it.

The parade starts at 10:30 AM. Logically, they want everyone lined up well in advance so as to minimize the obligatory confusion as much as possible. The last time I rode, I think we waited 2 hours in 109' heat before our part of the parade so much as wiggled. The blacktop was melting under the horse's hooves!

Here's a map of the parade route:

All the horses unload at the high school and then trek to wherever their entry number designates they line up. The parade finishes up somewhere around D, and everybody meanders back to trailers & cars by whatever route.

I just don't think I'm up to it this year. Maybe I'll do the Parade of Lights in November. That's fun, although chilly, and since it's after dark no one's allowed to throw candy which means there's less chance of a toddler darting out and squishing under Sunny's hooves. I don't worry much at all, notice!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Rodeo tonight!

Tonight is the first official night of the 4-day Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo. Well, they have a whole week of events, but only 4 days of actual rodeo. We have tickets enough for a couple of evenings! Hooray!!! Must remember to take my camera.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A picture's worth a thousand words - II (video)

First moments - he doesn't look too concerned, does he.

Left lead - breaks were my fault.

Right lead - departure's a bit rocky, but he picked it up okay. Clockwise is his preferred direction to travel.

Thoughts: posture - ugly, ugly ugly! I didn't realize I was rounding my shoulders, sticking my hiney out, and slumping so badly. Transitions: we need to work on these - yep, we do! And on circles.

But on the whole a successful evening!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A picture's worth a thousand words....

I asked T if he'd be willing to tape me riding again tonight. In hindsight, I'm not sure if I'm glad he said yes, or if I'd rather have gone on in my deluded, yep, my posture's fine, state. Yikes, yikes, yikes! Well, now at least I know what I have to work on! It's a long list, unfortunately. I'll get a clip uploaded tomorrow, and you can see what I mean. Ugh!

Since I've been a bit concerned about Sunny getting hollow and poking holes in the upper atmosphere with his nose, and I really do want to know if it's me or the saddle or who knows what causing it, I pulled the English saddle out tonight. It needs a good oiling - tomorrow night's project - but so does all the tack at the moment.

I haven't used this saddle much. It was my mom's, passed on to me when she stopped riding, and it's not been on a horse over a handful of times. I ordered new canvas backed leathers not that long ago, and the girth is just a simple cotton web one, I've used approximately once. I really didn't want to worry about a rotten leather-related accidental dumping, so I checked everything fairly carefully before we left. Forgot the leather punch, though, and the breast collar needs an extra hole or two....

The one and only time I had this saddle on Sunny previously, I longed him in it and he took issue with the way the saddle flaps sounded when the wind caught them - the one and only time I've ever seen him crow-hop. And he got to do circles until he could be civilized again. After that one time we were busy trail riding, and I never got back to it.

Since I've been riding more this summer, I decided to forgo the longeing and simply get on and go. Of course, I picked a windy, storm-clouds piling up evening when all the horses were twitchy and nervous. But with the rest of the herd safely locked in the upper lot, and a cameraman handy, I decided I wasn't going to back down and chicken out.

I had T give me a leg up to preclude saddle slippage and sat there thinking, "breathe, darn it!" to myself.

Sunny sniffed my foot, sighed, and waited for me to ask him to walk. Such a dramatic reaction, from my high-strung Arabian. lol! And his lack of concern was the bright spot of my evening! :-) It had to be, because watching the video back, I look like a sack of potatoes, spent most of the time looking down, and missed my diagonals right, left, and sideways.

But, Sunny picked up both leads correctly, answered my leg, and didn't flip out over the strange-feeling saddle. And, even though his nose was still stuck out, he moved a lot more freely than he's been doing in the western one. So, English saddle it is, at least for the time being.

Thanks, Dad!

Horses were a fact of life growing up. Family vacations were planned around the availability of someone who could feed & check in on them; family outings so that we'd be home in time for one old mare's evening meal. (She wasn't very interested in food, and it could take her two hours to pick her way through several quarts of grain. A bite here, stare into space & doze for a while. A mouthful there, snort at the cat. Waiting on Schelah to finish was an exercise in patience!)

If a vacation was planned in the winter, someone always stayed home because the horses needed to be fed & watered. There was no running water at the barn. For three seasons the horses watered out of a creek, but Upper Michigan winters come early and stay late, so once the creek froze too thick for chopping holes in or the path down iced up, water was hauled out from the house in 5 gallon buckets.

If there was snow we used the sled. If there wasn't, we used a little red wagon. Buckets had to be hauled a couple of times a day when the temperature bottomed out - the buckets would freeze into solid cylinders, and we'd haul them back in to thaw by the stove. (Why we didn't have a spigot at the barn is a whole 'nother story.... Remind me sometime, and I'll tell you all about growing up without electricity!)

I say we, but it was probably mostly my mother doing the hauling for many, many years. As children we were too small, then we were in school, sports, then college.... She hauled a LOT of water over the years.

We all did help put up hay - I learned to drive by steering the truck in the hay field because I was too small to pitch bales or stack. And man, it sucked to get big enough! Especially if I mis-stacked and any bales fell off.

We, and again, I use that term loosely, fenced. Mostly, that was my dad. I inherited the whole horse-affliction thing from my mom, so at least she only had herself, or maybe my grandfather, to blame for the on-going horse chores.

My dad was not a horse person. He's comfortable around them, and he certainly knows which end is which and what goes where, but horses are so not where his interests were. Nevertheless, he helped.

He did a lot of fencing. There was always lots of fencing, because although everything was and had been fenced for years, well... the fences had been up for years. Most of what ground wasn't covered in pasture or trees was sand or swamp. And with cold, snowy winters, muddy springs, and rainy falls, even cedar posts don't stand up indefinitely. So every spring fences needed to be walked, wires tightened, posts propped back up or replaced, downed trees removed... And did I mention there were deer flies to be contended with as soon as black fly and mosquito season ended?

When the fencing was done, at least temporarily, there was haying. We usually helped friends put up their hay, and they helped us with ours. And every year at some point their ancient tractor would stall out or the square baler would jam, and my dad and L would spend a while with their heads and hands stuck into whichever bits of mechanical guts that were malfunctioning. Square bales for both families' horses all had to be counted, hauled, and stacked into whichever barn we were filling with whatever hands were available.

One year in high school when the call came that the bales were ready but rain was on the way I headed out to the hay field direct from work to find the truck idling along driverless in low gear while my dad worked quickly alongside hoisting bales up onto the trailer, stacking as he went. Good thing the field was long enough that not much turning was required!

My mom was on the local horse council, and we girls did 4-H. That meant my dad got volunteered for things. Lucky for us he's quite handy. When they built the 4-H arena, guess who helped dig the post holes? And build the announcer's stand. He "volunteered" for announcing at shows, as well; at the Schoolcraft County Fair Horse Show for all the years we showed, and at the 4-H arena, too -- I think maybe he actually enjoyed announcing, at least!

When Shan the pony came to live with us and I got big enough to ride in the occasional 4th of July parade or 4-H event, we didn't have a horse trailer. Money was tight, and one small to middling pony wasn't worth the expense of a big horse trailer. (The mares never went.) So my dad built Shan a horse - no, a pony box. It took a ditch or a ramp to load from, but Shan rode in style in his box. It was just his size, bolted securely into the back of the pick-up, and my mom even made bumpers chest, sides & rear from thick foam and naugahyde so that Shan wouldn't bang himself.

Yep, we were lucky my dad is handy - although I'm not so sure he always thought so!

So for all those times he was there - and still is - with a pat on the back, an encouraging word, or a helpful suggestion; for the leadline lessons, the fencing, the haying and the 'we'll have to change the date again' vacations, (the binoculars that fit in my horn bag for trail rides!), I owe my father a huge thank you. It's belated, but heartfelt, believe me.

And isn't he ever glad I now live far enough away he no longer gets the "privilege" of spring fencing? lol!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Saddle fit and back pain: his, mine, ours...

After my ride/walk excursion two weeks ago when I discovered that the combination of hard surface + extended walking + no position changes = me with a sore back, I've been considering saddle options. What I've been using is a lightweight round-skirted Arabian tree model sold by Simco as a "working western" model - yeah, right... not exactly, especially since it has a warning printed on the cinch keeper to the effect of "Do not use for roping." Western pleasure arena/trail work, maybe.

Still, it's a good solid little saddle - I bought it used a couple of years ago when I was riding a half-Arab gelding that bucked if his saddle didn't fit. (I always knew when he was uncomfortable, at least!) I didn't really love how it fit me then, but after going through all of the ones I have (I've somehow managed to inherit, or otherwise accumulate several, so I guess it was time I had to buy one) and a couple I borrowed to try, I finally broke down and bought this one. And on Dodge, after solving a slippage issue, it worked well.

Unfortunately, where Dodge was a big, tall, narrow-withered Sport Horse-type half-Arabian, Sunny is a little, round, mutton-withered, Arab-y half-Arabian. The Simco saddle fit Dodge to a T when used with a reverse-wedge pad. Or at least, he was comfortable enough in it that he didn't buck! I was never completely at home in it, but it wasn't awful to ride. Truthfully, on Dodge, I had more important things to think about than the way I felt about the saddle!

You'd think that since the Simco has an Arab tree it would fit an Arab-y built horse. But I have a couple of problems with it:
  • a) it doesn't have a back cinch - not critical when it's flat, but for hills & moving cattle, nice to have...
  • b) I'm just a tiny bit suspicious that the way the back is shaped and it ends up sitting is putting a lot of pressure on his loins, and
  • c) I'm not really comfortable in it.
I could fix a - one of the local saddlers wouldn't have any problem putting in a back cinch for a reasonable amount.

I could live with c - if Sunny was really comfortable, I'd deal.

But b, well, b bothers me.

I've checked Sunny's back for heat, soreness, and dry spots immediately after rides and on the day following. After some initial experimenting I did finally manage to find a pad that doesn't slip on hills, doesn't creep when he trots, and seems to fit him - at least well enough that I'm not seeing dry spots from bridging or pinching around his shoulders. He's not sore anywhere, even after particularly long rides like that twelve mile jaunt. And I'm not finding excess heat, bumpiness, or any rub marks.

But a couple of things are pointing to him having some discomfort. He's getting bad about standing when I mount - bareback he plants himself like a rock no matter how much I wiggle and hit him with knees and elbows climbing on, but saddled he shifts and starts to walk away as soon as I'm halfway on. He's never been obnoxious about mounting, and still isn't, really, but....

Unsaddling after a working ride, the sweat marks on his back aren't uniform. Okay - I do have a bad habit of leaning into my right stirrup more than my left, which explains part of it. But the back of the saddle from directly underneath the cantle out to the end of the skirt is very flat. I was taught that there should be a dry line down the horse's spine when the saddle comes off (unless they're really working). If Sunny's at all sweaty, he never has a dry line down the complete length of his back. It always stops under the cantle.

Perhaps most tellingly, he's getting more and more hollow trotting and cantering. I'm not hanging on his mouth, and bareback he's not as bad, so....

I've been putting off making a big decision for a while now. New saddle = $$$ so I want to make sure I get it right. At least wait until Sunny was done growing. But at six, I think he's about as big as he's going to get, and he's probably done filling out, too even though his musculature will alter with riding. Maybe it's time to get serious.

Before I get too carried away, I'm going to do some research and try a few things. I ordered a book, The Western Horse's Pain-Free Back and Saddle-Fit Book by Joyce Harman. After reading through the first couple of chapters, it still looks promising. Commonsense stuff, but practical. If I can figure out exactly where the problem actually is, maybe it won't actually take a new saddle to fix it. And if I do need a new saddle, I want to know what I need to look for and what to avoid. Haven't gotten to it yet, but there's also a lengthy section on pads, how and what they're made of, shapes, etc. It looks interesting in light of all the nifty new "fix-it-quicks" populating tack catalogs.

In the meantime, I'm going to try using my English saddle for the next few sessions and see if things improve. (This should be fun - haven't ridden English in several years except for a few brief rides to accustom a horse being sold to English tack for the prospective buyers.)

Wish us luck - may have to have T handy with the video camera to document the occasion.

True love started early

As I puttered around bareback in the field last night too hot to bother with a saddle, it struck me how much I enjoy just being out with the horses. It's a long-term relationship that started before I could walk, I guess.

It was my mother who first plopped me on her mare. Before I could walk, even - tiny legs sticking out to almost, but not quite reach the edges of Cricket's broad back. I don't remember it, but I've always wondered if that's why I associate the smell of horses with comforting things.

A couple years later came lead-line at the local 4-H show.
On Trigger, circa 1976
I still have this saddle, and fond memories of the P- sisters and their mom who generously supplied mounts for a bunch of leadliners every year. They also had cows - Limosin cattle to be exact - and always hauled a bunch of them to the county fair. For those of us kids who practically lived in the barn, it was an opportunity to a) groom a cow, b) show a cow, and c) learn the other use for Aquanet! Cows need big hair, too - who knew!

On Fat Sally, 1977

I mentioned before how my mom selected Shandar - here he is a couple years after he came to live with us, with a haircut ala Moe of the Three Stooges. Yikes!
Shandar, 1980

Little sister circles in the round pen - 1984

My sister, who was to have inherited Shan when I outgrew him, still loves horses, but never felt the strong pull to continue horsing around.

With Mingo - 1985
By the 1980's I'd graduated to bigger horses. Mingo, who belonged to friends, was in hindsight a great kids' horse, and also incredibly fugly. Long, fat body, common head, short legs -- he was hard to catch, and so round he was easy to slide off of accidentally. He also had the most amazing shying technique: at the drop of a hat he could disappear out from under you, coming back upright a good 4' from where he started and you left off. Staying on him definitely developed my seat and legs - we seldom used saddles, preferring to scramble on bareback and roam the countryside that way.

For a long time after college I made do with other people's horses. But in 2004 I bought FlamingStars Sundance (a.k.a. Sunny) as a long-yearling.

Badlands Wagon Train, 2004
One of our first major outings - a 3-day ride through the South Dakota Badlands and surroundings area. Sunny was a trouper to pony, handling water, wagons, and careening ponies with aplomb. A wonderful omen for things to come! I borrowed Sheba for the trip. She's a well-seasoned campaigner, and an excellent monkey-see, monkey-do example-provider for young stock. Of course, she dumped me on the last day.... But luckily the only thing bruised was my dignity!

2005 Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo Drill Team
Yep, that's me on the left. In a moment of insanity I agreed to ride in the local drill team, a long-running staple of the Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo. I rode for two years, but once Sunny was old enough he proved to heartily dislike the crowding necessary for close-order exercises and I hated to borrow a horse and give up precious riding time on him, so I joined the "former drill team rider" ranks. (Good excuses, since the speed and crowds made me nervous - I don't look nearly as terrified as I felt!)

I guess I simply started horse crazy, and I never outgrew it. I'd love to share my affliction with my family. When I married my husband I also gained two children (and two cats). He made space in his home for my books and saddles, etc.
and he's since acquired a horse - as many do when "saddled" with us horse-mad gals.

H & M are super kids. They're both bright, interesting, active young people, and we get along, which is wonderful. Although T grew up in rural Kansas around horses, cows, and farm equipment, the kids didn't. Initially the farm was a challenge for them -
there's poop! It smells! But gradually, it has became less so.

M had a good time in leadline last year (Sunny was a doll), but he's not as captivated this year. Soccer and bowling are his new passions. H is newly a teenager. She's appropriated her dad's camera, and is getting to be quite the photographer. She caught a gorgeous shot of Sunny elevating through the pasture, tail flagged & nostrils flaring - it's hanging on my office wall.

Neither of them has really developed an interest in the horses. They both have other inclinations, and that's okay. Maybe in time they'll come around, but if they don't, that's fine, too - they just don't know what they're missing.

How about you: did you sob over
Black Beauty, envy Alec the Black, and thrill to the story of Old Bones, the Wonder Horse? Were your favorite toys Breyer ponies, did you love Barbie's horses more than her outfits, and was the best place to whisper secrets a grassy, horsey smelling mane? Or did you come to the stable later in life?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Home again, home again, jiggity jog

Oh, it's good to be home. I feel a bit like the little piggy that went to market, LOL - after a week of T's mom's cooking, which I can never resist, my jeans are definitely tighter!

Among other things in a week packed full of activity, we picked apricots at the kid's great-grandfather's -- some weren't quite ripe, but they'll do.
H & M were both up the tree at some point. We have plans for apricot jam and dried apricots - YUM!

Kansas (possibly elsewhere, too?) has these field-side containers for oil & salt water pumped up by grasshopper-looking oil rigs. They're known as tank batteries - a name which confused the heck out of me until T pointed them out the first time we visited. I mean, who in their right mind runs current through a stock tank - lol! After seeing them, it makes slightly more sense - don't they look like batteries, all lined up in a row?

One of the big projects we completed while we were there was replacing the old storm cellar entrance. This is where we started at the beginning of the week.But with some supervisory assistance from the three and four-legged critters...
Jake the 3-legged cat

A toady on-looker
...and a lot of sweat, we finished up quite nicely.
Project well-completed!
Now I have a ton of laundry, garden chores and housecleaning to accomplish this weekend before I'm back to work on Monday - and I fully intend to squeeze at least one ride in there somewhere!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Greensburg, KS

We drove through Greensburg on Saturday. The damage that little town suffered was amazing. Even now over a year later when things are basically cleaned up, the scars are evident. New houses are going up, though...
Buildings are still coming down...

And there are lots of empty lots and foundations where things used to on Main Street.
Classrooms may be conducted out of trailers... but there was a school, too (sorry, missed the picture on that one).
And the overall impression was one of rebirth and hope. There were hand-decorated and lettered wooden stars on many street corners reading "Hope" and "Smile" or bearing smiley faces.

We didn't get out and walk around - it was getting late in the day, and besides, it felt something of an imposition to walk around gawking like tourists. Not sure it was much better to do so from a moving vehicle, but it was an eye-opening experience, nonetheless.

SD goes to Kansas

We're all in Kansas for the week- well, Sunny didn't come, but the two-legged family members made the trip!

Not too much going on that's horse-related, but yesterday we did visit Ft. Larned. It's a national historic site that has living history events on designated weekends. This weekend we were lucky enough to catch a blacksmith working, a cook, and various other folks wandering about in period dress.

We visited early enough in the morning that it was (only) in the 80's, and there weren't too many people yet. Just as we were getting ready to leave, I spotted a horse trailer and the kids (we had H & M's cousin E along, too) found the horses a few minutes later.
A very nice gentleman in cavalry garb introduced us to his two mounts, a Spanish Mustang (American Heritage horse) - representing what the Native Americans would have ridden, and what looked like a 2-year-old Thoroughbred (cross?) which would have been similar to cavalry mounts of the time. Both were shiny and bright-eyed, but I was glad to see that the American Heritage horse was gelded - he rather resembled a Dachshund! Cute gelding, but definitely fugly stallion material, as you can see.It was too dark in where the blacksmith was for the pictures to come out well. We asked, and were informed that by the 1880s horseshoes where mainly mass produced, not handmade, but I did get a picture of the saddlery where tack would have been mended.

If you're in the Larned, KS area, I'd highly recommend visiting during one of the living history weekends - the reenactors were great, very friendly and knowledgeable, and the hands-on aspect was fun for us as well as the kids.
We then headed further southeast to Pawnee Rock. A natural rock formation sticking up above the flatness that is Kansas, Native Americans used it as a lookout point for bison herds and wagon trains. Later, stone was taken by locals for building purposes, so the platform was built to demonstrate the height and vantage point that the site would have offered. The view from on top was gorgeous!After that, we headed for Greensburg - it was really amazing how much clean-up has been accomplished. I have some pictures, but I think I'll let them speak for themselves.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Counting to Nine

I have this ritual when I'm heading for the farm. As I turn in the gate, I count horses. The magic number is nine. They graze in little groups of two and three, noses together or strategically positioned to catch the full benefits from their partner's tail. Five chestnuts of varying shades, three blacks and a bay pinto. The blacks are pretty distinctive - even a silhouette is plenty to tell who's who. But when the chestnuts are all crowded together they tend to merge at a distance into one horse.

Last night as we pulled past the front pasture they were spread across the field grazing. I only got to eight, and I had the fluttery adrenaline surge you get when everything looks okay, but something might be wrong.... A second count - still eight. As we pulled closer, I realized that Amyra was sandwiched in between Sunny and Sahara, making one very long three headed horse. Nine horses. All there.

I think I was predisposed to look for trouble for two reasons: 1) we're headed out of town for a few days, so although the horses are looked after quite well in my absence, I won't be there to see to them. 2) We'd just retrieved one of the neighbor's draft horses from another neighbor's corn field. We'd been spotting wildlife on the way out: deer, turtles, very large duck... so when T said he saw a horse, and was pointing the wrong way, I thought he was being funny. Nope. Right out in the middle of the corn field was a huge, black Belgian. Oh-oh!
The saddle horses across the road were quite interested, trotting up and down the fence, and no one was home. I raided the barn for a halter that would fit that huge head, collected a pan of corn, and set off to see if I could catch her.Thankfully, she was quite content to munch a handful or two of corn and walked calmly along beside us down the rows to the gate, across the road and home. We put her back where she belonged with her teammate (who wasn't the slightest bit concerned at being left). A quick check of the fences showed no obvious holes, and everything was quiet, so we left, with a vow to call later and let them know about their escapee.

That was, thankfully, our excitement for the evening.

Collected a few pics of the herd to tide me over while I'm gone....
The light saber
Making friends with StarThe problem with having no hands....Find of the evening!