Friday, October 31, 2008

Friday Book Reveiw - Short takes

It's Halloween, so by rights it should be something spooky, but today feels like a short story day. Growing up I inherited a bunch of books my mother'd had growing up. One of them was a book titled something along the lines of Favorite Horse Stories. It was tattered, brittle with acidic paper, and the cover was brilliant yellow.

I don't remember all of the stories well, although there were some good ones in there, but one of them stuck with me, and I finally went out and hunted it down in another compilation. You may recognize the author from such stories as the Jungle Book and Kim. For my money, though, this is one of his best.

"The Maltese Cat" in Kipling on Horses and Horsemen by Rudyard Kipling

They had good reason to be proud, and better reason to be afraid, all twelve of them; for though they had fought their way, game by game, up the teams entered for the polo tournament, they were meeting the Archangels that afternoon in the final match; and the Archangels men were playing with half a dozen ponies apiece....

Polo in Virginia, originally uploaded by SkipSteuart.
Kipling's plucky group of ponies catch me up in the excitement, time and again. Captained by the Maltese Cat they scramble back and forth across an Indian polo field in a desperate attempt to claim the the championship against the much pricier horses fielded by their British opponents

The horses "speak" throughout the story, as do the humans, but not in a Disney-esque way. The Cat, and all the horses, Benami over at the knees and stubbornly silent, Who's Who, with his clumsy behind, and Faiz-Ullah, the Arab who won't run - they all ring true. Kipling's descriptions put you right there in the dust, mud, sweat and heat of it all.

As a child growing up in the UP of Michigan, I'd never seen a game of polo. I was vaguely familiar with it - I'd seen pictures in my horse encyclopedia. But other than the vague knowledge that it involved chasing around on horseback with a mallet after a ball, I was perfectly clueless. I've still never seen a real game - but someday! It's on my list.

The Maltese Cat has been reprinted in multiple different compilations, so tracking down a copy shouldn't be too difficult, and it's definitely worth the effort.

On a scale of 1-4, what's your number?

Maybe you've seen Parelli's Horsenality chart?

(If not, it's also featured in November's Horse & Rider, but unfortunately, the chart isn't in their online edition.)

Well, Jessie over at Jessie and Remington offers a different take on horsenalities.

Click image to visit Jessie & Remington

Sunny is quite definitely somewhere between a 2 and a 4 - after lots of plastic bag work - lol. He's willing to give me the benefit of the doubt most of the time. And of course, the fact that flapping things usually arrive in conjunction with clicker-sessions makes them much more tolerable! (Flapping plastic x tolerance=click->treat=satisfied Sunny!)

Seriously though, a horse that completely freezes under stress worries me more than one that reacts by immediately trying to get away. A nervous, dancing, evading horse is pretty easy to spot. But a freezer is more subtle. On the surface they're handling it. They almost look accepting & quiet (except that they're completely stiff, and the whites of their eyes are showing), but if/when the pressure gets to be too much, they explode. If you haven't read them correctly, it's really easy to be in the way.

The herd has only one true 2: Solitaire. She's definitely a freezer - her mother Diamond was the same way. (Nature vs. nurture, anyone?). Diamond was an old pasture-bred broodmare who never really accepted that people brought anything but trouble with them. She'd accept being caught and groomed, but she didn't enjoy it and she never really relaxed around people.

Solitaire likes people well enough, but when she's anxious she's very, very still. When she was young she was a flipper-over if the stress of being tied & handled got to be too much. She never got loose, and the habit seems to have faded with age. But I don't completely trust that given the right circumstances she wouldn't revert.

Happy Halloween, Everyone!

Pumpkin Horses, originally uploaded by Bill Bouton.

Something from Flickr, since there aren't any pumpkin patches nearby and we didn't get into the carving spirit this year.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Fuzzy Ears

I took my own advice and enjoyed some beautiful fall weather with Sunny this afternoon.

We poked around bareback in the bigger pastures today, soaking up sunshine. He checked out the pheasants scuttling for better cover, cars passing on the road a mile over (amazing how far away they can spot something moving!), and leaves rustling down off the trees in the light breeze. I looked for holes to fill, fence to fix, and anything else I'd need to walk out and remedy later.

One small spook at who knows what had me clutching for mane and wrapping my legs a lot tighter, but he wasn't in the mood to take advantage. Good boy!

The scenery wasn't the prettiest, especially since I spent a lot of time looking at the ground, but it was definitely time well spent. I let him graze in the greener driveway verge for a while when we were done.

This is what remains of the swelling on Sunny's back leg. The swelling is gone, and it doesn't seem to be sore at all. A few patches of hide are sloughing off, and it's looking more as if he wrapped it in something. I'm guessing a loose piece of fencing wire, which is one of the reasons we were moseying this afternoon, looking for anything likely.
I did find fence stretcher/tightner thingy & about 15' of fence coiled like a slinky in the middle of one of the big pastures, but not one the horses had access to. So I'm missing something somewhere. Or he caught it in something else.

Between the ears...

Mrs. Mom over at Oh Horsefeathers... posted that she's happy to be studying scenery from between her horse's ears again. Yay, Mrs. Mom!!! (And she has a Sonny, too, albeit spelled differently - grin!)

Now, I'm a firm believer that most things
look better punctuated by furry points :)
So here's my idea:
Post your favorite ear-framed picture.
If you don't have any shots you like, why not go take some? It's fall, it's gorgeous, and there's nothing quite like viewing it all from horseback.
Even if you're camera shy, I bet your horse has cute ears.
Why not show them off?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


By the time I got home from work and had everyone fed last night, it was close to dark. I had this nagging feeling that I should head for the farm, but dwindling daylight and laziness plopped me on the couch instead.

Five minutes later the phone rang.

It was J. "I just drove in, and guess what's in the yard?" She wouldn't call about loose sheep, and she most likely wouldn't call me for the cows. That left.... yep, the horses.

Someday I'm going to learn
to listen to that little voice when it says,
"Go check the horses!"

They were happily eating grass in the yard, and J had the drive gate closed. But she was worried that as soon as they discovered the sheeps' corn buckets and/or the alfalfa bales, they'd start raiding those - not a recipe for healthy horses. And she wasn't confident she could get eight horses back in, in the dark, by herself.

By the time we got there she'd already tried luring them in with a bucket of grain - no dice. They were having a blast. No way were they going to give up that easily.

We parked midway up the drive with the horses in the headlights. Sunny, bless his heart, I caught with my belt around his neck. He went back in with barely a hesitation. Of course once he realized he was in by himself....

The rest were snorty and high on the excitement of being out. People parading around in the dark with halters don't have nearly the appeal of the grass on the other side of the fence. What better opportunity to kick up their heels?

The barest excuse sent them off. They made a lap around the neat rows of round bales into the upper sheep pasture and back - heads snaking, mane flying & tails flagged... I wish it had been light enough to take pictures!

Luckily, they discovered the sheep's corn buckets. That slowed them down! Ooh! Yummmy! They practically left skidmarks.

We caught the three year-olds next. Sunny was happier with company. Then the rest gave up by ones & twos. J manned the gate and we had everyone in in farily short order.

They all seemed pretty pleased with themselves, and no one was any worse the wear - well, except poor T. Foxy stepped on him a couple of times, but no lasting damage done.

Best guess, G didn't fasten the chain on the gate when he filled corn buckets for the sheep - the corn bin sits inside the upper horse lot - and when the horses came up for water, they just shoved the gate open and helped themselves to the nice green lawn. They usually come in at dusk, so if they were on schedule, they wouldn't have been out for long. And none of them had more than a few mouthfuls of corn.

Thankfully, the house is back off the road, and all's well that ends well. But I bet G got an earful when he came home!!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Colors of Fall

One of these days I'm going to have some time to ride. Needless to say, this past weekend wasn't it. Leftover housework, hours of grading, and the gale force winds on Sunday pretty much put paid to my riding plans.

Fall has well and truly arrived. We had temperatures in the teens last night, and things are crispy and cool. I love fall! Between rain and wind, lots of leaves just purely blew away. The frost Sunday night dropped a lot of the ones that survived being drowned or gusted.

The ones still hanging on sure are pretty, though.
I love the way they almost glow with the sun behind them.

We picked apples (and lots windfalls off the ground) last night - about two bushels worth, and I spent the evening coring & slicing. The dehydrator is humming away, and the house smells wonderful. I already have a bunch sliced up in gallon bags in the freezer from an earlier batch, so these will all be dried. Well, the ones that don't become apple crisp, that is!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Friday Book Review: overcoming fear

Even the bravest rider falls. And even the bravest rider (which I'm certainly not!) catches a case of anxiety now and then. Some of us battle fear on a daily basis, whether it's loping, jumping, or just putting a foot in the stirrup. We've all had moments when riding's a struggle with nerves and nausea. And if you haven't yet, you're very lucky or very blessed!

Today's book review features one of my all time favorites, and it's as much for the story as the illustrations, although the pictures are fabulous in and of themselves. It also deals directly with fear and just how hard it can be for a rider - or a horse - to get past a bad experience.

Afraid to Ride by C. W. Anderson
The short version: After a bad fall from a rank school horse ruins her confidence and spoils her enjoyment of riding, the human heroine of the piece is give a second chance at something she loves when she is given a nerve-shattered mare to nurse back to health. Together the pair learn to trust and enjoy flying over the fences again.

The long version: Judy Ellis is purely dreading her next ride. Assigned a camp horse spoiled by bad riding, and consigned to a overfilled, poorly supervised riding arena for her daily riding lesson, her worst fears come true when her mount bolts, crashing blindly into the arena rails and falling on top of her.

Physically mended, Judy's love of horses and riding has turned to stomach churning anxiety. She dreads the thought of actually getting back on to the point where she finds it hard to even visit the barn, but still she misses horses and riding. When a kind riding instructor invites her along to watch a show, and assures her she won't be made fun of, she can't resist.

The pair witness a thin, nervous mare roughly treated over the jumps, and abused by her owner. Remembering the mare from better days, Judy's instructor takes action. Purchasing the mare, he assigns her to Judy to care for - lots of rest, no riding, and a chance to recover her nerves will, he hopes, work wonders. Perhaps for Judy, as well.
C. W. Anderson was a horseman and an artist. He authored & illustrated a number of children's and young adult books, many of them about horses & riding. If you've never read any, you're missing out.

I won't spoil the intermediary drama and the happy ending, except to say that there is one. It's a fast, heartwarming, read - at a slim 94 pages, this isn't a huge tome to be lugged about - and if you haven't run across it sometime along the way, track it down and give it a try. I'm betting you'll like it!

Wet, soggy, & sick

Haven't fallen off the edge of the world - just spent two days on the couch with whatever crud was creeping around work this week. The outside world has looked like this....
Not much doing horse-wise. But the weather is supposed to be better for this weekend. Fingers crossed the forecast is right.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Fort Pierre to Deadwood Trail 2008 - pictures!

Originally uploaded by sodakmeylor
This summer I was watching the news and checking around online for coverage of the Fort Pierre to Deadwood wagon train. I even posted about it a couple of times, but never did find quite the coverage that I was looking for.

Well, poking around for something else entirely, I ran across a neat picture series posted by sodakmeylor that shows some of the rigs and folks that made the trip.

Click on the photo at right to visit Flickr and see some more wagon train shots. Search for "deadwood" and "wagontrain" to see a few others.

Flickr is COOL! (And if you haven't tried it, I highly recommend it.)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Fencing accomplished

Well, we did it. The fence is (back) up and the top pasture is sectioned again. The portable fencer is clicking away, hopefully to deter the deer (and curious horse-type critters) from testing it.

We'll get to gates sometime this week or next weekend. For now, they can go in and out as they please.

Sunday morning

Fog this AM. After chores we walked out to check the horses. The sun was coming up, and everything was dewy and beautiful. I love that time of day.

Checking out the new fence. We spotted this guy in the ditch on the way home.
Too early for hunters, but if he's out later he may be dinner for someone.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Finally fencing & other good things

It was a very good day.

Beautiful for fencing!One of those tiny dots off in the distance is T cutting cedar.

We set some new steel posts, chopped and sawed out a bunch of scrub cedars, strung two wires & hung fence tags. Lots of wire got spliced (with a few bad words, as the splices in the can turned out to be for barbwire, and we were running electric. But a few extra crimps got the job done.

Tomorrow we'll finish up that whole stretch with two more wires, and hopefully get the gates hung.

My arms are tired from the post driver, I'm sun/wind burned, and I know I'm going to sleep well tonight.

New Fence!

We're farm (and dog) sitting for an extended weekend. I never mind being asked, even in the winter, but this has been absolutely perfect weather-wise. Getting up at 5 am to do farm chores before work should make the day that much longer, but I've always been a morning person.
FEED us already!!!!
There's a real sense of accomplishment to having all the sheep fed, the horses checked, and watching the sun come up with someone you love - 'cause darned if I'm doing it all by myself when he's available! ;)

This is our weekend house guest. She's a real sweetie. I'm her surrogate person (she's curled up in an exhausted ball at my feet right now - I think the fencing wore her out, too - lol), so she sticks pretty close. I have Mabel the cat by my keyboard, and puppy-warmed feet. What more can I ask for? Maybe a back rub....

T snapped these on Friday night. First pics and video with my new camera :)

You can see from his ears Thunder's thinking pretty hard. But we managed a few circles under our own power. He actually turned quite nicely to the right. The left, not so much. 'Whoa' worked well, though. Not too shabby for our first foray sans ground control!

Had to pop on Sunny for a five minute ride, too.

Unfortunately, I didn't realize that the disk that came with the camera was only 32mb. Two pictures and two very brief videos and it was full, darn it. Still, new toy = fun figuring out all the settings. So far, I like it.

Today, I'm thankful for sunshine, fine fall weather, critters (as always), and a satisfactory day's work. Perhaps later I'll be thankful that back rub....

Friday, October 17, 2008

Friday Book Review - can-chasing fun!

A few weeks ago I reviewed Rodeo Rocky, a book from the Half Moon Ranch series that seriously bagged on rodeo. (It wasn't wonderful.)

My choice for this week's feature takes a slightly more clear-eyed - but still fictional - look at rodeo as a sport and lifestyle. No, it's not a new book, so if you're intrigued, you may need to track down a copy at your local library or via a used book source. (Amazon, Alibris are good possibilities. I found an good ex-library hardcover copy at Alibris for lil-ole-me for a whopping $1.99.)

With the caveat that I'm not intimately familiar with rodeoing, so there may be problems with detail that I'm missing completely, this book has been a favorite of mine for a long time, and I'd definitely recommend it.

Tin Can Tucker by Lynn Hall
Abandoned at birth to the mercies of the children's services folks and raised mostly in foster homes, Ann Tucker has one prized possession - a silver trophy belt buckle from the National Finals Rodeo. She's had it since before she can remember, along with a yen for horses, but when Tuck, as she calls herself, realizes just what the buckle is, she decides that rodeo's in her blood and she might as well answer the call.

Figuring her foster parents aren't going to waste too much time looking for a teen who's almost old enough to be out of the system anyway (as long as the checks keep coming), she hits the road, determined to hitchhike her way to her future.

Fiction being what it is, although the odds are against her, Tuck manages to hook up with a goodhearted elderly bullfighter and his grandmotherly wife. Fascinated by the cowboys, speed, sights, smells, and drama of her new surroundings - not to mention actual, real live horses! - Tuck is a bit dismayed to find that if she wants to be successful in rodeo, the only event open to women at a professional level that might make her a living is barrel racing (as opposed to buckle bunny - a suggestion also made).

A quick study, she's also aware that a career in barrel racing isn't going to be easy, or cheap - after all, she doesn't even have a horse - yet.
But Tuck takes challenge & adversity in stride. It isn't long before she acquires a roughstring washout bound for the kill pen for failing to buck, and friends willing to teach her about horses and the rodeo way of life. Along the way to her own rodeo finals, Tuck also learns a few lessons on the value of friendship, what makes a family, and the places a good horse can take her.
Written in the early 1980s, there are a few dated details, but surprisingly little at the heart of the story doesn't ring just as true today as it did twenty-five (Holy cow - it is that long ago!) years back. Re-reading it recently, I had a good chuckle at BC's complaint about the expense of hauling a big truck & trailer across the countryside. He should be paying today's prices!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Worst Ride Ever #3

or, Why my back hurts in the morning (a.k.a, my worst - or at least most public - wreck)

When someone loans you a horse, it's usually a good idea to ask at least a few questions. Especially if the horse comes with an item of tack you're not used to using, or that needs to be adjusted properly in order to work. In my case, that may not have helped. But it wouldn't have hurt to ask.


Four years ago I let myself be talked into riding with the local drill team. They've performed every year for the past 35 at the Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo. Women all over the area have ridden with the group at one time or another. The make-up changes year to year, but they always open the rodeo and ride in the rodeo parade. They pretty much just do that one week's events, although they've ridden at the Black Hills Stock Show, bull bashes & rodeos elsewhere on occasion.

They practice one or two nights a week in the month or so leading up to the rodeo. More some years when there are lots of new riders. Less others if mainly veterans are riding. This particular year there were four or 5 new people. This was my second year on the team. The first year Sunny was newly at the trainer's, so I ended up riding one of his horses. But this year I thought I'd actually be able to ride my own horse.

Yeah.... So, that didn't work out quite as planned. The first night of practice while I waited for our ride to show up, Sunny and I warmed up. It was windy and hot and threatening to storm. Short version? He dumped me before we even got to practice. But luckily I missed the larger rocks and the fence, and he seemed to have gotten the sillies out of his system. No harm, no foul.

Unfortunately, once we arrived at the practice, Sunny took an immediate dislike to being squeezed between horses, and proceeded to threaten kicking, striking and squealing at any horse that looked at him. (And when you're kicking and squealing? They all look. So do their riders. We sure didn't do anything to better Arabs' reputation in SD that night!)
His behavior was a fear thing, which I've since worked through with him, and he's fine in company now. But at that point - well, kickers are NOT welcome on the team. Perfectly understandable.

So for the second year, I ended up on a borrowed horse. Here's a lesson for you - when the horse you borrow wears a tie-down? Always ask just how snugly it should be adjusted.

Part of the routine required that the troop pause together in a single line, and then pinwheel out in twos. Easy enough, but the mare I was riding was herd bound - major separation anxiety issues with a pasture mate also being ridden. When we halted each time we were next to her buddy. But her buddy left ahead of her.... Which did not, in any way, please her.

Ultimately, she was unhappy enough at pausing in line and being left behind that she went straight up and over on top of me. I don't know who was more surprised - the riders next to us we almost landed on, me, or the mare. She'd never done anything like that before (or since that I know of), and more than likely it was my fault for not reading her frustration better. And also for not checking that I'd adjusted her tie-down properly.

Luckily, I was able to push away from her just enough as she came over that it was her butt that hit me rather than the saddle. A couple of separated ribs and a disc in my back that isn't quite where it used to be was the worst of it. I rode with the team when they performed. (Those stretchy elastic braces with boning? Wonderful things!)

As wrecks go, it could have been a LOT worse. But it left a lingering impression. Oddly, I don't worry about rearing horses. Or falling off (well, not much), which I've done several times since. I worry about being fallen on. I don't much like riding when the footings bad or the ground is frozen. And I like riding my own horse. I know his quirks, and I know when he's having an off day.

Thursday thoughts - Of nothing in particular

In Sunny's opinion, grass is something to be thankful for.

The first round bale of the season is out, but none of the horses are interested yet.

A bit of warmth, and all of the past weekend's rain means that there's new grass poking up, and it's getting all their attention. Sure, they might snatch a mouthful of hay on the way up to water, but the bale is pretty much pristine at this point. Still, it's okay that it's there. This way they'll be used to having it available, and won't gorge themselves silly they way they might later when there isn't any greenery attracting their attention.

The forecast for this weekend is windy & warm (60's) - sweet! Good for grass, and better for fencing. We'll (fingers crossed) work on the front alley like I'd planned for last weekend. Wearing blaze orange, highly visible from the road... hopefully our presence will deter any idiotic road hunters before pheasant fever gets the best of them and they start blasting away across the pasture.

In other news - I picked out a new camera.

I was this close to buying another Nikon Coolpix like the one Sunny stepped on - but then I actually got my hands on a Coolpix L16 the other day. Unfortunately, in the multiple new editions since my trusty L6 came out, Nikon's moved the SD card slot from the side of the camera (where it's super easy to access), to the battery compartment. That's bad news in my book.

We have several of the more expensive Nikon digital SLRs at work. They're great cameras. But we've had to send them in numerous times to get the battery door hinges & latches replaced. The battery springs are too strong for the thin plastic catches on the doors, and they don't stand up well to frequent use. I've never used the cable that came with my camera for transferring pictures - I prefer popping the card out and using a card reader (that way I don't have to install any extra software on my computer). So with this design I'd be putting a lot of extra wear and tear on those flimsy little plastic catches. I just don't think they'd stand up to it. And replacing those doors isn't cheap. :(

Glad I discovered the Coolpix are now made that way before I ordered one.

So I explored the alternatives, and found one made by Canon. A Powershot A590. The reviews on CNET and elsewhere were mostly positive, so hopefully I'll like it when it arrives, which it's supposed to do tomorrow!

I'll keep using the Nikon at the farm, though - I just won't have to worry so much about it getting smashed! (Does anyone else experience camera withdrawal when your batteries go dead or you forget to bring it along? I guess there are worse things to be hooked on though - lol!)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Worst ride ever #2

or, Head over heels before strangers

The second most embarrassing moment of my riding life happened in front of semi-strangers, although I got to know them better later on....
It was about two years after I moved to South Dakota. I didn't have a horse then. Happily enough, I'd found horses to ride (never seems to be a shortage of people who have horses that need riding, does there?), and even someone to ride with. A very nice lady with a horse-habit of her own, which, lucky her, her husband shares. They'd looked long and hard before finding her mare, in the process borrowing lots of horses for her to try. So they knew a lot of local horse people - many of them with horses that needed riding.

Long story short, the plan was that the two of them would pick me up and we'd meet two horse trainers with a load of 30-day horses out near Kennebec and spend the weekend riding. One of the guys had a gelding that - say it with me - needed riding. I'd ride him and/or one of the green horses for the weekend.

No dummy, I asked if I could try the horse first. "Sure, come on out - do you have your own saddle? Great. Willie's in the front pasture...". And so he was. A big, deep red sorrel breeding stock paint. Willie actually seemed pretty broke, and I had no problems on our test ride.

Cut to the day before we're to set out on this excursion - I get a phone call from my new horse friend. There's an illness in her husband's family, and they won't be able to go. But she's already asked, and I can ride up with the two guys. They're wonderful people, and she knows I'll have a good time. It shouldn't be just us - one's sister is supposed to come down and meet us with two or three horses she's started, so I won't be the only woman.... Okay, sold.

Well. The guys were perfect gentlemen. But the sister never showed. No fool, I learned very quickly that this was not going to be a walk in the park sort of ride. We slid the horses on their tails down shale hills, scaled bluffs via deer paths, bucked brush, crossed a river (several times), sunk one horse chest deep in a quicksand pit, pulled her out and kept going. Three hours or so of steady riding and we'd switch horses and head back out.

Thighs burning, heart in my throat, I stuck to the saddle and kept my mouth shut. I didn't (still don't) ride nearly as well as those guys - few do, I think - but I had one slight advantage - my horse was a bit older, broke, and used to going where he was pointed with a minimum of fuss. Watching where their horses had trouble let me pick my path, and Willie took care of us both.

Until the gully.

It looked innocent enough. It wasn't even rocky. Or slippery. Or covered in trees. Or filled with water.

After the morning's territory, it looked like a cakewalk. Basically it was a draw cut into in a line of rolling hills. One side - the one we were on - shelved off about two feet from the top. After the drop-off it was a steep grass-covered straight slope down to a right angle turn onto a deer path threading the bottom of the gully. Probably 20 feet all told. The worst bit was the initial step over the edge. The other side was steeper - no going back up that way, the horses had to make the turn and continue down the path to get out.

Neither of the two young horses was having ANY part of it. No amount of convincing was going to get them over, or even close to, that edge. Silly me. Being on the "broke" horse of the three, I volunteered to go first. After all, Willie hadn't failed me yet. Huh!

He'd watched the other horses balk. There were monsters down there! No way was he going over that edge. But a couple good kicks and a whack on the hind end with my reins got his front over. Except Willie was quite a bit quicker than I'd given him credit for. He sucked back, and when he zigged, I zagged. Right over his head and down the gully I rolled.

I still had one rein in my hand when I stopped, and darned if Willie didn't follow me right down. Didn't step on me, either.

Silence while he whuffled my hair. Then, still too stunned to tell if I was all in one piece or not, I heard a faint, "Okay down there?" from up top. Pride answered.


"Okay then."

With Willie in the notch, neither of the other horses refused the drop, and the men rode past me, carefully not looking and not speaking (and likely silently laughing their fool heads off, I expect). I gathered up my reins found my stirrup, and brought up the rear.

I rode the next day, too, sporting a number of sore & bruised spots, and wishing for a heating pad, more Tylenol, and something soft to sit on. But I wasn't giving up. They didn't complain, I sure wasn't going to!

Of course, the silence only lasted until we got back home. Out riding for weeks after I'd get a once-over from folks I barely knew, "So - hear you know an easy way to get a horse down a drop-off...".

The next year, back out to Kennebec, with more people this time, the two took a detour to share with the group "my" hill. You know what? It didn't look nearly so steep and intimidating that time! Of course, I knew I could make it down....

Worst ride ever #1

... or, how I became a horse thief
Jennifer over at How Did This Happen claims that catharsis is good for the soul. And in honor of the fact, she shared accounts of her worst three rides.

They are indeed doozies. And she climbed back on every time.

She asked for other's Worst Ride Ever stories - Jennifer, here you go.

I've definitely had a couple "worst" rides. Can more than one be worst? Anyway, I'll save my worst wreck story for another day. But for sheer embarrassment, this one still tops all the others.


I was probably about 12 or so. I'd had Shan for several years, and was pretty comfortable riding on my own with very little adult oversight. On this particular day I was over at a friend's house. She also had a pony. An itty-bitty little thing that was way too small for me, but plenty big for her - I'm over 5'9, she's was only about 5'3" or so, and skinny as a rail.

So we fooled around with Whiskey for a bit, but it's not much fun riding when one person always has to walk.

Now down the road about a mile or two lived an older friend of my mom's. E had a pile of grandkids, but more importantly, she also had a whole herd of horses. I'd ridden most of them lots of times when we were over there.

And what better solution to our lack-of-horse problem then to go see if we could borrow one of hers.

We trekked down there, arriving sweaty (me more so, 'cause I walked the whole, hilly, way) and hopeful, and asked E could I please borrow Mingo for a bit. She okay'd it and I caught him up. But the rest of the herd was really interested in Whiskey - no way were we going to take a strange pony in with a bunch of big horses. Even we weren't THAT stupid.

Of course, we also weren't bright enough to simply lock them up and ride in the pasture. Nope, we just opened the gate, led him out, and trotted off down the road.


Me and Mingo - 1985
We were about a mile down the road chatting and giggling when here came E, dust boiling up behind her car. Seems she's thought we'd ride in the pasture (after locking the horses up). Imagine her surprise when she came out to tell us she was headed for town and it was time to put Mingo up - only to find no kids, no Mingo, and the rest of the horses hanging over the fence looking down the road after us.

E read me - well, both of us, really - the riot act for taking Mingo without telling her.

Let me tell you, we booked it back to the barn as fast as Whiskey's stubby little legs could carry her. I was mortified (
the excursion being my idea, because I just knew E wouldn't mind).

After we put Mingo back we walked slowly and silently back to my friend's place, all three of us on foot - poor little Whiskey was hot & lathery from her scramble after Mingo. The two of us walking who could talk never discussed it afterwards. Ever.

I for one waited for the phone to ring once I got home. And then dreaded it coming up to be laughed about the next time we were over there visiting. But E never said a word to my parents.

Years later I mentioned it to her, and you know, she'd forgotten the whole thing. I guess in comparison to the grey hairs she'd acquired (to this day dyed a brilliant red that both denies her 80+ years and warns of her flash point temper) from 6 kids and scads of grandkids, one misappropriated horse returned with no damage didn't make a lingering impression on her.

It certainly did on me! I get prickly all over ever time I recall that car tearing up that gravel road behind us.


So what's your worst ride ever? Most embarrassing moment? Remember, confession is good for you ;)

Waiting on the farrier

The farrier has a day job.

Don't get me wrong, I'm happy for him. (Sorry that he's not making gas money shoeing & trimming, but hey, the guy drives two or three hours in all directions for ropings, cuttings, shows & clients on a regular basis - not cheap these days!). But his day job involves lots of driving and on call type jobs. So he's never sure from day to day where he'll be, how long the job will take, and when he'll be home.

In the last several months he's gone from mostly reliable to usually unreliable. AND HE DOESN"T CALL!

Once again last night I spent two hours waiting for him to show up. The horses were cranky and twitchy - it was cold & damp and they wanted to be down in the pasture tucked out of the wind. The lot was still gooey in spots, mostly concentrated in front of the posts I usually tie to, so I couldn't skip a post between them - which I usually do to give the farrier space to work.

I'm still short two halters. (My best one went on the sold mare because J thought it was hers.... And one is still in the other car, I think). I can usually leave the two oldest mares loose, as they'll happily stand and snooze, but last night at least one of them was in heat. Both of them were causing trouble picking on the tied horses. Grrrr! So they got tied and the two youngsters got locked out of the lot to keep them out from underfoot.

I used the time productively enough, I guess. De-mudded all of them and got the majority of the wind tangles out without cutting any chunks of mane loose. After three days of wind & rain most of them had elflocks - thankfully not to the dreadlock stage!

Overcast skies meant that at 7 PM it was dark, the farrier hadn't arrived or called, and wasn't picking up his phone. So feet are still long. Bah.

It may be time to start asking around about someone else to trim. I'm not looking forward to the prospect though.

Monday, October 13, 2008


I get a happy face for something today, at least.

After 5 hours of grading yesterday, and whole a weekend of rain, I managed to get one weekend goal partially accomplished tonight.
The tools
Saddle soap, clean cotton rags, a bucket of clean warm water (emptied as necessary) and mink oil.

I've tried using leather cleaners, and I do like Lexol, but for a regular cleaning I usually just stick to saddle soap and a clean rag, reinforced in really muddy situations with a soft brush. Twice a year I like to hit most things - excluding cinches, stirrup leathers & other potentially stretchy bits - with mink oil or a really good leather conditioner. I've also used neatsfoot oil with good results.

The Results
Three saddles completely & thoroughly saddle soaped & oiled!

I still have a ways to go to finish everything up, but the two worst saddles are done - all the tooling on the back two makes them a lot tougher to keep clean. Keeping the saddle soap from congealing in the narrow bits - no fun. But easier than getting dried mud loose!

The one on the far left? My mom's saddle from when she was a little girl. She passed it on to me a few years ago. It's probably my favorite piece of tack. It's super comfortable, for me, at least- unfortunately, it doesn't fit Sunny at all. His back's too short, and it bridges. But someday maybe I'll have another horse that it does fit.

Some time when the light's better I'll take it out and snap a few pictures of some of its more interesting details.

Weekend update...

Cold & rain starting Friday evening pretty much ruined my outside weekend goals. Other than the tack cleaning, which I fully intend to get to this afternoon. This morning was is as dry as it's been, but the pastures are a soggy, muddy mess. And it's cold, too.

T and Amyra

Sunny had some swelling in his left hind last night. It looks as if maybe he scraped it on something, but not enough to take any hide off. He was completely sound on it - no heat, so probably just bruised a bit. Everything is so slippery-slidey right now from the rain, which probably doesn't help. As you can see, the lot is goo.
They were frisky this morning.. I walked out first and was greeted, but the cows in the next pasture spooked so the horses all had to race up to the end of the pasture to check out whatever (deer, I think) the cows saw.

Then they raced on back by me to see T who'd walked out to see what was keeping me. We spooked up a couple of deer, but too far away to get a good picture - all I could really see was the white hind ends bounding away through the trees.

In other news, the trailer shopping will continue, I think. T called and talked to the salesman about the Chaparral this morning - new paint, lots of body work (the guy didn't say new floor, but I think it's probable). They're asking right at $6,000 for it. A bit less than half the price of a new one, but I think they're banking on new paint to help sell it. I'll have to think about it some more - there's no particular rush, after all.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Rain delay excursion

I had to take a trip up north for work last week. Coming home I took the back roads just for fun. (It's still a huge novelty for me to have more than one way to get anywhere - and the whole roads-laid-out-in-a-one-mile-grid thing? Fabulous! It's really hard to get lost.)

Anyway, I was within a few miles or so of home but coming at it from a direction I don't ordinarily when I stumbled on this really cool trestle bridge. One lane only, over a pretty little creek winding along between some photogenic bluffs.

Since it was raining, thundering and lightening-ing close enough to delay the football game for about half an hour this afternoon, what better time to revisit the bridge and take pictures? Yes, I'm that silly on occasion. But see if it wasn't worth it!

That last picture? T was driving. He, of course, wouldn't get out of the truck, but thought I might like a nice stroll in the rain, so let the truck idle slowly up the road while I fooled with the camera.... I will get him for that later!

Trailer shopping

Today after sitting in the wet at the football game (home team won! Hoo-rray!) on the way to get the grocery shopping accomplished we sidetracked into one of the trailer dealerships. It looked from the road as if they had a trailer that approximated what I've been looking for.

We pulled in right past the new LQ Featherlites (drool)! They're SO purdy - sigh. It's incredibly tempting, but I know what my budget will stand, and it ain't them, folks!

The trailer I spotted was indeed the right size, and in good shape. Since it was drizzling rain, and the used trailers are parked up on a hill away from the dealership proper, we didn't have an obnoxious sales person to avoid, either. (Don't get me wrong, I'm fine with salesmen doing their job and selling me stuff - I just don't like being told what I need and how much I also need to go into debt to afford lots of bells and whistles! I like being left alone to make up my mind first.)

I took some pictures, pulled the mats up to check the floor - which looks practically new - and snapped a bunch of pictures for later review. It was too wet to crawl around on the ground looking underneath, and I want to find out what they're pricing it at before I get too excited, but it's the closest I've found to what I want thus far.

I wanted to check the dealer's site for more info, but came home to discover the trailer section of the site is down for maintenance, so no joy there, darn it!

So for now I'll have to make due with what I copied off the manufacturer's plate. It's a Chaparral, and if I'm reading it right, it's a 1997. Must have been stored inside and not used much, because for a 10 year old trailer, it's about as close to pristine as they get. I'm off to go price compare this sucker!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Mysterious illness kills 100 horses at Florida Farm

Marion County is in central Florida. Here's the initial news coverage from FoxNews, and a more detailed story in The Gainsville Sun. Both stories note the deaths are suspected to have been caused by bad hay, but toxicology isn't showing anything definite yet.

EquiTransfer LLC is an embryo transfer facility standing Paso Fino and Gypsy Vanner stallions. According to their website they have over 900 mares (two farms, 37 and 80 acres respectively), and have accomplished over 1,000 successful embryo transfers in the past two years. They also offer breeding management, frozen semen, insemination, and semen evaluation. The site gives stats back to 2002, and since the vet in charge "performed his first embryo transfer in 2001," I'm guessing they've been in business about 6 years.

Scary and horrible.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Friday Book Review: a two-fer!

I promised something a bit more recent - or at least less historical - this week. Since I couldn't resist taking either of these home from the library with me based on the covers, and I wasn't disappointed, I though they'd do nicely for this week's review(s).

Runaway Radish by Jessie Haas
Radish is a GOOD bad pony. As long as he has a not-too-big little girl to teach the ropes of riding to, he's happy.

But where's a pony to go when all the little girls keep getting too big and abandoning him for larger mounts? Why out the gate and down the road, of course! But the world is a big, scary place with no girl to guide you. Poor Radish - but don't worry, there's a happy ending in store!

I was sniffling by the end. And if you had your very own Radish at home to teach you all about the scariness of puddles, the importance tight knots, fly spray, sturdy shoes and latching gates - or even if you didn't - you may find yourself doing the same. This is a perfect easy reader for that budding horse-lover who's just learning to read, and it wouldn't make a bad read-aloud for bed-time either. The illustrations are charmingly done. Radish is quite a character.
And If you like Radish, you'll get a kick out of Jigsaw, as well....

Jigsaw Pony by Julie Haas
Twins Fran and Kiera can't agree on anything - except that they want a horse, very badly. When their mail man father arrives home with a small black and white pony in the back seat of his car, they're thrilled.

Except they have to share! Even with charts to divide chores and spaghetti straws for determining turns, explosions threaten over who gets to muck his stall first, carry water and take the first ride.

Jigsaw does his very best to please the girls. But something is not quite right with their pony.... something even lots of love may not be able to correct. Can Fran and Kiera work out their differences for Jigsaw's sake?

Haas has written another lovely pony book. Although Jigsaw is perhaps a bit too accommodating to be believed - the backseat of the car? The stump dismount? But it's true ponies certainly do learn to put up with a lot from their little girls. I should know - among other things, I dressed my first pony up in a Thoroughbred-size blanket (it dragged the ground) tied it on with twine, and decorated him with flowers. And a friend once brought her pony to tea, where he was the perfect gentleman. (We were in college at the time, and he walked up six steps and into the hallway to enjoy his oatmeal cookies and some carrots stolen from the house kitchen.)

The woven wire fence the illustrator depicts didn't thrill me, but Jigsaw himself is adorably true to pony-type. Minor details aside, this is another wonderful, well-illustrated, easy reader book for young girls with a love of horses. And yes, I was sniffly when I finished it.
So there you have it. Two for this week, for girls a bit younger than thirteen, or old enough to remember when their own Radish taught them a thing or two about respect for cute fuzzy things with four very hard feet and minds of their own. (And I know at least three little girls who WILL be getting their very own copies for Christmas!)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Mares & heat cycle question

I've been meaning to ask the vet about this (and still will), but thought since I'm thinking of it now, that I'd post here and see if any of you wonderful folks out there have seen this behavior.

One of the mares (6 year old maiden) has been periodically rubbing her hind end raw. She has no discharge to indicate a yeast or other vaginal infection, and there's no smell. She's wormed regularly, and she's the only one of the eight rubbing. She started this last spring, and my initial thought was worms.

During the winter the horses are kept mainly in the upper lot and small front pasture. They scavenge after dropped grain under their feed buckets and on the ground/mud around the corn bin, so picking up worms wouldn't be unlikely. And it certainly seemed like worming her took care of the problem - but only briefly.

I finally put two and two together, and timing-wise, I'm pretty sure she's rubbing only when she's cycling.

She's simply determined to rub for about a 1 week period (long enough to scrape most of the hair off her butt on either side of her tail and make a nice raw marks), and then she stops.

Washing her hiney off with iodine soap or betadine solution, and then applying salve - Corona or Nitrofurazone - seems to help somewhat. (At least it minimizes the amount of chafing & hair loss.) She doesn't get cranky, has a good appetite, and in a little less than a week she's obviously not uncomfortable or itchy anymore.

I've seen mares colic (and I thought I have it bad when I get cramps!) when they start to come in season, and I've seen all sorts of degrees of "mare-ish" - but this is a new one on me. Anybody have any thoughts??

Weekend Goals

I've been silent lately - well, not really, but my fingers haven't been talking much! It's been hectic around here, and I just haven't had much horse time. Other than the basics like getting grain dropped off and trying to track down the farrier (note to self: must call him AGAIN!!!), I've been reduced to patting noses and counting legs. Nice, but not terribly satisfying, that's for sure. :(

They've sure gotten a lot furrier in the past week. (New fuzzy pictures soon, promise!) We had rain Saturday and Sunday - a nice warm fall rain, which brought the grass back just a bit. They look good.

Since it doesn't look like I'll have much time the remainder of the weekdays, either, here are my weekend goals:
  • Fencing
    • we took the remains of the alley fence down earlier this summer - now it needs to be replaced.
    • divide the hill pasture back into two pieces - that fence the deer took out last winter, and it needs to get put up, with new gates
  • Riding
    • I will not get sidetracked. I will actually take the saddles out of the car and ride Sunny!
    • If it's nice I'd love to actually get a short trail ride in with T
  • Tack cleaning
    • Fall round of saddle soap for all the tack, even the stuff I haven't been using
That's enough to start. I suspect the fencing will, as always, turn into a bigger job than it's supposed to be.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Friday Book Review: Blood Red Horse

Yep, I know it's Saturday. Probably should have worked on this earlier, but Friday was a bit busy, so this was a close to Friday as I could get.

The book of the week is another historical read (something else for next week, promise!), and it's a doozy.

Blood Red Horse by K. M. Grant
Set in the time of King Richard, the opening volume of this series surveys life in Britain from the perspective of the landed nobility. (Some knowledge of historical events prior to reading would be a definite plus.) Ellie, Gavin, and William are all privileged far beyond the average peasant. The products of a fairly lax up-bringing, the story concerns the trials each faces as they become adults. Events in the book are woven around Hosanna, the red horse of the book's title. The stallion's presence is both an inspirational and pacifying influence on the book's two and four-legged characters.

I'm not a huge fan of historical fiction, but this was a decent enough treatment. It's a bit heavy in places, but the depictions of the horrors facing the crusaders as they traveled are riveting. I was a bit disappointed by how easily Ellie's predicament was resolved -- from a promising opening, her role in this installment of the series is fairly negligible. For the most part though, the characters are, if not fully fleshed out, at least engaging enough that I wanted to finish this volume to find out what happened to them. No, I probably won't make the effort to track down the next book for my own leisure reading, but I'd certainly read it if the opportunity presented itself.
One thing I really liked about this book? The horse is an inspirational figure for everyone - very much central to the story. But he's still a horse.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Horse trailer features

Here's the deal - I finally have the truck to pull just about any size trailer I could want. Last March we bought a BIG truck (great timing, just when diesel started to spike, which is probably why the price was so good-lol!), a 1 ton Dodge dually.
A very tired Sunny (post-ride, circa 2005)
Now I'm trailer scouting. I have access to/can borrow when necessary a 16' gooseneck stock trailer, so hauling over 3 at once is covered. But most of the time I don't need to haul that many horses.

I've been leaving drool marks on the living quarters slant loads with dividers, padding, and fancy pull down windows, but realistically, a used 3 horse combo stock is probably more my speed (and price range).

Here are some of my favorites, if money was no object:
Sundowner's 3 horse gooseneck (730 series)
Equispirit's SafeLoad 3
Hawk 3 horse slant w/ dressing room
Featherlite 3 horse stock combo
(Also - not in the running, but I like'm! - Brenderups. These little guys are just cute! The Volkswagon Bugs of the horse trailer world, perhaps?)

So other than the mechanics - height of trailer, adjustable hitch, checking tires, floorboards, axles, rust, etc., what do/would you look for in a horse trailer? From a practical standpoint, are there optional and/or standard features that you just love, love to hate, consider necessary, or would look for/look to avoid if you were to buy another trailer?