Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Elmer Bandit rides again!

Found out that Elmer Bandit successfully completed another NATRC ride a couple of weeks ago. He completed a 2 day, 60 mile ride at the Dave Smith Fall Fiesta in Iowa and won the Open Sweepstakes Division.

Remember, Elmer is the 37 year old half/Arabian who is close to establishing a new lifetime mileage record with the North American Trail Ride Conference. What I find fascinating and refreshing about this is that he appears to enjoy the rides as much as his owner/rider, Mary, does. They are simply a horse and rider who enjoy the competition of trail riding, at least that's how they come across to me. They definitely seem to be a team. That's the kind of bond I'd like to have with my horses out on the trail one day.

Not only do horse and rider complete the 60 miles in two day, at around 5 mph, they also have to successfully maneuver over a variety of natural obstacles like downed trees and logs while being judged.

I am enjoying following Elmer Bandit's progress this year. Mary is planning to enter him in the Flint Hills ride near Manhatten, KS on October 4. If you'd like to read some of the articles I've found about Elmer Bandit, in one place, you can go to thehorse.com. You can also type Elmer Bandit in a search engine and there are a few others who have updates on Elmer Bandit.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Warning...a bit of a rant

I've been in a mood this weekend. I'm sure lot of women understand this. I don't know what brings it on. I'm pretty sure I don't get PMS anymore so that's not it. I checked my bio-rhythm, and it's a little on the downflow. But, when I get like this things bug the SNOT out of me!

This time what's bugging me most are "experts". I am really tired of experts looking down their noses at folks who are trying to do things as best they can who don't have all the resources available that folks in certain parts of the country do. People like me, trying to do the right thing.

I'm not talking about the idiots who think they can ride or train a horse then go buy one at a swap meet or auction, knowing very little about the animals. I'm talking about people like me, who I believe are respectful of horses and want to do the best for them without coddling them.

Read one article it says do things this way. Read another article, says "oh, you absolutely must do it this way." Watch a clinician program and that person is saying do it this way! UGH!!! I have decided to shut all of the "experts" out for a while and just use my common sense. Which, I believe is better than the average person, from what my information tells me.

From feeding my horses, to riding my horses, to training my horses, to daily care, there are "experts" saying different things everywhere I look and ask for information. I know the "experts" have been around horses longer than I have since I'm only going on 4 years being immersed in them. Opinions and expertise in something, are like noses, I swear, everyone's got one!

Let's take round penning for example. I have never liked it. I went to a particular clinician's place (ok, it was Clinton Anderson when he had his place in Ohio a few years ago). I didn't know much about training then. Watched his presentation about round penning there. Later, thinking it would help me with my young horse, ordered his DVD. I was never completely comfortable with the whole round penning technique. I do understand the philosophy and I'm sure it works. Why wouldn't it? Get the horse tired enough and he's gonna do what you want him to do by about 30 minutes later. Ok, I am exaggerating a bit here, but it's just to make a point.

I have one horse who is laid back and won't do much unless you really keep after him. Not much rattles him. He round pens beautifully. I have another younger guy, who is more sensitive. He absolutley does not even like to be in the round pen. When I bought him, he was ran into a round pen where he tried to climb out as I watched. Guess I should have gotten a clue, huh? Anyway, I have quit working with him in a round pen. I found another clinician at Equine Affaire last year who doesn't believe in round penning. He works in hand with stop and go cues. I started working with Spirit this way and it's much more pleasureable for both of us. Spirit learns much better with one on one and not trying to get him to "respect" me by running him around in circles. Sorry for anyone who believes in round penning, but I personally think it's not the thing to do for ordinary folks who want to train their horses. I guess it comes down to, know your horse!

How about riding? Yeah, I'm no expert and where I live, we don't have the good fortune to have very many riding instructors if any. Most people with horses around here are in it for the shows or for breeding. I have yet to come across riding instructors I would want to give my money to to learn to ride from them. The lessons I did originally take got me started. Since then, I have paid attention to others, listened and yes, indeed, tried to learn some things from DVD's. Shame on me for not having a "real" riding instructor! I do understand that riding wrong can ruin your relationship with your horse. I'm careful not to do that. As a matter of fact, I'm working with sidepulls and bitless bridles because I don't like using bits. Personal choice and it works for me.

Feed, care and the deworming controversy! Oh my goodness! A conscientious horse owner could go crazy over these topics! I am a conscientious owner of everything I have on my property! My dogs, my cat, my house, my cars and ESPECIALLY my horses! I finally settled down to my way of handling these things. My horses are fine. They are healthy.

These topics get to me because I read an article from an "expert", and she is indeed an expert who writes books about horse ownership I have bought and I respect. I get her newsletter. But, I nearly dumped myself out of my computer chair when I read her suggestion for feeding schedules. Now, granted, she wasn't saying to do it her way, she was just saying it's the way she does it, which is why I respect her advice. But, once again, I started thinking to myself "am I doing right by my guys?" I hate when I do that. Then I start having a conversation with myself about how my guys are doing ok the way I do things so don't get too upset. Oh, and the deworming. I'm not EVEN going to get into that. I do it my way. I think the original schedule I had was too extreme so I've cut my deworming schedule back and rotate the dewormers suggested by my equine vet. I have quit listening and reading about deworming.

Like I said in the beginning, I've been in a mood this weekend. I read a couple of blogs that sort of ticked me off, but then, that's what free speech and blogging are all about. Makes you learn not to be too sensitive I suppose. I realize there are idiots out there buying horses who shouldn't even be within ten feet of a horse. I feel bad for those horses. I read forums where people are asking about things and I think "Oh, MY Goodness, that poor horse!" Yeah, I rarely feel bad for the person because in my opinion they should KNOW better. I can't feel sorry for someone who buys a horse then gets upset because the horse has issues and then they can't handle them. That's just wrong. But, I also can't stand it when I know someone is belittling people like me, or that's how I perceive it, because I don't have enough experience in their so called expert definition.

We learn as we live! The old cowboys and folks who owned/worked horses, back in the day of horse and buggies, learned by doing. There's nothing wrong with that. I mean seriously, when I start hearing people get all excited because they can't get a left lead or a right lead and they're wanting to trail ride, I have to shake my head. I don't ever plan on being an expert at horses because it must be obvious, I'm doing everything wrong!

I guess I took some of my weekend reading a little too seriously, huh?

Well, today I'm going out, working with my green 6 yo by saddling and introducing him to his new sidepull. Yeah, that's right, he's basically GREEN and he's now 6 years old!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Book Review-The Hearts of Horses

I enjoy good books, as does anyone who is an avid reader. I've been a reader all my life. From time to time I'll share my thoughts and recommend horse related books, fiction and nonfiction, that I have read and personally liked.

The Hearts of Horses by Molly Gloss
I read this novel over a year ago but the title and the story has stayed with me. I think I found the title in one of my horse magazines before I started looking for it. I tried the local library first. I actually found this book at our local library, which surprised me. When I worked there as a librarian manager, ordering books for my branch library, I was usually the one ordering animal and horse related titles. When I found this one, I was happy to know maybe someone else took up my cause after I left.

At first I was afraid the story would be unbelieveable. The story centers around 19 year old Martha Lessen who decides to leave home to travel the areas around rural Oregon as a horse trainer. At the time, 1917, most men had gone off to WWI, there was no one to train the horses for the work that needed to be done. Gloss manages to keep the story real and believeable throughout.

Martha's methods of training horses are different from the customary rough "break 'em" techniques the horsemen of the era used. She uses soft words and songs along with patience to train horses.

Martha is not a "girl's girl". She wears men's clothes. Sleeps in the bunkhouses or barns where she worked. The women could not relate to her for the most part. She could not relate to them either. She roughed out her days in all kinds of weather to get her job done and prove herself to those who doubted her work. Martha is quiet, keeps to herself. She is more comfortable dealing with horses all day than chatting in the kitchen with the women. Martha doesn't come across as completely "manish" as you might think. After reading along for awhile you get the feel she's a young woman who chooses a different way of life during a period of time when women are not accepted in the male role she had taken on.

Gloss's characters come across as believeable, down-to-earth and real. Personally, I have to connect with the characters before I can enjoy a book and with this one, I did. It has become one of my favorite books!

The story moves along methodically but the feelings and emotions come across gently, at times. Martha's inner strength and sheer will are apparent. As her life begins to entertwine with the different families she works for along the way, she finds herself becoming a part of them, and also respected, in a way she never expected.

There is a little romance as Martha finds the attentions of Henry awkward for her, but she tries to become, for one evening, a "girl". She soon learns that she is happier when she is accepted for who she is rather than trying to be someone she isn't, something she really already knew in her heart.

I found the horse parts touching as well. Realistic, without being overbearing or too gentle to the point of being fluff. Just right for those of us who love and respect horses, as Martha did, but also realize the nature of horse training in the early 1900's and what was expected from the horses as an end result.

The Hearts of Horses is a great read for women of all ages. I think young women and teens would enjoy this empowering novel.


Monday, September 22, 2008

End of an era for the draft horse hitches?

I sure hope not, but I am questioning how much longer we will see these beautiful equines in their decked out harnesses pulling wagons into an arena or down a street in a parade. The people who handle them are slowly going away too. Are there enough interested young people to take up the reins?

Hubby and I attended a Draft Horse Show over the weekend. I simply love seeing the 6 horse hitches and hearing the power of the teams as they trot into the arena. For me, there's something magical about it.

This year I noticed, fewer teams. Fewer farms represented. Could be the location as we live in Southern Ohio and as far as I'm aware there are very few of these kinds of shows through the year. A couple of teams were from Michigan, one from Indiana. I can only imagine the money they had to spend on gas alone to get to this show in SW Ohio.

It dawned on me that soon, I may not have the privilege of seeing these magnificent horses in this way. The skill may be lost one day. I'm sure there will always be a few who keep the tradition of driving the big rigs, but as with everything of the "old days", fewer people will grow up with the knowledge. I hope the sons and daughters of some of these farms continue the tradition. Many of the folks in the audience were older though there were young people too.
As with farm machinery of the past, draft horse teams are no longer the necessity, but simply treasures of what we sometimes consider simpler times.

Friday, September 19, 2008


Our lives are composed of moments. The moments eventually meld into memories. In my later years, I have learned to absorb the special moments when I feel them upon me. I feel I lost many moments in my younger days because I was too focused on what's up ahead. There are memories my family will bring up but I don't remember the special moments they do, simply because I was focused somewhere else. I have awakened to the light that moments make memories and as that revelation dawned on me a few years ago, I now try to absorb the essence of special moments.

Yesterday was an example. I take my dad to his doctor appointments every three months. My dad turned 80 a week ago. He's not in the best health but he keeps pushing along, some days are harder for him than others. But he's always been a warrior in my eyes. As much as I dread taking him to the doctor, I also relish the time spent with him. He is still so funny sometimes, making me laugh with comments about this or that. He and I have always had a special bond. I was an only child and definitely, "Daddy's girl". My dad has been my hero.

I dread these appointments because I fear what the doctor may say. Even though I realize Dad is 80, and battling COPD, the thought of losing him is what I fear the most. I don't know how I will react. No one knows this until you go through it. So, I've decided to make these couple of hours we spend together simple joys, just by remembering simple things that happened. One appointment day, there was a woman in the doctor's office who'd been brought in by a squad. She was in a bed with IV and oxygen. My dad started walking over to her. I thought for a moment he had lost his way, but he simply walked over to the woman, leaned down and said "Hang in there!". She smiled and told him "Thanks, I'm trying." That moment, could have been a special touch for that woman. Could have lifted her spirits when she needed it most. I was proud of my dad, but then I've always been proud of him. A moment I know I will always remember.

Yesterday evening, #1 Son came home for a visit. His new wife is traveling with her job through the week. He's taking graduate classes, but right now, early in the quarter, he gets a little lonely. Even Reese Cup, their 4 month old kitten, isn't enough to keep him company completely. #1 Son lives about an hour away so it's not a really long drive, not too much gas to buy on their tight budget, so he says. I think he just wanted our company for the evening.

We have a little patio area at the back of our house, faces up into the wooded hillside. This time of year, Hubby will often build a fire. Towards dark, Hubby collected firewood from the hillside. He and #2 Son started a fire in the little homemade fireplace which we call the Tiki God. Hubby made this fireplace from an old water tank. He fashioned eyes, nose, mouth, welded on metal earrings and it has a crown for it's head where flames can shoot out. He was feeling very artistic when he built it a few years ago. His favorite thing to do is build a fire on chilly evenings and just enjoy an hour or two sitting by it, listening to the crackle, trying to ignore the neighbor dogs barking incessantly at times, and we often talk. This evening, was even more special because the four of us were reunited.

Hubby and I moved the bench back a little and brought down two Adirondack chairs, placing them all in a semi-circle in front of the fire. #2 Son got his banjo out. He's been teaching himself to play this summer, while also job searching. He's pretty good at the banjo. Not having so much luck at the job hunt yet. He's a history major, so that says volumes. But, as we tell him, if that's what you want to do, keep at it, something will come your way. The mood was quiet. The banjo music keeping us entertained. We also talked about things, the four of us. Nothing important. We joked remembering some past memories. #1 Son talked about his classes and other things going on in his life since going out on his own as a married man. I sat there listening to the talk and I thought to myself, this is one of those special moments. So simple yet so significant. A good moment to keep close to my heart.

As a young adult I think I spent too many years worrying about things that might happen and I lost alot of good moments. I try not to do that anymore. Habits are hard to break, I do relapse into old ways of thinking. But I try to focus on the here and now so that later, I'll have memories of the special moments because those are what really make a life.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Maggie Mae the Cattle Dog

Maggie Mae, Maggie for short, came to us as an abandoned dog, like most of the dogs and cats we've had in our family. #1 Son was working at a state park a few years ago. One evening at dinner, I think he mentioned, but I'm not sure about this, that there was a dog wandering around the park cabins. The dog had been there for days with no apparent owners, but did have a red collar. The park ranger was going to call the dog warden the next day. I remember vaguely listening to his tale. He said the dog looked like one of those Australian Cattle dogs, like in the movie Last of the Dogmen. It was one of those times when I was half listening. I should have picked up on the intent in his voice, but that's what happens when you don't pay closer attention!

The next evening, #1 son came home from work and in the passenger seat of his Jeep is a dog. Out of the blue he'd brought a dog home. I was not happy. These things are suppose to go by me first! He claimed he told me about the dog yesterday, I don't recall he said anything about bringing it home.

My first impression of the dog, who #1 son named Maggie Mae right from the start, was that she was kind of, well, not pretty. She had one eye that was a very light watery blue and one dark brown eye. I kept focusing on the blue eye. She had nice pointed ears. She was of medium size, maybe about 45 pounds. Her coat was exactly like I'd seen on cattle dogs, they call in blue merle. She did look like one of those Australian Cattle dogs, but not quite as stocky and her tail wasn't docked. I figured she was a mix, but the cattle dog was more present. #1 Son seemed very pleased with himself as he explained to Hubby and me that if he hadn't brought "her" home, the ranger was calling the dog warden. He was proud of himself for saving her.

I was more concerned how Xena, our German Shepherd would respond to the new dog. Xena has never been nasty toward people but she did have a tendency to be aggressive toward other dogs. We missed the boat in socializing her with other dogs but she rarely left our country property. Well, there were a few growls and the usual laying down of the submitter, Maggie, but then Xena just seemed to accept Maggie. We were all astonished and relieved.

Maggie turned out to be a very loving dog. You could see she wanted to be accepted and would work hard to get that acceptance. I guessed her age to be around 9mos to 1 yo and was guessing she hadn't been spayed yet. Didn't see any surgery scars. Of course I did the usual "she's your responsibility, son" talk which I really knew was just that. I'd end up being the one to take care of her. I think Maggie must have figured that out too because she tried really hard to bond with me. She seemed to figure out quickly she had the rest of the family wrapped around her paws! It wasn't that I didn't like her or want to give her a home, I just have this thing about upsetting the balance sometimes. I usually get over it, but my worry is always I don't want to have problems. I have learned over the years that animals will accept each other if the heads of the herd (or pack) are receptive. I saw this work with Maggie and Xena.

Things were tense for a few months. Maggie came to us in the fall. She obviously had the herding instinct going on. For awhile, I had to keep an eye on her with the horses. She wanted to chase. They wanted to chase her back unless Spirit got a little agitated, then he'd just start running all over the field, with Maggie barking after him. Sometimes, I believe the horses egged Maggie on. Other times I would look out in the field and see one horse lying down, one horse standing and Maggie lying close to them.

Maggie's other annoying habit was barking. She barked alot at night those first months. I started using loud sound therapy. I had a bunch of pennies in a small coffee can that made really loud clanging noise when shook. At first bark, I opened the door and shook the can, telling her to "Quit!". Didn't take her long to figure out, no barking. She's not so much a barker now, unless something is really going on. I've learned to trust her that way.

I was cursing Maggie for a while. She also had a tendency to crawl under our fence and go to the neighbors to torment their 4 fenced in dobermans. I didn't like that at all! Maggie soon had to be kept on a short leash, so to speak, and training to our property was a must. Took some time, and some energy, but by Spring, Maggie had evolved into a better mannered farm dog. We had her spayed shortly after we knew she was here to stay. The vet guessed her age at about the same age I had estimated.

I didn't know much about Australian Cattle Dogs, Queensland Heelers, Blue Heelers, as they are known by these various names. I read up on them. I'd seen the dog, "Zip", in the movie Last of the Dogmen and thought that the breed must be an interesting dog to have around. At least as depicted in the movie. "Zip", seemed like a cool partner.

Well, I've learned that these medium sized dogs are some of the most intelligent in the dog world. Maggie is a great example. She is sensitive and learns quick. All I have to say is "Maggie Out!" and wave my arm toward the fence, when I'm working with the horses and she retreats to the other side of the fence to wait. She has even taught our newest abandonee to do this. There really wasn't much formal training with this command, she just learned what I meant over a period of time. With these dogs, its as if they read your mind, so in that respect, they can be alot like communicating with horses.

Maggie isn't a chow hound, but that could just be her personality. Our other two dogs would eat anything and everything placed in front of them. Maggie wasn't much of a leftovers type. If we had some leftovers from dinner that we decided to add to their evening meal, gravies or something in the bottom of the stew pot, Maggie looks at whoever is feeding her with a "What's this?" expression. On the other hand, Xena would gobble the special treat down and Lucy didn't stop until every morsel is gone. Slowly, Maggie will lap at the mixture, and eventually, she will finish it. Maggie seems to prefer attention and a little job performance to worrying with food. Even if I give treats to Lucy and Maggie, sometimes Maggie will drop it and walk away.

Australian Cattle Dogs have an interesting history. Originally, the breed started out, in Australia, as part Dingo-blue merle collie mixes, back in the early 1840's. They have the "wild" side in them which sometimes comes through in the way they herd livestock. The first dogs produced had great herding instincts. They became popular for the cattle ranchers in Queesnland and around Australia. In trying to improve the breed, they used Dalmations which turned the colors to a spotted blue and red speckle. The orginal breeders chose the Dalmations to intstill a love of horses and faithfulnees to their masters, the hopes of having these dogs watch their horses and gear as well as work the cattle. In the early 1900's the breed standard was based around the Dingo type.

For certain, these dogs are loyal. I have watched Maggie evolve into a very loving obedient pal. Now, she's not perfect. Sometimes she will still run up into the woods after that darn pesky squirrel and not stop when I call, but other times, when she runs after an ATV riding up the road, she'll stop on a dime and come back to me. She does like to chase but she and the horses seem to have come to an agreement of sorts. She is often seen lying just on the other side of the fence, watching over her herd of two. These dogs are also lively so if you consider actually getting one, be prepared to keep them entertained or give them a job, if you don't have property for them to run on. They will entertain themselves, probably by trying to herd cats, dogs, goats, chickens whatever. They can't help it, it's in their genes!

The circle of life is mysterious. Many times I thought about Australian Cattle Dogs after seeing "Zip" in the movie, but I probably never would have actually gotten one. Well, as fate would have it, one ended up with us anyway. After our first months of trials and tribulations, she has rewarded us with being a great family member. Always smiling, always alert, and always looking for our love.

After Xena died, a couple of weeks ago, Maggie grieved for about a week. Now, she is slowly accepting her place as the Queen dog around here. We have all girl dogs. I like it that way! I think girl dogs are more loyal and stay around the house better, but that's just my opinion. Anyway, I never would have believed I'd have an Australian Cattle dog in my life, but here you go. You never know what's in store!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Incredible Elmer Bandit

For a while I'd been seeing the name Elmer Bandit pop up in some of my horse related newsletters. I ignored the name at first. Honestly, I thought it was just some kind of gimmick about a horse with a funny name. Then, I read one of the articles. Now, I am a fan of Elmer Bandit!

Elmer Bandit is a 37 year old, half Arabian, Competitive Trail Riding (CTR) horse. T-H-I-R-T-Y S-E-V-E-N! He's still competing and doing very well. Elmer Bandit and his owner, Mary Anna Wood, have been doing CTR together since 1976! I was a mere teenager at that time! Boggles my mind when I think about this horse, and his rider too, of course.

Since finding out about this incredible horse I've been gleaning all the articles I can find about him. Seems most of the interest in Elmer, and Mary, has come about in the last couple of years due to the record he could break. Elmer Bandit is 230 miles short of breaking the CTR lifetime mileage record. Elmer Bandit has logged 20,480 miles as of Labor Day weekend! I am fascinated by his feat. Probably more so because of his advanced age, but also by his humble life.

Elmer lives his non-CTR days out in a pasture with a herd of other horses. He's not special in that regard. His teeth are worn down so he gets his 2 meals a day specially mushed, as it sounds to me, and he gets his alfalfa cubes soaked in water. Can take him a couple of hours to eat his meals and he eats slowly. He is given supplements often fed to aging horses and a probiotic to help digestion. The only serious health problem I've read about was a possible eye ulceration back in 1998.

What a heart this horse has, in more ways than one!

His next CTR is this weekend, September 13 & 14 at the Dave Smith Fall Festival at Brushy Creek Recreation Area near Lehigh, Iowa. I'm looking forward to reading how he comes through. Mary, his owner, has stated that as long as he still loves his work and seems happy out there, she'll keep going with him.

So if you want an athelete to root for, look up Elmer Bandit and read about this unassuming yet incredible CTR horse!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Happy Trails #2

This weekend I've been reading quite a bit about trail riding. As a matter of fact, I've started reading Laura Crum's Slickrock (1999). After the first chapter I was thinking to myself-Gail is doing "real" trail riding. I love it! I'm really enjoying Gail McCarthy too! My Happy Trails #1 would be considered, um.....tame, to Gail and seasoned trail riders everywhere. I view it as a gentle introduction.

The horses at the year-round riding facility where I worked were not the nose-to-tail kind, Boss-lady had always made it a practice that her facility was where real riding was learned. So, when these horses went out on a trail, they were used to being ridden, not just following, although you can argue they did that to an extent too.

The trails were not always cleared logging trails like my #1 experience and our rugged, often rocky hills in Southern Ohio aren't called The Foothills to the Smokies for nothing! But, for a beginner, disguising herself as a little more than that, I was hooked on trail riding after that first gentle experience. Being one with nature, traveling the landscape by horseback, is something I hadn't experienced in the past. Not like this. Enjoying the view of the gorgeous valleys and blue-green hilltops while riding a horse, was definitley something I could get used to.

The staff and I got into a routine of teaching our 6-8 classes per day, each lasting 45 minutes. These were very basic riding lessons to girls who were from 8 to 13 years old. As the week progressed we would add some games and by Thursday they could handle a short mini-trail ride around the outside of the usual arena riding areas. The girls were always excited about Thursday. They were able to steer their horses and feel like they were genuine horseback riders, which they were. Friday's were for the 2 hour advanced trail ride around the hillside logging loop which consisted of the campers who were over 12 and had been through the entire program over previous summers.

By mid-summer, it was time to take some of the "issue" horses out for a little extra attention. We had about 6 horses, out of the 20 leased horses brought in for summer camp, who had issues that became a little more than our beginners could handle. Why they ended up at a summer camp is beyond me but they did. The horse I ended up riding is one I'll always remember because to this day, I am still in disbelief that I didn't come off her during the ride that day. I had never dealt with a decidedly green horse. Looking back, and knowing more now than I did then, that is what she probably was.

I ended up with her as the luck of the draw because everyone else had skipped over her. Being the kind of person I can be sometimes (gullible?) I didn't see too many problems with Abby other than she wouldn't stand still to tack, didn't like to be bridled, wasn't very good at stopping but sure liked to GO! Sure! I could handle her! HA!!! That's what happens when people expect more of you, you start expecting more of yourself. I guess that can be a good thing.

Abby was a small framed, wiry, thin, strawberry roan Appy. She was sort of a mess. Very thin, short, reddish mane and tail. She didn't have a very pretty face which of course made me feel sorry for her. Her eyes didn't seem hard to me but kind of like there really wasn't much in there. I had no idea how old she was, but I was guessing not too old, somewhere between 4 and 6. She just wasn't nice to look at, but that doesn't really matter if you're a school horse. She wasn't mean or moody. She didn't try to bite or kick. I really think she just didn't know much so she tended to react in the wrong ways, for our novice riders anyway. When you don't know what's expected of you, you will sometimes act out. At least that's what some horses do.

I tacked and bridled Abby without much of a problem. Mounted up. She danced a little, but then stood quietly. Everyone else was warming their horses up around the arena and having some problems of their own so I walked Abby to the outside of the arena. Boss-lady spoke up and said we were taking the Brush Creek Trail. I heard someone ask if she was sure she wanted to do that with these particular horses. She said it would be good for them. Naturally, I had no idea what the others had gotten excited about when they heard where we were heading. Sometimes, ignorance IS bliss.

It was early afternoon and warming up. The sun was nice and bright, but we'd be riding in wooded areas. We headed out, away from the arena. To get to the trail head we had to cross a rather busy two lane road. My first indication that Abby was going to be a handful was by the time we got about 100 yards from the barn, walking up the gravel, tree lined drive to cross the road. Abby immediately turned to go back toward the barn area when she realized she was heading in the wrong direction, or so she concluded. Caught me a little off guard. I brought her back around. She started hopping sideways. I had her stop. By this time I had fallen behind the group. Abby kept wanting to go back to the barn, but I kept turning her, then stopping her. Boss-lady rode back and told me to circle Abby then get her going forward. Easier said than done, but it worked after about 3 circlings. Boss-lady told me Abby seemed a little barn sour and this trail ride would do her good. Well, OK. In my head I was thinking Boss-lady had more confidence in me at that point than I did in myself. Which, probably didn't help Abby's cause that day either!

Abby was fine as we crossed the road and started up the trail. She seemed calm enough. Ears flicking back and forth. I was in the middle of the group by then. As we rode up the first dirt trail I heard the conversation about this particular trail. One of the girls asked if we were going on the Snowy River side. Boss-lady smiled and said "Sure, if you all want to..." which by my count of checking faces looked to be about half and half. My mind was starting to get a picture. The Man From Snowy River is one of my favorite movies. I could only guess what it meant.

We get to a point where the trail can go one of two ways. We end up climbing down into a ravine and then climbing back up on the other side. Lots of large rocks to avoid, logs to walk or hop over, and small tree limbs to navigate through. Abby was fine, for a while, then I think it all just became too much for her. She basically started freaking out. From that moment on I had a jiggy, whirly-gig on my hands! All I could do was hang on. I didn't feel I was riding. I didn't even have that much knowledge of riding under my belt so I really didn't know what I was doing, I simply let my instinct take over. At one point, when we'd stopped to rest the horses in a clearing, though Abby didn't realize this and decided not to stand still, I asked the others if anyone would like to trade horses. I was ready to confess my true inexperience. But for the most part, even with the problems they were having with their horses, they didn't want Abby!

Most of the rest of the trail ride is a blur. I remember scraping trees with my legs and arms. Smacking my head on tree limbs (yes, I was wearing a helmet!). Losing my stirrups at times. But not once completely losing my seat! Still wonder how I managed that! I do remember going down the so-called "Snowy River" side of a steep hill. Maybe it wasn't quite as steep as the one seen in the movie, but by golly, it was STEEP! And, with Abby unsure and not really knowing what to do, all I did was the best I could do, hang on and try to keep her going forward.

I remember we climbed up another steep incline, practically sideways. The horse in front of me suddenly lost his saddle and rider. The girth had broken. Bob and his rider were sliding backwards toward me and Abby, all I could do was let her do what she thought best and in that moment I feel she saved both of us by stepping sideways out of the way. Bob was a big horse! He would have surely plowed us over. Fortunately, no one was hurt. Bob's rider had hit ground feet first, he was ok. He settled Bob down on the steep side of the hill, they managed to fix the girth on Bob's saddle temporarily. A side note, the token fella on our staff was riding Bob at the time and seems to me his pride was hurt more than anything! At that point, my thoughts were, when will this be over? We ended up turning around and heading back down the hill toward the main trail head. We found the main trail and were back to the barn within thirty minutes. No more extreme hill climbing for Bob and his rider. I was relieved to be going back.

On the way back to the barn, still on the trail head, three of the young women (I hate to call them girls!) decide to race their horses down the trail. I was thinking............not a good idea to race when we're so close to the barn the horses can smell it. At least I was right about that one. Boss-lady reprimanded them and told them to walk back. By this time Abby was worn out. I was worn out. My shoulders and arms hurt. My legs shakey.

This whole event could have soured me on horses and trail riding, but it didn't. I didn't even realize that the others had taken note of how hard Abby had been for me that day. Later, a couple of them told me I did a good job with her. They still thought I was an experienced rider! I thought the whole episode would have shown otherwise, but evidently it didn't. Boss-lady was the only one who knew my secret, and she also told me I'd done a good job with Abby, considering.

Sometimes we're too hard on ourselves! Even though I didn't know what to do with Abby then, I have learned a great deal in the past four years. If I were to handle Abby again, I would do some things differently, because now I know what should be done.

Sadly, I found out the next spring, when the leased horses were to return for summer camp, Abby had broken a leg and been put down. She wouldn't be returning to summer camp.

We used Abby off and on, in the arena lessons, through that summer but she was never used for our novice riders on the trail rides. She really needed more work than we had time to give her at camp. I made extra efforts to give her some extra loving attention on the days we did use her.

To me, Abby seemed like a little lost soul. I wish she'd had a better, longer life. Abby is one who may have been unknown, probably most of her life unloved, but she has a special place in my heart!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Happy Trails #1

In my life, I've only been on one hour, nose-tail, horseback rides and not very many. My first week at summer camp, back in '04, as barn staff/assistant horseback riding instructor, I was thrown into "real" trail riding. As staff, the manager wanted us to bond through an overnight trail ride before the first official week of camp. I was thrilled!

The first few days of camp staff meetings we were told to pick nicknames. It was customary to use nicknames not real names for the camp staff. When the campers arrived, they got to know staff by the nicknames. At the end of the week, before leaving, staff then introduced themselves with their real names at the last campfire. All staff members had nicknames. I was not thrilled by this. Personally, I don't like nicknames and it seemed silly to me, but I chose one so I would be part of the group. It wasn't very cute, like many of them. It was just something that popped into my head. I had once been referred to as "graceful" which I am NOT, so I chose Grace. Grace is a beautiful name when used for the purpose it should be. I wasn't very creative and at times wished I'd gone a different route with my nickname. Good way to sabotage one's self!

My boss, for the summer, was a 20-something young lady. Level headed, serious about her job and had designed the entire summer horseback riding program. The rest of the 5 staff members ranged in ages from eighteen to twenty-one. I was forty-three. I was willing to let any one of the young ladies and young man (I'm not sure how he ended up in the mix, it was a girls' camp, but he'd worked there the year before) take the lead role. Since this camp experience was more for their resumes, I was more than happy to follow their lead. As I told them in one of our staff meetings before camp started, "I'm just here to help out." Plus, and it's a big plus, I was new to all the riding stuff, although I never once told any of them of my lack of experience. They assumed since I was "older" I probably had a good handle on things. Granted, I was confident with my ground handling of horses. It felt natural to me, but the riding, well, I wasn't as confident about that.

We used the year around horses at the riding facility. The twenty summer leased horses would be dealt with later. As I walked down the barn aisle I was looking over the horses wondering who I would ride. My thoughts were interrupted by Boss-lady suggesting I ride Koko, the 30 year old off-track standardbred mare. Koko was the one I took my first riding lessons on. She was the "babysitter" of these barn horses. At the time I didn't know Koko held that title. Wouldn't have mattered, I was excited to be going on a trail ride and an overnighter on top of that!

I was actually glad to be given Koko. I figured I'd get a good comfortable ride although her age certainly posed some questions in my mind. Koko's only real issue was keeping her away from other horses. She didn't like being too close and would kick out if any of them got within four feet of her space. So, I worked with that. Boss-Lady told me Koko loved to go on trail rides. She gets a little slow, but she gets the job done and keeps up with everyone. I could relate, with all the youngsters around me I was also trying to keep up! So, me and Koko were a team for my first ever real trail ride.

Actually when I think back, I feel bad that I don't remember more specifics about the event. I do remember it was very uneventful. We rode up into the hills taking a well established logging trail, to a spot atop an open hilltop meadow where we camped for the night. Our sleeping bags, tents, food had all been trailered up for us so we didn't pack anything on our horses.

I remember we cooked some kind of taco meal for dinner. Most of the time I just listened to conversation. I felt a little "out" not in a bad way, just a generational thing. A woman about my age came along for the ride too. Seems she and Boss-Lady were heading out to Wyoming with some of the girls at the end of summer camp. It was an added part of the camp program Boss-Lady had put together. I was a little envious hearing them talk about their trip.

I am a quiet person. I've always labeled myself as introverted. I don't mean to be, I've worked to come out of that shell, but I often will retreat when around new people. It's something I've done all my life, I think it stems back to my only child raising. But, I listen, I just usually don't have much to add until I get better aquainted with everyone. I've discovered that sometimes people get a little uncomfortable around quiet people like me. Then, they are surprised when I open up more. It's amusing at times.

Morning came, the horses were still on the picket line. No problems during the night. I was a little sore. Hadn't slept on hard ground for a few years. When our sons were young we used to go tent camping every summer. My night on the ground reminded me I was now in my 40's, and should probably carry a mat of some kind if I ever wanted to tent camp comfortably again! We ate our light breakfast, but I can't recall what it was, tacked up our horses and completed our trail around the loop back to the barn. As I remember, very uneventful. I was just a member of the group that morning, but as the summer wore on I would take on different roles.

During the summer we would have Friday trail rides for the older girls in the more advanced program. I started out riding the trail rides in the middle. Later, sometimes I was the lag rider, it really depended on what horses we used the day of the trail rides. I discovered I didn't like being the lead rider because I prefer to see what's going on with the group ahead of me. And, if you were lead rider, you would undoubtedly have to ride Big Tall Joe who was at least 17 hands, tall, lanky, sorrel. He was the best lead horse always confident, never fighting against his riders. I always thought I wanted a tall horse but after riding him, discovered I prefered something more to my size like 15 hands or less. I'm only 5'5" myself.

The next trail ride we took as staff members would be a tad more eventful. We took it at mid summer. Our assignment was to take out the summer lease horses who were having issues during the classes we were trying to teach. Now that experience was an eye opener for me! To this day I still shake my head at how I managed to come out of that one with only a few scratches, but much better prepared for my life with horses.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Hay For Sale!

After last year's drought in our area, "Hay for Sale" signs are abundant again. I'm sure thankful to see "Hay for Sale" signs again.

Last year was tough. I only have two horses to feed through the winter. I can only imagine how the hay situation went for people who had more horses, if they hadn't gotten their hay by the end of August.

We managed. We ended up driving to another county to buy more expensive hay because I couldn't find anyone around the area who had square bales to sell last year. If they did, they were keeping it back or they had round bales. I don't buy round bales for a couple of reasons. One, we're not set up to deal with round bales. Two, most round bales are not horse worthy if the farmer is baling for cows. Most of the round balers in Southern Ohio are baling for cows.

I bought a round bale once. Live and learn. Hubby talked me into it. I was slightly desperate for hay at the end of March a couple of years back. It was ok, but we knew the guy who sold it to us and he had his round bales stored in a barn. He had some horses and cows. The giant round bale was a pain for us to deal with but got me through to new grass and new season of hay.

I can't blame a farmer for keeping hay back. I just wish I could get this hay thing figured out for myself! Every year since I bought my horses, hay has been one of our biggest issues. With all the research I've done, and all the first-hand experience working at the stable, I never once thought hay would turn into a major issue for me, but it does, every cotton pickin' year!

We have limited storage area right now. I have figured I can get by with 100 square bales, but I'd like to have more. Unfortunately, the current storage area we have will hold a solid 100. Usually by February, I'm needing hay again.

I don't have year around grazing areas although we keep trying to achieve that. Just hasn't worked out yet. We still need to take down a hill full of trees in the back field before we can re-seed with grass. Life often has a mind of its own sometimes! Priorities get re-prioritized. Even though I have it on the top of my list for this year, the expected, unexpected wedding of #1 son sort of took the wind out of our financial sails for a few months. That's ok, we're flexible. Still leaves the issue, I will need more hay this year!

I would really love to have one supplier. However, I haven't been able to find that one perfect hay farmer. Hubby has had a guy set up for the past 3 years but something always seems to come up. I'm not saying the guy is lying, I'm sure he's not. He has his own family invested farm with cows and horses. One year his bales were torched. Last year during the drought when everyone was scrounging around for hay, he had over 100 bales stolen. This year it was first cut hay that got all muddy so they round baled all of it. I'm at the point I just say "yeah, whatever" when Hubby informs me that this particular supplier won't be able to sell us bulk. I don't think promises should be made if you can't deliver, just my way of looking at it. So, search is on for hay!

In July I bought a total of twenty-four bales from two different feed supply stores who also bale their own hay. Usually, in the past, the quality of their mixed grass hay has been fine. Granted, my spoiled rotten boys (when it comes to their taste in hay anyway!) prefer Timothy-mix but will eat mixed grasses.

As we loaded up the first batch Hubby and I thought the bales were heavy but we looked them over and thought everything was ok. Seemed good enough on the outside. No visible problems. At least not until I got them home, got them stacked and then opened some up. Every one of them had that crappy moldy stuff that smokes when you open them. I could have cried! I was a grouch about it all summer! I could have taken them back I suppose, but I didn't. I knew this supplier deals with horse and cow people because I had talked to them, so I chalked it up to "next time buyer beware !"

A couple of weeks later we traveled to the feed supply down the road from the first one. Once again, we'd had great luck with the hay from this place in the past. They breed and raise Quarter Horses, barrel horses, and the like, so I just knew they would have great hay. Yeah, well, same procedure. We get home, I open up to feed that evening, lo and behold, same type of stuff. My conclusion was that both farms had baled the hay damp.

Now, my horses are what I sometimes refer to as horse-pigs. They will eat just about anything you put in front of them. This summer though, they left so much hay out in the field I knew the stuff was not good quality. I think if it had been dead of winter, they probably would have eaten more of it. As it was, I had tons (it appeared to me) of leftovers even when I cut back.

No one lost weight. These guys are, well, they look well-fed. It actually wouldn't hurt for them to lose a few pounds as I've been told by a vet, a farrier and a few others. I have to say in their defense, they were fatter when I first bought them! I think I've been able to keep them on a more sensible diet! AND, they are getting more excercise this year.

Back to hay. This year, I seem to have found a good supplier of hay, for the moment. I just have to make sure we get back there to get more before everyone else finds out how good it is. This is A1 Timothy and my horses eat every single bit of it left in the field. I've always been told, you know they're getting what they need when they don't leave leftovers. It's obvious to me the first twenty four bales we purchased this summer were not quality, but this stuff is. I sure hope we can get our 100 bales. So far, we've been able to buy 55 bales and are planning to get the next 50 through September. We do it by pick-up truck load. We have a trailer, but Hubby has decomissioned lawn tractor parts stored on it at the moment.

Being a first time horse owner I have learned a great deal the past four years. Much of it by trial and error. Buying and storing hay has been one part of the journey. One day, we're planning to build an extension to our barn to store hay, and it should be big enough to store more than 100 bales. When that happens, I can breathe a sigh of relief. When we have more grass pasture, I can relax, a little. But, all of this takes time. Each year we get a little closer.