Monday, July 27, 2009

Horse and Rider Editorial Article

I wanted to take a moment to point out a really great editorial piece in the August issue of Horse and Rider Magazine. I still enjoy getting a few magazines. I don't read everything online. The feel of a new magazine in my hands is still a guilty pleasure. Horse and Rider has been a staple in my mailbox for quite few years. I've downsized my magazine list, but never Horse and Rider!

Sue M. Copeland's editorial "Of Girls & Horses" is superb! I felt every word of it. Sue wrote how I felt growing up. I'm sure many of you who read these various horse blogs felt, or still feel, the same way. I especially loved the part about "horse genes". I believe some people just have it, some don't and if you don't you can never truly understand how a real horse person sees their horses or why we are the way we are about them. We don't even understand it we've just felt it all our lives.

So, if you get Horse and Rider or if you get a chance to pick one up, read Sue M. Copeland's editorial on page 8.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Speckles 'n Shines

Summer camp time so I was thinking about one of the first horses who left some hoof prints in my life.

I don't have a ton of years' worth of horses to remember. I didn't get started in an actual "horse life" until five years ago when I took a job as part-time riding instructor, but more staff, at a Girl Scout summer camp and then working at the year around stable as program staff. This was before I had horses of my own. Since I didn't feel as knowledgeable in the skills of riding beyond beginner level, I focused on the horses. There were some characters!

One fella who became one of my favorites was a little Appaloosa gelding, who I still believe was more POA (Pony of the Americas) than Appy, but, that's what his papers stated. Speckles was all of 14H, if that. Just right for most of the girls we had in our horseback riding classes at summer camp.

When I first met him, Speckles was fifteen years old. Brown with the blanket rump of white spots. His eyes told me something was definitely going on in there. Speckles was for the most part a mellow guy who did have a penchant for stepping on human feet and nipping at arms when his front feet were picked up for cleaning. At first I thought the girls weren't being careful but as time went on, it became apparent to me that Speckles knew what he was doing. He had a mischievous side and, I believe, got some enjoyment from human reactions to his little acts of naughtiness.

In my three years with him, he stepped on my right foot three different times leaving nasty bruises. He nipped my upper arm once when I was working on his front foot, which got him body checked into the side of the stall leaving him to look at me in a "What the......what just happened?" expression. And he kicked my forearm as I turned him out one day. I accept the consequences for that one because I shouldn't have released him like I did, back end closer to me than his front end. He was always a quick little stinker and was excited to be out in the field that winter morning kicking up his heels quicker than I anticipated.

During summer camp trail rides we discovered Speckles didn't like being the lead horse, but he didn't like being at the back either. So, he ended up being number two in the line up when we took girls out on the Friday morning trail rides. He apparently approved of that position.

When we tried him in the front he would balk, he would turn around, he was simply not a leader. When we tried him farther back, he hurried too much often getting right up into the rear of the horse in front of him and once or twice, taking off to get closer to the head of the line. We had a different group of girls every week and they were always beginner riders who'd had at least three summers of the camp program, so it was our job to figure out what was safe. By the third week of camp, we had figured out, Speckles needed to be number two and he was comfortable as well as much more manageable for his inexperienced riders in that position.

Some horses are better leaders, some are better followers, Speckles was a follower who never wanted to be the top horse, but was never the bottom horse either.

Another of Speckles little quirks was that he could unlock certain gates. We had to fix those gates with a chain as well as the regular gate lock. How he figured out the gate lock, only he knows. But there were times when we'd gotten to work and all the horses from his field would be munching grass in the open field. Lee, the manager, said she was sure it was Speckles because every time it happened, it was his field and he was the newest horse in the field. He had the nickname Houdini for a while.

Speckles also liked to entertain by twirling a halter and lead rope around while holding them in his mouth. We discovered this by accident. One day, after a program, a halter and lead rope had been dropped near Speckles. Next thing we notice, Speckles is standing there twirling them in his mouth like a cowboy with a lasso, which is what it looked like. The girls were laughing and giggling. He enjoyed the attention from his little trick, stopping to get a better grip, then twirling again. Unfortunately, we encouraged it and he would try to grab a lead rope just to twirl it. After a while, Lee told us to quit allowing him to do it. But it was so much fun to see him play like that!

For a long time I wasn't that fond of Speckles, that is, until I got to know him better. After summer camp had ended that season, Lee had the opportunity to keep some of the summer horses, with the option to buy the following August, after summer camp concluded. She chose four, Speckles was one of them. The summer camp horses, twenty of them, had been leased for the summer, the other sixteen would go back to Illinois. There were the eight year around horses stabled at the ranch.

After getting settled in for a few weeks that September our Fall weekend programs began. Speckles was always a trooper in the arena, but he had his little quirks. Don't all horses have quirks? You just learn how to deal with them. Speckles was always used in our weekend programs. He was dependable under saddle though he had a problem with walking. That was one of his quirks. He didn't want to walk he wanted to trot all the time, which is not a good thing when working with beginning riders, although gave his rider a challenge.

Before every program we always matched horse with rider experience. We attempted to make sure Speckles would be assigned riders who were a little more authoritative with a little more experience than the riders who were assigned Gloria,or Koko, both the kind of horses who took care of their riders. Gloria and Koko rarely did more or less than was asked of them. Naturally, sometimes, we didn't always get it right. Speckles needed to know he wasn't going to be getting his way. He would always take advantage of his riders if he figured out they weren't going to be firm with him. He'd stop and munch grass. Trot to the rail. Trot towards one of us. Stop in the center of the arena. Keep going instead of stopping. He could figure his rider out quickly too. I watched him do it over and over during summer camp. If he was ridden to his specifications of what a rider should be, he was great!

During out winter months Lee assigned us horses to work with until March. That's how I became better acquainted with Speckles. He was one of my winter project horses. I wanted to work on his walking and his nipping habit. We made alot of progress that winter. We got to a point where he would not even turn his head when I lifted his front feet. He would walk instead of trot when cued.

When weather got better we took the horses on trail rides to get them ready for our spring programs. Some of our horses were great arena horses, others were better at trail. Speckles was an excellent trail horse. I think the fact that he was so smart is why he did so well at trails. The trail offered him a challenge, something different. He preferred to be challenged. He would often become bored with the arena work.

I remember one trail ride where he shined through, and one where.......well, not so much.

On one of our practice trail rides my co-worker and friend, Lori, and I rode a trail that wasn't often used by us or the summer campers. There was an extra steep, rocky hill. Here in Southern Ohio, our beautiful hills are part of the smaller Appalachian Mountain chain and are also known as The Foothills to the Smokys. Smaller versions of the Smoky Mountains.

At first when I looked down from the top, I thought "Nope, we're walking down this one." But then Lori, who is a great horsewoman and natural rider, took her horse down and of course, I figured, well, I could do it on Speckles. The little guy didn't let me down! He was sure footed all the way. He never balked, he didn't refuse when I asked, he just put it in gear and there we went. Now, I will say, on the way back when we had to go up, he looked up the steep incline, actuallyglanced back at me as if to say "I don't think so!" Lori and her horse had already begun climbing so I asked Speckles one more time, with a little more emphasis on my ask and he was off. Picked his way up carefully and quickly, never missing a step. I was proud of the little pony. I had decided he was more pony than horse by then, but it didn't matter, he saw himself as a horse and no doubt, a big horse. Don't all ponies think of themselves that way? I think this was probably the first time I started admiring Speckles.

Now, his less than stellar incident happened during one of our weekend programs. We'd taken a group of girls on a trail ride. Speckles had been acting a little antsy, I thought, but the girl who was on him had ridden him the previous season so I figured she had him under control.

We were getting near the barn, which was in view, but a field away. The line stopped while we all waited for Lori, the last rider, to close the gate to the field we'd just walked through. I was in the middle of the line and walked Ginger back that way. If I couldn't have Speckles on trail rides, Ginger was my ride. She was more of a handful for most of the beginner girls anyway. In the meantime, I heard a commotion up front. I turned Ginger and the only thing I saw was Bailey, a rather temperamental twenty-something Arabian mare, kick Speckles with both barrels. One of the riders on either Bailey or Speckles, screeched, as girls will do. I then saw Speckles rise up on his back legs, dumping the rider and before we knew it he had headed across the field for the barn. The girl was fine, though a bit jolted. She jumped right up from the ground. All our girls wore helmets as well as those of us on staff. I can't really blame Speckles although I was told Speckles had been dancing around and bumped Bailey, which in turn is what caused Bailey to react the way she did, Bailey being Bailey, exciteable and often touchy when other horses invade her space let alone bump into her rump.

Back at the barn, Speckles was happily munching on grass in the front yard. Lee was not happy with Speckles. After the program ended and all the girls had left, Lee said she was going to take Speckles back out and make sure he walked back to the barn a few times. In all honesty, after the lapse of time and the event as it occurred, I didn't really think it would curb Speckles enthusiasm much. I had learned by working with him, he'll gladly work with you if he feels you know what you're doing, guess I had him buffaloed a bit, but he was one to take care of himself and when Bailey kicked him, in an instant, he decided he was heading for greener pastures.

I drove by the ranch a month ago, just to see if Speckles was still around. You never know what can happen with an organization. I was relieved to see him grazing out in the field with the other horses and I remembered, he is now twenty. I am hoping he gets a good retirement at some point. I had even thought, if those horses were ever sold, I wouldn't mind bringing him home, but I'd definitely have to think that through.

In my mind, Speckles will always shine. The little Appy-POA who taught me a few things about horses, and ponies, in my equine journey.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Blink of an Eye

However I decide to think about it, the past week has been either where did the time go, or, my goodness, will it ever end?

Last Friday evening, (July 10th), Hubby started his long awaited vacation week. He and #2 son helped my hay supplier bale hay. Son was paid in cash. Hubby was paid in hay bales. I shouldn't have to worry about hay this year. It's good looking Timothy hay too, which my horses love.

Saturday (July 11) I go to fix my first morning pot of coffee. Sadly, I can't function without my coffee. I turn the cold water on and it's slowly trickling from the faucet. OK, I know what this means. Yep, sure enough, a water main break up the road in the neighbor's field. I was able to dribble enough water in the coffee pot to get a decent brew.

Fortunately, the water company had the line fixed by 1pm. That wasn't the normal routine a few years ago, but I'm happy their service has improved. We are part of a private water company because the county water system wouldn't run lines out here back in the late '70's. In the past, the service has been less than stellar. When a water line broke, we were without water for quite some time especially over a weekend.

Saturday, late afternoon. Storm blows in from the north. Those are always the worst.

We are surrounded by forested hills which offer some protection from the heaviest of winds but that day also brought torrential rain (six inches in 45 minutes I was told) and a flash flood of water and debris off of the hills, through the creek and into the run-in stall, corral, shed and garage.

For the first part of the storm I was keeping an eye on the creek that runs beside the field. Water was pooling in both fields. Heavy downpours and wind. Finally after about 45 minutes of this I peeked out the back door looking over toward the corral area and was horrified to see water raging like a river over the horse bridge, which is the bridge Hubby built over the creek bed for the horses to cross out into their fields. Naturally I throw on rain coat and run out. Shouldn't have wasted time with the rain coat, ended up shedding it anyway. Just as I got out there the "river" ran into the stall, over and through the fence slats, and flooded the area where the tractor is stored and into the garage. No way to stop it. We've never had anything like this in the past.

The horses are walking around in their stall with water up over their pasterns and rising. Naturally I am still horrified and downright mad because Hubby and sons didn't follow me out the door. As if Hubby could have stopped the raging river! He can do alot of things but he can't do that. He knew it but I expected more. I ran back to the house yelling at him and my sons (#1 son had come home for a visit) to get outside. I thought they were ignoring me. Meanwhile, the horses seem to be playing in the water! UGH! The rain had stopped. The flow of the creek-river hadn't.

Hubby finally meandered (that's my version) out after what seemed an extra long time. Reality check, he was waiting until the heaviest rains stopped knowing he couldn't stop a raging creek river. He surveyed the situation as I'm yelling "THE HORSES, THE HORSES!!" as my guys continued to slosh around in their new indoor pool. Hubby calmly tells me the horses would be fine and pointed to the the bigger problem. Debris, tree limbs, dead leaves all caught in the fence line causing the water to be diverted from the tiles under the bridge to the raging river over the bridge. We both started prying the debris away from the fence. I was in creek water up to my waist, not a good thing in any kind of rushing water. Hubby, who is tall, had the good sense to stay at the side of the bank where water was only knee deep. Naturally, I fell in up to my chest! That's why I mentioned I shouldn't have bothered with the rain coat in the first place.

As we were trying to work our way through debris, the horses walked out through the water to check on us. I was worried they'd step over the edge of the bridge because with the running water there was no way to see the edge and the fences along the side bulged out from the force of the water. I finally got the horses out into the field, where they stayed, munching on hay while we worked. I'm glad my guys are curious but sometimes....................

The storm quieted as quickly as it had started. The waters slowed down. We had a mess! Then, as always happens on our little rural road, just as the sun came out, the power went off. #1 son came out of the house saying, "Probably not a good time to tell you this, but the power just went out." I looked at him and said "You ARE kidding, RIGHT?" No, he wasn't.

So, amid all the gully washing water, mud, leaves, horse manure we now had no electricity. I am thankful our house sets up high and is not close to the creeks.There is also a creek in front of our house, near the road. We knew we were in for yet another stretch of "house camping". The third time this year!

The next four days we spent on clean-up. I felt bad for Hubby since it was suppose to be his vacation week.

Now, I've always considered myself the kind of person who keeps on plugging when times get tough, but you know, sometimes, it just gets to you no matter how strong you believe you are. This year has been hard. I know it could be harder. People just over the hill reported an EF 1 tornado touch down and there was tons of damage in different areas of the county. But I'm definitely feeling battered this year, with my health issues and then Mother Nature wanting to knock me off my rocker! I'm just about had. I'm tired. I should take my own advice and enjoy the journey(previous post). Sometimes though, that journey is full of pot holes along the way and you just want to say STOP IT!

As I like to remind myself, which I have often this year, it's not so much the events that happen, as your reaction to them. Yep. I need to plaster that one on my fridge.

So, in the blink of an eye, a storm blew through and put my husband's long awaited week's vacation on hold as we've spent it cleaning up the mess. Our power did come back on Monday afternoon, for that I am very grateful.

The horses, bless their hearts, are fine. The dogs made it too. The cat could probably care less one way or the other, he's been in the house! If only I could recoup so quickly!

In the blink of an eye, plans can change. Life can change. It's how we deal with it that makes or breaks us. I will admit, I've felt a little broken this week but trying to put it all back together and just move on beyond what 2009 seems to keep throwing at us.

We've had an ice storm, brush fires, wind storms and now flash flood. As Hubby said the other day, we haven't seen pestilence....................yet.

Time for the Serenity Prayer
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
Wisdom to know the difference. Amen

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Joy in the Journey

I recieve these inspiring, often thought provoking, newsletters and want to share the wealth.

Today's message -- JOY IN THE JOURNEY

LIFE SUPPORT SYSTEM, a free newsletter sharing life, love and laughter,

Published by Steve Goodier.


Anonymous did it again. Whoever this person is put it well: "Follow your dream!
Unless it's the one where you're at work in your underwear during a fire drill."

Yes – some dreams should be forgotten as soon as possible. But when it comes to life dreams, rather than sleep dreams, I am coming to believe that it is less important whether you actually reach a goal or achieve a beautiful dream than just to follow. Simply start following and see where it leads.

Let me explain.

Two brothers decided to dig a deep hole behind their house. As they were working, a couple of older boys stopped by to watch.

"What are you doing?" asked one of the visitors.

"We plan to dig a hole all the way through the earth!" one of the brothers volunteered excitedly.

The older boys began to laugh, telling the younger ones that digging a hole all the way through the earth was impossible.

After a long silence, one of the diggers picked up jar full shiny pebbles, worms and a wide assortment of odd insects. He showed it to the scoffing visitors and said quietly and confidently, "Even if we don't dig all the way through the earth, look what we found along the way."

Maybe their goal was too ambitious, but it did get them to dig. And that is what following a dream is about – our best dreams point us where we want to go and then nudge us in that direction.

In other words, they set us to digging.

But you know how it goes – you just won't achieve everything you attempt.

You may shoot for the moon and only hit the neighbor's window.

You may fully intend to be in love for a lifetime. But not every relationship will endure.

Not every hope will come to pass.

Not every endeavor will be completed.

Not every dream will be realized.

But here is the wonder of it all …when you fall short of your aim, perhaps you can say, "Yes, but look at what I found along the way.Look at the wonderful things which have come into my life because I tried to do something." I think those boys got it right.

It is in the digging that life is lived. It's the joy in the journey that matters most.--