Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Water Crossing & Barn Sour Work Before the Big Vacation

The sun is shining, the weather is finally dry, and I've been getting a lot of trail time--between house chores.  (Oh, and for those of you who read the blog regularly, the basement is almost fully back in order--walls, tape, texture and paint--all done. My husband is quite the worker bee. Did it all himself.)

But back to horses.

These last trail rides have had two themes:

1. Rushing home/trailer, aka, "Barn Sour"
2. Crossing Water

I was thinking, that even though these two sound like different subjects, they actually have very similar core themes:

1. Partnership & trust.
2. Directing the feet (which circles back to partnership & trust)

I love trail work because it really puts you and your  horse into situations that demand partnership and trust.  Communication. Togetherness.  You also see who you are in those moments of stress.  Do you get angry with your horse? Scared? Patient? Wise? Thoughtful?  A mix of those things?

On my rides with Leah, we work on crossing water, but I wanted her to get a real solid foundation with real streams/creeks, so I asked my trainer, Rebecca, to ride with me through her first encounter at Palisades Park.  Here are the photos of their work.

The approach. This was after Rebecca dismounted and worked her across from the ground.  Pictures don't do this justice.  There is a waterfall to her right and lots of foliage.  It's loud.  On Leah's first approach--from the ground--she jumped in and landed almost on the other side.  After a little work, Rebecca remounted and rode in.

We don't want our horses to jump in--but sometimes, that's what happens anyway.  Rebecca's advice, should that happen when I'm riding her, keep looking up and let her sort it out.

When Leah's nervous, she wants to bolt out of there.  Rebecca had to hold her back.

Finally, she's walking through.

Here's a short clip of the finished product:

Lessons learned: 1. Getting off is okay in these early stages of water crossing. 2. Take the time to keep at it until they're able to think and not just react. 3. Be ready for the jump,but don't be scared of it, they will sort it out.

Leah likes to walk out fast, and I like her to do that, too, but sometimes it's dangerous.  For example, going down rocky hills--you'd like for your horse to take the time and look where they're putting their feet.  Leah, however, just books it down the hills and over rocks.  She hasn't tripped....yet....but it's a matter of time.

Yesterday, I knew it was time to school her.  We came to a steep hill with trails both up and down, in a loop.  I asked her to walk down--foot by foot--me directing each foot--and, if she rushed, we went back up the hill, and tried again.  All together, we probably went up and down 10 times, but by the end of the work, she was allowing me to direct each foot, back her up the hill, and listening for direction.

As the ride progressed, she intuited we were heading towards the trailer--cue the trotting.

To solve that problem we tried a couple of things: 1. We turned back and went the opposite direction, and 2, we trotted in lots and lots of circles and figure 8's.

We spent about a half hour on that work, until she could maintain her walk towards "home".  When we finally arrived at the trailer, we circled back out onto the trail and practiced going over logs.  I dismounted away from the trailer.

Leah had increased the work for herself and, in so doing, worked up a sweat.  My hope is that she will soon realize that walking is the fastest way to end a ride!

All of this training is fun, fun, fun.  I love every minute of it.

Unfortunately, I'm going to have to put it all on the back burner for a couple of weeks because I'm heading to Europe Wednesday.


And then the Czech Republic.  (My husband is 1/2 Czech, and has always wanted to visit his family's ancestral hometown of Pilsen). We'll be in the countryside for half of the trip, and Prague, for the other half.

I'm heading out this morning to get one last ride in, but I'm taking Cowboy.  I'm going to miss them all so much!

PS. The pony is doing great!  She's sweeter than before she left.  It's like she appreciates us more.

This concluded Day 68.  Click on Day 68 in the keywords below, and it will take you to last year.  Guess what?  That was the day I CAME OFF!!!  That day was one of the worst days of my horse life.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Lost Pony, Found Pony: A Lesson Learned

To hear the whispers, the herd must first feel the hooves.  And, that is what happened to Lily, our pony.  She has been feeling a lot of hooves lately.

Here's the story:

I had put feelers out for rehoming, trying to find someone who would spend more time with her than I have and, almost instantly, a woman emerged who wanted her for a companion horse.  We communicated back and forth, and I made a deal with her: she could have Lily for free as long as she would give her back to me should she ever change her mind or her circumstances change.  She agreed, and set about getting her trailer fixed to pick her up.

On the day of the transfer, my trainer volunteered to take Lily to the woman because she was going that way to pick up another horse.  When she arrived at my place, I'd changed my mind, and Lily clearly did not want to go.  When she saw the trailer pull in, she tried to hide behind me.  So, I went back and forth, and back and forth, but finally, realizing the woman had already fixed her trailer and was on the way to the meeting place--I felt I had to follow through.  (Mistake.)

The transfer occurred, but about 5 days later, the woman called me to say that it wasn't working out. Her horses weren't accepting Lily and they were being really mean to her.  The woman felt very bad for Lily, and she honored her promise to give her back. (Thank you!!!!)

On Mother's Day, yesterday, we met half way and I got my girl back!  NEVER will I try to rehome her again.  I learned my lesson.  She was no worse for wear--if anything, even sweeter than before she left.

But unfortunately, my horses had moved on without her and felt they had to put her in her place--thus the opening statement of this blog.  To hear each other's whispers, they must first feel the hooves.  I have Lily separated from them now, and she's communicating through the panels.  I feel sick that we're starting all over again for NO GOOD REASON except my stupidity.  It was a good lesson to learn on Mother's Day.  I need to LISTEN to my inner voice and NEVER doubt it--especially when it comes to taking care of my loved ones.


Update on drinking water.  Apparently, you can drink too much.  If you drink until your urine is clear--every day--you can upset your electrolyte balance.  You can even kill yourself!  I had a bad headache one day after a drinking a bunch of water to catch up--and when I looked it up, I found that your urine should actually be a light yellow--the color of straw.  I backed off.  Now, I drink small amounts of water all day.


Leah and I continue to work with the side reins (on the ground) and then continue the same training in saddle.  It's working well.  I'm getting much smoother walk/trot transitions. Of course, all of this is to make her a better trail horse.  So, the trust and partnership is always the #1 goal--everything else is secondary.  We're taking her to a large water crossing this Saturday, so that foundation needs to be there.


The whole spring grass thing is SCARY!!!  I'm trying to find the balance between allowing them time with the herd, grazing time, and keeping their weight healthy.  Little Joe insists on going out with them.  Leah is a little better at staying in the stall and eating dry hay.

So far, Little Joe is staying on the skinny side. (Even with Super Weight Gain & Equine Senior, that has beet pulp as the main ingredient).  He's just so wound up with the all the mares in heat.  He thinks he's a stud!!  Anyway, I'm not too worried about him.  I prefer he be on the skinny side.  At least, he's staying sound.

Leah is also a little skinny, especially compared to last year when she was obese.  You can see her ribs.  But, on the bright side, she too is staying sound.  She stands more solid on all four feet and she moves smoother.

The fact is, none of the horses get more than 2 hours at a time grazing--twice a day. They're all "easy-keepers."

Cowboy is the only one of them that is just about perfect.  You can see a little rib on him, but not too much.  Cowboy gets to graze and then I bring him in at night and give him a combo of alfalfa/grass and a scoop of Senior.


"It takes a lot of money to look this cheap." Dolly Parton

I'm always on the lookout for that "thing" that will help me rock my curls.

But it's hard to find.  Most products either don't work or they make your curls stiff as a board.  Some are unhealthy for your hair and leave too much residue.

But I found AS I AM products & WOW, I'm in love.  It gives your curls great definition, but it doesn't make them hard.

I've ordered everything they make--the Coconut Cleanser, , Double Butter Cream, Leave-in Conditioner & the Smoothing Gel.  So far, I've used the Curling Jelly As I Am Curling Jelly, 8 Ounce and the Double Butter Cream.  Love them both.  The others are on their way, and I'll review them when I've used them.  They are sold at several stores--Target, Walmart, & Amazon.  The Curling Jelly ran around $12.00 for 8 oz at Walmart.  By the way, I'm Type 3a hair.  It goes 1 a, b, c (straight), 2 a, b, c (wavy), 3 a, b, c (curly) and 4 a, b, c (Kinky).  Most people are combinations.  I may be 3a and 3b.

Here's a photo of me with my oldest son, Brook--back when I let my hair go wildly curly.

It was much longer back then and MUCH healthier without all the constant straightening.  Nowadays, I do blow out the bangs so that it doesn't go so tall...and wide.

And, I have to give a big shout out to curly girl, Kara McCullough!!  I don't usually give a damn about beauty pageants, but when I saw this beautiful scientist rocking the curls--all natural--I had to salute her.

Yeah, we don't all have blonde, straight hair like Farrah Fawcett.  Some of us have crazy, wild, curly hair.....

and it has never been so beautiful as this!  Here's to curls!

Viva la curls!  Viva la curls!


And that boy with me in the picture?  Well, he's all grown up now and he and his brother (they live together) came over and made me a Mother's Day dinner last night!!  Brook, (pictured with his sister below--she and her husband are living with us until the house they're buying closes) made his fabulous hot chili fettuccine sauce over thai pappardelle.

All the kids brought me flowers.

And, we had my favorite wine--Farrington Malbec 2013.

Could life get any better than that??

Friday, May 5, 2017

Thoughts On Turning 50: Yes, I Feel Different & That's a Good Thing

I want to take a momentary break from talking about my horses to talk about turning 50.  In the lead up to the big 5-0, I was curious how it would affect me, or if it would affect me at all.  It's just a number. How would it be different than 49 and 364 days?  I had seen a couple of my friends turn 50 and make major changes to themselves and their lives.  Would I, will I, do the same?

I'm only a couple weeks into this new half century, but already I have found my perspective shift--DRASTICALLY.  I find myself doing the math every time I see an older person who is either living well or not living well.  I think to myself, That is what 65 looks like, that is what 75 looks like, that is what 85 looks like.  And, I find myself counting the years to those ages and realizing they are so close now--too close now.

I also feel like I want MORE time, not LESS time.  I have been married to my soulmate for 15 years. When I say soulmate, I mean soulmate. He is absolutely the love of my life.  It has gone by too fast.  It feels like 1 year. In 15 more years, he will be 75. His dad passed away at 78.  That is NOT enough time for us.  I want MORE time with him.

I also think about health and quality of life.  I see people in their 70's who seem rather rickity--lots of health issues.  I'm only 20 years from that age.  That's too close.

Maybe turning 50 just makes it easier to do the math.  It's more difficult to subtract 49 from 75, but super simple to subtract 50.  I don't know, but it is affecting me.  It's making me feel this sense of real urgency.  I'm feeling this kind of desperation to enjoy every moment of my life.

Here are a few things that have changed.

1.) I let my hair go curly.

The other day, I lost a bobby pin in my hair and could not, for the life of me, find it.  It's because I have let my hair go absolutely, wildly curly.  It always wanted to, now it can. I joked to my husband that birds could probably nest in it, and I'd never know! I googled the picture above and showed him so we could both have a good laugh.  The truth is, I am sick to death of straightening it out and trying to conform to someone else's standard of beauty.  Why did I do it all those years?  I can trace back some of it to things people said that made me feel embarrassed about my hair or even things they said positive about people with straight hair--advertisements, media of all sorts...that as a young girl I used as a measuring stick for myself.

I'm done with that....finally.

If you can't be who you truly are by 50, when can you?  I'm a curly girl.  I'm even a poofy, often frizzy, curly-haired girl, and it's actually....GLORIOUS.

2.) I've found the miracle drug, and it's

I had a kidney stone two weeks before I turned 50, and it was one of the best things that ever happened to me.  The night I went in, they gave me an IV of fluid and an hour later, I still did not need to go pee.  When the doc heard that, he said, You were severely dehydrated.  I don't want your urine to ever have color again.  It should always be clear.

Well, that was damn good advice!  I started drinking water when I wake up, throughout the day, and before EVERY meal.  I have lost 5 pounds without changing my eating habits, and I feel better.  The downside is I'm always looking for the nearest bathroom (In fact, I need to pee RIGHT NOW), but the upside is that it may add years to my life AND enhance the quality of my life.

Thank you, kidney stone!

3.)  The urgency has shifted my desire to experience and do things.

I'm more desperate to be with my horses now than ever before.  Rain, wind, snow or shine, I'm out there with them.  I don't see it as, Oh, I've got lots of time, I'll wait until later.  I think, THIS is the time. THIS is it!  And, that time seems like such a gift.  At first, I thought the change was coming from the habit that the 100 Day Challenge had created, but I think it's more a shift in my perception of Time.

I look back at my life and I ask if this or that thing made me happy.  Do I think about X and feel good, or do I think about X and feel bad?  Then, I make a plan to either incorporate or avoid X.  Every horse memory on the continuum of my life makes me feel MAGICAL.  It makes my soul twinkle.  Time with the people I love, and who love me back, does the same.


An update on Foxy.  My daughter and I took her to the park yesterday.  She started out good on the ground and the in-hand obstacles, but when we went to saddle her, she grew extremely anxious.  My daughter and I took her to the park's round pen and worked her with direction changes.  Then, I had my daughter blanket and saddle her at liberty.  If she moved off from either, I told her to push her away and have her canter both directions, stop, and try again.  After a while, Foxy stood, at liberty, and accepted the blanket and saddle.  From that point on, she became the rock-solid trail horse she really is.  She did the obstacles, opened and closed gates, plowed through water, and picked up every gait perfectly when cued.

Those adjustments that we think of as little, well, they're actually pretty big.  And, they're worth every second we have step out of what we expect to happen to embrace what actually is with that particular horse on that particular day.  (Another thing I've learned at 50, embrace what is and stop beating your head against the wall trying to change it into something else.)

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Spring, You Came Back to Me

It appears spring and I are still a thang.  I thought spring had broken up--ended the relationship--but she came back and acted like nothing ever happened.  Of course, I wanted to ask her why--why she'd just walked out like that, but then, I didn't want to piss her off and have her walk out again.  So, I'm willing to take her back--this time--without an apology.  

Yesterday was warm and glorious.  I rode in the morning, with Cowboy...

And, I was part of a trail clinic that night.

Cowboy is experiencing a lot of head shaking this year.  I'm giving him his medication (carbamazepine, for seizure, and bute, for foot arthritis after broken, displaced P3 10 years ago) and waiting for it to subside, but it's tough to manage.  He benefits from being used, so I try to keep him comfortable and keep him working.  You could say that's my answer to everything, and you'd be about 75% right.  Many horse health issues really do benefit from them moving.  It gets the blood flowing and gets them in shape.  As in people, a sedentary lifestyle is a killer.

Leah hates crossing water, but she'll do anything for me if I do it first.  So yeah, I walked through the puddle in my leather boots, she followed, I got back on, she rode through with no problem.

Foxy, our new well-broke horse, lost her mind at the trail last night.  It was her first time out with us.  She jigged and was just all around bug-eyed nervous.  My husband had to hand her off to our trainer and switch horses.  This is them kissing and making up at the end.  Today, my daughter and I are taking her back out there to try again.

See that white butt way up ahead in the trees?  That is Leah.  She walks out fast, and that is about all anyone ever sees of her.  I like a fast walking horse, and it seems to rub off on every horse I ride.  I must send them vibes.

Here we are switching out the horses.

The day before, I worked with Leah in her side reins--from the ground.  I'm trying to build up her top line.  I only work her in very small increments on the line, then I take the side reins off and do the rest in saddle.  It helps her to know what I'm looking for without the added pressure of having a rider aboard.

An update on the trailering (see previous post about making trailering safe) Leah has become a pro in the trailer since I did that work with her--tying her up and feeding her in it while I trained the other horses.  She could probably use a refresher in between trailering her to work just to mix it up and keep her solid.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Welcome to My Cowgirl Cave: DIY Tack Room Project

Welcome to my Cowgirl Cave.

For my 50th birthday, dreams became reality, and I now have a place where I can unfurl myself among leather, horse smell, and memories.

When we started this project, I did not know I was going to be drawn to it day after day, multiple times a day, to sit and rest, condition leather, organize and reorganize health care products, blankets, and all my well-loved tack.  As Virginia Woolf said, every woman needs "a room of one's own." It turns out, this is the room I needed.  

Here's the story behind the "Cowgirl Cave."

It started with a shed.  Having not fully finished our barn, I didn't want to wait who knows how long to have my tack room completed, and I didn't want to share it with grains and barn supplies.  I made the decision to start fresh and leave the barn tack room for lead ropes, halters, barn and fencing supplies, tools, the "cat house," and vitamins and feed.

My husband was with me on this project from Day One, and he encouraged me to dream up whatever I wanted so that I would love it when it was done.  I sifted and sorted through hundreds of photos online and pieced together various inspirations for what would be beautiful and functional.  You can see and read about some of those various ideas, photos, shopping trips, in my first post.

Here are a couple of photos of the prep work my husband did before adding the wood panels. 

Lining up the saddle rack braces. Once the panels went on, we relied on those measurements to know where to find the wall braces he'd installed for the racks.

Saddle rack braces and wiring installed.

And, this is what it looks like after.

When I was still in the dreaming stage of the project, I told my husband I'd like an antique hutch to hold horse supplies, and comfy chairs where we could sit and relax--western style--wood and  leather. Also, I wanted a chandelier and carpet to soften it up and make it feel more homey.  

It all fell together like it was meant to be .

I found this hutch from the 1880s in the exact color I'd hoped for--"Sleeping Beauty turquoise."

I found the exact chair I'd described to my husband, too.  I went to a large antique fair two weeks ago, briskly walked the entire thing looking for one item--this chair--and found it at the LAST booth I came across--a booth ran by a HORSE WOMAN.

It's solid oak, original leather, and she brought the price down to a very affordable $200.

I love to sit in that chair and look across the room at this:

The canvas photo in this picture is of my noble, dear friend, Red and his horse wife, Cowgirl, with their "baby," Beautiful Girl.  My four kids surprised me with this photo on my 50th birthday.  They had no idea how much I was going to love it, or that it would end up here, in my Cowgirl Cave.  There is no sweeter thing for me to see, no sweeter thing for me to remember, than this photo that captures the essence of my herd's heart.  A heart that broke when we lost Red, but that is being mended.

The yellow chair (above) has been with me for over 20 years, and is one of my faves.  It fits perfectly in the Cowgirl Cave.

As all you horse folks know, hooks are a very important part of a Cowgirl Cave, and I found these horse shoe hooks on Etsy for $5.00 each.  I purchased twelve: six for helmets and six for various other tack, on the opposite side of the room.

You may remember in my first post, I was unhappy with the brass bridle racks I'd ordered.  I didn't feel they'd match my new tack room.  I waited until it was done, held them up, and instantly knew they would not work.  I ordered these simple black metal ones instead.  

(These black, metal bridle racks were $2.99 each through Schneider Saddlery. They are worth every penny.  Heavy duty, well made, simple and, I think, way under-priced.  But under-priced is good.  The saddle racks are also from Schneider and came in at $19.99 each. They're solid and functional with a separate bar attached for blankets. That is a very good thing to have since blankets are often wet and sweaty after a ride and need to air out.

No Cowgirl Cave is complete without a sign.  I  had this one made by an Etsy seller from Holland, Michigan--3D Woodworker.  The "established" date is my 50th birthday, April 11, 2017.  Love it!

He had several horse designs from which to choose, but I went the mare and foal.  After all, it is a cow-GIRL cave.

 Here it is, under the chandelier.


And, another angle.

The chandelier lighting up the room at night.

No Cowgirl Cave is complete without some refreshments.

Also, wormers, Bute, and Banamine.

I found this old wrought iron rooster at the same store as the 1800's cabinet. It was holding antique bridles, but wasn't for sale.  I asked the owner if he'd consider selling it, and here it is!

 I think he's perfect for holding side reins and various leather straps.

Inside the old hutch, human grooming supplies.

And all the tools of the horse care trade: thermometer, stethoscope, bandages.

Leather conditioner, leather hole punch, and rags.


The Cowgirl Cave also has ample storage in the above lofts, one on each side of the room, for misc stored items: fly masks, tools, winter blankets, extra rags, and other items not used on a day-to-day basis.  A foldable step ladder helps to access these supplies.

I had photos of my daughter & granddaughters, with their horses, printed, which I'll now frame and hang in a montage above the refrigerator.

I feel very blessed to have this room.  As we were working on it, I turned to my husband and said, "Do you realize, all this time with horses, and I've NEVER had a real tack room?"  He said, "You should have had one a long time ago."  

I agree, and I hope every cowgirl gets a chance to have their own.

Today I'm going to haul out the Keurig coffee machine where there are To-Go cups waiting.  Would you like to join me for a cup?  Come on over to the Cowgirl Cave!