Friday, December 18, 2009


I've been marking each day during the month of December.  Counting each one down.  On December 31, I'll close the door to my office, turn in my ID badge and parking sticker.  I will then slowly walk through the security gates of where I've worked for 34 years.  I won't turn around for one last look because I will either be close to tears or already crying and I hate for people to see me cry.  I know that once I'm outside those gates, they'll close behind me and I doubt very much I'll ever be back inside again.

They call it retirement.  I think that word is too final.  I call it the second phase of my life.  After all, I'm not even close to being finished with life's adventures, I'm just moving onto a new phase.

No longer will I have to get up at the crack of dawn (or dark), find Sunday afternoons come around too quickly, worry about getting safely to work on icy roads or have to leave for work on a beautiful summer morning.  At 56 years of age, I can go where I want, when I want and rarely have to be in a certain place at a specific time.

Sounds pretty good, doesn't it?  Yet....I'm a people person and my current job has taken me on email, phone or travel all over the United States.  I've been working here so long that when I travel across the country to meetings it's like a class reunion.  I'll no longer have that social interaction or be known as a subject matter expert in my profession.  I've sweated dirt to make it up the career ladder and now I'm walking away from it.

I became eligible to retire last year but chose to stay, telling those who asked me why I was still working that I wasn't sure what I'd do with my free time.  My mind was changed when I was presented with an opportunity to work part time for my favorite, now retired manager.  I'm honored to be asked to join his team and my new job is interesting and gives me the flexibility to work where I want, when I want.  Such a wonderful opportunity, if I declined I knew it wouldn't come around again.  I couldn't pass it up.

I've been building a mental plan on how to keep busy, stay active and healthy.  Much of this centers on horses (of course)!  I've set seasonal riding goals for 2010.   I'll maintain the web page for our barn and network with the trainers and my fellow riders.  I'll join the local APHA club, pitch in to help and maybe I'll ride Champ (aka Want My Autograph) in one of their shows.  I'll continue to mentor anybody who is interested in horses, spreading the wealth as best I can.

But I will never forget the great trip I've had on the ride of my career.  I'm grateful for the experience and humbled at the upcoming opportunity.  As 2010 dawns, so will a new life for this 50+rider.

Monday, December 14, 2009

In The Blink of an Eye

My husband and I were in the SPIRT of the Holidays late Saturday afternoon as we set out to hang lights on our fence line. 

We had sorted through all the good and bad lights, committing to sorting through them before we put them away this year instead of waiting until the following year and finding strings that no longer work. 

We had pulled out all the ugly orange extension power cords that stand out like a sore thumb during the daylight hours but disappear in the darkness.  

Wanting to share our holiday spirit, I ran into the house to get our dog, Hank, while my husband headed out with the decorations.  I had no idea my husband was taking a detour to the barn to get the 4-Wheeler to carry all our stuff. 

Hank loves to run with the 4-Wheeler.  The faster one drives, the happier Hank is to run along side.  But the slower one goes puts Hank into a tizzy and he barks and nips at the tires.  So usually when the 4-Wheeler comes out, Hank goes in.

When I saw my husband with the 4-Wheeler I almost took Hank back in the house.  But what the heck, I told myself, he's been cooped up in the house all day while we were gone and he should to be out here with his family while they decorate for the holidays.

With the recent cold weather, the 4-Wheeler was having issues, so my husband headed down our drive to warm it up with Hank running alongside.  I recall laughing at the dog smile on Hank's face as my husband accelerated and they both flew back up our road. 

So as the saying goes, in the blink of an eye our afternoon priorities changed when Hank slipped and his left leg went under the tires.  The holiday spirit and lights were forgotten as we headed to the emergency vet clinic.

We returned home Hank-less and depressed while Hank spent the night at the vets.  I can't tell you how many times we have beat ourselves up for what occurred.  We both feel terrible and share the blame for what happened in the blink of an eye.

Hank returned home yesterday morning with stitches and a cone necklace but thankfully, no broken bones.  Negotiating with the cone has been a challenge for us all. His cone has already been re-styled after bumping into my leg last night was we came back in from the cold barn. 

We got our Christmas gift early this year and we surely learned a lesson in the blink of an eye.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Spreading the Wealth - Our Role in The Future

We were exposed to horses as children with our western movies and TV shows.  There weren't many kids I knew who didn't want a horse like Trigger or Silver.  Horses were close in proximity, whether they were on your place, your Grandparent's farm, or just down the road. 

Topology has dramatically changed from rolling pastures to housing developments.  Suburbia is spreading, reducing exposure to horses and eliminating the fields that once grew their feed.

We currently face some of the highest numbers we've ever seen in unemployment.  Many are working more hours and/or more then one job to try to make ends meet.  From groceries to Christmas presents, people are cutting back.  Owning a horse has never been such a luxury as it is today.

Youth membership in Breed and 4H Horse programs are at a record low.  Pony rides at the fair (if your county still hosts a fair and offers pony rides) sit idle and ignored as children pass by.  To me, this says a lot about tomorrow's generation and it's a red warning light for the future of the horse industry.

Our local auction barn is packed the first Sunday of each month for the Horse Sale.  But the majority attending are dropping off, not picking up.  Older, healthy, well seasoned horses are going to slaughter.  Horses that could be a perfect fit for today's youth or a reliable, confidence builder for tentative riders.  Credible stories regarding the abandonment of horses abound.

Ugh!  I'm sure I'm not telling you anything you don't already know.  But there must be something we who grew up with the love of horses and have that gotta ride/love of horses in our core, can do to help get people back to horses and horses back to people.  Here's some thoughts on what I came up with:

     a.  Mentoring those interested in horses.  They're out there but don't have the resources, ability, or even know where to go to be near horses.  I've mentored friends, their children and even my own family.  I've gone to lengths to drive them out to our place so they could have some hands-on with our horses, hoping I could entice them to get further involved.

     b.  Knowing Your Resources.  This is one of the first lessons I learned when I bought my first horse.  Knowing reputable resources, like local barns, vets, farriers, and various types of trainers, as well as who might be considering half-leasing a suitable horse is not only helpful to you but helpful to someone interested in horses. 

I'm picky about the resources I refer people to.  My credibility is part of their adventure and I want them to come away with a positive experience that will bring them further into the world of horses.  Knowing who to go to and where to turn helps all involved.

     c.  Half-leasing or Sharing Your Horse.  This is a debatable subject with lots of pros and cons.  I experienced this last year, half-leasing to a 4H'er and I surely experienced many pros and cons.  But overall, it helped me out fiscally and allowed someone without a horse a chance to ride and participate in the 4H horse program.  They eventually went onto purchase their own horse and since that is what I want to endorse, I consider it a success.

     d.  Proudly Market Your Interest.  Most of us with the love of horses are easy to spot.  We have pictures on our desks and computer screens.  Our weekly updates on horse life are notorious in the office on Monday mornings.  Friends and family members just can't understand what we're doing outside with our horses on a Saturday morning in 15 degree weather when we could spend the day shopping at the Mall.

Sure I've encountered those who aren't interested in my horse life, yet those same individuals have approached me because they knew of someone who was interested.  So ignore those who 'don't get it' and proudly market the wonderful life style you've chosen.

     e.  Support an Equine Program.  Whether it's money or time, they'll welcome you with open arms.  They need all the help they can get these days and you'll get to interact with those who have your same interests.  You'll also be able to unleash some of your creative skills and maybe if you're lucky, pull family members in.  You'd be amazed at  how much fun it can be when your whole family is part of an initiative such as this.

Well, that's what I came up with but I'd sure welcome your thoughts on this subject.  There has got to be some way that we who grew up with Roy Rogers and The Lone Ranger, fell in love with horses and the life style surrounding them and went on to have them in our lives, can pass the torch onto tomorrow's generation.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

In Search of Roy

I come from a family who has salt water and ranch life mixed in their blood.  Great (x4) Grandpa was one of the first cowboys down the Chisholm Trail.  He served in the Civil War and the war between Texas and Mexico, eventually settling on a ranch in Texas where he raised a bundle of kids and horses.  The saddle he used in the wars and then to teach his kids to ride sits in our tack room.

My Great Grandpa ended up in the Northwest.  I'm not sure what got him all the way out here or prompted him to get into the tug and barge business.  One of my first recollections as a child, is missing my favorite Saturday show, Fury, and being out on a tug instead, my siblings and I being babysat by a patient deck hand while my parents checked crab pots.

I grew up with miles of woods on one side of our neighborhood and on the other side, a few blocks down, train tracks that ran between our house and Bellingham Bay.  Sometimes the neighborhood Dads would gather up all the kids and we'd walk down and across the train tracks to explore the beach.  There was always a lot of pomp and circumstance about crossing the train tracks and we were constantly warned to never go down there by ourselves.

One summer morning, my fellow cowboy pardner, the neighborhood boy Sonny, and I decided to go looking for Roy Rogers.  We figured that these riders and horses, which kept coming out through our woods, must have a ranch by Roy's. 

Armed with our cap guns, cowboy hats and Trigger thermos's full of water (our canteens), we headed off into the woods in search of Roy at first light.  We walked long and far that day, so sure we'd shortly come upon Roy's ranch.  Being out on the trail, we ate wild blackberries and huckleberries for lunch.  But by late afternoon our "canteens" were empty and we were hungry and thirsty.

We came out of the woods as the sun was starting to set.  I recall the odd feeling of realizing the houses didn't look like ours.  Sonny was also confused, his house was painted pink and there were no pink houses.  Our house was painted green and down the road was a green house so I figured it must be mine even if it wasn't shaped like mine.  I started heading to the green house but Sonny stopped me, telling me that wasn't my house.  We stood in the middle of the road arguing, two tired five-year old cowboys, not sure what to do next.

We must have been quite a sight.  A women came out of her house, asked us our names and if we were hungry.  Boy were we!  All thoughts of finding Roy were gone.  Food was the only thing on our minds.  She sat us down at her picnic table and told us to stay put, then brought us juice and sandwiches.  We ate like we hadn't eaten in days.

Well, that's about the time my Mom came barreling up in her car.  Mom was not happy, in fact Mom was very unhappy.  She thanked the women (who happened to know my mom and knew of me) and pretty much pushed us into the car.  Mom told us that "everybody" had been out looking for us the entire day.  Everybody included all the deck hands on the tugs.  Afraid we'd gone down by the train tracks, all the tugs had been brought into dock and the hands had pitched in to scour the beach and surrounding areas for two children.  All the neighbors had joined the search party.  Our parents were frantic.

Arriving home, Sonny and I faced two sets of angry parents.  We were both placed on restriction and our cap guns confiscated - the most horrible sentence a five year old who lives to play Cowboy can face. 

Sonny and I never did go out searching for Roy again.  We both decided that Roy's ranch was further away then one could walk in a day and probably why everybody rode horses.  Having no horses to ride, we settled back into running the trails of the woods and riding our rocks and fences, our make-believe steeds that took us to all the same places Roy went and life as a 5-year old cowboy continued as before.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Winter Barn Chores

When I get home from work my husband and I do the winter barn chores together.  It's been this way ever since we've had horses.  Whoever gets home first waits for the other one and then we go out together with our dog, Hank. 

This is our time to talk about our days and shake off any leftover thoughts of work and stress.  It's our time to mentally come back home.  Work talk stays at the barn, home talk comes back into the house.

We've separated the barn chores and each of us has our own tasks.  We split the water, my husband does the hay and I do the grain.  I go about opening the various garbage cans of grain set up for each horse, dipping the scoop in deep and coming up full.  The grain and pellets smell good and there's a feeling of wealth in seeing the cans brimming with feed, just as there is in seeing all the plump bales of sweet smelling Orchard Grass.  I deliver my grain to each horse a little differently. 

For Cisco, our Quarter Horse and our been there/done that guy who keeps his distance and isn't personable, I offer a handful of grain before pouring it into his feeder.  I wait for him to approach me and eat out of my hand.  I have spent the last two years trying to get him comfortable around me and allow me to pet him without seeing his skin shudder at the first few strokes.  He now waits at his feeder for me and has stopped backing up when I approach and offer my hand of grain.  It might be taking years but I'm slowly making progress and the wait is worth it.

For Sunny, our ancient Belgian, who is as kind as he is big, I slowly pour the grain into his feeder with the pomp and circumstance of someone carving a Thanksgiving turkey.  I can hear him saying, "Ummm!  Me Like Grain!!"  I then pet and coo over him while he savors his grain.  I tell him how special he is to us, our first rescue horse, now starting to physically fail.  It's important that Sunny knows how special he is to us.

For our new younger horse, Gus, also a Belgian, feeding time includes training.  Gus is also kind and sweet but he's full of personality, which includes lots of nickers.  He's anxious to get his grain and is learning that he needs to respectful of my personal space when I feed him.  He's only been with us for a week but he's already learning to wait for me to pour his grain before he proceeds to come forward and eat.  I can see that he's a smart horse and learns fast.  He's going to be a good horse for my husband to ride.  While Gus eats I rub my hands all over him, picking up his feet, smoothing out his long white mane.  I tell him he's a good boy and that we're happy to have him as part of our family.

We do our winter chores by the indoor and outside lights of the barn.  We're accompanied by the dark and cold of winter along with the challenging weather it brings.  We've stood inside the barn listening to the rain pound on the tin roof and then suddenly fall quiet as it turns to snow.  We've silently glanced at each other as the wind howled and the lights flickered off and on (both of us realizing we didn't bring a flashlight).  We've hustled through the barn chores as our bodies and breath froze.  Just last night we hung on the fence and watched the full moon and how it lit up the fields.

Winter chores are harder and take longer then summer chores.  But the extra physical labor is a good feeling after being cooped up in an office all day. 

On winter nights we always sigh when we come into our warm and cozy house.  I light candles and the fire, put on my cozy sweats and start dinner.  There is a feeling of peace because our animals are safe, warm and fed.  All is well with the world.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

I Get That Horse!

As a kid, every Sunday we'd all pile into the car and travel out to a family friend's dairy farm in a little town called Lynden, Washington.  Dad and Mom in the front, little brother and I in the back seat, little sister in the way back....of our 1958 Volkswagen Beetle.

My brother and I used to play a game called, "I Get That Horse."  The rules were simple, first one to spot the horse yelled out as loud as they could, "I Get That Horse!"  That's it.  They who yelled first got the horse until we spotted another one and on it went.

Sometimes we'd both spot the same horse at the same time and yell in unison.  This always brought on a heated debate, if not more.  You could be sure that if it was a white horse (Silver) or a yellow horse (Trigger), things would escalate quickly to pushing and shoving, which led to pinching and kicking, which since kicking is hard in the backseat of a VW led to punches. 

This is when a hand would materialize from between the front bucket seats and start slapping whatever it could reach - usually both of us.  This would quiet us for about 5 minutes and then we were back at it until the hand would again materialize.  I'm sure the forty-five minute drive seemed like hours to our poor parents.

We traveled this way for many years, fighting over which one of us Got That Horse. 

Poor little sister didn't stand a chance competing against the two of us in this game.  So she invented her own game.

In-between our yelling and arguing, kicking, pinching and slugging, a tiny voice would pipe out from the way back, "I Get That Cow!"

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Day to Give Thanks

I can't believe Thanksgiving is already upon us.  Not that I don't enjoy the Holiday Season, but it seems this day of giving thanks has lost it's identity and become known as the kickoff to the Holiday Season.

I recall the conversation around the Thanksgiving table reflecting things we were grateful for when I was a child.  Now dinner seems to focus on how early one is getting up the next morning to be out shopping and where the best sales are.

I don't think Thanksgiving gets its due these days.  Between money and health, things are tough for so many.  We need a positive day like this to remember what we're thankful for, be it large or small.  Some glimmer of positive sight that will keep us moving forward.  For 2009 here's what I'll remember being thankful for:

Thankful for my health and that all of the tests this year came back negative

Thankful to Champ for tolerating my learning how to ride "correctly"

Thankful to my Hubby, for not going over the edge, wrecking my car and leaving me alone on this earth
(Sorry you didn't get an Elk)

Thankful for our wonderful Daughter

Thankful to Cisco and Sunny and their kind hearts

Thankful to Hero Trainer, for helping me find my confidence

Thankful to my pals at Ladies Night, for all the fun we've had and their encouragement

Thankful for Hank, my buddy and The Bestest Dog

Thankful for family, friends and Cabin Creek Cocktail Parties  :)

Thankful for our home

Hoping You Have A Wonderful Thanksgiving

Saturday, November 14, 2009

My 50+ Pal

When I was a kid ANYBODY who had a horse was doomed to be my "best friend".  Didn't matter whether I liked them or not, they had a horse and by virtue of that I would do ANYTHING to be in their presence.

I recall the first day I met Jayne.  Our family had been invited up to her family's vacation home in the Cascade Mountains.  An old logging town called Cabin Creek, built in the early 1900's and used by the mill workers until the mill shut down.  When they became vacant Jayne's family offered them to close friends to maintain and use as long as they didn't change the exterior of the buildings.  This maintained the mill town as it originally stood and today, over one hundred years later, the cabins stand the same.

I'd been briefed that the family had a daughter about my age and that they had horses.  By the time we arrived, in my six year-old mind Jayne had already become my best friend.  When I got out of the car I thought I'd entered horse heaven.  There was a corral full of horses.  I was told they were used by the grown-ups and the corral was called the "Horse Corral". 

I was told there was also another corral which was called the "Pony Corral".   It hosted two beautiful POA ponies, a sorrel and a buckskin.  I thought I'd died and went to heaven - TWO corrals with horses in them!!

Shortly after our arrival, Jayne's parents requested she take my siblings and I over to ride the ponies.  From her demeanor over to the Pony Corral, it was obvious it wasn't the first time she'd been asked to do this.  She surely wasn't thrilled with the task but she saddled the sorrel named Rusty and of course I elbowed my siblings out of the way and hopped on first. 

It was also not the first time Rusty had been asked to entertain visitors and he promptly dumped me in the dirt.  I landed on my right arm, still sensitive from getting my cast off a few months earlier compliments of my first fall off of a horse.  It hurt and I was sure I'd broken it again.  I began to cry and wanted my Mommy.

I remember Jayne firmly warning (more like threatening) me to not say a word about what had just occurred because Rusty had dumped her months before that and she'd also broken her arm.  She didn't want Rusty to be in trouble.  I wiped my tears and kept my silence.  After all, isn't that what a best friend does?

By the end of that weekend, our family had been offered use of one of the cabins.  We were now part of the Cabin Creek community.  Each time we'd come up, like a magnet I'd run to first see the horses and then off to locate my best friend, Jayne.

Since I'd only ambushed trail riders at home to beg them for rides, I didn't know a thing about taking care of a horse.  Jayne was meticulous about the care of her horses and I was an intent listener.  I followed her around like a dog.  I watched and I learned. 

Fast forward through the years spent with our families at Cabin Creek.  In high school where we stayed up in the mountains for entire summers, swimming in the creek and riding bareback in the cool golden evenings.  On to college together in a cowboy town where she brought along her hot-headed Quarter Horse and I received permission ride a local horse so we could comb the fields together.

Onto our professional lives where we still rode when we could, together at Cabin Creek in the summers or the low lands on her family's property in the winter.  Our lengthy conversations on horseback where we contemplated dumping or keeping boyfriends, the success and disappointments of our careers and later marriages.  We laughed at the joy of our children's births and cried at the loss of our loved ones.

After we were both married our favorite time together included mucking out the low land barn where one now aged pony and a no longer hot-headed horse resided.  We trudged through mid-knee deep muck, sweating, laughing, and happily complaining about whatever struck our fancy.  We always left filthy dirty but content at the smell of clean shavings and knowing we'd done something good for the horses.

The horses and ponies passed away and the corrals at the cabin and the low lands remained empty and began to deteriorate.  My husband and I purchased our first home on the edge of her family's property and with their generosity, it was here where I had grown up riding and mucking out the barn that I brought my first horse home.

After years of standing empty, family and friends rebuilt the Horse Corral at Cabin Creek and we started bringing up our horses with us.  Horses once again became a part of  "Camp".

When our daughter started showing we found ourselves spending most of our weekends out in the country.  On a whim we stopped to look at a place that was For Sale.  Two months later we were moving.  I said goodbye to my wonderful surrogate family who had so generously allowed me keep my horses at their place and to the low lands where Jayne and I had ridden, now filled with houses.

Four years have passed since we moved.  Jayne and I see each other at Cabin Creek and catch up on the phone when we can.  She's been following my adventure with Champ and recently called and asked if she could come out and watch us.  I didn't have to say a thing, she arrived dressed to ride.

After Champ and I went through our paces, I suggested Jayne get on.  She was a bit hesitant but bravely climbed on.  I admire her Grit.  After not riding for so many years I know how tentative she must have felt.  Bless Champ for sensing this and treating her so well.

When Jayne was finished she asked if she could climb back off via the mounting block and I told her I didn't think that was a safe idea.  I held Champ while she slid off.  Since Champ is +16 hands, it's a long way to the ground and as Jayne landed she fell backwards onto her rear and up her backside. 

We both laughed as I helped her up.  I asked Jayne if she knew what she had to do next and she replied, "Yeah, I have to get back on don't I?"  So back up she went and off she rode for a few more minutes before getting down successfully this time.

Later as we unsaddled Champ we talked about being older and the challenges faced in returning to riding.  Jayne is interested in riding again and I've suggested we take lessons together.  We will laugh and cheer each other on.  With the assistance of a trainer it will help Jayne regain her confidence and hopefully keep the experience safe and positive for her.

It's been a long time since Jayne gave that six-year old girl a ride on Rusty.  For almost 50 years she's been there for me, sharing her knowledge and later encouraging me to keep riding and not give up.  Recently she was on the rail at my first horse show, grinning ear to ear.  When we get together and are around horses we return in time to the many wonderful memories we've shared.  Jayne is truly my best friend, my 50+ pal.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

50+ in Storm Mode

The last forty eight hours have been challenging.  My drive home from work Thursday night was an adjustment since I'm still trying to get used to the dark.  After an upper fifty degree day, a low was approaching and driving home that night I faced high winds and heavy rains.

I travel a two-lane highway to/from my office.  A nice rural drive but known for it's many fatalities.  I find myself not as comfortable driving in the dark.  That night, with all the headlights coming towards me, the wind pushing around my car and the heavy rain, my trip home was tough.

Arriving home I barely said hello to my husband as I tossed off my heels and slipped on my muck shoes and rain coat.  Still in my "professional work attire", Hank, our Chocolate Lab and I headed out to check on the horses.  I was in "Storm Mode" but Hank was in "Throw the Ball Mode".  Unfortunately, he didn't get much of that in.

The women who built our place, a past trainer in the area named Sylvia Taylor, put a lot of thought into where she placed the large loafing sheds in each of our pastures.  They are attached to our out building or barn so they are easily accessible for humans.  They are also pointed in directions that meet the demands of any adverse weather up here.  I found our horses warm and dry, comfortably munching their hay.  Since they prefer to be outside, I decided to leave them be.

My next Storm Mode priority was to make sure we'd be ok if we lost power.  At our place no power = no water.  I filled the water trough until it overflowed.  Inside the garage I grabbed my large green buckets.  My husband laughs at my buckets but in our second year up here when we lost power/water for five days, I learned my lesson.  I want to be able to flush the toilet, thank you.

After I filled up the tea kettle in the kitchen (for drinking water or to wash hands), I filled up Hank's water dish and had just enough time to kiss my husband goodbye as he headed out for his annual 4-day hunting trip.  I surely don't begrudge him having his own space but I was not thrilled to have him leaving me this stormy evening.

We are pretty remote and I find myself a little unsettled on the first night I'm alone...well, in this case, I found myself kind of scared.  I could hear the wind roaring outside and the lights kept flickering off and on.  I kept my flashlight and cell phone near me as I moved around the house and Hank stayed close by.  Thankfully I was tired from a day at work and slept pretty well with the exception that I kept thinking I heard large trucks (actually thunder).

Yesterday brought the same weather we had the night before.  I ran some errands in town and on my way home in more wind and now hail, I thought I spotted some of the clouds churning around in a circle.  Later in watching the news they reported a large funnel cloud in our area.  That must have been what I had seen on my way home.  We live in the Cascade Foothills...Hello!!!!?  We had a Tornado touch down over Labor Day weekend and now a funnel cloud?  Don't the Weather Gods know that this is Washington State and we aren't supposed to have weather like this?

Last night Hank and I got the chores done before dark.  He got plenty of ball time in because I was able to stand inside the loafing shed and toss it out into the pasture.  The horses were dry and happy so I left them out again.  Getting up this morning I can see the snow level has dropped and I heard on the news that we should expect a "turbulent day".  Oh really?  What do you call the last twenty four hours?

But what really got my attention was in looking down across the miles of fields around us I don't see a single animal.  No horses, no cattle or even the neighbor's buffalo.  After yesterday's funnel cloud, this was creepy.

So I moved my Storm Mode up a notch, bringing in lots of dry firewood and preparing the barn with water and shavings.  I'm ready to move the horses in a moment's notice.   

My husband returns tomorrow.  Although I'll be glad to see him and even his dirty laundry, I find myself no longer uneasy at being here alone.  For a little bit of time   :)  I won't take his presence for granted.  This experience has been good for me and made me realize how much I depend on him when it comes to chores but also that I can go it alone here if I need to. 

Tonight it's only breezy so the storm must be heading east and things are finally settling down.  Three days ago the trees still had leaves on them.  Tonight when I fed the horses I saw that the trees were now all bare.   Those leaves are probably in Alaska by now from the winds we had. 

Winter is coming and the beautiful Fall we had is over.  The temperature has dropped to the upper 30's.  Tonight is my last night alone so I'll light a fire and some candles, eat whatever I want, watch whatever I want on TV and let Hank sneak up on the couch and cuddle with me.  Life is Grand.  :)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Coffee, Tea or Milk

A recollection of my first rides were being lifted up into a Western saddle.  I was instructed to hang onto the horn whether I was led around or rode in front of some generous rider, probably worn out from my running along next to them begging for a ride.

When I was older we rode bareback.  At 20- we didn't want to take the time to saddle our horses.  We were young and had no fear, or at least much less then I do at 50+.  We rode bareback with hackamores.  We even rode bareback with halters, which accounted for my second broken arm at age 11. 

During those younger years, I tried English while caring for my friend's horses.  It looked interesting so I thought I'd give it a try.  Once I figured out how it worked and got on (it was ugly), I found it comfortable but missed the security of the Western horn in front of me.  This and the fact that I wasn't exposed to any other English saddles left Western as my beverage of choice.

Our Daughter was started in English when she took lessons, eventually moving to Western later.  She has always preferred her beverage to be English and to use two hands when riding.  And indeed when she was showing Champ it was their strongest discipline.

It seems the horse shows I've attended have had a larger turnout for Western then English.  Yet where Champ is boarded the majority of riders prefer English and Dressage and there aren't many of us Western riders (although our numbers have recently been increasing).

I'm curious.  What is (or was) the beverage of your choice?

Did you start with one beverage and then change to another when you got older?  If so, why and what obstacles did you encounter?

Have you ever considered changing?

Daughter's English saddle sits in our tackroom along with the bridle, saddle pads, etc.  I've found a leather strap online that fastens to the front of an English saddle - surely for security if one needs to 'grab leather'.  Comforting to know.  It may not be 2010's goal but surely one I'll want to experience.  How about you?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

First Horse Show

Well, I did it!  Rode in my first horse show this past weekend.  The goal I'd set for myself last winter, a result of childhood dreams and years on the rail watching our daughter had left me wondering how it would feel to be on the inside looking out. 

Sure looked easy enough.  Yet this past year's experience of learning how to ride correctly revealed that it wasn't as easy as it appeared.  Added to that, the great robber of joy - lack of confidence - well all I can say is that I'm sure I've been a challenge to both my horse and trainer.

Didn't sleep much the night before the show and was sure nervous that morning.  What helped me was the familiarity of being at many shows in the past as part of the support team.  I knew the drill and it was pretty easy to not focus on the fact that it was ME who was going to be out there riding.  A good suggestion for anybody wanting to ride in their first show would be to become familiar with the routine first.  And an set of extra hands are always welcome.

It was cold out and Champ was fresh so I asked Hero Trainer to ride him first.  As I watched her dealing with his frisky attitude, I kept telling my husband, "Oh No....I can't ride THAT!!!"  My husband kept telling me I'd be ok.

And he was right, as soon as I got on a great calm came over me and confidence, my new-found friend, took the upper hand.  Trust me, this is a LONG way from where I was a year ago.

I rode every Western walk/jog class I could, starting with the first class of the day.  I found myself grinning ear to ear because I was really enjoying myself.  It's said that smiles are infectious.  Must be true because after a few rounds in the ring, I noticed that people in the stands were also smiling.  I kinda got a kick out of that and it made me smile even more.

When I was out there I thought about all the things that had put me in the ring that day.  I never rode this show to 'win'.  Why was I out there? 

I thought about my dreams as a child and this past year's goal; my friends who wanted to return to riding but were tentative (one of them right there on the rail cheering me on); my husband, the guy who years ago threatened to divorce if me if I bought a horse, who had insisted on washing the truck and trailer the night before this show in the dark because he said I shouldn't go to my first horse show in a dirty rig; our daughter, home from college for this event to support me and the horse she loved but trusted to be in my care; Hero Trainer, who gave me the gift of confidence; and all of you who might happen to come upon this blog, hoping it will inspire you to climb back on or never get off.

So in my zone of thoughts it was with much surprise that I placed in seven of ten classes.   That was a nice 'extra' I sure didn't expect.  And I choked up a little when I heard my family and friends cheer each time they announced my name. 

Hero Trainer has called today and wants me to ride at the next show in November.  Our barn will there together and it will be fun to ride and be with friends.  I'll show again and see where this road leads me, but my goal for 2009 has been met and my mind is flying....what will my 2010 goal be?  Well some big changes are coming for this 50+ rider as 2010 arrives so thank you for dropping in and hope you'll stay tuned!  :)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Crunch Time

A week-long business trip pulled me away from riding the week before last.  Being a 'remote' employee means you don't visually get to see your co-workers very often.  It had been eighteen months since we'd last met so our visual meeting that Monday included lots of hugs and hand shakes when we all got together for dinner.

It was with some concern the next day when over half of my co-workers didn't come down to breakfast because they were sick.  Infact most of them never came down the entire week.  The only other time I saw them was as they drug themselves through the lobby Friday morning on their way back home.

Not good I thought, for us trying to stay healthy.  Not good I thought for someone who has planned for the last year to ride in her first horse show this next weekend.

Arriving home Friday night, I was beat.  Saturday morning arrived with headaches, scratchy throat, etc.  And it's been that way every day since.  I'm on the edge of sick and what I've worked so hard for this last year, my first horse show, is coming up seven days from now.  I could call the doctor but knowing my health provider, they'll want me to come in and I just know I'll be doomed for sure if I go where all the sick people are.

So this past week, I drug myself home each night and laid low.  No energy to even go out and see Champ.  With each day, I felt my muscle tone leaving me and I also started to get that good old feeling of anxiety for my next ride. 

Yesterday evening I sucked it up and went out and took a lesson from my "Hero Trainer", as I call her.  The most patient person in the world, who endured months of my walking and trotting because I was afraid to lope.  In the past year I have yet to have a 'bad' ride thanks to her guidance, although some have been more challenging then others. 

Last night was the most challenging yet.  Two weeks of not riding has reduced my muscle tone and balance.  I feel weight in my gut and butt.  And I could really feel the difference, especially when in (trying to) lope I almost went off of Champ's right side (my fault totally).  I also cleared (a lot of ) air in another attempt to lope, bringing my rear down with such force on the saddle that it was heard by all throughout the indoor arena and has left my right ribs and back sore today.  Pretty ugly and poor Champ.

Yeah, woe is me, pitty party.  Well, sorry - that's not me.  Seven days until crunch time so I'm off to ride when I complete this.  Regardless of how I feel, my expectations for next Saturday are to meet the goal I set a year ago.  Ride in a horse show.  I intend to ride, laugh and have fun.  If I get a ribbon, great.  If not, that's great too because I will have achieved my goal.

However, if I get a Blue I'm afraid I'll wimp out and cry, thinking about that little girl who always wanted a horse, rode rocks and fences, ambushed trail riders begging for a ride, and put her marriage on the line to make her first horse purchase.   That little girl will be thrilled.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

10 Things I Couldn't Have Made It Without

It's been a year since I decided to start riding our daughter's horse, Champ.  Formerly used in APHA and 4H shows, he comes with many buttons that I knew nothing about.  He'd been sitting idle for a year in our pasture after our daughter headed off to college.  I hated to see all that talent wasted.  Last year at this time, I returned Champ to the facility we formerly boarded at and arranged to start taking lessons.

I've been reflecting today on Champ and my journey this past year.  From my first lesson, held outside his stall because I was too afraid to ride, to my accomplishment of finally getting up the nerve to lope a month ago.  I am grateful for this last year and thought about the ten things that I couldn't have made it this far without:

1.  My husband.  Always there to support me.  I'm grateful for his patience and presence when he comes to watch and the space he gives me when he isn't there.  He carries my tack when I ride and gets up early every morning to feed our horses at home.  Today, the guy who threatened to divorce me if I ever got a horse loves them as much as I do.  And I love him for it with all my heart.

2.  My trainer, who has the patience of a Saint.  Any trainer who will encourage the rider for eight months to lope (we called it 'getting my wings') before it finally happens has got to be a Saint (that's two months after my initial lesson).  She never pushed me to lope (although she suggested it plenty of times).  She tells me where I need to improve but also tells me where I've improved or done a move well.  After jogging for ten months, I was totally comfortable but bored with it and found I was ready to take the next step without any drama.  I use my wings quite often these days.

3.  The mounting block.  Champ is a tall horse.  The block makes it easier for me to climb up on and I'm sure it's more comfortable for Champ.  This starts my rides out on a positive note.

4.  Poles.  These have helped me learn the buttons Champ has as well as work on my balance.  Initially walking or trotting over them, I'm now able to back thru all sorts of pole configurations, like a V configuration.  I can also sidepass both directions and do haunch turns.  I love the communication with Champ when I play with the poles.  Next step will be loping over them.

5.  My helmet.  It's ugly green and banged up.  Not fashionable but it's a necessity and I never ride without it.  I've had my concussion Thank You and never want another one when I fall off.  I also feel responsible to my family to take the necessary measures to be as safe as I can when I ride.  And I want them to wear a helmet when they ride too so I practice what I preach.  There's no guarantees when you're up on your horse that you won't have an accident and you do the best to avoid it.  At +50, I'll take all the insurance I can get to be as safe as I can from injuries.

6.  Eating right.  The years of not eating correctly have caught up with me.  I found if you pig out before you ride, you'll pay the price.  There is nothing worse then the ugly feeling of crawling up into the saddle feeling stuffed.  Your balance will stink and your energy level will be low.  You'll peak out early in the ride, cheating you and your horse out of why you're out there.  Eating lighter will give the opposite of those experiences.  I don't know how many times I've wanted ice cream (my downfall) and reminded myself of how I'll feel on the horse if I indulge.  Makes it easy to turn away from the temptation and although the pounds aren't dropping fast, they are dropping steadily.

7.  Music.  It helps me relax and have a good time.  Some songs inspire me to try different things and the music alleviates the anxiety that might come along if I was out there in silence.  Riding to music is just fun and keens your spiritual awareness of being one with your horse.

8.  Pants.  Yup, pants!  I initially started riding in my department store jeans.  After my pant legs kept riding up and zippers and metal studs carved ugly scratches in my saddle when I dismounted, I needed a change.  Enter my Women's Wrangler Stretch Jeans.  They fit me great and are perfect for riding.  Long Live Cowgirls.

9.  50+ Ladies Night.  Held every Wednesday night at the barn, we get together and take a group lesson.  We cheer each other on and the night is always full of lots of laughs.  These gals are my soul sisters and I don't know what I'd do without them.  We finish our evening with snacks and the beverage of your choice, recalling our rides and what we'll do the following week.  We are currently working with our horses on learning how to sort cows.  We're also talking about Dressage.

10.  Ibuprofen (sp)?.  When I've had a few days off from riding and return to it, I pay the price of sore muscles.  This helps me relieve some of those, "Ughs" that come from me when I get up out of a chair after those first few rides.  Luckily, I find the more often I ride the sooner the pains go away.  Recently my husband told me I had legs like nutcrackers.  I am so stupid, I went to work and told everybody, thinking of the Nutcracker Ballet.  Took me a few days to figure it out.  :)

Friday, September 25, 2009

One Step At A Time

How does one get up the nerve to approach riding when they're older and find themselves uncertain or afraid, but still have that drive to ride?  I found success with one step at a time.

I hit the big 4-Oh and felt the clock of age ticking.  I had the best intentions in mind when I went shopping for my first horse.  We can be easily swayed when we purchase our pets, large or small.  This is especially true with first time horse owners, who have waited all their lives for this moment.  Emotion easily runs over common sense. 

I bought the first horse I saw, a 20+ year old mare.  Those days my decision was based on #1) she was pretty, #2) she was the right price (all I had was $500), and (finally some common sense prevailed), #3) she was an older horse.  No vet check, didn't ride her first, never laid eyes on another prospective purchase.

I was comfortable moving around her, grooming her, etc.  Then it came time to ride her and...I found myself totally terrified.  My first rides were spent being humbly led around the pasture on what came to be called, "Pony Rides".

After about a month of  many Pony Rides, I knew I had to ride her by myself.  We headed down our road and then we had Rodeo.  She bucked, spun and I barely stayed on.  As soon as she stopped I shakily (and very hastily) climbed off and led her back to the barn. 

I'd been around horses enough to realize those pony rides had set a tone with her and that she had my fear number big time.  I knew I had to be more sure and assertive when next I rode.  I did ride her again a few more times but I always felt I was on the verge of a wreck and it's no fun to ride when you feel that way.  I found myself drifting to what was now our second horse, a 19-year old gelding, purchased to keep our mare "company".  I left the mare to our young daughter who with little fear, got along great with her.

I decided no more pony rides.  I read an article that said to take it one step at a time.  First step was to get up the nerve to climb on.  I took hours to groom, saddle and walk him around, and I can't count how many times I checked to make sure the saddle was secure.  I'd purchased a 2-step mounting block so climbing on would be quick, smooth and comfortable for both of us.  I got on the mounting block and...shakily, climbed back off.

I was so frustated with myself - I couldn't get up the nerve to climb on the horse!  I ended up climbing up on the mounting block and laying across the saddle, inhaling all the great smells of horse and leather.  I put my foot in the stirrup a few times but never did climb on that day.  I acted like this had been the plan all along and ended by hand walking him.

For some reason I went home elated feeling I'd accomplished something (but wasn't quite sure what it was).  I made a pact I'd return the next day and told myself I'd climb on and just sit on him.  The next day I went through the same ritual of grooming, saddling, assuring we were both ready.  And when the time came, I said what I still say today, "One, Two, Three and  Up and Over".

I was shaking from head to toe but I concentrated on the scenery and tried to calm down.  I must have sat there for 10 minutes trying to breath.  The poor horse finally turned his head and glanced back at me with such a questioning look that he made me laugh and suddenly I found myself relax and sink comfortably into the saddle.  It felt great!  I backed him up off the fence and we walked a few feet away.  I called it a day.  I floated back to the house in glee, looking forward to returning the next day.

Day 3 had me getting ready much quicker.  Climbing on was still a challenge and I reminded myself to take it one step at a time.  As I climbed on, silently chanting my of "One, Two, Three and Up and Over."  I made myself laugh, which made me even laugh more at what someone observing this from afar would be thinking.  And with that laughter I found myself sinking into the saddle, relaxing and taking control of the situation.

I focused on a daisy, sitting alone out in the middle of the pasture.  I rode out to it and back.  Grinning ear to ear, I returned to the daisy and decided I'd go past it to a tree a little further out.  Off we went, over and over again, further and further out into the pasture.  That night I danced home.  One step at at time soon had us out and about anywhere we wanted to go.

As time passed and other horses came into my life, I found that my fear centered on swinging my leg over the saddle, that final step of commitment that finds you are now  up on a horse and in charge of something that you may think you are in control of but worry you may not be.

Today at 50+, I'm still nervous when I first climb on my horse Champ, an 11-year old Paint.  He's dominant towards women.  At over 16 hands (I'm 5'3), with a Dennis the Menace, give-an-inch, take-a-mile attitude, it's strictly business with this guy or he'll run you right over, literally.  But once you've established you are in charge he is a joy to ride.

I take it one step at a time by first setting the tone with ground work.  I establish that I'm in charge.  I won't let him get too close, ahead or behind me.  As I lead him to the mounting block (a great tool for us 50+'ers) I chose various places to suddenly stop and back up and I expect him to do same.  By the time I'm ready to get on we've usually have set our terms.  If not, I continue until we do have them set, no matter how long it takes.

Repeating this ritual each time I ride is now taking less time to set the tone.  The result is that when I do climb up I've got a respectful horse which helps me quickly get through those first few minutes of butterflies.  I truly believe one step at a time has given me the lattitude to quickly get over my nerves, enjoy all my rides and most importantly, helped me avoid confrontations or worse, wrecks.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Welcome to 50 + Horses

If you are a 50 + Horses person you might be like me. I grew up watching Fury and Roy Rogers. I didn't have a horse but every birthday or Christmas that was what I asked for.

If I could put a rope around it, I rode it. Be it a rock, fence, etc. My friends and I were wild horses as we ran through the trails in the woods across from our house. We grazed in our front yards, actually eating grass and survived to laugh about it.

When some poor person was out on a quiet trail ride and came thru the woods onto our road, I was the first one out the door yelling, "A Horse! A Horse! Can I have a ride?!" When they complied I regally rode throughout the neighborhood in front of them and begged for them to take me home with them.

I experienced my first fall from a horse at age 5. I learned that loosely cinched English saddles, hot wire and acres of Raspberry fields don't mix. I cried because I saw blood on my split lip, mom freaked at the angle of my arm. I was quickly rushed to the Doc, didn't get back right on and have had to deal with that fear each time I ride since then.

I spent that summer being a cowboy, riding my rocks and fences with the cast or my arm. Hearing that there was a forest fire in the mountains (about 80 miles from our house) I figured the wild horses would be coming by to escape. I grabbed my trusty rope and spent the whole day at the end of our driveway waiting for them to stampede by. If I couldn't get a horse for Christmas or my birthday, I was going to catch my own.

I wanted to dedicate this blog to those who are 50+ and have that love of horses in the core of their being. Some have been lucky and obtained the major milestone of their lives, having their own horse. Some of us lease, take lessons or just try to be around them when they can. But there is something in all of us that brings us back to them again and again.

As we've gotten older, a new fear has crept into us. We aren't kids anymore and the fear of falling can loom large when one swings their leg over the saddle. How do we overcome that fear? How do we keep our passion alive when we are afraid or our resources are fiscally limited due to the current economy or retirement? How do we ride or maintain our horses during treatment for illness or replacement surgery?

My plans are to touch on these topics as we join together in the challenges we face as 50+horses. Please join me and share your thoughts. Until then, as Roy said, "Happy Trails".