Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010 In Retrospect

The year 2010 has been one of those years with as much happiness as heartache.  Curl up and get comfy as I cover some of my special moments in 2010:
On December 18, 2009:  I wrote a Post called "Countdown".  The following is part of that Post:

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.
On January 13th, only a few days before my retirement party, I wrote "A Sad Day".  The following is part of that Post:

Yesterday, because it's after midnight, actually closer to 3AM, has been terrible. My boy, my Cisco, is gone, downed by colic earlier this evening.

Losing Cisco really hit me hard.  He had been a hard nut to crack, initially resistive to letting me near him, never too sure of my intentions.  I'd worked hard to get him to accept me and enjoyed every minute of the challenge.  He had been a big part of my plans for retirement, only to be taken from me less than two weeks after I retired.
On Sunday, January 17, 2010, I wrote a follow-up Post re: the loss of Cisco, entitled, "Should Have, Could Have, Would Have".  The following is part of that Post:

I'm still reeling from the sudden loss of Cisco this last Tuesday night. After Cisco was out of his pain and everybody had left, we headed into our house to try to gather what threads we could of the evening. We heard the coyotes out in the field next to where his body waited to be picked up the following day. I worried about the coyotes disturbing the blue tarp that covered my horse.  I grabbed my husband's 30-30, my hat/gloves and heavy coat. NOBODY was going to mess with my horse.

I headed out to the barn and turned the radio up full blast, l lit up the barn with every light inside and out. I drug my favorite seat, my red mounting block, out next to the blue tarp that covered my little Confidence Booster Horse, now removed from his pain.

I sat there holding vigil to the blue tarp. I wasn't alone. The neighbor's Anatolian Sheppard, Trika, joined me shortly after I sat down. She is a friend to all of our horses and protects my family and horses as if we were her own.

As I sat there Trika leaned against my legs. Her furry coat kept me warm while I tried to absorb the shock of the evening. I absently petted her while I cried at sad songs and smiled at others, remembering my times with Cisco.  It seemed that she understood my sadness and leaned in closer to me. I could sense she was also sad, as were our Belgians, standing watch by the fence.

There we spent the night, me and my rifle, the neighbor's dog, and my two remaining horses.
His name was Want My Autograph, i.e., Champ.  I'd been riding him for almost a year but he was a challenge for me.  On Monday, January 25, 2010, I wrote the following, "+/- Confidence".  The following is part of that Post:

I've learned a hard lesson. When you are older and ride, your confidence must be continually nurtured to retain its high level.

Trying to get back into the swing of things after the holidays has been difficult. Last week I woke up on the morning of my lesson and that old familiar feeling of dread was with me. I came up with numerous excuses to NOT go out and ride, worried about what 'mood' my horse would be in.

Champ has been plain nasty. Barn pals tell me all the horses are fresh, but Champ's behavior outshines them all. Bucking, nipping, kicking, you name it. Being around Champ recently has not been any fun. I'm afraid to ride him, I'm afraid I'm going to get hurt.

I got myself so worked up before my lesson that when it came time, I found myself in tears.  In a choking voice I told Hero Trainer how I mourn the loss of my hard-won/yet fun-won confidence, coupled with the fresh loss of Cisco who I could always count on to help me rebuild any doubtful times.

Hero Trainer was kind but she was very direct - something I appreciate about her. She told me I needed to recognize that this is how Champ is.  She said if I am to continue to ride Champ, something must immediately change.  She brought up what I already knew - you can't build your confidence if you aren't out here up on your horse, and I've been very absent.
The battle in riding Champ continued.  On February 2, I wrote the following, "Round Two of Confidence Building".

My last lesson started with the ground work that I'd been doing every day for a week. Most of our issues center around when I ask Champ to reverse directions on the lunge line. He'll change direction but then turns his head towards me and with teeth bared and ears pinned back, he seems to sneer at me. He'll shake his head and either break into bucks or settle down until I reverse him, and then we'll go through it all over again.

On one of our reverses this day, he did his sneer deal and then broke into full rodeo mode. He pulled away from me so hard I lost the lunge line. I now had a loose horse running around the arena.

Hero Trainer's advice was, "Let him run, let him learn the consequences of his decision." She headed to the other end of the arena to ensure he kept moving.

Off Champ went around the arena at mach speeds, lead line between his front legs, flailing out between his back legs.  Numerous times he sighted me across the arena, pinned his ears flat back, lowered his head and charged me at full speed. I stood my ground, tried to make myself taller and used my ground work stick in a way that said, "Go ahead Punk, make my day!" And with that stance, each time Champ got close he veered away.

Eventually Champ stopped in the middle of the arena, sideways between Hero Trainer and me, each at our respective ends. Hero Trainer laughed and said, "Let's see which one of us he chooses."  Champ stood there panting and then he looked at me. He turned to me and this time he came to me at a slow lope with his ears pricked forward and soft eyes. Yet I still held my stick as if I meant business, not sure what to expect.

He circled around me at a slow lope as if he was on a lunge line. Hero Trainer chuckled and said that it appeared he now preferred being back where he'd left me. Eventually the licking/chewing started and then, taking a few moments, but not immediately, I verbally requested that he change to a trot (Champ knows voice commands for Trot and Ease (I chose Ease for Walk because Walk sounds too much like Whoa and of course, Whoa means stop).

He was now fully intent on me. Down he went to a trot and then when directed moved to the ease (walk) command. I put him back up to the trot and back down to the ease in both directions numerous times before I verbally requested he whoa.

He was now as humble as he was lathered and panting. I scratched his head with my stick as I'd seen done and then walked him out some more in different directions. Hero Trainer suggested I get on and walk him out to cool him off.

Up I went without an ounce of nerves.  Champ didn't have the energy at this point to be nasty and the knowledge of knowing what I could expect when I got on gave me confidence. This was a huge breakthrough in my future rides with Champ - knowing what I had before I climbed on.

I could have cried for the partnership I was feeling with this horse, who only thirty minutes ago was charging at me with flattened ears and teeth bared.
That was a big day for Champ and I.  And from there things improved.  On April 22, I thought I should expand my blog to include those under 50.  I moved to  On May 10th I wrote the Post, "How I Nailed Down My Confidence":

I've been used to 'loving' my horses. But I found that if I tried to give Champ any "love" his behavior escalated totally out of control. He greeted me with flattened ears and bared teeth when I'd approach his stall. Entering his stall, he'd charge me or try to flatten me against a wall.

Hand feeding Champ created an even worse monster. I posted a sign on his stall that said "Please Do Not Hand Feed". But well-intended individuals would still slip Champ treats. I could always tell when I arrived if Champ had been hand fed. He'd hang his head out his stall door as far as he could and try to bite anybody who walked by. Well-intended individuals soon learned better after encountering Champ's snake-like behavior.

Ground work now comes before riding, and it always will. I nailed my high level of confidence down tight with my mantra of knowing what I have before I climb on, using ground work as the tool to determine when we're ready.

Champ is now a different horse. Yes, we still have some issues but nothing that challenges my confidence or that I can't accept.  Today I'm a rider for all seasons, not just a few. I no longer dread going to ride, but look forward to my time with Champ and the fun it brings us. I received the highest compliment recently when my husband told me, "You've become the rider you always wanted to be."
Things were going well for Champ and I.  I'd purchased a new horse named Poco so that my friends could join Champ and I on trail rides.  My life with horses was incredible!  On my June 23, I wrote the following in my Life+ blog, entitled, "A +10 Day":

Every once in awhile a day comes along that can only be described as a +10 Day. Special days like these are rare, which is what makes them so special. If we had them all the time they wouldn't mean as much to us.

Today I was honored to have a +10 Day. I wanted to document it, because sure as shootin' tomorrow might bring me a -9 Day. I want to hold today close, keep it in my heart, body and mind. I don't want this day to end.

Today started out with some rare sunshine.  I've been out of town and Champ hasn't been ridden for a few days.  I steadied myself to pull a spirited, pent up horse out of his stall. Instead I found something I'd always hoped for but never yet encountered. I found a horse mentally in synch with me from the moment I opened his door. It was like we were having a conversation and both of us understood each other.

I put Champ through his ground work paces and again I had this feeling that we were talking. On to the arena to start the lesson.  Our lesson/ride? Poetic, incredible, spiritual. I would ask and Champ already knew what I wanted, his response immediate and perfect. Oh the joy of connecting with your horse. It's been many years and horses back since I had this experience. Once you experience it, you will seek it again and count your lucky stars if you find a horse that returns it on a regular basis.

This connection with my horse is the bottom line of why I ride. To be able to communicate on the back of a 1500 pound animal and for them to communicate back. What a wonderful gift. And to be doing this with Champ, the give an inch/take a mile guy?  Definitely special.

As we returned, Champ walked next to me as a friend would in conversation, the lead line limp between us. I'd stop, he'd stop. I'd turn, he'd turn, both of us with peaceful looks on our faces, in our bodies, hearts and minds. I wished time would stop.
Oh how I wish that clock would have stopped!  Because the next day changed everything as I wrote in my Post on Sunday, June 27, 2010, "Twelve Hours After a +10 Day - A Double Whammy."

Glad I got to enjoy my +10 Day with Champ because twelve hours later I was standing in his stall, anxiously awaiting the arrival of the vet.

I'd only stopped by the barn to pick up Poco's paperwork. I wasn't dressed for barn time, in my white t-shirt, jeans and tennis shoes.  My phone started ringing as I walked into the barn to find my trainer, also the barn manager, calling me.  Nothing has been normal since that moment.

Champ had urine dripping all over the place. He also had shavings all over him and was groaning in pain. The vet was on his way and we were soon pushing 16 bags of IV fluids into Champ. The diagnosis was the "Mother of all impactions".

When it comes to Colic, there is no replacement for hands-on experience. This is a tough, exhausting process but the best way to learn how to help your horse is to get your hands dirty and participate in it.  Colic is not only exhausting for the horse but it's also exhausting, back breaking work for the support team. Every hand is needed, especially on the second day when those who went through the first 24 hours are physically and mentally exhausted.

I was lucky to have a great support team the first night.  Rachel, my trainer and friend.  Rachel has been involved in many Colics and has hands on experience.  She was our Leader.

My riding pal, Haley. Haley is such a wonderful person, someone who can always make me smile.  She was there not only to help, but to educate herself about Colic should she ever be faced with it (smart women).

My husband, who brought us camp chairs, blankets, my phone charger, a sleeping bag and (I still smile) extra pair of socks???

Our daughter, who dropped everything to rush to the barn and pitch in.  Although she had given up riding Champ when she headed off to college, the love she has for this horse is still there.

There the four of us sat, taking turns walking Champ 20 minutes on the hour.  We were a rather jovial group that first night, sharing stories, swapping philosophies on life.  I don't think we realized the long road we were heading down.

In the late afternoon of the second day, with only a few hours rest, the four of us found ourselves back together, but now we all sat in exhausted silence while Champ struggled in pain as he started to pass the impaction. Around dinner time my husband arrived to take over for my daughter and I.  I don't think I've ever been so exhausted.

The next four days brought antibiotics for a urinary tract infection and we were relieved to see Champ was no longer dripping, eating his hay and drinking water.  But the dripping has started again.  Where this will end, I'm not sure.
I guess I already knew where it would end, as I wrote on June 30th, in my Post, "Want My Autograph (Champ), May 1998 - June 2010":

Dear Champ,

Thank you for coming into our lives and becoming our daughter's horse, taking her to Paint, Pinto, 4H and schooling shows.

Thank you for your "bling". It was always fun to see how the judges loved your "bling".

Thank you for your signature slow jog, so comfortable and smooth that one could drink a cup of tea and not spill a drop.

Thank you for bathing, loading and unloading like a pro.

Thank you for accepting me as your new rider when our daughter moved on in her life. Yes, there were times I thought you'd kill me, especially when you used to charge me in the round pen, ears back, teeth bared, but we always came to an understanding.

Thank you for your patience in helping me to learn how to ride correctly. You always tried to do what I was asking, even when I wasn't asking the right way.

Thank you for your smooth haunch turns and side passes. When people used to watch us ride, it was always fun to pull a few of those off and watch their reactions.

Lastly, thank you for teaching me to become the rider I always wanted to be. I hoped we could have more time together to sort cows, learn Dressage and go on trail rides but I guess God needed a horse like you up in heaven more then we needed you.

But never forget this family who loved you with all their hearts and will miss having you down here with us.
Champ was gone.  I needed the support of my friends in what my husband calls my "blog-o-sphere".  On July 27th, I returned to my original Blog, 50+Horses where I found my wonderful friends waiting for me.  Your support helped me through that trying time.  On August 11, 2010, I captured a Post called, "Riding Goals for the Remainder of 2010":

Poco's easy going nature has yet to disappoint me. I've been thinking about goals.

1. Sorting. This week I discovered that Poco does roll-backs and haunch turns, and he does them well! A definite plus for sorting. I hope to join my pals in attending some sorting clinics down the road this winter.

2. Horse Show. I attended my first show last October and had a blast. It was fun to see old friends and be out in the arena with my horse.  I came home with a higher level of confidence, a better bond with my horse and a big grin on my face. Isn't that what riding is all about?  Can't wait to go back!

3. Dressage. I find Dressage one of the most beautiful disciplines of riding. I'll give this a try as the rain pounds against the walls of the barn and the wind blows this winter.
But a little over a month later I got more bad horse news as is written in my Post on Tuesday, September 28, 2010, called "Until the Day He Dies":

I had passed on a pre-purchase exam for Poco, thinking what did I need to know about a 21-year old horse? But something hasn't been right with Poco. Weepy eyes had me accounting it to the flies. I frequently cleaned his eyes but recently I noticed that Poco seemed to have an issue with movement on his right side, causing him to spook. It worried me.

I had the vet out. The diagnosis is Moon Blindness. My horse is going blind. His right eye is already pretty much gone.  Pity isn't going to help Poco in the future, but an assured rider will. And for a 50+ rider who has worked hard on her confidence, I need to show Poco how assured I can be.

My commitment to this horse will be about comfort and trust. Moon Blindness is painful. I've got a meds if needed and my vet has versed me on degrading danger signs as well as assuring me to call him if things become worse.

Poco will be my horse until the day he dies.  And I sure hope that's a long way off.
On October 23 I made a change with Poco and my riding life in my Post, "Getting to Know You":

I'd sure spent a lot of times on the sidelines as a Horse Show Mom but had never known how to ride a performance horse. Today after eighteen months of lessons I do.

I'd been told that Poco's history included showing but when I tried to apply the buttons I'd used on Champ I didn't get the same results. My weekly lessons became a struggle.  My Trainer suggested Poco was rusty and so I offered him out for her to use for lessons, hoping this would help tune Poco up and improve our rides. Instead things became worse.

Poco is 21 years old. When I would come up to ride him later in the day after someone else had taken a lesson on him, I found him sluggish and worn out from his earlier ride. I started staying off of Poco on the days he was being used for lessons.  Soon I found the only day I could ride was on MY lesson day. My time off of Poco has caused a larger gap in us getting to know each other. My lessons that used to go by in a flash now seemed to drag on.

Poco's diagnosis of Moon Blindness and loss of sight in his right eye was my wakeup call. My Vet's warning about taking Poco out on trails and to shows was validated by Poco's spooking at unusual objects on his right side. Poco's reaction is a spook that covers 15 feet sideways or forward in a split second. This suddenness isn't something I feel confident about riding out.

Goals with Poco changed. Lessons had been an aid to meeting goals. Now I had no idea what my goals were or what I should be working towards. I felt lost.  Last month I announced that I was no longer offering Poco out and I was taking time off from lessons. I just wanted to ride and get to know my horse.

That was almost a month ago and it has been one of the best things I could have done as Poco and I have gone down the road of not only getting to know each other but having a good time doing it.

Right now my goals are still gray but I'm hoping that with his trust in me that maybe, just maybe, we can go to a schooling show and hang out. Depending on his reaction, I may enter us in a class.

In the meantime Poco and I are just having plain old good fun, riding and hanging out together. Horses take us on the most incredible journeys and this is surely to be one of them. And the best thing is that riding is fun again.
It seems that ever since June 29th, I'd been searching for something.  Here it is now December and it's been a long road to get here but I finally realized what I'd been missing.  It was the challenge and purpose I got when I rode.  On Thursday, December 9, 2010, I wrote the Post entitled, "The Purpose of The Dance":

Training on a Performance Horse was a challenge for a 50+ rider who had only ridden for fun. My lessons had been intense, made even more so by my low level of confidence that was always interfering with my mind. Champ was a difficult horse to ride and he could be nasty. On his back I was never sure if I'd leave on my own or compliments of him.

But my rides had been exhilarating and in the end Champ and I had worked out our differences and mended our fences. We bonded and all I had to do was think and he'd respond.

My riding aids I'd trained so hard for didn't work on Poco. How ironic that I would have been able to ride Poco easier if I'd never taken lessons!  Round and round the arena we've gone and as much as I like Poco, something is missing. I've enjoyed the pleasure of riding, but I'm missing the purpose of riding.

I miss the thrill of achieving a goal, the push of one's very best effort that brings such a high that it makes you punch your arm up into the air and then throw your arms around your horses' neck. I miss dancing in my saddle from the joy of a well-done accomplishment or floating back to unsaddle my horse because I did it (whatever it was). I miss the purpose of needing to go ride my horse so I can work towards a certain goal vs. riding my horse with no goal.

I started this road two years ago and I sure didn't get here overnight. I now know that the purpose of riding is what I've been missing. It defines who I am, it gives me a reason to eat healthy and keep fit, it allows me to dance in my saddle. I've missed dancing, but someday soon I hope to return to a purpose in riding and dance again.
Well, this is where I stand today.  In the year 2011, I'll continue to ride Poco and love him to death.  But I will also be searching for a new horse to dance with.

I've always felt that one of the best things about horses is the road it takes one down.  I don't believe anybody knows everything about horses (although some people seem to think they are an exception to that thought).  I find the learning as one goes down the road, the experiences, interaction and feeling of achievement to be some of the best things about horses (not to mention how good they smell when you put your nose in their neck).

To those who have commented on my Posts in 2010, I want to thank you.  Your comments and suggestions have meant much to me.  I look forward to 2011 and sharing my experiences on 50+Horses.  Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

What's In a Name

Everybody gets renamed at our house, both people and animals.  Of course everybody comes with their official name, but that only lasts so long.  Being part of this family includes being renamed.

Poco has only been with us for six months so his list of names is pretty short.  So far he has picked up the name Poco Dot due to his Appaloosa markings as well as Poke.

It seems the longer we have our pets, the more names they earn.  For instance our dog, Hank, has "earned" numerous names. 

As a puppy he was called Lucky (To Be Alive) which transformed into Lookie (To Be Alive), which transformed to plain old Lookie. 

He picked up this name (due to his lack of intelligence) as a young pup in chasing any horse that would run, which he thought was a great game.  This not only included chasing all of our horses, but also the neighbor's valuable Andalusian Stallions and Mares.  As he narrowly escaped lashing hooves, he truly earned the name Lookie (To Be Alive).

Lookie turned to Shiest (sp?), which my husband called Hank for the numerous things that puppies do, including chewing up our window sills in the kitchen, etc.

Shiest turned into Pogo Shiest when Hank was then placed in the laundry room while we were away, where he couldn't do (much) damage.  As we'd drive up our road towards the house, in the distance one could see a brown head repeatedly pop up and down in the laundry room window, just like someone on a pogo stick (if you're over 50, you know what that is).

Tori, the Anatolian Sheppard who lives next door is Hank's best buddy.  Tori became Trica and Hank then became Booshka.  Today I call Tori, "Tee" and I call Hank "Boosh".

Sunny Bear, our older Belgian, became Bear.  In the winter he gets a big furry coat like a Bear.  Bear turned into Bee and now I either call him Bee or Mr. Bee.

Gus has been with us a little over a year.  So far he has become Gussie (my husband hates it when I call him that) and Mr. G.

Together they are now called The Belgies.

We picked up a new kitten this last summer to replace our elderly cat we had to have put down.  Our elderly cat's name was Cali.  She was a grand lady and was known as MS. Cali.  She also picked our daughter as her "people".  So when it was time to bring home our new kitten, our daughter picked the name of our new kitten - Chloe.

But upon arrival I was so stunned by how small she was!  I remarked she was just a smidge of a kitten, and the name Smidge soon became Chloe's new name.

For reasons I have no wherefore of why, I started calling her Smidge Tuna.  Today I call her Tuna, or Tune.

Names also change for the humans at our house.  As a child our daughter used to love the book by Beatrice Potter called, "The Story of Squirrel Nutkin".  Somehow that became her family name and today at almost 21 years of age, I still call her Squirrel.

My husband is a big guy and has six toes on one of his feet.  He became Big Toe, who I commonly refer to as Toe.

As for me, I've picked up names too.  My husband calls me Tootsette and my extended family call me Orie or Ore.

What's in a name?  In our house there is a lot in a name!  :)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Little Breeze?

Just back online after high winds battered my tiny town of Enumclaw, Washington, this weekend. 

I have never experienced such high winds and I surely hope I never do again.  The City weather people estimated our gusts were 70mph but from we experienced, have seen and the people we've talked to, that wind speed is under estimated.

I hope to get out and take some pictures tomorrow but wanted to give you a glimpse of what I saw today.

Houses with boarded up windows, blown out from the gusts of wind (we thought we might lose our windows too, not to mention the roof). 

One pasture I drive by has multiple large 3-horse loafing sheds on about 5 acres.  The loafing sheds flew out of the pasture and are now outside the fence, sitting upside down.  They literally were blown up and over the fence.  I can only imagine what those poor horses must have thought.

Houses with trees on them, trees down everywhere.  Roads with trees on both sides cut with a chain saw so you can drive down the road.  The awnings our neighbors used for their horses to get out of the rain sitting on top of the roof of their house.

You get the jest.  Another crazy weather weekend here.  As for us, we are all safe and sound.  Many of our upper fence boards popped off from the wind but our Belgians stayed in their huge loafing shed off of the barn, on the other side of the wind and appeared no worse for wear.  Poco, boarded up at the barn was safe and sound in his barn and is also ok.

Power is back on tonight.  Lights and heat never felt so great!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Purpose of The Dance

Up until two years ago, I had always ridden for pleasure.  Hop on, head on down the road and (hope) to have a nice ride.

But when I inherited our daughter's former show horse, Champ, I wanted to ride him as well as she had.  To get the same results I needed to learn how to ride correctly using my seat, legs and body core.  I'd heard riding "correctly" was a lot of work.  That's an understatement!

Training on a Performance Horse was a challenge for a 50+ rider who had only ridden for fun.  My lessons had been intense, made even more so by my low level of confidence that was always interfering with my mind.  Champ was a difficult horse to ride and he could be nasty.  On his back I was never sure if I'd leave on my own or compliments of him.

My rides had been exhilarating.  I still recall the first time I got up the courage to lope and those incredible moments when we were in synch, a team both listening to (and respecting) each other.  In the end Champ and I had worked out our differences and mended our fences.  We bonded and all I had to do was think and he'd respond.

When I lost Champ last summer I immediately moved over to Poco, the 21-year old novice horse I'd only purchased a week prior to Champ's loss.  I'd bought Poco so my friends could join Champ and I on trail rides, one of the many goals I had. 

Poco was supposed to live at home while I continued to board and take lessons on Champ.  With Poco now as my only riding horse, his destiny changed.  He would now live at the barn and I'd continue lessons on him. 

But Poco had never been a performance horse and at age 21 I knew he'd never be one.  In our lessons we were oil and water.  My riding aids I'd trained so hard for didn't work on Poco.  How ironic that I would have been able to ride him easier if I'd never taken lessons! 

Our lessons were a struggle and I found myself wondering why I was even taking them.  I tried to put some type of goal towards riding Poco in my lessons, but I kept coming up empty handed.  I walked away feeling flat and then I started feeling bored.

Yet, Poco is one of the sweetest horses I've ever met.  My intention for purchasing him was spot on.  It wasn't HIS fault that I was having a hard time finding my groove when I rode him.

I decided to quit taking lessons in the middle of summer.  I felt a need to get to know Poco and for him to get to know me.  But soon Poco started to exhibit sight issues.

Shortly after came a diagnosis of Moon Blindness and loss of sight in his right eye.  I was glad I took the time off for us to get to know each other as his eyesight continues to fail and his spooking rate has increased. 

Round and round the arena we've gone and as much as I like Poco, something is missing.  I've enjoyed the pleasure of riding, but I'm missing the purpose of riding.

I miss the thrill of achieving a goal, the push of one's very best effort that brings such a high that it makes you punch your arm up into the air and then throw yourself around your horses' neck.  I miss dancing in my saddle from the joy of a well-done accomplishment or floating back to unsaddle my horse because I did it (whatever it was).  I miss the purpose of needing to go ride my horse so I can work towards a certain goal vs. riding my horse with no goal.

It's time to start searching for a replacement horse for Champ and send Poco home, where he was always meant to be.

I don't take this task lightly.  I'm not going to go out and buy just any horse.  Being retired, I'll need to plan my budget to make this purchase.  I will set a priority list and you can bet after buying Poco and finding out that he has Moon Blindness, that a pre-purchase exam will be mandatory.

I started this road two years ago and I sure didn't get here overnight.  I now know that the purpose of riding is what I've been missing.  It defines who I am, it gives me a reason to eat healthy and keep fit, it allows me to dance in my saddle.  I've missed dancing, but someday soon I hope to return to a purpose in riding and dance again.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Further Out. Higher Up.

I live in a rural area with a high population of livestock.  It's not uncommon to park next to a truck and horse trailer when one goes grocery shopping.  It seems like every fifth car one passes on the road is a truck pulling some type of livestock trailer.  Following a tractor, especially in the summer, is a common occurrence.

One can ride their horse through town.  You can even pick up your latte on horseback, via the drive-thru window at Starbucks.

My drive to "town" hosts dairy, horse and alpaca farms.  Acres of lush green fields are filled with livestock, vegetables, flowers and acres of hay during the summer months.  Pumpkin and Christmas tree farms stand open in the fall and winter.

During the harsher winters, hundreds of Elk come off of the nearby hills that start the formation of Mount Rainier.  They peacefully graze next to livestock.  I never get tired of the drive, there's always something to see.

But recently I've noticed a change.  Some of these beautiful fields no longer host livestock or vegetation.  They now sport construction of a home. 

Yes, one single home, sitting all alone on acres of pasture. 

I took this picture yesterday on my cell phone.  It was a cold and dark day but if you look to the right you can see the light colored wood of what will soon be a majestic house.  My phone couldn't capture the rest of the acreage to the left or right of the house, but there was a lot of it:
Last year it was one field, this year there are four fields with houses being built on them.  They look strange, sitting out there by themselves.

It breaks my heart to see these fields replaced by one single house.  If there is any consolation, at least it's not multiple houses.  But where there is one house, some day there will be more.

Word at the feed store and via the media is that the dairy's, hit hard by the economy, are taking "buyouts", selling off their cattle, equipment and property.  Word is they can't afford to stay and are "getting out".  Others are reducing their stock and property to try to "save the farm".

The economy has hit us all hard but when I see these empty fields hosting one single house, I have to wonder.  Where in the world do you expect to get your fresh milk and vegetables if you give up the land to building sites? 

If the farmers can't afford to feed themselves, who is going to feed you?!! 

One thing is for sure.  Once these fields are gone, they will never return.  And that is not only a shame but a real concern.

My little brother had a saying, "Further Out.  Higher Up". 

Right On, Little Brother!
SNOHOMISH, Wash. -- It took decades and four generations of hard work for the Bartelheimers to build their dairy farm.

But nearly all the fruits of their labor ended up on the auction block on Tuesday. And in a flash, parts of the farm disappeared.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Color Green

The color green never looked so wonderful! 

The snow is melting and we are no longer homebound due to compact snow and icy roads.

Heading up to ride Poco in a little bit.  I haven't seen him for five days - since the bad weather hit.  But it's been comforting to know he's been well taken care of (one of the reasons I board him where I do).

Oh the joy of getting back out and around again!  But oh the greater joy of getting back up on my horse!!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

2010 - A Day to Give Thanks

Well here it is Thanksgiving once again.

I still feel the same about Thanksgiving.  This Holiday doesn't get its due.  It's a day to give Thanks for all the things you have and all the good things that have happened to you in the last year.

This is it!  The ONE DAY that you get to forget all those bad things and focus on the positive!  So how come we don't advertise it that way?

Here are my Top 10 things to give Thanks to in 2010, starting with Number 10:

Number 10:  The Green Bucket.  No power = no water at our house.  My family used to laugh at me when I headed out to grab the Green Bucket during wind storms.  After our last 3-day power outage, they are now believers!  I'm Thankful for The Green Bucket.

Number 9:   Cabin Creek in the summer.  There is no place better to spend your time with family and friends.  I'm Thankful for a cool creek to swim in and good friends to sit with on hot summer days.

Number 8:  Our camping trip this last September.  It was as wonderful as I'd hoped it would be.  A great way to celebrate our 25th year anniversary!  I'm Thankful for the Perfect Camping Spot.

Number 7:  The Back Forte in Enumclaw, Washington, where I board my horse.  The stalls are huge, the turnouts are daily and the people are friendly.  I'm Thankful to be able to board my horse at such a great place.

Number 6:   My Trainer, Rachel.  She has given me the confidence to ride and the passion to reach higher.  She's not only my Trainer, she's my friend.  I'm Thankful for her friendship, guidance and direction.

Number 5:  My Best Riding Buddy, Haley.  Think of a friend who always puts a smile on your face when you think of them - that's my friend, Haley.  I'm Thankful to count her as my Pal.

Number 4:  My retirement in 2010.  I don't take lightly that I was able to retire during these economic times.  I'm Thankful to have my freedom.

Number 3:  My Husband and our dog, Hank.  The three of us have had such good times this last year together.  I'm Thankful for their companionship and company.
Number 2:  I am so Thankful for having had an opportunity to own a horse like Champ!  He pushed my envelope and took me places I never thought I'd be able to go.  He made me the rider I always wanted to be.

Number 1:  Poco.  He is one of the most dependable, kind-hearted horses I've ever encountered.  I am Thankful to call him mine.

Happy Thanksgiving! 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Snow Storm - 48 Hours Later

It's been 48 hours since my last Post.  Just like the wind storm last week that robbed us of power for three days, this week's predicted snow storm was under-rated by the weather people.  I finished my last Post on Monday around 1:30PM and by 3PM we had white out conditions.

I tried one last time to convince the Belgians to PLEASE come into their stalls.  I stood outside their loafing shed and called them.  I shook buckets of grain.  No luck. 

The wind was blowing towards me.  I figured they couldn't hear me at the back of the big pasture.  I pleaded to them, "Please don't make me come out to get you!"  No response.  So out I walked to the very back of the pasture where I'd last seem them facing me with their backs to the storm.

This meant I was walking directly into the storm and if it wasn't for the fence line next to my left side, I wouldn't have had any idea of where I was heading.   Finally through the gray shadows, I came upon our younger horse, Gus.  I startled him but he walked up to me snorting and wild eyed.  I was covered in snow and I can only imagine what he thought.  Perhaps a snowman about to attack him!

I greeted him, yelling as loud as I could but trying to make my voice sound calm.  The big shadow headed towards me.  My face was so cold, I turned and started walking back where I'd come from, hoping he'd follow me.  Turning to my left side, I could see his huge dark shadow beside me.  I headed back with the fence line now on my right side for navigation and Gus next to me on my left. 

I could hear him snorting as he walked with me and I could tell he was really spooked and unsure of all of this.  Gus is a big boy, weighing in at well over 2,000 lbs.  I surely didn't want him to spook and run into me.  I held the lead rope in my left hand ready to swing it and try to protect myself if he came into me.  I focused on not falling in the uneven ground and talking to him the whole way back to the barn.

Gus came with me into the paddock and I showed him the grain in the loafing shed that opens into the paddock.  It's well protected from the wind and before I headed out, I'd put 4 flakes of hay into each of the 3 feeders.  Who would want to leave a place like that on a day like this?

I then made my way back to the gate, hoping Sunny, our elderly Belgian had followed.  I was relieved to see his snowy figure lumber past me.  I closed the gate.  At least they'd be closer to us and we'd be able to keep an eye on them.  I was covered in dry white snow; you would never have known my jacket was red.

By the time I left the barn both the horses were finished with their grain.  Where were they?  Back outside, with their backs against the wind and snow!  I gave up.

In the house I started the woodstove and dinner.  After last week, I worried about the power staying on.  I turned on the TV so see the Seattle freeways below us jammed with cars and hear the urgency in the news reporter's voices.  With my husband and daughter still on their way home it stressed me out so much that I turned it off and turned on some music.  Ahhhh, much better!

My family arrived home safely with incredible stories to tell.  Dinner was waiting.  The winds raged outside with snow blowing up and swirling around instead of gently falling down, the wood stove put out heat and the power stayed on!  We watched the news all night long, feeling badly for the people in the City who were stuck in their cars (some all night long) on the freeways.

Yesterday brought us a silent wonderland of snow and last night when I headed off to bed it was 4 degrees.  But the furnace kept going and our house has proved to be tight and snug.  That being said, I'm not looking forward to our next power bill!

I've decided to keep the Belgians in the paddock until this all passes.  I took a few pictures today:

Here is my lovely hanging "winter" basket.  It was said it would endure "frost" but I guess 4 degrees was too much for it.  :(  It hangs limply in the basket, the flowers all turned dark and limp.

Here's Sunny, our elderly Belgian, out in the paddock, happy as can be.
Picture of our back yard taken ten days ago.

Picture of the same, taken today.

As I close this Post, I hear that warmer weather is on its way -  sweet, sweet rain is coming!  Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I haven't even had a chance to do my Post on it yet!  This weather has been in the front of all of us and I'm glad to see it behind us so I can get back up to the barn to ride Poco and prepare for the Holidays.

After the last week, it's not a long stretch to know what I'm grateful for this year.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Seven Days Later, Raising the Bar

Seven days ago I was filling up my Green Bucket as the wind roared around our house.  I thought losing power last week was a challenging experience while I played Pioneer Women.

But today raises the bar.  Seven days after heavy rains and strong winds, I took this picture with my phone as I looked out my living room window this morning while I drank my coffee:

Yes, that is snow outside the window.  It started yesterday morning and we've had it off and on since then.  It's beautiful but hampers my daily routine of heading up to the barn to ride.  Our road to the highway is in the shade and always one long strip of ice.  Eight foot ditches line both sides.  Many a car has met up with those ditches in snowy weather and I'm not about to be added to the list.

I'm watching the forecast.  Temperatures are dropping as another arctic blast comes our way.  This storm is forecasted to bring strong winds later this afternoon with the wind chill pulling us into single digit temperatures.  As I write this I see the tress starting to sway outside my office, here in the barn.

Losing power in wind and rain was one thing but losing power in these types of temperatures can cause havoc with pipes and just staying warm.  Yesterday my husband and I patched the vents along the bottom of our house with cardboard, as we do every year when the weather gets cold.  Kind of tucks our house in for cold weather.

The Belgians refuse to come in.  They have these deep, greasy, hairy coats and seem to enjoy this weather so I will leave them to their spacious loafing shed which is out of the wind, with lots of water and hay.

My husband went to work this morning.  He works in the same town our daughter attends college.  She has moved up her Thanksgiving trip home and will ride out with him tonight.  I can't wait to have our daughter home with us!

My husband, now a firm believer in the Green Bucket, has called and asked me to fill up FOUR Green Buckets just in case we lose our power tonight.  Quite a change from his declining my offer last week!  :)

I've done my Pioneer Women work, hauling baskets of dry wood into the house and garage.  I was going to wait for the wind to pick up further before I start the fire but I can now hear the barn door starting to bang and see the Fir trees being tossed around by the wind. 

Well, this was a nice little reprieve but it's time to start the woodstove and get ready for the next phase of weather.  :)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Green Bucket

(To me), this green bucket is one of the most important things we have in our garage.

This bucket has been the subject of many jokes and sideways glances from my family for the last three years. 

Mention the Green Bucket to my husband or our daughter and you will be met with their stories about me and my bucket.  It's one of the things they love to tease me about. 

That was...until Monday night. 

In my last Post, "Turning the Page to Winter", I wrote "I love rough weather, the thrill of what Mother Nature tries to throw at us and how creative we can get with throwing it back."  Guess Mom Nature was listening and decided to test me.

Monday was a day of gusty winds.  I'd been up at the barn most of the day.  Poco's eyes have taken a turn for the worse, as Moon Blindness does with it's here today/gone tomorrow symptoms.  I'd spent the day medicating him and overall, pampering him as he wasn't feeling well. 

As I medicated Poco I could hear the wind banging against the metal doors of the barn.  The rain sprayed on the roof.  I tucked Poco in and got home before dark to feed the Belgians.  I emptied and filled up their large water trough.  The intensity of the wind was exciting and as I left the barn I swung my arms out wide and let it blow me around.

In the house I turned on the news while I fixed dinner.  The weather guy was saying he was "upgrading" his forecast for even stronger winds that evening.  But it was the look on his face that got my attention.  It was a distracted, concerned look.

We get our water from a well.  It takes power for the well to run.  No power, No water.

Time for the Green Bucket!  As I brought it in and past my husband he laughed at me saying, "Oh Oh!  She's getting the Green Bucket!"

My husband uses our daughter's bathroom.  I asked him if he'd like me to fill up a bucket for him?  I got the usual sidelong glance and that little smile.  He laughed and told me that was ok, he was sure he wouldn't need a bucket.

Ha!  Around 9PM I truly thought our roof was going to blow off, the wind was roaring.  A few minutes later our house went dark.  Being it was 9PM we decided to go to bed and hope for the best.

But yesterday morning we were still without power.  I spent yesterday playing "Pioneer Women" as I hauled basket after basket of wood into the house for the wood stove.  I set up candles in strategic places and got all the animals fed and bedded down before dark.

Generators?  Yup, we have a small one which my husband set up to run our fridge/freezer before he left for work.  Too small to run the well.

We also have a huge monster piece of metal generator.  It currently sits in our garage under outdoor furniture cushions.  We've talked about putting in an electrical panel for this generator.  It CAN run the well, it CAN run the lights.  But we've procastinated about putting in the panel (guess what we'll soon be doing)?

As always, the Green Bucket did it's job.  No fuss, no bother, sitting there when I needed it.

Last night as we used our flashlights to eat take-out dinner, my husband turned to me and said he'd never make fun of the Green Bucket again. 

This morning at 4AM our lights came back on.  But it's been another crazy, windy day and as I've written this I've hoped I could get finished before we lost our power.

My husband has called from work.  He urged me to not empty the Green Bucket and to keep it filled in case we lose power again.

He also made a request. 

Could I please fill up a bucket for him?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Turning the Page to Winter

It's almost time to move our horses back to their winter pasture.  I'm holding off until Thanksgiving Weekend.  None of us, neither the horses nor us, want to admit that winter is almost here.   

The summer pasture is starting to look worn from the months the horses have been on it.  Gus's Size 8 Belgian feet have taken their toll.

All of our horses have always loved the summer pasture.  They enjoy watching what is taking place in the fields that surround our house from the Buffalo below to the horses next door.

We love the summer pasture too.  It surrounds the front and side of our house.  It's always fun to look out the windows and see what the horses are up to.

The horses don't like leaving the summer pasture.  When we initially move them they spend the first few days standing at the fence, gazing out towards where they'd just left.  They seem as sad as we are that the long, warm days of spring, summer and fall are over.

Weather for this winter is predicted to be one of the worst since the 1950's.  I love rough weather, the thrill of what Mother Nature tries to throw at us and how creative we can get with throwing it back.

The winter pasture, which is elevated a bit higher than the others and with good drainage, is ready.  The hay is in the barn and the stalls stand ready with dry shavings should we need to move the Belgians inside. 

It's time to turn the page from Autumn to Winter.  I do so slowly, savoring the wonderful warmth of fall and all the good times I had riding or working outside in our yard.  At the barn we called them "The Blessed Days" and surely they were.  We will need to remember them during the next four months when riding means numb feet and hands.  But we'll ride anyway and soon it will be time to turn the page to another spring and look forward once again to warmer days.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Searching for a Heart of Gold

I want to live.
I want to give. 
I've been a miner for a Heart of Gold. 
You keep me searching for a Heart of Gold. 

I'm starting to think about a horse to replace Champ, who I lost last June and Neil Young's song, "Heart of Gold" keeps popping into my head each time I kick the initial thoughts around.

What does a Heart of Gold mean to me?  It means a well behaved, well trained horse who gives me the same ride every time I climb on, no matter if it's been a day or a week since my last ride. 

A horse that has a dependable personality with a low spook level.  As a 50+ rider, I have no interest in not knowing what I'll get when I climb on.  These days I don't care for dealing with a spirited horse or getting dumped. 

Yet I seek a horse that will push my envelope a little bit.  A horse who will give me a sense of accomplishment.  I've missed that feeling since I lost Champ.  How I used to raise my right arm high in the air in a moment of pure joy when I'd accomplished a good sidepass, haunch turn or lope.  Or the feeling of being high in the clouds of happiness when I walked Champ back to his stall because "I'd done it" (whatever it was).

I miss the fun of showing a horse that knew his job in the show ring, with so much bling that no matter how awful you rode, your horse made you look/feel good.  The smiles and nods from those on the sidelines of the arena meant more to me then all the ribbons in the world.

I want a horse that is versatile.  Who can go from showing on Saturday to a trail ride on Sunday; who I can take sorting cows on Wednesday and ride in a Dressage lesson on Thursday.

While I ponder all of this, I ride Poco and love him to death.  He is exactly what I purchased him for - a horse for my novice friends to ride.  Even with his sight restrictions, I'm finding he is ok in the indoor or outdoor arena as long as we walk it first and he has a chance to check it out.  Our rides are pleasant and uneventful to the point where I've actually found myself getting bored. 

It's time to start thinking about replacing Champ, so I start my search for a Heart of Gold.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Fair Weather Rider

Today is Tuesday, one of the best days to ride Poco up at the barn where I board him.

Tuesdays are quiet, not very many people around and no jumps set up in the indoor arena so one doesn't have to risk their life to ride. 

My friend Haley usually joins me. We've ridden together enough now that we have a set routine. We turn on some music and then we each silently work our horses. 

Once the work is out of the way, it's social riding time. We ride around the arena, cooling our horses off, having these funny philosophical conversations, which include much humor and even more laughter. I can't think of a better way I'd rather spend my day.

But today is (another) windy and rainy day. We've had them for the past few days but today our temperature has dropped.  It's currently sitting close to 40 degrees and the 25 mph steady wind which is gusting upwards to 35 mph is making it colder.  Snow level is right above us!

As I write this post the rain and wind are beating against my windows.  I can hear the wind howling.  The leaves and rain are flying past my window sideways.

It makes me glad to be inside but I wonder about our Belgians, out there in the pasture.  I haven't seen them for a few hours so (unless our fence has blown down), I assume they are in the loafing shed out of the rain.

Here they are!  Standing outside in the rain and wind with their backs to the storm.  Silly horses!  They have two loafing sheds to go to out of the wind and rain, one full of hay.  Yet here they are standing outside looking half asleep!

I could put them in their stalls but I save the stalls for the worst of conditions.  Hmmm, think we're about there on that status; however, I'll wait until tonight and then put them in overnight to dry off.

No riding for me today.  I do love this stormy weather but I'm a fair weather rider.  Poco is in a different barn then the arena.  I hate the thought of us walking between the two locations, getting soaking wet and blown around.  Oh how nice it is to have a horse that is so consistent that he doesn't have to be ridden every day and to not be afraid of getting on him after a few days off.  That's my boy, Poco.

So I'm off to check on him and his eyes (which have been doing well recently).  Today Poco gets a beauty treatment and a day off from riding! 

Fire in the wood stove tonight and a homemade quiche to celebrate today, Mr. 50+ and my silver wedding anniversary.  Sure we could have gone to Hawaii to celebrate this occasion but I know I'd rather be here and I know he feels the same.  Home, where we are warm, safe and sound with our animals and ranch surrounding us.  :)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Getting to Know You

I'd sure spent a lot of times on the sidelines as a Horse Show Mom but had never ridden our daughter's performance horse, Champ, when I inherited him as she headed off to college. 

I'd ridden since I was a kid but never had lessons.  I wanted to learn how to ride like our daughter but had no idea how to operate Champ's "buttons" to get the same results.  I didn't know a half halt from a side pass.  Today after eighteen months of lessons I do.

I'd ridden Poco for a week before purchasing him but then spent the next two weeks off of him, focusing on Champ's illness.  Two weeks later Poco was my only horse. 

I jumped right back into lessons with Poco now instead of Champ.  I'd been told that Poco's history included showing so I kept the same goals I'd had with Champ.  But I was surprised to find how much harder Poco was to ride.  When I tried to apply the buttons I'd used on Champ I didn't get the same results.  My weekly lessons became a struggle. 

My Trainer Rachel, suggested Poco was rusty and so I offered him out to her to use for lessons.  The thought was that it would help tune Poco up and improve our rides.  Instead things became worse. 

Poco is 21 years old.  When I would come up to ride him later in the day after someone else had taken a lesson on him, I found him sluggish and worn out from his earlier ride.  I started staying off of Poco on the days he was being used for lessons. 

Soon I found the only day I could ride was on MY lesson day.  My time off of Poco caused a larger gap between us.  My lessons that used to go by in a flash now seemed to drag on.

Poco's diagnosis of Moon Blindness and loss of sight in his right eye was my wakeup call.  My Vet's warning about taking Poco out on trails and to shows was validated by Poco's spooking at unusual objects on his right side.  Poco's reaction was a spook that could cover 15 feet sideways or forward in a split second.  It wasn't something I felt confident about riding out.

Without showing or trail riding in my future, goals with Poco changed.  Lessons had been an aid to meeting goals.  Now I had no idea what my goals were or what I should be working towards.  I felt lost.

The one thing I knew for sure was that Poco would need to depend on and trust me.  That was going to mean we become the team we currently weren't.  I didn't know Poco and he didn't know me - all we knew about each other was under the guidance of someone telling us what to do in a lesson environment.

Last month I told Rachel that I was no longer offering Poco out and I was taking time off from lessons.  I told her I just wanted to ride and get to know my horse.  Rachel is an incredible trainer and she was totally supportive.

That was almost a month ago and it has been one of the best things I could have done as Poco and I have gone down the road of not only getting to know each other but having a good time doing it.

I'm thrilled to find Poco to be the best patient I've ever treated when I need to apply the antibiotic ointment to his eyes or give him a dose of Butte.  He's inquisitive, sensitive and yet comical.  His head now pops out of the stall door whenever he hears my voice upon arrival.

I'm working on gaining his trust by exposing him to different things and assuring him that it's safe.  I'm riding him in both the indoor and outdoor arena.  I've been leading him between the two but am at the point now where I think I can ride him between the two without any mishap as long as there isn't any competing vehicles or activity around.

Right now my goals are still gray but I'm hoping that with his trust in me that maybe, just maybe, we can go to a schooling show and hang out.  Depending on his reaction, I may enter us in a class.

In the meantime Poco and I are just having plain old good fun, riding and hanging out together.  Horses take us on the most incredible journeys and this is surely to be one of them.  And the best thing is that riding is fun again.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

First Horse

Fourteen years ago this last weekend, I bought my first horse. 

I'd wanted a horse all my life.  Playing horse was my favorite childhood game as well as "riding" fences and rocks.  Every Christmas and Birthday, I specifically asked for a horse (no luck). 

As a child I chased after the trail riders who came out of the woods across from our house, screaming, "A Horse! A HORSE!!!  Can I have a ride?"  Many agreed and I rode like royalty in front of them around the neighborhood.

My parents always told the story of how I stood at the end of our driveway from dawn until dusk on one hot summer's day, rope in hand.  There was a forest fire in the mountains (about 200 miles from where we lived).  I stood at the end of our driveway waiting for a wild horse to come down the road.  If I couldn't get one for my birthday or Christmas I was going to catch my own!

As I grew up I rode all my friend's horses.  I bought books on caring for horses so I'd be prepared for the day when I finally had one of my own.

In my early twenties, just starting out in my career, I had a co-worker who needed to find a home for her horse.  We discussed my taking her young Mare.  Used for jumping, she was huge and spirited.  The idea of calling this horse my own held for about two weeks until I finally came to my senses after falling off and getting a concussion. 

The truth was as bitter as the dirt I ate that day.  I wasn't financially secure enough to have a horse and this wasn't the right horse for me.  It was one of those (logical) grown up decisions that hurt terribly.  I passed on the opportunity.

I licked my wounds.  I was lucky.  My best friend let me ride one of her horses whenever I wanted.  It was the next best thing to having a horse of my own and the hands-on experience taught me things that books didn't.  I rode that horse until he was too old to be ridden and then made weekly visits to him until the day he died.

My wanting a horse was a well meant joke in my family and also amongst my friends.  They all smiled at my passion to have a horse.  And I surely advertised my dreams and intentions to someday own a horse to anybody I met, including the man I married.

When I hit 40,  married, with a child and fully secure in my profession, I felt the clock to have my first horse ticking.  As each year came after the big-4-oh, it ticked louder.

Almost fourteen years ago to this exact date, I took a ride with a friend up in the Cascade Mountains where our cabin is located.  I rode our friend's horse, Barnie.  He was a seasoned trail horse and a joy to ride.  I recall it being a clear, crisp day.  We rode the trails above the cabins, the leaves crunching underneath our horse's feet.

After we finished I walked back to our cabin where my husband awaited me.  I recall sitting on the arm of the couch and telling him about my ride.  I still remember to this day using the word "spiritual" when I described the ride I'd just had.  I told him that it was "time".  I needed to buy a horse.  Something inside the core of me was missing without a horse in my life.

My husband was not hot on this idea.  It's not that he didn't want me to have a horse but he knew how head-strong and passionate I could be.  He was concerned about the fiscal and logistical challenges of having a horse since we didn't have a place to keep one.  He pointed out all the cons of my decision and I pointed out all the pros.  We were at a stalemate.

I returned home from the cabin and within three days had a bead on a horse for sale.  On a crisp, sunny, fall Friday afternoon I headed out to look at a horse while my husband headed out to go deer hunting for the weekend.

She was a 19-year old Quarter Horse.  The first thing that struck me was how "pretty" she was.  I walked around her, petted her, watched her go into her stall for the evening, turned around and told the owner I'd buy her.  No riding her first, no pre-purchase exam, etc.  Just as my husband knew, I was a headstrong, passionate, first-time horse buyer.  I was also as green as a young tree about purchasing a horse.

The next day the owner transported her to my sister's farm and there I was, with my first horse.  She came with a bridle and halter but no saddle.  I didn't have any feed, buckets, etc. 

My sister and I took my first and expensive trip to the feed store where I started to learn that the cheapest part of buying a horse is the initial purchase.  My sister's neighbor came over to check her out and offered to sell me a saddle. 

Here is the first picture I had of Sunshine, taken three days after I purchased her:

I was so excited to have my own horse!  I could barely sleep that first night.  I slept with the saddle next to my bed.  I kept waking up to touch it.  I loved the smell of the leather and horse on it, I still love that smell.

When my husband returned from his hunting trip that Sunday evening to find a turkey dinner cooking and a smile I couldn't keep off of my face, he knew I'd bought a horse and he was none too pleased about it.  I can't tell you how grateful I am for his acceptance of my decision; it still means the world to me.

I lucked out on my first horse purchase.  Sunshine was a healthy, well behaved horse.  She loaded like a dream, she didn't kick or bite.  Yet she was smart enough to recognize a green rider on her back and take advantage of them when she could; i.e., a typical horse.  I quickly learned that the more I felt in charge of the situation the better she'd be and we got along well.  She patiently taught me a lot.

I soon wanted her closer to our home.  I was fortunate to be able to move Sunshine next door and keep her at good friends of ours, the same place I used to ride my best friend's horse.  To walk out my backdoor and through a path in the woods to be with my horse was a dream come true.

Within a few months we had an opportunity to take care of Barnie, the horse that had moved me forward with the decision to buy a horse that crisp, fall day at the cabin.  Sunshine and Barnie immediately became best friends.  We referred to them as Ma and Pa.  That next summer we had the chance to buy Barnie.  My husband and I rode Sunshine and Barnie all over the trails around the cabin.  Horses were now a family event.

The Christmas picture we sent out that year:

Note the child (who later went on to show horses) on Barnie in tennis shoes, minus a helmet.  Note the Mom (me) on Sunshine, also in tennis shoes and no helmet. Things have sure changed in the years we've had horses.  Today nobody rides our horses without a helmet and boots.

Sunshine and I interacting at the cabin:

Sunshine hosted our daughter's birthday party: 

We've come a long way with horses since that day years ago when I bought Sunshine.  Horses prompted us to sell our home and move up into the Cascade Foothills where we found serenity and peacefulness.   We've never regretted the move and still pause in disbelief that we live in such a wonderful place.

Fourteen years ago horses came into our lives and today I still feel there is something spiritual about interacting with and riding them.  Today horses define my family and who we are.