Monday, May 31, 2010

Changes Can Be Good Sometimes

I hate change.  I really do.  I want things to stay the same (most of the time), but sometimes change is a good thing.

There was a surprise change of management at the local livery and it looks like it's going to be a good thing.  With last minute changes, things either go really well or they go right down the toilet.  Though typically an optimist, I've been through a bad change or two in the past, so I was pretty pessimistic about this very last minute change in management.  Probably the worst barn boss we had was one who threatened to beat the stuffing out of one of the female wranglers because she didn't agree with how he was handling the horses.  He's also the only barn boss I've ever told to go do something anatomically impossible with himself and walked off the job (the only job I've ever walked off of - ever).  So, you can see why I was a little concerned about this change.

Imagine my delight when I found out that the new barn boss is a wrangler I worked with ten years ago or so.  I was just a day rider at the time, filling in when they were over-booked and/or short staffed, so it's no surprise that Compass didn't remember me.  That's okay, 'cause I'm thrilled she's back.

The horses can be very sensitive to change and they've had the same barn boss for over five years, so I was pleasantly surprised to see how relaxed and happy they are with the change.  There are changes afoot at the livery, but they all seem positive.  Compass and her two full-time wranglers have been very patient getting to know the horses and are handling them calmly and consistently.  The horses are happy. 

Even Raja looks like a whole new horse - and she's super sensitive to how she's handled.  If she doesn't have a clear leader, she'll run right the hell over you.  I spent some time rubbing on her today and she practically fell asleep on the rail.

Why is this my business if I'm not working as a wrangler for them?  It's my business because we still share common space and I've known most of the horses on their string for years, so I have a vested interest in their well being.  And I wouldn't mind working again as a day rider when needed.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Graduation Day Ride

Warning: Media heavy post (videos and slideshow)

Last week, Mom graduated with her Associate degree - most of you know that.  Probably what you didn't know, is that rather than spending the day getting all gussied up for the ceremony, we did what any good horse lover does - we went riding!

Now, normally, I'm a picture-taking freak, but for some reason, I took very few pictures of this ride.  Wait - I remember why - because Estee and I were riding point.  We have good reason to believe that a moose has moved into the area.  Why do we think so?  Because the "elk" dropping are about ten times their normal size.  And they are everywhere.  Estee is a good girl who trusts her rider.  Ida saw to that and never abused the privilege (not to say that Mom and Bill have abused the privilege, but Mustangs tend to be a little bit more self-reliant), so when Jesse and Ranger weren't too thrilled about taking point, we did.  I'm thinking that probably none of the horses have ever seen a moose up close and there will be one hell of a rodeo when they do see one, but I'm excited.  I've never seen a real-live moose.

So when we went along the trench trail, I was extra vigilant and not taking pictures.  Riding up above the trench trail (which has also been taken off of the dude trail map due to erosion) is a tricky thing, as it's a very steep slope that we walk along.  I should have taken pictures, but I didn't, I was busy being on the look-out for the moose.

With all of the late season snow and run-off, I wanted to go up to the pond and see if we could hear the frogs sing.  The frogs only sing for a couple of weeks out of the wettest seasons, so it's a real treat to hear.  If you turn up the volume really loud, you'll be able to hear the frogs going to town with their singing.  I just love it; it's such a soothing sound to me.

Sorry, the sound quality's lousy, but I was using my point-and-shoot camera rather than my Flip.

Feeling almost as contented as the ride the day before, we headed back, this time with Bill in the lead.  Unless we wanted to backtrack and ride alongside the trench trail again, we had to head home over Pinky's Wash.  I call it Pinky's Wash because way, way, way back when I was a wrangler wanna-be, one of the wranglers named Pinky took me out for a wrangler ride.  It was fabulous; we rode hard and carelessly and made it out alive.  During one portion of the ride, we went down what I would consider a "wash", not a trail.  Pinky assured me it was a trail.  There are some pictures of it in the slideshow, only we're going up the wash, not down it.  I've been down it a couple of times and it never ceases to pucker me right up.  Up is okay; down is not.

As usual, I'm having issues with Blogger's picture function, so here's yet another slideshow for your viewing pleasure.

It's almost June!  Don't forget about the High Country Rendezvous!
Click on the tab at the top of my page for information - we're going to have a blast!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

First Ride of the Year!

I live for Estes' return from winter pasture.  About the middle of the winter, I start going into horse withdrawals, which is no good at all.  I get the winter blahs and all I can think about is how long it's going to be until Estee comes home.

A couple of weeks ago, we brought the horses home, but had fence to mend and a snowstorm rolled in on top of us.  Our first ride was delayed by more than a week.  Once the snow went away (mostly), Mom and Bill were able to go out on the geldings, leaving the mares behind.  Because I've got a grown-up job (darn it!), my riding is limited to the weekends, so the weekend after we returned from Yellowstone I headed up for my first ride.

It was fabulous!  Estes has shed out beautifully and the winter on the fat pasture did her a world of good.  She came home easily a hundred pounds heavier than when she left.  I'd wanted my first ride to be bareback, but then decided that maybe I did want the security of the saddle because I wanted to go and with bareback, I'm limited to a walk and slow trot.  I just don't have the confidence yet for other gaits.

We decided to head on down to the Willow Tree trail - heck, why not start off the summer with a ride that can kill you? - just because we could.  You might remember that the Willow Tree trail is where, a few years ago, Meeker decided there were bad things in the willows and that we should not go in there.  I think I've only been on that trail once or twice since, simply because it is not a trail we can take novice riders one.

Guess what?  The Willow Tree trail should now be off limits to all but very experienced and confident riders.  It needs to come off of the dude trail map for the liveries.  The years and erosion has not been good to it and it's in much worse condition than I could have imagined.  The pictures don't do the ruggedness of the trail any justice.

We carefully picked our way down the rock, between the willow branches and rock face and back up the side of the mountain.  There were many, many places where I was very thankful that Estes is barefoot.  The thought of crossing all of those rocks without my horse being able to make contact puckers me right up.

After picking our way through the Willow Tree trail, which was extraordinary, just rugged, we were running short of time, so we headed back, stretching the horses out to a slow trot (for Estes; a lope for Ranger) until Bill found a stretch of trail that *had* to be fixed.  Estee and I waited impatiently while Bill re-routed the run-off.

At the base of the switchback, a realtor had placed a sign with a box full of flyers.  On our way out to the trail, Estee and I had sidled up to it and taken a flyer just to see if we could.  Bill decided that he and Ranger would attempt the same feat on the way back.  They were successful, thanks to Bill's long monkey arms and Ranger's short stature.  Ranger saw absolutely no reason whatsoever to cozy up to that stupid realtor's box and kept swinging his rear end away from it.

Back at the lodge, I hopped on off of Estes, feeling better than I had in a really, really long time and easily thirty pounds lighter.  What is it about being free in the mountains that has that effect on people?

It's a good thing I was feeling so good and light, because when I went to uncinch Estes, I found that her cinch was more than a little loose.  There was room for Bill to put his fist between her belly and cinch.  Thank God for all of the time we spent bareback, otherwise I may not have stayed on during our return trip.

Up For Review

You know, from just a couple of days ago, that I agreed to review product from CSN Stores.  I was initially disappointed that they don't carry any horse-related equipment in their pets or outdoor section, and I had agreed to do a review on this blog, which is horse-related.  As I was browsing through their site, I came upon some boots that I can use as muck boots.

I've never actually owned my own pair of muck boots; I've always just borrowed Mom's.  Boy is she going to be happy that I'm getting my own!  The sizing may be an issue, as they don't come in half sizes, only whole.  I went up a half a size when I ordered, and I'm sure that will be okay, because I'm not going to live in these boots - just pull them on when I have to go out to a muddy pen.  The bonus is that they're steel-toed so my little tootsies are protected.

They're scheduled to ship next week (holiday weekend) and I expect them the following week.  Now all we need is some rain so I can test them out...

Friday, May 28, 2010

Blogfia Equi-blogger Members

Yankecwgrl over at Texas, of ALLLL places recently put up a post about a horse in need.  When she moved to Texas several years ago, she left her horse with a friend at her barn until she could get settled and move the horse herself.  A month later, her so-called friend had "given" her horse to a "good home".  Yankecwgrl has tried over the years to track down her horse, Alduca, but without any luck.

Poor Alduca has been "given" to "great home" after "great home" since 2002 and was recently rescued from his last "great home" between 300 - 500 pounds underweight.  The pictures up at Yankecwgrl's place of beautiful, gentle Alduca are heartbreaking.

Recently, Blogfia members were called upon to help Monkey and Daffy and responded like only Blogfia members can.  I know things may be a little tight with all of the recent donations, but you know that the four-legged critters are near and dear to my heart and I can't stand to see this majestic animal in his current condition.  Please go visit Yankecwgrl and read about her beloved Alduca

At the very least, leave her some bloggy love.  I cannot imagine watching a former well-loved animal go through this.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

"Tales" Hits The Big Time

Well, the semi-big time.  When the book sells, I'll really, really have hit the BIG TIME.  Every blogger has milestones that mark their growth.  Mine were: followers that weren't dictated by family obligation; comments that weren't dictated by family obligation; hosting guest posts; being asked to do a book review.  Now, I've been contacted by CSN Stores to host a give-away or review.

Because I don't want to do a give-away for a store I can't vouch for, I opted to do a review of one of their products.  Hopefully, if things work out and I *love* them, they'll allow me to do a give-away at that point.  As you know from reading my review of LOSING CHARLOTTE, I'll be honest.  I may not be very eloquent, but I'll let you know if I like what I get or not.

If you know me in person, you know that I *hate* shopping.  I'd rather scratch my own eyeballs out than shop anywhere, for any reason (scratch that - book and gun shopping is okay).  But mostly, I hate it with a deep, fiery passion.  Y'all, I went to their website and spent an hour trying to decide what I wanted to review.  They've got everything!

Once the Heathi are out of the house, RockCrawlinChef and I are buying a place with more land than house.  Our plan is to buy a house too small for the kids to move into for very long.  However, we'll have to have a guest room so people can visit.  That's where a sleeper sofa is gonna come in handy.  We can still have a work space/office and be able to host a guest or two for a short period of time.

I think I've found a pair of boots that I can use as muck boots to review, as I wanted to review something "horsey".  Once I've got them in my hot little hands (and on my hot little feet), I'll be sure to post a review here.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Hell's A-Roarin' Ride

When RockCrawlinChef and I went to Yellowstone, I booked us a two-hour ride with Hell's A-Roarin' Outfitters.

We drove up through Jardin, MT, which had kind of a Deliverance feel to it (no offense to anyone who lives there).  We definitely felt the "grrr...outsiders" vibe driving through.  In their defense, they probably get a whole lot of people drive through their town during tourist season.  So the looks we got may not have been "grrr...outsiders", but "grrr...tourist season".  I can say I've felt that myself come the end of May when I find myself driving up Highway 7 behind a bunch of flatlanders tourists.

The ranch is beautiful and we were greeted warmly by the ranch dog.

And the ranch cat, who was the coolest colored cat I'd ever seen.

It's been a long time since I've been back in the dude string.  Luckily, the dude string consisted of me and RCC.  Had to give up a little bit of control for that; interesting feeling.

They put us up on two of the biggest dang draft horses I've ever seen.  Now, I thought my perception may have been skewed because Estes is only 14.2 hands.  I realized that my perception was right on when our wrangler looked at us and said, "those are some big horses."  RCC laughed and told me that I looked so "little" up there on the big horse.

Our ride through the Gallatin forest was beautiful.  Our wrangler was funny and easy going.  He'd just arrived at the ranch as summer help and we were his first ride.  I wanted to tell him that we would be the easiest, least demanding ride he was going to take out all season.  Neither of us are afraid of horses or riding up and down hills.  When my stirrups got uncomfortable (about ten seconds into the ride), I just slipped my feet out of the stirrups and rode without.  He did notice and watched me out of the corner of his eyes for a few minutes, but didn't say anything about me riding stirrup-less.

I have a ton of pictures to post, but Blogger's still not playing nice with pictures.  Grrr...

I would recommend without hesitation Hell's A-Roarin' Outfitters (even though this didn't start out as a review).

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Ride of the Week

The unthinkable has happened!  I've run out of guest bloggers for ROTW.  I've really enjoyed reading everyone's stories, and judging by the number of hits I get every Wednesday, so has everyone else.  I'd really like to continue this feature, so if you have a story you'd like to share (even if you've guested with me before) please email me at ASAP so I can start getting new rides scheduled.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Adventures in Moving Horses

I've posted the details of the horses' homecoming over at my main blog, Just another perfect day, but I've got to share some pictures of Ida's horses, Peanut and Doc.

Doc is a young 'un, only four or so, and really feeling his teenage testosterone despite being cut.  Estes just happens to be in season and Doc had decided that Estee was his mare.  Doc and I went a couple of rounds about me taking his mare away from him.  Not so many years ago, I would have been nervous about putting him in his place, but not now.  The first time he challenged me, I had just put the lead on Estes and I worked him in circles with the end of the lead rope.  I love that mare of mine, she just pivoted behind me like she was the one working him in circles.

The second time, he tried to come up for a sneak attack from behind as I was leading her out of the pasture.  I heard him start his charge and turned to look at him, planting myself firmly and making the "bad" noise - you know the AAAAARRRRRGGGG noise you yell at dogs and bad horses.  He backed off.

The third and last time happened when he realized I was going to put Estes in the trailer and take her away from him.  He again tried to charge me from behind, but I turned and put him in his place.  He was so focused on me that he didn't realize that Bill was behind him, so when he got the "bad" noise in stereo, he wasn't sure what hit him.

We got Estes loaded up in the trailer with Mom's horses and Doc realized that we'd taken the herd he'd been hanging out with.  The other geldings in the adjoining pastures were hollering for Doc to come and join them.  He raced off toward them, but made a wrong turn and ended up in a pen, not the pasture with the other geldings.  I went into one of the pens, trying to get his attention and shoo him out of the pen.  As panicked as he was, there was no way on earth I was going into the smaller pen.

Finally, he made it out of the pen and began racing up and down the yard...

Finally, Peanut got frustrated with hollering at Doc and raced down the mountain and into the yard to fetch him...

It was absolutely terrifying and exhilarating to be watching these horses racing up and down the yard.  It's amazing to think that we actually ride these crazy critters.  Peanut was a kids' horse when we had him at the livery, for Pete's sake!  Of course, Peanut was also the one who tried to buck Digger off when we were introducing him to the mounting block - forgot about that tidbit.

I didn't give standing up to Doc a second thought when he was trying to get Estes away from me, but then I saw this display of raw power and maybe I should have thought twice about standing up to him.  It only worked because I *knew* I could take him and because I believed it, he believed it.  It wasn't until I saw the pictures that I'd taken that I realized how badly he could have hurt me if he so desired.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Ride of the Week: Cracker

This week's Ride of the Week is brought to you by Leah at Southwest Mementos.

Christmas 2006 my sister-in-law gifted her pony Cracker to our daughter. Our daughter expressed interest in showing, barrels, poles, and running for Junior Rodeo Queen and needed a reliable dependable horse. At 24 years old he came to live with us.

What you don't know is my sister-in-law is a horse trainer extraordinaire who married my husband's brother. Now he ain't to shabby one bit when it comes to horses either. Together, I'd lay money there isn't a horse out there they couldn't handle if they wanted too. When he arrived, my sister-in-law had already taken this little pony to barrel racing finals all over the state of Arizona for years and won a hefty number more than she ever lost.
County Fair Horse Show 1st in Barrels

Cracker arrived at what many would say are his senior years. I'd say a welsh pony cross hasn't got any senior years. To this day people ask how old he is and rock back on their heels shocked when we share they just lost to an almost 30 year old pony. He’s become quite notorious in our county and easily recognized on site at events we attend. In shape he still runs low 18s around the barrels.
Junior Queen Runner Up

Cracker lounges in semi-retirement. He spends his winters eating and growing fat and sassy. At almost 30 he's still an ornery bugger to catch. He darts away from everyone until you get him in a corner. He'll still pull you over at the entrance to the arena charged up and rearing to go round those barrels. If you don't get the upper hand at the first barrel, he'll jip ya the rest just to make you mad.

April 2010

Standing in the bleachers watching her run, the audience stares and speculates.
Is she riding a pony?
Is it a mustang?
Wow, did you see that time?
He sure is short.
Do we trail ride with him? Of course. Around here trail riding is as easy as turn right, then left, and head straight for the ditch banks and the Rio Grande. No surprising Cracker either as dogs nip at his heels, he jumps over small logs, and runs circles around Mouse and Diesel when racing on the sand bars. This pony loves to run. His heart is strong and just a little bit willful too. We figure he'll be around for a few more years to beat the pants off the kids in the junior division when the younger boys start riding in shows.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Ride of the Week: A New Perspective

This week's ride of the week is brought to us by Mel of Boots and Saddles.

A New Perspective

Initially I wrote ride stories because I had to – the experiences of the trail demanded to be put on paper, even if it was only for my own amusement.  I would come home after a glorious 25 or 50 miles on the trail and shoot an e-mail off to my family and friends with amusing and self-deprecating anecdotes of what happened, coupled with the ever popular “lessons learned” segment.  Later, I started a blog where perfect strangers could also amuse themselves at my expense.  Once I write a story, I rarely go back and reread it.

After selecting and editing this story to publish here, I’m now wondering – maybe there is value in revisiting the past?

Mariposa 2008, although I did not realize it the time, was a pivotal ride in reshaping my endurance philosophies.

(italics have been added as a sort of “backward” look from 18 months later as I identify where I was starting to make changes to my endurance philosophy)

Mariposa 2008
Mariposa was Farley’s 2nd LD, and her last before moving her to a “traditional” endurance distance (50 or more miles).  It was also to be Minx’s first LD, after 2 seasons of not-so-successful-endurance rides…. and my attempt to “reset” our endurance adventures and maybe salvage her attitude towards endurance.  Philosophy change #1:  LD’s are not just for the old, the sick, or the crippled.  When I first started endurance, I had fully bought into the belief that there was no point in paying to ride 25-35 miles (Limited Distance) if you can ride that distance at home.  To say the least, things hadn’t worked out so well with Minx using THAT particular philosophy.

The weather had been a bit…wet and ride camp was a bit….muddy (quite the understatement).  With a 2WD ½ ton pulling a 3 horse trailer I had to have a plan for this type of situation.  It consisted of:  go through the mud at top speed, don’t stop, and arrive in the general vicinity of an empty spot.  Unload the horses and hand them to someone. Then, back uphill on wet grass and much to your spot by employing the “top speed” principle: get the tires moving and then go as fast as possible until you slip or your trailer jack knifes.  Call it a day and set up camp.

I decided not to think about how I was going to get out of ride camp.

After the horses were situated, I set up for the 25 miler on Farley the next day.

Saturday was beautiful.  I stayed at my trailer as long as possible letting Farley eat grass and then headed to the start.  My watch was early so I had to hang out for 5-10 minutes, and then we were off.  The footing was perfect.  Farley and I once again had a discussion of speed. We MOSTLY kept it at a trot. 

Somewhere during this loop I decided this would be the LAST LD I did on this silly horse.  Philosophy change #2:  Let the horse guide the transition to longer races, not the rider’s personal goals

The 25 mile only had 1 vet check (15 minute hold).  I stayed longer (30 minutes) because I knew her next ride would be a 50+miler I wanted her to learn that vet checks are where she needs to relax and eat and drink.  Philosophy change #3:  Ride today with an eye towards your ultimate goal (for me – 100’s).

And off we went again….even faster.  We are flying and it’s all I can do to keep a “reasonable” speed. 

It turns out Farley and my definitions of “reasonable” are a bit…different.  Farley’s definition:  if I move my feet really fast, I’ll kind of float over the technical stuff.  My definition: nice, controlled trot on the good stuff- walk the technical stuff. 

At this point in Livermore (her first LD, 4 weeks prior) she was amiable to my suggestions of speed (as long as it didn’t involve a true walk).  This ride I was struggling to keep her out of a canter and gallop.  About 1 mile from the finish I dismounted (flying dismount) and tried walking her into the finish.  She had ATROCIOUS ground manners.  I screamed, lunged her, tried to make her back up etc.  Even though I’m REALLY far way from camp, Minx and Farley are screaming at each other (how do they KNOW??????  I’m like a MILE away!!!!!). 

I walk into the finish and try and pulse down.  Farley and Minx are still screaming at each other because I’m just outside of camp.  Ride management is not letting anyone into the pulse area so I had to get her relaxed and below 60bpm on my own (no hay, no water, Minx can’t be brought over….)  It took me almost 10 minutes but I did it.  I scramble to get my tack off and sponge her off so I can do the final vet check.  It’s been cool and I don’t want her to get stiff.  I vet and get the completion (belt buckle). I put her on the trailer.  It’s only 10:00!!!!!!  I finished the ride in ~3 ½ hours (3 hours of riding time).  NOT what I had in mind for my future 100 miler horse….

My cousin and I go for a little hack later in the afternoon (I take Minx).  1 hour walk/trot. 

Saturday night it POURED.  Rain rain and more rain.  All night.  In the morning the ground was so slick I could hardly walk on my own. The rain had stopped but I felt that the footing was too questionable.  Sunday morning I decided not to start Minx.  Minx had nothing to prove to me. Philosophy change #4:  I had never before pulled out of a race before even starting it.   From now on, the well being of my horse was paramount - $$ paid for entry, my completion record, and my pride of being “tough” didn’t matter. 

Getting out of camp we had a “pulling party”.  Some rigs were able to muscle their way through the mud and get to the rigs, others needed to be pulled out with a tractor.  Guess which one I was?…..I got further than I thought with my “advanced” technique of “go as fast as possible for as long as possible”.  It was exhilarating to floor it and go slip sliding and fishtailing through the mud with a trailer. 

I have a secret….I didn’t really think I was going to make it. Can lack of faith cause you to get stuck in the mud?

Lessons learned:

  1. Anyone want a deal on a ½ ton 2WD truck? Kind of muddy right now but gently used (HAHAHA!).  Seriously.  I wonder what it would cost me to upgrade to a 4WD ¾ ton? 
  2. 2 horses isn’t twice the work, it’s like 4x!!!!!  Not sure if I will try this again.  Probably only for rides that are really far away or that are so important to me that I need a back up mount.  I don’t have the “buddy problems” when there’s only one horse and the horse is more focused on me.  I didn’t have the same bonding experience with the horse like I usually do.  AND 2 horses makes my trailer REALLY heavy for hard pulls.  (see ¾ ton truck comment above…)
  3. I am DONE putting LD’s on Farley.  She can do a 50 and I hope she gets really tired.  (*evil little smile*)

If I had to redo my “lessons learned” section now-18 months later, here’s what I would write:

  1. Nothing changes.  I had completely forgotten how much of a PAIN Farley was coming into camp – For some reason I thought this was a recent problem!  But after reading this account I realize that it’s actually getting better!  Sometimes a bit of perspective is all that’s needed to appreciate the present….
  2. I’ll never regret a decision to pull, but I’ll probably regret a decision to ride when I should have pulled.  Eighteen months later I still feel good about my decision to pull.
  3. Enjoy every moment, even when it’s difficult.  That was the last endurance ride Minx ever went to.
  4. Slow down – I can remember trying to walk Farley in with the horses screaming at each other and her acting like a MANIAC.  It was bad.  I was frustrated.  I could have done a lot of things, including turning around and riding away from camp until she settled down.  I had plenty of time to complete.  But I didn’t because I was too caught up in finishing. 

Sunday, May 2, 2010

My Earliest Horse Memories

I was not raised with horses.  My godmother and godfather had horses and I was lucky enough that my godmother gave me lessons.  My memories are few, but I know I've loved horses my whole life.  I have a picture of me on Flame when I was just two or three (of course, I can't find it to share with you), with my godfather standing nearby.

I remember thinking that Flame was the smartest horse on the planet.  My godmother would ask her how old she was and Flame would patiently count to sixteen.  Every time.  I would make her ask over and over again.

I remember standing on a stool or bucket beside Flame and learning how to swing my kids' size saddle up onto her back.  I was so excited when I got to my lesson (of which I only remember one or two, how weird is that?) and found that my godmother had bought a kids' saddle for me to ride in.  Sadly, that was near the time when I found out that my godparents were going to be divorced.

I also remember riding with my godmother down the road from her place to an open area.  It was the first time (that I remember) riding to someplace other than their yard.  I know that she had hopes of me barrel racing (at least that's what my mom told me), but I do vividly remember setting up spools in the closet of my bedroom and running the pattern with my Breyer horses.

Who knew, all those years ago, that I'd never out-grow my horse craziness?

From talking to my mom, I do know that I learned to ride, first and foremost, bareback.  Doing all sorts of crazy balance things: airplane arms, laying down back-to-back with Flame, twisting my torso to touch Flame's butt with my airplane arms.  All the same drills my mom puts the grandkids through.   I don't ever remember falling - if I did, it wasn't traumatic enough to remember.  In fact, the first time I ever came off a horse, I was a pre-teen and it was a damn pony with an attitude.  Though I don't remember my lessons, my godmother and Flame gave me confidence in my balance at a young age.

What are your earliest horse memories?  Did you start riding at a young age or were you an adult before you were able to ride?


Don't forget about the High Country Rendezvous!  It's right around the corner.  Click on the link or the tab at the top of the page for complete information.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

I Got Tagged - First Post Flashback.

Quixy at Quixotic Life tricked me into being tagged for this first post re-post.  I'm actually looking forward to it.  I could remember what my first post over at Just Another Perfect Day was, but for the life of me, I couldn't remember what my first post here was.

While the purpose of Perfect Day was to keep in contact with friends and family, Tales was designed to promote the book I've been working on about my experiences as a wrangler.  I've used this blog to "test out" potential stories to include in my book.  Recently, it's evolved to be a little more personal and I've added the weekly feature Ride of the Week.  I realized that if I put all of my favorite stories from the book up here that no one would ever have a reason to buy my book if I can ever get it published!

A Day In The Life...

Offering trail rides to tourists is big business in Colorado. A search on shows that there are 67 riding stables, or liveries, in Colorado. A few of those offer rides year ‘round, but the vast majority operate from mid-May to mid-September.

When most people think of horseback riding, they think of ranch cowboys & rodeos. Mountain trail riding is a whole different ball game, buckaroos. Trail riding isn’t easy and not all horses are cut out for it; if they were, there wouldn’t be a demand for trainers, clinics, and magazines devoted to trail riding. Being a livery horse is even more difficult. The horses at livery stables are often labeled “trail nags” and thought of as useless. That impression couldn’t be further from the truth. Those horses work six to ten hours a day, day in and day out, with several different riders of varying ability, all of whom are strangers. The nature of the business doesn’t allow any time to develop trust between the horse and rider. Not only do they take their riders in stride (mostly), they have to deal with situations that the typical privately-owned horse never has to deal with. Traffic. People honking and waving. Loud motorcycles. Screaming kids. People sawing on the reins. Crossing water. Crossing bridges. The list is endless.

80% of the trails in Rocky Mountain National Park are non-motorized mixed-use trails, meaning that they can be used by hikers, bikers, or horses. Riding the mountain trails is also completely different riding than most people believe. They are called the Rocky Mountains for a reason. There are rocks. On the mountain. The trail will go up the mountain, and probably over the rocks. And, guess what? Basic physics law states that what goes up must come down. The trails are well-established, but not groomed. Trees branches or snow drifts may cross or block the trail. Rides may cross running water or bridges. There may be wildlife to deal with. There will be hikers & bikers; in the forest there may be dogs, either leashed or unleashed.

Livery wranglers are a different breed of cowboy. One former wrangler, who grew up riding and barrel racing, thought she knew what she was getting herself into. She admitted later that she actually had no idea what “Cowgirl up” meant until she was 10,600 feet above sea-level, four hours away from the trailer with a group of sore and cold guests in the snow in July and all she wanted to do was get some place warm and dry, yet she had to rally the troops, get them back on their horses and lead them back to the pick-up point safely. Only then did she understand that “Cowgirl up” in a rodeo arena and “Cowgirl up” in the Colorado mountains meant two completely different things.

Like the horses, the wranglers must be able to deal with multiple situations – from atop a horse and leading the ride – that the average person does not. Traffic. People honking and waving. Loud motorcycles. Screaming kids. People sawing on the reins. Crossing water. Crossing bridges. A good wrangler will know exactly which horses do and don’t get along, can pace the ride so that there are minimal gaps between horses, and can identify and head off potential problems. On top of that, they have to be friendly and informative no matter how difficult the situation (or the guests). Good wranglers put Boy Scouts to shame when it comes to being prepared for every eventuality.

A wrangler’s job during the season is often six to seven days a week from early morning until late evening. While the job sounds great (“wranglers get paid to ride horses in the mountains!”), it is physically demanding and often emotionally draining. Most livery stables provide room and board, guide horses for the wranglers to ride, and a small salary. Wranglers are tipped employees, so the monthly salary would make most sane people cry.

Wranglers come in all shapes and sizes, with horse experience ranging from essentially none to someone who was practically raised on a horse. Some are excellent horsemen, but terrible with people, while others are wonderful with people, but terrible with horses other than their own. The reasoning behind many Barn Bosses’ decisions to hire people with little or no horse experience, but who are good with people, is that teaching people skills is much harder than teaching someone to ride. I tend to agree with this train of thought with one caveat – they must be willing to learn and not think themselves an expert after one or two rides. Anyone who spends any real time around horses knows that the more they learn, the more they don’t know.

The beginning of each season is a lot like “Cowboy U”; wranglers come from all over the United States, and occasionally we even get a few from out of the country. The reason they want to be wranglers is pretty much the same – we get paid to ride horses in the mountains!

I got started as a wrangler after my parents bought a Bed and Breakfast in the mountains; we were told that they’d need help from all of us as they ironed out the kinks and got the business off the ground. After the first season, I told them I’d rather scoop horse poop than change another bed. And a new wrangler was born! My first day at the livery found me bright eyed and bushy-tailed without a clue as to what I was in for. The end of my first day found me filthy, sore and still clueless. I never got near a horse the first day – I got to wax the stock trailer from top to bottom. By myself.

One memorable wrangler named LB was literally a department store cowboy. He was a city kid who had been working with our Barn Boss at a department store during the off-season. LB was one of the wranglers who had no horse experience, but was wonderful with people, not to mention that once he was costumed up he looked like the kind of cowboy that graces greeting cards. The ladies loved him! He quickly found out that no amount of working out in a gym, no matter how chiseled the body becomes, prepared him for the physical aspects of the job. Daily feeding included loading between fifteen and twenty one-hundred pound bales of hay onto the back of a truck, then throwing the bales from the truck into the feeders. Find me a weight machine that duplicates that!

Every career has people who are attracted to it because they think they know everything there is to know about the career; at a livery those are typically the wranglers who grew up around horses, but who are terrible with people. They tend to be “stiffed” or under-tipped much more frequently than the wranglers with no horse experience.

Somewhere in the middle is where most wranglers come from; they’ve had some horse experience, but also have an idea of what it takes to work for tips. My favorite wranglers to work with are these, maybe it’s because that’s where I came from.

Once the staff is set, then housing becomes an issue. The bunkhouse is typically nothing more than shared rooms (segregated by sex) with multiple beds and external bathroom facilities. This is where the fun really begins, “Cowboy U” meets “The Real World”, but without any cell service, internet access, or cable. And often, wranglers from out of town don’t have transportation of their own. It’s a recipe for disaster any way you look at it, but year after year, the wranglers survive.

One bunkhouse – and I use the term loosely – was nothing more than an 8’ x 12’ building with a built-in bed platform, no insulation, and a hole in the roof that had been haphazardly patched. The bathroom facility was an outhouse; the sink was next to the outhouse and our running water came from opening the valve on a five-gallon water jug. Our lights were battery-operated. At least we had a phone to call the main house and to take reservations. Since the livery was small, only one wrangler at a time was required to stay in the bunkhouse over night. On my nights at the livery, I often had one of my children with me, sleeping on a twin mattress at the other end of the room. To say that it was an adventure would be an understatement! What I remember most about that bunkhouse is that it was cold! Even with a portable propane heater, we’d often wake up to frost on the inside of the windows (in July!).

Livery stables can run as few as ten head or as many as one hundred fifty. No matter the number of horses, the daily routine is predictable and is not for the faint of heart. A typical day may begin with barn call as early as 4:30 a.m. The horses must be chosen, caught, and pulled from the pen. They must then be brushed and saddled. Breakfast is usually an hour or two after barn call, but if the horse chores aren’t done, there won’t be time for breakfast. After breakfast, the rides begin. The wrangler may spend eight hours in the saddle on any given day, taking out different groups of guests. When not out on a ride, there are always chores to be done; rides to be loaded and unloaded, poop to be scooped, horses to be watered, injuries to be tended, and tack to be mended. If the wrangler is lucky, he or she might be able to get out of the saddle long enough to scarf down lunch and run to the bathroom. The work’s not done when the day’s rides are over, though. The horses must be fed, broken down, and turned out. Once the evening’s chores are done and the horses are taken care of, then the wranglers can eat dinner, shower, have a beer or two to decompress and stumble to his or her bed in the bunkhouse.

Very few wranglers make it the entire season, running into one who has worked for more than two or three years is the exception, not the rule, but those who do will have enough stories to last them a life-time.

My family and I are some of the few who have made it well beyond one season. I’ve been blessed to have worked for a multitude of barn bosses, some good, some not, at different stables in the area. If I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t have continued to do it for as long as I did. Even though I’m not currently working as a wrangler, I’ll always have the “itch” to work new horses, catch up with returning guests, and meet new guests. And, of course, compile new stories.