Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Great News for High Country Rendezvous!

Can you believe that the High Country Rendezvous is only a month away?!

When we planned it, it seemed so far away, but here it is, right around the corner.  If you haven't booked your room, be sure to contact Bill or Juanita at (303)747-2552 (only $5.00 to hold your room).

The good news?  Dr. Dave Siemens, an equine chiropractor who often travels with Natural Horsemanship Clinician Mark Rashid, will be presenting to us on Saturday morning (don't worry, there will still be plenty of time to ride).  We haven't determined yet if the topic will be equine anatomy/chiropractic care or saddle fit and how it affects your horse.  Any suggestions?

For more information about the High Country Rendezvous, please click the HCR tab at the top of the page.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Cast Member: Horse Master with Julie Goodnight

Heidi Nyland photo, The Whole Picture

In June, I got the unbelievable opportunity to work with Julie Goodnight on her show, "Horse Master with Julie Goodnight".  Estes, the equine love of my life, had a bit of an issue with standing still for mounting and walking off without a cue. Julie showed me how to fix it and what follows is my journal from that most amazing three days.

HorseMaster Cast:
· Julie Goodnight – Horse Master
· Heidi Nyland – Producer
· Lucy – Grip/Heidi’s “boss”
· Twyla – Grip/training assistant
· Brenda – Julie’s Office Manager
· Cheryl – Grip/Wardrobe Wrangler/Hair/Make-up
· Steve – Cameraman
· Bo – Film editing/camera assist
· Alle – Grip/Go-Fer (15 yo)
· Tara – Cosequin rep
· Linda /Stinger – came for water crossing, ended up being bad saddle fit and sore back
· Dave/? Horse – Versatility/flying lead changes

Day One

Finally got in to Goodnight Training Stables (GTS) about 5:00 pm as they were wrapping up the first day’s shooting. Met the rep from Circle Y Saddles who finally got us settled with Lucy. Unloaded Estes into an outdoor pen behind the high-dollar horses – she looked as good as or better than the others. Signed a million release forms for the show and property liability. Got my “party favors” – Dan Post socks, Circle Y t-shirt, bandana, and Troxel helmet (wow!).

Dropped the trailer at 4 Seasons RV park on the other side of Salida (GTS is closer to Poncha Springs than Salida). Really “cute” as Ash says. The bathroom/shower house was nice and well-kept (Thank God – I hate public showers). Went to dinner at an amazing Mexican restaurant – Los Girasoles – where the waiter spent the night hitting on Ash. Now I know how Mom felt when we’d go to Mexico and the waiters there would hit on Nelle all the time.

The shower house, while well-kept, was much creepier after dark. All I could think about while I was taking my shower was all of the ‘80s slasher movies. Can’t say as I liked being so far away from the trailer by in a strange town all by my lonesome.

Day Two

Up and at ‘em and on the set (GTS) at 7:00 am getting my girl ready. Cheryl chose my tops to compliment Julie’s outfit (pink long sleeve and black vest) for the day’s shoot. Lucy took one look at my saddle and decided to oil it because it is so ugly. It was much prettier after it got oiled, but then the executive decision was made to put Estes in a Circle Y saddle in case Julie had to mount up. Her contract with Circle Y states that she can’t be seen in any public appearances riding in a saddle other than a Circle Y and there was a possibility that they’d have to film her working with Estes (and up on her), so Estes and I got to ride in an expensive Flex tree saddle – cool, but I’m not sure I could really tell the difference.

Shooting day really was hurry up and wait. When it was finally my time on film, I was swarmed by Cheryl, Lucy and Heidi to fix my hair under my helmet (required by one of the liability releases) and “mike up”. We went up to one of Julie’s pastures that would look “trail-like” for my “before” shot. That shot went pretty well as far as being a disaster. I couldn’t get my foot up into the stirrup, Estes danced around and almost spun away from me, we had to resort to finding a mounting block (a rock, just like I’d have to find in the mountains) before I could mount up. Finally, after much gymnastics and horse vaulting, I climbed aboard and managed to get her to stand still long enough to get both feet in the stirrups. Then for my “B” role, we stripped the saddle and found another mounting block – a tree stump this time – for my bareback mounting show. I managed to get up, but again, it was a mixture of gymnastics and horse vaulting. I could really get used to having a “crew”; the minute I was done filming, Ash and Mom would step in and take Estes to get her ready for the next shot or start fussing with my hair to make sure I was presentable. Lucy was always ready with my jacket so I wouldn’t get too cold between takes – it wasn’t too terribly bad J.

The “before” shot was the easy part – then I had to do the interview. Thank god I’m used to public speaking, because the interview was a bit tough. Mostly because I had to keep reminding myself to keep it short and not say “um” – thank you speech class. The toughest part, though, was trying to make eye contact with the camera, which was less than three feet away from me. Well, that and trying to keep from getting a splinter enema from the tree stump I was sitting on. The day was going pretty well until the wind kicked up. That stupid wind! We broke, had lunch, sat around and waited for the wind to stop. In the meantime, the other two people arrived with their horses: Dave, who happens to be the President of the National Versatility Ranch Horse Association, and Linda with her horse, Stinger, who wanted to work on water crossing.

Steve, Heidi and Julie decided they could shoot some footage of Dave despite the wind, because no one needed to be miked, so Estes and I stood down and we went to watch the versatility horse. Dave really needed to work on transitions; specifically his lead changes. We stood out in the cold wind for a long while watching them film Dave and his mare do each component of a VRH competition: reining, cow work, and trail. It was pretty cool and I know that Estes can and will do all of that. We also managed to take some footage of Linda and Stinger, who entered the water like a pro, so we had to go to Plan B for Linda, which was to work on Stinger’s canter. Linda thought it was too fast and wanted him to gear down to a nice easy lope. Once we left the pond and went back to the outdoor arena, it was obvious that Linda and Stinger’s biggest problem was not the water crossing, but that he was in pain. Her saddle didn’t fit him or her well and she was practically sitting on the cantle. His head was too high and he was hollowing out his back trying to get away from the painful saddle. I can’t quite explain how he moved, but when he went into a canter he would really try hard for a couple of steps, then it would just hurt too much and he’d lift his head, hollow out his back and lock his forelegs. A couple of steps like that and he’d set to bucking – not hard – but bucking sure enough.

After all of the non-verbal shooting was done, the decision was made to move to Cheryl’s indoor arena, which wasn’t ideal, but at least we could continue shooting. By this time Estes had been tied at the rail for six hours or so and was behaving beautifully. I couldn’t have asked for a better behaved horse. None of the other horses had such a long down time without being used or broken down. Since Cheryl’s place was just a quarter mile away or so, I decided to ride Estes and Mom and Ash took the truck. It wasn’t a long ride by any means, but it certainly felt good to stretch our legs. Estes was stiff from being in the trailer on the mountain passes for four hours the day before and then being tied to the rail for so long. It took a while to get the whole production moved to Cheryl’s, so once we got there, Cheryl gave Estes a stall and run to be turned out in for a bit. It was only twenty minutes or so, but between the walk and getting turned out, she started to loosen up. The light in the indoor arena wasn’t great, but at least it was even and out of the wind. We ended up using the flatbed of Mom’s truck as a base for the camera. Mom just pulled the truck up to the door of the arena, removed the rail, and Scott and Bo set up shop. It worked out great, because then they had a good overhead angle and didn’t take up any arena space, so we had more work room.

We got everyone settled, and then it was Estes’ turn again. “My” crew was busy helping the camera crew get settled, so Heidi’s crew helped me get Estes ready. They practically fell on her – Twyla was putting gel in Estes’ mane, Alle was cleaning out her eye boogers and runny nose, and Lucy was brushing out her tail. Cheryl, in the mean time, was trying to make my hair look presentable and Heidi was getting me miked up. Twyla did a final dust off of Estes and Heidi attacked my vest with a pet hair remover. In just a few minutes they had both of us looking better than we had a right to. Estes looked as good as any show horse I’d seen by the time they were done with her. And she LOVED every minute of the primping and pampering.

She put on a heck of a show for the camera again, dancing around and spinning away from me when I tried to mount up. I managed (as I always do) to get up and get her under control, but she wouldn’t stand still for Julie to talk to me, so we spent a long time circling. Then it was Julie’s turn. Julie attached a longe line to her bridle and talked me through mounting up in slow motion. The minute Estes got out of line (when she felt the weight in her stirrup), Julie sent her out on the longe and worked her. It was amazing how quickly she was able to get her foot out of the stirrup and set Estes to cantering. That’s all it took. One correction. Once Estes realized that she was going to WORK if she didn’t behave, she settled right down. It was freakin’ amazing. Julie talked me through the correction one more time and we were done other than our practice time with Twyla. During the time I was riding for Julie, Estes was acting up and playing a bit – nothing big, but enough to impress the hell out of Dave. He offered to work with me at any time on the VRH skills I’d need to compete. He seemed to think that we’d be into prizes right off the bat with just a few lessons on what was expected of her.

I rode Estes back to Julie’s, turned her out, and went back to Cheryl’s to see Julie work with Dave. I learned so much about lead changes during his session. Before, I never had a clue how to cue for a lead change, but I think, once we get Estes’ mounting issues straightened out, I’m going to start working with her on figure eights and lead changes.

Despite the fact that Estes only needed one correction from Julie to be “fixed”, I still had to practice with her, so it was back over to Julie’s at 7 pm for my practice session with Twyla. She did awesome! It only took one correction from me to get her straightened out. I mounted her from the on-side and the off-side and she never moved a muscle. So, as a final test, I had Ash mount up. Again, she never moved a muscle. It was miraculous! She stood quietly and waited for her cue to move out. A totally different horse after just a few minutes. Since she did so well in the arena, I stripped her saddle, took her out of the arena and mounted her bareback. Twyla was shocked at how well she did bareback (me, too). Finally, by 8:00 we were done with our day. Hallelujah!

Day Three

Last day! Kind of bitter sweet. I’m so thrilled with Estes’ progress and so proud of her. She won everyone over with her easy-going personality and her intelligence. Even Julie was surprised that it only took one correction from each of us to change 18 years of training.

6:00 am we were on set and getting ready; Cheryl was digging through my clothes to find the perfect complement to Julie’s outfit and “my crew” was getting Estes ready – I really could get used to this. A quick breakfast in the Bunkhouse and it was hurry up and wait again. Mom walked Estes up and down the yard for a long while to warm her up so she wouldn’t be shivering on camera, and then I rode her around a bit – no standing on the rail for my baby today. Finally we were called to the set for our “after” clips with Julie. Estes stood like a champ for me to mount up in the arena so we moved out to the field to give her her “Final Exam” for Julie. She did the first take perfectly, but Heidi wasn’t happy with the ending, so we had to do it again. By that time, Estes was done playing and because we didn’t have the longe line attached, we couldn’t correct her and we managed to undo the training we did the day before, but it’s still fixable. We knew we’d have a set back now and then, so I’m not too disappointed.

Julie then used Estes for her “Quick Tip” for the episode – where to stand and how to hold the stirrup to help reduce the chance of the horse walking off. And, just like that, our TV stint was done! It felt good to get loaded up and get on our way, but it was hard to leave the crew – everyone was so nice and went out of their way to make us feel welcome and comfortable.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Beginning of the Goodnight Journey

Note:  By the time this posts, I'll be headed to Poncha Springs, Colorado, caravaning from the airport to Goodnight Training Stables with the camera crew.  I thought maybe a little history about how I got hooked up with Julie and her crew might be fun.


The ride schedule was adjusted at the last minute and I got scheduled for a 4-hour ride that was originally assigned to J, Boss man’s son, but Boss man wanted to go on a ride with his niece's husband and he put J in the office. No problem. I can roll with the punches, but I didn't have a wrangler horse assigned and the horses that I wanted to take were pulled off the line for Boss’s visiting family to ride. He finally assigned me to Sundance, his "dead broke" horse who he'd been letting LB, the department store cowboy, ride. LB had never been on a horse in his life before getting hired. Trust me, Sundance was anything but dead broke after having an inexperienced rider on her day in and day out.

I did finally get out on my ride and things got much better. The riders turned out to be a couple of those rare diamonds. One was a staff writer for multiple horse magazines, the other was the director of a local equine therapy center; both were also riding instructors. Talk about pressure! I found myself sitting straighter in the saddle and paying attention to my body’s communication with Sundance – things that I should do all of the time, but let slide on occasion. Though they rode for work, they had come up to the livery for a “fun” ride, where they didn’t have to worry about anyone but themselves and having a good time. After a rough start with juggling wranglers and horses, once we actually got out on the trail we clicked right off the bat and had a great time. We discussed the articles I’d read that she’d written, talked about some of the great trainers she’d met and the rides she’d been on. Her friend talked about her work with the equine center and the need for used tack for the facility, some of their students and things they’d learned along the way. The writer took tons of pictures and said to watch for a picture of me in one of the magazines executing a proper "road crossing".

It was the perfect ride to settle my nerves after the snafu of trying to get the ride out with all of the last minute changes. Rides like that make the job worth it; we left as a wrangler and two guests, and returned four hours later a group of friends.

Several months later, I was flipping through Trail Rider magazine and what do I see? A blurb about safe road crossing and the picture above it is of me and Sundance. The funny thing about it is that I kept looking at the picture, thinking "I don't recall wearing a long-sleeved red shirt under my gray shirt." Stupid me, I'd had a Washoe moment and forgotten sunscreen – those red sleeves were my sunburned arms!

PS - Turns out that the writer, Heidi Nyland, also became Julie Goodnight's producer for Horse Master.  When I found out that they were casting for Horse Master, I didn't know about the Heidi connection until I got a call from her asking if I remembered her, and offering Estes and me a spot on the show.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Just For Compass

Note:  This is a scheduled, recycled post from last year, but I thought of it because when I went to the livery the other day I noticed Compass had hung a hummingbird feeder about five feet off the ground, right outside her kitchen door.  Trust me, VW Bear is going to love that feeder and I hope she gets some pictures of him for you.  Also, the Barn Boss mentioned in this post is NOT Compass.

VW Bear

There's something about my bed in the bunkhouse that makes me sleep like the dead. Could be that the physical exhaustion from fourteen-hour days helps me go to sleep. Could be the white noise of the horses in the pen not ten yards behind my window lulls me to sleep. Could be anything, but I sleep unbelievably well at the livery.

Spring brings out the deer, elk, fuzzy little bunnies, and the bears. Tourist season means the buffet is open! No matter how often we tell tourists not to leave food in their cars or trash unprotected it still happens. And the bears know this, so as soon as tourist season heats up, so does bear activity.

Because of the increase in bear activity when tourist season gears up, all of the trash cans and dumpsters in town are “bear proofed”. There are some pretty inventive ways to bear proof a dumpster inexpensively. One of the restaurants in town uses a car battery and lengths of chain to electrify their dumpster. Works pretty well. Another uses bottles of bleach and vinegar sprinkled over the garbage and hangs gallon bottles around the outside of the fence surrounding the dumpster. Doesn’t work. My parents use a steel bar across the top of their dumpster that is attached with heavy-duty bungee cords – when the bear pulls up on the lid the bungee cords slam the lid back down. Works well, frustrates the bear and makes a lot of noise. The livery uses come-along straps wound over the top of the dumpster and tightened down, then another come-along strap to secure it to a tree so it can't be knocked over. Works most of the time, especially when whoever takes out the trash remembers to tighten down all of the straps.

One night I had a dream that Mom's horse, Jesse, was kicking at the feed bin in the middle of the night and the sound woke me from a sound sleep.

Bang! Pause, bang!

I pulled my pillow over my ears, snuggled more deeply into the sheets, and tried to go back to sleep.

Bang! Pause, bang!

I was cussing that spoiled brat of Mom's out in my head, visualizing storming outdoors and across the yard to kick the crap out of her so I could go back to sleep. Then I realized...it's not Jesse. Crap! It's a bear. About the time it registered that it's a bear in our dumpster, there was one final BANG – more like an explosion – and I was out of bed, into my pajamas and boots (now that's a look to inspire fashion - flannel jammies and cowboy boots) in record time. I got to the door of the bunkhouse and realized, crap, I don't have anything to scare the bear off with, so I decided I'd just slip into the kitchen next door, literally 5 feet from my door, and wake up Boss man (if he managed to sleep through it) and get some cans or something to rattle around to scare it off. From a safe distance, of course. Nothing overtly threatening, just an obnoxious noise to make it decide to dine elsewhere. OK, so it was kind of a wussy plan, but it was late and my brain was still asleep.

Decision made, I took a deep breath and opened the door, not wanting to draw the bear's attention just yet, even though the dumpster should have been 30 yards from my door. I say "should have been" because there was a lot of banging going on and a good sized bear can move a full dumpster a long way by smacking it around. I stepped outside just as Boss and his wife came out through the kitchen door and activated the motion sensor light. Boss had in his hand a spotlight and shined it on the bear at the end of the yard. All we could see of the bear was a big hairy behind sticking out of the dumpster that it has turned on its side. It reminded me of the story of Pooh Bear getting stuck in the window trying to get at the Hunny Jar – the dumpster was full of bear behind. I'm blind as a bat without my contacts in and can't see my hand in front of my face. When I got up and threw on my fashion-inspiring ensemble, I didn't include my contacts. I knew, even without my contacts, that this was one big bear.

Boss man, being the smart man he is, picked up a rock and threw it at the bear. I was standing next to the idiot, spotlighted by the motion sensor light, who had just thrown a rock at the bear and does not have anything with him to back him up. No gun. Big bear. E-norm-ous bear. One rock. One it-ty-bit-ty rock. No freaking gun.

I calmly suggested to Boss that maybe he should go get his gun.

Now, I'd grown up in the mountains. I'd worked at a gun shop. I shoot all disciplines of the sport. I have a fair working knowledge of hunting and back country animals. When I suggested to Boss that he get a gun, I meant a GUN. Preferably a 12-gauge shotgun with 1 1/8 ounce rifled slugs. Failing that, his Henry rifle. A GUN! Not the pea-shooter he came out of the kitchen with.

The rock that Boss had thrown interrupted the bear’s meal and an unbelievably large furry bottom backed out of the dumpster and it turned to look at us. This beast was literally the size of a VW bug. It was a VW Bear! Standing on all four legs, its back topped the dumpster by at least four inches. The ears on the beast were as big as my fully extended hand. I had never seen a black bear top two hundred pounds or so. This beast had to go at least six hundred. This was a well-fed bear (thank you tourists).

Apparently, my brain filter failed and I uttered, "Sweet Mother of Jesus", don't remember saying anything, just remember trying not to soil myself as the bear stood by the dumpster, unhappy at being interrupted during its mealtime, but I was reminded of this brain filter failure multiple times throughout the summer. Boss picked up another rock and threw it at VW Bear. It took off (not quite as fast as its automotive counterpart), probably more scared of the mentally unstable human throwing rocks at it than anything else. I mean, after all, who knows what crazy people will do?

Boss looked around and said, "ok, let's go clean it up." I didn't realize at the time that the only people outside were me, Boss and his wife. Everyone else had either slept through the commotion (yeah, right) or was cowering in their rooms. LB, a true city boy to the core, cowered in his room at the bunkhouse. Boss went down to LB's room to roust him and get him for clean up duty. Poor LB had awoken with the first bang! on the dumpster and had been watching everything unfold through his window, afraid that VW Bear might want him for an after-dinner snack.

We went down to the scene of the crime in force: a spotlight, shovel, and pea-shooter between the four of us and the bear god-knows-where. The beast had sliced clean through the straps that held the lid closed and had yanked so hard on the dumpster to turn it over that it snapped the strap that secured the dumpster to the tree. We managed to get everything cleaned up, the dumpster righted and secured and back to bed within short order, though I don’t think LB slept for a week after that.

The next morning, I suggested to Boss that he maybe invest in a real gun rather than the pea-shooter he had the night before. Indignant, he informed me that the "pea-shooter" he had the night before was an 1880's replica .45 Long Colt. Whoopty-freaking-do! A six-shot, single action .45 LC against a 600 pound bear that had to be unloaded and reloaded one cartridge at a time is a pea-shooter as far as I'm concerned.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Last Ride For A While

Today, I did something I never thought I'd do...

I handed my horse over to someone outside of the family to ride for the next couple of weeks.  I've got some traveling to do and won't be able to ride Estes for the next two weeks.  Mom and Bill have three of their own horses to keep in shape and it's their busy season, so they're stretched pretty thin getting their horses out.  So, because of that, I asked Compass at the livery if one of her wranglers would be willing to take Estes out a couple of times a week while I'm gone.

Trust me, this would never have happened under the previous management.  I did everything in my power to keep them away from my horses and here I am, asking the wranglers to lead rides out on my horse.  It still kind of boggles my mind that I even considered asking one of the wranglers to take my horse out, much less the fact that I actually did it.

Compass picked a wrangler she thought would be a good match and assigned him to Estes while I'm gone.  The wrangler spend some time rubbing down Estes and making friends today, and asked important questions like how I wanted her ridden and if there were any "quirks" he needed to know about.  That made me feel a lot better about leaving her.

Bill and I went out for a short bareback ride before I handed over Estes.  It was a really, really good ride.  We spend a fair bit of the ride in a sitting trot, which thrilled me!  I've been working on bareback at something other than a walk and felt pretty good today.  We even hit two or three strides at a canter before I came to my senses.  Sadly, neither of us took a camera out, because we didn't think we'd be out very long.

It's a good thing we didn't have a camera, because I almost came off once.  I managed to sit through a trot , a small temper tantrum, and very short canter and decided to try a hill that I hadn't done so prettily last time we were out.  Well, guess what?  It wasn't so pretty this time, either.  I lost my balance and started to slide off to the left as we were bounding up the hill, so I hooked Estes' side with my right leg and yanked myself back up.  Not very pretty, but better than landing on the ground.

It was a great farewell for two weeks ride.

Part of the reason I'll be gone is that I'm going to work on the "Horse Master with Julie Goodnight" set for her Colorado shoot.  We'll be shooting six episodes in three days and working sun-up to sun-down, so I won't be posting during that time, but I will be taking notes.

During the time I'm gone, I've got some of my favorite old posts scheduled to repeat.  If you haven't read them before, I hope you enjoy them.

Monday, July 5, 2010

All Dressed Up and No Place To Go

On Friday, Ash and I went up to the Lodge to get Estes ready for the 4th of July parade.  We were super excited because we found some sparkly hoof paint at the store and we were dying to try it out.

We went for a very short bareback ride and then got down to the business of getting Estes even prettier than she already is.  I brushed her mane out, brushed out her coat well so that she was sleek and shiny, and washed her white parts (crescent on her head, and her two little socks).  As soon as she was clean, Ash got to business painting her hooves.

I can't honestly can't say that Estes loved getting her hooves painted, but she didn't give Ash too much hassle.  As a general rule, Estee loves spa day, but the flies were making her a little cranky.

Confident that Estes was as ready as I could make her two days before the parade, we packed up and headed home.

Saturday morning at 9:30 I got an important phone call from Mom: "the parade's today at 10:30, not tomorrow".  Well, crap, there was no way I could get up to the Lodge in time to stage for the parade; it's a 70 minute drive on a good day, and while I can throw a saddle in under a minute in an emergency, I didn't want to be that rushed on parade day.  There was no way we were going to make it.  To say I was disappointed and pissed would be an understatement.  We start planning for the parade from the day we bring the horses home - it's been our tradition since 2005.  Not being able to ride in it was infuriating heartbreaking.

Apparently, though, we didn't miss a whole lot by missing the parade.

So, Estee has some twinkle toes to dazzle her herd-mates with.  Hope they enjoy it.