The Gift That Keeps Giving

It is a yucky, snowy day here in the Pacific Northwest.  As I sit here drinking my coffee after repairing a broken fence for what seems like the thousandth time I find myself thinking about this evening.  You see, today is my horse trainer’s birthday, and tonight is her party.  It is near impossible to spend as much time as we do with our trainers and not become friends or consider them part of the family.  My trainer, Melinda, is no exception to that rule.  First and foremost, she is my trainer which means that there are times she isn’t real “friend like”, but I can tell you that about the millionth time one has to say, “drop your hands” she is prone to adding colorful and not at all friend like fluffer words, and her favorite of all the fluffer words also starts with “f”.  It’s ok, I’d cuss a lot if I had to teach me too so I get it and if she has to throw the f-bomb to get me to do what she’s asked me to do a million times before I certainly won’t hold it against her.  Along, the way we have become friends, and now gift giving takes on a whole different element. As a friend, I’d like to get her something she’d enjoy and use but as a student I’d prefer something that allows me to keep my stirrups when I am being particularly frustrating to teach.

If you are like me and struggling to find that perfect gift for that special trainer in your life, I am here to save the day.  I have decided to share the best and most practical gift that is sure to make you a barn favorite…or at the very least allow you to keep your stirrups.

A Coupon Book

This is not only a personalized gift from the heart but it also works beautifully for your more money conscious students.  Many of us eat ramen noodles so our horses can live in fancy barns, so this one is sure to elevate you to the top without breaking the bank.  Here is what you do:  compile a list of the 10 ten complaints, phrases, chores, and pet peeves your trainer has with you and give him or her the opportunity to “cash” in on their biggest challenges with you.  Here is my top 5 list to help you get started…

1) DROP YOUR HANDS: For one lesson, student will automatically keep hands in proper position with elbows bent (but not too bent).  No reminder will be necessary.  Coupon must be presented prior to the start of the lesson in order to be valid.  In the event that the student fails to complete lesson without needing a reminder, coupon will be forfeited back to trainer to use another day.

2) LOOK WHERE YOU ARE GOING: This coupon can be redeemed at any time during the lesson.  In the event that the student doesn’t remember that this coupon has been redeemed and has to be reminded to look where they are going then student will be relegated to untangling the mane of one brood mare for each infraction incurred through the remainder of the lesson.

3) NO ARGUING:  This coupon must be redeemed prior to the start of a lesson and entitles the trainer to an argument free zone for the duration of the lesson.  Student will willingly submit to trainers requests without any hesitation or confrontation.  “But I already AM doing that” or any hesitation or argument will be considered a violation of this coupon and student will then be tasked with cleaning tack equal to 1 piece of equipment for every violation.

4) NO CRYING: In the event that show stress becomes too much and student succumbs to uncontrollable sobbing for no apparent reason, this coupon may be redeemed and will entitle trainer to ask student to go cry in the trailer until such a time as student had control over themselves and can properly manage their show nerves.  This is a one use coupon so use it wisely.

5) RIDE OR WORK WITH YOUR HORSE PRIOR TO SHOW:  This coupon entitles trainer to set a minimum number of lessons or rides the student must participate in prior to one show during the season.  If student fails to complete the minimum required number of lessons prior to the show, they will be banished to another barn and will not be allowed to stall with the team, they will be allowed only to participate in team activities if they, clean all team members tack prior to the first day of the show.  This coupon is only good for one show.

Now that I have this in writing, I am beginning to think that maybe I am not the type of student who should be giving my trainer this much power over me.  If you are the over-achiever type who can accomplish these coupons without causing yourself unneeded distress then please feel free to use my ideas here.  It sounded like a really great idea when I came up with it!

I think I will just stick with safe gifts like a gift certificate to the tack store or a coffee mug that says, “Worlds Best Trainer”.  Yes, I think in situations like this it is far better to be safe than sorry.

Happy Birthday Melinda, I was going to do something really creative and fun for your birthday but lets be honest…my mouth has a mind of its own and I could see this coupon book thing come back to bite me real good!  Thank you for being an awesome trainer and putting up with me and my mouth!

Melinda BDAY





All I Want for Christmas is a Horse

It is that time of year again. The mistletoe is hung, the smell of pine wafts through the halls, the world is covered in a blanket of white…at least my world is. It is also the time of year that our hearts and minds start wishing for the things we’d like to see under the tree. If you are like me then your idea of window shopping is perusing horse sale ads. When you write your mental letter to Santa, surely it includes a horse or two. If you are like me and married (or have a committed significant other) you might even start dreaming that he might just get you that stunning Appaloosa stallion that you have been dreaming of for months, who just happens to be for sale (that’s a hint to anyone out there feeling particularly generous this holiday season….I can get you contact info for the seller and my address for shipping if you’re so inclined…PS…I’ll love you forever), and make him a Christmas morning surprise complete with a big red bow. Yes, I foolishly lay awake at night playing out that scene in my mind. Usually, about the time I wrap my arms around the neck of my new stallion my husband snores and snaps me back to reality.

He is never buying me a horse as a surprise! Not going to happen, not now, not ever. While he doesn’t “hate” horses per se, he sees absolutely no value to them other than being very efficient wasters of money. Well, there is one value, his daughter is far more horse crazy than boy crazy so as long as they keep the boys away, she is always welcome to have a horse or three.

Knowing that my husband is so opposed to having and keeping horses, one may ask, how did you manage to get the ones you have?

That very question got me thinking. How did I manage to talk him into our current equine situation? Here is a handy survival guide for all you horse girls out there who can’t quite convince your significant other to climb on board your horse crazy train.

“They are too expensive” this was the first thing my husband said to me when I was looking at getting my first horse since I said goodbye to my mare all those years ago at the age of 13. I was armed for this question. I had found a well broke, yet inexpensive mare, so I came to this fight ready for a rebuttal. “I’ve been watching horse prices for some time now. You see, a horse with as much training as she has clearly had, the easy going temperament and soundness that this mare has would well exceed 4 to 5 times the asking cost of this one. Sure, I could find a cheaper or possibly free one that isn’t broke but then I could spend thousands upon thousands in training. The board is only $250 a month and that is easily manageable on my income alone.” This is where you stop. Do not for any reason what so ever mention, farrier, vet, supplements, tack, trailer, show fees….nothing! These items are best slipped in at individual times and never brought up with the discussion of costs associated with a horse.

Let’s say that your dream horse pops up on a Craigslist ad and your heart is jumping for joy and you have to find a way to get him. Do not under any circumstances tell your husband that you’d like to buy said dream horse. Talk instead, of emotional things, love and spiritual connection….your man is likely to start putting up his armor to anything feelings related and next thing you know you’ll be in the car headed to the top of a mountain to “look” at Mr Dream Horse.

While “looking” at said horse, be sure to look around. Check the horse from top to bottom. Look for anything that isn’t quite right. I got lucky, Mr Dream Horse (or as I call him now, Cash) happened to have been a bit neglected in the farrier department. Instead of talking about practical man type things, money, cost, bills…you know “man things” I spoke of heart things. The poor guy needed to be “rescued”. He needed “love” and proper care and a person. He “needed” me!! Just for good measure you can add a, “we’ll fix his feet and if he isn’t a good fit we can sell him, there is literally no risk!” Once again, his armor made of quickly disappearing money faded away as we welcomed Cash to our herd.

There might come a time when you see a horse, not just any horse, but one that stops you in your tracks and takes your breath away a little. You already have a horse at home, remember Mr Dream Horse? Yes, you’ve already used that one. Non-horse husbands might be easy to fool with feelings, but you cannot use the same one twice or they will catch on. So, you’ve met Mr Dream Horse part 2. Well, there is another tactic, it doesn’t work on all non-horse husbands, but if yours is like mine it is worth a shot.

He needs a horse of his own! Who better to fill this void that he didn’t even know was missing from his life than Mr Dream Horse the 2nd? You do have to be careful with this one, you’ll want to show him how his having a horse will only improve your relationship by offering the two of you an incredible activity that you can enjoy for many years to come. This one is tricky though, what ever you do, do not make is sound like he will be expected to commit to hours upon hours in the saddle thus solidifying your relationship…he is liable to run for this hills if he thinks that the new horse is anything close to relationship repair or strengthening. Your relationship is just fine how it is and he will be even more opposed to having a horse if he thinks it comes with relationship expectations. Instead, talk about things he enjoys and how him having a horse will only increase his enjoyment. I was able to swing my husband to my side with one little phrase, “you can hunt on horseback!” Never mind that this horse, Mr Dream Horse the 2nd, was not broke and never mind that my hubby didn’t know how to ride, all those things come out in time.

So, now you’d like to breed something? You could alway try a free breed lease from a friend. Men always love the word “free” and “lease” doesn’t mean own, so it is definitely worth a shot. Just don’t take the mare in the fall with the intention of breeding her in the spring. By spring he is tired of feeding her and might send her home. Take it from me, when it comes to horses we have to think things through before committing, if there is any possibility of an out, the skittish non-horse husband will run through that gate and never look back.

If you, like me, have a teenage daughter who owns a beautiful mare, you could put a little bug in her ear about how fun it would be to have a little one running around. This one is tricky though. As flighty and unpredictable as non-horse husbands are, teenage daughters often take a lead mare attitude and just when you think you have a perfect plan to get a spotted baby from her beautiful quarter horse mare, she hits you with, I WANT A HALF ARAB! Wait…what? But, but, but……. The flaw in my otherwise flawless plan, she owns that mare. Bought her with her own money. I have zero pull when it comes to getting my own agenda with this one.

Just when I thought I had written the book on how to manipulate your non horse husband, I realized that I am but an amateur and will never be the master. You see, the master is the only teenage daughter of a big, crusty exterior, giant hearted dad. While he often goes along with my hair brained ideas especially when it comes to horses, he can see right though my feeble attempts at manipulation. His daughter on the other hand…she need only flash those big green eyes, tilt her head ever so much to the side and say, “daddy please?” Next thing you know that quarter horse is at the breeder being “introduced” to her baby daddy, an Arabian. I bow down to the queen!

For some time now I have been eyeing that spotted stallion, clear on the other side of the country! I can’t even get my daughter on board to help me work on her dad! She “doesn’t like Appaloosas”.

So, this Christmas season, I will be content with my little herd. I will still dream of that spotted stallion and hope that Santa delivers him in time for Christmas, since clearly my husband won’t be doing it.

Just remember that there will be times that your non-horse husband puts his foot down. Don’t get mad, after all, he knew all along that he was being manipulated and played along because he is a good sport. Taking a stand against your crazy horse dreams might actually save you from becoming the horse equivalent of a crazy cat lady!

Merry Christmas and (H)Appy New Year, I hope Santa puts that pony under the tree for you! Clearly I am on the naughty list and won’t be getting anything this year!

The Magical Arabian

I could hear the crying from our apartment attached to the arena. I made it a point not to watch my daughter during her riding lessons as her fear and tears were typically worse when I was present. Yet, something about the lesson didn’t sit right with me. I reminded myself that I am not a trainer and that sometimes the best way to get over fear is to look it straight in the eye.

The events of that day still haunt me. My very timid and nervous daughter, taking a lesson on her Quarter Horse mare with a trainer who had become so frustrated with her fear that he put her in a situation that could have ended very badly. You see, there was one horse in the round pen, one horse being lunged and one horse being ridden in a rather small arena. My daughter and her 20 year old mare trying to navigate the craziness was scary enough. Add to that stupidity, her trainer took her reins away. Well, not actually “away” but rather told her to drop them and NOT to touch them for any reason. To allow Mocha to go where she pleased and to kick her if she stopped. A combination that left my timid daughter completely traumatized. I believe it traumatized her horse as well. I had trusted that this trainer had her best interest at heart and that was why I chose not to watch or participate in her lessons in any way. That decision still haunts me. I had no idea the danger he subjected her to in an effort to punish her for her fears.

That was the last time Kodee rode Mocha. She has hopped on a few times since, but the lesson caused both of them not to trust one another. There was a new trainer at our barn that I had just begun to get to know. I was weary to go to her for help because she was an “Arab Trainer” eek gads! What if she tried to get my daughter on one of those crazy horses? What if my daughter actually got hurt?

I had watched Kodee’s fear all but destroy her love of horses. I had been there outside the show ring with a crying kiddo pushing her to go into the ring because I knew she would regret it if her fear got the best of her. I could see the look on the other mom’s faces. I was “that mom”. I knew what people thought of me. I knew that they assumed my daughter didn’t like horses, that I was so wrapped up in my own agenda that I refused to see her pain. I could see the looks of, “ugh, another crazy show mom” written on faces while my daughter melted down.

There was something inside me that knew they were wrong. I had my own horse and my own show goals, I didn’t need to live vicariously through her. Yet, I was still pushing her. Why? Because, I needed to know what was beyond the fear. If we could remove fear then what would we be left with? A confident horse woman or a girl who just wasn’t that into them. I was honestly ok with either option. The worst possible outcome for me was that she let fear ruin a love of horses and strip her of the one of a kind joy that comes from a relationship with one.

As I got to know the new trainer, I was confident that she could help Kodee and Mocha become a team. Sadly for Mocha, it was not meant to be. I think it was a combination of intermittent lameness and the terrifying no reins day that Mocha decided that she was not going to be the confidence builder we had hoped for. Kodee had saved her money and purchased Mocha. It was the second horse that Kodee had purchased with her own money and the second that was not a good fit.

Melinda introduced us to her lesson horse, Honey. Honey had been enjoying the life of semi retirement as she hadn’t had any kids to teach since she had became a mom a few years earlier. Melinda literally ran home from the barn, grabbed Honey from the field, threw her in a trailer and brought her to us. “This is going to be ugly for a minute” she said as she cinched up Honey and hopped on. Oh man, it was ugly. Honey was snorty and mad and even threw a buck or two. Eek!! My first thought was, what did I get my daughter into? Not only was I about to trust her on a big blowey snorty Arabian, but I had only just started this relationship with this new trainer and it caused issues with our old trainer who was standing there watching this big yellow Arabian try her best to unload her trainer. Ugh!

I could see the smug looks on the faces of our old trainer and his “assistant”. They seemed to delight in the fact that I was about to put my super timid kiddo on a “crazy Arabian”.

What I saw next shocked me to the point where I never looked back. That snorty yellow mare went from having fire in her eyes and springs in her legs to calm and nice as could be the very second my nervous girl swung her leg up there! That single lesson took my daughter from terrified to walk to fast to trotting all over the arena. Melinda had told me that Honey was the prefect kids horse because of her ability to sense the fear and bring herself down to the level of her rider. If I hadn’t seen it with my own two eyes, I never would have believe it.

That was the beginning of an incredible relationship for Kodee and Honey. It took a few months of regular lessons for Honey to truly ignite Kodee’s fire. She had not only found a deep love of horses, but had found a profound connection to the Arabian breed. It was a big blow to this Appaloosa loving mom.

It wasn’t long until we were leasing Honey and Kodee had begun to have dreams of neck ribbons and high point trophies. She cut a deal with Melinda to work as her groom in exchange for training.

It was challenging work for Kodee. Many of the horses she handled were young and very green. She very quickly became skilled in assisting Melinda and handling young and/or nervous horses.

Show season was a series of giant accomplishments for Kodee and Honey, aka Team Blondie. Her first A rated show found her in second place in Ranch Riding and securing a spot to the Region 4 & 5 championships. She had only just begun to lope two weeks before that show. They managed to place 7th out of 15 at Region 4 Championships. With merely a month at the lope they were beginning to make their mark.

The show season saw many 1st place ribbons. Team Blondie tried out jumping (Honey was not a fan but gave it her best shot), dressage, hunt seat, western, trail and even reining. She secured firsts in everything but trail. I would frequently watch the two of them with tears in my eyes knowing that this darling yellow mare had indeed made a horse woman out of my kiddo.

We loved Honey with all our hearts. I wished on more than one occasion that she was a permanent horse and not a lease. I agonized the day that Kodee would say goodbye to the mare that changed her life. My heart broke for my kiddo that as much as she loved Honey that they would never truly have that horse/girl relationship that comes from having a horse of your own.

The show season wound down, summer turned to fall and it was time to let Honey enjoy a little time out of training. Kodee and I were both sad that the year had come to a close and neither knew what would come next. Would we lease Honey another year? I prayed that we would find an appropriate horse for Kodee that could fill Honey’s shoes. I wanted Kodee to have that connection with a horse of her own.

I had no idea that my prayer would be answered so soon, but Melinda pulled me out of earshot of Kodee one day and said, “Do you want a horse for Kodee? I know of one if you want to check him out.” Of course, I had to get my husband mildly tipsy before I asked him if we could go check out the horse.

I am one of those strange spiritual people that has a strong connection to random coincidences. I believe in meant to be. I believe in miracles and perfect timing and divine blessings. When I heard that his name was Gene, my heart skipped a beat. Kodee’s middle name is Gene, could it be a divine blessing? Then I found out that his registered name is ThirdTimesACharm SF…what? Kodee had twice saved her money to buy a horse and twice had been disappointed. One was crazy and the other lame. Could the third time be the charm? I think so.

This horse was a half Arabian show horse who’d had a rough go recently. Half starved, he had been rescued and brought back from the brink and was ready to be loved on by someone who would give him a good home and finish out his show career. It was a bit of a battle to get my husband to agree to look at him, but once we did we knew that he could definitely be the charm. Graycyn Farm’s, Jill Andrews, was kind enough to let us come meet Gene and ultimately trusted us to give him a good home. Kodee was a bundle of nerves when she tried him out but he never so much as moved a muscle out of line.

Team Gene is now working toward building that once in a lifetime relationship. Gene has a girl who loves him to the moon and back and Kodee has a horse that will definitely pick up where Honey left off and take her to the next level.

It is funny because I used to be that guy. You know the guy….the, “oh you raise Arabs? Ugh! I hate those crazy horses.” Yes, the guy who would roll my eyes when someone would try and convince me that Arabs are great kids horses. The guy who instantly judged the mental stability of Arab people. I was all those guys and so much more.

If someone had told me 2 years ago that I would not only let my daughter have an Arab but that I would adore him, I would have never believed it. I encourage anyone who feels the way I did to visit an Arabian farm or take in an Arabian show. Watch them with their kids, they are so gentle and careful. I was blessed to see these horses through a different lens. Through the eyes of a scared little girl who’d found a kindred spirit in a breed that is often misunderstood. She is a huge advocate for Arabians and frequently feels it is her duty to show the world why she fell in love with them.

I don’t know what the future holds for Team Gene in the show ring, and I don’t care. She loves him and he her. I just wish he had spots!

**Check out my other blog dedicated to my super awesome kiddo, Dear Horse Crazy Show Kid**

It’s Me, Keno

Hello.  My name is Keno.  I understand that my human is rather fond of telling stories about me and I figured it was about time that I tell a story of my own.  

First, let me tell you a little about my human.  She used to get frustrated with me very easily which I found quite comical.  She would get red in the face and start yelling funny words like, “Keno woah!”  “Goddammit Keno!” “Listen here you sonofabitch!” Honestly, her funny tantrums didn’t much faze me.  She would get all red and shaky and I would just keep doing what I was doing because it was really kind of fun to mess with her.  I mean really, I am bigger than her I don’t need to listen if I don’t want to.  

She got tired of me not listening to her and sent me to an even smaller human for something called “training”.  I thought I was training her, but apparently she felt like I needed training too!  It was the funniest thing, this trainer she sent me to was a short female human!  I mean really?  What was this little human going to do to me?  It is more than a little embarrasing so I won’t go into details, but let’s just say that I no longer find it funny to make my human turn red and shake while screaming obscenities at me.    I would never let the small human trainer lady know this, but thanks to her I actually kind of like my screamy human!

During the warm months my human has taken me to all kinds of scary and interesting places.  We would stand around inside large buildings while other humans with clip boards walk around with strange expressions on their faces.  They were kind of scary at first, but they haven’t tried to bite me not one time.  Still, I keep an eye on them because they seem kind of shifty!  Sometimes they call my real name, Im Embezzlin McMoney, and my human would get real excited!  I am not sure what those brightly colored things are that they give her when they call my name, but she gets so excited that her face gets red for a whole different reason!  She gives me pats and tells me that I am a good boy.  I am not sure why she does this.  Is she even paying attention?  Of course I am a good boy!  

There is so much to see and do at these far off places that I can’t help but say hi to everyone and look at everything around me!  I am a social creature after all, it would be rude not to say hi!

Now that the nights are colder, I have heard my human talking to the little trainer lady about bringing me home for the winter.  She has been talking incessently about having some adventures, just her and me.

Let me tell you, I am not sure how I feel about this!  This is the same woman who tells me that I am a good boy for just standing around!  I want real adventure!  I don’t want, stand there till they call my name adventure!  I want to look death in the face and live to tell the tale!  What does my human know of adventure?

One morning a few days ago she showed up with the big moving box of terror.  When she grabbed my halter I was filled with a mix of excitement and fear.  I want adventure, I am just not sure why it has to include me standing in a box that shakes and rattles while the world whizzes by the window!  I want to stare death in the face, but also want to be able to run away from it if I need to!

Into the box I went and spent the next what seemed like eternity letting my humans know that I was not pleased with my current situation by hitting the wall with my front feet!  It doesn’t feel real good, but sometimes a point needs to be made even when it comes with a personal sacrifice.

After what seemed like forever the box of death stopped shaking and I could hear other horses talking nervously.  Oh no!  I was certain that I was at another one of those things where I am expected to stand nicely in hopes that my human get a brightly colored fabric pieces.  This was not going to be the adventure I was promised!

Let me tell you, I was wrong!  The whole thing was outside!  There were these crazy wood things that horses were running toward and actually jumping over…like on purpose without their humans turning red and screaming!  It was hard for me to know where to look because there was so much going on!  Now, this was the adventure I had been hoping for!

My human saddled me and asked me to run in circles.  I kept looking at her with my best, “are we done yet” look.  There was so much excitement outside of that circle and she kept asking me to move forward in that stupid circle!  For Pete’s sake, couldn’t she see how excited I was to be there?  But no, true to her form, my human didn’t want to have any fun at all!  So, I submitted to the boredom that is running around and around.

The real fun began after we were done in the circle.  We got to go to a place called a “warm up”.  It was a fantastic place full of excited horses.  They were running in all directions.  It was so hard to know who was having the most fun.  I am a party animal so I kept trying to hang out with the horse who seemed to be having the most fun.  Then I would feel a tug on my mouth and a jab in my side, “we aren’t going over there Keno” she would say.  Seriously, I am a social creature and here I was in a wonderful warmup with horses like me looking to have some fun and all she did was take my fun away! 

I don’t know why she kept apologizing to the other humans, it isn’t my fault that walking a straight line is super boring.  I like to mix it up and get away from the fence…is it my fault that I prefer to do that when other horses are coming my way?  Really, their humans should apologize to my human for asking their horses to go where I wanted to be in the first place.
I didn’t know that this warm up was not the grand adventure that my chatty human kept going and on about.  This was unlike anything I have ever seen!  Apparently, we were there for a thing called a Hunter Jumper Schooling Show!  What ever this was, I was having a blast.  As I would soon find out, this was not the show, this was the place where the horses took their riders while they were waiting for the show.  

After what seemed like an eternity we were off to another brand new and exciting place.  The humans at the gate were talking to my human and telling her that her class was entering.  I am not sure what that meant, but that crazy chatterbox actually asked me to go through that gate where the other talky humans were standing!

I would like to take a minute and explain just what my human asked of me that day.  You see where I was standing the ground was moist and dark in color.  It was clear that I was on very stable and safe footing for a horse of my size.  There was a small down hill path that lead to the thing my human called an arena.  The path down looked exactly the same as where I had been standing.  There were a lot of humans and a table with flappy things, brightly colored pieces of cloth….it hit me!  I am expected to behave myself so that they call my name and my human gets one of those fabric things!  Right as that realization hit me I looked down!  The ground inside the arena was an entirely different color!  I knew in an instant that this was bad!  Did my human even understand the peril she had put us in?  I tried to snort at the different colored dirt, but it didn’t go away.  My human kept jabbing my sides and I just could not come to grips with the fact that this idiot sitting stupidly on my back was completely oblivious to the fact that if I so much as put a single foot on that strangely colored dirt then we could both die a horrible death.  My stupid human would not be deterred so I gave my best, “don’t mess with me” snort to the death dirt making it to scared to carry out its diabolical plot to kill both me and my ignorant rider.  She has no idea how close we were to death!  

I had hoped that the oddly colored dirt would be the last of the horse eating obsticals for the day, but sadly it wasn’t meant to be.  As we trotted into the arena it was clear to me that my stupid human was too busy grinning like an idiot to notice the monsters just scattered all over the arena.  I did my best to communicate the imminent danger by hopping sideways, looking directly toward the danger and giving a good hard blow through my nose!  Chatty Patti on my back was rambling on about “jumps” and “nothing to worry about”.  I promise you that she didn’t even see the monsters!  I am not sure how much more obvious I could have been about the clear and present danger we were in, but she was too busy pulling on my face and flopping around like a giant fish.  Seriously!  This dense woman will be the death of us both!

My snorting and puffing up held the monsters at bay one more time.  The next thing I knew we were lined up and they called a bunch of numbers.  There was something about a second place and my human got all excited and patted me and said I was a good boy.  Of course I am a good boy, psycho, you didn’t die did you?

I was somewhat relieved to be leaving the arena of death until I got back to the spot where the ground changes.  I survived the first passage, surely I wouldn’t survive it twice!  That old familiar poking in my side and this time my human had the nerve to laugh at me and call me a dork!  Does she not know that this is a real danger?  The other humans were laughing too.  I just could not believe how dumb humans are…do they not pay attention to the dangers around them?  Either way, I prevented certain death once again.

I wasn’t sure why the chatty thing on my back didn’t get off.  Soon that question would answer itself.  You see, I had two more classes where I had to protect this thing on my back. 

I could hardly stand still waiting our next turn.  Pretty soon they called my human and once again we had to traverse the arena entrance from hell.  Somehow I need to find a way to convince my human that I am very intuitive when it comes to danger.  If only I had known that the  strange horse eating dirt wouldn’t be the scariest thing I would see all day.  Those things that had been scattered all of the arena?  They are called jumps and apparently I was expected to go over them in a particular order.  I was overwhelmed to the point that I did not trust that my human was even capable of protecting us at this point.  

While the jumps never actually attacked, they looked as though they were going to any second!  I had to keep a very close eye on them, just in case.  I still don’t know why my human felt the need to say things like, “overly dramatic” and “pay attention to where you are going”. It is as though she is the one not paying attention!  I know exactly where I am going, I really wish she would just sit there and enjoy the ride.

We had to go into that arena once more and go over those jumps.  I think she really messed up because she didn’t want me to go over them in the same order as we did the first time!  I feel bad that she isn’t smart, but I have given up trying to tell her where to go…she isn’t wise enough to listen to me anyway.  

Aside from taming the wild beasts inside the arena that day I learned a new skill!  Those jumps are pretty doscile considering how formidable they appear.  Apparently going over them is an activity that some horses really enjoy.  I love adventure and new things, and I was determined to find a better way of getting over these small fences. I discovered the best way to tame the jump monster is just to step on it with as many hooves as possible!  Those suckers can’t even try to attack while they are under my feet!  

It is painfully obvious that jumping horses are not nearly as smart as I am.  They just go clean over those jumps without so much as a tap!  Poor souls, they really don’t know how silly they look jumping over those things.  

Anyway, my human got a couple more of those brightly colored ribbon things, I am sure that we were the best team since I did such a good job of telling her where to go and stepping on the jumps!  

What a grand adventure!  I think my human had a lot of fun.  One day she might just relax and let me take the reins.  Well, a horse can dream can’t he? Hashtag horse goals.

Stubbornness, Thy Name is Patti

It has been a little while since I have felt compelled write.  A lot of things ramble on in this brain of mine and often they don’t stay long enough to write more than a couple sentences. 

This morning as we near the end of our first show season together I have been thinking a lot about Keno.    I would guess that 99% of the advice I have received this summer has been people who are concerned that he is not the right horse for me or that he isn’t the horse that will help me achieve my goals.  I get it, I am very open about our struggles.  We do have our lions share of struggles, but that just makes our victories so much more sweet.

Earlier this year my trainer had a discussion with her mentor trainer and he assked, “who is more stubborn, your client or her horse?” She didn’t even hesitate, “My cleint, by a mile.”  Now of course I am paraphrasing because I only heard of the conversation second hand, but the fact is that I am the stubborn one.

Many years ago I got married.  I married a man who my friends and family didn’t much care for.  On the day of my wedding I had more than one person try and talk me out of walking down the isle.  It didn’t occur to me for a second that I was making the wrong decision, and 15 years later we are still plugging along.  Perhaps we have made it because we are both to stubborn to give up when the going gets tough, and we have had our share of tough times for sure!

I veiw my relationship with Keno in much the same way I do my marriage.  I married a man with a hair trigger temper who often made the impression of a chained pit bull, angry at the world but no way to deal with it.  I knew his temper was nothing more than that of a barking dog, and I was right.  He wasn’t the tyrant that most felt he was.  Over the years people in my life have come to realized that he wasn’t exactly the person they thought he was.  I always knew who he was and that is why I married him.  

Keno is much like my husband.  Resistant to change, prone to temper tantrums, obstinate and a little scary to those who don’t know him well.  He is a challenge to say the least, but I have never been one to back down from a challenge so it makes perfect sense why I am drawn to Keno like a moth to a flame.

To those who are supporting me in this adventure it must be a lot like my friends and family on my wedding day….please don’t, please find someone more suited for you, just find a nice boy.  My favorite recently has been, “find one who can help you achieve your goals”.  This is the one that has me thinking.  I don’t really have any concrete goals.  Do others know something about me and my goals that I am not aware of?  Truth is that I have been so stubborn with the idea that Keno and I are going to work that I have put any goals I may have once had aside.

As I sit here putting my rambling thoughts in some kind of order I am stuck at the thought that I don’t have any real goals with Keno.  I once did, we were going straight to the worlds this year in western pleasure, it would be a meteoric rise unlike anything anyone had ever seen.  We would be the best and people would worry when our trailer pulled into the show!  Now can you see why I shouldn’t set goals?  I don’t set little goals.  I never have.  I have always been the one to shoot for the stars.  

The problem is that Keno isn’t like me in that respect.  He got the memo, “you are going to be a world champion in western pleasure” and he immediately put that memo in the shredder!  It is important to me that he not only does well, but that he enjoys this adventure that I take him on.  He doesn’t enjoy western pleasure, he hates it.  

So, I guess based on my pie in the sky unrealistic goal, yes Keno is not the horse who will take me there.  But, much like marrying my husband, it was never just about me.  I bought Keno because there was something inside me drawn to him.  Just like my husband, it wasn’t love at first sight, it was an unexplainable connection that I simply couldn’t walk away from.  And like my marriage it certainly hasn’t been smooth sailing and I am simply too stubborn to give up!

I guess this then begs the question of why.  Well, the easy answer is that I don’t give up.  Keno is not now nor has he ever been violent or mean, so aside from my being an all-over-again novice he isn’t a danger to me.  So, if his worst offense is that he isn’t a western horse and he likes to challenge me then why the heck would I walk away from him now?  So, we do stuff other than ride the rail with his nose in the dirt.  I could have married a nice boring boy who has no fire in his belly, but I likely would have been bored by our first anniversary.  Truth is I love fire in the belly, I have a bit of my own and I know that when two beings with their souls on fire come together it is magic.  

To make a long story a bit longer…I understand the concern that comes from friends that Keno might not be the right horse for me.  So, after a long morning pondering this exact question, I have had an epiphany of sorts.  While he certainly isn’t the perfect horse for a beginner, he is the perfect horse for me.  He lights the fire deep inside me.  That fire burns so hot it is scary at times.  He challenges me to do things that are so far outside of my comfort zone and yet he fully supports me while I am dangling over the cliff.  He will never let me phone it in or get complaisant.  Like me, he is easily bored.  He knows that I will lose my spark quickly doing nothing but riding the rail with his nose on his knees.  He knows that my comfort zone is nothing but an excuse, a safe and predictable place where risk doesn’t exist and ultimately a place where souls like mine go to die. 

 Is Keno the horse that will help be achieve my goals?  Yes.  He absolutely is.  As long as I pick goals that are true to my authentic crazy self.  Goals like competing in a hunter/jumper show this weekend.  Goals like saying yes when friends invite me on a trail ride.  Going to fun shows for the sake of having fun.  Playing with cows and trail obsticals and anything else that pops up along the way.  You see, I think I got so wrapped up in the idea of showing at the breed level that I lost some of what makes me, me.  And with that Keno had to lose some of what made him, him.  

At the end of this month, for the first time in the 2+ years I have owned him Keno will come home and we will be on our own.  My promise to him was that we would spend the next few months playing.  That no two days or adventures will be the same.  We may go to a jumping show this weekend, an open show next, a fun show after that, a trail ride or two, maybe a ranch sorting as well.  Keno and I will find a way to fan each other’s flame and we will show the world that he is the right horse for me.  

My Heart

As we pulled the small hill leading up to our homestead from the main road I saw him there.  He is a spectacular piece of artwork that has always taken my breath away.  At over 16 hands he is magnificent with his red neck and legs, the white of his rump shines as bright as the sun.  His long legs and neck seem to push him above the landscape and today he caught my eye in a way he hasn’t before. 

He was standing at the back gate.  A relaxed stance with his face off toward the back pasture that he is forbidden from entering.  At first I assumed that he was just longingly wishing that someone would open the gate and let him partake in the smorgasbord of field grass and noxious weeds.  As we drew nearer to the paddock I began to feel a strong sense of uneasiness overtake me.

You see, I have had this strange connection to Cash since the first moment I laid eyes on him and I can feel it in my heart that he is just as connected to me as I am to him.  I know what this feeling is and I know it isn’t good.  A little over a year ago he took a jaunt into that back pasture and got tangled in barbed wire.  It caused life threatening wire cuts and it was the first time since I had owned him that I could feel his pain.  

The last year has not been easy on either of us.  Each infection started with a feeling, a feeling that something wasn’t quite right.  Each time the vet confirmed that the infection had come back and that with it was less of a chance that he would survive his injuries.  In the beginning I was willing to do absolutely anything to save my boy.  Ultimately, it was not in my hands and only time would tell if he was to make it.
Today, that same feeling came over me and my heart just sunk.  It has been a year, there is nothing anyone can do and I know he isn’t right.  I said his name a couple times and he just kept looking off into the back field.  As I approached him he turned his head for a second to say hi and then back to his original position.

I could feel a lump in my throat as I continued toward him while still saying his name.  When I got about 20 feet away he lowered his head and struggled to turn toward me.  The well broke…the tears wouldn’t stop.  As he struggled to walk toward me all I could do was cry.  Until recently he was doing so well, hardly a limp and now he is struggling to walk.

“You have to tell me when you’ve had enough” I struggled through my tears.  “I can’t bear to say goodbye, but I don’t want you in pain”. The tears wouldn’t stop, the pain in my souls was just unspeakable.  He walked up, put his nose in my face and just breathed.  It was not the kind of “I’m ok, just having a bad day” kind of breath.  It was a “I don’t know how much more fight I have” kind of breath.

I grabbed his front leg and burried my wet face in his shoulder and sobbed.  Mocha, his pasture mate was in the other paddock and she quietly nickered in our direction.  She did not come through the gate, she kept her distance so that we could have a moment.

As I stood there face burried in his shoulder, tears rolling down my cheeks he reached his big head around and nuzzled my leg.  It felt as though he was asking me to fix something I can’t fix.  The only way I can take his pain away is to end his life.

What a horrible place to be.  I just want him to be happy and comfortable and I am completely unable to do anything for him.  How do I decide that he has had enough? Will there always be a nagging feeling that I did it too soon?  How come a year later we are having a potentially life ending back slide?

My heart is torn in a million pieces.  He isn’t just a horse, he is my heart.  I have loved every horse I have ever been blessed to have in my life, but Cash is special.  How do you even reconcile what is best for him with knowing that once he is gone he will take a piece of your heart with him?

I still have no idea what the future holds for Cash.  I do not know if I will be strong enough to make that decision.  Just the thought tears me into a million tiny pieces.  

I pray for both Cash and me.  I pray that he live to a ripe old age sound and happy, and if God doesn’t see fit to grant me that prayer…then I pray that he will give me the strength to do what is best for my big wonky boy and that he is the first to greet me when I get through the pearly gates. 

Baby Steps: Big Milestones

It is a lazy Sunday here on the homestead.  My hubby is making breakfast, and I am taking a moment to reflect on this crazy journey of mine.  

In order to properly share where I am and how far I have come, I need to share where I have been.  I was born on a small Wyoming ranch outside Cody. Well, not actually born “on”.  More like born in the hospital and brought home to the ranch.  We were a small town but babies were still mostly born in hospitals, but I digress.  My mom was the one who sparked my love of horses.  My dad, much like my husband thought them a completely unnecessary expedature.

Me 3 years old and my first horse, an Appaloosa named Apple.

I was in 3rd grade.  I had two friends spending the weekend with me.  We bounded off the buss and straight for the horses.  We were going to spend the weekend riding and playing.  I had a darling, but slightly bitchy yellow mare by the name of Sugar Plum Fairy.  Old Sugar Plum was going to have a weekend full of elementary school girls crawling all over her, laughing and making memories.

Those plans were dashed by a yearling Arabian colt by the name of Smokey.  When I approached the horses to catch Sugar Plum, something spooked them from behind and they ran toward me.  I tried to get out of the way, but ended up right in Smokey’s path.  The next thing I knew I was staring up at the tree tops and was confused as to what had just happened.  

I pulled myself together and stumbled to my feet.  The horses were at the other end of the run looking at me.  I was so mad that Smokey had knocked me down that I made a b-line right to him. It was in that moment that I realized my leg felt real funny.  I looked down to see a perfect fillet of flesh right along my groin!  Not only had he knocked me down, he had run me over and I was badly hurt.  

It was a frantic drive to town.  The ER was ready for me as was the surgeon who was supposed to stitch me back up.  I laid there trying to make sense of everything.  I was hurt really bad, but it didn’t hurt.  It really didn’t make a whole lot of sense.  I heard the doctor say, “She is real lucky!  See that, that is her femoral artery.  Thank goodness he didn’t nick that or she’d be gone.”  At 10 years old the only thing I really understood was “she’d be gone”.  How could I have been so close to death and not have any real pain?  My leg felt funny, but certainly not the pain one would expect from being filleted right down to the artery.  

They worked diligently to prepare me for surgery.  They wanted to cut off my cowboy boots but I begged them to please try and take them off.  They were successful.  My jeans were a total loss as were my Friday panties.  I had received a set of days of the week undies for Christmas and Friday was my favorite pair.  Side note: Mom promised to get me another set of days of the week panties and I never got them.  

I was stitched up and got to spent a while in the hospital before they sent me home.  Smokey had severed the nerves in my leg.  Half my upper leg was numb, and would be for years.  I walked away from the hospital with a perfect horseshoe shaped scar tucked neatly along my right groin.  It was a sort of badge, a horseshoe shaped reminder of how close I had come to death at the hands (or hooves as it where) of a horse.

I was released from the hospital with no idea that while I had been in there my dad took it upon himself to get rid of Sugar Plum.  At the time I had decided that I was done with horses so I don’t much remember being upset that I didn’t get to say goodbye or find out where she’d gone.  

I knew in my heart that horses were no longer something that I needed in my life.  My mom could see that fear had taken the place of love and wasn’t about to let fear win.  It didn’t matter if I was done with them or not, but I certainly wasn’t going to be afraid.  She loaded me in the car at the hospital and drove me right to the corral.  

I remember driving down the hill toward corral where the horses where.  My heart was pounding, I was shaking and the tears were flowing. I had loved horses so much and the silly act of a stupid young colt had ruined that for me.  My horse was gone and so was my desire to be a horsewoman.  

She didn’t give the the choice.  I had to get out of the car and say hi.  Smokey was the first to greet me. I stood there shaking and crying.  Uncertain if I could survive another “attack”.  As if he could tell that what I needed most was kindness, he touched me gently with his nose. He was still a young, stupid colt, but in that moment he grew up.  Even if only for a moment long enough to apologize for destroying something most dear to me, my love of horses.

My mom explained that Smokey never meant to hurt me.  I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time and it would be a shame to stop loving horses just because of one stupid accident.  It wasn’t magical, but it was the beginning of me realizing that horses are worth the risk.  

I never did find out what came of Sugar Plum.  I suspect that she ended up at auction in Billings.  That is where the useless horses were sent.  I never got to say goodbye.  I also never forgot her.

Try as I may, the events of that day still stick with me.  Thanks to my mom I was able to find that great love again.  I was lucky enough to get a darling Appy mare who would “raise” me as a horsewoman.  She would teach me to be bold and brave.  She was the perfect mix of kind and loving and giant bitch.  She taught me how to trust and how to lead.  She helped me to overcome the demons of that day.

More than 20 years passed since I said goodbye to that amazing mare.  Twenty years of struggling with a horse shaped hole in my heart.  Twenty years of praying that Missy would not be that last horse to own my heart.

It never occurred to me that fulfilling my horse dreams would come at a cost.  Those demons came back.  They cause fear to overcome joy.  They tell me I am not good enough.  They tell me that I am too fat to ride.  They tell me that I don’t belong in the show ring with the “good” people.

Keno, sadly, has his share of demons too.  He didn’t come to me with those demons.  It isn’t important how he earned them, but sufficed to say it has been quite a journey to help him work through them.  With the assistance of a great trainer he is at a point where we have way more good days then bad.

My guess is that the single worst match up between horse and rider is when both have their own demons.  Especially when one is dealing with fear and uncertainty and the other has learned that fighting humans how you deal with nerves.  But, for what ever reason I refused to give up on him and he has decided to give me a chance as well.

Through this journey I have learned that he is happiest (and least fighty) as a hunter.  That means that I, the girl who isn’t sure that she even belongs in a saddle at all would have to decide if she would go hunter or give up all together.  One thing is for sure, I have come too far to give up.

Once upon a time I loved Riding English….too bad I could never find the right diagonal.

Learning to ride hunter has been a challenge to say the least.  There are no training wheels.  You cannot fake it.  That little piece of leather is not sufficient to give you any sense of security at all.  But, I decided that I would ignore the negative voices in my head and saddle up.  

So far I have been able to find a basic sense of balance in that saddle.  I can find and post the correct diagonal. I have survived a trail ride where we started with a spook, spin and trot back to the barn.  We managed a trail class where we completed each obstical with ease and confidence.  We survived a WT Hunter Under Saddle class where a panicked horse caused Keno a panic of his own that resulted in me on his neck.  Each of these has been a baby step that became giant leaps in our partnership and my confidence.

Yesterday was lesson day.  Melinda asked me if I wanted to work on trail or eq.  When I said that I didn’t care she decided that she would take the opportunity to encourage yet another baby step in our progress.  

I knew I was in trouble when she asked if I was feeling as balanced in my English saddle as I was in the western.  My first thought was to lie and say “NOPE”.  I knew that balance plus confidence equals canter.  

I had only cantered him twice before.  The first time was at a schooling show under the supervision of the trainer who had given Keno his demons.  It was a disaster.  He was so fast and out of control.  The only way I could get him to stop was to run him into the rail!  It was terrifying. 

The second time was last winter.  Still dealing with his issues, Keno once again took off with me.  The second I asked for a canter he shot off.  Throwing himself into a run, putting me off balance and bouncing around on top of him.  The reins had been ripped through my hands and I had zero control.  No steering, no stopping and being thrown around on top of him.  That moment would stick with me.  I didn’t come off, but it made me question if we will ever make it out of the walk trot pen.

Melinda explained that when I am ready to just move his hip and softly kiss. Relax into him.  Relax my hands and my body and move with him.  Sit deep through my heels and don’t be too stiff.  I couldn’t shake the memory of being a hostage to his whim last time.  I couldn’t shake the doubt and fear that this was not going to end well.

I reminded myself that the Keno who enjoyed terrifying me is gone.  He has been replaced with a guy who wants to take care of me and knows that I will do the same for him.  I told myself that while I look like I don’t belong in an English saddle that I have a decent seat and even if he takes off I will handle it.

I collected up my rein.  I slowly moved my outside leg back and he quietly moved his hip up.  Reluctantly, I softly kissed to him.  With confidence and ease he stepped into the canter.  He didn’t throw himself into a dead run, he quietly departed from the walk to the canter.  It was soft and easy.  It was the rocking chair gate that I remembered from days before Keno took my confidence.

It was only half the length of the short side of the arena, but I did it.  A deep seat and a quiet whoa and we came to a stop.  I was shaking with excitement.  I gave him a big pet and told him over and over what a good boy he was.  We, Keno and I, had taken a baby step that would forever be remembered as a huge milestone.  

Truth be told, I was not at all convinced that Keno and I could ever do a walk, trot, canter hunter under saddle class.  I made the mistake of listening to the negative voices in my head telling me that I have no business riding English at all let alone in the “big kid class” with three gates!  Keno said to me, “I can do this if you can” and then proved that we are both capable.  

It is funny how 5-6 strides at the canter can be so significant.  It was an affirmation that the time and money I have spent on training was necessary.  Keno is a different horse than he was and I am a different rider.  Neither would have happened without professional help.  Those 5-6 strides showed me the significance of baby steps.  I didn’t need to canter until Keno couldn’t any more or even be comfortable at the canter to feel like we passed that milestone.  Keno had a beautiful canter departure, an easy few steps and a soft stop.  That was enough call the events of the day a milestone!

I still have that scar on my leg, I still have the scars on my psyche, and I still deal with a significant amount of self doubt.  For a moment, one glorious moment, I was free.  Free of the bonds that hold me down.  I look forward to stringing those moments together.  For now, I will revel in the fact that we have checked off another milestone in our wild and crazy journey.

I See You

There you are, that glossed over look in your eye.  It is a wonderful mix of pure extacy and sheer terror and it shows all over your face.  I see you there waiting for your turn in the show ring.

I know that you are dealing with some pretty big emotions.  You see, I know that you are standing there in the shadow of what you once were.  I know that many years have gone by since you have stood there at the in gate with your equine partner.  I know that the last time you did this you were much younger, maybe a few pounds lighter, had the oblivious confidence that comes with youth, and I am sure that you had no idea that there would be so many horseless years between that kid and the you that is standing there palms sweating…heart pounding.

I see you.  I see that what once came so easy is now a struggle.  I know that there was a time in your life that this horse thing was second nature.  You didn’t think a thing about hopping on your horse bareback in the pasture.  Just you and your trusty steed, a halter and what seemed like miles of open field to run across.  

You had no idea then that this horse thing is real work.  Back then you could swing right up bareback from the ground.  Now you need a tall mounting block and a horse who will stand politely while you struggle and pull yourself into the saddle.  You apologize to him for being so uncoordinated and clumsy as you know that your horse is a saint for standing there when I am sure he wants to run far away from you.

I see you.  Put in a full day at work and then head to the barn because you are determined to get back just a little of what the years have taken away from you.  I know that riding is something that requires real work and dedication.  I know that you get home from the barn dirty, exhausted and sore.

I also know that for as much as you doubt yourself and your ability, you have a great many successes.  You frequently have rides where something is slightly easier than it was the last time you rode.  I see how those small successes have a huge impact on your confidence.  

I see how you are made painfully aware of what the passage of time has taken from you.  I know that your body doesn’t move or feel like it used to.  Where did your flexibility and balance go?  I sure wish I could answer that for you.  Time is a cruel mistress.  She only takes and never gives back.

I see you in the walk trot class.  I know that there was a time that you never would have imagined that walk trot would be “your thing”.  The reality is that you don’t feel anywhere near ready to canter among your fellow show competitors.  I know that there is a feeling deep inside that you are letting down that person from all those years ago.  That person could run across a field bareback with nothing more than a halter, and here you are full western bridle, nice big comfy secure western saddle and a look of sheer terror in your eyes!  I see you.

Yes, I certainly see you.  You know how?  Because I am you!  I stand there before a Showmanship class with sweaty palms, a giant smile and tears in those glossy eyes!  Yes, I am you.  I am right next to you in that lesson where your biggest accomplishment is a rising trot for more than one lap of the arena.  I know the pain of struggling to get into the saddle and stay there.  I also know that the dismount is often harder than the mount.  I don’t even know how that one is possible!

 I am next to you in that walk trot class praying that my hunt coat doesn’t pop a button and that I can keep my horse between me and the ground!  I am right there clapping when they call your number ahead of mine, because I know what that means.  

We, you and I, waited a damn long time to have horses again and we deserve to know that there are others just like us who struggle with things that others seem to breeze through.  Yes, I see you and you are doing an amazing job of following your dream.  Hold on tight to those little successes because one day you will look back and see just how far you have come!

Next time you are standing at the in gate fighting back the happy tears waiting for your class to be called, I am there right with you!  Look around, if you see me then flash me a big old smile and get out there and kick my butt.   I’ll be rooting for you!

9 Things You Should Never Say to Your Trainer

My trainer asked me to print out these rules and hang them at the barn 🙂 By the way, she scares me too much to ever say no!

The Half Halt Blog

1- It didn’t feel like this yesterday

I wholeheartedly believe you that it doesn’t feel the same as it did yesterday.  You probably weren’t as sassy as you are today, so you should really just keep going forward.  Your horse will not feel the same everyday.  Maybe he’s more uphill today.  Maybe he’s starting to become an actual dressage horse.  I don’t know, just thinking out loud.

2- I can’t do it

You could probably do it pretty darn well if you weren’t so focused on what you think you can’t do.  Get out of your own head and just listen; your trainer probably has some pretty helpful tips on how to get over whatever hurdle you’re going through.  Frustration and defeat comes with the territory, but please for the love of all things good in this world don’t say you can’t do it, because you most certainly can.


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Just a Western Girl in a Hunter World

As I lay here this morning plagued by sore muscles that are seriously impeding my ability to start my day I can’t help but wonder if I have completely lost my ever loving mind.  You see, I’m no quitter.  I’ve never been a quitter.  When I set my mind to something nothing can deter me from my goal.  But today, lucky to be able to move my fingers enough to type I can’t help but wonder if my stubborn will to succeed will be my undoing.

Nearly two years ago I purchased Keno to be my show horse.  I already had a horse, so I was able to pull off the second horse by convincing my husband that “he needed a horse so we could ride together.”  You see, he likes the horses…ok, so maybe he merely tolerates them.  He simply does not understand what drives a otherwise normal person to sacrifice so much time and money for a giant bag of hair that does nothing but drain the bank account.  Even though he does not understand why, he does know that they fill a spot in my soul that has otherwise been vacant since saying good bye to horses when I left the ranch so many years ago.  Even though he saw right through my “you need a horse too” scam, he agreed that Keno should join our family and my two spotties became a little herd.

Keno was a challenge from the start.  He was very insecure and at times overwhelmingly scared of life.  I picked him a trainer I thought could see us through to the show ring while making him “husband safe”.  Long story short, after 10 months of training, Keno was not ready for the show ring any more than he was husband safe.  I took him to Melinda Corigliano, owner of Dream Meadow Arabians, a show trainer who had done wonders with my daughter in hopes that she could teach me to ride this horse whom I had placed all my Western Pleasure hopes and dreams.

It didn’t take real long to realize that my hopes and dreams with Keno as I knew them would have to change.  He was not a western horse.  Keno is very forward and “go-ey”.  Not exactly a quality among those who do well in western pleasure.  I had a decision to make.  Keep Keno and school him as the hunter he is, sell him, or relagate him to the ranks of pasture pet that gets ridden occasionally.

It was not a decision that I took lightly, and frankly it wasn’t a decision I wanted to make at all.  Why couldn’t he just be trained to carry himself western?  Couldn’t I just learn to ride that big floaty trot and make it look like a western jog? 

Aside from not being the western horse I had hoped he would be, he also has a big giant personality.  He is so funny and quirky.  It is really hard not to love him…most of the time.  But then there is what I call his assaloosa side.  He isn’t dangerous, but he is a jerk.  He is smart as a whip and figures things out very quickly.  But, unlike many smart horses who learn so they can be left alone, Keno learns so that he can then try to figure out his own way of doing things. 

We have been with our new trainer for a year now.  In that time Keno went from a stressed out mess who was so unpredictable under saddle that he was scary to a Keno who is so predictable it is scary.  Our typical day with Keno involves him fighting through his warm up (a series of exercises to warm up his body and get his mind right for the lesson ahead), about 10 to 15 minutes of NO.  If you have much experience with Appaloosa’s then you know how expressive their eyes are, Keno’s eyes during this time are basically flipping off the world.  He goes through a few minutes of screw you just about every day.  Once he is warmed up and his screw you switch is turned off then you can get to the task at hand for the day.  

Knowing this about him makes the idea of riding hunt seat all the more terrifying! I mean, I am reasonably secure and balanced in the safety of a big old western saddle with a nice horn to hang on to if his “screw you” takes a drastic turn.  A hunt saddle is nothing more than few small pieces of leather sewn together over a bit of padding.  There are two stirrups (called irons…don’t call them stirrups English riders are always quick to correct you on that mistake) that are attached to the sewn together leather by a small strap of leather.

If I know the peril that I face in making the transition from western to English on a horse who is predictably a jerk for 20-30 minutes of each ride then why in the hell would I, a relitively sane person, put themselves into that position.  I have always said that horse people are a very special brand of crazy and I am no exception.  You see, I had plans for Keno.  I bamboozled my husband to get him.  I dreamed of all the blue ribbons we would win.  And like I said in the very beginning, I am no quitter!

So, here I am.  A western girl trying desperately to find her way in an english world.  I have to admit that the obligatory attitude that Keno has to work through at the beginning of every ride has made for some serious nerves.  I am not necessarily afraid of him.  You see, his attitude is just that….attitude.  He isn’t dangerous or unpredictable.  He does what is asked of him.  He just needs to check your level of commitment to being his leader.  He likes being the leader and each time he hopes that you will decided that today is the day that he gets to make all the decisions.  Sadly, that day has never come for Keno and if I have anything to do with it, it never will.  He may be my partner, but I will always be in charge.

While I know that I am in charge, I do admit that the idea of going toe to toe with him in an English saddle is enough to make me lose sleep!  How can I school him in those moments of “screw you I am doing this my way” when I feel like I can barely keep him between me and the ground.  

Have you ever been in the grocery store with your child and they begin to throw a temper tantrum?  Did you immediately feel as though you couldn’t actually discipline them for their completely outrageous behavior because you didn’t want to be judged by your fellow shoppers?  So instead you try and reason with the unreasonable human you created when what you really want to do is scoop them up and give them a big swat on the behind?  Well, Keno is that unreasonable child and my English saddle is the judgy fellow shoppers.  The thing stopping me from setting firm boundaries with my temper tantrum throwing toddler.

I am not sure if it was the single beer I drank before stepping foot into those irons, or the fact that I was already tired from a long day or that I am finally finding balance and confidence in that teeny tiny little saddle. No matter what the reason, last night I scooped up my rotten toddler and whooped him right on the bare ass….metaphorically speaking of course!  

While I was trying my best to find the correct diagonal and control his direction and speed, I became increasingly frustrated.  Why does he do so good with the trainer and then acts like I am speaking to him in a foreign language?  It was 5 little words that I have heard over and over, but last night I actually “heard them”.  He’s taking advantage of you. Wait, it isn’t that he doesn’t know what I am asking…he is actively avoiding doing it?  That bastard!!  I thought we had this relationship of you take care of me and I’ll be sweet to you?  Just like the toddler in the grocery store knows that mom won’t blister his hide in front of witnesses.  Keno knew that as long as I was unsure of my ability to handle the twists and turns that come from schooling a horse who wants to make his own rules in an English saddle that he could basically do what he wanted and I was along for the ride no matter how frustrated I was…he was in charge.

When it sunk in that he was actively defying me, I decided right then and there that riding this horse with all his quirks meant that I had to buck up.  I had to realize that each ride in that little piece of leather is better than the last.  I had to take comfort in the fact that I didn’t nearly fall off one time…yet.  I had to decide.  I can either find a way to get comfortable schooling Mr. Tantrum Throwing Toddler or I needed to find a horse who could at least meet me half way in this journey to be a better rider.

Have I mentioned that I am no quitter?  Nope, all it took was to realize that just like my toddlers throwing a public temper tantrum thinking they can get away with it, Keno was going to meet a new confident rider in me that night.  The schooling was on.  I’d ask for softness and collection and then I would expect that he keep it.  If he couldn’t keep it then we would circle until he would soften and then back on the rail.  It was a very long process of mere moments of beauty followed by a lot of rounding and softening.  The one thing I can say about this big spotted toddler is that he doesn’t like to give up a fight!  He and I continued in this dance until I was cramped from my lower back to the tips of my toes!  

When we were done, he had a complete change of attitude.  He was soft and relaxed and it was a great time to call it a night.  I don’t for a second believe that this one time will change his approach to arena work, but I certainly know that he will no longer be taking advantage of me in my English saddle!

They say, “Some horse will test you, some horses will teach you and some horses will bring out the best in you.”  I believe Keno is the horse to do all three.  He is not an easy horse, he often won’t even meet his rider half way, he has to have an opinion about every single thing, but he is a great horse.  I believe with all that I have that one day I will look back on how far we have come and know that it was all worth it.  I don’t know if we will win any blue ribbons, or if we will just be content to hack out on the trail (see that fancy English riding term I used there?). What ever the future hold for Keno and me, I know that I am up to the challenge and because he isn’t one to back down from a challenge either I know we will make it.