Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year, Past Thoughts

First of all, Happy New Year!!! I hope that you had some sort of celebration, even if it was a quiet evening in front of the television. That would be me. It's New Years Eve and I'm contemplating de-decorating my Christmas tree. Since the weather forecast is for-- take a wild guess-- MORE HIGH POWER WINDS, I doubt I'll be riding tomorrow on New Years Day. So I'll watch the Rose Parade while I tuck all my pretty glass ornaments to bed for another year of slumber.

In the meantime, a new year blossoms with hope and plans. One place getting a fresh start with 2008 is Kentucky Horse Park. In 2010 the site will host the World Equestrian Games which truly is as big a deal as the Olympics, without the distraction of, oh, all those other contests like swimming, diving, running and rowing. In other words, WEG is all horses, all the time! You can read about the preparation on Horse Channel by clicking here:
Ah, Kentucky Horse Park!

Have you ever been to Kentucky Horse Park? I've been fortunate to visit three times. This is not a place that celebrates or embraces just one breed or one riding discipline: it promotes a love and respect for all types of horses, which I find refreshing. What's also unique is that visitors can get exposed to various cultures because many breeds of horses from around the world are presented during regular performances at the park. They're shown in native tack while their riders usually sport traditional attire. However, my favorite "must see" stop at the horse park is the International Museum of the Horse. If you check out the website for Kentucky Horse Park you can click on a link to the museum. That will treat you to an engaging history lesson complete with colorful images explaining how the horse has impacted the development of civilization.

You can probably tell that I'm a big fan of Kentucky Horse Park. Who knows, maybe I'll get out there for another visit in 2008.

In the meantime, I'm going to go crack open a bottle of sparkling apple cider and have a little toast to the new year. Yes, I said "sparkling apple cider." I live a wild life, don't I?

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Post-Christmas Trail Course

It's beginning to look a lot like the days after Christmas. Thanks to the wind my neighborhood is strewn with the aftermath of holiday decorations gones awry. Many of the homes (mine included) were all gussied up in their best festive paraphernalia for the weeks leading up to Santa's arrival. But with a sudden, ugly turn in the weather the front yards took on a war torn appearance. I have yet to find the embroidered skirt that adorned the base of the lighted pine tree on my front porch. It was probably blown into another county. Of course, this climate calamity means that the horse trails are also sporting wayward holiday decor. Rather than fight the blight, I've decided to make riding the local trails sort of a challenge. Let's see... Yesterday I devised these competitions:
1. Pine Tree Pole Bending: Here I ride my horse at a walk while weaving around the discarded Christmas trees that dot the trail alongside my house. (When is that trash pick-up day, anyway?)

2. Snowman Slide 'n Stop: A plastic snowman is cute, but not when it's lying on its side like a slain sentinel of winter. The challenge? Can I stay aboard Lexi when she scoots to the far side of the trail in an effort to avoid meeting the glazed eyes of the dearly departed Frosty?

3. Tinsel Two-Step: So much for the loop-de-loop of sparkly garland that wrapped around someone's split rail fence. Now it's lying across the bridle path like a frilly snake. Wally stepped over it all, oh so daintily, though his snorting made me a little nervous.

4. Ghosts of Christmas Past: Enough already with the deflated inflatable Santas! Can people please drag these sad, shriveled wraiths inside and stow them away for next year? My horses and I ride past them, where they're collapsed on front yards in a manner that makes them look as if they died in a desperate attempt to crawl onto the horse trail. My horses don't spook at them. They actually seem to ponder the scene, as if to ask, "What happened to them?"

Now, just so you don't think I'm merely a complainer and not a doer, I have moved misbegotten Christmas trees (disposable plastic stands included) off the horse trails. And I've tracked down the owners of lost decorations. But since the weather report is warning us of more high winds in the next few days, I'm afraid that the trails will soon be "deocorated" with more of Santa's workshop, making the bridle paths a special sort of winter wonderland.

Have any stories or comments to share? Just click on "comments" below or email me at:

Thursday, December 27, 2007

My Vision of Hell

It's been said that we all can imagine our own version of hell and let me tell you, I know what mine is: All wind, all the time.

This recent spate of hurricane force winds began late Christmas Eve. Ron and I had just come home after taking my parents and my sister on a tour of the festive light displays when I heard a sound much like a freight train. The house rattled. The windows shook. The metal hinges on our front gate groaned. It was the wind. I spent much of the night trying to console my poor horses who looked at me as if I was somehow responsible for the weather. Who could blame them for spooking and snorting? When they weren't jumping and whirling, they stood motionless, an expression of resignation on their faces. They were heavily blanketed, and had shelter. But they were miserable nonetheless.

After living in this area for nearly 30 years, I know that when the Los Angeles news stations issue wind velocity warnings, I have to add at least 20 miles per hour to the estimate. When the winds are blowing at 40 mph, I don't ride. When they hit 50 mph I switch from feeding hay to feeding pellets. Hay just gets blown into the neighbor's yard. When the gusts top 80 mph-- and trust me, they do-- I apologize to Wally and Lexi, try to appease them with carrots and horse cookies, and make sure that nothing can possibly blow into their paddocks and injure them.

So much for the post-holiday spirit. Hopefully 2008 will be much more heavenly.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas to All!

Can you recall a special Christmas morning when you discovered you were blessed with a wondrous horsey gift? For me, I think the year that my parents bought me my first English saddle is the most memorable. I suppose I was 13 or 14 years old. In retrospect it was not a very well made saddle. The leather was certainly not high quality and I'm sure it didn't sit me properly on my extra-large pony, Honeybee. Nonetheless, I was in Horse Lover Heaven and I'm sure I shed a tear or two of joy that Christmas morning.

Regardless of what Santa leaves for you this year, I hope you, your horse and your horse loving friends and family have a wondrous holiday!

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

My Christmas Newsletter

I must rebel against the practice of the Christmas newsletter. These are the mass produced, non-personalized accountings of the glorious blessings that befell the sender and his/her family during the year. Christmas newsletters are not a bad idea. They're a nice way to sum up the year in a paragraph or two for far flung family and friends. But often Christmas newsletters turn out to be self-serving brag sessions. Or they reveal far, far too much about a family's personal matters than some near-stranger needs to know.

With all this in mind, here is my spin on the Christmas newsletter. Horsey, of course. And entirely untrue. For the most part.

Dear Family and Friends:

Well, another year is nearly over here at Pipe Dream Ranch and it's time to check in with those we love. Right now I'm not feeling much love for Stewart. Even though he is my husband, sometimes I envision him as a Thoroughbred. I'd like to run him in a cheap race in hopes that someone would claim him. Every morning it's the same: we get in an argument over which is the better method to clean the stalls. I say you shovel manure first, pick up the mucky shavings last. He does it the other way around. Does he not understand that there must be a consistent method to manure management?

Meanwhile, our fantastic stud colt Zipalenasparkabarspot ("Sparky") is growing into the horse of our dreams. We can't wait to stand him at stud! Of course, we'll have to be able to catch him first. Boy, he can really race around the pasture when he wants to avoid being haltered! We've tried luring him with a carrot, and that worked for a while, but then he started grabbing our fingers with his teeth. That was how Stewart lost half his index finger last March. I can't blame Sparky, though. Stewart has that sort of ruddy complexion, you know, so I'm sure Sparky just thought his finger was a carrot. On the bright side, now we know our health insurance covers pretty much about everything.

Meanwhile, our little Cassandra is blossoming into an incredible rider. Her trainer, Hans, says she is-- and I quote-- "the most gifted natural equestrian I've ever seen." And that's some praise, considering that Hans was a groom and chief blanket washer for Millie something-or-other who once rode on an Olympic team in the late 1970's. According to Hans, Cassandra can do it all: barrel racing, reining, dressage, show jumping, hunters, calf roping... and she's only 6! Now you can see why we chose Hans to be Cassandra's riding instructor. He recognizes our daughter's true talents, unlike the dozen or so other instructors we'd hired in the past. It's no wonder Hans is so expensive. He has true insight, and that makes his salary worth the second mortgage we took out on our ranch. Why, Hans even thinks that by next year Cassandra will be riding Sparky in the all-around events. Of course, we'll have to catch and break Sparky first, but I'm sure our little Cassandra can do that with the help of Hans and a collection of horse handling DVDs we bought at this year's horse expo. Cassandra is, after all, a talented young horsewoman!

Other than our adulation of Cassandra, our devotion to Sparky and our occasional disdain for each other, Stewart and I have had a fairly uneventful year. Well, that's if you discount the feud we're having with our neighbors. They're threatening us with a lawsuit. Seems they're not too happy that Sparky jumped the pasture fence and impregnated their pet donkey. I told them, "That'll be one fancy mule, what are you worried about?" Some people, right? Frankly, I wish they'd tossed a rope around Sparky while he was mesmerized with their donkey. I mean, that would've been nice, but we weren't so lucky. On the other hand, we were lucky that the city didn't sue us when I accidentally caused a flood. See, I was hauling our six-horse slant load with our mini-truck, chatting with Hans on my cell phone (he needed some cash to rent cattle for Cassandra's cutting lesson), and I cranked the steering wheel too tightly as I made the turn off of Main Street. Wouldn't you know it, the back end of the rig jumped the curb and clipped the side of a fire hydrant. Wow, did that water gush like a geyser! I managed to get away with only a handful of tickets for some minor violations and a windy lecture about how I shouldn't be hauling such a trailer with a light duty truck. I told the officer, "Look, as soon as I rake in some stud fees from Sparky, I'll gladly buy myself a dually." I then asked the fine officer if he had any experience in wrangling wild stud colts, but he just looked at me funny, so I dropped that conversation for fear I'd end up with more tickets.

So that's pretty much it for 2007. Hope your year went well, too!

~ Merry Christmas from All of us at Pipe Dream Ranch

Friday, December 21, 2007

Horse Hair: It Tastes Just Like Chicken

Yesterday Lexi and Wally got body shaved. I elected not to do the deed this year as my arm has been bothering me a lot lately (the after effects of an old jumping accident) and hefting an industrial-sized pair of horse clippers for 2 hours didn't seem like a good idea. Plus, what's money for if not to fritter away on our horses? So I hired Casey Warren, a local professional groomer, to do the clipping chores. Besides, she's much more experienced at it than me, which translates into her also being much faster. I tend to body shave as if I'm mowing a lawn. I lead the clippers back and forth in monotonous pathways while Casey zips along furiously. The whole horse is stripped of its winter woolies before it has a chance to decide if it enjoys going to the hairdresser. Or not.

Wally thought the whole procedure was a mildly sensuous massage. He craned his neck forward, stretched his lips and went, "Ah!"

Lexi, on the other hand, most certainly figured we were torturing her. She never did anything bad, she was just wiggly and squiggly. Her exclamations were more like, "Ooh, ick, noooo!"

Meanwhile, I got a real taste for Casey's job. Literally. Even though I was merely holding the lead rope of both horses, I ended up with horse hair in my eyes, in my ears, wedged into the seams of my parka and stuck to the chapstick on my lips. It's no wonder Casey wears a disposable paper mask while clipping. She doesn't want to inhale the stuff.

The end result was worth the discomfort, however, as now both of my horses dry quickly after a workout and that makes grooming in the winter time so much easier. The down side? This means I have to blanket Wally and Lexi every night. If it's windy, dark or feeding time, that chore is akin to putting clothes on an eel.

Have any comments you'd like to share? Just click on "comments" below!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The 7 Days of Christmas

Well, like most horse people my schedule is way, way off. Multiple trips to the mall or the tack store to buy presents has interrupted my almost ritualistic existence of feed, muck, groom, ride, bathe, groom, muck, feed. So you'll have to forgive me for not offering my rendition of The 12 Days of Christmas. Instead, you're getting the shortened version. The final chorus would be this:

On the 7th day of Christmas Santa sent to me:
7 muckers mucking
6 mares a' neighing
5 silver conchos!
4 hauling carts
3 clean pens
2 woolen gloves
... And a pony in a pipe corral!

Now I'm off to finish shopping. *sigh*

Monday, December 17, 2007

Christmas: It's a Black Eye Affair

Our annual family Christmas party is coming up this weekend, and it's sure to be a doozy. I believe the last head count for the number of people attending was at 52. That's some potluck and gift exchange, huh? Something tells me we'll be unwrapping gifts until dawn. And even though it's not being held at my house or my parents' place-- both of which are horse property-- horses will, no doubt, be part of the conversation. Why? Well, a short time ago I recounted how I took a tumble off my mare, Lexi, and ended up with a black eye and a hideous scrape on the side of my face. If you missed that glorious episode, it's right here:

And Then I Fell Off

I thought I was pretty much healed until yesterday. So much so that I decided I didn't need to coat my face with concealing face powder (L'Oreal Warm Beige seems to conceal bruises best, for those of you keeping tabs for future reference). Then I stopped by the tack store and the clerk says to me, "Wow, how did you get that shiner?"


Not to be outdone, my sister is now sporting two black eyes. And yes, it's due to an encounter with a horse.

Apparently Jill was holding her Thoroughbred, Topper, for the farrier. Being a mouthy, antsy-pantsy ex-racehorse, Topper was chewing on his leadrope and flapping his lips to express his boredom with the whole shoeing scenario. Exasperated, Jill yanked on Topper's lead rope. He over-reacted (guilty conscience, no doubt) and flipped his head up and back, thereby whacking Jill in the forehead with the lead rope's heavy brass snap. Two days later and trust me, she looks like a raccoon. Or a panda. It's quite dramatic. As her husband described it, "She has an interesting sort of Goth look going on."

Of course, I see it as some sort of wicked instance of seasonal sibling rivalry. To put it in the parlance of poker, it's like my sister telling me, "I'll meet your scabbed cheek and shiner and raise you two black eyes."

This is going to surpass another Christmas, about a dozen years ago, when my sister, our mother and I each had an arm in a sling thanks to tumbles off of horses. That elicited quite a bit of talk around the buffet table at the family party: Us and our crazy horses. This year won't be any different. Maybe my sister can wear her sunglasses inside and I can cake on the L'Oreal.

I'd love to hear any tales you'd like to share. Just click on "comments" below or email me at

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Vet as a Calming Influence

I've been through a succession of horse vets. That's not because of malpractice issues, personality conflicts or professional flakiness. It's mostly because either the vets move their practice to another area or I move my horses to another area. The only drama involved in my relationship with equine vets is our bidding farewell. That's not to say that there haven't been some tragic moments in veterinary care with my horses or those of my family. But those were due to Fate. Nature takes her course, sometimes, whether we want her to or not. There is, alas, only so much a vet can do.

My horses' vet is named Jennifer. I like her as both an equine practitioner and also as just a plain ol' person. One of her most admirable qualities is that she's gung-ho about treating what ails a horse. There's no, "Take two Bute and call me in the morning," with Jennifer. That's fine by me, as I'm a proud member of the Neurotic Horse Owners Society. If my horse has a cough, I figure it's pneumonia. If it paws more than three times before rolling, in my mind it's got colic. Did it take a couple of short steps in a tight circle? Get out the x-ray machine because it's got to be navicular!

Though Jennifer is thorough, she is not tightly wound. She's meticulous in her examinations and provides me with a detailed diagnosis, but she never allows herself to join me in my Dance of Doom and Gloom. Sometimes, in fact, it seems as if she's treating me as much as she's treating my horse. A horse owner herself, she's very sympathetic to how attached I am to my horses, so I rarely feel embarrassed about the way I pester her with questions or seek reassurance that everything will be okay... over and over again.

What's the most endearing quality about your horse's vet? What makes him or her extra special? You can take Horse Channel's poll here:
Very Best Vet Poll

My only criticism of the poll is that I'm not allowed to vote for a quality like, "My vet also functions also as my psychoanalyst." Maybe that characteristic will be included in the next poll.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Santa Claus is Coming to Horse Town

Look closely at this photo. See the picture in the brown frame on the wall? That's a photograph taken years ago of my mother's prized Trakehner mare. It's not often that you have the traditional Santa with Children snapshot moment with horsey images in the background, yet it's pretty much standard in our family, especially when the annual Christmas party/reunion is held at my parents' small ranch (fondly referred to as El Ranchito).

Oh. And that's my husband underneath all that Santa garb. Santa was apparently busy that evening and required a stand-in.

While I'm not sure if Santa will be making a personal visit this year to either El Ranchito or my house, I do know that some of my relatives will be visiting. I have a huge extended family with lots of cousins and nieces and nephews. Truly, I consider it a blessing to have so many relatives whom I also consider friends. I think it's sad that large, close-knit families are a rarity these days. When we all converge under one roof it's quite a soiree. There's lots of great food and lots of laughing. Unfortunately, when the shindigs are held at El Ranchito or at my house, we also have to dance around the sticky situation of whether or not the aforementioned cousins, nieces and nephews get to hop on one of our horses for a holiday photo op.

It's not that I don't want anyone riding Wally or Lexi. But remember, I just took a tumble off Lexi last week. Putting Cousin Tammy-- who last rode a horse while vacationing in Mazatlan two years ago-- on Lexi just doesn't seem like a wise idea. And Wally, while considerably more predictable than Lexi, is incredibly mouthy in that obnoxious stud colt sort of way. Even though he was gelded several years ago, he still has an oral fixation that may or may not at any given time include an obsession with clothing. The last thing I need is for Wally to be overcome with his Fabric Fetish, grab for my Auntie Thelma's sleeve and inadvertently inhale her arm.

"Hey, Santa, did you bring me any band-aids in your bag of gifts?"

So while I welcome my relatives to Horse Town at Christmastime, I've decided to make the four-legged critters off limits. After all, I'm sure that Santa doesn't allow his elves to take Donder and Blixen for a bareback spin around the North Pole.

Do you have any thoughts or comments on this topic? Let me know by clicking on "comments" below!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Dance of the Sugar Cube Fairy

Well, I attended the Nutcracker ballet performance last night. In perhaps what might be described as a minor Christmas miracle, the scab on my face decided to slough off, making me look less Halloweenish and more festive.

And don't go, "Eeewwww!"about me writing about the scab sloughing off. Come on. We're horse people. We deal with oozing abcesses and sheath cleaning. What's a scab on a face, right?

At any rate, losing the scab left me to deal with only a slightly swollen cheek and a black eye. And most of the bruising is on my upper eyelid, so I just added a swath of deep gray eye shadow to the lid of the other eye and I looked fine. Or I looked like Catwoman. But nonetheless I wasn't embarrassed to attend the Nutcracker.

In fact, while I sat in the audience, I kept imagining what a horsey version of the famed yuletide ballet would be like. For example, instead of a magical nutcracker, dear Clara would instead be given a magical leather punch. (You know, something truly useful around the barn). And then, when she's transported to the Land of the Sweets, it would instead be the Land of the Treats. You can imagine the tutus and costumes for that! The entire second act would revolve around ballerinas twirkling and toe-dancing dressed as carrots, apple-flavored biscuits and Oat Munchies.

I also had this vision where the dancers were clomping around on stage in muckboots and lace-up ropers, but I kept that to myself. If I'd shared that idea with my husband he might've thought I'd landed on my head harder than previously thought.

By the way... I really enjoy reading all of your comments. Some of you have had some grand adventures! You can share comments by clicking on "comments" below OR emailing me at:

Friday, December 7, 2007

And Then I Fell Off

Sometimes, when you get dumped by your horse you know it's coming. Everything seems to proceed in slow motion-- although it's really happening in microseconds-- and you have the eerie presence of mind to say to yourself, "Uh-oh. I'm coming out of the saddle. Hmmm.... Let me see. How best can I eject myself?"

Then there are the times when suddenly blam! You're on the ground, eating dirt. That's what happened to me two days ago while I was riding Lexi. But much like my mare, let me back up first.

Just the day before I had gone on a very pleasant 2-hour trail ride with Natalie, a gal I've come to know who lives a few streets over. Though she owns a pretty palomino and a pair of handsome grullas, she spent many years riding hunters and dressage, so we have a lot to talk about as we cruise the trails in our western tack. One thing she told me on our ride was how she feels that she knows her three horses well and therefore how to handle them when something scares them on the trail. And believe me, there are plenty of scary things along the neighborhood streets in our horsey town.

"I figure that at my age (30-something) and with my experience, I don't have anything to prove to anyone," she said. "So even though some people in town will try to tell you to never get off your horse and lead it past a scary object, sometimes that's exactly what I do. I assume the role of herd leader. I show my horse that there's nothing to be frightened of. I lead them up to whatever's bothering them, we investigate it a little. Then I get back on and we ride past it a few times and it's over with."

Made sense to me and I agreed with her. We both concurred that there's also a difference between a horse that's genuinely scared and one that says, "Ya' know, I've considered what you're asking me to do. And my response is that I prefer to NOT go past that object. Period. So there."

Now skip forward to my unplanned dismount the following day.

I was riding to the arena a few doors down from my house. The trail that accesses the arena winds between two houses and along a dry wash. Lexi turned up the trail (the same trail we've ridden on approximately 78 times since March) and stopped. She began to back up. Her head went up, her ears pricked forward. She was seeing dead people. I clucked to her. I nudged her with my spur. Nicely, mind you, but firmly. She bucked and whirled to the left. I turned her back to the right and settled her, patting her neck.

"What's the problem?" I asked her. Really. I literally asked my horse what was bugging her, because I saw nothing out of the ordinary.

So I kissed to her again and... then I fell off.

How or why I do not know. But I was face first in the hard-packed, decomposed granite trail. Immediately I ran my tongue over my front teeth, because I have already exceeded my lifetime warranty on front tooth repair due to equine calamities. But my teeth were fine. My head was fine, too, because I was wearing my helmet. But my right cheek bone had landed against the earth in a classic Face Plant. It burned and when I reached to touch it, there was blood. Everywhere.

I stood up and looked at Lexi. She had the most innocent expression on her face, as if to ask, "Why did you get off?"

It was then that I recalled quite plainly Natalie's advice and our entire discussion about not having any qualms about making the safer choice to dismount and LEAD our horses past scary objects. So I picked up my reins and led Lexi the 20 yards to the arena, knocking dirt off my shirt and spitting out grit with each step. I paused once to allow her to investigate her environment. She seemed to gaze into the adjacent backyard, snorted softly, then sighed and relaxed. It was as if she was saying, "Well, huh. What do ya' know? There wasn't anything scary there, after all."

Being the determined person that I am, I climbed back on and rode Lexi in the arena as planned, although I had to ignore the dirt in my mouth, the coagulating blood on my face and hematoma forming on my kneecap.

I feel fine now, but I'm sporting a lovely black eye and a rather hideous mark on my cheek. It resembles either flesh-eating bacteria or a bad burn. Take your pick of visual images. (There will not be photos). With every passing hour my husband inspects it, hoping it will heal miraculously in time for me to look festive when we go to a performance of The Nutcracker Saturday night.

All of this could have been avoided if only I'd listened to what Natalie had said, and what I had agreed to. Trust me, next time Lexi's body language tells me that she's really, really, really, really scared of something on the trail I'm hopping off, demonstrating to her that she has nothing to fear, and then remounting and riding past it. I have nothing to prove to anyone.... other than I'd prefer to look like a sugarplum fairy, not a female prize fighter.

Have any trail riding war stories that have left you black and blue? Share them by clicking on "comments" below!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Games Horses Play

There's a certain rowdy rambunctiousness that's overcome my two horses. I think it's the winter weather. Or maybe it's the upcoming holidays. Maybe they know Christmas and New Years are just around the corner and they're ready to celebrate. But at any rate, they seem to be in festive moods and they're incredibly frisky. That has led them to begin playing some annual Holiday Horse Games. See if you recognize any of these activities:

* Trimming the Christmas Pepper Tree: In this game, my horses stretch their necks until they are doing their best impersonation of a giraffe while tied to the hitching post. If they extend their lips just far enough they are now able to nibble on the pepper tree I planted at the back of my tackroom. Soon it will be my own stick-and-twigs version of a Charlie Brown Christmas tree.

* The Yuletide Shoe Toss: Without revealing my monthly horse budget, let's just say that I spent more money on Wally's shoes last week than I plan on spending on my sister's Christmas present. (I hope she's not reading this). That's why he's wearing pull-on bell boots for the remainder of December. Each shoe is worth its weight in... Oh, I don't know, its weight in gourmet Godiva chocolates. Which, by the way, make an excellent last minute gift. But I digress. Much as Wally would like to pull off one of his designer shoes, I shan't allow it.

* Holly Holey Blanket Chew-Off: Both of my horses are being body shaved next week and it's actually getting down into the 30s and 40s at night. So shortly they're going to be switching from wearing simple sheets at night to donning heavy-duty blankets. If I care so much about their welfare to put snuggly, cozy pajamas on them at night, why do they care so little? Horse blankets are not chew toys. And yet, I'm already prepared to find slobber spots and nibble marks on them. I hope the blankets make it through the winter... or at least until their coats grow out.

*Jingle Bell Gate Rattle: Ah, is there nothing merrier than hearing a compulsive horse fiddle with its gate snap throughout the night? Such melodious clanging fills the frosty night air with... Frankly, I don't care! Just please, Santa, make it stop!

Maybe I need to steep some hot apple cider, sit down and sip slowly. That'll make me enjoy the winterfest activities of my horses. After all, they seem to be having fun.

Want to share a comment? Click on "comments" below. I love to read what you write!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Somethin' Cookin' in the Kitchen

My constant complaining about a lack of rain must've worked. Somehow. Because Friday and Saturday it poured for hours. Fortunately we have several drains set in our ground out back, so the footing and paddocks are fine. The neighborhood horse trail that runs along the front of our house? Not so much. It began to resemble a mini-Grand Canyon by sunrise. That's now fixed, though, too, because my husband is nothing if not a one man construction crew.

When it rains, and I'm stuck inside, I tend to cook. And with this being the holiday season, I began to reconsider my past experiences with concocting homemade pet treats. They make clever, homestyle gifts for animal-loving friends and families. Allegedly. I always seem to have a success rate of about 50%. Half of my homemade animal goodies end up being "do overs." But then, that's about the same success rate I have with human cookies. Only a few end up being fit for public display or consumption.

One year I tried to make "healthy" doggie treats for everyone I knew who had barn dogs. I remember hunting down organic flour from a health food store and a special brand of (human) baby food that was, more or less, minimally processed strained calve's liver. Mmmmmmm!

You can imagine how scrumptious my kitchen smelled for days. Not even industrial strength Christmas candles labeled "Balsam Fir" or "Peppermint Snowstorm" could alleviate the odor of whole grain flour baked with liver-flavored baby food.

They stunk. They were ugly beige colored lumps that fought being disguised by my colorful attempts at gift wrapping. But the barn dogs did eat them.

That escapade has left me a little circumspect about making horse treats for my barn friends this year. However, these recipes found on Horse Channel seem foolproof, though I would strongly suggest laying down wax paper across your kitchen counter tops before beginning the process:
Make a Mess, Make Horse Treats

Of course, that's part of the fun of making homemade goodies, whether they're for horses, humans or canines: getting your hands--and most of your kitchen utensils-- dirty.

So let me conclude by saying that if the weather continues to be unpredictable, and I'm therefore prevented from riding, I may just be forced to resort to whipping up some homemade animal treats for gift giving. Secure your spatulas now. And plug your noses.

If you have any comments-- horse treat related or otherwise-- feel free to relate them by clicking on "comments" below.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Word About Static Cling

Is there any point to brushing a horse that's supercharged with static cling? I mean, I swipe the brush across my horse's coat and all I do is draw along a jet stream of grit and dust so that my horse's back looks like an Etch-a-Sketch. Or a really dirty chalkboard. Take your pick of visual images.

And then there's my horse's tail. The hairs are splayed out in every direction like the tips of a well-worn paint brush. I do make an attempt to dampen it with water and comb through the moisture. I even add a dollop of conditioner. But then I'm the one who's supercharged with static electricity. Without thinking I grab hold of the metal latch on the tackroom door and I'm momentarily set aglow like Frankenstein's monster. ZAP!

So I'm guessing that you get that it's really, really dry out here right now. At least we have a chance of rain. It's a major news event for us in Southern California. The mere hint of rain clouds and it's deemed "breaking news" on the Los Angeles networks. I stock up on hay, put a bag of shavings in each covered corral and wait for the storm clouds. In reality we'll be lucky to get some light drizzle. But it's a start.

I really shouldn't complain about our winter weather... or lack thereof. Some of you have shared your winter weather experiences. In Michigan, one reader wrote, the saddles have already been stored away for the winter so she's riding bareback (when the freezing weather allows her to ride at all). A North Carolina reader shared that she is usually treated to ice storms and frozen trees. And in Montana, another reader wrote that the weather varies widely from relatively warm to snow flurries.

So I probably shouldn't get in a dither about static cling. At least my trees aren't freezing and I'm not forced to ride bareback. Yet.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Adopt a Motto

I'm going to share one of my greatest revelations with you: Life is not fair. Once I adopted that motto it was easier for me to deal with some of the Big Questions. For example, why do the nicest people often endure the worst luck? Not all of my ponderings deal with Big Questions. Sometimes I wonder why a lot of money doesn't necessarily guarantee me a decent haircut. But as a horsewoman, my life is not fair mantra is doled out on a regular basis to talented, enthusiastic young riders who lament that they will probably never get an opportunity to ride in the big medal finals or try out for a national team or test their skills in a gran prix jumper class. Why? Because they don't have access to a horse whose price tag is equivalent to the appraised value of their parents' house. Or their last name isn't Bloomberg, Springsteen, Selleck or Firestone.

You see, to play in the big sandbox you have to have the fancy toys. And buying a fancy horse, one capable of negotiating the big courses and "looking the part," is generally not possible for middle class (or even the ambiguously titled upper middle class) kids. In this regard, equestrian competition is far, far different than the majority of sports. If your expensive toy--the horse--breaks, it's an outrageous challenge to replace it. It's not as if you can just stop by the local sporting goods store and pick up another soccer ball or a new pair of track shoes.

And then there's the upkeep of the fancy toy. Enough said about that.

This is not meant to cast doubt on the talent and dedication of those riders who do happen to have access to a financial wellspring. I've seen the junior and young adult riders at the upper tip of the pyramid compete, and they are inspiring in their abilities. Trust me, they are not merely posing, pointing and praying. They are riding.

But how many other kids could also ride as well if they, too, were given the same opportunities?

Like I said, life is not fair.

So what can an aspiring young equestrian do to fulfill his or her dreams of competing at the top? You can become a working student with a top tier trainer. Attend clinics and demonstrate your determination and talent. Clinics also give you exposure to the teaching methods of the world's best professionals. Then, with an experienced trainer by your side, use your horsemanship skills and all of your pennies to purchase or lease a horse with enough athleticism to allow you to compete at the upper levels, even if only for a year or two.

Or you can adopt another motto: Be a big fish in a small pond. Or, as my mother would say, "Bloom where you're planted." In other words, strive to be a champion competitor at the level you and your family can afford. Good sportsmanship and solid riding skills will mark you as a winner regardless of whether you're competing at an AA-rated USEF show, a county-rated show or a 4H show. Instead of aiming for national recognition, endeavor to be kind to your horse, polite to show officials and cordial to your fellow competitors. Allow yourself to grow as an individual. When met with adversity in the show ring (and there will be plenty of adversity), muster up some courage, re-evaluate what went wrong, pick up the reins and go in again.

Ultimately what matters in life is not where you win, but how you win. Horse shows should be about more than building a wall full of ribbons; they should also be lessons in building character. And that leads to yet another motto you can adopt: Be a champion wherever you compete.

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Where the Wind Comes Right Behind the... Wind

I'm sitting at my desk right now, looking out the window and calculating how long it will take before my neighbor's tree finally loses its battle against the 60mph winds and kicks up its roots in defeat. Fortunately, our trees are staked with what I can only describe as tent poles. And the roof over our corrals and the turnout paddock continues to stay intact, so I'm fairly content. I'm just bleary-eyed from lack of sleep. I don't sleep well in the wind.

At about 1:30 this morning I opened the back door in response to an odd clanging noise. It was terribly gusty. At any moment I expected to see a swarm of flying monkeys circling above my tackroom. Though I wasn't stepping outside into Oz, I was venturing into a windswept landscape that was made even more eerie by the milky light of a full moon. I followed the rhythmic, metallic sound and discovered it wasn't a broken hinge or a banging, open door but Wally rattling the snap on the gate of the paddock, where I'd left him overnight. Even with his windproof sheet on, he was mighty uncomfortable. He wanted inside his house. And he was letting me know it by flipping the gate latch over and over and over and over and over and over again.

Alright already!

I put him in his cozy covered corral, alongside Lexi, and he seemed much more at peace. Good for him. I, however, was now wide awake. I went back inside, plopped down on the couch, and listened to the wind. I happen to enjoy winter. It's the winter weather that I'm not fond of.

So, how's your winter weather so far? Click on "comments" below or email me at

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

I'm not much of a meat eater. Even when I was competing on the horse show circuit I was known for dragging along my miniature microwave oven that was about the size of a shoe box and had wattage that equaled an Easy Bake oven. While everyone else would go out to dinner and dine on who knows what at the showgrounds, I was huddled in my motel room, hovering over my midget microwave while it labored to cook frozen rice and peas or a Idaho potato. So when Thanksgiving comes around I'm not drooling over the carcass of poultry in the oven or deliberating about whether I want light or dark meat. I'm savoring the creamed corn, the sweet potato casserole, the roasted Brussels sprouts and the gingered carrots.

My husband, on the other hand, eats as if I haven't fed him in a week.

My two horses have comparable eating habits. Wally literally makes sounds while he mooshes his way through his bucket of pellets. Whatever happens to get inside his mouth is fine with him. His lips are coated with a crust of pellet dust and saliva. It's fortunate he's not a guy. What woman would date a man who slobbered at the table and made yummy-bear sounds while he chewed?

Lexi is a dainty, picky eater. She will push aside her pellets looking for that one last oat kernel at the bottom of her bucket. Were she a human, she'd be the prissy lady who took forever in the buffet line. She'd hold the salad tongs in her hand and forage through the bowl of spring greens, hunting only for radicchio and baby spinach.

Finally, someone behind her (probably my cousin Rick) would call out, "Just grab a bunch of salad and move on, Lexi! We're starvin' here!"

I'm sure your family has its own cast of characters, just like mine. And you can probably envision what it'd be like if your horses happened to magically, mystically show up at your Thanksgiving table. What a sight, eh? Now that would be a holiday to remember!

May you have a bountiful, lovely Thanksgiving, surrounded by friends and family!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

My Westlish Gelding

One of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me was when my neighbor, Gary, called to me from across the street. "Good morning, Cowgirl!" he said.

Gary, you see, is an older fellow who has a long, respected reputation as a working western rider. He has many a tale to share about his own life with horses. So when I hopped on Wally in his western saddle and picked up the pair of split reins, and Gary referred to me as a "cowgirl," I was honored.

And then, of course, I had to ride Wally the very next day in English tack, as you see here. But that's what's nice about Wally and other horses like him, the horses sometimes jokingly referred to as being all-around westlish horses. They're well trained western but they're also nice to ride English. What the heck, they'll even hop over a crossrail or low vertical jump if asked. While Wally will never step inside a show ring with me, I do enjoy riding him huntseat every now and then. It helps me recall the many years (okay, decades) I spent competing in huntseat equitation. Wally has a to-die-for sitting trot. Where was he when I was doing all those medal class work-offs?

And so, while I may treasure earning the accolade of "cowgirl" from my neighbor, I'll never let go of my huntseat past. Wally's just fine with that, too.

If you'd like to share a tale about your westlish horse-- or any other comment-- click on "comments" below or email me at . I love reading all your emails and comments!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Truth is Funnier (or is that More Funny?) than Fiction

One of the most gratifying-- and enjoyable-- aspects of writing my Life with Horses column for Horse Illustrated, and now in blog form, has been the amusing tales readers share. My recent blog entry, "I am Such a Dork" elicited some humorous responses. One reader shared how she had valiantly tried to super clean the tackroom by power washing it. Unfortunately, there wasn't any drain in the floor, so... Well, we can all imagine what a soaked tackroom floor can smell like after a few hours, right?

Then there was the tale from a huntseat rider who could not remember her courses. However, she could remember one course. So she kept riding that one. Three times over.

Ah, if we cannot laugh at ourselves, who can we laugh at?

I'll try to comfort myself with that thought the next time I trip myself with my spurs, miss the entire wheelbarrow with a scoop of poop or get to a horse show and realize I've forgotten my horse's bridle. Why? Because eventually I'll laugh at it all. I hope.

To leave a comment, just click on "comments" below or email me at:

Friday, November 16, 2007

My Drama Queen

I'm becoming known as the lady with the loud palomino mare. Whenever I ride off on Wally, my Paint gelding, Lexi stands in her paddock and calls for him. A lot. She doesn't go crazy. It's not like she's wildly pacing back and forth, working up a sweat and threatening to commit suicide. She just neighs, as if to say, "Where are you going? When will you be back? Should I put the hay in the oven now, or are we going out tonight?"

Okay, that last part I exaggerated. But you get the idea. Lexi is a drama queen. And since we live atop a little bluff at the corner of a main street in our horsey neighborhood her whinnying trumpets for several blocks.

People who live several streets over have seen me riding on the trails and remarked, "Oh, I know you. You're the one with the noisy palomino."

My golden lady, she doth protest too much when Wally leaves.

Wally, on the other hand, is more aloof. Plus he has a low, hoarse horse voice. If he were an actor I'm guessing he'd be one of those quiet, romantic types. You can hardly hear him when he nickers. When I ride off on Lexi he'll watch us ride away and then flutter his nostrils with a faint snuffling sound... and then go back to eating whatever it is I tossed in his feed bucket.

"Oh, she'll be back," he's probably thinking. "The women can't stay away from me for long. I'm just too cool. Besides, this carrot is mighty tasty."

See how I so easily attach emotions to my horses? I suppose we're all guilty of that. But who can blame us. Anyone who's spent their life around horses knows that some equines are drama queens and some are aloof. Some are real characters with a sense of humor and others are stoic and distant. Yet each has a distinct personality, if we allow ourselves the time to discover it. For more insight on this subject, read this article currently on Horse Channel:
Horse Emotions

Then let me know if your horse speaks to you.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

I am Such a Dork

Occasionally I do something so stupid that I'm glad no one was around to witness my behavior. For example, the other day I was in a hurry to fly spray Lexi. After a handful of brisk, cool days all it took was one sunny morning and the flies returned, as if they'd come home from a holiday. So I reached into the tackroom and grabbed the white plastic bottle of repellent. I began spritzing and blasting away until a fine mist covered my mare. Oddly, the flies were not repelled. And Lexi began to look at me with the most puzzled of expressions.

"Why must I smell like jalapeno salsa?" she seemed to ask.

That's when I looked at the bottle in my hand. Uh-oh. It wasn't the fly spray I had grabbed, but the bottle of No Chew. It's great for Wally-proofing anything Wally might want to idly chomp on, like the occasional hose fixture, the snap end of the longe line or the wooden planter outside the tackroom. But it's not so great as a fly repellent.

So Lexi got a bath.

There have been other "duh!" moments. Like I've rushed out to blanket Wally and Lexi late at night, when a cold front has suddenly crept over the ridge line. My hands are numb, my feet are chilled, my breath creates steam in the night air. All I want to do is get those blankets on and get back inside! My haste, however, usually results in my pulling the blanket over the horse's head, scrambling for surcingle clips and back leg straps, only to discover in my frost-bitten delirium that I have the blanket inside-out.

And finally we have the times where multitudes of people are treated to the spectacle of me being a dork. Worst example? At the top of my own, personal list is the time I was riding in a hunter hack class at a large show benefiting a charity. There was a host of volunteers and spectators, not to mention some high profile riders who'd brought their nice horses to participate. After we'd worked on the flat, we were standing in the center of the arena while the judge explained how he wanted us to take the pair of jumps before us.

Whatever. I was busy yammering (discreetly, so) to my one of my barn buddies who'd parked her horse next to mine in the line-up.

So when it came time to jump, I dutifully backed my gelding out of the line-up, picked up the canter and jumped the two fences. In the wrong direction.

Like I said, sometimes I am such a dork.

Would you like to share an embarrassing moment or any other comment? Click on "comments" below or email me at:

Monday, November 12, 2007

Mutual Mud Baths

Unfortunately, we didn't get any rain. At all. Instead we're currently being treated to another little gift from Mother Nature: howling wind. At least the humidity is up from the worthless storm front that passed us by, so I don't think we'll have any raging wildfires this time around. But I can still dream of rain, right? And several of you shared your rain and mud experiences, which allowed me to live vicariously through your anecdotes.

This Life with Horses reader wrote about how her show mare decided it was the perfect time to indulge in a spa-like mud bath:

"...when i was at a show with my palomino mare Banner, she decided to take a dip in a large mud puddle right before our first halter class."

And this came from a reader writing about her mud drama with her show mule, Two Bits. It was all going so well, despite the mud puddles, until the warm-up ring got a little hectic:

"...a skittish mare suddenly shied into Two Bits, causing him to shy right out from under me. I slid on my back through the mud in my brand-new hunt coat. Dry-clean only? Please! That thing went through the wash and survived for the next day's classes."

It's nice to see that we can all keep our sense of humor when the weather-- and arena conditions-- are against us. Please feel free to remind me of this when I start moaning and complaining later this year when my turn-out paddock is one giant pond and I'm growing algae in my muck boots.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Let's Talk Mud

I sit here at my desk, waiting for rain. Like much of the south and southwest, California could really use a good soaking. Unfortunately, the best I can hope for, according to the almighty weatherman, is some heavy drizzle.

Drizzle would be nice, too. Drizzle puts a light frosting on the tips of my horses' ears and wets the ground to prevent dust, but it's not so wet that I can't ride. And it's not so wet that arenas and showgrounds end up like the one in the photo, above. That was taken a few years ago at the Del Mar Fairgrounds (and racetrack) near San Diego, California. We were all gathered there for our big year-end championship show. My sister, Jill, is there someplace. I was holding the camera so that I could forever immortalize the scene. It rained for three days straight, relentlessly. But since the footing was the same that speedy Thoroughbreds careen around on, regardless of the weather, we kept riding and showing. Slipping or stumbling wasn't an issue. Getting soaked and soggy and miserable certainly was. Competing at that show really tested my committment to showing. Each time I rode in a class with my hunt clothes sopped to my skin I asked myself, "Is this really worth it?"

Of course, being a rabid competitor at the time, all I had to do was glance at the tri-color ribbons and the prizes and I'd immediately answer to myself, "Yes!"

So we had a hair blow dryer hung inside the tackroom. We dried our hunt coats as best we could between classes. We prayed that our tall boots would dry out overnight just enough so that we didn't come down with some crazy flesh-eating toe fungus. And our horses traipsed around in coolers and dress sheets. They were warm and dry, trust me. Us? Not so much. I can recall riding my young gelding down to the first fence in his baby green hunter class, the raindrops slithering off the brim of my helmet, and struggling to see the jump. Finding a decent take-off distance was no longer an issue. Finding the actual jump was!

It was a memorable show to say the least.

So again, I say I'm hoping for rain. I just wish I could get the rain minus the mud.

Have you slogged through the mud and sloshed through rain to ride? Let me-- and the other readers know-- by clicking on "comments" below or emailing me at

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Howling winds, catastrophic wildfires, infernal heat... Now we have fog each morning that seems to hang like lambswool on the tree branches. What's next for southern California? Oh, that's right, I know: an earthquake. Fortunately, the new shelters over my paddocks have withstood an earthquake already, so I guess I'm good to go regardless of what Mother Nature throws at me.

On a different note, I got some wonderful comments related to my post, "How Long do you Stay in Love with a Horse?" I find it comforting that even if we ride different disciplines or are fans of distinctly different breeds of horses, we can all still relate to how much we love these animals. Here's part of a comment I got from Bryana. She's writing about the day that Cody, a mustang she'd gentled, was finally hauled away to his owner's new stable:

"I sat in my truck, watched until the trailer turned the corner and was out of sight, that I let a few tears fall. I dreamt that night of all the peaceful, happy, stressful, boring days that made that certain chapter of my life complete. I still wake up with his smell in the air, or his touch on my fingertips. Now, in the early hours of each morning, I look up into the sky, find the constellation of Orion, and tell him to comfort Cody, and to help him remember me. I believe that you stay in love with a horse forever. There is no end of love, and I believe a horse will always remember not only you, but the many days of doing nothing that you and him spent together."

Then Mary, a young horse lover, wrote about her attachment to Jack, an Appaloosa senior citizen. At the end of her tale she said poignantly, "Horses bring unexpected joy into our lives and we spend the rest of ours trying to thank them."

See? With such warm sentiments it's not so gloomy outside, after all. In fact, I think I'll pull on one of my lambswool sweaters and take Wally for a trail ride.

If you'd like to share a comment on this autumn day, just click on "comments" below or email me at:

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Horses can be finicky eaters. My little mare, for example, will only eat one brand of horse cookie. That's it. One brand. Period. My gelding Wally, however, is the equine version of a junk food addict. A KitKat bar is as good as a donut and a handful of granola is no better than a chunk of watermelon rind. A slurp of soda pop and he's in Paint horse heaven.

A current Horse Channel poll question asks which Halloween trick-or-treat candy your horse might like. That seems like an appropriate topic because we're just working our way through the leftovers now, right? And the supermarket is trying desperately to dispense with all that orange and black colored candy so they can steer us toward the red and green colored candy. (Christmas candy, already, anyone?) *sigh*

While we definitely need to consider each horse's dietary concerns-- no overweight or Cushings disease horses need sugary, high-caloric treats-- you might want to add your thoughts to a chat here: Horse Treat Discussion

In the meantime, my horses Wally and Lexi will have to settle for carrots. I'm hogging the mini-Snickers bars and the candy corn.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

How Long do you Stay in Love with a Horse?

It's been over six months since I sent Penny, the first palomino I ever owned, my "dream horse," to her new home in another state. She'd injured her suspensory to the point that she'd never be rideable, even for trail rides. And I wasn't about to breed her. The days of raising foals was over for me. But because of her bloodlines and her fantastic, metallic golden color, she was highly desirable to breeders of working cow horses and reiners. Once I got her pasture sound it wasn't hard to find her a good home. In fact, I got to select just where she'd go, and she ended up at a wonderful ranch where she's well fed, valued and gets to roam a large grass pasture. And she's already in-foal. She looks happy. But I still miss her.

Even though I have two beautiful horses that are sound, safe and fun to ride on the trails, I still get nostalgic thinking about Penny. I know she's often on my mind because every now and then, when I go to halter or bridle my current palomino mare, Lexi, I accidentally call her, "Penny."

This whole issue comes up because I wandered over to the website of the breeder who owns Penny now and there she is, a lovely photo of her on the page devoted to the ranch's broodmares. I admit it. I got teary-eyed.

So, how long do you stay in love with a horse? What is it that makes us hold on to the depth of emotion that bonded us to a particular equine? Why is it so hard to let go, to embrace the new horse, to wistfully say, "Ah, that mare (or gelding or stallion) was a grand animal, one I'm thankful that I was blessed with," and then move on?

I have photos of Penny. I have memories. But I guess I'll also always have a soft, empty spot in my heart for a horse I'll never stop loving.

If you have a special horse you'd like to tell me about, just click on the word "comments" below or email me at:

Thursday, November 1, 2007

I'm still nibbling on the last pieces of trick-or-treat candy lingering at the bottom of my plastic Jack-o-lantern yet I've noticed that the department stores have already geared up for Christmas. Have you noticed? Now that October is over store managers have no shame. I'm waiting for the first tinsel garland to be draped in a loop-de-loop across a table of kitchen appliances or bedroom slippers.

What about Thanksgiving? Are we expected to just skip over that and head straight to the gift buying season?

I bring up the dizzying changing of the (shopping) seasons because we horse lovers have so much to consider when it comes to the annual giving of gifts. What do we get for our riding instructor? What about the farrier and vet? Do we give each of our barn buddies something? Or should we organize a Secret Santa program at the stable? (if you're struggling too, these ideas might help) And then, of course, we have to be mercenary and think of ourselves: What should we ask for? Better yet, what does our horse need?

I realize there are about 53 days to shop before Christmas, but I get a little nervous nonetheless, even if I feel guilty for mentally shoving the pilgrims and Tom Turkey to the back of my mind.

Perhaps this year I'll try to ignore the tinsel, the red and green aisle displays, the pocket-sized cookbooks stacked at the checkout line touting Christmas cookies, and the cargo hold of wrapping paper that now greets me at the entrance to my local drug store. Instead I'll focus on riding my horses on the trails and appreciating the changing of the seasons.. the riding seasons, that is, not the shopping seasons!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Cow Pony

It's nearly Halloween so I thought I'd share a photo of a true cow pony. Yes, that's a pony underneath the bovine attire. And I'm the guilty party who had an abundance of felt, a hardy sewing machine and far too much time on my hands. One year, when I was consumed with competing on the local county circuit and staying in contention for year-end awards, I became very ill and required some emergency abdominal surgery. Needless to say, I was suddenly out of competition. Literally. So when it came time for the annual end-of-the-year championship show-- held each October the week of Halloween -- I had to find some way to still participate. So along with cheering on my barn buddies who were vying for the year-end titles, I decided to create an entry for the costume class!

I designed a cow costume for a very compliant pony hunter in my trainer's barn. My victim? A pudgy gray mare named Amanda. I made my own pattern, holding tracing paper up to Amanda's body and measuring with a tape as I went along with a felt-tipped pen. Then I cut and sewed and glued felt together, also attaching wide strips of elastic to the "cow legs" so that Amanda could step into her "cow pants." The mask was the best part, as then Amanda was truly a cow and not a pony.

My trainer, Susan, dressed up like a farm girl. She borrowed a big brass cow bell from her neighbor and hung that around Amanda's neck, and then carried a real life baby calf bottle.

When it came time for the costume class, we all gathered at the back of the show barn to put the finishing touches on Amanda's get-up before she went into the arena. It was a melee of people wielding scissors, yarn, needles and thread and a very gooey hot glue gun. That's when this snapshot was taken. (You'll have to forgive the port-o-potty in the background, but then, what's a horse show without its port-o-potties, right?)

The class was huge! But Amanda was the only horse or pony wearing a costume from head to tail. That, apparently, disturbed the other entrants because as Susan led her into the arena there was much snorting and prancing and whirling. Poor Amanda! We could see the expression in her big brown pony eyes through the cut-outs of her cow mask. She looked as if she were saying, "Hey, it's just me: Amanda. I've been competing here all week. What's wrong with you guys?"

Obviously, Amanda was unaware she'd been transformed into a cow.

Fortunately the other four-legged entrants soon calmed down. I think they all acclimated to the bizarre outfits of all the other equines and figured it was simply the silliest darn horse show class they'd ever participated in.

When the awards were announced, Amanda had won. I was so happy! Even though I wasn't able to ride in the championship show that year, I was still able to participate, even if it was on the sidelines, and even if it was as the costume designer to the cow pony.

However you celebrate, I hope you have a happy, safe Halloween!

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Monday, October 29, 2007

My Life as a Horse Show Judge

Yesterday I judged a horse show near Los Angeles. This was a county-rated hunter and equitation show and I was assigned to officiate over the arena where the crossrail and novice rider divisions were being held. Maybe it's because I taught kindergarten and first grade for a while but I enjoy sympathizing with the little kids whose ponies won't quite make it past the outgate without some demonstration of their displeasure. And I have 40-something barn buddies who bear an expression of mortification as they gallop toward their first jump on course. So I'm right at home judging these sorts of classes. Believe me, I'm right up there in the judge's booth wishing and hoping and silently clucking along with every rider.

Yesterday was no exception. The cutest bunch of little kids rode in the "mini stirrup" division. That's for munchkins 8-years-old and under. They jump a course of 2-foot fences. Admirably, each child was properly mounted on a suitable pony or reliable older horse, and their coaches and trainers had prepared them well. Nonetheless, there were some priceless moments. Like my fellow judges, I'm not much for dispensing advice at shows. I'm there to judge, not to conduct a clinic or lesson. But when one little girl, not much bigger than a ladybug, knocked herself out of a ribbon in the equitation flat class, I felt compelled to speak to her.

I picked up my walkie-talkie and asked the announcer to tell the little kid to ride over to me. She did. In a moment I was staring at the face of a sweet little girl with an upturned nose like a pixie and a set of braids adorned with pink bows.

"Honey," I said, "when you're doing the sitting trot and I ask for a canter, you're not supposed to walk first. You need to go directly into the canter."

She looked at me with big, blue, puppy dog eyes and said, "I'm sorry."

"No, no, you don't have to apologize," I said, unable to avoid laughing. "But you're so good," I explained, "this close to being perfect. And I just wanted you to know why you didn't get a ribbon."

That's when her coach approached and we all had a 30-second confab on the importance of keeping our pony on our aids in an equitation class so we're prepared for whatever the judge might ask.

As the day wore on, the riders got older. I had a bunch of adults, two of which had a habit of conversing with their horses throughout their entire hunter class. Goodness knows I've had many a conversation with my show horses while on course, but it wasn't always something I'd want my mother-- much less the judge-- hear! However, these two gals were both more genteel. One lady, aboard a very handsome flea-bitten gray, kept saying things like, "Oh, you're such a good boy, I'm going to give you extra treats."

Naturally, the silver-colored gelding was the type to be a good boy regardless of treat enticements.

The other lady voiced a running commentary on her round. Her horse, a very typey chestnut gelding, cruised over the jumps at what could best be described as a congenial lope. The lanky red horse gave no indication he was going to refuse a jump, yet I could hear the lady saying things like, "Ugh! I can't make him get going!" Was that directed at me or to her trainer?

All in all it was an interesting day. When I went into the horse show office to pick up my check, I got a lot of positive feedback from the manager and several of the competitors' trainers. I'm glad I got to share in their day at the horse show, which provided another experience in my life with horses.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

It's amazing the things you toss out, only to rediscover years later that those very same items were really quite valuable, if only in sentimental terms. Classic horse books are such things, in my mind. I used to hoarde them when I was young, as if each one was a literary treasure. At the very least, they were my refuge. I could lose myself among the pages of a great horse story. At least for a while I could be on the back of a galloping Arabian stallion, or hunkering down with a pony during an East coast storm, or gentling a mustang filly named Flicka. I'm not sure why I cast off these hardcover gems originally. But for the last few years I've been re-collecting them all. My bookshelf has become a stable of classic horse books from my youth: Smoky (3 copies), Black Beauty (a pair of copies, each with a different illustrator), Ride Like an Indian (an admirable admonition if there ever was one), and many others, including a healthy dose of Marguerite Henry and C.W. Anderson.

A while back we conducted our own informal survey of favorite horse books for Horse Illustrated. You can read the list of favorites here:
Favorite Classic Horse Books

While re-reading that list I found the lack of contemporary horse fiction interesting. So someday I may write my own. I can't reveal much about the plot, as it's in a rough draft format now, except to say that it includes lots of action, some humor, at least one great horse and a dash of romance. You know, just an everyday sort of tale that occurs all the time when you spend your life with horses!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Great Corn Escapade

That's a very special bag of frozen corn that I'm holding next to my mare, Lexi, in this photograph. In fact, I dare say that no one will ever consume the corn in that bag. Of course, there's a story that goes along with it. And since there isn't much happy news in my part of the world-- wildfires have yet to be quelled and it's 95 degrees, dry and smoky-- I thought I'd share something that happened a few weeks ago in my life with horses...

Ron and I had left our bedroom windows open in hopes that the night air would help cool off the interior of the house. He slept fine. I'm a notoriously light sleeper, however, so the fact that it didn't cool off kept me tossing and turning. About 2:00 am I could hear Lexi really thrashing around in her paddock. I knew something was up, so I hopped out of bed, shoved my feet into my slippers and dashed outside. Sure enough, something had really upset her. She was extremely aggitated, but even more peculiar, she would suddenly cease her whirling around to sit on the paddock railing and rub her tail. I mean, really, really rub her tail. I could hear the fenceposts creaking against her weight.

Unfortunately, this was a moonless night, so I ran back to the tackroom and grabbed a flashlight. I put a halter on Lexi and led her out of her paddock. She was in such a dither I figured the last thing I wanted to try was tying her up in the inky blackness. So I held the end tip of the lead rope with one hand and inspected her with the flashlight with the other hand. She seemed in good condition except for a furiously flicking tail. Naturally, you know what that meant: I had to reconnoiter hands, leadrope, flashlight and antsy palomino mare to look under her tail and see what I could see. Nothing like performing an equine gynecological inspection at 2:00 am, right?

What I saw startled me. Forgive me for being a bit clinical, but Lexi's vulva and vaginal region was swollen as if she'd just given birth. Having foaled out dozens of Thoroughbreds and warmbloods in the past, I was familiar with that post-partum appearance, but it just didn't make sense. Nonetheless, I couldn't stop myself from glancing at the bedding in her paddock, just to make sure there wasn't an unplanned surprise there. Nope. I just had a mare with a very uncomfortable, uhm, mare problem. At 2:00 am.

I put her back in her paddock and considered my options. For a moment I considered calling my vet, Jennifer. She's actually a good friend of mine, but not even good friends like to be called at 2:00 am for anything less than an emergency. Was this an emergency? Did I want to use my "Get Your Vet Out of Bed Free Card" for a swollen, itchy horse hoochie?

I decided to hold off until colic, fever or hemorrhagic bleeding was involved. It was obvious that Lexi wasn't suffering from some spontaneous vaginal tumor, nor was she bleeding or systemically ill. When she wasn't thinking about scratching her itch, she would munch hay. Hence, rather than rousting Jennifer, I figured that applying cold water might make Lexi feel better until sunrise. Then I could call Jennifer. With a new treatment regimen, I led Lexi in the dark over to the faucet, turned on the hose and then tried to juggle lead rope, flashlight (because I needed to aim just right), hose and horse tail. It was sort of like target practice by Braille. With water.

That did not go as planned.

Reasoning that the water was the problem-- Lexi was none too happy about undergoing hydrotherapy in the dark-- I came upon another bright idea: Applying ice to the afflicted area.

I bet you're seeing where the bag of frozen corn comes in, right?

I stuck Lexi back in her paddock and sprinted back inside to my kitchen. I rummaged around in the freezer, looking for that bag of frozen peas all of us horse lovers are supposed to keep on hand for times like this, when we need an impromptu cold compress. But the only frozen green veggie I had was a package of Brussels sprouts. And that just seemed like not a good choice. Then I spied the bag of corn. Purchased on sale, I'd been saving it for Thanksgiving, when I'm traditionally summoned to produce my famous creamed corn casserole. But it was needed now.

I dashed back outside and grabbed Lexi again. Wisely, I decided this was going to be a two-fisted operation, so I abandoned the flashlight. I looped the leadrope over the hitching post and lifted Lexi's tail. I stood off to the side just in case she took offense and kicked. I talked to her in a soothing tone, as soothing as I could before I put a bag of frozen vegetables under her tail. And then one, two, three! I zeroed in on Lexi's puffy parts and pressed the cold corn against the swelling.

Lexi was a bit startled, to say the least. But after a few moments, she stood still. I held the bag there for a good ten minutes, hoping that the corn wouldn't defrost before Lexi got some relief. Despite my concern over Lexi's predicament, I started to laugh. Why on earth does anyone ever think that owning a horse is glamorous? It was now 3:00 am and I was still in my pajamas and slippers holding a bag of frozen veggies on my mare's vulva.

Eventually, I re-inspected Lexi and determined that the swelling had subsided. She seemed more comfortable, so I put her back in her paddock. I then retrieved a patio chair and plunked myself down in front of her gate, just so I could keep an eye on her.

It seemed like an eternity, but eventually the horizon lightened. It was time to call Jennifer, now that the worst of the crisis was over. But I felt that I needed a true diagnosis just in case this happened again. Since Jennifer lives just a few blocks away, she arrived in minutes. She did her exam, and then told me what I had already figured: Lexi had been bitten by a bug, perhaps even a spider.

"When the swelling goes down completely you may even see the actual site of the bite," she said. Jennifer said that she's even seen young fillies, not even weaned yet, get bitten under the tail. "It's dark, it's soft, it's warm and moist in that area," she explained. "The horse lies down and the bug or spider heads for that area."

With a shot of pain meds and some oral steroids, the swelling improved dramatically in just a few hours. By the next day, Lexi was completely back to normal. Trust me, I checked.

As for the corn? I decided to re-freeze it and keep it on hand for a little while, just as a joke. That plastic bag of veggies has gained quite a reputation. And, amazingly enough, it's almost the end of October and I haven't been asked to bring my creamed corn casserole to the family Thanksgiving party.

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Yesterday, between battling wind gusts and battening down the hatches (I think that's an old sailing term but it describes my windy day duties perfectly), I noticed the faint yet distinctive scent of smoke in the air. And this wasn't the smoke from a barbecue or a fireplace. It was the acrid, nose-stinging odor of a wildfire. The hills directly behind my new home had burned last year, right up to the backyard fence of one of my neighbors. Fortunately, neither homes nor horses were lost in that blaze. But some of the other horse lovers in this region aren't so lucky this year.

The smoke I'd detected was not from my immediate area. Instead it was an endless cloud of smoke produced by at least a half-dozen wildfires throughout Southern California. I knew it was bad when my friend, Andrea, called me on her cell phone. She had judged a horse show in Santa Barbara (about 2 hours north of L.A.) and was headed home. But the fire in Malibu had closed the freeway and she needed a circuitous route. I linked up to Mapquest and sent her inland. When she finally got home that night, she called to tell me that the route had taken her on a tour of many of the California fires.

"It's horrible," she said. "My car is covered in ash, like it was snowed on."

Then I read this news item in Horse Channel's breaking news section:
Horses Lost in Wildfire

It's particularly poignant to me as I've been to Golden Eagle Farm, where apparently so many horses were lost. The site is a bastion of quality homebred California Thoroughbreds. In fact, we encouraged our cousin to name her show horse in honor of one of Golden Eagle's most famous race horses, Best Pal. I can't imagine the horror felt by the staff at Golden Eagle Farm-- of seeing the wildfire, whipped by incredible winds, marching like an invading force of soldiers over the hillside. How do you save hundreds of horses in a matter of minutes?

My husband and I have already discussed just how we'd evacuate Wally and Lexi. And our town, Norco, is very much a horsekeeping community. There's a citywide evacuation plan for horses and large animals, as well as a long list of volunteers trained for such an emergency. If you have horses anywhere near a fire-prone area, I encourage you to have a plan in case you need to flee. Sometimes, when you smell smoke, it's already too late.

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

The wind began last night. Or I guess it was very early this morning. It all depends on your perspective but I was sound asleep at 1:30 am when the first wave of gusts hit so I'm going to refer to it as "last night."

The winds we get in our part of Southern California are pretty astonishing. Big tractor-trailer rigs flip over like pancakes on the nearby freeway. Huge pepper trees snap like uncooked spaghetti. And our endless drought conditions leave the hillsides ripe for disaster, making any whiff of smoke a cause for alarm. The horses out here don't care for the windy weather, either. But after they've lived in this region for a while, they get used to it. They adapt and learn to persevere.

Fortunately, mine are pretty well sheltered in their covered paddocks. Nonetheless, once my husband and I were awake-- and I mean wide awake-- at 1:30 am, it became my duty to venture outside repeatedly and make sure my horses hadn't pulled a Wizard of Oz and blown away.

"I think you'd better go outside ever so often and check on Lexi and Wally," Ron said.

"Uhm, check on them and do precisely what?" I wondered.

"Well, if they're really upset from the wind, I guess we could put them inside the garage," he replied.

Oh, now wouldn't that be special, my horses weathering the wind storm inside the garage! We could turn on the radio, open up the little fridge we keep out there and let them snack on 7-Up and oatmeal cookies. When they got tired, they could hunker down on that old army cot. Or maybe Wally the Wonder Paint would like to open up the tool chest and do some woodworking while Lexi caught up on her reading, browsing through our stack of dusty National Geographic magazines.

Needless to say, the horses stayed put. Thus far the roofs atop their shelters have as well.

So for all of you in other parts of the country who envy our generally mild winters, take solace in knowing that we don't always have horseback riding weather all of the time. During wind storms like this, we just adapt. And persevere.

Have you and your horses endured some incredible weather? Please share. I'd love to commiserate! Just click on "comments" below or email me at:

Friday, October 19, 2007

So I bought my husband a horse...

I really did search for just the right horse for my husband. Like most men, he wanted a horse that was cool to look at to boost his ego. But he also wanted a horse that was quiet and well trained, so as not to bruise his ego when it misbehaved. And so I bought him Wally, a Paint gelding that had won quite a bit in the walk/jog division. Naturally, I did not tell my husband that the horse's main claim to fame was as a kid's show horse that was never challenged to lope or break a sweat, because that would be an affront to the male ego. (See: explanation, above).

Thanks to a 30-day tune-up with yours truly, Wally does indeed lope quite nicely on command now. And, as a horsey wife, I am lucky that my husband was willing to take a lot of lessons to learn how to ride properly. (Just look past the fact that in this photo he has assumed the traditional Manly Saddle Slouch).

I'm also lucky that I'm married to a guy who is one of those all-around athletic types. He took to riding quite easily, and we spend at least one day a week trail riding together. Of course, being a man and all, my husband perpetually wants to go faster than a walk, which leaves Wally wondering just what happened to those walk/jog competitions.

Have any horse husband comments to share? Email me at: or just click on the word "comments" below!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

I've been getting some feedback and emails from readers. Thanks for your comments. Keep them coming!

After I wrote about how my young riding students were bundles of endless energy at last weekend's horse show, one mom related in an email how her young daughter was so gung-ho about riding that a good winter snow sounded appealing. Such inclement weather would mean a temporary ban on her daughter's riding, which would allow the adults to catch their breath.

I find the enthusiasm little girls have for their ponies and horses endearing. I have one little girl (who doesn't yet have her very own horse) who, when permitted to choose the decor for her new bedroom, insisted that it be decorated like a stable. Her closet doors are rough-hewn, unfinished wood. There's a mural of a stable shedrow on her wall and the headboard of her bed is made of jump standards and crossed rails. Her grandmother, caught up in the creative frenzy, explained how she was going to turn the flower boxes outside the window sill into mangers and fill them with straw. I have yet to see it in person, but I understand that it could start a new trend: Barn Chic.

The only aspect of a horsey lifestyle that makes it into my interior design is dust. I tried once to integrate a lovely striped Navajo saddle blanket (well, I thought it was lovely) into my living room by using it as a throw rug. My husband was aghast. "People will think you were sitting on the floor cleaning your western tack," he said.

He also put the kybosh on hanging a collection of vintage snaffle bits on the wall. "The place will look like a blacksmith's workshop!"

Thank goodness I didn't give in to impulse and buy those wagon wheel planters, huh?

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Consider this the first installment in a recurring series I'll call: Things that Torment Horse Show Judges.

Today's episode: The Small Class Crisis

One of the worst dilemmas I face when I'm judging a horse show is having to decide the ribbon placings in a small flat class of maybe 2-4 riders. Let me explain why.

When a flat class is large it's actually quite simple, most of the time, to spot the first three placings right away. They shine. The other rankings tend to fall into place as the class progresses. Of course, when a flat class is too large it engenders a whole other rant about trying to sort through 16 identical bay geldings, each ridden by a girl in a navy blue huntcoat. But that's a topic for later!

The very small classes are challenging to judge for two reasons. First, there's the decision-making process. If it's an equitation class, a small class of riders forces me to consider which is a worse flaw: A lower leg that is shoved in front of the girth or a rider who doesn't seem to be fully in control of her mount. In hunters under saddle, what exactly am I supposed to do with a trio of horses, none of which epitomizes anything near the ideal under saddle horse? Should I pin the horse that's stiff behind over the horse that moves like a sewing machine in front? Second, there's the emotional aspect of judging a small class. This is really hard if the competitors are all cute, earnest little kids. I know I'm supposed to be as objective as possible, and award the blue ribbon to the most deserving exhibitor. But I also hate to be the person who very clearly conveys the message that darling, pony-tailed Samantha aboard fuzzy, sweet-natured Starlight is going to get third place out of three once again. If I could explain why to the kids and their parents-- that if Samantha learned to tell when she was on the wrong lead, or if Starlight didn't toss his head at the halt-- then maybe I wouldn't feel so conflicted. But at most of the shows I judge, I rarely get that opportunity. I am, after all, there to judge, not to host a training clinic.

And so, this ends Part One of Things that Torment Horse Show Judges.