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.

Share your thoughts by clicking on "comments" below or emailing me at:

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!