Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Wally as Poet, Part II

I came home today from teaching my riding lessons and went straight to the medicine cabinet. I had to give the lesson horse a quick school through a grid of jumps and it jolted my neck and set off painful muscle spasms. Needless to say, I wasn't in any condition to ride Wally as planned. It made me feel guilty. He stood at the gate, nickering at me, wondering why I was ignoring him. I couldn't resist his cute face. I went into the feedroom, grabbed a handful of peppermints and apologized. In response, Wally wrote this haiku:
Mother is unsound
She's creaky like old race horse
I know a good vet...
Hopefully I can saddle up Wally and trail ride him tomorrow. Otherwise he may have something even worse to say about me!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Wally as Poet

Wally occasionally greets me in the morning with small patches of hives. Oddly, he only gets The Bumpies on exposed parts of his body, which prompted my vet to surmise that it's some sort of contact allergy. Yet I've tried switching fly sprays, feed, shampoo and bedding. I've had Wally sleep outside in his paddock on dirt and inside in his stall on shavings. Nothing seems to matter. So my solution is to clothe him from head to toe before he goes to bed. It beats dosing him daily with antihistamines. The bad news? My horse looks like a professional wrestler before sunset. After I dress him in his pajamas, Wally always looks so humiliated. He's undoubtedly the most expressive horse I've ever owned. In fact, he recently began composing poetry to convey his feelings. He favors haiku, a Japanese form of poetry that is both succinct and descriptive. Haikus always have 5 syllables in the first line, 7 in the second and 5 again in the third. Here's the first haiku that Wally allowed me to share:
I have allergies.
Mother dresses me funny.
I am embarrassed.
With the cold, wet days of winter weather upon us, Wally will have plenty of free time to write plenty of haiku. Who knows what he'll write about next!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

That Christmas Eve Legend

I have a friend named Di (short for Diana) who lives in Ireland. She's a lifelong horsewoman, a former three day eventing rider, who owns a small herd of Irish warmbloods that live in the pasture surrounding her house. Di shares tales of their funny quirks and flirtations with disaster. Each one is a mischief maker, much like my Wally.

Di was the first person that told me the legend about horses-- indeed all barnyard animals-- being blessed with the ability to speak at midnight on Christmas Eve. It's a popular bit of folklore in Ireland and throughout Europe, and I think it's rather intriguing. If you want to read the history of the legend, just click on this link which will take you to the December 24th segment of the Holiday Countdown on Horse Channel:

The Curious Case of the Talking Horses at Midnight

I think this legend captivates me because I would define myself as a spiritual person. I definitely believe there are miraculous things that happen. Usually we're just too busy or too close minded to notice them. Now, does that mean that I'm certain that tonight at midnight Wally will begin conversing? Though I'm not above tip-toeing out to his stall late tonight to see if I can overhear him pontificating, I'll probably stay inside, snuggled under the thick comforter on my bed. Rather than risk the disheartening possibility that Wally will remain silent, I'd prefer to just continue to believe that maybe, just maybe, the legend is true. And wouldn't that be wonderful?

Of course, that then prompts the question: What would Wally say if he did speak?

Part of me thinks he'd say nothing profound. He'd simply chatter about his addiction to peppermint candies or how he relishes freshly baled orchard grass. But then there's another part of me that's confident Wally would utter what I'd love to hear most: That he's grateful he ended up in my backyard; that I'm kind to him; that he enjoys our trail rides; and that he regrets constantly grabbing things in his mouth (like the reins, the lead rope and my shirt sleeve), but he just can't help himself. To hear him reveal such sentiments would make my Christmas that much merrier.
Merry Christmas! And if you'd like to share your thoughts, click on "comments" below or email me at:

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Horse Wear for Christmas

I've only got one more Christmas present to buy and instead of feeling invigorated, like I'm headed out on a hunt, I'm rather melancholy. Buying the final present signals that Christmas is pretty much over. Or at least it's winding down. I think I'm feeling this way because this last, straggling gift is nothing glamorous. I'm on my way out the door to buy a two-piece rain suit for Ron.

The other day, when it was pouring rain and Ron and I were outside, schlepping sandbags across the horse trail in an effort to avoid erosion, we both looked at each other and decided we resembled Sissy Spacek and Mel Gibson in the climatic scene from the 1984 film, "The River." The two stars, husband and wife, were fighting the forces of nature to keep their ranchland from being washed away by floods caused by a relentless storm. At least I had on my famed Goretex parka. Mel-- I mean Ron-- was clothed in only a corduroy shirt, jeans and his muck boots.

I gave him that pair of muck boots last Christmas. When he opened the box, he stared at the rubberized shoes, then looked at me and said in an odd tone, "No one's ever given me a pair of muck boots before."

Well, this Christmas he's going to open a box and discover a men's size medium rain suit. And he'll probably say, "No one's ever given me a rain suit before."

But much like the muck boots, he'll end up by wearing the rain suit more often than he'd like. And so it goes when you live your life around horses. Even Christmas gifts are influenced by the amount of time you spend tending to the beasties.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

"Dear Noah: Please send ark..."

Okay, it can stop raining. Right. Now. As much as I like winter clothing, especially my pretty cashmere sweaters and my snazzy waterproof Goretex parka, I'm really getting sick and tired of peeling off wet socks and towel drying my hair.

For those of you who live in regions where winter comes on with a vengeance, you probably don't understand how devastating it is to Southern California when it rains-- hard-- for several days in a row. We're a bunch of cowards. We become overwhelmed with anxiety when the sun doesn't shine for a couple of days. That's because we simply aren't prepared for cold, stormy weather. Ever. There's too much asphalt and too little infrastructure so any amount of measurable rain results in flooding. And where it doesn't flood, there is mud. Everywhere.

Fortunately, I live on a hillside that's mostly granite and boulders, so I don't have mud. Instead, the water runs off in sheets of glassy wetness. And I also have several in-ground drains. But we've had so much rain for so long a period that my drains simply cannot escort the water off the property fast enough. That means that Wally's turnout is looking less like a sandy paddock and more like the Mississippi delta.

At least Wally's covered stall is cozy and dry... for the most part. When the wind blows, the rain comes down horizontally and blows inside the stall, so there are some wet spots along the inside panels. But otherwise he's quite pampered. Still, when I fed him this evening, he looked at me like, "I've had enough of this wet, cold weather. I am not happy. I would much prefer to get out, thank you very much, so will you please make it stop?"

Believe me, if I had any power over the weather, I would exercise it. If I could control the weather, it'd be perpetually 78 degrees. But then, where's the challenge in living in that type of climate? And when would I ever get the opportunity to wear my Goretex parka? After all, nothing says "feminine glamor" like Goretex.
Got your own winter weather woes? Share them by clicking on "comments" below.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Christmas in My Town

It's getting closer to Christmas! Last night Ron and I attended a party on our street, hosted by one of our horse-owning neighbors. Their house was decorated in a Cowboy Christmas theme. After that, I began to notice some of the other holiday decorations around me. Here's just a sampling of what Wally and I are encountering these days on the local trails:
This sculpture sits in my neighbor's front yard. She added the velveteen cap and cape about a week ago. "I call it 'Santa Horse'," she said.

This afternoon a quartet of riders came down the trail. Each lady was wearing a red sweater and they had their horses decked out in holiday doo-dads. I particularly like the hair accessories on this Haflinger mare. Doesn't she look festive?

And then there's this intriguing display around the corner from my house. The people who live here own several horses, and this statue of a palomino sits alongside their driveway. Since the day after Thanksgiving, the palomino has taken on some Christmas apparel. And it has also acquired a rider. From a distance, when I ride past on Wally, it looks like a monkey. But once I got closer, it's obviously an elf. Either way-- elf or monkey-- when you stick some tinsel and a pair of fake antlers on a horse statue, it ends up being cute. Or at least provocative. I hope that Christmas has come to your town, too!
Click on "comments" below to share your thoughts and ideas.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Never Break One's Own Set of Rules

So today I saddled up Wally and headed down the trail, ignoring one of my own Rules of Engagement Related to High, Frisky Horses. That particular rule would be, "When in doubt, longe first."

But Wally looked so lackadaisical there in his paddock. I thought, "How high can he possibly be?"

I soon found out.

Everything was going fine until I passed a pile of overturned trash cans. Now, usually Wally is very ho-hum about such things, but today he acted as if each topsy turvy trash container was a portal to hell. The next sign that Wally was too high for his own good-- and my safety-- was that we turned the corner and headed past an open pasture where two gals were galloping their horses around the outskirts of a recently furrowed field. I glanced down at Wally's shadow on the ground and I could see that he was holding his tail aloft, sort of how John Henry looked when he pranced to the starting gate.

Oh dear.

As one of the riders sped past me in the opposite direction, Wally began to snort and strut. Anyone who's been aboard a really high, rambunctious horse knows that sound: it's much akin to the snort of a fire-breathing dragon. Or a vacuum cleaner.

My options were limited. I could:

A) hop off and attempt to control Wally from the ground, as I led him with my bad arm for the mile or so it took to get home

B) go the discipline route and try to get his attention focused back on me (which would require me to take a tighter hold of his mouth, not a good idea with a horse who was already bubbling to the brim with energy, much like a bottle of champagne about to pop its cork)

C) stay on and rely on another one of my Rules of Engagement Related to High, Frisky Horses: "When in Doubt, Go Forward!"

I settled on Option C. And thus I rode home much like Neptune aboard a sea serpent, with Wally beneath me gallumping along at a rollicking canter with an arched neck, enflamed nostrils and a flagging tail.

I rode past my house and went straight to the arena, where Mr. Wally was treated to about 30 minutes of flatwork. We leg yielded diagonally across the arena. We sidepassed. We loped circle after circle after circle. We made numerous loops at the extended trot. My neighbor, Audrey, rode in on her mustang gelding and asked how Wally was today. I told her all about the near-explosion on the trail.

"You're so brave, Cindy," is what she said.

No, truly, bravery had little to do with it. I merely ran out of other options. (See: A through C, above).

Naturally, once I was satisfied that Wally was both tired and submissive, I left the arena and revisited the same exact trail route I'd taken earlier. You know, just to see if Wally would behave. Or maybe I was tempting fate. Whatever.

Fortunately, Wally was fine. He even waltzed past the cluster of over-turned trash cans without so much as flicking a sorrel ear at them. However, despite my eventual success story, I know that next time, when it's cool and breezy and Wally hasn't been worked in a couple of days, I'll stick to my rules.
Have your own "rules"? Want to share those or any other thoughts, just click on "comments" below or email me at:

Monday, December 8, 2008

But I Want to Ride MY Horse!

"You can have 10 horses and every single one of them can have some reason why they can't be ridden."

That was what my vet said this morning when she handed me some additional meds to keep on hand for Wally. I had just whined that what I needed was a second horse for back-up, for days when Wally was-- for whatever reason-- out of commission. My vet's point was that the average horse is forever finding ways to maim or lame itself, so adding another one wasn't necessarily going to help me out. When I grumbled she added, "Welcome to the world of horses."

No kidding.

As you might recall, I spent a minor fortune on Legend shots for Wally, in hopes that it would stave off the arthritis in his hocks that made him a little creaky on some days. Perhaps that was accomplished. I can't tell yet. What I do know is that last week, once I had him tacked up for a nice trail ride, he was lame in his right hind leg. Not, "Oh my God, he has a broken leg!" lame, but definitely off at the jog. So we turned around and headed home.

I was in the depths of despair because not only did I really need a ride that morning to alleviate some pre-holiday blues, but I began to worry about Wally. What if he was never sound again? What if I had to stow him at my parents' place in perpetual retirement? What if I had to start shopping for yet another horse? What if... ?

I can make myself crazy doing that.

Fortunately, the whole incident seemed to be nothing more than a strain, the result, no doubt, of him running around during a turnout in the arena the day before. He'd acted like an utter fool, gallumping and bucking in huge ovals like he was trying out for lead bronc at the National Finals Rodeo. After 5 days of rest and a light longe on Saturday, he seems perfectly fine. I'm going to tack him up and ride him this morning.

Luckily, I always have plenty of horses in town to ride if Wally is temporarily out of service. There's a barn full of hunters at Sue's and my sister's horse, Topper, is happy to indulge me. But I want to ride Wally. I know every single thing about him: the way his hooves feel when they hit the ground at the jog, the way I can sit his lope like I'm in an over-stuffed recliner, the manner in which he struts down the trail like he's lead stallion in some phantom herd of fine mares. In other words, I enjoy riding any horse, but I want to ride my horse.

I'll bet most of you feel the same way.
You can click on "comments" or email me at: to share your thoughts.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Countdown to Christmas

'Twas the nightmare before Christmas... Oh wait. I think I just stole those words from a Tim Burton film. My apologies. But despite the fact that I utterly LOVE the holiday season, I'm starting to feel overwhelmed: Too many gifts to buy, too many crafty things I planned on making (in too little time) and too much food concocted with cream cheese. My budget, my mind and my stomach are just not cut out for the six weeks that run from mid-November through New Years Day. At least I had fun decorating my Christmas tree, as you can see by the photo. Since I'm mesmerized by anything bright and shiny, our tree is covered in mostly sparkly glass ornaments, and thus the flash on my camera was completely blitzed out by the reflected glare. If you're anything like me and you start to countdown the days until Santa comes to town, click on this link to the Holiday Countdown on Horse Channel: Ways to Keep the Holidays Horsey.
Yes, I wrote each of the entries on the holiday countdown. But our webmaster (webmistress?) Leslie organized the whole shebang. I think it turned out really cute! Each day there will be a different creative tip, a smidgen of horse-related holiday trivia or some other idea to keep your holidays merry and horsey. Let's hope they remain stress-free, as well! In the meantime, I need an Advil.
If you're also feeling a little overwhelmed, click on "comments" below or email me at:

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Short Yearling Uglies

During the winter of their first year, young horses are often referred to as "short yearlings." That's not because they're short in stature. Instead it's a reference to the fact that they're approaching being officially one year old on January 1st, even if their actual birth date is several months later. You hear the term "short yearling" used in the world of Thoroughbreds a lot, however, I think it's appropriate with all breeds of horses. After all, the term "weanling" doesn't quite fit something that's chowing down on hay and pellets and wearing a halter that would fit the average 15-hand horse. Unfortunately, short yearlings are also often ugly yearlings. They're undergoing a growth spurt and they're shagged out with their first crop of winter hair. As Exhibit A in My Study of The Short Yearling Uglies I present recent photos of Cowboy:
If you look closely enough, you can ascertain that Cowboy's hair coat resembles that of a Mongolian yak. And his color is now that of soured milk. Or room temperature mayonnaise. Thankfully, despite my less than complimentary descriptions of his cosmetic attributes, his overall conformation and movement remain pleasant.

As Cowboy attempts to strike a dainty pose while he walks elegantly over the damp ground, he seems to be saying, "There really is a cute horse inside me. It'll be revealed come spring time. I promise!"
Other attributes of the typical short yearling uglies? How about a butt that's several inches higher than the withers, a stubby tail that's perpetually held out like a stiff broom, and a head that seems destined to be three times too large for the body. Wrap it all up in a fur coat more suited to a goat (is that a beard on that coat's chin?) and some winter time mud splotches, and you have a colt that hardly resembles the fancy, glossy-coated fairytale equine prince of just a few weeks ago. But I have faith. Fortunately, the Short Yearling Uglies is just a temporary affliction.
Click on "comments" below to share your thoughts!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Too Much Thanksgiving

I don't know if I need a bran mash or a dose of psyllium in my feed. But I think I ate too much at Thanksgiving dinner. It didn't look like I put that much food on my plate, though, so perhaps it was that I ate too much of stuff I don't normally consume. I mean, how often do I eat sweet potatoes cooked with an upper crust of Wheaties and pecans?

I'm guessing that the way I felt at about 1:30 this morning is about the way Wally (or any other horse) would feel if they over-indulged themselves at the feed trough.

Because of my post-Thanksgiving "Uckies" I went on an extended trail ride this morning with my trail riding buddy, Natalie. It's become an annual tradition of mine: before and after every major feast day, I go for a lengthy ride. I suppose I'm doing some sort of dietary penance for the food I am about to gorge on.

My next seasonal event will be The Annual Parading of the Husband Through the Local Tack Stores. This is where I lead Ron up and down the aisles, pointing out, "I want this, Wally would like that, and I could really use this." He's required to take notes along the way as to size, shape, color and design.I have to do this, as humiliating as it sounds. Otherwise Ron picks up my Christmas Wish List and just stares at it. I can't blame him. Words like "bell boots" and "romal reins" boggle the mind of many a non-horsey husband.

But that shopping excursion can wait a few days. First I have to digest 1/2 pound of my Aunt Elaine's creamed onions.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Don't Mess with My Horse

I don't have any children. I like kids, but for various reasons-- including medical problems-- I never foaled... I mean "had"... any of my own children. Instead, I have horses.

I'm certain that mothers have a special intrinsic connection with their children. Yet my horses are my children, and I believe that I have nearly as close a bond with them as I would with any human offspring I might've produced. This manifests itself in an unwavering sense of protectionism toward my beasties. Wally may have his obnoxious side, but I love him dearly nonetheless. If anyone would purposely try to harm him, I'd fight them to the death. Or at least maim them with the nearest item of weaponry. A 1,000 thwacks with a manure fork comes to mind.

This motherly devotion to my horse's welfare is why I became so personally outraged when I heard the tale of Cheyenne, a cute AQHA sorrel mare owned by the assistant manager of one of the big feed stores in my town. Cheyenne's owner, Jacki, came home one evening to discover her pretty mare had suffered a horrific injury to her skull. The mare eventually lost her eye and nearly died from a massive infection. What caused the injury? Details are sketchy and there is some legal mumbo jumbo involved, but circumstances point to the possibility that someone intentionally harmed the mare. If you want to read how Jacki nursed Cheyenne through the ordeal, click on this link to read the story on Horse Channel:
A Thanksgiving Story of Survival

Fortunately, Cheyenne has returned to active duty as a pleasure and performance horse, albeit with only one eye. However, every time I think of that cute red mare having to endure the pain and stress associated with the injury, I reconnect with how devastated I would be if something happened to Wally.

So hug your horses tonight. And be thankful that they're safe and warm and kept safe by their Mom.
You can leave your comments here, by clicking on "comments" or at the conclusion of reading the story about Cheyenne.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Now Accepting Applications for Lead Pony

It's time for Cowboy to get some exposure to life off the ranch. Otherwise he'll end up being another uncivilized young horse that is ill-equipped to deal with the Real World. The easiest way to introduce a young horse to the various stimuli found out on the trail is to pony them alongside a trustworthy, seasoned horse. My problem? I'm currently lacking a suitable lead pony. I first attempted to pony Cowboy off of Wally. That ended up being a fascinating study in equine behavior. Wally was giving off definite vibes that HE DID NOT WANT TO BE A LEAD PONY. And Cowboy was reading Wally's body language. Then I had the inspiration to pony Cowboy off of Topper, my sister's sweet but sometimes silly Thoroughbred. As you can see by this photo, things started out well. After all, Cowboy lives in a paddock next to Topper. He perceives Topper as his uncle.

Topper says, "Huh. Last time I was anywhere near a lead pony situation, I was the creature being ponied. Somehow, I suddenly find myself in a freakish alternate universe."
Naturally, I had to experiment a little. So I asked Topper to jog, which prompted Cowboy to trot. And then Cowboy began bucking and playing, which incited Topper to join in on the festivities. There I was, leading a rambunctious colt while sitting astride a free wheelin' 16.2-hand Thoroughbred. Rodeo Queen I am not. I pulled Topper back to a walk, settled down Cowboy and rode straight back to the barn. Strike Two in the Search for an Appropriate Lead Pony.
I then began hunting around town for a suitable horse. As I've related before, there are plenty of horses that are being sold cheaply in my area. Some are even free to good homes, simply because the economy is so bad. But unfortunately, as much as I'd love to give a needy horse a good home, I really didn't find any horse that would work for Cowboy. And then I mentioned to Sue (my trainer friend, at whose place I give lessons) that I was in desperate need of a lead pony. That's when she offered up Ringo, her husband's semi-retired mounted patrol police horse. He's been a lead pony before, and is quite the Steady Eddie on the trails. Ringo can even come live at Cowboy's house, so they can get acquainted before they go out on the town together. Stay tuned. I'll let you know how that goes!
You're welcome to leave your comments by clicking on "comments" below.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Christmas Crunch

I know. It's not even Thanksgiving yet. But I'm already feeling the budget busting pressure that comes with the Christmas shopping season.

Adding to my gift buying worries is my ever present sense of anxiety over Wally. Hey, if I weren't worrying about him, I'd be fretting over something else!

I've come to the conclusion that Wally's sometimes creaky hocks warrant a series of Legend shots, which are not cheap. But I've used Legend on some of my performance horses in the past and I've always been impressed with the results. That hasn't always been the case with oral joint supplements (which aren't exactly cheap, either). Not that my math skills are anything to boast about, but I have determined that in the long run it'll be less expensive-- and hopefully more productive-- to stop buying oral supplements and go with the occasional Legend shot.

It's not that Wally's lame. If he were, I would not ride him. But there are days when I nudge him into a jog-- especially if I've ridden him several days in a row-- and I can feel that he's stiff in his hind end. Or for a few strides he'll take a short step with one hind leg. Fortunately, these symptoms are all short lived. But I want to keep them that way. I knew when I purchased Wally that he had arthritis in both of his hocks. Ideally the Legend injections will prolong his soundness.

I want Wally to last forever. Or at least die a peaceful death, with me by his side, two decades from now. I enjoy him that much. I love him that much. I depend on him to lift my spirits that much. How can I not do whatever is necessary to keep him comfortable?

But to budget for elective veterinary care at the holidays takes some financial juggling. Because I have an extensive list of gifts to buy, I hunt for things on sale. I prowl the aisles of discount stores. I make sure I have a specific list of possible gifts before I head out of the house, purse and debit card in hand. And I avoid malls. Completely. Why? Because I'm hopelessly drawn to displays of bright, shiny products. If they play any sort of tune, I'm mesmerized. Heaven forbid I wander through the seasonal decor department at Macy's. Everyone in my family might end up with a musical snow globe.

But at least Wally will end up with his Legend shots.

You can always share your thoughts by clicking on "comments" below or emailing me at:

Monday, November 17, 2008

Secondhand Smoke

The wildfire that stampeded its way through large swaths of neigborhoods west of me is finally being brought under control. My cousins and my sister were permitted to return to their homes last night. Property around them was destroyed or damaged but all of their residences were fine.

Since the winds have died down, Wally and I are being "treated" to an acrid odor of smoke that hangs in the air. There's no escaping it. I won't be doing any riding today; it wouldn't be good for either of us. I think that instead I'll clean my tack. That's always a good rainy day (or smokey day) project. Soon it'll be a better environment and better weather for riding. Winter, with its clean, crisp, cool air has to be on its way... right?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Wildfires: Too Close for Comfort

Remember those winds I wrote about in my last posting? And remember those fires I mentioned? Well, both the winds and the fires grew in intensity. In fact, I can stand in Wally's turnout paddock and see a crimson glow reflecting off a huge cloud of smoke. The scene resembles a volcanic eruption. Though the fire actually started just a couple of miles from my house, the winds are blowing the threat away from me.

Ironically, the winds are blowing the front line of the fire right up to the doorstep of homes belonging to two of my cousins and my sister. They all live in Orange County, in the areas of Anaheim Hills and Yorba Linda.

My cousin Jan and her husband were forced to evacuate earlier today.

Then my cousin Ann, who was out shopping, happened to hear that the fire had encroached upon her hillside home, so she tried to head back to pack her things and prepare to evacuate. Because of freeway closures she couldn't make it and paused in a Target parking lot to call home and give packing instructions to her husband and son. That's when she noticed that a big tree in the Target parking lot had caught on fire!

My sister Jill had was heading home from our parents' place after spending time with her horse Topper. She had her two dogs in the car with her. Again, the freeway was closed so she had to turn around and head back to our parents. That's about the time her husband-- who was at home-- heard a helicopter unleash a water drop directly on the roof of their home. Moments later, the sheriff ordered a full evacuation of the neighborhood.

In Southern California this time of year our seasonal winds combined with our drought-stricken foliage leads to wildfires. About anything can start the flames, from sparking transformers on electrical lines to careless campers. And let's not ignore the despicable deeds of nefarious arsonists.

But how, precisely, do you decide what to pack when you're forced to evacuate? Ron and I think about it a lot, especially since our home backs up to a dry hillside.

I figure I could always saddle up Wally and ride him to safety. And I'd have Ron grab our dog, Betsy, and an armload of important papers. But what else? Photos (naturally, those of my previous, beloved horses) would be a priority. And so would some family mementos. Yet otherwise, it's all just "stuff." As long as Wally and Ron and Betsy made it out safely, I'd get over the sadness. Eventually.

Oh dear. Did I just put Wally first on my list of Most Important Things to Save in a Fire, ahead of my husband? !?!
Feel free to share your thoughts and comments by clicking on "comments" below.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Wally in the Wind

It's a little after 4:00 a.m. and I am wide awake. As the weatherman predicted, the winds started howling just after midnight. I slept until the sound of palm tree fronds scraping against the side of my house woke me up. Regardless of how air-tight my house allegedly is, there was also an unmistakable, ever-so-slight whooshing sound creeping in around the windows. That woke me up, leaving me to lie in bed and wonder just what Mr. Wally was doing outside in his paddock. He's such a mischief maker and odds were he certainly wasn't asleep in the wind, either. The choices were:

A) He'd grabbed hold of his big orange caution cone and was obsessively flipping it up and down. He can do this for a good 30 minutes before boredom ensues.

B) He'd concentrated all of his mental powers on trying to figure out how to remove his tail bag... and succeeded.

C) Two words: Prison escape.

D) He was trying to find the one fence post cap that's not quite irrevocably glued in place and turn it into a small, frisbee-esque horse toy.

E) All of the above

Fortunately, when I went outside I found him innocently waiting for me. There's no sneaking up on this horse because he either hears the back door crack open or sees the kitchen light go on. Wally is a little too observant of my behavior. If I think about it too much, I become paranoid.

He was looking over the fence, his ears up, his eyes bright and eager for the new day to begin... even though it was 4:15 a.m. and very, very windy.
I mixed up his beet pulp, his joint supplement, his pellets and his psyllium, added a good measure of vegetable oil and poured the gruel into his feed bucket. That made him quite content.

Wally seems quite well adjusted to the wind, being a California horse and all. But I am a California native as well and I, quite frankly, simply cannot adapt. There are wildfires blazing both north and south of me (we're quite safe) and the early news has tales of horses being evacuated from areas ravaged by flames. That puts my little windy predicament in perspective. Perhaps I shouldn't be so troubled by a quick-witted horse and a windy, moonlit night.
Regardless of your weather conditions, you're welcome to contribute your thoughts by clicking on "comments" below.

Monday, November 10, 2008

What's in a Name?

Yesterday my trail riding buddy Natalie and I hauled our horses to nearby Irvine Park. It was a perfect day for riding: mild temperatures but with a cool breeze. Overhead, the sky was pristine blue and polka-dotted with white clouds. While we were tacking up, Wally was being... Wally. I don't find his behavior the least bit annoying. Comparatively speaking, Wally has come a long way since I bought him. But I guess in comparison to Natalie's sedate grulla gelding, he was a little antsy pantsy. Plus he insisted on holding something in his mouth-- lead rope, reins, my shirt sleeve-- until I could get the bridle on his head.

"I don't think I could put up with his obnoxiousness," was what I believe Natalie said at the time.

And yet Natalie is the one who began referring to my horse as "Wallydoodle." I think that's a rather endearing nickname. So she really does like him. I think.

If only she knew what I sometimes call Wally. When he's pushed himself a little too far into my space, or reverted back to his previous behaviors, I refer to him by some nicknames that probably shouldn't be printed here. The mildest of which is "Hoghead," a nickname I borrowed from a gal who used to groom for Sue years ago. She came from a western show barn where apparently the go-to nickname for any beastie that was being a pain in the backside was "Hoghead."

If you'd like to reveal your horse's nickname, you can click on this link:
Every Horse Has an Alias to go directly to this month's edition of HI Spy on Horse Channel. Leave your comments there and read what others have already written. Who knows. There may be other Hogheads among us!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Another Episode of "The Wally Cam"

It's a lovely November morning. There's a cool breeze blowing but it's an otherwise sunny day. So I snapped on one of my favorite western blouses, saddled up Wally and grabbed my camera as we went for a ride. Here's Wally's take on the trip:

"After what seemed like an endless walk up a long, winding trail, we reached Nirvana. Look at all that grass! I understand that this is something you silly humans refer to as a 'golf course.' What a ridiculous waste of perfectly good grazing land. Why, I'd make good use of that pasture, as if a little NO TRESPASSING SIGN would stop me. In fact, if someone did try to stop me, I'd just claim that horses can't read."

"We took a different trail around the hilltop and came upon this open area. I can sense something in the bushes. Coyote, perhaps? Jackrabbit? Or maybe a feed delivery truck? A horse can only hope."

"Aha! We've come upon another stretch of that golf course fiasco. But this section even boasts a lake. Hmmm... I think I'll send a letter to the BLM about this plot of land. Just imagine how many mustangs could roam around out here. And I could be their herd leader. Yeah! That's one of the best ideas I've ever had!"

"Dang! It's time to head home. But I must admit that even I enjoy a good view like this. The breeze blows all sorts of interesting smells my way, and I can see the rooftops of lots of barns in the distance, where I know some of my friends live. So onward I go, back to my own house. And hopefully, back to a good lunch!"
Both Wally and I would love to read your comments. Just click on "comments" below!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

If I Ruled the World

Do we have a new president yet? I sure hope so, because I can't take one more day of endless political TV commercials let alone the one-sided political diatribes that flood my email's inbox. Enough already!

Besides-- not to make light of the dire problems our country currently faces-- neither of the presidential candidates addressed some of the most important issues that mattered to me as a horse owner. With that in mind, here's what I would promise in my campaign speeches if I were running for the office of Queen of the World:

1. Upon ascending to the throne I'd immediately appoint a Deputy Minister of Denim. Their first duty? To develop a pair of jeans that not only fit well but actually function properly for riding. In other words, no 1/2" thick crotch seams, no binding waistbands and no sparkling doo-dads or swirly embroidery on the back pockets.

2. No horse show classes will begin before 9:30 a.m. This benefits the horses, the exhibitors and the judges. No living creature should have to participate in any sort of aerobic activity before they've digested their breakfast.

3. Polo wraps shall be sold in sets of 5 and bell boots in bundles of 3. Hoof picks will be packaged by the dozen, like eggs. We're always misplacing these items, so why not stay one step ahead of fate and just get an extra one (or more) from the get-go?

4. All men will be required to demonstrate the ability to drive a tractor, hitch up a horse trailer and repair a fence line. Men might as well be useful as well as ornamental so let's teach them skills that are actually valuable.

5.There will be a resurgence in great literature and movies about horses, even if I have to commission such endeavors. The world needs more books like Black Beauty, The Red Pony and National Velvet. And who doesn't love a thrilling western movie starring good looking cowboys and even better looking horses? Heaven knows I do! And I'm the Queen, so my opinion is the only one that truly matters.

I know, that's only five proclamations. But it's a start. Once I become crowned as Queen I'm sure I can dream up a few more.
Have any idea what you'd do if you were Queen of the (Horse) World? Just click on "comments" below or email me at:

Sunday, November 2, 2008

How I Spent Halloween in Horse Town

On Halloween night Ron and I walked across the street to our neighbor's house. She hosted a small outdoor potluck because several of us live on a steep incline, and the trick-or-treaters are reluctant to slog up the hill, sacks o' goodies in tow, to knock on our doors in the dark. So instead we gathered in the front yard of her house at the bottom of the slope. We dined on my chicken chili, someone else's homemade pasta salad and another person's fire-roasted hot dogs. A row of tables were set up and each of us contributed a bowl of candy so the neighborhood kids could stop by and grab a few handfuls while we busily chatted away and stuffed our faces with adult fare.

Where was Wally? He was cozy in his waterproof turnout rug, munching on a bucket of oat hay pellets and carrots. Wally has a perfect view of the entire street below him, but I believe he was too engrossed in his dinner to care that around 8:00 p.m. a large trolley pulled by a pair of blond Belgian draft horses came cruising down the street.

Since we've only lived here a year and a half, Ron and I weren't familiar with this holiday Welcome Wagon. Apparently the hitch is owned by the family that runs the sandwich shop and deli in town. During the holidays they deck out the horses and the trolley in twinkling lights, load up the seats with guests, and make a goodwill tour of the town. On Halloween the little lights strung around the trolley and draped across the Belgians' harnesses were orange, but I'm confident that in another few weeks they'll be red and green and some pine bows and red velvet ribbons will be added to the decor.

Even though we heard the rhythmical jingling of the harness chains long before the trolley approached, it was still quite a surprise to have the team of pale horses saunter past our jack-o-lanterns, our fire pit and our buffet of warm comfort food. It certainly isn't something you see every night.

"Happy Halloween!" the trolley riders called to us.

"Happy Halloween!" we replied.

And then the trolley and the Belgians clip-clopped further down the street, into the deep inky darkness of a late October night.

Now that was a memorable Halloween. And it was yet another example of why it's so great to live in a community with the nickname "Horsetown, USA."

Wally and I hope you had a fun time on Halloween!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Happy Halloween!

Wally says, "Excuse me, but wouldn't it be far more festive if I were 'treated' to something besides chopped carrots?"
I'm not sure why I still get all excited about Halloween. I mean, it's not like I dress up anymore. The highlight of the holiday is that I'm forced to surrender my stockpile of "fun sized" Kit Kat bars to a bunch of neighborhood kids I wouldn't even recognize out of their costumes. Perhaps my delight in Halloween is a trained response. When I was a kid-- okay, if truth be told, even through much of my teen years-- I relished a chance to dress up so I could pretend to be someone else for one night. Naturally, being a horse crazy girl, that meant my costume was always something that related to horses. Except for one or two years when I tried being a princess or a witch, I stuck with alter egos like Race Horse Jockey (easy with white dressage breeches and a hastily crafted set of colorful silks) or Cowgirl (I already had the boots and chaps). One year, during my college days, I worked as the head hostess and cashier at a major dinner house in swanky Newport Beach. My shift included Halloween night, and my good natured manager suggested I come in costume for Halloween. Since I wanted something elaborate for the high falutin' restaurant, I sewed myself an entire scarecrow outfit. I figured a scarecrow remained true to my traditional theme in costumes, with it being an agricultural character. Of course, I had to go all-out when it came to "stuffing" the inside of my scarecrow costume: I used a mixture of oat hay and alfalfa, straight from the haystack at home. I must say, I looked quite authentic, especially when I added make-up, a straw hat and a pair of floppy work gloves. The only problem? For the entire night I left a trail of oats and alfalfa leaves wherever I went. I'd seat a group of people, hand them their menus, and then unapologetically swipe my gingham sleeve and canvas glove across their tabletop in order to brush off a sprinkling of hay dust. Most of the time the customers just laughed. Others, however, didn't seem to take too kindly to having hay residue in their lobster. And they let my manager know. Thus that was the last time I ever played Scarecrow on Halloween.
Regardless of your plans for Halloween, Wally and I hope that you have fun. Your comments are always welcomed. Just click on "comments" below. Meanwhile, I'll be hoarding some fun-sized Kit Kat bars for myself.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Fun With Clippers

I am not a professional horse groomer, nor do I play one on TV. And yet I decided to body shave Wally all on my own.

Just to keep the record straight, I can braid a hunter's mane and tail with the best of 'em. Truly. I can whip a wayward mane into 30 or 40 braids in less than an hour. I can even weave in a lucky charm, mid-mane, if desired. But I've never made any claims to being a body shaving genius. If you look closely at Wally's new haircut, you'd see why.

I could've just hired Casey, the local professional horse groomer. She's really not expensive. In fact, I've told her numerous times that she charges too little for her services. But I figured what the heck. My arm is doing better since the last surgery, and my sister has a pair of heavy-duty clippers that lie dormant year after year, so why not do it myself?

Well, after I paid $50 to have the clippers cleaned, the gears greased, and the blades sharpened, I was more than halfway to paying out what it would've cost me to hire Casey. Then I had to purchase clipper oil and a jug of blade wash to rinse the hair from the blades at regular intervals. Ka-ching! There went another dozen dollars.


I made sure I did the correct preparation. Wally got a sudsy bath and once he dried I saturated him with Show Sheen, so that the blades would glide through the hair. (Or so I'm told).

Then I began clipping. Immediately I discovered that Wally had his own "Don't Go There, Sister, with Those Big Clippers" zone. If I got within 10 inches of his head he'd begin to lurch back against the hitching post, threatening to bolt. Alrighty then. I grabbed the battery-operated smaller clippers, switched them to a comparable blade size (or so I thought) and clipped the Forbidden Zone. Unfortunately when I finished the entire Wally Project I could discern a definite line of demarcation between the two sets of clippers. Thanks to my clipper expertise, or lack thereof, I had a patchwork Paint gelding.

Double sigh.

At that point I comforted myself by saying, "Hey, look, he's not a show horse. He's a trail horse. Half the time when I'm riding I only encounter other riders at a distance. Who'll notice? And, in a week or two, it'll all even out. It is hair. It does grow."

That's when I stood back and realized that I had yet to clip Wally's ears and the area surrounding his poll. He looked like he was wearing a hair hat. But there wasn't any way that Wally was going to allow me to advance any set of clippers in that direction. So I did what any woman would do: I summoned my husband.

"Honey," I said plaintively, "will you come out here and just hold Wally while I clip his ears?"

You have to appreciate how I winsomely beckoned Ron. The poor guy was totally clueless as to what "holding Wally while I clip his ears" meant.

A few minutes later, Ron was holding the stud chain at arm's length while I stood on a stool attempting to clip a moving target. Most of the time I was successful, which meant that tufts of orange hair rained down on my husband. Add to that the fact that every time Wally tried to dance away I'd call out over the motor, "Honey, tug on the chain more. More! No, more!"

Several times Ron spat out horse hair and declared flatly, "This is fun."

Did I ever promise him "fun" when we moved here and brought a horse into our backyard? Perhaps he misunderstood me. At any rate, Wally is now body shaved, for better or worse. Just don't look at him too closely.
Have a body shaving story or any other comment? Just click on "comments" below or email me at:

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Good Jeans? Good Luck!

Can you find the one pair of jeans that fit me perfectly in this photo? They're buried in there, someplace. By the way, apparently I collect ball caps, only a few of which fit my head properly. But I guess that's a topic for another blog.
Just recently I mentioned on my blog how hard it was for me to find a great pair of jeans that fit my body-- imperfect as it is-- and allow me to ride comfortably. Apparently I am not alone. I heard from several readers that they, too, are haplessly searching for decent denim. Over the many years I have written for Horse Illustrated, I have also heard the same sentiment: "Where are all those wonderful jeans I see in all the ads? None of them seem to fit me like they fit the models." My reply is usually, "I feel your pain." Worse news? I've been a model and most of those jeans don't fit me, either. So here's the latest chapter in Cindy's Never Ending Search for Decent Denim. Hitch up your pants and sit down because it's sort of a long story.
There's this really nice lady who manages a cute, boutique-like western wear store a few blocks from my house. I will never forgive my trail riding friend, Natalie, for introducing me to this little store. I'm like a barn sour horse every time I drive past the open door and catch a glimpse of the racks of pearl button shirts in the window. I simply cannot stay out of that store! Anyway, the lady who runs it carries many different brands of jeans and she's an expert on which brand fits which figure types. And thus I threw myself on her mercy and begged for guidance, lest I be forced to rummage through stacks and stacks of denim scrounging for that One Great Pair.
I explained my criteria to this Queen of Jeans: I didn't want jeans that were relaxed fit, as my thighs (though expanding with age) are slim, and my calves and ankles are the circumference of rigatoni. Too generous of a boot cut and I end up with a pound of denim swirling above my toes. Yet I didn't want the jeans to be so tight that my legs looked like a pair of summer sausages. One other concern? I am long waisted. Low rise-- especially the current rage of super low rise-- was not going to work for me. I've tried them and when I climb into the saddle my low rise jeans don't always come with me.
After all that discourse, Madame Jeanswear simply took a few steps to one shelf and handed me a pair of dark blue jeans. "Try these," she said calmly.
The brand was called Posted, a name I hadn't heard of before. I put them on and I was in love! They were PERFECT! I bought one pair for riding (36" inseam) and one for street wear (34" inseam).
I went home and added them to my collection of jeans. Immediately they took the coveted spot of Best Loved Jeans. The other jeans in my stable of denim?
Levis 505: Good enough for hunt seat riding, as the straight leg and lightweight denim fits easily underneath my half chaps. But they are not available in long enough inseams for western riding. And they are almost too low in the rise for me. I have to wear a belt with them or I'm forever yanking them up above my hip bones, sort of like my grandpa.
Wrangler Slim Fit with Stretch: Great for western riding because they're extremely durable and available in the proper inseam. But that industrial strength denim makes them a little unsuitable for Date Night with The Husband.
Wrangler Aura Jeans: Tailored enough to wear out (my husband loves that they don't look like "horse jeans") and they have enough stretch to be comfortable. Problem? I cannot ride in them because I end up with a skirt of denim ballooning around my stirrup. (See note, above, about my skinny ankles).
Cruel Girl: I want to wear them. But they don't want to fit my body, regardless of what style I buy on impulse. At some point I have to accept that I am not a 19-year-old barrel racer and sell them on ebay.
Once I got to enjoy the Posted brand jeans, I decided that I needed to add more to my Mountain of Denim. So I went back to the castle of jeans and consulted with the queen. But guess what? SHE DIDN'T HAVE ANY MORE! This has happened to me many times in the past: I find a good pair of jeans and that's a sure sign they'll become extinct. The reasons are varied. The manufacturer goes bankrupt. Or another company buys the brand and changes it. Or trends pass and the company decides that they cannot afford to be making jeans just for Cindy Hale's bizarre tastes.

Of course, I went home in a state of panic and searched online. Every western wear store that claimed they carried Posted jeans were selling out of them. As in, "We don't think we're going to be getting any more of these jeans, so sizes are limited." Naturally, those would be the sizes that I wear.

On page 3 of my frenzied Googling I unearthed some tack store in Canada. I called. Yes, they had Posted jeans. Yes, they had my size, but they only had ONE PAIR. I considered consulting Map Quest to determine just how far it was to drive to British Columbia, but then I figured, what the heck, just entrust the sacred jeans to the whims of the mail service. However, once the price of the jeans was added to the shipping from Canada-- which is considered "international"-- this one pair of jeans became a luxury item. The grand total was nearly $70!
And you know me. I quickly calculated how many bales of hay that would buy. So I cancelled the order and hung up the phone.
And thus I cradle my pair of Posted jeans each time before I put them on. They are that rare treasure: a pair of soft, moderately stretchy, functional yet flattering jeans. Denim I can ride in! Denim that won't embarrass my husband when we're out on the town! Denim that doesn't make me look like either a rodeo rat or a little girl playing dress up in Daddy's clothes! But they are rare indeed. In fact, I may never find another pair again. However, I shall wear them to my heart's delight, enjoying every moment that allows me to realize that I own a great pair of jeans. And then, when they are finally ready to be euthanized, I can begin the search once more. Perhaps the Queen of Jeans will be able to conjure up something new by then.
******If you'd like to contribute to a jeans discussion, click on "comments" below. I'll commiserate with you! ******

Monday, October 20, 2008

"Is he a Rodeo Horse?"

I got sidetracked whacking back the overgrown clumps of drought tolerant, native grasses that we planted on our slopes. Since I had to do the same task last year, I have decided to call it The Annual Whacking of the Grasses. But that meant that Wally didn't get his morning ride. Instead, I finally got around to tacking him up just as the sun settled behind the hills. To Wally, the setting sun was the cue for his dinner, not for his saddle. So when I hopped on board he was, to put it mildly, a little distracted. And perturbed. When I rode past a pair of riders, each one mounted on a dusky palomino, Wally began to strut and shake his head. He arched his neck, humped his back and sashayed like a sea serpent. He was displaying both his evening friskiness and his displeasure at missing his regularly scheduled meal.

At that moment, the man aboard the taller of the palominos looked at Wally and said, quite seriously, "Is he a rodeo horse?"

I wanted to reply, "Now what gave you that idea?" but I was too busy bending Wally around my left leg to re-focus his attention on me. Instead I laughed, "No, he's just acting like a rodeo horse."

Wally's impression of Midnight: Champion Rodeo Horse only resulted in him having to work in the arena for 20 minutes. Once I got back Wally: Treasured Trail Horse and Pleasure Mount, I headed back home. Wally got a good grooming session by the dim light of an autumn sunset, and then he got his dinner. And once more, everything was right in his world.
You can always share your comments by clicking on "comments" below.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Ain't Nobody Perfect

Wally says, "Huh. I always thought that the fact that my butt was disproportionately larger than the rest of my body was an attribute. And now you're telling me that's a fault?"
When you're young you are painfully aware of how Nature did you wrong. For me it was my thin, bony shoulders, my wider-than-what-seemed-appropriate hip bones, my Extra Large front teeth and my ape arms. Trying to find a pair of jeans that would be long enough for my coltish legs without enveloping my waist like a feed sack was also an ordeal. Fortunately, with age comes a bit of wisdom. I began to realize that my grandmother was indeed correct: "Ain't nobody perfect." About that time I also discovered that you can buy jeans in various lengths, providing you don't mind mixing cowgirl denim with cashmere sweaters and silk blouses. I also began to look around. Not to point fingers, but by the time I hit 25 I was fully aware that my peers were also stuck with their own level of gawkishness. What freedom! What comfort I found in acknowledging that they were imperfect, too!
It's the same way with our horses. When I was younger... Okay, up until a decade or so ago... It was always very difficult for me to accept any kind of criticism about my horses. Period. I loved them all, and I didn't want to hear from some horse show judge that my hunter had crummy jumping style or my pleasure horse was an iffy mover at the trot. I once had a black Dutch warmblood mare who, in my mind, looked like Black Beauty. She shone like polished obsidian. Yet one day I was sitting on her at the backgate of a show ring and some stranger asked me, "What kind of horse is she? Her head is so, so, so funky looking." I think what she meant was, "She's so long-earred and plain-headed she resembles a mule." I took great offense at that.
But now, whether it's because I've had the joy of riding so many horses or because I've judged a lot of horse shows (or maybe I'm just getting more mellow in my "mature years") I'm alright with the notion that no horse is perfect. They all have flaws, just like us. For example, Wally is a bit too long in the back. He tends to grow more toe than heel, a fact that keeps me familiar with my farrier. He's also a little parrot-mouthed, which means that Wally and I both have semi-annual dental appointments. Though I can accept and deal with these conformational faults--hey, at least he doesn't have to shop for jeans--I would like to change an aspect of his disposition. I'd like to make him more, well, more charming. More of a sweetheart. I'd like him to be the kind of horse where I could sit on the fence and he'd come over and rest his head on my shoulder. But instead, he'd be chewing off the sleeve of my shirt. Then again, I suppose if I changed his disposition, Wally wouldn't be Wally, and that would be sad. The world needs at least a few flashy red horses with pompous attitudes.
What would you fix in your horse? Click on this link to go back to Horse Channel, where you'll find the latest offering of HI Spy: Fix a Flaw Then you can leave your comments there. You'll also find it interesting to read what other horse lovers would fix in their own beasties. Once again, it seems, ain't nobody perfect!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Winds, Heat, Fire... Can We Just Have Winter?

And thus it came to pass that Autumn, 2008 began just as Autumn, 2007: Cold winds, hot winds, and raging wildfires...

It's almost sad that Wally has become used to empty pizza boxes flying through the air. He doesn't seem to care much anymore when the branches of the trees surrounding his turnout paddock are waving furiously like kites tethered by the merest of strings.

"Ho-hum," Wally seems to say. "Another windy October day in Southern California. Now on to more important matters. When is Cindy serving the carrots?"

Of course, the advent of the windy season means that Ron and I are scrambling along our hillsides, double-checking to make sure our young trees are anchored to stakes and poles. Several times, while trying to push against a trunk while Ron straightened it in the wind, I felt like I was doing some weird mime impression: "Woman Attempting to Remain Upright while Facing Headlong into 80 mph Wind."

Meanwhile, property owners in the areas to the north, south and east of us were attempting to win battles against a crop of wildfires. If you live in Southern California, you know fire season comes every autumn. You sort of prepare for it. The only uncertainty is where the first flames will erupt. For a couple of days the network news was filled with images of people fleeing their homes. But there were also plenty of images of horses being rescued and then, fortunately, cared for at evacuation centers. Each horse wore a wide strip of silver duct tape all the way around its neck. On the tape was written the owner's contact information. That tactic helps eliminate the confusion when one horse's personalized halter is "borrowed" a dozen or more times to aid in rescuing other equines.

If you didn't catch Horse Channel's coverage of the first edition of West Coast Wildfires, 2008, you can click on this link: Welcome to Autumn

For now, the wildfire danger has passed, although we're still dealing with very hot, dry, breezy conditions. Personally, I'd just as soon transition directly into winter. Seriously. Rain and cold snaps I can deal with. I just snuggle into my parka, lace up my waterproof boots and drink a lot of hot apple cider. Wally, I think, would agree with me.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Have Parka, Will Judge

Here I am, in non-parka mode, posing with Kristin. She served as my announcer once she finished showing in the other arena.
Just when I thought I was finished judging horse shows for the year, I got a call to fill in for another judge who had to bow out of her assignment. I had nothing on my social calendar (ha!) for Sunday, so I accepted. And why not? First, it was at a showground not all that far from my home. Second, I know the management crew and they're a very competent, fun bunch. And third, Wally's orchard grass/alfalfa hay mix is about $22.00 a bale. As I've mentioned before, I equate every little job with how many bales of hay I can buy with the paycheck. I wasn't about to turn down the gig! The only drawback to this particular judging duty was that a brisk, cold wind started blowing the night before. By early morning it was howling! All I could think of was, "Well, I wouldn't be sending any of my little lesson kids to a horse show in this kind of weather." I truly thought the show would be cancelled. But since I hadn't received a phone call by 7:00 a.m., I snuggled into my down parka (for the first time since last February) and headed to the show. Guess what? The wind there was reduced to nothing more than a breeze. The temperature was a bit nippy until the afternoon--- well, nippy by Southern California standards-- but overall it was very pleasant weather.

For most of the day I was teamed up with Kristin, a congenial young woman who served as my announcer. I'd worked with her before. Kristin is a kindergarten teacher, and I used to teach school, so during any lulls in the action (like while the arena was being watered) we'd share anecdotes about the classroom. I always find it interesting that schoolteachers, in general, are very verbally expressive. We like to chat! Plus we're very positive by nature, forever acting as cheerleaders for our students. I think that's how I approach judging: I truly want the riders to put in a good performance. I'd like everyone to get an "A".


Kristin had competed earlier in the day in the other arena, under the other judge, who happened to be Meg Schulman. She is a USEF "R" (large R) judge, which is a testament to her skill, training and experience. In the past I've interviewed Meg for Horse Illustrated, so naturally I had to make use of this time together and get some interesting quotes and insights from her for future use in the magazine and on Horse Channel. Meg is a genuinely nice lady. She is also expressive and articulate. She probably would've made a wonderful schoolteacher!


Click on "comments" below to share your thoughts!

Friday, October 10, 2008

If the Shoe Fits...

If the shoe fits, then wear it, dang it!

Wally has a propensity for growing long toes and not enough heel. Many modern day American Quarter horses and Paints are prone to this predilection. In fact, when I bought Wally, his ex-owner told me three times, "Have your farrier take off lots of toe every time." How do I know she told me this three times? I counted.

I stay on top of it. Wally gets shod routinely every six weeks, which makes a considerable impact on my horsekeeping budget. I tried stretching farrier appointments to 7 or even (*gulp!*) 8 weeks, but Wally's toes got long and I didn't want to court disaster. Or a vet bill. So for the last few shoeing sessions, his feet look awesome. He's sound, he's comfortable, and I'm happy... if a bit poorer.

Yesterday I rode Wally on a long trail ride, all the way up to the golf course and back, and then down through the neighborhood. I figured he should have a nice, cushiony bed instead of sleeping in The Great Outdoors as usual. So last night I decided to put Wally inside his big covered and matted pen.Since I removed the divider, which once separated it into two smaller pens, the enclosure is quite roomy: 32 x 16. I also had heavy-duty wire stretched across the inside of the pen to make it even more secure, since Wally has a tendency to scratch himself on the fence rails and roll vigorously when he lies down. Plus I bedded it heavily.

To make certain that he didn't get the wire stuck underneath any of his EXPENSIVE SHOES when he rolled or slept, I put bell boots on all 4 of his feet. That way, I figured, he couldn't possibly yank any of those shoes off.


I came out this morning-- the first brisk morning of the autumn, I might add-- and my husband presented me with a slightly tweaked horse shoe.

"Is this Wally's?" Ron asked.

I believe the answer was obvious.

You know, there was a moment last night, during the application of the bell boots, when I considered slapping a round or two of duct tape across the heels of Wally's shoes, just so the wire couldn't possibly get underneath them. But did I do it? No.

"What's the likelihood that'll happen," I thought. "I mean, seriously, he's wearing bell boots that go all the way over his heels and to the ground."

Next time, I'll listen to that little voice in my head, the one that warns me about Wally's proclivity for mischief.

And thus I made a frantic, plaintive call to my farrier this morning.
If you have any comments-- shoe-related or otherwise-- feel free to click on "comments" below!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Gunky Side of Horse Care

I have been a mare person most of my life. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because so many mares possess a whole lot of personality. With mares, you know what horse you're saddling as soon as you pull it out of its corral. They let you know right away their opinion on whatever you're about to do with them. Fortunately, I've had many good mares and only a few that made me want to pull my hair out.

But now that I have Wally I'm coming to appreciate yet another aspect of mares: they don't need their sheaths cleaned. Boy horses, on the other hand, require some frequent maintenance in a very sensitive area. And, quite frankly, since I spent so many decades with mares, this is one area where I'm not anxious to get up to my elbows in my work. (If you know what I mean).

Twice now I've had to summon Jennifer, my vet and friend, to sedate Wally so he could have his sheath cleaned professionally. That was the only way to get it done because Wally had decided that he was not going to let anyone get up close and personal with him. Yet over the last couple of months I've slowly been working up to doing the procedure myself, without sedating Wally at all. Since he trusts and respects me-- most of the time-- I felt like today was my chance to forge ahead with the ol' bucket of warm soapy water.

Eureka! Success!

I was so proud of myself, and so glad that I'd saved myself another vet call this winter for Wally's semi-annual sheath cleaning, that I wanted to tell someone. But who? I mean, it's not like I could run into the house and tell Ron. He'll muck Wally's corral for me and unload feed, but he's really not interested in comprehending the definition of "smegma." Trust me on this.

And thus I add "Sheath Cleaning" to the list of Things that Make the Average Non-Horse Person Cringe. In my mind, the list would be:
1. Expressing pus from an abscess (distemper related or otherwise)
2. Handling the placenta after a mare foals
3. Sheath cleaning
4. Mucking a stall 24 hours after a parasite-infested horse has been dosed with a de-wormer
5. Participating in the after care of a recently gelded colt

Yup, that about sums up the gunky side of horse care. And people say the horsey lifestyle is glamorous. Ha!
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Saturday, October 4, 2008

Topper Jones, Lesson Horse

Like many horse owners, my sister Jill and I are in the habit of assigning our last names to our horses. Hence, Wally becomes "Wally Hale." And my sister's horse becomes "Topper Jones."
Today I hauled Topper Jones over to Sue's so that I could put him to use as a school horse for one of my lesson kids. Sue and I are still shopping for another school horse since saintly Cassie died, but we haven't found a suitable replacement yet. So when duty calls, Topper answers. Topper has the perfect personality to be a lesson horse understudy. He's extremely tolerant. Physically he's blessed with smooth gaits and a soft jumping style (the kids don't get tossed out of the tack). He doesn't intimidate the kids because he's not in any big hurry to go anywhere. And he's had nothing but good rides since he came off the racetrack, so he's dependable and safe.
It would never occur to Topper to do anything bad or naughty. Mischievous? Yes. But never naughty. He'll flap his lips when he's bored. If you're not watching he'll grab his reins in his teeth. And once in a while he'll simply walk right up to whichever human is standing in the center of the arena and make a pest of himself, but he's never truly naughty.
Topper pauses between jumps to have his photo taken. His rider, Cameron, is about the size of a twig. That doesn't matter to Topper. He explains it this way: "As a former racehorse, I am quite used to being piloted by short, wispy riders."

Here Topper and Cameron stand alongside one of my other students, Siegen, and her pony Amanda. As you can tell, there's a contentious relationship between Amanda Pony and Topper. Amanda doesn't seem to appreciate Topper's flirtatious behavior. "How many times do I have to tell you," Amanda says, "I'm not interested in having a carrot juice cocktail with you!"


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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Time Gallops Onward

Did my behind ever actually fit in a saddle this small? And not that I have huge feet, but were they ever so petite that I rode in stirrups not much larger than your average coffee mug?
Oh my gosh! It's October! This shouldn't really surprise me because I've had a gigantic plastic bowl of "fun-sized" Kit Kat bars sitting on my kitchen counter for a week. They were supposed to be for the annual herd of trick-or-treaters, but you know how that goes. I end up grazing through them long before the Witching Hour. The realization that the year is passing so quickly (wasn't it just Fourth of July?) has left me feeling rather melancholy. Why? Because as time passes I'm getting older. And I'm beginning to feel it.That point was driven home last weekend. Not only did I judge a horse show populated primarily with children, but the day before that I taught my Saturday slate of riding lessons. For one hour I played the role of teacher to a trio of horse crazy girls who never demonstrated any ebb to their reservoirs of energy and enthusiasm. Meanwhile, I trudged around the arena on foot like a sweaty plow horse. When the lessons were finished for the day, I grabbed a bottle of water out of Sue's refrigerator in the tack room and guzzled it like a thirsty endurance horse. Or like an endurance horse without much endurance. The kids? They were zigzagging from crossties to wash rack, shampooing horses, cleaning tack and sweeping up. That's when it dawned on me: Maybe it's not just their youthful age, but their diminutive size that accounts for their boundless energy. It must be so easy to move through space when you're a kid the size of a pea pod.
Put down that Kit Kat bar and click on "comments" to share your thoughts. I love to read them!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Judging from Sun-Up to Sundown

I just got home from judging all day-- and I mean all day-- at a hunter and equitation show near Los Angeles. Because this showground is only a few miles from the ocean, it's prone to cool temps and morning fog. To illustrate, here's a photo I snapped on my way to the judge's booth. The first equitation over fences classes for the little kids was about to start. No, there's nothing wrong with my camera. It's just foggy!

I love the look of concentration on the faces of these little kids while they study the course. On the other hand, notice the expressions of their horses and ponies. They seem to be saying, "Big deal. A couple of wooden boxes stuffed with fake flowers and some phony brick walls. Whatever. When's lunch? I hear they're serving carrots."
And indeed, they were serving carrots to the winners of the 3 medal classes. In fact, this show hosted the medal finals for all the winners who'd qualified earlier in the year. Since I've competed in many medal finals in my show career, I really enjoy officiating over them. Not everyone gets to experience both the challenges of riding in a medal finals and judging them, too!

This large pony reminded me of a miniature Wally in a dark brown suit. His rider jumped the medal finals course flawlessly and the two of them made a wonderful team. Then, when the pony grabbed the bunch of carrots straight out of the ring steward's hands, and began munching away, I thought, "Hmmm... Now he REALLY reminds me of Wally!" ********************

Because of my recent car accident (see my last blog posting), I had to be shuttled to the show by my mom. And then Ron came and picked me up. It was a long day, so I'm glad I didn't have to drive all the way home after dark. It's probably good that I don't have any judging assignments until after the start of the new year, because I'll have time to get completely healed from my surgery and re-charge my energy.


Yet even though I'm tired, I had a great time. I shared the judge's booth with Nancy Frost, a well-known USEF judge who also trains at L.A. Equestrian Center. The arena Nancy judged held the jumper division, the "advanced" medal finals and the classes for the older junior riders. I had the walk/trot division, the "intermediate" medal finals and the novice rider classes. During any free moments, we chatted about horses (duh!), changes in the show world we've witnessed over the years, and which horse or pony we'd seen that day that we'd like to take home. There were quite a few of those. But then, Wally might get jealous. And I couldn't have that!


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