Dressage Update

Finally! Dover Saddlery put “my” saddle on sale! The Warendorf mono-flap, in my size, and the regular tree — I wasted no time, let me tell you, and ordered it at midnight online. It came in two days! Of course, the night I got home, it was on the porch, in the pouring rain. Fortunately my UPS guy had a plastic bag over the box to protect it. I opened it up, unwrapped it, covered it in a bag and ran to the barn with it. Lucky was not amused when I pulled off his blanket, put a pad and girth on it, and threw it on it back while he was eating his dinner. He is serious about food and being saddles while eating was NOT acceptable. As soon as he was done, I literally jerked his mouth out of the tub and tied the end of the lead rope to his halter, walked him to the end of the barn, squeezed him around the mounting block with the barn door closed and … uh oh. Without stirrups, I could not get a leg over his back. The new saddle with its padding sits up a tad higher than the jump saddle. I lifted my leg for a hop-over. No go. He moved just slightly and YIKES I was doing the splits, one leg still on mounting block, one leg over horse! This is absolutely not working. Put him back to finish eating, took saddle in tack room, found stirrup leathers and stirrups — and the bars are new and very snug. I struggled for about 10 minutes each side to get stirrups on the dang thing. My “new saddle excitement” by this time is waning fast. Back I go to get the Grump who has now got the Stink Eye going at me. Threw saddle back on, climbed back on mounting block, positioned horse. All this time, it’s pouring down rain outside, you can’t hear yourself think with the tin roof. I get on, it’s heavenly of course. Fits him beautifully and nice for me. I like the knee blocks and seat, doesn’t trap me or lift my hips forward. Anyhow, I walked up and down the aisle carefully — with just the leadrope and halter — and Lucky had had enough. When we passed his stall for the third time without going back in to finish dinner, he curled his head (his sign of “get ready, here comes the Volcano Horse”), lifted both hind legs OFF THE GROUND IN THE BARN AISLE and BUCKED. Yikes again. I am here to report that the new saddle is just fine in terms of stickability. But I got the hint. So we returned to the tack room end of the barn, with a lot of halter-rope pulling and yelling to “behave”, and removed said new toy — and returned His Highness to his dinner. I got the Stink Eye for a while for that!

Last night I got home late, as usual, with work adding so much to my day now. So I dragged him out and put the new saddle on again, this time, at a better time of day, dry, with a lunge line activated for good measure. Yes, he bucked — I was concerned. What if this saddle is bothering him? I don’t think so. After a few springs and high spirits, there was no Stink Eye, and I got on and he was SO much freer in his shoulder. I think he would like an elastic girth rather than the hard and fast one I have on it now so that’s the next shopping need, but I had a wonderful quick ride in it and really enjoyed it. Now I have to remember how to sit in a dressage saddle — stop lifting my pelvis so far forward and keep myself centered! I like it and have notice a difference already in how I need to give the aids. Good stuff, going forward.


Yes…another snow day

It is hard to look out the window and see the snowflakes flying past and be looking at a calendar of events and horse shows. For instance, there is a major Thoroughbred show in two weeks nearby. Last year, Rugby went and did very well. This year I was hoping to take both George and Lucky. No shot. George has been ridden exactly three times in three weeks, and Lucky has gotten out a few more times but he’s woefully behind. He’s the sort of horse that does a lot better if ridden regularly. So while I know I am not alone, I also know a lot of the other people who are going to this show have had the added advantage of a trainer riding the horses for them, or an indoor.

This is what is called a "hunker down".  We are learning to do this after this winter, we are experts at it.

This is what is called a “hunker down”. After this winter, we are experts at it.

Hamish has been hunting his little while socks off so I am very pleased with him. He’s a neat jumper and we had a great deal of fun on Sunday with Cindy back leading first field (yay!) after having had several months off with a healing injury from a hunting fall back before Christmas. Cindy’s grand Connemara-Thoroughbred, Lee, is a past Intermediate level event horse and he jumps like it’s second nature, and Hamish followed and jumped everything behind him, even the big coops. He is quite tidy with his knees in a very good hunter style. He has learned to stand quietly at checks, and is wonderful to ride down the trail with others either in front or in back. He doesn’t pull and other than stomp a bit in the trailer, his manners are pretty good. He should learn to relax and stop swinging his head around when we arrive — for safety I am still bridling him in the trailer and we’ve had a few scary moments when he’s tried to LEAVE but the bridle isn’t quite on — and the halter isn’t quite on either!!!

Cold winter nights bring beautiful sunsets.

Cold winter nights bring beautiful sunsets.

Snow – this time about 8 wet inches – is going to make it a muddy mess at the least around here, and riding looks like it’s cooked for at least a week. Everybody is spending a lot of time on the internet and Facebook, showing pictures and talking about this and that. I spend today actually working and doing estate paperwork, then left the horses in the barn and had barn work morning and night. Even the paddocks are going to be worse than useless. I will get up and try to plow tomorrow before attempting to get some work done, but it’s not going melt 8 inches overnight. Yes, another snow day and this time I am feeling like I am really screwed for a decent spring of getting these horses out and about. Those who went south this year are going to be way ahead of any of us who can’t leave jobs and animals. Another year wasted. That’s the way it feels, anyway. Poop.

Learning as we go

There is no roadmap or plan you can follow when you deal with the death of a parent. Everyone is different. I am learning as I go. Mostly, I’m learning about my mother, things I never knew, things I did know but didn’t comprehend, and confirmation of the things I did know. That last I have had to fight for. Many opinions float around among loved ones, but few facts, and I am a person who gets a fact straight and hangs on to it for dear life, no matter what. That’s my old journalism training — get the facts right. I dig for the reasons and the “whys” and the justifications. Most stuff, Mom was pretty transparent about. Some things, I don’t think even she knew the layers upon layers of self-deception she wrapped around herself and Dad as they grew older.

In my last visit to Mom and Dad before Dad died, it was clear that they were aging, and that the house and farm was desperate for some needed fixes, just basics like a roof, bathroom repairs, general de-clutter and cleanup, replacement of worn things about the house, and an outdoor cleanup. To say they were entrenched in the way they did things and in their absolute resistance to any changes would be putting it mildly. I blame this on us as children. We should have been quietly helping all along, fixing things, putting things right, helping get stuff fixed up, cleaned up, picked up. Had we been involved from the start of their aging process, I think it would have been easier for them to say, “yes” when one of us asked to repair or replace something. Part of the problem was the happiness they had with each other. They were truly devoted to one another and kept each other company as well as consulted with one another on everything. I found Mom was having difficulty making decisions after Dad died. It was clear that decision-making process involved bouncing ideas off him, digesting his response, and then getting the decision right. Without sounding board of Dad, Mom struggled with even everyday decisions. Over time she did get better but she began to rely on family members, a foreign concept, and some family members did not realize how influential and important their responses were. I for one did give her bad advice and later we discussed it and knew it wasn’t the right move. But I am wondering if that happened with other family members, too, and now after her death, going through paperwork, I am realizing that there were many errors made in trying to get her life back together after it was ripped apart by Dad’s death. And I feel that in trying to “settle” things, we are tearing down the things that my parents spent their entire lives building up. I hate this feeling because I am fighting alone against many others to keep her legacy alive — it’s as though no one else felt she was valuable but me. I know that is not true but it is hard to not feel that way, especially with the cattle problem, where I have been getting one bad thing happening after another. It is astonishing that the one part of her life where she gave the most to others is turning out to be the part that is an absolute stone wall in terms of help. This is a person who gave DECADES to the Angus breeders and owners and juniors not only in Washington state, but throughout the west. And so far I have had wonderful assistance from exactly two people from that group, and while I’ve had valuable phone time with others, it is a mystery to me that there has been no offered help with the herd.

More things learned: one thing really surprised me. Mom really did not care about some things we all thought were pretty important to her. They were a means to an end. The really important thing was the end result, not the means. She didn’t care much about some stuff after Dad died, and probably long before he died, but she couldn’t explain it to us without us “not listening” to her. I regret deeply not having a heart to heart discussion about a couple of issues in her life I should have been much more sympathetic about. I know, now, that there were reasons she did what she did, and that those reasons weren’t what I thought. They were a different set of facts behind some decisions. That actually makes it easy for me to do what I have to do, but on some issues I am still left to try and decipher what she would have wanted me to do. I know that she was a bit forgetful, and a bit out of touch with reality but who among us is not, at times? I really feel it was more about realizing she had little time left and wanted to pack a lot in before it was time. I think she was robbed a tiny bit of her time, but she was fading in the fall, it was a gradual decline, even before the family wedding in August, and as we faced holidays and colder weather, I knew in my heart that she was trying to set things straight and organize the important things for us. I really feel, now, a few months after her death, that she DID provide for the important things. And the rest, things without any directions or instructions or lists left for us, were not important. And that I have to set aside as fact, and go on.

Thanks, Mom.

Thanks, Mom.

Just off

I fell off — first time hunting in three years — on Sunday. Off of Hamish, no less, the original basket horse. He was a bit fretty anyhow and it was nearly a blank day and we did a lot of sitting and standing. He got excited during our only real run of the day and something spooked him – he almost stopped, and then the person behind us came up, and he jumped forward to avoid being run into. That back and forth stuff just didn’t work with my forward position…too far forward….so over the shoulder I went onto some very soft

Cold winter nights bring beautiful sunsets.

Cold winter nights bring beautiful sunsets.

ground and no harm at all. Evidently! It happened so fast I really do not know what happened, actually. Stirrup did come off, though — I leave the bars down so they will come off in case of just such a fall and it’s a good safety reminder to do so. I put the stirrup back on and there was a good log nearby and hopped back on quickly, so quick, all the other girls were laughing at me. I was mortified if you want to know the truth! One minute galloping along and the next rolling about on the ground. Just when you think you are doing well, God comes along and says, nope, you can’t possibly feel good about yourself today. It’s time for a little reality check. In our hunt, we owe a bottle of spirits to the annual Involuntary Dismount basket, which is auctioned off at the hunt ball. This is the first time in MANY years I have had to provide a bottle, and I already have it picked out and ready to go! (it’s some very yummy whiskey!) So I am now on a diet and hopefully will find a bit of time to get in shape this spring. Might as well. Can’t seem to be able to ride very well! Every other day is snow, freezing stuff, frozen ground, stuck doors on the barn. It’s been a long, long winter. I want to ride these things and get them going!


It’s not just humans that have the greed gene. I watched a pair of ravens absolutely stuff their beaks with old potato chips and carry them off, trip after trip, after I cleaned out the pantry last week. I forgot about the scene until cleaning up yesterday and looked out the window — every single last potato chip, like golden Kruggerands, were GONE. But not the stale pretzels…they didn’t look valuable to anyone, so there they sit, getting soggy from the ground moisture, and I’ll have to rake them up and throw them in the manure pile. It’s like cleaning up after the raid. Come on. Eat at least one pretzel? Just try it? Tastes just like potato chips! Sure they do!

The weather has been poor for riding. I haven’t actually been able to saddle a horse all week due to work and weather. So I skipped hunting on Sunday, because I don’t like to take horses in a trailer when I haven’t been able to ride them before. I hate it when a horse ties up and with my luck this winter, that’s what would happen. George got a war wound on his shoulder from hard play in the field. Rugby has a floating owie, yesterday looked like it was right hind foot, heel, or hock. Hamish was shod on Wednesday and still a bit sore so packing his feet but frozen ground is probably the culprit. Lucky was absolutely crazy on the lunge line so I am glad I did hook the lunge line up. The horse trailer rear tire went flat again, the patch didn’t hold — And poor little Charlie. Myeloid leukemia. Sigh. Trying to spend as much time as I can caring for him. From what the vets have said, and from the research I’ve been reading, this is not positive. (The articles all officially list this symbol, followed by the word: <year.)

I spent five tortured hours working on Mom’s estate. I got my braces off and my teeth are just sick. I watched some Olympics, and was mildly ashamed of the journalism and goading of what has to be a pretty depressed Bode Miller, US downhill skier, post performance interview. (A friend who knows thinks he is clinically depressed.) In fact, the journalism all together has been poor at best. There’s been no conditions mentions, which are horrific from inside accounts — snow on the mountain is terrible, the stray dogs, the Russian rudeness to spectators and coaches. Why on earth don’t they have spare bobsleds? That’s like going to a horse show without a water bucket or something. Duh. The US speed skating team looks flat and exhausted, and blaming the suits. Yah, way to go, blame the supporter and sponsor who has poured thousands into your expenses and team. Give them a black eye. Excuses. This Olympics needs to be teaching us some lessons. The only half bright journalism spot was the good sportsmanship shown by Shawn White of the snowboarding team, who finished fourth and out of the medals but was gracious about it. We had a good laugh about the curling on

Advantage of being outside at dinner time. Near my back field.

Advantage of being outside at dinner time. Near my back field. Curling is not on their minds.

TV on Sunday afternoon (is that really a sport?) but you know, here’s the deal. If you are on the curling team, you made it to the Olympics. I am sitting at home in the living room, taking off dirty boots, swathed in scarves and gloves and stuff to stay warm while I come in the house, exhausted, from taking care of horses in winter. What I’m doing is about ten times more physical and mentally difficult that curling ridiculousness (and I don’t know or respect anyone who “curls” so I can be rude about it), but I’m not going to the Olympics, so who are the smart ones?

Despite it all, we hunt

Photo by Justin Smith, Feb. 9, 2014 - Wicomico Hunt at Windswept

Photo by Justin Smith, Feb. 9, 2014 – Wicomico Hunt at Windswept. From right: Our huntsman Greg Thompson, me and Hamish, fieldmaster Jane Rhodes, behind her Brianne, then Hannah, Teri, Patti and not seen Lorraine and Sheila.

My dog may have leukemia. My friends among them have sick husbands, hospitalized husbands, cancer-stricken wives, families in crisis from car accidents, divorce, or overwork and stress. Yet, we just get on and ride. It’s cold, we’re crazy, but the neighbors we trot past, in pursuit of Mr. Reynard, think our horses are beautiful. And you know, they are. And we are. Just for that period of a few hours in time, when the world sort of stops to allow us to foxhunt for a few hours. The dressage princesses gallop like they stole it, the perfectly coiffed are covered in mud splatters, we wear grins like kids finding five dollar bills on the ground. We all agree that we need this, this foxhunting, for more than just the riding, or the scenery, or the great camaraderie, but for the nourishment of our souls.  Laissez les bons temps rouler!


Why something so small and short makes me cry:

Anyone should be able to view, even if not on Facebook.

I love how they put ME and my lowly riding, and my little old Training horse, in photos right next to the four-star riders I’ve been photographing for years. Just sort of makes me feel just as important. How wonderful that a little automatic video, given by Facebook who is actually into my business a bit too much, expresses a sentiment I honestly feel — that every small person is as important as every big person at least in one little moment of their lives. The positioning of the pictures of me with them was pretty amazing for the randomness of it. I know these are automatically generated which makes it even more interesting.

I am awed. How cool. I’m going to try and get it copied to save. Wish I could have made it! Love.

Someday soon

Someday Soon I think was once the name of a very good horse, but I can’t remember what the horse did. Might have been an old champion showring hunter or something. In any case, we use that phrase to mean that we hope, some day, maybe soon, that things will be different and better, or at least away from the hurt, pain, and discomfort that we are now feeling. Every moment of every day, we think about things we have to do. We make decisions; to run through a wash, to put the wool sweater in the dryer (or not), to open the yogurt container carelessly and spill it on the floor, to drink too many cups of coffee, to grab that candy bar right next to the checkout at the last minute. Decisions get made all the time, all day long. There are a lot of decisions, lately, and I long for the wisdom of my mother to bounce ideas off of. I miss her more than I can say. It sounds crazy but I’ve found a bit of comfort in the Winnie The Pooh stories by A. A. Milne. Here’s a quote:

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

Yesterday the weather was actually half decent and I had mountains of paperwork as well as horses to work with at home, so while friends invited me to a beach ride, I had to decline. While working in the barn and trying not to answer the phone, I decided I am going to restrict some calls to certain times of the week so that I can organize myself and get done what has to be done in my life. I also decided I am going to schedule more work for the horses because they were all quite fresh on Sunday. Why wouldn’t they be? They haven’t been ridden regularly since my mother died. So that needs to be fixed. Another decision – I really REALLY love Lucky, and I know he is so bad sometimes and has such an

Photo by Kurt Morthole

Photo by Kurt Morthole

attitude but he just is so neat. He wants interaction and shows personality, although like a nerdy kid, doesn’t always know what actions are appropriate. The other horses stay away from him because he plays HARD and they know it. He starts out with a BIG hump in his back some days and yesterday was one of them, and he also gave me a big buck when I reinforced a sluggish response to the leg with the dressage whip. Both of those actions do concern me when I ride him, because he’s 17 hands, and it’s a LONG way to fall. My friends have all had hard, painful falls this year off steady, regular mounts, so a green horse is certainly no sure thing to stick on. But darn it, immediately after, he rounds up and trots so light it feels like eating a fresh-baked cream puff out of the oven. So what are you going to do? Well, I just think he’s a cool horse and I’m glad he’s in my barn at least right now.

Cold Hump Day

Taken on the road in PA.

Taken on the road in PA.

When it gets up to like 32 degrees, we go outside in our shirtsleeves to walk the sick dog. Yes. I am used to it being cold. I have three rotating pairs of long underwear. The electric bill is going to look like the GNP of a small third-world country. I have light green insulating foam stuck on the front of my house for all the neighbors to see I have had broken pipes. I plowed out my own driveway with the tractor today. I also did my neighbor’s too, who called me on my phone before I even got back up the drive to thank me. That’s why I do them. They appreciate the diesel and time. But come on. Five inches of overnight snow for no real reason, Mother Nature. I just had the arena cleared out a bit on the sandy end to ride – and you said, NO. No riding. More snow. You cannot ride. Thanks, MN. Up yours, too.

The sick dog is getting different medicine and we are hopeful he’ll get a little better. Positive for yet again another case of erlichiosis in the family, a terrible tick-bourne illness — we have it around here and here’s what we are doing about it. Deer – I’m fencing the entire property to keep them out. Electric fencing – going to make sure it’s hot especially near the back part. Clearing out my small section of woods. Mowing not only my fence lines but 8 feet away from it on the abandoned neighbor property too. So sue me. Vigilant fly and tick stuff on all horses and dogs including fly sheets and leggings all summer. Mowing. Spraying, cover up when outside, gloves, hats, long sleeves, long pants, boots if near woods or long grass. I don’t know what else to do but if someone says do it, I will. Lyme vaccine for the dogs.

George photobombing my selfie on Cold Hump Day

George photobombing my selfie on Cold Hump Day

My birthday was a busy day and it was truly surprising and gratifying to see how many wonderful people wished me a happy birthday on Facebook. It makes you feel like you are really important. My horses wished me a happy birthday by pooping up a storm and making me take two trips to dump manure with the tractor. Thanks, guys.

Snow is not really something you should complain about. After all, other than plow a little bit, there’s not much you can do with it or about it. Weather is what it is. While I feel for the people in the south who are suffering I don’t think it’s something to get wild about. Our ancestors did not have plastic, propane, electricity, well pumps, pvc pipe, diesel tractors, hot water heaters, double snaps, baled hay, or cat food kibbles. And they survived. Our little problems are really just that – little. Compared to the problems of the world, we are just a speck on the giant steel plow blade of life….now that’s an interesting way to look at it, isn’t it? Go on winter. Sling it out. We can handle it. Until the electricity goes out.


Yesterday, I took an unwitting Hamish out to hunt at a fixture that was new to me but not to the hunt – I’ve never been there, what with one thing and another, so it was great fun to go for the first time and see new territory. The hounds got one beautiful hardy fox up, and that guy ran right handed, then left handed, then right for almost 2 hours for us. Several times I was able to view the hounds working the line in less-than-ideal scenting conditions — a high breeze across the fallow fields — and each time they were quite true to the line. We got a lovely view of the fox, as well, towards the end of the hunt. His tail was bushy and full and he was quite healthy. Watching hounds as they cast and find scent is something really special and you see why so many people love foxhunting, and foxhunt for years and years. It is a credit to the incredible experience and knowledge of our fieldmasters and staff that the field was so close to the action and able to see hounds working all day long!

Hamish was delightful, although standing still at the off is still a work in progress — his only fault. He is fantastic once going and hunts on the buckle; one could not ask for a safer, easier, funner horse to hunt with our flatlands group. Wet, muddy ground – no problem. (I love the way he powers through tough going, it’s amazing.) Woods – stickers, bushes, picking your way — no problem. Galloping to keep up with master – wide open field – no problem. Jumps – of any kind – no problem. He is getting used to having others coming up behind him and more comfortable with it now. Nothing seems to bother him in the field at all.  I can ride him up front, or in the rear, or now, he’s more comfortable in the middle. Very happy with him and his excellent learning curve! It is a joy to hunt such a horse and I am gratified that he’s learned hunting is so easy to handle, because now I can enjoy it while riding him. I didn’t think I could find a horse as good as Rugby to hunt, and I have to say, Hamish is just about exceeding Rugby in this area although it is early to say.

Because of all of the time lost around the holidays, where I had planned on hunting quite a bit, I am way behind where I wanted to be with all of the horses and their training; by this time I thought I’d have Rugby fit enough to hunt a little and also Little George out somewhere, and I’m not even close with either one of  those horses. Actually, Hamish has only been out hunting a handful of times so it’s even more extraordinary that he is so wonderful. It was great fun to be with friends and enjoy a pretty nice day, because it does look like weather is on its way, and we’ll soon have the white manure to contend with yet again this winter.