Farewell to the Little Mare with the Big Heart

This week we had to say goodbye to one of the sweetest and most kind little horses that I have ever had the privilege of meeting.  Misty came into our lives just under a year ago, but in that short time she touched so many hearts that she will never be forgotten. During her tenure in our barn she also taught me a lesson I will never forget.

This little black horse came into our lives with the help of a dressage trainer Annabelle was taking lessons from.  My spunky 12-year-old daughter was at the time riding a naughty little bay pony who challenged her at every turn and was so hard to ride that she struggled to make any sort of progress in her lessons.  The kind trainer said she knew of a pony that might be just perfect for Annabelle; a little black mare that had been formerly used as a lesson horse in a local hunter barn, and whose current owner wasn’t really riding her.  One thing led to another, and before we knew it we were the proud owners of a skinny, hairy, doe-eyed little black mare.  We had a cursory vet-check on the shaggy little horse, just to check her age and confirm what we suspected about her long coat. The age was exactly what we had been told, about 16, and as suspected the curly hair our new girl was sporting was a sign of Cushings Disease, a fairly common syndrome that often is recognized by the horse’s inability to shed winter hair.   The vet thought Misty, despite her poor body condition, was a great little pony, sound, sweet and obviously well-trained.  We decided together that we would add Misty to our family and start her on medication to try to mitigate the effects of her disease.  Many Cushings horses, they told us, could be managed successfully for years with proper care and medication.

Misty quickly proved to be Annabelle’s favorite mount.  My horse crazy daughter had recently made the switch to riding exclusively English, and Misty was just the horse to teach her the ropes.  Even though the mare was on the thin side, she was spunky and game, and Annabelle loved taking her around small jump courses that she set up in our sandy arena.  We had Misty about a month when Annabelle learned of a horse show to be held at the Idaho Center Horse Park, a gorgeous facility not far from our house and our very favorite place to show in the whole world.  The horse show was an open show, meaning any equine/rider team was qualified to ride, and it featured a wide array of classes.  The class that Annabelle picked out for her and Misty was the only class in the show that featured jumping.  It was a much more formal class than the small winter jumping series Annabelle had attended a couple of times with her naughty pony, and we had to make a visit to the show office the day before she showed to find out the requirement for dress.  I was somewhat chagrined to find that my daughter would be required to wear hunt attire, meaning not only tan breeches (which she did not have) but a show jacket (which she also did not have).  A trip to D&B netted us a pair of tan riding pants from the closeout rack, but not a jacket was to be seen.  I thought maybe a boy’s blazer would work, but a couple of stops later we had not found that either.  With time running out I told Annabelle we’d just have to go home and see what we could find.

As I am sometimes fond of mentioning, I *used* to have a real job, one that often required me to wear suits with skirts and jackets.  I was also, fortunately, *quite a bit* smaller back in the day, but we don’t need to go into that.  Anyhow, a deep rummage through my closet turned up a black waist-length (on me) jacket, that despite the slimness of my relative youth when I wore it, drowned my tiny daughter in material.  I tucked and pinned and tucked some more, and half a pack of safety pins later, from a reasonable distance, the jacket didn’t look half bad.  We were in business!

Annabelle left the fashion show to go out to the barn and prepare Misty for her show debut.  Despite the careful administration of Misty’s medication the little mare had not yet gained any weight while with us, but Annabelle clipped and brushed and Show Sheened her long hair until she thought Misty was the fanciest looking pony she’d ever seen.  She covered the little black horse in a sleezy and sheet and ensconced her in a deeply bedded stall for the night.  I don’t think Annabelle slept at all until the next morning, she was so excited to take her new horse to her first “real” English show.  When we got to the show the next day Annabelle eagerly unloaded Misty and tied her to the trailer while we went inside to pick up her number.  She wanted everyone to see how fancy her new pony was.

Misti Dressed

As we walked through the familiar roll up doors on the north side of the Idaho Center I looked with interest at the many horses and riders walking, trotting, loping and just standing around.  I was horrified.  Tied to our trailer was a skinny, hairy, big-headed pony with ribs clearly visible under her faded winter coat. She clearly had no place at this horse show. Every horse I saw was fat, sleek, perfectly clipped and obviously recently washed.  Misty was going to stand out like a sore thumb.  Annabelle’s enthusiasm was not daunted, however, and she seemed blissfully unaware of the huge disparity between her shaggy black pony and the glistening perfectly turned out horses that milled around the warm-up pen. I got a feeling of dread in my stomach as I saw the English riders, resplendent in tailored wool jackets and shiny black field boots.  Every English horse was huge, in my mind’s eye standing at least a foot taller than the ragtag little mare tied to our trailer.  Annabelle was super excited to get Misty saddled and ride her around, but honestly I was dreading the moment she made the comparison between her mount for the day and the fancy, shiny show horses that she would be riding against.

She took her time and carefully groomed Misty’s shaggy coat.  She applied boots to her legs and brushed her mane until it gleamed.  Finally, she added her saddle, and Misty stood patiently while we went through the gymnastic of getting Annabelle pinned into her oversized suit jacket.  Annabelle climbed on board, all smiles as we made our way to the outside warm-up pen.  She rode around for a bit, and it is a testament to her excitement of the day that she graciously agreed to stand for a photo.

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Riding around in the outside warm-up pen went just fine, but when we entered the indoor arena to see where they were in the show line-up things started to go south.  As soon as Annabelle walked in on Misty, people stared.  I saw a couple of teenage girls laughing, probably about something totally different, but I was horrified nonetheless.  There were a few people we knew at the show, and they appeared to go studiously out of their way to avoid talking to us.  The longer we stood in that pen the worse I felt.  I hoped it was only my imagination, and kept a smile on my face for Annabelle, but soon my biggest fear came true.  My daughter walked Misty over to me, blinking furiously.  “Mom, come over here!” She trotted Misty to a relatively quiet corner of the pen, and as I got closer I could see tears on her face.  “Mom!  They are making fun of Misty!  They are talking about her and saying mean things!”.

I’m not proud of the thoughts that came into my mind next, but I truthfully have to say that if Annabelle had said she wanted to leave right then I might have let her.  I have shown horses for a lot of years, and I know first-hand that it was a whole lot more fun to show a nice horse than just an OK horse, and I really felt that Misty didn’t belong at this event.  Instead I told Annabelle to take a deep breath.  I said that people were most likely not making fun of Misty, exactly, but that we had to admit Misty looked a whole lot different from the other horses in that arena, who were taller, fat, sleek, and sporting long, thick, fake tails. They just noticed she was different, that’s all.

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Annabelle took in my words and sat up straight in the saddle.  “You’re right mom.  They don’t know how good of a horse Misty is.  When they see her jump they will know.  Just wait until I win my class!”  Inwardly, I grimaced.  Oh no, I thought.  This is probably not going to go well.

When they called Annabelle’s class she rode anxiously to the in-gate to enter the arena.  She had already learned the simple pattern of jumps that she would ride inside, but she was still relieved she wouldn’t have to go first.  As she rode through the panels into the pen I felt a surge of respect for her composure.  She smiled at everyone gathered around and kept on her happy face as she rode to the center of the arena.  Thank goodness she was far enough away to not hear the comments that started almost immediately.

I was a little shocked that the people who were standing right beside me, clearly the mom of the girl on the pony, spoke without reservation.  “Oh look at that pony! Isn’t she brave?”  “Well, she isn’t much to look at that’s for sure.  We’ll see if she can jump.” “Oh, bless her heart….”.  It was a tight-knit group of exhibitors there that day, and I don’t think I’ve ever felt like more of an outsider.  The only good thing I could think of at that moment was at least we were almost done, and we could load up our embarrassing pony soon and get out of that unwanted spotlight.

The first horse went through the course with a few bobbles and then it was Annabelle’s turn.  Misty trotted beautifully around the corner and loped a straight line to the first jump.  As soon as she left the ground the talk around me changed. “Oh my gosh, look at that pony jump!”  “That was the most beautiful little hunter jump I’ve ever seen!”  and, with just a touch of derision, “Watch this, she’ll probably win this class!”  My chagrin turned to a fierce pride, not just because Misty was shocking everybody with her stellar performance, but because Annabelle had been right.  She believed in Misty and had been right to do so.  I was embarrassed at myself for letting outside appearances and the judgment of people I didn’t even know influence my faith in the little mare.

After the horses jumped they were instructed to go to the rail to be judged on the flat.  As Annabelle rode by me her smile faltered just a little. We hadn’t known about this portion of the class but I knew she would get through it.  As the riders started to go around, first at a walk, then a trot and finally a canter, the talk around me kept up.  “That IS a fancy pony isn’t it?” “She is such a cute mover isn’t she?”  Suddenly our Ugly Duckling was the darling of the show.  When the horses had completed the flat work they lined up for their placings.  I wiped happy tears from my eyes when they called first place.  Annabelle and Misty were the winners under both judges.

Annabelle, of course, was beyond thrilled, and not at all surprised.  “I KNEW Misty would win mom! I knew she deserved to be here!”  She was right, of course, and that is the lesson Misty and Annabelle taught me that day:  believe in yourself, don’t be intimidated because you look a little different from the others.  It is what is INSIDE that counts.

Even when the inside is encased in a twenty-year old Ann Taylor jacket that is 4 sizes too big.

After we brought Misty home from the show we kept up her medicine and feed regime.  She didn’t seem to be gaining weight, and her energy levels were extremely low.  It was hard to get her to eat, and she looked worse every day.  I hauled her to the vet with me one morning to weigh her, and was shocked to see that she had lost almost two hundred pounds, a very significant percentage of her body weight.  Never a fat horse, now she was downright emaciated.  The vet explained that her medication sometimes had the side-effect of a loss of appetite, so we decided to take her off of it for a while.  Annabelle did some research and found a natural feed supplement that was supposed to be a big help for horse with metabolic problems, so we ordered it and started Misty on that, pouring high fat feeds to her in an effort to improve her condition.

It worked. Within a couple of months Misty looked shiny and filled out.  She still didn’t shed her hair properly, so Annabelle body-clipped her, leaving a small heart of longer hair on her right hip.  Misty was gorgeous.

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And by the way kids, don’t wear flip-flops around horses.

Anyway, Annabelle continued to enjoy riding Misty and she even took her to a jumping lesson or two at our trainer.  Everybody loved Misty.

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As Annabelle continued to advance in her skills and started to ask more of her mount, we realized that making our sweet Misty work hard enough to keep up with those demands was taking a toll on her.  She would often lie down for hours after a ride, and though she continued to gain weight and looked healthier and happier, we were worried it was too much for her.   Since we continually have a bevy of young riders coming to our house who are anxious to ride, we decided in the summer to make Misty exclusively a beginning lesson horse, giving her a much lighter work load while also getting the attention and love she thrived on.  Annabelle had a few other horses to ride by now, so we passed Misty off into semi-retirement, much to the delight of our guests who always clamored to ride her.

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She was one of our darling friend Ella’s first rides, and Ella continued to learn from the gentle mare throughout the summer and into the winter.

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Misty went camping with us in the summer and gamely walked miles of trails in the mountains around Bull Trout Lake.

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She went on trail rides at home too, up to the big lot at the end of our road that our awesome neighbors make available for the kids to ride around in.

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We didn’t jump Misty much anymore, but she did introduce youngsters to low levels of cross rails so they could get the feel of jumping.  Our friend Olivia loved to have lessons on Misty.

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Misty seemed to thrive on her once-a-week work routine.  The cute little mare even got to go to a couple of winter horse shows.  Magaely showed her and even won a ribbon or two, and Olivia rode her when she showed in her very first horse show.

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Misty seemed so happy and was doing so well that what happened last Friday caught us by surprise.  Annabelle called me from the barn, where she had gone out to do the morning feeding.  “Mom, there is something really wrong with Misty,” she said.  “She won’t walk!” I ran outside to see the little black mare standing placidly, not moving over toward her food. It was muddy outside, and I was afraid the mud and cold weather had triggered a case of laminitis, which is an inflammation of the hoof capsule that can be life-threatening in horses.  It took some effort, but we convinced Misty to walk into the barn, where we put her into a stall bedded deeply with fresh sweet straw.  We gave her anti-inflammatory medicine to try to ease her pain, but after a couple of days it was obvious she wasn’t improving.  Our friend and vet Kat DeHaan came out and evaluated Misty on Monday.  It was clear from Kat’s expression that the situation was grave. We increased Misty’s pain medication three-fold, but she continued to decline.  Laminitis is a horrible and frequent side-effect of Misty’s disease, Cushings, and it attacked her with evil force.

On Wednesday our sweet little mare was in so much pain that we decided any further efforts to save her would be for our benefit, not for hers.  We had to do what was best for our faithful friend, so in the fading sunlight of a chilly evening, on the soft grass of our front yard, we said goodbye to Misty for the final time.  We sat and stroked her head and neck until she was gone, knowing we would miss her terribly.

Rest In Peace sweet Misty.  We will see you again someday.

And  I promise to always remember, never judge a book by its cover.

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Categories: Horse Adventures, Life in the Country, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

The Talk

My sweet and sassy Annabelle turned eleven this past fall and in many ways is wise beyond her years, so I guess I shouldn’t have been at all surprised by her recent instigation of The Talk.  I had sensed for some time that she was wondering about The Facts, but she had never really come right out and asked me until a few weeks ago, the day after Thanksgiving.

We were standing in the kitchen. I had been awake for a few hours, doing the things around the house that moms do before the other human inhabitants get out of bed and start demanding that they do other things.  I sipped a cup of coffee and stroked Annabelle’s blond hair when she wandered in.

“Did you see the elf got here?” I asked.

The annual Day-After-Thanksgiving arrival of Sparkles the Elf is a much-anticipated day in our household.  Batman had been asking for weeks exactly when she would arrive, and was so excited that he had made a huge welcome poster, printing images off the internet of other elves to inspire her, and even leaving a few questions for her to answer.

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It was sort of dark when I took the photo of the poster, so it may be hard to read, but you might be able to see on the lower right-hand corner that there is a question that says “Do you like all these elves?”, with a “yes” and “no” box below.  You may be wondering what that question means (or maybe not, but I’ll tell you anyhow).

To start with, Batman has a bit of an obsessive-compulsive personality (which he got from his father, by the way), and when he gets his mind on something he Does Not Let It Go.  One of his forever loves, and a really big focus of this past year, is his adoration-of-all-things-Christmas.  In August when we cleaned out his Uncle Mike’s storage unit, one of the things we brought back to our house was Mike’s artificial Christmas tree, along with several boxes of holiday decorations.

Batman immediately dragged the heavy boxes downstairs and single-handedly set up and decorated the tree (and his entire room), incorporating everything from multiple light strings and standard Christmas tree bulbs to the hand-made ornaments that his uncle had kept over the years from he and DH’s grandmother, Sugar Foot. Batman kept that tree up for two or three months, sleeping in near-daylight conditions from all the glowing lights,  then ironically taking the whole thing down just when it would have been Almost Acceptable for it to be described as an early celebration of the season.

But even before the tree was presented as a catalyst, Batman had been planning all year long for this Christmas season.  I think it was around two Christmases ago when he asked for a “toy” elf that he could play with, since as everyone knows one cannot touch, let alone play with, a “real” elf or he/she will lose their magic.  This single elf purchase or gift or however it came to be, turned into a full-on mission for Batman, who was immediately obsessed with obtaining more and more elves.

By the time Sparkles was due to arrive back at our house last month Batman had grown his family of elves to no less than 9 assorted elfin figures, who spent their off-season snuggled in the cubby of Batman’s headboard near his pillow.  (Yes, you read that right, nine.  Niner. Ten-minus-one or eight-plus-one.  I am not at all sure how it happened, but it is probably a similar phenomenon to that which has turned us into a family with four dogs, three cats and seven (yes, that’s right, seven, don’t make me do the math) horses.)

So anyway, back to where I was with the story about Annabelle.  She looked at the poster where Sparkles had answered Batman’s questions, and at the cookies that Sparkles had brought with her (which were chocolate-covered oreos, my favorite incidentally) and then she looked at me.

“Mom, you have to tell me The Truth.  (uh-oh) Does Sparkles really do all this stuff by herself? Is she really real?”

I launched into my standard version of The Truth, which was “Of course she is real!  Can’t you see her sitting right there?”  “No mom.  Stop.  Just stop,” my normally polite fifth-grader interrupted me.  “I mean, how does she do all the stuff she does?  Remember the year she gift-wrapped our bunk-beds? And how does she carry all the stuff she brings to us anyway?”

I felt a small nervous smile take over my face.  Time for the Back-Up Truth.  “Well, honey, if you believe she is real then she is real…….”.  Once again I was interrupted.

“No mom.  Just tell me. Is Sparkles real or do you do all this stuff?” Now she had a nervous smile on her face.  I volleyed with a few more platitudes, but my smart pre-teen kept at me.  I resisted, trying several different variations of The Truth to convince her to end the conversation, until she stopped me in my tracks with this.

“Mom! I TOTALLY don’t care if she isn’t real.  I really don’t.  I just want to know The Truth.”

I tried a last-ditch effort.  “Well honey, Sparkles is real, but I do help her out from time to time.”  “Help her out?  What do you mean help her out? So she is real, and she comes from Santa, but you have to help her out?  That doesn’t make sense!”

I had a huge lump in my throat, and tears threatened my eyes.  It was all I could do to squeak out “Are you sure you want the truth?”  “Yes, mom.  Yes! Yes! Yes!  Tell me the truth!”

So I did.

My little girl stood motionless for a few seconds, letting it all sink in. “So it was you?!  All this time?! You?!!” (this was said with no small amount of incredulity and brought to mind an occasion a couple of years back where Sparkles had really out-done herself in some way and Batman said “Now I totally know the elf is real…..mom would have been waaaaaay too lazy to do all this!” Quickly adding “No offense mom! You’re just really busy.” And I wasn’t offended.  It did look like a lot of work.)

“Yes, honey,” I told her.  “It was me.”  She giggled nervously for a few seconds, her mouth open in shock.  Then a look of consternation mixed with a budding cognizance came over her face.  “But Mom! If Sparkles isn’t real WHAT DOES THAT MEAN ABOUT SANTA??!”

Oh, how I had hoped she wouldn’t go there.

“What do you think honey?” I asked miserably.  Now it was her turn to giggle again, more nervously this time.  Like a wave the understanding came over her face.  “You are Santa too?”  her voice trailing off a little toward the end.

At this point Desperate Hubby, who had been lurking around the corner listening to the entire conversation and probably rolling on the floor with laughter, popped his head around the doorway.  Apparently he just couldn’t help himself.  “Oh no, Annabelle!  Santa is real.  Of COURSE he’s real!! A fat man rides a sleigh pulled by  flying reindeer with enough presents for every kid on earth and makes it all the way around the world in one night.  How could you doubt that?!”

I punched DH hard in the arm, regained my composure, and answered my daughter.

“Yes, honey.  Dad and I are Santa too.”

I admit I was more than a little devastated.  I had not been mentally prepared for The Talk, and certainly was not ready to admit to The Truth, but Annabelle seemed fine.  In fact, she took one look at my face and hugged me.  “It’s OK mom!  I’m totally fine with it. I really am.”  I hugged her back for as long as she would let me, then she pulled away.

“Wait!  Wait……so what happens now? Do I still get presents?”

I explained that nothing would change.  Everything would stay exactly the same, with one caveat:  “YOU CAN NEVER TELL YOUR BROTHER!! I mean it Annabelle!  No matter how mad you get at him you cannot ruin his joy in Christmas!”

Annabelle laughed.  “Don’t worry mom.  I won’t tell him.  WAIT!  Can I get extra presents if I don’t tell him?” I narrowed my eyes at her and she smiled.  “Just kidding. I promise I won’t say a word.”

And so far she hasn’t.

Sparkles and her crew of nine have happily carried on.  I inwardly laugh to myself when a friend complains about managing the antics of a single scout elf.  Try directing the craziness expected of a party of ten!

For the first 24 hours after The Talk I had extra help.  Annabelle was very excited to help support the capers of our herd of elves.  The very first night she re-created one of her favorite scenes from the early years of Sparkles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She got a little extra messy with the snow, sprinkling it all over the top of the elves instead of just underneath them.  When I asked her to stop adding flour snow to the scene and explained how hard it was to get the snow off of the elf clothes she sighed heavily and said she didn’t really want to help anymore.

The elves have kept at though, and recreated some other favorites from the past.

TP-ing the tree is always a hit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bringing a new board game is appreciated in a more quiet way.

Good advice

The obligatory game of pool……

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cool lights

…..with a new feature this year:  Christmas strobe lights for added effect.

They’ve painted a bit.

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And crepe papered the entry.  Good thing they can fly because it would be totally dangerous to stand on a kitchen chair and put that stuff up there with masking tape.

Guess they like crepe paper

Zach has steadfastly delighted in their efforts, and with his finely honed computer skills (thank you so much Kuna Public School System), he has also undertaken quite a cycle of communication with Sparkles, Santa and company.  Nearly every night he writes a letter on my computer and prints it and leaves it with Sparkles to take to Santa.

Most letters ask for something to be delivered or for an action of some sort.  For a couple of weeks he was obsessed with having Sparkles bring her elf pets (a St. Bernard and a reindeer) with her to our house.  How he knew that she had said pets is beyond me.

It took a couple of weeks for the elf pets to arrive.  Blitzed the St. Bernard (don’t judge me) came first, after a delay because he had the sniffles and was at the North Pole Veterinary Hospital, and Randy the reindeer arrived about ten days after that. Randy was detained for quite a while because Target was sold out of them he was in training to be a backup reindeer in case Rudolph couldn’t fly for some reason on Christmas Eve.

The progressive nature of the arrival of the pets necessitated a string of communications between Santa, Sparkles and Batman, which Batman  eagerly read and bought into, hook, line and sinker.  Even when one day, early on in the Pet Transfer Plan, Sparkles delivered a note that called her pet reindeer by the name of “Rudy” rather than his afore-stated name of “Randy”, Batman was merely puzzled, not suspicious.  When later that same day she sent a note saying that Rudolph had gotten on her tablet and changed the name because he was wishing that HE was coming to our house, Batman blithely accepted that as a hilarious truth.  (Coincidentally, that same day DH made a smart alec crack about how much wine Sparkles must have been drinking when she wrote the first note, which I’m sure she did not appreciate.)

As for now, Batman continues to greet every antic of the Elf Family with delight and acceptance.  He relishes his direct-line communication with Santa and bounds up the stairs every morning to see what mischief his tiny friends have wrought.

It has been commented that these complicated shenanigans must be a lot of work for Sparkles, and that perhaps she is overdoing it and maybe even making other elves look bad, and that may all be true. All I can say is that around here we continue to enjoy the Magic of Christmas, and as long as Batman keeps believing, so shall I.

I am certainly in no rush to have The Talk about The Truth again any time soon.

 

 

 

 

Categories: Kids Are Funny Creatures, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Princess and the Pony

 

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Annabelle was full of excitement as she waited for the big day to arrive;  we were scheduled to drive to Lewiston, in North Idaho, last Saturday to pick up her (already-beloved, much-anticipated) baby horse, Princess.  She had picked out a new halter that we were pretty sure would fit the yearling, and it hung in suspended animation on the corner of Annabelle’s huge trophy on top of the shrine.

Are you shocked by the color?

All week long my daughter had redoubled her efforts to prove that she was worthy of the responsibility of caring for her new filly.  She fed all the animals – horses, cats and dogs, every evening, and made sure that Hailey-Dan the golden retriever had her medication both morning and night.  She tidied her room and cleaned the cage of her pet hamster, Snowflake.  She made every effort to finish her homework at school so she could rush outside as soon as we pulled into the garage, and she virtually levitated at all times with barely controlled excitement.  She was prone to breaking out in spontaneous laughter at any random moment, whenever the thought of Princess crossed her mind.

Saturday couldn’t get here fast enough.

Truth be told, I was pretty darn excited myself.

We were taking our wonderful pony Reno up with us so that he could meet his next little partner, and Annabelle spent part of every afternoon working with him so that he would be on his best behavior.  As an experienced horse road-warrior, Annabelle didn’t need any prompting to be considering what other tasks needed to be completed before we left, and on Friday afternoon we both headed outside to make sure we had everything ready to go.

I had washed and fueled up the truck, purchased groceries for the boys, stopped by D&B for shavings and extra feed for Grumpy, and lined up some road snacks for our trip.  We had discussed giving Reno a haircut before we left, so I’d gone outside and gotten the good clippers and put them on the charger in the kitchen.The tack room of the trailer, which seems to exist in a state of perpetual disarray, still needed to be straightened, and the horse compartment needed to be completely stripped and bedded with one of the new bags of sawdust I had picked up.

Though it was forecast to be a lovely weekend for a drive, Friday was breezy and cold and overcast by the time we got outside to prepare.  I unloaded the feed and part of the shavings, then drove over to the trailer, where Annabelle was already brushing Reno off so she could saddle him up and school him one last time.  She brushed and braided his tail and put it in a pink tail bag as I worked on making him a little more presentable.

Little black Reno is half-miniature horse and half-welsh, and he has hair enough for several ponies, especially in the winter.  I hacked at his bridle path and legs a bit with the sharpest scissors I could find to reduce the load on the clippers, then tried to tidy up as best I could with my good cordless Wahl’s.  The clippers rapidly got too hot trying to buzz through the thick and dirty winter hair, so I sent Annabelle inside to grab the clipper lube, which doubles as sliding-metal-door-defroster for our glass back door when the temperature gets down in the sub-zero range.

As soon as she handed me the nearly-new can of Kool Lube, I remembered that I had dropped it last time I had used it and snapped the white spray-thingy off the top.  I tried unsuccessfully to reattach the sprayer, but since the housing that it was supposed to set on was broken off, my efforts were to no avail.  Annabelle grabbed the can from me and worked her little fingers around it until a dribble of the grease eeked out, which we spread over the hot clippers and enabled us to get a tiny bit more trimming done.  We finally had to lead Reno over to the barn, where I drug out my old pair of electric-cord clippers, which were dull but did a good enough job of finishing the pony up to make him passable looking.

That task completed, Annabelle started to saddle up to head off to ride.  The wind was picking up and it felt really cold outside.  I told her I’d get the trailer ready to go, and when she was done riding we’d go inside and get organized for our part of the trip.  She paused in pulling the latigo tight on the pony saddle, which still sported pink and green marking paint from her last birthday party when she decorated Reno with neon cattle paint AFTER she had him all tacked up.

“Ummmm, mom.  I would rather do the front of the trailer myself if that’s OK.”  “Sure,” I said, “I’ll go ahead and clean out the back and get the hay bags loaded.”  She stood still, looking at me.  “I’ll do that too.”  I told her that I really didn’t mind, and that my helping would make it all go faster so she could get inside out of the cold. She politely told me that she really, truly, didn’t need my help, thank you very much, so why didn’t I just go in the house?

So I did.

I looked outside about an hour later.  Annabelle was just returning from working with Reno in the arena, and I stepped out the back door to see if she needed help yet.  She was happy to see me, and launched into an impromptu demonstration of how good the pony was minding on the lunge line.

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After she gyped him around a bit I asked her if she wanted me to come help with the rest of the chores.

“No!” she cheerfully informed me.  “I’ve got this.”

Another half hour went by, and I looked out again.  I could see the trailer door was open, but no sign of Annabelle.   I called her name, and she peeked her head out of the gloom of the tack room, where she sat on her knees pairing splint boots to be stacked in the boot bin.  “Need any help yet?”  “No,” she called.  “I’m fine!”

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She finally came inside about 6:00, chilled and tired, but happy.  She had finished organizing the tack room and cleaned out the back of the trailer, hauling the wheelbarrow of used shavings to the dumpster where she’d painstakingly shoveled them over her head into the metal bin to be hauled away.

Still she smiled.

I expected her to be up at an insanely early hour the next morning demanding to leave, but she surprised me by sleeping until after 7:00, and lounging around in her pajamas for almost an hour before she started getting antsy.  DH had to run to the office for a bit, so we waited at home with Batman until he returned, and by the time we threw in our bags and Annabelle loaded the freshly groomed Reno, it was 10:30.

We were Princess-Bound.

We’ve driven a lot of miles together, just the two of us, and I’m happy to say we are really compatible travelers.  I have this weird, deeply entrenched and totally unmitigated sense of driving urgency, and generally only stop on a trip if I need to fuel up.  As long as we have enough snacks in the car Annabelle is very like-minded, and we made the five-hour drive with only one very brief potty break.

As we drove, Annabelle’s excitement grew.  We talked about Princess, and wondered if she had changed since we’d seen her two months ago.  We talked about getting her home, and what we would do with her once she was settled in, what we would feed her and who she could be turned out with.

But mostly we talked about Reno and his new little girl, Justis.

Annabelle told me what she planned to say to Justis when she introduced Reno, and how she would give her a lesson on riding him.  I told her that Steve Brown, the donor of the filly and the champion of Annabelle receiving her, would be there to see her meet Princess, and that I planned on taking lots of pictures.  She would have to be patient, I said.  She readily agreed.

About an hour from the end of our trip we discovered via a text from Justis’ mom, Robin, that Reno was a complete surprise to Justis – she didn’t know anything about her new pony.  That really got us talking.

Annabelle asked me what we would do first – would she get to see Princess or would she introduce Justis to Reno?  I asked her what she thought would be best.  She didn’t hesitate.  “Oh, I can’t wait to see Justis’ face when she meets Reno. Definitely we can introduce her to Reno first, and then I’ll give her a lesson for as long as she wants!”

“Just as long as I get to see Princess after.”

We arrived at the stable and waited a bit for everyone to get down to the barn for the unveiling of the pony.  Although I knew Annabelle was just dying to run down the barn aisle to see Princess, she waited patiently until everyone was assembled with phone cameras ready to record the excitement of a little girl and her first pony.

Annabelle took Justis by the hand, and said “Would you help me unload a horse from the trailer?”  Justis nodded yes, and they walked to the rear door, where Justis’ dad Duane helped with the latch.  Annabelle led Justis inside and untied Reno, and when they got him out she explained that he was going to be Justis’ pony now.

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It took a moment for Justis to understand what Annabelle was saying, and the two stood together for a few minutes, Annabelle helping her to hold the lead rope folded safely in her hands.

Suddenly Justis started to understand what was happening, and she gave Annabelle a big hug.

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Then she said “Can I ride him now?”

Her mom told her that first we had to go let Annabelle see Princess.  That was totally fine with Justis, so she let Annabelle help tie him in the barn alley outside the tack room while we walked down to where Princess was stalled.

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Annabelle walked right in and grabbed the lead rope that the filly was dragging, and started talking to her.  Princess seemed pretty relaxed with this new little person, and let Annabelle pet her face and start blowing in her nose to further their acquaintance.  She led her out of the stall under the watchful eye of Justis’ dad Duane.

Steve Brown and his lovely wife Jody looked on through all this, and I couldn’t decide who was happier; them or my little girl.

We got Steve and Justis to pose for some pictures with the happy new duo.

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Justis had been pretty patient through the whole Princess-Annabelle part of the afternoon, but I knew she was really ready to ride her new pony.  She and Annabelle skipped down the barn aisle to where Reno waited,and Annabelle helped her up on the sweet little boy.

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We got to organizing Justis’ cute little saddle and tack, and she and I raced to where I had parked the trailer to see if we had a little pony saddle pad.  I thought we had a couple of them with us, but apparently the tack-room-organizer had left them all at home in the barn.  So we raced back. The trailer was about 50 yards or so from where Reno was tied.  On the way there I let Justis beat me.  On the way back….well, she just beat me.

Soon enough little Reno stood all tacked up.  Annabelle showed Justis how to put the bridle on.

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And they were off.

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We went into the indoor arena, and the girls rode and played and rode and played. The light wasn’t he best, but you get the picture (haha).

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When they finished up, the girls took Reno back and unsaddled him and then put him in a stall for the night.  Annabelle and I were treated to a delicious steak dinner by Robin and Duane and Jody and Steve.  We told stories and laughed and had a wonderful time.  I learned just how close Annabelle had come to not getting her precious Princess, and I was even more thankful for Steve’s belief in her.

We met back at the barn early the next morning to load up for home.  Duane came outside to help with Princess.  He wanted to trim her feet (her first time ever) and help us get her loaded up for the drive.  Princess wasn’t sure about having her feet handled at first, but it wasn’t Duane’s first time trimming a foal, and he patiently worked with her until she had four beautifully level toes.

With that done, Annabelle and Justis had one more course of business to attend to:  another lesson before we left.  They took Reno to the outside arena and turned him loose for a few minutes.  He played and bucked and rolled, then they took him in, brushed him off and got him saddled up.  After a short lesson in the indoor arena we all headed outside to the sunshine, where the girls practiced some more.

Annabelle tried to get Reno to perform some cutting moves, running back and forth as the cow.  He was not very impressed.

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Duane helped the girls set up some barrels and they worked on that too.

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Before they put Reno away, Justis let Annabelle get on her pony and run him around the barrels a couple of times.

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She had a blast.

It made me kind of sad, but seeing her long legs in Justis’ tiny saddle reminded me that it was time for her and Reno to move on to new horizons.

Steve and Jody were there to see us off, and Steve was nice enough to pose for one more picture, with both of the girls and their new ponies.  I’d have to say they all looked pretty delighted.

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Duane helped us get Princess loaded up and ready to go.  She had only been hauled a couple of times before, but she was a real trooper about it.

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Robin climbed up on the fender of the trailer to say goodbye to Princess, and Annabelle climbed up beside her to see if everything looked OK.

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Steve teased me before we left that Annabelle was going to make me stop every 100 miles to check on her new horse.  Silly man.

It was every 75.

Needless to say, the drive home took a little longer than getting there did, but it was uneventful.  When we pulled into the field beside our house, Annabelle begged me to let her unload Princess by herself, and I finally let her, standing close by to make sure everybody stayed calm.

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There were several soccer games going on in the park next door, and dogs barking and commotion every which way, but Princess kept her composure and Annabelle led her to her new pen all by herself.

Princess greeted her new horse roommates calmly, then settled right into eating her dinner.

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Annabelle has been taking care of Princess all by herself, and spends a few minutes each day catching her and practicing her leading skills.  She is going to be a great little horse.

The original winner of Princess hopes to come and meet her this weekend.  Annabelle is super excited to give Mckell a riding lesson and to have the opportunity share her love of horses with another young girl.

We are so grateful for the generosity of Mckell and her mom to trust Annabelle with Princess, and we are looking forward to sharing our wonderful journey with them for many years to come.

Cheers!

ADH

Categories: Horse Adventures, Kids Are Funny Creatures, Life in the Country, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Princess and the Prophecy

This story begins on the Saturday afternoon following Thanksgiving of last year. The kids had been out of school all week for holiday break, and Batman and Desperate Hubby had just returned from a hunting trip in northern Idaho, where Batman’s first-ever whitetail quest had been a big success. The boys had spent the previous day grinding buck-deer-bits into hamburger in our garage and boiling the hair, skin, and ick off of the whitetail horns in preparation for mounting them to hang in Batman’s room.

I was getting the living room prepared for putting up the Christmas tree and thinking about winding down the final stages of my Christmas shopping (not that I have to do much, as Santa is still on the hook for most things around here).  I’d been helping out at the office quite a bit, and was occupied gearing up to get us all prepared for our first ski trip of the season, so I was busy.  We were going to be gone to the mountains for the first four days of Christmas week and I had plenty to do between getting ready to leave town with all our ski gear and cabin food and the like, and then returning home only a day before Christmas festivities would begin.

I’m a planner though, through and through, so I had mental and physical lists detailing pretty much every minute of my life for the rest of the year.  That’s how I roll, and I’m very comfortable with that.

But I digress.

My phone chirped with a text message early that afternoon.  I left off pushing the 900 pound coffee table across the carpet and limped across the room to my Samsung, where I slid the lock screen open.  My phone showed that I had a text message.  From Annie Reynolds.

Now, if you are in any way associated with the world of reined cow horses, or reining, or are a horse show person at all, you probably know who Annie Reynolds is.  If you are not any of the above, just imagine you were an avid pee-wee football player and you suddenly got a text message from Peyton Manning.

I, too, am involved in the reined cow horse and reining horse world, and the difference in level between me and Annie is roughly the same as that between a pee-wee football player and the winning Super Bowl quarterback.  Annie’s message was short and to the point.  “I am giving a benefit clinic for a friend who needs a prosthetic leg on December 12 and 13th in Lewiston.  Are you interested in going?”

I clicked the screen to black and set the phone down.  I was thinking quickly, and the train of thoughts in my mind warred with each other.

First off, Annie is a not only a legend in the horse world, she is arguably the best clinician I have ever had the privilege of riding with. Since she competes in the non-pro category of the National Reining Horse Association, she is strictly regulated regarding compensation she can receive for horse-related services, which means in part that she cannot give lessons for money, and while she generously donates her time and wonderful facility every year to help the Idaho Reined Cow Horse Association put on a much coveted cow horse clinic, it is a rare privilege (for a person of my ilk, anyway) to get to ride with her.

Crowding closely on the heels of my euphoria over the opportunity were these warring facts:  the clinic was in only two weeks, my horse was in full-time training and I hadn’t ridden her at all in over a month; Lewiston is in northern Idaho and requires crossing the dreaded White Bird Pass in the middle of December; although the event was only two days in duration it would require a four day commitment by the time you figured driving to and from, maybe more if the roads were really bad; I couldn’t consider going without Annabelle, and she would have to miss school; my schedule was fully engaged from now until Christmas already……and blah blah blah.

It just didn’t seem feasible.

I answered Annie back that I’d check into it and went back to my tree prep.  By the time I finished moving the furniture (back and forth, then back again….I don’t know why I can’t remember how I do it from year to year) and helped DH haul the tree in and prop it precariously upright in its metal stand, I thought I had made up my mind.  As much as I’d love to attend the clinic and have the chance at two whole days of cattle work with recent (and well-deserved) Hall of Fame inductee Annie Reynolds, we probably just couldn’t swing it.

A couple of days went by, and though I had fairly resolved not to go, the option still nudged at me.  I discovered a couple of other friends from this area were making the trip and they offered to caravan with us if we decided to join up.

I finally talked it over with DH and explained my angst, and though I really expected him to be dead set against the idea, (mainly because of the possibly dangerous drive) he surprised me (something which he still does regularly after sixteen years of marriage, and one of the reasons I love him so much).  “I think you should go.  You don’t get a chance to ride with Annie very often and I think that’d be really good for Annabelle.  If you just remember to drive slow and be careful you’ll be fine.”

And so we signed up.

We left for the clinic on a cold and overcast Friday morning, and the drive to Lewiston was imperiled by fog and drifting snow.  The trip I expected to take about five hours stretched to nearly seven, and after we arrived we still had to bed our horses’ stalls, feed and water them, and then drive over wet winding hills fifteen minutes to our hotel in downtown Lewiston.  Annabelle wanted to ride her horse that evening in the indoor arena at the facility, and she sunk into a silently seething state of crabbiness when I told her no.  We had driven all day, Doc needed to rest (OK, mom did) and we needed to find our hotel and get dinner.

When we arrived at the hotel the lobby was filled with a dozen and a half people who were apparently coming into town together for a wedding, and there was one overwhelmed clerk (very) slowly working his way through the check-in line.  I glanced down at Annabelle and saw tears welling in her eyes.  We hadn’t had a proper meal all day, and she was tired and cold needed to eat.  I hustled her back out to the truck before her outburst began.

“I hate this trip.  I don’t want to stay at this hotel and I want to go home. I don’t want to do the clinic anymore. I want to go home!!”  I knew trying to reason with her in this state would be to no avail, and my normally compliant nine-year-old was practically hysterical by the time we pulled into the parking lot of a nearby steak house.  My phone was dead and needed charged, and though I wanted to call DH to let him know we were fine, my first priority was to appease my sobbing daughter.

I was a little frazzled from the drive myself, and it took all of my tact to get Annabelle out of the truck and through the drizzling rain to the hostess desk in the restaurant entry.  We were quickly seated in a booth near the door, where Annabelle sat huddled in a heap, shaking with cold and distress, and I implored the waiter to bring us some rolls as quickly as he could.

And a very large glass of wine.

As we waited for sustenance I seriously questioned what I had been thinking coming here.  This might just turn out to be a bad idea and a terrible trip after all. What if the weather stayed stormy? Or got worse?  What if Annabelle couldn’t regain her mojo and I was left with this sullen, angry child all weekend? What if the restaurant ran out of wine?  (just kidding, I wasn’t worried about that –  I had some in my suitcase).

Maybe we should just leave tomorrow.

Fortunately, as usual, warm food and a relaxing atmosphere calmed my daughter back to a close semblance of her regular happy-go-lucky self, and the steak and baked potato returned me to human-ness too.  My phone was charged when we got to the car so I could check in with DH, the hotel lobby was empty, and the clerk checked us in efficiently.  The accommodations were far from fancy, “but at least there isn’t any dog poop behind the toilet like there was at that horrible hotel in Reno,” quipped my daughter.

She is generally pretty easy to get along with when you feed her.

The next morning dawned chilly but dry.  We drove through McDonald’s for breakfast and ate our egg muffins on the drive back to the barn, where we saddled our horses and spent a memorable morning meeting new friends and practicing our cattle working techniques.

Although we were fortunate enough to be riding inside it was still damp and cold, and Annabelle sat hunched on Doc, a flannel cooler covering the duo as she waited for their turn to work.

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By lunchtime we were chilled and hungry and ready for a break.  We put our horses in their stalls with big bags of fresh hay and headed upstairs to the arena viewing area for a wonderful-smelling (and tasting) lunch.  We were only two steps into the room when she saw it:

 

Princess

“Mom!  MOM MOM MOM!!!  Look!  It is a drawing for a baby horse.  We can win a baby horse!  I AM GOING TO WIN A BABY HORSE!!”

Annabelle wouldn’t eat lunch until I committed to buying a few chances for the “Baby Horse,” which as it turned out was a pretty close relative in breeding to the mare I had brought to the clinic, a new horse that I love dearly, incidentally.

The rest of the weekend passed in an exhilarating blur of information, physical activity, and excellent tutelage from Annie.  Although I had only just met the clinic beneficiary, Steve, and his wife that weekend, they were clearly wonderful people trying making the best of an unexpected curve in the road.  Steve never once complained as he walked from barn to barn (and up the steep stairs to have lunch with the group) on his uncomfortable-looking prosthesis and crutches, and he watched every moment of the clinic with a smile on his face and a supportive word for all.  It was amazing.  I was so thrilled that we were able to be there and contribute in a very small way to help with their medical expenses.

On Monday morning were were loaded up and ready to hit the road, caravanning again with our friends Kris and Shane, when Steve and his wife drove up to the barn to pick up their horse and head home themselves.  We chatted for a few minutes, and the barn’s owner, Robin showed up to deliver to us the four raffle tickets we had bought.

The tickets filled Annabelle with renewed excitement, and her face lit up as she talked about the “Baby Horse” she was going to win.  Steve heard our conversation and said “You know she is here, don’t you? Do you want to go see the raffle filly?”

I thought Annabelle was going to faint.  We paraded through the large barn to a small pen out back.

The sorrel filly stood with her brother, cautiously watching the talkative group of humans that approached her fence.  We all oohed and aahed at the beautiful little horse, and learned that she was going to be housed at Robin’s until the drawing in early February.  All of the adults started slowly migrating back to the parking lot, ready to get on with the task of driving back to our respective homes, but Annabelle lingered, leaning close to the fence as the curious filly edged closer to sniff her.  She reached her hand in to try for a pat, but the wary young horse backed away just out of reach, breathing steam into the chilly air.

I convinced Annabelle to load up in the truck and we headed south to home.  All the way there all she could talk about was the filly.  “I am going to name her Princess, mama.  My new baby horse is going to be named Princess!”

I expected the excitement over the upcoming raffle drawing to settle down over time, but it didn’t.  Even the eventful days leading up to our ski trip and the thrill of Christmas didn’t distract her from her focus.  While I was impressed by my daughter’s determined certainty that she would win the drawing, I started to worry a little bit about what would happen if she didn’t.  I tried to talk to her about it, telling her that while I certainly hoped she would win the coveted baby horse, there would certainly be lots and lots of people who bought those tickets.  They would be on sale for almost two more months before the drawing was to take place, so she should be realistic.

Annabelle was unperturbed.  She set a picture of Princess (that she cropped from the online flyer all by herself) as the home screen on her tablet, and spent hours on-line looking at halters and blankets and grooming items that she would need for a yearling mare.  This fixation didn’t interfere with her real-live horses, Doc and Reno, of course, who she still rode every day after school and twice on weekends.

In fact, in the spirit of proving that she really, truly deserved to have an equine kindergartner to add to her stable, she doubled her already impressive contribution to the household animal care, zealously guarding her sole responsibility for evening feedings of all of our horses during the week and adding morning feeding responsibilities any day she was not in school.

She talked about Princess constantly, if not every day than very close to it.  One of the big topics of conversation was where on our place Princess would live.  We have plenty of room to house our horses right now, but with Annabelle’s first show horse Grumpy being retired, and my show horse Freckles off with a frustrating chronic lameness, we had precious space taken up by animals that we loved and would never get rid of, but couldn’t really use.

I realized the depth of my daughter’s commitment to Princess as she came up with a solution to make space for her (hoped-for) new horse.

We have a precious little black pony, Reno, that was Annabelle’s main mount before she started showing horses and eventually got Grumpy and now Doc.  Reno is an adorable little rascal; a mix of welsh pony and miniature horse standing a mere 40 inches tall.  He has carried Annabelle over hundreds of miles of trails and in probably a dozen or more parades over the years, around horse show grounds and pulling a sled in the snow with a homemade harness and blinders.  Although he is now technically too small for my long-legged daughter, she still rides him regularly, jumping him over homemade courses, sometimes with a saddle, often bareback, riding him up and down the gravel road around our house, or just loping circle after circle on him in the grass.  She loves that pony with a passion, and despite several suggestions from me over the past year or so that we share Reno with another little kid, she has flatly refused to even consider lending him to anyone else.

It is easy to see why she loves him.  He jumps.

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He has pulled the kids in a little sled all around the property after many a snow storm.

Reno Sleigh Ride

He was a star at the Middleton Christmas parade (and many others over the years).  He is unbelievably great in any public forum, no matter how busy or loud or crazy.  And cute, yes?

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He traveled to the Idaho Center year before last and stayed in his very own stall until it was time for him to perform in the lead-line class with Batman up.  I lost count of all the people who tried to buy him that weekend.

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He has safely carried Annabelle (and Batman on the rare occasions when he deigned to ride with us) over miles and miles of steep and rugged trails, never once taking a scary step or saying no to the terrain or the pace set by keeping up with big horses.

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Finally, here he is wearing the new polo wraps that Annabelle made for him all by herself after watching a how-to video on You-tube over Thanksgiving weekend.  See how far her legs hang down on him?

New Polos!

Reno has been such a huge part of our family and Annabelle’s developing love of horses that you can see how it would be very hard to even consider letting him partner with another family.

That is until Princess came into the picture.

A few weeks ago we were riding our horses at a nearby indoor arena when we ran into our friend Shane, who mentioned in conversation that Robin (the sponsor of the clinic where Annabelle met Princess – funny how it all ties together) was looking for a pony for her young daughter Justis.

Robin had called Shane to see if she would be willing to sell her back the palomino pony that Shane had bought from her when older daughter JC had outgrown him. Shane had purchased the pony as a companion to her older horses, and she named him Buggsy.

To increase the irony, the very first horse show that Annabelle ever participated in was on Buggsy, not long after Shane got him from Robin.  That show was the day before Annabelle’s third birthday, and that lead-line class was the beginning of her love for horses and horse shows.

First Horse Show

Shane laughed as she recounted the conversation.  There was no way she would ever sell Buggsy.

After we loaded our horses and got in the truck, I casually asked Annabelle if she thought that Reno might be a good pony for Justis.  I expected the usual “No mom! I’m not done riding him yet,” but was shocked to my core instead.

“That’s a great idea! I think that would be a good place for him.  I trust them to take good care of him and we know that he would have a stall. As long as they give him back when they are finished with him I am good with it.”

And then what she was really thinking came out……“and that would give us a spot for when Princess comes to live with us!”

Well knock me over with a feather.

I got in touch with Robin, who said she had, indeed, been looking for a pony for Justis.  They would be thrilled to try Reno.  We resolved to work on getting him transported to northern Idaho, and Annabelle committed to start riding him regularly to get him all schooled up for his new rider.

As the time went by, Annabelle had patiently watched the calendar, counting off in months, then weeks, then days how long it would be until the drawing for Princess.  No matter how often I tried to caution her that she would be one in probably several hundred (or more) of people with little white tickets in the raffle basket, she was unworried.

“It’s OK Mom.  I know I am going to win Princess.  I just know it.”

The drawing date was scheduled for this past Saturday.

Annabelle mentioned it every day last week, and the morning of the drawing she asked me what time I thought they would pick the name.  “I’m not sure,” I told her. “ I know it’s at an event, but I don’t have any idea what time it will be.”  Annabelle had a friend over for a sleepover, and they spent the whole day riding every horse on the place and playing outside.  That night, before the girls went to bed, she reminded me that I’d better listen for my phone – the call would be coming that she had won Princess.

I was up early on Sunday morning, and I admit I kind of forgot about the drawing.  I checked my phone as usual, and there were no messages of import.  I stood in the kitchen refilling my coffee when Annabelle came out, way earlier than I expected after their late sleepover night, and as soon as I saw her expectant face I inwardly cringed.  “Did you check your phone mom?”  “I did honey” I said, “but I didn’t have any messages.  Somebody else must have won Princess.”

She just smiled.  “Oh, that’s OK.  They probably drew it really late at night last night and they just haven’t called yet.  I’m sure I’m going to get her.”

And that seemed to be the end of it.

The girls went outside in the freezing morning and fed all the horses, then came back in the house, each carrying a saddle half of their own weight, which they sat on the dining room bench and meticulously cleaned with saddle soap.  After a breakfast of french toast and bacon they were right back outside, saddling up to ride again before it was time for the playdate to end.

A little after noon I was cleaning up from lunch and getting ready to take Annabelle’s friend to her house.  Both girls were tired and Annabelle was showing signs of the nasty cold virus that had kept her brother home from school the Friday before and in bed the entire weekend.  She was lying wrapped in a blanket on the couch and wasn’t driving with me to take her friend back since she wasn’t feeling very well.  I heard my phone ring in the other room as I put dishes in the dishwasher, but it wasn’t until I was driving our guest to her house that I listened to the voice mail message.

It was Randy, one of the organizers of the fund raising effort for Steve Brown.  He wanted to let me know that while Annabelle had not won the raffle filly in the drawing, the person who had won her was not able to take her.  They would like to talk to me about a plan for the filly.

I almost dropped the phone. After I left our sweet little houseguest at her house I called Randy.  He explained that the filly had been won by a teenage girl in Boise, and while the family did not have horses, the girl would love to be able to meet the filly and possibly watch her grow up.  Steve Brown had remembered how drawn to the filly Annabelle was, and he had suggested that our home would be a good fit for her if the winner was so inclined.

In a remarkable twist of fate, the mother of the teenage winner was a person who I had met long ago, a Boise attorney named Susan who was a close high school and law school friend of one of my best friends in college.  A few minutes after I hung up with Randy, Susan called me herself, and I talked to her for several minutes while standing in front of the Asian food section in our local Albertsons.

Susan and I knew each other’s names but neither of us could place exactly where or when we had met.  She told me that she had grown up with horses but had not ridden since she was a kid.  Her daughter was very interested in horses and had always wanted one, but they didn’t have any avenue for Mckell to be around them.  “Would you be willing to let her meet the horse, and maybe be able to watch her as she grew up and got trained?” she asked.  I laughed through my tears.  “Annabelle would love nothing more than to introduce Mckell to horses.  She loves to share her passion with other people, especially kids.”

I went on to tell her about my daughter’s absolute certainty that she was going to win Princess, how she had talked about her for two months and made all sorts of plans for her.   I had gotten so used to hearing about the filly as ‘Princess’ that I forgot for the moment that the name was only known to Annabelle and me.

Susan interrupted me politely.  “What did you say she was calling the horse?”  I backtracked quickly, thinking “Yikes -they probably want to name her themselves.”  “Well, Annabelle has been calling her Princess,” I said, ready to add that we could change the name if Mckell wanted. “Oh my gosh,” Susan exclaimed,  “that is the name of my favorite horse from when I was her age!”

It seemed like kismet.

We finally wound up the conversation, both of us excited about the possibilities of a new friendship for the girls and us, and a chance for Mckell to get to learn about horses.  I promised to take a picture of Annabelle’s face when I told her the news and send it along so they could see her expression.

I left Albertsons and drove home full of anticipation.  When I walked in the door Batman met me.  I asked where his sister was, and he said she was sleeping in her room.  I have a cardinal rule that has never let me down so far in life, and that is never to wake a napping child (unless there is a fire or I have to go to the liquor store church), but I hesitated only a moment.  I opened Annabelle’s door and walked to her bed, touching her gently on the shoulder and whispering “Wake up honey, I need to talk to you for a second.”  She opened her blue eyes and it took a minute for her to focus.  “OK mom,” she said.

“I got a phone call when I was gone taking Rylie home.” I told her.  I paused for a second, trying to look serious.

“Princess. They called about Princess.”  This was stated with a dawning smile, absolute certainty and a complete lack of surprise.  “Yes they did,” I said.  “You didn’t win her in the drawing.”  Annabelle still just looked at me, unblinking.

“Aaaaand….” she said. She already knew that wasn’t the end of it.

“Well,” I started laughing then.  “The girl who won her can’t keep her so they want you to have her.”

Annabelle smiled in delight, and stretched like a cat.  “When do I get her?  When do I get her Mom?!”

We discussed the details (as far as I knew anyway) for a minute, and I took a picture of her holding her tablet with the picture of Princess.  She came out of her room and sat at the kitchen table for a bit as I put away groceries.  She was happy but contemplative.

Suddenly, she threw her hands over her mouth and screamed.  “Oh my gosh,  it just hit me. I am really getting Princess and SOON!  It just really hit me.”

After a moment she said “You know mom, you probably wondered why I seemed so calm when you told me the news.” (I did, actually).

“Well, it was because you know how it is when you already know something is going to happen, and then somebody tells you about it?  And it doesn’t seem like that big of a surprise because you already knew it was going to happen?”

I just smiled.  And nodded.

Annabelle and I drive to northern Idaho on February 20th to deliver Reno to his next little soul-mate and bring Princess to her new home.

I am looking forward to many more posts about the relationship as it develops between this meant-to-be-together team.

Categories: Horse Adventures, Kids Are Funny Creatures, Life in the Country, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

To Show, To Learn, To Grow

Like many life-changing events, one this spring came disguised as an unexpected interruption. I had just come inside to eat a quick lunch on a Saturday afternoon after doing a myriad of outside chores.  I was comfortably tired from stacking 85 pound bales of hay, cleaning pens, and hauling the hose around to fill up our horses’ water troughs. I opened my laptop and clicked on the Facebook icon to kill a little time and entertain myself while I ate a sandwich.

The first thing I saw was the highlighted Messenger symbol showing that someone had sent me a personal message. I don’t get a lot of Facebook messages, so I was curious and opened it up right away. The message was from a woman in Canada named Roxanne. It was short, offering no information other than “Please call me. Thank you. Roxanne.”

I really couldn’t imagine what Roxanne wanted to speak to me about. Annabelle and I had met her at a reined cow horse clinic almost two years before, and as part of a group of about thirty riders we didn’t have a great deal of one-on-one interaction with either her or her husband. They were nice people, but I had things to do and I almost left the message for another day. Curiosity and good manners got the better of me though, and I dialed the number she had provided as soon as I finished my lunch.

Roxanne answered the phone and began the conversation with “I just want to tell you right away that I am not calling you to sell you a horse,” which is the thing that a lot people selling horses say to keep you on the phone long enough to hear the sales pitch. Nonetheless, I remembered that Roxanne and her husband Doug had been riding very nice horses when I met them, so I was interested to hear what she had to say.

As the conversation went on I realized that Roxanne honestly wasn’t trying to sell me a horse. She explained that they had an older gelding that they owned and adored and never wanted to sell. They had loaned this horse to a young girl in Canada who had shown him in reined cow horse events, but the girl had changed disciplines and was no longer riding him. He was a “fantastic show horse” that needed to be used, but not as hard as Roxanne and Doug rode. Roxanne remembered Annabelle from the clinic, and she had gotten our contact information through our trainer.  She added that she had asked the trainer lots of questions about us to make sure we took good care of our animals and had a good professional support system in place if we needed help with training.

She went on to extol the virtues of this wonderful-sounding horse. Doc had been trained by an Olympic equestrian, Shawna Sapergia, who was Doug’s cousin. Just a few years ago Shawna had actually used the horse to qualify for the Olympic games when her regular mount got hurt, and the duo had marked one of the highest scores of the group of Canadians in the try-outs. The young girl who had been riding Doc had qualified for the National Reined Cow Horse Celebration of Champions show in Texas every year. She stressed again that the horse wasn’t for sale, but they would consider a care lease to us.

Were we interested?

As hard as it is to believe now, I was skeptical. It just sounded too good to be true. I was also a little gun shy.  Only a couple of months before we had had to return another show horse that a generous friend had loaned to Annabelle. After driving to California with high hopes for that match, we brought the horse home and invested a lot of time and energy trying to make the combination work. It became apparent, though,  that the high-powered horse was not going to be a fit for my eight year old, so Greg and I had taken the mare to Indian Valley and left her with our friend’s parents. Annabelle had been devastated that it hadn’t worked out with Sophie, so I was leery of even thinking of taking on another loaner horse.

Roxanne went on to say that if we wanted to try Doc they could bring him down in a month when they came to the Idaho Reined Cow Horse Association’s Triple Threat Clinic at Annie Reynolds’ beautiful Why Worry Ranch. We could take him and try him out, and if it didn’t work they could pick him up on another trip down or I could ship him back.

It was an extremely generous offer, but I was still hesitant. I told her I’d think about it; she said she’d send me some links to photos of the horse, and we rung off.

I immediately put a call in to my friend Jacki. She had met Roxanne and Doug at the same time I had, and I knew she had interacted with them some after that. She’d also been privy to the emotional ups and downs we’d had with the last borrowed horse, and I was almost certain she would concur with me that it was a not a good idea to consider taking on another one, let alone from people we barely even knew. I explained the surprise phone call to my friend and described the horse with the limited information I had.

I was completely floored by her reaction.

“Why would you not try him?” she said, “What have you got to lose?  If it works out, great!  If not, you can just send him home.” When I looked at it that way it didn’t sound so crazy. I called my friend Jake, who had helped Roxanne track us down, and though he didn’t know anything about that specific horse he did vouch for the honesty of the Sapergias, and called Roxanne a “straight shooter.”

Through a fortuitous set of circumstances, a friend from Nampa was driving to Canada to ride in a clinic at Roxanne and Doug’s a few weeks later. Annabelle was eager to meet Doc, of course, and Roxanne agreed that our friend could bring him home to us on her return trip. We’d have him for about a month and if he wasn’t working out Roxanne and Doug could pick him when they came to the Triple Threat Clinic in May.

Perfect.

Doc arrived in Idaho late on a Monday evening in April. I had allowed Annabelle to stay up past her bedtime to go with me and pick him up when he got to town. It was cold and damp outside when we unloaded him, and true to her nature, Annabelle insisted on taking his halter rope to lead him to our trailer. Doc breathed out white puffs of dewy smoke in the dark air as he lifted his head and snorted. He was anxious to move around after being confined for fifteen hours, and almost stepped on Annabelle as he pranced down the driveway. I took the lead rope from her and loaded him up in our rig, thinking that I sure hoped that wasn’t an omen of things to come.

We had made Doc a special stall with a private corral and bedded it deeply with shavings for his arrival. The Sapergias are known for taking excellent care of their horses, and I knew Doc had spent the last weeks in a heated barn at their place. When we got him home I led him to the roomy stall, where we had rigged up a clip-on light so that he could see where he was. I locked the shiny new gate that Desperate Hubby had hung for him and patted him good night.

Annabelle started riding Doc the very next afternoon as soon as she got home from school. She got along with him splendidly from the start, and I sent Roxanne video after video of her loping him around, spinning him, and even riding bareback and bridleless. He seemed like a perfect fit, and we were all thrilled.

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We took Doc to a practice reining show with our local club the weekend after he arrived. Annabelle didn’t know him well yet, but being a confident and accomplished young showman she wasn’t at all intimidated by taking a strange horse into the arena. Roxanne warned us that Doc could tend toward the bad habit of bolting off during parts of the pattern that called for running a straight line down the arena, so Annabelle practiced beforehand what to do to get him stopped if that happened. We spent a lot of time talking about staying safe and monitoring his speed, but to our surprise and delight Doc was a perfect gentleman in the arena, staying quiet and soft and going only as fast as he was asked. We were ecstatic.

The following weekend one of the largest regional shows of the year was to be held at our beautiful local facility, the Ford Idaho Center. We love to show at the Idaho Center, and since Annabelle and Doc were getting along so well we decided to enter the pair in their first real competition. Annabelle was thrilled at the opportunity to show her new mount there. Many of the toughest youth competitors from surrounding states would be in attendance, and she was excited to be riding a horse that she felt totally competitive on.

She bathed and brushed Doc and he was looking his best when we left early that morning for the show. He was clothed from head to toe in Annabelle’s favorite color, pink, and I thought he carried it off nicely.

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Doc warmed up beautifully at the showgrounds, and I was excited and nervous as the duo entered the arena. Their pattern started off moderate and sane. I had instructed Annabelle to be ready to school the horse, meaning to make him slow way down or stop to correct him if he got too speedy in there, since we weren’t sure how he would react in the big, bright arena surrounded by grandstands and lots of spectators.

The pattern started off quietly enough until Doc got to his first run-down. Annabelle was a tiny figure on the big brown horse, and the entire crowd fell silent when the powerful gelding took off in a dead run toward the far end of the pen.

I briefly entertained the (terrible) idea of climbing over the fence to run in and try to stop the out-of-control animal, but Annabelle had it handled. She had enough presence of mind to grab the reins with both hands close to the horse’s mane and throw her whole body weight back against the chain curb strap that gave his bit leverage. He came to a sliding stop, and she backed him up a long ways, spurring as hard as her little legs could in admonishment.

The crowd of spectators released a unified breath, and a couple of the trainers who were standing near me at the gate laughed with what sounded like nervous incredulity. “Did you see that? She just pulled that big old horse into the ground when he ran off!!”

A wave of relief swept over me, but I knew it wasn’t over yet. Instead of just turning around and leaving the arena as many amateurs might have done (not to mention your average eight year old kid), Annabelle continued on in the pattern. She rounded the end of the arena with Doc checked up tightly. As soon as he lined out for the next run down he did the same thing, throwing his head up and bolting as fast as he could go. This time Annabelle was ready for him, and all sixty pounds of her muscular little body hauled him into the ground again, backing him up as harshly as she was capable of.

Annabelle finished the run slowly, keeping Doc in total control, and pulling him down to a stop a couple more times when he got strong. I met her coming out the gate as they announced her score of zero, more proud of her than if she had earned the highest mark of the entire five-day event. She had a strange smile on her face, and as I congratulated her on her excellent handling of a very scary situation she calmly asked if we could go outside to our stalls.

As soon as we walked out the door she burst into tears.

“I am never riding that horse again! He is scary and I hate him!” she sobbed. Her hands were shaking and her whole body trembled with released emotion.

These were strong words from my fearless eight year old. From the moment our friend Kris had put her on her gelding Chic at the age of four, and then hauled her to show after show  to ride him because we didn’t even have a horse trailer, Annabelle had been riding and sliding. She’d shown multiple horses already in her short career and had feared none. She loved to go, and usually the faster the better.

I talked to her as we walked. “Honey, you don’t ever have to get back on him if you don’t want. We’ll take him home and turn him out if that’s what you decide, and in a few weeks we’ll take him to the clinic and send him back home to Canada.” This appeased her somewhat, but she was still mad and frustrated. “I want to take him back to our house right now! I want to get Freckles and show her instead.” We talked about it for a moment, and decided that we would go get my sweet mare Freckles and bring her back for Annabelle to ride. I had been planning on showing Freckles later in the show, but my little girl and her downtrodden confidence took precedence.

We unsaddled and loaded Doc up for the half-hour drive home. Not long after we got on the highway my phone rang. It was Roxanne, who had watched the disastrous run on the live internet webcast.

She was mad.

“Did that (insert naughty name here) scare her? “ I told her yes he did, and that right now Annabelle was feeling like she didn’t want to ride him anymore. Roxanne was very upset. “You tell her how proud I was of her for pulling him into the ground. She had perfect instincts and she is STRONG for such a little thing!”

We talked for a little while more and Roxanne told me the reason for her call. Shawna Sapergia, Doc’s original trainer, was on her way to Idaho from Canada to show at this same show. Roxanne was going to call her and ask her if she would get on Doc and tune him up, and maybe give Annabelle a lesson. Would I ask Annabelle if she was willing?

I told Roxanne I would ask, but I wasn’t sure if Annabelle would be persuaded to get back on the horse. As soon as I hung up the phone I explained to her what Roxanne had said. Annabelle was steadfast: Doc was scary and she didn’t want to ride him again. Ever.

I told her I completely understood and that it was totally her choice; I would support her either way. The last thing I wanted to have happen was to for her to lose her complete delight and confidence in riding and showing these amazing animals.  I suggested she should just think about it, though, because getting a private lesson from an Olympic equestrian doesn’t happen every day, and no one knew Doc better than Shawna Sapergia.  I let that sink in a bit, and turned the radio back up in the truck.

A few minutes later out popped the girl I knew.

“Mom, I was just thinking……” “Yes honey?” “What if I do send Doc back, and then it turns out he could have been fixed and I never found out?”

I smiled and told her she had a really good point.

Annabelle was originally scheduled to show Doc that same evening in the outside arena at the Idaho Center. We had planned to make a horse change to Freckles for that class, but after some thoughtful discussion and planning we decided to go ahead and have her ride Doc as well. It was possible he would be easier for her to handle in the outside arena, which had much less commotion and excitement swirling around it. She had already proven that she could get the horse stopped if he ran off, so I felt (reasonably) comfortable she wasn’t in actual mortal danger.

As the afternoon progressed, we made arrangements to meet up with Shawna the following morning, and got Doc entered into a schooling class for Shawna to ride.  Now we had a plan.

But Annabelle still had to get on the brown horse and show him that night.

We found a quiet warm-up pen off to the side of the show grounds, and my spunky little girl loped Doc until “his tongue was hanging out!” (her words). She was relaxed but vigilant when she rode him into the arena, and he was as good as he could be through her pattern. She marked a 68.5 and ended up fourth out of twelve entrants. It was a wonderful confidence booster.

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She was all smiles as she left the arena.

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The next morning we drove back to the Idaho Center and met up with Shawna in the outside warm-up area. Meeting the Olympic rider was pure worship at first sight for Annabelle (and maybe a little bit for her mom, too). Shawna was tall and elegant, picture-perfect for the equestrian pursuits where she makes her living. More important than that, she was sweet and genuine; understanding of Annabelle’s situation and equipped to offer help without being condescending or coddling. Shawna rode Doc for half an hour or so, reminding him of some of his early training, then schooled him in the class, tuning up his responsiveness and listening skills.

After she rode Doc, Shawna gave Annabelle a long lesson, showing her some of the cues that she had taught him in his training and explaining how to utilize those commands to control the horse’s speed. Annabelle blossomed under Shawna’s calm teaching style, and I could tell she felt much more comfortable after the lesson ended.

As we drove home that evening we were more optimistic about Annabelle’s future with Doc, but still not totally sold on the idea that he was going to be a match. She still had to face the next day of showing in the big indoor arena again where Doc had been so scary the first day of the show.

The next morning we were both a little nervous, but Annabelle was excited to ride again. We went over and over the things that she had learned from Shawna, rehearsing what she would do if Doc tried to take off again or went faster than she wanted. My daughter’s nerves got a little more intense as the day wore on, and by the time it was her turn to enter the arena she was noticeably on edge. She now knew that Doc might be a totally different horse inside the huge indoor pen, and she was hoping she was ready for it.

As it turned out, she had nothing to worry about. Doc was fresh off his tune-up from Shawna and he had been reminded to listen to the cues he was getting and remain compliant. Annabelle took him slowly and smoothly through the pattern, marking a respectable 67. While she wasn’t close to winning a horse show prize in that class she won something much more valuable:  the return of her confidence.

It was the best thing we could have hoped for.

From that day forward she never looked back. At the very next horse show the duo won the 10-and-Under Short Stirrup class and a beautiful wooden NRHA plaque. The pair were getting in sync, and it was obvious they were going to be a good team.

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Our plan was for Annabelle to show Doc in our local reining club shows, and maybe a few National Reining Horse Association sanctioned shows.  We set goals at the beginning of every year, and Annabelle’s goal for the 2015 season (before Doc was even in the picture and we weren’t exactly sure who she was going to ride) was that she wanted to qualify for the Northwest Affiliate Finals of the National Reining Horse Association. This year the Affiliate Finals were to be held right here in Nampa at the Idaho Center, so it would be a great opportunity to match up with other talented youth from all over the Northwest without having to travel. I was excited that she was dreaming big; it gave her something quantifiable to work toward and to look forward to.

One possibility that we hadn’t considered at the beginning of the season was for Annabelle and Doc to start competing in cow horse classes. I had always told Annabelle she could not show on cattle until she was ten, and she accepted that rule just fine until the day she was invited to help put “used” cattle out of the arena at the Triple Threat Clinic where we drove to meet Roxanne and Doug in May.

The horse’s owners were thrilled to see how well the pair was getting along, but Roxanne was visibly concerned about Annabelle being able to handle Doc with cattle in the pen.  If a cow slipped by her and Doc started to chase it down the fence she might not be able to get him stopped.

Roxanne kept saying “She’s so bitty!” There were plenty of people horseback, though, who could help if the big horse got out of control, so we decided to let them give it a go.

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Doc surprised Roxanne and delighted Annabelle by being as quiet and manageable as he could be. Annabelle loved moving the cattle, and after lunch she got a mini-lesson on boxing from the hilarious and talented Wade Reaney.

When our friend Jake Telford gave his blessing on her showing in youth boxing during the IRCHA show a couple of weeks later, I had nothing else to say about it.

A couple of weeks later Annabelle talked me into entering her and Doc in the Northwest Reined Cow Horse Association Cow Horse Challenge show in Moses Lake, Washington. I registered them for the club’s Beginning Boxing class since Annabelle had never shown on cattle before. Our friend Jerry Beukelman was there, along with friend and trainer Dan Roeser, and they generously coached the duo when they worked their cows in practice and in the show pen, helping contain Annabelle’s exuberance and quieting my nerves.  Never one to hold back in the face of a new challenge, my eight year old came out with both guns blazing, winning her class of nine contestants the first day and tying for third place the second. She was the only child entered in Beginning Boxing.

From then on out the pair competed in reining and cow horse events at venues near and far. Annabelle showed Doc in the Snake River Reining Alliance show series, where she was working to qualify for the NRHA Affiliate finals, and in a couple of the Intermountain Reined Cow Horse Association shows in the youth boxing.  In June she stared showing in the Greener Than Grass class at the Gem State Stock Horse Association as well, determined to get more experience showing the horse on cattle.

Since she didn’t own Doc, Annabelle was somewhat limited in the classes that she could enter. The NRHA has strict rules about ownership, and while she could show him in the Youth 10-and-Under Short Stirrup Class, she wasn’t allowed to enter other NRHA youth classes at a sanctioned show without owning the horse she was riding. Since I wasn’t totally familiar with NRHA restrictions, I read the rulebook carefully, and always checked with the office when I entered her to be sure she was not competing in a category where she wasn’t allowed.

Although I was scrupulous in adhering to the regulations, questions started being asked as the team began to see more success in the bigger reining shows.  I was standing in the warm-up pen talking to Roxanne on the phone after Annabelle had won the Youth 10-and-Under Short Stirrup Championship at the Luc McGregor Memorial Classic when the show secretary came walking rapidly toward me. “Someone has been in the office asking,” she said, “does Annabelle actually own the horse she is showing?” Annabelle wasn’t required to own Doc in any of the classes where they competed, I was positive of that, but that didn’t mitigate the questions.  I followed the secretary back to the office and we looked carefully through her entry.  Everything was in order.

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When I told Roxanne of the complaints, she wasn’t surprised and addressed the issue in her usual direct style. “I knew people would start bitching as soon as they started winning,” she said. “We’ll fix that!” After further discussion, Roxanne and Doug made the very generous offer to sell Doc to Annabelle. The price for which they offered him to us was unbelievably reasonable for a horse that they could have sold instantly on the open market for tens of thousands of dollars.  I kept the transaction a secret from Annabelle until the day the papers arrived from the American Quarter Horse Association showing her as the official owner of All Reddy Doc.

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She laughed and then cried as the meaning of the paperwork in front of her slowly sunk in. The bond that had developed between the big horse and the little girl was cemented, and we will forever be indebted to Roxanne and Doug for sharing such a wonderful treasure with us.

When we weren’t hauling to shows in the summer, Doc got to just be a regular horse. He lived in the pasture with his buddy Snip, and Annabelle played around on him during the week, trail riding and loping him bareback to keep him in shape. He knew his maneuvers, and a horse as seasoned as he was didn’t need a lot of practice to stay sharp.

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He even did double duty when asked, the always-happy expression never leaving his face. (Isn’t he gorgeous?!)

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Over the course of the season, Annabelle and Doc improved with every show. One of the great challenges of our sport is to balance exhibiting your horse to the best of his ability in the show pen and at the same time keep him convinced that you will correct him if he makes a mistake. There were many times this season when Annabelle and Doc ended up with a zero score in a class after Annabelle realized he needed to be schooled. I was proud of my little girl for not only having the instinct to know when the horse needed corrected, but also for exhibiting the maturity to do that even though she would knew it meant she wouldn’t place in a class.

Annabelle took some lessons on working cattle from our friend Jason Gay at Jake Telford’s, and with his help they won their first cow horse buckle in tough competition at the Magic Valley Reined Cow Horse Show in August. My little girl showed her grit that weekend, sitting in the chilly wind and rain without a proper coat (my fault, poor planning) waiting for her turn to school in the show arena.

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The wet and freezing practice paid off, and I thought she looked just gorgeous in the new show shirt she picked out when we stopped by a local western store to buy up some jackets.

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The buckle she won at Magic Valley wasn’t her first, but I do believe it is one of her most beautiful.

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By the time the end of the show season arrived in late October, Annabelle and Doc had accomplished all of her season goals and more.

The pair ended up reserve champion for the year-end in the Gem State Stock Horse Association “Greener Than Grass” Boxing class, competing against a dozen and a half adults and winning a beautiful pair of engraved spurs and a cool jacket.

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She brought home another beautiful buckle for first place in the Snake River Reining Association 10-and-Under Short Stirrup for the year, and added a stunning custom tooled headstall for reserve champion in the Youth 13-and-Under. (By the way, she wasn’t under arrest in the picture. The banquet featured a dress-up theme of the Roaring Twenties.  Her buddy and fellow short-stirrup rider was the winner of the costume contest.)

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Annabelle’s proudest accomplishment came during the NRHA Northwest Region Affiliate Finals held in Nampa in October. True to her goal, Annabelle qualified to enter the Affiliate Youth 10-and-Under Short Stirrup class, and she gained a world of experience competing against the toughest kids from states all around our region. The show was a grueling schedule of late nights and early mornings, showing after midnight on a Wednesday and getting up for school the next morning; then heading right back to the arena as soon as classes were over to ride again.

In the end, she surpassed even her own expectations.

As the first rider out on a chilly Saturday morning, she marked a score of 72, which held up through a nail-biter rest of the class and ended with her being crowned the 2015 NRHA Northwest Region Short Stirrup ,Champion. She also won possession of the huge traveling trophy for the Low Roller Horse Show Short Stirrup Championship, along with lots of other awesome goodies.

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Annabelle amassed so many prizes during this special year that we joked we needed to add a room to our house to put them all in.  We did end up moving things around in the dining room so there was a place to showcase the huge bronze, and added some of the other prizes around to make a little trophy display.  Her older sisters took one look at the re-purposed banquet and dubbed it “The Shrine.”

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I can see their point, but I still think it’s kinda cool.

As we get ready to embark on another year of showing, I’ve been reflecting on what we learned from this incredible past season.

I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t proud my daughter is becoming such an accomplished rider, and gratified that she possesses a special ability to get along with a variety of horses. It thrills me that she projects a happy and confident presence in the show pen, known for her smiling face beaming at her fans as she races by in even the most complex reining pattern.  I am delighted that she has been able to accomplish a great deal without the benefit of a regular lesson program, by and large maintaining her own horses with only a little help from me (and the occasional drop-in Olympian).

What I am truly most pleased about, though, is the dedication and hard-work that my little girl puts in each and every day to help support her dreams. I have never had to mandate or even suggest to Annabelle that she needs to go outside and exercise her horse or practice maneuvers (though I have on occasion beseeched her to ride in a saddle instead of bareback, or to get off her mount when the snow started sticking to the ground). She rises without objection in the wee hours of the morning and helps load horses in the dark, rides for hours in the truck without complaint (as long as I remember to feed her), and stays up long after a late class has ended to make sure her horse is cared for and settled comfortably in his stall.

Annabelle’s dedication is completely self-generated and largely self-guided.

During the school year she rushes in the house as soon as she gets home to complete her homework so she can go outside and ride. If the weather doesn’t support riding, she grooms her horses, braids their manes and tails, or just walks them around the place. She feeds all the horses every night, and meticulously administers different hay rations, supplements and medications as needed. Once she is back in the house she practices reining maneuvers on foot, running circles through the living room and sliding down the hallway in her socks, explaining before every “go” what imaginary horse she is riding, the age of the horse and show venue, and often who she is competing against (interestingly, she beats Jake Telford quite a bit in these imaginary shows. Sorry Jake). When she tires of being her own horse she goes to her room, where she maintains a stable of dozens of horse statues housed in two or three barns and several arenas, and moves the animals around in different configurations until she is satisfied. The girl is focused.

That focus, of course, does not come without its drawbacks.

My little darling is bossy and hard-headed when it comes to her horse program management.  She wants to do things her own way and generally places little value on uninvited suggestions or unsolicited advice.  For the most part she doesn’t really enjoy taking lessons, but she will sit happily outside the warm-up pen at a show and watch different trainers ride for hours, picking up techniques that she thinks might help her with her horsemanship.  She wants to do everything herself, in her own way, and will not accept help except in the rarest of circumstances.  She catches horses, grooms, wraps legs and braids tails all by herself.  She has singlehandedly saddled her pony, Reno, forever, and in the past couple of weeks has figured out how to get the saddle up on Freckles and even Doc without any assistance whatsoever.  When she is finished riding, she puts the horses up without aid..

Which sometimes takes forever.

Some of the biggest arguments we have had have been at horse shows, at the end of a long (or a long, long) day.  More than once I have begged (I know, I am the adult, but if you know Annabelle this doesn’t surprise you) to just go to the hotel room, get some dinner, have a glass of wine (for me – believe this, I earn it).  Unfortunately, my little sweetie will NEVER consent to putting a horse in the stall at a show with sweat on it, dried or not.  She always insists on washing down her mounts and then waiting around until they dry completely before she leaves the show grounds.  The only exception she makes for this rule comes during cold weather when washing could make the horses sick; other than that, time of day, time spent in the truck, time spent riding  or showing or cleaning stalls means nothing.  The horses come first.

As they should.

Despite her strong will and super-competitive nature, I have worked hard to instill in Annabelle the fact that our sport is not only about winning.  For the first couple of years she showed I tried to keep her from realizing that she was competing with the other kids.  I just told her to try to do her best that day, and the overriding goal was always to strive to do better than last time.

Competing in any judged event can bring out the worst in a competitor’s personality, and in the last few years we have been exposed to a wide gamut of reactions from fellow contestants after a score is announced.  With regard to how our competitions end up, though, I have always emphasized to her that “sometimes you are going to win when you probably shouldn’t have won, and sometimes you will not win when some will say you should have.  Once in awhile it will all come together and it will seem just the way it should. No matter what happens though, you have to take it in stride with a smile on your face.”

As a friend says, when you go in the show pen in our sport, you are paying for the judge’s opinion.  Like many things in life, it is what it is.

Gradually, of course, Annabelle has come to fully realize that she is competing for money and awards and recognition, and that not everybody in the class is going to come away with those things.  Nonetheless, I try hard to keep the focus at shows far away from winning.  What’s more important is spending time with friends old and new, enjoying our horses and each other, and endeavoring to learn something every time we go in the arena.  I’m proud to say Annabelle is just as excited for one of her friends to win a class as she is for herself, and she takes an unintended schooling run or a hard-fought loss in stride ( though sometimes it might take a  minute or two).  She also knows that the day she starts exhibiting bad sportsmanship or blaming others for her loss will be the last day she will be privileged to show a horse, at least while I have anything to say about it.

All of this being said, as every horse show parent knows, the dedication that even the most passionate horse girl has for equine pursuits can wane as other adolescent hobbies begin to gain in interest. I am realistic enough to know that Annabelle may not always be so dedicated to her horse endeavors, and that someday she might not even want to show anymore (shudder).

She has already displayed an interest in different riding disciplines, and spent most of the winter posting around in her English saddle, trotting Doc and her pony Reno over poles and small jumps whenever the frozen ground allowed.

This banquet awards season, where she received so many year-end accolades for her efforts in reining and cow horse, has re-directed her back to her usual realm, but if she chooses to stray that is alright with me.

Her love and dedication for horses and the physical and mental challenges of showing have already matured her far beyond her years, and I am satisfied with that.

But I do hope she rides forever.

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Categories: Horse Adventures, Kids Are Funny Creatures, Life in the Country, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Return of Sparkles the Elf: Magic Lives On

We first met Sparkles the Elf three years ago, on the Monday after Thanksgiving.  She arrived with much fanfare, as I recall, creating a sledding hill on the coffee table in the living room and wrapping the kids’ bunk beds entirely in Christmas paper. (As I perused old blogs to make sure of the year of her arrival, the most significant thing I noticed in the pictures was how clean the kids’ shared-at-the-time room was – it bears little resemblance to the toy-strewn mess that Batman now inhabits).

Each year since, Sparkles’ arrival has been met with much anticipation and not a little angst (Will she really show up this year?  Have we been so naughty that Santa doesn’t even need to watch us anymore?), and this year I had a little angst of my own. The kids are older now, fully entrenched in 2nd and third grade, and many of their peers are starting to question the existence of the Magic that surrounds Christmas.

This has instigated numerous discussions about the Magic of Christmas, the Elf and Santa Claus, and I’ve held firm to my position that Magic is real if you BELIEVE it is real.

There are a few other children at school who also have Elves, and they eagerly share stories of their leprechaun’s escapades with each other.  This of course attracts the attention of the non-believers, who hasten to point out that there is no Elf that visits their family, and moreover, Santa does not come to their house.  I’ve even had a parent text me recently with apologies for her child “spoiling our Christmas” by telling Annabelle that Elves and Santa and the Magic of Christmas aren’t real.  Their family, she said, used to BELIEVE, but it had just gotten to be too much work, and she was sorry that her child had ruined it for us.  I texted her back right away and told her not to worry, Annabelle had not even thought enough of the discussion to mention it to me.

Her belief was unshaken.

I know it is inevitable, this peer-to-peer knowledge exchange that slowly erodes a child’s faith in the benevolence of the universe and the boundless cheer of the season.  I am sure my kids will go through a phase, as we all do from time to time, doubting the existence of Magic and questioning the wonder that the universe presents to us each and every day.

That is simply a part of growing up.

But in the meantime,  I will cling to that last bit of innocence and the belief in an unfathomable force that exists purely to create happiness and joy in the lives of all those who BELIEVE.  We will arise early in the morning full of anticipation to discover what havoc Sparkles wrought the night before, and bubble with excitement on the drive home from school waiting to see what that silly Elf might have done in our absence.

So, in light of that, here is a sampling of what our own purveyor of Magic has treated our household to so far this season.

Sparkles’ first day back was spent riding the giant trophy that Annabelle won this year for the 10-and-Under Championship at the Low Roller Reining show in Nampa.  I thought she was just the perfect size for that bronze horse, and a nice companion for the nameless rider who sits silently, forever riding that sliding stop.

Sparkles Returns

That same night, in a sort of test I think, Annabelle asked Sparkles to assist her in a craft she was working on.  My darling daughter had seen on YouTube a video of how to make your own polo wraps (leg protection, for you non-horsey readers) for your equine companions.

I dutifully took her to Wal-Mart to buy materials, and she spent more than an hour painstakingly cutting out the long strips of fleece.

Cutting Polos

We had purchased adhesive Velcro to fasten the polos with, but the video had indicated that in order to really secure the closures it would be better to sew them on.

Desperate Hubby located my sewing machine in the garage, and I set it up across from the desk in my home office.  Annabelle had an earnest discussion with the elf, basically saying “If you are real, use your magic to sew some Velcro on these polos for me.”

Sparkles tried.

She tries to sew

But it turns out that the elf is really not much of a better seamstress than I am.

Sparkles cant sew

She did leave a nice letter for the kids though, urging them to be good and mind their parents and all that important stuff.

As for the polos, it turns out that the adhesive Velcro works just fine.

Made the Polos

One of my favorite stunts, and conversely Batman’s least favorite (MOM!  Those are my shorts – GROSS!) was the Underwear Tree.

Underwear Tree Closeup

Along the same theme, as pointed out by Annabelle, the naughty Elf also re-decorated the entire tree in toilet paper.

Sparkles TPs Tree

She helped herself to breakfast.

Cinnamon Toast Crunch

And decked the hall.

Garland down the Hall

Which further reinforced Batman’s belief in the Magic of the Elf.  Because as he said, “There is NO WAY that mom would go to so much work just to decorate a hallway.”

So on that note, I will end this narrative, with a reminder that Magic is everywhere around us.

You just have to BELIEVE.

And I do.

Categories: Kids Are Funny Creatures, Life in the Country, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Thanksgiving 2015

It was a cold start to Thanksgiving day here in lovely southwest Idaho.  I folded and tucked my sweatpants inside my insulated Bogs and shrugged on my warmest chore jacket before I trudged outside to feed the horses.  There was just enough light to differentiate the grass versus alfalfa flakes I would throw to my dedicated morning fan club, and Hailey-Dan the golden retriever trotted happily beside me with her silky tail waving like a flag and a plume of steam puffing with each breath from her happy-dog face.

It was a drizzly cloudy day yesterday, and I wasn’t expecting it to be clear this morning, so I was a bit taken aback when I glanced up to see the full moon, glowing surreally as it edged toward the western sky.  I stopped for a long moment and looked at the moon, reflecting as I often do on this wonderful life I get to live.  Hailey-Dan stopped and looked over her shoulder at me for a bit, then gave up and came to stand by my side, her head just the right height to bump my hand and nudge me toward a few extra pats before we continued on our way.

We went right to the first customer on our route, an ancient bay gelding named Snip.  Snip is in his mid-twenties and he has grudgingly become my friend after five years of my furtive petting and the occasional scratch of the withers when he is feeling magnanimous.  Snip wasn’t expecting me quite so early and stood quietly under the tree on the far side of his pasture. I called his name until I saw him emerge from the murky dark, trotting stiffly toward me with his head in the air, eyes still bright.  I poured him a can of senior pellets from the little bin beside his hay and threw an armload of frosty alfalfa into his feeder before meandering around the barn to where my next bevy of hungry clientele stamped impatiently as they waited for their rations.

I got to Doc’s pen first and he greeted me stolidly, patiently waiting while I stroked his face and neck and kissed his cold velvety nose and whispered to him what a good boy he was.  Freckles the Red Mare, self-appointed sounder-of-alarms for the next pen over, pawed her metal feeder loudly and kicked half-heartedly at fuzzy pony Reno, pinning her ears and shaking her head unhappily while I trickled a few pellets of grain into Doc’s rubber dish.  Grumpy, the undisputed patriarch of our herd, waited patiently by his hanging feeder, swinging his hind-end sideways in defense when Reno or Freckles got too close.

Grumpy always gets fed first in the pen that he shares with the two younger horses, and even if he didn’t he would run them off to eat first.  He has almost twenty years seniority over the other two and he wields that to his advantage at feeding time. I thought, as I always do, that I am glad Grumpy still gets to be in charge and how I hoped that never changed, then I dumped 90% of the pellets in my scoop into his dish and most of the rest in the metal feeder in front of which Freckles pawed enthusiastically, tossing her head in rebuke over the seconds I wasted saying good morning to Grumpy.

Reno waited quietly in front of his little metal feeder for the handful of senior pellets that remained.  As I dumped the feed in I looked over his back toward the west, and that big beautiful full moon was framed just perfectly inside the branches of the giant tree that sits on the edge of the property line beside the faded wooden fence of Snip’s pasture.

I am forever seeing scenes that I think would make a lovely picture and rushing into the house to grab my camera to try to capture the moment.  I am not an accomplished photographer however, so most of my attempts don’t yield anything near the stunning pictures that I see in my mind.  Still, I try, and this morning was no exception.  I ran as fast as my Bogs-encased bare feet could run to the haystack and grabbed hay for the horses that I’d just grained, throwing it to them in batches before I sprinted toward the house.  Hailey-Dan bounded beside me in amazed delight, not sure what all the excitement was about but happy to be included just the same.

I grabbed my trusty Nikon out of its dusty black case at the foot of my desk and slipped in the battery that I had miraculously charged just yesterday.  Back to the pens I trotted, trying to find the same angle that allowed the round moon to peek through a just-big-enough space in the gigantic old tree.  I shot a few pictures from different angles, then slipped inside the gate to get a closer view.  Freckles found my uncharacteristic early morning rushing to be unseemly and disturbing, and she snorted at me in admonishment as I ran my hand over her hip on my way through the pen.

I walked up and down the fence line, taking a picture here and two there, trying to capture the magnificence of the tree and the brightness of the moon.  At one point I turned around to see where Hailey was, and she stood calmly outside the rusting panel fence, seeming to look toward the glowing moon too.

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I stayed outside for another half hour as the dawn light slowly crept over the cloud bank that hid the eastern edge of the valley from my view.  Freckles expressed a little more interest in my project as her hunger abated, and insisted on inserting herself in some of my frames in a muddy sorrel version of the inveterate photo bomb.

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Finally, my fingers frozen and my feet starting to chill in spite of the hardy Bogs, I headed toward the house.  By this time the children were awake inside and each of their respective dogs ran to meet me, released from the crates they inhabited overnight in their little people’s rooms and whirling like dervishes in the bitterly cold air.

I stepped in the back door behind the herd of dogs and was enveloped in the blissfully warm air blowing from the crackling wood stove to my right.  I took the gloves from my aching hands and flexed my fingers back and forth trying to get the blood flowing in them again.

As I clenched and un-clenched my fists I noticed, as I sometimes do, that the index finger on my left hand does not bend all the way closed, only a little over halfway really, and for the first time in a long time I thought about the day that finger had been injured.

It was a chilly Superbowl Sunday and I was in San Francisco, near where I lived and worked at my dream job.  A whole group of us had gathered for a big Superbowl party, and we walked down the block to the Golden Gate Park for a round of flag football before the game started.  I’ve never been much of an athlete as far as organized sports go, and that day was no different.  I hadn’t been playing for ten minutes when I jammed my finger so hard I sat the rest of the game on the edge of the field, nursing a clandestine beer and reflecting on how the grand plan of my life was falling into place so wonderfully.  I was dating the man of my dreams, I loved my job, and I could see a perfect future unfolding before my eyes.

I was in my mid-twenties (so young, now that I think about it) and I had absolutely no idea of the twists and turns my life would make before I would arrive at what was actually my perfect future.  The path that I would take between my perfect-there and my perfect-now was to be windy and circuitous, rocky in some places and steep in others, and picturesque all the way.

The life I envisioned in my perfect-there was at once completely different and eerily similar to the perfect life I have now.  I was engaged to a very smart guy with an Ivy League MBA and a brilliant future with a big bay area computer manufacturer.  We rented a ski cabin in the winter and traveled to visit his family at their house on the coast of Maine in the summer, and I envisioned our children growing up in California and summering in Maine, aiming for Ivy League but certainly obtaining a quality education at a good college in any event. They would ski and swim and have all the benefits that could be provided to them with the fantastic lifestyle I had planned.  My family loved my guy and he them, and it seemed to everyone who knew us that our future together was destiny.

Somewhere along the way though, fortunately before the elaborate wedding we were in the middle of planning, I realized that even though my betrothed was a perfect mate for someone, he wasn’t a perfect mate for me, and as hard as it was to do I listened to my heart and called the wedding and our life together off.

I would have never guessed on that damp day long ago in my favorite city in the world that I would find my true happiness all these years later living in a small farm-house just fifteen miles from the tiny town where I grew up, with the four dogs underfoot competing for space with the three barn cats sneaking in and out of the door, caring for geriatric horses and unfriendly bunnies and hamsters  and squirrels and even the occasional reptile.

I could have never guessed when I met my beloved husband on the back porch of my house sixteen years ago that my life would turn out to be so similar to what I had envisioned that long ago day as I taped my swollen finger and watched a dozen or so people who I assumed would be forever in my inner circle tussle over a scuffed brown football.

My kids don’t summer in Maine, but the highlight of their summer is the annual ten-day vacation on the lake in McCall that is generously hosted by my wonderful in-laws in July; they ski in the winter and swim in the summer and will someday attend a quality college.  They also ride horses, play in the mud outside until dark and have a tadpole farm in the unused flower bed in the back yard.  We laugh and wrestle and they spend hours teaching the dogs to jump over jumps and the pony to bow.  Zach hunts and fishes with his dad, and Annabelle and I delight in traveling together to horse shows far and near.

I am profoundly grateful this Thanksgiving morning as I wince at my sore finger and the dogs jump on me with muddy paws and the kids clamor for cinnamon rolls and a trip to Wal-Mart to buy fabric for homemade horse polo wraps that my life did not turn out exactly as I had planned.

It turned out exactly as it was supposed to.

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Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

Categories: Life in the Country, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Return of Dan the Dog

One of the things I find most interesting about this crazy wonderful life we all lead  is how so often an event may seem to be a random occurrence, unrelated to any other aspect of our plan or circumstance, only to have the true purpose and meaning revealed to us at some point days, months or years later.  When this happens I am always reminded to pay attention to all the little things in our days, to appreciate and savor the happy times, learn from the challenging ones, and seize any opportunity to try to make another’s situation a little better.

And so it is with Dan the Dog.

If you recall, Dan came to our family almost two months ago when we found her at a horse show in Rupert.  Annabelle insisted on bringing the apparently-lost, aged golden retriever home with us, against my better judgment (since I was pretty sure she had a home), and we called her Dan, after our friend Dan Roeser, who cast the tie-breaking vote in the argument that day over “Does she stay or does she go?”

I reported Dan’s whereabouts to the county animal shelter the next day, and before long I heard from Dan’s owner, who lived next to the fairgrounds where we had observed the dog hanging out for the entire previous weekend.  We arranged to meet in Wendell, roughly half-way for both of us, so that the owner could retrieve the dog.  He couldn’t come to get her for a few days, so Dan hung out with us for almost a week.

During her days with us, Dan fit in with our family like she had been here her whole life.  She followed the kids on their bikes or horses, swam in the irrigation ditch, and slept next to my desk or bed or wherever I happened to be sitting still for a moment.

Annabelle cried when we had to return Dan, but she knew it was the right thing to do.  I told Dan’s owner that if they ever needed to rehome her to give us a call; we would love to give the sweet old lady a good home.  He smiled and shook his head.  She had been in their family for nearly 10 years, and was the best dog they had ever had.  She wasn’t going anywhere.

Fast forward to Tuesday of this week.  I got a call from Lee, Dan’s (actually her name is Hailey) owner.  The family had had an unexpected change of circumstances, he told me, and had to move into town into an apartment.  They could not take Hailey with them, and couldn’t bear to put her up for adoption to a stranger.  Were we serious about taking her in?

I answered without hesitation, and today drove a reverse of my last trip to Wendell to meet Hailey-Dan’s owner once again, with the exchange going the other way this time.  Lee tried to be upbeat but I could tell he was sad about leaving his dog.  He brought a few bags of dog treats and toys, a nearly full bag of dog food, and the bed that Batman had picked out for Dan at Costco and insisted we send home with her when we took her back.  Lee wouldn’t take any money for Hailey or her accessories.

Lee told me that Hailey was due for her shots and annual check-up, and apologized for not being able to do that before he brought her to us.  He also mentioned that she had been having a few seizures this year, and while she wasn’t yet on medication, that was something she needed to be watched for.  He seemed very grateful when I told him not to worry; whatever she needed she would get with us.  I also told him he could call and check on her anytime he wanted, and he again shook his head, but this time he said that leaving her once was hard enough, he couldn’t bear to relive the experience by staying in touch.

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As Hailey-Dan and I drove the two hours back home, I reflected on the fact that if we hadn’t followed Annabelle’s instincts and (the real) Dan’s tiebreaking vote, we would never have gotten to know the beautiful golden dog.  If we hadn’t kept her for a week and gotten to know how wonderful she was, and followed up by requesting the owner to call us in the unlikely event they couldn’t keep her, who knows what might have happened to the sweet old girl.  Unless you knew Hailey-Dan like we do, she would have been just another older dog on Craigslist, one in her twilight years who probably didn’t have a lot of time left and would require some extra maintenance for her short years left on earth.  I think it might have been hard to find her a good home.

So this afternoon, as I sit at my desk with Hailey-Dan lying contentedly on the floor next to me, I am reminded once again of the wonderful, intricate and sometimes circuitous force that molds our lives, and am glad that we listened to that voice some six weeks ago.

Welcome home Hailey-Dan.

Categories: Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The First Day of School, 2015

Ah, the first day of the school year has finally arrived.  For the past four years, since Annabelle started kindergarten, I admit I have dreaded this day.  Not only does the first day of school signal the end of summer, it puts an end to lazy mornings and unscheduled days; to spur of the moment trips and the promise of adventures not yet envisioned.

This year was no different, but for the first time I was, in a tiny, un-acknowledged part of my brain, looking forward to school starting.  With the end of spontaneity also comes a more predictable schedule; time to do chores that have built up over the long hot days, to ride and to write, to find a bit of the original-me left in the frazzled being that sometimes takes over the mom-me.

More than ever, too, the kids were ready to go back to school this year.  Batman missed his friends, and was looking forward to spending recess and lunch breaks racing around the blacktop and tearing holes in his new khakis.  Annabelle, who is nothing if not her mother’s daughter, said she was excited to start going to bed early and knowing exactly what she’d be doing when she got up the next day. Unlike her brother, who was looking forward to seeing his same old buddies, she was hoping she would have some new kids in her class to make friends with.

My selfless daughter was not only motivated by the chance to make new friends for herself  One of my closest friends and her family moved to another state a couple of weeks ago.  My friend had a son in Annabelle’s class and one in kindergarten, and we all spent a lot of time together over the past year or so;  playdates that turned into dinners, a glass of wine that turned into hours of conversation, planning and commiserating and just plain hanging out.  My sensitive daughter was worried, she said, the day that Kari and her husband left after picking the boys up from a final playdate to head toward their new life in Montana, “Who will be your friend now, mommy?”  I blinked back a tear and reassured her I had lots of friends.  “But not at school,” she said, knowing she had the final word.

Annabelle said she hoped that there might be a similar family taking their place at our sought-after charter; maybe one with a boy and a girl and a mom who liked to come over after school.

First Day 2015

So in lots of ways, and for different reasons, I guess all of us were ready for school to start.  As for me, I’ll ride and write; get the carpets shampooed and sort out the stack of filing in my office.  I’ll catch up with old friends and keep my heart open for new, and listen with un-feigned fascination of the tales of the first days of second and third grade.

In the meantime, though, it sure is quiet around here.

Categories: Kids Are Funny Creatures | Leave a comment

Dan the Dog

 

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We first spotted Dan three days ago in the grandstands at the Magic Valley Reined Cow Horse Association Futurity and Derby.  Annabelle had just finished showing her wonderful horse, Doc, in their first-ever NRCHA boxing class, and we went up to sit and watch the rest of the competition.

Dan was a beautiful older golden retriever lady.  She wore a new black collar, and had been recently clipped into a darling short haircut.  She wandered happily in the grandstands, wagging her tail as she wandered from person to person, spending extra time with the youngest kids in the audience.  When we went to feed our horses that afternoon we noticed Dan wandering out around the trailers, laying with other dogs in the shade and just generally hanging out.  At the awards picnic that evening, Dan joined in, lolling on the grass and watching us eat our excellent trout dinner.  She never begged or bothered the people at the tables, she was just there with us.

Lots of people were talking about the sweet pretty dog.  The announcer made a broadcast in the afternoon asking if she belonged to a participant at the show.  Word quickly spread among the close-knit community of competitors, and it was determined that she did not belong to anyone there.  When we left the fairgrounds that evening to go back to our hotel Dan was out front in the big parking lot, drinking from a mud puddle.  Annabelle started crying, begging to take Dan to the hotel with us.  “No,” I told her, “this dog obviously lives around here and is loved.  She is fat and healthy and she is going to go home.”

The next morning we were going to watch a few horse show classes before we headed back to our city, but all Annabelle cared about was finding out whether the dog was still at the fairgrounds.  First thing upon our arrival she scanned about, locating Dan in a just a few minutes lying in the shade under a truck near the stalls.  A friend took a picture of Dan, and posted it on Facebook, asking if anyone knew where she lived.

I was working hard to get Annabelle to load up and get home.  We got our horses out and exercised them a bit, then started to pack up.  My eight year old helped to gather and load, as always, but still she kept badgering me about the dog……what if she was lost?  What if everyone left and she was still there and nobody fed her or gave her water?  What if she was there all night by herself?  And sad?

She was crying again.

About that time we were approached by Karl, one of the local trainers and one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met.  He wanted to congratulate Annabelle on her ride and compliment her on her progress.  We exchanged niceties for a bit, and I thought I saw an opportunity to put the dog issue to rest.  “Karl,” I said, using the universal parental tone that I thought meant back me up here!  “Karl, Annabelle is very worried about that lost dog that everyone has been talking about.  Since you live around here I wondered if you knew the dog or maybe had an idea of what to do to find her owner?”

Karl let me down.

“That is such a nice dog,” he said.  “I have been wondering about her too.  We talked to the fairgrounds maintenance guy and he said he’d never seen her before.  I had figured that she probably lived around here and came over when she saw people, but he said she just showed up yesterday.  I know for a fact that she was here all night last night.  I think she’s lost.”  I saw Annabelle’s face crumple with worry.

Then Karl took it too far.

“Why don’t you just take her home and I’ll tell the fairgrounds people you have her?  If someone comes looking for her they can call you.”  I said I hated to take her so far away when clearly she was a beloved pet.  How would someone retrieve her?  Karl had an answer for that too.  “If they love her and want her back they can come and get her.”

We chatted a bit longer, Karl completely clueless that he had violated a parental code of ethics.  When our friend rode away on his pretty bay horse, the lobbying really stated.  “Mommmmmmm!  We HAVE to take her home.  She doesn’t have a home.  Karl said.”

I explained over and over to my child that the dog clearly had a home.  We shouldn’t drive her almost three hours away.  What if kids were missing her?

Anyone who knows Annabelle very well knows how single-minded she could be.  When she couldn’t immediately get me to capitulate, she came up with another tactic.  “I think we should ask someone else’s opinion.”  she said.

That sounded good to me.  Anyone in their right mind could see the dog was well taken care of.  They would never condone taking her so far from home.  “OK, Annabelle,” I said.  “You pick a person.  Anyone you want.  Whatever they say, that is what we’ll do.”

Her little blond head tilted for a bit.  “Jake.  Let’s ask Jake.”  Good, I thought.  Jake is a practical guy.  He’ll say leave the dog.  Then….”No, not Jake.  I changed my mind. Let’s ask Dan.  I pick Dan.”

OK fine.

We walked over to the warm-up pen, where Dan Roeser sat on a big pretty horse watching the two-rein competition.  Dan is a trainer from our area, and also one of the sweetest guys I know.  He is a kid magnet and softie for all animals.  I didn’t realize just how much of a softie he was, though, until he made his ruling.  Annabelle and I had both explained our positions, and I told him his decision would be final.  Dan listened carefully, then he looked at me and said “Are you sure you want to ask ME what you should do?”  Yes, I said.  Annabelle picked you.

“OK, then,”  Dan said.  “If I thought there was any chance at all everyone would leave today and that dog would not have a home to go to then I would say take her.  You have to take her home.  She’s laying over beside my trailer, by the way.”

Annabelle jumped up and down and laughed for the first time all morning.  “You heard him mommy. We are taking her home.”  Fine, I said.  “We are going to name her Dan.”  Everybody laughed.

I thanked our mediator, and off we went to load up.  We rearranged the back seat of the truck, folding up the long bench side and putting down a comfy horse blanket, then walked over to the trailer where Dan lay sleeping.  I called her and she jumped to her feet, wagging her tail and happily following us to our truck.  She jumped right in and Annabelle buckled up beside her.  We were on our way.

Back home, Dan was met with unbridled enthusiasm.  She greeted everyone enthusiastically, and Batman and Desperate Hubby vied for her attention.  Neighbors Grandpa Vernon and Grandma Kay came to welcome our guest.  Dan had apparently sat with Grandpa Vernon for several hours at the horse show on Saturday when they were there watching, and he was already a big fan.

Dan settled in like she’d lived here all her life.  She slept on the floor by Annabelle’s bed that first night, whining to wake her in the morning to go outside. When my little horse-trainer went out to lunge her pony over jumps, Dan followed and sat patiently outside the arena, periodically taking a dip in the concrete irrigation ditch to cool off.   She was in and out of the house all day long, never getting more than a few feet from one of us.

At nine o’clock in the morning, the opening time stated on their web page, I called the Minidoka County Animal control to report that we had the lovely dog.  Friends from the horse show and the Rupert area were also posting Dan’s picture all over Facebook trying to find her owner, but I was secretly hoping we would get to keep her.

At about noon I got a call back from the shelter, saying that they would keep my number, but were not optimistic that the dog’s owner would be found.  The person I spoke to said that they took in over 600 dogs a year, and that fewer than 17% of those dogs were claimed by their owners OR adopted out. That made me sad.

When I had a free minute in the early afternoon we loaded Dan up in the pickup, the kids arguing over who got to sit next to her, and took her to our local animal shelter to scan her for a chip.  As predicted by DH, the handheld scanner found no identifying information.  The kids were ecstatic, and I was hopeful.

We went to Costco after dropping Annabelle and Dan off at home, and Batman picked out a large round dog bed for Dan.  I put it in my room when the kids wouldn’t stop arguing over it, and Dan slept quietly beside me all night long.  She went outside with me at 6:30 to feed the horses, staying on my heels the entire time like we had followed the routine for years.

It was a little after nine this morning when I got the call.  I was on the other line when an unfamiliar number came up on my phone.  As soon as I hung up, I listened to the voicemail.  It was a man, he sounded nice.  “I think you have my dog.”  The man’s name was Lee, and he said he lived near the fairgrounds.  Apparently, Dan’s name is Hailey, and she spends part of the time at the neighbors and part of the time at Lee’s, since he works a great deal.  Lee had thought that Hailey was at the neighbors over the weekend, but when he went to retrieve her last night after work he discovered she was gone.

He said he was devastated.

First thing this morning he called the animal shelter and got my number.  It was clear that he loved Hailey, and he desperately wanted her back.  His kids and his neighbor would just be heartbroken if he couldn’t come get her.

I was happy for Hailey/Dan that she would get to go home again, although truth be told she seemed pretty darn happy with us too.  She is a wonderful dog, and she obviously already has a family that loves her.  The only thing about Lee’s story that made me a bit sad was that he said this was the second time Hailey had ventured to the fairgrounds and been there long enough to be taken home by a concerned person.  Last time, he said, she had been taken all the way to Boise by a family, and he had found her in the same manner, by a report filed with the Minidoka Animal Shelter.

All I could think was….and still no ID?

Hailey/Dan gets to stay with us for another couple of days.  On Friday, when Lee is off work he will meet me halfway to pick up his dog.  I asked him for the complete spelling of his first and last name before I hung up, and when Hailey goes home this time she will be sporting a dog tag with his information so that she can be returned if she wanders again.

Annabelle and Batman are devastated.  Annabelle is worried that the beautiful dog will be picked up by someone next time who won’t treat her so well, and she hasn’t stopped crying since I told her about the call.

I told her that returning the dog is the right thing to do.

We can only hope there won’t be a next time.

Categories: Horse Adventures, Life in the Country, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

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