Monthly Archives: April 2013

Medusa? Is that you?

Last Friday I decided to give Freckles a little break from arena work and headed out for some trail riding with friends Teresa and Jan.

We met up at the Wilson Creek Trailhead (the spot of misadventure where I most recently got Annabelle, Kristi and I lost for a couple of hours).  Usually at this time of year there a lots of wildflowers growing and water flowing down the creek beds, but our unusually dry spring has taken a toll on the desert flora, and there were only a few small (but still beautiful) bunches of flowers to be seen

Just a few flowers

Despite the lack of moisture there were some areas that were starting to green up, and it was refreshing and relaxing to just ride along, chatting as the horses’ feet crunched along the dry path.

A little Green

About an hour into the ride, I noticed some kite-shaped whiteish thingies on a couple of the sagebrush that we rode by.  They didn’t look like much from a distance, almost like large dense spider webs.

As we went along though, the trail led up past a few that were a bit closer.

317

We sidled over for a closer look.

That’s when we saw dozens?…….hundreds?…….thousands?   Yes definitely thousands…… of caterpillars crawling out of a nest in a giant clump that looked a lot like the head of the famed Greek Gorgon, Medusa.  (No, I never saw her personally, but I did take something about Greek mythology in college…and I know how to type ‘Wikipedia’.)

Close Worm Nest

One bush family had three or four of the nests on it, with caterpillar clumps in varying amounts of activity twining around.

Medium Worm Nest

The pictures don’t do them justice…….these things were curling and swirling and winding around on top of each other in a never-ending circle of motion.  It was kind of creepy.

Quiet Worm Nest

None of us had ever seen such a sight before, and we sat in quiet contemplation for several minutes (yeah right, like we’re ever quiet!)  trying to make sense of the unusual nests in front of us.  Finally we rode off, with me promising to do some research and figure out just what the heck it was that we had seen.

The rest of the ride was nice and fairly uneventful.  We stopped along the way for a few pictures.

Scenic Overlook

And of course I snapped and snapped as we rode along.

Pictures. I snapped pictures.

Climbing

Miss Teresa on her trusty Remi climbed through the sagebrush with ease.

T and Remi

It was a lovely ride, and I know that Freckles enjoyed doing something out in the sunshine other than loping circles.

When I got home I got on the computer and looked up “caterpillar nest high desert Idaho” and came up with the answer.  The nests we had seen were made by hatching Western Tent Caterpillar Moths.

The mommy moth, my research found, lays 100-300 (OK – they LOOKED like thousands of) eggs sometime in the late spring or early summer.  The eggs soon begin to develop, but do not hatch until the following spring.  After hatching, the baby caterpillars all stay close together and function as a social unit as they feed and grow through the spring.  The group secretes silk to create the web-like structure that is called a tent.  They used this tent as a refuge from cold temperatures and predators.  The temperature inside the tent is more stable than that of the surrounding air, and can be several degrees warmer than the outside.

The little caterpillars journey out of the tent to find food, and if they find something particularly tasty, like a bunch of soft new leaves, they eat as much as they can, then secrete a chemical trail as they return to the tent so that their siblings can find the food too.  Very sharing of them.

After growing for about 8 weeks, the caterpillars form cocoons and about two weeks later turn into adult moths.

They look like this when they are grown up.

tent moth

As adults they reproduce and then die, starting the whole life cycle over again.

Ladies and gentleman, that was your science lesson for today.

Kind of interesting huh?

Categories: Horse Adventures, Life in the Country, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Quote of the Week

“You are what you do today, not what you say you’ll do tomorrow.”

-marcandangel.com

Categories: My Favorite Quotes | 1 Comment

Blackie and Pumpkin…..or “Why I Should Not Be Left Unsupervised With The Children”

Annabelle has been on a quest for a baby kitten for about six months now.  She got the idea in her head last fall when we were in Utah picking up our new horse Freckles.  Freckles’ former owner, Aaron, had a litter of baby kittens, a couple of which were orange and about the cutest little things you had ever seen.  Fortunately for us, the kittens were too young to leave their mommy, so we temporarily dodged the kitten acquisition bullet.

Emphasis on temporarily.

Ever since that trip, Annabelle has brought up the subject of getting a baby kitten with varying regularity.  She actually embarked on a letter writing campaign to Santa Claus, beginning in February of this year and continuing through March, writing letters about once every week or so asking Santa to please bring her a kitten.  Oh, and since she was so good, she would like her kitten NOW, not at Christmas-time.

Santa returned her letter sometime toward the middle of the campaign, encouraging her to be a good girl and show her parents that she could care for a kitten properly and not fight with her brother (why Santa thought that fighting with your brother pertained to kitten-ownership is beyond me) and he would reconsider her request a little closer to Christmas.

My darling six-year old wrote back and in slightly firmer language reminded Santa that she WAS a good girl and was fully prepared to care for a kitten, as she already took care of Grumpy and the dogs.  Oh, and she really, truly would like her kitten sooner than later.

When Santa didn’t write back after that, my little mini-me checked the mail for several days looking for a reply and then let the matter drop.  I thought “Whew, that was close,” and sort of forgot about it.

Until I ran over the dog.

Guilt is a terrible thing (for mommies) and apparently sometimes a good thing (for kids).  Somehow in the middle of Winston’s recovery from his encounter with the back wheel of our Duramax, (he is completely fine now, by the way) Annabelle had the perfectly timed foresight to bring up the subject of the kitten again.

I reminded her immediately of the other thing that Santa had written in his letter to her.  Santa had brought to my daughter’s attention in his correspondence that we had an agreement for no inside cats at our house, and that if she wanted an inside cat she would have to clear it first with our beloved friend, neighbor and landlord, Grandpa Vernon.  Santa is pretty wily.

Apparently, he thought that the burden of obtaining another layer of signatures, if you will, in Annabelle’s quest for the cat would deter her enthusiasm.

Not so.

We had the pleasure (and the poor timing) of hosting Grandpa Vernon and Grandma Kay for dinner to celebrate Kay’s birthday that very next weekend.  Annabelle wasted no time in climbing up on Vernon’s lap and popping the question.  His reply was immediate and seemed to require no thought at all.  He said “It’s none of my business if you get an inside cat.  I don’t have to live with it.  This is between you and your parents – don’t try to put me in the middle of it.”

I really thought Vernon was a better friend than that.

And so the hunt was on.  We found a couple of litters of kittens during the next few days on Craigslist, but by the time we called to check, all of the kittens had been spoken for (amazing how that worked).  In a moment of weakness, I agreed that we could look at the Canyon County Animal Shelter’s website.  You see, I had previewed the website over the past several days and noticed that they didn’t post pictures of kittens on there.  The only photos to be seen were of the older, adult adoptable cats.

It seemed pretty safe, then, to let Annabelle look for herself and see that what I had been telling her was true:  the pound didn’t have baby kittens.  I was congratulating myself on my handling of the situation as the website came up, and the very first, second, third, fourth and fifth pictures loaded.  Unfortunately, each photo featured a tiny kitten: two orange, two black and one tabby.

Well dammit.

The very next day after school we drove to the pound.  I was hopeful that all the little kittens would be gone.  As we walked into the lobby, the first thing we saw was a large kitty cage with a ramp and two different living and play areas.  In the cage were three tiny kittens:  an orange one, a black one, and a tabby.

Well dammit.

Even though the choice seemingly was very straightforward, with the coveted tiny orange kitten literally within our grasp,  the nice young attendant at the front desk unwittingly drug out the drama just a little bit longer.  First of all, when she saw us looking at the kittens she proffered the unsolicited opinion that it was always better to get two kittens rather than one.  Batman’s eyes went wide. He had been begging for his own kitten for he past couple of days, and this advice was tantamount to a directive from the pound gods as far as he was concerned.

Than she told us there were more cats, just down the hall in the “Cat Rooms.’”  We voyaged into the Cat Rooms to find many grown cats in cages.  Being of small stature, both kids immediately gravitated to cats on the bottom level of the cages; Annabelle started playing with an 8 month old fuzzy gray and white kitty, while Batman approached and started petting and talking to a pretty four-year old calico gal.

After much discussion, negotiation and pleading, I finally agreed that they could each get a cat, as long as they realized that they would not be totally inside cats. After visiting and playing with every single cat in the two Cat Rooms, the kids stuck with their first choices. Batman had his heart set on the calico, who seemed to really like him and nuzzled him and purred through the wire.  My little-cat loving daughter wanted the long-haired cat desperately, even though I told her I (strongly) preferred a short-haired version.  I was secretly thrilled that they were going to adopt older cats.  I knew that many adult animals languished in cages waiting for adoption, so we were doing a good deed by giving these mature animals a home.

We walked up to the front desk to report our choices, and as we passed the cage with the tiny kittens Annabelle had an abrupt change of heart.  Although she had steadfastly refused to consider any other cat in the back rooms, she instantly decided to change her choice to the…….orange kitten, of course.  Batman stood his ground for a moment, but soon he wavered.  He, too, wanted a tiny baby kitty.

Being the sensitive soul that he is, though, Batman was also greatly saddened to think about leaving his calico friend in the Cat Room cage.  Big crocodile tears rolled down his face as he pleaded to get both cats.  It really was hard to say no, but I did.  We had to go sit on the bench in the corner for a few minutes to compose ourselves before we could move forward, my little man still swiping tears as he told the girl behind the front desk he wanted the tiny black kitten.

With the purchase done and kittens safely ensconced in their carrier between the kids’ car seats for the ride home, Batman still worried about his calico friend.  “Mom, do you think my other kitty misses me?”  I assured him that she did, but that since she was so beautiful and friendly surely someone would adopt her soon.  That satisfied him for a minute or two.

Then he proclaimed this: “When I am a big kid and a grown-up and I live by myself, I am going to go back to the pound and get that cat!”  I smiled at him.  “That sounds like a really good idea buddy.”  He was quiet for a minute, then he said “But do you think she’ll still be there?  She would be really old by then.”  We thought about that quietly, and he sniffled a little more during the rest of the short drive home.

As soon as we arrived, the kids went about indoctrinating the kittens into the family.  Annabelle wasted no time wrapping up Pumpkin in a blanket and putting him to sleep by rocking him in the rocking chair.

Kitty in a Blankie

Batman held Blackie for a while as he watched TV, but soon tired of the squirming and scratching and put him back in the dog kennel, which we had set up as the temporary cat house.  Then he sat beside him on the floor to watch him play with the ball I had cleverly suspended from the top of the cage.

Love the Toys

I texted Desperate Hubby, who was conveniently gone on a fishing trip to Nevada, a picture of the kids holding their new prizes.  I wrote the caption “Just shoot me!”  He texted back a terse reply “Two of them? BANG!”

It was difficult to get the kids to go to bed.  They wanted to stay up and play with their kitties all night.  They finally did succumb to sleep though, but the first thing they wanted to do in the morning was play with the cats.

Even while they ate their breakfast waffles.

Breakfast with Cats

Annabelle has had her cat out and about today, going to greet Grandpa Vernon by the horse pens and wandering around to see the outside of the place.

She made sure he wouldn’t get cold by putting on his little pink turtleneck sweater and wrapping him securely in her blanket.  I think he was grateful.

Pretty in Pink

Batman has played with his kitty too, though not with the same level of devotion as his sister.

Desperate Hubby will be back tomorrow afternoon.  It will probably be a long time before he leaves me home alone again.

Categories: Kids Are Funny Creatures, Life in the Country | Tags: , | 4 Comments

Transform Your Dog Instantly Into the Perfect Family Pet!

I promise that even the most obnoxious and rude, kid-jumping, face-licking, toy-chewing, hat-stealing dog can be changed forever into the world’s most perfect pet.

All you have to do is run over him.

Here is our story.

The subject of this tale is of course Winston. At once revered and reviled.  An 82 pound bundle of bad-smelling fur and glove-eating, hole-digging, cat-chasing fury.

Profiles

And the most loving, cuddly, kid-adoring family pet on the place, all at once.

Furry Hug

Friday night the kids and I returned home from riding at a friend’s place.  We put the horses away and fed.  I unhooked the trailer and jumped in the pickup, headed for the house to make dinner.  Batman was riding in the back of the truck, sitting on a wheel well for the 300-foot drive.  Annabelle had stayed behind and was cleaning out the back of the horse trailer with the wheelbarrow and manure fork.

As I turned the left-hand corner from the grassy trailer parking area to the gravel drive that fronts our house, I looked in the  mirror to make sure that Batman was still seated.  He was.  Immediately after my turn I felt a huge bump under the left rear tire of our long bed Duramax.  I’ve run over a curb or two in my day, let me tell you, but this was different. It was a very large bump.

I had not seen anything in or beside the road when I turned, so I was confused and disoriented for an instant.

A loud panicked yelping immediately ensued.  I threw open the door of the truck and with the engine still running jumped out to see Winston frantically turning in a circle near the back wheel. His mouth was completely engulfed in dark red blood, and I could also see a patch of blood on his left side.

The kids started screaming.

And crying in despair.

And yelling at me.  “Why did you run over Winston, Mom?!!!  Why didn’t you stop?!!!  Why are you so mean?  Is Winston gonna die?  I don’t want Winston to die!!!”  We have to take him to the vet!!  Is he gonna die?!!!”

I tried to console the children while simultaneously doing a quick evaluation of our pup.  His mouth was bloody, but it didn’t appear to be actively bleeding.  He was walking stiffly, favoring his left side, but I could immediately see that the blood on his side was from his mouth, where he kept turning and nipping at his ribcage.  His ribs felt fine; no obvious breaks, and his legs were in good working order.

About that time, DH came out of the house and walked a little ways down the driveway.  He asked me what had happened and I told him.  He said “Well, you must have just bumped him, because he looks pretty much fine.  If you had run him all the way over he would probably be dead”  “No,” I told him.  “I ran over him; all the way.  I felt it.”  That changed his expression some, and I could tell he was blaming me too.  He called Winston, and Winston walked slowly down to him. I got the kids calmed down enough to come to the house, though they refused to ride in the truck with me.

When we got inside we saw that DH had brought Winston in and put him in his crate.  The dog was lying down, and the blood was mostly gone from his mouth.  DH had checked him over too, and said he looked basically okay, just really sore.

Then Grandpa Vernon arrived.  Grandpa Vernon has cared for a dog or two in his day, and I was relieved to see him walk through the back door ready to lend his aid. He knelt down in front of Winston and gently opened his mouth.  After feeling around for damage, he checked the capillary refill time of the dog’s gums to see if he could detect any internal bleeding.  While he looked our dog over, I called our friend and vet Dr. Danny on the phone.

Dr. Danny answered his phone immediately  I could tell he was out amongst people, but he listened carefully as I quickly detailed what had happened.  Dr. Danny knew exactly what I really wanted to determine – since it was past closing time for any local vet, was it necessary to load Winston up and take him to the emergency clinic in Boise or could he wait until morning?  Danny asked a few questions, then he advised a conservative approach: keep Winston in his kennel overnight and watch him carefully.  He described the same gum-test that Vernon had performed to monitor for shock and internal bleeding, and told me what would necessitate immediate transport.  My gut instinct told me that was the right approach.

I hung up the phone and the kids mobbed me, pulling at my clothes.  “Are we taking him to the vet?  Is Danny coming over?  What are we going to do?”  I told them we would watch Winston overnight to make sure he wasn’t in mortal danger, and take him to our local vet first thing in the morning to be looked over.

My grief-stricken youngsters immediately let me know that this was not an acceptable approach.  Annabelle cried piteously.  “I LOVE Winston!  Winston is a member of our family.  We HAVE to take him to the vet!!”  I wavered but stood firm.  Grandpa Vernon backed me, although I knew if Winston had been his dog he would have sought immediate veterinary care.  DH obviously thought the dog was going to be OK, and I knew he was in favor of waiting until morning too.

I tried to get the kids calmed down.  Although Batman was the most upset, he mellowed more quickly when DH got him to come sit with him and look at some fishing videos on the computer.

Annabelle was steadfast in her despair and lack of support for my decision to wait it out.  Every crime against children ever committed by the rambunctious bird dog was instantly forgotten.

He was the best dog ever, and I was the MEANEST MOM IN THE WORLD for not taking him to the vet.

We all sat and watched the dog until 10:30 or so.  Winston was obviously very sore, but he was alert and his eyes were bright.  He methodically swept his long pink tongue over his legs and feet cleaning up any drops of blood that had flung from what I assumed was his bitten tongue.  When I finally did go to bed I couldn’t sleep.  I checked Winston a couple of times, and he seemed to be sleeping quietly.  I still had an awful feeling in my stomach, though, and I wished all night long I had just taken him in to the vet.

When morning dawned I was up early and walked down the hall with trepidation.  I didn’t know what the kids would do if Winston was dead.  Well, actually I did.

But he wasn’t dead.  He was very, very sore, but he did climb gingerly out of the kennel to go outside.  He kept stopping every few steps to nip at his side, but I still couldn’t feel any obvious trauma when I ran my hands over his ribs.  Annabelle got up while I was in the shower and she let Winston back in and put him in his crate.  The kids and I got dressed and  we were quickly ready to head out.

DH had agreed to help get Winston into the back of our SUV.  I didn’t think he could probably jump in under his own power, and I was also sure I couldn’t lift him.  As I rounded up everyone to leave, my hubby was trying to coax the pup out of his crate with a hot dog.  Winston just panted and looked at him, refusing to even try to get up.  A wave of panic went over me.  If he was ignoring a hot dog he was really hurt.  Then inspiration struck.  I reached into the basket on top of the kennel and pulled out Winston’s red leash.

As soon as he saw the leash, Winston was like the paralyzed ringer who rises from the wheelchair at an old-time tent revival.  He stood and practically bounded out of the kennel, stopping a couple of times to glance back at his sore side.  He trotted out to the car, albeit a bit stiffly, and put his front legs up on the back to get in.  DH lifted him gently the rest of the way and we were off.

When we arrived at the vet our shaggy brown friend jumped from the car unassisted and walked spryly into the office.  When we had filled out his paperwork he happily accompanied the technician back to the exam room for his checkup, tail wagging cheerfully.  I was completely unsurprised when I got the phone call a couple of hours later to come pick up our pet.  He was completely fine; no x-rays were even necessary, said the vet. She would send him home with some pain medication.  He was obviously sore, but the only real damage was a small contusion on his lip where he had bitten himself.  That would heal on its own, the sweet young doctor said.

I was relieved and exhausted.

As for the kids, they finally forgave me, and are still talking non-stop about what a good dog Winston is.  The best dog ever.

All we had to do was run him over to realize it.

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

Rain, Reining and Roses

Saturday was the first Snake River Reining Alliance Club show of the year.  Annabelle has been anxious to go show again after having to sit around without much riding for a whole week in Vegas, so she was looking forward to getting out in the pen herself.

The day dawned a little gray but pretty warm.  We loaded up early and headed over to Kuna to the Lucky Run Arena.  As we arrived, it was easy to see the show was a big success.  The large parking lot was filled with every description of trailer, and I thought to myself “it’s gonna be a long day.”

We had a several-hour wait until our class, which we spent by industriously eating donuts and talking to all our friends who were also hanging around.  A steady rain had picked up shortly after we got inside the arena, and we tried to wait it out before we got our horses out of the trailer and saddled.

Finally, after Annabelle asked me for the forty-seventh time when she could get on Grumpy, I acquiesced and we headed out into the drizzle to get saddled up.  It was immediately apparent that I had not packed warm enough clothes or coats for us.

It was windy and miserable, with the rain varying from a light drizzle to what my friend David Duckett describes so eloquently as “a cow peeing on a flat rock”.  Except he doesn’t say peeing.

It's Cold Out Here!

We tried to ride around outside with the other riders for a while, but eventually it was just too miserable, and we sat inside with everyone else waiting for our classes to come up.

We were muddy and cold, and our horses were definitely not the picture of show-ready that day.

We're Wet But Ready

Auntie Shane is such a funny girl!

Bunny Ears

Just before her class came up, Annabelle went back outside to lope.  You can actually the rain falling in this picture, but she was not to be deterred.

Raindrops are Falling

I was not as hardy or dedicated as my daughter in my rainy-day warm up routine, so when I entered the arena to school Freckles in the green rookie class she was…..let’s just say ‘not quite mentally prepared’. She spooked from the judge, swished her tail, and carried her head like a 14-hand giraffe for a bit, then settled down into her work.

Once she got going she was actually pretty good.  We were the first out in our class of 16 horses, and the judge must have seen something she really liked in my diminutive red filly, because she marked us a 70.  While I was thrilled with the score, I really did feel it was a bit generous, and I saw several horses follow us that I was sure would mark better.  Somehow, though, our number held up through the class and Freckles won her first reining money:  $49.70.  Yahoo!

Have I mentioned that I love this horse?

Here is a video of our run:

When it was Annabelle’s turn, she headed out all smiles.  She had been waiting all day to go show, and she was ready.

Despite the rain, she had succeeded in loping Grumpy until he was pretty tired, and he was definitely not in the mood to go out and be shown.  Annabelle had to work pretty hard at getting him through the pattern. The other kids had some problems with their patterns too, though, and in the end Annabelle and Grumpy did come away with the only score of the day, and an automatic first place.

I was really proud of her because she didn’t give up when she had some  problems getting her spins or her back-up at the end of her run.  That girl does have perseverance, no doubt about that!  I’ve had a problem getting her video to upload, but she did a great job of keeping her horse correct and honest through the pattern.

As soon as we were finished showing we loaded up and headed home, but not before Annabelle gave Grumpy his cookies as a reward for a job well done.

He Earned his Treats

DH had been home with Batman all day, and I knew they were ready for some female companionship in the house.  On the way home I called to see if we needed anything from the store.  “Nope”, he said. “I’ve got it handled”.

We walked in the door, still cold and very hungry, to find a large bowl of delicious home-made guacamole on the table.  There was already a glass of wine poured, and DH was in the middle of making fish and chips with fresh cod, paired with some special crunchy fries that he had just found the recipe for that day.

The food was awesome, but that wasn’t all.  The boys had picked me up a dozen red roses at the grocery store while they were there.

Just because.

The Roses

I love my life!

Categories: Horse Adventures, Kids Are Funny Creatures, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Viva Las Vegas!

I have not written a blog in over a month.  I feel bad about that; not that people are missing out by not getting regular information about the nuances of my life, but because it is a symptom of a more pervasive and over-riding neglect of other areas of my life.

You see, I have been very pre-occupied with an ambitious goal since the first of the year.  I readily admit that many areas of my life have lost focus and attention while I prepared.

Let me explain. And I warn you now, this isn’t a short story.

I have previously blogged about my cute little red mare, Freckles, who we bought as a someday-for-Annabelle horse last fall.  I wrote about my first attempts to get her shown last October at the Idaho Reined Cow Horse Derby at the Idaho Center, and about how much I realized I missed showing after I returned to the pen following a nearly eight-year hiatus.  I wrote about how getting that mare added something back into my life that I hadn’t realized was gone, and how much more fulfilled I was every day I got to ride her.

I OPEN MY BIG MOUTH

In addition to all that writing about my horse, I had done plenty of talking.  I told everyone who would listen about my plans to enter the National Reined Cow Horse Association Stallion Stakes, one of the organization’s Premier Events, which was to be held in the South Point Hotel and Equestrian Center in Las Vegas this year.

Although I talked about this show for the past months, I wasn’t really sure if I would be able to enter it.  As a Premier show, the entry fee is steep; the show takes place over several days, and the schedule for my class stretched over three days of individual events necessitating nearly a week of travel no matter how well I planned it.  The competition would likely be more accomplished and certainly more current in their show experience than I.

It was kind of a crazy idea.

But, like a lot of crazy ideas, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  I had heard of how wonderful the South Point facility was.  I had heard tales of valets who come with carts to unload your tack and accessories from your horse trailer and move it with your hay to the stalls for you.  How the entire equestrian area, from the stalls to the multiple arenas, is climate-controlled and kept at a constant temperature of 70 degrees.  Best of all, the stalls and show arenas are all within the hotel and casino – all of the equine facilities are housed underneath the building.  You can leave your hotel room, hop on the elevator and go feed your horse in your slippers.  If you don’t feel like leaving the room, you can watch the competition on closed-circuit television while lying in your hotel bed. To top it off the hotel has a world-class spa.

It sounded like heaven.

THE ROAD TO THE STAKES

In January I made the first move toward my goal when I asked my longtime friend and former trainer, Jake Telford, if I could move my horse to his training facility, which is just a few miles from our home.  Freckles was receiving excellent care and reined work training at the barn where she lived in Kuna, but I found it difficult to get out and ride her very often because of the nearly two-hour round trip commute.  Moreover, and even more importantly, if I wanted to enter a reined cow horse event I needed to practice on cattle.  A lot.

Jake graciously agreed to board my mare and give me lessons to help me prepare for the show.  As an NRCHA Million Dollar Rider and the highest money-earning rider in the National Reined Cow Horse Association for the past three years, I couldn’t have asked for a better person to mentor me as I prepared to officially re-enter competition.

It took a few weeks for me to get it together, but in mid-February I moved Freckles over and started our training.

IT ALMOST ENDS BEFORE IT STARTS

The first day I arrived at Telford Training I very nearly turned around and left.  I got Freckles out of the trailer and saddled her, and took her into the indoor arena where Jake and his help were working cattle.  There were several people loping horses around, including Annabelle, who I had brought over to ride Grumpy, and Jake’s two young daughters on their horses.  A few two-year old colts were tied to the outside of the arena, and as they played and pawed the tarps covering the arena panels crackled and billowed.

Freckles was a little fresh, to say the least, and nearly jumped out from under me a couple of times.  She was clearly very interested in the sounds of the cattle coming from the other half of the arena where Jake was working his horses.  I was thinking to myself “It is definitely going to take several days of riding around here for me to get Freckles acclimated and settled down before I will be comfortable enough to ask Jake for a lesson.”

No sooner than that thought crossed my mind then Jake yelled across the arena “Come on in Paula, and work a cow!”

I felt faint.

I had stopped showing eight years ago after a bad fall while working a cow on this very property, and the last time I had worked in October I very nearly came off during the boxing portion of my derby work.  And when I say I very nearly came off,  I mean I VERY NEARLY CAME OFF.  I realized the kindness of our new little mare that day, when I was hanging off of her left side by her mane and she stopped long enough for me to regain my seat before she addressed the cow again.

I rode into the cutting pen with quivering hands and tears in my eyes.  I hadn’t realized until that moment just how much fear I had left over from my previous experiences.  We cut a cow off from the herd, and Freckles engaged it with energetic enthusiasm.  She ran across the pen, the cow stopped and Freckles wheeled and bolted after it.  If I hadn’t been holding onto the saddle horn I would have come off.

The rest of the lesson was pretty much more of the same.  Jake told me that we really needed to work on my mare’s stops; she was extremely hard to ride because she wasn’t engaging her hindquarters on those turns.  Once we got her schooled up to property turn over her hocks she would be much easier to sit as she worked.

I don’t think Jake realized it that day, but I was intimidated and very disappointed.  When I got home I told Desperate Hubby that I had probably made a big mistake.  I told him that every time I ran across that pen all I could think about was falling off.

DH knows me pretty well.  He knows Jake pretty well.  He told me that I should admit to my friend just how frightened I was and see if he could help me.  “No,” I told him miserably.  “Jake doesn’t have time to help me at all, really, and he sure doesn’t have time to counsel me.”

I would just persevere.

So persevere I did. I rode at the barn every weekday, working a cow more days than not. For nearly two weeks I had nightmares about falling off.  I would lie awake in bed every single night and visualize a correct and safe cow work before I went to sleep.  At first it didn’t help at all, but increasingly my visualization was successful.  Some nights I would sleep all night without one bad dream waking me in a cold sweat.

One morning I woke up and realized that I was fixed.  For whatever reason, I wasn’t scared anymore.  It was literally an epiphany!  When I rode into the barn that morning I told Jake the good news.  He smiled politely and said “Good, get over here and work a cow.”    He didn’t seem all that impressed by my announcement.  But I rode a lot better that day.

I don’t know if my trainer ever knew just how scared I was to dive into the cow work when I first started back riding with him.  Whether he did or not, his approach to getting me back into the hang of it was perfect.  He started slowly, getting a little progress each day and never letting me quit unless it was on a good note.  Each day he built on what I had achieved the days before until I had the confidence to really enjoy the sport that I had once loved so much.

Things got a lot more fun after that.

I rode every single week day for the next week.  Freckles got better and better at working a cow; and I got more confident with every passing day and successful work.  With the entry date approaching for the Stakes, I asked Desperate Hubby what he thought.  The show was over Annabelle’s spring break.  Should I just go for it and take her with me?  Or maybe just go watch and get the lay of the land?

Part of me wanted to take a “real” vacation, maybe stop by the Grand Canyon on the way to down to the show, then really take it easy once I got there…..sleep in, go the spa and share the sites of Vegas with Annabelle.  Although horse shows are fun, a show of this caliber would be demanding.  I had visions of middle-of-the-night schooling sessions followed by early morning warm-ups and waiting around for my class until mid-day, then cleaning stalls and preparing my horse for the event the next day before falling into bed exhausted early every evening.  Would I enjoy that as much as just going to watch?

I knew DH thought I should enter, but I was reticent.  What if I wasn’t ready?  What if I had a relapse and fell off in the middle of the cow work?  In the end, though, I did enter.  I firmly believe that what you think about (and talk about) happens, and all I had thought about for months was going to this show.

So go we did.

DAY ONE:  ARE WE THERE YET?

We rode with our friend Kris, the same generous soul who had loaned Annabelle her horse Chic to use all last year in her horse shows.  Kris would also be showing a mare in my same class, and she looked pretty happy as we left.  I don’t think she realized at that point that I would be content to sit over in the passenger seat for the entire trip there eating chips and drinking diet coke while she drove.

Happy Driver

Annabelle was very excited to get on the road, and immediately set about watching a movie on the DVD player that Aunt Susie had loaned us for the trip.  She interrupted her movies every ten minutes or so to inquire about the continued longevity of the trip.

I can hear!

We had persuaded our friend (and Batman’s girlfriend) Kristi, to come along with us and have a vacation herself, as well as keeping Annabelle entertained when I was busy riding.

She was a little camera shy at first.

No Photos Now

We made it to Vegas in fair time, stopping along the way at several points for fuel and potty stops.  As it turned out, we traveled in a sort of unofficial caravan, as we ran into Jake and his family and helpers at nearly every stop as well as pacing along with some friends from Washington who were also headed to the Stakes.  It was a nice drive.

Our arrival at the hotel was met with a short line of trailers in front of us waiting to be unloaded.  We bemoaned our timing at being behind Jake, who with two trailers and sixteen or so horses would be awhile unloading.  True to the lore, though, the hotel had several staff members who were bustling about with trolleys and carts, and between Jake and his family and helpers they were unloaded in less than an hour.  We were working on unloading at the same time, and with the help of a couple of the porters our hay, tack, and tack room supplies were all quickly transported to our stalls

We were able to check into our hotel rooms right at the stall office, and a bellman driving a big gator-type four-wheeler loaded up our copious bags and delivered them to our rooms.

Kris had everything we needed for a nice tack room setup, including a refrigerator, tables and chairs, saddle racks and enough hooks to hang all of our stuff plus more.  She also brought along a nice selection of quality wine.  I realized at once how lucky we were to share her stuff (and her generosity).

Our tack room was sort of a combination tack room/lounge/wine bar.  It suited me perfectly!

Our Tack Room

DAY TWO:  GETTING INTO THE PEN

I woke up early on Monday morning, anxious to get downstairs and ride Freckles.  Jake was down there riding already, and he gave me tips and schooled me a bit in the busy arena to help me get ready for the next day.  When I finished the girls took Freckles over for a nice long bath.

The Whole Team

I’m not really sure who was wetter at the end of the bath, but Freckles was certainly clean and shiny!

Veg Washing Team

Annabelle pulled the step up to her in the stall and went to work combing out her mane.

Brush that Mane

I was delighted to hear from Aaron, Freckles’ former owner and the person responsible for putting such a great training foundation on her.  He and his wife Rebecca were there in Vegas, and they wanted to come and see Freckles.  We met them and they walked to the stall with us.  It was immediately evident that Freckles remembered her former owner.  She put her head on him and snuggled up.

He seemed pretty happy to see her too, and I even convinced him to ride her a little that afternoon.

He got on and walked her slowly around the pen.  Then he started bending her this way and that, and backed her up a long ways.  Although he didn’t even have spurs on, he softened Freckles up considerably and she was noticeably more responsive with just a short thirty minute ride.  It was impressive.

The girls and I spent some time cleaning up our tack and finalizing choices of shirts and saddle pads for the next day.  That night we had an early dinner at the Italian place in our hotel, and got to bed so we could wake up for the next day.

DAY THREE: I SURVIVE THE HERD WORK

Tuesday would mark my first day of competition.  I got up and headed down to the stalls early to get saddled and get into the cattle practice pen for my priority warm-up.  At these major shows they bring in extra cattle to practice on, and each contestant in the herd work (also known as cutting) is allowed a slot to practice working cows before their competition.  Your practice slot is generally two sets of herd work before you go, so that made my work sometime in the 8:00 hour.

Jake was down at the pens to help me, and he told me to go get checked in for my priority work.  A contestant is not required to use their time slot, and if you don’t check in for your proper set you may lose your chance to another person who is showing later and who checks in early.  I checked in only to find that my practice was going to be quite a bit earlier than I had planned.  I hurriedly loped around for fifteen minutes before it was my turn, which was when Jake gave me some valuable advice that, while logical, had never been intuitive to me:

When you only have half as much time to warm up; you need to lope twice as fast.” 

It worked.  I got Freckles warmed up and we had a very successful practice session.  I felt confident and ready to go when I met my team by the in-gate to head into my first competition.  Annabelle got busy doing a final tail brushing under Kristi’s watchful eye.

Final Prep

When I was all ready to go we posed for a picture.  Note the large sign over my shoulder.  I didn’t notice that sign once while I was there, though I rode through that same alley multiple times to practice and to show.  It wasn’t until I was editing pictures for this blog that I read it.  Dang.  Could have used that advice last week!

Ready for the Herd

The herd work event is when you enter the arena where a herd of cattle is held in place by four helpers who are there to help you get your horse shown to the best advantage.  Your task is to cut one cow at a time out of the herd, and show your horse’s ability to manage that cow and keep it from rejoining its friends who are behind you.

I am pretty inexperienced at herd work, and though it looks deceptively easy it can be a challenge to make sure your horse is always in the right place at the right time and that you manage your time effectively in order to get two or preferably three cattle out of the herd to work during your allotted two-and-a-half minutes.

Freckles was very good entering the herd, and stayed quiet and engaged.   we managed to get three cattle cut and worked before the buzzer went off to signify the end of our session.  As I rode out of the arena one of my herd helpers, Ted Robinson,  a legend in the reined cow horse industry and long-time acquaintance, said “Good job Paula.  You’ll be the new leader!”  That made me smile.

Unfortunately Ted wasn’t the judge.

But still, as my class ended I was in the middle of the pack, seven points down from the leading score.  I was thrilled.  Although I had made some big mistakes in my cattle management, I had not “lost” any cows and my horse had performed very well.

I was joined after I rode by Aaron, Freckle’s former owner, who was also very happy with her performance.  He stood and watched the rest of the herd with me until my class was over.

Aaron and Freckles

Annabelle climbed on Freckles and cooled her out.  She was just dying to ride, and completely un-intimidated by the professional riders buzzing around the warm-up arena beside her.  It was pretty cute.

Cooling the Mare

After she was finished cooling out Freckles, my girl got busy cleaning up our stall alley, sweeping up shavings and hay so we had a neat entry to our space.  She is good help when she wants to be.

Cleaning up the Aisle

Watching my herd work video later was a great training opportunity to actually see what it was Jake kept talking to me about with regard to position, position, position (or in my case out-of-position, out-of-position, out-of-position, and WATCH the COW!!)  I learned a lot that I hope will help me in my future showing endeavors.

LIONS AND TIGERS AND DOLPHINS, OH MY!!!

That afternoon the girls and I headed out to our first “Vacation” endeavor – a visit to the Mirage Hotel and Casino for a look at the famous white tigers.  We bought tickets to the “Secret Garden” at the Mirage, and spent a couple of hours looking around at all the animals.  The facility is beautiful, and the animal displays were fascinating for both of my young traveling companions (and me too).

These white lions greeted us as we entered the display.  They were sound asleep, but woke up long enough to give us a once-over before dozing off again.

Now Hes Awake

There was a cheetah display, with a few of the sleek felines moseying around the exhibit.

Cheetah

Next came the dolphins.  There were a couple of big pools connected by a waterway, and we were able to catch two “Training Sessions” where the dolphins were put through their paces by the trainers to the awe and joy of the crowd.

Dolphin Trainer

You could get right up beside the pool where the dolphins could see you, and they were surprisingly social creatures, appearing over and over again to rise out of the water and “smile” at the guests in their house.

Dolphin Smile

And they did some jumping tricks too, which were cool.

Dolphin Dive

After we left the Mirage we headed back to the hotel, where we joined up with the group for an early dinner at the Asian restaurant.  I had sushi (supposed to be good luck before a horse show, I’ve heard) and then we were to bed early again to get ready for the next event.

DAY FOUR: I GET IN TOUCH WITH MY INNER REINER

The next event I would compete in was the reining, or “dry work” as it is called in the reined cow horse vernacular.   This is where you enter the arena and perform a series of prescribed maneuvers – circling, sliding to a stop, spinning, all in a specific pattern.   I don’t know why it is called the dry work….maybe because some cow horse people think it’s boring?  Because there is no cow poop?  I’m not sure, but I was excited to get out there and give it a go.

I was up at 3:30am to get in the practice arena to school Freckles and then get her fed.  I ran into Jake just as he was finished riding his own dozen or so horses, and he insisted on coming to help me school before he headed up to his own room to get some sleep.  He really is a great guy.

I practiced for an hour and a half or so, then headed back up to the room to get ready to show.  I dressed in my official sparkly “reiner” shirt and hoped it would give me luck.

Ready to Rein

Jake helped me to warm up again and gave me a few tips on preparing my horse right before I went into the arena.  Aaron also joined me and gave me moral support before I headed in to show.

Freckles was a gem in the reined work.  I rode a little slower than I should have, and might have scored higher if I’d been more aggressive, but in the end I had the second highest reined work score (by half a point) and moved up to second place in the cumulative standings.  I don’t know if it was me or Aaron who was happier with Freckles that afternoon.  I gave her a big pile of hay and some extra shavings before we headed off to our next vacation adventure.

WE VISIT VENICE AND I TRY TO MARRY KRISTI OFF

That afternoon we cleaned up and headed over to the Venetian, my favorite place to stay in Las Vegas, to take part in a tourist activity I had never before indulged in during all my trips to Vegas:  A Gondola Ride.

We wandered around the beautiful shopping area that is decorated like the streets of Venice, stopping to pick up a couple of cones of chocolate-covered strawberries.

YUM!

Chocolate Covered Strawberries

Our gondola ride was very fun, and I kept teasing Kristi about being on a date with the gondolier.  He thought that was pretty funny too.

Once he found out she was of-age, that is.

Kristis Date

Annabelle and I snuggled on the other side of the bench, as she asked a million questions about how deep the water was, what would happen if we fell in, could she swim in it…… that sort of thing.

Annie and Mom Gondola

We enjoyed ourselves so much that we actually purchased the official picture of all of us in the gondola with Kristi’s date.

Venetian Gondola

After the gondola ride we went to Postrio, which used to be one of my favorite restaurants in San Francisco, and had some delicious Italian food.  I had a sushi-like Ahi tower (couldn’t hurt, right?) and the girls had pizza and macaroni and cheese. Kristi taught Annabelle to play tic-tac-toe, and they played happily together until my darling six-year-old figured out how to cheat.

Vegas 167

Then it was home and in bed again, not as early as the previous nights, but there was only one event to go.

DAY FIVE:  IT ALL COMES DOWN TO THE COW

The last event of the three-pronged competition was the Cow Work.  In this event you enter the arena and a single cow is turned in with you.  For my class, you are required to approach that cow and work it back and forth on the fence at the short end of the arena.  Your horse should work as independently as possible, and once again position and execution are very important in the scoring of the run.

There is a saying in the reined cow horse world that “It all comes down to the cow.”  The cow work is always the last event you complete that contributes to your cumulative score, and the stories are legion of competitors going into the cow work with a seemingly unbeatable lead, only to draw a cow that does not allow them to score even the minimal number of points they need in order to secure their win.

You want to draw a cow that is active and wild enough for your horse to show their skills, while being just manageable enough that you don’t lose him or get beat by his speed.

Freckles worked amazingly well that morning in our cow work preferred warm-up.  She was quick, light in the face and I had no doubt we were ready for our competition.  I was only three points behind the leader after making up the points in the reined work, so I was prepared to do my best.  It was anyone’s game.

I trotted into the arena, nodding my head at the gate-man at the far end where our cow would be released.  The gate opened and Freckles gave a little jump and twist of her head in excitement.

A small black steer trotted out.  He looked pretty good!

I rode up and engaged him, but I couldn’t seem to get him moving.  I could hear Jake yelling at me to get up there and move him, and though I did the best I could at the time, we came out of the cow work with a far lower score than I had hoped for.  Still, I was happy with my horse.  As I watched the video later, I could see that there was  more I could have done to get that cow moving, and I also had a pretty big “miss” when I looked away from the cow for just a second and he beat me and Freckles in a turn.  Once again I learned a ton from watching that video and I am excited to apply it at my next show.

Overall, I was very happy with our performance.  We ended up third in our class, and got Freckle’s first official earnings:  $870!!  It was a thrill!

I HAVE HELP CELEBRATING FROM MY CALIFORNIA FRIENDS

The best part of my day  was not over yet.  As soon as I was finished showing, we met up with my friends Sandy and Tony who were coming to Vegas to celebrate their anniversary and attend a friend’s 50th anniversary celebration.  We’d last seen my friends this past summer when they came to Idaho and rafted and rodeoed with us in August.

We had lunch with them and it was great to catch up.  A little later we met them in the lounge to watch some horse show action and have a few drinks.

They looked awesome!

A Visit with Friends

We got to spend the afternoon with Tony and Sandy, then had dinner with them and the rest of the group.  It was so fun to see them, and I wish I’d had more free time to spend visiting with them.

DAY SIX:  A HECTIC FAREWELL TO VEGAS

We got up Friday morning with several things on our mind.  Kristi had some shopping she wanted to do.  We needed to fuel up the truck to leave early the next morning; and I had a plan to go to the spa.  I had heard tales of the wonderful spa at the South Point, and after my busy week I needed a massage.  The girls wanted to try out the salon pedicure (a first for both of them), and to top it all off we had tickets that evening for the Tournament of Kings show at the Excalibur.

The day seemed like a whirlwind, but we got it all done.  The spa was fantastic, the girls loved their Pedi’s, and we got everything done just in time to get dressed for our evening entertainment:  the famous jousting exhibition at the Knights of the Roundtable arena.

I took this (not very good) photo before I saw the “Absolutely No Photography or Video” sign……honest.

It was really cool.

Tournament of Kings

We had a great time at the show.  It was very theatrical, and involved lots of half-naked men and fireworks.  Really, I’m not making that up.

Oh, and there were cool horses too.

We got back to our rooms exhausted, to pack and get to bed before our 6:30am meeting time to load up the trailer and hit the road.

Despite all the fun we had had that week, we were ready to head home.  The non-stop go-go-go schedule hit us all hard. Kristi had a terrible headache and sinus pain.  The air at the South Point is notorious for being highly allergenic, and we all suffered from it.  Our friend took a big dose of Nyquil and was out.

I was trying to watch the bridle horse competition on TV while I packed, and my little angel Annabelle had a complete and total meltdown.  “Turn the TV off!!” she wailed, “turn it OFF!!!”  I tried to calm her down, but her wails just got louder.

I turned the TV off, as well as the light beside the bed, and she started up again.  “Turn it back ON Mama!!”  This continued for half an hour or so, before she drifted into a fitful sleep.  My dreams of meeting Sandy and Tony for a farewell cocktail faded into the twilight.  I finished packing and headed to bed myself.

DAY SEVEN:  AN UNEVENTFUL RIDE HOME

I was up at 4:30am for a final round of packing, and we had our bags picked up and were down at the stalls to load the trailer at 6:30.  The load-out went quickly, despite the lack of porters at that early hour, and we were on the road by 7:30.  We made good time going home, and once again Kris was nice enough to drive the whole way while I sat in the passenger seat and ate candy.  She is a gem.

We made it home in good time, and I managed to get the kids into bed at an early enough hour that the Easter Bunny still had a chance to arrive.  Easter morning started with my six year old traveler bursting into our room at 7:30, crying because the Easter Bunny had brought her brother a larger basket than he had brought to her.

Ah, it was good to be home.

By the way, if you are still awake and curious to see the video of my three runs, you can watch them here:

2013 NRCHA Stallion Stakes: Dox Smart

I would be remiss if I didn’t extend a big thanks to everyone who helped me in my quest to go to literally “get back on the horse”.  Although my accomplishment is minute in the big scheme of the horse show world, to me it is literally life-changing to be able to once again embrace and truly enjoy something that I love to do so much.

I have to start with Desperate Hubby, who supported me wholeheartedly in my goal and took on numerous extra household and child management activities during my preparation for and execution of “The Road to the Stakes.”

Nathan Kent with Nathan Kent Performance Horses out of Lucky Run Arena in Kuna was instrumental in getting my horse solid enough in the reining that I could get her shown despite my nerves and horse-show rustiness. He spent a lot of time showing me how to capitalize on what he had taught Freckles, and though I obviously didn’t absorb everything he showed me, I appreciate every minute.

I am grateful to all of my friends, both horse and non-horse people, who encouraged me to get back into the sport I love so much.  Whether you loaned me tack, took care of my kids or were there with a sympathetic ear, it all helped me get through the process.  To Super-Nanny Kristi…..I can’t say enough.

Last but not least, I want to thank Jake and Jessie Telford of Telford Training.  Without the support and guidance from Jake I would have never even considered trying to ride a cow horse again.  Your generosity of time and allowing me to share your beautiful facility, cattle, talent and experience means the world to me.

Veg We are Reining

 

 

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