Horse Adventures

Two Good Legs and a Whole Lot of Heart

I heard my little sorrel mare nicker to me as I walked down the warm barn alley toward her stall, dust motes floating lazily in the air as I scuffed my black boots.  When I heard her welcoming neigh I felt a little guilty.  Annabelle and I had both shown her over the weekend at a reining show at the Idaho Center and I knew she had to be tired this Monday morning, but you would never guess it from the bright eyes and happy ears looking over the top of her stall door waiting for me.  She lowered her head into the halter just like usual and stood quietly as I buckled the latch.  I led her over the stall entry and into the aisle, stopping just outside the door to take off her sheet and leave it on the hanger of her stable door.

As I turned to the task of unhooking the blanket straps my eyes went, as always, to each of my mare’s legs, looking for anything out of the ordinary.  A quick glance at her right front leg almost made my heart stop.  The tendon on the back of the leg was puffy from the knee to the fetlock, and as I gently reached down and palpated it it was very hot to the touch.  Tears filled my eyes as I led her out of the barn, walking backwards to watch for signs of lameness.

On any ordinary day I would have called my veterinarian immediately for a consultation.  Today, though, I walked her out of the barn, past the saddling area and to the big arena, where my trainer was working a cow.  Like me, he was busily preparing for the IRCHA Futurity, Derby and Horse Show that was slated to start two days later.  Despite his focus on the subject at hand, Jake stopped immediately when I walked over to the arena and rode to where I stood.  “Freckle’s leg is swollen,” I said miserably.

As I waited for him to dismount my thoughts couldn’t help but flash to the previous three days when Annabelle and I had shared Freckles and ridden her for hours combined as we prepared for and then showed in our respective classes.  I had felt after the first day that she wasn’t quite right, nothing I could put my finger on, but maybe a little body soreness or one of those hard-to-pin-down lamenesses that seem almost transient as you try to evaluate them.  I had asked friends to watch her trot around at the show too, and they saw the same thing I felt.  She wasn’t really lame, but she didn’t seem quite right either.

Freckles was wonderful for Annabelle in the show, with the exception that my little girl couldn’t get her to take her right lead, which was the same direction I had felt a little soreness in as I rode her around that day.  I chalked it up to the short legs of the rider and the inexperience of the duo together, and didn’t worry about it too much.


Show horses like Freckles are athletes, and it is not uncommon for one to feel a little stiff or sore every once in a while, so since her legs looked fine at that point, and there wasn’t even a definable problem to focus on, I went ahead and showed in my last class early on Sunday morning. She was great in that class.

I didn’t run her hard or ask her to exert herself since I was in the class to practice for the upcoming IRCHA show, but like always my little red mare had given 110% and shown beautifully.   We had won the class, receiving a beautiful embroidered turnout sheet and my very first NRHA plaque, along with a check for our efforts.


As I waited for Jake to get off his horse and look at Freckles’ swollen leg I felt sick.  Had I injured my wonderful horse by going ahead with my schooling when she had felt a little off?

Jake’s expression was not totally comforting, but his words made me feel a little better.  “Go ahead and saddle her, and just ride her easy.  It looks like her suspensory is a little swollen, but we can baby her through this last show and then she’ll have the whole winter off.”

I knew I might be taking a chance on some level by riding my horse with an injury, even one that didn’t make her seem very lame, but I desperately wanted to compete in this last show, and Jake didn’t get to be a leading trainer in the NRCHA without a good share of his own diagnostic veterinary skills and proficient judgment about what was safe.

I got Freckles saddled and wrapped her front legs securely with stretchy polo wraps to support the tendons.  If I had any choice I would not have ridden her at all, but the show coming up in two days required herd and cow work competitions as well as the reining, and neither Freckles nor I had worked a cow in over six weeks.  With the level of competition I’d face at the IRCHA Derby it would be suicide to go into the pen without putting the mare on cattle at least a couple of times.

She felt good as I trotted her around, and in the deep ground I couldn’t even feel the small lameness that I had sensed the day before.  When we went into the big wooden round pen to work fast steers out of a small herd, Freckles amazed me. She was just as athletic, fluid and limber as she had ever been on a cow.  I felt relieved and even a little optimistic about the upcoming show.

When I left that day, Jake told me not to worry.  He’d have the leg wrapped in a standing wrap to take the swelling down, and we’d work a cow one more time in the morning to make sure we were ready for the show.

The next morning Freckles walked just fine as I led her out of her stall.  The standing wrap was supportive and smooth, so I was shocked to see her leg still swollen when I unwrapped it.  It was still hot to the touch, and now there was a quarter-sized bump right on the back of her tendon.  The bump was hot and very sore to the touch, and I felt my dreams of finishing the show season with a win on home turf weaken.

I led Freckles into the arena to show Jake her condition, and he surprised me with his evaluation.  “It looks like the bandage was just a little tight to me.  Go ahead and saddle her up.  Wrap her with polos and bring her in to see if she’s still sound.  That swelling should go down when you ride her,”

Once again I second-guessed myself, but I had competed all season long with the goal of winning the Intermountain Circuit Non Pro Limited Derby Championship, already showing in several shows around Idaho and in Utah to accumulate points in my division toward the year-end award.  I was tied for second in the Circuit going into this last show with my long time friend Shane Broome, and while I wouldn’t have minded losing to her and I knew it would be a long shot for me to earn enough points here to move into first place, I really wanted to win one of the organization’s big events before Freckles and I were no longer eligible for limited age events in the NRCHA.

This was our last derby.

At age five, Freckles was in the final year of her limited age competition.  Our future together as show partners was in limbo as I decided whether to stay and compete in the cow horse competition in the regular boxing class or move strictly to the reining arena.  All year-long I had planned on resuming competition in the cow horse fence work after this year of boxing derbies, but Jake and I had recently decided together that I wasn’t ready to move back up to that level of competition just yet.

This might not be only me and Freckles’ last cow horse derby together, but our last cow horse show, period.

I wrapped legs and saddled with trepidation.  Freckles stood quietly as I pulled the stretchy material around her front leg, although I knew it had to have hurt.  I got on her in the indoor arena and walked her around for several minutes.  She felt fine.

I kicked her up into a trot and she still felt fine.  Jake watched her go and said “Aw, she’ll be alright. We’ll just take it easy on her and get her through this last show.”  I worked a practice cow on her with a glimmer of hope that we might make it to the competition after all.

When I got done riding I walked Freckles out to the barn to unsaddle her. As soon as I stepped off and looked down I my heart stopped.  During our cow work practice she had stepped on the inside of one hind foot with the shoe of the other, tearing off a silver-dollar sized piece of outer hoof and skin right at the top of her hairline.  It hung from a flap of flesh toward the ground as blood dripped slowly in the dust.  When I started to touch the wound Freckles held up her leg in pain.

I got my mare unsaddled and took the wraps off the front legs.  As soon as I did so I could see that the swelling had not gone down in the right front at all; in fact it was, if anything, even more swollen and tender to the touch than it had been.  I waited for Jake to finish riding with a heavy heart, feeling sure now that my hopes for this show and my Circuit award were done.

When my trainer finished working his horses he came out to take a look.  He took his pocket knife and cut off the big piece of torn hoof and told me how to bandage it.  Then he looked at the front leg and shook his head, saying these chilling words “That doesn’t look good.  Looks like she’s trying to bow to me.”

He was referring to a bowed tendon, any horseman’s nightmare and often a career-ending injury to a performance horse.  “Put an ice boot on it to stop the swelling and then we’ll sweat the leg.  You’re going to need to have it looked at, but it wouldn’t do any good right now because they won’t be able to see anything on the ultrasound with all that swelling.”

Throat tight, I walked Freckles over and hosed her leg with cold water as I waited for one of the assistant trainers to get some ice from the house.  As the time crept by Jake and his team of help loaded his eleven-horse semi-trailer and departed for the show.  Jake’s wife Jessie had dropped everything she was doing to run to town to get supplies for Freckles’ bandage, so I watched helplessly as the leg swelled further and stayed feverishly hot despite the ice and cold water.

Jessie came back and wrapped the leg and left for the horse show herself.  I made an appointment at the vet clinic situated adjacent to the horse show venue for 8:00 the following morning.  The first portion of my competition was due to begin midday, and if by some miracle the vet gave her clearance to be shown I would already be right there.

I went home and packed the trailer, getting a temporary-but-needed distraction by the kids’ rescue of Perry the Pigeon II, and threw a show shirt in the pickup along with my chaps and a hat, even though I felt in my heart I would not be wearing them the next day.

I spent a sleepless night thinking about my lovely mare and all she had done for me.  I had bought her almost exactly one year previously and shown her at this same IRCHA event last year after two weeks of owning her.  I was very rusty, and the mare was pretty green at that show, but the whole experience made me remember just how much I loved and missed showing.  (Read Red Mare Beware, my blog from November of 2012, to see how Freckles had come into my life.)

After a couple of months of reining training that winter, I moved Freckles to Jake’s so she would be nearby and started riding her myself. Jake helped me with advice and lessons all spring, and in March I took her to an NRCHA Premier Event, the Stallion Stakes in Las Vegas, Nevada, where we place third in a field of ten, winning more money in one show that I had in all my years of showing cow horses, right up until a fence work accident had ended not only my showing but my riding career for the next several years.

Scan0010 (2)

After I got home from that show I continued to work with my horse, getting more confident and enjoying myself more with every competition.  Despite her relative lack of experience, Freckles was remarkably consistent, giving me the same ride and high level of performance every single time.  We competed in both reining and cow horse events, tallying up a dozen different shows and over thirty separate “goes” or individual performances over the course of the spring and summer.

Reiner Stopping

She just got better and better.

Pretty Circles

In a sport where a lot of horses need to be in training at least part-time in order to prepare for their non pro riders to show them in competition, Freckles never needed schooling after her initial two months of training.  Despite my misjudgments and riding errors, the little mare never got mad or defensive with me or took advantage of my mistakes.  There is an old saying that some horses are ‘born trained,’ and I think Freckles is one of those rare ones.

She just did her job over and over again, forgiving my bobbles and exhibiting the wonderful attitude I had fallen in love with when I first met her.  Over the entire course of the summer Jake had gotten on her only two times.  Even more amazingly, out of the twelve shows I had competed on with Freckles, she won money in 10 of them.

She is just that kind of horse.

I lay awake all night thinking about my friend, worried sick about the chances for her rehabilitation but trying my best to think positive thoughts.

At seven-thirty the next morning I pulled into Idaho Equine Hospital. I had beaten the veterinarians there, so I waited in my truck in the parking lot until my appointment time.  When the young vet came out to perform the evaluation, I stuffed a couple of tissues in my pocket and unloaded Freckles out of the trailer.

Dr. Wahl was professional and compassionate, taking off Freckles’ blanket himself before having the technician trot her in a circle on the asphalt of the parking lot.  She wasn’t off much at all, “just a titch,” as he said, but I knew not to take comfort in that.  I had had plenty of time to read up on bowed tendons on the internet, and everything I read said they many times didn’t cause initial lameness.

We walked inside and the technician unwrapped the leg.  To my dismay, it was still swollen, though after several hours of sweating and then spending the night in a standing wrap logic said it should have been as tight as the other front leg.


The doctor took a deep breath and gently felt the leg.  The look on his face said it all.  I knew it didn’t look good.

Before the ultrasound could be performed the leg had to be shaved.  Because it was so sore, one of the helpers had to hold the opposing front leg up so that Freckles would continue to bear weight on that foot and allow it be clipped.

As Dr. Wahl ran the clippers slowly along the puffy area, an amazing sight appeared.


Although it was impossible to fathom how it could have happened, it almost looked as though the leg had a snake bite.  In reality it was just one of those obscure injuries a horse gets that you never figure out the source of.

Dr. Wahl let out a long breath.  Then he smiled at me.  “I don’t want to speak too soon, but I think you are going to be just fine.”  He ultrasounded the leg over and over again, up and down with different views and cross-sections.  At the end he said “Your mare’s tendons are perfect.  We are dealing with a simple infection here.  We’ll put some topical antibiotics on it and wrap it up.”

He told me that the injury to the hind foot was likely more problematic long-term, but we could leave the hind shoe on until the show was over and then we’d address the problem.

Then he patted me on the back and said “Go show your horse.”

I drove across the parking lot to the show barns and put Freckles in her stall.  We’d given her an oral anti-inflammatory medicine and she was sporting two brightly bandaged and taped legs.  She hadn’t had a bath or a decent haircut.

But that didn’t matter.  As I kept telling anyone who would listen, I was just happy to be there.

Freckles performed as well as ever in the reining that day, ending the first leg of competition in the lead.


In the cutting pen the next day my mare was as good as she could be despite me.  The cattle were fast and I got a little flustered, kicking and hee-hawing her completely out of position a couple of times.

We were soundly trounced by our friend from Utah, Scott Wagner, who had beaten us at nearly every single cattle event in our Intermountain show series and was sitting first in the year-end standings.  When our herd work set was over I still clung to the lead but it had dropped to a slim half-point.

As it often does in these shows, it all came down to the cow work.  In the end, I drew a better cow than Scott, and Freckles worked like a champ, two-legged or not.  We topped the field by a small margin, finally achieving my year-long goal of winning an IRCHA show on home turf.

I even got a new buckle, which was even more fun since I shared that distinction with both Annabelle and my friend Jacki.

Three Happy Girls

Freckles and I were Champion in our division for the Idaho reining affiliate circuit we competed in this year, and we ended up Reserve Champion in the Intermountain Reined Cow Horse Circuit, behind Scott by just a couple of points.  But I didn’t mind.

I was just happy to be there.

As for Freckles, Desperate Hubby spent the next weekend building her her own safe enclosure at our place.  We’ve pulled her shoes and are waiting to see how the injured hind foot grows out.  Her front leg still bears a small scar but is almost completely healed.  She’ll spend the next few months sleeping, rolling around in the sand and flirting with Grumpy over the fence.

Happy to be Home

She’s earned it.


Categories: Horse Adventures, Life in the Country | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

A Perfect Seven

My little Annabelle recently celebrated her seventh birthday, and though I had not planned to orchestrate a multi-day extravaganza it sort of turned out that way.  In the end, it was obvious that the variety of events commemorating her milestone were oh-so-fitting for my first-born’s multi-faceted personality.

Celebration Day One:  A Real Birthday, Sans Stirrups

Annabelle’s actual birthday fell on a Wednesday, so after a day at school we had a quiet family (and by family I mean Batman, Annabelle, adopted-sister Kristi and me) at the Texas Roadhouse restaurant, or as Annabelle refers to it “That Restaurant by the Freeway Where You Throw Peanuts on the Floor.”  Desperate Hubby was practicing with his band that night, so he didn’t get to join us for the meal.  We managed to have fun without him, though, especially the birthday girl, who squealed with delight when she was placed on the decorative saddle for her birthday picture.

Until she said “Waaaait a minute!  Why doesn’t this saddle have any stirrups!?”

The kids’ school had thoughtfully given us a four-day weekend for Annabelle’s birthday, (well, actually I’m not exactly sure that was the reason for it, but we had a long weekend just the same) so we had plenty of time to continue with the celebrations.

Replete with birthday dessert, we headed home to we could get up early and try out Annabelle’s birthday gift from her dad and I, which was this snazzy new bridle for Pony Reno.  The bridle features a beautiful leather headstall complete with shiny crystal brow-band conchos (thanks Bob Bean for putting it together), a cute little pony-sized correction bit with silver detailing on the shank, and brand new pink and purple roping reins which were a gift from our friend Jacki.

Annabelle was thrilled with her new bridle.  Reno maybe not so much.

New Bridle

Celebration Day Two:  Grandmas Make the Day

We woke up to a cold and rainy day on Thursday, and since it was not a good day to break in the new bridle we headed out for some birthday-party shopping preparations, arriving home just in time for our next two birthday events.

We started with an afternoon shopping trip with Grandma Becki (who successfully braved not only a drenching rainstorm, the new traffic roundabout down the street AND her Canyon County Social Immersion Class at our local Wal-Mart – bravo Becki!) where Annabelle got two fantastic gifts, including a very authentic-sounding and noisy battery-operated kitty.  Batman was thrilled to get a few things as well, and Becki was nice enough to bring home a roasted chicken from the deli “just because.”  It was probably that chicken that got me through the rest of birthday prep!

The afternoon shopping trip was followed by a Thursday night birthday dinner with Grandma Kay and Grandpa Vernon, along with friends Shawny and Sierra, which was held at the mecca of fun in our neighborhood, the Arctic Circle (or the “Place with the Blue Play Fish,” as my kids refer to it.)  Annabelle got presents from all, and the kids played like only free-ice-cream-cone-fueled elementary students can.  After a couple of hours I dragged them away, protesting all the while, to get some sleep in preparation for the ongoing events of the next few days.

Celebration Day Three:  A Mystery Door Locker

Friday was meant to be a quiet day, spent cleaning, decorating and finishing preparations for Saturday’s planned birthday party.  After a morning spent shopping and organizing a few things around the house we decided to run over to the barn where Freckles, my show horse, lives, to go for a ride.  I had a lot of things left to do, but the kids were restless, so I figured we could spare a couple of hours for some outside time.

Batman has had a renewed interest in riding of late, (look for my blog:  Zach in the Saddle, coming soon), so we saddled Grumpy for him and Annabelle rode Pony Reno (who performed fantastically in his new bridle, by the way) while I loped my mare.  We finished up in an hour or so, fighting a chilly breeze and more than ready to head home.  Batman was a little whiny and very hungry, so he climbed in the car to forage for a snack.  When he couldn’t find something satisfactory, he climbed back out, disgruntled and wanting to know how soon we were leaving.

Unfortunately, while Batman was in the pickup, somebody inadvertently locked all of the vehicle doors (I still don’t know who the culprit was, since Batman insisted vehemently that it wasn’t him).  Since my cell phone was also locked securely in the truck (along with all of our jackets), we had to borrow a phone to call Desperate Hubby for rescue.

DH was in the middle of finishing up a loan package that had to be submitted, and he exhibited less-than his usual amount of enthusiasm about my phone call.  Nonetheless, he arrived about thirty minutes later, and after quickly figuring out that he could not magically open the truck without keys he used his cell phone to call a locksmith for us.

About ninety minutes after that, I was on the road again.  The kids, being the opportunistic little creatures that they are, had hitched a ride with Grandpa Vernon and were already home playing with Shawny and Sierra while I waited with the horses for help to arrive.

Desperate Hubby got home shortly after I did, and after a quick dinner he took the kids to football practice by himself.  I was considerably behind schedule by that point, so I spent until nearly midnight finishing sweeping the garage, hanging pink crepe paper  and happy birthday banners and making lists for the next day.

Celebration Day Four:  The Real Birthday Party

I kept a nervous eye on the weather as Saturday dawned, which was the day of Annabelle’s official party and what was slated to continue an ongoing fall-like weather pattern. Desperate Hubby headed out early with both kids for their flag football game, though Annabelle balked at the cold and wondered why she had to go since it was, after all, her birthday.

As it turned out, the birthday girl had a fantastic game, finally hitting her stride as one of the fastest members on the team, pulling flag after flag on defense, then running the ball deep into the opposing team’s territory time and time again on offense.  DH was all smiles when he came home, recounting with glee the frustration of the opposing team’s (Redneck, he said) coaching staff at their inability to stop the progression of a girl, of all players.

Annabelle does look pretty fierce in her football regalia, no?

No.  Not really.  But she is fast!


With the rest of the birthday team home, we finalized preparations for the party and soon welcomed our guests.  Last year we had invited the entire kindergarten class for what turned out to be the most wild, raucous and memorable birthday party ever, but this year Annabelle had decided to make it a lower-key day, inviting “Girls Only” and limiting it to just a handful of her friends from class.

Just as the guests began to arrive the chilly overcast weather took a turn for the better, and with sun intermittently shining and breeze quieted we were in for a blissful afternoon.  We had the requisite bounce house, which was most notable for the upside-down “Happy Birthday” banner installed by the teenage delivery boy (and then reinstalled by DH in its proper format).  Though I actually had the time this year to walk around, converse a little with my fellow parents and enjoy the party myself, I apparently did not have the time to take a picture of the bounce house.  It was red and yellow and blue (with no slide this year in case you were wondering).

I had experienced a flash of craftiness in planning our activities this year, and decided to have the kids make their own party favors.  I purchased a bunch of plain wooden frames for 97 cents each, and coupled them with a big table stocked with paint, glitter, stickers, and other decorative items.

The first thing I had each child do upon their arrival was go to the table, pick out a frame, and paint and decorate it so it would have time to dry before the party ended.  I curiously did not get any pictures of the actual decorating process, but this is what the table looked like after the party.

And no, I don’t know what I was doing all that time either.


After the kids were finished decorating their frames, they were free to roam and bounce, eat pizza and candy, pet the bunnies or the cats or dogs, and ride the pony or the horse or the four-wheelers.  They seemed to have a good time.


At some point during the afternoon I did force each of them to each sit individually on the pony for a photo, something like this.


Or, in Annabelle’s case like this.


Batman was the lone holdout who took advantage of Grumpy’s decorations.  He had chosen to remained dressed in his white football shorts throughout the day, pairing them with a white t-shirt which gave him the look a tiny wandering pool boy traversing the party of (almost completely) girls.


Once everyone’s picture was captured, I ran into the house and printed them out individually, enlisting the help of adopted-daughter Kristi to get them cut out in a size that would accommodate all three frame shapes we had ended up with.

When that was done, Kristi and the other sissies all pitched in to assemble the finished favors – a custom picture frame showcasing the cutest little party-goers imaginable sitting on the decorated pony.  Some of the kids (and a few mothers too, ahem) had gotten amazingly creative, writing their names on the frames and creating elaborate detail with their colors, jewels and stickers.  All of them were cute.

This is Annabelle’s.


And her brother’s.


I was really surprised and delighted by how well the whole project turned out.  In the end we had thirteen beautiful little frames and photos of (drum roll please) thirteen smiling children.  It was a whole lot of fun, and about the simplest party project you could imagine.

You are welcome to copy the idea for your next party.

But you’ll have to come get the pony yourself.

Party favors all wrapped up, we turned to the next order of business.  The obligatory pinata.

Sister Sami was in charge of swinging and raising/lowering the cardboard horse, creating a level of difficulty matched roughly to each child’s hitting ability.

Sami Raises

In my experience, there are few things that kids love better than a good pinata beating, and this afternoon was no exception.

They swung.


And swung.


They laughed.


They became enraged by their inability to break the pinata, swinging again and again in an apparent testosterone-fueled rage at the inanimate object.

Oh wait, that was just Batman.


Finally the pinata was broken, and children scrambled like chickens to pick up the scattered candy.  I let them gorge themselves for a few minutes, then herded them in to provide some more party sugar.

Since it had been the other three sissies’ birthdays over the past month and we hadn’t gotten to celebrate with them,  we put all of the girls’ names on the cake.  (Editor’s note:  a beautiful bunch, yes?)


Annabelle and her inimitable brother Batman got the honor of blowing out the candles.


We passed out cupcakes and ice cream cups to the throng of party-goers, saving the decorated cake to send back home to BSU with the older sissies.

Then came the moment all the little ones had been anticipating.

Present time.


Annabelle was thoroughly spoiled with the largesse she received.


Present after present, each special and oh-so-fitting for the birthday girl.


After the gifts were opened, guests were thanked and some clean-up was accomplished, we had a hearty dinner with adopted-Uncle Danny and headed off to an early bed-time.

This birthday wasn’t over yet.

Celebration Day Five:  We Burn All That Sugar Off

In my infinite wisdom I had scheduled Annabelle and I to run the “2013 Wine Race” 5k the day after the birthday party.  We had to be over on Sunny Slope near the tiny town of Marsing for our 10:00 start time.

I was excited about the race.  Back a couple of years ago, before Annabelle and I had started filling our weekends with trail rides and then horse shows, we used to race all the time. Though we hadn’t done many 5ks in the past year or so, both my daughter and I remember each of the runs fondly, and I wanted to encourage her to continue to view exercise in a favorable light.

When I sent our entry in for the Wine Race, though, I had not taken realized that we would be on day five of birthday celebration activities,  following a full day spent celebrating with a dozen little friends and their (and our) families.  Nor did I foresee a cold, windy morning, intermittently spitting rain on our under-dressed bodies.   I just saw an open day, a new race for us, and signed us up.

Boy am I glad I did.

Despite the fact that I made a rookie error in parking, going along like a lemming with others who left their cars at the bottom of a steep mile-long hill that had to be climbed to reach the starting line,  my newly seven-year old daughter and I had a wonderful time at the race.

Ready to Run

We joined hundreds in our wave who ran, jogged or walked (we did mostly the latter) a moderately hilly three-mile course through our own Idaho wine country, passing under the beautiful iron arch of the Ste. Chappelle winery as we set out.

And we're Off

Cresting the first hill was a bit of a challenge for Annabelle (after all she had already hiked a mile uphill just to get to the start), but she never complained.

Well, not much anyway.

Top of First Hill

We were both happy to finally hit the home stretch, a gravel field road winding slowly down to the finish line below.

The Home Stretch

We hung around the after-party for a brief period, listening to live music and watching all the people, but we were tired and ready to head home.  I didn’t even take advantage of the free wine tasting, so you know I was done in!


On the way home we stopped for Annabelle’s favorite lunch, a Quizno’s turkey sandwich, and headed home to settle in for a relaxing afternoon.  It was a school day the next morning, and I had no trouble convincing Annabelle or her brother to hit the pillow early that night.

It had been an action-packed birthday celebration, as varied in activity as my lovely daughter is in her interests.

A very fitting celebration if you ask  me.

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

Happy Trails My Beautiful Friend

Yesterday I said goodbye to one of the best friends I’ll ever have.  It wasn’t a sad, teary, final goodbye, because I know I will see her again, maybe even ride the trails on the Boise foothills just like we always did.

But there will be one difference this time – I won’t be riding her and she won’t be mine.

The Long Road to Spice

The beautiful bay mare Spice entered my life just over two years ago.  At that time I had not had a horse to ride for over five years.  A year before I met Spice I had been so desperately missing having a horse that I bought a cheap bay mare off of Craigslist.  I knew the second I saw the mare that it wasn’t right, but I talked myself into it.  I liked her breeding; she was my favorite color; most of all the price was right.  I had so missed having a horse in my life that I just thought I’d make it work.

It turned out to be a disaster.

I was coming back to riding after several years off following a bad accident and my confidence was at an all-time low. The mare was not gentle or well-trained and spooked after an equipment malfunction when I was riding her (in the trainer’s saddle) the second or third time.  I came off of her, and though I wasn’t injured I was so unsettled that I never got the confidence to ride her again, and sold her after just a couple of months, feeling like I might be done with horses forever.

The next spring though, the bug bit again.  We had gotten a little black pony for Annabelle to learn on, and I wanted to find something that I could enjoy riding with her.  Horses were not a very important factor in our budget at that time, so I didn’t have much money to spend.  Once again I turned to the online ads on Craigslist, and I started hunting.  This time I was prepared to take my time and find something that really suited me, no matter how long it took.

And it took a while.

I looked at half a dozen horses over the next couple of months, and out of them only one was even worth riding.  She was another bay mare,  and she was great on the trail and fairly quiet in the arena.  She was pretty, with one weird exception:  her head was crooked.  Really crooked.  When you sat on her and looked down at her ears they were set slightly off to one side.   It was disconcerting to look at, though it didn’t appear to really hamper her.  I assumed that the horse had pulled back really hard on her halter at some point and damaged her neck.  That worried me some, but as I said before, it didn’t seem to affect her.  I almost bought that mare, but something made me stop.  The lopsided head bugged me, and I had promised myself I’d buy something I loved this time.

I passed on the mare then, and again two weeks later when the seller (a very nice well-respected rodeo-family-mom from Kuna) called to ask me if I’d just come get the mare.  She was dealing with family health problems and didn’t have time to fool with selling a horse.  She’d let me have the horse for practically nothing.  I felt bad for her, but politely said no.

I wanted to love my next horse, not talk myself into it.

I’d almost given up on finding something when about two weeks later I saw another ad.  It was once again a bay mare, this one located in Sand Hollow.  The ad said she had cow horse training and could be a family horse.  I called and got directions to the place, and the next morning after I dropped the kids off at pre-school I followed the directions.

I got lost a couple of times and almost just went back home, but I finally called the number on the ad and spoke to the owner, who talked to me the last few miles to help me find the right place. The owner of the horse was a young BSU student who lived in Boise, and the horse was boarded in Sand Hollow at her ex-step dad’s place.  There was no one home, she said, but I was welcome to take a look.

I Knew She Was The One

As soon as I drove up the driveway and glimpsed the mare I made arrangements to have the girl meet me that evening to ride her.  Without even getting out of the car I knew she was the one.

Of course I did get out of the car.  Spice was in a stall with a run, and I crawled through the panel fence into the pen with her.  She walked to me and stood quietly as I checked her all over.  She was absolutely beautiful, and gentle as could be.  I petted her and picked up her feet; looked at her teeth and stroked her long black mane.  I was smitten.

I called Desperate Hubby excitedly, and he agreed to go with me that evening to watch the kids while I rode the mare.

The day seemed to drag on forever, but when DH got home we loaded up the kids and headed out.  I brought the horse trailer and my saddle, since the girl said she didn’t have a saddle available at the property.  The weather had rapidly turned from a sunny morning to a cold, windy afternoon.  As we passed through Middleton the rain showers started, along with a pretty impressive thunder and lightning show to match.

I was undeterred.  Nothing was going to stop me from riding that horse.  DH stopped at Purple Sage Golf Course and I ran inside to buy a hat at the pro shop.  I was drenched by the time I got inside, and when I told the guy behind the counter that I needed a hat so I could go try my new horse he just laughed at me.

Then he gave me a hat for free and told me good luck.

We pulled up to the farm where Spice was and there was not a sign of her owner.  I went into the barn and got a halter and caught her.  When the girl called and said she was running late, I pulled the mare out of the pen and tied her to my trailer.  The rain had stopped, though it was windy as all get out.  Spice stood quietly as I saddled her and we waited for another half hour in the cold damp evening.

As we stood there the step dad came out of the house and told me what he knew about the horse.  He and the girl’s mother had bought the mare several years before and the girl had only ridden her a handful of times before losing interest.  Spice had had a few months of cow horse training at the very beginning, but had stood in the pasture without being ridden for over two years.  He was sick and tired of boarding her for free and it would be good riddance as far as he was concerned.

Before he went back into the house he produced a legal waiver form which exculpated him from any liability should I be injured on his property.  He said I’d have to sign it before I could do anything else with the mare.


When the young owner girl arrived the circus began.  She was with her younger sister and their very energetic and untrained lab-mix dog.  The dog kept getting loose and running all around the horse while loudly barking non-stop.  The owner was wearing Ugg boots and stretch jeans, and did not seem the horsey type at all.  She didn’t have a bridle, and I hadn’t thought to bring one, so she went into the house and out came step dad again.  He found an old bridle that he had used on one of his mules.  It didn’t really fit Spice but we slipped it on and the girl climbed aboard.

Spice walked out calmly into the arena, looking as though she’d been ridden just the day before.  The wind howled and spit rain, and the dog ran in circles around the duo barking incessantly and pausing every few steps to jump up and bounce off of the rider’s leg.  It was something to see.

They walked around calmly for a few minutes, then trotted.  All looked good.  I was just about to tell the girl that I’d get on when she tried to kick the mare into a lope.  Spice was feeling good and she tossed her head a little and kicked a bit at the dog as she went into a canter.  This caused a panic attack in the young rider, who hauled up on the reins and jumped off the mare right in the middle of the arena. She led the horse over to the gate where I stood and apologized profusely.  “I don’t know why she did that.  She’s never done it before.  I can’t go on with showing her to you until I get someone to ride her and fix whatever’s going on.”  I was puzzled, but it was clear the girl was terrified of horses and completely undone by the experience.

I offered to get on her, but the girl said no.  She was done for the day.

What Was I Thinking?

I loaded my saddle and we drove away.  In my gut I knew there was nothing wrong with the mare, and I was certain she’d be perfect for me.  After a little discussion with DH I called the young owner. She was driving back to Boise as I called, and I told her that I’d like to buy the mare from her, for a third less money than she was asking.  I would pick up the mare tomorrow, cash in hand, and she would never have to get back on her again.  She balked at first, and I felt bad.  The mare was a great buy at full price, but money was at a premium for me at the time, and I knew that the young owner had no desire to ride the horse again.  She said she’d call me back, and it wasn’t five minutes later that she did.

It was a deal.

After all my experiences over the past year in trying to find the perfect horse I had just bought one.  Without ever swinging a leg over her.  What was wrong with me?

I met the young owner at 10 o clock the next morning.  We exchanged paperwork and with a little effort I got Spice loaded and took her home.  I wasted no time at all in saddling her to see what I had.  All brushed off and standing tied in the sunshine she was even more beautiful than before.

First Day Home

I immediately put a bridle on my new horse and climbed aboard.  She went through her paces like a champ, and though it was clear she was rusty and hadn’t been ridden in quite a while, her early reining training was evident, and she never offered to set a foot wrong, let alone buck with me.

The Love Affair Begins

I had found the horse of my dreams.  She was gentle and quiet, and while she had a few bad habits to overcome (like trying to nip you when you saddled her), her ground manners were impeccable.

In only a few weeks Annabelle was riding her around the pen, with me  close at hand of course.

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I rode the mare every day, and it wasn’t long until Annabelle and I ventured out on the trails together.  We went to Eagle Island a bunch at first.

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And tried camping… in Stanley.

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She traveled with us to McCall.

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We rode with friends.

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And climbed the hills of Avimor.

Annabelle Mom on Trail

Every time I rode the bay mare I loved her more.  She reminded me of why I enjoyed horses so much.  I felt like I did as a kid – I just couldn’t wait until the next ride.

That fall we were fortunate to get Grumpy, a retired reined cow horse that Annabelle was going to learn to rein on.  With Grumpy added to our string we could all go out for a ride, even Batman.

Kids Top o Mtn

Spice patiently ponied Reno the Black Pony over dozens of miles of trails with Batman in tow.  My son never touched the reins once, or even used his stirrups for that matter.

TR Batman at Top

Annabelle and I rode for uncountable hours with Grumpy and Spice.  Usually with Winston along for the ride.

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We rode with friends and family, sharing our horses with whoever needed a mount.

Girls at Rocky Canyon


Spice just got better and better.

Annabelle could catch her easily; the mare lowered her head almost to the ground so my little girl could put her halter on.

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She could clean her feet.


Brush her off.


Pony her from Grumpy.

Walking to the gate

And give her a bath.

And A bath

While Batman never did get much into riding, he loved Spice in a way that only a little boy could.  He just liked to hang out with her.  She stayed right beside him.


So Now You’re Probably Wondering What Happened…..

And it was this.  As time went on Annabelle got more and more into showing horses.  I considered finishing the training on Spice and trying to get her ready for horse shows, but at the age of 11 it didn’t seem fair to put the mash on her and risk hurting her or blowing her mind.  One trainer I asked said “She is wonderful for what she is; just enjoy that and don’t try to make her into something she isn’t.”

That was good advice; as an older horse she would have to compete with horses who had been in cow horse training since they were two  or three years old, and even though Spice was an exceptional horse with a great foundation, that would be a hard curve to catch up to.

I missed competition myself though, and last fall I was finally able to get a show horse and re-enter the reined cow horse competition arena.

We trail rode less and less.

Don’t get me wrong, we used Spice occasionally for trail rides with friends, but I mainly needed to focus on riding my young mare Freckles, and there usually just wasn’t time enough in the day to do both.

Still Meandering

When I did get out on Spice I remembered every time just how much I loved her.  She was always the same, whether you rode her every day or once a month.

Riding Owyhees

I hated to have such a nice horse just sitting out in the pen, and occasionally I thought about trying to find my beautiful friend a new home where she would be ridden and loved.  Batman absolutely went crazy when I mentioned it though, and truth be told I really just wanted to keep her around.

And Then I Got The Email

A friend of mine who had been on many trail rides with me and Spice knew of a trainer who was looking for a horse for a pre-teen girl.  They needed a gentle and calm horse that could instill confidence and teach a kid to ride. The family ran cattle on a big ranch in central Idaho as well, so they needed a horse that could be ridden out and was comfortable around cows.  Did I think Spice might fit that bill?

I knew Spice was perfect, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to take the next step. I employed my passive-aggressive side and said that sure, my friend could give my number to the trainer.  I knew I wouldn’t call her, but if she wanted to contact me that was fine with me.   “She’ll never call,” I told myself.  I knew the email had gone out to several friends and I figured that the trainer would be overwhelmed with calls from people who really wanted to sell their horses.

But she called.

We talked about Spice. I told her that I really didn’t want to sell the mare, but I hated having such a good horse sitting around.  She asked lots of questions and said she’d be back in touch.

A couple of weeks went by.  Whew, I thought.  Dodged a bullet.

Then she called again.

The family was coming back from the Bahamas and wanted to see the mare the next week.  Unfortunately I was gone to Paso Robles for the NRCHA Derby that week.   We could try for the following week.

When we finally got it together, it was agreed that I’d take Spice to the trainer’s place on a Tuesday evening.  After a perfectly nice day the weather had turned nasty.  A huge dust and wind storm was blowing through the valley as we drove, reducing visibility to just a few feet in front of the truck.  We finally made it to the trainer’s barn and it was pretty chaotic.  Tin was banging, tarps were flapping and dust swirled everywhere.  I couldn’t help but think of the evening I had first tried Spice.

I knew it was a sign.

We met the girl’s father and brother, and I liked them both on the spot.  We decided to go ahead with the trial in spite of the adverse conditions and I unloaded Spice and saddled her up.  Being the level-headed mare she is, she was unfazed by the wind or the noise or the half-dozen horses running and bucking on the hill behind the round pen where we rode.

I rode Spice.  The father rode Spice.  I changed saddles and Annabelle rode Spice.  The prospective new owner, an eleven year old girl, Ginny, showed up as we were all finished with our rides.  We changed saddles once again and she rode Spice.  I could tell right away that she was nervous, but she had wonderfully soft hands and a beautiful seat in her english saddle.  She was a gorgeous, sweet and shy girl, and I just knew she and Spice could be great friends and partners.

When the ride concluded we agreed to take Spice to the family’s property for a trial period.  I had told the trainer previously that I preferred to make absolutely sure the pair was a match before any money changed hands, and she agreed with me whole-heartedly.  Spice’s new home was beautiful, with big welded pipe pastures and a large well-maintained arena.  We turned the  mare out in a pen alone, and I drove off; happy for her but melancholy for the loss.

Ginny rode Spice and got to know her for a couple of weeks. I went to give Ginny another lesson on the mare before a final decision was made, and I was amazed at how they were getting along.  Spice was quiet and willing; Ginny was already much more confident in her riding and looked so beautiful on the pretty mare.

Yesterday we met Ginny’s dad and the trainer at the vet for a pre-purchase exam for Spice.  Annabelle went with me to the early appointment, and she had to time get in one last ride on our friend before she changed hands.  She walked Spice quietly around the round pen at the vet while we waited for Dr. Billy to come and take a look.

Happy Girl

I have bought and sold many horses in my lifetime; and isn’t always easy to part with them.  In this case though, the impending separation was especially bittersweet.

Spice had rejuvenated my love of riding, and without her calm and willing attitude I don’t know if I would have ever gotten back in the saddle.  Her presence had fueled an even stronger bond between me and my daughter and given us opportunities to spend more quality time together than some families do in a lifetime.

I have always believed that things work out the way they are supposed to.  I would have never gone out of my way to try to find Spice a new home, but I do believe that she was meant to pass the love of riding on to another girl in the same way she had for me.

Annabelle came into my office last night as I sorted through pictures to put on this blog.  She saw that I was crying and said “What’s wrong mama?”  I told her that I was really happy Spice had gone to such a great home, but I was sad we wouldn’t see her anymore.  “She has been such a big part of our lives,” I said through the tears.

Annabelle looked at me sagely for a few seconds.  “But mom,”  she said “now she’ll be a big part of their lives too!”

And so she will.  I hope you enjoy Spice as much as I have, Ginny.

Happy Trails.

Categories: Horse Adventures, Kids Are Funny Creatures, Life in the Country | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Beaches, Bovines and Bass

We have enjoyed a wonderful beginning to summer break here in the Desperate Household (DHH).

Annabelle and I kicked off our vacation with a long-anticipated trip to Paso Robles, California for the National Reined Cow Horse Association Derby.  I was hoping to conquer the cattle challenges that I had struggled with during my last couple of horse shows, and Annabelle just loves to go to the horse show.

Any horse show.  Anywhere.

We traveled to the show with our friend Kris and her dog Chloe. Annabelle was in charge of Chloe for the trip, and she took her job very seriously.  This was taken during one of our stops for fuel along the way.


After our nearly fourteen hour drive, we climbed out of the truck and immediately attended to the most important tasks, which were settling Freckles into her stall and watering and feeding her.  I was tired from all the early mornings and late nights preparing to get out-of-town, but not Annabelle. She was all smiles, running around like a crazy kid with Chloe and eagerly manning the hose to fill up Freckle’s water tub.  I thought she’d be tired after her 3:00 am awakening and subsequent all-day travel, but she was as happy as she could be.  “Mom, this is so much fun!” she kept saying.

At the age of six, my girl is already a seasoned traveler.  She sat quietly in the back of the truck for the entire drive, for the most part eschewing the DVD player and movies I had brought along in favor of watching out the window for cows and horses or dogs or cats or anything else she deemed interesting.  She didn’t complain at all, and only asked two or three times how much further it was.  I was really proud of her.

Happy Helper

After settling Freckles in, we headed across the street to grab a quick pizza with Kris and then get checked into our hotel room.  Once again exhibiting her travel savvy, Annabelle immediately laid claim to her choice of beds and stowed her suitcase and clothes where she wanted them.

Then she requested that I turn on the TV, where she discovered her favorite new program on Animal Planet (or Discovery, or one of those), which was a show starring a guy named Turtle-Man (I think) who has a wild-animal removal business somewhere in the south, and whose most prominent feature seemed to be the absence of several front teeth.  She watched that show every night we were there, and loved every minute of it.

Here is a picture of her enjoying her own bed while eating dinner from the specialty hamburger joint across the street.  We were both disappointed to find that our hotel didn’t offer room service, but we made do as best we could.

Mmm Good!

The second day we were up bright and early, and headed across the street to the fairgrounds.  We were so excited to be there, all rested up and ready to ride.

We're Here

We shopped around the vendors for a while, and I got a pair of new riding jeans since all of mine with en route to destinations afar with Kris, who had taken her trailer to LA deliver an extra horse we had hauled down for a friend of hers.  Oops.

Once I was in proper attire we saddled up and went to the warm-up arena.  Kris had brought the faithful Chic down for his first show back after his health challenges over the winter, and Annabelle was more than happy to help him stretch his legs after the long drive.


We spent the rest of the day wandering around, watching the horse show and socializing.  It was this day that I discovered what would most intrigue me for the entire Paso Robles experience:  if she was not on a horse, Annabelle would rather be sitting in the stands and watching every single run of every single event than doing anything else.

There was a big pack of kids running around the fairgrounds, playing together from dawn to dusk while their parents rode or did other horse show tasks.  Annabelle knew a couple of the little girls well, but though the draw of playing with other kids was strong, she declined to spend much time with them at all.

She’d rather watch the show. Or bathe a horse.  As many times as necessary (or allowed).

Washing Freckles

A Trip to the Beach

One afternoon when we were finished showing, we piled into Kris’s pickup with her dog Chloe, Chloe’s friend Hannah, and Hannah’s owners (and our new friends) Kay and Jerry.  Kay and Jerry are from Washington state, so we don’t get to see them often, but Annabelle and Kay formed quite a bond during this California visit.  (Incidentally, Kay came out Reserve Champion of the Amateur Derby in Paso, which is huge for a big national show like this with such a steep level of competition. She is my hero).

Our destination this afternoon was a walk on the beach.

A short drive later we were in Morro Bay, where we located a dog-friendly area with convenient parking.  We unloaded the dogs and Annabelle, and we were off.

It was a little foggy and overcast, but that didn’t deter our enthusiasm.  Annabelle hadn’t been to a proper beach since she was old enough to remember the event, and she was enthralled.  A little tenuous at first, but enthralled.

Girls on the Beach

Jerry was a wonderful scout for interesting beach artifacts, and he helped Annabelle begin her collection of ocean refuse right away.  Hannah found the process quite interesting as well.

Something Cool

Kay coaxed Annabelle out into the cold waves several times, telling her “Wait for it; wait for it!” before running back up the beach to avoid getting drenched.

Wait for It

Kris took her turn running out in the encroaching surf with my little girl, then running squealing back up the beach as the water approached.  Actually I think only Annabelle squealed.  Kris just ran.

Hurry Run

Of course, it wasn’t long until I was also dragged out to the water’s edge.

Gonna get wet

We had fun.

It's Cold!

We took pictures.


And more pictures.  Why didn’t someone tell me my hat looked so silly?

Cold Water

Annabelle was fascinated by this group of horses moseying casually down the sand.

Horses on the Beach

And she got a wonderful collection of sand dollars, shells, rocks and other stuff that filled up most of a plastic Wal-Mart bag.

Sand Dollars

When we were all cold, wet and sandy, we headed back up to the pickup to go in search of what the adults were looking forward to:  fresh oysters.  Before we could get in the pickup though, Annabelle rolled around in the sand several times just to make the cleanup interesting.

Sand Angel

Jerry and Kay performed most of the brush-off duties.  Thanks guys.

Clean Up time

When we were mostly sand-free, we loaded back up and went in search of our favorite harvest of the sea.  We found it at a cute little restaurant right on the beach, where they had all manner of fresh fish right there on display.

I took some pictures so we could show Batman how many different types of fish they had.

Yummy Fish

We ordered our snacks, fresh oysters for all of us girls, grilled oysters for Jerry, and a corndog for Annabelle.  We sat outside on the deck listening to live music and sharing a bottle of lovely local wine.  Well, Annabelle had water.  We had wine.

It made us happy.

Kris and Kay

Very happy..


Jerry’s oysters looked scrumptious.  They were lightly grilled with garlic, olive oil and a little lemon.  I was pretty surprised and impressed when he actually talked Annabelle into tasting one of them.

BBQ Oyster

Her smile didn’t last long though after the oyster was in her mouth.  I guess they really are an acquired taste!

Not what she expected!

Our day at the beach wrapped up with a visit to a local t-shirt shop, where we got a couple of fish shirts for Batman and a matching one for his dad.  It was a perfect  afternoon and a lovely break from the horse show madness.

Chic Makes a Triumphant Return to the Show Pen

Friday morning was an exciting morning.  As I mentioned earlier, Kris had brought Chic to compete in the Non Pro Limited competition.  This would be Chic’s first return to the show pen since he had acquired a joint infection last fall, and we were all anxious and excited to see how he would do.

Annabelle was heading up the clean-up team to get him all ready to enter the arena. She single-handedly got him all polished up before it was his turn to go.

A Lil Peppy

Chic was wearing so much Pepi coat gloss that I am pretty sure the judges had to shade their eyes against his shine.

A Lil More Peppy

When Kris and Chic were ready to enter the arena they looked fantastic.

Getting Ready

And, beyond that, they were fantastic.  Chic looked just like his old self out there. And I am sure he was thrilled to be working a cow again.  Chic LOVES to work a cow.

Kris Cow Work

Kris took it easy on Chic, loping him slowly through the pattern so he wouldn’t be too tired by the time they got their cow.  Chic was right back in the game, marking scores high enough in the reining and boxing to place him third in their class!  Of course, since there were over fifty horses in the draw it took awhile for us to find this out.

Annabelle rode Chic back to the barn.

Ride Chic Back

And gave him a nice rinse after Kris got him unsaddled.

Washing Chic

The Show Goes to the Dogs

With Chic taken care of, Annabelle was eager to turn her attention to her next event of the day:  The Dog Costume Contest.  We had spent an afternoon earlier in the week searching out a store that carried luau items, since Kris and Kay had decided that would be an appropriate theme for Annabelle and Chloe, who they insisted must enter the contest.  After about our third store we hit the jackpot, picking up matching grass skirts and a whole bag of paper leis.

Poor Chloe never knew what hit her.  Annabelle was all practiced up from her week of washing horses, and any extra dirt on Chloe didn’t stand a chance!

Clean Chloe

Then the dressing began. I have to admit, they looked pretty darn cute.


When it was time for the contest, Annabelle was the first to be called into the arena.  I was worried she would balk and make me walk in with her since the competition was slated for the large indoor arena where the main horse show events were held.  My little girl continually amazes me though, and she strode proudly out to the middle of the arena, dragging a reluctant hula-corgi in her wake.

One by one, nine or ten other dogs joined the contest, some bounding happily out for their judging, others being coaxed along with the help of a parent or multiple kid handlers.

Big Arena Full of Dogs

There were many tough competitors, like this little porcupine, and another corgi dressed up in a dinosaur costume named Lefty-saurus, who was led in by our friends Shawny and Sierra.


When the judging was complete, the top three teams were announced.  Annabelle was thrilled that she and Chloe had won first place.  She was awarded a big bag full of loot, which she wasted no time in rummaging through as soon as she got out of the arena.

What'd I get

I made her stand for a picture with me, too.  Even though she really didn’t want to.

Dog Show

It was a fun afternoon (for everyone but probably Chloe).

I Showed Freckles

I had originally written this post with a blow-by-blow recount of what had happened each and every day during our trip.  This included, naturally, an excruciatingly detailed description of each of my three days of showing, what had gone wrong, what had gone right, how I felt before, after and in-between.

Fortunately for anybody reading this now, I did go back and read my original post before publishing it for public viewing. At that moment I had an epiphany…..which was this:

The details of each run during a horse show are really only interesting to the person who performed said run.  For everyone else, the general highlights and conclusion are fine.  Sort of like hearing about a friend’s colonoscopy.

So I’ll just say this, I had a lot of fun showing in Paso.  I love everything about these big shows, from the atmosphere to the superb organization, the fantastic horses and the world-famous riders.  Where else could I enter the cutting pen with four World Champions to help me with my work? (Thanks Jon, Dan, Todd and Jake).

The show was an amazing learning experience for me.  My horse was very good and we improved in some areas where we had struggled in our last couple of outings.  We didn’t win any big checks this time, just one small one.  But as one of my favorite trainer friends says “Any day you win a check is a good day.”

And so it was.

Meanwhile Back at Home….

Desperate Hubby was in charge of entertaining Batman for the week.  They started off their time together with a flight to the small town of Murphy in the Cessna 172.  DH was excited to take Batman flying again, and anxious to see how his new “kid headset” worked in the plane.  Unfortunately, at the end of the day, Batman was not very impressed.

When I asked on the phone how he liked the flight he sighed.  “It was super boring mom.  All I got to do was just sit there.”  I guess he expected to land the plane or something.

Fortunately, DH had a backup plan.  This plan involved the other new items that Batman had recently received:  tiny waders, fins, and his new birthday fishing pole.  The happy duo spent one or two afternoons while we were gone floating around the lake in search of dinner.  While they didn’t catch any bass, Batman still pronounced it a success.  DH says he is a natural.

All I know is that he is so cute it makes my eyes tear up.


Happy Summer Everyone! 

I hope you are enjoying yours as much as we are.

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

It’s a Big, Beautiful, Bountiful Life!

Whew!  The past few weeks have been a little crazy!

School Winds Down

The end-of-school year was busy, with activity after activity coming in a virtual whirlwind of motion.

Annabelle was in a talent show with her kindergarten class where she played the part of the farm dog.  I think she was a little warm under all that fur.


During the talent show I joined some parents in selling concessions to the lines of people waiting to get into the gym (that sounds like an exaggeration, but it is not).  We were thrilled to be able to raise enough money to take all the kindergartners to the zoo for a field trip.

About half of the children in her class had never been to the zoo before, and though she had visited many times Annabelle was just as excited as they were to see all of the animals.


After touring the zoo for a couple of hours we had lunch in the park, then headed across the grass to the Discovery Center for some time spent in the interactive exhibits.


I chaperoned the field trip (along with several other parents) and I can tell you with certainty that I was more tired at the end of that day than at any other day in recent memory.  Or any memory, period.

Keeping track of 60 excited six-year olds is not for the faint of heart.   Does the term “herding cats” sound familiar?

We also had end-of-the-year projects to finish up at home.


And Batman contributed a little something with his artwork created from gleaning leftover materials from Annabelle’s assignment and combining them with his new neon green birthday duct tape.


Continuing Education Outside of the Classroom

Batman completed his six weeks of soccer training with fun and games in the park next to our house.


Those soccer drills were thirsty work.


A couple of weeks after soccer ended, Desperate Hubby and Batman started a weekly pilgrimage to the golf course for a series of youth lessons.  Batman took to golf like a duck to, well, you know, water.

Though he started a couple of weeks later than the rest of the kids and was the youngest in his class, on the last day Batman won the “Longest Drive” contest and got some golf balls, a Gatorade and a free mini-round of golf complete with cart as a reward.

I think he’s hooked!


Annabelle and I also embarked on an additional course of education that had nothing to do with kindergarten.  We each participated in cow horse clinics with the goal of helping us improve our skills in advance of the busy 2013 show season.

Annabelle’s clinic was in April up at the picturesque 3K Ranch in Star, Idaho.

Youth Clinic 081

There were about fifteen participants between the ages of six and sixteen or so, and my little girl reveled in the novelty of being to ride with so many other kids.

Waiting for the Cow

She made several new friends and got to know some of them a little better over lunch.

YC Lunch

The other highlight of the day was getting to work a real live cow.  Grumpy was pretty excited about that too.

Hang on cowgirl!

YC Cow 4

My clinic was in mid-May, and we traveled to sunny Glenns Ferry, Idaho to the beautiful Why Worry Ranch (I love the name almost as much as the ranch.  Thanks Annie and Nate) for a two-day riding extravaganza.

Technically, I was the only one in our family allowed to ride at the clinic because it was for adults only.  This picture was taken in the first five minutes of the clinic, when I thought I was actually going to get to ride my horse the whole time.

027 (800x766)

It probably comes as no surprise, however, that somehow Annabelle spent almost as much time on my mount as I did.


She made some new friends there, too.


The clinic was educational and fun, and I felt prepared to take on the cow horse world.  Of course that all changed at my next horse show, but more on that later.

A Trio of Graduations

As the school year wound down, we commenced (sorry) an action-packed graduation season.

We kicked it off with Batman’s Pre-School graduation, planned and executed impeccably as usual by Miss Torrie of Little Learners Preschool.

Of course before he could graduate my baby had to have his official pre-graduation little-boy haircut.


As he reminded me though, he is not a baby anymore.  My little man looked so grown up!


After the ceremony we had a delicious and oh-so-cute cake to share with the other parents in celebration.

004 (2)

The amazing Miss Torrie made an individualized hard-cover photo book for each child commemorating his or her time at Little Learners. Since Batman has attended her wonderful program for almost three years there were lots of fun memories in that beautiful book. Thank you Miss Torrie! You are amazing.

Older sister Sami was next, graduating from Meridian’s Centennial High school with a 4.5 grade point average.  I still remember the first day I met Sami as a fiery four-year old who immediately took charge of every horse on the property.  She has channeled her drive and energy flawlessly since then to achieve many successes at such a young age.

Sami jetted off pretty much immediately after her ceremony to spend a month traveling in Europe with her mom, aunties and sissies.  When she gets back she’ll follow in her older twin-sisters’ footsteps and move into the honors dorm at BSU for her first year of college.

I am so proud of the sweet, beautiful and accomplished young women they have all become.


Lastly, we celebrated Annabelle’s graduation from kindergarten.  She had a wonderful experience during her first year of formal education, and we are so happy that Batman was selected in the lottery to attend the same school next year.


We brought flowers for each of the kindergarten teachers and their helpers, and Annabelle had so much fun delivering them along with the individual cards she had painstakingly hand-written thanking them for a wonderful year.


The choice of celebration after kindergarten graduation was a nice big serving of ice cream at the local Dairy Queen.  What a happy afternoon!


And we Rode

Of course in the midst of all this spring madness Annabelle and I increased our riding regimen and kicked off the local show year with a few early shows.  Annabelle had fun at the first Gem State Stock Horse show of the season, practically glowing with pride and pinkness.  I went to the Gem State show too, to practice my cutting skills in a real show setting.  Let’s just say practice (needing more) was the operative word of the day.


We took our horses to the Snake River Reining Alliance show at Lucky Run Arena in Kuna too.

Annabelle spent quite a bit of time getting ready for this show.  She cleaned all her tack to her own exacting specifications.


And Grumpy was clipped, bathed and brushed to within an inch of his life.  This is what his pre-show ensemble looks like.


At this show Grumpy was even pinker than usual.


The old man was pretty good for Annabelle, but he did test her skills by refusing to cooperate in the middle of the arena and backing up several steps before starting his maneuvers.  The duo was first out in their class, and though they got through the pattern in the end, the judge had to mark them a zero, or no score, for Grumpy’s naughtiness.  It was the first time that Annabelle had actually been disqualified in the show pen and she was very mad at Grumpy.  I told her to keep a smile on her face……that would be far from the last time she got a zero in the show pen and probably even in life.

All was forgiven when, at the end of her class, she realized that each of the half-dozen kids in her division had bobbled their pattern in one way or another and EVERYONE had gotten a zero.  She didn’t lose, she told me.  She tied.

My horse was very good at the reining show and I was feeling confident going into my next competitive event, the first Idaho Reined Cow Horse Association derby of the year, held at the Idaho Center.  My day there started out there swimmingly, with a score of 72 in the reined work.  I was so happy with my mare, but tried not to be overconfident.  There were still two events to go.

Sure enough, I once again had big trouble in the herd work.  My horse wanted to be good, but I had trouble keeping my eye on the cow, and ultimately ended up losing one of the silly bovines I was trying to work.  I was disappointed and mad at myself; my confidence seriously shaken after two successive bad outings in the cutting pen.

The last event of the day, boxing an individual cow, went a little better, and when it was all said and done I ended up third for the day.  One of the people who came out ahead of me was my good friend Shane on her super-cute black mare Julianne. I didn’t mind so much losing to her, but I still wasn’t very happy with my performance.

I felt a little like Annabelle at her last show though, when I found out that even in third place I got a check that repaid about half of my entry fees. Maybe it wasn’t so bad after all!


The next day after my rough derby outing, Annabelle was showing in the AQHA reining, also at the Idaho Center.  We got there early and she got all warmed up.  Grumpy was a ball of fire that morning, and Annabelle was having a hard time keeping him under control even in the warm-up pen.  The old war-horse was a bundle of nerves and bad attitude when Annabelle walked him into the show pen, and once again he started backing up before she could even get him to the center to start her pattern.  She kept after him though, through a difficult ride that I think many adults would have given up on.  The smile never left her face even as she kicked and kicked and struggled to get through the maneuvers.  I was so proud of her when she walked out of that arena after practically dragging her horse through the pattern.  Even with her second ‘zero’ score in two shows, she still had a grin for everyone she saw.

I was even prouder of my little girl, though, when she said she wanted to enter the second youth class that day and go out and school Grumpy.  After her initial dismay in getting her first disqualification, I didn’t know if she would grasp the significance of going into the show arena for the sole purpose of making her horse better for the next show and likely creating a definite “no-score”” situation.

Never underestimate a kid.

Annabelle went into that arena riding with her pink braided roping reins held in two hands, which even at six years of age she was well aware was an automatic disqualification for both the type of equipment used and the way she was holding it under AQHA rules.  She chose the reins because they were the easiest to hold on to and she could pull harder with them than she could her leather romel.  She kicked and pulled that Grumpy old horse around with determination and poise and achieved much better ride than the previous one had been.  She was positively beaming when she left the arena and I felt tears of pride for her.

It’s easy to be a good sport and have fun when you are doing well.  I have been reminded from close personal experience at the last two shows that it isn’t as easy when the day doesn’t go as planned.  I find it truly awesome that my six-year-old has grasped the important lesson that I have repeated over and over to her:  it is nice to win, but it is more important to go out and do your best and have fun while you do it.

Annabelle broke her no-score streak this morning at the second Gem State Stock Horse Association show in Ontario, Oregon.  She had a very pretty go and executed her pattern almost perfectly.  I was so proud of her, and she was thrilled that she got a score – a 69!

I couldn’t have been happier for her.

Fun at Home

When we haven’t been going to graduations or horse shows, or preparing to go to horse shows, or golfing, or (in Desperate Hubby’s case) flying airplanes, we have had a chance to relax a little and have some fun at home.

We’ve been working on everything from training the kittens to lead (by the way, cats don’t lead very well),


to a little early spring swimming (shortly after this photo was taken Winston jumped in the pool and filled it with mud).


We got Batman out on a rare trail ride to stretch Reno’s legs.  He wasn’t all that happy about it part of the time (Zach or Reno).


We played with the guinea pigs, whose owner’s are coming home in August.  Annabelle is getting all her “skinny pig” time in now, since she knows with the acquisition of kittens Blackie and Pumpkin we won’t be getting any new house-animals any time soon.



We have also been enjoying the warm spring weather and preparing for our next adventures.


Batman and DH enjoyed a nice golf game this morning, and they are making plans for Batman’s first flying expedition in the Cessna 172 tomorrow morning.  They also have in the works a goal of doing some float-tube fishing in the near future, and toward that end Batman was fitted with waders and DH’s old (really, really old) float tube this afternoon.

As for me and Annabelle, we are feverishly finishing our packing for our 4:00am departure tomorrow for Paso Robles, California, where I am determined to exorcise the herd work demons that have been taunting me for the last couple of horse shows.  If nothing else, we will have a lovely time in the sun with friends, and Annabelle will get to see the ocean, likely for the first time in her life that she will actually remember it.

I hope you all are having a nice start to summer too.

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

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.


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.


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

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!

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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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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



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

Red Breasts, Northern Lights and a Happy Happy Horse

Annabelle and I drove up our driveway just before noon today, and as we neared the house I saw several birds perched in the trees in our front yard.

Closer inspection revealed that they were robins.  Lots of them.

Chilly Birds

They were several of the red breasts visible in our trees, and many more perched in the park right across the way.

Trees of Birds

Although the temperature hovered around 3 degrees, I couldn’t stop myself from trying to get a few photographs.

All of the birds were fluffed up against the cold, making them appear larger than life.  Their brilliant colors stood out beautifully against the frosty blue-gray sky.

Frosty Robin

This duo hung out contentedly on nearby branches.


I have always heard that robins are one of the first birds of spring.  I sure hope that’s true.

I’m ready for spring.

Interestingly, robins weren’t the only birds in the tree.  This little brown finchy- looking fellow was near the very top of the branches, all by himself.  He was the only one of his kind there.

Brown Bird

And this black-and-white beauty was right in the mix too.  At first I thought it was a magpie, but on second glance it seemed too small.  It was no bigger than the fluffy robins in size.

Whatever it was it was pretty.

Tree of Birds

Annabelle and I were worried that the robins might be hungry.  We came into the house and looked up “What to Feed Robins” on the internet.  We were surprised to see that in the winter they are primarily fruit eaters.  The article we read said that they really liked apples.  And Cheerios.

So we made them a snack.

Robin Food

Since we didn’t have a bird feeder, we just attached the tray to the top of an old milk can and put it out near the big tree.

Here birdy birdy

Several robins returned to the tree after we came back inside, but none of them went down to eat the food.

Damn ingrates.

Shortly after that, Batman went outside with his ‘Wounded Rabbit’ call to try to lure in the neighborhood fox, which both Grandpa Vernon and Daddy had seen lurking around the pasture the past couple of days.  He made so much noise that all the birds flew away.

They haven’t been back since.

Upon re-entering the house, Batman pronounced that he had indeed called in the fox.  In fact, he had called in ten foxes.

Actually, a hundred.

And they had bitten him.  He went immediately into the bathroom and covered his entire right arm in band-aids.   I have currently been unable to verify his injuries.

In other photographic news, we had the most beautiful sunset last night.  The whole western sky was lit up with a bright blaze of color.  It almost looked the Northern Lights.  Except that it was in the south.

Northern Lights

And last but not least, of all the photos I took yesterday one mysteriously did not load from my camera.  I did not, in fact,  find it until today when I was taking a look at the bird pictures.

It is of my mare Spice, immediately after I took the “dead horse” photograph, as she woke up briefly from her nap.

Horsey Smile

I swear she is smiling for the camera.

Categories: Horse Adventures, Life in the Country | 1 Comment

A Dead Horse and the Snow Cat

After my sort-of-whiny post the other day about our long stretch of cold weather, a friend of mine called to empathize with me.  She said that she was getting sick of being inside too, and was making plans to leave the valley for a couple of days for a change of scenery.  Then she said something that really resonated with me:

“Sometimes you have to make your own change.”

Wow.  So simple yet so true.  I decided right then that I would embrace these chilly days of weather in any way I could.

Yesterday morning presented the perfect opportunity.  With temperatures outside  hovering right around zero and lots of humidity lingering in the air, everything in sight was absolutely covered in heavy frost.  It made for some awesome photo opportunities, so as soon as the sun started to peek out from under the haze I put on my snow boots, grabbed my camera, and headed out the front door to try to capture some of the beauty.

The animals were thrilled to have me out and about with them, and they bounced happily around as I crunched through the snow taking pictures of everything in sight.

The first volunteer for my impromptu photo session was Annabelle’s little cat, Ava.  I was sort of surprised when she came bounding over the snow toward me, since Annabelle is really the only person in the family she likes.

But bound she did.

She ran over to one of the fruit trees in the front orchard and sat playing with the frost that drifted lazily down from the tree branches.

Falling Snow

Winston-The-Maniac-Teenage-Birddog helped me out with the next part.  He raced over toward the vulnerable grounded cat and left Ava no place to go but up the frosty tree.

Wheres the Cat

She climbed up and walked carefully along the slippery branches, stopping every now and then to look around at the goings-on.

Frosty Cat in Tree

Eventually she jumped down from that tree and hopped through the snow to the tree next door.

She climbed up and sat for a long time peering down at me as the sky slowly brightened behind her.

Avie in Tree

After awhile she got down and ran away, with Winston in hot pursuit.

The rest of us meandered down the road to the horse pens, and I saw a sight that nearly took my breath away.

Is she dead....

My pretty little bay mare, Spice, was lying in the snow, completely motionless.  Her mouth was slightly open, and I could see her teeth shining through her gaping lips.

I really thought she was dead.

I watched for a few moments, and after a bit I could see her flanks gently heaving. She was just sound asleep.

As the dogs and Ava and I continued our ambling photo shoot, the next place Winston chased Ava was to the top of the post above the dog kennel.  She actually spends a lot of time up there.

I guess she likes the view.

Cat on Post

We wandered down the lane and toward the front of the property.  I wanted to get a shot of the chain link fence covered in frost.

Frosty Chainlink

Along the way I stopped for a picture of the snowy pasture.

Snowy Pasture

We headed back up toward the house with our ancient schnauzer Maddie slowly leading the way.

Maddie Snowy Road

I got a photo of Toby-The-Old-Man-Dog sniffing around the front yard.  I really don’t know what he was expecting to find in all that snow.

Old Dog in the Snow

I took some pictures of driftwood and bushes…..remember the “Flying Pig” from our Stanley camping trip?

Flying Pig in Snow

A couple of the big trees in the front yard looked pretty against the blue sky.

Frosty in Blue

And I loved this cool shot of the same tree from the other side with the sun shining through it.

Frosty Tree

It was pretty amazing to me that during  the hour I was outside the light changed so dramatically, and the hue of the sky varied completely depending on the direction of my camera lens.  It was so engrossing that I never even felt the cold.  Mother Nature sure is a fantastic artist.

Embrace the moment, my friends.

Categories: Horse Adventures, Life in the Country, Random Musings | Tags: , | 4 Comments

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