Kids Are Funny Creatures

The Talk

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

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

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

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

Welcome Back Sign.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so far she hasn’t.

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

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









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

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

TP-ing the tree is always a hit.
















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

Good advice

The obligatory game of pool……

Playing pool.jpg

cool lights

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

They’ve painted a bit.

Elves Paint

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

Guess they like crepe paper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Categories: Kids Are Funny Creatures, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Princess and the Pony



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

Are you shocked by the color?

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

Saturday couldn’t get here fast enough.

Truth be told, I was pretty darn excited myself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I did.

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


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

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

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


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

Still she smiled.

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

We were Princess-Bound.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Then she said “Can I ride him now?”

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


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

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

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


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


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

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


And they were off.


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


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

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

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

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


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


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


She had a blast.

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

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


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

loading her up

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


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

It was every 75.

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


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

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


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

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

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



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

Princess and the Prophecy

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

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

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

But I digress.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It just didn’t seem feasible.

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

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

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

And so we signed up.

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

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

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

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

And a very large glass of wine.

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

Maybe we should just leave tomorrow.

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

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

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

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


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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Reno Sleigh Ride

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

Dec Xmas Parade

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


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

2011-11-27_13-39-53_170 (1)

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

New Polos!

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

That is until Princess came into the picture.

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

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

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

First Horse Show

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

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

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

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

Well knock me over with a feather.

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

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

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

The drawing date was scheduled for this past Saturday.

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

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

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

And that seemed to be the end of it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It seemed like kismet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I just smiled.  And nodded.

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

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

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

To Show, To Learn, To Grow

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

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

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

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

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

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

Were we interested?

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

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

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

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

I was completely floored by her reaction.

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She was mad.

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

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

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

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

A few minutes later out popped the girl I knew.

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

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

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

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

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

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


She was all smiles as she left the arena.


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

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

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

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

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

It was the best thing we could have hoped for.

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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



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


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

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


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


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

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


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


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


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

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


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


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

In the end, she surpassed even her own expectations.

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which sometimes takes forever.

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

As they should.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I do hope she rides forever.


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

The Return of Sparkles the Elf: Magic Lives On

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

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

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

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

Her belief was unshaken.

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

That is simply a part of growing up.

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

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

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

Sparkles Returns

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

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

Cutting Polos

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

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

Sparkles tried.

She tries to sew

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

Sparkles cant sew

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

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

Made the Polos

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

Underwear Tree Closeup

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

Sparkles TPs Tree

She helped herself to breakfast.

Cinnamon Toast Crunch

And decked the hall.

Garland down the Hall

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

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

You just have to BELIEVE.

And I do.

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

The First Day of School, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

First Day 2015

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

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

Categories: Kids Are Funny Creatures | Leave a comment

Buckles, Blankets and Buffets

This past weekend was our local reining club’s annual awards banquet.  Although she didn’t know it for sure (I still try to reinforce that it isn’t the winning that matters) Annabelle was going to be awarded the year-end buckle for 2014 Short Stirrup Champion.

I really enjoy going to these banquets.  It is fun to catch up with friends during the off-show season when we don’t see each other often, and the auction items are always fun to browse. Last year’s shows are rehashed, triumphs are celebrated, and goals for the upcoming season are said out loud for what may be the first time.  It is fun.

This year, however, we had an added element of excitement. The banquet was for the first time ever to be a themed event (Hawaiian Vacation) and a costume contest was going to be held in conjunction with the other awards.  My good friend Shane Broome had custom-made a gorgeous cooler as the prize for the winner of the costume contest.

In case you don’t know, a cooler is a special type of horse blanket that you put on a horse after he is just washed or really sweaty, and it helps to quickly dry him off.  You can buy a standard cooler at pretty much any retail horse wear outlet, but to own a cooler made by Shane is as owning an original Picasso is to hanging up a framed poster from Wal-Mart.  There is simply no comparison.

I really wanted that cooler.

Since I have been so busy with the kids’ school activities of late, I knew that time to shop for a suitable costume would be at a premium, so the weekend before the banquet I got online to see what Mrs. Amazon could offer up in the way of outfits.  I quickly added to my virtual cart a grass skirt for me and one for Annabelle, a tiny child’s size coconut bra, a package of leis, and for good measure a ten-pack of large silk flowers with hair clips.  I was about to check out when suddenly I saw……..

The Tacky Tourist Adult Size Costume

The costume featured a one-piece pull-on jumpsuit with a large hoop waist and blue Bermuda shorts.  The front of the  jumpsuit featured a prominent question asked by many a hungry tourist, and it was topped off by an extra-large Hawaiian shirt in a stretchy polyester fabric.

I knew immediately it was for me.

I removed the adult skirt from the cart and, chuckling out loud to myself in my empty office, clicked “Quantity: 1” next to the outfit. I added a big ugly hat and some large orange sunglasses with a parrot and a margarita glass on the sides and clicked “Place Order.”  Since I wasn’t guaranteed delivery before the day of the party I sprang for the express shipping, which cost just a bit more than the actual costume itself.

The morning of the party I completed my outfit at our local Wal-Mart, adding some red canvas shoes along with tan trouser socks that looked exactly like a pair of knee-high support hose.

Annabelle pulled her hair back with the big silk flowers and I tied the coconut bra on over her gymnastics leotard.  The grass skirt was a perfect fit.  Desperate Hubby wore a bright red band shirt featuring Elvis in a Hawaiian theme and a bunch of leis.  Batman was the picture of subtlety, donning a lone flower necklace over his favorite red and blue cowboy shirt.  We were a picture.

Well, sort of.  I apparently have still not figured out the settings of my new camera.  The images were all so dark you can barely make us out. And as you can see, Batman declined to be photographed.


We did get a slightly better photo of Annabelle and me in a brighter corner of the room.  Don’t we look divine?


In actuality, Annabelle had a real mix of emotions about my costume.  She was at once mortified by my appearance (“MOM!  I can’t believe you are embarrassing yourself in this way!”) and simultaneously sort of intrigued by all the attention it was getting.  It was a hoot.

The costume contest itself was a close call.

My friend Justine’s family was done up in Hawaiian style from head to toe.  Dad was dressed as a Tribal King, with a grass skirt and armbands, a hat similar to mine, and an apron-type pull-over that sported a tanned six-pack covered by a much larger version of Annabelle’s coconut bra.  The beautiful blond sisters were decked out in authentic garb that was really from Hawaii; flowers adorned their hair in elaborate styles, and their gorgeous mom was glowing in a Hawaiian shirt and radiating good cheer.

Another lovely friend wore an authentic Hawaiian outfit with a silk lei and flowers so lifelike you would swear they were real.  She was as elegant as I was tacky.

There was a multi-colored mohawk on our trainer, and another (female) version of the six-pack apron on our club president, Ann.  Competitors abounded.

Shane was supposed to be the judge, but with so many friends vying for her colorful cooler she cleverly recruited the bartender, who knew none of us (well, she knew some of us a little better than others, if you know what I mean) to stand in for her.

Our judge stood in front of us for a long time.  In terms of sheer degree of decoration, the family of the Hawaiian King were sure winners.  Elegant presentation clearly fell to my friend Sherrie.  An award for originality could have gone many different directions.

I was nervous.

But in the end, Tacky triumphed.  The good-natured bartender laughed and said “I just have to go with the tacky family.”

I was thrilled.

Annabelle loved her new buckle, pictured here with Reserve Short Stirrup Champion Kieran.  Sorry about the bad picture.  I really have to read that owner’s manual one of these days.


We scored big at the silent auction, thanks to the diligent attention of both my dear children, who bid early and often, winning us a few things that I hadn’t even known were for sale.

The evening was a real success in every realm.

The buckle truly is lovely…..


and fills out Annabelle’s own personal trophy case nicely.  She has now officially tied my fifteen-year show career in number of buckles won.

At the age of eight.


But I have the cooler.


It is so beautiful that I simply cannot bear to think of putting it on a wet or sweaty horse.  I have hung it over the end of my bed where I can see it every day.

I think it matches nicely.

Categories: Horse Adventures, Kids Are Funny Creatures, Life in the Country, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

The Stand In

Every parent can remember those moments when your child makes you so proud you could just burst (or burst into tears) at the thought of it; those times when you simply cannot even express your profound feeling of delight in an accomplishment or a deed.

I believe those moments are to be savored and reflected upon, revisited and reinforced, so that they can be emulated and hopefully repeated in further iterations throughout the child’s life.

I had one of those moments with Batman last week.

My son and I went alone to karate that night.  His sister had announced earlier that same evening that she did not want to continue with karate lessons.  She had been kicked rather hard in the ribs when sparring during the prior class, and left the floor near tears and wincing with pain.  She is a tough kid when it comes to riding horses but she does not enjoy being pummeled, and though she showed some talent for the sport it was clear that karate just wasn’t her thing.

Batman was enthusiastic about his sister’s departure from their shared class.  As I said, Annabelle had a natural talent for the sport, and in the strict ranking system that is employed in their group she was one rank ahead of her brother.  Her leaving gave Batman an automatic rise in stature.  He thought that was pretty cool.

I delivered the news about Annabelle’s departure to Sensei Ed (the instructor) when we got to class.  He was shocked to hear that she was leaving, but agreed that karate is not for everyone.  Then he looked at Batman.  “You are going to have to work extra hard now to make your family proud,” he said. I don’t think either he or I knew at the moment just how literally that phrase would apply to class that very night.

The class started as normal, with the lower-ranked white belts on one end of the mats, with the higher ranked yellow and the single purple belt in a line at the other.  One of the white belts was lined up with the higher ranks, performing all the moves of the kata with the more advanced students.

Once the groups had finished practicing their kata, the warm-up sparring began, with the sensei picking out two volunteers to go hand-to-hand and foot-to-foot on the mat.  After just a bit of warm-up an unusual thing happened.

Sensei pulled aside the highest ranked white belt, the same young man who had been performing kata with the upper ranks before, and gave him an unusual command:  he was to choose someone to fight for him.  This had not occurred in our class experience to date, so all of the parents and students watched curiously.  The boy seemed unsure of what was taking place too, and after glancing around a bit he turned and pointed at Zach, who as the next lower rank was standing right next to him in line.

The Sensei turned to Batman and asked “Do you agree to fight for H?”  Zach nodded, having no idea at this point what was going on.  “OK,” Sensei said.  “Let’s get started.”

He pulled out the lowest ranked white belt and she and Zach squared off on the mat at Sensei’s command, then sparred for about a minute, with the instructor watching the clock carefully.

Karate Spar 1 (2)

When he called “Stop”, Batman and the little girl bowed to each other and Zach started to sit down.  “No Zach,” called Sensei. “You stay in.” Zach shrugged and returned to the middle of the mat, where he was met by the next-ranked white belt.

This routine continued on.  And on.  After about the first three rounds we all got our first clue about what was going on.  The young man who had selected Zach as his stand-in was not sparring, but sitting watching the action intently.  When his attention wandered for a moment the Sensei immediately stopped the fight and squatted next to the young man.  “You watch what is going on out there.  Zach is out there fighting for YOU!”

The boy’s mother was sitting a couple of chairs away from me and she rose and walked to where I sat.  “I think that Zach is doing the sparring for H’s yellow belt test for him!” she said.  Ah, that made sense.  She had told me the previous week that H had been hit hard in a sparring match and his ear-drum had been perforated.  He wasn’t allowed to spar until it was fully healed.  Apparently Sensei had decided to go ahead with H’s test, using a stand-in to exhibit the sparring skill.

It seems to be the norm that a student does not know exactly when their belt rank test will be administered.  Although we’ve been in karate for only a few months we have seen two or three yellow belts awarded, and the student never seems to realize he or she is being tested until the sparring begins and they begin fighting up through the ranks.

When a student is tested for the higher ranking belt they are required to spar with every student in class that night, from the lowest to highest ranking, fighting continuously with only a couple of quick breaks for water.  It is a true test of the candidate’s stamina and strength, not to mention commitment to the practice.  It can be almost brutal to watch but it is a required rite of passage for the discipline.

Batman knew that he was not yet being considered for a yellow belt, so I was sure he had no idea why he was sparring with every student.  Nonetheless, he fought courageously through all the white belts.  Then he started on the yellow belts.

Karate Spar 5

Some of the higher ranked kids were not only much more experienced than my seven-year old, they were also years older and a lot bigger.  Batman was not intimidated at all.  He even got some great hits in on the bigger kids.

Karate Spar 6

After a candidate fights his way up through all the individual ranks, he must take on two competitors at once.  Before this round started, Sensei approached H and asked if he still wanted Zach to fight for him.  He said yes, so Sensei asked Zach if he was willing to continue fighting.  My son nodded solemnly.

Batman still had not figured out what was going on, but he fought gallantly against the two higher-ranked yellow belts.

Karate Spar 7

And then against two lower ranks.

Karate Spar 10

Next was the hardest test of all.  After fighting about a dozen rounds already, the candidate must do two rounds where they spar against three classmates at one time.  For this fight they get to choose their competitors, who are lined up in rank order on the floor.  Usually the student chooses others who are right around the same ranking as themselves for this portion of the test.

Batman stood for several seconds surveying his choices.

Karate Spar 13

When he made his choice, the other parents and I shook our heads in disbelief.  He called his competitors quickly, from left to right, starting with the highest ranked student in attendance that night, a purple belt who outranked him by a few years and many belt colors, and then the two highest-ranked yellow belts.

Sensei Ed gave a sharp laugh of incredulity.  “Are you sure you want to pick those three?!”  Batman nodded solemnly.  He had no idea why he was fighting, but he was going to make the most of it.

Before the match started Ed admonished the higher ranks to be judicious in their attack, and reminded them that Zach was but a lone white belt.

Karate Spar 14

It didn’t look like they pulled many punches to me.  Batman held his own, and once again got in a few good points on them.  Sensei kept yelling “Good!  Good job Zach!”

After that fight Batman had one match left.  This time he chose two white belts and one yellow belt.

He told me later he was getting a little tired by then.

When the last match was over, Ed lined the students up according to rank, with the  young H standing in front with him.  Then he did something we’d never seen before.  He asked Zach to come up and sit beside H.  After that he performed the ritual of awarding the classes’ newest yellow belt, with Zach sitting right beside him the entire time.

Karate Award Belt

Then Ed asked Zach to stand before his classmate, and instructed H to shake Zach’s hand and tell him thank you.  He then explained to the class and bystanders what some of us had already guessed: since H was qualified to test for the next rank but was unable to fight, Sensei exercised a very rarely used provision that allowed the candidate to choose a stand-in for the sparring portion of the test.

Finally Zach realized what he had been doing.

Karate Congrats Friend

The group got a break for some water, and Batman bounded over to me.  His head glistened with sweat and he looked exhausted.  But he was happy.

When class resumed a minute or two later there was time enough for a little more sparring.  Sensei Ed asked for volunteers.  I don’t know if he or I was more astounded when Batman waved his hand wildly in the air.

“Are you sure you want to go out there again Zach?  Aren’t you tired?” he laughed.

“Nope!” Batman asserted, so out he went.

Karate Spar 16 (2)

When class was over Sensei pulled Zach aside and talked to him privately for several minutes.  The only portion of the conversation I could hear was the teacher thanking him for fighting so hard for his classmate, and telling him what a great job he had done.

Finally Zach joined me and he was all smiles as we walked out into the chilly darkness.  “What did Sensei say?”  I asked him.

“He said he thought I was almost ready to be tested for my yellow belt!”  Batman beamed.  His hard work had obviously impressed his teacher.

I told him how proud I was of him, but I don’t think he really comprehended the absolute pleasure that I took in his performance.

It’s something only a parent can understand.

Categories: Kids Are Funny Creatures, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

The Further Adventures of Sparkles the Elf

Our Christmas Elf, Sparkles, has been with us for a little over two weeks now, and she is doing her best to entertain us with her antics.  While it is certainly impossible to top her Christmas miracle of locating and re-caging Batman’s beloved Wamstey, she has tried her hardest to do at least something every day.

Some of her efforts have been (quite frankly) a little boring.  Like appearing to bounce around in the various Christmas trees decorating our house.

Sparkles Little Tree

Leaving a message written in marshmallows on the kitchen table was only slightly more entertaining.


She has gift wrapped a variety of items around the house, like Annabelle’s NRHA plaques that decorate the walls in the living room.

Sparkles Wraps

And a couple of pictures in the hallway, matching Annabelle’s beribboned door.  To Batman’s horror, she reclined on top of one of the picture frames for an entire afternoon.  He implored me to utilize my mommy-elf-touching-dispensation to move her somewhere else.

He said it “didn’t look safe up there.”

Sparkles More Wraps

The elf also wrapped the recliners in the living room.

Sparkles Bubble Wraps

And then used the same bubble wrap on the pillows of both kid’s beds.

If the wrapping looks a little cursory to you I urge you to bear in mind that Sparkles is a very busy elf, and sometimes it is better to do something a little quickly and imperfectly than to do nothing at all.

Sparkles Wraps Pillows

The elf was probably also in a hurry when she toilet papered both kids’ rooms last week.

Sparkles TPs

But she did take time to quickly dress-up the antlers that Batman got last year after Daddy’s deer hunt.

Saprkles TPs Horns

And then sat there all day the next day wrapped in the tissue.

Sparkles Antlers

It appeared that Sparkles had a little more time to prepare this snowy diorama on the dining room table.

Sparkles Rides Slider

This has been by far Annabelle’s favorite Sparkles adventure this year.

For an elf she has pretty good taste in horses.  She is riding NRCHA World Champion Topsails Rien Maker, or “Slider,” autographed by none other than Slider’s owner and rider, Russell Dilday.

Sparkles thru snow

Russell graciously inscribed “To Annabelle:  Keep on Ridin’ and Slidin’.  Russell Dilday.”  She cherishes the little Breyer toy.

Sparkles Slider Autograph

Sparkles and Slider are leading none other than NCHA World Champion mare Bet Your Blue  Boons.  We have “Bet” in the house because she is the maternal grandmother of our great little mare Freckles.

She sure looks pretty in all dressed up, doesn’t she?

Sparkles Decorates Bette

Last night the elf delivered some of me and the kids’ favorite cookies.  I say “some of” because apparently she got hungry on the way back from the North Pole and ate three whole cookies, as well as a small bite out of the one she was holding.

That’s the only explanation I can think of.

Sparkles Oreos

The elf has a little over a week left with us before she returns to the North Pole with Santa until next year.

I am hoping she will write the kids a letter reminding them to be good and stop chasing the dogs with the remote control truck and to brush their teeth without being asked.  And to stop fighting in the morning too, while she’s at it.

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

Sparkles Performs a Christmas Miracle

As I mentioned in my earlier post, the kids (Annabelle, anyway) didn’t seem terribly impressed with the vehicle that Sparkles the Elf had chosen for her entrance this year. They weren’t unappreciative of the elf’s offerings, don’t get me wrong, but I think we all know that Sparkles has a pretty big reputation to live up to around our house.

When we awoke today, it seemed that Sparkles had hardly moved at all.  She reclined languidly across the top of the hutch in the corner of the living room, laying right in front of the model of Venus that I Annabelle had made for her science class project last year.  Her eyes appeared barely open, and she seemed sleepy and quiet.

Sparkles Rests

I had the fleeting thought that maybe Annabelle was right.  The elf was tired.  Or past her prime.  Or something.

Little did I know.

Sorry, I have to back up now seven or eight days to start this story properly.  Bear with me.

The kids and I took a trip to California last week.  We went to pick up a wonderful new horse that Annabelle has been given the privilege of riding for the next show season.  That story and the trip in and of itself is a whole blog on its own.  To be written, I promise.

Anyway, when we got back from the trip the kids were overjoyed to see their small house pets and play with them for the first time in several days.  Since Annabelle was suffering from an ear infection and couldn’t go outside, they amused themselves with putting on a few animal competitions with the pets at hand, namely their two hamsters and a fluffy white guinea pig named Polly.

Somehow during the initial zeal of competition that Tuesday afternoon, the top of Batman’s hamster cage was left, shall we say, unsecured.

I’ll add here that Batman’s hamster is actually one of the few rodents that we have owned that l like.  Her name is Snowball, I think, or maybe it’s Princess, but whatever, she is one of two of the several hamsters we’ve had that has never bitten anyone.  I realize that’s not a terribly high standard of gentility, but hamsters are just not always the nicest creatures, in my experience.  Snowball/Princess, whatever, (the kids actually call her Wamstey, some variation of Hamstey, which is, well, you get the picture) had actually gotten so tame that she would ride around on Batman’s shoulder, clinging no doubt in terror to his shirt or the skin underneath, but looking for all appearances like she was having a good time.  I could even hold her.

She was a nice hamster.

On that Tuesday afternoon Wamstey escaped from her cage.  Into the messy, disheveled maelstrom that is Batman’s room.  I wasn’t feeling so swell myself at that time, having what I learned a few days later was strep throat, so finding the hamster wasn’t on the top of my priority list.  In our two or three-year experience with small furry pets, we have lost several, and found them all.  The longest gone had been Annabelle’s previous pet hamster Copper (the other hamster that never bit anyone) and he went missing for one whole day before being discovered in her underwear drawer, where he had chewed holes in a whole week’s worth of new Barbie underpants (they had Barbie on them, they didn’t belong to Barbie, FYI).

I kind of forgot about the missing rodent that day, and at some point the next day I asked the kids if they had found her.  No, they answered, they had not.  Even though Annabelle was really pretty sick, I made them both go into the room and empty out the toys and other rubble that was under the bed and look more carefully for Wamstey.  No luck.

I remembered at this point the one time before that Wamstey had escaped.  She had only been gone for about ten minutes that time when I walked into the dining room, the furthest room geographically in our little house from Batman’s centrally-located bedroom, on an unrelated errand.  I heard some faint scratching in the corner.  Wamstey had somehow traveled through the whole house unseen to arrive in record time at that far wall.

This might be a problem.

Another couple of days passed.  Batman had the audacity to ask if we could please go to Petsmart and get another hamster since his obviously was not coming home.  Absolutely not, I answered.

The kids got on YouTube, on the Hamster Channel (yes there is a Hamster Channel) and looked up how to find your lost pet hamster.  That afternoon they removed the hamster cage (an aquarium, actually) from the dresser where it usually sits and placed it on the floor.  They took some big books from Annabelle’s bookcase and made steps up the side of the aquarium and sprinkled hamster treats all around the floor and up the steps.  It reminded me a lot of the bird/rabbit/squirrel traps that me and my siblings used to set in the yard featuring a cardboard box propped up by a stick and a long piece of string.  I humored them, sure that the hamster was gone for good, or at least from that room for good.

Milo ate all the hamster treats approximately five minutes after the kids put them down.

That evening I voiced my concern to DH over the fate of the hamster.  We have a couple of outside cats, barn cats more or less, that do come in the house on occasion. They had been inside non-stop since we had returned from California.  While these cats do wear baby clothes and sometimes ride around in a stroller, they are stone-cold killers, and I regularly find dead offerings ranging from mice and birds to the occasional squirrel on our back porch.  We also had Milo, the hyper and prey-driven mutt who would definitely devour any loose hamster in sight, as well as Maddie, who is old and deaf now but has killed more than one mouse or gopher in her time.  The hamster may have met her demise right here within our walls!

DH dismissed my worries about our hamster prey animals, mostly.  He correctly pointed out that if one of our hunters HAD assassinated the hamster we would have probably discovered evidence of some kind.  Icky but true, I decided.

Last night when I was tucking Batman  into bed I picked up the aquarium and sat it on the dresser where it belonged. I was tired of tripping over it when I put his clothes or toys away.  My son screamed in outrage.  “MOM!!! YOU CAN’T PUT THAT BACK UP THERE THE HAMSTER WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO REACH IT!!”

“The hamster’s not coming back, son.  It’s been a week almost.  She’s not even in this room anymore.  I’m sure of it.”  I said this gently.  I did feel bad for him.  “No, mom.” he said.  “Sparkles is here now.  She’ll use her magic to get the hamster back in her cage!”  “OK,” I sighed, “we’ll give it one more night.”  I sat the cage back on the floor and straightened the books.  “NO MOM, the books have to stay like that.  They are steps so Wamstey can get inside.”  I rearranged the books and gave my delusional son a kiss goodnight.  Then I walked back into the dining room as I had several times already, to see if I could see or hear the hamster.

No luck.

This morning I looked up at Sparkles relaxing on the hutch.  I was proud of her for moving during the night, since she was so tired and all.  I made some coffee and watched a little of the 6 a.m. news, and went outside and fed the horses, bunny and cats.  I filled up Winston’s heated water bucket on the back porch and poured him two cans of kibble.  Then it was time to wake up Batman.

I walked into his room and glanced at the mess surrounding me.  The room was in even more disarray than usual after being tossed several times in search of the missing Wamstey.

I glanced at the hamster cage on the floor as I walked by, thinking I was going to clean this whole mess up when the kids left for school.

When what to my wondering eyes did appear?  Two beady eyes and white rounded ears.

The hamster was back in her cage.

She's home

I could not believe my eyes.  There she sat, burrowed in the fresh bedding the kids had installed, washing her face contentedly.  I laughed in delight and whooped and woke Batman. “Look!! LOOK who’s back!”  Batman climbed out of bed and stretched, a big smile on his face.

“I told you mom.  Sparkles is magic.  She used her magic to get Wamstey back.”

Who Me

When I got home from picking the kids up from school this afternoon Sparkles had moved from her perch on the hutch to the top of Wamstey’s cage.  She appeared to be watching the hamster sleep happily in her fluffy blue bed.

Sparkles Watches

The kids took this as proof positive that she had in fact found and returned Wamstey to her cage during the night.

I can’t say I disagree.

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

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