Reluctant Cowgirl


Endurance 101

I chickened out on bringing my horse to the Endurance 101 clinic I’d signed up for because the weather looked downright dastardly and considering our last camping trip with Mustang Henry was in the snow with a potential wolf-guard dog fight outside the tent, I really wanted to wait for better conditions to give it a go again. So I drove from my middle-of-nowhere ranch 3 hours southeast-ish over to the middle-of-nowhere BLM ground where the clinic was being held. I knew no one and was the only person there without a horse. (There were really only a handful of people there though, due to the weather.) The clinician was a rough-around-the-edges no-bullshit type who judged me for not bringing my horse and didn’t really have an outline or a plan and dispensed a fair amount of information anyway. I asked a lot of questions which is not something I typically do but I’d just driven 3 hours and was now standing in the driving raw wind unable to feel my fingers or toes and missing my favorite basketball team’s tournament game to do so, so I was going to get my money’s worth, dammit. We covered nutrition, gear, saddle-fitting (I wish I had gotten an audio recording and or video of the two active endurance riders there talking about all their tack as proof that you always need more for skeptical boyfriends), conditioning, course marking, pulsing and vet checks, and probably some other stuff. A local farrier gave a presentation on the leg which was fascinating but not particularly endurance-related. I still don’t really understand when shoes or boots are required in this sport, but I have a feeling you just know.


I had no idea how many bones make up the leg. It’s unreal.

After lunch there was a little more chatting and then those with horses began to saddle up for a 10 mile ride. I began to seriously regret not bringing a horse, because even with my plentiful nerves it’s difficult to watch a bunch of people mount up and ride off without you. But on the plus side I got to get back into my warm car and head home.


Don’t you just want to climb into that sheepskin and settle in for 50-100 miles?

We were given a cd with a ludicrous amount of files on it providing information beyond what was presented. There is more than I can tackle in a few days, and probably the answers to all the questions I didn’t ask are contained within.

My biggest take-home from the trip was that probably the best way to get going in this sport is to ride (DUH). I am very good at listening to my nerves above all else and making excuses, but this really would have been a perfect small-scale opportunity to introduce my horse to a setting that involves trailers and horses parked in the middle of nowhere and setting out on a group ride with some guidance. I really did us both a disservice by leaving him home, garbage-y weather be damned. The good take-home was that the people were by and large nice, and welcoming, and encouraging. Two of the ladies I met were probably not destined for getting into endurance events, but were interested in getting together to ride this summer anyway. Having some people to ride with would really perk up my confidence and interest.

We got home in daylight but were exhausted and it was sideways-wet-snowing out, so I didn’t do anything with Henry. But Sunday brightened up and after a little arena warm-up we went about 2 miles up the dirt road, turned around and came back, riding for more than an hour and interspersing some nice trot. On the downhill toward home he insisted twice that we should try to canter but I said hey, young man, let’s take it easy this trip and leave the fast gears for the uphill. Out-and-back rides on a dirt road with potential traffic are not ideal, but until the ground firms up it’s the best we can do. I hope to get in a 5+ mile ride before the week is out.

There’s an endurance ride at the same site as the clinic the second weekend in May. I’m not entirely sure if we’ll be ready for our first LD (25 mi), but at the very least we are going to go camp, get experience and exposure, and RIDE.


Imagine him looking very bright and eager and not so skeptical.


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Being Neighborly

I’m leaving for a week in Florida tomorrow. The timing couldn’t be more perfect because the temperatures have recently gone south of reasonable again and I’m over it. This morning’s low was -4.7 °F. You can take that and shove it.

So today was my last day of work, and I got up around 7 to start chores before a couple conference calls and bunch of loose end-tying. The home phone rang as I was in the middle of soaking alfalfa pellets. It always startles me because no one calls our land line. It’s basically just there for calling 911 in an emergency because we live in the middle of nowhere.

On the line was a gentleman who lives down the road. We met last year when he just drove down the driveway on a random Tuesday at 10 am the way country people do, to ask if he could use our covered arena to break some colts. There were about 16 feet of snow on the ground (slight exaggeration, but not much) and it’s hard to break colts in those kind of conditions, apparently. I asked around to make sure he wasn’t some kind of swindler and got good references, so I thought if he followed up and agreed not to sue us if sh*t went sideways, we’d say sure. He never called because winter just got worse and even I couldn’t access my arena.

Fast forward to this morning, and he’s calling my landline at 7 in the morning asking to use the arena again, today. Sure, I say, because what the heck else do I say? No, this is weird, how in the world are you country people so unabashedly unafraid to ask for things?

A couple hours later there’s a truck and stock trailer with five horses, one man, one wife, and one three year old child in my driveway. They leave the child sleeping the running truck (“the babysitter”) and take a chestnut with a blaze and a tall grey to the arena. Don’t sue me!, I call in my head as I watch them go and hustle inside for conference call number one. The remaining three horses stay at the rig, two tied inside and one out; I watch them fidget during my call.

A couple hours later I take lunch break and stand in the corner of my arena, watching these strangers work their colts. (One is a mare, by the way, which always bothers me about the term “colt-starting.”) They are five years old with about 20 rides on them and very sweaty. I make a bad joke about how I should let them work with the mustang for a bit – he hasn’t sweat since I bought him. They are desensitizing and working on lateral flexion. The mare is very cowy-looking and spry with those prototypical QH hindquarters. The grey is more my style; maybe appendix bred. They tell me he’s “lazy.” I like him even more.

They ask me questions about my mustang and I kind of ho-ho and ha-ha my way through the responses. I feel like I know nothing, suddenly, confronted with these life-long cow horse people who have seen my dressage saddle hanging on the fence and my fat mustang munching hay in the paddock. I don’t know how to explain that I am just returning to horses after a long time away and taking my time. I don’t cowboy and I have no horse friends and I am standing awkwardly in the corner of my own arena freezing my face off and feeling like an outsider. I did my best to be friendly but might have used too much of my social defense mechanism, sarcasm.

There’s another grey and a grulla, and they get the next workout. A black and white paint does not get worked; he’s “already broke.” I don’t get to see the second pair of horses working because I’m in frantic mode at my laptop, watching horses and small children get shuffled around outside my window while I check in for my flight tomorrow and speak to engineers in Mableton, Georgia about a project in Michigan. They load up and leave around 3 after neatly scooping their poop and saying thank you.

I moved to the middle of nowhere and bought a property with one of the largest (and only) covered arenas in the county, and sometimes sh*t gets weird for a neurotic, introverted Yankee like me.

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Dogs and Horses

I’m a dog person. If my whole life had to be about an animal it would be a dog. If I had to take one animal to a desert island? Dog. The dog is my heart animal, in that everything that has to do with them is done with my heart. I’m not that interested in training or competing or doing much of anything with them except everything – the daily travails of boring sit by my feet during the work days to the weekends full of adventure on trails and in cities, swimming in mountain lakes and chasing rabbits across the sagebrush for fun. All of it, a dog or two by my side. If I could only choose one animal to have for the rest of my life, I would take a dog. Not a horse.

But! This is not a world where we have to make those kind of choices, thank goodness, so now I have both. Dogs AND horses. And I have this blog that I thought would be about horses but guess what, winter is long here and sometimes there’s only so much to say about horses. So let me tell you about some dogs.

  1. The Brown. She’s numero uno in everyone’s heart and has earned it. She hails from squirrel hounds in Tennessee but has lived in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Oregon. She’s aging gracefully with bunny hair between her teeth and an elk bone buried nearby for safe keeping. She takes the spot closest to the wood stove and the horse poop pile furthest from the mule. We jokingly say that her motto is, ‘ I do what I want,’ and she largely does.

It almost looks like she’s being obedient here.

  1. The Grey. This dog is half wild but somehow entirely domesticated. We took her in when her redneck, deadbeat owners refused to care for her and she came begging to the neighbors (us) for food during her pregnancy and raising puppies. (Her puppies looked like full-bred border collies. The dad was not much of a border collie. The Grey is not much of a border collie. Dog genetics are weird.) She’s probably got husky in her and she loves to run and hunt. But indoors she is a princess and she has adapted to life by the fire with gusto. She has way more livestock experience than The Brown and thinks that chasing horses and mules when they’re wound up is fun. (Spoiler alert: it’s not.) She’s an outstanding ambassador for the canine race otherwise and her biggest concern in life is going up to every human she sees to ask them whether or not they think she’s pretty. (Spoiler alert: she is.)
  1. The Fosters. This year we decided to pitch in and give the local animal rescue a hand by fostering dogs. This entails providing the bridge between whatever situation they came from (it’s best not to even imagine) and their forever homes. So far we’ve had two: Little, a heeler-border collie mix who was an adorable, energetic sprite of a mutt, and Daisy Deuce, who seems like she could be a mix of a golden retriever and a river otter, except colored like a border collie mix. She slides around in the snow otter-like and spends much of her time in repose on her back, a hoard of toys and socks and towels she has collected strewn about her. We’ve had her less than a week and the transformation has been astounding. I might have cried a little today watching her play, after witnessing the shut-down, timid creature that walked in this house a week ago. That’s what I mean when I say dogs are my heart animals, everything about them pings at that big old muscle in my chest.

A good ranch/barn/farm is not a good ranch/barn/farm without some dogs. There will always be as many as we can fit on mine.


Dogs and wide open spaces; two of my favorite things.

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Gratuitous Horse Shopping

I don’t need another horse. I still can’t believe I own three. But I’m so in love with the mustang that I constantly think I want more. I want like five just in case I ever have five friends visiting at once that want to ride with me? Because I think it would be fun to lead small group trail rides? Because you can’t escape the potato chip joke?

Except replace “one” with “seven”?

Anyway. I’m good with my herd for now. But I learned a thing from Olivia that window/fantasy shopping for horses (and tack and farms and…) and blogging about it is a great way to help with “the wants.”

So I give you…the February 2018 Northern Nevada Correctional Center Saddle-Trained Wild Horse Adoption!

I have never attended a correctional center adoption. I imagine these inmates train with mostly heart and brawn. They aren’t refined competitors or professional trainers. I love the idea of bringing home a horse that they have gentled to finish, but am nowhere near ready for that yet. Still, it’s fun to look.

Can we talk about how chunky these boys are? They all look like draft ponies who have been on unlimited alfalfa, except for a few, and everybody could use a few lessons on self-carriage. But there’s a lot of potential! Most hail from the Little Owyhee or other Nevada HMAs. We’ve got zero greys (boooo), pintos or palominos but some nice bays and blacks. I avoid sorrels and roans for the most part. I’ve got a short, stocky mustang already, so give me long and lean. Here’s my top 3:

  1. Disco. This guy is 16 h and has a super kind eye. I love his three socks and little star. It’s a little strange to pick a horse without seeing his movement, but I can imagine that body working nicely in a dressage setup. He looks like a thoroughbred!

    Disco, 16 h, Little Owyhee HMA

  2. Feather. I need another black horse like I need another horse period. But I think Feather is nicely put together and ready for business. Plus it looks like he has the capacity to grow a metric ton of hair, which is really high on my mustang wish list.

    Feather, 15.2 h, Little Owyhee HMA

  3. Macaroni. OK, I know I said no sorrels, but I’m calling him a liver chestnut and a hunk. All cleaned up he’s gonna be real flashy and he looks well balanced.

    Macaroni, 15 h, Little Owyhee HMA

This rounds out my choice ‘stangs for this episode of Gratuitous Horse Shopping. Who would you pick?

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Trail Ride Success

Heading out off our property has been haunting me since the fall, when I took the mustang on his first overnight (at deer camp) and had one really lovely walk with him and then a second day where he spent 3/4 of the ride trying to toss me off, or at least act enough like he was going to toss me off that I would dismount and he would get his way and there you have it, the opposite of success. This was also coupled with another October experience at a poker ride that ended with me in tears, so let’s just say I didn’t really want to take this horse off the property very badly. But we weren’t giving up, and the mild winter makes for very few excuses, so on Sunday we loaded him in the trailer and drove a couple miles up into the forest to ride on the dirt roads.

You know it’s serious when I get the western tack out.

He was a bit bouncy and did not want to stand still to be mounted, which is consistent with mounting done outside of the arena for the most part. But I can handle forward if he was controlled, and from the start he did listen to me every time I asked for his attention. Three dogs and a boyfriend accompanied us on the trail with three of the four behind us most of the time. It didn’t take long for me to be comfortable enough to ask for a trot, which was again, forward, but not so much that it worried me. I steered him around the icy puddles he didn’t seem to be very concerned about and he followed my aids. During one of our trots he snuck in a few canter strides, which felt like just a little bit of feeling good and not at all about him trying to take off. I thought it would be great to do five miles, but the weather turned to crap so it probably wound up being closer to four. On the way back he did some dancing and a little head tossing, and a few times I obliged the weirdo requests to walk off into the woods instead of staying on the road. I stuck to my guns otherwise, and did not dismount until we were back at the trailer, relieved.

Obligatory cheesy smile because horse is not being a jerk and I can feel my toes. (Toe feeling and smile were lost not long after.)

It wasn’t perfect, and it wasn’t on our own, which is when I’m much more likely to panic and worry about being thrown and therefore immediately hop off and weep, but it was a start. I beamed the whole way home.

My brown dog was such a trooper on this walk. I loved having her by my side.

Of course the outcome of this one, positive ride made me suddenly eager to start doing some conditioning and the next day it snowed but I thought I would still get out there and get a couple miles in. The dirt road was an icy mess and the creek was suddenly under snow and terrifying and it got dark and next thing you know I was walking him back home having realized that maybe the mild part of winter has departed and it might be a good idea to hold my horses on the trails until we can see some dirt again.


Two things I bought myself (both used on eBay) as birthday month gifts to get excited about more time in the saddle:

  1. A Garmin Forerunner GPS watch. I have been wanting one for years but since I stopped running very much it felt like something I didn’t need. (There are so many phone apps that do the same thing.) But if we’re going to do endurance miles this will be a much more fun and easy way to track time/distance. It’s already motivating me to move more, even unrelated to the equine.
  2. A sheepskin seat cover. This thing is used and I have no idea if it’s contoured for a western or english saddle but I used it on my western this weekend and hoo-boy, was that nice in the cold.


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Open Letter to My Horse as He Walks Away from Me

I don’t know what your deal is. I caught you last, after messing with Rube and Sam and not really even intending to make you work that hard. But there you were, walking determinedly away, not really in a big rush or anything, just pushing my buttons. Come on, I pleaded, all I want out of this is to have a relationship where we enjoy each other’s company. I’m not trying to make this some sort of oligarchy. There’s no need to feel like I’m going to push you to do something that isn’t fun for either of us. Do you really never want to work? Is that what this is about? Would you prefer a life of leisure in the pasture doing nothing? Never getting out, never pushing or challenging or learning? Maybe that’s it. Maybe you would prefer to have it your way. Maybe I’m asking too much all the damn time. You had to learn everything in 100 days and it wasn’t fair and now you would like to unlearn it all and just enjoy domestication without pretending to want to be a part of some partnership. I get it. I understand this is all unnatural to you. As much as we talk about ‘natural horsemanship’ it’s really not. I can talk till I’m blue about how I move your feet like the lead mare, how I use pressure and release and timing, but we both know that I’m a human and you’re a horse and there is nothing natural about you allowing me to swing my leg over your withers and ask you to listen to me when I suggest we go in this direction at such a speed. I get it, buddy, I really do. But god willing and the creek don’t rise we’ve got a lot of time left on this earth together, and I think it would behoove both of us to figure out how to do this on a regular basis without the tantrum-y meltdowns. Sometimes I’m going to grab a halter and walk into the paddock and ask you to lower your head and come with me and it would be really cool if you could just say, “OK.”

At least he has a cute butt


New Year “Goals”

I’m not really a goal-oriented person. I love reading and once picked up the book DRIVE: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us and never finished it. That about sums me up.

H’s goal for every ride: get home in time for dinner.

But here are a few intentions for 2018, anyway. (See how I avoided using the word goals there?)

  1. Start lessons in spring instead of fall. Last year a lot of life was wrapped up in the jostling required to buy this ranch. I made excuses all year and did not have a single lesson until October. No bueno.
  2. Attend another clinic. I loved going to the Mustang Rendezvous this fall, and hope to attend again in 2018 if scheduling permits. But I should get to something closer, either with my own trainer or another bigger barn that hosts clinicians. Maybe trail obstacles or beginning cow work. There’s also a desensitizing clinic every spring to benefit a local 4-H or FFA club, which would be great.
  3. Complete a trail ride off the property without either of us having a meltdown. I can hack out all over our property with very few, minor issues. But beyond the confines of these acres we have not been so successful. I tried to do a “poker ride” at the end of the aforementioned Mustang Rendezvous and got into some very nasty arguments about who was in charge and ended that day defeated and deflated. I’m thinking that going out with a trainer or other experienced horse people who are willing to give me some pointers and or reassurance will set us up for success.
  4. Depending on how soon #3 happens, try some endurance conditioning and an introductory ride. I still get all starry-eyed when thinking about getting into endurance but have not gotten the mustang going enough to see how he handles being out there for more than a few miles at a time.
  5. Go camping/do a short pack trip. We had one successful camp trip this fall; the mustang stayed out all by himself in a possibly non-electrified electric tape corral for two nights, one of which included several surprise inches of wet snow and a really rowdy visit from the livestock guardian dogs working at a nearby sheep operation. I figure if he got through that, he’s probably pretty safe to take camping. Hopefully this goes along with more successful trail rides.
    • Adjacent to this is getting the mule to a place where I can trust him enough to take him somewhere and not have anybody die.
  6. Continue to be a good student of the horse. There’s really so much to learn as a returning rider. Everything is different from what I knew as a kid, when, as they say, we ride with 90% brawn and 10% brain. I want to continue reading and watching and learning from the great horsemen/women and develop a higher understanding of this partnership I’m cultivating.
  7. Calm down, stay present, seek peace. I’m a slightly anxious, very sarcastic and somewhat pessimistic human by nature, and I’d like to continue to try to leave that aside when I’m working with the horses and mule and remember to breathe and stay positive. I believe it really does help. I’m not going to be doing any sitting-on-pillows meditation anytime soon, so I’ll continue to try to find that happy place in my time with the hoofed ones.
  8. Keep writing! I have attempted to keep about 47 various blogs in the past decade, and this is the only time I’ve kept one alive this long (by far). I still don’t tell people about it or do anything else that might grow my meager readership, but hey, baby steps.

Happy New Year!