A Coonhound, a Runaway, and Old Man Winter

It sure was cold over Christmas. We had a few days of subzero temperatures and two days of heavy frost. I must say, if it has to be crummy weather, it at least makes it somewhat more tolerable when the snow does fun stuff at night. It makes waking up to -19° just a little bit better when you walk to the barn and have a photoshoot at your fingertips. And without further ado, a frosty morning:

The Great Horned Owls are back, but nobody was home- or they were protesting the weather out of sight. Probably wise.
This is what I see from my couch every morning while drinking tea. It could be worse.

Oh, also. My aunt and uncle got me those signs you see on the barn door. One says “My barn, my rules” – which is accurate. The other says “Barn goddess parking only”- also accurate.

The life of an equestrian in Wyoming winter, summed up in one picture.

The ponies were super frosty too, but still looked cozy in all their fur.

Coco Chanel models her new leggings.
Dilly Bean has really pretty, long lashes.

So that was the adventure to the barn to feed the ponies. It was too cold to ride, but at least it was pretty!

Later, Jared and I thought we should take Prune on a walk. He came to pick us up, and apparently Todd decided that today was the day that he was laying down the law. He saw us getting ready to leave, climbed the chain link fence of his 8′ kennel and weaseled his way through the 5″ hole between the gate and the kennel roof. He ran over to the truck as fast as he could and had jumped into the back of the truck before we could stop him. Then him and Prune just looked at us, daring us to tell Todd he could not come with us.

The score: Hound dogs-1, Humans-0.

So now we are taking both Prune and his runaway friend, Todd, on an adventure. We stopped at my parent’s house to try to take pictures of their creek, but the lighting was terrible, so we took the puppers to the river instead. Right off the bat, we found this:

Mountain kitty!

Since Prune is a failed lion hunter, I caught Todd and stuck his nose in the track. Nothin’. Not even a peep. Todd is rebelling in more ways than one today, apparently.

The river was feeling photogenic today. Pictures like this really make me love my home.
A close up of the icicles, and the river that refuses to be contained. Lately, I have felt this river running through me. It wants to sweep me away to a new adventure. We will see if I’m brave enough to let it.

Todd decided that all of the best smells are on the edge of the ice. And not the thick ice. Only the thin ice that overhangs the river, eagerly awaiting an unsuspecting hound dog as a sacrifice to the river gods.

We yelled at him. He ignored us.

Eventually, he decided to move on. Him and Prune did hound things while Jared and I watched the geese fly in the wrong direction. I have a new fascination with birds, but that’s a story for another time.

As we were leaving, we found more lion tracks going in the opposite direction. Todd still refused to admit he could smell anything. Sometimes, I guess, even hound dogs need a day off. <3

Turbo Goes To School

12/30/17 Turbo is officially one of the easiest going horses I have ever had the privilege of riding. He is a super quick study and is learning stuff left and right. Look out world, here he comes! Right after he finishes breakfast.

Here’s a list of things Turbo has learned in a mere 11 days at the Shallary Farm:

1) How to wear a blanket and not scoot out from under it when I take it off of him as though he is under attack.

2A) How to wear English tack, and he looks super adorable wearing it, if I do say so myself.

2B) He learned that not everyone throws the tack at him in a heap. He used to duck his back down and away when I would put even the saddle pad on. Now he just sleeps while being clothed.*

*And he has not been cinchy a single time with me. Not once! Happily, he appreciates gentle girth tightening. And girths with elastic on them. And not having to wear a tourniquet.

3) How to use a mounting block and not look so confused when the human doesn’t have to clamber up his side to get in the saddle.

4) How to back up. At first we couldn’t even do this from the ground, and definitely not when riding. Halfway there! I don’t think anyone ever told him that backing was an option.

5) How to maneuver consecutive trot poles, and that they trip you if you forget to pick up your legs.

6) That we don’t always just canter one lap and then stop. (Racehorse, much?) Also, the human is allowed to steer while doing said cantering.

7) How to canter over a pile of poles.

8) How to trot three crossrails in a row. We have steering and trotting and thinking. All at once!

9) How to jump a vertical! With an actual jump effort! So cute.

10) How to jump a skinny. What can I say? Most of my jumps were salvaged from a burn pit, and the poles are all rather short.

11) How to have some resemblance of contact and softening to the bit. Although now he has learned that when he lowers his head, he’s a “good boy” and it’s getting a bit out of hand. Now I have to tell him to pick his head UP! Overachiever.

12) How to stand. Why do none of my ponies arrive with this skill? They all insist that they have somewhere to be AT ALL TIMES. Then I have to install Lazy 2.0. Luckily, it’s working. Although, yesterday I did burp while he was standing, which he thought was the cue to start walking. It wasn’t.

13) How to not flail his legs around when I pick them up. And I am proud to report: the farrier did all four feet today, no problem!

And last but not least…

14) Like any good horse, he has learned how to nicker and beg for cookies while we are riding… and pretty much anytime he sees me outside. I’ve become his walking cookie dispenser, and he says he likes that very much.🍪

Buying a Horse: Wyoming Style

We leave Bolt’s house, and I’m pretty excited about Turbo. I call Christian to reenact the last hour. She’s giggling profusely. We decide he seems like a nice boy (Turbo, not Bolt.) (Although, Bolt is nice too.) Christian wants to wait until she watches the videos to make a decision.

Jared kept us in suspense for a good three hours, battling with technology before they could finally be uploaded. So Christian watches them and decides I should buy him. And so I do.

I messaged Bolt to ask when I could pick up Turbo. He says 9 Tuesday morning. I tell him I can’t do 9, but I could do 9:05.

I get to Bolt’s house, and I can’t find a Bolt. There is no movement inside the house. There is no movement outside the house. There is a car idling outside, but I think it may have just been forgotten there overnight. His dog apparently didn’t remember me at all, because it won’t stop growling at me as I poke around the place.

After numerous times of knocking on the door, Bolt finally answers. He looks really sleepy. “WAKE UP!” I yell through the screen door. “Were you sleeping?!?!” I asked, bewildered. He says he was. I simply can not believe this. It’s 9:05 on a Tuesday morning!! Wake up, wake up!!!!! We have horses to catch, papers to sign, money to spend! The day’s a wastin’! Sheesh.

I tell him I am going to go catch Turbo, and I’ll meet him at my horse trailer. I remembered to bring my own halter, which I thought was good, otherwise we would have had to stuff him in the trailer with bailing twine. That is… if I could catch him.

Turbo took one look at me, decided he didn’t want any part of my lunacy that day, and hooves it to the other side of his field. At a slow walk. Like he knew he wasn’t supposed to do this, but as long as he didn’t actually “run away,” I couldn’t be mad. He made sure to stay a few too many steps ahead of me the whole time. I decide I’m not going to chase him. Turbo stops and looks at me, sad I have given up before the fun part.

Bolt arrives with grain. Turbo comes over and happily lets us catch him. Well that was dramatic. I notice Bolt smells like alcohol. Guess that “no alcohol” sign at his house was just a suggestion. We take Turbo to the trailer, and he debates whether or not he wants to go with me. Bolt gives him a tap on the rear. Turbo sighs and gets in. He’s so dramatic.

Now for the paperwork. Bolt has typed up a Bill of Sale, which I look over. He has the horse breed: Bay. He has the horse description: Dark bay. I took the liberty of crossing out and writing things on his Bill of Sale. For example, an actual breed under the breed category, and I added his leg scar and his star under the description. We sign it. Done deal. My brand inspector is scheduled for the next day to finish paperwork.

Right before she was suppose to arrive, I get a text: “Need to reschedule! I’m still shipping calves!” Of course she is. It’s Wyoming. So we reschedule and get her out here to do the papers. Apparently it’s all fancy now, and they print the paperwork on site. This sounds good in theory, but it’s 6° outside. That is not a typo. Six! So her computer and printers are malfunctioning, but they finally print. But my name is misspelled. So now that we are numb, we pick another fight with the computer. We lose. She says she will just print it for me at her house and bring it by in a few days.

It’s been a week. So I just sent her a message asking if it printed. She says: “Yes, and I was going to drop by your house today but the tractor wouldn’t start and the water tank broke so I’m just getting done with my chores.”

Sounds about right. Winter in Wyoming ain’t for weenies, that’s for sure. Hopefully I will have all of the paperwork in my possession before long. In the meantime, Turbo and I have been hard at work. Want to see everything he has learned so far? Then go here:

Turbo Goes To School

Learning to Self Teach

How often do you get a riding lesson? Weekly? Maybe twice a week?  Since moving back to Wyoming, I have tried to get at least a lesson per month. I know… it’s a little overkill, but when you live in the sticks like I do, weekly lessons become a thing of the past. It’s probably safe to say Christian won’t be retiring off of my lesson money any time soon…

So to get said lesson (or weekend of lessons) I have to pack all the things, stuff the ponies in the trailer, and drive to Christian’s house… which would be fine, if she didn’t live 4 hours away. She lived literally over the river and through the woods, with I-80 in between. (For those of you unfamiliar with I-80, just picture 40 car pile-ups, winter speed limits of 45 mph, and a black-ice mountain pass with lots of truckers.) But, beggars can’t be choosers, and I would drive there anyways, trying my best to plan around any blizzards. Luckily, she has since moved 2 1/2 hours closer, but still! A weekend of lessons can easily turn into a full-fledged adventure when the weather turns south. The bonus though, is that all of my horses are now really, really, good at trailering. 🙂

Anyways, the point is this. It’s not always feasible to have eyes on the ground, so you have to learn to self-teach. How the heck do you do that!? How do you learn with nothing being taught?!

Well buckle up, kids, because I’m about to tell you how it goes down.

When I first started the process, I quickly realized that the easiest thing to work on is myself, because I could feel any crookedness in my body much easier than I could in my horse. So I did that for the first year or so, and still do to this day. I could tell that my left stirrup always felt a mile long, and my right leg was clamped against my horse like a vice. My hands were (cough *are still often*) too high, I stared at the ground, etc…whatever the case may be. I could in no way, shape or form, put my horse on the bit and get him going forward in a reasonable fashion while I was flailing around on top of him. And let’s not even talk about the jumping. So with all this in mind, I knew I needed to work on my position, and I didn’t need an instructor to tell me that. I knew I couldn’t fix everything at once, so I didn’t even try. I just picked one thing per day (or week, or month) and worked at that specific problem until I felt better about it.

Even weight in both seat bones. Check. ✔
Torso looking the direction of travel. Check. ✔
Legs in proper alignment. Check. ✔
Both legs participating. Check. ✔

Then when I was feeling pretty good, we started over and did it all at the trot, and finally at the canter. Thrilling, right?

Eventually, I started working on my position and the horse at the same time. (WHOA, I was getting reallly good here, guys.)😅 Ricco is super wiggly, so I worked on keeping him bent the correct direction, then keeping a rhythm… again, all at the walk. (I wondered why trotting was so daggum hard!) It was a very slow progression.

Through all this, I would make it to Christian’s for a weekend of lessons, and we would work on actual stuff like finding a real contact, going forward to jumps, and the technical skills I would need to successfully event. (Note: We had yet to finish an event without the dreaded next to our name in 3 years of eventing from Montucky, so we had a lot of work to do.) We would make good progress during our lessons, and Christian would give me a month’s worth of homework, which usually consisted of one or two things. (I’m slow, what can I say!?)

I went home and tried to re-create the things we did during lessons, (calling Christian in a panic when it didn’t work, getting further instruction i.e. “stop hanging on the right rein” or “try putting your leg on”) and when I felt that it was going well, we would try the next step on our own for a couple weeks. Once I felt I had a decent grasp on the concept, it would be time for another lesson. Eventually I got faster at the homework, which was a relief, I’m sure, for everyone involved.

Then big things started happening. I started feeling what my horse needed to fix, without Christian always being there to coach me through it. Trial and error… sometimes I could fix it, sometimes I couldn’t. I would (and still do) call Christian and tell her our issue. She suggests a solution. Already tried that yesterday. Didn’t work. She suggests another solution. Tried that too. She suggests a third solution. Ohhhhh. 💡 I’ll try that tomorrow. (I try it… it works.)Then continue problem solving on my own.

Mission accomplished. I was beginning to ride independently and problem-solving on my own, and sometimes it actually worked! *Gasp!* I was beginning to feel when the horse needed a certain kind of ride, or a specific exercise, even if it wasn’t my “plan” for that day. At long last, I am able to progress through a longer check list each time I ride. It goes something like this: Check my position. Fix anything out of alignment. Check the horse. Fix anything out of alignment. Do this all at the walk. Do it again at the trot and canter. Do this during transitions. Repeat for lengthenings. Repeat for collections. Repeat in shoulder fore.  Check and double check. Tempo. Rhythm. Bend. On the aids. You get the point. That’s a lot of stuff!

If this kid can learn to ride with only sporadic lessons, on a dorky Appaloosa, you can too.

Now during our lessons, we can work on fine tuning instead of just battling the basics. It’s taken 5 long years to get here, but looking back, I feel pretty good about where we’ve come. We have a never-ending list of goals to reach, and the progression may be slow, BUT! You can live in the boondocks and still progress as a rider. You can self teach. You can read books. You can watch videos. You can call your coach for a quick phone intervention when all hell breaks loose, and when you are having a nervous breakdown, and you can’t see the jumps because you may or may not be crying, and she will remind you that you can just make the jumps smaller and panic is not required.

It may not be conventional, but it’s working. This is how I get to live in a place that fuels my soul, while having an extremely small budget in a very expensive sport, and still chase the dream. <3

I wouldn’t trade views like this for anything 🙂
Mountains, solitude, eventing, and breathtaking views. Life is good.