Sometimes I’m struck with something to write and I must stop what I’m doing and get it down in the moment, otherwise I’ll lose the thought altogether. That is how this poem came to be. I was cleaning Gangster’s stall, thinking about my messy hair shoved under a hat, my warm scarf slightly choking me, and my puffy red jacket pulling the whole outfit together in something that looked more like “Got dressed in the dark,” than “Moderately talented horsewoman.” How come you never see those crazy barn looks on Instagram? I only ever see piles of turquoise on crisp-collared shirts without a speck of hay. So it is with these thoughts in mind that I give you the below poem.
Makeup Off, Spurs On
I’m a little leery of anyone who looks too good while riding
Hair perfectly coifed
Clothes styled straight out of a magazine.
Because that’s rarely how I look.
And I’d like to believe I didn’t spend much time on my face
Because I’m spending the time on my riding.
Ready to work.
No trendy vest and wild rag,
But I’m warm enough in this old coat.
And I can get warmer at a posting trot.
No long luscious hair flying behind me,
I’d hate to untangle all those knots later.
But my circles look good.
Big and fast.
Small and slow.
If you compliment my riding
Over how I look
I’d like that better anyway.
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When I first started showing, I would get really nervous and run a constant loop of my shortcomings: too slow in my circles, too timid in my lead changes, too stiff in my stops. I would compare all of my faults to what I imagined were my competitors glorious strengths . I’ve improved somewhat in my show nerves, and I would never stop showing because of the butterflies. Or perhaps they’re actually bats, not butterflies. But no matter, I think competitions force you to focus on improving. It may seem counterintuitive because competition inherently ranks you against your competitors, but the only thing you can control is how well you prepare and perform. And you can use the arena to your advantage. And even more so if you watch your competitors in that arena to improve your own skill.
Watch what they do before they compete. I don’t mean linger at the end of their aisle peering around the corner making notes on every move they make. I mean more generally about how they spend their time. For example, when I first started showing I would get really anxious that I wasn’t going to be ready for my classes. I would get my horse out, tack him up, get myself dressed and ready, and then we would warm up and wait. And wait. And wait. For hours. My horse would get bored and annoyed at all the standing around. Any warm up we had was then nullified by all the time standing around doing nothing. But by that time it was too late to go put him up and give each of us a rest, because now we really did need to be ready and on deck. Over time I saw that others in my barn would work their horse earlier in the day (or the trainer would) and then they would get dressed when it seemed the class was about an hour out. And then they would sit down and wait a bit, chatting with friends, having a little wine, and then about 30 minutes before the class they would get on and warm up. Use your competitors as clues about what you could do differently or try out for yourself. Particularly if you don’t have a trainer guiding you on what to do. And always add wine. It makes everything better.
While were on that topic of using your competition as cues, if you haven’t shown in a while, attend a show without your horse. Watch the classes that you intend to show in. See what people are wearing and how they have their horses tacked up. The first year I showed I wore my number on my back (reiners pin their numbers to the left side of the saddle pad) and I used my regular old saddle pad instead of a show blanket over a plain pad. Neither of those things was disqualifying, but they made me look inexperienced. When you’re showing, you have enough to worry about with your riding. You want to look and feel like you fit in. Don’t let the show norms surprise you. I once knew a lady who didn’t realize that chaps were required for her class. Now this is pretty standard stuff, but for her, she was old school and didn’t realize it was a requirement. Some lovely soul ran off and found her a pair to borrow for the duration of the class, but you won’t always have a show angel over your shoulder. And you don’t need that kind of stress anyway. Pay attention to what people are wearing, on themselves and their horses. And make sure you read the rules of your classes.
Watch what your competitors do after they compete. If you’re anything like me, you may have a tendency to dramatize every little thing that happened in a class. Good or bad. Blue ribbon? Cue the acceptance speech and gentle weeping and blowing kisses to the judges as you’re calling out “You really like me. You really do.” And on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, the wailing and gnashing of teeth if there was no ribbon won at all. The fact is winning and losing are part of the game. And we pay to play, so we’ve got to be ready for the inevitable and give in a little less to the roller-coaster of emotions. A blue ribbon means nothing if you were the only one in the class. And not placing also means nothing if you were in a class with 20 Pro-Ams. Long running, successful competitors take what they can learn out of each class and apply it to their next ride. But they do not allow their class outcome to determine their emotional well-being for the remainder of the day. Or, god forbid, the show. I say this with a smirk because this is a case of “do what I say, not as I do.” I’m not very good about keeping my emotions in check. But we all have our demons.
Watch what they do well. Then figure out how to do it better. We’ve all got to start somewhere, and in the beginning we are overcoming a great many obstacles to improve in horseback riding. But as you’ve been in the sport for some time and your skills improve, you see in greater detail the ways in which you still have to grow. Or maybe you don’t know exactly what it is that you’re missing, but you know someone is outperforming you because you’re constantly getting a red while that sparkly, annoyingly-perfect woman (she is probably none of these things, but envy is a nasty business) is always getting a blue. If you can’t figure out what she’s doing that you’re not, film her and film yourself and compare the two. A tad bit stalkery? Yeah maybe. But ask me if I care if I think it will help me improve? (hint hint, I don’t)*. And actually, quick side note, if you’ve never watched yourself ride, set up your iPhone on a rail and go around in a couple gaits. You will see some things that might make you cringe. (See post on sit your ass back and evidence of me not doing just that). The point is, use those who are excelling in your discipline to identify where you can improve. Obviously this is a lot easier if your trainer is pointing out where to improve. But sometimes listening to your trainer gets a little naggy (more leg, more leg, your reins are uneven, more leg, bla bla bla.) sometimes watching a competitor use more leg and seeing the difference in the ride can help solidify the lesson your trainer is trying to hammer into your thick skull. I can say this because I whole heartedly know that I am a thick-skulled dolt who my trainers patiently endure.
And while you’re watching your competition, sometimes they are the lesson in what not to do. Like talking smack about competitors in the bathroom. Don’t do this. I don’t care if you think no one can hear you. Somehow, somewhere, someone is going to hear you. And you’re going to ruin their day and quite possibly their life. Sorry. That was a typo. I meant ruin their show. Not their life. Their show. Not that this has ever happened to me. But going to middle school predisposes every woman to have this deep-rooted fear that someone is making fun of her behind her back.
Best wishes to you in whatever your discipline. Don’t forget to have fun. That is why we do this whole horsey thing isn’t it?
What are the things you do to help yourself improve? Tell me so that I can try and use them to improve. Please. I’m begging you. Help me.
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When I was 20 years old a friend of mine killed his best friend, seriously injured his ex-girlfriend and then shot and killed himself. This was not a casual acquaintance. This was a man who took me to my very first prom when I was in 10th grade when going to prom as a 10th grader with a senior was the most exciting thing going on. This was someone who I took martial arts with. Someone I shared my heartaches with, someone I flirted with and danced with and loved. And then he wasn’t. In a matter of seconds he became someone I didn’t know. How could he do such a thing? What had driven him to such a place of madness?
I also had taken martial arts with his father. I went to my old dojo and sat with my former classmates as we listened to our sensei talk about the loss. I don’t remember a word he said. What I remember is the way my friend’s father looked. If you could let the air out of someone’s life that’s how he looked.
Last week the son of my husband’s coworker took his life. He was 18 years old. I didn’t know the coworker or the child. Eighteen years old is still a child. I cried. It brought me back to the loss of my friend. It even took me to my own dark places where thoughts of suicide blew like grey curtains over a dim life. Yes. I have thought about suicide before. I bet if you gently and honestly asked some of your close friends they might reveal that they too had let the thought linger in their mind. Explored it’s hard and finite edges.
I never had a plan. I never wanted to die. But I wanted to escape my pain. My life. My parents and I went through some rocky times. Times where we didn’t speak because not speaking was preferable for me than the absolute anger and frustration that I felt. Right, wrong, or indifferent, that is my journey. And it led me to Arizona and my husband and a road back to a relationship with my parents.
But I don’t want this post to be about me. I want this post to be for you. Or for your child. Or teen. Or young adult. I stumbled into someone’s wounded heart recently when I asked a friend how his family was doing. He revealed to me that his family was struggling and that his daughter was going through a tough time.
I know that I’m not 20 anymore and that my teen years weren’t just a brief time ago. I feel like they were. But my neighbor’s daughter made that abundantly clear when she made fun of how much time I was on Facebook and said Facebook was for middle aged women. But even so, I distinctly remember those awkward and torturous years. And I especially remember the difficulty I had my senior year when I knew that the life I had known for the past 15 years, going to school every day, summers off, doing homework, hanging out with friends and dreaming of the future, was ending. The transition into adulthood is not an easy one and I wouldn’t relive it for anything.
If you are in the middle of this angst-filled time, struggling to be an adult under the supervision of your parents, please know that whatever you feel today, is not how you will feel tomorrow, or next week, or even next year. There is so much possibility in this world. You just have to give it a little time. I know that teenagers can be terrible to each other. That parents can be assholes and that no one seems to get what you’re going through. But please just remember that there is a MASSIVE world out there just waiting for you to arrive.
Parents are people and screw up all the time. Your friends might be jerks to you because they are just as conflicted and confused and frustrated as you are and don’t know how to say just that. I promise you though that everyone is going through something and that you can come out the other side. And you might be able to help someone to the other side as well. Just please don’t take your life and all of your special talents and light and love. You were made for this world and your friends and family want you to remain part of the world for as long as possible.
If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide and you are looking for someone to talk to, you can reach out to the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or check out their website at http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
This week marks one year since I was asked to carry the American flag during the national anthem for our local rodeo. My gut had twisted in on itself at the thought. I was both terrified and exhilarated. I was sick with the question of if I could actually do it. I don’t know how big the flag is at your local rodeo, but the flag at our rodeo is HUGE. It is a being unto itself. The wooden pole that carries it flexes with the wind resistance and yet is stiff and unyielding against your leg while you’re trying to cue your horse.
But I didn’t know any of that yet. All I knew is that I had been asked to do something that I only ever dreamed of, and I had to say yes. Even though I knew I wanted to say yes, I still had doubts. I asked my friends and family what they thought about being invited to do something you’ve only dreamt of, but fearing the risk, that risk being public humiliation if you fail. Not one person told me to give up the opportunity. Every single person said that I had to do it, whatever it was. I hadn’t admitted to them what the thing was that I both wanted and feared.
I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that I made up my mind to do it and practiced and everything fell into place. I’ve written about it before. I had to work for it. I had to work to condition my shoulder to handle the resistance of the flag. I had to condition my mind to think that I could succeed rather than worrying about failing. But I did do the work. And I did find a horse to ride and we carried that gorgeous red white and blue flag around that arena that I’d been going to since I was a 4h-er running in the calf scramble.
I had some hiccups, my horse got a ball of dirt in her hoof and was off in our trot, then we had a little trip and picked up the wrong lead. I curse the damn flag pole for that, as I couldn’t get my right spur into her side enough. I curse myself for not wearing a longer spur on my right boot. And I didn’t always have that flag perfectly upright.
For a while, I really picked on those things. I felt bad that I hadn’t done a better job. And then I realized, there is not one person in those stands who could judge me. I got on a horse and rode around in front of 3000 people and old glory didn’t touch the ground and my family got to watch me live out my dream. It wasn’t perfect, as things never are when you’ve never done them before. But I did it.
How timely then that the reminder of me preparing to carry that flag should come up now, in the midst of winding down on editing my book and making preparations to send query letters to agents. Will I make some mistakes? Without a doubt. Is my book perfect? I’d love to think so, but the reality is, probably not. But are either of those things going to stop me? They never have before, so I figure, why start now?
I wrote a book. I wrote out over 83 thousand words in a cohesive manner that a few people of found enjoyable (the few who have read it). That in and of itself is an accomplishment. I want to see it get to a wide audience, to get wide distribution, but whatever the outcome, I think I can be happy with what I’ve done. I don’t believe there’s anyone who could say I’ve half-assed it, that I didn’t give it my all, didn’t try my best. And this, after all, the only thing we can do, is to try our best.
Whatever big-ass, scary, intimidating dream your dreaming, keep dreaming it. Do the work. Believe in the dream. Please don’t let your own doubts or fear get in the way of something wonderful. Without dreamers, you wouldn’t even be reading these words on your smartphone, on this blog, on the weird and invisible thing called the internet.
Dreamers never stop trying. And neither should you.
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Show season is starting, and even though I’m not showing this year, I still think about what I want to accomplish with riding and how far I’ve come. Thinking about my riding made me think back to my only “show” as a youth. As the youngest of five kids, the fact that I even got to ride horses was a miracle. Turning into a jodhpur-wearing, ribbon-winning equestrian was completely out of the question. So when the barn I shoveled manure at in exchange for lessons hosted their own show-day, I was excited to participate. I don’t remember what clothes I wore, but I do remember the boots: a pair of black, leather, knee-high boots that gapped a little at the calf and zipped up the inside. (Back in those days I rode hunt-seat.) When the trainer at the barn saw me all dressed up for my class, she gave me a big smile and said “I like your boots!”
I turned to my mom and whispered, “Do you think she knows they’re not real riding boots?”
Ever the practical woman, my mom said “Of course she does. But that doesn’t matter, she still likes them.”
I was naïve enough to not even realize that true field boots damn sure do not zip up the inside of the calf. Nor would they gap awkwardly at the knee. But I didn’t know any of that. All I knew was that I was showing and I got a compliment on my outfit.
There are a few times as an adult I have cringed at this memory. If I remember distinctly what the boots looked like, I’m sure the rest of the outfit was just as awkward. Until more recently I had still carried some embarrassment at the lack of money I had growing up, and how completely obvious it must have been to others, but was not always so to me.
Thank god for that.
If you (or your parent!) are scraping together the money for lessons and then piecing together a show outfit (for horse and rider) I APPLAUD YOU! This is a tough industry not to have money in. It can feel real awkward at times not having money and trying to participate. But please do not give up. Please do not ever let anyone make you feel like because your boots aren’t brand new, aren’t $1000 Parlanti field boots, or that you don’t have the latest Yucca Flats saddle pad, that you don’t belong.
Did you notice all of those things I just listed are THINGS? That’s right. I didn’t say anything about your riding, your passion, your desire. That’s because money can’t replace those things. If you (or your child) are passionate about riding, about improving, about showing, then find a way to do it and just do it. Maybe don’t show in western pleasure, because those bedazzled jackets are ridiculously expensive. (Can we I just be real for a moment? Most of those jackets are too much. Like QVC bedazzler-on-clearance too much. But I digress)
Still ride. Still show. In spite of what money you don’t have, what fancy tack you lack, in spite of a less-than memorable pedigree. Just ride.
And if you’re willing to work to get better, any trainer worth their weight in golden horse shoes will recognize that and help you. They might not pay your entrance fees, but they will help you in whatever way they can and in the ways they know you need. That may come in the form of lending you needed tack, digging through their old show clothes to find fill-in pieces for your wardrobe or working a deal to get you second hand show boots.
The equestrian world is filled with lots of people who have lots of money. It’s also filled with people who only have a little money and want to look like they have lots of money. And then there are the rest of us who have very little extra money and. I once set an alarm for 2am so I could wake up and be the final bidder on an E-Bay auction for pair of Hobby Horse chaps. I won them. I regret nothing. I bragged about my 1/2 priced, used chaps. Please don’t let looks intimidate you. And don’t also begrudge those who have more money. They may be wishing they could trade in their perfect tack for a more natural seat. Everyone has their own path and their own struggle. Mine (and possibly yours) just happens to be lack of funds for an expensive hobby.
So keep up the good work. Keep doing your no-stirrup lessons. Keep an eye out at those used tack sales for the mythical saddle that is worth so much more than what it’s priced at. And if your parents are footing the bill for your crazy horse addiction, make sure you thank them. And go do some extra chores, like putting away the dishes in the dishwasher. And of course thank your trainer! (If you need a refresher on exactly why, see 5 More Reasons To Thank Your Trainer)
And don’t forget to have an AWESOME show season!
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When I was 22 I left Oregon in my little red Honda Civic and drove 21 hours to Wickenburg, Arizona to work on a guest ranch. I was a little lost in school, a lot lost in life. I won’t romanticize the ranch, it was hard work. The owners had high expectations and the manager was not a very nice person. But the desert was exactly what I needed. And I met the most amazing man there, who I now get to call my husband. I didn’t know when I met him that I would fall in love with him. He actually had a girlfriend at a different ranch when we met. But we became fast friends because of our mutual love of movies, sarcasm and complaining about work. Eventually the girlfriend became an ex-girlfriend and we started dating.
Even before I left the ranch, I knew I wanted to write about it. I knew what I wanted to write about. I never wanted to write about myself. I wanted to write about this amazing independent woman who worked on the ranch. She became the inspiration for the main character of my novel. After my work at the ranch ended, I started writing the story. In two years I wrote 36 pages. And then I put the story down and didn’t pick it up for years. I thought I was going to PA school. And then I wasn’t. But I was still intensely focused on my career in healthcare.
In 2015 I marveled at how 10 years had passed since I met my husband. Since that ranch changed the trajectory of my life. And I decided that I wanted to finish that story I started so long ago. And so began this journey you are accompanying me on now. If it weren’t for the book, this blog wouldn’t even exist. This blog is a product of my dream of finishing my story and the prodding of a good friend to chronicle my thoughts. I would be nothing without the strong women who have been a part of my life throughout my time on earth. I am built by them. Starting first with my mother. Then my sister. And out from there, like concentric rings of inspiration, each woman adding more.
My story is about an independent woman who must continue to grow. The main character is Sam Hart, a female wrangler at the Broken Hart guest ranch. She is looking forward to a satisfying winter season of leading dudes on trail rides. But with Eli Wright as the detestable general manager, the likelihood of a peaceful season is slipping away. And Sam feels her job, and even her future with the ranch, are threatened.
This story is a work in process. I am still actively editing it. Below is an excerpt from the first chapter. I wanted to share a taste of the story. To give a feel of what I’m working on.
And if you’re wondering what the hell made me want to write a novel, my only answer is that I had to. I don’t know why. I can’t question the process too much because the doubts become too large. I just have to do this. There is a saying by Thomas Carlyle. “Go as far as you can see. When you get there, you’ll see further.” So that is what I’m doing. I can’t see much beyond the telling of this story. But I am guided by a pull in my heart stronger than my fear that this is all for nothing.
Without further ado, here is the sample.
“Eli Wright came onto the ranch with nothing but an old shitty Ford truck and a mouth full of rotten teeth. He had nothing, he came from nothing, and then he showed up here and wants everything.”
“Samantha, honey. He can’t be that bad.”
“Mama,” Sam spoke through gritted teeth, “He knows nothing. But he acts like he knows everything. I just cannot believe Ron and Pearl promoted him to manager after having him as the head wrangler for just one season.”
“Sam, I’m sorry, but you knew this was going to happen. You knew it when you left at the end of last season. You haven’t even gotten started with this season. Maybe you should think about giving him a chance. You’re the one who told me Ron was very successful in day trading, he must see something in Eli that you don’t.”
“Well now I wish I hadn’t told you that, because I don’t like you turning it around on me.”
“I’m not trying to turn it around on you. But what choice do you have?”
“I could leave.”
“And go where? Another ranch? And then if there’s a no good, rotten-mouth, jerk there you going to leave that ranch too?”
“Well actually Ron and Pearl fixed his teeth for him over the summer. So now he has a full set of shiny veneers.”
“How do you know that? And anyway, quit distracting me. You got to buck up cowgirl. You can’t just pick up and leave when you get bored or the going gets—“
“Shit, ma. Sorry. Gotta go. He’s coming right now.” Sam cut her mom off.
“You called me from the ranch? What the heck, Sam? That is not smart.”
“Okay, mom, love you too. Great talking to you. Thanks for all the advice.” Sam set the phone on the receiver, her mom’s admonishments still floating up to her.
Eli walked in to the staff dining room, “Hey, been looking for you all over the place. I thought you were cleaning and oiling saddles?”
“I was. I finished up and came in to give my ma a call.”
“Okay, well we got shit to do. You all caught up on the gossip going on back home?”
“We weren’t—it wasn’t gossip. Never mind. Why were you looking for me?”
“The newest ops girl needs to be towed out of the river bed.”
“What the hell was she doing going through the dry river crossing?”
“Don’t know. You can ask her when we go pull her out. Figured you could help me.”
“And we need to take your truck.”
“Why wouldn’t we take the ranch truck?”
“I ran it out of gas. Well it has a little bit left in it, but not enough to go pull her out of the sand.”
“You what? How did you?” She now knew why he needed her help to tow the girl’s car out of the sand.
“Don’t worry about it. Just meet me at the truck. I’ll grab the towing chain out of it.”
Sam got in her new Dodge, she purchased it over the summer and the new car smell hadn’t left the upholstery yet. She pulled the truck around to Eli’s trailer, where the gas-less ranch truck sat. Eli’s rusted-out teal truck sat next to the ranch truck. She recalled how her heart had sunk when she pulled onto the ranch a few days earlier and saw the truck angled in front of the ranch office. She had hoped perhaps he wouldn’t return.
BANG! Eli slammed the chains in the bed of the Dodge and came around to Sam’s open driver’s side window.
“Jeez, Eli. You wanna watch my paint job? You really tossed that in there.”
“Ah c’mon Sam. You should have a bed liner anyway. Nobody keeps their trucks with a slick bed anymore anyway.”
“Yeah, bed liners cost money. So unless you’re giving out free liners, I’d like to keep it looking new for longer than a couple months.”
“Fine, fine. You gonna get out and let me drive or what?”
“Excuse me? Why would I let you drive my truck?”
Eli looked at her, mouth agape, threw his hands up and walked over to the passenger side and got in the truck. “What the hell’s up with you today?”
“Do I really need to explain to you why I would like to drive my own truck?”
“Whatever, Sam. Let’s get on our way. I’m looking forward to seeing what fresh meat we’re getting in.”
Sam ignored the comment. “So how did you even know she was stuck?”
“She walked to Holleran’s ranch and he called over here, because obviously her cell phone didn’t work. He called the office phone. Said the employee line was busy.”
“Oh so I guess you weren’t really looking all over for me then. You knew I was in the staff dining room on the phone.”
“Well I just got lucky. The staff dining room is where I started.”
Sam drove the truck off the ranch and south toward the fork in the gravel road. The fork to the north led to the Broken Hart Ranch. The fork to the East lead across the dry river bed and to the Holleran’s ranch and a few other private properties.
As they approached, they could see the girl’s red, two-door coup crouched in the piled up sand on the left side of the worn ruts. Sand filled the gaps in the wheel rim and came up to the bottom of the car. Eli opened his door before Sam had even cut the engine.
“Well hi there, Tess. Hear ya got a little problem.”
The young woman blushed. “Yeah, seems the desert got one up on me already.” Her long blonde hair sat on top of her head in a loose bun, her skin glinted with prickles of perspiration
Sam walked up to the leggy girl and offered her hand, “Hi Tess, I’m Samantha, but everyone calls me Sam.” They shook hands and Sam couldn’t decide if she was meeting a pretty, gritty girl or a wannabe cowgirl. The girl’s nails were artfully manicured with acrylic French tips, and her buttery leather boots bore no wear lines. Between the sports car, the manicure and the brand new boots, Sam decided she was looking at a wannabe cowgirl.
“Nice to meet you.” Tess gave Sam a wide smile, filled with straight white teeth that reminded Sam of a bleached-white orange peel. Tess seemed to sense Sam’s judgment. She chuckled and gestured at the car, “I swear they told me that thing could handle off-roading. But I guess the 2 feet of loose sand proved a little too much for it.”
Well, what do you think? Would you keep reading? Would it make you click “Buy Now” in your amazon account? Is there a strong woman in your life who has inspired you years after you first met her?
Legal Stuff: This is all copyrighted work, so please, no copying, reprinting or using of these words without my express permission.
This is one blog post I have been waiting, and waiting, and WAITING to be able to post.
There are times in life when road blocks are put in your path, and some people find a way to navigate around the road blocks while others accept the barrier as a limitation. Then there’s Morgan Wagner, who has navigated life and horse challenges with grace and unwavering determination.
I first met Morgan Wagner and Endo last winter at the barn where I board. After watching her and Endo work together for a few weeks I approached her with the idea of doing an interview and shopping it to a national equine magazine. She agreed and almost a year later, here we are, with Morgan and Endo featured in a national horse publication and me with my first ever national publication. The story of Morgan and Endo is not only meaningful because Endo is blind (as in no-eyeballs blind) but also because Morgan has Lupus and yet works through her own challenges to live a full and passionate life.
Endo’s eyes were removed in 2012 and 2013. After numerous bouts with uveitis, his eyesight was diminishing and he was in pain. He became unsafe to be around as he started spooking at the shadows that crept into his visual field. Morgan knew she was taking a gamble by removing his eyes. She risked not only the ability to ride him, but even his ability to keep living a safe life. It is a testament to Morgan’s patience in training and Endo’s trust in Morgan that they came out the other side of blindness and flourished together. They compete, and win, in working equitation competitions.
Morgan is no stranger to setbacks. Her own struggles are partially to blame, or credit depending on your view, of why she wanted to give Endo a chance at a meaningful life despite a disability. Morgan was diagnosed at age 19 with lupus, although looking at her you wouldn’t suspect anything is amiss. Lupus exacts its dysfunction in numerous ways that aren’t always obvious to a passive observer, but can be life altering for the individual experiencing them. Until recently, Morgan hasn’t shared much about her own challenges, not wanting to give people the impression she is seeking fame or charity. But her own struggles give greater depth and meaning to the special bond between her and Endo, as well as her patience for Endo’s learning curve after becoming blind. Before he lost his sight, she taught him tricks to help mitigate some of the challenges due to her lupus. She taught him to lie down to easily get on him if there was no mounting block. She also taught him to lower his head so she could bridle him without a struggle, as Endo is 15.2 hands and Morgan is only 5’3” tall. She also taught Endo to stop if Morgan became unbalanced, an important skill due to dizzy spells she would experience from medication.
Together, Morgan and Endo have shown what teamwork can look like, regardless of rider or mount deficits. They have also become unofficial ambassadors of the sport of Working Equitation. The only reason I came to know the sport was because of this pair in a video on YouTube. Each of their videos have thousands of views.
In an age when fewer people are getting involved in horse sports, this pair is a boon to the business. And what a way for the equestrian community to show that your ability (horse or rider) is what matters. A disability does not define you or your horse.
Not everyone is as impressed with the time and energy Morgan has put into Endo. Though she has not only helped him to navigate the world without sight, but also to excel in working equitation competitions, some people have asked why she bothers and question whether she asks too much of the gelding. They have gone so far as to ask why she didn’t just put him out to pasture and let him lead a simple life. Her pat answer to such questions is that every positive experience Endo has in a new place, and the mastery of every new skill, makes him that much safer of an animal to be around. She originally started training Endo with the hope she could demonstrate that blind horses still have value and could be rescued and have meaningful relationships with their owners. But Morgan’s own disability stood in the way of being able to continue working and barred her from being able to continue her work rescuing and rehabilitating blind horses.
Sometimes people inquire how Morgan can ride with a disability such as Lupus. That shouldn’t she herself preserve her life and lead it carefully? Within the confines of managing a chronic disease?
And to that, Morgan asks, “Do they expect people with disabilities to just lay down and die? I want to live my life doing the things I enjoy. I sold all of my material possessions so that I could afford to show him. I want to pursue the things that make me happy.”
It’s a fair question. Being a horse lover myself, I could never expect someone to give up their equine hobby because it didn’t fit my perception of what a person with disabilities can do. And watching Endo and Morgan together, I tend to think Endo feels more at ease with Morgan than he would being turned out to pasture. He sticks his head out of his feeding window at the sound of her voice, “looking” for her. He also will stretch his head toward her, using sound and touch to find her, for scratches. Sometimes while riding my own horse while Morgan is working Endo, I forget that he’s blind. They share a deep bond that is almost visible while watching them together. Endo’s extraordinary talent seems to be the product of their bond and Morgan’s dedication to him, not some kind of forced display pushed by Morgan.
I asked Morgan if she received much attention from people with disabilities, telling her she and Endo have been an inspiration.
“Not really.” She shrugs. “Mostly people ask for advice about coping with their own blind or going-blind horse.”
I press for more and ask what she would tell someone who was looking for encouragement in dealing with a challenge or disability.
She takes a moment and responds, “Do what you want, don’t put limitations on yourself. You’ve got to find a way to do what you want.”
And Morgan has demonstrated that drive time and time again.
Recently the three different United States Working Equitation associations voted to adopt a uniform rulebook. The changes made in the rules now prevent Morgan and Endo from competing in events put on by two of the associations, as the rules state blind horses are not allowed to compete. However, in true resilient-Morgan fashion, she is just happy to be able to continue to welcome new-comers to the sport and still be able to compete with Endo in the WE United association events. Morgan is also bringing up Sephiroth, her Andalusian who she trained and competes with as well.
You can read more about Morgan and Endo in the January issue of Equus Magazine. And if you see Morgan around, I know she’d sign your copy for you, or have Endo add his own slobbered stamp of authenticity.
If you haven’t seen this pair in action, check them out here. You’ll forget he’s blind as they navigate their world with such sure steps. In a time when we can be cynical, Morgan and Endo will remind you of why we all love horses: the partnership, the silent conversations, the promise of having a relationship with an animal that transcends the senses. Getting the opportunity to interview Morgan was truly an inspiring, and humbling opportunity. I look forward to watching their progress. Frankly I think they should star in their very own Disney movie. It’s been awhile since there’s been a great horse flick. And I’m offering to help write it!
I saw a post last week on one of the horse forums I follow discussing gifts to buy for fellow boarders. I thought it was a great idea, but it could get expensive fast. I like doing nice things for people, but I can’t do Oprah style giveaways on a Jerry Springer budget. And like everyone else this time of year, I’m scrambling for time. So I didn’t want to buy anything that required wrapping or any kind of extra stress.
So with a little thought I came up with five inexpensive (and useful!) gifts to give your fellow boarders to let them know how much you appreciate them. I mean really, fellow boarders can make or break your barn experience. Certainly my fellow boarders keep a watchful eye on my pony and I return the favor. It’s a satisfying feeling knowing there’s someone at the barn for about 14 hours per day to let you know if anything seems amiss.
To get out of the whole wrapping ridiculousness, I came up with adorable (in my opinion, of course I’m biased) little gift tags which I’m sharing with you. Now your gifts can look Pinterest-worthy without the Pinterest time commitment. (Or getting sucked into scrolling for an hour looking for cute ideas. Pinterest is the devil. And I love it!) Just open the PDF, print, cut, and tie to the gift. Voila! Done. Find the PDF here: Fellow Barn Boarder Gift Tags
The Five useful barn gifts for under $5 each are:
I mean really, who couldn’t use an extra set of scissors or hoof pick? I don’t understand where they all go, but they do seem to grow legs and wander off.
Don’t despair if you want to give gifts but don’t have a lot of money or time. A simple gesture with a useful barn item is memorable and thoughtful. Have fun!
What inexpensive useful gifts do you give?
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Family is the thing that gets your blood pumping, in anger or in splendid, blissful love. I’m sure everyone can tell stories on both ends of the spectrum. Perhaps it’s my Irish-Scottish heritage, but there have been plenty of days when I wanted to trade in my family. And there was even a period of time when I did not speak to members of my family. Not for weeks. Not for months. But for years. In my case, that wasn’t maybe the most productive use of my time on earth. But it’s part of my path.
Christmastime can really drive home some of the desperate nostalgia we feel for a more cohesive, happier, functional, attractive family. The kind that they show on loop on the Hallmark channel. One of my favorite Christmas movies of all time is The Family Stone. There are some scenes so thick with awkward tension that it still makes me squirm after ten years of watching it. And yet, this is the movie that I come back to every year because it’s real. The subject of discord may be different for each family, but the feelings of dysfunction and frustration are universal. I’ve written before about the 5 different personality types (and their quirks) you can find at family functions if you need a funny refresher on how trying they can be.
It was during that period of time in my life where I was at odds with my parents that I first saw the Family Stone. I saw it in the movie theatre with my now-husband who was not even my then-boyfriend yet. And I balled at the end of the movie. Like wiping my face with falling-apart napkins level crying. My sweet date sat with me until the theatre cleared out so I could try to collect myself. A man and young girl remained in the row behind me. He stood and handed me napkins and said, “Did you lose someone too? I’m so sorry, so did I.” What could I say to that? I felt even worse that I was crying my 23 year old eyes out for my estrangement and this kind man and his daughter were offering me a gesture of comfort in their own time of grief. I just nodded my head.
I promise I’m getting to a point.
Family is not a Hallmark channel movie. The whole reason those movies do so well is because viewers want to escape into a world in which they have gloriously functional relationships with their moms, kind and loving fathers, or gorgeous and successful children who come home every year for Christmas. But sometimes those damn Hallmark movies make you cry your damn eyes out and feel depressed because your family looks nothing like that. Fret not. Your family situation is probably far more common than the myth playing on TV. Embrace your family’s awkward and infuriating and laughable dynamics. You sure as hell aren’t going to change them.
What I have learned over the years is that even if you make friends who become family, there should always be room for your blood family. I mean, what the hell would you complain to your friends about if your family was perfect? I’m not saying they aren’t going to piss you off, or hurt you. But family members are also purveyors of great love and family history and your own personal history. They may not say they love you, you may have to read between the lines, but they do.
Probably one of the greatest tasks of a child is to grow up and transition from being someone’s child, to being an adult who accepts their parents as fellow flawed adults who try and fail at many activities, parenting included.
If you are feeling low that your family doesn’t look like a sappy holiday movie, take heart. Your story is more genuine and hilarious and full of life than any of those movies anyway.
The story that I heard this year that really drove home how long lasting the effects of family love can be comes from a friend of mine. His uncle died 6 years ago. This uncle, Uncle Oly, bought him his first shotgun and taught him how to duck hunt. They did not sit and talk about how much they appreciated each other. They did not discuss the uncle’s indulgence in drink. They did not discuss the family discord of the month. They hunted ducks together using his uncle’s decoys, my friend’s gifted gun and a love for the outdoors together. And as time does, it passed, and so did the uncle. Sadly, at a relatively young age.
That young boy graduated high school, graduated college and moved 3 hours away from his hometown of Eugene to start his first career job. His days no longer absorbed with studying, and with a little extra money in his pocket, he decided to pick up his duck hunting again, still with the original gun his uncle had given him all those years ago.
He found some used decoys posted for sale online and arranged to meet the seller and purchase the decoys. He met with the stranger, looked over the decoys and paid the man. They all had the name “Olson” written on the bottom of them. He asked the seller if his last name was Olson.
The guy told him no, that had been the name of the guy he had purchased the decoys from down in Eugene ten years earlier. Mike Olson was the guy’s name, though he hadn’t gone by that. He had gone by something weird.
“Was it Oly?” My friend asked.
“Yeah, that was his name. How did you know?”
“He was my uncle.”
Those decoys, that made their way to the northern most coast of Oregon and originally belonged to the uncle all those duck hunting years before, were now back in the possession of the boy who learned to hunt with them.
I don’t know any other name for this series of events than divine intervention.
And I don’t know a stronger pull than love.
And in families, there is great love.
Great pain, and frustration and dysfunction. But also great love.
I hope your holiday season is filled with great love. And family. Those are my Christmas wishes for you.
Want to expand your online family? Follow me on Facebook. I promise to never ask for money, or ask why you aren’t married yet, or don’t have kids….
You guys! There are only five weeks left until Christmas. I cannot believe it. Anyway, for a little holiday cheer I am reviewing (and giving away!) the Arctic Horse Tongass rain skirt, the Georgia Horseback Weekender Tote and my favorite earrings to wear in and out of the arena from Adornable.U. Who doesn’t love free stuff? And, hint hint, these little goodies would make excellent gifts.
Before we get to the goods, A little legal stuff. I was not paid by any of the below companies for my reviews. Where I received a free product, I will let you know that, as well as the fate of the free product. It’s important to me that you know this isn’t just an advertisement parading as a heartfelt product review. So now you know!
First up: the Arctic Horse Tongass Rain Skirt
I was so excited to get the chance to try this baby out. I did a full review on the skirt for Northwest Horse Source, which you can read here. What you need to know is that if you’ve ever wanted to ride in a blanket on a cold winter night, or not get soaked during a rainy trail ride, this skirt is for you. I have ridden in rain slickers, chaps, chinks, snow coats and now the rain skirt. The rain skirt wins for warmth and dryness. Now, it’s definitely not going to do the job of chinks or chaps if you are riding through brushy terrain. But if you’re looking to stay dry and warm, then the skirt is perfect.
You might be wondering why you couldn’t just buy a quarter sheet, and you definitely could. But the quarter sheet is made primarily with the horse in mind. Even if you ride with the sheet over your legs, it’s not going to cover very far down your legs, and the waist area is not going to fit you the way the rain skirt does. You can wear the rain skirt over your regular riding clothes and get on with it, using the snaps to keep the skirt out of the way while mounting. Or you can get on your horse and then pull the skirt on and snap it into place. I opted for the latter. I will give you a little word of caution, if you have a sensitive or spooky horse, work with him first to get him used to the feeling of the skirt on his rump. My half-Arab took to it pretty quickly, but I had my doubts at first. There are also leg snaps so you can keep the skirt from flipping up or flapping if the weather is windy or if you’re doing a fast ride. Another important part to keeping your horse spook-free!
So those are the details on the skirt. And what will make you want to part with your money even more, is that these skirts are designed and sewn in the United States. Jen Dushane, the creator and owner, lives in Alaska and each skirt is custom sewn to your specifications in her fair state. I love shopping small businesses, and when they have such a high quality product, the decision is a no-brainer. Shop the Tongass Rain Skirt and any of the other great trail skirts here.
Jen made a custom skirt for me to try, and that was to be the skirt for the giveaway. In between the time I received the skirt and the publishing of this article, Jen discovered a quality flaw with a few sections of stitching and did not want the skirt I received to be given away. So the giveaway skirt will be a custom order through Jen at Arctic Horse. Can you say customer service? That does mean that I was invited to keep the skirt that was made for me. However, my review for Northwest Horse Source and opinion on the product was made before I knew I would be keeping the skirt.
Next Up: Georgia Horseback Weekender Tote
I did receive this bag for free to review. I road tested it and the tote will be awarded to one lucky winner at the end of the month. Don’t worry, I kept it in mint condition for you.
If you’ve been following my blog for longer than five minutes, you know that I ride western. So this tote was a little outside my wheelhouse. That being said, regardless of the jumping horse depicted on the outside of the bag, this tote is a workhorse. Pun intended. I employed one of my hunt seat friends to help test the bag. We loaded it up with her boots, helmet, gloves, jacket and had room to spare. The material is easy to wipe off and the dark color would easily hide the arena dust that is sure to settle on it. The tote also comes with a zippered removable pouch and a helmet bag. You can even use the metal horse shoe on the outside of the bag as a key clip. I prefer to toss my keys into the cavern of whatever purse I’m using so then I can look for them for 10 minutes when I need to go somewhere. I know how to have a good time.
I think the biggest challenge to the bag is the length of the straps. They aren’t quite long enough to comfortably carry the bag slung over your shoulder. But overall I think this bag would be a welcome addition to any equestrian’s arsenal. There is so much to tote around for horseshows, a bag this size is always helpful. And, similar to Arctic Horse, Georgia Horseback is a woman-run company by Cella Nelson. The bag isn’t made in the USA, but the design and business behind it are. Get yourself the weekender tote right here.
My favorite earrings, by Adornable.U
I did not receive these earrings for free, I purchased them specifically to giveaway to you. Yep, that’s how much I like them. And at only $19 I feel like I can afford that kind of generosity for my loyal readers.
These little gems are simple, inexpensive and add a bit of polish to any outfit. I’m not one for the enormous blingy earrings of western pleasure. No offense if you are, it’s just not my style. I’m actually not much of one for lots of bling at all. But I like to wear earrings when I show and I feel like these are tastefully sparkly. They catch the light really well and are comfortable to wear. The earrings are from the company Adornable.U and are the Celebrate April birthstone earrings. I wear these the most out of any of my earrings, at the barn, at work and out on the town (read: the feed store). They are low maintenance and make me feel like I look somewhat put together. If you don’t win them in the giveaway, get your very own here.
And, surprise, Adornable.U is also a female-run business for women. Ann Wooten, jewelry designer extraordinaire, established the direct sales company in 2015. I didn’t set out to do a review and giveaway of items all from female entrepreneurs’ businesses, but that’s how it turned out, and I love that!
So about this giveaway…The Rules
There is no purchase necessary. The giveaway will take place on Facebook so you must have a Facebook account and you just need to like and comment on each post related to each giveaway item. Each item will be listed as a separate giveaway post so that way if you aren’t interested in a certain item, you’re not entered to win that item. The Arctic Horse Rain Skirt will be custom made. I will provide the winner’s information to Jen Dushane and she will contact the winner for design specifics. The skirt will then be custom made and take 6-8 weeks to sew and ship. The Georgia Horseback Weekender Tote and the Adornable.U earrings will be shipped by me personally and I will cover the shipping costs (it really is a free giveaway!). You can only enter once for each item. By participating in this giveaway you acknowledge that the promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by Facebook and that you hold Facebook harmless. One winner will randomly be drawn for each item (3 items: 1 skirt, 1 tote, 1 pair of earrings) and announced on Thursday December 1st on the Sass In Boots Facebook page. The drawing will close at 5pm PST on Wednesday November 30. I will PM you via Facebook to obtain your shipping address if you are the winner of the tote or the earrings. If you are the winner of the rain skirt, I will request your email address to provide to Jen Dushane of Arctic Horse. The information you provide to me will not be used for any other purposes. Good luck and THANK YOU for participating and giving these business a look-see.
Did you read all the rules?? You little rebel you! Go on over to my Facebook page and comment and like the free item posts to get entered.