Holiday Gift Review & Giveaway

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.

Artic Horse Tongass Rain Skirt

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.

Arctic Horse Tongass Rain Skirt Black
Note how far down the material comes down my leg. Lined with fleece, this sucker is warm. I didn’t want to take it off.

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.

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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.

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Look how pretty with my gorgeous model!

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.

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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.

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Even though my face is shaded, you can still see my hardworking earrings shining brightly as I waited to carry that big, beautiful flag around the arena. PS, yes, I am quite blingy right here, but this is not my usual style. You gotta up your arena game for the 4th of July rodeo.

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.

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No Stirrup November is No Joke: How It’s Kicking My Ass & Can Kick Yours Too

I’ve never been much of one for trends. I dismissed trends like a hipster before the term hipster even existed. If something was trendy, I would purposefully avoid it. Pretentious? Absolutely. But this little personality quirk of mine saved me from several terrible fads: the flippy mini skirt, wearing (or even owning) ugg boots with said flippy-mini, and zebra-stripe highlights. But the No Stirrups November trend piqued my interest.

After working with my horse so much outside this summer, returning to do circles in the arena (because it’s dark out or pouring down rain or both) has seemed like returning to be chained to a dungeon wall. So I’ve been finding ways to keep it entertaining. Read: not lunging him. Because if I have to stand and watch my horse go around in circles before I get on him and then ride around in circles, I am going to snap.

So I figured I’d give the ol’ no stirrups gig a go. How hard could riding without stirrups be?

If you’ve ever ridden without stirrups you should be laughing at me right now. And calling me a rube.

News flash: It’s not easy!

I don’t ride in any kind of non-western saddle. No dressage, hunt seat or jumping saddles for me. I like a big western cantle for my big western ass. And a well curved pommel and a narrow twist to keep me nicely seated in my western saddle. So I had absolutely no idea what I should be doing when it came to riding without sitrrups.

I called my friend who was raised in a hunt-seat saddle and trained more without stirrups than with. I could feel her mocking me through the phone, “No stirrups November, huh? You know we used to ride without stirrups all the time? Not just for a month.”

“Well I was just going to try it. For entertainment’s sake.”

If you’ve never tried riding without stirrups, I highly recommend it. It’s another way to build up muscles you didn’t know you had. And if you’re an out-of-shape dolt like me, you might even remind yourself of muscles you knew you had but forgot about. Abs? What are Abs? Cue coughing and then flinching because coughing hurts my sore abs.

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Work those muscles!

I started out my no-stirrups training at a walk. I worked at keeping my heals down and my pelvis rolled under. Keep in mind, I ride in a western saddle and my whole riding existence is based on keeping my ass back (See my post on Four Rookie Riding Mistakes To Avoid for more on this). If you ride in a discipline that is more forward, then still keep your heels down, but keep your pelvis in whatever position you would hold if your feet were in those little metal circles we take for granted (stirrups).

I started thinking “This isn’t so bad. No sweat. Why do people give themselves such accolades for riding without stirrups? Pfft. Self important pansies.”

Do you know what’s always a bad idea? To mock other people and think about how superior you are. Oh, you already knew that? It was just me? Okay. Well, whatever.

Then I had Gangster pick up the jog. I think the hunt-seat riders just go right to the posting trot. I don’t know. The jog was a little more difficult. I couldn’t rely on the stirrups to help hold myself together and soften his stride. Not to mention Gangster was doing a little speed variation just to make it more interesting. Alright, so then I got the hang of the jog, I kept myself back, and kept my heels down. Time for the posting trot.

Sweet mother of god. What have I done? No Gangster, slow down! I can’t keep up with that pace! How do I even raise myself up? Squeeze! Push! Back straight! Heels! Heels! What are my heels doing? Down. Keep. Them. Down.

And you know what? All of that bitching and cajoling and general abuse-of-self was only going around the arena ONE TIME. Because my flabby cowgirl abs and thighs couldn’t manage any more than one lap. Shameful.

I’m so sorry for what I said earlier when I thought riding without stirrups was “no sweat.” I knew not the error of my ways.

Ultimately we made our way into a lope. The lope is so much easier than the posting trot without stirrups. I had someone video both my posting trot and my lope, and I realized that my lope without stirrups actually looks better than when I have my feet in the stirrups. Working on equitation, even if I feel silly and out of shape and generally stunted, is definitely helping my seat. And it can help your seat too.

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Have someone video you so you can see where your posture falls short. The top photo is at the lope. Bottom left is the down position and bottom right is the up position of the posting trot. I didn’t share video of myself because I’m trying to maintain a few shreds of dignity here. But it was very helpful for me to review.

Just start out slow. Work with your horse when you know he or she is in a good mood and not flinching and spooking at every leaf on the breeze. The idea is to work on body position, not staying on in case of emergency. Work at a walk until you feel comfortable, using your body to hold your proper riding position, whatever that is for your discipline. Then build up to the jog and trot, especially if you don’t know if your horse has had a rider work without stirrups before. Some sensitive horses may be wary of the different feeling of you posting without stirrups. And I highly suggest practicing your posting trot when no one is around the first time or two. Because if you’re like me, you’re going to feel really silly and like it’s the ugliest posting trot, (is it even a posting trot? Does rising up a mere inch count?). But the point is you have to start somewhere. And everyone is goofy looking and uncoordinated when starting something new. Well, most everyone. There are probably those golden few who have horse riding in their DNA and make the rest of us look like flapping chickens in the saddle. But I digress. The point is you are trying something new! You are building your skills and that takes time and patience with yourself. You’re still far better off for trying.

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A little inspiration to get you over the fear of feeling awkward.

So good luck with your No Stirrup November, and December, and January. . . . Probably we should just make it a part of our regular training routine. And if you’re a professional no-stirupper, throw us a bone and give us some tips. Also, I’m not responsible for any change in gate due to muscle soreness. Yours, not your horse’s. Eat some bananas and drink lots of water.

Do you follow me on Facebook? Come follow me. I promise it hurts less than the day after riding without stirrups!

no-stirrup-november-to-improve-your-riding
No Stirrup November isn’t just for the hunt seat equestrians. And it can improve your riding and equitation.

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When There’s Conflict At The Barn: My Survival Guide

Conflict At The Barn

I can hear the collective gasp, “Oh no. She’s going there?”

Yes. We’re going there. And you’re coming with me. So go get your popcorn, because I’m feeling feisty. And my post is accompanied by a pictorial guide of animal puns, how could you resist?

Anytime you put two or more human beings in close quarters you are going to have conflict. Now, add the dynamic, bold, and strong personalities of horsewomen, and you can have epic battles of personal will. No one is impervious to the possibility of conflict at the barn. Even if you are non-confrontational, you still may end up on the receiving end of someone’s feelings of frustration.

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Conflict can be prickly. Do you find yourself porcu-pining for a solution?

Here are my thoughts on how to navigate the delicate balance of personal preference in a very public space. We can’t control how others behave, but we can control our responses, and thereby can guide the situation into something more cohesive or more explosive.

I’ll share a personal example for reference. I’ll even point out what I could have done better. Fear not, the identities of the innocent (or not-so-innocent, depending on your view) will be protected. Quirky Cathy is a fellow boarder. She has a horse that is what I would consider more of a pet and less of a working horse. We’ll call Quirky Cathy’s horse, Brownie. Brownie doesn’t get ridden very much and spends most of his days turned out in the large gelding pasture. Recently I turned my own horse out in the gelding pasture while I cleaned his stall and she asked me if I would let her know when I was ready to retrieve my horse, because they were the only two horses turned out and according to her, her horse would freak out if left alone. I agreed to let her know. We retrieved our horses from the pasture at the same time. Once back in the barn, she disclosed to me that she was worried about how she would get Brownie exercised during the winter, when the large pasture would be dismantled. I told her she would have to spend a lot of time lunging. Quirky Cathy then let me know she was stressed about the availability of round pens, as they might be unavailable during shows and events.

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Make barn conflicts bear-able.

Fast forward to the next day, when I’m going about my usual routine of barn chores. I again turned Gangster out into the gelding pasture while I cleaned his stall. Then I went to retrieve him. When I got out to the field I saw that it was only my horse and Brownie turned out. Anticipating some issues getting out the gate with what Quirky Cathy had told me the day before about Brownie, I held Gangster by the halter and took off his lead rope, swinging it in my left hand to communicate to Brownie to give us some space. Unfortunately, this tactic was insufficient and Brownie pushed between Gangster and the gate twice, pushing Gangster into me and me slipping in the mud and cussing. I then tried smacking Brownie in the chest with the lead rope and yelling at him to get back. This only caused him to pop up a little. He then turned his rump around to us, and so I gave him a pretty good smack with the lead rope. To that, he kicked out a little. Realizing I was not getting my horse out of the pasture without issue, I turned to go out the gate on my own and retrieve Brownie’s owner. She was already headed our way. Extremely frustrated by my interaction with her horse, when she got to the pasture, I advised her that one of two things was going to eventually happen with her horse, either someone was going to get kicked, or her horse was going to push his way out of the pasture. Quirky Cathy advised me that all the horses were like that and that’s why she always brings a whip to the pasture. I then tried to exit the pasture and Quirky Cathy asked me to wait because she wasn’t finished putting on Brownie’s halter. She apparently thought he would disregard her as well and still charge out the gate.

dont-be-an-ass-managing-conflict
Don’t be an ass. Petty arguments are ass-inine.

I was quite livid at this point. Quirky Cathy had told me the day before that Brownie would freak out if left alone, I was witness to this when I was unable to get my horse safely out of the pasture. She admitted that she could not control his behavior by asking me to wait to open the gate. Her admission that she needed a round pen in which to lunge him, also indicated she was unable to control Brownie. A horse with no respect for people, and in particular his owner, is dangerous.

I took a fellow boarder aside and we went for a quick walk as I briefed her on what happened and how furious I was. Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that it was not any other boarder’s responsibility to let her know they were ready to retrieve their horse. Brownie shouldn’t be left in the pasture with only one other horse. I strode into the barn and told Quirky Cathy this. She immediately interrupted me and said that’s why I needed to bring a whip to the pasture and that all the horses crowd the gate. I told her no, all the horses do not do that, and Brownie was the worst one. And then I turned and walked out. She told me I should work on being a nicer person. I then called the barn office. And then I wrote a letter.

you-otter-be-the-better-person
You otter be the better person. Otter-wise, you’re just contributing to the problem.

What I could have done better:

  1. I should not have processed the argument with a fellow boarder. It puts her in a weird spot, because she may feel she has to take sides. And then if she takes my side, that’s unfair to the other individual, who may feel ganged up on.
  2. I should have taken more than five minutes to process the situation. I should have gone home, talked to my husband, talked to a friend, had a glass of wine, and then planned a response. Instead, I reacted.
  3. While I did not raise my voice or swear at Quirky Cathy, we are both adults. I don’t have a right to tell another adult how to conduct themselves in a public space that doesn’t belong to me. You may disagree with me on this, but I’m not the boss of anyone but myself. I can’t tell someone how to act. I should have invited discussion about what I think would be a good resolution to the situation

What I did great:

  1. I didn’t yell or swear or cause a scene. Although I thought my head was going to explode, I remained focused on the issues.
  2. I didn’t respond to being told to be a nicer person. I just focused on the real issue: her horse’s unsafe behavior and her lack of responsibility for it.
  3. I haven’t complained to the barn manager incessantly about every little nit-picky detail of daily barn life. I can’t tell you how many people complain about the most benign of issues. Is it annoying that someone always sets baling twine on your hay? Sure. Is it worth complaining to the office about? No. I beg you, don’t do this. Complaining about the silly things undermines your credibility when you really do have a legitimate issue.
  4. I didn’t post on social media to get people on my side! Soooo important! Even though it seems to be our go-to move when something exciting/fun/infuriating/depressing happens, it can create an irreparable wedge to publicly chastise someone’s behavior and rouse the social media angry villagers. Regardless of if you’re friends with the person or not, the message will inevitably make it back to the person you’re socially roasting.
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Owl be seeing you around the barn.

So why am I sharing this? Because maybe you can take some pointers from this and make sure that despite all of the competing interests, preferences and personalities at the barn, peace can be maintained. No one wants to go to the barn with a rock in their stomach worrying about that bad interaction they had with a fellow boarder. We have a responsibility to our fellow boarders to see that we treat them with as much respect as we expect. And if you find yourself dealing with a nit-picky complainer or someone who is unreasonable, I would encourage you to ask the barn manager to mediate a conversation between the two disagreeing parties. Having a third party to help keep people focused on the issue should deter attacks of character or brining up petty frustrations.

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Stay a peaceful part of the herd. It doesn’t herd to be kind. Don’t herd me… I could keep going with these. But I’ll stop while I’m a herd. Sorry. I had to.

When people ask me for barn recommendations, they ask for barns with “no drama.” While I don’t think zero drama is possible, I do think we all have the ability to keep little flares from blowing up into 5 alarm fires.

What have been some issues you’ve experienced and how did you handle them? Anything you wish you would have done differently?

Come follow me on Facebook, I’m low drama… most of the time.

conflict-at-the-barn-an-excellent-survival-guide-to-get-you-through

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What A Difference A Year Makes

What a difference a year makes. Do you ever take a moment to think about what you’ve done in the last twelve months? How far you’ve come, how much you’ve grown, what you’ve accomplished? I don’t mean necessarily on New Year’s Day, I mean some other demarcation in the year, a date that’s meaningful to you. There are a couple big days for me right now that I use as measurements for progress. One date is April 11, 2016. That is the day that my sweet German Shepherd succumbed, quite traumatically, to a brain tumor in our home. Another is September 26th, 2015, the date I started this blog. My very first blog.

The blog anniversary turned out to be quite a milestone for me. When I started, I didn’t know what this would look like, if anyone would even want to read my musings and opinions and funny (ridiculous?) stories. But you did. And it has been amazing. Every comment about how I made someone laugh, encouraged them, made them feel supported along their own path, has been the drive to keep me going. They have been the breadcrumbs I needed to keep me moving down a path. A path I enjoy being on but can’t see where exactly it is going.

In the year since I started in earnest to finish my book, I hit a few special peaks. I finished the manuscript for my book in January. I also secured a monthly online column with Northwest Horse Source. God willing, I should also have a horse related article coming out in a national publication in the next few months. When it happens, I promise to share, but right now I’m afraid to jinx it and so don’t want to say what magazine or what the article is about. I also found an affordable editor to help me take my novel to the next level.

Looking back at these things keeps me putting one foot in front of the other. I still sometimes shake my head at myself, at the idea of writing a book. It takes guts to have a BIG dream. You have got to ignore the people who might be so insecure themselves that they question why you should dream and do such a thing. And even more important, you MUST ignore that little troll inside your own head that makes you question what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and even if you can do it. No matter what it is. I have to work at having guts even a year after starting this blog. Even after finishing my manuscript and finding an editor. I think ignoring the troll will be a lifetime activity.

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In case you can’t read the inscription, it says” The Oregon Trail branched in Idaho, at Fort Hall. The route south to California was marked by a heap of gold quartz, the one north by a sign lettered, “To Oregon.” Those who could read came here.

One of the things that helps to keep me going are the breadcrumbs I seem to get, pointing me further down the path. Before the blog, before the finished manuscript, there were awkward conversations of admitting my dream to close friends. One close friend told me of a weekend writing workshop in my area. From that workshop I ended up going to a writing conference in Redmond, Oregon for Women Writing the West, last fall. That workshop set me up with enough energy and direction to get the manuscript down on paper.

I sent in my manuscript to an editor this spring. After receiving my marked-up manuscript back from the editor this summer, I sank into a pit of self-loathing and despair. (Ten points if you know what movie the pit of despair is from). A trip to Portland at the beginning of October, and a generous friend waiting around while I disappeared into Powell’s bookstore, reminded me why I had started. So I picked up the marked up copy of my story and started making the changes. Self-pity be damned.

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Many people seem to be keeping tabs on the process of me writing a book. I was chatting with a physician who I work with and updating him where I am with the book and my plan for the next 6 months. He looked and me and said “Did I ever tell you my sister owns a literary agency in New York City?”

Me in a louder-than-professional voice, “Uh, no you did not! I think that’s something I would remember!”

He pulled up her website and showed me her amazing brick-and-mortar business front just four blocks from Times Square. I leaned over his desk and asked “How could you not have told me this before?” Still in a not especially professional voice. He laughed and said he thought he had. And then he emailed her while I was standing there and asked her about the status of her literary agents.

Now his sister’s agency is more interested in scripts than novels, and also has agents representing performers. However, the news of this connection was a very large, caffeine-infused breadcrumb. Fortunately, or unfortunately, many things in this world still work according to what connections you have and who you know. My physician friend’s sister may not do anything with my manuscript when it’s finished. But she might be able to connect me with someone who would. Such a connection could help me bypass the email query letters to anonymous agents, thereby also skipping the possibility of my manuscript ending up in a mile-high slush pile to languish for months.

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I’m telling you all of this for a couple reasons. For one, I thought you might be interested to know how my little (big!) project is progressing. But more broadly, I hope you can take this as something to think about in your own life. That you can see that those breadcrumbs that keep turning up are encouraging you to follow your own path. (Do you have a story that this makes you think: “Yes! That’s exactly what happened  to me!” Tell me about it. I love hearing others’ stories) I don’t know what my destination is, but when I see these little positive arrows pointing me forward, I believe they are messages not to quit.

And as for the dog-iversary, I can’t believe it’s been six months since his passing. I no longer wake up looking for his dark figure lying next to the bed. I am hopeful that wherever his spirit is, he can help guide the next puppy into our home and hearts. Preferably one who doesn’t snack on small dogs and pieces of my house. That’s not too much to ask, right?

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Rest In Peace good buddy.

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Horsewomen Are The Best Women (4 Things To Know About Dating One)

As I was washing my horse’s tail a few days ago I was thinking about how I was out of conditioner and considered taking my horse’s conditioner home to tide me over until payday. I had to chuckle. I wondered if my husband had any idea what he was getting into when we bought Gangster. If he really knew what it meant to date a woman in love with horses. To date an equestrian, horsewoman, cowgirl, whichever is your preferred term.  Here are four things I’m pretty sure he never anticipated when dating (and deciding to marry) a horsewoman. I may not have owned a horse when we met, but once a horsewoman, always a horsewoman.

horsewoman
The very first horsewoman I ever knew: my mom. She is the reason I have the love of horses I do. Never formally trained, she brought up horses and rode them as a young girl and teenager, most commonly riding bareback. To this day she gives me equine advice, which I dismiss (I’m sure her to her great frustration) which always turns out to be true. We were eating lunch during a trail ride in this photo. She’s not wearing shoes because she just got done soaking her feet in the river.
  1. Horsewomen are resourceful. You may notice things that belong in the barn creep into the house. In the winter you can expect that, from time to time, a blanket will make its way inside to dry after getting soaked from a sudden downpour or blizzard.  Also, unless you as the significant other, have set the rule that horse blankets are not to be laundered in the regular washing machine, then you can expect blankets will find their way into your washing machine. Imagine all that sweat and mud and urine and manure rinsing off the blankets and down the drain. Well, mostly going down the drain. Kind of a gross thought, huh? As much as I feel like I am betraying my equestrian sisterhood, the rule against home laundering of horse blankets should probably be put in place. You might also notice other tack items migrating into the house. The warm (or air conditioned) house is always so much more comfortable than the cold-as-the-great-white-north (or hot-as-blazes) barn when it comes to oiling a saddle. Or five. Sub point here, even though your horsewoman may only have one horse, she will have multiple saddles. And many, many, bridles. It’s just the way it is. Don’t try to argue about how she should sell a couple of the saddles. If she has more than one horse, there will always be more saddles and bridles than horses.  And of course, like I said, don’t be surprised when the horse conditioner (or shampoo) makes its way onto your shower shelf.

    Cowgirl Wrangling Horses
    One of the wranglers at The Darwin Guest Ranch, one of the ranches where we stayed during our vacation.
  2. Horsewomen are particular. A boot is not just a boot. And only one kind of boot would never do. Working with horses requires multiple types of boots. We need muck boots that can get wet and muddy and can trek through the back quagmire to retrieve the damn naughty pony without getting our socks wet. But we also need regular cowboy boots for everyday riding and working our horses. And then of course there are the boots we need for showing. We can’t use the regular old working boots for showing. And if we are showing in different disciplines, then we’ll need multiple types of show boots. Plus there are the everyday running-errands boots. And the more fashion-focused boots to wear to the office, if your horsewoman works in one. What can I say, we need boots. Lots of them. Just buy us boots, we’ll always be happy with that gift. In fact, don’t buy flowers. Buy boots. Just make sure you know which brand your horsewoman likes.

    boots
    You can never have too many boots.
  3. Horsewomen are small girls in love with horses trapped in adult women’s bodies. And with actual wallets that occasionally have money in them. So you can expect that we will be drawn to any history or activity centered around horses. True horsewomen appreciate the species in all it’s glorious and celebrated capacities. While on vacation, is there a horse drawn carriage, rodeo, or ride on the beach anywhere within a 30 mile radius? You can find us lingering at the information booth wondering how much it costs and assessing how well the horses are taken care of. (We will not fork over the cash if we deem the horses poorly treated, underfed or otherwise sad looking). The activity might not even cost money. Sometimes it’s just a photo op. Like taking photos with New York City’s finest: the mounted police.

    nyc-mounted-police
    Look at the excitement on my face. I was so excited to be in New York and to get my picture taken with the mounted police. And damn if those officers could not look away from their phones for 10 seconds. But even still, they couldn’t dampen my joy.
  4. Horsewomen are passionate. For us, it’s not “just a horse.” And you would do well to never utter those words. Lest you want to see a particularly bitchy (okay, bitchier) side of us. Our horses are our best friends, our therapy, our gym, our challenge and joy and frustration. Our horses are like family. We want to talk about our horses all the time because it’s our passion and life-love and makes us joyful in the depths of our soul. You don’t have to “get it,” you just have to accept it and not mock it. Better yet, support it. I can assure you, we are much happier people having horses in our lives. Despite what we may say after a particularly bad ride, or a high vet bill, or an especially grumpy barn mate. We would never trade in horse ownership for a little more money or a tidier house. Owning and caring for horses is too much work to be for the faint of heart. Only those with the strongest of desire will stick with it. You can count on that passion overflowing into other areas of our lives. We may be opinionated and bossy and stubborn. These are not bad qualities (despite what some people may have us believe). These are the qualities that make leaders, business owners and damn fine human beings.

    Cowgirl Wrangler
    Miss V, the Gypsy Cowbelle. Another wrangler at the Darwin Ranch. You can follow her musical and western exploits at www.gypsycowbelle.com

Also, if you find yourself dating, or married to a horsewoman, you should know that you will be asked to go to the barn for one reason or another, usually exactly when you absolutely do not want to go to the barn. Like in the middle of a football game. If it’s just to help with chores, you might be able to negotiate your way out of it. If it’s to watch her and be supportive of her during a horseshow, just go. That football game no longer exists. Also, prepare yourself for the fact that she will never have money to buy you dinner because she spent it all on her horse. But her company will always more than make up for it. And lastly, if you have a truck and she doesn’t, please know that regular use of your truck will be an expected part of the relationship arrangement.

But horsewomen are some of the best women. They are wild and free and bold and outspoken. They are eternal dreamers and still believe in the magical, mystical ways of nature. We’re all just trying to harness a bit of that freedom that horses represent, and hold it in our souls.

What are some of the things you have noticed?

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dating-horsewomen
Photo courtesy of Chris T. Sloan

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I Went To Yellowstone National Park & All I Got Were These Stupid Pictures

My husband and I recently took a glorious two week road trip through Wyoming. We stopped in Idaho on the way over to stay with friends and then continued on to the ranch where my husband used to work. The ranch is in the Gros Ventre wilderness area (French for Big Belly and pronounced “Grow Vont”) and requires about an hour long drive down a gravel national forest road in order to get to the ranch. We spent a few nights at that ranch and then proceeded on to Yellowstone National Park.

I fully intend to do a more indepth review of the ranches we stayed at during our trip, but I really wanted to post these special photos. I love, love, LOVE taking photos of animals, and Wyoming did not disappoint.

If you’ve never had the chance to visit Yellowstone, put it on your bucket list. It’s not to be missed. The first established US national park (thanks Teddy Roosevelt), the thermal features and wildlife are something to behold. I’m not big on crowds, so if you aren’t either, I recommend taking in the sights early in the day and hitting a month that’s less popular with tourists (think May or October). We love heading to Wyoming in September and could not believe the number of people still populating our favorite haunts. We found out that September has become the second busiest tourist month for Jackson Hole/Yellowstone as the retirees wait until school resumes and then come out in force for their own vacations.

Without further ado, here are my favorite photos from the trip. Feel free to share these, I don’t mind. Bring a little joy and nature to someone’s day. I just ask that you leave my signature (yes, the shameless web address) in the photo.

Thanks for looking!

pack-mule
One of the pack mules waiting patiently for his load. The red cliff in the distance is Sportsman’s ridge. There is a trail that follows the edge of the cliff which we have ridden. Correction, my husband rode it. I walked it. Heights and cliffs make me nervous.
pack-string
The pack string horse’s waiting for their pack saddles to be loaded up.
donkey-face
This sweet donkey followed me around. And chased our dog around.
sportsmans-ridge
The remuda with Sportsman’s Ridge in the background.
moose-munching
Oh what a sweet cow moose! She was so happy eating her lunch. She was in Wilson outside of Jackson Hole.
moose-lunch
I love this one because she looks so happy!
bull-moose-lunch
Her friend wasn’t too far away, standing in the Snake River near Wilson, Wyoming. I could have hung out and watched them eat all day.
autumn-elk-in-yellowstone-national-park
This handsome guy was working hard to keep all his ladies together. He was near Yellowstone Lake in East Yellowstone.
bald-eagle-snake-river
I worked so hard for this photo! Taken from a raft on the Snake River, I was working hard to keep my camera steady with all the bobbing of the raft. Love seeing these beautiful birds.

 

cow-elk-yellowstone-national-park-wyoming
Elk herd near Yellowstone Lake.
coyote-in-snow-yellowstone-national-park
Can you spot the little creature? Taking photos while it’s actively snowing, your subject is moving and laying across two laps is a little challenging. This was the best photo I could capture. We watched the coyote hunt, and catch, three little critters.
3-bison-snow
Partway through our morning Yellowstone nature tour it started snowing. And the higher we got in elevation, the more serious it got. I love these three each heading in their own direction.
bison-in-the-snow-yellowstone-national-park
I think this photo looks dreamy. The snow was really getting going.
east-entrance-to-yellowstone-national-park
This photo was taken on the road out the East entrance of Yellowstone. The road between the east entrance and Cody, Wyoming is one of the most beautiful. Rugged rocky country that I could photograph at every turn.
moose-cow-and-calf-snake-river-wyoming
A mama moose and her calf casually walking along the snake river. As fast as I snapped this photo and kept floating down the river, they disappeared into the willows. The willows are so tall and dense, they could be just a few feet in but invisible to us.

 

mormon-row-crow-on-barn-wyoming
This old barn was out on Mormon Row, north of Jackson Hole. I loved the crow surveying the scene.

 

snowy-bison-eye-yellowstone-national-park
My absolute favorite photo of the bison in Yellowstone. Look at that eye. There’s a spirit behind that eye, a whole world that we know nothing of.
snowy-bison-yellowstone-national-park
Just a bison, looking around at his cold-ass field.
snowy-blue-heron-yellowstone-national-park
Even blue herons get the blues.
snowy-elk
The elk were bugling and it was a sound that could make you shiver. Pretty incredible.
swans-in-snow-yellowstone-national-park
Trumpeter swans. Apparently the park only has about 20 resident swans, and we managed to see 6 of them. I only managed to photograph four of them, however.
t-a-moulton-barn-wyoming
The famous T.A. Moulton Barn that you see so very, very, many photos of. The barn is on Mormon Row off Antelope Flats Drive north of Jackson Hole.
west-yellowstone-elk-in-meadow
One of my favorite photos. The stud is on the left. Although bulls and cows are born in equal numbers in the park, only about 20% of Yellowstone’s elk population is made up of the bulls. That’s because they spend all season keeping their herd of ladies together and fending off other suitors. They starve themselves for love. Or the effort of propagation of their progeny really. But suffering for love sounds more romantic.
yellowstone-elk-6-point
Another hansom boy keeping watch over his lady friends.
yellowstone-national-park-bison-bull
Bison crossing. They are so massive, they just lumber through, impervious to the annoying tourists (talking about myself here) snapping endless photos.
yellowstone-national-park-bison
Doesn’t he just look like he’s thinking, “Oh, there’s that snap happy tourist again. Sigh. Just trying to get some lunch, lady.”

yellowstone-national-park-elk

yellowstone-national-park-mule-deer-red-antlers
This young buck has red antlers because he’s been rubbing his velvet off. He was still rubbing them on trees and such while we were watching him. But, amateur that I am, couldn’t manage a clear photo of the antler-on-tree action.
yellowstone-national-park-mule-deer
Beautiful deer in fall foliage. Pretty sure that’s Bambi’s mom right there.
blue-herron-on-river-west-yellowstone-wyoming
One more blue heron shot. Love the warmth of this photo. This was taken near West Yellowstone, along the water. Everyone was taking photos of elk across the river, while he just hung out, right under our noses.

Thanks for checking out my photos. Let me know if you have any questions!

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I Failed! And Lived To Tell About It.

You know that Garth Brooks song “Unanswered Prayers?” If you haven’t heard of it, I’m going to assume you’re not a country music fan. Which is fine. Except that Garth Brooks is an amazing musical talent everyone should recognize regardless of their preferred genre, but I digress. The essence of the song is that something that was so desperately wished and prayed for in the past, which did not come to fruition, turned out to be a blessing not to have happened.

There is something in my life that for a long time I’ve considered a failure. I went to school for Human Physiology, always with the intention of doing something in medicine. The plan was initially to become a physician assistant (PA), then I set my sights on medical school to become an MD, then returned to the idea of becoming a PA. After I graduated with my bachelor’s degree I returned to school for more courses to meet all of the pre-requisites to apply to graduate programs. At the time I applied to PA programs, the recession was in full downturn and masses of talented but jobless people returned to academia. I was applying to programs with only 35 available spots alongside 2000 other applicants. When you have that many applicants, the weed-out process becomes about the numbers. And my numbers weren’t that impressive. My GPA was good, but not impressive. My work and volunteer experiences were good, but again, not impressive. I was not accepted.

Adding to the disappointment, the human anatomy and physiology classes I took  were now “expired” as I needed to have attended them within 5 years of getting into a program. I had just passed the 5 year mark. Meaning that if I wanted to re-apply to programs the next year, I would need to retake the equivalent of 4 classes for two terms each and pay cold, hard, cash (no loans). I didn’t have the money. And even more importantly, I didn’t have the drive. I was tired. I was disappointed. I felt terrible that I hadn’t been accepted to a program. The only thing that softened the blow of repeat rejection letters was that I had a little health-scare at the exact same time. The health-scare ended up being nothing and I was thankful to be healthy. If I had to pick between getting into a PA program or being healthy, I knew healthy was the way to go. Every time.

Failure Isn't Fatal
Random sunny photo for inspiration. Taken on my aunt-in-law’s property in Texas.

But for years I felt bad about this chapter. I said I would consider re-applying, but I wanted time to rest. It’s been 5 years and I never reapplied. I work in healthcare, I make less money than I would as a brand new PA grad coming out of school. But I also don’t have another $100K of student loan debt. My view of that “failure” has also shifted in the last few years. For a long time I was embarrassed that I didn’t get in. I didn’t even tell people I applied and that had been my life plan. I came up with a quick and positive answer when people who did know  inquired about school, in order to answer their question and move the conversation along. Lest I reveal how disappointed I really felt.

But now, I look back, and I am so thankful that my path took the unexpected turn it did. I am not where I thought I would be, but I’m going somewhere that I want to go. Had I gone to PA school, it is unlikely I would be editing my book. There likely wouldn’t even be a book. And the blog would for sure not exist. I probably wouldn’t even own a horse. That is how massive a shift in my path I believe not attending a graduate program had on my life. I might have owned a horse someday, but seeing how much medical providers work, and the emotional toll their work takes, it’s unlikely that even if I had the money to buy a horse, that I would have had the emotional energy to own and care for one.

I probably won’t work in healthcare forever. Especially if you all buy my book and I become a best-selling author. (Seriously though, you’re going to buy it right? Just out of sheer, blind support?) Joking aside, my writing, the blogging, has reminded me of just how many possibilities exist in the world. There’s no reason that I couldn’t continue to use my knowledge and love for physiology in assisting riders, or equine wellness, or any number of avenues.

Life isn’t a Pinterest quote. Sometimes the goals you set turn out to be the catalyst for a journey, and the destination is far different than you originally understood. The changes in the journey don’t have to mean failure. As long as you’re working toward something that you love, you’re on the right path. Allow the universe, God, whatever your belief, to expand your creativity.

Changes in the journey don't mean failure

I distinctly remember that at the same time I was applying for PA programs, there was an opportunity for me to manage a clinical research department. I immediately dismissed the idea when a few people came to me to discuss it. The joke was on me. Eighteen months later, I had all my rejection letters stuffed in a drawer and a corner office managing the clinical research department. I can’t explain it, that’s just the way it was meant to unfold. And I recall marveling at the time at who incredibly close-minded I had been about the whole thing.

No excuses. Goals, ambitions, dreams, they all take work. One setback, even ten setbacks, is not a reason to give up and say “it wasn’t meant to be”. But those challenges are points at which you should look at where you’re headed, the feasibility of what you’re doing, and if the things that are out of your control are guiding you in a different direction.

Surely there’s at least one other person out there like me, who looks back at a little painful point and thinks they could have (should have!) done better/worked harder/muscled through. If you’re still beating yourself up, stop. The work to be done is in the future. Like the Pinterest quote says “Don’t look back. You’re not going that way.”

What “failure” have you endured that you’re now so thankful happened?

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I survived Failure A blessing in disguise

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Unbridled Desire: How To Spend Your Next Paycheck

It’s getting to be back-to-school time. Some of you may have even already sent your kids off for their first day. This time always reminds me of new clothes, the smell of fresh paper in spiral notebooks and hope for a new year (will my social standing elevate above dorky horse lover???… Spoiler alert, it never did).

Anyway, because of my annual new school shopping binges on behalf of my parents and generous aunt, I also associate this time with doing a massive acquisition of new stuff. Buy all the things. Everything new.

It turns out as an adult, annual shopping binges (who am I kidding, quarterly binges) coupled with the constant financial drain of horse ownership does not bode well for one’s finances. So instead, let me tell you how to spend your money on horsey must-haves and I’ll just sit here and enjoy the millennial version of window shopping: scrolling through all the things I can’t afford.

First up: stickers! Stickers for all! And they’re cheap enough you can buy a set to never use. I know I’m not the only one who struggled with the desire to give my friend a unicorn sticker but also really didn’t want to give it away. Stickers you say? As an adult? Hell yes. They make adult coloring books, why not adult stickers?

Galloping Graphics Sticker on Hat Box
Love my Galloping Graphics stickers, they even take abuse pretty well.

Here’s how I like to use mine. 1. To identify my hatbox amongst the other 20 hatboxes at horse shows. 2. To identify my water bottle against the 20 others at horseshows. 3. On my tack trunk. 4. On my computer. I could keep going with this, the possibilities are endless. I don’t recommend you add one to your husband’s rifle case, though. He did not find it amusing.

Galloping Graphics Read Books Ride Horses Sticker on Rifle Case

Next up, brushes. How old are those brushes you’re using? I feel like we just accept brushes as being dirty and worn out and we never replace them. My lack of replacing mine has to do with guilt around “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” But what if I told you, you could buy beautiful, luxurious, custom marked brushes that made you look like the Town and Country equestrian of your dreams? I know the ranching gals are rolling their eyes right now, but just stay with me. Everyone likes beautiful things. So why not put your grooming supplies in the way of beauty with these little cuties?

The Artful Equine Single Brushes: The Grooming Brush
For realsies though, why would you NOT want these beautiful, custom pieces?

I started out slow, stickers and brushes aren’t really going to break the bank, but we’re getting bigger. Ariat just came out with a tennis shoe line called Fuse. At first I was thinking, “What the hell Ariat?” Followed immediately by “THEY MUST BE MINE!”

I’m a sucker for teal. I’m also a sucker for animal print. So those teal leopard shoes? Need them! Plus Ariat are the only boots I ever wear, they are always incredibly comfortable and durable. Ignoring, of course, that one time Connor chewed a chunk out of the top of one of my boots. So I want to believe these tennis shoes would be comfy and good quality in addition to being adorable. Someone buy a pair and let me know how you like them . Or buy me a pair and I’ll let you know how I like them. Anyone? No? No takers? A girl can try.

Ariat Fuse
be still my teal loving heart.

Speaking of Ariat, I’m a huge fan of their shirts. Whether you ride western, English, hunt seat, dressage, whatever, they have something for everyone. I’m obviously drawn more to the western items. I’m very thankful my discipline doesn’t have my in skin-tight flesh-toned breeches. That is just not a flattering look for me. In addition to having a healthy backside that I’m happy not to put in breeches, I also have a pretty long torso (I’m 5’10”) so finding shirts that are long enough can be a challenge. Ariat really comes through for me. Their shirts are long. Long enough to tuck in, sit on my horse, and still stay tucked in. So when you’re doing a little back-to-school binge shopping (no judgement from me if you’re not actually going to school or sending a kid back to school) you should definitely check out their shirts and pick up a few. Fun fact, the name Ariat is actually borrowed from the name SecretARIAT… get it? I see what they did there. Very clever.

Farah Snap Shirt
Currently crushing on this sweet, feminine little number. Hard to tell from the photo but the little flowers are red and white.

One other shirt brand I’m currently obsessed with: Barn Fly Trading. Their creamy cotton shirts are so soft and light and are perfect for layering. They have funky stamped patterns and are also a little longer. Although not quite as long as Ariat, I leave my Barn Fly shirts untucked.

Barn Fly Trading Western Shirt
At the rodeo with my husband in my favorite Barn Fly Trading shirt layered over a blue gingham check shirt. I like mixing patterns on occasion.
Green Buffalo Barn Fly Trading Shirt
Currently coveting this Barn Fly Trading shirt. I have a birthday coming up if anyone is wondering what to get me.

So I’ve got you covered for fun stickers, custom brushes, Ariat shoes and shirts as well as Barn Fly shirts. How bout a little western home décor before I wrap this up?

You might be familiar with Pendleton Woolen Mills as the makers of absolutely transcendent wool blankets. They started with Thomas Kay way back in 1889 in Oregon so obviously I have a little bias toward the company founded in my great state. Their wool blankets are still made in the state of Oregon today and I am fortunate enough to own a beautiful one.

Pendleton Wool Blanket on Bed Western Decor
Look how lovely our blanket looks with the brown, more modern stripes, of our guest bedroom.

Like any great business, the company has expanded their products into other areas of the home: mugs, bath towels, throw pillows, ottomans, chairs. Yes CHAIRS! And Rugs. I don’t care what part of the country you live in or what your personal decorating style, you can always, always, incorporate a Pendleton blanket or rug into your décor. Modern to rustic, Pendleton is a classic. I think I’m going to go order something right now.

Pendleton Wool Blanket Styled in Living Room
The blankets have a reverse color pattern and I like to use this side when keeping the blanket in our living room. We usually end up fighting who gets to snuggle under it while watching TV.
Daltry Pendleton Teal Leather Chair
Here’s that chair I was telling you about… of course in teal.

What are your horse-related must haves and binge-worthy items? Tell me so I can add them to my Christmas list. Or just go buy them for myself.

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Horsey Must Haves to blow your next paycheck on

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Kaila Mussell: The Bronc Rider You Have To Get To Know

Some of you may recall that I recently fulfilled a dream as deep as my bones, but one I was really anxious about doing: carrying the American flag for my local rodeo. If you missed it, you can read about it here. Before I figured out how to help myself through the experience, I reached out to Kaila Mussell on Facebook to see if she had any advice. I figured someone as fierce in pursuit of her dreams as she is might have a kernel of wisdom for me. Her advice about positive imagery contributed to my decision to see a hypnotherapist. I was impressed she was so accessible and responsive to my question. I put it out there that if she was interested, I’d love to meet up with her and do a write up about her if she made it down to Oregon or Washington. While her schedule hasn’t brought her that far south this year, we did set up a time to chat over the phone.

I’m not going to lie, I was a little sweaty with nerves right before dialing her up. Here is this total stranger who doesn’t know me from the next anonymous blogger and I’m asking her to help me see glimmers of what makes her tick, makes her drive and serves as such an inspiration for others. But just as she was accessible via Facebook, she was easy to talk to over the phone. Those neighbors to the North are always so delightful (she hails from Chilliwack, British Columbia).

If you are unfamiliar with Kaila, she is the only female saddle bronc rider to compete with men in the professional rodeo circuit since the 1940’s. And she isn’t just competing. She’s won rodeos and continues to win. She won her first rodeo in Prineville, Oregon in 2002. She’s still the only woman yet to earn her card in the PRCA.

But she doesn’t want people to remember her just for being a female bronc rider. Really, her bronc riding is only another adventure in her rich and daring life. She has spent time as a trick rider, a barrel racer and steer rider. To fit one of those things in a lifetime would be enough, but she’s done them all, and continued to up the ante. She admits she’s an adrenaline junky, it just so happens that saddle bronc riding has held her interest the longest, and she hasn’t reached the culmination of her dreams in her bronc riding. She knows there will have to be an end, the injuries and rides can’t go on forever, but she’s not ready to put that bronc saddle away just yet.

When asked about what success looks like for her she spoke about what it used to look like: winning. As a perfectionist she wanted to win, wanted to always have good goes and high scores. Even when she had good rides, she was always looking to the next ride and too critical of herself. In the last five years, which included a broken neck, her idea of success has shifted to be more compassionate toward herself. She takes progress over perfection, and reminds herself that only one third of the ride is in her control, the other two thirds are left to chance: the bronc she pulls and the judges scoring her ride.

So what about that broken neck? The injury happened at a rodeo where she landed on her head and rolled onto the right side of her neck. She walked out of the arena. But at one of her brother’s advice (who is a physician) she made an appointment to get it checked out, by chance at Vancouver General Hospital, the only spinal unit available in all of British Columbia. She fractured her C6 vertebrae in 2 places. She opted to wait and see if the fracture would heal on its own, having already endured other surgeries. It didn’t and her neck was rotating down and forward. She had to have surgery. That was in April of 2014. In October of that year she was released by her physician to do “normal” things. She wasn’t thinking about bronc riding, but horses are a big part of her life and she inquired if “normal” included riding. She got the go ahead, and before long she was wondering about getting back in the bronc saddle. Which she did do, returning to the sport in April of 2015, twelve months after the original injury.

Kaila Mussell Female Bronc Rider

Are you shaking your head and marveling? Yeah, so did other people. Some members of her family even told her she was stupid to go back to the sport. But Kaila doesn’t live her life according to the expectations of others (if you hadn’t gathered that already). She wasn’t done bronc riding and if she was going to quit riding, she wanted to go out on her own terms. And she won’t be giving it up anytime soon, recently winning at the Indian Nationals Finals Rodeo in Morley, Alberta, taking home a buckle and a new bronc saddle. The buckle and saddle she won were put up by the stock contractor in memory of his daughter. The rodeo elders felt that it was fate that she, as a woman, had won the bronc riding. It’s hard to disagree.

So what does someone who has done so much, in the arena and out, have left to fear? You might be surprised to hear she’s just like everyone else and has her doubts about what she’s doing. She worries about not doing well, not performing well, and even the occasional feeling that she isn’t good enough or deserving of participating in the sport. Especially after her neck injury she struggled with depression and anxiety. She put the time into herself and sought counseling, learning to focus on the now, how not to look at the big picture and get overwhelmed. She learned to just take a deep breath, take stock of what she’s accomplished so far, and just keep going. She lets the past go and focuses on the now.

Kaila Mussell Female Saddle Bronc Rider

This is striking to me. I’m not in the rodeo arena risking life and limb to compete, but I am putting myself out there for viewing and appreciation (or judgement) and it can feel intimidating at times. It’s remarkable that worry and anxiety and self-doubt are universal experiences. What a gift for all of us to hear that Kaila struggles with the same challenges and that it’s important to just focus on the now. If it’s fun, if you’re passionate about it, whatever it is, why stop?

I asked Kaila what she thought life looked like for her when the time comes to give up saddle bronc riding. She chuckled and said she’d probably still ride a little, still competing, as long as she can still ride, she’ll keep riding. She wants to continue her work as an equine therapist, perhaps adding more motivational speaking engagements and rodeo school clinics. She’s already doing the speaking engagements and rodeo schools, as her schedule allows, but hopes she can further pursue those interests. I think she has a promising future in both. Her spirit, her drive, her dedication to living her own authentic life, lend themselves well to inspiring others to do the same.

And if you’re lucky enough to have her at a rodeo near you, time permitting, you might even be able to hire her to do some therapy or chiropractic work on your horses. I know I’ll be following her career and look forward what the next 10 years hold for this bold woman. You can follow her journey on Facebook here

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Kaila Mussell Inspiring Female Bronc Rider

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5 Tips For Finding Horseback Riding Lessons For Your Child

My brother and his family recently relocated to a new state and my sister-in-law found an equestrian center close to their new home. She wanted to sign my niece up for lessons and asked me what she should look for when seeking out a barn where her daughter could take lessons. I realized this is a topic I get asked about frequently, so wouldn’t you know, I wrote a blog post about it. Go figure. Below are 5 things to consider when looking for horseback riding lessons for your child. Some of the concepts can be applied to seeking lessons for yourself as well, if you’re new to the horse world or just easing back in after some time away (welcome back!).

Finding Horseback Riding Lessons For Children

  1. Figure out what are you looking to accomplish with the lessons. Think about what the goal of this activity is. Is your child relatively inexperienced with horses and just a horse-crazy grade-schooler looking to spend time with horses? Or did your son or daughter see National Velvet and decide he or she wanted to become an Olympic level jumper and has been jumping their stick horse over every downed log they see? Anyone entering lessons should start with the confidence building, when the horses are easy going and reliable and the riding is nothing but fun. However, a trainer who doesn’t venture further than local shows isn’t necessarily going to be the trainer who can help your little rider progress to their Olympic level aspirations (if that’s the case). That’s okay, as long as you are comfortable making the switch in trainers later when your child’s skills have reached the maximum of what the trainer can instill.
  2. Ask the trainer if he or she has worked with kids before, and down to what age and for how long. Children are not just miniature versions of adult equestrians. They are still developing their prefrontal cortex, they have short attention spans and sometimes make terrible decisions. It’s not their fault, they are still learning about the world around them, even into their teen years. A trainer who hasn’t worked much with kids or generally isn’t comfortable with children, is not going to be a good fit as a trainer of your child. They are going to try to apply their training methods that work on adults to children and that is not necessarily an effective teaching strategy. Learning to ride horses is not just about learning the buttons to push on the horse and how to hold one’s body. It’s also about making good decisions when there are other horses and obstacles to consider. A trainer who works well with children has a heightened awareness for the safety horses and riders. An unseasoned trainer may forget to advise the peewee riders about not cutting off other horses or tailgating fellow riders.
  3. Ask the trainer how much they have trained in dressage or jumping or western pleasure or whatever discipline you think you (or your child) are interested in. While there are definitely some basic horsemanship skills that any trainer should be able to impart on their pupils, as you go further and further down the rabbit hole of a specific discipline, there becomes greater and greater minutiae to learn. A trainer who specializes in a particular discipline is going to be able to offer more coaching around all the minutiae of that specific discipline. The hope is that you find a trainer you can stick with for several years. Finding a trainer you can stick with for several years will lend itself to building your riders confidence as well, students become more comfortable with their trainers, to the point of really having an extended barn family. That extended barn family takes time to cultivate, time that can’t be made up if you switch trainers every year or every other year. This ABSOLUTELY applies to adult learners as well!
  4. Once you’ve established where to take lessons, show up to the facility early so you can see lessons being given to other students. There is a trainer I used to see come and go who shouted at her students. I thought she was rude. I believe she thought she was firm and impactful. Either way, what matters is what teaching style you are comfortable with. If you think your child will excel under pressure, then the shouter might be just the right fit. For me, riding and learning new skills atop a 1000 pound animal is already a stressful endeavor, I don’t see the point in making it more stressful with someone shouting directions and criticism at me. (Of course my current trainer’s occasional “Sit your ass back,” admonishment notwithstanding, which I talked about here.)
  5. Accept that horse trainers are not your typical business owners. Their hours do not fall between 9am to 5pm Monday through Friday. Regardless of when your lessons may be scheduled, they work a number of hours outside of giving lessons. They work to train new horses up, they manage websites and show entries and farm equipment and tasks related to horse care like vet visits, farrier visits, hauling hay, barn repair…. I can keep going, but I think you get the picture. The rigidity or fluidity of scheduled lessons will depend on the trainer, but don’t be surprised if the lesson starts a little late or runs a little long. Or even runs a little short. There may be days in which the trainer knows they are pushing the limits of what your rider (or you) can achieve. On those days, it’s better to relieve horse and rider on a high note rather than drilling a maneuver just to get to the 60 minute mark of the lesson. Conversely, there have been days where I’ve had a two hour lesson. I know that flexibility can sometimes be difficult to manage as a parent running from one activity to another, but that’s why I’m giving you the heads up. Everyone will be a lot happier if you can be flexible with the timing of lessons.

Child Horseback Riding Lesson

Do you have any tips as a trainer you wish people would consider when looking for a trainer? Or perhaps live and learn experiences you had as a parent finding lessons for your child, or even for yourself? Whoever you find, whatever the discipline, best of luck, and I hope it continues to be a source of joy. Horseback riding has been one of my longest and most rewarding loves.

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Finding Horseback Riding Lessons For Your Child

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