Don’t Make My Mistake: Thank A Farmer

Today was National Farmer’s Day.

I only saw one post on social media about it. None of the horse pages I follow mentioned it. Not even the feed stores I follow posted anything about it. They mentioned a fundraiser for FFA, Future FARMERS of America, but nothing about thanking a farmer. No wonder someone made a day to encourage some  recognition. Even on the day, farmers can’t get a thank you from those who should know better.

I’m not laying blame, just merely observing. Obviously I can’t judge the speck in someone else’s eye when I’m posting at ten o’clock at night the day of.

But I did think of some farmers today. There was Earl who wore overalls and a white shirt so thin you could see through it. He sold me my 4-H lambs while I was in middle school. There was also my friend’s dad who raised cattle, and hayed properties every summer while still showing houses as a realtor. But I never really appreciated those two farmers. I was too young. I didn’t have a concept of the work they did.

There is a farmer though who I knew right away was special. Initially he won a place in my heart because he kept his promise that he wouldn’t make me back up my trailer to his hay stack. I didn’t know how. He just chuckled and said I wouldn’t have to back the trailer up. When I first bought my horse Gangster, that man even let my buy a ton of hay but leave half of it stored with him to pick up a few months later. He didn’t give me a receipt or take down my name. He just said “sure” when I asked him if he could store half of it. This blows my mind five years later because real estate on a farm is precious, and he let me take up room in his barn for no additional cost.

Stacked Hay Bales

He was already old when I met him. Somewhere on the back half of his eighties I believe. He was always outside when I pulled onto the property. He’d see me and stop what he was doing to step into a tractor and load bales. I had to be patient though because gentlemen in their late eighties don’t move with the swiftness of youth. A little extra time was a small price to pay for the knowledge that my money was going directly in his pocket. My money kept his business going and put food in his lean belly.

I always wanted to make him an apple pie.

I never did.

That farmer passed away last January.

It’s funny how you can have such affection for someone you barley know at all. But I did. I cried when I found out Lloyd with the horse hay died.

You don’t have to do anything for National Farmer’s Day. But I beg you to tell a farmer how much you appreciate the hard work they do and the long hours they put in to feed you and your animals. Better yet, show them. Make them a pie. I lost my chance.

cow at watering trough

How To Be A Better Boarder For Dummies

The name of the blog is Sass In Boots, and I’m feeling sassy today. I’m at a boarding barn, and for the most part it’s fine. I stay out of trouble, pay my bill on time and keep most of my opinions to myself. But sometimes it’s just plain annoying being around other people. The Horse Channel recently came out with an article on “How To Be A Better Boarder.” The article has things like don’t complain, get to know the barn staff, and just be nice. Good try Horse Channel, but I have some more specific advice. Being nice is as obvious as paying your bill. Paying your bill on time is better advice. Kind of how don’t put the hose back like a drunken toddler is better advice than just saying “be nice.” I don’t really care if you exchange pleasantries with me, as long as you put the hose back in an orderly fashion.

So, because I’m feeling salty and this is my blog and I’ll do what I want, here’s my list of how to be a better boarder: Don’t be these people at the barn. The worst people you’ll find at the barn.

The Dirt Whiner

The dirt is too deep. The dirt is too shallow. The dirt is too sandy. The dirt isn’t sandy enough. It’s too wet. Too dusty. Too dirty. This person thinks they’ve got a future National Reining Horse hall-of-famer on their hands and needs the dirt screened through a baker’s sifter in order to complete a 30 foot slide. But, and I’m just spit-balling here, maybe they could alter how they ride their horse depending on the footing that day. The dirt gets worked up every day. This isn’t a private training facility. The ground is never going to make everyone happy. The dirt whiners really need to just chill about it. Or, call me crazy, they could offer to work the dirt up themselves. Or schedule their rides when it’s been freshly turned. So many possibilities. A flexible person makes a great boarder. For both the office and for me.

Palomino Reining Horse Sliding Stop
I cut off his head to protect the innocent.

The Arena Hog

Oh dear sweet fellow rider, I love you but you can’t take over the arena with your gauntlet of poles for some kind of hedge-maze pole work. See where I reference that this isn’t a private training facility above? So no, your impromptu dressage test for which you roped off the arena is not cool with me during the busiest ride time of the day. Clear it out. Do some rail work like a normal, polite, non-irritating human being.

Unsolicited Advice Giver

What’s that? Did I just hear a collective groan from horse people everywhere? I believe I did. That’s because we’ve all been there. We’re minding our own business when we get blindsided with impromptu lectures on the merits of feeding beet pulp/alfalfa pellets/rice bran/magic weight control sparkles because it’s so much better than what we’re currently feeding. Unless my horse’s hips look like Kate Moss’s cheeks, please don’t come to me about my feeding regimen. Trust me, if I need advice, I’ll ask. Until that happens, I don’t want you chewing my ear on how I can better care for my animal. Who, apparently, you think belongs in a Sarah McLachlan animal cruelty commercial. I’m not having it. I’m not feeding him your magic beans or whatever else you’re selling.

Golden Pony Signature
Yes, we’re aware your horse is the golden child, full of love and light and high-cost feed. But quit yapping at me about it.

Hose Sociopath

I already mentioned this but I’m just saying, there’s someone who’s unclear on the concept of coiling a hose and hanging it on hooks. It makes me crazy. Bat. Shit. Crazy. Look, I made a special, super easy-to-follow instructional guide below. Share it with your friends (or hose enemies). I know hoses can be complex but you drive a 1000 pound animal with your legs, I feel like this should be basic horse sense. Like cleaning poop out of the wash rack. (Quick aside, if you just thought to yourself “I’m supposed to pick the poop out of the wash rack?” then I can guarantee people at your barn are plotting your death. That wash rack poop doesn’t disintegrate down the drain and go into magic poop-disposal land. Yes, it looks like it washes down the drain, and then it stops somewhere along the way. And then it builds up. And then some poor shmuck that uses the wash rack sometime after you is standing in poop soup because you clogged the drain. Pick the poop out of the wash rack. Please and thank you.)

How To Properly Store A Hose For Idiots
Please enjoy my hi-tech rendition of hose storage for confused people.

The Facebook Vet

Yeah, you know who I’m talking about. The fellow boarder whose horse seems to always have a problem of some sort and who relies on Facebook for veterinary advice. Lady, I’m sorry but Bernice from Idaho who told you WD-40 makes excellent fly spray is an idiot and I think your horse now has scald. You need a vet. Not the next step in D-I-Y veterinary medicine. Call your vet. Then ask a trusted friend. You have no idea how ill informed those Facebook armchair trainers really are. I know the vet is expensive. But your Pinterest solution to a serious health issue is not the time to cut corners. Trust me on this. And I’m cheap as hell.

When Your Horse Looks Like A Moose
My horse looks funny…should I call the vet? Your “horse” is a moose. You should call whoever sold you that thing.

*My apologies to all the horsewomen named Bernice in Idaho.

I’m not always so snarky, but you’ll have to follow me on Facebook to find out.

Are you still reading? My goodness. Well you obviously can’t get enough of me so here’s a little something titled Five Things No One Tells You About The Cost of Horse Ownership. New to horses? You should definitely read it. Old horsewoman? Read it anyway and then say “Mmmmm hmmmm. I’m with you.” Looking to buy a horse? Well then make sure you read How To Tell If A Horse Sale Ad Is Full of Horse Shit. And then allow me to improve your riding by making fun of mine in Four Rookie Riding Mistakes To Avoid.

How To Be A Better Boarder For Dummies AKA The Worst People At The Barn
Pin this article so everyone can be a better boarder!

 

Eight State Road Trip & A Puppy Muse

We are back from our three week road trip from Oregon to Wisconsin and back. Because a 33 hour road trip wasn’t crazy enough, 8 hours in we picked up our puppy, Hinter. Multiple people, including our vet, suggested perhaps we should pick the puppy up on the way back. They were worried about a puppy keeping us up at night, and all of the potty stops and the threat of contracting Parvo by taking an unvaccinated puppy across country and stopping at all sorts of public spots. But, as I’m sure you guessed, we didn’t listen. And I wouldn’t change a thing. Our puppy never made a peep the first night on the road and slept 7 hours overnight, curling up next to me in our tent. He never cried for his mom at all. He bonded to us instantly. We learned camping with a puppy is the best way to work on potty training. It’s certainly easier than having a puppy in a house and constantly heading outside and waiting around for him to do his business.

New German Shepherd Puppy
Front seat rider.
Sun Bathing German Shepherd Puppy
Pint sized sun bather.

At just 8 weeks old our puppy traveled through 7 states. (The eighth state in the road trip was Washington, which we had already gone through by the time we picked him up in Idaho). We took Hinter into the chapel of a shrine, a Shopko, and the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota. Puppies can go anywhere. People don’t kick a puppy out, they just smile and ask if they can pet it. Which Hinter gladly obliged. He loves meeting people. In Casper, Wyoming he took a spin through Lou Taubert’s Ranch Outfitters. In Western Wyoming he watched as the Grand Teton’s came into view, he even saw his first moose. He was the reason I got to hear a bull elk bugling down the mountain at 5:30 in the morning under a pink-tinted sky. Left to my own devices, I still would have been snuggled in bed instead of outside on a bathroom run.

Corn Palace Willie Nelson
Willie Nelson depicted in corn at, where else, the Corn Palace.
German Shepherd Puppy In A Bag
My Paris Hilton moment with Hinter riding in my bag. This is how I snuck him into the chapel.
Virgin Mary Of The Holy Turquoise
Someone gave their turquoise bolo tie to the Virgin Mary at the chapel. I liked the sentiment.

We are hopeful that Hinter can be used for therapy. He seems to have the affection for people and is quickly learning his manners. Connor had the affection for people, but had poor manners. Shelby is incredibly obedient and could have passed the test with flying colors. The only problem is that she doesn’t care for affection. Her idea of affection is a drive-by licking while you’re napping, waking you up in the process and making sure you’re still alive. Then as quick as she descended on your face she’s gone. She doesn’t want many pets, just treats and for someone to throw a ball. Nope, not a therapy dog at all in that one.

Tetons Coming Into View
Hinter watching the Tetons coming into view.
Wilson Wyoming Bull Moose
We stumbled on this guy while on a walk down a gravel driveway. We quickly backtracked and gave him some space. Of course after collecting ourselves I had to pull out the camera and long lens.

But Hinter shows great promise. He is wickedly smart but mellow for a Shepherd. Even if we never get him to the point of therapy, I think he might already working magic on my heart. You see, I had a pretty hard time after Connor’s death. Nothing I realized, just a listlessness. You can see it in my blog posts. It took me months to write something funny. Even the number of blog posts suffered. Right now I am strapped for time with waking up overnight for potty breaks, getting up early with him, then driving him to my mom’s for doggy daycare. The evening is consumed with rushing from horse care, to dog walking, to puppy training. By the time I sit down it’s usually after 8 O’clock. And yet, the writing is coming a little easier. The valve has been opened a little wider. I don’t want to jinx it, don’t want to scare it off, but puppy joy seems to be an antidote to writers block.

German Shepherd In Summer
Sunshine and puppy cuddles are good for the soul.
German Shepherd Puppy In A Planter
The most adorable garden accessory.

One last shot from the road, not a puppy photo but a shot of rain moving off the mountains as we were driving south toward Jackson Hole. I love the misty wonder of this photo. Driving 4000 miles is hard work, but seeing the vastness of our country, the beauty in the changing scenery and the cultures from place to place makes me appreciate our wonderful country.

Rain Storm In The Tetons

Promising To Treasure The Heartbeat Moments

When Connor (rest in peace, buddy) was a puppy, still toddling around on too big paws and unbalanced legs, we took him to a friend’s house to visit. Our friend’s had a three year old daughter and the mom guided her daughter’s small hand under Connor’s front legs to feel his puppy-sized heartbeat. I remember it clearly because I felt foolish for never having previously stopped to appreciate a detail so small yet powerful. Throughout Connor’s life I remembered that moment and occasionally would pause to slip my hand under a front leg and onto his chest to feel that solid thumping. I had no idea one day I’d be slipping my hand under his leg and onto his chest for the last time to feel the absence of his heartbeat.

German Shepherd Dog Great Beyond RIP
Oh rest in peace sweet being.

The night Connor died we had been checking on him but giving him his space as we waited outside for the vet to arrive. When the vet finally did get to us and we took her inside, Connor had already died. But I was in shock. I didn’t believe that he was dead. I put my hand on his chest, grasping for that reassuring thumping of his heart. I’d felt it so many times before, was thankful for it, and for that friend in the beginning pointing out the magic of it, I was sure it would still be there. It wasn’t. I only felt the pounding of my own heartbeat against his rigor-stiffened ribs.

Those heartbeat moments have been on my mind lately. The special ones at the beginning where I realized I needed to take time to appreciate the small miracles of life, and that final time that I felt his fur against my hand and the absence his heartbeat. They are on my mind because we are getting a new German Shepherd puppy. I am beyond excited. But the excitement is tinged with sadness. If our sweet dog hadn’t died so young, we wouldn’t be getting a puppy.

German Shepherd Long Hair Puppy

I know that when we pick up the puppy, the first thing I’ll do (after crying my eyes out) will be to put my palm against his small chest and feel the power of his heartbeat against my hand. Our new furry family member will be named Hinter. That’s not a typo. Hinter is short for Hinterland, one of the defitions is “an area lying beyond what is visible or known.” I think that is perfect. There is so much we don’t know, certainly we never expected to lose our young dog so soon, nor to expect another new spirit in our lives. Hinter also mean’s “after” in German, which seemed a fitting honor for the dog who is coming after Connor.

There is much to be sad about in the world, the ailing health of family members, strained relationships, changes in jobs and income and careers. But if we can find the little moments in life that give reminders of the wonders of life, the miraculous in the common as Emerson put it, we can remind ourselves about the joy in the world that is present in the small things.

Appreciating the heartbeat of my new puppy will not take away the pain or the memory of losing Connor. But will instead remind me to appreciate all of the little, special moments that makeup every day. I am trying to take my own lesson of gratitude that I talked about earlier this week to heart. Being thankful isn’t just for the month of November, or a series of Facebook updates. It’s a choice we have to make every day to remind ourselves how fortunate we really are.

Without further ado, please meet Hinter…

Long Hair German Shepherd Candle Hill Shepherds

All puppy photos are courtesy of Candle Hill Shepherds. If you are looking for a German Shepherd breeder, I highly recommend checking them out. And if you want to know why, feel free to contact me so I can let you know why I’m such a fan.

 

What To Do When Rotten Bales Ruin The Day

It’s been hot here, hotter than normal, hot enough to put people on edge. Smoldering embers take hold and roar up into wildfires where you thought there was only gentle ground. Literally and figuratively.

My horse has been refusing to eat much of his hay for the last two weeks. I thought it was the heat. Then someone commented on his weight loss. I was of course annoyed before accepting that, yes, he was losing weight and I needed to do something about it.

So on a 102 degree day, I picked up four bales of alfalfa after work. I unloaded the bales, stacked them, stacked my existing hay in front of them and then broken one open to feed. I saw a funny looking patch, I wondered if it was mold. I pulled a couple flakes off and then saw the expanse of mold covering the entire bale. Expletives were uttered. Then I opened the second bale. More mold. More expletives.

Moldy Alfalfa

I opened the third and fourth bales. By now, my stack of hay, bales of alfalfa four layers down, is wobbling and falling all over the place. It was hot. I was stressed and tired and mad. I knew I had to load this alfalfa back in the truck and spend another 100 degree evening returning the rotten bales and unloading and restacking the new bales.

I wish I could say I saw the humor in it. I didn’t though. I only saw the hot miserable work done for nothing and the hot work left to do the next night.

So I did what any normal person would do. I went home and took out my bad mood on my husband. Why do we do this? Turn on our closest allies in times when we need them the most? Maybe you don’t, maybe it’s just me and my crazy temper. I can’t be the only one though, even if it’s tough to admit.

The ironic part is that I spent the morning telling a good friend, who is going through a rough time, not to dwell on the negative, that there is much to be thankful for, to practice gratitude. Turns out high horses buck, and rightfully so, because what business do I have giving advice I can’t follow even under the smallest of trials? Rotten bales. I lost my temper and hurt my loved one over rotten bales.

Be Grateful
Be Grateful

I should probably take a dose of that medicine I was trying to force down my friend’s throat. Because really, just being alive is a win. Having a job, having a home filled with food and water and clothes and a decent air conditioner, are all blessings. But in that moment, coated in sweat and alfalfa, all I could think about was my misfortune. I could only see the rotten bales in my life.

So, as hard as it is to admit when I’m wrong, when I have work to do, I have to make a commitment to appreciate how much I have, how much I am blessed with, instead of letting a few rotten bales spoil the rest of what’s good.

What are your “rotten bales?” What do you do to keep yourself grounded in times of stress and frustration and not give into negativity? I’m honestly asking, help a gal out.

As for the bales, a barn angel appeared the next night and helped me load the three bad bales back into the truck. Rest assured I was thankful for the help rather than bitter I had to do the work at all.

PS: Gangster’s appetite hasn’t returned to normal levels, but he is happy to eat the alfalfa and he is drinking plenty of water, so I’m hopeful he’ll put his lost pounds back on. I was going to say I wish I could lose weight as easily as he can, but I suppose if I ate a plant based diet all the time I’d probably be pretty slim. Starbucks fraps and bagels don’t make for lean bodies!

Horseback Ride In The Sunshine
With views like this, I should never be ungrateful. I am blessed.

 

How To Carry The American Flag For Rodeo Grand Entry In 7 Easy Steps

I’m coming up on the one year mark since I carried the American flag for the Eugene Pro Rodeo. Although I’m happy to relax this fourth of July, I’m also a little nostalgic about my experience carrying the flag. What better way to take a trip down memory lane than give you some tips on carrying a flag for the rodeo? So here you go, how to carry the American flag for rodeo grand entry in seven easy steps. So easy.

1. Step one: You got invited to carry the American flag (YAY!) at your local rodeo. Now its time to FREAK OUT because being asked to carry America’s most powerful and enduring symbol is a huge honor and you’ll be riding in front of 6000 people and you cannot, under any circumstances, drop the flag. Get cold sweats. Consider backing out. Immediately shame yourself for thinking of backing out of something you desperately want to do but are scared shitless to do.

Rodeo Sun And Flag

2. Secure a horse. Can’t be just any horse. This must be the rodeo unicorn above all unicorns. Must be cool with a giant flapping monster chasing him down while he’s galloping around the arena. (Step 2a. Make sure you and your horse gallop. You’ve got to pick up speed in the song, you can’t be loping at a western pleasure pace. That flag isn’t going to stand out if you’re loping at a slow trip.) Your unicorn also must be able to cope with the clicks and pops and from the sound system, the roar of the crowd that will come at the end of the song, the thunder from their boots stomping the bleachers and the adrenaline-drenched scent pouring off the stock animals pacing in the back chutes. No big deal right? Oh yeah, your unicorn also needs to be okay if the flag wraps around his face and completely obscures his vision because the wind changed and pushed the flag forward as you made your circle. And under no circumstances can the rodeo-unicorn-horse freak out at the fireworks that go off when they sing “bombs bursting in air.”

Rodeo Flag Horse

3. You’ve been invited, you’ve decided on your flag-horse unicorn, now you and your horse need outfits. The saddle pad is the requisite flag pattern with the stars and red and white stripes. Then you need to add some festive polo wraps or splint boots. When you put the splint boots on the big day make sure you control your nervousness so you don’t hyperextend your thumb. Not that you’ll feel it in the moment, but after the adrenaline wears off and for a few weeks later every time you try to grab something you’ll marvel at the fact that you were so hyped up on adrenaline you hurt yourself and didn’t even know it. Not that I have any personal experience with this or anything. Your outfit should be something red, white, or blue. I don’t advise wearing a flag shirt while carrying the flag. Otherwise you’ll find yourself in a weird who-wore-it-better scene with an inanimate object. (Obviously the flag wore it better.) I opted for a red, sequined shirt from Hobby Horse that made my boobs look big. I figured I could distract with shiny boobs so no one would notice any flubs. “Is she on the wrong lead? I think she is. But wait, oh look at that glittery red bosom. What was I saying about the wrong lead?” Also, buy longer pants than you normally wear. You want your boots covered. You don’t want that awkward look where the pants are hiked up and revealing half your boot.

American Flag Rodeo Run

4. Tools to get the job done: A flag boot and a big ass spur. Yes, I said only one spur. I don’t care about your inside leg’s spur. It can be a ball spur if you want. But that outside spur should be something a little longer and beefier. Here’s why, it turns out when you have a ten foot flag pole resting on your stirrup and against your leg you can’t move your leg nearly as much. Now maybe your unicorn has a barrel for a ribcage and you have shorter legs so you can easily lay your heel right into his side. But if your leg is a little long, if your horse is a little slab sided, you’re going to have a harder time getting your spur into the horse’s side. What was that I was saying about the wrong lead? Yeah, that was me. I picked up the wrong lead. Let me teach you, learn from my flubs. Now maybe I didn’t ride to the best of my abilities. Or maybe there were 6000 people watching me carry a 5 ½ by 10 ½ foot flag, including my brother, a Major in the Marine Corps, and my father who is a Vietnam veteran and I was more nervous than a horse in a glue factory. Anyway, get yourself a big spur and use it on your horse before the big day so he doesn’t jump out of his skin when you lay that poky rowel on his side. Get a flag boot that is pointed at the bottom so you can snug the flag pole down into the point and get a tight grip on it. You want the flag boot to fit tight around the pole so it doesn’t move at all.

Rodeo Horse

5. It’s the BIG day! Warm up your horse. Curl your hair. Use lots of hair spray. Do your makeup. I opted for lots of makeup that said “I love being out here and I’m not scared at all.” Pin your hat to your head with more bobby pins than seems necessary or even wise. I don’t care about your headache. No one wants to be distracted by your hat flying off in the middle of the NATIONAL ANTHEM. They want to be thinking about God, their country, their military family members past and present, their love of horses and rodeo and dreams untold. They do not want to think about your silly hat flying off mid-“rocket’s red glare.” Use another pin.

I forgot to add this earlier. You know that friend you have who always says “I have an oil for that?” Get some essential oils from her for decreasing massive amounts of anxiety. Apply liberally to your wrists and neck and cleavage and pretty much your entire upper body. I don’t care how excited and confident you are. You are going to be nervous. And again, people do not care how nervous you are, they want to see you carry that flag with pride and glory and gallop around the arena. They do not want to see you choke under the pressure and hunch in your saddle because, oops, this is actually super intimidating.

Okay, so you’ve got your hair and makeup done and hippie oils on. I’m all for naturopathic solutions. But I’m also for tried and true methods of anxiety control. About an hour before, go get yourself some whiskey. I prefer Pendleton. One, maybe one and a half shots. Nothing more or you’re going to turn to jello. You can’t be jello. You have to be Clint Eastwood in Pale Rider, the hero. You are the bad ass carrying the flag. No jello. I take back the half shot, just do one shot only. I don’t want you coming back here telling me how I got you drunk before your big ride.

6. Pick your horse’s hooves. Get back on your horse. Wait at the in-gate for 45 minutes. Push away any anxiety or fear. You are Clint Eastwood. I’m sorry your spirit animal is Clint Eastwood in this scenario and not some strong female lead. I couldn’t think of one. If you do, think of her. And then tell me. Anyway, you’re Clint Eastwood. You get to carry the American Flag (What an honor!!!) don’t screw it up. I’m kidding. Kind of. Have someone pick your horse’s hooves one more time.

Rodeo Waiting At The In Gate
I have no idea how this photo was captured with almost no one else in it because there are people everywhere at the in-gate, but here it is. Right before that glorious ride. Photo credit to B. Smigelski-Young

7. Go ride that flag around. Don’t run over the person singing the national anthem. Don’t even get too close to them. Again, not that I did this and saw the singer’s eyes get big as he watched me swinging wide around the corner. I’m just saying, as a precautionary measure. Running over the guy, or gal, singing the national anthem might be as bad as dropping the flag. Don’t worry about dropping the flag, I know you won’t do that. Your hand and shoulder will be numb at the end but I know you won’t drop the flag.

8. Ooops, looks like there’s an eighth step. Go have some whiskey and breathe a sigh of relief that you carried our beautiful flag and you looked beautiful and your horse was flawless and your hat didn’t come off and you didn’t drop the flag or pick up the wrong lead or run over the singer. Congratulations! Have a happy Fourth of July!

Post Ride Hug
Hug your friend who knew you could do it the whole time and never doubted you for a second. Even when you got the cold sweats.

Follow me on Facebook for more helpful tips with spots of sarcasm.

All photos, except where noted, credit to Chris T. Sloan, my favorite equine photographer!

 

There’s More Than One Way To Shape A Hat

Have you ever fallen in love with something and then realized it wasn’t quite right? That’s how I felt about my beautiful Resistol hat with white ribbon trim. Something about the crown just didn’t look right to me after I wore it a few times. A month ago Pa Fig of Pa Fig Hat Works was at a show and I stopped to ask about my hat. I know next to nothing about hats. I’ve obtained my hats by three criteria: is it pretty, can I afford it, and does it fit. Who knew there was so much more to it than that? He said he could reshape the crown for me when he was back in town a couple weeks later.

Pa Fig Hat Shaper

Once he was back in town, I showed up with two hats in tow: my Resistol that I wanted reworked, and my silver belly Stetson from my Arizona days that I absolutely love. I wanted the Resistol to resemble the Stetson.

I stuck around as he started working my Resistol over the steam and then on the poplar wood hat block. The blocks are made of poplar because there’s no grain to leave creases in the hats. He took my hat all the way down to its original, neutral shape: round top and flat brim. He took dirt off with a horsehair brush and worked the felt in a clockwise direction, the calluses of his hands pulling the fibers of the hat tighter. A tighter felt holds a sharper shape.

Pacific Northwest Hat Shaper

As he worked he told me told me the difference between the wool and fur concentrations in hats. The more fur (can be beaver, hare or others, like mink) the higher the quality and more expensive . A hat labeled 20X has more fur in it than one labeled 10X, and if you sat a 10X next to a 100X you’d be able to see the difference in texture: more fur translates to a smoother feel and finish. Wool is nice, but it’s heavier, doesn’t breath and weathers poorly. A soaked wool hat not only loses its shape but also shrinks. I once worked with a cowboy from Montana who wore a hat that had melted into something resembling the Gorton fisherman’s hat. Now I know why, he needed a nicer hat!

I have to tell you that when I first saw Pa working with hats, I thought he might be a hipster. With sideburns approaching mutton chop territory, a canvas apron and a hat that looked like it could tell its own tales, I was perhaps a tad skeptical. But you know what they say about books and covers and judging. Pa Fig, that’s his name, is by no means a hipster. He has a genuine love for his craft that came through as he let me pepper him with questions and incessantly take his picture.

Oregon Hat Shaper Pa Fig

So how does one get to be an artist at such an unusual job? For him, Rod’s western Palace of all places. He worked two Quarter Horse Congresses. It was doing 100’s of hat shapings that he developed a system for shaping multiple hats at once and learned the best way to coax those wool and fur fibers into the desired shapes. He also learned some mistakes to avoid, like fully shaping a hat before realizing the crown rests on the customer’s head (it shouldn’t do that). With fifteen years of experience now, he stays busy. He had a steady stream of people stopping by to drop off hats and pick up hats the entire time I was there. He also collects vintage hats to clean, reshape and sell. Resistol is his favorite vintage brand. I didn’t ask what his modern-day favorite is, but he sells Greeley Hat Works hats, so I think that’s a clue. I didn’t ask how much they were, their smooth texture told me they were probably higher quality than I could afford right now. Blogging is not a particularly lucrative career. Nor is writing a book for going on three years. But perhaps someday. I can picture myself in a granite-colored hat with a deep cattleman crease.

Cowboy Hat Reshaping

Ultimately my Resistol could only approach a baby cattleman’s crease. The crown is not as tall as my Stetson and so can’t support a really deep crease. The Resistol was made to be a bricker. Buying foam inserts at a show last year, a lady told me the Resistol wasn’t my hat. Not sure if you know this or not, but you can’t tell me much. So I took my foam inserts, added a layer of hairspray to my head and pinned the hat down with several bobby pins on each side. I’d show her. Well, as is the case many times when I dig in to my stubbornness, that woman is probably right. But my beautiful hat works for showing and now I know what to look for in my next hat.

Shaping A Cowboy Hat

Chicken Shit

Last week my husband and I scared the, uh, well, shit, out of our neighbor with a five and a half foot tall rooster. Giving obnoxious gifts to friends has been a goal for us for a while. We’ve just never had the personal funds to execute the dream. Back in our Arizona days, I recall a 10 foot tall giraffe that we wished we could have delivered to a friend’s front door. Not for any other reason than the sheer ridiculousness (and uselessness) of a 10 foot tall giraffe. But Mr. Giraffe had a tall price tag. And thus a decade-long fantasy was born. I know there were other peculiar art pieces along the way we dreamed of buying, but the Giraffe is what stands out to me.

Two weeks ago I made a trip the feed store and came upon the aforementioned metal rooster. I was surprised to see such an oversized lawn ornament in the same store where I shell out half my paychecks to feed Gangster. I took a picture of the ponderous poultry and sent it off to my husband. Mr. Rooster was not on clearance, but he was a hell of a lot cheaper than Mr. Giraffe was. I received an immediate response to buy the bird!

Country Garden Rooster
The affordable rooster next to some ridiculously priced Yetis. You can see where my priorities are at.

So the metal cock made his way to our garage and we hatched a plan of attack, waiting until our neighbors went out of town to land the thing in their backyard. We carried the barnyard fowl under cover of darkness (albeit a faint glow from a cell phone lit our path). We set the rooster up so he peered in their sliding-glass back door. Then we snuck out and waited .

I so wish I could have been there at the moment of surprise. If I was more savvy I would have set up a camera. Instead I got the narrated version of events, which included a scream, some expletives, then the rest of the family being advised to go check out the backyard.

Metal Garden Cock
Right before delivering the rooster. This is my I-wasn’t-expecting-to-put-this-photo-on-the-blog look. You too can achieve this look by essentially doing absolutely nothing and doing yard work all day so you look very tired slash punchy.

Our friend posted on Facebook that the battle was on to identify the cock caper culprits, and that there would be retribution.

My husband and I have a bit of a reputation for being mischievous (among other things) so our names were at the top of a short list of possible culprits. Honestly, my husband was in first place. I’m apparently the seemingly more innocent one. That fact has been filed away for future use.

Giant Metal Chicken Garden Art

For now, Richard the cock (as he has been named by the neighbors) is standing watch over their fire pit. I have a sneaking suspicion though there will be some kind of joke that runs a-fowl (see what I did there??) and we’ll be seeing of yard invasion by chicken.

We were also introduced to the blog post by The Bloggess about her giant chicken story. I’m thinking some of those embroidered towels she speaks of might be a nice gift for the neighbors at Christmas.

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High Praise For Professional Grooms

I spent a day as a groom last weekend. The results were…. comical. Seriously people, thank the grooms. Their job is hard and made up of long hours. What follows is my feeble attempt at being a groom during a horseshow. I can assure you, no one is beating down my door with a job offer.

I set my alarm for 6am, hit snooze for 45 minutes, finally wake up enough to realize that I committed to helping out with a horse show and I’m late. I throw my hair up and clip off a hang nail. I know if I don’t do it now, it’ll get caught on something later and be painfully ripped off. I arrive at 8:30am, easily several hours later than the other, professional grooms. I try to hide my yawns. I didn’t have time to make myself coffee. Also coffee makes me pee and I don’t have time for bathroom breaks.

I head out to the warm-up arena with one of the trainers and a client. I tell the trainer that I’m his person if he needs something. He’s riding away from me and says, “A bag and a stool.” A bag? What kind of bag? Like a doggy bag? “A GROOM bag!” he yells back. Oh yeah, dummy, the big bag they bring out to the center of the ring that holds detangler, bottled water, hoof picks, grease, gel, rubber bands, and other items of horse trainer sorcery. That bag. Rookie mistake. I run back and grab the bag and the stool.

Center of the Warm Up Ring
Can you spot the groom bag?

The trainer warms up the horse. It’s time for the client to get on. I help the client up and pull her chaps down over her spurs. Letting the horse’s tail down, I cringe at my own hair in comparison to these flowing unicorn tresses. No time for self-pity. I squat down and unwind the polo wraps and wipe off the client’s boots. She’s nervous.

I tell her how pretty she looks (she does) and tell her how good her horse looks (he does). The trainer tells the client to walk out to the left and I go back to counting lights. Sometimes I watch the client and listen to the trainer, picking up seeds of wisdom. The problem is those seeds dry up and blow away when I’m in the saddle. I pull myself out of my thoughts when it’s time for the client to enter the class. I follow the trainer to the rail of the show ring. This is really where I listen to the trainer making comments. Sometimes they’re to me, like idle narration of the ride. Other times the comments are called out to the client as she goes by… Center your hand, lower your hand, bring him back to you, take your time.

Training From The Rail
Training and calling out encouragement from the rail. Can you spot that pesky groom bag?

The class ends. The client received first and second places. I’m happy for her. At the out-gate the trainer congratulates the client and I accept her votive/plate/extra ribbons. I scoot to the back of the horse and tie up the tail. The trainer is giving the client a compliment sandwich: “Your speed at the lope was perfect. When you’re coming down from the lope though, you need to take your time. Don’t slam down on him. You looked really good out there. Great job.” I’m walking behind wondering what my compliment sandwich would be. Good job being a warm body and trying hard. You need to bring that groom bag and stool to the warm-up arena every time. Nice job on that tail knot. Way to keep it from getting stepped on or dirty. I pat myself on the back.

I bring the horse back to the stalls and daydream about eating a snack. I’ve only been here for two hours and already my back hurts and I’m hungry. I don’t complain though because 1. Everyone’s back and feet hurt and 2. It’s not time to eat. It’s time to work.

Grooms Hard At Work On Horse
Post class clean up on aisle 10, please.

That horse is put away and they start prepping the next set of horses to show. I’m less help in this area because I don’t know which tack goes with which horse and I can’t braid worth a lick. Grooms who can braid to the specifications of the trainer are somewhat exalted. I’m not exalted. I decide to go back to the warm up arena, as that is where I’m the most useful.

Professional Groom Horse Show HelpProfessional Groom Horse Show Help
Details matter, so detailed grooms matter greatly!

Trainer rides horse. Client gets on horse. Horse is prepped for the class and client is given encouraging words. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. This scenario plays itself out several times an hour. The day before I hear they showed 14 horses in the afternoon session. Everyone shudders and cusses and says thank god it’s cooler today and that they aren’t repeating that madness.

This is why trainers (the good ones anyway) are always thanking their grooms. The grooms are indispensable, they know the clients, the tack, and the horses. They can be the trainer’s extra brain, extra set of hands, extra set of encouraging words. Their names aren’t splashed across the show curtains, but the grooms are vital to the success of the barn and the clients. I finish my day and slink off. I have other commitments. I feel bad for leaving and vow to thank every last person who helps at a show the next time I’m showing. I encourage you to do the same.

PS: You may have noticed that my blog references western pleasure while all my photos are of a Park Horse class. When I came back with my camera, Park Horse is what was running, so that’s what I got. Felt I had to explain!

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How To Get Everyone In On The Horse Racing Fun

I love the Kentucky Derby. I would love to go to the Derby, wear a fancy hat, drink a mint julep (or five) and feel like old money. If the universe is listening, I am also okay with doing these things and being from new money. Currently I’m mostly from no money. Obviously, because, the horse. He takes all the money.

Last fall a guy at work assigned everyone a NASCAR driver, gave them a printout on their driver and then each week whichever driver won, he would give them a coffee card. I think this was last fall, I am not entirely sure though as the extent of my caring about NASCAR extended as far as I was assigned a female driver (Go Danika Patrick). We decided to do something similar for the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes. Cue child-size horse lover inside my body jumping up and down at the chance to drag all my work people through horse trivia for four weeks. Yes!

Kentucky Derby Triple Crown Work Place Winning Sheet
Non willing participants can still be assigned a horse. They’ll probably get in on the fun once they see my awesome spreadsheet with their name on it. Or they’ll report you to HR. Either way, entertainment!

So here’s how it works so you too can make all of your non-horsey friends pay attention to horse racing and horses and how amazing and beautiful and wonderful they are:

Once the horses are selected for the Kentucky Derby, have each person draw a horse. If you have more than 20 people, that’s okay, just put the racing horses back in the pot to be drawn again. Once you know the places of Derby race, put down their horse’s finishing position. You will then draw horses for the Preakness, document their finishing position, and do the same for the Belmont Stakes. After the Belmont stakes, you will average the score of the three races (the score being the finishing position). Whoever has the lowest average position (score) among the three races, wins the Triple Crown. Yes I know, the Triple Crown is when the same horse wins all three races. But considering only twelve horses have won the Triple Crown since its inception 142 freaking years ago, we’re not going to wait for that to happen. I even made the tracking sheet for you right here: Triple Crown Work Place Tracking Sheet

Winners will be taking home authentic (read: used) horse shoes dipped in gold (glitter). I’m on a budget here people. See where I reference expensive horse above. And a coffee card for the single race winners and a little something extra for the triple crown winner. Maybe I’ll throw in a free pony ride.

Kentucky Derby Golden Horse Shoe Triple Crown Winner Award

Whatever way you watch the Kentucky Derby and the rest of the Tipple Crown series, I hope you have a lovely time. I made an infographic on some of the interesting Derby and race facts. If you’re a horse-nerd like me you may already know some of these. I’m going to try to work in “look of eagles” to casual conversation. You can print the infographic out to impress your non-horse friends. Well, impress might be a strong word. Mildly entertain is probably more accurate. Have fun.

Don’t forget to follow me on Facebook. It’s also mildly entertaining.

Kentucky Derby Run For The Roses Infographic Trivia and Horse Racing Terminology Fun