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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What My Dog’s Death Taught Me About Life

It’s been over three months since our German Shepherd Dog died in our home due to a brain tumor while we helplessly watched and waited for the vet. Three weeks from now will mark the one year anniversary since he had his very first seizure. He made it only 7 short months after that first seizure. But this is not a post about his death, it’s a post about what I’ve allowed his death to teach me in life.

German Shepherd Life Lesson
What a vivacious creature he was. Here he is hunting mice. He would leap up and dive down just like a fox.

The first week after Connor died I reached out to a local woman, Sara Baker of the Pink Pinecone Studio, who made a lot of seasonal décor and who I knew had a formal fine arts education. I asked her if she could make a portrait of Connor, with lots of color and not necessarily a portrait that looked exactly like him, but something that captured his essence. She agreed.

Three days after Connor’s death an out-of-town friend, who had been scheduled to visit for several months, arrived. This friend had lost her mother only a few months earlier. The first couple hours of our visit was spent sitting in my dim living room rehashing my recent trauma and discussing her loss as well. It was sad. It was cathartic. It deepened a bond between the two of us. Her presence delivered a gift of lightness and energy to one of the saddest times in my life. When she left 5 days later, she said that she felt that the timing was meant to be, that she was meant to be in our lives that week. I cannot believe anything else. She absolutely was meant to be there for us. We were blessed to have her.

Healing Grief
You can ignore my big noggin, just look in his eyes. The way he looked at the camera, knowing, and with depth, is how he looked at you in life. He had a soul that I could see in his eyes.

Time passed. The artist I contacted about painting Connor started sending photos of the progress she had made in sketching out and then painting our dear pup. Every photo was a gift and sent me into a fit of tears. Loss is hard. I felt the need to say to people, “I know he was just a dog but…” in order to protect myself in case they thought my level of sadness was unusual or weird or that I should just “be over it.” In retrospect, I don’t have to justify my grief at all. No one does. Grief is grief. If I say I’m sad, and I need time to process and work through my pain, that’s my right. If I’m going to work, if I’m paying my bills and not crawling into a bottle or strangers’ beds or going through cases of Doritos, there’s no need for concern, just empathy.

I think life is one long lesson, one after the other, you either get smarter on the lessons you’re learning, or you just bang your head against the same damn lesson your whole life through. One lesson I have struggled with is how to express empathy. It’s not that I haven’t had concern for people, it’s that I struggled to really put myself in someone else’s shoes in terms of coping with a sick loved one, grief, or really any type of trauma. The loss of Connor finally split my heart open wide enough for the lesson to take hold. His death gave me empathy. I can now empathize with the feeling of being a helpless bystander as a loved one endures an illness that has more questions than answers and no clear path to wellness. Or perhaps no path at all. The illnesses may vary, the scenarios each unique, but the helplessness and the worry and the tears are all universal. And I can say with so much more conviction, how sorry I am, and offer hugs and inappropriate jokes and anything to give a little emotional release. It does not matter that Connor was “just a dog.” We had a deep and unusual connection, and I took his death very hard.

German Shepherd Painting Detail
In his eyes, particularly his left eye (the one on the right of the painting) she perfectly captured his spirit. It truly is like he is staring out of this canvas.

The piece of artwork resembling my sweet dog continued to take shape in someone else’s home as I waited (mostly) patiently. I should add that Sara, the artist, is not someone I knew personally but to whom I would send unsolicited blogging advice. Yes, you read that correctly. She started a blog after I did, and I would send her articles that I thought were helpful and informative. After all, I had done the reading of a ton of crappy and good articles, why not share the good ones with someone? I assured my friends (who thought I was crazy) that I wasn’t critiquing her actual blogging, just passing on information I thought was helpful. (they still thought I was crazy). I felt a kinship with her because she is local to the area and we both have creative talents.

Memorial German Shepherd Painting
The final product. Sorry for the obnoxious watermark, I just really wanted to protect her artwork from being poached.

I received the final photo of the painting last week, I gave my okay and she applied the final seal and we arranged for me to pick up the painting over the weekend. I pulled up to Sara’s house and as I was walking up the drive, she stepped out the front door with this enormous canvas with my dog’s energy looking out at me. I burst into tears. Me, the one who doesn’t like crying in public, burst into tears in front of a stranger. And then we hugged. I not only cried in front of a stranger, I then HUGGED her. Grief makes you do weird things. But it also opens your heart to people you might otherwise not have been open to.

It was like Sara was meant to make this painting for me, to help me heal, that she would gently soothe my sadness with the loving strokes that she put down on canvas. We stood and chatted for a bit about her desires for her own business, that doing fine art, painting, is where her true passion lies and that it is a path she hopes to move further down. I thought that was amazing, that here she was giving me this gift of my dog, but this was also meaningful to her as it was a step toward something she wanted to develop for herself. And in the same way my friend was meant to arrive the week that Connor died, I believe that Sara was meant to put this piece together for us. She was so sweet to work with, and the piece of art she created for us is not only amazing for its artistic quality and her talent, but because she managed to capture our dog’s spirit in those paints. It is something mystical that she was able to translate with her painting.

German Shepherd Painting
I entitled this photo “Home.” Because that’s what this is. He is home now, he is home in our hearts, home in this painting, and the painting, and our female shepherd left, make our house a home.

If you’d like to check out her work, her website is here and I highly suggest you follow her Facebook here, that is where you can see her artistic journey unfolding.

Thank you, Sara, for this wonderful gift.

If you would like to follow me on Facebook, you can find me here. I’d love to have you as part of my growing community of amazing people.

Dog Death Lessons on Life

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A Tribute To The Barns & People of Wisconsin (Yes I’m Serious)

A few years ago on one of our many trips back to Wisconsin I made my in-laws drive me around the central-Wisconsin countryside so I could take photos of barns. I Say “made” because as I recall, my father-in-law feigned annoyance and bewilderment at such a request, but I know he loved every minute of it. Anyway, I have something of an obsession (Fetish? Love?) with old barns. Part of it I think is growing up without horses and seeing barns without any animals and wondering why the hell you would have all that property and a barn and not have any animals. But I also really just love the thought that these structures are so old and have a history of their own, they supported a way of life, of family and of farming. And they are a part of the landscape that is disappearing. There is a barn that was on Hwy County P in between Wisconsin Rapids and Stevens Point that about a year after I took a photo of it, was torn down. There was nothing built in its place, I don’t know why it was torn down, but it made me sick.

County P Wisconsin Barn
The barn on County P (now called 66) that is no longer standing. Last time I was there the silo was still up.

It’s not that Oregon doesn’t have any old barns, we do. But for the most part they are not nearly as old. Nor do they have that charming fieldstone foundation. And there are far fewer in Oregon than what I see in Wisconsin. In Wisconsin you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a barn.

I love barns so much that we held our wedding at one. The old barn, originally built in the 1870’s was brought down by a tornado in 1993, in 1997 the family began rebuilding the barn as a type of healing after their son died. The place has since sold, it still hosts weddings, but the people who owned it, who rebuilt the barn, and who treated us like family when we were married on their property, have moved on. During the wedding they opened their home to us and made our wedding feel like the party I wanted it to be. I’m sure the new owners are perfectly nice people, but the former owners were absolutely saints in my eyes. I don’t know if you’ve ever planned a wedding, but it can be incredibly stressful, especially planning it 2000 miles away from the actual venue. Their Wisconsin friendliness and hospitality did not disappoint and I will be forever thankful we not only had our wedding in Wisconsin but also at the Cedar Hill Barn.

Wisconsin Wedding Venue Barn Cedar Hill Barn
The barn where we were married. They converted the silo to bathrooms.

I’m not from Wisconsin, but with all of my husband’s family there and with how much I have visited in the 10 years since we’ve been together, I definitely feel like it is a home away from home. Partially because the people there really do make you feel welcome and loved. When I worked on the ranch in Arizona, one of the guests found out I was dating Dean and that he was from Wisconsin. She cooed and told me that people from Wisconsin were the best people, that you couldn’t find better or nicer people. I thought she was just being trite. It turns out she was right. If you are feeling low, or not part of a community, seriously, just go visit Wisconsin. I guarantee a stranger will chat you up and befriend you before you know it. I should know, I’m not that friendly or chatty with strangers and people still manage to draw me out there.

Wisconsin Stone Foundation Barns
Look at those barns and that brooding sky, I just think there are so many stories in those wood and mortar walls.

I actually think it gives more credit to my love for Wisconsin that I’m not from there, of course people brag about where they live or where they’re from. But I’m neither and I definitely have a special place in my heart for Wisconsin. Right about now I figure my sweet mother-in-law is wondering why in the hell I don’t live there if I love it so much. (I did steal her son away to Oregon for the last decade).

Wisconsin Gambrel Roofed Barn
Fun fact, this roof style is called Gambrel, you’re welcome.

Snow. Lots of Snow. And Ice. And lack of mountains, or ocean, or high desert. I’m not a huge fan of the geography of Wisconsin, I mean, the rolling hills are nice, but I like a little more drama in my landscape. And there are some other more practical reasons, like my career being established in Oregon. Nothing personal about your landscape Wisconsin, it is beautiful; it just doesn’t quite meet my needs.

I like people from Wisconsin so much that I joined a couple of their horse forums. Actually it was the first horse forum I joined outside of Oregon. I figured they would be gentle with me if they didn’t like my blog posts or writing. And by gentle, I mean they just wouldn’t say anything. Luckily they did like my funny little writings and boosted my courage to join some other forums that were a little more intimidating (read: east coast forums).

Wisconsin Hay Field
A lovely Wisconsin hay field, just because.

So if you’re from Wisconsin, thanks for being so damned friendly! If you’re not from Wisconsin and have never been, go! They have awesome lake side communities, cabins, rolling hills, cheese factories and they make Pabst Blue Ribbon. I’m just going to repeat those last two points: You can get fresh made cheese and beer, what more do you need to know?

Wisconsin Beer ATM
Seriously, this is not normal in the rest of the country. Most ATMs do not say they are for beer money. Only in Wisconsin.

If you’re curious, you can see the website for where we were married here

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Why You Should Go To Wisconsin The People and Barns

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Why I Saw A Hypnotherapist, And How It Changed My Outlook

Sometimes, our desires are a little, or a lot, beyond what we believe we can do. Carrying the American flag for the rodeo is one of those dreams of mine that I struggled to believe I could actually accomplish. A little less than a month prior to the rodeo I sat in my kitchen crying to my husband about how worried I was about carrying the flag. I had worked a few times with the horse I was planning to use and felt confident in her calm demeanor, but I had little confidence in myself. The large flag was proving more difficult to manage than I realized and I’d had a couple nights of practice that didn’t instill much confidence in me. I felt sick with worry at the thought of the event and that I had less than four weeks to get myself into flag-carrying shape.

About a year ago, for reasons I cannot recall, I found a hypnotherapist in my town and had been interested in what she did. I now thought about her and wondered if she could help me, if she could put a spell on me and help me succeed in carrying the flag. The day after I cried to my husband about my worries, I called the hypnotist’s office. She asked me what I was hoping to work on. I told her. She asked me if I was physically capable of carrying the flag, I said yes. She asked me if I had been practicing with the flag, and I said that I had. She told me to keep practicing, that hypnotherapy wasn’t magic. Her blunt statement made me laugh.

I ended up meeting with her twice, each time we chatted for about a half hour before getting into the relaxation/positive visualization/hypnotherapy portion. She used the pre-chat to guide what I was looking to get out of the experience with her and what I was hoping ultimately to achieve on my own. My first session she focused intensely on me being capable, confident, proud and honored while carrying the flag. She helped me to stop my mind from going to the worry place and dumping adrenaline in my body and increasing my anxiety. She helped me to shift my focus to the place of honor, the place of confidence. It was a remarkable shift. It was a shift I can feel in my body. The worry place is in my stomach and makes me sick, the place of honor, of pride, is in my chest and feels light and joyous.

Carrying The Flag at The Rodeo
Waiting for our turn in the arena.

After my first session with her, every time I would start to get a little nervous, a little worried, start imagining all of the horrible things that could go wrong, I would just shut down those thoughts and think of the people I was really carrying the flag for: my two Marine Corps brothers and my Navy Veteran father. I would think of the absolute gratitude I felt for the chance to carry the flag. It sounds so simple, too easy really, but it worked. And I kept practicing with the flag, and my practice got better. Not just because the hypnotherapy shifted my mindset, but also because I had a wonderful trainer helping me work with the horse I would be using.

My second session with the hypnotherapist we focused again on the place of honor and gratitude, but she also asked me why I called carrying the flag an opportunity. And it made me realize that this lifelong dream, something that I had always secretly envied and loved and watched with adoration, was also something I never imagined I could do. I never even really told anyone that it was a dream of mine to carry the flag. It only came out a little at a time to a close friend, granted a close friend who regularly carried the flag. But it was she who really made me name the desire. She outright asked me if carrying the flag was something I wanted to do. I told her absolutely yes but that I was also terrified by the idea.

Rodeo Sun And Flag
About to enter the arena

Now maybe some of you are wondering what the hell is the big deal. But I get nervous showing my horse in front of about 50 people, now add about 5000 people and a giant American flag that you can’t drop under any circumstances. Add the noise of the crowd, the cannon fire in the middle of the song, the shapes of the sponsor flags around the arena, the smell of the stock animals. It’s a lot for a horse to manage. It’s a lot for a rider to navigate. And there is an emotional component to it. I have pride in my country. I come from a military family and have experienced both of my brothers being in war. The flag isn’t just a decoration taken out over a few summer holidays and shown at sports events, it means something to me. People have died fighting for what our red, white, and blue flag represents.

So during that second session with the hypnotherapist I realized that if I wanted to keep dreaming bigger and bigger dreams, if I wanted to keep striving to live just beyond my comfort zone, I would have to name my desires. I would have to believe that my ridiculous, audacious and inconceivable dreams could be possible, that they could come to fruition. I might not know exactly how, I might not know where dreaming such dreams could take me, but I have to be bold enough to put it out there. In carrying the flag I was lucky, I had a friend who pulled my dream out of me, she urged me on. But there isn’t always going to be someone who cares so much, who teases the dream out little by little and pushes me on along the way. I have to own the role I play and reach as far as I can on my own.

The second session made me feel like I had received a small kernel of enlightenment. How can you ever expect to achieve a dream you’re not willing to name? How can you ever expect to get something you’re too shy, too insecure, too whatever to ask for? In that moment, I realized that I couldn’t. I couldn’t expect to receive anything that I haven’t asked for, reached for, worked for. It’s not magic, you have to work for it.

Its Not Magic You Have To Do The Work

If you’re wondering, the hypnosis portion of our sessions was a little like being between sleep and awake. There was vivid visualization of what we discussed. It was a type of deep relaxation with an imaginative picture-story. It was a little awkward at first, but I decided I was paying to try and help myself, I might as well dive into the experience whole heartedly. So I let myself be lost in the visualization. I could remember most everything that happened during the session, I was conscious of what was going on around me. This is important because I am a cynic and did briefly wonder if the woman was going to rifle through my purse and steal my identity. But she didn’t, and even if she had, I would have come out of the relaxation and known what she was doing. After both sessions I felt as relaxed as if I had just had a massage, right down to my legs feeling wobbly.

When the day came to carry the flag, I spent the morning drinking mimosas with visiting friends. I can think of no better way to start the day. Then I got my ½ inch layer of make up on, applied a half can of hairspray to my curls and headed off to the barn. I was still nervous, quite a bit actually. But we got a practice ride in and I settled a bit. Then I sat with some other friends and had a little whiskey and coke and settled some more. Then I put on my sequin shirt, bobby-pinned my hat to my head and got on my paint horse. We stood behind the in-gate for about an hour, waiting for our turn. You might think that would cause me to be more nervous, but it had the opposite effect. I got to watch the rodeo court riding into the arena, the drill team shifting around and then running in, the sponsor flag runners do their run-ins. Little by little each of the groups entered and left the arena. Then came a memorial ride in honor of my friend’s mom and I found myself all choked up with tears in my eyes. My friend handed the enormous flag up to me, we unfurled it, and then I got really choked up. She tugged my reins to pull me toward the in-gate.

It was finally my turn. I clucked and squeezed my calves and got my horse up into a jog. We had a little bit of a rough start and we ended up going into a lope much earlier than I planned, but we loped around the arena for five minutes, with that big beautiful flag flying and one of my brothers and my father and the rest of my fan club watching. Once I got out there I was actually far less nervous than I thought I’d be because I had a job to do. I could not focus on my nerves or people or what my nervous imagination was dreaming up. I had to keep my horse going and the flag upright. And I did. And it was beautiful. I am so grateful to have had the experience.

Here’s a link to a one minute video of my great ride

I hope you believe me when I say, whatever your big dreams are, they are possible. Whatever audacious, ridiculous, bold ideas are, if you are willing to do the work, if you are willing to inch out further and further onto the ledge of possibility, they can be yours. I really, truly was not sure I could carry the flag, not because I was physically incapable, but because I was unsure if I could manage my emotions and my stress around carrying the flag. But I did, and I feel empowered by the experience. What is your big, audacious, ridiculous dream?

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Why I Saw A Hypnotherapist

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How To Tell If A Horse Sale Ad Is Actually Full Of Horse Shit

I like looking at horses for sale, I like to see what’s out there and I like to see the differences in prices and breeds by the different regions. After a while of looking at so many ads, I have to tell you, I feel like someone should write a Horse Buying For Dummies book, because you almost need an advanced degree in wading through horse shit to correctly interpret the advertisements. This is not to say that everyone lies when selling a horse, or that every ad is a misrepresentation. However, people with a horse for sale have a singular goal: selling the horse*. For that reason, the horses are represented in the shiniest and most perfect light possible, no matter that the photo may be 2 years old. Allow me to put a little more realistic spin on some of the things you might see in horse ads, saving you some time, and saving you some heartache from falling for the “perfect” horse, only to discover in person he’s a total train wreck.

Horse Sale Ad Lies Not Drugged
(He was heavily drugged this day, it was teeth and sheath day!)

First off, every horse, in practically every single ad is a bomb proof/kid safe/husband horse. How dead-broke a horse is lies on a spectrum and relies heavily on a person’s experience and perception. Some hell-bent-for-leather cow hand may consider a horse bomb-proof and husband safe because the horse will go all day and only gives the occasional crow-up to let you know he’s tired of working. But unless your husband has the same level of grit and laissez-faire attitude, a horse with an occasional crow hop during every ride is not going to work for him. And that kid safe horse? Take a long hard look at the photos, is the kid just sitting there? Is an adult leading the horse around? Is the child a passive passenger as the adult commands the horse? If the answer is yes to any of the above questions, that’s not really a kids horse. That’s a horse that doesn’t mind kids. A horse that packs around a 40 pound passenger without complaint while an adult leads, does not a kids horse make. You need to see photos and videos of an actual tiny human directing the horse’s actions, walking, trotting, turning, with zero assistance from a regular sized human. That’s a kids horse.

Horse Sale Ad Lies Witchy

Oh yes, and there is the occasional ad in which the owner admits that the horse does have a little spook, a little trouble with running (but of course he can be stopped really quickly and comes right back to you). Please interpret those admissions as a downplaying of the full-on one mile bolt the that rivaled Exaggerator’s win at the Preakness. I hope if you’re exploring such a horse you have your jockey skills polished up and have a big saddle horn to hold on to. And wear a helmet. And an eventing vest. And have good health insurance. Or just keep looking.

Some ads boast about how the horse bathes/Loads/Clips and has no bite/buck/bolt. Unless they are talking about a green horse, or an un-broke horse, these things should be a given on a broke horse. And if the ad really only lists those things and not much else, just. Keep. Scrolling. It likely means the horse doesn’t have much else going for it. Okay, let me say that with a caveat. If you are looking for a project horse, a horse to train yourself, a horse that hasn’t had the miles and time put into it, then definitely look for the well-priced sweet horse that has these basic tenants of respect down. But if you actually are looking for the bomb proof/kid safe/husband horse, this is not that horse. It’s just not. The ad would be telling you all about the rodeos the horse has been to, the mountains they’ve camped, and a moose the horse fended off. Not just that it can be bathed and clipped and won’t immediately toss your ass off.

Horse Sale Ad Lies Play Dead

If there are all kinds of stipulations on the ad, if it says just putting feelers out there, not sure… steer clear. Buying a horse can be a long drawn out exercise in patience. Don’t make it harder on yourself by engaging with sellers who may not be ready to sell. These people can be identified by their high priced but average horse. They can also be sussed out by the stipulations they put on getting to see the horse, how to manage its care, what you can do with it.  If I sold my horse tomorrow, I sure as heck wouldn’t want him to be barrel raced on, I think it would fry his little anxious mind. But the fact is, I would have zero control over what the would-be next owners, or the owners after that, choose to do with him after the check has cleared.

But owners who request the first option to buy back should be regarded with respect. This is a sign that the owners know the horse has value and want to make sure he or she has a safe retirement and doesn’t make a mysterious descent into the auction world and head south on a meat truck for a Mexican slaughterhouse. Sorry, that got dark quick. But it is a real possibility.

Like I said, the horses in the ads always sound like a dream but are a little less sparkly in person. If you’re new to horses, I highly suggest you work with someone who isn’t. Work with someone who doesn’t benefit by you purchasing a horse. The same way a saleswoman is going to tell you every single piece of clothing you put on in the store looks “Amazing, brilliant, simply ravishing” because she wants to make a sale, anyone who is benefitting from you buying a horse can’t be trusted. This includes any horse-crazy children you may have who might tug on your sleeve while looking at said dream-horse and whisper sweet nothings in your ear about how he or she will clean the stall and groom the horse and make sure it’s always cared for. Every. Single. Day. Let me give you a spoiler alert that you probably should have seen coming, at some point you’re going to clean that stall, have to call the vet, or arrange other types of care.

Horse Sale Ad Lies Self Aware

If you really are looking for a non-fancy, unflappable trail friend, a good horse for your kids to play on and build their confidence, I think you should look for an ugly old plug that’s been with its people for a while. People will keep a pretty looking palomino that’s a jerk to ride whereas they won’t hold onto a jug-headed long-back that’s ugly as sin and is hell to ride. Well how the hell do you know if you’re getting the sweet jug-head or the jerk? That’s where you find out how long the owners have had the horse. If they’ve had it for several years (longer than three) that’s a good sign. Look for people who are selling because of a change in lifestyle (divorce, selling property, kid went off to college) instead of just because they need to focus on their other horses. If they’re focusing on their other horses, it means the one they have up for sale is the least talented and shows the least potential of the pack. That’s not a good sign for you. Again, unless you’re looking for a project horse, otherwise, keep moving.

Horse Sale Ad Lies Non Mareish

Oh, and one last thing, a mare is a mare is a mare. At some point, she’s going to have an off day. Maybe several off-days in a row. She’s a mare. She’s going to act mare-ish at some point. It’s statistically improbable that the number of ads that claim a horse is non-mare-ish are actually accurate. They’re biologically engineered to have an attitude. It’s just gives them personality!

*Except for those people I mentioned who aren’t ready to sell yet and have all sorts of requirements for the sale of their horse and ongoing care.

Good luck horse hunting! Please share your horror stories, and follow me on Facebook so you never miss a mediocre post or the occasional gem!

How to decipher horse sale ads

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Book Update: Why I’m Not Loving My Editor

Many of you may know that I am attempting to write a book. My blog says the book is written, which is true. I did write a full 97,000 words. However, saying it’s written infers that in some way it’s finished, which is far from the truth. Before submitting the story to agents (to hopefully get it sold to a large publisher) I found an editor to go through the story and help me get it cleaned up, thereby increasing my chances of getting it picked up by a large publisher. And if no large publisher picks it up after several (more than 30) tries, I’ll move on to working with an independent publisher.

Anyway, the editor has had the manuscript for a couple months and we are just now getting down to the work of going through her concerns over the phone. Now I miraculously managed to find someone who actually really cares about the story, and wants to see it in its best form possible. But the horrible flip side to that is that she isn’t just sending me back grammatical and structural issues. She is going through the holes in the story, the inconsistencies, the flatness of my villain. And it is not fun. It may even be more fun to go to the dentist than to talk through the issues in my manuscript with her.

She is a perfectly lovely woman who is very intelligent and respectful in her feedback. But basically she doesn’t feel my manuscript is in a shape to be saleable to anyone. Mind you, I was hoping to start querying agents by the end of June. It’s June 13th. That’s not happening. When I speak to her I have to breathe deeply and remind myself I’m paying her to tell me these things about my manuscript and not to take her words personally and hang up on her.

Horses Pulling Car Out of Sand Fort Worth Stockyards Texas
I feel a little like the car in this scenario, a little bogged down. This photo was in the original stock trader’s building at the Forth Worth, Texas stockyards. Apparently I have a thing with buried cars (see 10 Years Ago A Tow if you don’t know to what I’m referring).

We had our second conversation tonight and she was discussing the narrative perspective of the story and I was whining about how working through these issues was going to be painful. Her response? “It’s not going to be painful, it’s going to be awful.” She fully gets how distressing it is to hear that your project, that was 10 years in the making, that took several hundred hours to craft, is still in rickety shape. It’s like I just built a Pinterest pallet table with only three legs. I spent all my energy putting it together, and now she wants me to go back and add a leg and make it look less like a pallet and more like some Restoration Hardware piece of art. But I’m exhausted!

She doesn’t care. And neither do any of the readers out there who would pick up the three-legged pallet version of the book. They want the Restoration Hardware version. I have some hard work ahead of me. But I certainly didn’t put all those hours into the thing just to shrug and say, “Eh, it’s good enough.”

And for all of my lovely people who might say, “Well what does she know? You don’t have to listen to her! Your manuscript is flawless!” It’s true, I don’t have to take any of her suggestions. But the problem is that I know the issues she’s pointing out are valid. I missed a step, I forgot to give the reader some information, my villain IS rather flat. So I can’t just let it remain with these problems that I know are actual problems. They have to be fixed. It wouldn’t be fair to the story to just leave little piles of unfinished work and holes around the story.

So my new goal is to have the thing in better shape by September. I don’t know if it will be ready to query agents by then or not, but at least I have a goal for when to have the issues fixed.

I’m not feeling sorry for myself, I know that I can’t complain because I’m writing a book and it’s hard (imagine whiny annoying voice). No one cares. Of course it’s hard. If it was easy, everyone would do it. And apparently a lot of people DO write books that maybe they didn’t take the time to craft to perfection and that’s why Simon & Schuster didn’t immediately fall all over themselves trying to sign the author as fast as possible. But hopefully I can polish my work to a point that Simon & Schuster pauses for a moment and takes a second look. (Or falls all over themselves, that’s fine too, just trying to be cautiously hopeful here).

So that’s where the book is at, if you’re wondering. I’m in some weird universe where I’m paying someone to tell me what’s wrong with me. I mean the book. I guess that’s what trainers are to horseback riding, I just have a smaller ego when it comes to horseback riding, so it’s not as painful when they tell me I’m not doing so hot. I already know. I’ll keep plugging along. Just wanted to give an update, and maybe to garner a teensy-weensy bit of sympathy, I mean, it’s not great to hear about all the problems with the book. But I’ve got to go through it to get to the other side and have the book be better than good.

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The Commencement Speech I Wasn’t Invited To Give

I’ve never been invited to give a commencement speech. Not like I have any tremendous life accomplishment to warrant such a grandiose invite. But that doesn’t stop me from feeling like I’d have a kick-ass speech. I mean, I would give it in my usual awkward style, probably make some joke at my expense in the beginning to lighten the mood. But then I would get to my message. And it would go a little something like this:

There are things that adults say that are well intentioned but said from a place of fear and you should not listen to those things. The item in particular I’m thinking of is taking a break from school. It’s true, if you take a break from school, you can slow the inertia it takes to complete a degree. But if you truly want a degree, if that is a long term goal of yours, a year or two year break from school will not be the limiting factor. It is your determination that is the limiting factor. School is always there, school is always an option. Even as a 34 year old, or 46 year old or 55 year old, school is always available. I have the option to re-route my career if I so choose and go back to school. Sure it would be uncomfortable and I’d be broke for a little while, but educational institutions will always be in existence. What’s not always an option is the chance to chase an adventure. Adventures are not as easily pursued the older you get. The further you get along in your life, the more established you become, the harder it is to get away. Believe me when I say that the good job, the house, the dog, they will always be waiting. But the adventures find someone else to entice if you don’t follow their temptation.

Wickenburg Arizona Sunrise
Arizona sunrise

My own adventure was a little bit of running away, a little bit of ego and bravado. I was hungry for something that I could not name and that I did not even know I wanted. But I knew enough to follow my gut. I stumbled upon www.coolworks.com and found some ranch jobs over the winter. Actually, let me back up for a second. I had a friend at the time who was volunteering in Guatemala at a children’s orphanage. My plan for the spring was to purchase a ticket to fly down and see her and spend some time traveling with her. The day before I was going to purchase my airline ticket, her mom emailed me to let me know that she was miserable and coming home early. For my own selfish reasons, I was crushed. I was desperate to have an adventure and there was no way that Guatemala was now an option without a trusted tour guide. I was a little impulsive, but I knew better than to travel as a single woman to a foreign country where I couldn’t speak the language and expect nothing bad to happen. So it was that derailment that got me thinking of getting a job somewhere outside of Oregon. That’s when I stumbled upon Coolworks.

Coolworks is a site devoted to job postings for seasonal service industry positions. The majority of the winter season places were ski resorts in the mountains. As much as the idea of working at a ski resort in some chic part of the Rockies appealed to my vanity, I am not, have never been, will never be, a skier. I have very clear memories as a child of being miserable and cold and falling down a lot while skiing. I tried again as a teenager and found I got the same result. So I went with what I knew I loved and would love doing: horseback riding. I actually applied as a wrangler to one of the guest ranches. They called me and said that I didn’t have enough experience to be a wrangler (which my ego took a real disliking to). But they asked if I would be interested in working as part of operations staff. I would be cleaning rooms and serving meals 5 ½ days per week. I said yes. I actually didn’t even wait for the other ranches to contact me or weigh the pros and cons of working there versus another ranch. I just took the first offer that came to me.

Wupatki National Monument Arizona
Wupatki National Monument outside of Flagstaff, Arizona

When I look back at this period of time in my life, sometimes I am absolutely shocked at the fact that I did this. I had bills that would not go away just because I took a job out of state, like my phone bill and credit cards and a car payment. But I took the job anyway. I had a cat that I couldn’t bring with me and who I cared enough for that I was unwilling to dump at the humane society. An angel I worked with in retail at the time agreed to take her for me for while I was in Arizona.

So I gave notice at my two jobs, moved some big things into a storage unit, and handed my cat off to the cat-angel. I packed up my Honda civic, mostly with clothes and one pair of used cowboy boots from 70’s and started down the freeway toward a life that I had no expectations for. I had never driven for longer than 2 hours by myself at this point, and here I was, driving 23 hours to Wickenburg, Arizona.

The first night I stopped in Reno at a Motel 6 right off the freeway. I promptly left my debit card in an ATM the next morning right before I rolled out of town. I don’t remember being scared to travel alone, I was so high on the adrenaline of what I was doing that I had no fear. I was aware that I was alone and I was estranged from my parents and so I didn’t have much of a safety net, but I had no fear.

The road between Reno and Las Vegas is a road that seems to travel toward absolute nothingness. There is nothing but barren desert on both sides of the straight road. Not even the interesting kind of desert with Saguaro cacti and purple sunsets. It’s just sand and scrub over and over until you have highway hypnosis and almost kill yourself driving off the damn road before your adventure has even begun.

The next night I stopped in Las Vegas and stayed at the since-demolished Imperial Palace. As most things in Vegas, it aged out of relevancy and was torn down, now the site of a giant Ferris wheel. I checked in and changed out of my road trip clothes and walked the strip alone. I sat at The Carnival bar and watched people dancing and laughing, enjoying the warm night and party atmosphere. But I could not partake. I had miles left to drive.

The next day, in Kingman, Arizona, and just two hours from my destination, I stopped for gas. This gas station was attached to a tire shop and mechanic for some reason. I’ve never been anywhere like it again. The gas attendant (who apparently just watched me get gas, because he certainly didn’t pump it for me) was a mid-50s man with a pot belly and clad in overalls, asked me where I was from and where I was going. I told him. He told me Wickenburg was real green, that I’d like it down there. I guess Wickenburg could be considered green if you’re used to the dry sandy stretch of land between Reno and Las Vegas. But for an Oregonian who grew up in the grass-seed capital of the world, the lush Willamette Valley, Wickenburg did not turn out to be green. It’s brown and tan with shades of sage mixed in. Attractive and striking in its own desert way, absolutely. But green? Absolutely not.

Vulture Peak Saguaro Cacti Sunset
Sunset through saguaro cactus while hiking Vulture Peak

I filled up my car and then the man told me I needed new tires. I looked at him incredulously. I specifically had my tires checked at our local trusty tire center before I rolled out of town. He told me my tires had rubber rot or dry rot. To demonstrate he jammed a long screw driver between the tread of my tires and twisted to show me all the little lines hidden within my tires. At the time smart phones did not exist, and even if they had, I wouldn’t have had one. So I had no way to Google if what he was telling me what was right or just a way to take advantage of a young woman travelling alone. I had zero dollars to spend on a new set of tires, but I figured I’d split the difference and get two new front tires, entirely on credit. I actually had no idea until this day if that old guy was just taking me for a ride. As I was writing this I looked it up on Google, and wouldn’t you know, those tires of mine way back when did look like they had tire dry rot. So I have to think I had a tire-angel shining down me as well, who kept me from getting a blow-out and which if I had, I would have been royally screwed.

Two hours later, I safely rolled into Wickenburg and promptly buried my car in a wash, which I already told you about here. But I made it. And then, despite the ranch being actually a very stressful environment in which to work, I had my own adventures. And my restlessness settled, and I found that I had been in control the entire time of how my life could be. If I was honest and brave about what I wanted for myself. Before my husband became my husband, he used to joke with one of the other women who worked at the ranch that she should be more like me, that I had balls. That I just picked up my life and moved. At the time it stoked my ego. In retrospect, I wasn’t really all that brave, I just wanted the hell out of my hometown and the trajectory I was on. I only had to be brave for a few moments, to apply, to accept the job, to make the plans. I know I had anxiety about leaving, I was not without self-doubt. But I just had to have a little courage to set the plan in motion and not back out.

Wickenburg Arizona Apartment
The view just outside my little Arizona apartment.

And so I wish for you, that you dig deep for a little bravery at just the right moments, and take on that adventure that seems a little scary, a little intimidating, maybe a lot uncomfortable. Trust me when I say there is a whole lifetime to live in comfort. You only get a few times when adventure comes calling, whispering really, and you just have to whisper “yes” back. And you’ll get a sense of how much is out there, just beyond your own horizon. You won’t regret it. It might be stressful, it might be a terrible experience that makes you write a book and curse this random woman on a blog who told you to go for it. But I swear, at some point, you’ll be really glad you did it. And then you can get on with school, or go back to school, or keep following those whispers for more adventure down canyons, and beaches and wherever else your courage leads you.

Congratulations on your graduation. Or on your child’s graduation. Now the real fun can begin.

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Three Ways To Help You Ride Through Fear

I’ve been thinking a lot about fear lately. I read a post by Lauren Mauldin who writes a blog called She Moved To Texas and she was talking about the trust bank, a term I’d never heard before, and it resonated with me. The idea behind the trust bank is that for every positive ride you have with your equine partner, you make a deposit in the bank. But every ride that goes awry, gets a little hinky (or a lot hinky) erodes your trust in yourself and your mount. If you have too many of these rides you deplete the trust bank. You can read more about her thoughts on it here.

I think fear is an intriguing emotion. I know that the chemicals released during fear are cortisol and adrenaline for a flight or fight response. The chemical release is caused by our brains, but it seems like in this age, our brains should have advanced in what actually triggers a fear response. At one time someone told me that fear and excitement are the same thing just with different names. I get the sentiment, but excitement has an element of positive anticipation and subsequently the associated positive hormones like dopamine and endorphins.

When I Googled “how to get over fear when riding” a website came up that was about phobia of horses. Horse people do not have a phobia of horses. The horse people I know who struggle with fear (myself included) struggle with little bubbles of fear that float up here and there. There isn’t a constant pumping of terror from the entire experience. My little bubbles of fear typically float to the top when I am working at speed, not necessarily just at a lope, but when I’m pushing for a faster lope and into a gallop. Anytime the wind is pushing my hair back my mind starts thinking about all the things that could go wrong. That’s not exactly the most productive thing to do with my brain.

I would say 95% of my riding anxiety is centered around loping. I avoid loping horses unfamiliar to me. But I don’t feel that I dislike loping, or that I’m afraid of loping, per se. It’s that I’m afraid of not being able to stop the lope, that my horse will spook or buck at the lope and separate me from the saddle in an aerial dismount. Some people might shake their heads at this and call me a weenie or say I should just get over it. That’s fine if that’s their opinion, but I think there are a lot more people out there who struggle with pockets of fear in their riding than we realize. Quite possibly because they are afraid if they admit their fear they’d be called a weenie.

quote on getting hurt in horseback riding

To me, having little flashes of caution seems like a reasonable emotion to pop up every now and then. We ride animals that are around 1000 pounds with minds of their own and agendas of their own. Occasionally things are going to go wrong. And you hope they don’t go so wrong that you get hurt. I recently wrote an article for Northwest Horse Source which you can find here about traumatic brain injuries in equestrians and trialed a new western helmet. In looking at the research around equestrians and the prevalence of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), there shouldn’t be any doubt as to why we have occasional fear. We engage in an activity that accounts for 45.2% of TBIs among adults. (ABCnews.com article reviewing study of TBIs published by the journal Neurological Focus)

The idea of the trust bank really put into words something that I had come to know inherently: when I have several good rides with my horse, I feel more confident in my abilities as well as in his willingness to mind me. But the trust bank is a concept that allows for the idea that if you’re writing a trust-bank check that’s about to bounce, you should back off and work on tasks that build the trust back up. Previously when I had a bad ride or when Gangster was being squirrely, I would feel guilty if I didn’t lope him. But that’s part of the idea of the trust bank: if you’re feeling less than confident, build the bank balance back up with things you know you can do well, and leave the harder stuff for another day. A day perhaps when you and your horse are in a better place. Just make sure that day isn’t 6 months down the road. You shouldn’t avoid the hard stuff long term.

What’s the other 5% of my riding anxiety? That other 5% is when G and I are navigating trail obstacles. Gangster is a little insecure when it comes to trail work and he tends to have dramatic reactions to silly little things on the trail (or the trail facsimile if we are working at a mountain trail show). The little spooks and startles and snorts jack up my anxiety, which causes a negative feedback loop for the two of us: He spooks, I get more stiff and anxious, he feels my anxiety and gets more stiff and reactive himself. My job during trail riding is to breathe deeply and work at being confident enough for the both of us, to be the leader.

I had the opportunity to chat with Jenifer De Vault, a licensed professional counselor, about fear as it pertains to riding. Before we got started talking about how to work through the fear, she mused about the fact that possibly part of the challenge in riding is the reconciliation that must happen of a strong-willed and commanding person to allow themselves to be a little vulnerable and trust in their horse. I thought that was a pretty interesting observation, I mean truthfully, I can’t say that I know any meek horse women.

So what can we do to help ourselves ride through the bubbles of fear and continue to grow, in both our trust and abilities?

I combined Jennifer’s counseling recommendations with my equine knowledge and came up with the below three tips.

Tips For Riding Through Fear

Accept that you are not in absolute control. I think Jennifer’s thought about riders allowing themselves to be vulnerable is an important point to recognize and consider. There is vulnerability in what we do, we slip a leg over the saddle and give our horse’s their head and put ourselves in the way of both a beautiful and potentially injurious experience. Not to say we don’t have some control and influence over what’s happening, we are not helpless, but we do have to accept that there is a lack of total control.

Acknowledge the fear. Jennifer advises to really acknowledge the feelings of anxiety rather than trying to ignore that stress in the body. Note the way it makes you feel physically and why. Using my loping as an example, stopping my lope, and thinking about the way I’m feeling (stomach ache, intrusive negative thoughts about what could go wrong). I can acknowledge those feelings and sensations, and then get back to work, knowing that the feelings won’t necessarily go away but that they can be part of our work and not derail our riding.

Shut down the ticker tape of negativity. Sometimes our anxiety and fear is all in our head. Or rather, it starts in our head and then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Horses do not anticipate spooking at a wheelbarrow parked in a new spot, a tractor or even a pile of garbage. But people do. And when you start thinking that your horse might spook at that wheelbarrow, you make subtle but distinctive changes in your riding position, stiff, more forward, your breathing may get shallower, you may be looking directly at what you’re anticipating your horse is going to spook at. So let’s take stock: You stiffened your body, your breathing got shallow, you’re eyeing this piece of equipment that’s in a new spot. You’re all but telling your horse he should be alarmed by this new item. So, go back to the beginning, stop the negative internal dialog about the wheelbarrow/tractor/pile of garbage and if you need a mantra to chat rather than repeatedly thinking “he’s going to spook at that, he’s going to spook at that.” Think “we are safe and I trust my horse.” Because you are safe. Nothing has happened, a wheelbarrow is just in a new spot. Take a deep breath, roll your shoulders back, sit on your pockets, and relax your legs. Make an audible sigh, tell your horse what a good boy he is. The same cues that gear your horse up for a spook, can also tell your horse you feel safe and relaxed and happy and he should too.

Riding is such a freeing activity that I hate to see anyone encumbered by doubts or worry or fear. If even one person can take the pieces I’ve come to learn, and the advice that Jennifer De Vault shared, and make it work to their advantage, I’d be happy to help. I’d be happy to be called a weenie by admitting I have pockets of fear, if that means someone else feels a little less embarrassed by their own bubbles of fear.

What are some of the fears you have worked through, and what helped you through them?

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Ways To Ride Through Fear

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