Earlier this month I attended the Oregon Draft Horse Breeders Association plow competition in McMinnville. You might recall I attended last year and you can find those photos here. The day was a little wet. As in, I was continuously wiping the lens free of rain drops and turning my back to sideways rain. I had been hoping for sun, but I think I got some good photos anyway. Always an adventure shooting in the elements. If you live in the area and have the chance to go, you should. Everyone is very friendly and the horses are awesome.
But what does this all have to do with that mysterious title The Secrets Behind The Eyes of Horses? In photographing these horses, a few of them really spoke to me, the emotion in their faces, the hint at something beyond the pigment of their eyes. It inspired the poem The Eye of the Horse which I embedded further down. We shall never know all that goes on behind those eyes, but certainly they stir something in all of us.
I watch the flowers and the grass every spring, comparing the timing to previous years. I watch the fields of grass dreaming about a barn full of fresh cut hay. I watch the flowers thinking of a sunny spring day 2 years ago in which I picked lilac and bridal wreath spirea.
Connor died on a Monday evening. That year the lilac and spirea were bursting with blooms and I picked them and laid them around my sweet dog’s neck after he died. They have not come into bloom yet this year.
I had been through death before, 4-h lambs, the three years I volunteered in an emergency department, the deaths of all my grandparents. Each of those experiences held their own pain and reflection, but none of that compared to what we went through with Connor. There is no dignity in death. It is a battle until the end. No living thing wishes to die. I will carry the raw experience of that day for the rest of my life. Part of Connor’s memory is obscured by the helplessness I felt in those final hours of his life. Unable to stop what was happening or even really comfort him.
I’ve taken as many lessons as I can from his death: greater empathy, a better ability to offer condolences in grief, appreciating the sunny times. Life can be hard and weird and traumatic. It can also be glorious, surprising, exhilarating and bursting with joy that couldn’t possibly fill you any fuller. The trick is to hopefully not reside for too long in the weird, hard, traumatic side.
In retrospect I know I went through some depression after his death. And I struggled with feeling embarrassed that I could mourn a dog so much. Time and distance has brought one thing more into focus: That it doesn’t really matter what other people think. My experience, your experience, is uniquely our own. And how we move through it, is an intimate thing. I invited people to witness what I was feeling by writing about it, but I don’t need to concern myself with their opinions. It’s a lesson I have to continually work on. I have to shuck the worry for judgement, because judgement happens no matter what I do anyway.
The grief of others still makes me a little uneasy, unsure what to do, how to offer comfort. But I can say without a doubt that my loss has made me acutely more aware of how important it is to honor grief. Offering condolences isn’t for the offerer. It does not matter if we are comfortable or awkward or if someone else’s grief brings up sad feelings of loss for ourselves. The important thing is that condolences are offered and grief honored.
Awhile back I wrote a blog post about how to tell if a horse sale ad is full of shit. As much as it was tongue-in-cheek it was also really to help people read between the lines of sale ads. I didn’t give much thought to the people selling the horses until recently. My friend was selling a nice horse and it got me thinking about the whole buying/selling scenario again. I photographed the horse for the sale ad and my friend received over 350 combined likes of her sale posts and 190 comments, so between the two of us we know a little something about posting an eye-catching ad.
1.Take good photographs. Yes, that’s great you can stand on your horse, just like the 70 other people I see in ads. But for all I know, seconds after you snapped the photo, the horse spooked at the wind and you ended up on your ass. What buyers really want to see is conformation, and how the horse looks at a walk, jog/trot lope/canter. Photos can help or hinder what kind of response an ad gets. For example, did you know you can make a horse look high in the backend just by an awkward camera angle? Make sure you’re giving your horse a fair shot at a great new owner. “But what do I care if he looks high in the back end, people will like him because he’s a paint/cheap/draft cross.” Sure, you might have an ace in the hole with some aspect of your horse, but presumably you care about this horse and want to see him or her go to a good home. A home that knows how to take care of horses, so why not catch the eye of a superbly qualified buyer? Wear something nice looking in the photos when riding the horse and don’t put someone on the horse who doesn’t want their face in the ad. A giant laughing emoji is very distracting. I know it sounds picky, but people want to see the horse, they don’t want their eye drifting over to that yellow smiley face.
2.Have video of the horse available at all gaits. I know, it’s a pain. But many people want to see a video of the horse moving before they spend their time and gas driving to come look at your special unicorn. No one wants to waste time checking out a horse with a jackhammer “lope” they can see from a mile off. They definitely don’t want to waste gas driving to see a horse that’s dead lame. What’s that? Someone isn’t silly enough to film a dead-lame horse and sell it as sound, you say? Hahahahaha…sorry. Yes. Actually, they are. I know this because I witnessed firsthand a lame horse trotted out for a buyer. Whether the owner didn’t understand what she was seeing or was trying to snow the buyer, I’ll never know. Take video so people know your horse is worth the drive.
3.If your horse isn’t flashy, know you’re going to have to put a little more effort into the sale ads than someone who’s selling a draft cross, horse with color, or a horse with a solid history of winning at shows. There are tons of horses for sale out there, and tons of ads for people to weed through. If you say your horse is solid on the trail, then take a video of the steed navigating trail obstacles without flicking an ear. If you say your horse would be a great kids horse, then throw a kid up there (for god’s sake, with a helmet, lest you find yourself on the wrong side of the angry villagers (read: Facebook horse experts)). There’s a reason used car lots detail the cars and even polish the tires. People are visual creatures. Don’t assume you can take some half-assed photos of your mud pony and people will see the diamond in the rough. For all a buyer knows there’s no diamond, just rough.
4.If the horse is registered, get the paperwork together and be ready to sign it over. Don’t tell people you don’t have the papers but you can get them because your second cousin’s half brother is married to the lady who had the horse three owners ago. Do the legwork yourself. You might not have cared if the horse was registered, but other people do. This isn’t a judgement on the quality of registerable horses vs. grade. I’ve seen some purebreds that could give the breed a bad name and some grade horses that were standup equine citizens. Regardless, registration matters. Give your horse a leg up on the competition.
5.I probably should have put this first, but, put the price of the horse in the sale ad. I know you might see some ads for fancy horses that say inquire for price, but those horses are of the if-you-have-to-ask-you-can’t-afford-it variety. If your horse is under $15K, put that price tag front and center. People are going to assume there’s a little play in the asking price, but they’re going to avoid a horse that’s $7000 if their budget is maxed out at $3K. If you’re trying to move a quality horse, the sweet spot seems to be about $3500. It’s high enough people won’t assume you’re trying to offload a junker with some intermittent lameness but it’s low enough that you’ll still get plenty of interest. And trust me, you want plenty of interest. There might be 20 people filling up your inbox with questions and promises that they’ll have cash in hand this weekend if you hold the horse. But for some reason, when the rubber hits the road and the check has to be written, all those buyers disappear and you’re left with about 3-5 really serious buyers. Which brings me to my last point…
6.If you take great photos and give a good description, you’re going to generate a lot of interest and will have to field several phone calls and messages. I’m an introvert. The above scenario sounds about as fun as shedding my horse while wearing lip gloss. But thems the rules. You never know which one of those 20 people is going to turn out to be the perfect buyer to give your horse a safe, well-fed, sheltered, forever home. If you care about your animals, you care where they end up. Respond to all of the private messages, texts, and phone calls. No matter if it’s just to let them know the horse has sold. The world is a small place, and the horse world is even smaller. Politeness goes a long way.
7. And finally, make sure you actually want to sell the horse. The equivalent to tire-kicker buyers are the reluctant sellers. Maybe you’re in financial trouble and don’t really want to sell the horse but need to. Or maybe the spouse has said it’s him or the horse. Pro tip: always pick the horse. Whatever the case may be, if you put an advertisement up, you have to be ready to make the sale. What happens if you don’t is you frustrate honest buyers, take your post down for a month or two, repost it, and then lose credibility. People watch the sale forums. A horse that goes up for sale, then down, then back up again has an issue. Whether that issue is with the horse or the owner, a buyer won’t know. But you’re losing out on possible great matches.
What are some of your horse sale ad pet peeves? What do you wish every person selling a horse would do? I know we can solve the world’s problems, one sale ad at a time.
This winter I’ve taken it easy riding, mostly just bareback hacks around the arena talking with my good friend. Last Sunday I threw my saddle on G, slipped on my spurs and set off to get some work done. Nothing too intense, I know we’re both a bit out of shape, but something more substantial than just a bareback walk.
At a jog, I set us about the arena, small and large circles, even speed, a low head flexed at the poll. It was great. I sat in my saddle on my not-so-high-horse smugly thinking about how far we’ve come, how much I used to rely on the reins to set a head, control our direction, bend his body. I actually thought, hey, I’m going to write a really smart blog post about how power comes from your legs, not your hands. How the legs are the engine, hands are just the guide.
And then, as the universe is wont to do when one is feeling especially wise and smug, I was reminded how quickly you can revert to your bad habits.
My good friend was selling a 16.3hh appaloosa who would sometimes drop his shoulder in a left-hand lope. She wanted me to lope him to see how he felt. I was intimidated by his size. I wanted to collect up his face and hold onto it until I trusted him. Let’s just say you’ll probably see my book published (please, god) before you’ll see me fully trust a horse. I have trust issues. But this horse was not trained like my catty 15hh reiner. If I crank down on Gangster’s face it’s like pressing on a coil, he gets tight, pushed into the bridle, pushing forward, looking for the release. (Full disclosure, I don’t always give it to him, which is shame on me and bless him for putting up with me.) But cranking down on the appy’s face wasn’t going to make him push into the bridle or look for release, he would just shrug his hulking horse shoulders and drop out of the lope.
It’s so frustrating what we can see for others but can’t see for ourselves. You can pick out amateurs by their dependence on the face. For some reason when you’re just starting out, you think you can control the horse, the speed, the shape of the body with your hands. Maybe it’s because as humans we use our hands for so much. If we were more in tune to the rest of our anatomy, maybe it wouldn’t be such a steep learning curve to not worry about the head with our hands and instead ride with our body.
The next night I was working around the arena at a posting trot. I’m lazy and hate lunging so I was posting at a good clip, knowing G wanted to break into a lope. But I just wanted to let him extend at the trot. My friend was lunging her own horse and told me to slow down my body, to incrementally take just a split second longer to lower back into the saddle, to rise up with the outside shoulder. An amazing thing happened, Gangster slowed down his trot to match the speed of my body. Obviously not every horse is as sensitive, but they all have the ability, if we give them the opportunity and don’t grip the reins so tight.
A few days later I was loping around the arena by myself, thinking about staying off his face, sitting back, using my legs to keep him straight, curved around the corners, head slightly tipped in. An owl that has taken up residence in the insulation on the roof flew out from his perch and into the vision of my horse. Certain we were about to be attacked, Gangster bunched up and prepared to spook himself out of danger. Instinctively my hands tightened down on the reins to bring him down to a total stop. And then for the rest of the night, I couldn’t loosen back up.
I’m sure there’s an allegory for life in here somewhere. Definitely some psychology related to physically letting go of tight control, of trusting in the process. I’m seeing now that this letting go will be the next big hurdle to me taking a big leap in my riding abilities. It will hold me back if I don’t figure it out. You can’t really ever ride in that beautiful space, where horse and rider are connected but not leashed to one another, if you’re one fluttering leaf away from curling into the fetal position and ratcheting down the reins. I’ve never had a bad horse wreck, never had a reason not to trust. Gangster can be hot and reactive, but he’s never bolted, never flung me from the saddle and caused bodily injury. But all the little twitches, sideways jumps and refusals add up I guess. I don’t know how to get over this except to ride through it. I have to figure out how to ride through my trust issues, to put my hands down, my back straight and not lose my nerve over a humped back and a few crow hops.
PS… That photo at the top was taken in 2013 of me and Gangster and every time I look at it I cringe. Look at how tight his body is! That mouth pulling against those too tight reins! Why! Why??? Because I didn’t know any better. Now I know better so I do better. But I have no problem sharing this photo (which I titled horrible horseback rider) because I don’t believe in fakeness. Because if I can learn from my mistakes then you might learn from them too.
PPS… THANK YOU to Chris T. Sloan for the photos from the trail course and the competition photo. Without her there’d be no proof that I have actually improved over time!
Spring is coming! Spring is coming! I know this because now instead of walking my dogs in the dark and pouring rain, we’re walking them at that magical twilight hour when the sky turns from light blue to black with the stars sparkling and the threat of a skunk lurking behind every blackberry berm. (True story, we once spent a cold Valentine’s night washing the dogs multiple times from a skunk spraying.)
What does spring’s pending arrival have to do with some cute pillows? Because spring always has me opening the windows wide whenever its above 55 degrees, cleaning and fantasizing about updating my home décor. Spoiler Alert: I never get to the updated décor part of that fantasy. You know, because the horse always takes all the discretionary income. However, throw pillows are a great way to update your style without much in the way of a financial commitment.
I received these pillow shams from Horsely to review for the blog. And because I love you (actually more like because my husband would kill me if I owned one more throw pillow) I’m giving them away!
So what do I think about these shams?
I LOVE the Vintage Race Horse design, and the fabric it’s printed on has a slight texture to it that’s not too rough. The cream-colored background extends to the back of the pillow as well. The drawback to this pillow cover is that it’s a zipper closure at the bottom of the sham, so it can’t handle a lot of taking on and off if you prefer to wash your shams frequently. One end of the zippered opening already started to fray a bit from taking it on and off the pillow a couple times.
The Equestrian Olympics Pillow cover is fun because you can order the image in mirror, so one design on the left side and one on the right. Those of us with OCD enjoy the balance this brings to a couch. I know not everyone is as neurotic as me, but if you are, it will make you happy. This pillow cover has a slip opening on the back so no trouble with a zippered opening like the above. The silky fabric is really soft, however, the back of the pillow is white. Some people won’t mind that, but it’s just something to be aware of.
Getting to what you really want to know: how do you win a set of these?! (A set is considered the two Olympics Pillow Covers or two Vintage Race Horse pillow covers. Pillows not included) Head on over to the Facebook page and like and share the post. Comment to let me know which pillow covers you like better!
There is no purchase necessary. By participating in this giveaway you acknowledge that the promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by Facebook and that you hold Facebook harmless. One winner will randomly be drawn for each pillow set and announced on Monday March 5th on the Sass In Boots Facebook page. The drawing will close at pm 12pm PST on Sunday March 4. I will PM you via Facebook to obtain your shipping address. The information you provide to me will not be used for any other purposes. Good luck and THANK YOU for participating!
A couple years ago I wrote a poem called Ode To The Horse Widower, to honor those amazing partners who respect our passion, however frustrating it might be for them at times. (I have no idea how hay got in the bed!) I love sharing that poem around Valentines day but I started thinking, what if they don’t they’re a horse widower? What if they have no idea there’s thousands of other horse husbands out there, just like them?
So I created the below reference guide for those who are trying to decide if they’re a horse husband or not. Are you a horse husband? Do you know one?
If there’s a horse in the barn referred to as the “husband horse” that you only ride once a year, you might be a horse husband.
If you ever thought she was talking about you when she told her friends, “He’s an easy keeper,” you might be a horse husband.
If you trip over her shoes inside the house, and trip over her boots outside the house, you might be a horse husband.
If she rakes the barn aisles every day, but only vacuums the house every couple of months, you might be a horse husband.
If you’ve ever missed a football game to watch your wife in a horse show, you might be a horse husband.
If you’re not exactly sure how much money she spends on horses every month, you might be a horse husband.
If your wife cries a lot and is cheating on you with a guy named Buck, you might be a horse husband.
If you suddenly find yourself having time for long naps on the weekends, you might be a new horse husband.
If you’ve ever had to fix the washing machine because a round of filthy blankets jammed it up, you might be a horse husband.
If you’ve ever faked a back injury to get out of stacking hay, you might be a horse husband.
If you’re annoyed your wife spends money on new shoes every 6-8 weeks, you might be a horse husband.
If you’ve ever been late for dinner reservations because your wife had to swing by the barn for “just a minute,” you might be a horse husband.
If you’ve ever lingered at the edge of the arena, resetting jumps, you might be a horse husband
If she spends $200 on a vet bill for a cough, but tells you to quit being a baby when you have the flu, you might be a horse husband.
If you’ve ever said “Take your time at the barn,” so you could finish a football game, you might be a horse husband.
If you’ve ever had to do barn chores because your wife was sick, you might be a horse husband.
And finally, if you think your wife likes her horse more than you, you might be a horse EX-husband!
What’s missing from the list? What needs to be added?
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Last weekend at the Oregon Horse Center they hosted an indoor eventing show. Sans the dressage portion of eventing. I really don’t know much about eventing or show jumping. I just know it’s cool to watch, I never want to do it and it’s lots of fun to shoot.
I was struggling mightily with my camera in the low light of the arena and the fast movement (blurry photos, me getting irritated) so my photographer mentor handed off her camera to me and I had an absolute blast. I’m a big believer that the clothes don’t make the woman, but I’m pretty sure in this case the gear made the photographer. My saving grace is all the post processing is completely my touch.
Please enjoy some photos jumping ponies from this fun event and amazing course that the crew at the Oregon Horse Center put together.
I love the look of this guy. Big, beautiful, bay. The three b’s.
Weeeee! Look at that length!!
Dublin boots abound. I cropped out the part showing them all on their phones, ha ha.
Don’t you just love the look of boots and breeches?
Isn’t that what started this whole nutty adventure? The desire to write a book?
It is. The whole blog, Facebook page, giveaways, interviews, published articles, all of those things are because I had have a little idea to write a book. The problem with me is that little ideas turn into big dreams. And big dreams take time, hard work, more time, and more hard work.
The little book is still chugging along. It’s the little book that could.
Last year I started sending out the first pages along with a query letter to literary agents (literary agents sell the manuscript to publishing houses). This is the most traditional route for publishing. It turns out I queried my story prematurely. Even though I had worked quite a bit on it, when you’ve never written a book before, you don’t know what you don’t know. I didn’t know that the book wasn’t really done and still needed a few more rounds of serious rewriting. So I stopped querying the story and went back to editing the hurking thing. I’ve been editing it for the last six months, most heavily in the last three. Which is what I blame for putting the blog on the back burner.
I have it out for another round of edits and feedback right now. Once I get the edits back, I’ll go through it AGAIN (I mean because why not?? You’re supposed to be able to read it from memory by the time you’re done with it right?). After this next round of editing then I’ll resume querying. When I started this process I said I’d query until I had 100 rejections. That’s still my plan. I’m not going to lie, the first several rejections I received last year stung. “But my life’s work! How could they not love you??!!” Because it wasn’t ready. Now I’m ready to move on. I’m ready to set this little bird free. Will it fly into the arms of a loving agent and get published the traditional way or will she land on the desk of a small independent press? I haven’t a clue. I’m okay with whatever form the book takes. But this is the year it’s going to leave the safety of my hard drive and take it’s worldly form. I’m ready.
I can’t tell you what an amazing journey this has been. From the very first shaky conversation with a friend about my shy desire to write this story, her encouragement to blog the process (But what would I blog about? Would I have anything to say? Yes. The answer was yes. You’d have plenty to say. Sometimes maybe too much.) Then on to my first writing workshop, then writing conference, talking with a real-live Brooklyn-living, New-York-Bagel-Eating, Funky-Glasses-Wearing literary agent. I may or may not have been a little star struck. That conference is where the little idea exploded into a big dream. All of a sudden I had visions of a book tour and Matt Lauer interviewing me about my New York Times Bestseller. First of all, Matt Lauer ugh, second of all, have you recovered yet from my stars-in-my-eyes visions?? Oh sweet child. Sweet, sweet child.
If those things happen (interview with Hoda now, not Matt) I of course would be totally okay. But they are not likely. The same way me winning a million dollars isn’t likely. But I know I’ve grown and I’m on the right path with this journey because money, fame, notoriety are not my goals. I care about this story. I want women to read it and feel like I told them a juicy story over a cup of coffee and now they’re ready to go out into the world and kick some ass.
And that’s what I want to keep doing on the blog. Keep telling stories that leave you happy, thankful, inspired and like you’re ready to kick some ass.
So wish me luck. Cross your fingers and toes and your friends’ fingers and toes too. And whatever happens will be okay. Because no matter what, I still have all of you awesome people who give me a little bit of your time by reading my words. I love ya for it.
Did you enjoy the holiday? Or did you get bogged down by the pressure to be happy, to serve delicious meals on sparkling table settings? Did you feel sad and disconnected even though you were surrounded by people? Or were you alone and wished you had a tribe to spend your time with?
The reason I ask is because our lives must be conscious decisions, choices we make and steps we take on purpose. Otherwise, we end up slipping into our most comfortable routines, which can be masquerading as Pinterest-level entertainers, keeping relationships alive that are draining, or even holding people apart from ourselves to the point that we end up with no friends at all.
You might be surprised to learn that even though I give up my inner-most thoughts, doubts and desires on my blog, I can be hard to get to know in real life. I am what I like to call slow-to-warm. Also known as cold. Which is a word that’s been used to describe me on more than one occasion. Earlier this year I looked around at my friends and realized the majority them were people I knew because of my husband. I pretty much made zero effort building my own gang and relied on the built-in spousal friendships of my husband’s coworkers. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made some amazing friends that way. Friends who have become family.
But I also felt bad. Because I knew part of the reason my friend set was made up of women I’d known for 10+ years or through my husband was because somewhere along the way I stopped trying to make new friends. I got burned a couple times by girls (and I am using the word ‘girls’ here on purpose) and lost faith in the possibility to have healthy female friendships. When I met new women I’d be polite (probably they’d say cold, ha) and then go on about my life. Building new friendships requires vulnerability. Even before honesty (which is what you need for an actual healthy friendship), you need to be vulnerable enough to let someone get to know you, to let them know some of your secrets (fun and painful) and to show them they can be vulnerable too, that you can be trusted with their feelings.
In her book she talks about to have a friend, be a friend. I had a revelation. I have a friend who’ve I always felt held me at arms-length, that I never got the chance to really be a true friend. After reading Jen’s book, I wondered if in actuality, she only reflected what I’d demonstrated, I held her at a distance so she would do the same. Unfortunately this isn’t someone I’ve had the chance to explore this with, and I may never. But that’s okay, because the wish for what that friendship could be caused a new wish to bloom: to be a better friend to those I already have, and to be a better friend to the women I haven’t yet met.
I made three new friends this year. Not just casual talk-about-the-weather and what’d-you-on-Saturday friends. Friends with depth, friends who talked to me about their spirituality, their desire (or not) for children, hurts and triumphs. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
I can’t tell you if I did any better at being a friend. It’s not for me to say. But I can tell you that on my husband’s 40th birthday, and on the days leading up to Christmas, I looked around and felt so much love. Have you ever been in a room filled with people and felt like the walls were fogging up with the volume of love in the room? I didn’t tell my friends I loved them, I’m not much for the L word. I didn’t grow up saying it or having it said. Love came in the form of food and hugs and good-natured ribbings. But I did hug my friends, and told them Merry Christmas, and how happy I was to have them in my life.
So what does this all have to do with feeling pressured to be Martha Stewart or feeling disconnected or lonely? Because you get to decide what kind of life you want to live. You get to decide what kind of day you want to have. What kind of year you have. You can’t control the bad shit that rolls your way, the bad people who’ll cross your path or the misfortune that might befall you. But you do decide how you’re going to respond to it, how you’re going to let it shape your tomorrow, and all the tomorrows after that.
I would never let a horse throw me and then give up on riding. But for some reason a couple friendships knocked me back and I decided I didn’t need to make new friends. That’s the easy way out. Giving up and turning away is the protected path that ensures no pain. But that’s not the way life is supposed to be lived. Loving people is hard. We do shitty things to each other. We lie and falter and say unkind things when we’re hungry or hurting. But loving people is what makes life full. Loving people is always the harder choice, but it’s the bolder way to live.
Whatever you want to be for 2018, be a good one. (Which is my take on old Abe Lincoln’s quote).