Promising To Treasure The Heartbeat Moments

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

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

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

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

German Shepherd Long Hair Puppy

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

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

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

Without further ado, please meet Hinter…

Long Hair German Shepherd Candle Hill Shepherds

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


What To Do When Rotten Bales Ruin The Day

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

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

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

Moldy Alfalfa

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

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

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

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

Be Grateful
Be Grateful

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Rodeo Sun And Flag

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

Rodeo Flag Horse

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

American Flag Rodeo Run

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

Rodeo Horse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


There’s More Than One Way To Shape A Hat

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

Pa Fig Hat Shaper

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

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

Pacific Northwest Hat Shaper

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

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

Oregon Hat Shaper Pa Fig

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

Cowboy Hat Reshaping

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

Shaping A Cowboy Hat

Chicken Shit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giant Metal Chicken Garden Art

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

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

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High Praise For Professional Grooms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How To Get Everyone In On The Horse Racing Fun

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kentucky Derby Golden Horse Shoe Triple Crown Winner Award

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

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

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


Garth Stein: Hope Wears Chuck Taylors

I recently read the book The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. Initially I had no interest in reading the book. It’s about a dog’s life, his family and in particular, the racing career of the father. I’m not into car racing at all. I figured I wouldn’t like it. But the book kept popping up: in conversations, in front of my face at the bookstore, on Goodreads. So I figured if the universe was hitting me over the head with it I may as well give it a read. I loved it. I read it in two days. It made me happy and sad and thankful. I then went and bought his newest book, A Sudden Light, and read that in a few days.

The Art of Racing in the Rain Garth Stein

I saw that Garth was doing a speaking event near me and decided to attend. I didn’t know what to expect from the talk and tried to keep my expectations low.

Let me tell you that when Garth showed up in Chuck Taylors I texted my friend asking if it would be weird to beg him to be my best friend. The guy has nerdy-cool on lockdown. I only have nerdy horse-girl on lockdown.

And then his talk got me all choked up and now he has a fan for life.

A Sudden Light Garth Stein

He told the story of writing Racing and how excited he was to send it to his agent (he had already published two books) and even more so, how exited he was to get a call back and hear how the agent liked the story. He got a call, but it wasn’t what he expected. The agent was not a fan of the story. The agent actually said no publisher would like the book. And that nobody would buy the book. No one would read a story narrated by a dog. So Garth and the agent parted ways.

Now Garth had to send the book to anonymous agents trying to get them to represent him. They all said he had a great talent for writing, but they didn’t like the story. Said they couldn’t sell it because it was narrated by a dog.

Eventually he found himself sitting around a table of fellow authors. He shared his frustration over not being able to find an agent. One particular author perked up and told Garth to contact his agent. That author was Layne Maheu who wrote Song of the Crow. Layne figured if his agent could sell his book narrated by a crow, that perhaps he could assist with Garth’s book.

Four million copies later, sell he did. Four million copies. That’s a little more than the entire population of the state of Oregon.

Those words spoke directly to my worried, doubtful mind. Because while my heart loves my book, my mind worries about what this is all for, worries what I will do if no agent represents my book, worries the story is not as good as I think it is. Of course I have plan B, and a plan C, and even a plan Z. But the treadmill of rejection requires hope. And that is what this generous author’s talk gave me. The entire publishing process is not easy for anyone. Even a man who went on to sell 4 million copies of his book. I stifled my weepy, thankful tears.

Now you might find this hard to believe, but I am actually an introvert. Waiting in line for the book signing I had to talk myself into telling him that I am currently in the query trenches and was thankful for his kind words on querying. I got up in front of him, thanked him for his story and told him where I was at in my own journey.

Query Rejection Tracking
Rejections are more fun when tracked in pink

He asked me if my story was good. I said of course it’s good. I think it’s great. And he replied, that’s good, that’s what you should say. I told him how many queries I’d sent out, how many rejections I’d received (25 queries sent out, 12 13 rejections back so far) and that I planned to just keep going until I hit about 100. He chuckled. It was a knowing chuckle. He wrote a name on a book mark and put it in my book. He said it was the name of an agent in California who he liked and told me to look him up. I said I would. As I was thanking him and backing away, he said, “tell him you met me at this event and I told you to contact him.”

That? Right there? That’s called a referral. It is meaningful in the publishing industry because it gets you a notch above the anonymous (and enormous) slush pile of email query letters. I’m not going to lie to you. When I got to my car I let a couple of those stifled tears go. For many reasons. For hope. For kindness. For finding one more breadcrumb on this long and confusing journey.

Now, the not so great news is that I looked up the agent and I just, and I mean JUST, queried another agent at the same agency last week. There are rules against simultaneously querying agents within the same agency. And sometimes if you get a rejection from one agent, that’s considered a rejection from the agency as a whole. So that’s not ideal. But I’ll wait to hear from the first agent, and if I get a rejection, I’ll still reach out to the recommended agent and let him know I previously queried one of his colleagues.

Bedside Bookstand
Some might call this a problem. I call it a passion. Some of these I’ve already read, some I have read partway through, and others are waiting to be read.

Garth said during his talk that there is writing, and then there is the business of writing. The business of writing is about making connections. So who knows what connection might be made by reaching out to that other agent. And even more so, I love the concept of making connections. Because the business of writing is not just about making business connections, it’s about making an emotional connection with readers.

If you have the chance to hear Garth Stein speak, I highly recommend you go. It’s not just for writers. It’s for anyone who would like to hear some good, funny, touching stories. And really, isn’t that what any of us want?

Have you been to an author talk you found inspiring? Who was the author and why was it meaningful to you?

If you like what I have to say, never miss a word. Follow me on Facebook.

PS: Alternative title for this post was suggested by my husband as GS, I Love You. I thought my stalker status might be too high with that one.

PPS: Photo credit to my good friend Melissa Coloma (@melsue81) for the main image because you know I don’t actually own a pair of Chucks.

Horses & Plows Look Like Salt Of The Earth

Before Paul Harvey wrote his moving speech So God Made A Farmer horses and farmers had been working together to plow deep and straight rows for years. A couple weeks ago I got a taste for what that work might have looked like way back when. I attended the Oregon Draft Horse Breeders Association plowing competition in McMinnville, Oregon. I was moved not only by the beautiful and hardworking horses, but also by the nostalgia that the drivers and teams conjured. We aren’t so very far away from a time when horses were our transportation, our farming equipment, and a crucial part of our families.

Everyone was friendly and happy to answer questions about their team or share a bit of wisdom about plowing and driving. It looked like a serious workout for both driver and plow horses. Each team had to plow a specific plot of rows. The competition took place at the Yamhill Valley Heritage Center, which also had an awesome collection of antique carriages and tractors. Including a wood-carved, horse-drawn hearse.

I hope I captured a bit of the magic I saw that day in these photos.

A sweet Belgian eye.
A handshake between two friends.


Eye of the Mule
A mule eye for a deep thought.
Fjord and Haflinger Two Horse Plow Team
This might be my favorite photo from the day. I loved watching this gentleman with his team. He was just as neat to photograph as his team.
I never knew that Fjords were used for plowing. I think he looks quite stylish.


The mule’s tale is cut into “bells” to show how well he is trained: he can pack, plow, and be ridden. Trimming the tale into bells harkens back to the civil war, when soldiers would look for their equine muscle in the dark. They could identify which mules to grab based on feeling their tails. This particular mule was hooked to a series of gears that he was turning in order to grind corn.
These two were probably the sexiest ones there. Yep. A horse can be sexy. I said it, so it must be true.

The leather cover is to help keep rain from getting underneath the harness. I’m sure it has a technical term but I don’t know it. So if you do, enlighten me.

Cowboy Plowing Fields
He had a great look to him, so I took a photo. Or 10. I took 10 photos in order to get a couple good ones. Stalker status achieved.
Look at those beauties!

Fun fact: the horse that is on the right is always walking in the trench plowed by the previous row. In order to keep the team height about the same, they will use a slightly taller right-side horse.

Mule & Horse Plow Team
One of the guys asked the owner of this team when he was going to pain the other two. Made me smile.

Oh how I love this last photo. He would take a seat to rest between rows, and I imagine him in a very brief prayer.

In Prayer

Barrel Racer Amberley Snyder: Racing While Paralyzed

How do you think you would respond to a devastating change to your life? One that impacted your mobility, your athleticism and interfered with your ability to follow your passion? Perhaps you know because you’ve lived through such a blow. In the deepest reaches of my soul, I don’t know how resilient I would be. When I first saw Amberley Snyder, paralyzed from the waist down, I was in awe. How could you not be? She not only survived a rollover accident that ejected her from the vehicle, but she’s thriving and rejecting the limitations of what typically can be accomplished with a T11/T12 spinal cord injury. Amberley’s accident happened 7 years ago, when she was just 18. Her life stretching before her like an open highway to endless rodeo wins. But in the time it took for Amberley to overcorrect the wheel, that life ended and a new journey began.

Although the first doctor to treat Amberley told her riding horses would be out of the question, her resolve was firm in that she’d be back in the saddle. She felt sure that in all the ways her life would be different, her life with horses would remain. Sure enough, she was back on horseback by April, just four months after her injury. But that resolve was tested one day in August, eight months after her accident, on a trail ride with her mom. Her mom’s horse started acting up, being a bit naughty. In her old life, she would have traded horses with her mom and schooled the naughty pony. But with her new limitations, she could no longer play that role. In that moment she felt she had truly lost her ability to have horses. She told her mom to sell them. If she couldn’t train her horses to her liking, then she didn’t want to have them at all. But her mom didn’t sell the horses, and Amberley didn’t give up on her dream to keep riding and competing.

Amberley Snyder Barrel Racing on Faith

And compete she did. Winning her first buckle in 2016. Her first since the accident. I asked if she was nervous to be strapped to her horses (she rides seat-belted into the saddle, her legs secured into the stirrups). She hasn’t been nervous because she’s been careful to get on horses she trusts, the surefooted and well-behaved ones. Her mom did catch flack, however, at the races for “letting her daughter be strapped to a horse.” If I could see Amberley I’m sure she’s shrugging at this. As if her mom could have stopped Amberley if even if she wanted to.

It took a bit of time between the accident and winning at a race. I asked if she ever doubted herself, how she stayed motivated. She credits her hardworking family for bringing her up with a resilient attitude. She was brought up to work hard and dedicate herself to her passion. Although this new set of challenges were not what she pictured for herself, her dedication to achieve her goals was already a part of her spirit before the accident.

Amberley Snyder Horse Love

What the accident did bring out of her is a deeper understanding and empathy for other people’s struggles. She’s come to understand that everyone has some kind of trial they are working through. She has brought that deeper level of empathy and encouragement to her public speaking events. Encouraging the idea that people need to focus on what we each are capable of and not put limitations on ourselves or others. She heard three different physicians at three different points in her recovery tell her she would never barrel race again. But they had never met Amberley before. They didn’t realize it wasn’t a question of if, but rather how she would ride and compete again.

Do you get a sense of just how fierce and faithful she is? Those traits are driving her work to walk again. In December, while in Las Vegas for the National Finals Rodeo, she worked with Project Walk. Physiologically you can’t make a muscle fire that doesn’t have an operational nerve, but they worked to identify previously undiscovered firing nerves that she can continue to develop and use to make her muscles work and grow.

Amberley Snyder Horsewoman Inspiration Horseback Rider

She knows that one way or another, either through miracle or medicine, she will walk again. I don’t doubt that she will make this dream a reality as well.

Currently she is working on her masters in school counseling, traveling each week for public speaking engagements. Any free time she has is spent cooking or catching up on Netflix. Although, as you can imagine, she doesn’t have much free time.

Amberley is a brilliant example of how we get to decide what we are capable of. Whether we remain trembling beginners in our sport, in our jobs, in our dreams, or if we stretch and push and grow in order to make our desires reality. She certainly makes an excellent case that the choice is ours.

You can follow Amberley’s exploits on Facebook

I’m clearly not nearly as awesome as Amberley, but you can also follow me as well on Facebook

Do you have your own story of resiliency and pushing through the limits you thought you had? I’d love to hear it.

All photos courtesy of Amberley Snyder.