A couple years ago I came across a picture on Pinterest. A 1950s cowgirl sat on the ground, her dog next to her and her horse behind her, head resting on her shoulder. I wanted a photo like that image, my beloved dog and horse all in one shot. I had the best intentions but kept procrastinating. I thought I should lose a few pounds, wait until the weather was better, sunnier, cooler. I never made the time. Then Connor died. I have plenty of photos of him. Even some with me in them. But I didn’t get to recreate that Pinterest photo that would capture my bond with my dog and horse.
I follow a fellow horse blogger (turned MFA student) Lauren Mauldin of She Moved To Texas and she had some absolutely gorgeous photos taken of herself and her dogs and horse during the bluebonnet bloom in Texas. In her post, she talked about previously not getting photos taken because she wanted to wait until she was thinner. But like she points out, we could be waiting forever on the idea of perfection that’s never going to happen.
I took her words to heart and talked to a photographer friend of mine about getting photos of me with the new puppy and the horse.
Chris (of Chris T. Sloan Photography) took some amazing photos. I love the golden light, the good friend off camera making me laugh and my beautiful animals. Oh, and my husband too. I will tell you a secret though. When I first saw the photos, I didn’t see how gorgeous my horse looked, how his ears were up and forward, or what joy in my animals she caught. What I noticed was how my jeans fit a little too tight; how I could lose some fluff around the middle.
It’s a great gift to get older, not just for the added time here on earth, but also for the wisdom gained as you age. But does letting go of insecurity come much later? Because I’m still working on it. I had to tell myself to quit picking my body apart.
Adding to my insecurity, a few people asked why I had the photos taken. I should have answered, “Because I wanted them.” But I didn’t. I said I wanted some updated photos for the website, some family photos. And those things are true. But the truest statement is “Because I wanted them.” Please listen to me, get photos of yourself with your horse, your dogs, your family (What?! That’s not in order of priority, I swear!). Whatever you want, and for whatever reason, get them.
Our horses, our pets, and members of our family, won’t be with us forever. Someday you’ll want to look back on photos that transport to you to that time, how you felt in that moment, the love you had in that split second of time. To relive that love shared or laugh that filled your soul with relief.
I know a woman who regularly gets photos taken of her children, but she never jumps in the pictures. I’m not the first person to say this, and hopefully I’m not the last. But I’ll say it anyway. Get in front of the camera. Get in the picture. Someday your children will want to look back at photos of their mom or dad. Don’t leave them just a photo a year. Let them be reminded of your love long after the flash burned.
Don’t let the fact that you think you should lose weight, or have shinier hair, or wear more stylish clothes, hold you back from capturing your life. I’m pretty sure your future self will look back on the photos and think, “Wow, I looked great.” In reality, and sorry to be a buzz kill here, we’re only getting older, saggier, fluffier. You’re more beautiful than you think.
There are 215 photos on my phone of Connor. That’s 35 for every year he lived. About three per month. That seems like plenty. But I wish I had more. When it comes to those we love, there are never enough photos.
The name of the blog is Sass In Boots, and I’m feeling sassy today. I’m at a boarding barn, and for the most part it’s fine. I stay out of trouble, pay my bill on time and keep most of my opinions to myself. But sometimes it’s just plain annoying being around other people. The Horse Channel recently came out with an article on “How To Be A Better Boarder.” The article has things like don’t complain, get to know the barn staff, and just be nice. Good try Horse Channel, but I have some more specific advice. Being nice is as obvious as paying your bill. Paying your bill on time is better advice. Kind of how don’t put the hose back like a drunken toddler is better advice than just saying “be nice.” I don’t really care if you exchange pleasantries with me, as long as you put the hose back in an orderly fashion.
So, because I’m feeling salty and this is my blog and I’ll do what I want, here’s my list of how to be a better boarder: Don’t be these people at the barn. The worst people you’ll find at the barn.
The Dirt Whiner
The dirt is too deep. The dirt is too shallow. The dirt is too sandy. The dirt isn’t sandy enough. It’s too wet. Too dusty. Too dirty. This person thinks they’ve got a future National Reining Horse hall-of-famer on their hands and needs the dirt screened through a baker’s sifter in order to complete a 30 foot slide. But, and I’m just spit-balling here, maybe they could alter how they ride their horse depending on the footing that day. The dirt gets worked up every day. This isn’t a private training facility. The ground is never going to make everyone happy. The dirt whiners really need to just chill about it. Or, call me crazy, they could offer to work the dirt up themselves. Or schedule their rides when it’s been freshly turned. So many possibilities. A flexible person makes a great boarder. For both the office and for me.
The Arena Hog
Oh dear sweet fellow rider, I love you but you can’t take over the arena with your gauntlet of poles for some kind of hedge-maze pole work. See where I reference that this isn’t a private training facility above? So no, your impromptu dressage test for which you roped off the arena is not cool with me during the busiest ride time of the day. Clear it out. Do some rail work like a normal, polite, non-irritating human being.
Unsolicited Advice Giver
What’s that? Did I just hear a collective groan from horse people everywhere? I believe I did. That’s because we’ve all been there. We’re minding our own business when we get blindsided with impromptu lectures on the merits of feeding beet pulp/alfalfa pellets/rice bran/magic weight control sparkles because it’s so much better than what we’re currently feeding. Unless my horse’s hips look like Kate Moss’s cheeks, please don’t come to me about my feeding regimen. Trust me, if I need advice, I’ll ask. Until that happens, I don’t want you chewing my ear on how I can better care for my animal. Who, apparently, you think belongs in a Sarah McLachlan animal cruelty commercial. I’m not having it. I’m not feeding him your magic beans or whatever else you’re selling.
I already mentioned this but I’m just saying, there’s someone who’s unclear on the concept of coiling a hose and hanging it on hooks. It makes me crazy. Bat. Shit. Crazy. Look, I made a special, super easy-to-follow instructional guide below. Share it with your friends (or hose enemies). I know hoses can be complex but you drive a 1000 pound animal with your legs, I feel like this should be basic horse sense. Like cleaning poop out of the wash rack. (Quick aside, if you just thought to yourself “I’m supposed to pick the poop out of the wash rack?” then I can guarantee people at your barn are plotting your death. That wash rack poop doesn’t disintegrate down the drain and go into magic poop-disposal land. Yes, it looks like it washes down the drain, and then it stops somewhere along the way. And then it builds up. And then some poor shmuck that uses the wash rack sometime after you is standing in poop soup because you clogged the drain. Pick the poop out of the wash rack. Please and thank you.)
The Facebook Vet
Yeah, you know who I’m talking about. The fellow boarder whose horse seems to always have a problem of some sort and who relies on Facebook for veterinary advice. Lady, I’m sorry but Bernice from Idaho who told you WD-40 makes excellent fly spray is an idiot and I think your horse now has scald. You need a vet. Not the next step in D-I-Y veterinary medicine. Call your vet. Then ask a trusted friend. You have no idea how ill informed those Facebook armchair trainers really are. I know the vet is expensive. But your Pinterest solution to a serious health issue is not the time to cut corners. Trust me on this. And I’m cheap as hell.
*My apologies to all the horsewomen named Bernice in Idaho.
I’m not always so snarky, but you’ll have to follow me on Facebook to find out.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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!
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All photos, except where noted, credit to Chris T. Sloan, my favorite equine photographer!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
PPS: Get your weekly dose of western pleasure and follow me on Facebook
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!
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
Sometimes I’m struck with something to write and I must stop what I’m doing and get it down in the moment, otherwise I’ll lose the thought altogether. That is how this poem came to be. I was cleaning Gangster’s stall, thinking about my messy hair shoved under a hat, my warm scarf slightly choking me, and my puffy red jacket pulling the whole outfit together in something that looked more like “Got dressed in the dark,” than “Moderately talented horsewoman.” How come you never see those crazy barn looks on Instagram? I only ever see piles of turquoise on crisp-collared shirts without a speck of hay. So it is with these thoughts in mind that I give you the below poem.
Makeup Off, Spurs On
I’m a little leery of anyone who looks too good while riding
Hair perfectly coifed
Clothes styled straight out of a magazine.
Because that’s rarely how I look.
And I’d like to believe I didn’t spend much time on my face
Because I’m spending the time on my riding.
Ready to work.
No trendy vest and wild rag,
But I’m warm enough in this old coat.
And I can get warmer at a posting trot.
No long luscious hair flying behind me,
I’d hate to untangle all those knots later.
But my circles look good.
Big and fast.
Small and slow.
If you compliment my riding
Over how I look
I’d like that better anyway.
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This is one blog post I have been waiting, and waiting, and WAITING to be able to post.
There are times in life when road blocks are put in your path, and some people find a way to navigate around the road blocks while others accept the barrier as a limitation. Then there’s Morgan Wagner, who has navigated life and horse challenges with grace and unwavering determination.
I first met Morgan Wagner and Endo last winter at the barn where I board. After watching her and Endo work together for a few weeks I approached her with the idea of doing an interview and shopping it to a national equine magazine. She agreed and almost a year later, here we are, with Morgan and Endo featured in a national horse publication and me with my first ever national publication. The story of Morgan and Endo is not only meaningful because Endo is blind (as in no-eyeballs blind) but also because Morgan has Lupus and yet works through her own challenges to live a full and passionate life.
Endo’s eyes were removed in 2012 and 2013. After numerous bouts with uveitis, his eyesight was diminishing and he was in pain. He became unsafe to be around as he started spooking at the shadows that crept into his visual field. Morgan knew she was taking a gamble by removing his eyes. She risked not only the ability to ride him, but even his ability to keep living a safe life. It is a testament to Morgan’s patience in training and Endo’s trust in Morgan that they came out the other side of blindness and flourished together. They compete, and win, in working equitation competitions.
Morgan is no stranger to setbacks. Her own struggles are partially to blame, or credit depending on your view, of why she wanted to give Endo a chance at a meaningful life despite a disability. Morgan was diagnosed at age 19 with lupus, although looking at her you wouldn’t suspect anything is amiss. Lupus exacts its dysfunction in numerous ways that aren’t always obvious to a passive observer, but can be life altering for the individual experiencing them. Until recently, Morgan hasn’t shared much about her own challenges, not wanting to give people the impression she is seeking fame or charity. But her own struggles give greater depth and meaning to the special bond between her and Endo, as well as her patience for Endo’s learning curve after becoming blind. Before he lost his sight, she taught him tricks to help mitigate some of the challenges due to her lupus. She taught him to lie down to easily get on him if there was no mounting block. She also taught him to lower his head so she could bridle him without a struggle, as Endo is 15.2 hands and Morgan is only 5’3” tall. She also taught Endo to stop if Morgan became unbalanced, an important skill due to dizzy spells she would experience from medication.
Together, Morgan and Endo have shown what teamwork can look like, regardless of rider or mount deficits. They have also become unofficial ambassadors of the sport of Working Equitation. The only reason I came to know the sport was because of this pair in a video on YouTube. Each of their videos have thousands of views.
In an age when fewer people are getting involved in horse sports, this pair is a boon to the business. And what a way for the equestrian community to show that your ability (horse or rider) is what matters. A disability does not define you or your horse.
Not everyone is as impressed with the time and energy Morgan has put into Endo. Though she has not only helped him to navigate the world without sight, but also to excel in working equitation competitions, some people have asked why she bothers and question whether she asks too much of the gelding. They have gone so far as to ask why she didn’t just put him out to pasture and let him lead a simple life. Her pat answer to such questions is that every positive experience Endo has in a new place, and the mastery of every new skill, makes him that much safer of an animal to be around. She originally started training Endo with the hope she could demonstrate that blind horses still have value and could be rescued and have meaningful relationships with their owners. But Morgan’s own disability stood in the way of being able to continue working and barred her from being able to continue her work rescuing and rehabilitating blind horses.
Sometimes people inquire how Morgan can ride with a disability such as Lupus. That shouldn’t she herself preserve her life and lead it carefully? Within the confines of managing a chronic disease?
And to that, Morgan asks, “Do they expect people with disabilities to just lay down and die? I want to live my life doing the things I enjoy. I sold all of my material possessions so that I could afford to show him. I want to pursue the things that make me happy.”
It’s a fair question. Being a horse lover myself, I could never expect someone to give up their equine hobby because it didn’t fit my perception of what a person with disabilities can do. And watching Endo and Morgan together, I tend to think Endo feels more at ease with Morgan than he would being turned out to pasture. He sticks his head out of his feeding window at the sound of her voice, “looking” for her. He also will stretch his head toward her, using sound and touch to find her, for scratches. Sometimes while riding my own horse while Morgan is working Endo, I forget that he’s blind. They share a deep bond that is almost visible while watching them together. Endo’s extraordinary talent seems to be the product of their bond and Morgan’s dedication to him, not some kind of forced display pushed by Morgan.
I asked Morgan if she received much attention from people with disabilities, telling her she and Endo have been an inspiration.
“Not really.” She shrugs. “Mostly people ask for advice about coping with their own blind or going-blind horse.”
I press for more and ask what she would tell someone who was looking for encouragement in dealing with a challenge or disability.
She takes a moment and responds, “Do what you want, don’t put limitations on yourself. You’ve got to find a way to do what you want.”
And Morgan has demonstrated that drive time and time again.
Recently the three different United States Working Equitation associations voted to adopt a uniform rulebook. The changes made in the rules now prevent Morgan and Endo from competing in events put on by two of the associations, as the rules state blind horses are not allowed to compete. However, in true resilient-Morgan fashion, she is just happy to be able to continue to welcome new-comers to the sport and still be able to compete with Endo in the WE United association events. Morgan is also bringing up Sephiroth, her Andalusian who she trained and competes with as well.
You can read more about Morgan and Endo in the January issue of Equus Magazine. And if you see Morgan around, I know she’d sign your copy for you, or have Endo add his own slobbered stamp of authenticity.
If you haven’t seen this pair in action, check them out here. You’ll forget he’s blind as they navigate their world with such sure steps. In a time when we can be cynical, Morgan and Endo will remind you of why we all love horses: the partnership, the silent conversations, the promise of having a relationship with an animal that transcends the senses. Getting the opportunity to interview Morgan was truly an inspiring, and humbling opportunity. I look forward to watching their progress. Frankly I think they should star in their very own Disney movie. It’s been awhile since there’s been a great horse flick. And I’m offering to help write it!