Saturday, October 31, 2009

Cheating Part 1

Before I get to the meat of this post, I have a question.

Why do all the Merry Go Round horses look so stressed out? I mean look at these poor things.

(Mireya keeps a loose rein, but her horse is still miserable.)

(Check them out. They are FREAKING OUT. Their ears are PINNED
What are those sculptors thinking? Relieving some crappy pony rides as children??)

oh, and I'll be interspersing some random vacation pictures just for fun during this post.

Okay here we go.

To be honest, the entire time I was on vacation I was relieved to be horse free. So much so that I was wondering if I even wanted to have horse anymore.

You know, there are a thousand reasons to get rid of your horses.

  1. They're expensive.
  2. They are a huge time commitment.
  3. They can hurt the snot out of you.
  4. They are not particularly useful.
  5. They don't pick up after themselves.
  6. They have little regard for the cost of the saddle or their shoes, and are fine scrapping them off at every opportunity.
  7. etc. etc.

I thought of all these reasons while we were gone and they all seemed very reasonable. But I knew I had committed to the clinic and it was important.

Still, I got a good deal of writing done and wondered how much more I'd do if I didn't have to mess with a horse during my limited off time. (Probably none, but I was in that kind of space, ya know.)

(the highlight of the trip. A talking trashcan at the Magic Kingdom)

We got back and my new saddle had arrived. And I didn't rush out to the stables to see how it would fit.

I was dreading riding.

For good reason, as it turned out. Went on a short afternoon trail ride and I had to turn back before the other riders because I just didn't have time for the whole ride. I hadn't even gotten to warm him up at all. Anyway at the point I decided to turn around, I got off Cibolo to lead him a ways since I figured he'd got a bit nuts seeing the rest go away and didn't want to mess with it from the saddle where are issues are simply too intense. Got on about 50 yards later. Got 3/4 of the way back and he started calling out for horses.

This annoyed me. I turned him in circles each time and he stopped. But he was agitated. Got to a field and he was acting up. So I did what I should have done in So. Texas. I got off and sent him in fast hard circles around me until I had his total attention. Then I rode him on the road - walking towards home, turning and trotting back, walking back on the road, then turning and trotting back to the starting point. Did it about 10 times and by the end he was completely listening to me.

But came home thinking of the thousand reasons to sell your horse:

  1. All their equipment is expensive.
  2. They walk in poop and get fungus in their hooves.
  3. They are total spazes if they haven't had breakfast.
  4. They can kick a hole in plywood with no regard to the hassle of replacing said plywood.

In the end there is only one reason to keep your horse.

Because you want to.

(Sierra has this "cool" thing going on. I'm loving it.
She finds a way to be rebel with mickey mouse ears)

My husband and I had a long talk. I say it's not fun. He says he's just getting into it. He asks me if I'm ticked off at him because he's having an easier time of it. I say no, it really doesn't work that way with me. He didn't ride for a year after his fall from Canyon. Which wasn't even a bad fall, more of a slide off in the round pen. Now he's on Lily and it took him months to get to the confident place he is now, comfortable to trot, canter.

And she's dead broke.

I'm trying to ride through the time that's equivalent to the time he took off from horses. And this is after I spent a year riding an unpredictable bucking horse. I'm barn sour in my own way.

While I was gone, two of the books I ordered came in - books I ordered after reading about them on Kate's blog (I've added them to my list on the side, you can find them both on Amazon (Be with Your Horse and A Horses Thought)). They gave me some ideas to try and reinforced some other things, which I'll get into later in part 2. Because this post is already way too long!

But I'll leave you with this: when I headed out today, I decided I'd cheat. Totally, completely cheat.

Ironically, it was an inspiration from Disney World. Where I escaped from horses (except for the tormented Merry Go Round ones).

(In a way, I'm doing this for her. Mommy can't give up
cuz she's chicken or she's sending this princess a real lame message.)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Just a quickie

Went to the stables and did a little round pen work with Cibolo - little focus, little bareback. Really just reinforcement. Unfortunately we weren't communicating clearly, and I didn't have the time to get into gear like I did last time. Still we got part ways there. I only had a few minutes because we are getting ready for our vacation.

He was a little more resistant, which is a pattern I notice with horses. If you work with them three days in a row, the 2nd day is usually the weird day. The "two steps back" day.

I'll be gone for a few days, we're doing our part to stimulate the economy.

We're going here:

Dining with yellow bears and princesses. We went about seven years ago, when I was pregnant with my youngest (so technically she HAS been there before).

I'll try to check in from there, although will probably post to Crib Notes blog mostly (since I don't think there are any horses during my trip). We'll be back on Wednesday.

Last thing. I've set a goal to go to the Mark Rashid clinic next summer. I'm going to try to find two local clinics in the meantime, explore different bits as someone suggested, and keep working on the line between firmness and cooperation.

Adam and I may switch horses off an on too, since Cibolo seems to be comfortable with him and Lily is so solid I can get some confidence runs on her.

But that'll all have to wait. I got a mouse to see.

(Have you been to Disney World? Any suggestions?)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Unraveling Horse Time Part 2

After thinking long and hard about what I enjoyed back before things unraveled, I had time on Tuesday to go to the barn.

Anxiety was rolling in my stomach. It was windy, it would be close to feeding time, I was tired. But I drove to the barn anyway.

Adam met me there but his back was acting up and he was relieved to hear I wasn't going on a trail ride.

I went to gather Cibolo, who avoided me at the urging of his herd mate Amigo. It wasn't bad though, and in a moment he stopped letting Amigo drive him and waited for me.

We headed straight for the round pen. No saddle. A few quick "hide the butt" on the way which required a sternness reminder to gt him to hop out of the way. To take things seriously. But my energy was very low, very calm.

At the round pen we didn't lunge. He's now dropping his head to the ground with just two pushes (as opposed to the 5 and 6 we were working through before) and by the end, just one signal was working.

We did the things I used to do with Canyon. Worked on focus. Worked on moving away from pressure. He responded well. I didn't have the bit, so I rode tied the lead rope to the halter. Standing rock still by the round pen panel I got on him bareback.

I felt the anxiety in my stomach roll around as I rode we just walked.

Great. Okay. Just ride anyway. Breathe.

I went in circles until I warmed up and relaxed. Then we worked on pulling his nose in. I learned that a low pull on the reins is the signal he understands to pull his nose in (think at thigh level is nose lever, waist is back up lever). I found him trying to decipher my signals and me working to understand his tries. When I kept trying to back him up with the reins too low and he started trying different things, I recognized what was going on.

He was trying.

And when I "got" it, he worked flawlessly.

It was nice. It was simple. I felt like we were communicating. Felt like the respect was working and we were

I read this at Jill place and felt pretty good about my progress.

Then today I met up with Cibolo's previous owner. I told her what happened at Conception and she said:

You need to kick that horse's ass. Do not baby him.

Which sort of brings me full circle and I felt the sadness rise again.

They want a boss. They want you to be firm with them.
If he pulls that on you, you pull his face off.

(she was speaking metaphorically, of course. I think.)

He knows better. There's no excuse.

Am I up to being a horse owner? Do I have the nature to kick a horse's ass with great regularity?

The latter - no. As to the former...

Sigh. I was feeling like maybe I could. Now I just don't know.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Unraveling Horse Time

Sometimes when things unravel you find that there is nothing there.

Other times you find what you've been looking for, buried in the pulled yarn.

Then there are the times when you stand among the strands, you only begin to realize what it s you are looking for in the first place.

Things unraveled a bit on Saturday during a very lovely trail ride. There's an absolutely gorgeous trail over streams and through the woods around our stable that I never knew existed. Adam and I joined a couple who have boarded a bit longer for the ride. They knew the way around so we were pretty excited to check it out.

I took a few pictures, none very good, but here's one:

Cibolo was the youngest horse on the four horse trip and 90% of things went just fine. But I could feel the unraveling in him, just a tiny thread at first. He wanted to dictate where to ride. Wanted to stay up and trot without permission. Tossed a few crow hops. All of which was corrected, of course, but it was tiresome.

Then on our way back he stepped in a hole or something and hopped sideways a few times, a little freaked. It felt like a buck might be coming, but I kept his head up. He was wired after that and at one point I got off because I felt him escalating and knew getting across this one tricky part was not good in his current state. I got off and lead him across.

It was the smartest thing I could have done. When I got back on he was re-engaged, sort of like that let him (and me) chill for a second and catch our breath. Did another crow hop or two a mile later, and at that point I was just irritated. We rode back to the barn and I put him up.

Then we came home and I ate asadero and french bread. I have a pretty strict diet with no cheese and no bread at all. So this was some serious comfort food for me. I could write poetry about asadero, but I'll spare you (I blame Licon Dairy in San Elizario for my addiction. They make the best asadero in the universe).

When we went back on Sunday, Adam rode him and Sierra rode Lily. I hung out with Mireya since our pony trip fell through. (I want to take her to meet ponies, she was very excited, but the place I planned on going to is having some sort of "family issues")

I had no desire to see my horse, let alone ride. I observed Lily had started to give me attitude too (which I solved by pushing back a bit). Adam had cantered on Cibolo - something I've only been able to do a few times. All I wanted to do was go home.

I woke up in the middle of the night Monday, just lost. This is still no fun, hasn't been since Conception. I couldn't sleep for hours. I felt the anxiety that I had when I even contemplated the barn, riding.

I thought back, remembered with Canyon how I loved just going to the stables and working in the round pen.

I'd spend hours alone with him in the round pen, doing very simple things. I could trot and canter bareback. I wasn't afraid to canter on him in an arena or in the round pen, his issues always were related to other horses or horse eating animals in the woods (of which there were many).

I loved being alone with my horse. I came home relaxed and willing to give everything (as is required of a working mom) to everyone else.

Now I was coming home discouraged, angry, and tired. Instead of a break, this horse time has been more of an additional burden, another insistent chore that is never, ever done.

And honestly Cibolo's issues are minor.

But mine aren't. I may be regaining respect, but something inside is unraveled, and I wasn't even sure what it revealed. But my horses could see it. Because horses don't do white lies and half truths. They are always honest in their assessment and my pushy behavior wasn't really resolving the real issue.

Truth hurts.

This is getting too long - I'll write more tomorrow about what we did today and why... And visit some blogs. I've missed everybody!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Intrepid, harried, and a little wiped out

I have to say this whole "work" thing is really cutting into my blogging. :)

It's been a bit harried (we have a good bit going on in Congress and I wisely took on a nice big project right before it all hit because I LOVE to work constantly).

Just when I decided to be a slacker.


So I've been horseless since Tuesday.

Practically blog-less too.

Then I get this wonderful gift from Kate:

Isn't it wonderful? Here's the word on it:

"This Award is dedicated to those horse lovers and riders that inspire others to go deeper in ability, knowledge and understanding of the equine(s) they have been entrusted to.

"The good of the horse is the ultimate goal apart from pressures to achieve ribbons and fit into lesson schedules.

"These riders are fearless, when it comes to weather conditions and the forecasting of them...being with their horses, fills these folks' soul and takes the cares out of daily routines.

"They are unconditionally loving to the horse and may have rescued it from known ailment or living condition. Others have researched and purchased/ acquired their horse, to find a difficulty in temperament or a physical burden within the animal. Yet, being dedicated, they have persevered to proudly be in partnership with their horse, lovingly striving for deeper awareness between them.

"They might have been riding for years and suddenly had an accident that takes them away from the great joy and freedom they have, being aboard such a magnificent animal. They have allowed the healing horse to rise in their hearts once again, and beckon them back.

INTREPID RIDERS FACTION ~ "We strive to go where others only dare to go with our horse loves...healing, riding, playing, camping, jumping, swimming and traveling down the trails of life. . . . with the horse in heart ~ Overcoming many obstacles and sometimes weather, to ride!

"There are not many rules with this award - just:

1) that you give it to only one person,

2) link back to this post, so they may have an understanding of its nature, and

3) you may use any or all of the above written descriptions."

I'm a bit embarrassed since I was *this* close to listing everything - horses, trailer, tack - on craigslist.

Does that happen to you?

I often feel well out of my league in this blogging community - so many have competed, currently run barrels, participate in endurance. I've only ever ridden on a farm as a kid, mostly alone, and just now started trail riding. Yet here we all are, open arms with each other, sharing what we can, gleaning all we can from the words on the screen. We all want the same thing - more.

More with a horse.

Passing this on to one person is really tough, but I will follow the rules (for once) and send this on to Nuzzling Muzzles, who somehow works with those wonderful Arabians in midst of children, work, the weirdest neighbors on the planet and so much more.


I'll be riding tomorrow. I hope you will too.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Nickel back

The best part of this picture - the ears. Listening to me.

We had a gentle mist falling in the hill country today, an old bride's veil draping across the hills with gentle determination.

That's how I'd describe our ride.

Adam is determined to make for of an effort to ride after I noted that I really didn't have anyone to ride with. I miss that about our old stables, I could often find someone to ride with, even if I couldn't plan what day I'd be out there.

Today we went out despite the cold, wet weather.

Lily was somewhat honery, and we noted she seemed pretty tender on the front hoof again. I'm upping her glucosimine and if there's not an improvement, then I'll contact the vet for another shot.

Cibolo was pretty compliant right from the start.

Now I'm drawing lines very clearly and consistently with both horses. Here are the lines (suggestions welcome).

  • No grazing once the halter is on. Period. No grabbing at Hay on the way out or in of stalls or the barn.
  • Stand still for your saddling.
  • You will be polite when I check your hoof. Any threat and I'm popping your behind.
  • Drop your head for both the halter and the bridle.
  • Stand where I put you.
  • Back up when I'm leading you if I back up. Do it with the same level of energy I do. Exactly the same.
  • No cookies until we're all done, and take a step back - then you get a cookie.
  • Attitude means we play "hide the butt" - extreme edition. You jump out of my sight. Period.
Corrections are very high energy right now because I'm driving home the point. By high I mean a swat with a rope or crop or hand and getting really big.

Yesterday I realized one important thing, though. The correction must happen and then be done. Completely. No grudge, no lingering irritation. Because always the next move is correct (so far) and it must be rewarded with positive attitude and energy. Reminds me of this quote from Cesar Millan (former illegal alien (he just became a citizen this year), now multi millionaire dog trainer) that is in the New York Times today:

“Humans are the only animals who will follow unstable pack leaders.”

Substitute herd for pack and it's dead on. I need to get over my nature to hold a grudge and be a little more stable (pun intended, as always).

God has a funny way of sending me teachers on these things.

That said, I moved in today and gave a bit more petting and rubbing with Cibolo this time. I didn't let him come into me, but I did come into him. His head was lower more consistently. And when we rode, his ears were on me in the saddle most of the time.

It was our best Post Conception ride so far. He always does better with Lily and I'm okay with that. We switched back and forth as leader, and we kept everything at a walk since Lily is limping a bit at the trot. She seemed no worse for wear.

We even rode down to an area I've never taken either horse, right through the trees in the trails that wind through cedar.

One spook in place (over I have no idea what).

A bit of improvement on head carriage, Cibolo tends to nose out, but that's more at the trot and canter. (any suggestions? I'm just riding with the reins in the same position and letting him give himself relief when he doesn't nose out. Also I think my black reins are considerably shorter than my brown ones, so I'm checking that next.)

The biggest advance was in my head. And heart. If our emotional connection was a dollar before Conception and down to a thin red cent after, I'd say we're up to a nickel.

Because this time riding wasn't as much of a chore. Part of it was because Adam was there and he had so much fun he was buzzing about it afterwards. Part of it was because although I still had to do a correction with Cibolo at the start, it was about 1/4 of what I did the day before.

And when I rubbed him afterwards and breathed in his smell...

it was nice.

Listening. But see my reins? I have to keep contact too much. I hope to improve this (um
well, if I keep this up. You know. I'm still in the probationary period).
All the boats in the background are some sort of collection of
uselessness. Quite common here at the lake.

Adam on Lily, the wonder horse (who tried to
talk him into going back to the barn 4 different times.
He didn't let her get way with it this time.)

Don't those reins look longer? I'm measuring tomorrow.

Parting shot - isn't this weird on Cibolo's hindquarter?
It looks like a waffle scabbing. Any guesses on what that could be from?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Left overs from the ride to Conception

(Cibolo, considering the trail ahead)

I found my camera after clearing out the trailer and the few photos I took in Conception.
The feeling before the ride seems so distant to me now.

Here's Rudy, ready to ride.

My self portrait.

There were incredible children on the ride.

Riding beautiful horses with style and control.

I mean LOOK at this kid! He's got CHAPS for goodness sake. He looks like he's been riding longer than he's been walking.

We waited on the side of the road for a long time.

And things sort of went down hill from there.

There are other leftovers. Yesterday my ground work session with Cibolo was a mixed bag. I had a feeling I was getting just what looked like compliance. The weather had turned and the horses had been stalled all day because of rain and mud, so they were a little wired. There was no connection there, and it was mostly just about discipline. Reinforcing the no grazing, better leading, standing still, all that.

I took Cibolo out on the trail today, just the one around the barn. He did a mini version of the Conception trail ride for just a second. I had the crop with me and I gave him a little swat, then rode him around the driveway for 10 minutes until he got his head back together, worked on the easy stuff.

Stephanie joined me after a few and saddled up Lily. We rode around for about 30 minutes, Cibolo had a few hesitations. Nothing major, just one point where he didn't want to go forward and I had to force the issue.

At the end of it, it all felt like one big chore.

I wonder if it will get fun again.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Trusting my gut and toughening up.

The plan today was a lesson and trail ride, but it's pouring.

But I've been thinking (I can already hear Frankie groaning. You're right, Frankie. Thinking is getting me tied up in circles.).

I have a goal. I need to know where the lines are.

I feel like I did when I was a new mom and every situation seemed overwhelming. I had so much information I was only missing my kid's DNA sequence. Advice from PHDs, SHM (stay at home moms), relatives, total strangers, talking heads on TV. It was paralyzing. It occured to me that it was so easy to do things wrong. I was sure if I overreacted I'd create a monster, and if I underreacted I'd create a needy, neurotic kid.

Of course, I've probably created both, but I have been investing in a therapy fund so they can work it out for themselves later. I've written "Hey, I tried" on the envelope.

Hopefully they'll have a sense of humor.


I'm looking for a scale of some sort. Where should the needle be?

In Kate and Rudy (Trailrider)'s exchange of comments on the previous post I found myself agreeing with both of them and understanding that I've got to do a bit of both: trust my gut and be firm/strong. What's interesting is Rudy found with Vaquero he needed to lighten up. I think with Cibolo I need to toughen up, but not past the point where I lose that "feel" that Kate talks about so eloquently on her blog.

Cibolo is not like Canyon, he has a sweet side but is not really fearful. That situation outstripped his general nature and required additional intensity of leadership I'd never established. I think of it as what is required of people in an emergency. Smoke everywhere, sirens, you are coughing up a lung and what you seek is someone to yell firmly "Over here! Now! It'll be safe!" not someone who says "if you come over here, I've got a cookie..."

Not that I'm making my horse human. But I'm a metaphor person, so it's how I think...

It's supposed to clear this afternoon. . .

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Riding to Conception Part 3

So we waited for the riders to arrive and once Rudy ate and let Vaquero have some hay, he offered to ride Cibolo and see what was up.

About Rudy and horses: At one time when he was younger, Rudy had a horse that was just plain mean. It reared, tried to run him into fences, trees, all of that. After that horse he gave up on them for years, then came back to it, taking lessons and learning all he could.

His approach has always been more firm than mine, more demanding. Not cruel, not at all, but harsher than my approach.

He tried to help me with Canyon, but Canyon didn't respond well. Harshness sent him to the moon.

But although I was concerned about his safety on my freaked out horse, Cibolo seemed calmer. So I saddled him up and during the break he rode him out. First he did some ground work, "hide your rear" kind of things to let Cibolo know who he was. Then he took him out, cantered him, used a quirt on him, and basically rode him.

"There's nothing wrong with this horse," he told me when he got back. "He's just lazy and trying to get out of work."

So I got on him and rode him up the road, even cantered. He did fine. So I decided, relunctantly to try again. I attempted to rejoin the trail ride.

We made it about half a mile before we were back in freak out land.

Then Rudy offered to switch horses. I got on his Paso, Vaquero, and he got on Cibolo.

And we rode. And Cibolo, after a very brief argument with Rudy, rode fine.

"He's just being a jerk. He's got your number," he said.

He rode him for about a mile and a half and I floated on his Paso. Then we switched back before the parade. Cibolo was unhappy about the separation and took his time loading.

I got in the truck, finally. And I was crushed.



So it's not about Cibolo, is it. It's about the rider. About me.

On the road back I was grateful for my mirrored shades.


We talked about leadership. About little things, the things Rudy noticed. The subtle ways my horse was not respecting me.

When we got back, I brought out that fierce, angry, alpha mare. I moved him around like he was livestock. If he hesitated I whacked him with the crop and he jumped away. If his attention moved to the other horses I moved his feet till he only had eyes for me. I snapped the lead rope and made him back with energy and intensity. I was angry, feeling betrayed to be terribly honest, and when I turned my back to him, the tears flowed again behind the mirrored sunglasses on my face.

Because I don't like to be like that. Which is where the soul searching comes in. But more on that in a minute.

Rudy, a real trooper, offered a ride around his ranch for us (after a break, of course) and when I rode on Cibolo he stood still as a statue for me as I saddled him, still as I mounted. No more dancing. He listened, responded flawlessly, side passed up to gates, allowing me to make minute adjustments to his body position to get the gates open and closed perfectly.

We rode around to get memory cards out of the cameras on the ranch. While we didn't see anything other than a few cows, here's what's often out there.

We came back when it was nearly dark. We cantered on the trail a few times, trotted a good bit.

And I was not particularly excited about riding. The ranch is beautiful, the company wonderful, but being on a horse was suddenly not that great. Something inside just had curled up and was either licking its wounds, or dieing.

I don't really know which. I just wanted to handle the situation. To complete my task.

Afterwards we untacked and I referred to Cibolo by his new name, which is an obscenity that doesn't bear repeating. I put him up and walked away.

The next morning we loaded up. Cibolo did not do his usual "one hoof in, then back" routine three times. I did the harsh ground work (again, not whips, but a firm whack on the butt to make him move with energy, back quickly, etc) then I brought him up to the trailer.

He immediately jumped in and waited for me to close the gate.

Which I did.


I hated the energy, the anger, the distance. But really, did I have closeness before? Was it all just an illusion, a game I played in my head?

My real job is in politics. I work with strong men and I'm no push over. I have to be firm and stand up for my view and opinions and bulldoze through things often. When I someone tries to push me around, I stand up and go right at it. I can mow down a room and very few people are willing to take me on.

That's why we call it "work." I don't consider that side of me fun. I consider it necessary at times, and generally try to avoid using it.

Maybe I'm not up to do it in my "off time." Or maybe I don't know how to walk the line between firmness and bitchy, demanding, dominatrix (minus the corset and boots). Maybe I'm an on-and-off instead of shades of grey.

Because I really thought I had been firm enough. But clearly I wasn't.

"You won't have to be like that all the time," Rudy told me. "You just have to establish it."

I don't know. It seems like this is an attitude that you have to adopt and carry around like a scepter or sword. I know the "respect" I get at work requires vigilence because in my business you have to push back or be seen as weak. It is constant. Someone is always looking for weakness. It's exhausting.

So the question is what do I have to do to have appropriate leadership of my horse - and will all the fun be gone if I have to be a jerk the entire time.

For me this is a hobby. An expensive one. We don't have a ranch, we don't compete, and no one else wants to ride but me.

And I'm not sure even I want to ride anymore.


When we got back, I had to re-establish myself with Cibolo because in the old environment he was doing those subtle things that now weren't so subtle. They screamed at me as clear signs of disrespect - dancing, not facing me properly, little bits of resistance. I snapped. I pushed him around with intensity. Made him jump when I asked. Tolerated nothing.

I rode him in the round pen two days later. Trotting, cantering, circling a mounting block in a "drive the hindquarter" exercise. Other than a moment of resistance at the canter, he responded well to everything. No more dancing, no more wandering attention.

At the end of the session he lowered his head and I rubbed his forehead for the first time in three days.

And I cried. Again.


I don't want this to be the only way to be with horses. But I can't forget the ride to Conception. I can't.

I don't know if I'm up to this. But I'm giving myself 30 days to figure it out.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Riding to Conception - Part 2

Hindsight is something that can be tough to handle. You look back and there is the path that brought you to this place you are in, vivid in the searing light of hindsight, every misstep glowing brightly and indelible in your mind.

I look back at a million moments, moments that clearly added up to where I ended up outside Benavides, on the trail to Conception. Off my horse, feeling lost, confused, and even shocked.

It was the last thing I expected.

I tacked up Cibolo at the start of the trail ride and, as I mentioned before, there was a long wait for the start. He was excited, but nothing I couldn't handle. He moved around while other horses stood still, dancing, anxious to go.

So was I.

Eventually, after nearly 40 minutes past the "start" time, the trail ride began. And in the next mile my control of my horse unraveled. We came up on groups of horses and Cibolo began to get agitated. I was surprised and brought him under control. Vaquero and Rudy moved ahead, and he began to get really worried. Riders came up behind us, over taking us as he began to really stress. We trotted to try to keep up with Rudy, but soon Cibolo was all over the place.

(five minutes before the freakout began)

The unraveling sped up, and I worked to disengage his hind quarters; he spun like a top. I worked to back him; he went back 15 steps before I could stop him. Every reaction was over the top. He side passed, turned, and I felt it.

He was no longer listening to me. He was trying to get his cues from the herd around us. I was on a whirling derbish, nearly careening into people all around me.

Knowing that I was no longer in a place where I could get him under control, I got his attention long enough to dismount safely.

Rudy came over, as did an older gentleman I'd met last year (he rode the biggest quarter horse I've ever seen, a horse that looked like a Michaelangelo sculpture, not a real horse). I said I didn't have the control over my crazy horse and I'd hook up with Adam.

Adam was driving as a support crew and spotted me. He pulled over to the side and I told him what happened. He was taken aback. We had to let all the riders go by before we even tried to load Cibolo into the trailer. My horse was drenched in sweat, swirling and taking desperate grabs at grass, calling out to the horses going by.

He was freaked out and we barely recognized him.

A year ago I'd ridden this same trail ride on Canyon. My crazy, bucking, Arabian. He did fine. No issues.

Now my steady Eddie quarter horse was a trembling mass of horse flesh.


If it had ended there, then I would have thought that it was because he's just 6 and not used to a 300 horse trail ride. I'd have figured it was overwhelming and he just needed more exposure.

Basically I would have thought it was about the horse.


At this point I haven't decided yet if that would have been better. Better for me to think it was about youth, and inexperience and the horse.

I suppose it would have been kinder to my pride, but probably more damaging in the long run if the truth didn't rear up and toss me into the dust, shaking me out of my denial.


We drove with our crazy quarter horse to the midway point and met Rudy there. After all, we were still support crew (without a working cell phone, but that's South Texas and T-mobile for you).

I was terribly disappointed. I sat in the truck, stunned at the turn of events. I thought of the horse back at the Ranch. Woody, who didn't get ridden for lack of a rider. I thought of Lily at home at the Lake and how she would have been fine with her petite boa boot. I thought of how I was going to miss the parade, and more importantly miss out on riding.

I unloaded Cibolo when we arrived at the halfway spot because it was so hot I didn't see a point in having him stand in the sweltering heat of the trailer for another hour and a half as we waited for the riders to arrive.

He was calm, cooled off, back to normal.

But in many ways, everything had changed. Nothing was normal.  And what happened next made things much, much worse.

(Okay, I really don't mean this to take forever to tell, but I'm so tired from a long day. I'll post part 3 tomorrow.)

Monday, October 5, 2009

Riding to Conception - Part 1

First, let me tell you about this ride, this place, this world.

South Texas reminds me of where I grew up - except this is a world of ranches, not farms.

I'm hispanic and fifth generation Texan thanks to my grandmother's side of the family. My grandfather (who you can read about here by downloading the PDF) came here as a child, illegally, when his family was running from the death and destruction of the Mexican Revolution.

He came here and, in time became a citizen, farmer, small businessman, and wonderful father and grandfather.

Anyway, he farmed cotton in San Elizario, down the road from Ysleta, Soccoro -- all the lower valley of El Paso. It's a farming community that is a place where nearly everyone is hispanic (95% easily) and english and spanish fill the air, intermingled like cilantro in pico de gallo.

This is what it's like in South Texas, where Rudy's family has it's hunting ranch. The terrain is very different, the grasses grow long and there is mesquite and shrubs everywhere. I find it amazing that cattle run these areas, but you'll be driving along and there will be a cowpath, often with a irritated looking cow glaring at you for interrupting her morning meditation.

None of these cows look like Elsie. They look like they were raised only for meat, not for looks, and they look happy to argue with you about the weather, the politics, the feral hog problem, anything...


On the trail ride are these huge extended families, young, young kids on horses that look barely containable, heavy set women being hoisted atop quiet old horses, charros on stallions - horses with thick necks who look like they could plow through a solid concrete wall. Some groups have come in matching t-shirts, others in matching working shirts with the name of their ranch embroidered over the pocket. These are groups fiercely proud of their families, protective of their connection with the land and the life they've carried on here for generations, irregardless of borders, revolutions, droughts, and floods.

There are no helmets. Zero.

Horses arrive in long open trailers, six horses standing at a slant, no dividers, no top, saddled to go. There are some impressive rigs too, but the vast majority are cattle rancher trailers, built to carry whatever needs to be carried, all the red of rusty metal and dirt stained wood.

There are no fly masks.

Your coggins is checked and you're handed the list of 18 rules. It's the usual stuff - control your horse, no horse racing, stay behind the trail boss. The last one is telling, though:

No minors will be allowed to consume alcohol. (It's the law)
Seriously. Almost as if it's an apology. I understand this, of course, because where I grew up, if you were tall enough to slide your money across the bar, you were old enough for a beer. Trust me, I'm not saying it's right. Quite the contrary. But it is the world I grew up in and so it's oddly familiar.

We think there were 300 riders who took part in the ride, but it seemed like 3/4 showed up late.

This is also familiar. I grew up in mañana land - or, as we called it, the day after mañana land.



The horses. There were horses who looked like they had not only not missed a meal, but had been ordering dessert at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Others were rippling with muscle, looking like they could take down a cow with just an exhale. But there were no horses that looked sickly or thin.

Most of the crew were quarter horses, although there was a pair of Andalusian stallions, a few Quarter horse crosses. Rudy's Vaquero was the only Paso Fino we saw and he got plenty of attention with that gorgeous gait - for 14 miles that horse would NOT flat walk. I rode him for about a mile and it was something else.

(Vaquero and Rudy, 10 mile point)

Rain was predicted, but not a drop fell. It was supposed to be cool, the temperature hit 97. We hoped for a breeze, it was still with 99% humidity.

The ride goes for 14 miles, there are frequent stops to try to keep the group gathered. It doesn't work though, the line of riders stretches out like a broken necklace, beads scattered over a mile.

Midway there's a long stop with a meal and watering at the Munoz Ranch ("Please no horses should be tied to any fence on the Munoz Ranch" reads the rules).


At the end is the parade, floats at the beginning with Miss Fiesta del Rancho waving to the crowd, her hair a raven's black in a complex updo.

Then there's the Most Beautiful Girl and Most Beautiful Boy, both riding on saddles set in the bed of pick ups, paper flowers taped to the side. Behind them there are groups tossing candy to the crowds along the sides.

Tejano music booms out of a golf cart with a better sound system than I have in my car. Elected officials wave, the police officers have a huge orange Fox as a mascot. It jumps out and starts hugging children along the parade route.

Remember, it's 97 degrees.

And then come the riders, some having changed clothes (and in a few cases I spotted even horses being switched) at the 30 minute stop before the parade's end, coming into town. 300 horses and riders waving to family, laughing, smiling, ready for a break before the night comes and it'll be time to eat, drink (again), listen to live music and "tiere chankla" (toss a sandal, or dance) until finally it's time to sleep.

It's here I have gorditas, the only good gorditas (actually great gorditas) I've had since I left El Paso. It's a good thing too, because I'd weigh 300 pounds if I could find the darn things around here.

We have a dance and swirl on the dance floor, getting back to the ranch at 11, exhausted.


Part 2 tomorrow. Why I sat on the sideline for 12 of the 14 miles.


Sunday, October 4, 2009

Shaken up

They say when you take your horse into a new and potentially stressful situation, you'll find any holes you've got with that horse.

I found the Grand F#@#ing Canyon this weekend.

I'm not real excited to even write about it yet, it's still a little too raw for me. I didn't get hurt, didn't get bucked off, didn't hurt anything but my pride.

And I didn't ride to Conception on a horse. Because my horse wouldn't listen to me. But would listen to a better, tougher rider.

It has shaken me up pretty badly. I'm looking back at my journey over the last 2 years and wondering if I'm suited for this.

Maybe some people just don't have the right nature for working with horses, and maybe I'm one of those people.

Maybe some people are dog people, not horse people.

More details tomorrow. I still am not in a space to share. Still angry, sad, defeated, etc.

Tonight I'm going to continue the soul searching.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Relationship issues

What do you think of this post I found on Craigs list?

Okay.... I am at my wits end with my horse, his name is Diesel, he is very dominant and bull-headed. He refuses to walk behind, he must always be at the front if he isn't he prances annoyingly and throws a lot of attitude and on the way back home he is very impatient, making the ride with my friends incredibly difficult and unpleasant. I have tried lunging him to work off some of his energy, but being part morgan he has unbelievable stamina. I have tried numerous things but what I've done has not been right for him. Does anyone have any advice or a similar problem that you've fixed. I love this horse to death, been through a lot with him but he's makin me nuts........ not much into the parelli natural be one with the horse stuff.... prefer the good ol cowboy way

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I wonder how many cowboys will be offering a hand ...

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Saddle and the Fiesta del Rancho

Well, I think I've found a saddle, let's see if I don't get out bid.

Here it is... It's pretty nice, I have a feeling it's going to go for more than what I've got. But I've put my limit there, so there's not much more I can do. Keep your fingers crossed!

Tomorrow we're off to South Texas for a big Celebration of the Rancho in Concepcion. Lily's hoof wall is really broken and shes got a boot on, but I'm not taking her. I haven't been able to train her (and no one here has... carried through... ahem... I'm not naming names or anything) and combined with the hoof issue, I'm worried how she'd do. Not to mention how her RIDER would do.

Sigh. Why does everyone think they can just hope on a horse and ride for 12 miles without getting in shape?

I'll post some pix tomorrow of Lily's hoof (I could use some advice) and I promise to take a jillion pictures on the ride. I'll be working with a cell phone camera, so keep your expectations low...

After the ride there's a big fiesta with great Tejano music and mariachis and a carnival and food.

Of course I don't listen to much Tejano, but it's a blast to hear live, and there's something about an accordion in the hands of a master... Just listen to this kid (at 16 he just won Texas' Big Squeeze accordion prize and headed to Germany for the big prize)

Not that he'll be there, but it gives you an idea, anyway...

See you when I get back! Stay safe!