were you raised in a barn?


Many of us have fond memories of childhoods spent in the saddle. More of us are either still building those memories, or maybe just getting started. As I’ve grown up in the horse world, and watched the younger generations behind me, it occurs to me, there’s a pretty great “farm system” in place here.

I didn’t grow up with my own horse. I didn’t actually have my own until middle school, and then, it was the result of a raffle at a horse show. Despite not having my own horse, I was lucky enough to have neighbors with horses, who were kind enough to share. Through those early connections, I became involved in 4-H. Through 4-H, I quickly gained more connections, and eventually began to show in what was then known as “horseless project” classes. As long as the horse was registered with the 4-H council, or “in the box,” it could be shown by anyone, myself in particular. So thanks to borrowed… well, pretty much everything, I managed a showing career without the benefits of ownership, this was around 1991 I believe. My maternal grandmother was diagnosed with cancer, so mom spend every other weekend with her, leaving dad to be my show partner. We went to the point shows, where I was one of usually no more than three or so horseless projects showmen. In our club practice sessions though, I’d learned, you show like there’s 100 in the pen, even if you’re the only one. The blue ribbons were exciting, but I appreciated the praise and judges remarks more, when they’d take the time to compliment me, or offer constructive criticism. During one show, I caught wind of a family looking to raffle off a mare that they no longer had room for. They felt that 4-H had given a lot to their family, and wanted to give something back. Seated with several friends, all feverishly filling out entry forms, we all chattered on about how cool it would be to win a horse. You never think these things through! Later on, a man came to our group with a sweet-faced sorrel mare. He singled me out of the crowd, and asked, what I thought of her. In my mind, she had four legs and whinnied, so she was perfect! I told him, “she’s beautiful!” He offered a leg up, so I could sit on her, while he talked with dad for a minute, then turned back to me and asked, “well, what do you think?” I said, “I love her!” He said, “she’s yours.” It’s hard to type, through teary eyes, even all these years later. Panic struck first, thinking, “oh no, dad’s going to be so mad! We don’t have anywhere to keep her!” But, dad seemed unruffled, as all our friends gathered around, offering trailer rides, stalls, and congratulations. The rest, as it’s said, is history.

Though Reya wasn’t a show horse, we went as far as the All American Youth Horse Show, and won ribbons there. We relied a lot on the help and kindness of others, especially early on, and were surrounded by good people. A common theme that I still find in dealing with the horse community today. Reya eventually was sold, and replaced by Buddy, who went on to take me to county horse queen titles, OQHA point titles, and a partnership that many people still remember and talk about today, even tough he’s been in “the big barn in the sky” now, since 2009. What I’ll never forget, is how Reya, Buddy, and all the others raised me.

My family has never been wealthy, but we have been rich in all the things that truly matter in life. I was raised to understand values like hard work and focus. I learned to appreciate everything I had, because I’d earned it, not because it had been handed to me. I started working full time during summer months at the age of 15, on a Standardbred farm. Mom and dad let me play with the first couple of checks, then eventually started adding financial responsibility to my plate, with one bill at a time. First with my car insurance, then the blacksmith or showing for the day. Little by little, until I was fairly independent. Having a horse is similar to having a child, especially when you’re still a child yourself. 4-H was tremendously helpful, especially in those early years, when I really didn’t know much of anything, and eventually experience as my horses taught me. We figured out how to haul for point titles on one of the most competitive breed circuits in the country, and still afford to eat dinner. I learned a “custom” show blouse could be found at discount department stores, and decorated with fabric or gemstone glue and creativity. Having horses made me more empathetic, when you’re forced to read a soul from means other than conversation, to determine if there’s a problem, it’s something you carry on into your human interactions.

The beauty of all this is, I’m not alone. I now see the little girls I used to put makeup on and pin their hair up, entering the working world with good morals and values. They come back to me and thank me for being a second mom, or big sister to them, and my cup runneth over. I’m proud of me, for being the kind of person that others would want to look up to and emulate, and even prouder of them, for following a good path and finding their way. Horses, and the rest of our human families, turned us out well.


Galloping Across the Steppes


It’s important to remember our roots…


A team of horses (Equus caballus) slowly moving across the European steppes around 30,000 years ago. (Art by Tabitha Paterson) A team of horses (Equus caballus) slowly moving across the European steppes around 30,000 years ago. (Art by Tabitha Paterson)

Around 50 million years ago, long before the Epoch of the Twilight Beasts, a little mammal, Eohippus, scurried about in the forests of North America. This creature, about the size of an average dog, was the ancestor of the magnificent horse we know today. During this Period, called the Eocene, the environment and climate was constantly changing, and little Eohippus responded to adapt. Some species kept the paw like feet and just grew a little larger. Others lost a few toes altogether. Like the plants Eohippus fed from, horse evolution was a bushy tree of different species, some branches giving rise to new species, others evolutionary dead ends.

The horse that we know today, Equus caballus, evolved from the tiny little Eohippus. In…

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be your own go-to


When it comes to basic horse care, I don’t think any two people go about it exactly the same way. Yet, millions of horses all over the world, live healthy, well-kept lives, in spite of our differences. I think that’s a valuable lesson in itself, yes? Different doesn’t have to be synonymous with wrong. Just because you do the bulk of your grooming after your ride, where I do it before, doesn’t make either of us incorrect. Like in math, different formulas can still arrive at the same result.

I suspect, that many of our grooming kits probably contain a lot of the same, if not similar items. Some folks have a separate kit for each horse (my personal preference), while others use community kits. They usually hold basic staples like; a brush or three, a curry of some kind, and a hoof pick. Beyond that though, what else do you think of as your core supply of grooming and vet items?

I tend to over-stock. In every barn I’ve boarded at, and every show I’ve gone to, I’m the person that everyone knows to go to if they need something. In life, I’m also the bearer of a 30 pound purse, containing everything but the kitchen sink. How I arrived at this person, I’m not really sure. My parents are both planners, so I suppose it’s in my genetic blueprints, I like to be prepared. You would think, from the sound of my inventory, that I have a barnful of horses, but it was only ever one, maybe two for a short time. I hated trailering with other people, because they never organized their trailers the way I did, or respected how I organized my own. If I rode with someone else, that meant editing my packing list, and that wasn’t cool, what if I needed something I didn’t pack? I suppose if I’d ever had my own kids, I’d have been the mom with the suv loaded to the gills with baby stuff, and only one kid in the back seat J

Let’s start with my grooming kit. Outside of the standards; a variety of brushes, one stiff one for heavy crud, a medium one for the not-so-filthy days, and a small soft one for the delicate spots. I’ve used a number of different curries over the years, but tend to come back to the rubber ones. The oval-shaped with two rows of nubby teeth and a handle, and the mitt style. The rubber seems like it does the best job of grabbing the hair and dirt, without being abrasive. I actually searched for a small vacuum to get Beagle hair off my furniture, with the same features, and found one that does a great job! (It’s the Bissell Pet Hair eraser, and it’s only about $25!) I like the hoof pick with the brush on it, you can’t be too thorough when it comes to cleaning your horse’s feet. Sometimes those little things you miss with just a pick, can turn in to big expensive things. A plastic mane & tail comb, rags, hoof oil, and a vet cream/ointment round out my caddy. If I can’t accomplish a standard daily grooming with that, and elbow grease, I’m failing myself and my horse!

Now take a look inside my tack box. Admittedly, it was more of a tack apartment… Seriously, all I needed was a mailbox. When I said I like to be prepared, to go into detail would talk about the dozen or so headstalls and bits hanging on the door, the pocket shelves on the other door, where an assortment of medicines and vet supplies were kept, the top shelf with a box of those blue paper shop towels, tubs containing things like wraps and quilts, extra stock in larger quantities, horse cookies… Below the two saddle stands, my show grooming box/step stool (a Craftsman item, lots of storage, several trays that fit inside for organization, and a snap on electric cord with 4 plugs. Quite possibly the smartest non-horsey item, that no horse person should be without!), spare buckets, including a bathing bucket, and a large tub full of hay cubes-Buddy’s favorite evening treat. Going back to the bathing bucket, a peek inside would reveal shampoo and conditioner. I never had horses with a lot of white, so I didn’t have to keep an arsenal of brightening shampoos, I usually bought the Vetrolin, it seemed refreshing, but conditioners I bought at the dollar store. For as much as you go through, it seemed silly to spend a lot of money on it. I also kept a rubber scraper, a big sponge, a scrubby mitt, and a small length of hose (just long enough to get around the average horse, not long enough to trip over repeatedly).

Once your horse is clean and tidy, consider what it takes to keep them healthy from day to day. All those pockets on the door of the tack apartment, held what I considered to be the basics of veterinary care. The most important item was my spiral-bound book of vet care. I wish I could remember the name of it now, I’ll have to dig that up. It addressed all the common, and lots of uncommon issues that can come up in horse health. I’m a big fan of anything multi-purpose, like a Gerber multi-tool, duct tape, and sheet cotton. There are human products that work well in the barn too, like peroxide, rubbing alcohol, and saline solution. A thermometer is a must, with a bit of string and a clothespin, to clip to the horse’s tail, so if it happens to be “ejected,” it doesn’t fall to the ground and break. As far as medicines, I liked to stock liniment in liquid and gel forms-handy for vertical applications, spray antibiotics for the same reason, the afore mentioned jar of antibiotic ointment, like furisone, and Bute tablets. Paste is sometimes easier, but I don’t like leaving it in the tack box, since it’s not temperature controlled. If the injury didn’t require stitches or x-rays, I could usually manage it. My vets appreciated that, they knew one, if I called them out, it must be serious, and two, they didn’t need a tech, because I would scrub in and assist.

Maybe I went a little overboard, all for the one horse, but I can’t remember a time I needed something that I didn’t have, or couldn’t put together with the contents of that tack box.

the language learning curve


We all learn differently, some by seeing, some by doing, and some have our own unique way of figuring things out after the fact.

Horses were, and still are the one place that feels like home to me. If I’m learning something new, it comes fairly quickly, watching at first, then doing. In my life though, I’ve tried my hand in a few hobbies, and some of them had a sharper learning curve than others.

The examples that resonated the most with me, were ones I developed working in a ballroom dance studio. The first came years ago, during a private lesson with a staff instructor. In the beginning, the step he tried to teach me was one I thought I already knew. I was mistaken. I showed him my version, he laughed, and then showed me the correct way. At the time, I couldn’t put together the muscle movements that created the fluid motion of the cuban walk, and it frustrated me. I watched him a few more times, to no avail, and we moved on to something else. I remembered everything he told me and showed me though, and just let it marinate. A few weeks later, I was at Wal-Mart, land of all things strange that nobody pays any attention to, in the ice cream aisle, making big decisions… Mint chocolate chip, or chocolate peanut butter? I had a cart, and shoes on with a low tread. Wal-Marts, as we know, aren’t known for being spotless, so in the light dust on the tile floor, I traced patterns with my toe, as I mulled over my purchase. While my mind was pre-occupied, my feet were finding that movement I hadn’t been able to grasp. It didn’t dawn on me right away, it gradually became clear. I stopped, re-traced a pattern with my toe, stopped and thought about it, tried it again, and again, and put together that I had just accidently learned how to perform a cuban walk. I looked around for witnesses, there weren’t any, so I tried it again, pushing the cart a little further ahead, and a little further, in case anyone DID wander down the aisle, it wouldn’t be obvious that I was dancing a Rumba with my shopping cart. The next time in the studio, I showed the instructor what I’d figured out, he was impressed!

The other example also came to me at the ballroom studio, this time under the instruction of two professional dancers seen on Dancing with the Stars, Tony Dovolani and Elena Grinenko. Working at the studio had great benefits, one of them being I could sneak into technique classes like theirs. This time we were talking cha cha. It’s a dance I’ve always loved watching and dancing, but again, I never felt like I was connecting the movements in the right way, to create the characteristic look of the dance. I knew what I was supposed to look like, and I knew that I didn’t look that way. Elena began to explain, that sometimes, it was as simple as thinking about a step in a different way. Up until that class, the basic American Rhythm Cha Cha , inside MY head, went “1-2-3-cha-cha-cha-2-3-cha-cha-cha…” Inside Elena’s head, it sounded like this (and remember, she’s Russian, so allow for pronunciation of the accent, that’s the best part!) “1-2-3-weegle-1-2-3-weegle.” After explaining it, she then demonstrated what she meant, and that’s where the puzzle came together for me. All along I was making my chasse steps staccato, all equal in measure and timing. In her version, her’s ended with what almost looked like a little skip. I wish I could put it into more articulate wording, you need to see her dance to truly appreciate the artistry, but that little hip hitch in the end, made all the difference. It was the same step, in a different language, that made it click for me.

We’ve actually discussed this recently in our group on LinkedIn, and another member had a great example too. For some reason, “heels down” didn’t mean as much to her feet as it did in her mind, but when her quick-thinking trainer switched the instruction to “toes up,” that was all she needed to adjust her position and keep it there. Isn’t it funny, those little edits, tweaks, adjustments, however you need to think of them, can mean the difference between a frustration and elation.


Big Baby Syndrome


Recently, I “made a real estate purchase,” as I’ve heard it called, off the back of a 16.3 hand appendix gelding who’s five years old. Luckily, it wasn’t a hard landing, I was able to brush off, and climb back aboard to finish our ride. It was in fact, partially my fault, I was using a more aggressive spur than his owner usually did, and I knew he didn’t care for it, but I was being careful to not use them more than necessary. The tussle began when I asked for a canter on the left lead, a task I’m told, he’s never done, and generally refuses to do. I didn’t bully him, I simply made my request clear, with a little emphasis from the spur. He stopped, and backed, I pitched him away, and tried to nudge him forward again, he rounded our his back, hopped, bucked, and pitched until I was on my back in the dirt. It did dawn on me, than in an effort to try to stay right side up, I probably tried to get more leg around him, which most likely finished our conversation. Oops! Needless to say, I’ll be 37 this month, and the last time I got tossed, was when I was nearly out, or just after I was out of high school. As promised, it doesn’t get easier, and it does take longer to recover.

The event got me thinking, has this big bonehead just been allowed to have his own way, because he’s big?

In chatting with his owner, she remarked a few times that “you don’t tell him what to do.” I’d also jokingly asked, at another point in conversation, if he’d ever actually been small? The answer was a resounding no. So here, is this larger than usual fellow, who’s got an owner that doesn’t even try to be the boss with him, are we wondering why he displays such bratty behavior? I certainly hope not! It seems obvious to me, his size has made him an Alpha by default, and nobody’s every bothered to challenge it.

In my experience, and granted, rarely with anything over 16 hands, that no matter their size, they’re still always going to be bigger, so aren’t we supposed to be smarter? I recalled handling draft horses when I was in 4-H, with better manners than the guy who dumped me, and while they were probably close in height, they were still much bulkier. The difference, is in the upbringing. Children and animals, are all a product of their environment. In the same way that Pit Bulls can be docile and affectionate, a horse, with the benefit of never being disciplined when his behavior was unacceptable, can turn into a monster. This I fear, is the case in my situation.

I feel like I should preface the conversation now, by explaining the reason I was riding in the first place. I currently don’t have my own horse, but found a friend who had horses in her barn that needed saddle hours logged. This one, has an owner who’s pregnant (thank goodness it was me, and not her, that got bucked off), so it made sense that I use him. I’m no trainer, and have no desire to train for anyone other than myself, so in my opinion, if I don’t ride this critter again, no harm done. As much as I miss riding, and having my own horse, I don’t feel it justifies putting myself in harm’s way, on the back of a giant, spoiled brat.

All that being said, I suppose my point was that, no matter how much we baby our animals, because they really are our babies, and no matter how we spoil them, and give them the best of everything, often before ourselves, they’re still 1000 pound animals with fully functioning minds, and aren’t to be taken for granted. My last horse, Buddy, was as spoiled as the day is long. He wanted for nothing, and had the best I could provide, but Buddy and I had an understanding, Mama is the law. I will dote on, feed, care for, groom, talk to, kiss on the nose, and make sure you always have nicer clothes, newer shoes, and a better car than I do. In exchange for that, I expect you to respect that I provide all that, and ask only for a few hours of your day. He would play and push the line sometimes, but he knew, without question, that when he crossed the line, he would be disciplined accordingly. When you’re handling animals that much larger than you, can you really afford to let them push you around?


my true north


my true north

This photo was taken in 2000, at the height of our show career. We were hauling for a Novice Amateur point title with the OQHA, and despite never having hauled with a trainer, or otherwise being “known,” as was usually pretty important, we still finished top five in two events, and top ten in the state. That’s probably the achievement I’m most proud of.



I may be new to blogging, but giving advice on horse questions and issues is something I’ve done for a very long time.  For some reason,  people have always come to me for advice, on a variety of subjects, which I take as a good indication that I must be telling them something useful!  They also tend to confess things to me, that’s a little strange…  I’ll be taking a lot of secrets to my grave, and many of them aren’t even my own!


That being said, my hope is to be able to share some of my personal insight and experience with anyone who’s interested in reading about it.  I’m passionate about horses, and despite my current “horseless” state (my last horse passed away in 2009), I’ve maintained and developed enough friendships with folks who are kind enough to welcome me in their barns, to ride their horses, while I wait for the financial stars to realign themselves for me.


I joined a group on LinkedIn, for horse lovers, that always has great discussions, and a lot of intelligent, friendly, well-versed members.  I’ve been starting conversations, and participating in them, which has been a lot of fun, and a learning experience.  One of the directors suggested I join their team to oversee the discussions, which I felt I couldn’t fully commit to, since I’m not on LinkedIn consistently, but I thought it might be a good time to try a new platform, and see where I can go with it.


I hope you are able to learn from me, even if the only lesson is what NOT to do, and I look forward to riding down a new trail…