My New Friend

I’ve been praying for God to bring horses back in my life, and here’s the answer!

He is gentle, sweet, needs some love and attention… and he’s just down the street from me.

Best of all, he loves kids.  That’s kind of important, since I have three of them.

I took this last pic with a tripod.  Maybe soon I’ll have someone take some pictures of me riding him.

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A Hug from Horse Heaven

I have never really been sure if animals have eternal souls or if our beloved pets will actually be with us in heaven.  As an animal lover, it’s something I’d like to believe is true.  The Bible doesn’t really say, as far as I can tell.  But last night I had the most wonderful dream, and I think it may have been a hug from beyond the (horsey) grave.

I’ll spare you all the crazy bizarro setup details of my dream, because they really aren’t that interesting.  The bottom line was that I was back at camp for a reunion, and I went with a group of people to help clean the stables.  In my dream, the camp had built a huge barn with dozens and dozens of stalls.  As I walked through an aisle, I spotted my most favorite horse ever: Whiskers.

“But they told me Whiskers was dead!” I exclaimed.  “Whiskers, is that you?”  I called to him.  His chestnut coat, the thin, crooked stripe down his face, and the white spots on his chest that made him look adorably freckled were unmistakable.  There were two doors in his stall, and he went out the back one, through an aisle, and cut through another horse’s stall (yeah, the dream barn was configured a bit oddly!) all to get to ME.  He walked up to me and I gave him a huge hug around the neck.  It seemed to last forever and I just kept saying, “I can’t believe you still remember me and you are alive!”  It was like hugging a cloud or the luck dragon from The Neverending Story — I thought I would get lost in the warmth and softness.  I woke up so happy from that dream.

See, the real Whiskers died about two years ago.  He would be 20 if he were alive today, so he didn’t get to be very old.  He had been gradually going blind for several years, and he got to a point where he was attacking his horsie friends out of frustration, so camp had to get rid of him.  I am sure the horse trader sold him at auction and he went to slaughter.  That is just what happens.  When I was visiting camp last year for a reunion, I walked into the tack room and saw Whiskers’ name placket from his saddle holder on the wall.  I knew in an instant that meant he was gone.

Back when my time working at camp was ending (the last time I worked there was a weekend in 2004), Whiskers was having some problems with his vision, but it wasn’t affecting him very much.  He was still spunky and fast and never liked to be caught.  He was always kind of flighty and a little bit wild.  He would never be 100% tame and docile.  It was a special treat for him to approach me in the pasture.  Usually it took some effort and coaxing to catch him.  He had a knack for knowing if I needed to tell him goodbye for a long time or a shoulder (a big, hairy shoulder) to cry on, though, and only on those special occasions would he really let me hug him for very long.

I guess he realized I never got a chance to say goodbye for real.

The last time I saw him was January of 2006.  I was in town for a quick visit and I got to take him for a short ride through the snowy woods.  He was more cautious than I remembered, but his spunk and smooth Tennessee Walking Horse gait was still there.  Though I didn’t know for sure, I suspected I was pregnant with my first child.  I was, and so I can always know that my daughter got her first horse ride on Whiskers.  He was eager to go back to pasture that day and only allowed a brief hug.  So maybe last night he decided I needed one.  Or maybe my subconscious just really misses horses right now.

Either way, it was good seeing you, Whiskers.

How hard is it to get one good photo?

Today I dressed my kids in matching tees that have a little monkey holding a suitcase and saying, “That’s it!  I’m going to Grandma’s!”   This mandated a photo shoot of them together.  Right?

Here’s the best shot I got where you can (mostly) see their shirts.

Here is what I went through to get it.

Lion Cub getting adventurous.

And Blue Dragon flying high.

That’s my Lion Cub saying “Cheese!”  (sounds more like “deese!”)

Finally I resorted to bribary.  (Sit nice for mommy and you can have a cookie!)

This works with horses too.

“What?  Do I hear you opening a peppermint?”

“Is that the hay wagon we hear???”

Some lessons from wrangling horses do translate to kids quite well.

(PS: camera settings for the kids’ pics today: f2.8, 1/200 (I think), ISO 800.  The first pic I did brighten and sharpen a bit and the rest are SOOC.  The horse pics are scanned from old film prints.)

These boots were made for workin’

I don’t have the occasion to wear my boots very often these days.  My feet spend most of the summer in sandals.  Combine 90 degree heat and no AC, and I sure am not about to wear my boots for fashion purposes.

Today I needed to bag up some yard waste, though, and because we had a rattlesnake on our property a few days ago, proper footwear was in order.  Who says shorts, a tank top, gardening gloves, and black cowboy boots are an unusual look?

While the reasons for wearing the boots were new, the memories that filled my head when I put them on were old.  I heard my boots clomp through the house, and remembered the hollow sound they made on the barn porch at camp.  As I shoveled up the partially composted leaves and twigs, I actually missed shoveling horse poop.  Yes, I said that.  I missed shoveling horse poop.

Now something that may surprise you is that I HATE to sweat.  You would think a horse chick who also loves camping and hiking wouldn’t mind it.  But I do.  A lot.  Mind it, that is.  Back in the day when my horse jobs forced me to work through the heat all day, I kept the end-of-the-day shower in mind as the dangling carrot to spur on my work ethic on the hottest of days.  Knowing that shower was coming allowed me to enjoy the fun things like riding, teaching riding, brushing horses, feeding horses, and yes, even shoveling poop.  But other than horses, there are only a few things that like to do enough that I am willing sweat for, especially when I am already sweating just by sitting around.  Those things would be…  horses?  Yeah, I can’t think of anything else.

Yet somehow, by putting on my cowboy boots, I found the motivation to put some muscle into attacking the yard waste and hauling the huge, heavy bags into a pile.  My body is a little softer than it used to be.  My abs had to work a little harder in order to work together now that they have added “carrying two babies” to their resume.  As I watched those two babies play in the yard I was working so hard to clear, I could feel a new and different kind of strength that I never had back in my childless working days.  A strength that compels me to work through the heat to create a better home for them, when I would rather be knitting and sipping iced tea.  A strength that would make me go ape-wild with a hoe to kill a rattlesnake.  A strength that finds joy in watching the little blond heads bop around, even when there is not a horse in sight.

Wrangler Challenges

Now that I can look at some of the stupid things I used to do with horses from the vantage point of a professional riding instructor, all I can say is…  Well, I can’t really come up with anything to justify these things!  Here are some of the “wrangler challenges” I took part in when I was a teenage wrangler working at summer camp.

Wrangler Challenge #1: After letting the horses out at the end of the day, they would run, buck, and roll around in the dirt.  The challenge was to wait for a horse to roll and then jump on its back when it was done rolling but before it stood up.  The last time I took part in this challenge, my friend Emily and I synchronized our efforts.  We had not done this for quite awhile.  We were standing on the bottom rung of the fence, watching the horses roll, when we looked at each other with half-crazed looks  in our eyes.  No words were necessary as stupid grins took over our faces, and we leaped over the fence.  We each jumped on dirt-covered horse as they stood up without incident.  Just as we were ready to declare victory, another horse bolted between our horses, startling them and setting off a ping-pong-like effect.  Our horses collided and we both fell off, nearly getting trampled.  As we sprang to our feet and escaped from the skittering mass of horses, our boss stood outside the pasture with his mouth hanging open.  He said, “I thought I lost two wranglers!  Are you okay?”  I complained, “I’m fine, but my sunglasses are broken!”  Emily was also unscathed, but she would not be so lucky when it came to the next challenge.

Wrangler Challenge #2:  When we released the horses at the end of the work day, we would simply go down the hitching post and let them go.  The horses wanted their dinner, so they would generally make a beeline for their pasture.  Generally.  Sometimes they would take detours through the nearby soccer field or even up on the barn porch to terrorize spectators.  Some of the lazier or older horses would need a little encouragement to get moving in the right direction.  However, horses are creatures of habit and slaves to their stomachs, so most of the time they would gallop through the arena straight for the pasture gate,  careen around the barn, and come to a screeching halt where the piles of hay awaited.  The challenge?   Climb aboard the horse before it was released, grab some mane, and go along for the ride.  Extra points if you leaned forward and unhitched the horse yourself.  Wheeeeeee!  There was nothing quite as exhilarating as flying through the humid summer air at the mercy of the horse, with my hair streaming behind me and the horse’s mane whipping in my face, the cool wind drying the sweat on the back of my neck.  This challenge was banned after Emily fell and ended up getting a hip x-ray in the ER.   Fortunately Emily did not suffer more than a bruised bone.

Wrangler Challenge #3:  I came up with this one after the first two challenges became forbidden.  I don’t really consider it to be dangerous.  Challenge #3 was to untack (take off the saddle and bridle) your horse WHILE YOU WERE STILL ON IT and hand the equipment to another wrangler.  I was pretty good at this one.  Which is why I promoted it as a challenge to the other wranglers.  If we did this as a race, I always won.

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