Are we just completely nuts??
Once upon a time in a nightmare, years ago, I lived a life without horses. The longest nine years of my life. Following a divorce (that was not why though the fact he was not a horse guy should have alerted me to some very basic differences in our general make up . . . ) I looked up and wondered what my life had been before I tried out the white picket fence dry lot.
Horses. I didn’t really know anybody in Nebraska involved with horses and went on with rebuilding the pieces that now included two small children and a much older, somewhat wiser me.
At a meeting I talked about my confusion and unhappiness, and how when things were really dark, I had always been able to reach a God of my understanding, not from a church pew (and I am not criticizing those of you who find Him there) but from the back of a horse, surrounded by the glories of creation.
Afterwards, a slender jean clad, booted woman walks up to me, long black hair swinging, dark eyes sparkling. She says to me that’s how she finds her God, as well, and lo and behold, she has a horse she’d be willing to let me ride, if I want to come out and visit.
Hell yahs, I do!!
And the adventures of Colleen and Terri begin. Those early years alone warrant a book not just a blog! I will tell some of those stories but the one I want to tell right now is about what we did yesterday.
Colleen has been working with a troubled colt she discovered on her Nebraska Long Ride (there’s a FB page, check it out) this past year, and me, well, I am up to my chin in this Derby thing.
I have also been on the search to find tack appropriate for my new life as non horse trainer. Tack I don’t plan to flip for a profit, that is quality and suits my interest in riding distance whether for CTR competition or just for the fun of it. Tack that properly fits my two Mutt and Jeff horses.
I have wrapped legs around horses since I was two years old. I am now 51, subtract that nine years of pre and wedded bliss and you have a lifetime of being on a horse. Other than bareback as a kid, it’s pretty much been me on top of a treed saddle, good leather between me and my horse and usually roper in style. I got paid for my first training job when I was ten years old and I have always appreciated the feel of a saddle that would not blow apart under me if the usually green horse I was riding, did. Those things are generally heavy as hell.
Royal in Walt’s Crates saddle. Fits him beautifully, heavy as all get out
I am not whining about pitching them up, well not too much. The cowboys I study do a throw from the hip that really negates struggling with grasping the thing and hoisting it up in the air over their backs. I didn’t think I could do it and as is my way, resisted learning with mighty effort. Colleen tortured and deviled me until I gave it a try, as is her way. Throwing out my back, spending six months in therapy, I proved her wrong. Oh no, wait . . . that didn’t happen.
After a few fairly awkward and misguided tries, I learned how to loft the heavy things aboard like you are settling a hat on a head, causing nary a grunt or groan from me or my horse since . . . well, maybe from me, but I am like that, too.
Quite a few of my friends are doing the CTR thing, and they are doing it riding a variety of interesting looking saddles.
Enter the “search for the treeless” phase. I was very skeptical of these newfangled things but add to the rest of me, magpie curiosity that leads me to try just about anything shiny at least once, and I give one a go a few years back.
This is before my education with the AAHS, before more than a couple lessons with Missy and later, Jose, and my leg was stuck forward in a nasty bracey way, even on the stiffest fender. On the free swinging leather of the English style treeless, they were up around my horses’ ears, and it’s a miracle I did not tumble off, forwith. Tall horse, bad idea, I stuck but HATED that saddle, and didn’t look back.
Moonshine in the Tahoe (this picture actually looks better than I remember it going. . . maybe lucky shot. . .)
So, now I am trying treeless saddles again, had tried an English style last weekend that my only real gripe was that it did not protect me from myself, and some of my lazier riding habits were right out there, and unsupported by it’s unsympathetic self.
Royal, in the Black Forest Shasta
Yesterday, I tried a Western style model, thinking going out on much less reactive, tried and true Smore (Colleen’s Long Ride horse. Broke? After years with her and a thousand miles + under his hooves, I would guess so) I know I rode in the English one with a lot more tension on my beloved Royal, sending his skitzy loopnut self through the roof a few times, so this would be a fairer trial.
I do offer Colleen the chance to back out, as the forecast grows dimmer and less inviting, day by day.
“If you don’t want to, I understand” (thinking who in their right mind would want to, down to the 20’s for heaven’s sake!) . So that she knows I have sand and grit, I say “I am game if you are though.”
SHE says “If you want to wimp out, I understand, I only have a few days left with the colt, and I am going to ride. How cold IS it going to get?
Not THAT damn cold, mutters me. Wimp out? I don’t think so.
And so I begin my strategy of layering to survive the Arctic tundra that we are, by God and high water, going to go riding in.
Thermal shirt, hoody, vest, heavy jacket, 3 layers on face and legs, gah!
Setting the treeless on Smore, I frown. It really perches up there. The five inch padded cantle is supposed to add more protection to a horse’s back and I like the theory, but you realize, that is five more inches to get your leg over, right? In two layers and chaps.
It is setting on an expensive Equipedic pad. Again, a shiny piece of equipment that has my attention. I am not gadget mad (anymore) but I am deeply interested in the welfare of my horses and their comfort while packing me around on our sorties. Colleen used one of these on her ride, with great result and a lot of my friends are riding in them as well.
They are stiff at first, until they warm up and form to the back, I get this but man, it makes for a funny looking outfit in the mean time. Colleen and I discuss the treeless. We are neither of us crazy about the material it is made out of . . . a long way from the leather that wraps our normal gear . .. but, it’s a HECK of a lot lighter, so we will see.
It did not work out. I could go into the blow by blow of the stirrup leather that I probably buckled backwards when I raised the stirrups, I am spacially spastic that way, so the stirrup kept growing and eventually fell off.
I could go into how the damn thing rolled and wallered on my horses’ back, really encouraging me to practice my best horsemanship skills just to stay aboard.
And then, there would be the piece where we had just finished a hard lope across the coldest bean field on the planet, heavy winds blasting into our faces encouraging us reach a max speed just to not be cowgirl-cicles before reaching the other side.
Colleen says “hey, there is something wrong with your girth! Stop . . . oh man, it’s dangling under you, your saddle is not attached to your horse in any way!”
(no breast collar, no back cinch. I never leave home without them, except . . .)
We stop, she balances the thing, I dismount. In the bean field, knees stiff and complaining. After we fix this, how the hell I am going to get back on?
Turns out, the little pleathery piece that ties the offside billet had come untied. There is not much to it, seems it could have broken, just as easy, but thankfully it didn’t. My saddle bags with my twine and other fix its are far away.
Colleen leans hard on the offside stirrup and I struggle to haul myself aboard. It was not the kind of mount that would get any scores from a horsemanship judge, that’s for darned sure. The left knee at this point has zero elasticity in it, won’t launch me and I struggle to get my 150 lb right leg over that now truly hated five inch cantle.
Saddle has compressed, pad has formed, as promised. Front end sits down low over the wither, cantle perching perkily in the air causing me to ride a downhill slope that surely is straight to . . . okay enough of that.
Tiny pommel and saddle horn, I fear are in danger of being sucked into nether regions wanting no such things. I won’t be riding one of these things again, regardless who does what and how, with them.
At the beginning, I watch Colleen warm up the colt. He is untroubled, is in complete understanding of being saddled, ridden and agrees with it, in a body. That calm demeanor does not leave him all day long. It gets shook a couple of times. Roaring train, about 20 feet away, how would your seasoned horse do with that? Had Smore’s attention. That said, after a hard look (zero pyrotechnics), he cruises calmly up and down, beside the thing, coming and going, with and without the aid of his buddy. NOT FREAKING BAD.
Things flapping cause some quick steps but then, once he realizes what it’s about, it’s over, he’s done with it, the ears are pleasantly forward and he’s walking out with a long, smooth ground eating stride that would be the envy of many.
This colt had that cheerful look the whole day long!
We rode the park across from Colleen’s place, rode over concrete with painted things that most horses would really have to eyeball, he’s unconcerned. I thought this horse would be pretty brave, that first time I saw her on him a few weeks ago, and brave he is.
We rode through a very low, closely beamed pavillion thing, and he never looked sideways. I think if Colleen asks him to scramble down the sides of the Grand Canyon, those wise eyes, much older than his youth, would pick out a path and away they would go.
We did serpentines through some lovely pines. Smore was pretty disgusted with me by now, I wouldn’t let him run when Colleen and the colt loped off across a field (that was when the stirrup leather kept growing on me), my balance had to feel horrible to him, it did to me, and he was stoically accepting my presence without enthusiasm.
During the serpentines, I practiced changing reins, as Jose had taught me. Inside Leg to Outside Rein, and back again. Timing the steps to make it work as we thought about changing direction so it would happen AS we changed, not steps later and too late.
He didn’t mind that, apparently I knew some little thing after all.
The next step was loping circles in a lovely flat grassy area. My instructors in my head, as they always are (yes, it is a crowded, noisy place, most of the time), we trotted some, I got my reins correct and asked for a canter departure. Be ready before you ask your horse, says Jose (position for the transition, says the cowboys).
We bobble a few times, and then we get it and Smore rounds up under me in a really pretty way. It’s lateral work, and I am keeping his body straight on the arc and when it happens, it’s NICE. Colleen isn’t working her colt now, she’s watching and I get nervous, suddenly it’s a judge, we are testing . . . yes, I am a lunatic. No, it’s my best friend, watching me ride her horse, and I really want to do it well for her.
I am panting, damn, I am fat and out of shape. I struggle with this every single winter (and lately the other seasons too) and not riding professionally isn’t helping as I freaking hate calisthenics and the like . . . another story.
She’s smiling, and I know she liked the same parts I did. We ride on.
Trains, dogs coming shrieking out of nowhere, oh yeah . . . There is a GORGEOUS five year old tri color Aussie guy that needs a home!! He is the grand daughter’s dog, she’s off to college and they would like to rehome him. I wish I would have pulled out my phone and got a picture. He’s heavy coated, has one blue eye and is a laughing dancing lovable fellow.
The colt, who was a little unsettled with these things on his maiden voyage, (well YEAH) is almost unflappable. His curiousity is intact without being a spazz. He reminds me a little of Royal, in that the feet will patter, but but body stays in place, and once it’s done, he could not care less and is steady under his rider.
Them, at Chance Ridge. She took him places and showed him a lot of things. Really helped his mind.
On our quest for miles (now she is in it with me) we long trot, lope along, and where the heck are we going? Food . . . we always eat on our rides . . .
Burgers threatening to freeze in our gloved hands, we decide to ride on through town to the river. Now there’s a worthy goal and we get it done.
Riding by the flood ravaged shore, the landscape is painted a dry brushed tannish gray. There is a picnic pavillion, with a grill sitting askew beside it painted to match. This place looks like the setting for some futuristic post apocalyptic movie, but no, it’s here now and very real.
Deep cracks run through the ground, and we pick our way with care. Who knows where they go or if they would turn into forever good bye caverns two feet beneath the sandy surface?
The colts steps into sand, sinks a little and steps back out. Colleen dismouts (gotta love this) and walks out into it herself, to test the danger. There is none and we ride across. The colt follows her lead without hesitation. He trusts where she points him.
Across the water, in the spare, black of the trees, there are larger shapes. Eagles!!! Quite few pairs are making their homes there, and we stop, watching the majestic birds with awe.
We find a frontage road that gets us off the treacherous parts and ride down further.
We both have evening commitments, and even though I can no longer really feel the tops of my thighs, that is all that turns us around and heads us for home.
We see more dirt roads that beg us to come investigating, but that will have to wait for another day, and there will surely be a few of those . . .
Colleen says, I thought we got smarter than this, thinking of our early days of riding in any kind of weather, plowing through snow banks and what have you.
We did, I said but now we are having fun again! And so we are.
The black colt was pretty tired when we got home but we both felt he needed to experience a rider other than Colleen as his time with her is sadly soon to be at an end. They are a real pair, she and he, and I wish she could keep him.
I do some things with him, not trying to do it like she does, but wanting the colt to know that people are going to ask things of him in strange and different ways than what he is deeply comfortable with now. He gets a little trouble in his eyes as would any horse with this kind of change going on, and he looks to Colleen for salvation.
Sorry, buddy, stay with me. This is going to happen and you have got to be okay with it if you are going to make it out there in the world.
I go to a block, no way I am trying to mount from the ground with my knee totally missing in action. He very politely makes his steps to get right to come get me.
We walk off, feeling of each other, and he is surprised at the turn of events but the only way a person would know is watching the set of his ears and the slight feel of his body, wondering, under me.
He is solid and easy. I don’t want to ask too much as he’s just had a hell of a ride, but as is a habit, I gather him up a little, and we trot around. I put some pressure on him to hold the gait through the turns. I just want to see how he handles unexpected pressure from someone he doesn’t know from adam. He just responds and gives.
I am in love. SMOOTH riding, solid from head to toe, he is true to his pleasure breeding. I cast my mind for a fleeting moment to my Riata . . . I could sell her and ride this . . . NO. I am committed to my sweet girl, and whoever he belongs to, it isn’t me.
Helluva nice ride, Colleen has done a spectacular job settling that worried mind, attaching his feet solidly to the reins and building a trust that is setting that colt up for a very bright future. If some human messes this up for him, they will have the very horse gods to reckon with, as this is a good one.
Pitching her Bronco Billy roping saddle into the back of my car to see if Royal likes it as much as I do, I am full circle, back to whence I came. Things may work for others just fine, or work for me that doesn’t for them. I am back to the quality leather, the feel of a real saddle that won’t blow apart, just in case my horse does.
And so ends that particular chapter of that particular adventure. Today is supposed to be entirely crappy, weather wise, and I promised my husband I would stay home and hang out, as is our Sunday ritual. It is decidedly NOT crappy at the time of this writing, and I am wondering if I can get to the barn and back before he even gets out of the bed. Should have started sooner!