Horse Gals

Last May I went to a horse clinic in Colorado, put on by Julie Goodnight, who is a “rock star” in the horse clinician world.  The clinic was at the C U Lazy Ranch in Granby, Colorado.  I tried to get a few of my local friends to accompany me, but having no takers, decided to go it alone.  I had read about how awesome this clinic was, so somewhat hesitantly, I flew out to meet up with 35 women I did not know from all across the country, ranging in ages from 40 and up.

Julie Goodnight

Julie Goodnight

The C U Lazy Ranch is a “dude ranch” established in 1919.  The accommodations and food are fabulous, and the scenery is spectacular.  That alone would be worth the trip, but on top of all that I got to meet 35 total strangers who are women like me that have a passion for horses.  Not to mention we got to schmooze with THE Julie Goodnight, and have her critique our riding and help us with issues we might be having.

Upon landing in Denver, I found myself in a late snow storm driving through the mountains of Winter Park on my way to Granby.  It would have been a lot scarier if I had been able to “see” what I was driving through, but I was literally almost blinded, so inched along until just outside of Granby. There the sky cleared to blue.  As I turned into the C U Lazy, the herd of almost 200 horses was being turned out for the evening.  I stopped the car and watched what they call the daily “jingle”.  Quite an impressive sight to see that many horses galloping by in front of you (click here to see galloping horses)!

The clinic included sessions with Julie, and trail riding to your heart’s content. Polite and extremely helpful “wranglers” would greet you with your saddled horse, and take him from you at the end of your ride.  This is quite a luxury for those of us who take care of those chores at our barns at home.  When not riding, there were wonderful yoga classes to stretch out our tired and aching muscles.  My cabin had a fireplace and jetted tub.  How perfect was that?!  Not to mention the amazing spa accommodations in tents by the river.

CUSPA@

Now, about those 35 women.  What a perfect mixture of personalities and riding skills.  I found each of them delightful.  On the first night we were to appear in the lodge area for meet and greet cocktails.  I wandered into the bar, and there were two ladies that looked very approachable, so I introduced myself and we started up the beginning of many conversations over the next 4 days.  The three of us joined up with a larger group who ended up riding together and eating together over the course of the clinic.  Those two at the bar, Jackie and Joanne, were especially fun and had come together, friends originally from New York and now living the “horse life” in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.  I have never been, but pictures I’ve seen of that area are stunning. So here I am with my new “horsewomen” buddies (I’m second from the right in the back, Jackie and Joanne are on either side of me).

CULazyBar

The long weekend ended too soon.  I had met some incredible and interesting new friends, got to hang with THE Julie Goodnight, who I found out is originally from my hometown of Orlando (what??!!!), enjoyed about five hours a day  of trail riding in the mountains of Colorado, worked in some yoga, and basically had the time of my life.

The sequel to this story is almost a year later,  Jackie and Joanne are flying down to Florida on Friday to spend 4 days in the warmer weather, riding with me at my place!    Can’t wait to pick up where we left off!

Riding the trails at C U Lazy Ranch

Riding the trails at C U Lazy

Giving the horses a break

Giving the horses a break

Julie's Horses

Julie’s Horses

Bet You Can’t Just Have One!

HorseGirlSurprise

So just how does one end up with a herd of four horses when you start out saying “I’m getting a horse!”  Maybe I should start from the beginning…before we owned 200 acres in North Florida.  In the aftermath of the real estate downturn around 2010, I decided it would be an excellent investment to buy a lakefront property near my alma mater, Auburn University.  There were deals to be had on Lake Martin, and I was headed up to “shop”.  With an appointment with a broker scheduled for the following Friday, I get a phone call from my then 83-year-old father.  “I need you to go with me to Madison this week…what day can you go?”  Now this was an unusual request, as my father had been leasing a hunting camp up there in North Florida for about 15 years.  Women had not been encouraged or invited to go to this hunting camp.  So why now?  I told him I was busy this week…traveling up to Auburn and all, so how about next week?  No, he wouldn’t hear me, and insisted I was needed in Madison BEFORE I left for Auburn.  It’s your 83-year-old father…so you go.  I tell my husband, Matt, “I have to go to Madison on Wednesday this week with Dad.”  “Really? he asked.  Think I’ll go with you guys”. Hmmm.  On the three-hour trip up, they were like kids in a candy shop.  Something was definitely up.  Long story short, they had already picked out a 200 acre neglected farm, and I was just along to write and sign a contract, BEFORE I could find a property on Lake Martin.   I got hoodwinked.

The property consisted of 80 acres of timber, 80 acres of pasture, and 40 acres of live oaks and woods with an old house on it. The next two years were a lot of clearing and house cleanup.  It was a “guy’s” project.   The gift was that it gave my Dad, a retired orange grove and land owner, a chance to again be on a tractor and enjoy watching the land transform and come to life again.  Huge live oaks that were barely visible began to emerge as 25 years of neglect was cleared away from them.  That was worth the “bait and switch” right there…watching my Dad enjoy the property.  Within two years my Dad’s health began to fail, and he passed away after heart surgery and a brutally long period, in which he never recovered.  After his funeral in January 2013, just over two years after purchasing the property, I was up for the weekend with my family and was standing at the kitchen window gazing out at the 80 acres of beautiful Coastal Bermuda pasture and really missing my Dad.  Matt asked me if I was going to start coming up for some of the weekends now that the house was livable and our youngest would be going off to college in the fall.  I turned to him and said, “Yes…because I’m getting a horse.”  Not knowing anything about horses, he thought this was a fantastic idea!  Would give me a reason to come and something to do at the farm!  Poor guy, he had no idea what this meant.  I felt a tad guilty, knowing what he was unknowingly walking in to, but then remembered how we had come to own this property.  All guilt vanished and the journey began.

So the first horse shopping yielded two fine creatures, Pretty Boy and Dizzy.  I had to explain to the husband about horses being herd animals and shouldn’t be kept alone, so we were getting two horses, not just one.  “Oh,” he says, and looks somewhat concerned, which I just chose to ignore.   There was a lot to learn with those two, and I came to realize that they were not quite the horses I would want to put inexperienced riders on.  Oops.  So I started the search for the third “babysitter” horse.  Now I did try to explain all of this to my husband, but he just didn’t see the “need” for a third horse and would change the subject and say something like “maybe later”.

Of course, I found the perfect horse, Ernie.  Ernie lived in Tennessee and was to be delivered in a few weeks.  Plenty of time to break the news to the husband…until the transporter called and said he was making a delivery in  South Florida the coming weekend and could have Ernie there on Sunday.  This was Wednesday and we were driving up Friday.  Plenty of time to explain.  Somehow it just never seemed to be the right time.

Saturday yields tons of rain. Tons.  This is a problem as I need our caretaker Joey to mow the second pasture so I can keep Ernie separately from the herd across the fence until they are acclimated to one another.   I ask Joey on Friday, without any further explanation of course,  if he can get the second pasture mowed by Sunday.  He agrees to do so as soon as the rain lets up.  The rain does not let up.  Early Saturday morning I am over at my neighbor (and horse trainer) Barbara’s house.  She is conducting a small horse clinic for a few of her students and has invited me to come and observe.  As it is pouring rain, we are gathered at her kitchen table drinking coffee.  I am thoroughly enjoying her students who are ladies my age and have gotten back in to horse ownership later in life like me.  We are laughing about our horse escapades and I confide in them that I have a horse coming tomorrow, and I haven’t told my husband yet.  They immediately burst into laughter and tell me to join the club!  Apparently most husbands of horse gals just don’t quite get the need for multiple horses and it is commonly necessary to have them just show up.  This made me feel so much better…for  a while.

Throughout Saturday and early Sunday I am receiving text messages and pictures from Rodney the Horse Transporter’s wife, showing me how well Ernie is traveling and updating me on their arrival time.  The rain finally turns to a drizzle, and at my constant nagging, Joey gets the second pasture mowed.  We are standing under a shed and he asks what was the big deal of getting the pasture mowed?  I tell him it’s because of the third horse who will be here in about 30 minutes.  “THIRD HORSE?!” he exclaims, and quickly announces that he is getting out of there before Matt finds out.  I grab him by the collar and tell him he is not going anywhere because I need him to be there so Matt doesn’t kill me.  With that we both burst into uncontrollable laughter.  Just then my husband comes over and says what are you two up to anyway?  “Well”, I say, I was just telling Joey here that I needed the second pasture mowed so we can put Ernie the new horse there when he arrives…in about ten minutes.”  At that very moment a huge semi-horse transport is pulling into the front gate.  I run over to greet Rodney, who immediately unloads Ernie and asks where to put him.  I point to the second pasture and Rodney, not missing a beat, jumps into my golf cart and ponies Ernie to the pasture gate.  I pay him and he is off.  Horse transporters are on a deadline and don’t mess around.  I like Rodney.  No time for lengthy discussions.  Matt comes up to me and is basically speechless.  Here’s the best part.  Ernie is a beautiful Buckskin and the friendliest horse on the planet.  We drive into the pasture and Ernie comes galloping across the pasture to greet us and sticks his head into the cart right at Matt’s chest.  Guys love Ernie.  I think it’s the “John Wayne had a Buckskin horse” thing.  Thank goodness.  My husband didn’t say a whole lot until he said, “That’s a nice horse”.  I got real lucky.

Oh yeah, horse number four, Bear.  You see, in my world, four horses is the perfect number.  You ride off on two and the two left behind are content because they have each other.  It’s a herd thing.  Not to mention I needed another “babysitter” horse, or that he looks just like my first horse, Little Man.  You understand…and this time I told my husband in plenty of time.  The week before.  And that is how I ended up with a herd of four horses.

The Buckskin

The Buckskin

The Herd

The Herd

If My Friends Could See Me Now (Or How I Spend My Friday Nights)

I have a horse manure vacuum machine. You heard me right.  I vacuum up horse poop. A lot of it. Here is how this happened.  I have had to research every aspect of this mid-life horse thing.  As a kid with a horse…you did not worry about managing horse manure.  That was someone else’s problem.  My horse was a “pasture horse” in that he was turned out 24/7, so I didn’t even have a stall to muck out.  See how easy it was? That horse lived until his 30’s by the way.

Fast forward 40+ years and I am a horse owner trying to figure out all this out.  Manure management is a big topic of discussion.  So is turnout versus stalls…blah, blah, blah.  Everyone has an opinion, and here is mine (because I know you are dying to know!)…after tons of reading I have come to the conclusion that the most natural and healthy state is for a horse to be turned out 24/7.  They are designed to walk and graze for basically 18 hours a day.  Stalling a horse is for people!  It makes our lives easier, and enables humans to keep their horse’s coats from bleaching out in the sun and things like that.  Horses do need shade (we built a shade barn in the middle of the pasture where they can stand out of the sun), water, and hay in the winter when the pasture is dormant.  I also feed daily a small amount of grain to give them supplements.  I live in North Florida, which means the weather issue is easier for me, but we do get below freezing and I do not blanket my horses.  I let their coats grow out as nature intended, and blanketing them would interfere with their natural way of heating and cooling.  I do not stall them in cold, rainy weather (unless I am at the barn and grooming), because it is my opinion that as long as they have a shelter to stand behind out of the wind, they are fine. My horses are also barefoot because I believe shoeing a horse interferes with the natural flexing and blood flow to their hooves. I do have them trimmed monthly.   If I have offended anyone with my opinion, I am so sorry and will ask you to go to http://www.thesoulofahorse.com and see that I am grateful for Joe Camp’s wonderful experiences and for helping me to “get it”.  So to end this little rant, I have built a barn that is great in the summer (each stall has a fan) and winter to get out of the elements when that works for me (see how a lot of what we do with horses is about humans and not horses?).  I bring the horses in to feed some days, and some days they feed off from buckets on the fence.  During the time they are in the stalls, they poop.  Horses standing in poop is not good.

I have digressed.  What about this poop vacuum? Here’s how THAT happened.  So I am worrying about shoveling poop (not great for the back and horses poop a lot).  This horse thing is my deal, and I don’t have a stable boy (I need one) who is shoveling poop every day.  Since my horses are not in my barn constantly, when they are and they poop, I just pitchfork it out the back door of their stall into a little pile in the paddock behind the barn.  I then can come around on the golf cart with my hitched up poop vacuum and suck that stuff right up.  Voila!! No accumulating poop, which is a big deal in fly control.  I then go out into the pasture and vacuum up a full load (keeps the pasture poop down until time to drag it).  This nifty machine, by Greystone Vacuums out of Australia, (I bought my online through http://www.pasturevacuums.com, an American dealer) is a pasture vacuum.  Call me nuts (my ranch manager likes to introduce me as the lady that vacuums up her horse poop) but I like things tidy and it keeps my barn area really clean, and less manure is healthier grazing.  When I fill a tank, I ride out into our timber pines and dump the tank where I have manure piles.  Back to nature!

Thus the title of this post.  My city friends would be shocked to know that one of my favorite things to do when arriving at my farm, is to go and vacuum horse poop.  I have been known to be out until sundown, trying to get one more load up before dark.  Not too long ago our caretaker drove out to where I was on the golf cart and said “You know it is dark out?!”  Well of course I knew that…but I had the lights on!  I have been out in the pasture like that working  (and the horses always come over to check out my progress), I often wonder what would my “city friends” would think if they saw how I spend a majority of my Friday nights these days?  I have to admit there are not many other places I would rather be.

PoopMachine Shadebarn  Horsesinbarn

Today I Connected

Today was a beautiful, if not chilly, day in North Florida.  My neighbor down the road, works with and trains gaited horses. She is coming over for the afternoon with two of her friends (and their horses) to work on our natural horseman skills and then to trail ride.  I choose Bear, the newest member of my herd, to be the student for the day.  He is a Quarter Horse and Morgan mix.  He is proving to be an awesome horse.  Non-reactive but has some get up and go.

We work the horses through some basic ground work and do some stretching and flexing exercises. Bear does well but at times gets impatient with the exercises and paws the ground.  We finish with a pleasant trail ride through the woods and pines and finally head back across the second 40 acre hayfield.  The gals load up their horses, and after I say goodbye and see them off, I groom all four of my guys before turning them out.

The horses are in the paddock behind the stalls and I walk to open the gate to the pasture. They follow me and then do their usual showing off by running through the opening, kicking up their heels and racing out into the large pasture.  Bear is the last one out.  I am standing holding the gate, and just as he is turning to run and follow his herd, he  stops and walks over and nuzzles his face into me.  I rub his forehead for a few minutes and then he turns and runs after his buddies, kicking up his heels.  It was a good day.

Photo of Bear Below!

BEARthehorse.      TrailrideTrail riding

HOW NOT TO BUY A HORSE AS AN ADULT (Since Your Dad is not paying for it)

So hopefully you read the previous post, How to Get Your Dad to Buy You a Horse.  Life was simple then…get your Dad to buy you a horse, have him figure out where to keep it, then go ride whenever you can get dropped off at the pasture (this is easier than it sounds because  you are talking parents having a teenager totally occupied and away for an entire day).  Horse is cared for by pasture owner, and Dad foots the bill.  This was a great system.

Forty years later, I decide it is time to start working on my bucket list.  I now have 200 acres, 80 of which is beautiful Coastal Bermuda grass.   I am getting a horse.  Just the mention of this “yearning” to a friend of mine who has had 11 horses over the last 25 years and she says there is nothing more fun than horse shopping and when can we go.  Now the clue here is “11 horses over 25 years”.  Horse shopping is apparently addictive.  Things quickly got out of hand.  It’s the darn internet.  You can actually find every and any kind of horse you could possibly want on the internet.  Websites of horse “traders” with beautiful videos.  I was doomed from the first click.  Two weeks later we are on a flight to a remote part of Kentucky.  Seems Kentucky has lots of gaited trail horses for sale.  We visit two barns of beautiful horses.  It is February and snowing. We are oblivious.

Now here is what I now know, that I did not before horse shopping in my late fifties.  Just because you have owned a horse as a teenager, a horse you could do anything on and with (remember, my first horse came from a girl’s summer camp)…this does not mean you are the expert rider you think you are.  Bomb-proof horses, teenage bones and confidence are a thing of the past.  The universe has a funny way of letting you know your place.  My place ended up being on the ground after a 4 year-old gelding threw me off when my heel crashed into his back girth (that turns out he was not accustomed to wearing) because he spooked and literally jumped sideways, slamming my leg into a tree and back into that girth.  This could have been a true disaster.  The side of my head hit a tree on the way down. Luckily, pumped with adrenaline, I jumped back up and on him and rode back.  Maybe it was stubborn pride, but think it was being in shock.  My friend who was riding with the owner behind me tells me that the owner had just commented on what a good, confident rider I was.  Apparently that was just prior to the nightmare that unfolded.  All ended  up well…no concussion or broken bones and I learned a valuable lesson.  I did end up with two horses from that Kentucky trip (can’t have just one horse…they’re herd animals!!).  Probably bought them two young and inexperienced, but we’re learning together.

Turns out there are all kinds of articles, books, etc. that describe this phenomena of women in their 40’s to 60’s who never got over the love of horses and come back to it at an age when they can afford it and have more time to devote to it.  They also have to basically learn all the things they were too young and naïve to worry about their first go round.

Has it been worth it? Absolutely. The learning is constant.  We figured out how to fence, house and care for horses on our property. Two more have joined our herd, and they are bomb-proof and a little older and wiser.  Four Horses. Yep.

One of the best parts has been learning about Natural Horsemanship and striving to provide my four guys with the best environment for them.  The pleasure I get from learning their personalities and traits is pure therapy.   I have gained true insight from  a great book by Joe Camp,  entitled “The Soul of a Horse”.  If you love horses, it’s a must read.

The Herd

The Herd

How to Get Your Dad to Buy You a Horse

Like most 12 year old girls, I had a slightly unhealthy obsession with horses. I had to have one.  We lived near the heart of Downtown Orlando, miles from a pasture.

As soon as I was old enough, my parents shipped my sister and I off to a wonderful camp in Clyde, North Carolina, Skyland Camp for Girls. My Mom was a local rep for the camp and we got to go at a discount (therefore the 2 month stay for both of us).  We felt very privileged and were so grateful our parents loved us so very much that they would sacrifice to send us off to camp for the summer.  Uh no, after I became a parent I understood that little fallacy! Well they may have had their freedom for the summer, but those were the best summers ever and it was at Skyland where I fell in love with a Quarter Horse named Little Man.  I was determined to not leave there without him.

Now while at camp, you were not allowed to call home except in case of an emergencies.  In those days long distance calls were only made on Sunday evenings, if at all.  I had to call my Dad and make sure he was coming up with my Mom for the Horse Show at the end of the summer…so he could write that check for Little Man!  Miss Hemphill “Hempy”, the camp owner, would not let me call.  I came up with some crazy excuse and she finally relented. To my horror, my Dad said due to his heavy workload, he would not be coming up.  My Mom was already at her parents summer home in Franklin and planning to pick us up.  So I proceeded to start sobbing about how “hurt” I was that he was not coming up to get us after being gone ALL summer (anything to guilt him into coming up so he could buy me that horse!)

Next little obstacle was the fact that Mark, the owner/horse manager for the camp, said the horses were not for sale.  Apparently I drove him so nuts by stalking and begging him to sell me the horse, that he finally relented and gave me a price IF he were to sell Little Man.  OK I am thinking, done deal.

My cabin counselor at the time was one of the esteemed riding instructors.  She was totally in on my scheme, helping me groom and get Little Man ready to show my Dad.  I told her that if we could get him to ride him, he’d go for it.

The day came and we had my Dad down at the barn, got him to ride, and I am convinced we’re taking that horse home.  But we left Skyland without a horse.  At some point I must have driven my poor parents completely insane, because my Dad tells me that IF I can find a way to get Little Man home HE WILL CONSIDER IT! And so, at the ripe old age of 12, I get on the phone in Franklin, North Carolina, looking for a horse trailer to rent. In the late 1960’s in Franklin, nothing.  But then a call to a gas station produces an open U-Haul trailer that the guy convinces my Dad will work with a “tarp” tied to the front.  And that is how we drove down to Orlando, pulling a U-Haul open trailer with Little Man.  He stayed in our backyard for 4 days while my poor Father found a place to board him. Turned out my Dad’s barber lived out on Clarcona Road on acreage with horses and that’s where Little Man lived until I went off to college and he became my Mother’s God Daughter’s first horse.  He was the best horse ever. My Dad?  My Hero.

Fast forward 25 years, I am pregnant with my second child, accompanying my sister who is picking up her two girls from Skyland Camp.  Sitting outside I see a pickup truck driving up the “hill” to camp.  I say to my sister “Oh my god…that looks just like Mark the horse guy!”  She informs me it is!  He is still there!  Very pregnant (remember the last time he saw me I was 12), I waddle up to him and say “You probably don’t remember me but I’m the girl who bought Little Man in the 1960’s.”  After a few minutes he sighed heavily and said, “Oh yeah, I remember.”  Yikes.

LITTLE