Camping · Horses · Life · Mel · Trail riding

A horse trip from long ago

Way back in 2007 (early in my horse camping life) I made a trip to Midwest Trail Rides in southern Indiana.

The trip down was pretty easy.  I loaded most things Thursday evening, so Friday I just had to hook up the trailer, load my personal items and Mel.  Mel went right in to the trailer for a change and it only took an hour and a half to get there.  When we arrived, I was able to pull straight into my camp-site – no backing up – yay.

It was so dang hot!!  And so dry!!  The trails were like powder, so the dust was unbelievable.  And since Mel has been known to kick when a horse gets too close to his hind quarters, we had to be in the rear.

We all know the saying “things happen for a reason”.  Well, a couple of weeks before the ride, I had a flat tire on my trailer from a slow leak.  Because of that I purchased a Trailer-Aid Tandem Tire Changing Ramp.  Paul I went out to replace the flat, only to discover that my spare was flat too.  So we took them both to Big-O Tires to be fixed. One they could fix, the other had to be replaced.

When leaving the campground on Sunday afternoon, I rounded a corner and a fence post jumped right in front of my trailer fender.  It was impossible to avoid so I wound up hitting it.  The fender curled down and sliced my newly-fixed tire.  A couple of good-ole boys were nearby and offered to help.  They were able to change my flat using the Trailer-Aid Ramp that I had just purchased.  We rolled up onto the ramp with the good tire and they changed the bad tire while Mel was still in the trailer.  It was funny to see him poking his head out the window to see what was going on.  Either this was all according to some master plan or my guardian angel was looking out for me. If I hadn’t had the slow leak, I wouldn’t have bought the ramp nor would I have known that my spare was flat too.

By the way, I say “good-ole boys” with affection.  Horse people are always so friendly and helpful.

So, add to the cost of the trip, the cost of 2 new trailer tires and replacing the fender on the trailer.  Owning a horse is like owning a boat – the horse is the least expensive thing to buy.  Then there’s the tack, the board, the fly spray, the camping gear, the truck, the trailer, the tires, damage caused by vicious fence posts, etc. etc.  But the fun and companionship is priceless!

Family · Horses · Mel

Mel’s Eye

Friday I received a message from the lady who owns the stables where I board Mel telling me that Mel had bumped his eye.  Nothing bad enough for the vet, just wanted to let me know.  So Andre and I went out to check on him today (Saturday).  It was no longer swelled up and didn’t look bad.  Just a cut above his eye.  I was going to wash it out and medicate it, but it already had a scab forming so I just let it go.  It is amazing how well and quickly wild animals heal.

I was talking to Stacey, the owner, about various things.  Horses, dogs, parents, etc.  Years ago I fell off a horse during a lesson.  I wound up with a concussion and a subdural hemorrhage.  A subdural hemorrhage is caused by bleeding that takes place due to the rupture of one or more of the blood vessels (typically veins) that travel in the subdural space, located between the surface of the brain and the dura, a thin layer of tissue that separates the brain from the skull.  Thank God I had my helmet on or I might have died.  We touched on the subject and Stacey shared something with me about my husband, Paul.

She said that he called her from the hospital to tell her how I was doing and he said in a very serious manner, “Stacey, we got the pictures back and it is confirmed.  She does have a brain.”  We both laughed and she said she remembered what a great sense of humor Paul had.  She once bet him a $1 that he couldn’t fit in her sister-in-law’s Mini-Cooper.  Well he managed to get all 6 foot 6 inches of himself in the car and even shut the door.  His leg hung outside the door, but he won the bet.

God I miss him.

Horses · Trail riding

Plants deadly to Horses

Since it is Spring and pasture time, thought I would pass along this information I found on-line.

1.  Dogbane.  Up to 5 feet tall with feather-like leaves.  Flowers are white and bell-shaped. Symptoms: bloating, rapid pulse, high temperature, staggering and death. See the Vet immediately.

2.  Locoweed.  Grows to 18 inches tall. Flowers are white, yellow, blue or purple. Symptoms: weight loss, unpre­dictable behavior, altered gaits, im­paired vision or death. No treat­ment and many of the symptoms can be permanent.

3.  Oleander.  A shrub with thick rubbery leaves, approx. 8 to 10 inches long. Flowers are white, pink, purplish or red. So deadly, only 30 to 40 leaves are enough to kill a horse. Symptoms: erratic heart rate, cold extremities, paralysis, cardiac arrest, trembling and collapse, followed by coma and death within a few hours. No antidote, but laxatives have been known to save the horse.

4.  Poison Hemlock.  A weed growing up to 10 feet tall. Leaves resemble carrot tops or parsley. Flowers are white, umbrella shaped. Symptoms: erratic heart rate, paralysis, cold extremities, cardiac arrest, trembling and collapse, followed by coma and death within a few hours or several days. No antidote except purging the gastrointestinal tract.

5.  Red Maple.  Ornamental tree with green leaves that are white underneath. Leaves turn red in the fall. Eating wilted or fallen leaves destroys red blood cells so they are unable to carry enough oxygen. One and 1/2 pounds is toxic, 3 pounds is lethal. Symptoms: depression, lethargy, pale mucous membranes, rapid breathing, increased heart rate, jaundice, dark brown urine, coma and death and may take one or two days to develop. See the Vet immediately.

6.  Tall Fescue.  Clumps 3 to 4 feet tall with medium to wide leaves. Plant tops are spiky and lighter colored than the leaves. The plant isn’t toxic, but the seeds may contain an endophyte fungus that causes reproductive problems, lameness, fever and death. Buy endophyte-free fescue mixtures for planting.

7.  Water Hemlock.  Up to 7 feet tall, yellowish fluid in the stem that smells like carrots or parsnips. Purple-striped stems with small, white, umbrella-shaped flowers. One of the most toxic plants in the U.S. – as little as 8 oz. will kill a horse. Symptoms: Nervousness, dilated pupils, tremors, difficult breathing, convulsions and death in as little as 30 minutes.

8.  Yew.  Ornamental shrub. Wood stem, flat evergreen leaves with small red berries. One mouthful can cause cardiac arrest within 5 minutes. Survivors end up with breathing problems, trembling, weakness, heart problems and diarrhea.

Horses · Life · Mel

Look, Mel, a mouse

One day a few years ago, I went out to ride Mel.   I went to the paddock and called him in from the pasture.   It only took my “no kidding” voice once for him to come to me.   There at the gate between the paddock and the pasture, the ground was all broken up from horse hooves in the mud the last time it rained.   As I’m standing there putting Mel’s halter on, I noticed a teeny-weeny field mouse really close.   So I walked over and tried to point him out to Mel.   The little mouse is running around, falling into hoof grooves or running into mounded dirt and he finally gets Mel’s attention.

What an unbelievable moment when horse and mouse touched noses to smell each other.  Mel quickly lost interest.  So I bent down to look at the mouse again, and for unknown reasons, reached down to touch him with my gloved finger.   Of course he ran.  Right then Mel took a step and mouse and horse met again.   Mel stepped right on him!!  One moment I’m smiling looking at a teeny-weeny mouse and the next I’m gaping at a horse hoof with half a mouse sticking out from under it.   All that was showing was a little pink butt and the pink bottoms of little feet.

I felt awful!!   I told myself Mel didn’t do it on purpose.  Gosh, I hope not.

Andre · Camping · Horses · Life · Mel · Trail riding

Tippecanoe and Andre too

Original item written on 10/4/2011

The past couple of years I haven’t ridden my horse Mel much because life got in the way.  So, in March I took Mel to a trainer for conditioning and de-sensitizing.  Andre is my new-to-me Miniature Poodle.  I adopted him from a shelter – which can be a good or bad experience depending on how the dog was raised and treated.  I had no idea if Andre had ever been camping, this was our first test outing and he was a real trooper.

The weekend before the scheduled Indiana Foxtrotters Association (IFTA) outing to Tippecanoe River State Park, I checked Mel’s feet and called the farrier to schedule a trim.  We arranged to meet at the stables at 8 am Friday morning.  I rose at 5:45 so I could feed and walk Andre before heading out.  It takes me about 40 minutes to get to the stables.  On the way, I noticed that gas was $3.33 per gallon at both the BP and Shell stations and decided I better stop on the way home.  Andre and I pulled into the stables parking lot about 7:15 and I headed out to the pasture to bring Mel in.  I gave him a quick brushing and cleaned his hooves.  Then he, Andre and I waited for the farrier (Ann) to arrive.  There’s nothing more pleasant than standing in the light of dawn listening to the barn come alive with nickers and neighs.

Ann arrived at eight and made short work of Mel’s hooves, even though he was a little antsy.  He knew it was breakfast time and the other horses were chowing down.  After the trim, I took him back to his pasture and Andre and I headed home (since I have about a 3-hour drive to Tippy, I wanted to take a quick nap before leaving).  I noticed that the gas price had dropped to $3.19 at both stations – great!  I stopped and filled up my tank.  At home, Andre and I had breakfast and then settled in for an hour-long nap.

The alarm went off and we were on the move.  Packed up the truck, took one last potty break and left for the stables again.  Those of you who have your horses and trailers at home sure are lucky.  Obviously, the electronic signs at the gas stations now make it way too easy to change the price of gas.  Both stations had gas listed at $3.25 this time through.  So in about four hours’ time, gas went from 3.33 to 3.19 and then to 3.25.  At the stable, I retrieved Mel and he loaded without too much trouble, but lifting the hay bale into the truck about killed me.  Andre settled in his crate in the front passenger seat and the journey began.

Tippecanoe River State Park is near Winamac, Indiana.  Winamac is as far north as Fort Wayne, but west, north of Logansport.  The drive all the way to Logansport was dry, but after Logansport we went in and out of sprinkles, and when we pulled into the park, it was raining steadily.  I found my site, but was facing the wrong direction to back in easily, so I circled around to come at it from the other direction.  One the of the IFTA members, Gayle, was just getting out of her truck at the site next to mine, so she guided me in.  Gayle was taught to back up trailers by men and men use the “point the bottom of the steering wheel the direction you want the trailer to go” method.  Women, usually steer from the top of the steering wheel, so they use the “turn the wheel the opposite direction you want the trailer to go” method.  It’s that whole Mars/Venus thing – very confusing.  I unloaded Mel and fed and watered him, then unloaded the truck, let Andre have a potty break and finally hopped in the trailer to get dry.

I just purchased this trailer in March – traded in my 3-horse for a 2-horse.  My old trailer didn’t have air conditioning and after the last three summers, I made sure this one did.  But, when the salesman asked about a furnace, I said I didn’t need one.  “I always go to electric sites and I have a small heater that I use.”  I regretted those words this weekend because Tippecanoe’s horse camp is primitive.  I have been to Tippecanoe twice before but always camped at a nearby campground that has electric hookup and, although Tippy’s campground is nice, if it’s late in the season, I’ll be staying at the other place next time.  I bought a sleeping bag last year that is supposed to be warm down to zero.  I unzipped it to make a comforter and Andre and I were toasty beneath it.

Gayle has a portable generator and was able to make coffee on Saturday morning and fortunately for me, she invited me to partake of some.  After taking care of the horses, we had breakfast and sat and talked for a while.  The nice thing about camping when it is cold is that you get to have a leisurely morning waiting for it to warm up before riding.  Unlike riding in the middle of summer, where you get up early and try to get a ride in before the temperature becomes unbearable.  Then after the ride you spend your time trying to cool off.

One of Gayle’s many hats is dog trainer and she gave me lots of advice on training Andre.  I told her my main problem was his barking and lunging at other dogs.  I had no sooner said that than a couple of riders went by and Andre ran after them barking (yes, he was on a leash).  Gayle said that most trainers use the words “Leave it” to get the dog to stop.  So I yelled “Leave it” to Andre and to my surprise, he stopped and came running back and jumped in my arms.  Obviously he had been taught “Leave it” and his being held and loved-on was his reward.  Like I said before, I’ve been very lucky.

Two more club members arrived for a day ride and Gayle and I saddled up.  I put Andre in his crate and the four of us hit the trails.  It was a little chilly in the woods, but beautiful riding weather and Tippy has some really nice trails.  I was so pleased with Mel’s performance.  Since I hadn’t ridden since June I didn’t know what to expect, and I definitely didn’t expect that he would be so good.  It was as though no time had passed at all.  Maybe he was just as anxious to get back into the swing of things as I was.  All four horses got along very well and we had no mishaps.  The paths were dry for the most part and what mud there was wasn’t bad.

Later we started a campfire and had a little something to eat.  I noticed that Mel kept looking over at me.  Poor thing.  He has always had all my attention, attention that was now going to Andre.  I went over to love on him and he kept pulling his head away – no doubt pouting about the new man in my life.  But, geez, Andre fits on my lap so much better.  After dinner, we sat around the campfire as long as we could before the cold got the best of us.  Back under the comforter we went, me and a dog that smelled like campfire smoke.

Sunday morning was a bit warmer, I actually took off my winter coat while mucking Mel’s area.  Then Andre and I once again wandered over to Gayle’s site for breakfast.  Todd and Lori (more IFTA members) were already there.  Todd likes to cook out in a large cast-iron skillet over the campfire.  I thought Andre was going to jump in the fire after the bacon and sausage.  Gayle, Lori and I went for a ride after breakfast.  The weather was perfect and the woods beautiful.  Periodically we would come across some other trail riders and even a few cyclists.  This was all good experience for Mel.  He learned to pass other horses on the trail without trying to kick or join them.  We rode three and a half hours – long enough that my knees started to protest.  Lori complained of her feet hurting too, so when we got close enough, we all dismounted and walked the rest of the way to camp.

We had lunch and then it was time to pack up to go home.  Mel didn’t give me much trouble loading for a change and the ride home went smoothly, except that I was getting low on gas and most of the small towns we passed had small gas stations.  There was no way I was going to pull my trailer into one of them.  I kept watching the distance to 465 on my GPS and my gas gauge and hoping that my gas would hold out, surely there had to be a large gas station before getting onto 465.  I found a gas station just before the entrance ramp and just before my gas gauge hit the red area of the dial.  A quick potty break for Andre and me, some gas and then the last part of the journey.

It was dark when I pulled into the parking lot at the stables.  I unloaded Mel and took him back out to his pasture.  He had been a trooper the whole weekend.  I seriously thought about leaving my trailer where it was and coming back out Monday morning to park it; then I remembered the spotlights on the back of the trailer.  I flipped those babies on and backed her in.  I was able to park it quickly for a change.  Andre patiently waited in his crate.  Since I had unloaded everything from the trailer to the truck at the campground, all I had to do was unhook the trailer and head for home.  We pulled into the garage between 8:30 and 9:00 pm.  I knew if I sat down that would be the end of that, so I unloaded the truck and hit the shower.

Back home, clean and in my jammies, I snuggled into bed with a fluffy little dog that still smelled faintly of campfire.  Life is good.

Horses · Life · Mel

Gee, horses have a personality

I have had pets all my life.  Coming from a family of 8 children, there were always dogs and cats around and occasionally hamsters, birds and fish.

Most of us are aware that dogs and cats have individual personalities.  Some are friendly and cuddly, others are aloof and independent.  They display the full range of emotions –  sadness, happiness, grouchiness and even jealousy.  But, I never thought of horses as having the same personality traits and emotions.  Being a city girl, I’d never really thought about it.  In the western movies and TV shows, they were just livestock that you trained and rode, except, of course, for Mr. Ed and Francis the Talking Mule.  But, come on, we knew that wasn’t real life.

Then I bought my horse, Mel.  I am still amazed at the amount of personality he has.  Some days he is friendly and cuddly and other days he would rather be left alone.  He is curious and down-right nosey, but also a bit of a chicken.  And, he even displays jealousy.  Who’d a thunk it.

There is a gray cat at the stables that is very friendly and loves attention.  The cat doesn’t seem to be afraid of the horses at all.  Whenever I am there, Ghost (the cat) comes by for some loving.  At first I didn’t pay much attention, but then I noticed that when I coo and fuss over the cat, Mel doesn’t seem very pleased.  I’ll pick up Ghost and say to Mel “Look Mel, here’s our kitty.”  Mel will look and sniff the cat and then slowly turn his head away with his ears down.  He seems to think if he ignores the cat, it will disappear!!   I’ve seen a dog do this many times, but a horse?

And Mel is protective of me too – well, probably he’s just being territorial or something, but, hey, it’s my story.  I went out to the pasture one day to get Mel, and when I called, all the horses must have thought it was dinner time.  About 12 horses came running right toward me.  I quickly stepped into the paddock on the other side of the fence, but was unable to get back out because the horses were all blocking the way and wouldn’t move.  Mel to the rescue!!  Mel, who wasn’t in as big a hurry as the rest of the gang, came from behind and bullied all the horses out of the way.  He stood there while I haltered him and then he cleared the way for me to exit the paddock and the pasture.  My Hero!

Camping · Horses · Mel · Trail riding

You want to buy a horse?! – Part 3

Part 3 Let’s go trail riding

My dad loved to camp and fish.  I remember going camping when I was little.  I’m talking 50 years ago.  Camping meant you slept in a tent in a sleeping bag on the ground, you cooked over an open fire, didn’t worry a lot about personal hygiene, and usually used an out-house consisting of a bench with a hole in it.  As I grew older, I hated it more and more.  Luckily Mom tired of it too and she, my sister and I would stay home and let Dad and my brothers go without us.

I remember one camping trip when Dad’s brother, Uncle Charlie, arrived in a new camper-trailer with all the luxuries available at the time.  The following morning while Dad was starting a fire to brew his coffee, Uncle Charlie emerged from his trailer fresh and clean and proceeded to shave with a rechargeable shaver.  He made some unremembered remark to my dad and Dad replied, “That’s not camping!! You might as well have stayed home.”

Fast forward to when I purchased my horse.  After a year or so of riding at the stable, I decided I wanted to go trail riding so I could ride in different surroundings.  Mel wasn’t too fond of going around and around the arena and I’d ridden all around the property.  So I purchased a used 3-horse gooseneck with a dressing area.  And since I had to pull the trailer, I had to have a truck.  Then after a couple of years, my husband decided I  would be more likely to use the trailer if the dressing area was converted to living quarters.  While my trailer was off being turned into the little play-house I never had, I showed my son what my trailer was going to look like.  Now, my son was 5 when my Dad passed away – long after Dad’s camping days were over.  So, imagine my surprise when my son said “That’s not camping.”  To which I replied, “I’m not going camping – I’m going trail riding.”

I joined the Indiana Fox Trotters Association to meet and ride with other Fox Trotter owners.  The club was holding a Clinic/Fun Show and I was helping and participating.  The weekend of the show,  I rose fairly early on Friday morning and after breakfast and a little time on the computer, it was time to get going.  I packed my clothes and toiletries and grabbed a cooler and some frozen bottles of water to use instead of ice (no water to contend with when ice melts and you wind up with ice cold water to drink later).  After stopping for gas and to check the air in my tires, I stopped at the grocery store.  Then it was off to the stable.  Packed up my tack and horse supplies, grabbed a bale of hay, asked another boarder to help me heft it into the truck and took a break.  A bale of hay makes a great bench while you’re catching your breath and wiping the sweat from your forehead and neck.  Thank God it wasn’t too hot that day.

Now to hook up the trailer.  Crank up the gooseneck, lower the tailgate and back up the truck.  I’ve seen various inventions to help line up the gooseneck with the ball, but why spend the money when I could make one of my own.  After backing up and pulling forward 4 or 5 times, I made a note to myself to spend the money!!  Crank down the gooseneck, climb into the truck bed to hook up the ball and safety straps, climb out of the truck, load my supplies from the truck into the trailer.  Now there was no getting around it, it was time to raise the drop-leg on the jack.  This is the hardest part of hooking up the trailer because I have to pull the pin and raise the foot at the same time and it takes all my strength just to pull the pin.  (And yes, I have tried WD 40 and other oil.)  I tried sitting on the ground and pushing the pin out with my foot.  I tried prying the pin out with the turn crank while raising the foot.  I tried pulling the pin and raising the foot with my foot.  Then I started over until I finally managed to get the job done and took another break.  (Note to self: check into power jacks.)

The first time I loaded Mel into my trailer it took 5 hours.  I tried the Parelli suggestion of making it more unpleasant to be outside the trailer than in by making Mel run in circles every time he refused to load.  I tried tapping his rump with a whip until he became annoyed enough to go in.  I tried walking him around the trailer and right into the trailer without stopping.  I tried luring him in with an apple.  I tried yelling and screaming!!  I tried crying!!  I guess 5 hours was enough for him too, because he finally decided to go in and eat.  But this time, thanks to a great tip from Charla (a club member), I can now get Mel into the trailer in a matter of minutes.  So…we were off!!

After an hour’s drive I arrived at the campground and found a level-looking site.  I have discovered a thing about backing a trailer into a site.  Men and women approach this task totally differently – men use the side mirrors and women turn around and look out the back window.  I have tried using the side mirrors as I was taught by a man, but I just can’t seem to get the hang of it.  You turn the steering wheel the same direction either way, so it must have something to do with the left/right sides of the brain or Venus/Mars or something. After a few failed attempts, the campground owner parked the trailer for me.  I unloaded Mel and got him settled, then looked for the “out-house”.  (Note to self:  find the out-house first and then find a level-spot close to out-house.)  Now I needed to get Mel some water.  (Better note to self:  find the out-house AND the water first and then find a level-spot near the two.)  Then, since the campsite was primitive, I turned on the propane and started the refrigerator and moved my items from the cooler to refrigerator – then I grabbed a cold drink, flopped down on the bench and took a break.  I’m getting too old for this.

The rest of the group arrived, we chatted, exercised the horses and ate.  Apparently I was the oldest one of the group (or the most out of shape), because I was the first to go to bed.  And thus, the first to rise the next morning.  I pulled on some shoes to head to the out-house.  As I stepped out of the trailer, I noticed that all of the horses were staring at their respective owner’s trailers looking for some sign of life.  I grabbed some hay and gave it to Mel so he wouldn’t start neighing and wake everyone up and headed out.  The other horses watched me go past, only making quiet nickers, apparently aware that I wasn’t their feeder, but hoping I’d take pity and throw them something.  (Note to self:  wear leather shoes instead of cloth or you wind up with wet toes from the dew.)

I had purchased coffee in bags, just like tea.  Easy to carry and all you have to do is heat a cup of water.  Unfortunately, I forgot that this campground was primitive and so I couldn’t use my microwave to do that.  And, I had purchased 7-Up instead of Coke.  Fortunately, since I have been known to nod-off when driving, I carry “stay-awake” pills.  They have the caffeine equivalent of 2 cups of coffee.  So I took one of those with my 7-Up and sat looking out the trailer window.  My site was near a pond and the bugs landing on the water made it look like it was sprinkling rain.  As the sun came up over the horizon, it made the “sprinkles” on the water sparkle.   It was very pretty and peaceful – one of the benefits of rising early.  Shortly, I heard the others emerging from their trailers, feeding their horses and getting ready for the day.

Mel was a very good boy.  Actually, he has always been good on my camping er…trail riding trips.  Both standing tied quietly and going out on the trails.  I guess horses like to have a change of scenery too.  Maybe being ridden at the stable is too much like work.  But, like me, he was happy to head home.  He went right into the trailer and didn’t even “mess” the trailer.  That was a great surprise and made unloading and cleaning up easier on me.  The very worst part of trail riding trips is the unpacking and stowing gear afterward.  It might be different if I didn’t board my horse, but I have to do all that before I can take the 30 minute drive home.  I called my husband from the stable to let him know I was heading home and luckily he took the hint and had dinner started.  I was able to shower and then sit down to dinner.  Life can be good.

Here are some tips I’ve discovered when camping and/or trail riding.

  1. Take soap, toilet paper and paper towels with you to the out-house.
  2. If the out-house floor is painted cement, take a bath mat to step out of the shower on, or you might slip.
  3. Most facilities aren’t air-conditioned.  Talcum powder will help keep you dry after you shower.  Nothing worse than showering and drying off and then getting wet from sweat.
  4. Take a plastic bag with you for your dirty clothes and wet towel.
  5. Before using the toilet, look for spiders.  I didn’t and saw a big black one go down with the flush.  Ugh!
  6. Don’t worry too much about looking pretty – it’s wasted time and effort.  The sweat and dust from the arena or trails makes everyone’s hair droop and face dirty.  One of the benefits of camping is not having to impress anyone.
  7. Don’t worry about the small stuff.
  8. Take the time to appreciate nature.
  9. Give your horse a break from work too.
  10. Don’t set your soda cup or can on the post with all the bird droppings on it.
Horses · Mel

You want to buy a horse?! – Part 2

Part 2 The horse is the least expensive part

Okay, I’ve bought my horse, now I need tack. I decided to purchase a Western saddle since that’s what I was familiar with. (And, it had that horn for holding onto.)  Someone suggested that I use a coat hanger to get the shape of my horse’s back at the withers. So, I found a relatively thin one that I could cut apart and bend easily. I took it to the stable and shaped it to my horse’s back.

Then off to the tack supply store with my hanger and my husband in tow. After browsing and listening to the sales pitches, I chose a couple of saddles to try on for size – my horse’s back and my backside. They had a nifty wooden holder that we “saddled up” and I climbed aboard. Of course the one that fit best was the most expensive. But after looking at my husband with my puppy-dog eyes, it was mine. (Man, that saddle sure was heavy to lug from the tack room and heave up onto a 15-hand horse.)  And I also needed a bridle, reins, cinch, bit, lead rope, halter and grooming supplies.

The saddle seemed to fit pretty good, although, looking back, I wish I hadn’t gotten the square skirt. I think it went too far back on his back. Being the worrier that I am, I asked numerous riders at the stables if they thought it fit. I discovered that most people don’t want to express an opinion on saddle fit. I guess either they don’t know enough themselves or they don’t want to be blamed for making someone else’s horse miserable.

After a few rides in my new saddle, I asked the stable owner to critique my “style”. She suggested that I ride Mel bareback in the round pen to get a feel for his movements and to learn balance. The round pen had high solid wooden walls, so Mel wouldn’t be distracted. It also had a thick layer of pea gravel, so if I fell off, I wouldn’t get hurt too badly.

Now I wasn’t a young pup and my joints were a bit stiff. Climbing up on a horse with a saddle is one thing, bareback is something else. I tried a small stool – what a joke. I settled on a big muck bucket turned over. Still, I had to jump up and lay on Mel’s back on my belly and try to rotate my body around while spreading my legs. I put a horse collar on Mel to hold on to so I wouldn’t put undue pressure on the reins and his mouth.

So, I hefted myself up, and started to slide my body around – I kept right on sliding right off the opposite side of the horse!! Since I had a death grip on the collar, my upper body stayed high and twisted around so that I was facing the rear of the horse. My feet hit the ground first, but I was totally off balance so I continued to fall to the ground until I eventually had to let go of the collar.

There I am, lying flat out on my back staring up at Mel. He just stood there – what a trooper. Or maybe it all happened so fast that it took him by surprise. I started to laugh and he just lowered his head and looked at me as if to say “What an idiot!”  I got up and tried again. Believe it or not, I did the exact same thing!! Once again, that look from Mel. The third time was the charm and I eventually got to ride bareback. I rode that way about three times a week for a couple of weeks. The stable owner was right, it did help my balance. I also enjoyed feeling the sway and movement of Mel. Without the heavy saddle between us, I felt more connected, more like his partner.

That’s why I decided to buy an English saddle, even though I am only interested in trail and pleasure riding. The Western saddle didn’t offer the same “connection” to Mel. Since I had spent so much on the other saddle, I used my year-end bonus from work to buy it so it wasn’t “our” money.  When I bought my English saddle I took Mel with me to the tack shop. The owner let me try out some saddles right on him and made sure I bought one that fit. It’s lighter for me to lift and for Mel to wear – I know he prefers it to the Western because he stands better for tacking up and he moves better under saddle. I added a strap to the front to hold onto in lieu of a horn and I’ve purchased a “Tush Cush” to give me more padding.

See what I mean about the expense compared the purchase price?  In Part 3 I encounter even more expense.

Camping · Horses · Mel · Trail riding

You want to buy a horse?! – Part 1

Part 1 How I came to buy a horse

Micky Mouse Club

My first introduction to horses (that I can remember) was watching the Spin & Marty segments on the Mickey Mouse Club. That’s the original Mickey Mouse club.  In addition to the daily variety show, there were also segments like Spin & Marty with other actors who weren’t technically Mouseketeers.  Spin & Marty was about a Summer Camp and the adventures of the youngsters who spent summers there.  Tim Considine (on the right) played Spin. Being a young gal, I actually wanted to see Tim, the horses were an added treat.

Spin and Marty

When I was a teenager, one of my older brothers had a horse for a while.  He used to take us to the farm where he kept her and we would get to ride the various ponies and horses there.  Riding consisted of getting on, kicking to go and pulling back on the reins yelling “whoa” to stop.  Otherwise, the horses went pretty much where they wanted to go.

In 1995 I talked my husband, son and sister into going to a dude ranch for vacation.  We went to Colorado and had a wonderful time.  I was on a horse every day while the other three preferred to do other activities, like canoeing, hiking, etc.  I highly recommend a dude ranch as a family vacation.  No television, no phones, just family activities.  You are with a small group of individuals so you get to know about each and make some friends.

That was the extent of my contact with horses.  Then in 1997 a series of family tragedies struck, the most devastating was losing two of my brothers to lung cancer exactly one year apart.  They were only 55 and 58 years old.  A few years later I had to deal with my mother’s dementia.  It really drove home how short life can be and started me thinking about what I had or hadn’t done in my life.  I gave up on playing the piano and tap dancing, but I told my husband I wasn’t going to give up the dream of horses.  So I signed up for riding lessons.

The lessons were wonderful.  Not just the riding, but being around the horses, grooming them, etc.  I took lessons for about six months when I announced to my husband that I was going to buy a horse.  After he picked his jaw up off the floor, we discussed it in length.  He totally understood my position on life, but not my wanting to own a horse.  You see, he is one of those unlucky people who just doesn’t “get it.”  He thinks horses are nice to pet and look at, but why would you want to climb up on one?  But, he supported my decision, and after researching the various breeds, I decided on a Missouri Fox Trotter.  It is a gaited breed.  I went that route because I have a bad back and I just couldn’t learn to post.  Gaited breeds have a smooth trot and various other gaits that don’t jar you around like a Quarter Horse.

I purchased Heaven Bound’s Carmel Clown “Mel” in 2002.  Owning him helped bring me through one of the toughest times in my life and a deep depression.  He gave me a reason to get off the couch and go outside into the sunshine.  And since I board him, he gave me the opportunity to meet new friends who share my interest and understand what having a horse means.