JUST PLAIN SUNSHINE
By Laura Kidder
I love big, stocky gaited horses with wide chests, butts bigger than mine, beautiful heads, classy animals, and since I am more than cognizant that life is short, I have learned to be a little "short" on shyness. When I see the brass ring, I just reach out and
try to grab it, and on a recent beautiful Kentucky trail ride, I spotted a jewel of a brass ring . . .
In May of 2009, I went riding with a group of folks led by an older gentleman who reminded me of the singer Kenny Rogers, with his handsome salt and pepper hair and beard. He was riding one of the most beautiful, stocky, big jet black Tennessee Walking
horse geldings that I'd seen in a long time, and I rode up next to him to ask if his horse was for sale, instinctively knowing that it was his pride and joy. He smiled a big, wide smile and told me that although they had three more horses at home, this one was his wife's, Laverne's, favorite. Even though she never rode, she had threatened that she'd sell HIM before that horse would ever leave the family. I spent the next five minutes trying to convince him that it was just a horse and Laverne would forgive him, but he was firm in his rejection of my offer, although he couldn't help but laugh at my shameless begging.
We were riding on the side of a mountain in eastern Kentucky in late spring, and the cool air was thick with humidity from the previous three days of rain. The mist which seemed to rise from the ground made our small group of seven riders feel like we were in our own quiet, private world, with only an occasional bird chirping, the clop of the horses' hooves on the trail, and the soft patter of light rain falling on the trees in the forest surrounding us.
I remarked to my new trail riding friend that I felt sorry for the other riders back at camp who opted out of the day's ride because of the weather. Neither of us could believe that out of a couple of thousand people, only seven of us understood how comfortable a raincoat was or how short life is. He agreed with me, and we continued to ride along silently, listening to the hoof beats, softly squeaking leather, and inhaling the wonderful smell from the warm steam rising off our horses. I thought that riding in the rain was like being an honorary member in an exclusive club, where you are treated to sights, sounds and smells that some people never get to experience.
We came upon a cave on the side of the mountain that looked like a good place to take a lunch break, so we tied our horses to trees and climbed up a few feet to get out of the misting rain. Some had brought hot coffee with them and the smell of it was so incredibly alluring that I would have been afraid to taste it, lest my enjoyment be dulled by reality! I had packed ham and cheese sandwiches with plenty of extras in case someone hadn't brought their lunch, so I passed them out to grateful takers, and I laughed at one rider who declined in favor of his canned potted meat and crackers. As a child, I had gotten sick on that little delicacy because we ate it so often (for it was all that we could afford sometimes) and to this day, I can't even stand the thought of eating such "dog food", but to him, it was as good as a home cooked meal, or at least he assured me that it was.
When we got back on the trail again, I pestered Kenny Rogers about his horse again, and came up with several creative scenarios for him to get forgiveness for selling his horse, such as telling his wife that a bear attacked and took the horse, but spared her husband's life. Wouldn't she be so grateful that he survived such a calamity? He looked at me sideways and told me that she'd never forgive him for not throwing himself in front of the bear for the horse's sake!
As we rode on, he began to share a story with me that made this experience very poignant . . .
"I am riding today, in the rain, specifically, in honor of my friend, Gus. We spent our childhoods as best friends, went to school together, graduated, joined the military and had families. For the first 60 years of my life, he was like a brother to me, and many, many days we spent just like this, riding in the mountains on our horses with our dogs," Kenny reminisced. "I can't tell you how many times I wanted to sleep in on cold or rainymornings, just stay in the house, but Gus would come driving up with his horse and his dog, knocking on the door and asking me if I as going to sleep all day! He believed that you should register the opposite of whatever the weather man said – if he said 60% chance of rain, you should only hear '40% chance of sunshine'. He told me over and over again that life was just too short to pass up any opportunities or to be sedentary. He could be annoying when I was feeling lazy, and sometimes I dreaded days like this, when I'd rather just rest up, but I can't begin to count the fun times we had as a result of his pushing me to 'enjoy this short life.'"
Kenny went on, "There was nothing that we couldn't tell each other, and I considered Gus to be part of my family. He never had children and a few years ago, his wife passed away, leaving him alone. When he began to have heart trouble, I was worried that riding horses and taking camping trips would be too stressful for him, but I continued to ride with him, just like old times. After he landed in the hospital with a major heart attack, I decided that I didn't want to be responsible for him dying out in the woods on the side of a mountain, too far away from hospitals to save him, so I declined his invitations, requests and pleas to ride and camp with him." Kenny seemed to be almost in tears at this point, and he paused for awhile.
"Gus hated the hospital and desperately didn't want to die alone", Kenny remembered out loud. "He told me that if his time were to come, he'd be happiest to die on the side of a mountain with his best friend nearby, watching the rain spatter on the leaves and smelling the sweet sweat of his horse, soaking up all of God's glory than to be imprisoned in a hospital bed with no dignity. He begged me one last time to spend the weekend camping with him, like the old days, . . . two old life-long friends, the great outdoors, the mountain, the horses, the dogs . . . and foolishly, I told him no. I was afraid he'd die out there, and I couldn't bear to be responsible for it."
I could barely hear Kenny as he finished his story with his eyes downcast, staring hard at the trail in front of his horse as we clopped along. I could see his throat tightening and knew that he was struggling for understanding, forgiveness, feeling immense guilt. "Gus never got to ride again because he wouldn't go by himself," Kenny continued, "and he did have another heart attack. This time, he was at the grocery store, by himself, and when he fell to the floor, an ambulance was called. Before anyone could call me, he was rushed to the emergency room, where he couldn't be saved. He died alone, in the hospital, exactly as he feared."
Kenny got quiet again, and I waited. "I'd give ten years of my life to have another chance to take him riding now," Gus' loyal
friend lamented. By now, I could tell that Kenny had been carrying this guilt with him for some time, and I tried to think of the right thing to say, but as a cancer survivor, I actually sympathized with Gus more, and would have wanted to take my chances on that mountain, as well. I struggled to find the right words, and finally said, "You were a good friend to Gus, and he knew you were being protective of him. He probably would have done the same for you. I'm sure he remembered all the good times you had together and those memories eased his sorrows. I am just as sure that he's probably smiling at you right now, saying, 'Kenny, my precious friend, thanks for dedicating this beautiful, muddy, rainy trail ride to me . . . I'm enjoying it as much as you are, and I'm with you in your heart.'"
"'Oh, and one more thing . . . sell that poor girl your big horse so she'll stop whining. Laverne will forgive you!'"
Kenny's eyes were shining and he threw his head back and laughed. "Are you sure you didn't know my friend, Gus? That sounds just like something he'd say!"
We rode for seven damp, cool, wonderful hours that day and after we made our way back to camp, Kenny shook my hand, thanked me for listening, and one last time, found himself having to reject my 40th offer to buy his horse. He left smiling, and reminded me, "Now, remember the "Life-Is-Short-Forecast": When the weather man says 60% chance of rain, you hear "40% chance of sunshine, for, some of the best memories in your lifetime can happen in the rain, and then, sometimes, in spite of the odds, there's just plain sunshine.
Good Horse Gone Bad
By Laura Kidder
The big, beautiful, quiet gelding walked slowly around the pasture carrying his little 10-yr-old beaming rider, turning when she asked him to, stopping easily, and stepping carefully, almost as if he was either fond of the child rider or half asleep. Either way, the little girl was having the time of her life on her first ride on Duke, and her parents watched with confidence, satisfied that their daughter was safe. After getting positive, satisfactory answers to their questions, they shook hands with the seller and agreed to purchase their first horse.
That evening after he was delivered to his new home, Duke stood quietly while the little girl washed him down, brushed his tail, and picked his hooves clean. The sun was setting as she led him through the barn, took off his halter, turned him into his stall and latched the gate. Her mother had already put his feed in his bucket and they all stood outside his stall admiring him as he munched his oats. The little girl could barely wait to ride him again and wondered if she would be able to sleep that night.
The next day, the family was excited about their new addition, and after the little girl rode for a couple of hours, she enjoyed bathing Duke, combing out his tail, climbing all over him, loving on him. He seemed to enjoy it just as much as she did, and her parents had to be firm about quitting for the day. The girl put Duke in his stall, and her mother brought his feed to pour into his feed trough. Suddenly, she became alarmed when the gelding’s personality transformed from gentle babysitter to dangerous attacker as he pinned his ears flat against his head, effectively warning her to move out of his territory. He aggressively dove into his feed, knocking the bucket out of her hand and he swung his back end toward the humans invading his space. When she moved toward him to pick up the bucket, he charged her, knocking her backward and off her feet. She screamed at her daughter to run get her father as the gelding turned back toward his dinner, ears still pinned.
When Dad walked near the stall to rescue his wife, the gelding pinned his ears again, reared and struck out at the father, who jumped back just out of reach. Duke then aggressively returned to his feed for another bite, while Dad rescued Mom, pushing her aside and slamming the gate shut, latching it and studying the horse in bewilderment as their little girl burst into tears. Her parents agonized over the thought that their daughter could have been killed if she had been the one to anger this horse by invading his territory while he was eating.
A half hour later, still stunned at the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde transformation, they walked to his stall again, and since he had already finished his meal, he hung his head out, eyes soft again, ears forward, lovingly begging for attention, but the parents had already made their decision that this horse was too dangerous to be a member of their family.
The seller wouldn’t return their phone calls, and for the next few days, they traced Duke’s history back through his registration papers, and discovered that he had attacked another girl who was carrying a feed bucket when she was trying to catch her own horse in a pasture that they shared. He had reared, pawed and struck the girl in the forehead, causing her a trip to the emergency room for stitches.
Further tracing back to his earlier life revealed that this good horse gone bad was raised by a well-meaning, loving family who provided him the best of care. They couldn’t imagine what had happened to him to cause him to be so dangerous, but now that you mention it, yes, when he was a four month old colt, he did like to nip a little here and there, when they brought carrots and cookies out to him. They taught him to search their pockets for treats, which they always carried. Yes, he did rear occasionally, but they thought it was cute when he would put his feet on their shoulders and they ‘danced’ with him. Yes, occasionally he would pin his ears and kick out at them, but he was so little it didn’t hurt anything, and yes, sometimes they even took him in their house and let him eat oatmeal cookies in the kitchen. They had him castrated early in his life, but that didn’t change his personality or mischievous streak.
As the colt got a little older, they did remember his nipping getting worse, but they couldn’t stand the thought of hurting him, so they just told him ‘no’ and pushed him away. He did seem to think of this as a game, and now that you mention it, he did become more aggressive about the game as he matured. They thought maybe that was when they began to experience injuries from him, and eventually, they found that they couldn’t control him, so they sent him to a trainer.
Apparently, the trainer did a really nice job of saddle training, teaching him to gait perfectly, canter on correct leads, side pass, back, pivot, pull a buggy, and he was gentle for anyone to ride, but when Duke’s new owners contacted him for his thoughts, he told the distressed family that he had encountered the same problem.
“I worked Duke for six months, using natural horsemanship methods, and I found that I had to spend a lot more time with him than I did most other horses I have trained, but because he had virtually no respect for humans, I had to use more force than I am accustomed to using,” the trainer confided. “The nice, kind family who raised Duke meant well, but they really created a monster, and in the right situation, he’s like a big teddy bear. At feeding time, he is capable of injuring or killing a person and he is dangerous. I tried to coach these folks early in this horse’s life and warn them that they needed to be a leader, an authority figure to this horse, but they wanted him to be handled and trained with “natural horsemanship methods”, a term that they really did not understand.
“If you think about it, “natural” is running free in the wilderness, no shoes nailed onto their hooves, no prepared feed, no deworming chemicals, and certainly no halters, saddles or bits. “Natural” does not include a human sitting on a horse’s back, so obviously, “natural horsemanship” needs a more refined definition,” this knowledgeable, gentle trainer explained.
“Discipline is a necessary part of life to keep order and some degree of civility to the members of a group, as evidenced all throughout history, from the bible to the jungle. In an elephant herd, the old bulls discipline the young bulls, and studies have revealed that young bulls in musk are so completely ruled by their hormones that they are homicidal, even to their own, and with no authority figures, they rampage and kill everything in their paths. The simple leadership and discipline of the older bulls keeps them in line and mentally healthy.”
“If you watch horses and study their behavior, you will probably be surprised to see short, quick episodes of violent posturing. When a new horse is introduced to a herd, the alpha horse will assert its position by squealing, charging, or spinning and kicking with its hind feet. There is no sugar coating the message – the alpha horse intends to do bodily harm, and if its hooves connect, the recipient will have a bruise or a new gash, which is the price of his ignorance or refusal to yield. When a colt gets out of line, nips his mother too hard, kicks her too hard or at the wrong time, she doesn’t pat him and tell him ‘no’ softly. She doesn’t bribe him, beg him or give him three chances before he’s sent to ‘time out’. She responds harshly, quickly with a hard bite or a well-placed kick that hurts and gets his attention. Her intention is to educate him, so she makes her message clear the first time. His feelings get hurt, as well as his flesh, and he learns immediately that whatever behavior he just got punished for is probably going to be painful in the future, too, and most likely, he won’t do it again.”
“People get in trouble when they don’t effectively lead their horse, when they don’t send clear messages, when they leave their horse feeling insecure about his place in the horse/human ‘herd’. Just as feeding wild bears removes the fear factor and creates a dangerous animal which has to be euthanized (‘A FED bear is a DEAD bear’), so does being too soft on discipline and training methods with a horse.”
“I am sad to say that unless Duke happens to fortuitously wind up in the perfect situation for him with his dangerous habits, which is all too unlikely, he may very well end up in a slaughter house or being euthanized,” the trainer commented, sadly.
“I wish all horse lovers would understand that the kindest thing that they can do for their animals is to provide clear boundaries, make their animals feel safe in their leader’s leadership abilities. Understand that there is a difference between being firm (using humane training methods) and being abusive.”
Author’s note: This story is based on true facts, and there are similar stories across the nation. Mothers may love their children* and spoil them, but nobody else does, and the world is a hostile place to those spoiled kids, so be kind and do your loved ones a favor and teach them discipline and authority. They will find it much easier to fit in, survive, and succeed in life.
*Sometimes we think of our horses as our ‘children’, don’t we?
Me (at far right in both pictures), riding "Josey" on the Woodville trailride as part of her foundation training for her future show career.
“Professional & Fancy” a/k/a "Josey"
By Laura Kidder
When she stepped out of the trailer with nostrils flaring, skin quivering and the whites of her eyes showing, she made me think of a young doe whose heart screamed at her to bolt and run from the lion. She was a black roan with long white stockings, blazed face and in the first two years of her life, she had done most of her growing in the vertical direction, as she was almost 16H and still had three more years to mature. This nervous young filly hadn’t been handled much by human hands during her short life, and had barely been started under saddle, so I fell in love immediately with the idea of the challenge of “Josey”, a 2-1/2 year old Tennessee Walking Horse.
She was a long and lean walking machine, striding well up under herself, and she was so tall that I had to put my foot even with my nose to reach the stirrup (or at least my stretched tendons told me so). Josey was gangly and wild, sensitive and instantly responsive, somewhat explosive, so I took time to brush her coat, handle her feet, lead her everywhere I went, load her on the trailer and haul her anytime that I had the extra room in the trailer. The more I handled her, the better she trusted me, and I began to ride her on solo rides where she had to listen to me and trust that the big scary mailboxes, kids on bicycles, loud school buses and barking dogs weren’t going to get her. She learned that I would never ask her to do anything that would hurt her, and she began to cross creeks, bridges, pass by those crazy emus even when her heart was telling her to run from the saber-toothed tigers! I hauled her to horse shows just for the experience, and rode her all over the show grounds to prepare her for her upcoming show career, but first, I wanted a solid trail foundation on her. I believed that too many horses were soured on the show ring by not being allowed to be horses, and I turned Josey out each night to socialize with other horses, then brought her in each morning to feed, and this kept her mentally happy. She had a few scratches and nicks on her beautiful coat from playing with her buddies, but she was as healthy inside and out as a horse could be. Many of my show friends warned me that I was ruining her for the show ring, but I didn’t care. I believed that she and I could have our proverbial cake and eat it, too!
As I worked Josey around the track, my family and friends told me that she was too fast to win in the show ring, and they didn’t believe that a true walking gait could be that fast. I tried slowing her down, but this was a big girl with long legs, a big motor and she was shaking her head and flopping her ears while she cruised around the arena, so I decided to ignore the criticism and just train her in her natural ability. Every night after I got home from work, I worked on her consistency, her canter, and trained her to side pass, pivot, forehand turn, back at two speeds on a light rein, and soon, she began to almost read my mind. On weekends, I hauled her to any trail ride that I heard of, and she learned to tolerate wagons and mules, highway traffic, bullhorns, being tied all night long on campouts and all the noisy hoopla of bands playing at night.
March rolled around and it was time for the East Texas Charity Horse Show in Marshall, and I decided to put all Josey’s training and talent to the test, in spite of her ongoing desire to push on at almost twice the speed of other walking horses. In the first two classes, I tried to check her down to the speed of her competitors, because if I had let her go, I was afraid that she’d just zoom by them and the judge would think we were racking. She did fairly well, with a 3rd out of 11, and a 4th out of 17, and I was thrilled, since she was only 3 years old competing against much older horses.
While in the arena, I noticed that there was a commotion at the base of the stands, and then I realized that people were lined up to ask for the autograph of a celebrity. George Foreman, who owned a big horse ranch in Marshall, and in fact, loved gaited horses, had come out to watch the show. I had never felt the desire to collect signatures from anyone, but I did have a mischievous streak that I inherited from my grandfather, so after my class was over, I tied Josey to the horse trailer, grabbed a composition book that I carried around with me as a journal, and walked over to the stands to get in line to see George.
As I stood there, I wondered how the poor guy ever got to enjoy himself without being pestered everywhere he went for attention, autographs, advice or adulation, yet I smiled at the realization that somehow, I didn’t feel enough pity for him to abandon my scheme.
When I finally got to the head of the line, he was talking with a friend of his who was sitting next to him, and, without breaking his conversation, he reached for my composition book to sign his autograph for me. However, without ever making eye contact or saying a word, I moved the book out of his reach, snatched his pen from his hand, scribbled “To George, Best Wishes” along with my signature, tore the page out and ceremoniously handed it to him, announcing, “Hi! I’m one of the contestants and I thought you’d like my autograph!” Mr. Foreman burst into a huge guffaw, took the paper and folded it, put it in his shirt pocket and told me that he was going to hang it on his wall. I shook hands with him and then left to go get Josey ready for her next class.
When the gate opened for the 4-year-old and Under Pleasure Specialty class, I hung back, pondering whether to continue to hold Josey’s big motor under control, or go for the gusto and just let nature take its course. Much to my family’s dismay, I usually leaned toward having fun in the ring and wasn’t that concerned about winning. While I wanted to put on a good performance, I didn’t always care that much about the judge’s opinion, and once again, I could feel little horns begin to sprout from my head . . . there were 18 good horses in this class, some of which were owned by the Who’s Who of the industry. I felt that Josey and I didn’t have a chance at the blue, so as the 17th horse entered the ring, I turned Josey a circle to the left to check her speed just a little, let up on the reins, leaned forward and whispered to her, “You go for it, Big Girl!”
She hit the ring with her head up, neck arched, big white stockings plowing the sand underneath her, ears forward and head shaking like a piston in a well-oiled motor. I was a bit tense at first as I realized that we were about to start passing horses like they were standing still, and we were only in the first gait, the flat walk! Sure enough, when the announcer called for the second gait, the running walk, she switched gears, dropped her back end down like a jet boat taking off and we began to lap horses. Josey really began to plow that arena now, throwing sand as she put her massive stride into gear, her front end lifting easily and naturally. The miles we had done together on the trails gave her not only the stamina to make the hard work seem effortless, but also the confidence to ignore the running children, waving flags, and other distractions that might scare such a young horse in her first show. Her coat was throwing off a steamy silhouette in the arena lights, her eyes were shining, and her ears began to flop in rhythm with her deep head nod. With each stride, she covered a lot of ground, and we sailed around and around that ring. By now, I figured that at the speed we were going, everyone would accuse us of racking, so I decided to relax and just enjoy the ride. Because she was so incredibly smooth and my first love was a head-shaking walking gait, I had a smile as big as Dallas on my face. I would barely shift my weight, we would lean into the turns like we were on wheels, and when the judge called for a halt, I swung my legs forward without ever picking up the reins and she stopped immediately and quietly.
I was totally blinded and oblivious to the crowd or anyone else in the ring by now, because I was so proud of my Josey. She was doing what she was born to do, with class, and doing it like a champion, whether anyone else thought so or not. As we lined up with 17 other horses, my heart swelled and I patted her, not caring if we ever stepped foot into a show ring again. This girl had talent, spirit, courage and heart, and she was precious to me.
When the announcer called out “First place goes to Professional & Fancy, ridden by Laura Kidder”, I was still zoned out in my private sailing world, and I didn’t hear it. My family had to come hang onto the rail in front of me and yell at me to ride to the center of the ring. My Big Ol’ Precious Baby Girl had not only won me over, not only won the judge over, but as I stopped for the blue ribbon and the win shot, I could hear the mighty, thunderous applause of the powerful hands of an Olympic Gold Medalist and Boxing World Grand Champion, and I looked over to see George clapping and smiling his congratulations.
I would have been happy to pack up and go home right then and just cherish the memories, but we had one more class for the night, and that was the Juvenile class with my 12-yr-old daughter, Krystal in the irons. When the gate opened, the good ship U.S.S. Josey set sail again with little Krystal at the helm, and the big walking filly delivered a repeat performance, pushing off her back end and pulling with her front, nodding and flopping those ears in perfect four-beat rhythm. After they took the blue ribbon and made their victory pass, Josey carried her giggling pre-teen rider carefully all over the show grounds and through the barns, easily making the transition from powerful show horse to babysitter. What a long way she had come in less than a year! I couldn’t wait to take my Big Baby Girl back home and turn her out in the pasture to get ‘ruined’ all over again.
10-yr-old Krystal riding Josey after the show.
by Laura Kidder
She walked from one tall pine tree to another, gathering pine cones to start a fire on the beautiful autumn evening. The air was cold and she loved the way her breath made steam, remembering how hot and sultry this same camp had been just a couple of months earlier. Her dogs were bounding along behind her, occasionally play fighting with each other, tails constantly wagging. She smiled as she wondered how she could harness their energy and get them to help gather firewood. She had already unloaded and tied all eight horses on the picket line, fed and watered them, and they were content, busy munching their hay for the night. Because she didn’t have a pet sitter at home, she had brought her orphan Brangus calf with her, and she laughed as he butted his evening bottle while he nursed, and then she loaded him into the trailer to snuggle down into shavings for the night.
She built a nice, big fire that would last a couple of hours, so that when she returned from her evening ride, she could sink into her chair and let the crackling fire warm and mesmerize her. She was content to be the only human in the camp area, and knew that most likely, on this Thursday night, nobody else would drive in. All the preparation for the trip, the packing, unloading, setting up camp had been a lot of hard work for this many animals, but she still didn’t regret giving up the ‘golden handcuffs’ -- intellectually stimulating conversations with humans, nice wardrobe, high heels, and the great salary at the law firm -- for a life of ‘animal whispering’.
She picked her favorite horse off the picket line, a big-boned, handsome black and white spotted saddle horse named Dakota, and saddled him while the dogs eagerly anticipated the evening run. Since he was her personal riding horse and wasn’t in training, the big gelding hadn’t been ridden in awhile, and as she swung into the saddle, he surged forward immediately. She thrilled at his strength and power, and guided him to the trail head, with the dogs leading the way. She only had to check him a couple of times to set him at the speed she wanted, and he settled into a rhythmic four-beat gait, smooth and therapeutic to her soul. All the miles that they had shared together had created a partnership which required very little tangible communication, and they simply sailed through the Texas forest. She listened to the music of his hooves hitting the soft, sandy trail and inhaled deeply of the clean pine smell underneath the canopy of the forest. She said a prayer of thanks, and her heart felt like it was going to burst with gratitude, as she flashed back to the winter before, when she had been crippled with weakness by her fight with appendix cancer and wasn’t sure that she’d ever see the forest again. Let go and let God, she had told herself then, and now, here she was, in her own idea of paradise, so happy and grateful that she almost felt guilty.
She knew Dakota had incredible stamina, so she let him go, knowing that he would push forward for at least an hour, and he hit a ground-covering easy rack, ears forward, his mane flying, the leather of the saddle softly protesting. She let him set the pace, trusting him to give her a clue when he would need an oxygen break, knowing that he would never stop for one unless she sensed it. Although it was cold, she knew she should make the dogs take a breather; so finally, she pulled the big gelding up and marveled at how shallow his breath was for such a long ride. His stamina had always been remarkable, his disposition always very eager and willing, and she loved him for it. He relaxed now, standing quietly, one hind leg cocked, his excess energy burned off, yet ready at the slightest cue to move forward again.
Everyone stood there awhile, quietly blowing white steam into the air with every exhalation, when suddenly a buck and his doe burst up out of the underbrush a few feet away and took flight, their bluff called, white flags waving, and the dogs took off in pursuit. She called them back, chastised them, gave the frightened deer time to make an escape, and then reined her horse around to return to camp. This was her favorite part, the part – because of proper trail etiquette -- that she usually only got to enjoy when she was riding alone. She had to gauge the timing just right, because if the spirited gelding was too fresh, he would be hard to stop, and she didn’t want any accidents, but she also didn’t want him to discover how powerful he really was. She urged him forward with the slightest of cues, almost by osmosis, to see how sensitive he was . . . if he bolted forward, the timing would be wrong . . .
He responded to her request with a slight increase of speed, exactly what she wanted to feel. She leaned down onto his neck, moved the reins slightly up his neck and whispered, “Let’s go!”
Instantly, she felt her horse’s muscles bunch up as he exploded and lunged ahead into a powerful gallop, ears back against the wind, eyes eagerly forward, neck stretched out like a racehorse. He loved this part as much as she did, and she buried her face in his mane, smelling that wonderful horse scent, and they left the dogs far behind as his hooves reached out and swallowed the trail, stride after stride, twisting and turning athletically through each curve. She knew he could trip or crossfire, but she was confident of his athletic ability and addicted to this adrenaline rush, so she pressed him slightly, actually urging him on faster. Knowing what she knew, she wanted to squeeze every quality moment out of her life on this Earth that she possibly could, and she felt like she was on Pegasus!
They thundered down the sandy trail, insanely fast, mane flying, wind in their faces, hearts racing, steam blowing . . .
All too soon, the camp came back into view, so she checked him, two, three times to slow him down, and then asked for a walk to cool him down good before she unsaddled him and put him back on the picket line. The dogs had already caught up by now, bounded ahead, and as they trotted back into camp, they collapsed by the tent, panting and looking satisfied that they had recovered the lead.
By now, the fire had coals that were just right for dinner, so she washed her hands in the cold water and tossed a small rib eye on the fire. She roasted potatoes and zucchini to go with it and sat by the campfire, eating her dinner, thinking that she wouldn’t mind if this moment lasted forever. Her dogs sat nearby, eyes bright, hoping for a scrap, but knowing they should keep a respectable distance and not beg. She sat for awhile afterward and pondered life, thought of her parents, wished that she had been able to share experiences like this with them before they passed on. She shook off the sadness and grabbed her towel, walked to the shower house and gathered her courage to brave the cool air that was about to clash with her favorite ritual – a nightly hot shower.
Afterward, she loaded the dogs into the trailer for the night so that they wouldn’t chase the night time critters that visited the camp in the moonlight. She climbed into the hammock that she had hung between two tall pine trees, stared up at the beautiful starry sky, and marveled at the difference between a hammock and a hospital bed. Armed with the cognizance and education that only a death-defying experience such as cancer can provide, she planned to continue to experience life with full force and reach for the brass ring at every single opportunity. Trying to tame her ambitious mind, she finally fell asleep under the stars, dreaming of future camping trips to Colorado, Kentucky, Montana, and rides on Pegasus through the clouds.
REACH FOR THE BRASS RING
(and NEVER Sleep With Your Mouth Open)
Happy Anniversary to me!! After two days in November at M D Anderson being probed, tested and generally violated, the results are in . . . I am an Officially-Certified One Year Cancer Survivor!!
This time, last year, I was lying in a hospital bed, extremely weak after my horrendous catastrophic surgery to remove cancer of the appendix, wondering if life was over. Depression was my biggest enemy, as I was so down that I didn't even want to get out of bed to walk around the nurse's station, pushing my IV pole. I could not drink or eat anything for two months (being nourished by vein feeding), and I constantly craved a big, cold glass of orange juice. If I had been offered a glass of orange juice or a million dollars, I would have chosen the OJ! I had my first microscopic meal in two months on Christmas Day last year, and by the end of January, 2007, I could almost eat a child's portion, but due to the acid, I didn't have my first OJ until May.
Once I was able to eat food normally, my strength returned at an incredible speed, and in April, I camped and rode horses with friends at Lake Rayburn for two weeks, then traveled to Kentucky in May to ride and camp. In August, I spent two weeks in Italy (a life long dream), and in October, went back to Kentucky. (Yeah, I'll have no retirement and be a big ol' burden on my kids!) As soon as I got back, I reconnected with friends from the 80's and 90's, and we all camped at Lake Rayburn again. I seem to have more energy than ever, and in fact, am a borderline workaholic, but what I have noticed most of all is that life is richer after my Big "C" experience. I take nothing for granted, seize every opportunity that comes along, no matter how tired I am, I stay far away from the proverbial 'rut', I savor life like never before, and I practically have tendonitis from reaching for that brass ring!
At our campouts, some of my friends have elaborate campers, complete with TV's and microwaves, but some of us sleep in tents and hammocks. No sandwiches for us – we have full gourmet meals such as biscuits and gravy cooked over the camp fire, grilled chicken, steaks, baked potatoes, shrimp cocktails, homemade soup, and gumbo. In the mornings, I grind my own coffee beans and make the best coffee I've ever tasted in the $3 percolator that my good friend, Althea, got for me from a garage sale.
We particularly love the full moon, when we strap headlights on and ride at night, with the moonshine so bright that we can see our shadows. We strap glowing collars on the dogs and if we miss the trail, the dogs put us back on it. When we get back to camp, we sit around the fire while Dan and Diane play the mandolin and guitar, we sing and make S'mores.
I usually sleep in a tent, but one night, I was so enamored with the beautiful dancing, crackling camp fire that I decided to roll out my sleeping bag and spend the night there, right by the fire, like the old western movies.
Try sleeping on the ground on a sleeping bag with your adoring dog nearby!
I was sleeping peacefully and soundly when my Aussie, "Tex" decided to wake me up with his NOSE IN MY MOUTH!!! Yech!! Maybe I was snoring and deserved it, I don't know. I had to keep getting up during the night to stoke the fire, and each time, Tex would happily jump right in the middle of my sleeping bag, and it took all my strength to roll his limp, pleading body out. My dogs live outside and do not come in my house, so I was not very happy with him putting 'dog cooties' in my bed
Right before dawn, both dogs began to bark a lot, and I was really annoyed, so I turned on the flashlight, and immediately forgave the dogs for all their sins! I could see little red eyes everywhere I shone the light! Apparently, the dogs were keeping raccoons, 'possums and even a fox out of camp. The next night, I slept in a hammock strung between two trees, high up off of the ground!
Because of my cancer experience, I declined invitations to sleep in brand new air-conditioned campers with my friends. Lying in that hammock, the view was magnificent, with the stars twinkling in the sky, huge pine tree branches swaying in the wind, no mosquitoes, with a cool and gentle breeze blowing across my face. I slept like a baby, and the next morning, I was rewarded with a very moving and emotional experience – I was awakened by a strange sound that I'd never heard before, and as I looked up, I realized that two beautiful bald eagles were soaring above me, and one of them was calling out.
I was missing my gang at church, so I left that Saturday night after spending a full three days riding with friends, and drove back home so that I could catch the Sunday morning service. I was amazed that morning, when the sermon was on NOT living life in a rut, all safe and predictable, and that we should live life fully, try to be our best, reach out.
I have never once questioned God during the terrible ordeal I went through with the battle for my life. I never asked "Why Me?", because, why NOT me? (I'd rather it be me than my kids, for sure!) I did wonder "Why now?", since I lost my mother to colon cancer, and I halfway expected to have this battle, but not until I was much older. Now, at the risk of offending some folks, I am inclined to believe that this has been a blessing for me. Life is so much richer -- everything smells better, feels better, sounds better, and orange juice tastes like a million dollars!
I have preached this all my life: You have NOTHING if you don't have your health; no amount of money can buy good health, but family and friends are paramount, also.
Before the Big "C" experience, I had a list of things that I had hoped to do, and had resigned myself to just dreaming about them, but now, I am proactive. In the next two years, in between working and making a living, I WILL learn to scuba dive, play a guitar, become more fluent in Spanish, travel more, ride my Harley more, reconnect with old friends and make time for them, volunteer for more charity work, write more, and dream big.
Life is one big merry-go-round, so don't
just sit there on your revolving horse – lean way out and reach for the brass
ring while you can!
<----- Thriller and cute little Alexandria at the park in New Orleans.
We hauled 6 horses to East Texas and met with some fellow horse-aholics from New
Orleans to ride, and instead of doing circles in an arena, I thought I would
show them a great time and veer from the proverbial ‘beaten path’. There were 5
of us, with one being the cutest little 7-yr-old girl you ever saw, named Alex
(short for Alexandria), who was there to try out "Thriller", a black and white
spotted gelding I had for sale (since her birthday was coming up). We saddled
up and rode about a mile beside traffic, past a school that had just had their
homecoming parade, and all the horses did well considering all the commotion,
balloons and floats. My brilliant idea was to ride through the historical
cemetery, with gravesites from the early 1800’s, right after Texas became part
of the union. We made our way past the big white headstones and all the history
they recorded, down to the shores of Sam Rayburn Lake, where everyone gave a
sigh at what a beautiful day it was and at the stunning view. I had ridden a
couple of horses out into the lake and had a great time a few weeks before, but
now the water level was lower. We rode in single file, and everyone was
thrilled at the scenery. Lake Rayburn is a man-made lake, and since the water
was so low, we actually got to see parts of chimneys, storm cellars and old
cattle pens from the 1800’s and 1900’s which were buried underwater when the
Army Corp of Engineers came through and made everyone move to make way for the
We had ridden along the shore for about 5 minutes, when Thriller hit a pocket of quicksand. His back end went down, but his front end was still on solid ground. He’s very calm natured, being used to dogs and shooting guns, and tiny little Alex, although she was a bit frightened, simply hopped off to the side and held his reins, which came completely naturally to her. (She's going to be a future great horsewoman!) I stepped off of my horse, took the reins from Alex, gave Thriller a little pop on the hindquarters and he lunged forward, pulling himself out with his front feet. About that same time, I heard a commotion behind me, and Ruby, the sweetest, most gentle spotted horse mare on Earth went down in a bigger pocket of quicksand, with her whole body being buried halfway up her sides. She is almost 6 years old, and was raised by a very nice lady from the time she was born, being pampered and spoiled, so she doesn’t really understand that she’s a horse! Ruby was literally swimming in liquid sand, and after about 30 seconds, she just flopped over slightly on her right side, gave a little sigh and had the attitude that we got her in this predicament, now she was going to relax and let us get her out of this fine mess!
About three of us got down on our knees and started using our hands to dig her front feet out, and she laid there like she was in a resort getting a massage! She let us take her front legs out, extend them in front of her, and she never moved a muscle the entire time. Somehow, she seemed to know that it would be best if she rested and let us do the thinking and maneuvering. I was really beginning to think we were going to have to go get a backhoe to pull her out, because when she did try, she made almost no headway at all. I unsnapped her reins from her bridle, took one and got behind her and popped her on the hindquarters 3 or 4 times, which was just enough incentive to make her pull herself out with her front feet. Fortunately, we were close enough to a shelf of solid terrain that she was able to get herself a 'bite' on it, and inch by inch pull herself forward. We were coaxing her to take constant rest breaks, keeping her calm so that she wouldn't burn all her energy at once. Since her back end was mired so deeply in liquid sand, it took all the front strength she could muster, but we snapped the reins to the halter we had brought along, and between us pulling and her pushing, with plenty of forced rest breaks, calm and easy does it, we did it!
After she got out, we let her get her breath, walk a few steps to ensure she was not weak legged, and then she stood calmly and let her rider remount. We moved off toward 'real' land and forgot about the lake! I had myself some real troopers, because when we got back, everyone agreed that it was a little scary, but that it had been a fun ride and a real adventure!
GOING FOR THE GOLD
by Laura Kidder
Published in condensed version in the June, 2010 issue of Voice Magazine (the official journal of the Tennessee Walking Horse breed)
Bonnie and "Peddlin' The Gold" after a horse show win. Click on picture above to see more about "Goldie's" championship quest.
Back in the early eighties, I watched with admiration as a big, beautiful black Tennessee Walking Horse stallion entered the show ring in a flowing running walk, arched neck, perfect headset shaking with the rhythm of his perfect four-count hoof beats, mane flying and tail streaming behind. Coming from a stock horse background and new to gaited horses, I really appreciated his graceful, athletic way of moving, and it seemed to me that he was different than the other show horses, both in performance and in the obvious bond that his rider had with him. This was my first encounter with the petite ball of fire I came to know as Bonnie Smith, and “Jet Star’s Delight” – her future first Supreme Versatility Champion.
The team of Jet Star and Bonnie were formidable opponents in both pleasure and versatility events, as their perfect synergetic partnership brought them countless ribbons. I loved watching Jet negotiate the challenges in the trail obstacle classes, moving slowly and purposely across the bridge, backing perfectly through the ‘L’, side passing across the log, as if receiving commands by osmosis, and his canter was a beautiful rising and falling motion like a rocking chair. Most people are fortunate if they have one horse or dog of a lifetime, and Bonnie knew she was blessed to be able to own and ride such a fine animal.
This is the kind of horse that she was seeking when she happened upon an ad at Cloud 9 Walkers for a palomino colt that caught her attention, but he was already sold. A little later, she attended a desensitizing clinic, fell in love with a palomino weanling there and wound up taking him home with her, but was haunted by the thought that she may have left something behind at Cloud 9, so Bonnie visited that website again. She studied the pictures and video of a palomino filly there with a huge overstride, and after several email conversations with me, she decided to purchase the filly sight unseen, with the stipulation that I deliver her to a show in Conroe where she was showing one of her other Supreme Versatility Champions, “Brick”.
Bonnie’s husband, Bob, named her new filly “Goldie”, and no time was wasted in starting her education for her show career. I drove up to the show in Conroe, we unloaded the filly, and that evening, Bonnie began to introduce her to the show ring by ponying her from Brick’s back.
Bonnie now had two palomino babies which were foaled less than three weeks apart, and she started their training out early (natural horsemanship, of course!) by turning them out for lots of freedom and socializing, and ponying them with her great babysitter, Brick. All of this work paid off when the beautiful, long-striding gold filly won the Yearling Filly class at the SWBHEA Futurity at the State Fair of Texas Horse Show.
Later, when it was time to start riding training, Goldie accepted the saddle quite uneventfully, and eventually a rider, gracefully. She proved to have a fairly big motor and didn’t need any urging, she wasn’t spooky, and she was nicely sensitive to leg cues. Canter training was a little more challenging, as she was more like a runaway freight train without steering! Bob traveled a lot, which left nobody at home in case of an accident, and the ground was hard, so she decided to put a friend, Chris Aitchison on the green mare to develop a canter from this enthusiastic gallop. He put her through lots of practice in a pasture with tall grass, where she slowly learned to roll her canter, slow down and stay between the reins. Another friend, Samantha Boyce, who traveled to shows with Bonnie and showed her other horses, helped as well, and the young mare’s skills began to broaden.
Bonnie was feeling the need to get past her worries about falling off of a green horse, so she bought a tiller and was able to make a terrific horse-show-sized oval with soft ground for them to train on. Now, when she looked down from the saddle, she wasn’t so intimidated and she slowly began to regain her confidence and feel safe. It was time for the ‘master’ to take over again, so she began to work the young palomino mare toward the goal of relaxing her and refining her canter to her standards of perfection. The combination of soft ground, small circles, neck reining, and leg aids all contributed to making this young, willing filly a responsive versatility horse who was a true pleasure to ride.
“The part of Bonnie’s training program that I respect the most is the fact that all, and I mean every horse she has ever owned or trained, minds”, Samantha explains. “All of her horses tie, stand still while mounting/saddling, etc, they won’t run off while under saddle, and they never have any nasty habits such as kicking, biting, etc. Bonnie made it clear from the first day I came out to ride with her that my safety was of utmost importance and when working with animals that are 900 lbs. heavier than I was, those horses need to mind so that I wouldn’t get hurt. Bonnie doesn’t have any cruel or unusual means of teaching the horses manners -- she just makes sure her horses are respectful at all times, and if there is a problem, she addresses it right away. Speaking of Bonnie’s safety habits, at the barn she is lovingly referred to as the ‘Helmet Nazi’ because no one is allowed to ride without a helmet.”
Bonnie, who swears that she is directionally-challenged and can’t remember reining patterns, found that Reining and Western Riding were her favorite classes as Goldie learned flying lead changes like she loved them, too. Along the way, Bonnie and Samantha began to show Goldie at nearby schooling shows in the canter classes and as the young mare continued to improve, they began hauling to Tennessee Walking Horse shows, as well. They discovered that Goldie loved jumping, and took to it naturally, never trying to refuse or dodge the jumps.
Samantha says, “One of the things I like best about showing Goldie is that she has plenty of “gas”; I have never had to expend any effort trying to get her to move. If anything, it is harder to get her to do a flat walk than it is a running walk, because she wants to go. She is a very intelligent horse who picks up on patterns easily. Once I rode her in a western riding pattern, and just to irritate her, I asked for all the wrong lead changes. She didn’t listen to me once, but instead, took every correct lead that the pattern called for.”
Bonnie developed a bond with Goldie much like the one she had with her beloved Jet Star, and found that the bond with her brought forth memories of a big black stallion from yesteryear, with waves of nostalgia. Samantha agrees that the relationship between this “fireball” who is responsible for ten Versatility Championships and her “yeller palermeenie” is special: “Goldie is 100% Bonnie’s horse. The first time I climbed on her after Bonnie had started her, she tried to bite my foot! Miss Sweet Precious Goldie, who would never hurt a fly, tried to eat my toes because I was not her ‘mother’ and therefore was not supposed to ride her! Goldie and I have overcome that, but she still won’t perform for me like she will for Bonnie.”
Not everyone gets a chance at one Horse of a Lifetime, but Bonnie believes that she is blessed with the cherished experience of two, as she hugs her gold mare, “Peddlin’ The Gold”, National Supreme Versatility Champion.
Is There a Doctor In The Barn?
by Laura Kidder
Since she was a girl, she had wondered how silly she was for being mesmerized by the simple act of studying deft, hungry horse lips chasing, gathering, devouring oats in a feed trough at feeding time. She also loved the smell, and had even succumbed to the curious temptation to chew a few herself, trying to see if the grain was half as good as they made it look! What was it that was so satisfying about spending time this way? Her mother had always suspected that she needed a few hours on the proverbial couch of a psychiatrist to cure this crazy behavior, but she always laughed and figured that since she didn’t smoke or drink, this wasn’t a terribly unhealthy vice, this love and obsession she had for horses, which she dubbed “Horse-itis”.
On this cool autumn evening in her favorite place to be, the misting rain that was falling softly on the metal roof of the barn created a pleasing harmony with the sounds and nutty smells of grain being ground by the teeth of fourteen contented horses munching their evening feed and blowing warm steamy breath. Even though she was really tired, she waited in anticipation and watched her latest favorite project, a five-year-old big blue roan Tennessee Walking Horse gelding named Rhett Butler with magnificent gaits, but a temporary trust issue. She loved training this kind of horse, showering him with gentle kindness and firm authority so that eventually, he would be an exceptional, reliable pleasure horse.
The exact moment that the big blue gelding finished his last oat, she eagerly moved into his stall and quietly asked him to lower his head for the halter. Even though there was no moonlight to speak of, and the night was cold and wet, she was craving a ‘fix’. She had suffered through a long, physically exhausting day of mundane, un-horse-related chores, cleaning up hurricane damage, stacking hay, lumber, repairing fence, cleaning stalls, and she really needed to sit in a saddle astride a mentally and physically challenging horse.
She had purchased Rhett a couple of months before, falling instantly in love with his beautiful blue color, massive bone structure, big hindquarters, sloping shoulder, but most of all for his fantastic natural head-shaking running walk. She had plans, once again, to have a personal riding horse that she could enjoy at the end of each day, after training younger horses, but she knew that most likely, the others would always dominate her time, and she wouldn’t get to ride him very often. In fact, the big, blue, strong and sensitive gelding had been turned out to pasture for the last two months, and he snorted as she led him to the wash rack to saddle him. This was the kind of snorting she loved . . . she called it ‘rollers in his nose’, and it usually indicated a higher-spirited horse which she found thrilling to ride.
When she swung the saddle up onto his back, he cringed fearfully, so she spoke gently to him, coaxing him to relax. Slowly stroking his neck, she looked into his big, warm, worried eyes and told him that nobody was going to hurt him, and that they were actually going to have a really good time tonight. She frequently talked to her horses, and in fact, she talked to dogs, chickens, turkeys, cows, cats . . . of course animals didn’t always understand, but they definitely could hear and respond to the tone of her voice. As she carried on her horsey conversation, she smiled as she imagined she could hear her mother, reminding her about the psychiatrist’s couch!
She loved the way the nervous horse seemed to relax almost immediately as she cooed to him, showing a willingness to please. She carefully tightened the cinch, led him through the gate into the night time pasture, swung into the stirrups and, of course, before she could get her leg over the saddle, he was naughty and tried to move off. She checked him and insisted that he stay in place for a moment, and if he just had to move, then it would be her way, in small circles or figure eight’s, until he finally had a desire to stand still with all four feet in the same tracks. She believed that training horses can frequently be done by compromise, not with an iron fist; here a little, there a little, precipice upon precipice. Iron fists can cause problems such as hard mouths and rearing, not to mention a very sullen and unhappy horse. She was intent upon winning this battle, and eventually, ‘the war’, as this was the method of training that she relied upon to teach her horses to stand quietly while being mounted.
After she was satisfied that he had yielded, mentally and physically, she squeezed her legs, asking him to move off, and he did so smoothly, with a wonderful true four-beat, rhythmic head-shaking gait, while expressing his rebellion at having to go back to work in a not-so-subtle but innocuous way by sneezing every few seconds. She reprimanded him for that and he quit, but continued to challenge her by trying to turn left and right, hoping to return to the barn. Her belief had always been that every single horse born possesses some degree of behavior which could be classified as barn sour, but the question is to what degree? His behavior confirmed this, but instead of being threatening or dangerous, it was a low level, and was simply the kind of challenge she was craving this night to hold her interest, so she wasn’t annoyed, and she used her legs to guide and drive him. She welcomed the opportunity to educate and transform him into a willing and obedient animal who was as much a pleasure to handle as he was beautiful to look at.
The pasture was a bit muddy and slick, but he picked his way carefully through the grass, occasional pockets of water, and the sweet smelling, decaying oak leaves with a perfect four-beat cadence, nodding his head along in rhythm. This was exactly what the Tennessee Walking Horse breed needed for an ambassador, she thought, thrilling in the fact that he was completely barefoot with nice, short, healthy hooves. She directed Rhett to the river bottom to check on the huge brush fire she had started earlier, which was roaring nicely now, providing a pleasant, tingling warmth as they rode by. Smoke created by a medley of oak, sweet gum and pine wafted over them, and she inhaled deeply, finding the rich fragrance to be almost intoxicating.
They gaited on along and came upon the cows as they were plodding along on their way to the pond, unconcerned, long ago desensitized to horseback riders weaving in through them. She pulled Rhett up and he halted, stood quietly, their eyes focusing on the night time drama unfolding as the clouds began to break up. She laughed and wished desperately that she could spend the entire night here, as the dim light of the stars and sliver of moonlight began to reveal a bovine comedy show. Two-week old calves were jumping and running in circles with their tails held high over their backs, stopping now and then to duel with their heads pressed together, glaring at each other for a moment, then pushing, pretending to be big, bad bulls. As the frisky little fellows followed their moms to the pond, some of them slipped down the bank, tested the water and then scurried back up as if they couldn’t wait to tell the rest of the gang. Seeing these precious babies just starting out their lives and discovering the world caused her to reflect for a moment on the reality of the cycle of life, as she realized that she, herself, was in the autumn of her life. She pushed aside the realization that one day, she would be too old to ride a big fine horse such as Rhett, and in fact, too old to ride horses at all! Tonight, though, she was still young enough to ride the thrill, so she turned from the cattle and squeezed Rhett with her legs, telling him that she wanted to see what he was made of.
He responded quickly with a surge of energy and burst into a huge surprise which caused her heart to swell with joy . . . Rhett had effortlessly slipped into a thrilling speed rack! She knew the pasture well, every inch of it, so she wasn’t worried about any obstacles or holes, and they flew along smoothly, mane flying and tail streaming behind, the wind whistling in their ears. She knew that some misguided people would try to have her believe that allowing her good true walking horse to rack would ruin him, but her years in the show ring had taught her that wasn’t true. She had, after all, taken a winning pleasure Walking horse, converted him to racking, won many blue ribbons with him and then converted him back to walking and won again. She had been the weird person who cantered her racking horse in the warm up ring before her racking class, but she had discovered that it actually lengthened his stride, and she had trained him so well that he didn’t dream of breaking gait in his class. She loved the memories of being an outlaw and showing versatility when versatility wasn’t cool. Trail obstacle class had always been her favorite, and to this day, she liked to train her horses to pivot, forehand turn and side pass.
When she got to the top of the hill, she pulled him up again and let him catch his breath while she studied the stars. She said a prayer of thanks, as she believed that this experience was a privilege, hopefully one that she had earned. She let the spirited gelding settle for a few moments, then began to ask him to yield his front to the left by applying pressure ahead of the cinch on his right side. He was very nervous at first, but he had an extremely willing personality, so when he finally stepped two steps with his front feet and kept his hind feet in place, she praised him, settled again and then moved off. She repeated this a few times, switched to asking for a pivot, practiced his backing with the lightest of pressure, and then showed him that he must walk back to the barn slow and easy on a loose rein. She taught him that when she said “Good Boy” and scratched his neck, he had done what she wanted, and soon, she could feel him relax when she praised him. Oh, she loved this horse and she loved this job.
As she returned to the barn and unsaddled the steaming gelding, she gave a heavy sigh as she looked around at all the work that was yet to be done, gates to be mended, stalls to be cleaned, auto waterers to be repaired, garden to be hoed, and now the day was over and it was time to move to inside chores. She smiled at the instant transformation in her demeanor as her day was winding down. Why was it that shoveling horse manure was more alluring than housework? She felt a moment of shame as she remembered her sister-in-law’s recent bout with diabetes, which had blinded her. A young, award-winning school teacher, this sweet lady was now confined to her house, robbed of her career and having to learn to function in a dark world. Yes, the ability to do ALL chores was definitely a blessing, and she said another prayer of thanks.
As she turned out the lights and headed to the house, she found herself already looking forward to the next long day of hard work, and she wistfully glanced back over her shoulder at the barn. Just for a moment, she wondered if life wouldn’t be more simple if she could just move a bed to one of the stalls and live with the horses. She laughed as she could practically hear her mother telling her that it wasn’t a bed she needed, but a couch!
(A disease that cannot be understood by those not afflicted)
By Laura Kidder
“Luckily, you grew out of that childish horse phase, huh?”
(. . . The response from a childhood friend whom I recently reconnected with via Facebook. I had to laugh out loud, as nothing could be further from the truth.)
He was a big-headed, raw-boned palomino gelding, 16 hands and ribby, slightly sway-backed and ugly as a mud fence, but his eyes were gentle, liquid brown and they told me that he’d take good care of an 11-yr-old girl struggling with the agony and loneliness of her parents’ recent divorce. “Mountain” was the very first horse my mother took me to look at, and she really couldn’t afford him, but I had wanted a horse since I was born, practically! I had already started babysitting for shift-working mothers after school, and I had saved enough money to pay his board and feed for a few months ahead. So, Mom scraped the money together and the big, ugly Thoroughbred gelding came home with us and became my beautiful best friend.
I read every horse book I could get my hands on to learn how to care for him properly, and I walked a mile each way to the boarding stable every morning before school to feed him, and then again after school to ride him. Eventually, I found vacant lots with lush grass, so I walked to school each morning with Mountain’s lead rope in one hand, my books in the other and staked him out to graze all day long, then picked him up on my way back home in the afternoons. I didn’t have a saddle, so I carried a 5-gallon bucket with me when I rode, with a rope on the handle so that I could haul it up from the ground after I used it for a mounting block. When I asked my Dad for a saddle, he refused, saying that I would lose interest in horses in a year or so and turn my attention to boys. I guess that was his way of telling me that it would be just a childish phase. Oh, how I would prove him wrong!
By the time I was 12 years old, I had learned how to provide my own vet care, giving injections, vaccinations, dewormings, etc. so that I could save money to allow me to better afford the best feed and hay. I bought myself a rasp and nippers and took care of his hooves myself. When I heard of a new-fangled, improved way to feed a horse, I immediately experimented. Each morning before school, I would put a big pot of water on the stove to boil and then add two scoops of whole oats to the water. The theory was that the heat killed the germination of the oats and therefore they would stay in the horse longer, causing him to reap full nutritional benefits. Of course I added molasses to sweeten it, and the result smelled so delicious that I wanted to eat it myself! That pot cooled and became his evening meal, and after school, I started the process over again, which would cool overnight to become his breakfast. Mom thought I was just a little too eager, but she didn’t complain.
By the time I was 14 years old, my mother started sending me to the local grocery store in her car, and she stayed annoyed with me because I couldn’t pass an empty field of Johnson grass without pulling over and picking a trunk load to take to my horse as a treat. Somehow, during all of this caring that I did for Mountain, I still managed to make good grades in school and babysit almost full time for the money to pay all of my horse’s expenses. My parents never spent any money at all on my horse habit, nor did they supervise me. Mountain was my world.
I rode the big palomino all over town, around and through traffic, in the local July 4th parades and Christmas parades, and it was at this early age that I discovered that I needed a challenge. Mountain became so compliant that I was soon bored, and when a neighbor fell in love with him and begged to buy him, I let her have him. Fueled by pity and the urge to train, I took the money and rescued a young 15-month-old sorrel Quarter Horse filly named “Pancake”, whose owner had neglected her and left her halter on so long that it became embedded in her face. I scraped up the funds to have her nose repaired by the vet, and then began training her, guided mostly by sheer instinct, getting her ready for the day when I would develop her under saddle.
I rode Pancake into adulthood, even through my first pregnancy, and she gave my daughter her first horseback ride. When I heard of a Tennessee Walking Horse stallion that needed a new home because the owners were moving away, I was introduced to gaited horses. That was when my ‘childish phase’ kicked into overdrive, as I got into showing, breeding, raising Tennessee Walkers and then I began training for other people. I studied John Lyons, Monty Roberts (and now Clinton Anderson), and couldn’t see why their methods wouldn’t work on gaited horses as well. Training horses became my therapy between juggling long hours working at a law firm and raising small children, who didn’t inherit this faulty ‘horse-itis’ gene, but we enjoyed years of fun in the show ring and trail riding with them anyway, as they turned out to be talented riders.
Now, here I am in the autumn of my life, and having never been without a horse for one single day of my life since I was 11 years old, I don’t see myself ‘maturing’ to a horseless status ever. In fact, I now ride five to eight horses per day during the week and then when the weekend gets here, I still want to ride more!
To parody an old country western song, “If loving horses is wrong, I don’t wanna be right!”
Horse-itis: Chronic, eternal obsession with horses. Genetic defect, chronic disease, or childish phase?
Or . . . could it be a blessing from above?
If you’re reading this, I suspect you’re afflicted, as well!
By Laura Kidder
My coworkers at the office (back when I had a REAL job) used to ask me why I was so taken with horses and the horse life. They knew that I dreamed of horses all day long at work and then lived them the moment I got home each evening. “Anything you have to follow around with a shovel is too much work for me!” they would say.
Obviously, they had never pitched a tent on the beach at the ocean, tied their horse to the trailer with a hay bag, and listened to the soul soothing sounds of their horse munching his dinner while the sea gulls cried out, surf rolling in and crashing, soft salty wind blowing across their faces. They hadn’t thrown a line in the water and reeled in a flounder, built a camp fire on the beach with fragrant pecan wood, sautéed the flounder in butter and had the best meal of their lives. They hadn’t woke up at dawn the next morning to the sound of sea gulls, watched the sun come up from the soft, warm, furry back of their horse as they rode him bareback down the beach, hooves hitting the sand in a pleasant four-beat rhythm. They didn’t know how much fun it was to ride out deep into the waves and have a big one knock you off your horse, where it was so easy to get back on because salt water makes them buoyant, and the horse was obviously enjoying it just as much.
Obviously, The Ones Who Don’t Understand had never spent a week camping in the forest with their horses and dogs, a therapeutic combination. They didn’t know what pleasure truly can be, gliding down the sandy trails on a beautifully gaited horse, beneath the canopy of pine trees in Texas or Tennessee as the dogs lope ahead, eagerly discovering new scent trails and then putting on a show as they plop down in every creek and mud hole they find along the way. They’ve never climbed a beautiful, Rocky Mountain trail in Colorado and reached its summit to see a stunning snow-covered mountain in the distance, ridden beside powerful, crashing white water rivers, or through a magical, fairy tale Aspen forest with its beautiful white bark and twinkling leaves. Maybe they’ve never felt like they were a partner with their horse, privy to the things that go on in the forest when Man is not around . . . the bear claw marks on the Aspen trunks, a furry, shy bear scamper across the trail, seeing a doe and her fawn grazing . . . watching a beautiful hawk soar from tree to tree . . . a raccoon angrily scurry up a tree and look down in disapproval . . . a wise old owl rotate his head as he watches them ride by . . . a curiously orange marmot sit on a rock and study them . . . an eagle feeding her young . . . a mule deer and elk throw their tails up and run . . .
They don’t know how thrilling life can be to get caught in a summer storm and gallop all the way back to camp, racing the dogs, rain pelting their faces and running into their eyes as they fly on Pegasus down the trails. Coffee or hot cocoa never tasted so heavenly as that cooked over a campfire while they warmed up afterward, and the winter rides are just as exhilarating, watching the steam rise from the horse’s body, white puffs of air spewing from their nostrils like fire from a dragon’s snout. Surely they would love the mesmerizing feeling from roasting first the front side of their body, and then the back as they stand in front of a crackling fire and rotate to get warm.
There simply can’t be a soul alive who wouldn’t thrill in the birth of a newborn foal, watching it stand and nurse for the first time, sitting in the grass nearby and watching it wake from a nap, meander over to where they are sitting and explore their face with their tiny little whiskery muzzle, soft breath, and bright, inquisitive eyes. Hearing that little tiny, baby foal whinny just makes them smile inside and out, and they would have to marvel at the miracle of four shiny new perfect hooves learning how to handle the terrain, galloping clumsily beside their mothers.
Obviously, The Blessed Ignorant Ones go home at night and watch television, while Those Who Know And Are Afflicted (with the disease of “Horse-itis”) finish cooking supper, feed their families, put them to bed and then go saddle up, ride in the cool, evening air, listening to the crickets, thrilling in the fireflies that light up here and there, marveling that they can actually see their own shadows in the moonlight, dodging skunks and raccoons, and watching the baby calves run circles around their grazing mothers and play fight.
These poor Deprived Ones exude the same enthusiasm about their passions, and I begin to understand their confusion, as I can’t fathom how tennis (watching or being one of two people batting a ball back and forth over a net) could possibly be entertaining. Baseball falls short, football is an elusive mystery, and watching fast cars zoom around an oval track just leaves me flat. Golf, I find immensely boring, but I will concede that it doesn’t require the players to carry a shovel!
Obviously, I was born 100 years too late! In a perfect world, I would have been John Wayne’s daughter – HE would have understood!
ON CLOUD 9
(published May 21, 2000 in the Houston Chronicle)
After a long drive to Shelbyville, Tennessee for a
business trip and putting in long hours, I hooked up with some friends while
there for some R & R the next day. On
this beautiful fall Sunday morning, we loaded up our horses and drove for about
an hour to Monteagle in the Cumberland Mountain Range. I had a premonition that
this would be an extraordinarily rich experience, for, as we made our way up a
particularly steep section of the highway, the sun burst into view as a
beautiful, poignant song from the radio flooded the cab of the truck, actually
giving us chills.
After parking, saddling, drinking steaming coffee and enjoying each other's company, we mounted, fell into single file, and ceased conversation for awhile to absorb the early morning serenity, hearing nothing but the thud of hoofbeats on the forest floor and an occasional song from a bird. Our group rode for couple of hours on twisting, turning, ascending and descending trails, over wooden bridges and to rocky ledges where the view into the valley was breathtaking. Several times we happened upon beautiful does and bucks, which would stare at us for a few minutes before throwing up their white flags and gracefully jumping creeks and logs to disappear into the forest.
Around noon, we stopped for a lunch break at a deserted cabin by a small lake. As I was really tired and sleepy from the long drive from Texas a few days before and grueling work week, I broke away from the group to look for a place to take a quick nap. It was a beautiful, sunny, cool October day, and while everyone else took the opportunity to grab a bite, I tied "Hitech Generator", my Tennessee Walking Horse, to the nearest pine tree on a knoll carpeted in six inches of soft pine needles. He had given me a wonderful, spirited, smooth ride all morning and now he was surprisingly content to stand quietly tied, one hind foot cocked in relaxation while I stretched out. I found myself hypnotized by the beauty of the contrast of the deep green, achingly tall pine trees that seemed to stretch forever into the blue, clear Tennessee sky.
I don't know how long I lay mesmerized by the cool wind, clean pine smell and the sheer comfort of the thick pine bed before I drifted to sleep. I awoke about 30 minutes later to the comforting sight of “Hitech” still tied to the tree, apparently snoozing, himself. I began to say a prayer of thanks for all the events and circumstances that allowed me this almost religious experience of communion with nature. A firm believer of the adage "Everything happens for the better", I had suffered several frustrating and depressing setbacks earlier in the week, all the while knowing that something good would be just around the corner, and now, here I was, in "church"!
I reflected on the stark contrast of a few days before, when I sat alone in the sterile, monotonous corridor of a hospital for the umpteenth time, waiting with a sick feeling in my stomach for bone scans, MRI's and other mysterious, complicated tests to be run on someone I love. Then, and again now, I said a prayer for my mother, who was terrified and fighting two kinds of cancer, and another prayer of thanks for being fortunate to be blessed with the good health to be available to help her. I watched as she was poked and punched, needles seemingly a routine part of her life as they drew blood every time she visited, and again as they administered chemotherapy. I cringed as I listened to her at night after each treatment, suffering the pain from the damage that the vile chemicals did to her body. And I felt bad as I remembered that only a few weeks before I had administered pain to her myself, having to give her nightly, burning injections of cancer-combatants. I felt certain that the light at the end of her tunnel must have seemed dim and remote to her. When I realized how tough it must be to gather courage to cope with this barrage of pain, fear and hopelessness, my problems paled in comparison, and I was cognizant of how I have learned to truly appreciate the simple joys of each day.
I got up, dusted the pine needles off and untied Hitech. As I stepped into the stirrup, swung into the saddle and urged him forward, I was once again transported to that magical world where only a horse can take you. And that world is heaven when it's enhanced by the rhythmic, smooth ride of a gaited horse on the perimeter of a beautiful Tennessee mountaintop.
I said another prayer of thanks for whatever I did right to deserve this experience and rode off to find and rejoin my riding buddies. As Hitech surged forward with an awesome, four-beat glide, I said a prayer of thanks for my health, my horse, and being an American living in this beautiful land of freedom.
We took a couple of weeks off and traveled by bikes (Harleys) to South Dakota,
Nebraska and Wyoming, and it was very interesting to see how hay for the horses
and cattle was handled. Most of the areas we went through had to be irrigated,
and there was lots of alfalfa, but the strangest thing to me was the fact that
they store their hay right out in the open, frequently right off the highway.
Alfalfa is sure beautiful whether it's growing or baled, and while I saw some
round bales, I saw lots of huge square bales, bigger than most round bales.
Nothing smells as good as a mature crop of alfalfa -- almost like a field of
cologne! There were several fields of sunflowers which were incredibly
beautiful -- I had no idea there was such a market for their seeds. I took some
breathtaking pictures of the countryside and enjoyed those wide-open Wyoming
skies. We packed everything we needed on the bikes, and frequently stayed in
our tent, even in Yellowstone (where we had to stow most of our stuff in
We got back home and back to the business of weaning colts, which isn't hard when you've imprinted them, but we run a few cattle with the horses, and I discovered that one of the new baby heifers was limping. Her mother was a first-time mother, and didn't seem to have much milk. I felt like the heifer was not going to make it and needed to be bottle fed, so I enlisted my son's, Bud's services to catch her and bring her in, while I sat on the back porch enjoying a glass of wine and a beautiful sunset, ready to be entertained! Bud is an athlete and can ride like a deer, and he loves a challenge. He's very talented with the horses, and has been known to walk out in a big pasture and catch horses which are renowned for being hard to catch. On this day, I found out how fast he can run when he's scared!
The heifer was asleep in the field and the adult cattle had grazed away quite a
distance. There was a herd of about 20 horses grazing about a hundred yards to
the other direction, so Bud figured the easiest way to bring the heifer in was
to sneak up on her while she was snoozing. He successfully stole his way
quietly to the sleeping heifer, pounced on her, held her down with his body
while he began trying to tie her legs together so she couldn't run and he could
carry her back. What he didn't count on was the bawling she began at the top of
her lungs, and that started a chain reaction rescue attempt with every critter
in the pasture! The cows (some of which had big horns) lifted their heads from
the grass, spun around and began to gallop over to Bud and the heifer, the white
birds (cattle egrets) which accompany the cattle took to the air in noisy
unison, and even the entire herd of horses spun around and came at a gallop
toward the struggling heifer. Bud looked to his left, saw the horns, looked to
his right, saw the flying hooves, let out a scream, threw the rope straight up
in the air and ran for his life. He vaulted the fence in one bound, and I fell
off the porch laughing!
Tropical Storm Allison hit Texas on June 8, 2001 and was so slow-moving that it circled around and hit again during the wee hours of June 9th, causing severe devastation. Here is one "horse" story from that storm, as published in the Houston Chronicle.
<--- Laverne's truck and horse trailer about to go under the flood water.
Many people hear about flood stories and have a hard time understanding how others get caught, and how quickly raindrops turn into gallons and then into tons! On Friday before the revisit of Allison, I spoke with my friend, Laverne, who lives in the C.E. King/Hwy 90 area, about her water level and the safety of her animals. I remembered from a previous flood how quickly the water can rise . . .
. . . In 1994, I got a call from some friends who lived in the Spindletop subdivision in Crosby, and they were concerned because the water was already up to the knees on their horses. In thirty minutes, I was parked about a half mile from their house because the water was only 2 inches deep at the entrance, and I dared not go farther. I splashed my way down the street, waded into the pasture and led the horses, which were now up to their chests, back to my truck and trailer. In the 20 minutes I was gone, the water had risen halfway up the wheels on my truck, and the tongue-hitched horse trailer was actually floating and swaying from side to side on the trailer hitch. I evacuated the horses safely to a pasture in Dayton, but the memory is still vivid about how fast tragedy can occur. If I had been 15 minutes later . . .
On Friday afternoon, since Allison had already passed, Laverne thought she would be fine, and the horses were standing on a slightly higher level in her pasture. Thinking the water would recede, she told me that she would call me if she needed help. The next morning, she woke up with her dogs in bed with her, and three feet of water in her bedroom, so of course, her phones were not working. No problem, she had a cell phone - but as many discovered, apparently some of the towers took on water, or the lines were blocked by heavy use, because service was knocked out all over the area. She was virtually stranded with no idea which way to evacuate. Outsiders would think that you could just walk outside and head for high ground, but where is high ground?
Since Laverne's house is on blocks, the minute she stepped outside the water was up past her knees and apparently rising. She grabbed a 200-gallon PVC water tank, strapped her purse around her neck (with all her money, credit cards, ID, keys) put her dogs in the tank and floated them down the street. At one point, people yelled at her to change direction, because they knew the water was deeper where she was headed. She made her way from Robert E. Lee to C.E. King where the only high ground was the Texaco station and the fire station, which was packed from border to border with rescued people. She found a nice couple at the Texaco store and asked them to watch her dogs for her while she went back to rescue her horses. She also handed them her purse, told them that it held everything she now owned, and that she would be back for the dogs.
When she got back to her house, the shortest horse was now up to his neck, and she knew that she didn't have time to evacuate them one by one, so against her better judgment, she snapped lead ropes on all three and began another exhausting "swim" out. She probably wasn't aware at the time because she was operating on adrenaline, but her guardian angel was hovering overhead. One of the horses was a young, 2-year-old filly and could have been a real problem in all the excitement, but for some strange reason, she quietly cooperated and followed the two older geldings. To add to the difficulty, piles of ants kept floating toward Laverne and the horses, and as anyone who was in this mess knows, they look like piles of dead leaves until they hit you. In addition, Laverne had to get a stick to knock the snakes away, which kept trying to seek shelter on her body!
Now, while Laverne has led a fairly physical life and has never been a "couch potato", she has suffered some health setbacks recently and was certainly not in condition for all this aerobic activity. When she reached the Texaco with the horses, she was so exhausted that she tied them to the bar between the pay phones, pulled up a concrete block, sat down, tried to catch her breath and prayed that the water would not rise any higher. The horses seemed to know that they were in trouble, and stood quietly, happy to let people and their kids pet them. They provided a therapeutic diversion for all the poor flood victims, bridging any gap there might be between blacks, Hispanics and whites as people thrilled for the moment, touching and stroking their heads, noses and shiny coats. Most of them wondered how the horses could be so calm while so much was going on, but Laverne wasn't surprised because her horses are Tennessee Walking Horses, which typically have gentle, quiet dispositions. In no time, these horses had their own "flood" fan club, and when an older man who had obviously been drinking beer stumbled out of the store, threatening to kill any of the horses if they kicked him, Laverne was afraid the man might be mobbed! He was quite unpopular from then on. Fortunately, for the majority of the people in Houston, this flood brought out the good qualities in people, and this man (and his kind of behavior) was really a minority.
I have taught my kids through the years that for every tragedy or bad thing that happens, something good comes of it. The nice couple who held Laverne's purse and watched her dogs were absolutely trustworthy. Watching everyone pitch in together and help each other really helps to restore our faith in human kindness, during current times of child molesters, bombers, drive-by shootings, and other acts of violence reported each night. I spent my whole weekend watching the devastation on television, absolutely mesmerized by the tragedy, and having no idea of Laverne's misfortune. I thought about her the whole time, but I assumed that since she didn't call, she was fine. By Sunday night, I was feeling really guilty because I didn't suffer any flood-related calamity and that I wasn't helping someone who did, so I was relieved and happy when Laverne called me Monday morning to tell me that several of her "horse friends" were coming to help. I took my son, Bud and his friend, Derek Coronado and we went to help the gang rip out carpet, ruined furniture, supplies, pick up trash, haul off ruined hay, etc. The boys wound up going next door to help the neighbors rip their carpet out, also. Later in the week, the 2nd Baptist Church on Woodforest showed up at Laverne's house in force with supplies and swarmed her place, cleaning and moving heavy furniture.
On her kitchen wall, Laverne has a prized set of iron skillets and pots hanging that her friend, Jo Harrington gave her. In the flood of 1994, Jo's house was flooded and she didn't want them because they had been flooded with river water and were going to take a lot of effort to restore. Laverne was happy to have them, and worked hard for a solid month on them, using lots of elbow grease to polish and get them back to their original condition. She is looking for a new home for this set of iron cookware now, and she insists that they go to someone who lives on high ground!
PICTURED AT RIGHT: Laverne's three horses tied to the bar between the pay phones at the Texaco store, patiently and quietly waiting for rescue. You can see at the lower right corner how close they were to the flood waters by the "wake" in the parking lot being created in the parking lot by passing vehicles.
(published March 15, 1998 in the Houston Chronicle)
For years I've watched and experienced the negative effects of showing horses. I've seen many long friendships, relationships and marriages break up because of the smallness in people that showing horses seems to bring out. I've seen teenagers hiss at each other as they come out of the ring, adults throw ribbons in the dirt and proclaim each horse show to be their "last", and animosity between friends develop over a silly blue ribbon or championship.
But this is a story of the positive effects of horse showing, or at least the positive effects of the camaraderie experienced during horse shows.
Once upon a time there was a girl -- we'll call her "Cinderella" because she'd kill me if I used her real name -- who didn't care for school, didn't have too many friends and really didn't have any hobbies. Her self esteem was nonexistent; she thought she was ugly, and consequently she carelessly slogged her way through her schoolwork, making C's and D's.
When her parents talked her into playing softball, she didn't really put her heart into it, although she was actually quite talented at the game, and was also talented at riding horses. And oh, what a grouch Cinderella could be if asked to wash the dishes or do chores around the house!
One thing Cinderella had going for her (sometimes against her) was her independence from the time she was a toddler. She figured she could do anything she wanted to. (She knew she could do anything if she tried, because her mom told her so, but she had to want for it to happen.)
One day, Cinderella's mom got a phone call from a previous customer who had bought a 3-year-old gelding from her for field trials. After two years of bird hunting, the owner was getting a divorce and wanted to sell the gelding. Cinderella's mom agreed to buy him back. When he stepped off the trailer, he was 5 years old and had a huge grass belly, long shaggy hair and worn-off hooves.
Mom saddled the gelding and rode twice around the arena, disgusted because the horse was so terribly pacey. But Cinderella yelled, "There he is! That's my new show horse!" Even though his nose stuck straight out in front of him and he had no style whatsoever, she recognized his potential and promised her mom she would take care of him.
Cinderella's independent nature would not allow her to accept help or advice from anyone, but her mom decided to give her a chance and watched while her daughter rode the gelding each day after school, gradually pulling his nose in, settling him in his gaits and changing his mind about being barn-sour.
When she finally saved enough money to take her horse to his first show, Cinderella met wonderful people who enthusiastically helped her. Many took her under their wings and offered words of encouragement, shod her horse for free, loaned her riding clothing and equipment, took her to lunch, gave her a place to spend the night at overnight shows, and even drove all the way out to her house to carry her and her horse to and from shows.
Once or twice, a guardian angel even swooped down in the horse show office and paid her remaining entry fees when she realized she didn't have enough money. Another angel, the pioneer of a youth achievement program, encouraged and educated Cinderella, making it possible for her to reap tangible rewards for her hard work and dedication.
Each of these single acts and occurrences might seem insignificant and trivial to the outsider, but in aggregate, the effect on Cinderella was like waving a magic wand. Spending so much time around these adult guardian angels developed her maturity, confidence and self esteem. Positive feedback through winning ribbons and the support and warm encouragement she received from her fellow competitors gave her a sense of self-worth.
The commitment she made to the project of developing her show horse and competing in the youth achievement program was paying off, and not just in the show ring. Her grades began to creep up to A's and B's, and she even began to seek more challenging classes. Her softball coach took notice of these improvements as she stepped up to the plate and began to swing her bat with more confidence, resulting in powerful hits to the outfield and beyond!
When Cinderella's mom had to make a business trip to Tennessee, she kept the home fires burning and really came through when put to the test. While her mom was out of town, a new filly developed an infection and the scours and had to be given a series of antibiotic injections. Cinderella bravely assumed all responsibilities and saved the filly's life.
She was also responsible for getting her little brother up every morning at 5:30 and getting him (and herself) on the school bus without disturbing her grandmother.
Cinderella's mom is proud of her daughter for maintaining a cheerful disposition and attitude, even when she doesn't win. She is proud of her daughter for recognizing and admitting to herself that most of the time, her losses are the result of her own lack of preparation and/or insufficient effort. She is also proud of Cinderella's ability to work hard and compete, but to strive foremost to have a good time, which is what childhood and horse shows should really be all about.
She believes that her daughter has learned some of life's hard lessons at an early age, when most people still don't have a clue as to priorities. Cinderella has watched people she loves struggle, suffer and even die, so she understands that winning a blue ribbon is just a tiny deal in the grand scheme of life.
Every story should end with "and they all lived happily ever after", but alas, that's not the case in this tale, because Cinderella still gets grouchy when it's her turn to do the dishes!
Where is that fairy godmother when you really need her?
(published January 24, 1999 in the Houston Chronicle);
(published July, 2003 in Chicken Soup for the Working Woman's Soul)
After working for a law firm in downtown Houston for ten years, I changed careers and have "graduated" to working with horses every day, and spend a lot of time in my truck delivering or picking them up. About every six to eight weeks I travel to Tennessee via the freeways of east Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. I believe the most beautiful freeway along the route that I take is Interstate 59 right around Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Magnolia trees are plentiful, along with a thick forest of pine trees on both sides of the two-lane southbound freeway, as well as northbound, so that the opposite side of the freeway is completely camouflaged.
In fact, the last time I drove this freeway, it was so secluded and quiet , I had the road completely to myself. I had been driving alone, for about seven hours and was feeling kind of stiff and tired, so I decided to "get comfortable". I carefully checked front and back for any other vehicles -- no traffic for miles. The truck was in cruise in the left lane and I was wanting to remove a particularly binding undergarment, which is relatively easy to do in a safe manner while cruising. Double checking and once again not finding a soul in sight, I removed my shirt and set it on my lap close to the door, removed the offending undergarment and tossed it to my right (where it fell to the passenger floor area), and proceeded to carefully retrieve my shirt and put it back on.
All of a sudden, out of nowhere, a state trooper passed me on the right. For some reason, his taillights came on just as he blew past me, and he suddenly slowed down to coast even with my passenger door. Meanwhile, much to my horror, I found that my shirt was hung on the door handle and I had no way and nothing to cover myself with. I was unsuccessfully trying to untangle the shirt without accidentally opening the door while simultaneously watching the road and keeping an eye on him. After what seemed like an hour, he flashed his lights and hand-motioned for me to pull over. (I swear he took his own sweet time communicating this command to me!)
After he dropped back behind me, I immediately moved to the right lane, still trying to untangle the shirt and wondering how to hide myself. (I didn't think I had been speeding and the only thing I could imagine was that I would have a hard time explaining to my kids that I had been thrown in jail in Mississippi for public indecency!) I finally came to a stop, put the truck in park and jammed the shirt back on over my head. I took deep breaths in an effort to return my face to its natural color before he walked up to my window. As he approached to ask for my driver's license and insurance card, I noticed that Mr. Trooper was very young and very good-looking. Since my face was still burning from three shades of red, I tried not to make eye contact as I handed him my license and, Ohmigosh, an expired insurance card. I wasn't sure if it was my imagination, but it seemed he was trying really hard not to break out laughing.
He made me get out of the truck and walk all the way back to the end of the horse trailer. After quizzing me on where I was going, who I was going to see, etc., he asked me if I realized that I had managed to commit three infractions. I was shocked, but braced myself for the embarrassment. The first, he said, was speeding. Fortunately, I didn't deny it, and he informed me that it was only 5 miles over the limit and he would just drop it. The second was I had no license plate on my horse trailer. I thought he was kidding but when I looked up, I realized that it had blown off. The third, he said while allowing a slow smile to light up his face, and while I braced myself for total humiliation, was that I had been driving in the left lane. I was so relieved that it was not related to my barreling down the freeway 70 mph naked that I actually laughed and demanded to know what kind of people were Mississippians to build freeways with two lanes and not be allowed to use the left one? With that mysterious little smile, he patiently explained that the left lane was for passing only, which was the law in other states as well, including Texas. He graciously never mentioned my nudity and even though my insurance card was expired, he just smiled and pretended not to notice.
Mr. Hunka Trooper returned my driver's license and worthless insurance card and told me he was not going to cite me. I drew a deep breath of relief as he told me to be safe and have a good day. I thanked him, wished him the same, briefly entertaining and dismissing the thought of giving him a quick hug when he zapped me.
"By the way, your shirt is on backward and inside out," said my smug little Trooper Guardian Angel with a twinkle in his eye as he climbed back into his patrol car.
IT'S GREAT TO LIVE IN AMERICA!
I found out, although I’ve heard it a million times, why
it’s so good to be an American. Recently a friend and I rode our Harley
motorcycles from Houston to Mexico (and back) – that’s quite a long trip in the
hot sun! We wandered around in Nuevo Laredo for a couple of days and it really
made me count my blessings. I felt so sorry for the buggy horses there, which
were very, very thin and overworked. Their feet looked bad and they had to
stand, trot and gallop all day long on the hot pavement. I wondered if they ever
got to see a green pasture, and I observed one particular horse in a really foul
mood. His ears were pinned against his head, a sure sign that he was mad, and
sure enough, he was kicking out behind him, one foot at a time. It is so crowded
in that area of Mexico, and the locals just swarmed us, wanting us to buy their
wares, which were relatively very cheap. A 15-year-old boy was selling excellent shoeshines for one dollar, and I got the impression that he did it out of
necessity. Even small kids were trying to sell me flowers and cheap jewelry, but
they were doing so without smiling.
Back in Texas, a few weeks ago, six of us saddled up and rode in the forest in East Texas again, and it was an extremely hot weekend. I was riding a gelding that gets jumpy and nervous if you have to move quickly in the saddle. You can expect him to jump out from under you if you have to slap a mosquito or adjust your hat, but he had the most exhilarating, wonderful big-striding, smooth, head-shaking Tennessee walk that I’ve ridden in years, so I found it very easy to forgive him. Bud was riding a 17H 3-yr-old green, green gelding and the trails were very challenging. Since we had a more seasoned horse in the lead, the younger ones were crossing the obstacles we encountered with no trouble. After a couple of hours, the horses were hot enough that we had to stop and take about a 30-minute break, so we decided to ride off in the creek. We found a swimming hole that was 3 or 4 feet deep, and took the horses in with us. They were so hot that they stood in place, not moving a muscle while we splashed water all over them to wash off the salt and cool them down. The look on their faces was pure ecstasy, and of course, we had lots of fun swimming, ourselves. When we left, the horse I was riding was so relaxed that none of my antics from the saddle bothered him, and I think I could have ridden him past a saber-toothed tiger and he wouldn’t have minded.
The next day, Bud decided to go fishing in a pond which was 2 or 3 miles away. Since the four-wheeler was not running, he had to be “Opie” from Andy Griffith and either walk, or saddle up a horse and ride over. We had leftover baby crawfish for bait, and he picked the calmest horse we had, packed up the bait and his fishing pole and rode about 2 miles to the pond. He baited his hook, cast out, anchored his rod and rode the horse back. We had two 10-yr-old girls who wanted to ride, and we like to ride their horses for them for a bit to make sure they’re behaving properly, so he swapped horses, rode back to the pond and discovered he had hooked a big catfish. Much to my delight, he did this a few more times, catching fish each time and riding different horses. The last time we all saddled up and rode back over to the pond with him. Unfortunately, the fish had swallowed the hook so deep that we couldn’t get it out, so that ended his fishing (because he didn’t have any more hooks). When Bud got his fish off the line, somebody had a brilliant idea that they would put it on a stringer and tie the stringer to Bud’s horse. By this time, he was riding the green 3-yr-old again. We almost had a rodeo when the fish came alive and went to flopping around on the side of the saddle. The fish had actually been tied toward the back of the saddle, where it hung down in the flank area – you know – the sensitive area where you tickle a horse if you want it to buck! We managed to disconnect it from the saddle before we ruined the horse, and all was forgiven that evening as we dined on fresh catfish filets and French fries (made of potatoes from the garden). Ah, life is good!
DOES THIS SOUND FAMILIAR?
(previously published in Voice Magazine, Official Journal of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' & Exhibitors' Association)
The telephone rings and the caller is inquiring about a gaited pleasure horse for trail riding. She claims she is not too particular and doesn't really have any preferences, doesn’t care what breed or gender, not particular about age or height, but she desires a good looking animal and only wants to spend about $1,500. I tell her that I have a really pretty 3-yr-old black mare that fits that description. She says that the mare sounds nice, and after asking forty questions about her, she finally decides that she prefers a gelding.
I tell her that I have a 3-yr-old black gelding, also. She prefers something a little older with a little more experience. Okay, I say, I also have an 8-yr-old black gelding. She wants to know how tall the gelding is, and I respond that he's 15 hands tall.
She tells me that she is really looking for a horse that is 16 hands tall.
I tell her that I have a 12-yr-old gaited gelding, gentle and smooth, sorrel with a blazed face and stockings that is 16 hands tall but not registered for $1,500. She says the gelding sounds nice and wants to know what kind of gait he has -- does he have a big, reaching back and a high-stepping front end? Oh, and a deep shaking head nod?
Did I just imagine that this caller said that she didn't have any preferences?
Well, I tell her, the horse is "trail priced" and consequently, "trail" quality, with a pretty good way of going, considering that he is barefoot. He is as smooth as glass and even with no shoes, his front end looks promising. I tell her that she could always experiment with keg shoes and enhance what the gelding has naturally.
She guesses what she really wants is a REGISTERED Tennessee Walking Horse, one that already has these qualities barefoot. I break the news gently that she may have to spend a bit more than $1,500. She thinks she could maybe scrape up more money and decides that actually, she thinks she is probably going to need a 16 hand 8-year-old golden palomino gelding by Pride's Generator, with 4 white stockings, blazed face, white mane and tail and blue eyes. This horse must also possess a big, reaching back end, a "top rail" front end, nice head shake, a great personality and love to be around people. She prefers it to be push button on commands, canter from a standstill, jump fences, side pass, run barrels and poles, swim and work cattle. It doesn't HAVE to be a show horse, but it would be nice if it could win an occasional plantation class here or there and maybe she would be willing to pay $2000.
My mind begins to wander from this telephone conversation as I suddenly have strong suspicion that there really IS life on other planets, although I'm not so sure it's INTELLIGENT life. My thoughts reluctantly return to Earth and I quietly and patiently explain that a horse of that caliber is probably going to cost a few THOUSAND more dollars, and be a little difficult to locate.
Well, she tells me (all in one breath) . . . .
. . . She only has $500 saved but she's going to receive a $200 settlement from a lawsuit in a few weeks plus a $30 commission check for selling cosmetics door-to-door and expects $150 back from her income tax refund and could possibly sell her washer and dryer and she also has a pedigreed rat terrier that is going to have puppies in a couple of weeks and she could sell the puppies in a few more weeks to scrape up more money and maybe hold a garage sale and sell all of her old shoes and clothes and stuff and go on a diet and eat pork and beans twice a day and if that's not enough, she could probably give up her apartment and live out of her car for a few months to save even more money.
I feel an overwhelming desire to inhale deeply, and I resign myself to the fact that I just wasted 30 frustrating minutes and energy on this telephone call.
Then, I just can't resist, and I ask . . .
"Would you settle for a 4-foot-tall mousy brown barefoot llama that paces and LOVES to blow spit on people for $500?"
LEFT: Bud Kidder on gaited miniature pony that would bow,
lie down, pull cart.
RIGHT: Krystal Kidder on "Cloud 9 Silvermine", a mare that could read my mind! She was so well-trained that I swear I could just THINK a command and she would do it. She pulled a buggy and took us almost all the way to a Versatility Championship before she had a filly that sidelined us.
BELOW MIDDLE: Bud Kidder on "Cirrus" right before he was due at a baseball game.
BELOW LEFT: Pete Zylks, now 69 years old, who was raised all his life with walking horses. He's pictured here next to ol' Vernon, a gaited Jack.
BELOW RIGHT: Krystal and friend, Amanda on ol' Vernon, goofing off.
CLOUD 9 WALKERS
P. O. Box 878
Hardin, Texas 77561
since January 3, 2002