Feathers and Faith

Posted by Sharon Labels: , , , ,

This is my last blog entry for 2010. Although the goal all year was to post every Monday, I missed a few weeks and sometimes I was late. This week, again, I am late but there are reasons.

Each week throughout the year I wrote about something that had affected me that week - an event, a persistant thought - but this time, even with Christmas, nothing was uppermost in my mind that was worthy of comment . . . until I received a card from a friend. Inside were two hawk feathers.

Sending feathers to me is true to my friend's character. It's something she would not hesitate to do. She told me she found the feathers by the house and thought of me. Why? I don't know. She probably doesn't know. She would not search for a reason; she would just accept the message.

All week I had been watching for a sign connecting events of my life. The coinciding of a full moon, a lunar eclipse and winter solstice on December 20th intrigued me (and I stayed up to watch it), but didn't trigger any earth-shattering revelation although I searched for one.
Christmas came and went along with a 12-hour power outage. Still nothing. I was waiting for a sign, a feeling, something I had to get down on paper such as had inspired blog posts all year. Nothing . . . until the feathers arrived in the mail.

Wolves adorned the front of the card my friend sent to me. That was no accident. She knows I admire the wolf and his way of life, his loyalty most of all. That's why the wolf is the "mascot" for Wildwood Reining Horses. What my friend did not know is that I had chosen a name for the Wimpys Little Step foal arriving in the spring if it is a filly - Feather. Is this a sign? Will it be a filly? Only time will tell. One thing for sure, though, my friend and I had connected . . . through hawk feathers.

Hawk feathers are believed to protect, which is why native people tied them at the door of their homes. Feathers are also believed to be the carriers of spiritual messages and were filled with prayer and released to waft heavenward. Faith.

So, on the last day of the year, I will spend a quiet day at home with my animals. I will think of my family and friends in other parts of the country. I may contemplate some more on the meaning of the gift of feathers and maybe, just maybe, I will take them outside, whisper a prayer into them and let them go.

Happy New Year!

Dog Days of Winter

Posted by Sharon Labels:

I'm spending a lot of time with my dog lately. Kirby, my almost-thirteen-year-old Samoyed is failing. This will be her last Christmas.

Samoyeds have been my companions for over 40 years. I bought my first one, Tanya, in 1967. At one time I had a kennel and raised puppies but by 1990, I had only one - Mandy. When I lost her a friend gave me a puppy. I picked Kirby up in Calgary in May 1998, at the same time visiting my new granddaughter, Larissa. Here is Kirby with Larissa's sister, Adara.

2010 will be the 12th Christmas Kirby has shared with me. Many of those Christmas mornings, it was just the two of us as it will be this year. The photo below was the first.

...and this one was taken last year.

Every spring Kirby has "helped" me foal out my mares. She sleeps in the barn with me, checks the newest addition from the door of the stall and later, herds the baby outside as I lead the mare. None of my mares mind. And she also plays with the babies in the field, although it annoys her when she's digging out moles and the foal pesters her to play. I don't think Kirby will be with me this spring. She certainly won't be herding or playing with the new foals. She probably won't be with the mares and I when they foal either. It won't be the same without her.

She has spent hours in the arena watching me ride... ...or, given the opportunity, would "lead" my horse...

Kirby lives with me, travels with me, sleeps beside my bed and, most of all, provides unconditional love. I could write pages about her - years of memories, dozens of pictures recorded in my mind along with those of Tanya, Tatum and Mandy, Samoyeds gone before.

If you're wondering why I titled this blog "The Dog Days of Winter", my answer would be, "It just sounded 'catchy'", but there might be more. There is just as much truth to my title as it's more common counterpart, "The Dog Days of Summer". It seems that phrase originated from the fact that Sirius (the dog star, the brightest star of Canus Major) rises and sets at the same time as the sun between July 3 and August 11. Ancient Romans believed earth recieved heat from it. That's not true of course.

In January, in our northern latitudes, Sirius can be seen in the southern sky - like far away. Is that why it's so cold in January?

My "Dog Days of Winter" consist of spending time with my dog - in winter. I used to be Kirby's favourite season, but now she has to stay in where it's warm. She does not walk well and she is blind. This year she couldn't go with me to get the Christmas tree and I know she misses that. Sometimes she tries to patrol the yard in the morning like she has done every morning for all these years. It's sad to see her insecure and dependent on me because she doesn't want to be.

Christmas Letters

Posted by Sharon Labels: ,

With Christmas only a few days away, I am mailing the last Christmas letters. "The letter" is a new tradition, one that come of age with the age of computers and desktop publishing. Years ago I wrote all letters to friends in long hand and it was with some reluctance that I gave the practice up. Time commitments and the infinite possiblities of computer-generated newsletters finally convinced me - 2010 will be the 13th one I have sent out! Still, I feel the polished letter with colour photos has lost the personal touch of the handwritten one...

As I drafted the 2010 version of the annual saga of my ongoing activities I questioned the content. How many people really wanted to read yet another list of Sharon's activities? I did want to inform people of what was going on in my life but I didn't want the letter to smack of personal accomplishments that was actually boring to others. Yet I wanted everyone to know that I was enthusiastic about my life. How to do that... That's part of what was lost in the individual handwritten letter - writing only what would be interesting to that person in a tone that was appropriate to that person. The nature of the mega-copied letter I mail out now is, by its definition, more like a newpaper than a letter. To "fix" that flaw and to ease my mind, I left a large blank space on the last page for my own handwritten personal notes.

And the letter itself? Well, it took on a new format in my effort to be more interesting. I have tried many themes in the past - the animals reviewing the year, a recipe and, last year, 65 things I was grateful for - but this theme is a first. My Christmas letter this year is written as a play complete with a list of players, settings and dialogue. I know absolutely nothing about writing plays so there was a learning curve but hopefully it is not judged, just enjoyed.

I'm just receiving letters and cards myself. In the last mail I picked up a card from a very good friend of mine. Inside was a three page handwritten letter. I read it three times and I'll read it again in the holidays. Well-written, informative, charming and personal. Although I appreciate every Christmas contact of any kind - gifts, cards, photocopied letters or emailed ones - this letter will probably be the highlight of the season. Penny is an extremely busy wife, mother, homemaker, career woman and all around caregiver to her family and animals and she took the time to write. Not type. She took out a pen and paper and wrote three pages to me in her own handwriting. Thank you, my friend.

Expectations and Reality

Posted by Sharon Labels: , , , , , , ,

Having just followed the 2010 NRHA Futurity (with Facebook posts by Canadian friends before they left, then en route to Oklahoma City with their horses and live score and web casts on the NRHA web site), one fact I already knew was never more clear - expectations and reality can be a long way apart! Reiners probably already know that. Spectators and fans may not.

Most of the horses shown in the Futurity, I had not seen in person. Most of them I had not even heard of. But there were also some I had competed against and several I had read about before that big event - horses that had already won a big futurity somewhere or a horse the breeder was promoting. And I pre-judged the performance of some just because of who was showing him or her. I'm pretty sure others did the same, maybe even owners and riders. Certainly, Shawn Flarida's stellar record commands attention, so of course, expectations were higher for his mounts. After all, he usually qualified all three of his entries for the finals and, for the past few years, he has won all the major events.

But Mr. Flarida did not bring one of his entries back to the finals. "One of the other two will win," I thought. Quistator had been advertised as a strong contender all fall. Shine Chic Shine's composite score led the field into the finals.

Then there was Duane Latimer, a past Champion, who qualified Whiz N Tag Chex horses, brothers to my own Walking With Wolves. I wanted him to win . . . There was Andrea Fappani, another past Champion, who won the $100,000 Shoot Out and whose wife won the Non Pro Futurity the day before the Open Finals. He was on a roll! Tim McQuay, Craig Schmersal, also fan favourites.

But when the last rider completed pattern #5, it was not any one of these favourites that posted the highest score. It was Spooks Gotta Whiz, ridden by Jordan Larson. Did he expect to win that day? I don't know, but the reality is that he did. It was the prettiest, softest run I have seen for a long time, the horse at all time willing and striving to please.

Tanya Jenkins, who trained Spooks Gotta Whiz, experienced her own reality. She expected to be showing Spooks Gotta Whiz in Oklahoma City at the NRHA Futurity (I found documentation of this on the internet and she had shown him in other futurities) but the reality is - she did not. It reminds me a little of Zenyatta's race at the Breeders Cup Classic - it didn't play out the way it was supposed to. If it had, a woman could have won the NRHA Futurity for the first time!

Expectations and reality - sometimes the same thing, but more often, not. Never more true than in the horse business, especially with three- year-old reining horses.

More About Duchess

Posted by Sharon Labels: , ,

After reading over my last blog, I realized I had not begun to cover Duchess' life. She was in mine for 34 of her 36 years - through raising my family, my children growing up and leaving home, two marriages, a divorce, and several moves. That's a whole lot of time and history.

I bought Duchess (registered name Ma Dear) in Montana and named her immediately. She was a grand lady. She would have a grand name. She lived up to it.

Since Duchess was bred to race, I sent her to the track the spring after I bought her. She performed very well winning 2 firsts, 1 second, 1 third and 1 fourth (didn't like mud!) from five races. The photo below is her win in High River, Alberta.

When we brought her home from the track, I bred her to War Fly and sold the weanling to re-coup some of the expense. Then I started training her on barrels. As noted in the previous blog, she excelled at that event.

Besides her stellar barrel racing career, Duchess performed briefly as a steer wrestling horse for my brother. I think he won one cheque on her from the 3 or 4 times he dogged off of her. She also served time as a ranch horse on the Community Pasture my husband managed. And my daughter, Cindy, rode her until she had her own horse.

Duchess raised seven foals. One, Wildwood Willow, went on to become a top barrel horse. Another, Wildwood Majesty, a superb all-around mare. But it was Wildwood Mahogany who would carry Duchess' genes to the next generation and beyond. It was a sensible, logical and practical approach to my plan to breed such soundness of mind and limb into my future contenders. At thirty plus years, Duchess was more sound than some horses half her age! Video below is Duchess at 33.

In 2001, I held a 35th birthday party for my lady. Here is some video from that day. Bright of eye and quick of step, she was not-at-all an old mare - she was a grand dam.

Then, in 2002, she reigned supreme for she was the head of five generations. Here is another video of Duchess that year - the grand matriarch of a dynasty of fine Quarter Horses. She leaves a legacy - and Widwood Legacy is named for her that year, the year she died. Legacy will be adding to the dynasty in 2011 - the first of the next generation of Duchess.

Though Duchess may be remembered by others for her talent, I remember her most for her personality - her quiet confidence, her intelligence, the way she looked at me like she saw me and understood everything about me. She had a distinct way of looking back at me - she turned her head, neck very low, and kind of looked in and up - hard to explain. And her whinny... deep-throated and resonant, never shrill. I have a recording of that whinny. Once in a while I play it. If I could, I would share with you but I don't think I can attach the file.

When Duchess died, my children could not believe she was gone. She had been part of their lives for all of their lives. I knew how they felt. In could hardly remember a time when Duchess was not in close proximity. I still miss her.

Remembering Duchess...

Posted by Sharon Labels: , , , ,

The Canadian Finals Rodeo is just over. I tried in vain to find coverage on television but, since I could not, contented myself with whatever news I could find on the computer . . . and memories. I have fond memories of CFR - Duchess and I competed at the first one in 1974. I will never forget that week . . . or that great mare.

I had ran on the circuit all year to make the barrel racing top ten in Canada and go to the finals. Goal achieved, it didn't matter to me if I made any money. I was just happy to be there. Duchess had already secured the Canadian Cowboys Association championship; now she would compete with the top horses in Canada. It was an honour to be part of what still is an annual event.

Duchess was not at her best, though. A sporadic lameness in her right front concerned me. Before I hauled to Edmonton, I had a veterinarian check her out. He did not think competing would make the condition worse (what was I thinking?) so, armed with lots of rubbing linement and bandages, I hauled to Edmonton for six runs. She entered the finals in seventh place and finished in fifth - with her knee bandaged! The photos from all six runs were almost identical to the one below, right ear ahead, left ear back to me and in the pocket!

After the CFR, I took Duchess to Saskatoon to have her knee x-ayed. The x-rays revealed bone chips and calcium deposits. I had to lay her off. I turned her out for a year and she came back sound. Although I barrel raced her lightly for one more season, I feared heavy competition might damage the knee permanently. In 1977, I bred her and she went on to found a dynasty of quality Quarter Horses. The photo below, taken in 1999, shows Duchess with her daughter, Mahogany, granddaughter Tamarac and Tamarac's first six fillies.

After Duchess retired from raising foals, she babysat the broodmares and their babies. She always told us when a mare's time was near. She also taught my grandchildren to ride. Below is a photo of Kendra on Duchess when she was 32.

When she was 35 years old, I threw a birthday party for her. She was still sound. The photo below is taken on that day.

In 2002, four descendent generations of Duchess lived with me - Wildwood Mahogany, Wildwood Tamarac, Wildwood Destiny and Wildwood Magic Miss, all mares I had trained and shown. For her 36th birthday present that year I made her a memory box and stored Duchess memorablia inside. It's covered inside and out with a collage of photos and clippings. She died later that year, but what a dynasty she has founded. The photo below, taken in 1999, shows some of her family. Duchess and Mahogany are at the back.

In the spring of 2011, the next generation will arrive. Her great-great granddaughter, Wildwood Legacy Lace is in foal to Walking With Wolves. God willing, I will ride another descendent of probably the best mare I ever owned. I can't wait.

First in our Hearts

Posted by Sharon Labels: , ,

A few weeks ago, I posted a blog named "Born to Be" (September), recognizing people with incredible God-given talent. Born to be great. Born to be the best. Born to achieve what the rest of us only dream about. As humbling as that is, it's even more so when the star is an animal. Never has this been more true than it is for Zenyatta, a six year old Thoroughbred mare with almost unbelievable talent.

Zenyatta, unbeaten for 19 races and entered in the Breeders Cup held last weekend, has inspired a following such as has not been seen since Seabiscuit (check out March blog). The world has latched on to her story with a desperation born of a need to believe and a deep abiding love of this dark bay mare, not only for her record on the track, but also for her personality. At 17.2 hands, she is a bit of a diva, dancing, prancing, and racing her way into almost everyone's life, even those who do not follow horse racing. She loves attention and believes in herself, inspiring such nicknames as "Queen Zee" and "America's Darling".

Last Saturday, Zenyatta challenged the boys in the Breeders Cup Classic in Louisville, Kentucky. Surrounded by fanfare and guards, she soaked it up like the heroine she is. There could be no doubt she knew who she was and what she was going to do. There was also no doubt in my mind that she intended to win the race, that she herself had no doubt about her ability to do just that. After all, she had always led the field to the finish line. But it was not to be. After an extremely slow start, even her signature "kick" to the finish line did not overtake Blame. Slightly boxed in, she desperately searched for a hole and when she found it, leaped into it, grabbing ground and closing the gap to the leader with every stride (with thousands, including me, screaming their encouragement to the telvision), only to fall short by a head. It may have been the best race of her career, the most courageous and most remembered. Best of all, she will retire sound and healthy.

I hope Zenyatta is not too disappointed with her loss. It in no way diminishes who she is or who we know she is. She may not have won the Breeders Cup Classic, but it was hers! Second in the race but first in our hearts.

Trick or Treat

Posted by Sharon Labels: , ,

Yesterday was Halloween. I left all the outside lights on and locked my truck in the shop, but all was quiet. That's good. That's the way I like it now. I must be getting old...

I used to dress up and go out. I loved the idea of being something or someone else for one night. But for the past few years, I have done nothing special. Last night, I spent a quiet evening by myself reminiscing about Halloweens past...

As a child, in the Coteau Hills of Saskatchewan, I did not go "trick or treating". When the family moved to BC, I went door to door in Oliver with a group of kids a few times. It was as an adult that the spirit of Halloween really hit me.

My husband, having grown up in a family that loved the "trick" part of Halloween, involved me in a couple of pranks - saddling a milk cow (I was sure we were going to be caught since the dog never quit barking!), jacking a car up in a garage and putting it on blocks (so it would not go anywhere when the lady tried to drive it out). The most complicated - and stupid! - prank I was part of though, was when a carload of us, in the dead of night, drove to a farm owned by a farmer friend that was well-known to "act first, think later". The plan, to spread out all over the farm, make just enough noise to wake him, hide, then watch the reaction, took an unexpected turn when one of our group came back to the car, got the shotgun he had stashed in the trunk, pointed it to the sky and shot it off! It was double the fun, a trick on the tricksters - the farmer boiled out of the house, into his truck and peeled rubber getting to his machinery; the pranksters, thinking it was the farmer who had shot the gun, panicked. They certainly popped out of the grass so they wouldn't get run over. When shotgun pellets dropped to earth all around my husband, he didn't seek obscurity any longer. He ran to the house and identified himself to the farmer's wife. The farmer, meanwhile, reached the car but the bearer of the shotgun had put it away. Where was I in all this? At the car. I think I made the excuse that I was not dressed for crawling around on the ground, but I may have just been chicken... Since we were all friends, we ended up in the house for coffee. There were plenty of unaswered questions and no one quite believed the other guy since no one knew where the gun shot had come from except the guy who had done it and me, because I had stayed in the car. I think he had the last laugh that night. As I said, this was a really stupid thing to do - someone could have been run over with the madman farmer, gas pedal to the floorboards, made wide circles in the field!
To protect the innocent, I have not identified anyone. For those of you who know me and are wondering, you would be surprised to know who had the shot gun...

As the years went by, I left the pranks behind for costume parties. My boyfriend and I were Shiek and Harem Girl, African Headhunters and 17th Century Lord and Lady.The best ever was the Africans. We visited a couple of bars, then danced our bare feet off at the local dance. At 3:00 AM, I could barely stand in the shower to scrub the "black" off before I went to bed. The next day a client phoned to see if he could watch me ride his mare (like I felt like doing that!). He said he could see traces of black on my neck still.

The last time I dressed up for Halloween, Vern Sapergia, my friend Barb, and I dressed as Little Red Riding Hood, Grandma, and The Big Bad Wolf. Vern Sapergia was Little Red Riding Hood! We visited several friends around Armstrong but never identified ourselves. Sorry - no photo. I tried, but apparently I did not have film in the camera. What a shame!

Never "Just a Dog..."

Posted by Sharon Labels: , , ,

I am deviating from the title of this blog . . . or maybe not. I guess it could come under the "writin'" category. Every Monday, I write about what has been most on my mind during the week and this time is no different. Dogs have been uppermost in my thoughts, specifically dogs that have been a part of my life. There's a reason for that. My Samoyed, Kirby, is not getting around well and I know I will have to make that tough decision soon. That fact has brought up memories of some very special canine friends.

1. Chummy. I don't remember Chummy very well - only vague memories of my brother and I playing with her. What made a big impact was her death. My brother and I found her lying on the grass very still and, of course, ran to Mom. There was no explanation for why she died. This is Chummy lying beside Dad holding me on Tex.

2. Duke. This golden cocker spanial male was our childhood buddy. Wherever we were, Duke was not far away. Mom could always find us that way! I remember most him playing hide and seek with us. He would wait until we hid, then come and find us. Oddly enough, I do not know how he died, but he was with us a long time. Photo below (Why am I scowling?) was in Saskatchewan, the next is in BC.

3. Tuffy. This little black terrier cross was a bundle of energy. The story I remember most is how he learned to "Go to the house." Apparently, Mom and Dad had rounded up a bunch of yearlings and were trying to get them through a gate into the barn yard. As yearlings usually are, they were plenty spooky and it was all Mom and Dad could do to hold them together at the gate to start pushing them through. That's when Tuffy appeared . . . and would not "go to the house" as Mom ordered him to do. Of course, they lost the yearlings who scattered. Furious, Mom chased Tuffy on horseback (with Dad telling her to stop or she was going to fall on the slippery, icy ground) until Tuffy didn't know where else to go BUT the house. After that, anyone could tell him to "go to the house" and he tucked his tail between his legs and left.

Mom taught Tuffy mutiple tricks and I taught him one - to "sing" Doggie in the Window with me. I played guitar and sang the lyrics; at the appropriate time, Tuffy barked. Really cute. I thought I had a picture of this somewhere, but I can't find it. We had Tuffy many, many years - until he was old and grey. I believe he was killed by a car after I left home.

4. Hind. I inherited this border collie with the strange name when I married. Hind was my husband's cattle dog, but we very quickly became attached. My very favourite story about Hind is the time he disappeared from my parents' ranch where my husband and I lived for the winter months in 1964-65. When my husband could not find him anywhere, he started thinking about the last time he had seen him.

"I was checking a cow with a new calf on the other side of the lake yesterday," he said, "I told him to lie down and stay..." And that's where Hind was - still lying down in the grass where he had been told to "stay".

At two years old, Hind was already a great cattle dog. He was going to be fantastic, but his life was cut short when he chased a rabbit into the path of a car. When I was told, my mind could not take it in. Another dog lived on the ranch and I think I thought that was the one who was killed. Only when I repeated the news to my husband, did I comprehend. Photo below is Hind with our young son. It is the only photo I could find of this wonderful, kind, intelligent and gentle dog.

Losing Hind devastated me and I did not get another dog for a few years. When I did, I bought a Samoyed puppy. I have had Samoyeds ever since.

To be continued next week - Samoyeds in my life.

Fall Roundups

Posted by Sharon Labels: , , , ,

October. Clear air, frosty nights and roundups. Especially roundups. Living in the land of massive cattle ranches as I do, with friends and neighbours in the business of ranching, it's pretty hard to miss the fact that weaning, preg testing and fall roundups are in progress. Facebook posts talk of such things; as I drive to Williams Lake, I pass riders behind cows and calves in the bush beside the highway, then a few kilometers of more and more cows strung out along the fence - and heading for home, I suppose. But today it is not the Chilcotin roundups I am thinking about. I am remembering many, many fall roundups in Saskatchewan.

From 1964 to 1971, my husband was manager of the Beechy Community Pasture. In the fall, after the bulls were taken out, the 1500 head (plus calves) that the pasture grassed for the summer must be rounded up and cut into separate herds for each farmer to pick up. Since the breeding and the dry herds ran only in two fields, the first step of the process was to roundup the herds and separate them into four main bunches according to the locale of the owners. We did that in the latter part of September. Then, in October, we rounded up each field of "grouped" cattle, brought them to the main corral and, one by one (or pair by pair), we cut them out and penned them for pickup the next day. It was a big job. The weather for the September roundups usually was warm and we would have enjoyed the rides had we had enough riders, which we usually did not. Five good riders with experience could cover 12 sections of rolling hills and start the cows homeward, but often, when they bunched up at gates, the calves got pushed back and started running back to the last place they had sucked - three or four miles back. Pandimonium reigned as first one, then another, then another rider tried to bring the calves back to the herd and through the gate . . . and our horses were already tired. I remember best the worst case of this, when five of us chased calves back to the herd until our horses had nothing left. I was riding Concho, my son's horse. I knew if she could give no more, no horse could. My husband, on an out-of-shape gelding (we saved our best horses for cutting from the herd) is best remembered for sitting in the prairie wool on the side of a hill beside the dun (who had long ago quit!), flatly stating, "I hate cows." One rider rode to the corrals and returned with fresh horses in the trailer, but we had to ride the field again to pick up cattle scattered all the way to the back of the field.

In 1971, my husband was transferred to Crooked River pasture, and we learned something about a roundup in the bush - that we didn't like it much! Doesn't take long for cattle - especially bulls! - to learn they can "hide" in the bush! Then we had to tie our horse, cut ourselves a club, and go in on foot. Sometimes rounding up a field took several rides, each one bringing back a couple more of the "bushed" cattle, until the last few were either roped and tied to trees to bring in with the trailer or straggled out after winter arrived.

When we left Beechy pasture, my brother, Harold, took over as manager. The first year, I decided I would help him put out the cattle in the fall. I'm sure this was not necessary, but I thought it would help him out. So, with a horse in the back of the truck, two in the trailer and a six-month old baby, I headed out from my new home in Crooked River for Beechy - about 300 miles. What was I thinking? A u-joint in the truck caused a major delay (one end of the drive shaft fell down and jammed stuff back), but eventually, I arrived. Mom looked after Lana in the day; I rode all day, then returned to Mom's house at night. 5:00 A.M. to 10:00 PM. I must have really loved those Beechy Community Pasture roundups!

Harold managed the pasture until retirement - but he retired only from the Community Pasture. For all those years he also ran his own operation - the Diamond Dot Ranch where we were raised - and still does. He, his wife Linda, son Troy and daughter Amber, still know what it is bundle up, slap a saddle on the cold back of their best horse, step in the stirrup and head across the hills to the far corner of a field - the long circle - and round up a bunch of bossy bovines.

"I won't be there to wean the calves," Harold said to me on the phone from his hospital bed last night. He had just been hospitalized in Saskatoon for heart problems. I guess he'll miss one roundup this year, but there'll be others.

Speedy recovery, Harold! You're in the right place at this time. The Diamond Dot - and those roundups - will be waiting for you when you return .

Everything Happens for a Reason

Posted by Sharon Labels: , , ,

Since it's Thanksgiving, I would remiss if I did not remember what I have to be thankful for. Having just returned from a less-than-stellar weekend at the Canadian Supreme, where my financial plan went up in flames at the horse sale and Wolf's only run in the Derby did not place, it could be easy to wallow a little in my disappointment. I admit watching everyone pull away on Sunday night while I camped alone by the barn, discovering the next morning that I had driven away from a box containing four wool saddle blankets when I re-parked my outfit for the night (the blankets were gone the next morning) and driving 1100 kilometers home with only my thoughts for company, snuffed out any euphoric thoughts I might have had but I "dug deeper" and started driving . Monday evening I stopped at Jim and Lorene's in Clearwater to break the trip up.

"I gave one filly away and brought the other one back," I told him. We unloaded Wolf and Mistral (the gorgeous filly I didn't sell) and it was then that Jim said something that I have reminded myself of ever since.

"Everything happens for a reason," he said. "There's a reason you still have Mistral."

The next day I, as I drove the last 350 kilometers home, I felt better. I thought how glad I was that I did not have mechanical issues for the entire trip; I re-lived dinner with my children and grandchildren in Red Deer (definitely a high-point!); I day-dreamed about the trail rides I would take in 2011... And I thought about the fall work waiting for me. I tried not to think about the lost saddle blankets.

I am thankful - thankful that I can still see my way to feed my four-legged friends for another year; thankful that, though I can't work the long days I used to and I "sore up", I can still manage the strenuous physical tasks (like cutting firewood, putting in posts, and cleaning pens); thankful for family, friends and neighours; and thankful for the honest Albertan who picked up my box of saddle blankets!

I didn't stuff myself with turkey or even see anyone yesterday, but I ate roast beef and garden fresh veggies in front of the fire and talked to my daughter on the phone. At the end of the day, more posts were in the ground, more potatoes and carrots were out of the ground, more pens were cleaned and Sapphire (my two year old) was back under saddle. Now that is something to be thankful for!

As far as Mistral goes - I'm still waiting for the reason I still own her, but I know there is one!

Autumn Gold

Posted by Sharon Labels: ,

When summer comes to an end, my good humour goes with it for a time. Summer always seems too short. I am not ready - not ready for cooler weather, not ready for jackets, and definitely not ready for winter! Because, although summer is followed by autumn, it's also one step closer to winter, and that means freezing temperatures, extra chores and no arena to work my horses in. For a week or two, at the end of August, I am a bit cranky.

Inevitably, my bad attitude changes in a week or so to acceptance . . . and that probably has something to do with banquet of visual goodies I feast on every day. How can I be out of sorts with so much beauty around me? The river is its most rich turquoise, the aspens ripen to vibrant gold with orange and reddish highlights. The wild roses, ripe with hips, mature to a deep burnished red. I remind myself - again - to value the moment. How lucky I am to be surrounded by such beauty!

Yes, autumn splendor heralds approaching winter but today, as I watch, from my window, a lone bald eagle soaring above the golden scenery, I am content. When winter arrives (and it will!), I will be ready to see the beauty in that season too because, after all, winter precedes spring...

Just Stay Out of The Way...

Posted by Sharon Labels: , , , , ,

Several years ago, when I was training a three-year-old reining prospect, I asked my husband if he would like to get on and try a sliding stop. After a few coached rundowns to the fence, I told him he was ready to run Cimarron at full speed and "stop short".

"Collect him for a few strides, slowly lower your hand, keep riding all the way to the stop, say "whoa" and stay out of his way," I instructed. It was one of only a few times Don followed my instructions to the letter. . . and Cimarron slid 30 feet!

A lot of horse training technique is exactly that - staying out of the horse's way. I watch my young horses running and playing (my barometer for their talent) and it's pretty obvious that most of the ones I raise now can do what I will be asking of them - if I let them do it! Check out these two photos of week-old foals doing what comes naturally...

Wildwood Sable stopping (and ready for a rollback!)

Wildwood Sapphire going "down the fence" like her mother does...

...and Wildwood Liberty, first photo as a yearling in 2007, then as a three-year-old "trained" reiner in 2009!

Wildwood Liberty running free 2007 - one year old. (Photo by Verna Allinson)

Wildwood Liberty and Terry Lee Sapergia at the Canadian Supreme 2009 (Photo by Sharon Latimer)

Horse training is simply putting a horse in a position where it is easier for him to do the maneuver than not do it - and staying out of his way so he can! Cimarron's stop was like that, but so are circles, a spin or a lead change. I can "fix" or position before or after the maneuver but it generally works better if I stay out of my horse's way when he is actually executing the maneuver. When I start my colts, I don't want to mess up that natural talent they were born with!

Sable and Sapphire are two year olds now. Sable has went on to another home and, from all reports is going to be a fantastic reiner. I am riding Sapphire and she is super athetic and sweet. I'm showing her what I want and trying to stay out of her way so she can show me she can.

Alive and in the Present

Posted by Sharon

Have you ever woke up one morning and suddenly realized that the world and everything in it seemed brighter, fresher, more alive? Once in a while, like a couple of days ago, that happened to me. I looked out the window at the same view I see every day, but with a difference - the colours popped; bold defining lines edged the clouds; the river shone a more brilliant turquoise than usual; even the yellowed grass jumped out at me. I took a picture.

As I walked out on my deck in the morning silence, I became aware of the sounds of silence (yes - I know that is a song) - a breath of a breeze, the whisper of a bird flying over, the shuffle of a horse in the barn. It wasn't really silent after all! I realized then that I was remarkably in tune with the universe - every colour, sound and smell.

"I must try to capture what my senses have become so acutely aware of," I thought. More pictures...

My next photo was pansies lightly dusted in morning sun.

I looked at the digital photo. Not quite what I envisioned. So I walked to the garden, still inhaling (literally) each and every sensory experience. It was there I saw, really saw, a sunflower. One more photo before I would put the camera away and begin a day's work. This photo says it all - from the vibrant colour to the bee to the board fence behind . . . and maybe just a little imperfect! - this is close to what I felt that morning- alive!

I think this might be what is called "living in the present". If it is, I want it - every day.

Born To Be

Posted by Sharon Labels: , , , ,

I always watch the television show, "America's Got Talent". There's always a variety of acts and maybe, if I'm lucky, a one-in-a-million talent will be revealed. That's what is happening this year. Jackie Evancho, a ten year old from Pennsylvania, stunned - yes, stunned! - the world when she voiced the first note of her first appearance on the show. She must have deeply impressed the judges before that - when they listened to her audition on YouTube, because it was from the YouTube entries that Jackie Evancho joined others (who had already been through a screening process) in a hunt for the number one talent for 2010. Jackie's voice defies description. It does not seem real. It's difficult to wrap my mind around the fact that that voice is coming from that wisp os a girl - a little shy, a little giggly - but when she sings, it is with the voice of an angel and the maturity of a diva.

My mind wandered after I watched Jackie's last performance. I started thinking about where a talent like that comes from, and of course there is only one answer - they are born with it! There are people who are born with a gift, whether for singing, dancing, writing, drawing . . . or horsemanship! Although there are many vocalists, dancers, writers, artists, horsemen and horsewomen, there are a handful who stand above the rest - and it is because they are born to be . . . great!

Most of us work hard all our lives to achieve some level of expertise in our chosen field. Certainly I did. I am in awe of those born with the gift for I shall never quite achieve what they do with so apparent ease. I quite understand that, as hard as I try, I will always be missing that extra magic of a super-gifted horseperson, a person born with an innate sense of the horse, of feel, of timing. Although I know several people who almost have that, one name rises above the rest - Guy Gauthier.

Guy, a native of Quebec, stormed the reining world the moment he entered the reining pen. He stunned the competition with win after win., tapping into the best of each horse, delivering time and time again. He was unstoppable . . . until he and his wife were killed in a car crash in the late 80s. Guy's name is still 52nd on NRHA list of top money earners and he has been gone for over 20 years. (Keep in mind that reining competitions did not pay as much then either.)

A few years before that fateful day, I had a wonderful opportunity to take a clinic from Guy. I was living in northern Saskatachewan at the time, the clinic was to be held in Beechy, 300 miles away, and it was winter, but my neighbour and I hauled together. I took a 3 year old mare belonging to a client. Below is a photo of Guy with me, the mare and the owner of the mare.
This photo is of all clinic participants. BAck row: Jack Wartman, Chris Larsen (my neighbour), Jake Braun (owner of the facility), myself, Steve Braun, Brenda Gael; Middle row: Marg Perrin, Vicki Braun, Brian Braun, Doug Jones, Dale Montgomery, Eric Lawrence, Guy Gauthier; Kneeling in front: Dennis Perrin and Keith Taylor.
And here I am perfecting a spin on Bobby. (All photos by Verna Allinson)

And so this is a tribute to Guy Gauthier, gone so many years now, but whose mark will always remain in the reining world, and to Jackie Evancho whose career is only beginning. Born gifted. Born to be the best!

The Table

Posted by Sharon

A round oak table stands in the center of my kitchen/dining room. The table has been with me many years - my children sat around it every morning before they dashed out the door to meet the school bus; they ate there with me again in the evening; lively birthday parties and holiday dinners happened around that table. The finish on the top is wearing through in places and it has developed a squeak but still, every day, I use that table. Some days, like today, I remember where it came from.

When my husband, children and I lived in northern Saskatchewan on the Crooked River Community Pasture, my husband brought mail to an elderly gentleman who lived in the bush about two kilometers from our house. We called him " a hermit" and indeed he was. Frank Miklos never left his property. Once a month, my husband brought his mail to him and returned with the signed pension cheque and a list. Garry shopped for Frank and brought supplies back to him along with whatever money was left over. In the summer, Garry drove but, since no real road existed to Frank's place, in the winter he packed groceries, etc in on horseback. Almost always, Frank offered Garry a glass on his raspberry wine.

Frank made good raspberry wine . . . and lots of it - 45 gallons every year from the rather large patch of berries he grew. I don't think he grew much else in his garden, but he tended those raspberries well and the bushes rewarded him with an ample crop every year - more than he needed for his wine. So he asked if I would like to pick some. Would I!!

I was a bit shy around Frank at first, but I bundled up Lana, just a baby, and drove to his little house, put Lana in a baby chair between the rows and picked. Frank visited a little - he was fascinated by the baby - and I gradually relaxed and talked with him. A private man (that's why he lived alone far away from people, I guess), it was some time before I found out he had left a family in Hungary and had two daughters there. He did not reveal the reason why he moved to Canada alone and I did not ask. He was a bricklayer by trade and the brickwork in his home I assumed he had done himself. (I always wondered where he had found clay for bricks.)

I, too, was invited in Frank's house for raspberry wine. That's when I saw the table. Under a small, smudged window, a soot-blackened round oak table accompanied by equally blackened chairs and sideboard rested in peaceful obscurity.

I loved the table, the whole set, and tried to buy it from him. "You never can tell what I might do," he said, but he would not sell it. I gave up asking.

This was the pattern for two or three years until one winter, when Garry rode to Frank's for his monthly visit, he found him in a terrible state - very sick and weak. Garry quickly rode home, called friends with skidoos and an ambulance. Frank was admitted to the hospital.

Meanwhile, we worried about his property, now left unattended. Moreover, we knew there was cash in his house somewhere because Garry had been returning what was left of his pension cheque every month. We decided we should find it and bank it for him for he would be needing it.

The cash was in the sideboard in a tobacco can - $6000 - not a fortune now, but certainly a tidy sum then. We started a bank account for Frank. (He would only trust Garry or me to OK any cheques he signed!)

When I visited Frank in the hospital, he told me to take the table, chairs and sideboard, but I didn't. "You might need those," I said.

Frank did not come home. He died in Saskatoon hospital a few months later. In truth, I wonder how much of a favour we did him by rescuing him for he was lost and a little frightened away from his "little heaven".

He had one relative in Canada, a nephew in Calgary. When his nephew came to Crooked River, he visited with us.

"Uncle Frank told me that his round oak table, chairs and sideboard is yours,"he said.

Nope - I didn't know what Frank might do, but he did. I refinished the set and it was beautiful. I still have it today. I reminds me of a Hungarian hermit and raspberry wine.

Fiddling While Rome Burns

Posted by Sharon Labels: , , ,

Last Monday I loaded Whisper in the trailer and headed out for a one-day trail ride. Desperate for at least one ride in the mountains before summer was over and sure that cooler weather was on its way, I ignored all the work at home to go. I also did a really good job of "forgetting" about forest fires raging only a few miles from me. In fact, that was one of the reasons I wanted to go - to get above the thick smoke that blandeted my property. I hoped, if I rode to 6000-7000 feet that I would enjoy clear air. On my way to Tatlayoko Lake, I drove through reminders of the devastation a wildfire can leave behind.

The smoke thinned as I travelled and my spirits lifted. When I reached the lake, only a haze lingered over the mountains. I unloaded Whisper, hobbled her to graze, made myself something to eat, then started to organize for the ride the next morning. I checked my backpack for survival items, leaving lots of room for camera equipment and tied the saddlebags on the saddle.

By then, Whisper had eaten her fill, so I walked her to the lake for a drink (wasted effort because she wasn't interested). I led her back to the outfit and tied her to a tree for the night. I wondered if she would fuss since I had pulled her out of the herd to take on this ride, but she seemed content, almost happy to be alone with me... The next morning, I quickly packed up to head up the trail to Potato Range, high above Tatlayoko Lake. I had been there before so I knew how to access the trail to the top, a distance of about 10 km - all uphill! When the trail opened up for a view of the lake, I got off Whisper to give her a break and take some photos. What a view!

Finally, we reached the open meadows of Potato Range and here I had my sandwich and coffee. (Photo taken on the timer - camera perched on an old log.) A deep peace settled over me. Such a vast land - acres and acres of wilderness - and not another person for miles and miles!

I headed down the Potato Trail, through trees uphill, along an open side hill, lost in my own thoughts.

I wanted to explore the Crest Route more, so when I spotted an access, I left the trail to climb to the crest and a spectacular view. I dismounted and sat a spell by Whisper, who like I, seemed fascinated by what she could see.

After more pictures and a little video, I headed Whisper down to the trail again, but before too long, I detoured to the top again, this time weaving around snowbanks.

Horseflies were our constant companions and, when we reached the top, a stiff breeze cooled us. The weather was almost perfect for this ride - about 20 degrees, a good ten degrees cooler than it would be at the bottom! I looked at the altitude reading on my GPS - almost 7000 feet!

Whisper was starting to tire. I knew I must turn around soon although I wanted to go farther. Reluctantly, I turned back. Three hours later, after a long, long descent, Whisper and I arrived at the trailer, our home for the night. As I always do after a trail ride, I wished I was back up on top!
The next morning, I leisurely prepared for the drive home. At Tatla Lake, I stopped at a wonderful little store.
"You in Potato Range?" a patron asked.
"Yes. Just on the way home."
"If you can get home!" he said, and that is how I learned that the highway was closed from west of Alexis Creek to Lee's Corner, exactly where I live!
Now I was alarmed! "What a fool!" I thought. "You left home when wildfires were raging! What were you thinking!" Frantically, I tried to call the girl doing my chores and my neighbours to find out what was going on, but no answer... I started driving.
The 120 km home was a little stressful, not knowing what I would find when I got there. I had visions of my friends moving my horses, or maybe even the house burning. As I approached Alexis Creek, smoke engulfed me. The highway was closed all right, but I talked my way through to go home and, I am happy to report, my house was still standing. The fire, although a real threat, was still a distance from my property.
I was fiddling while Rome burned... or trailriding while the Chilcotin burned...