Re-Aligning the Stars

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Way back in May 2010, my blog post was titled, "The Stars are Aligned". With great confidence, I listed the following upcoming 2011 events in my horse world:
  • The first of the sixth generation of "The Dynasty"(my name for the descendents of my good mare, Duchess) would arrive in 2011 - Wildwood Legacy Lace (great-great granddaughter of Duchess) was bred to Walking With Wolves
  • My best mare, Peppy Del Cielo, was carrying a Wimpy's Little Step foal to be born spring 2011.
  • Peppy Del Cielo's three sons, Running With Wolves, Wildwood Liberty and Walking With Wolves were all eligible to compete in reining Derbies in 2011 (a very rare situation) and it was my goal to make that happen.
  • Walking With Wolves was in reserve spot in a Saddle Series and could win the saddle in 2011.
  • Peppy Del Cielo's granddaughter, from the first crop of Running With Wolves' foals, would be three years old and eligbible for reining futurities.
And so, in 2011, Prima's three sons would compete against each other in a Derby (how cool is that!), her granddaughter would enter the reining pen for the first time and she would have a Wimpys Little Step foal at her side. And...Walking With Wolves, sire of the sixth generation of The Dynasty, could win the British Columbia Reining Association Saddle Series. As I stated in The Stars Are Aligned, 2011 was lining up to be a stellar year. Did I really believe ALL of these landmark events would bless my world? No, I didn't . . . but some small part of me believed they might. After all, it was my time . . .

Five Years Ago... and Now

Posted by Sharon Labels:

Five years ago today I moved to the Chilcotin. Looking back, I'm not sure how I accomplished that by myself. I moved out of a huge property in Armstrong in November, re-located my horses, lived with my dog in the living quarters of my trailer for six weeks, then loaded the back of my truck with bales, packed the living quarters to the roof, hitched up, loaded my yearling stallion, Wolf, Splendor, and Legacy, jumped Kirby (my Samoyed) into the back seat and started driving. I took possession of my new property at noon on December 22, 2006. At about 12:15 I turned off highway 20, down the lane and through the gate to my new home.

I have yet to find words to describe how I felt (and I've tried...) when I first glimpsed the rustic log house overlooking the river.

Super Stars of Rodeo

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Although rodeo was a big part of my life for many years, I don’t attend many any more. My life has gone a different direction. Rodeo is still in my blood, though and, with modern technology, I can see the big ones from the comfort of my living room. I don’t ever miss that chance - I just watched all ten goes of the National Finals Rodeo on wide screen television! What a treat! (I couldn’t help thinking of how Dad would have enjoyed watching this…)

I must confess I watch the horses as much or more than the contestants, although they are one and the same thing – the bucking horses doing the best job they can so riders can score the best, calf roping (I know – it’s tie-down roping now!) and steer wrestling horses carrying their partners to the calf or steer and, of course, my personal favourites – the barrel horses. The intelligence, courage and talent of these dedicated athletes (the horses, I mean) astound me. Most horses would rather be in the pasture doing nothing but eating and sleeping but these horses look like they love their job. For sure, they know their job. And, like the contestants, a few stand out above the rest. Who cannot appreciate Sweetness or Jessie or Martha?

Jessie is a 16 year old black AQHA gelding, Lee Graves’ steer wrestling horse. He is named for Jessie James – because sometimes he is a little hard headed. Seems he “failed’ at several disciplines (racing, calf-roping, barrel racing) because he did it until he didn’t want to! Steer wrestling was a fit.

Sweetness is Clint Cooper’s main mount in tie-down roping. He is 19 years old I believe and still going strong. As I watched him in the NFR, I marveled at his intelligence and “feel”. Ears forward, eyes firmly fastened on calf and then rider when he is tying, he keeps the rope tight but not too tight, moves left or right as needed. Incredible. Sweetness is named for Pro football player, Walter Payton – he even carries Payton’s number – 34 – on his shoulder.

And Martha – what cannot be said about Martha! She has “made” Lindsay Sears in the barrel racing world. (I read somewhere that Lindsay said when Martha cannot compete any more she would quit competing...)With her unique turn, incredible speed and unstoppable courage, she has endeared herself to many. Lindsay and Martha represented Canada at NFR (the only Canadians!) and what a job they did, winning the average and the World title!

So yes – I enjoyed watching cowboy after cowboy compete through ten performances of the finals but it was the horses that stole my heart - not just Martha, Jessie and Sweetness but all of them. They are all deserving of recognition for they are the partners of the contestants that qualified for NFR. Without their horses, the contestants are nothing. I'm pretty sure they know that.

As I watched each go-around of the finals, I became more and more motivated to run barrels again. I started thinking about training one or two of my reining horses to run barrels. As a matter of fact, if it wasn’t winter, I probably would have headed to the barn and got started but since my arena is out of commission now it will have to wait to spring. I’ll keep you posted…

Beautiful horses and cowboys in black shirts caught my eye at NFR! Guess I wasn't looking at horses all the time... nothing better than a good looking cowboy in a black shirt!

Who's It All About?

Posted by Sharon

“It’s not all about you, Sharon!” the woman bluntly told me.

I didn’t see that coming. One moment I was making what I thought was pleasant conversation about an upcoming reining show and the next I was quite thoroughly put in my place. Hmmm… For a moment I was taken aback. Should I answer that? Let it go? Apologize? Was she saying I was selfish? Egotistical? Did I really make it all about me?

My comment preceding hers was that I wished I had a futurity horse entered at that show, a show she had quite a bit to do with. No, I didn’t deserve that. I had to respond. I defended myself, but probably not in the way she thought I would.

“Actually, when I enter that pen to compete, it is all about me,” I said, “and I think most riders feel the same way. After all, we paid our entry, spent hours training our horse and got to the show. No one does all that just to donate to the show or the other riders. For those few minutes in the pen, it better be all about me - or about me, my horse and my run – or I shouldn’t be doing this.” I left it at that.

The NRHA Futurity is running now, the big one in the reining world and, although the above incident happened some time back, the significance of it stayed with me enough to come to mind now as I watch riders with so much at stake enter and leave the pen in Oklahoma. In the friendly atmosphere of competition I hope no one felt it necessary to remind them that it isn’t “all about” them. I hope their mind is 100 percent focused on themselves and the job at hand.

Interestingly enough, the woman who chastised me for “thinking of myself” reined at the same show at which she felt it necessary to knock me back a peg or two. I think it might have been “all about her” when she entered the pen…

Earning The Right

Posted by Sharon Labels:

When I first start riding my colts, I work them in one corner of the arena in a small circle. I lunge them in that circle, lunge them saddled in that circle and eventually ride them – still in that little circle! We walk, leg yield, jog, trot and lope and they develop confidence in the circle. That makes learning easier.  If, when we are walking, the colt wants to jog or, if trotting, he wants to lope, I stay in that gait longer. He has to “earn the right” to move at a faster gait by demonstrating patience at the gait he is in. I can maintain control that way and he learns to wait for me to ask.

Lunging Splendor in the corner of the arena
Gradually, I widen the circle until it covers one end of the arena. Then, at some point in this early training, I ask my colt to leave the circle and use the entire pen, making straight lines down the sides. But, since horses can get stronger and faster in straight lines than in circles, that could be where the trouble starts. If my colt cannot be controlled in a circle, he most certainly will be out of hand in a straight line. So, again, he has to "earn the right” to leave the circle or, as I have said many times to my students, he has to "earn his way out of the circle". If he tries to run off when I direct him in a straight line or will not maintain a steady gait, I take him back to the circle.

Running With Wolves very early in training
I think life is a little like this. I think we have to earn the right to be respected and trusted, earn the right to venture into the world. We do have certain rights from the moment we are born – freedom of speech, freedom of religion, etc – but others are have to be earned.

So here’s the thing. Maybe educating a horse isn't so different than educating our children - or ourselves. We all want to be respected but I see too many times, that respect has not been earned. Maybe if we had stayed "in the circle" and did the work until we had it figured out, we could “earn our way out” without running our life off in to the ditch. Just saying...

Is the light on?

Posted by Sharon Labels:

Having now lived in the Chilcotin for almost five years, I can say that I’m starting to have a handle on how life is lived here. I might even go one step further and say I am Chilcotin-ized! (Note: A fellow at church yesterday remarked that the logs on their cabin were chilcotin-ized so we might assume the word has broad meaning.)

My "chilcotin-ization" was a gradual process, I think, one born of observation and adaptation. Over time I learned to buy bananas every time I shop for groceries (my neighbour says she doesn’t put them on the list anymore...) and I freeze milk because trips to the grocery store can be a month apart. I have collected extra parts for tractor and water bowls and have learned more than I ever wanted to know about machinery, washing machines, lawn mowers and water bowls . . . because when you live in the Chilcotin, professional help is a long way off, expensive and sometimes just not available - which is where neighbours come in. In the Chilcotin, good neighbours are gold!

The beautiful Chilcotin River as seen from my kitchen window.

But the Chilcotin 'way of thinking' is a little harder to pin down. “Chilcotin time” has real meaning (I’m still learning that.) Trust has to be earned. Hard workers are respected; slackers are not. Understated, underwhelmed, underpaid but always optimistic would describe many of the people who live here. And we’re definitely home-bodies. Like almost everyone else living in this beautiful, remote part of British Columbia, I could happily stay home week after week. We all hate the can’t-be-put-it-off-any-longer trip to Williams Lake, which brings me to my story…

A few months back, I held a three-day reining clinic on my property, which meant picking up the clinician, Vern Sapergia, at Williams Lake airport on Thursday evening and bringing him back to the airport on Monday morning, a 200 km return trip each time. I looked at the gauge on my truck on the first trip and decided I did not have to fill with diesel until the return trip. However, because it rained all day the day before the clinic started, all students and clinician moved to an indoor arena 10 km from my property for the first 1 ½ days. This translated into more mileage on my truck than I anticipated and on Saturday, when Mandy, a friend of mine from the Okanagan, returned to the house in my truck with the clinician for lunch, she voiced concern that there was not enough fuel for the trip to the airport on Monday.

“Is the light on?” I asked,  meaning the fuel light.

She gave me a look with that clearly said, “What’s that got to do with it?” but replied that it was not. I told her I thought I was all right, but she persisted so I promised to get some diesel before Monday morning.

On Sunday evening, after the clinic was completed, Vern, Mandy and I headed out for an impromptu barbecue at Chilco Ranch, just across the river – in my truck. We had planned to dine out, but there was nothing open after 7:00 AM (the Chicotin way…) so Crystal and Jordan offered to host dinner (also the Chilcotin way…) Of course, the gas station was closed as well.

“I’m sure Jordan will sell me some diesel,” I told Mandy.

“I may be a little low on fuel to get to Williams Lake tomorrow,” I said to Jordan during dinner. “Is it possible that I could get some from you?” Jordan didn’t miss a beat…

“Is the light on?” he asked.

Mandy doubled over with laughter. The rest of the table looked a little confused at her reaction. When she could talk, she explained that I had asked the exact same question when she told me I was low on fuel.

“Must be a Chilcotin thing,” she said.

Kaylynn and Taylor

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It’s been a tough week. Two young lives on the fringe of my circle of friends have been cut short. Two beautiful young women are gone – one at the unforgiving of a brutal disease, the other at the vicious hands of a brutal killer. Although I did not know these girls personally, their passing affected me deeply.

Kaylynn was a reiner, like myself. She loved her horse, loved to compete and loved life. She fought hard against the cancer that invaded her brain. She endured surgeries, treatments and pain, always living with hope and fierce determination, but the disease won. I can’t make sense of that.

Kaylynn Malmberg
Taylor, much like Kaylynn, loved life, animals and friends. Having just graduated from high school, she looked to the future with hope and plans. She, unlike Kaylynn, had no reason to believe she had an evil force to conquer. But, in the time it takes to write this blog, a person or persons bludgeoned Taylor to death. I can’t make sense of that either.

Taylor Van Diest
I phoned two of my friends living in the Taylor's home town, my former home town. Both have teenage children. Both were, not surprisingly, very emotional. I’m sure, like me, they were doing “what if’s”. We talked at some length and, although I phoned to support them, I wept myself.

“If that had been your daughter,” I think I would have just lost it,” I told one. I had already spent a few days imagining how I would feel if it was one of my granddaughters. Sometimes my “picture brain” is not a good thing. I walked the walks with both these girls so many times… and with their mothers. I did not sleep. I couldn’t turn the pictures off.

And so there is nothing more to say. Medical experts fight every day for a cure for cancer and still nothing. And RCMP are still looking for Taylor’s killer. The sad truth is, even if that one is taken off the streets, there are others and that makes me crazy. These two stories will be repeated in other families, other towns.

I can’t say I can imagine what the families of these girls are going through because I can’t. I can only say if she were mine, I don’t think I would be still standing. The human spirit is a wonderful thing and I can only hope it’s doing it’s job. As for Kaylynn and Taylor, peace be with you, sweet girls. We will remember.

The Burden of Hoof

Posted by Sharon Labels:

"Horses have a way of keeping us young… and mostly broke” a friend of mine commented on Facebook last week.

“You’re right about keeping us broke,” I answered, “But I’m not sure about keeping me young!”

Her comment triggered a train of thought though, one I've travelled on many times - why do we, people in the horse business,  choose a career that demands much and pays little (notice I didn't say "offer little")? Horse trainers and breeders work long hours seven days a week; they rise early and go to bed late; they administer to sick and injured animals, often in the middle of the night; they freeze their hands thawing out water lines and sunburn their faces picking up bales in the field; they rub liniment on over-worked muscles and sometimes eat dinner at 10:00 PM (or not at all!). We drag ouselves to the barn when we are sick; we drag ourselves to the barn too soon after surgery; we drag ourselves to the barn when it’s blistering hot or bone-chilling cold. Why have we signed up for a lifetime of never-ending work and sometimes unbearable heartbreak? And why have we shouldered so much responsibility? The answer is . . . because most of the time we don’t drag ourselves to the barn – we stride to the barn with anticipation, spirit and joy! And that joy makes the  inevitable times of heart-wrenching pain (Beam me up, Scotty!) bearable.

A Time of Joy
There has to be a reason why we do what we do. It’s not the money and the prestige is fleeting at best and almost non-existent at worst. It has to be about the animal - the horse.

A Time of Caution

A Time of Commitment
Last week isn’t the only time I marveled at the tenacity and commitment of people in the horse business. For some reason, it seems obvious to me why I chose horse training for my career but harder to understand why others do. Not sure why that is. Maybe I believe that most people want more - more money, more toys, more holidays . . . and less responsibility. They won't get that if the horse business is their business. So… when someone tells me how lucky I am to do what I do and asks me about becoming a horse trainer, I give it to them straight.

“Yes, I am lucky," I admit, "But I this is my job and some days, when I feel like a day off, it's still my job - rain or shine, summer and winter. If you want to be a horse trainer, you must be willing to work much longer days than an office job for seven days a week for a very small paycheck. Horse shows will be your holidays and there probably won’t be a boat parked in your yard, just a horse trailer. You must accept the responsibility that comes with caring for horses in your care and be willing to attend to their needs ahead of your own. On the other hand, there is not much in this world that can compare to the soft nickers that will greet you when you go out to feed in the morning. If you can live with that, you have what it takes to be a horse trainer.”

A Time of Peace
Maybe my Facebook friend is right after all. Maybe horses do keep us young - at least in our hearts and heads, if not our bodies. As far as keeping us broke, they're worth it.

Just "grade" or just plain great?

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My business is the horse business. For almost 40 years I have raising, training and selling registered Quarter Horses. On Thanksgiving weekend, as I watched my 2011 weanlings leave the yard with their new owners, I thought back to the beginning of my relationship with the Quarter Horse.

Feather, Timber and Whiskey with new owners.
That was a long time ago – 1966 – and since that time have bred, raised and ridden many. But what about the horses I rode (and loved) before? What about the “grade” horses in my life? And… are these purebred, “Cadillac” horses I ride now as tough as the mixed breed models I rode all day on roundups then hauled to horse shows in the back of the truck on the weekend? Or are they better?

Grade horses settled the west long before I came on the scene. They carried riders, pulled wagons, sleighs, mowers, rakes and stone boats, they packed unbelievable loads into areas not accessible to wagons. They endured hardships beside their owners. Most of all they willingly served. They had to be tough to survive . . . and sound! Although the definition of “soundness” remains the same today, the importance of a sound horse in those demanding conditions was much higher. Whether in the unsettled, vastness of Saskatchewan (where I grew up) or the harsh wilderness of the Chilcotin (where I live now), horses often meant the difference between life and death – and those horses were always grade horses, the result of select breeding all right, but of the "toughest and most sound", not the prettiest! One has to admire and respect those horses. Call them what you will – grade, unregistered, mustangs – they contributed to our ancestors’ survival!

The first horse I remember is a plain brown mare with a kind heart. Pronto belonged to my mother but she was the first horse I rode by myself and, of course, she was grade.  Mom's favourite was one of Pronto’s daughters, Pride, and that black, grade mare was one of the gutsiest horses I will ever know. To say she had “heart” does not adequately describe her courage in the face of a variety of adverse conditions and expectations. Mom rode her almost every day in the spring, summer and fall. In the years she taught school, she used her to get there; she checked cattle, cut anything out that needed to come home and rounded up huge fields on Pride; and she rode the six miles out of the ranch to pick up the mail on her – summer and winter! Mom often said Pride would never quit – she would keep going until she died trying…
Mo with Pride and Charm (Pride's sister)
Dad rode Tex in those years. I don't remember Tex very well although I have a picture of dad holding me as a baby on him. I think he must have died when I was very young. Besides ranch work, Tex carried Dad in the calf roping event at the Calgary Stampede. Do you think any calf ropers ride horses that are not registered today?

Dad and Tex

When I was about fourteen, Mom and Dad decided I could ride Rocky. Like Pride, he was not a purebred animal: like Pride he was black; like Pride, also, he was high energy with a never-quit attitude. I loved it. Rocky carried me over the Coteau Hills on roundups, fun "free" rides bareback in the paddock, through the snowbanks on not-so-much-fun rides to the farm where I boarded to go to school in the winter and around barrels and poles at rodeos and horse shows. I ran him the last time at a rodeo at Clearwater Lake when he was twenty years old. He won the pole bending and placed in the barrel racing. He had six happy years of retirement on the ranch before I had to say good bye.

Eventually, my parents gave me a horse – a grade, but with a Quarter Horse sire. They had invested in a Quarter Horse stallion, Copper Red Boy, and he had sired my Cheetah. Her dam, however, was a grade mare we called Cherry. I was told she had Thoroughbred and Standardbred blood and certainly that made sense since a few good Thoroughbred stallions had come in to the country. Cherry had not been ridden much. A hired man started her one winter and described her as “the roughest horse he had ever ridden” He said the saddle jerked forward and back when she walked. I guess we can credit Red for taking that out of her colts because she had several by him and they were not rough-gaited.
Cheetah was another Pride or Rocky. She was small, only 14.1, and fine-boned but she was tough. She handled the cold, snow-deep trail I rode in winter with just as much guts as Rocky had. I barrel-raced, flat-raced her and anything else I wanted. She remained sound until, retired and raising foals, she was kicked in the knee.

So . . . as I look around at my herd of registered Quarter Horses I have to ask myself if they would have what it took to do the work I did with those grade horses. I can’t be sure, but I think not . . . except for one. Wildwood Soul O Silk would carry me until she dropped. She has many of the same qualities of Pride, Rocky and Cheetah - one tough little horse!

Silk "going down the fence"
"Just a grade," I would say when someone asked me about Cheetah, but I think now I sold her short. I should have left out "just" and said, "She's grade," with the pride she deserved.

Those Handy Hands

Posted by Sharon Labels:

Have you ever thought about all the things your hands have done? Or how valuable they are? In the middle of a fall project, I did…

For the past week or so, I’ve been working on two new flower gardens for my yard. The work entails digging out sod and replacing it with topsoil and rotted manure (no shortage of that around here!), spading it and finally, working out the lumps with my hands. Most gardeners wear gloves but I do not. I like the feel of the cool, moist earth running between my fingers. As I crumpled the lumps, I stopped and looked at my hands – really looked!

“These hands have done so many things!” I thought. “How amazing that they still work?” I started thinking back…

I suppose when I was a baby I looked at my hands in wonder (most babies do…), then reached for toys or my mother’s hair, all part of learning to use my hands to do what I wished them to do. As I grew up, I learned to feed and dress myself and a hundred other necessary things. I picked up a pencil, then a pen, learned to write, to throw and catch a ball . . . with my hands. My hands produced music on the violin, guitar and piano. I prepared food; I learned to knit, crochet and embroider; I guided horses with my hands. In the winter my hands sometimes got so cold that my fingers turned white but the circulation returned when they warmed and they continued to work for me.

Hands holding, protecting...

I married and had babies. Now those hands would serve one of the most important jobs of their life – to care for my children – changing diapers, feeding, washing. I grew a huge garden in those days too and my hands were almost never still with hoeing, harvesting, shelling, canning and freezing. Still my hands did not complain – they worked tirelessly all day every day.
The hands that rock the cradle...

These hands have delivered puppies, calves and foals. They've picked up toys and picked berries; they've tied shoelaces and hooked rugs; they've kneaded bread and whipped cream; they've guided trucks, tractors and horses. The list could go on and on...

I remember one time my hands gave me away. It was Halloween and a friend and I dressed up and went to the local bar. Of course everyone tried to guess who were. We did not speak and were completely covered, except for hands. One man looked at mine and said, “Working hands.” He knew it was me.

Working hands to be sure. One thumb has a huge bump from a “bucking-off’ (guess it was broken!) and two fingers are a little dented from an accident loading a horse. A thumb nail is growing out after connecting with a hammer and I have calluses on both palms, but these hands can still do the job! They’ve been bruised, torn and smashed and they’ve ached with chill-blains and injuries but they can still tighten their grip on the halter shank of an unruly weanling foal or caress the silky softness of a horse’s nose and the top of my puppy’s head. As a matter of fact, they can still do every job I ask of them. For that, I am thankful . . . and truly amazed...

My career depends on my hands!

Over the hill or still climbing?

Posted by Sharon Labels:

“Congratulations on your retirement,” were the first words out the man's mouth when I answered the knock on the my door.

Retired? Not that I knew . . . and I didn’t even like the sound of it.

I had not seen Dave in many years and it was by pure chance that he stood at my door now. I was pretty surprised to see him and even more that he should think I was retired. I decided he had heard I had quit competing and, with a weak protest, left it at that. After he left, though, I thought about what he had said and why it was such a shock that he should think I was retired. When I decided to end my reining career (at least in the pen), I never once thought of it as retirement. Although I believed that I was ready to quit hauling to reining shows, I did not believe that I was ready to “retire”, at least not in my sense of the word. I am not “over the hill” yet.

I have been climbing that hill all my life, especially in the horse training world. From the time I was a child, I strived to be better. I knew I could improve all facets of my life and I embraced the challenges. I liked to learn, so learning became part of life. I don’t want that to change. I may not compete again but I will still ride, still train my horses, still reach for that goal that may always be just out of reach – to train the perfect horse to the highest level possible with the least effort. That means I will still study my breeding program and breed for better Quarter Horses every year. I will still ride some of those horses and critique my training methods, study others and always, always strive to do a better job. That being said, I am training my own horses in my riding arena every day. I have a two-year-old in training and I'm fine-tuning maneuvers on my four-year-old stallion. As I said, I like to learn so I am dabbling in something a little different. I heard about a new, mostly-exhibition event called Cowboy/Western Dressage and Walking With Wolves is my guinea pig for that - reining horse turned dressage. I don't pretend to know anything about dressage but I can learn - right? Here is a video of Little Wolf's first efforts (combined with reining maneuvers).

September 2011 - a great stop on Walking With Wolves in my arena.

Besides my horse business, I intend to pursue my “hobby” – creative writing. That’s what this blog is about – to keep the juices flowing. I have lots to learn and, like horse training, will never know it all!

As far as retirement goes, it doesn't feel much like I am retired. Looking after my  herd of horses, training them, hauling hay, fixing fence, putting in posts, cleaning pens and generally maintaining my property is more like WORK. Retirement may never happen. Over the hill? No. I may be approaching the top, but I prefer to think I am still climbing...

Phenomenal Family

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"Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one." Jane Howard

This quote really says it all... and it hit me squarely in the heart this past week. Living where I do, far away from family, I don't connect in person very often. Mostly I'm okay with that. I'm used to it, I suppose, and comfortable with my own company. But, last week, my brother and his wife visited me - all the way from Saskatchewan. It had been eight years since we had seen each other. I didn't know how much I had missed them until they were here . . . and gone.

Harold and Linda stayed four full days and we made the best of it, packing in a couple of tours of the Chilcotin, a ride around my property, a barbecue with my friends and plenty of eating and visiting. Since Harold owns the ranch I grew up on, much of the conversation was of the Diamond Dot. I can't remember when I have had such a good time.

The weather cooperated beautifully for copious photos of our many adventures. My favourite memory of their visit is riding together the first day they were here. I rode my two-year-old, Mistral, and Harold and Linda rode Legacy and Whisper (both in foal).

Harold and Linda on Legacy and Whisper above the Chilcotin River
Harold and I on Legacy and Mistral crossing a channel of the Chilcotin
Here, for comparison is a photo of Harold and I on the backs of horses about 60 years ago. Some things don't change!
Harold and I on Trixie and Pronto

"We need to take a road trip somewhere," I announced to Harold on the morning of the second day of their visit. We had already decided to visit Gang Ranch the next day so, after short deliberation, I chose Nemaiah Valley and Chilko Lake for our destination. We packed a lunch and headed out.
Harold and I by the Taseko River
Nemaiah Valley
Harold, Linda and Bandit - lunch at Konni Lake
The next day, we again packed a lunch and headed out for Gang Ranch.

Harold and Linda on the Gang
...and drove home via Farwell Canyon. Love this photo of Harold and I - we look so relaxed!
And so, like most things in life, the visit had to end. I was alone with the reminder of what it means to have a family around. I've always known my life was not perfect (living alone with no family close) but now I wondering if I might someday be able to make it more so... As the quote at the beginning of this blog says about family, ". . . you need one." And, as my title states, "Family is phenomenal!"

My Virtual Trail Ride

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Every year, even with my show schedule, I plan at least one trail ride. I've done that for so many years that, when August comes around, I crave it. This year was no different . . . and I knew where I was going to go. Last year, I could only get away to the Potato Range for one day with a night each end of it at Tatlayoko Lake, the starting point of the ride. Much too short and I couldn't see as much as I wanted to. "This year," I said to myself, " I'll go for three days!

Tatlayoko Lake
But since my two "trail horses" (trained reining horses) were both in foal, I had a problem - what horse to ride . . . or pack. Undaunted, I decided Whisper could make the ride if I conditioned her, which took care of the first problem but not the second. (I didn't want to risk Legacy's foal.) Finally, I asked another woman if she would like to go with me (and supply a pack horse!). She did and we started planning.

First I needed to hone my packing skills, so I dragged out all the tack, caught Wolf, who had never been packed, and went through the process. it seems I didn't forget how and Wolf was a good sport - too bad I can't use him but taking a stallion as a packhorse is out!

On with the plan. I set dates, made lists, dug out maps, and collected items for the pack boxes. Then life got in the way. My hay supplier phoned with a number for another fellow who was going to bale small square bales. I needed those bales and haying weather is not something you take a chance on. I cancelled the ride in favour of picking up bales.

Mischa and I on top of the load.
But now I was ticked. My head was on the Potato Trail, especially since I had been going over maps, photos and Google Earth. As I do when I am disapointed or stressed, I started playing with the capabilities of the internet and my computer. What I came up with was a few "virtual" tours of the area - with the aid of Google Earth and my GPS readings. Check these out:

This tour starts after I reached the top, a three hour ride with an elevation gain of 3500 feet. Ride along with me on the Potato Trail to Echo Lakes. I have ridden here three times - a long day ride with Crystal to find the trails (isn't that half the fun?), then with Alberta friends for 3 1/2 days in 2009, then my one-day ride last year. (Click 'play' to get started)

Another option, more of a route than a trail, is to ride the crest overlooking Tatlayoko Lake. I have been to three points on this route but have not yet ridden it in its entirety. It may be more of a hiking trail than a riding trail. I have seen enough to know it is rough, rocky, windy and there could be patches of snow. Elevation is 6500-7000 feet! Here is a tour of the crest.

From Echo Lakes, (where we camped overnight in 2009), my friends and I found a wonderful trail leading through semi-open terrrain (some without marked trails!) to the southern end of the crest route.

From there, we wandered down a little to Dunlap and Gillian Lakes, two quiet alpine lakes with a view of the mountains behind Chilko Lake to the southeast. We ate our lunch between these lakes in 2009 (This year, I was going to camp between the lakes.), made our way back to the northern most Echo Lake (after trying to take a shortcut through a bog), camped there overnight and continued back to the old corrals at the top and down to Tatlayoko Lake the next day. Here is a tour from Gillian and Dunlap Lakes to the old corrals at the top (before the long descent to the lake).

Well, that was fun . . . and I almost did go along for the ride. I could easily put myself on the Potato Trail as I played these tours. However, they are no substitute for the real thing. Next year nothing is going to get in my way!

Note: If you would like to see these "tours" on a bigger screen, you can view on my website under "Google Earth Tours" I hope to add some more tours of other trails in the future.

Berry, Berry Good

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Two women, black dog scampering at their side and berry pails in hand, walk toward the setting sun along an old trail flanked by brush and trees. Mosquitoes and black flies buzzing around their heads, feet occasionally tangling in the tall grass bent over the seldom-used path, they trudge on with one purpose – to harvest the wild berries growing on both sides of the trail before the bears do. A whimsical glimpse into the past? A scene out of a pioneer movie? Nope - not another century or a movie. Just Crystal and I in search of saskatoon berries.

But that old fashioned scene is what came to mind as we made our way through tall grass, rose bushes and weeds. I chuckled. “A vision just popped into my head,” I said to Crystal, “Of women in long dresses and bonnets with lard pails in their hands walking down this trail a hundred years ago!”

I’m sure we were, literally, following in the footsteps of pioneer women picking saskatoon berries along this same trail. But instead of long calico dresses, we wore blue jeans; instead of bonnets we wore ball caps; instead of lard pails, we carried plastic ice cream buckets. Behind us, though, Chilco Ranch stood as it had for almost a century. Below us the Chilcotin River ran just as swift and just as beautiful. And on either side of this old trail saskatoon bushes still offered fruit to those who came for it.

I have a long-standing love for saskatoons. Since I was born and raised in Saskatchewan, I was introduced to the delicious berry at a young age. Saskatoons were readily available – and free for the taking – so all the women picked and canned as many quarts as they could for winter fruit. How I loved canned saskatoons. One of my most poignant memories (and I don’t know why this is so real to me today) is of my grandmother setting dishes of saskatoons with a dab of fresh cream floating in the middle in front of my brother and I at her table in her kitchen at Elbow! (It's odd how random memories stay with us... I remember almost nothing of grandma and grandpa at their Elbow home.) Of course in those years there were no freezers so my grandmother and my mother canned as many quarts as they could, only using fresh berries for a few pies or dished up with sugar and cream.

At the Diamond Dot Ranch, where I was raised, most of the sasktoons grew in the coulees. One coulee, in particular, was the first place we headed to pick. Grandma’s Coulee (named not for my grandmother but for my mother’s grandmother) had the best and most berries.

My husband, too, had many stories of saskatoons. What he remembers is picking gallons of them and selling them for 25 cents/quart to buy shoes for school. Since he had ten siblings, that was a lot of saskatoons!

I picked saskatoons (and other wild berries as well!) and canned or froze them every year when I lived in Saskatchewan but when I moved to BC, I could not find any in the Okanagan. Here, in the Chilcotin, I am back in saskatoon land – if the year is good for them (which often it is not) and if I can beat the bears to them. This year, with all the rain, they are plentiful and I have picked three times. The last two times I rode Whisper to the bottom land by the river, ice cream pail in hand, picked it full with the reins looped over my arm, and carried the pail home on horseback. I can imagine children doing much the same a century ago – only they probably rode bareback. Maybe things haven'e changed as much as I thought...

Saskatoons that I picked yesterday by the Chilcotin River
I’m pretty sure, though, in this day and age, that only a few pick wild berries anymore, and they are missing something - the peace of the wilderness, the feeling of getting back to nature and the satisfaction of adding to the larder with no cost! Most of all, those berries still taste just as good as they did when I was a child. Berry, berry good…

Saskatoon pie - the biggest reason I pick!


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“Nothing in the world is permanent and we’re foolish when we ask anything to last, but surely we’re still more foolish not to take delight in it while we have it. If change is of the essence of existence one would have thought it only sensible to make it the premise of our philosophy.” ~ W. Somerset Maugham

Nope. Nothing is the world is permanent . . . and I am changing one element of my life that had become almost permanent. As of August 1, 2011, I am no longer showing reining horses.

For most of my life, I have competed in the horse world, first barrel racing, then, for the last 31 years, reining.Now it's time – time to slow down, time to do other things with my horses, time to see more of my family, time to quit hauling to reining shows. Not a decision to be made lightly but a decision that had to be made just the same. This is how it all went down…

For the last three years, I have considered stepping down but, with two stallions to promote and (I must admit) a love of the sport, I continued to haul to three or four shows a year. Living alone as I do, with full responsibility of the entire operation – breeding, training, caring for and managing the horses – the actual execution of packing up for a show had become a little overwhelming. Still, because it is what I do, I planned for two reining shows in 2011 and told my friends I did not know if I would compete at any others. I hauled both stallions to Prince George the end of June for the show there. A month later, I loaded the boys again for Armstrong, arriving safely but tired.

Watching the show with Mischa.
On the second day of the show, I knew that show would be my last. I still was one of the last to leave the arena at night and one of the first in the morning, but reduced sleep and unforgiving heat was taking its toll. I was not in my best “show mode”. I lost my appetite and leg cramps hampered me in the first run on Walking With Wolves in the Derby.

Walking With Wolves and I in Armstrong

Working out the cramp, I mounted Running With Wolves for his Derby run and ran reining pattern #9 with all the determination and drive I could muster. After the final stop, I leaned down and stroked Wolf"s neck and whispered "thank you" even though he had incurred a major penalty. Wolf, as he always does, strode to the judges, ears up and eager. As I dismounted for the bit check, I looked at them and said, “I have something to tell you.” They looked a little confused.

“That was my last competitive run,” I explained, “ and you, Morgan (Morgan Lybbert was one of the judges) competed in the same class as I did in my first reining show at Saskatchewan Stakes and Futurities in 1980! This is somehow fitting…”

Running With Wolves and I in the Derby at Armstrong.

Competing has always been a struggle for me, but somehow I kept doing it. Most of this time, I trained and travelled by myself; most of those years, I didn't have an indoor arena so I rode in the wind, rain and snow; I trained reining horses without benefit of sliding ground a large percentage of time! But I brought many three-year-olds to their first futurity and, although I seldom won, they didn't disappoint me either . . . and they were around for many years, sound of mind and body, to pack others around the pen. One rather interesting fact only just occurred to me: In 31 years of reining, I never showed a horse trained by someone else! I think I am rather proud of that!

I know one thing for sure - I must find something to fill the void. I need excitement in my life and I need to do something exciting with my horses! I'm thinking more trail riding (Ididn't have enough time to trail ride when I showed!) but I have a few other ideas too. I'll still be riding, breeding quality reining horses (4 coming next spring) and still training. I've just taken competing out of my schedule.

Saying it makes it real. Yes, I love to rein and I love to show my reining horses (See Somerset Maughn's quote re: "...foolish not to take delight..."). Will I miss the reining pen? Of course. Was it hard to quit? Unbelievably difficult. And scary… But, in the words of Erica Jong,

I have accepted fear as a part of life - specifically the fear of change... I have gone ahead despite the pounding in the heart that says: turn back...”

It's not written in stone...

Photo credit for all photos: John Woods

"There's a Love Knot in my Lariat"

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It’s my mom and dad’s anniversary today. Almost every year, I remember – not the wedding of course since I arrived five and a half years later – but the occasion. Living as we did, on a working ranch in Saskatchewan, there were plenty of other things to think about in July but, every year, mom and dad celebrated their special day in some way, even if it was just a family dinner.

Mom and dad were married on the Diamond Dot Ranch in the open air under fledgling poplars that would one day obscure the dugout behind them. Under a gentle breeze, with family around them, they said their vows, loved and laughed, and danced the night away under the stars to the music of the Schroeder family. From that moment on, “There’s a Love Knot in my Lariat” became mom and dad’s song.

Slim and Florence Gates on thier wedding day - July 25, 1938

Twenty-five years later, my parents celebrated their Silver Anniversary in the same place - the Diamond Dot Ranch. The poplars had grown to towering heights and the old ranch house, although it still stood, had been replaced by a new log house. Dad butchered a beef, dug a pit to barbecue it in and constructed a wood dance floor. Mom cooked, baked and planned. When the day came, so did relatives and friends and they all reminisced, laughed and, just as they did twenty-five years before, danced until the wee hours of the morning under a starry prairie sky. Again, the Schroeders provided the music and, of course, sang “There’s a Love Knot in my Lariat”! This time, though, my brother and I celebrated with them. When morning came, no one could find Dad and Mom. After a little searching, they came out of hiding...

"After everyone went to bed," Mom said, "I realized we did not have a place to sleep, so we rolled out sleeping bags on bales of hay stored in the old ranch house." Perfect.

Slim and Florence Gates on their 25th Anniversary

Harold and I would celebrate another landmark anniversary with Mom and Dad - their 40th. This time I baked and decorated the cake and joined a representative of the Schroeder family with my guitar to sing, once again, "There's a Love Knot in my Lariat". They had retired and were living in Beechy then, having passed the Diamond Dot on to Harold. Though much had changed, their commitment to each other had not. With family, including grandchildren around them, they celebrated, once again, July 25th.

Slim and Florence Gates on their 40th Anniversary

I can only hope that, somehow, some way, Dad and Mom are hearing, once again (maybe with the harps of angels?), "There's a Love Knot in my Lariat". Miss you both...


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A week ago today, I picked up a female puppy at Crisandi Samoyeds in Keremeos. I had thought long and hard about buying a Samoyed - I could rescue one from SPCA and be many dollars ahead - but I could not imagine having another breed, having had Samoyeds for most of my life. Before this puppy was born, I had a deposit on her.

By the time I returned to Armstrong, where my horse trailer/living quarters was parked at a friend's, she had bonded to me. She adapted to travelling (although she didn't like the crate much and I doubt she will travel that way in the future!), sleeping in the living quarters of the trailer, and even "potty training". I had chosen a few name possiblities but did not settle on one until the next day -Mischa (pronounced "mee'-sha")., a name befitting her heritage (Samoyeds originated in the Ural Mountains of Russia).

Mischa and I in Armstrong the day I brought her home
 We spent one day in Armstrong before returning to the Chilcotin. I'm sure Mischa knew only one constant up to this point - me - and must have wondered if we were going to travel forever. That night I fixed a bed for her beside mine (no more crates!) and there she slept, only getting me up at 5:00 to go out. Having just returned from a trip, I didn't feel like staying up so I put her back in her "bed" with her toy, where she played a while then went back to sleep.

Mischa has lots to learn of course - necessary things like coming when she is called, staying where she is asked to stay and how to cope with country life. Slowly I am introducing her to the horses but it will be some time before I am comfortable with her around them - at least until she has grown up a little. I have taken her with me to feed a few times, keeping a watchful eye of course lest she get through the fence. (At least my horses are used to a dog, most of them having grown up with Kirby.) Mischa also must learn to stay in the yard, to lead on a leash (already started that) and how to be alone in the house. Small steps for now, though. I leave her for only very short periods of time. When she is outside on my big lawn, she romps and investigates - flowers, pieces of bark off the trees, bugs, butterflies.

Like all Samoyeds, Mischa loves people. Like all Samoyeds as well she looks like she is "smiling" when she opens her mouth. In this photo, she is "laughing"!

A responsibility? Yes, indeed, but there is no doubt that Mischa will bring an incredible amount of joy to my life. And does Mischa miss her litter mates? Not at all. After all, she has me . . . and all the attention!

A Filly Named Feather

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She entered the world on June 8, 2011, a little, rather scrawny, bony sorrel filly with distinctive markings - a bold white strip down her face missing a chunk  (like someone had bit a piece out of it!) that turned up on the left side of her back in the form of an unusual, irregular-shaped spatter of white -  like someone flicked a paint brush at her. I had not been looking forward to this foal and now I had a crop-out! I was not thrilled.

It had been a traumatic and sorrowful foaling season. Easter required emergency measures to save her baby and Prima lost the foal I had pinned dreams on. In fact, I had lost a piece of myself when I buried Baby Wimpy. I dreaded the last mare foaling. Whether I liked it or not, though, Silk was going to foal. I monitored her progress more out of duty than joy,  and now here the baby was - with her own set of problems - I had to drag her out of the stall when her mother colicked, then rescue her again a couple of hours later when mom had a panic attack! Although she was unfazed, I had had enough.

"When will it end?" I thought. "I'm tired and I don't want any more foals - ever!"

I gave her the name I had picked for Prima's foal had it been a filly (It wasn't.) - Feather. I had already decided not to plan ahead to next year even if I suceeded in getting Prima back in foal to Wimpys Little Step and giving the name away was part of that. Much had been attached to that name...(Read Feathers and Faith.) I let it go...

Feather is a month old now. Until recently I didn't pay much attention to her. I cared for them of course, even took a few photos, but I didn't halter her, pet her or hang out with her. I had nothing left to give and she and the two colts were just reminders of a painful memory that wouldn't go away.

Apparently Feather had other ideas. She always came to greet me, ignoring my indifference. If I sat in a lawn chair while Silk grazed, Feather would come up behind me and nuzzle my hair. She wouldn't leave me alone, wouldn't take "no" for an answer. And she won. Slowly, I emerged from my self-imposed, self-indulgent "funk". I noticed how pretty she was, how personality oozed from every pore, how she tried so hard for me to make me notice her. Feather was accomplishing what nothing else could. She was bringing me back to life. Like the gentle touch of a feather, she drew me to her. She is teaching me to love her. And the white spot on her back? It's growing too... and I'm learning to love it because it is part of her, a part of a very sassy filly who is filling a hole in my heart.

The spot that makes Feather "special"

And so I must consider the possiblity that my choice of the name, "Feather", had a far greater purpose than for a Wimpys Little Step filly. That name was meant to belong to a pretty, little sorrel filly with a big heart and the motivation to stir mine. Am I healed enough to face another loss? I don't know. But the other half of the title of that post last winter was "Faith". Remember - feathers are believed to protect and to carry spiritual messages. And I have my Feather.