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Camping with Horses

Camping with Horses

We told you we were going to keep doing this riding thing, and we have. After the big confidence boost we got last Sunday, we were feeling secure enough with our horses that when we were invited to go camping Friday night and riding on Saturday, we thought, “why not?” So on Friday night, Shari came by with her two horses in her four-horse trailer and picked up Valentine and Moonshine. We drove over to her mom’s 20-acre farm and camped for the night. The next day, we had a great campfire breakfast and saddled up the horses. I rode Valentine and Shari rode Moonshine. I had no trouble at all with Valentine; I rode him a while, then Bill rode him, then Shari’s uncle rode him. He was perfect.

Alas, the same cannot be said for Moonshine. After feeling like Moonshine was going to buck her off several times, Shari worked with her with the longe line for a while, then rode her again. She was better, but Shari still didn’t trust her enough to let Bill ride her. So poor Moonshine was put up in the barn for the rest of the day. Bill went home shortly after that. Poor Moonshine…poor Bill. 🙁 I’ll let him tell more about that, and about Moonshine’s future (don’t worry, we’re keeping her).

But that didn’t keep me and Valentine from having a good time. Shari rode her gelding, Rabbit, and we rode around Mom’s fully-fenced cow farm for a while. That got boring after about a half an hour. By that time I was feeling pretty darn cocky, so Shari suggested we leave the confines of the farm, walk down the road a ways and head into the woods. So we did. It was so great! We found a nice trail, and I was able to take Valentine through creeks, up hills, over fallen timber, through brush – he was, I say again, perfect. We rode for a couple of hours. It was wonderful!

So, guess what I’m doing this weekend? Camping and horseback riding. How cool is that?

Horse rider head injury

Horse rider head injury

MelonA friend of ours called us the other day to relay a story that happened on her street a few days ago. A local girl was out riding her horse on this small country road not far from here. She put a blanket on the horse and went for a ride using a lead rope as reigns. I bet you can guess this didn’t end well. Her horse spooked, dumping her onto the paved road where she was found some time later, bleeding from her ears. Her horse was standing nearby. She was airlifted to a hospital an hour away and is recovering. But it could have been far worse. I don’t have the statistics on head injuries handy but most of the serious injuries I hear of involve head trauma. Yet on trail rides and at events, I rarely see anyone wearing a helmet. Why is that?

Last year I hopped on top of Moonshine for a photo opportunity. I was wearing shorts and sneakers and Moonshine was bare, except for a lead rope. I believe my famous last words were “I’m king of the world!”, followed by me coming to on the ground. For whatever reason, Moonshine dumped me off of her back and I was fortunate to have not hit my head. But I could have and I might not be writing this today.

For Christmas last year, I gave Mikki a nice Troxel Dakota Duratec helmet, complete with leather trim and all the modern fixings. We’re still new to this whole horse thing and I knew we’d be riding our horses soon. It’s a long way up, especially on Valentine and after my fall, a helmet seemed like a good idea. Now that I’m starting to ride, I decided I needed a helmet too so today I bought the less expensive Troxel Spirit training helmet. My head is apparently big so I got a large and an hour later I tried it on at home. The fitting was met with snickers and I figured out why when I looked in the mirror. This helmet is HUGE. I looks like I have a shiny black watermelon on my head. In fact, it looks ridiculous. Remember Rick Moranis in the giant Darth Vader helmet in Spaceballs? That’s how I felt wearing this thing. How could this be? Mikki’s helmet, a medium, looks so cool on her. The foam on the Spirit is almost twice as thick as the Dakota and it really increases the size of the helmet. Mikki is going to exchange the Spirit for a Dakota tomorrow so I don’t feel as much like a goober. I don’t want an excuse to not wear a helmet.

When you have a chance, check out the testimonials on the Troxel Helmet website from horse riders whose lives were saved by a helmet. Several of the stories are from people who said they’ve ridden all their lives and their horse was normally calm until one day something happened and they were dumped onto their head. There’s no question in my mind that a helmet is a wise idea. Fortunately there are style options to keep you and me from feeling goofy but either way, be safe and protect your head, just in case the unexpected happens. And try that new helmet on in front of a mirror before you leave the store!

Melon Photo by Kenny Timmer on Unsplash

Hey, You Can Ride These Things!

Hey, You Can Ride These Things!

Riding ValentineYesterday, our horse friend Shari (I know we talk a lot about her, but if it weren’t for her, we may have given up on this horse thing by now) decided that Sunday would be the day that we rode our horses again. So after a trip to a local festival, we came back to our barn and saddled up our horses. It was great! We took them in turns up to the round pen, first Valentine and then Moonshine. Shari used the longe line and whip to get a feel for how they were going to behave (or not!), then hopped on and rode around the arena. She even took Valentine out and rode around our pasture. He was so good! Then I rode Valentine, first around the arena, then outside. He was good for me too! Then Bill rode him, in the arena and out. Guess what? He was good for Bill too! I’m beginning to think he’s not just decorative after all.

Then it was Moonshine’s turn. She was a little spooky, because there were kids running around and yelling, neighbor dogs barking, and – horrors! – cows in the field across the road! (In her defense, the cows are new. Our neighbor just fenced that field to give his cows more pasture.) So she did a lot of head-tossing, stopping and staring, and snorting. She eventually calmed down (when the cows were out of sight), and Shari and then Bill were able to ride her in the arena. Then, alas, it was too late to ride anymore, because it was pretty dark.

All in all, it was a very good and productive afternoon. We are much more confident now, and in fact intend to saddle them up again this evening after dinner, all by ourselves! We’ll let you know tomorrow how it went.

We Have a Round Pen!

We Have a Round Pen!

Yesterday evening we went over to our favorite horse friends’ house and picked up a portable arena they weren’t using. We loaded it onto our trailer when we got there, enjoyed a nice dinner with their family, and headed home a little after 9:00 p.m. So do you think we parked the trailer somewhere and left it for tomorrow? Heck, no! We were out in our dark pasture with the truck lights on, plus our Jeep facing in from the other way, hauling that thing off the trailer and setting it up. If we didn’t have to get the Kid to bed for school, we probably would have tried it out with a horse. We’re so excited!

We have eleven 10′ panels plus a 5′ gate; that gives us a round arena (well, eventually it will be round; it was pretty dark out there when we were setting it up) – that’s about 37′ across. Just about perfect for working a horse with a longe line. Also, it’s not so big that my Tennessee Running Horse can take me for too much of a ride. 😉

And, just in time, we’re supposed to start getting cooler weather this week. I do have this big project I’m working on with a deadline looming…but I’ll find a way to squeeze some arena time in too.

Did I mention that we’re really excited? We are really excited!

Horseback with a cell phone

Horseback with a cell phone

Cell phone on horsebackI just got back from another great trip from Arizona. My last trip there was in January when it was quite a bit colder. Even so, the quick horseback riding trip I took back then made all the shivering worthwhile. On this recent trip, my new friends Gary and Jennifer once again invited me over, this time for a much warmer horseback ride. My equine host was Buck, the same horse I rode last time. I feel like I’m getting to know him. We rode off into the sunset again, for a leisurely stroll around rural Maricopa, Arizona. It was a beautiful ride, with the sun setting over the mountains nearby. Gary and my stepson Chris, more skilled than I at riding, both piloted more spirited horses. Old Buck and I held back a little and enjoyed the view…and entertainment. Buck seems like a great horse but every once and a while trips or stumbles so I held the saddle horn with a ninja death grip.

I was having such a great time, a thought occurred to me. This would be a great place to call Mikki (she didn’t come with me on this trip), as part of my ongoing “call people from cool places” project. I’ve called from beside a track at a Nascar race, from an aircraft carrier and from the top of a few mountains, so why not while horseback riding into the warm desert sunset in Arizona? I whipped out my phone with one hand and opened the cover with my thumb. It would be so easy to drop the phone to it’s destruction from that height. I had to try a few times punching buttons. It’s a little bouncy up there. Finally I got the right number, pushed send and held the phone up to my ear. Since Buck neck reigns, it was difficult to do this because one hand held the steering wheel (the reigns) and the other hand didn’t want to let go of the ninja death grip it had on the saddle horn. My plan was simple. “Hi honey, calling you from on top of a horse. Gotta go, bye!” The phone rang and rang and rang…I try again. Same thing. I never did get through so I can’t prove I actually made the call but I swear I really did make a scary, dangerous cell phone call from atop a horse!

With more confidence, I’m sure I could have pulled it off more gracefully but making cell phone calls from horseback doesn’t seem like a great idea, at least for new riders. For me it was just a novelty but I wonder if experienced riders and real cowboys do it these days.

First Annual VSMCRF Ride Against Cancer

First Annual VSMCRF Ride Against Cancer

Trail ride

This was submitted to us via contact form – I thought it should be shared with the class. I bet it would be a lot of fun, and of course it’s for a good cause!

First Annual VSMCRF Ride Against Cancer
Benefit Trail ride to raise funds for cancer research

On May 5th, 2007, friends of BlackHawk will host the First Annual Van Stephenson Memorial Cancer Research Fund Ride Against Cancer benefit horseback trail ride at scenic Long C Trails in Westmoreland, Tennnessee.

The ride will take place from 10am-4pm, with a silent auction, raffle, and campfire sing-a-long as added events. Light refreshments will be provided, as will special pins commemorating the ride. Trail maps are available for those who have not ridden at Long C in the past, and all trails are well-marked with signs and colored tape. A $20 donation is requested for participation.

Long C Trails will have breakfast and supper available in their kitchen for an additional fee. Unlimited primitive camping is available; stalls and picketing for horses, and some campsites with RV hookups are also available with reservations recommended one week in advance. Additional fees apply to all camping.

Country music fans may remember Van Stephenson as the high harmony singer from the band BlackHawk, or as the hit songwriter behind many of their hits – and other bands’ hits like Restless Heart’s “Bluest Eyes in Texas” and “Big Dreams in a Small Town.” Van enjoyed cuts by artists as diverse as Dan Seals, Reba, Kenny Rogers, and Eric Clapton in his twenty-year career as a writer. Van lost his battle with Melanoma in 2001, and the memorial fund was one of his last wishes – that his friends help find a cure for cancer. 100% of the profits from the charity go directly to the Vanderbilt University Cancer Research Labs in Nashville.

For more information on the First Annual VSMCRF Ride Against Cancer, please call the hotline at 615-884-0276 or email

For more information on Long C Trails, please visit

Taking your horse for a walk

Taking your horse for a walk

Horse ready for a walk

Temperatures were in the upper 50’s today, warm enough to make me want to be outside, doing chores I’ve been putting off. One of the fun chores I’ve been putting off is saddling up my horse Moonshine to get her familiar with having a saddle on her back. She had been ridden by previous owners but not often. In fact, the first time I “rode” her, she reared up and dumped me off the back. I’ll have to write about that someday. I’ve ridden her since without incident, but hardly at all. It’s time to start enjoying this pony from a saddle. In the absence of a round pen, which we’re working on buying/building, we have a few options for working our horses. We could longe them (halter and lead them in around in a circle with the lead rope, using a whip to gently coax) and saddle them and walk them around to get them familiar with having a saddle on their backs again. We did some walking today. I have this new saddle and wanted to attach everything and adjust it for my horse. The first thing I noticed was just how stiff my new saddle is. I mean it’s like a pair of new cowboy boots that needs breaking in before it’s comfortable. Next, it occurred to me that riding horses is probably not something you decide to do when you have a half-hour to spare. It takes that long just to brush your horse and strap a saddle on. (We weren’t in a rush or anything – I just had this revelation that horseback riding isn’t something you could probably do on your work lunch break.)  Although it took us a while to strap this new saddle on, Moonshine was patient. This is the first time in a while she’s had access to all the yummy green grass in our yard so she was content just standing there eating. Once we had the saddle on and adjusted, of course I had to sit on her to make sure the stirrups were long enough. I admit, I’m still a little nervous getting on this bolt of lightning but this time I had my cowboy boots and long jeans on and figured our lawn was soft. I didn’t ride her but I mounted her 3 times without incident. Mikki and I then walked her down the street past some neighbor homes. She seemed to not want to go near the caged yappy dogs down the road but reluctantly agreed after some coaxing. We’ll have to keep up the walking to desensitize her to barking dogs.

As I mentioned in Vacationing with horses on my mind, I recently spent some time in Arizona and got to ride a horse while I was there. As I’m riding along at dusk, some pit bull comes running over to us and the first thing I think is “crap, what if this horse is afraid of dogs and takes off?” Fortunately for me, that didn’t happen. The horse I rode was pretty laid back and didn’t mind all the other dogs we encountered on that ride, including lots that would wait until we were near their fence and then run out towards us, barking viciously. That’s how I need Moonshine to be.

So for now, we’ll be walking our horse like a dog. In fact, Mona over at the Horse Approved blog wrote about that very subject earlier this month in her post Walk Your Horse Like a Dog. Not only does it get them familiar with your neighborhood and your tack, I have to agree with Mona that it’s good bonding time.

The Big Day!

The Big Day!

Okay, I spent several days comparing the picture in the catalog, the pictures we took of Valentine all tacked up when we met him, and every other picture of a horse with bridle on I could find, and decided that today was the day.

I finally rode my horse, by myself.

First, we had to remember how to put the saddle on. It took a long time, but I’m pretty confident we got that right. It stayed on the whole time, so that must be a good sign.

The bridle was another story. I did the best I could, but I’m not confident at all that it was right. Valentine was so good and patient while I tried every combination with those straps that I could think of. I think he was annoyed by all the giggling, though.

Once the bridle was looking as close to right as I could get it, and the bit was adjusted pretty well, we maneuvered Valentine over to the tack room, which has a foot-high step up, so I could get on. Then Bill led us out to the pasture, and it was time.

Was that a wild ride! There are a few factors that came into play here. Valentine’s former owner hadn’t been riding him regularly, and we hadn’t ridden him at all in the month we had him. We were using tack that was all new to him. He is only 5 years old – a “teenager.” And, probably most importantly, I’m a total greenhorn and he knows it. So he spent the whole time I was on him trying to get me off. He ran under trees. He brushed up against the barn. He charged up to the barbed wire fence. He ran to the low point of the fence at the corner of our property, where I thought for a split second that he was going to jump it! He ignored every command but “whoa” and was slow to respond to that one.

The good news is, nothing he tried worked. I managed to stay on the whole time, and didn’t get off until I was ready.

Can’t wait to do that again…