Millie’s First Trail Ride

We did it.

A good friend, Kathy, contacted me on Facebook last week and invited me to stay with her at a local state park, Potato Creek, for the weekend. I hemmed and hawed and finally realized that I was putting off something that I really wanted to do, so I hustled through some writing that I needed to have done, and loaded up the truck and trailer. All I needed to do was decide who to take. It’s been horribly hot, so horses are not in shape for an all weekend trail ride. My solution was to take two horses, but which two?

Millie has been begging me for attention, and since I had already ponied her once on trails at York Hills, I decided to take her and Baby on the camping trip.

Kathy’s horse Dixie, Millie, and Baby at the hitching post. Photo by Mindy Lightner

We arrived at camp late Friday night, and quickly set up and took care of the horses. I wasn’t sure how Millie would feel about being tied to a post all night, but clearly I shouldn’t have worried; she was laying down before it was even dark. The ground was a bit wet from the rain, but nice and sandy, so the horses seemed perfectly happy to curl up and nap. No problems overnight, and the next morning Kathy and I rode while I ponied Millie. That afternoon, I had a nice surprise– my new Gary Lane Lady Lite saddle fits Millie perfectly! She’s so narrow still that I had figured I would be using my narrow English saddle, but nope– it really worked!

So saddle in place, bridle on, and … phew… I was nervous. Not a good way to get on a horse, especially a horse with mounting issues. I breathed, went through the whole confidence building, heart rate slowing process before I led her to the mounting block. One foot in the stirrup and she swung away from me. By then I was telling myself constantly, ~calm calm calm~ in a silent mantra. I talked softly and brought her up to the mounting block again, and the second time she stood. I mounted quickly, and she took about three steps and then stopped and dropped her head. I swear she was showing off.

“Look Mom, I remember that we are going to stay quiet and calm.”

The entire trail ride on Millie was magical. She led, she followed, and she watched the world around her with what I can only assume was complete happiness. Her ears stayed up, and her only mistake (and proof that she isn’t actually a trail broke horse) was when she got too fast going down a hill with some tree roots littered all over. That Looney Tunes skit where Daffy Duck sings, “And we Trip and Trip and trip…” That was us.

Fortunately, we made it to the bottom upright with no damage. I apologized for not catching her and preventing the surge of speed, and on we went, still calm and happy. Kathy was nice enough to snap a couple of pictures for me, so for the first time, here is Millie being ridden.

Millie on her first trail ride. Photo by Kathy Minich


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A Little Good News

It seems like every time I check the news there is something else bitter, sad, or frustrating. Imagine my happiness when I stumbled across this report recently in our local news:

Evidently a mare was spooked by fireworks this week, and broke out of her stall or pasture. She was seen by a motorist passing some nearby railroad tracks; her hoof had become wedged and she was trapped. Every single report I have EVER heard about trains just isn’t a good one. This time, the calls were made, the trains were stopped, and evidently someone with half a brain helped the mare. They managed to free her with only minor injuries to her trapped leg.

It turns out the mare was bred, and went into labor. Now most of us would be figuring that she stressed herself into labor, and ended up either dying or delivering a stillborn foal. I’m happy to report, though, that mare and baby evidently are doing fine. This qualifies for miracle status, based upon not only the danger the mare was in, but also the fact that our temperatures have stayed stubbornly high for the last week. I’m thinking about sending Momma some flowers (or some clover). She’s had a tough week!

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When It’s Hot, It’s Hot

Dear Mother Nature,

While I have always had a deep appreciation for the wonders you offer to us, I can’t help but notice that you may have forgotten to turn off the oven when you went on vacation. I don’t mean to complain, but the novelty of receiving no rain for two months is best enjoyed without 100+ degree temperatures….

Creative commons by Free Vector

It’s hot. I don’t just mean, “Gee I better ride in the morning” hot, I mean 85 degrees at midnight hot. I would complain more except that I just got off the phone with Bobby Beech down at National Bridle in Tennessee, and they are enjoying even hotter temperatures down there. I have Facebook friends all over, and the current topic of conversation appears to be lack of rain (except in Minnesota) and excess of heat. While commiserating with each other isn’t very productive, it does open up conversations about what to do during this impossible weather. Here are some tips to helping your horses survive the heat wave; some are no brainers, and some I had never even heard of until this current heat wave hit.

  1. Hauling: Haul early or late, and be very conscious of the temperature in the trailer. Those aluminum and older style horse trailers can become Easy Bake ovens once the sun is up. Use a lot of bedding if you absolutely must haul when it is warm; this will help prevent heat founder. Heat founder (I had not ever heard of this) can occur when the heat from the asphalt radiates up through the trailer floor, cooking your horses’ hooves while they stand captive. I recommend bringing water from home, since they will be more likely to drink familiar water. Now is not the time to argue with your horse about expanding his or her palate.
  2. Find the cool spot during the day. It might be in the barn, it might be under some trees. Give the horse the best chance for staying cool. If using a fan, give the horse a choice of standing in or away from the flow of the fan. If using a giant barn aisle fan, CHECK THE DIRECTION OF THE WIND. I have walked into three different barns with giant barn fans facing the wrong way. If you position that fan to fight the natural air flow, you are just bottling up all that nasty hot air into your barn. Switching the fan’s direction can drop your barn temperature as much as 15 degrees.
  3. A good rinse is a great way to cool down a hot horse, but water can be an insulator. On an overheated horse, either use a sponge repeatedly, or use a sweat scraper to clear the excess water. You are trying to mimic the natural process of sweating to cool the horse—too much water collecting in a horse’s coat can actually make the horse hotter, especially in a humid environment.
  4. Provide loose salt at all times (it goes without saying horses should have water at all times). Too much sweating with too much drinking can result in PH imbalances unless the horse can access salt.
  5. I prefer free choice first cutting hay, and I have noticed that my horses stay cooler during the summer and warmer during the winter when they have consistent access to forage. While this isn’t a requirement, I wanted to throw it out there in case someone is doing ‘everything right’ and still having problems.
  6. A great idea from a friend is to re-use empty bottles by filling them with water, freezing them, removing the lid and dropping them into water buckets and tanks. The ice keeps the water cool, and as it melts the horses get an addition of fresh cold water into their buckets. I’ve seen horses actually hold their noses an inch above their water, as if using it for a mini-air conditioner. Just remember to remove the lids, or a horse with agile lips and teeth may do it for you.

The heat can be beat (beaten is more correct, but beat sounds better). Ride early or late and always ask yourself if that horse show or trail ride is really THAT important. If so, go and have fun, but take every precaution possible to keep your horses cool and healthy during this crazy heat wave. What clever and unusual ideas do you have to keep your horses comfortable while Momma Nature cooks us all?

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To the Top of the Trailer, and Beyond!!!!

Monty Roberts cancelled his appearance at the Tennessee Walking Horses of Today Equine Conference. Evidently his sponsors (amid numerous letters from concerned parties) decided that they would prefer that he stay very far away from the soring issues that are currently rife in the Tennessee Walking Horse industry. I hope he considers spending time with a sound Walking Horse venue in the future, such as NWHA or FOSH.

In his place, it is rumored, is the illustrious, famous trainer Tim Scarberry of Michigan. What, you haven’t heard of Tim Scarberry?!

Yea, me neither, and I live ‘next door’ in Indiana. So I toddled over to his website at to see what the Tennessee Walking Horse owners of ‘today’ would be learning from Mr. Scarberry.

Evidently they will be learning to ride their horses to the top of a trailer.

The more advanced riders will perhaps learn to crack a bull whip while standing on their horse which is standing on TOP of the trailer.

Because as we all know, a good trail horse needs to know how to climb to the top of the horse trailer and stand despite cracking bullwhips. Just think of the advantage when that giant flood comes, and tree branches and trees and boulders are snapping and cracking all around you, yet you are dry, safe, and tidy on top of your trailer with your horse.

But wait, there is more! (Oh you just KNEW there was more, right?)

What good trainer doesn’t breed? That’s right. Not only can you learn to ride to the top of the world—errrr…. trailer—you can also buy one of his high quality foals from his high quality stallion, who is not only colored (Oh come on, you KNEW it would be colored, right?) but also can stand up for pictures. Here is a sample of the superior quality you can expect:

Yep. Makes me want to jump on a trailer for safety. Or maybe just run like Hell.

In case you feel that I am picking on poor Mr. Scarberry, I should explain that I found his site by following a link after watching this brilliant example of colt breaking. Did you know that jumping young colts over barrels is a prerequisite for saddling? Amazing, right?

Mr. Scarberry, I can’t possibly think of a better venue for you than a horse clinic that is so toxic, even Monty Roberts refused to go unless accompanied by Nightline and the ASPCA. Do your best to help guide the confused people of Tennessee toward the light. We will be praying. Oh.. yes.. we WILL be praying.


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What We Do for Love (of Showing).

I was recently told by a judge, trainer, and excellent showman that showing was “an expensive way to be miserable.” After considering his words carefully, I must agree. While some of us truly love the show atmosphere, and the joy of competing on a horse we selected, trained, and prepared, many others just seem to not be having that much of a good time. Some of the people at shows appear to be downright miserable.

I lived to show when I was young. My parents weren’t rich, so I showed infrequently, and I showed on a tight budget. Clothing was the same every year, and when slinkies and vests came into style, I promise you that I didn’t even bother asking Mom for that pretty blue outfit from The Hobby Horse. Heck, I didn’t get ANYTHING from Rod’s Western Wear, except their catalog. I was given one show bridle with a little silver; I won another as a year end award. Mom bought me a nice Navajo blanket for showing, and again I won another as an award. But I did my showing in 4-H and on Appaloosa regional circuit knowing that my $1,000 horse was competing against $5,000 horses and doing it successfully. My $400 saddle was going up against $4,000 saddles. It was all okay, because I really loved showing what I could do in the ring. Back then (in the Dark Ages) I could show under a youth blanket fee, so I went in everything from barrels to reining to English to halter. I washed and primped and brushed and banded my horses with a whole lot of enjoyment.

Looking back on it, I’m not sure my horses were terribly thrilled by the attention; Salvado used to start snorting after about a half hour of fussing, and he wouldn’t stop until I left him alone. He loved to jump, but he wasn’t convinced that I needed to fuss with his looks quite so much. I’m still trying to figure out when judges became so poor that we needed to band manes in order for the judge to determine the horse’s quality.

Now I think about those days, and I become tempted to try showing my Walking Horses. Millie has some pretty fancy movement, so she would probably do well in rail classes once she is trained. Besides, I really do enjoy primping and fussing with my horses, and I love the challenge of turning in the ‘perfect ride’. I could even just go into open shows in the area for fun. Of course, if I went to those shows, I would be with the Other People.

You know the type: they are the ‘miserable’ ones. Not only is their enjoyment muted (often intentionally it would seem. One must not appear TOO animated…), but their horse’s enjoyment is rather obviously also muted. Or nonexistent. Depending on show venue, the horse will either be carefully moving with its ears below its withers at all times (western pleasure) or its head up and braced, preparing for the next casual yank on the bridle or halter (virtually ever other discipline). Tails are either carefully flat and dead, or cranked up and gingered. Whiskers are shaved, and so are guard hairs, because evidently pretty horses don’t need guard hairs around their eyes and nostrils. Bits are designed to get maximum response with minimum rider motion, so are often about three times tougher than they need to be. And the shoes are always designed for the horse’s movement. No, let me rephrase that– the shoes are always designed to change the horse’s movement into something that will win in the arena, regardless of long term potential damage to the horse. All of this is okay though, because evidently winning is important and serious work. I know this because the people who show don’t seem to laugh a lot. They seem very serious.

At a show I watched recently, I examined the first place winners of each class. Since it was an open pleasure show, the majority of horses were AQHA type pleasure horses. The first place winners were evidently all closely related, because their pattern of behavior was the same. The winner was announced, the rider smiled, bumped the horse with his/her spurs (evidently this is praise?), rode forward, picked up the trophy, and then left the arena at a snail’s pace, one hand clutching the big prize and the other hand rhythmically bumping away at the horse’s bit. Congratulations, Duchess. Bump Bump. You won. Bump Bump Bump….

I think I’d be more excited about showing if I found a place to show where the horses didn’t have to play Toddlers in Tiaras in order to go into the ring. A bonus would be to find myself surrounded by laughing happy people who loved and showed their horses without all the hoopla that seems to be part of a horse’s lot when showing.

When my friend said that showing was an expensive way to be miserable, I’m not sure he was referring to the people….

Soxy and Cody wait in line after horsemanship.

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