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2010 Columns

2010 Columns:

Christmas is a-coming!

     When I think of Christmas, I imagine a horse drawn sleigh on a snow-covered road with a family singing carols and enjoying the Christmas season. Does that ever happen anymore—or is it merely a pretty picture on a Christmas card? I never rode in a sleigh myself, but growing up on a small Iowa farm I did ride in a wagon pulled by a team of gray Percherons.

    Our Percherons worked to help us farm—pulling the wagon, the hay rake, and other equipment. Most horses today have never been hitched, and a sleigh wouldn’t fit on today’s roads. Today’s horses live a very different life. Now, it’s all about having a relationship with your horse and even using horses as therapy for human problems! Things change.   (More)

Mares--and Women!

     I’ve been thinking about mares a lot these days. Lady has become more of a challenge than ever. Ever since we got her six years ago, I’ve looked for help to deal with her demanding personality and I’ve struggled to overcome her fears. It helped to read the many fascinating stories I collected for my second book, MARES! (ya gotta love em), which came out in 2008. I found a new appreciation for the special qualities of mares, and I saw Lady from a different perspective. But we still have some issues to work through.

     I didn’t show Lady this year because her gait didn’t feel right. I thought her feet were bothering her, so I have used ointments and supplements to fight both thrush and dryness. I rode her for lessons in May and June, using a Spookless CD that really improved my level of confidence, but she didn’t have her usual energy. I got a blood test in July and found she was even more anemic than last fall.  (More)

Never Give Up

     “Your Grandpa never gave up on a horse,” I was told by a cousin. My Grandpa had been a blacksmith and his father had been a blacksmith. After Grandpa married Grandma, he farmed and always kept a team of mules or horses to do the work. That’s how I got hooked on horses.

     I remember Grandpa always kept a bottle of Hanford’s Balsam of Myrrh on hand and used it for almost everything. Advertised as good for man or beast, it was both liniment and antiseptic dressing. He swore by that product to heal any injury! Back when I was conditioning my first horse for competitive trail rides, I was partial to Stemz liniment. I used gallons of it on legs and shoulders until the company no longer made it. I still have the last bottle I ever bought, with some left in it because I hated to use up that last drop. I believed Stemz was my wonder worker for sore muscles.   (More)

Where did Summer go?

     Life’s seasons have a way of sneaking up on you, even though you know what’s coming. As I write this column in mid-August, after three months of frequently unbearable heat, I realize my whole summer was spent waiting instead of doing. I don’t do well when it’s hot. I wanted cooler days to enjoy trail riding, yard work, cleaning out the tack room and other chores on my list. By the time this column is published, it will be September—the beginning of Fall! Where did Summer go?

     The older I get, the faster time goes. Sometimes it whizzes by as I wait for energy to get going. I should have cleaned house and done other inside work while it was hot outside. But just walking the dog left me sweaty and limp! Energy has become a limited resource to be rationed carefully. I’ve tried Resveratrol, but I still feel the effects of growing older. Forget the wiser part.   (More)

Is It Worth It?

     On the lunge line, Rocky has a strong reaching trot. He was bred, however, to be gaited. Under saddle, he moves in a short stepping slow gait that is smooth but not much to look at in a gaited horse show class! One judge commented that she expected more animation. So did I! But when I ask for more, he often goes into a trot.

     I’ve wondered if I should just let him trot and do regular dressage like I’ve always wanted. But Rocky was bred to gait and I’ve worked for years to keep him gaiting. I also know how much easier that gait is for my old back when riding the trails. I really believe that Rocky is still trying to figure out what his feet can do. (More)

Using a Spookless CD

     A few years ago, I bought a Spookless CD on eBay. This is a despooking training aid, a CD with short bursts of sounds including big trucks, air brakes, rattling cans, motorcycles, chain saws, a jackhammer, kids yelling, crowds cheering, dogs barking, an airplane flying low, and more. I played it in the barn while the horses were in their stalls, setting my boombox on a bale of hay across the aisle with the volume on low. I had planned to play the CD several times, gradually turning up the volume.

     This was mostly for Lady’s benefit, for my TWH mare with a terror of big noisy trucks and tractors. I was hoping the Spookless CD would be one step toward getting her used to these things, starting with the noise. All four horses had their heads over the stall doors, ears forward, looking, listening, probably wondering what was going on.  (More)

Pinkie Talk

     Hoping to improve Rocky’s gait and carriage through dressage training, I took lessons twice a week in March, working on the various parts of a dressage test. In addition to Rocky’s progress, each lesson revealed something about my own riding skills that needed work. We were seeing real improvement, but then he developed a swelling on his neck the first week of April. An abscess was finally lanced and drained and I hope to resume working on Rocky’s gaited dressage in June.

     One element of a dressage test is to ride the diagonal on a loose rein, in a straight line from one corner of the arena to the opposite corner. Sounds simple enough, but when I first gave Rocky a loose rein, he acted lost! Instead of walking a straight line, he wandered left or right and my efforts to correct with leg pressure made things worse, perhaps because I tried too hard and used too much pressure and Rocky was trying to do what he thought I wanted. It was very frustrating for both of us! (More)

Upward Focus

     “Look ahead,” she keeps telling me. I am riding in circles, over four ground poles. My natural tendency is to look down. I want to see where I’m riding and to watch my horse’s head and ears. It’s one of those old habits that I’m told is not a good one, but it’s very difficult for me to change at my age!

     So, as we reach the first pole, my instructor reminds me, “look ahead” and I quickly look ahead to the next pole, my eyes tracing a rounded path from where we are to the exact center of that next pole. As we go over that pole, I look ahead again to the exact center of the next one, and then on to the next pole, and my instructor tells me I am doing better. My circles are rounder, and we are able to go over the center of the pole more consistently. Having an instructor on the ground watching and reminding me step by step helps me correct my riding habits. Of course my horse also tells me when I don’t do it right, because then the circles aren’t as round as they should be and we don’t always go over the center of the pole (and some might call that sloppy riding). (More)

An Amazing Book

     I have just read a new book, Amazing Grays, Amazing Grace, by Lynn Baber, and I will wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone who works with horses or anyone seeking a relationship with God. Lynn is an excellent motivational writer with a personal, conversational style and a good balance of authority and humor. Her book is due to be available April 20th from Tate Publishing, but you can pre-order on or through her website at

     My first contact with Lynn was last October when she left a message on my website guestbook. We emailed; and more recently, we traded books (she sent me an advance copy). Our books have a similar message, which gave us an immediate connection. She told me she read my book, Sometimes a Woman Needs a Horse, in one day and enjoyed the similarities. I took much longer to read hers. This is the kind of book I like to digest slowly, pondering each lesson. “My message” she says, is “one of right relationships: your relationship with your horse and what it teaches you about your relationship with God.” That was the message of my book as well, but Lynn wrote from a different perspective. I wrote from my learning experiences with my first horse. Lynn’s words of insight are backed by over twenty years experience as a horse trainer, breeder, judge and business consultant. And she specialized in stallions, which in itself is impressive. (More)

Joyful Awareness

     Listen! Do you hear the sounds of the world around you at this moment? Do you see what’s happening right now? Is your life full and exciting because you are fully involved with what you are doing? Or do you merely exist to get through another day? The difference often depends upon your awareness of life’s true joys. We are told that our horses live in the moment. They kick up their heels and run, not worrying about the economy or tomorrow. They wait expectantly for their food and our attention with the hope we will take care of them. Can we learn anything from this?

     Each morning, as I greet our horses and give them a carrot, I look at their eyes and their ears—their expression and attitude. I listen for Traveller’s welcoming nicker when I enter the barn, and I’m glad to see that his eyes are bright and alert. I am amused to hear Lady’s hoof pawing the heavy rubber mat inside her stall door. Those sounds reveal their individual personalities. I am happy to hear these sounds and see their healthy responses and touch them and smell their horsey carrot breath. (More)


     Before I could think about this year’s horse training goals, we got a dog. We haven’t had a dog for many years, and adjustments take time. Changes can be upsetting—as well as a great opportunity for learning. This month’s column looks at horse training from a “dogs-eye” view!

     Motif’s Diamond Lil is a five-year-old Boston terrier, the very same dog that my husband saw last August at the Illinois State Fair. One of three dogs in a playpen, Lil seemed particularly excited to see Russ as we walked by. She jumped up and down, pawing the air, and then brought him her toy. He picked her up; she licked his face. And he talked about that dog for months, until I found her owners through the internet—and they agreed to give her a new home with us.  (More)

2009 Columns

2008 Columns

2007 Columns

2006 Columns

2005 and Earlier Columns


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