The reality of showing horses with non-horsey parents.

The learning curve is steep.

            Really steep. Mom always said, “The more you know, the more you don’t know.” And her go-to line, “Everything I know about horses I learned from Makenzi.” I started riding when I was 3, and went to my first horse show with my very own horse when I was 10. It was an adventure. I didn’t know what lead we were on without looking, I wore my mom’s old motorcycle chaps, I had sparkly, button-up Murdoch’s shirts, sparkly belts, and pink boots. I was hooked! Each show we went to, my parents started learning what to bring, how I should look, and the in-and-outs of horse showing by strictly observing. I didn’t start out with a trainer…just Mom, Dad, and me. Talk about dedication.

Pig tails, dad, and horses

 

Mom’s the checkbook. Dad’s the driver.

Not really, though. Mom still jokes about this, but they are so much more than that. After years of sitting through lessons, literally hundreds of hours, they know what to look for and can usually place a class pretty accurately despite being non-horsey. “I have no idea how you would do this, but I think his head looks a little too high. Can you fix that?” “POSTURE ALERT.” “Smile.” (I hated that one.) Although it snuck up on them, they know so much more about horses and showing than they thought possible…the hours added up.

Horse showing or camping?

 

Food, clothes, and hair.

My mom is the queen. Always needing a job, but never quite knowing how to help, we agreed very early on that she would be in charge of food, clothes, and hair. She, of course, took these jobs extremely seriously. Bless her heart, she would bring me homemade turkey sandwiches between classes, have all my show clothes dry cleaned and organized, and she would spend all day checking my hair and handing me hairspray because GOD FORBID one hair be out of place. Pinning my western hat on was a job she adopted, because one time, at one show, my hat came off and tumbled through the arena. Again, a job she took seriously, she would wedge bobby pins between my skull and my hat, making my head bleed on more than one occasion (she’ll deny this). My mom was the best at all of these things, and I’ve met a lot of horse show moms.

Mom after shoulder surgery with me at the Las Vegas Championships 2016

 

“Lookin’ good, Dood. Need anything?”

Dad. With a cup of coffee and a breakfast burrito in his hand he found at some long-lost, locally set-up concession stand. As an early riser, he would be up not long after me, wondering around the show grounds, making friends with the other “show dads,” and finding questionable food and coffee. He’d memorize the menu and rattle it off periodically throughout the day…just in case anyone was getting hungry. His signature move was finding me, usually while putting in a tail or blacking hooves, and say, “Lookin’ good, Dood. Need anything?” I’d usually say no, but sometimes I’d ask him to go grab something from the trailer and he’d leisurely oblige, happy to help…after all, he might find another hidden concession stand or someone he hadn’t met yet.

Me, Pilot, and Dad…tired and sweaty

 

Diva behavior is not tolerated.

“Change your attitude before I rip you off of that horse!” –my mom. Horse showing has a way of bringing out the best…and worst in people. Although I knew my sweet, little mother couldn’t reach me, let alone “rip me off” my horse, it wasn’t an idle threat. Yelling, getting mad at my horse, being snotty or demanding were all actions punishable by leaving the horse show. From observation, horsey parents had more patience for their child’s meltdowns and tantrums (usually.)

Looking like a diva is important, though

 

I’m so proud of you.

Win or lose, my parents made sure I knew this. Because they never pushed me to ride and show horses, I never felt unneeded pressure to do well (I was hard enough on myself.) Some exhibitors with horsey parents would come out of the ring after a bad ride or a bad pattern and their mom (or dad) would just tear into them. Tears would fly and yelling could be heard throughout the stall barn. If I had a bad ride, my parents would meet me outside the gate, understand my frustration, and try to reassure me it didn’t look all that bad…even when it did.

Winning, winning, winning

The decision to show horses was mine and mine alone. My parents never thought twice about supporting this crazy sport. From buying trucks and trailers and horses to sitting in an arena for 10 hours at a show, I cannot repay them. Whatever you do, do it with your whole heart and never ever look back.

 

 

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Animals are the Best Teachers

I’m a strong believer that every animal has at least one lesson to teach us on our journey. Here are the lessons I’ve learned so far.

Dogs: Dogs love you on your worst days. Dogs love you on your best days. Dogs love you when you yell, cry, laugh, or a combination of all three. Dogs appreciate every little thing you do for them and are the most loyal creatures we can ask for. Dogs absolutely love unconditionally. If I could change anything about dogs, I would lengthen their too-short life span without a second thought. Dogs unfortunately showed me true heartbreak. They become our best friends and a true part of our families, but they all have to leave us too soon. Dogs taught me that grief is the price we pay for love.

Cats: Cats are complex animals with complex lessons. First, I need to clarify one thing: there’s a huge difference between regular indoor cats and BARN cats. I’ve only had barn cats in my life, so I can’t write about the fluffy, declawed, clean, indoor cats. Barn cats are tough. Tough to keep alive, tough to find, tough to micro-manage. When I was little, I was continually devastated that I couldn’t smother them with love. I had a lot of barn cats. The two toughest were (by far) Luigi and Stereo. There were both black and big and ruthless. They tolerated me. As Stereo grew old, he got away from killing gophers and rabbits. He settled with killing only a few mice a day. After a while, Mom started letting him in the house. He became fond of the fireplace and became an indoor/outdoor cat (my dad will deny this.) Cats taught me that it’s okay to be tough and it’s okay to change your life and it’s definitely okay to be alone.

Chickens: If you read my first blog, you know I believe chickens are the spawn of Satan. They taught me how to run, climb fence at record speed, watch my own back, and how to forever fear something that’s 95% smaller than me. Chickens, (roosters in particular) are mean and I’m pretty sure they take pride in this. They’re pompous, rude, and did I mention mean? However, if you grew up on a ranch you know there’s really no escaping chickens. All of the other animals on the ranch started to seem pretty freakin’ nice compared to the chickens. Chickens taught me (although I was reluctant to learn anything from them) you have to live with the bad to appreciate the good.

Fish: Everything dies, or does it? I’ve had a goldfish for 10 years. 10. I won him at the carnival, but he was kind of a burden on the rides so I put him down in the shade. When I came back a few hours later, he was no longer in the shade. The bag was scalding hot and he didn’t look so good. I took him home and put him in my aquarium. He was apparently fine because it only took him a few days to eat all of my other fish. After about a year, my mom told me I had to get him out of the house because he was weirdly big and creeped her out. After a while of struggling with ethics and personal moral values, I decided to dump him in the horse trough on a really cold day. I remember this because I was pretty sure he was going to get belly-up within a few hours. He didn’t. Unfortunately, he’s still alive and well and won’t die. Ever. He swims kinda crooked and turned pure white, but he seems as happy as if he had good sense. His name is Carni.

Horses: My friend Codi Uecker once summed up the most important lesson horses were able to teach me over the course of 22 years. She wrote, “I think about all of our successes and all of our failures. It never mattered which occurred, just that we did it together. The number of failures we earned only made our time of triumph that much greater.” This is how it always has been and always will be. Always.

5 Life Lessons from Growing Up on a Ranch

I wouldn’t trade growing up dirty and wild on a ranch in the middle of nowhere for anything in the world. Every day was an adventure. I figured it’s time I share a few lessons I learned along the way.

#1: Always close the gate behind you.

This may seem like a little thing, or it may seem unimportant to the regular city-raised person, but this is one of the most important things I’ve learned to date. You never know when the cows will get turned out, and most of the time you won’t have time to check the gates across the pasture—you’ll just trust that they were closed. In life, closing the gate behind you has a little bit of a different meaning. Don’t let the past sneak up on you. Your past may contain hurt, sadness, anger, or words that sting like a snake bite. It’s important to close the gate. Don’t let the negative aspects of your past effect the endless possibilities of your future. Always close the gate.

#2: Never trust the roosters.

To some, roosters look interesting and some of them can even appear attractive the average city-raised person. To a ranch kid, roosters look like the devil himself trotting around with crooked feathers and a razor-sharp beak with rough talons to match. Never turn your back or trust for one second that the rooster(s) won’t launch a sneak attack. The same can be applied to life. Some people may look inviting and maybe even interesting, but it’s important to keep your distance. Trusting everyone you meet can lead to broken hearts and tear-stained pillows. Although people don’t have crooked feathers, razor-sharp beaks and nasty talons, they can have crooked intentions, razor-sharp tongues, and rough eyes—used only to judge those around them. Never trust the roosters.

#3: Moving sprinkler pipe sucks.

If you grew up with a dad like mine, you were up at 5:00am; before the sun broke over the purple mountains. The air would be crisp…too crisp. The water would be cold…actually, make that one degree away from freezing. The pipe would be heavy…full of the almost frozen water and the occasional mouse, snake, or gopher. The field would be big…and seem to get bigger as you make your way across with the air stinging at your nose, the cold water dripping down your arm and making its way into your jacket, and the pipe slowly getting heavier. OKAY, so maybe it wasn’t this bad. But, getting drug out of your warm bed at 5:00am everyday sucked. However, watching the sun peak over the mountains, hearing nothing but your footsteps through the crop and the occasional coyote yelping and yipping was pure heaven. Watching the crop grow each day always made me crack a smile. Watching the swather cut down your hours of hard work was bittersweet, but being able to feed your horses a couple flakes of hay off of your field—knowing you worked through the cold, wet, heavy, adventurous mornings was a feeling like no other. Always remember to move through the unpleasant to be rewarded in the end. Moving sprinkler pipe sucks.

#4: Dying is a part of living.

Although most are afraid of death, growing up on a ranch teaches you at an early age to view death as a part of living. Losing crops, animals, or loved ones never gets easier, but it does start to become less shocking. Moxy, Friday, Kitty, Maggie, Daisy, Mario, Luigi, Oreo, Theodore, Stereo, Wilson, Bob, Blake, Wyatt, Star, Julie, and Steiner is just a partial list of the animals and people I’ve watched get to wherever they’re going over the years. Nothing about losing them was easy, and nothing about losing them made sense. You’ll become familiar with death, and maybe even start to accept it. When I was little my uncle told me, “Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather skid in sideways, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming-‘Holy shit! What a ride!'” Dying is a part of living.

#5: Keep yourself company.

Most of the time you’ll be building fence, fixing fence, riding horses, filling tanks, or feeding by yourself. This time is important. You’ll learn that being alone doesn’t mean you have to be lonely. You’ll hear the birds calling, horses snorting, water flowing, and grasshoppers chirping. Cows are good listeners. They stare, and they’re dumber than a box of rocks, but they’ll listen to you practice public speaking or singing or even just talking about your day. When the sun starts to go down and you start to slowly make your way home, remember to keep yourself company.

5 of the Best Horse Videos Ever

This compilation of horses and their riders is simply to make you smile. Kids, buck-offs, a lack of common sense, and a moon walking pony. Enjoy!

  1. When you’ve got short legs and a tall horse, you have to get creative when getting on!

2. When raising awareness for a worthy cause such as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, you might want to make sure your horse is on board first!

3. Sometimes it is easy to forget how intimidating a horse can be to newcomers. This poor guy never had a chance.

4. This little girl and her horse cinnamon are the cutest pair you will ever see!

5. This one is obviously not real but is still quite funny. I think we’ve all met a pony that we believe is secretly like this!

 

The Montana X-Files

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Far in the distance, the Mission Mountains snow peaked caps shine brightly in the sunshine and provide a stark contrast for the grisly scene that lays before us. Only a few yards away, lie the remains of a cow that has only recently perished. Not sensing anything out of the ordinary, I urge my horse to approach the scene to further investigate. We take two steps and my horse balks, as well as the other man and horse next to me. The other man however, doesn’t balk from fear as the horses did, but because he knows that something isn’t right. He has seen this exact same scene before, not a half mile away, and to the exact day one year ago. He knows that this death isn’t a natural one that is to be expected while tending to hundreds of cattle. This was something else entirely.

The first cow ‘mutilation’ that Lonnie experienced was on this same ranch and less than a mile away. On June 24th, 2012, he approached a cow that was healthy only days ago, but lay stiff and still and decomposing today. Time of death, June 20th, the summer solstice. Not sure what he was seeing at the time or why he felt uneasy, Lonnie took several pictures of the body and left the scene to continue with the days work. The next day, he returned with a Lake County Sheriffs Deputy to further examine the scene. Upon investigation, both men concluded that this cow had not died or been further harmed by what most would deem ‘natural causes’. Experts were called in to assess the situation and all walked away in disbelief or with shrugged shoulders. All said the same thing,

“I don’t know”

All they could say for certain was that they had never seen anything of the sort and that they believed there was a human culprit to be found.

The cow laid in a lush bed of grass that had been grazed short until within a few feet of her. Within this invisible boundary, it seemed as if no animal had dared to tread. The Lake County Sheriffs Department called its search and rescue trackers to determine how the culprits approached, operated, and left. The trackers spread out and scoured the property. They could not find any vehicle sign, footprints, point of entry, or any predator tracks on the surrounding property. They looked again. And again. Still nothing. Finally, they looked at each other and shrugged,

“I don’t know”

The cow laid on her right side with a large portion of hide missing from the left side of her ribs, several slits were cut in between each rib, and her reproductive organs had been removed. All of this would be attributable to the work of predators and scavengers had there been any blood on the ground around, but the ground was bone dry. The skin and organs had all been removed with a surgical precision and had been done without spilling a single drop of blood. To verify the findings, an autopsy was performed. A local vet confirmed what they believed and revealed further information.

The arcing cut that exposed the ribs was made with a knife. The heart was also missing and had been removed with staggering precision. She believed that someone had to have done that. The only opening large enough was at the base of the neck. No predator could have removed the heart through such a small opening without damaging the lungs and surrounding tissue. When asked who she believed did this or why, she shrugged,

“I don’t know”

The second cow that was found on this same ranch, was eerily similar to the first. Both bloodless, removed of organs, and untouched by anything around it. This cow had died the night before, the same night as the last. June 20th, the summer solstice. I had heard the story of the first cow several times and was always hesitant to believe. Not that I doubted the multiple sources who credited the story, just that things like this are too wild to really believe. I didn’t know what to think until I personally rode upon that animal scorching in the sun. Having lived my entire life in a ranching community, dead animals and the circumstances surrounding it are no stranger, it is merely a fact of life. After close inspection of this particular animal, I fully believed everything was not as it seemed in the Mission Valley.

Not a single person who viewed the scene could determine who had done this, how they had gotten there, or why. The cow seemed to have been dropped out of thin air after all of the work had been done without a single shred of evidence to be found. If you were to google this topic, thousands of reports can be found from locations all over the world. Many are easily attributable to predators or natural occurrences. Many are not so easily dismissed. There are a great many people that believe this is a great government conspiracy or that extra-terrestrial life is involved. Some believe that it is a combination of the two. What I saw that day didn’t suggest either of those explanations but that doesn’t mean I have a good answer for you. Ask me who or what is responsible for this and I’ll shrug and say,

“I don’t know”