The Morning After, and Dave Stamey

I almost wrote this entry into my handwritten journal, which I take such great pleasure in since I bought an el cheapo fountain pen off Amazon and some luxurious ink. For whatever reason, I felt like I wanted to share these thoughts with you today. They’re not profound or particularly interesting, but they’re in my head, and in a few minutes, they will be out in the world.

It’s a warm and fuzzy sort of morning. I’m still in my pyjamas, wearing slippers that a friend gifted me for my birthday, one of the Cowboy’s old shirts for warmth, and I’m tucked under a blanket in my favourite chair. Outside, it is raining, and the relief that comes with it is powerful. The summer has been uncharacteristically hot and dry this year, leaving our pastures bare and dusty and the fire risk utterly overwhelming. It is not just here in Washington. Continue reading

Cowboy Dating Guidance: The Montana Wife Tests – a fail

Cowboy has a growing collection of wildrags – neckerchiefs to the uninitiated. These colourful silk scarves have a number of purposes, both practical and aesthetic, but that’s a whole different story.

This story is about a Montana Wife Test that I failed recently. Here’s the challenge: Continue reading

The double-edged text message – Cowboy Appreciation

*Caution: this post discusses my romantic life and might induce vomiting. Please stop reading now if this post might offend your senses. It pretty much offends mine.*

This week, I decided to make an extra effort to appreciate Cowboy and to let him know that he is in my thoughts. On Monday morning, before I left, I took an extra ten seconds to give him a kiss and tell him I loved him. He was still sleeping, so I could only kiss a vague corner of his beard. I don’t know if he remembers me doing this. He did mumble something about driving safe, which led me to assume he must have been conscious on some level.

Mostly, this appreciation for him started on Sunday night, when I was generally intolerable with panic and stress. Continue reading

The importance of groundwork: lessons learned from a western horseman

Before I met Cowboy, I was the typical English riding school rider. I had owned my own pony and had been through the rigours of Pony Club stable management classes, and I had a solid understanding of maintaining a contact and kicking. Eventually, as I got older and found different instructors, my riding style became more subtle and refined, and rather more sensitive, but the basic principles remained: keep a contact with the horse’s mouth, and enclose the horse with the legs.

There were a few things that I always assumed were just mysteries of the equestrian world. Starting a horse was a misty and obscure process best left to somebody else and I would never know what went into it. Leading a horse required extreme vigilance for my own safety, because the horse might spook or ignore me or barge about. That was just how a horse would behave. I should also give horses a wide berth when walking around the hindquarters, to avoid being kicked. I never thought to question these things.

Then I met Cowboy. I watched, as he goes about his work on the ground, how his horses attend to his every move. They give him their whole attention for as long as he asks for it. He would just pick up a lead rope, lift the very end of it, and the horse would move, respectfully and quietly, where directed by this subtle cue. This groundwork goes into the very start of the horse’s training. As I understand it, if he doesn’t have complete control of the horse’s feet and body from the ground, he doesn’t move on to the saddle.

It was like seeing a magician rehearsing his tricks. This is knowledge that I’ve never had access to before, and it is happening in front of me every day.

I follow Horse & Hound magazine on Facebook, which is probably the leading publication in Britain for the equestrian community. I am shocked by the number of stories of people being killed in situations involving horses on the ground. The latest story that I saw this morning was about a lady who was killed while moving horses from one field to another with the help of a friend. Her friend didn’t see what happened. Another story earlier this year was a lady killed whilst clipping her horse. There was another headline, that I couldn’t read without paying, about fatal head injuries being just as likely on the ground as in the saddle.

I remember describing the clipping accident story to Cowboy. He was mystified as to why such a thing would happen. He found it hard to fathom why a well-trained horse would not behave quietly and respectfully on the ground. Having spent time immersed in his horse world, and having learned some new skills of my own, I find it hard to fathom too.

The answer is coming to me, having spent time in both horse worlds now. There is little to no information in British riding schools about how to handle a horse from the ground. At several riding schools where I have taken lessons, I’ve found the horses to be well-behaved from the saddle, and pushy and rude from the ground. Horses didn’t lead well, either rushing ahead with no concern about me, or dragging behind me. Some were rude about food, rushing to grab a mouthful of grass from the verge; another responded to being touched on a particular spot on his back by pinning his ears and kicking out. Nobody had any advice or strategy in place to deal with this problem. The solution was to simply not touch that horse on that part of his back, or to pull the greedy horse’s head out of the grass – all horse fans know how futile that battle is… I’ve encountered plenty of horses in Britain, and hardly any preventative information about bad behaviour from horses on the ground. The horses weren’t being taught that their actions were not appropriate, so it just continued.

Some aggressive behaviour can be attributed to pain, so I can’t pretend to have an answer to every situation, but I have heard people laugh about how pushy their horse is on the ground. “Oh, he just loves to race out to the field, he usually runs me over!” Making an excuse for dangerous behaviour, and accepting it as part and parcel of horsemanship, is not the way to deal with it. One comment in response to the lady killed while moving horses between fields described injuries such as “a kick or a squashed foot” as “part and parcel” of being around horses. This kind of disregard from a horse for a person on the ground would not be acceptable in my barn now. There is no part and parcel where kicking or running somebody over is concerned.

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If Sunshine isn’t mindful of where I am when I am on the ground around her, whether she is distracted by another horse, or by food, or simply being a brat, she gets a firm reminder that her job is to pay attention to me. The first reminder is quiet and subtle, usually just a little shake of the lead rope, or I’ll just say “Hey.” If she ignores that too, the follow up is a bigger gesture, such as raising the lead rope in my hand, and if that doesn’t get through to her, she gets a swift smack with the end of it. We rarely get to the smack these days. She knows where my personal space is, and she knows she is not supposed to be in it unless she is invited.

She usually does a wonderful job of being polite. She stays out of my personal space. She stops when I stop. She comes with me when I go again. She will slow down when I slow down, never mind how quickly everybody else is walking off without her. She has to be with me. If I have to get past her, she will move out of my way, moving her shoulders or her hips. She will wait in the trailer while I fuss with the dividers until I tell her she can get out. She will stand still without me holding her while I faff about with reins and my phone. She knows when to move, and she knows when not to move.

Cowboy taught her these things, and we continue to reinforce these things, because they make her safe. She has one job in life: be the safest horse we own. She will be taking care of our children one day, minding beginners, and educating unruly young colts in how to be polite. I continue to be amazed at how respectful and careful she is when I am around her. After years of bolshy ponies in Britain, her attentiveness is constantly surprising, and wonderful.

I would love it if Britain woke up to the fact that many horses are badly behaved, and that training and education methods need to change if we want to enjoy our animals without the threat of being mown down on the way to the field, or being kicked while clipping. Teach our young horsemen and women how to build respect with their horses. Teach our horses that they are not the boss, however big and strong they are. Equestrians, please educate yourselves. Study up on different methods – there is more to riding than a grackle noseband and a martingale, just as there is more to natural horsemanship than Pat Parelli. Accidents like the ones I have seen in recent months do not need to be, and should not be the norm.

Please consult with a reputable trainer if you have a horse with issues on the ground. Youtube videos are great educational tools, but do not replace the knowledge and experience of a trainer who can assess your horse in person.

A very non-British thing to say

Today, we were out and about in the car, getting errands done before Christmas sets in, and we stopped to at the petrol station (the gas station) to fuel up the car.

It was pouring with rain, and the windows were still a little misted up from the cold. Cowboy got out to do the honours at the pump.

I sat and waited in the driver’s seat, pondering dull things like how best to dispose of the broccoli that was fading in the fridge – maybe soup? Or just compost?

Then I glanced in my rear view mirror and caught him drawing this…

When he draws a heart in the dirt on my back window while he puts fuel in my car... #ilovehim

… and I got all warm and fuzzy inside. I love him.

Cowboy dating guidance: the Montana Wife Tests

These are little tasks which I find myself compelled to complete, even though I could just act like they don’t exist. Cowboy doesn’t set them for me, they just arise, but I find them to be a reasonably good indicator of how solid our relationship is, and how well I am going to be able to cope with our lifestyle in the future. If you are a cowboy, you might like to set these tests for your future (or, indeed, current) wife. If you are considering marrying a cowboy, you might want to see if you will pass these tests.

Here are some examples.

Montana Wife Test #1: Fill an entire vehicle (car or truck, doesn’t matter) with dirt, old tobacco, loose change, fast food packaging and Mountain Dew cans. Spill some coffee in the carpet, and let the dog sleep in the back seat for about four weeks. See if the potential wife can get the thing cleaned up and smelling good. If she finds your missing drill bit that you wanted four days ago in the process, and remembers to give it to you, score an extra point.

Montana Wife Test #2: Ask her to get your good fencing pliers from the house. If she doesn’t have to ask you what fencing pliers are or what they look like, she scores an extra point. If she knows which ones are your good ones, score an extra five points.

Montana Wife Test #3: Leave two different hats in different locations, and change their locations regularly, all around the homestead. Ask her for the whereabouts of either hat at any time. If she can correctly locate both hats at the time of asking, score an extra point. If she instinctively knows which hat you are looking for without you specifying at the time of asking, she scores an extra five points.

Montana Wife Test #4: Leave a perfectly good shirt out on the driveway and allow it to be rained on several times. Walk over it, kick it around, dump other things on top of it. See if she asks if you want to keep the shirt. This is the pass/fail section of the test. Of course you want to keep the shirt, it is perfectly good. If she is willing and able to launder the shirt and restore it to a wearable state, she scores an extra point.

Montana Wife Test #5: Obtain an expensive insulated coffee cup, either as a gift, or purchase one at outrageous cost. Fill it with coffee. Do not drink the coffee. Leave the insulated cup in a vehicle, preferably the same one as in Test #1, for an indeterminate amount of time. The longer the better. If the potential wife does not immediately discard the cup, she has passed the test. She may ask if you want to keep it. If she asks, confirm that you want to keep the cup. You may like to add that it is one of your favourites. Get her emotionally invested in the cup. If she is willing and able to clean it to a standard where it is safe for a beverage to be consumed from the cup, she scores an extra point. If she then adopts the cup for her own use, she scores an extra five points.

I am certain more tests are coming… I’ll keep you updated.

13 days in

I’ve been in the US for 13 days. I have finally got a US phone number, and waved a sad goodbye to the phone number that I have had since my very first phone, the trusty Nokia 5110 with the changeable covers…

I’ve cleaned all the things – most things more than once, and the dirt keeps coming. It doesn’t help that we have a juvenile feline who likes to shred anything he can get his adorable little paws on. We invested in a laser pointer in the last few days, just to keep him busy.

Cowboy and kitten ❤️Sometimes we can wear him out, just for a moment.

I’ve started to learn where everything lives in the supermarkets. I’ve learned that you can’t get anything for a good price without giving up your personal information and getting the store club card.

I have a pile of recycling in my kitchen and my shed because I haven’t yet deciphered the recycling system. It involves crates with very similar contents listed on them. How exactly do “scrap paper” and “newspaper” differ in any significant way? Why is there no crate for plastic? It is mystifying.

I have fed Cowboy some real food and he has repaid me with some manual labour, heavy lifting and getting up early to get the horses in while I snooze for another hour or two.

The horses have been a joyous challenge to me. Sunshine is teaching me about how to say “I mean it!” and our new addition, Beau, is teaching me about lightness. Sunshine has been so desensitised that you could do just about anything with her and she barely blinks, which is wonderful for keeping people safe, but it also means she needs a louder cue. Beau is so light and responsive to anything and everything that just thinking something seems to be enough for him.

His little quirk is that he has spent so much of his 4 years in the arena, he has no idea how to pick up his feet. So we spent some time teaching him the other night.

After a good ride on Sunshine this evening, I got to sit and watch the sunset, and look at Mount Baker, the moon, and these two figuring things out.It took him a few goes to catch on.

There is something magical about watching this little horse think something through for the first time. He tries so hard. He wants the right answer, and when he understands the question properly, he is ready for anything.

It was a beautiful evening, and it reminded me why I came here. Me, the cowboy, horses and the fresh air. I am so lucky.

Spring cleaning

There are cobwebs everywhere. What’s more embarrassing is that a spider has taken up residence under my bedside table and insists on spinning a web between the table and my mattress. I’ve tried to convince her not to, but she’s persistent.

I think a new spider has taken up residence in my wing mirror, spinning a very different kind of web from the ones CJ used to make. I’m a little sad about that.

In the spirit of spring cleaning, I took it upon myself to completely rebuild, rewrite, rewire and otherwise overhaul Cowboy’s website. I made the first version (which is no longer available to view – possibly a blessing) in one stressful day, sitting in a trailer while Cowboy wandered in and out, hoping I was done.

The new and improved version took me all week, in sessions of about three hours at a time. It is finally finished, and is up and running. I’m pretty pleased with it, if I do say so myself.

Phew.

Snowed in

We had a winter storm and about a foot of snow came down over the course of two days. The wind was fairly vigorous and some large drifts piled up around the house.

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At first, it was a lot of fun. The first morning, the dogs went racing out across the field and went gallivanting about.

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Blue Dog loves the snow. He rolls in it, burrows in it and just loves to hang out in the cool air.

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Cowboy donned his Carharrts and his hat and went out to shovel the driveway like a hero. My goodness.

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you were out of the 30mph wind, it was really very pretty.

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Driving in it was a little scary. My host has a beast of a Ford Bronco that handled it pretty well, but even so, it was an interesting drive into town for supplies.

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I took a view that being indoors was preferable to being outdoors. I was rather surprised that, despite the foot of snow on each car, people were still intending to dig the cars out and go to other places, like work. This would never happen in Britain. Except probably in the north, where people are tougher and this kind of weather is more likely.

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This morning was glorious. Crisp, bright and clean. I think maybe I’ll stay.

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