Sunday, July 21, 2013

Peripheral Vision

Thursday, the day before Stampede started, I found myself in a bit of a surreal situation. There I was, in the early morning air, listening to someone read off a list of horse and rider combinations for the upcoming week. It would have been close to a year ago to the day that I would have been the one reading horse and rider combinations to eager counsellors at orientation for the ranch.

Stampede was a wonderful distraction for me, it's hard to think about the past when adrenaline is coursing through your veins as you blast out of a centre aisle to "THIS IS CALGARY, AND THIS IS THE CALGARY STAMPEDE".

However, every once and awhile I would feel that old shadow of a friend creep up behind me and nag at me, don't you remember me? Of course I do, how can you forget something that was so ingrained in your life for so many years.

It was around that same time that a friend of mine randomly brought up the ranch. He said that he was surprised how much he missed it, how every once and awhile he would get this feeling like he should be there, how sometimes it felt like he was there. He put it in the most poignantly, perfect way that I could even grasp. That it felt like it was crowding his peripherals, if he were to close his eyes randomly during the day, he would feel so linearly drawn to it that for a moment he could almost taste the very air that inhabited the space, and then, for that split second, he would be afraid to open his eyes for disappointment.

When the ranch went up for sale, I would get washed away out to sea by the enormity of losing the place that meant so much to me. I would have dark moments on the floor, just sobbing. It's not just losing a place, it was losing a life, and so many dreams. However, now, it is in the little mundane moments that pass so fleetingly. Those peripheral moments that you can't quite grasp and then they're gone.

For me, I had the habit of closing my eyes on long trail rides and letting the sun dance across my eyelids. I used to reach out my hand and brush the poplar tree's leave as we rode by. I find myself replicating that behavior almost on habit, the other day I let my hand out and brushed the cold concrete of an underpass, it wasn't the same. It isn't just being in the city that gets under my skin, even when i'm out at the barn, or in the country, something is just... missing. During Stampede I went out to see Jingle, it was dusk and I buried my face in his mane, in that moment, it was almost like I was there. After he had come home from his disappearance act in the hills I spent many nights as the sun slowly set grooming him and talking to him, just happy to be in his presence. However, just like my friend had said, I opened my eyes to disappointment. I wasn't in the round pen, I was in the breezeway. The "shed", the large pole barn that housed the dude string, wasn't looming behind me, a sentinel amongst the trees. Instead, just our front yard, my truck in the parking lot...

It's easy to duplicate feelings, emotions and patterns when you did the exact same thing, every week, for six weeks, every summer, for five summers. It's easy to feel empty and alone when your Monday wake up call means a shower, and a trip to the office, whereas, for five summers, a Monday wake up call meant the first day of rides for a brand new group of campers. Just beyond my peripheral vision I can see all those horses lined up in rows, softly munching on their hay, nickering to each other. However, here I am, at my office, and all I can hear is key strokes.

It is a strange thing, knowing you can go back to a place, but knowing you can never go home.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

10 Days In July - Stampede 101

Remember that time I used to blog all the time, and now I just lurk your blogs and think to myself "maybe I should blog..." and then don't. Yeah, that's right now. But! I do have a pretty exciting and cool reason I haven't been blogging....

Stampede 101 with the Ranch Girls!

Yep, after trying out in April and shockingly getting in, it was finally time for me to strut my stuff and carry some flags in front of thousands, upon thousands, of people.. 

I'm pretty sure that's Tuf Cooper by the chute gate... casual, youngest millionaire in rodeo...

Stampede was INSANE. The first few days my nerves got the total best of me. I think it kind of shocked my body into some weird state because I am never really "nervous". Sure, I get butterflies and a tossy stomach every once in awhile, but this was a whole new level of nerves for me. Like, feeling like I was going to puke and pee my pants as the gate opened for grand entry. After three days of feeling like I was seriously going to die, my body finally calmed down, and I started having fun. 

Here we are! Find me... i'm the blonde.. (haha), we got to use Stampede horses, all sorrels, all with socks and blazes.

For the most part, between our rides we sat on the fence of the chutes and got to watch the rodeo up close and personal, it was so cool. I don't barrel race, and although i've attended plenty of rodeos in my life.. I don't "rodeo", and so I don't really know much about that world. This was like a crash course in rodeo behind the scenes... and high caliber rodeo while we're at it.

There I am, carrying the Plains Midstream flag during one of our Sponsor laps.

Sparkly shirts and lots of blondes!


Duke and I, unimpressed because it was POURING rain that day and we were suppose to get on and head out there. Whyyyyyy.

My Horses name was Duke, he was wonderful. A bit of a firecracker and really fast, a little too fast at times. Once I finally calmed down and started actually riding him and stopped caring what I looked like, we figured each other out and i'm sure I started looking better. Throughout the year they use him as a heeling horse and a pickup horse, he's a pretty solid boy. My favourite quirk of his was how much he LOVED rodeo. The minute the announcer would pick up, and we'd get ready to enter the infield, he would stand straight up, ears forward and his heart would pound so hard in his chest I could feel it in my legs. Pretty cool feeling, but in the beginning it felt like I was riding a powder keg. It took a bit of getting used too.

Rainy day at the rodeo.

The Stampede provided us with awesome long slicker style rainjackets, perfect for rainy days.

The very flooded saddledome in the sunset... my poor city.

Each day we had a companion pass, so our companions could basically go anywhere we went, infield, around the chutes, the grounds for free... it was awesome. My mom, and my friends Sarah and Jess took advantage of them, and it was really wonderful of the Stampede and the Rodeo to allow us them.

We got to watch the Cowboy Challenge Finals, Jim Anderson won, he's the three time world champion or something crazy like that. I wish I had gotten more photos, one of the obstacles was a huge three-step bridge, and another was a sprinkler box, the horses were calm, cool and collected. That level of training is just ridiculous, one day Jingle and I will get there.

My mom and I have been going to the Stampede every year since I was 2, so this was year 19. It is one of our most favourite, and memorable traditions, and this year was a lot of fun to experience all the behind the scene stuff with her.

Because I'm always out of town, and the chucks are quite expensive, I've never seen them in person, this year I went twice, once for the finals! So awesome. I want to outride one day, bucket list item for sure.

Mom and I watched the fireworks from the track this year, so we got to see where they were actually releasing the fireworks. It was SO COOL. I love this photo of mama, she looks like a little kid watching them.

For two days I was also on stage presentations, which meant that we carried flags onto the stage when the winners of the days events got presented with their bronzes. Pretty cool area to watch the barrel racing from!

Quite a few friends came by to see me, wave to me and cheer me on - I loved it! This is Whitney and Amery who worked with me at the ranch, how cute are their little cowgirl outfits?! Love them.

A couple shots of the whole 19 of us!

Jason Glass, winning the Stampede Rangeland Derby Finals.

I carried the City of Calgary flag for grand entry!

Duke... Levitating as per usual.

So there's my update on my ten days, I'm sure there is more I could talk about and looking back now I wish I had blogged each day. Perhaps as memories come back to me I'll blog a bit more about it. However, I will say that it was an absolutely amazing experience and I can't thank the Stampede, Rodeo Committee and our coordinators and organizers enough for letting me be part of this group of girls. I'm still in shock that I was one of the Calgary Stampede Ranch Girls, it was one of those dream come true experiences. Plus, if any of you need tips on how to keep your hat on while flying around a huge arena... i'm your girl.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

What Makes a Quiet, Safe, Bombproof & Broke Horse?

Awhile ago a girl at my barn had a bad fall from a horse. The horse in question is one that i've known since he was 4, and rode extensively when he was younger. The girl is in her teens, a good rider who has been taking lessons for awhile, She has also ridden him pretty regularly since September - at least a few times a month. Falls from horses happen all the time, a thing that the EMS repeated to her when they came to take her to the hospital. Which, in itself, is a good lesson and reminder. She is fine, although she has a broken collar bone (at the beginning of summer too - poor kid), and i'm sure is pretty shaken up.

Is Fergus any of the below qualities? I would say most old school-master lesson ponies are, but then learn quickly how to forget they are... sneaky sneaky..
However, her fall got me thinking about the nature of horses. There are 4 qualities people often look for in a horse, especially for inexperienced, or younger riders.
The first is Quiet, a horse that you can fail, flop, yell, and mess-up around, all the while the horse remains calm and steady.

The second is Safe, a horse that you can get in tricky situations with and the horse maintains it's composure, a horse that you can be a total beginner on, and it wont take advantage of you. A safe horse is one that is safe to be around - whether it's on the ground, riding, or in it's presence.

The third is that word that is so often thrown around, especially when it comes to a kids horse, Bombproof. The essence of the word is that a bomb could go off infront of the horse and it wouldn't even flinch. The prime example of bombproof horses are police horses used in riot situations. However, when we see the word most is when we are explaining children's horses, "Old Bobby Sue was so bombproof I could put my toddler on her without a helmet and get her to gallop around brideless and the mare could care less," however.. so often these types of horses have caveats, "except she hated mud, she'd rear at the sight of it, so we just avoided riding in the rainy season." Not quite sure that behaviour consistutes as "bombproof." Although safe and quiet are often assumed when it comes to bombproof horses, I seperate this category because they are almost always "a kids horse".

Finally, we have the second horse-specific term, "Broke". What does broke even mean? For some people Broke means a horse that knows it's leads, flying lead changes, spins, stops, sidepasses, etc. These are your seasoned show horses, your dependable ranch geldings, your beenthere-donethat-gotthetshirt steady-eddys. Sometimes these horses can be used by every level of experience, and age, these are the horses that teach you how to become truly good riders. Other times, your "brokest" horse in the bunch may not be the one you reach for when your "never been on a horse" neice comes to visit. Perhaps your "brokest" is a little hot, a little snorty, can be impatient, etc.

When that neice comes to visit, often you reach for your quietest.. and there is a huge difference. This is the idea that spurred this entire post.

I have an interesting insight on the above categories because I worked at a dude ranch, specifically a kids camp. A camp where 8 year olds could come, absolutely terrified of horses, and we'd throw them on elderly mares and geldings who would plod along behind us for 5 days. Sure, sometimes kids slipped off, or we hit wasp nests which caused the horses to get a little frisky, but for the most part the old beginner string were horses I trusted completely. They were quiet, and they were safe. We had photos done every week for the kids and their horses, the photographer used all manner of aparatus to get the horses to look alive and prick up their ears. From tarps blowing in the wind to literally attempting to scare them... I would consistute that as showing how bombproof they were. But, were they broke? Hell no. If they even knew what a sidepass was, they placed it in a tiny room in their brain called "things humans made me do when I was little". They ambled behind the horse infront of them, playing every bit the bombproof horse, but certainly not a horse you would want to be on if.... ya know.. you wanted to actually do something. Which raises an interesting point, how safe can a horse be if you can't do anything on it? Well, for a kid in a trail riding situation like that... I would say pretty safe. For me, if I was out bringing in brood mares and got into a sticky spot, not that safe. So, in the end, safe becomes a measure on a sliding scale.

In the end, all these categories are really about perspective, what is safe to one person, isn't always safe to another. Going back to the horse that was originally brought up, I would say he's pretty safe and he's pretty quiet - however, he is not broke and he is not bombproof. He has his moments, and he has an underlying current of nervousness. The girl that hurt herself is not his owner, his owner is new to horses and took lessons for a bit before buying him in September. He seemed so quiet, and so safe, that everyone thought it would be a perfect match. Well, she can be a nervous rider, and he can be a nervous horse, and unfortunately, generally you need calm + nervous = happy combo. So, he is up for sale, and the owner has now found another horse - an "old trusty, been there, done that" kind of horse who has been in parades, roped off of, done some reining and team penning, he's 14, he's unphased. She already loves him, and feels comfortable enough to jump on him without the trainer around and post-trot away. Something she probably would not have done with the other horse. To me, right there, that is what makes me happy. People feeling completely comfortable on the horses they are riding when they are starting out.

This leads me to my last opinion of the day. I firmly believe that it is better to be under-horsed when your learning, than to be over-horsed. Exclaimer: I mean like, green as grass learning, I mean like, barely ever ridden/been around horses in your life learning. Some people will definitely disagree with me on this one. Yes, I've heard the stories how you wrangled a wild mustang as a child, threw a saddle on and learned to ride out the bucks while you ambled along in fields of daisies. I, myself, learned how to ride on many over-horsed horsies, but some pretty "perfect 4" horses too. As I learned on the Quiet, Safe, Bombproof and Broke horses, I was then given horses that were a "challenge", not only to me, but to people around them. I learned a lot, but I didn't learn a lot of technique because I had to compensate my learning for often, heck, my survival. Some people rise to the challenge of being over-horsed, it takes a special and often, confident, person to look a challenging horse in the eye and say "I'm going to learn how to ride you." When I first started riding Jingle I was over-horsed to the max, but I didn't know any better, and we were in such a calm and confident environment that we figured eachother out pretty quick. It worked in our favour, but it was a special circumstance. I think it's part of our duties as horse owners, and lovers, to guide people who are new to the horse community to picking the right horse for them. If your friend has just decided to learn how to ride and comes to you for advice, tell them the honest truth. As much as I love to tell the story of Jingle and I, basically a "rescue" case that was semi-dangerous but whom I fell in love with, I always caution against it... there's been a lot of success and triumph with us, but there's also been a lot of scary moments, and a lot of sad ones too. I can't imagine if he was the first horse I ever came to know, I honestly don't know if I would still be riding today.

So, that was my little ramble for the day. Do you agree with me, disagree with me, are you somewhere in the middle? Let me know! Hope you are all having a wonderful time riding - whether it be on a 1. Quiet 2. Safe 3. Bombproof or 4. Broke horse, or perhaps... like myself and my horse that needs ALL the work... none of the above.

What?! I didn't realize that bucking wasn't an appropriate response just because YOU'RE "learning"

Monday, July 1, 2013

Liebster Award

I got my first blog award, what whaaaaaaaaat, thanks so much to both Carly at Poor Woman Showing and NBChoice at Saddle Seat: An AOTR's Inside Perspective. Both of their blogs are wicked - check 'em out!

So apparently the Liebster Blog Award comes with some caveats...

How to Accept the Award: The Liebster Blog Award is a way to recognize blogs who have less than 200 followers. Liebster is a German word that means beloved and valued. Here are the rules for accepting the award:
  • Thank the person who nominated you and include a link back to their blog.
  • List 11 random facts about yourself.
  • Answer the 11 questions given to you.
  • Create 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate.
  • Choose 11 bloggers with 200 or fewer followers to nominate and include links to their blogs.
  • Go to each blogger's page and let them know you have nominated them.
I'll play along.

11 Random Facts About Myself...
  1. I have never been outside of North America
  2. I would really, really love to take Dressage lessons someday 
  3. I have a sick addiction to cowboy boots - I currently have over 7 pairs, I only wear two regularly
  4. I also love bling and turquoise, pretty stereotypically western over here ya'll
  5. I've always been a writer, my friends always talk about how when we were in elementary I was constantly filling up journals full of stories. In Grade 6 I wrote over 500 pages on a "novel I was working on", and never finished it.
  6. I'm currently babysitting 5 kids at the Office I work at because the schools shut down after the flooding... I now remember why I switched from being a counsellor to a riding leader. Horses are way cooler than kids.
  7. My favourite movie is Legends of the Fall
  8. I have a cat named Bob, you don't hear much about Bob, because I am not really a cat person. Poor Bob. To make matters worse, he is THE neediest cat in the entire world. He wakes up meowing, and doesn't stop until he falls asleep. He also plays a super fun game where he wraps himself around your legs while you walk and yowls at you. He also loves to kneed my face when I'm sleeping. It's outlandish.
  9. One of my jobs is being a server.. sometimes it's a wonderful job, other times it makes me want to curl up and die/cut my feet off.
  10. Jingle was the first Paint I liked, I was famous for saying I "hated" Paints and found them ugly. I still like/prefer how Jingle has a solid-coloured face, but now I have come to really love Paints. I have a dream of taking a Paint Cutting Horse to Fort Worth for the futurity.
  11. I refused to swear as a child, it was a "thing" for my friends to try to make me swear. Now, I mayyyyyy have a penchant for swearing quit a bit, it's a nasty habit that is often accentuated when I'm with a certain friend group.
Questions from Carly...

1. If you could assume the identity of any person for one day, who would it be?
  - Good question, and a hard one to answer. Uhm. Honestly, probably a super rich, super vain person - someone absolutely crazy like Rhianna, or Britney Spears in her prime haha. It would be an interesting insight into the lives they live, and then at the end of the day, you would be done.
2. What unique horsemanship skill do you possess?
- Honestly, I don't really know. I think I was a pretty good guide and a hand when it came to trail. I have a keen sense of direction, so I used to like to get myself lost, to see where i'd end up. I always liked riding babies on the trail at the Ranch. You never know what they'll do, or when they'll do it, so you have to be pretty confident and calm.
3. English or Western?
- Western
4. Would your horse have an accent? If so, what would it be?
- Jingle might not have an accent but he definitely has a voice, everyone that knows me knows Jingle's voice. It's a bit of a mix between dopey "Maaaahm", and annoyed/haughty "WHY would you tie me here?!"
5. Have you ever met any of your fellow bloggers?
- No, I would love to put a true face to some of the names though!
6. What is your favorite vacation spot?
- I love Ucluelet on Vancouver Island, it's such a beautiful area, and so foreign to my prairie-born bones. 
7. Do you have any other pets besides your trusty steed?
- As mentioned above I have the neediest cat ever, Bob. I also have a big, 'ol goofy dog named Moose, he's a hungarian komondor - so a dog with dread locks! :)
8. Have you ever ridden bareback?
- Yep, lots. At my Ranch we used to always ride bareback on the last day of the week with kids - total gong show. I also broke my wrist really bad a couple years back getting bucked off a horse when I attempted to jump on him bareback. Now I have a bit of the "mentalness" when it comes to riding bareback, but i've been on Jingle a couple times. I think I posted about it once, but I really do prefer to ride in a saddle - you get more done and I feel as if my slipping and sliding around on his back is really not comfortable.
9. Who is your favorite clinician?
- I don't really have one, I went to a Buck Brannaman clinic and really enjoyed him, I would also have to say George Morris is by far the funniest clinician I have ever got the experience of watching. I was in stitches over the things he was saying to those poor riders.
10. Urban, Suburban, or Rural Living?
- Rural, that's all I want in life is a little property in the middle of nowhere.
11. What is your favourite food?
- mmmm... vietnamese soup and noodle bowls, and I would never pass up a good Steak.

Questions from NBChoice...

1. If you could have any job in the world and money wasn't an option, what would you do?
- Chase this cutting dream, and be a professional rider. I would also love to write for western/horse related magazines.

2. What are you most thankful for?

- My mother, she is wonderful.

3. Do you like scary movies? If so, what is your favorite?

- Not really, I honestly find them all pretty predictable, and not really scary. Although I will say the corniest of them all, Paranormal Activity, really scared the shi-at out of me when it was in theatres.

4. What was your very first job?

- Working at McDonalds! haha, it was greasy, but three of my best friends worked there, and we had so much fun. We got up to a lot of trouble, and I ended up staying there for three years. I used to love working the really early morning shifts with all the little old ladies.

5. What is the longest road trip you have taken?

I drove from Ontario to Alberta as a kid with my Grandma, Grandpa, and Aunt. It was awesome.

6. Would you rather mow the lawn or vacuum the house?

Mow the lawn.. always outside, never inside.

7. How old were you when you first learned to drive?

I was pretty young, my dad used to let me steer on his lap, or shift gears in his cars. I also had a 80 cc dirt bike as a kid that i'd bomb around on. However, I officially learnt to really drive at 14 with my learners permit, and a very scared mother.

8. Do you wish you could have a specific talent?

I often wish I could sing, because I really, truly, am awful.

9. Do you have any siblings?

Nope, only child syndrome for life.
10. Favourite Song?

Hard one... 50 years ago by Ian Tyson or Angie by the Rolling Stones

11. Would you rather an old laptop, or old phone?

Definitely old phone, I loveeee my macbook pro.

11 Random Questions from Me!

1. Why did you start blogging?
2. Have you ever had a 'heart horse', if so - tell me about him/her!
3. What kind of vehicle do you drive?
4. What is one of the best lessons that horses have taught you?
5. What is your career?
6. How many horses do you own?
7. What is your a) favourite and b) least favourite thing about the place you board at? (if you board at home, answer it anyway! haha)
8. What is one food you absolutely hate?
9. Do you cook - if you do, what's your favourite recipe/dish to make?
10. What is your weakness?
11. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live?

So, finally... to nominate some bloggers.... well, I've been going through my blogroll and it looks to me that you've all been nominated by someone! Guys, apparently all of our blogs our beautiful, great sign! I also realize that I follow a very limited number of blogs.

So this is MY challenge to whoever is reading this, even if you have been nominated - Please do my questions, I'd love to hear your answers. If you've never been nominated - take this as my nomination to you. But, what I'd really love is for you guys to comment a few of your favourite blogs that I may have never read in my comments - that way, I can start to "meet" some new bloggers.