Reluctant Cowgirl


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When I got the Mustang, his trainer asked me what I planned to do with him. “Ride him” seemed like a cop-out, so I mumbled some words about dressage and trail and maybe packing elk out of the woods. Honestly, in this part of the country most people cowboy on their horses, but I have no cows, and my rope skills are still as poor as they were before I got him.

But I do ride him. I scoured eBay and Craigslist and online tack shops, wondering what saddle would be versatile enough for everything from lessons to mountain trail, but also appropriate for a girl who grew up in Connecticut doing English pleasure and the hunter/jumpers. I first went with a Wintec Australian stock saddle, which fit the Old Horse well but slid side to side on the Mustang no matter how tight the girth. Plus it didn’t have any knee rolls to speak of and left me feeling insecure and exposed. Then, a used western trail saddle, which felt a little more secure, but still foreign to my mostly English saddle-acquainted buns. I still dealt with slippage, and convinced myself it wasn’t just me and my rusty skills. I emailed his trainer and she said she had no fitting issues with him. She used a roping saddle and a Total Saddle Fit cinch.

I got all heart-eyed for Total Saddle Fit after that. But I didn’t even know if I wanted to continue riding in that saddle, so I wasn’t going to invest in a $150 western cinch.

Finally, last week I received a well-used Slatter dressage saddle in the mail. It came with a girth, a red fleece pad, and beautiful leathers with fun matching red composite stirrups. My buns haven’t been this happy since I last got out of my old Collegiate eventer (I still miss you, friend) probably nearly 20 years ago.

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Goldilocks and the three saddles.

This is all by way of saying I think I have the right saddle now. The locals may scoff at me (cowgirl my a**), but I feel comfortable and secure and like the saddle is a help instead of a hindrance. I hope to put many miles on it, from the ring to the trail.

But! I still need that perfect girth. Which is why I’m here, linking to DIY Horse Ownership’s Total Saddle Fit giveaway post. I love Olivia’s blog (mules and mustangs! there is no better combination! doing everything from eventing to endurance!) and appreciate the chance to win what I hope to be the optimum saddle-keeper-on-device for Mr. Mustang.


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We bought a Mule

Except “bought” is misleading because we just paid for his vet bills, and “mule” is misleading because he is probably a hinny, which is often called a mule but really something different. A mule is the offspring of a horse and a donkey female and male (mare and jack), respectively. Reverse that (stallion and jennet) and you get a hinny. They’re not as popular for a slew of reasons, most of which are logistical. They don’t seem to come out as big as mules, which is probably why this one wound up in a 1/2 acre pasture in Enterprise, Oregon because the mule people heard he was heading to the auction and for critters like Sam Mule, the auction doesn’t typically end in a happy place.

So in we stepped. Word travels fast in rural places, and we are now known in several counties to be the place to offload long-eared critters of questionable utility. We generally look at each other and go, why not? It’s part of the adventure. Eventually, we may regret such haphazard decision-making. But it hasn’t happened yet.

Sam Mule, headed over the mountains to Baker County.

The last time we brought home a long-eared creature the Mustang busted through three fences and I chased him down halfway to the Eagle Cap Wilderness (a blog entry I began, but have yet to complete and post; let this be a reminder). I wanted to believe he and I had come a long way since then, but I also wanted to be very cautious because bow hunting season started this weekend and the road is much busier than it was in March when HW took his scaredy-cat bum up the road a ways to find a less donkey-friendly zone. So we planned that I would exit the vehicle as soon as we got in the driveway, halter the once-wild beast, and hope for the best with a little more control over things than last time. The Man would unload the little “mule” and walk him around at a safe distance from the herd until things calmed down.

Things didn’t get too far beyond calm. The Mustang’s head did go bolt upright, but he swished his tail and swallowed, and followed me when I asked him to walk. No snorting til his nose bled. No galloping along fence lines or, god forbid, through them. Just a mostly well-adjusted horse reacting calmly to a new equine in his midst.

I took it as a testament to my work with him, but odds are the “mule” just looks a lot less threatening (i.e. more like a horse) than a spotted donkey.

Golden hour mule-let.

What do we plan to do with this short, curious, sociable, formerly unwanted, possibly mistakenly-bred critter, you ask? I’ll let you know when we get there. Stay tuned.


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My Equines, Rock Stars

We had bigtime company in town last week for the eclipse. Before that, we had smaller-time company here just for the fun of it, with their children. They came from far and wide, and as fun-loving people are wont to do, they wished to ride a four-legged, hooved creature while on their vacations in cowboyland.

I thought about my animals for a moment and quickly decided we were all ready for such challenges. As a guinea pig, I chose a visitor from the first group, a small, screechy, 3 and a half year-old girl named Ada. Having picked her out of the hat, I peered at the equines, wondering who might be most trustworthy with such precious cargo. Who would you guess I chose?

Here are our choices:

  1. The Donkey. Would you trust that face? I’m not sure what more to say.
  2. The Old Horse. I am not responsible for the first 30-some-odd years of this animal’s life, which clearly did not involve being taught much in the way of manners. Also, he’s half blind.
  3. The Mustang. OK, OK, so maybe most people would not want to put the small child on the animal that 465 days ago was untouched. I would guess that most people haven’t met a well-gentled mustang.

He was a champ. I rode him in the saddle with small person perched in front of me, with the Man leading. She screamed, she flailed, she giggled. He marched onward like a stoic war horse, going into a battle of small people. He paid attention and stepped gingerly over any and all obstacles. One might not need guess this, but I was damn proud.

She enjoyed herself on the Mustang so much, we went out again the next day, and even did some trotting. The screeching intensified with the bounces, and still no reaction from our loyal steed.

Fast forward one week. I had friends of an older persuasion in town, plus one quasi-mother-in-law. Five new people rode the hooved critters a combination of 7 different ways. (I’m not entirely sure I said that right, but just assume I’m talking about people trying out two different animals over a span of several days. Math was never my strong suit.) All but one of these humans hadn’t been on a horse since childhood. No one led them. The donkey carried my quasi-mother-in-law and myself (not at the same time). The Old Horse carried a very tall man who wanted him to do things even I don’t ask him to do. No one set a foot wrong. I’m still stunned. Pleased, but stunned.

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Donk’s eye view of strange people riding her friends.

Suddenly the idea of a small dude ranch doesn’t seem so far-fetched.


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Equine Planning

I am not a planner. I don’t have grand visions or intentions that I scroll into notebooks to check off, and at age 21, freshly minted with a college degree, I did not go immediately to graduate school or set out pursuing my dream career, but dawdled in the in-between space of wondering. I had no date by which I planned to be married, or have children (both of which, by the way, I have not accomplished and am totally cool with), and kinda sorta always had no idea where I’d live.

This is all by way of saying I did not plan to move to the middle of nowhere, Oregon and get a mustang horse. Or a second horse. Or a spotted standard donkey. I did not plan to be texting with a woman on a flip phone in Enterprise, Oregon, who has a mule she is looking to find a good home for, because someone dropped him off in her yard the way someone might drop off a kitten or puppy they no longer want at a vet’s office or in a farm driveway. Someone dropped off a mule in the darkness of night. People are strange and not to be trusted, y’all.

The mule is small and dun and very unlike the mules I fell in love with in Montana in June of this year, which had dinner plate hooves and required me to grunt and go tippy-toe to hoist the pack saddle and mantied gear onto their great, heaving withers. But he has personality, she says, and not a mean bone in his body, which is all it really takes to get me to say, “well, maybe I’ll take a look.”

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A photo of a string of Belgian draft mules I met in June. My Potential Mule does not look anything like these Montana babes.

Because planning is for sissies and if you didn’t plan to have horses or donkeys you probably should also not plan to have mules, and then go ahead and surprise the heck out of yourself for fun.


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Gotcha

On July 30, we celebrated one year together. In the dog adoption world, this milestone is referred to as a “Gotcha Day,” and often celebrated in lieu of a birthday because no one knows when most rescues were born. Same goes for mustangs.

Probably never saw grass this tall in Nevada.

We didn’t do any special treats or long rides. I had planned to compose an Instagram or Facebook post that declared all that this year had done for and meant to me, but the day slipped away, as days do.

So here I am a couple weeks later, staring out the window at the snorting beast, who, for the last few months has done little I can complain about. A few days ago we had friends in town with two toddlers. The older of them wanted to go for a ride, and I chose the mustang over the 34 year-old horse and the 12-hand donkey when it was time to consider who was safest. He carried the two of us all over the property without stepping a foot wrong. I tried not to cry from the overwhelming pride.

This is a formerly wild mustang with a 3 and a half year old child riding him. NBD.

Things changed a year ago when I brought home this horse. First I got giddy and just wanted to hug and kiss him like a child. Then that all led to getting a panel slammed into my face and dismounting in fear when it felt like respect was non-existent and bucks were imminent. Finally I sought out help from the wise horsemen before me (in person and via the internet) and began to grow and bond with the portly, formerly wild dude by treating him like a horse instead of a human or a dog. I learned very quickly how to slow down and be more observant, to seek consistency and clear communication and to above all be fair to him. I stopped telling him what to do and started asking. I made the wrong thing hard and the right thing easy. My whole notion of horsemanship got turned on its head, and with it came many necessary lessons about not just horses, but life. I began referring to him as my zen master, my BLM black buddha.

Zen master HW.

We have a long way to go. He’s not a fine-tuned arena horse and our list of goals for getting out on the trails together is long enough that we’ll be working at it for years to come. But I’m grateful for the year we’ve got under our belt, and excited for the ones ahead.