Reluctant Cowgirl

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Being Neighborly

I’m leaving for a week in Florida tomorrow. The timing couldn’t be more perfect because the temperatures have recently gone south of reasonable again and I’m over it. This morning’s low was -4.7 °F. You can take that and shove it.

So today was my last day of work, and I got up around 7 to start chores before a couple conference calls and bunch of loose end-tying. The home phone rang as I was in the middle of soaking alfalfa pellets. It always startles me because no one calls our land line. It’s basically just there for calling 911 in an emergency because we live in the middle of nowhere.

On the line was a gentleman who lives down the road. We met last year when he just drove down the driveway on a random Tuesday at 10 am the way country people do, to ask if he could use our covered arena to break some colts. There were about 16 feet of snow on the ground (slight exaggeration, but not much) and it’s hard to break colts in those kind of conditions, apparently. I asked around to make sure he wasn’t some kind of swindler and got good references, so I thought if he followed up and agreed not to sue us if sh*t went sideways, we’d say sure. He never called because winter just got worse and even I couldn’t access my arena.

Fast forward to this morning, and he’s calling my landline at 7 in the morning asking to use the arena again, today. Sure, I say, because what the heck else do I say? No, this is weird, how in the world are you country people so unabashedly unafraid to ask for things?

A couple hours later there’s a truck and stock trailer with five horses, one man, one wife, and one three year old child in my driveway. They leave the child sleeping the running truck (“the babysitter”) and take a chestnut with a blaze and a tall grey to the arena. Don’t sue me!, I call in my head as I watch them go and hustle inside for conference call number one. The remaining three horses stay at the rig, two tied inside and one out; I watch them fidget during my call.

A couple hours later I take lunch break and stand in the corner of my arena, watching these strangers work their colts. (One is a mare, by the way, which always bothers me about the term “colt-starting.”) They are five years old with about 20 rides on them and very sweaty. I make a bad joke about how I should let them work with the mustang for a bit – he hasn’t sweat since I bought him. They are desensitizing and working on lateral flexion. The mare is very cowy-looking and spry with those prototypical QH hindquarters. The grey is more my style; maybe appendix bred. They tell me he’s “lazy.” I like him even more.

They ask me questions about my mustang and I kind of ho-ho and ha-ha my way through the responses. I feel like I know nothing, suddenly, confronted with these life-long cow horse people who have seen my dressage saddle hanging on the fence and my fat mustang munching hay in the paddock. I don’t know how to explain that I am just returning to horses after a long time away and taking my time. I don’t cowboy and I have no horse friends and I am standing awkwardly in the corner of my own arena freezing my face off and feeling like an outsider. I did my best to be friendly but might have used too much of my social defense mechanism, sarcasm.

There’s another grey and a grulla, and they get the next workout. A black and white paint does not get worked; he’s “already broke.” I don’t get to see the second pair of horses working because I’m in frantic mode at my laptop, watching horses and small children get shuffled around outside my window while I check in for my flight tomorrow and speak to engineers in Mableton, Georgia about a project in Michigan. They load up and leave around 3 after neatly scooping their poop and saying thank you.

I moved to the middle of nowhere and bought a property with one of the largest (and only) covered arenas in the county, and sometimes sh*t gets weird for a neurotic, introverted Yankee like me.

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Dogs and Horses

I’m a dog person. If my whole life had to be about an animal it would be a dog. If I had to take one animal to a desert island? Dog. The dog is my heart animal, in that everything that has to do with them is done with my heart. I’m not that interested in training or competing or doing much of anything with them except everything – the daily travails of boring sit by my feet during the work days to the weekends full of adventure on trails and in cities, swimming in mountain lakes and chasing rabbits across the sagebrush for fun. All of it, a dog or two by my side. If I could only choose one animal to have for the rest of my life, I would take a dog. Not a horse.

But! This is not a world where we have to make those kind of choices, thank goodness, so now I have both. Dogs AND horses. And I have this blog that I thought would be about horses but guess what, winter is long here and sometimes there’s only so much to say about horses. So let me tell you about some dogs.

  1. The Brown. She’s numero uno in everyone’s heart and has earned it. She hails from squirrel hounds in Tennessee but has lived in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Oregon. She’s aging gracefully with bunny hair between her teeth and an elk bone buried nearby for safe keeping. She takes the spot closest to the wood stove and the horse poop pile furthest from the mule. We jokingly say that her motto is, ‘ I do what I want,’ and she largely does.

It almost looks like she’s being obedient here.

  1. The Grey. This dog is half wild but somehow entirely domesticated. We took her in when her redneck, deadbeat owners refused to care for her and she came begging to the neighbors (us) for food during her pregnancy and raising puppies. (Her puppies looked like full-bred border collies. The dad was not much of a border collie. The Grey is not much of a border collie. Dog genetics are weird.) She’s probably got husky in her and she loves to run and hunt. But indoors she is a princess and she has adapted to life by the fire with gusto. She has way more livestock experience than The Brown and thinks that chasing horses and mules when they’re wound up is fun. (Spoiler alert: it’s not.) She’s an outstanding ambassador for the canine race otherwise and her biggest concern in life is going up to every human she sees to ask them whether or not they think she’s pretty. (Spoiler alert: she is.)
  1. The Fosters. This year we decided to pitch in and give the local animal rescue a hand by fostering dogs. This entails providing the bridge between whatever situation they came from (it’s best not to even imagine) and their forever homes. So far we’ve had two: Little, a heeler-border collie mix who was an adorable, energetic sprite of a mutt, and Daisy Deuce, who seems like she could be a mix of a golden retriever and a river otter, except colored like a border collie mix. She slides around in the snow otter-like and spends much of her time in repose on her back, a hoard of toys and socks and towels she has collected strewn about her. We’ve had her less than a week and the transformation has been astounding. I might have cried a little today watching her play, after witnessing the shut-down, timid creature that walked in this house a week ago. That’s what I mean when I say dogs are my heart animals, everything about them pings at that big old muscle in my chest.

A good ranch/barn/farm is not a good ranch/barn/farm without some dogs. There will always be as many as we can fit on mine.


Dogs and wide open spaces; two of my favorite things.