Reluctant Cowgirl

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Open Letter to My Horse as He Walks Away from Me

I don’t know what your deal is. I caught you last, after messing with Rube and Sam and not really even intending to make you work that hard. But there you were, walking determinedly away, not really in a big rush or anything, just pushing my buttons. Come on, I pleaded, all I want out of this is to have a relationship where we enjoy each other’s company. I’m not trying to make this some sort of oligarchy. There’s no need to feel like I’m going to push you to do something that isn’t fun for either of us. Do you really never want to work? Is that what this is about? Would you prefer a life of leisure in the pasture doing nothing? Never getting out, never pushing or challenging or learning? Maybe that’s it. Maybe you would prefer to have it your way. Maybe I’m asking too much all the damn time. You had to learn everything in 100 days and it wasn’t fair and now you would like to unlearn it all and just enjoy domestication without pretending to want to be a part of some partnership. I get it. I understand this is all unnatural to you. As much as we talk about ‘natural horsemanship’ it’s really not. I can talk till I’m blue about how I move your feet like the lead mare, how I use pressure and release and timing, but we both know that I’m a human and you’re a horse and there is nothing natural about you allowing me to swing my leg over your withers and ask you to listen to me when I suggest we go in this direction at such a speed. I get it, buddy, I really do. But god willing and the creek don’t rise we’ve got a lot of time left on this earth together, and I think it would behoove both of us to figure out how to do this on a regular basis without the tantrum-y meltdowns. Sometimes I’m going to grab a halter and walk into the paddock and ask you to lower your head and come with me and it would be really cool if you could just say, “OK.”

At least he has a cute butt

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Hello, December (Goodbye, Donkey)

I took November off.

I did not write in this blog and I didn’t spend any time on Instagram. I didn’t know what to say.

The donkey was put down early in the month. I’ve spent a lot of the intervening days thinking about what happened and beating myself up about not being a good enough horse owner. I was afraid to tell people that she died and worried that I’d face more judgement than what I was already heaping on myself. As if the actual heartbreak of losing her wasn’t bad enough.

After two expensive farm calls we realized we’d exhausted the local vet’s knowledge (one of them anyway, the other was inconveniently at hunting camp during this entire episode) and took her to Idaho Equine Hospital. They ran blood tests and took x-rays. Her coffin bones were not rotated. Her pulse was high and so was her glucose. She was behaving more normal than she had been recently, even hamming it up a bit with the technicians as they held her by the computer and she looked over their shoulders at the screen. I held her head in my hands and was completely sure it was adrenaline but tried to convince myself that she was feeling better. We decided to admit her at what would be great expense to let them try her on IV fluids and blue boards for her sore feet. It did not feel entirely dire when we got in the truck and headed two and a half hours back home.

I’ve had my iPhone on Do Not Disturb mode in the nighttime ever since the feature was released. I always worried if a call would come through when I needed it to but never enough to remember to turn it off when there was a chance for that. Who is that prepared for disaster? We’re not morning people and so the Do Not Disturb doesn’t turn off til after 7. When I looked at my phone there were multiple calls and texts and voicemails from a Boise number and I immediately knew it couldn’t be good.

After the adrenaline of the trip wore off things went sideways. They gave her fluids and morphine but she stopped responding. They tubed her and fluid came up. I tried to buy some time to get more blood tests back but the vet called again and said it wasn’t worth it; she was in too much pain. We made the decision to put her down from two and a half hours away, sitting on our couch, stunned.

I’m not good with the hard stuff. I backed away and went into a hole. I want to learn from the experience but still don’t entirely understand what happened. She was overweight. She was possibly laminitic, though like I mentioned, x-rays didn’t show rotation. We’ve had her since March, and were given no indication of previous history with founder or colic. She wasn’t that old. She ate grass this summer, but our pastures are not the green, sugary easy keeper nightmares known to cause such problems, and I still have a hard time believing my husbandry in the eight months since we got her is responsible for her death. But nevertheless, she’s gone.

She was a terrible companion for the old horse we got her to keep company with. She was full of attitude and drama and mischief. She was humorless when you needed to laugh and outrageous when you needed something serious from her. She was a fucking outstanding donkey and I’m sorry we didn’t get to spend more time together.

RIP, Muffin/Sassafras. I hope donkey heaven is full of cake and candy and you get to eat it all, with no consequences.




The mustang and I had a great lesson last week. Unfortunately summing up and building on that work has taken a back seat to  a mysterious donkey ailment.

Donkey started acting off awhile ago. But I am a terrible donkey guardian who lives in rural America where vets are notoriously not great at ‘my donkey is acting weird’ because they’re mostly dealing with ‘my cows that I make my living off of are dying’ or whatever. It’s not like how it is in horse country, or, you know, where people have lots of money and different priorities (and there are oodles of vets to choose from). Anyway. She started laying down more than usual and just acting…uncomfortable. Eating fine, pooping fine, drinking fine. Grumpy and slightly depressed? Sure. But she’s a donkey. The Eeyore character is not a lie.

I got a vet to come out finally, because I was beside myself and couldn’t concentrate on anything else but what a terrible human I was for allowing my donkey to sort of suffer, or whatever was going on. The vet said she wasn’t colicking (duh), she wasn’t foundered (maybe?) but her pulse was sky-high so she was definitely in pain. He gave her an injection of Banamine and then proceeded to talk to my SO about elk hunting for 30 minutes (this is what vets are like out here).

A week later I’m not giving her Banamine anymore, she’s confined to a large makeshift “stall” with lots of soft bedding and no contact with the naughty mule (did I mention she started acting off when he arrived on the scene?) and I’m not sure how much she’s improved. She’s definitely lying down less, but now she alternately lifts her feet as if they are the source of her discomfort. I mostly drape myself over her withers dramatically and tell her she’s a good princess and please get to feeling better and or figure out how to communicate to me exactly what’s wrong so I can fix it. So far this approach has not yielded any helpful results.


Sad donkey in sad donkey jail.

I’m not entirely sure what to do next but I have the feeling it will involve getting a different vet involved. We haven’t known this girl long, but she’s weaseled her way into my heart and I want more than anything for her to be comfortable and happy. I hope we can get her back to that place.


October Blog-Hop Questions

Liz over at In Omnia Paratus (I should probably find out what that means one of these days) posted some fun questions to keep us chugging on the keyboards in the horse blog world. I’ll play!

1. Most equestrians quote fall as their favorite season to ride. Are you one of those that does? Or maybe not; what is your favorite season to ride, if so?

Fall is short here. Most of September and some of October are devoted to hunting seasons so riding is backburnered, though I hope to develop HW into the kind of backcountry horse we can take into the wilderness for bow season. (Mounted archery sounds super cool, too…not that you have to do that with a living target.) In summary, I don’t have a favorite season to ride in, but I do enjoy the cool, crisp respite from summer blaze days.

2. Do you clip your horse in the fall? Or maybe you wait a little longer?

I clip my horse never. He’s a mustang living in the mountains and he needs his coat to stay warm more than I need him to perform at a certain level during the cold months. Plus I love his shaggy fuzz.

3. Have any costume riding events in October on/near/around Halloween? What will your horse be dressed as? What about yourself? What would you dress as if money/time were absolutely no issue?

No plans to dress up. If money and time weren’t an issue and we had a good reason to get costumed, I’d think of something food-related because food is the mustang’s spirit animal (and one of my great loves as well). Maybe we could be an oreo or black-and-white cookie.

4. Is your horse afraid of any autumn colors? Or maybe has a certain quirk that appears only in the autumn?

No color issues, but he’s not a fan of flashlights being waved in his direction and fall is when we have to start using artificial light for evening chores again. Sorry about the headlamp in the eyes, dude.

5. Pumpkin spice. It’s everywhere right now. Find any natural pumpkin [squash] spice-esque recipes for your horse?

Nope. I do always buy the Trader Joe’s pumpkin dog biscuits though, and I’m sure the horses would eat them if given the chance.

6. We’re getting to the end of the calendar year, any final few “big-bang” shows to look forward to?

I don’t show currently, and if I did, I’d avoid any that could be characterized as a “big-bang”! But I am eyeing a Pie Ride in November that would be our first group trail ride and a toe dip in the world of endurance riding, which I’m really interested in. And, obviously, PIE.

7. Winter is coming. What are you doing to winterize your trailer/rig/car?

Not much. Oil change on the truck and such. Will need to start storing the trailer under cover when the snow comes, and make sure we are carrying chains when we tow.

8. Do you have any autumn traditions you/your horse follow?

We’re new to each other and I’m recently returning to horse ownership, so maybe we’ll develop traditions in the future. We will be taking our holiday photos as soon as there’s some picturesque white stuff on the ground, which here can happen in autumn. 😐

9. October in many places marks the beginning of deer hunting season. Does this affect your riding at all? Do you wear blaze orange or modify your schedule to accommodate the season?

See 1. above. Luckily in the west hunters are more spread out and less prone to shoot at something they haven’t positively identified as a target species, in my experience. I hear about much fewer hunting accidents here in Oregon than I did when I lived in New England. Still, better safe than sorry. I have an orange saddle pad, my beta headstall is blaze orange, and I have some bells I attach to my saddle. I will also wear orange on my person, and the dogs get in on the orange and bells too.

10. What are you most looking forward to goal-wise as the final months of the calendar year approach?

Year-end goals are not competition-related here, but as I mentioned in my last post, we need to solve our winter water situation and improve conditions in the run-in shed, and I’d really love to get a 10-mile (or more) trail ride done somewhere and trailer to a few more lessons before the snow flies!

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Sam Mule under a wispy-clouded October sky.

Thanks for the inspiration, Liz, and happy fall to riders and horses near and far. May we all have enough warmish days left to carry us through the winter ahead!


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.


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.


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

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