And now for something completely different – grids!  We may enter both working ranch and Eventing at the RRP, but if we do eventing, we need to help him jump with a better, more safe, technique.  He had been getting over cross rails by just jumping UP and dangling his legs.  Not really terribly efficient or safe.  So I cracked out the trot grid this morning.  Thank you, Magee, for setting poles and videotaping!

and just for fun, here is Otto, through the same grid.

“Controlled, Unchanged and Historical”


“Controlled,” “unchanged” and “historical” are the three best words in the English language to me, because they were used to describe Howdy’s ophthalmic exam today:

  • Controlled equine recurrent uveitis, left eye
  • Unchanged incipient cataracts, left eye
  • Historical uveitis, right eye
  • Unchanged choroidal pigmentation, right eye

As many of you know, Howdy has been diagnosed with ERU, a no-bueno eye disease.  What the above says, in plain words, is that he has no inflammation in either eye and the small damage that had been done is stable.  The “choroidal pigmentation, right eye” means he has a pigmented freckle on the back of his eye.  It may be unrelated and is stable too.  Probably a lot of horses have them.

To date, we have injected the eye with gentamicin (yikes!), given him a course of Baytril, and are finishing up with a course of doxycycline.  About two months ago, he had a leptospirosis titer in his left eye of 1600.  This means that when the fluid from his eye was diluted to 1:1600, the leptospirosis titer was still discernible.  Oy vey!  That implies a very strong immune response.  Meanwhile, he had a titer of 0 in his blood.  This is not an uncommon result in horses with ERU.  In Howdy’s case, it is actually a little bit of good news because we have then a pretty good idea of what is causing the inflammation.

Once the vets had that information, we wanted to go after the infection with antibiotics.  The two antibiotics we used are able to cross the barrier into the eye and kill the leptospirosis organism.  This is actually no small feat, because the eye is walled off from the rest of the body pretty securely, my vets tell me.  Not every antibiotic can cross the barrier.  Our sincere wish is that the antibiotics will clear out the infection, AND that the immune response will or has already settled.  But we have to wait and see.  We are going to have a recheck in a month at which point they are going to take another sample of eye fluid (I’m sorry, but still yikes!) and test it again.  If the titer is 0 then, which is my hope and intention, that will mean that the infection is cleared and the immune response has settled.  I will throw a party of gratitude and joy.

What will I do during the month until then?  Finish up the five or so days of doxycycline, get some probiotics in him to make up for all the good gut bugs that were collateral damage to the antibiotics, keep up the topical eye meds as directed, keep riding, and every time I catch myself worrying about it, change the mental channel and envision it ending exactly as we hope – a Howdy with a lifetime of good vision ahead.


Photo credit Mark LaRue

Ranch Horse Schooling Show

Finally show day arrived!  The format for the show includes five events:

  • Ranch Conformation
  • Trail
  • Ranch Riding
  • Cutting
  • Working Ranch

You do all five events and the person with the most points at the end wins.  They also place each event, which makes it pretty fun.  You’re probably going to get a ribbon at a Ranch Horse show, so yeehaw!

Though taking a 17h thoroughbred into a ranch horse conformation class is ego-suicide, we were there for the party, so in we went.  I do not own a cowboy hat, (yet) and the rules say you have to wear one in conformation.  So I pulled out my duster’s rain hat and carried on.  It wasn’t pretty in any dimension and we were cellar dwellers in the placings, but I was actually giddily nostalgic to use my rusty 4-H showmanship skills. Howdy stood like we’d done it before, which we had not, and we got that box checked.


Next it was Ranch Riding, which you can do anytime you are available, just show up at the ring and wait your turn.  I found a time when there was a short line and we did our pattern.  It too, was not glorious, as they are looking for a really finished lope and we have the gallop-come-canter-work-in-progress going on.  But we did the correct gaits at the correct letters and I’ll be danged if our halts were not stock still.  Nice job Howdy.  Dave Currin, the President of the National Versatility Ranch Horse Association had given us a private lesson on Friday, taught us in a group on Saturday and then judged this class on Sunday.  I rode up to him afterward for his comments after the ride, which everyone was supposed to do.  We both had big grins on our faces.  “Well, you know that isn’t going to be the best pattern here today.”  Then he smiled bigger and shook his finger at me with a sparkle in his eye, “But I know what you are doing here and I can’t believe this is the same horse we started with on Friday.”  What a sweet thing to say.  Thank you Dave.

Then I went out to check on how cutting was going.  I learned that I didn’t have that long of a wait before my run, so I found a place along the rail and sat on Howdy and watched.  The cattle were fast. (Or at least that is what they told me.  I have a very small data set to compare it to, so I’m deferring on that.)  We went in and did our cutting and it was about as brilliant as it had been the day before with Stoney.  But I didn’t make a fool of either of us, had some fun and nobody got hurt.  Got that box checked.

Then there was a short line at the Ranch Trail course, so we did that.  Dave was also judging that.  People were kind of nervous about this because it had a deep water obstacle to go through.  It was halfway up Howdy’s forearms.  Howdy has schooled water  in xc schooling for eventing so this was not a problem for us.  The first obstacle was a tippy bridge, like a 4″ teeter totter.  I knew we were not going to get that skill done on Saturday so I didn’t attempt it seriously.  So on Sunday, I put a big smile on my face and approached it perpendicular to the usual line of travel and Howdy neatly stepped over it without touching it.  Dave laughed and we moved on.  Then we had to go up the bank and do some turns on the forehand and hindquarters.  There may have been some accidental stepping off backwards, which Howdy found completely acceptable and just stepped back up with his back feet.  Ha!  Through the water, ho hum, attempt the gate opening, mess it up, smile and move on.  Weave poles, no problem.  Drag the log like a dang champion.  I saw the surprise in Dave’s eyes at that one.  Then side passing in a Z pattern over some poles which we did not make a complete mess of.  Then you had to droop your bridle entirely, put it back on, and then pick up a hoof  Got that done.  Then you were supposed to ground tie your horse and go over there and move a log with your foot.  Dave and I looked at each other and we said, “Maybe not the ground tie part.”  We laughed and trail was over.

Then came the big event: Working Ranch.  The big enchilada, the thing I have been practicing for, the event we will do at the RRP.  In this event, you do a reining pattern then a calf is released into the ring for you and you have to box it, move it down the long side of the ring, and get it past the center marker, turn it back, get in front of it and turn it back again so that you are going the original direction.  Then you are supposed to circle it in both directions without using the fences in any way.

This is beautiful Howdy before the start of Working Ranch:

Howdy start

This picture was taken by my new friend Christine Fortin DVM. Howdy and I were waiting for acknowledgement from the judge before starting our Ranch Horse pattern. He looks so beautiful and so trusting. Our number says it all. He says everything is as easy as one, two, three.

We got acknowledged by the judge and cantered up the center line.  It was pretty wobbly, but our halt was decent.  Then we did our 2 “spins” to the right, which were slow, but not bad.  Surprisingly, to the left, it sort of fell apart.  He’s usually better to the left.  Then canter depart on the right lead for our small slow circle.  Not a terrible depart, just a few trot steps.  Then a wonderful flying lead change to the left lead for the “large fast” circle.  TB fast is different than a lope and I think there may have been some gasping from spectators, but I plead ignorance and fun factor.  Then another great lead change and down the side line.  Not a bad stop and pretty decent roll back left.  Wha?  I was stoked.  I must have impressed myself too much and quit riding because our other stop and then rollback right was pretty mediocre.  But, still I was pretty stoked.

Then I halted and nodded for them to let my calf out and out comes a black calf with his tail up and headed straight at Howdy at a good clip.  Most of the calves come out and run along the fence trying to get back with their pals.  This black furry missile was not Stoney by any stretch of the imagination.  I’m like, “Well, here goes.”  Jeff Barnes, the cow clinician from Saturday was judging the class and helping competitors in the cow portion of the class.  He told me to release that steer and ask for another one.  So I helped get the calf to the wrangler who was opening the gate.  Then they released me a new calf.  Sadly, it wasn’t Stoney, but this one was more suggestible than the first one anyway.

I boxed him on the end of the ring and that went really well.  I stayed off him a ways so he wouldn’t feel pressed and start to run.  Then I sent him down the long rail, got him past the center marker and turned him back.  I was pretty stoked at that, but our turn was pretty barge-rific, so we got way behind the calf.

howdy cow

Butt-high and shoulders down is about the slowest way you can turn, so Howdy and I floored it to get down the fence line to get our second turn.  As we galloped, I wondered what we were going to do when we got there.  At this speed, I was not going to get him to stop and turn.  And then it happened.  HOWDY stopped and turned and I just stayed out of the way.  He clearly understood what we were trying to do and we got that calf turned, and quick.

howdy cow

Images by the outstanding Dr. Christine Fortin, DVM. Thanks Chris!

Here you can see that Howdy’s butt is down and shoulders are up.  He is also clearly tracking the steer.  After this image, we got the right hand circle going.  It ended up big but effective.  We started the left hand circle and didn’t quite get it done.  I raised my hand to signify we were going to end on that.  Howdy got a big pat.


I went to talk to Jeff after the run and I may have exclaimed, “That horse might have some cow in him!”  We both laughed and he said “He almost laid down on that right hand turn!”  So fun!

I came down off my adrenaline high by untacking Howdy and giving him a bath and fixing his stall as befits Mr. Right Turn.  Afterwards I hung out with my new friends and cheered the winners and got some fun ribbons.  What a weekend!



The Ranch Horse Clinic

IMG_6651So on Friday Howdy and I received literally hours of private instruction, through the grace of God and the generosity of Dave and Carlos.  My head was reeling, and I was up and at ’em early on Saturday – clinic day – hand walking the probably muscle-sore Howdy around the campground and through the woods to stretch his legs.  He showed no sign of stiffness and was as bright and cheerful as any self-respecting young thoroughbred has a right to be.  It was a lovely way to start the day.

I tacked up and headed down to the arena where we all met.


That’s about a third of the group, and friends, that’s a lot of western saddles, Wranglers and hats.  At this point in my western ranch life, I am still wearing english-style paddock boots under the chaps I wore when I was 18 and riding western horsemanship patterns at the Sheboygan county (WI) Fair.  (Side note, yes, they fit decades later!  [or at least I got them zippered when I went to Veach’s Leather to ask about putting the RRP patch on them. Both Laura and Carey Veach took one look and said, “why don’t you let us add another inch to make them easier to zip…”  Rats, but hey, still not bad.])  For headwear, I was one of only three people, including the president of the sponsoring club, sporting a helmet.  To the great credit of everyone, nothing was said about helmet vs. hat, and everyone just got on with it.  Nice.

After morning announcements by our hostess Kelly Messera, we were split into three groups to go to work with each of the clinicians.  Our group was assigned to work with Jeff Barnes to do cattle work first.


That is Jeff Barnes, our cattle work clinician. He is holding my friend Christine Fortin, DVM’s reins explaining that if you put your finger between the reins while wearing a curb bit, a big no-no, judges will see it. You think you’ll get away with it, but you won’t because judges used to be or still are competitors, and they know all the tricks. Fair enough. 🙂

When our group was walking out to the cattle I, having promised myself to keep my lips still, unless breaking into a smile, was available to notice that people were really fired up about working with the steers.  Having yesterday come face-to-face with my blinding, but cheerfully borne, ignorance about the skills required to do this sport, I wasn’t that eager to do cow work, which not only would require my newborn skills to be somewhat polished, but also introduce a bovine variable into the equation.  Nothing could go wrong here.

Jeff talked for a bit and everyone then warmed the horses up in about a 30m x 30m pen.  Picture eight horses all cantering in that small space, at different speeds, with occasional, seemingly random, stops and backs.  I didn’t even put Howdy into the melee.  We are lucky to get a canter in a space that size, let alone maintain it.  It seemed to me that all of  the ranch horses beautifully pick up walk to canter and then lope along nicely.  Howdy and I, right now, go walk, trot, trot, trot, TROT, canterprettyfast, canter and there’s no “we’ve reach cruising altitude, you may put your trays down” lope in there.  After they all were done with their warm up, I went to the middle of the space to move H’s feet a little and once they saw the state of our skillz, they all found a corner of the pen and watched with bemused and indulgent smiles while their beautiful horses dozed in the afterglow that competence brings.  After our demonstration, the information about the racehorse-wanna-be-ranchhorse was whispered under hat brims and I was instantly their pet project, to be celebrated for the smallest victories and forgiven for cheerful but immense ignorance.

Jeff asked for a volunteer, and no one looked at me for which I was grateful.  I watched two or three riders “box” a calf, which if this were an english sport, would be called “influencing” a calf, because english wordsmiths have an obsession to be PC and never use one syllable when several will do – extra points if it is from another language.  I give you the western “lope” and english “canter,” “hat” and “helmet,” “spin” and “pirouette.”  At any rate, to box a calf has nothing to do with the Golden Gloves and everything to do with influencing the calf’s speed and direction through your horse’s position.

Howdy and I have had some experience with this together and I’ll also admit that as a child I harassed the angus calves we bought every spring enough to understand how to influence them against a fence line – what works to change their direction and what will get you trampled.  Howdy’s a pretty confident guy, so he isn’t afraid of one calf.  (It seems that four is about his “maybe they can be where they want to be” limit.)  By the end of our session with Jeff, we were surprising everybody including us, by influencing the calf pretty well.  I learned to not think of turning the calf, but ride to a point ahead of him and close off the line to the fence.  That actually is a pretty big paradigm shift, so I was glad to have it.  (Side note, Jeff was sitting on a young horse while coaching.  During my time in the ring with him, the young horse took to bucking pretty good for a couple of seconds and even Jeff would say there was one moment of decidedly more air between the saddle and his butt than is ideal.  Things sorted out pretty quickly and I just smiled at him and said, “Good ride, cowboy” and we both laughed.

I need the boxing skills for the RRP so I was all psyched to have done ok at it and learned plenty, and about ready to hit the showers on cow work, but then they said we were going to go practice cutting.  Cutting is another deal entirely and way harder than boxing and it isn’t in the RRP.  In cutting, the whole herd is in the ring right with you, thus exceeding Howdy’s Rule of Four.  You have to separate your calf from the herd and then ideally keep it in the middle of the ring by cutting off its path back to the herd.  You have two herd-holder people to keep the herd where it should be and two turn-back people who stop the calf from going to the other side of the ring.  They tell me that at the biggest competitions, cutters take their own herd holders and turn backs and they travel in teams all weekend.  That’s kinda cool.  At any rate, in our situation, everybody helps everyone.  I hung back and watched for a while and eventually rotated into a turn back position, with Jeff coaching the cutting people and the turn backs and herd holders and every body learned a lot.  Turn back turned out to be pretty fun according to Howdy.  He waited and stood nicely and also moved forward and back quickly when needed.  It was a great experience and more cattle time for him, which was great.  Then it was our turn to cut.  Getting our calf away from the herd took a while of milling about even though Jeff assigned us an easy-going, white-faced red one that had been cheerfully playing the game like a stoned uncle allowing himself to be pulled into the third game of Chutes and Ladders.  But we did get him separated and we briefly held him where he was supposed to be, in the middle of the ring.  Then Stoney got past us and as he galloped merrily back to the herd with us uselessly nearby, a memory of Dad telling me not to chase the lone calf back into the herd because it can get hurt or hurt other calves, sprang up in my head in flashing neon.  I stopped Howdy, and Jeff used us as an example of what to do!  Yay Dad!  Yes, maybe I was an example of what to do right after you get beat, but I was pretty chuffed.

These pictures and the one at the top of the blog were created and shared with my by Sandy Ellis-Brye, to whom I am very grateful.

Then it was on to Ranch Riding.  Dave Currin, who is the current President and one of the founders of the National Versatility Ranch Horse Association (NVRHA) was teaching ranch riding.


That is Dave in the blue shirt on the right. Nice guy. Jeff Barnes, on the left, has won a lot of championships in the sport and he was the clinician for the cow work.

Ranch Riding is as close to a dressage test as this sport gets.  Howdy sort of lost his mind during the standing-still-and-watching-others part of the session, and I ended up asking Dave if I could go work with H in the other half of the arena.  He knows I don’t need Ranch Riding for the RRP, so he was like, “Have at it, cowgirl.”  I spent the whole time doing walk and trot and just chilling.  Howdy was acting like a fool, so I sneaked off and gave him a drink and a 10 minute shot at the hay in his stall and he was back to his old self.  There was a great sound system and I got to listen to Dave coaching people, so I learned a lot anyway.  Interesting that the primary problems people have in Ranch Riding are the same that dressage riders have: the connection, allowing the horse to lengthen his frame in lengthenings, relaxation.

The second part of our time with Dave was working on trail obstacles.  Everybody played on whatever they wanted to work on and Dave walked around and helped people.  It was way fun.  One of the more experienced exhibitors helped me teach Howdy to drag a log on a rope!  That was pretty cool.  No I don’t need any of the trail skills for RRP, but I was there and it was too, so we did it.  We did the pool noodle de-spooking obstacle that is really not a trail obstacle, just for fun.  Easy when the wind is blowing away from you – not-so-much the other way.IMG_0800

Then it was on to reining.


That’s our reining clinician Ryan Rose. He was really good – a fun, clear communicator.

Our pattern for the show next day was posted.  It had rollbacks.  Howdy and Camie do not have the rollback app installed.  A couple of people rode the pattern while Ryan helped them with the parts they struggled with.  He said you didn’t have to ride the entire pattern if you didn’t want to, you could just work on a skill when it was your turn.  So, when it was my turn, I shared with him my rollback shame.  He’s like, “Oh, no problem, show me turn on the hindquarters.”  I pulled out my quarter turn back, quarter turn back routine learned from Dave yesterday and pulled off a C+ of a turn on the hindquarters.  “Ok, now do that again, but faster, use your inside hand to point to where you want to go, and look there, and add a canter depart at the end.”  Oddly enough, that sounded easier when I was sitting in the tack than it does writing it down here.  With the fearlessness that only the blissfully ignorance possess, I simply did exactly what he said.  I cantered to a place, stopped as hard as we could, sat down, looked over my left shoulder hard, pointed there and cued for canter depart.  And Howdy went, “Here’s your rollback.  Thank you for flying Howdy airlines.”  He smoked it.  Everybody cheered in astonished incredulity.

So I’m thinking, ok, that’s great, I’m happy.  Ryan says, “Ok, now do your pattern.”  I wasn’t ready for that, I was just going to accept our new app installation and fade back into the lineup along the rail – fat, dumb and happy.  But no, we did the pattern and I made a lot of rookie mistakes and Ryan gave me a bunch of pointers and the pattern got a lot better.  Then the group did roping, which I don’t need for RRP and Howdy had been game all day, so I thanked Ryan and my classmates, excused us and gave Howdy a rinse and some time at grass and then it was time for him to be a horse (in his huge stall with the auto waterer, hay up to his knees, bedding up to his fetlocks and a fan to blow his forelock like Fabio.


“Turn my fan on medium, please, and let me nap.” This picture was taken before I put in the provided two bags of shavings and a bunch more hay. Nice!

It was time for me to get a shower and some food.  When I came back to check Howdy in the evening and take him for a walk, the brightest rainbow I have ever seen greeted us:


Then it was time to go home and rest up for the big Ranch Horse Schooling Show at the facility on Sunday!