The Three Caballeros Get Ranchy

Since about May I have been looking forward to going to the Craig Johnson Ranch Horse clinic in Marshalltown.  Craig is a Hometown-Boy-Made-Good.  He is from Shell Rock, Iowa and he has won a bunch of stuff nationally and internationally in the sport of reining.  He still competes and now does a lot of clinics.  In fact, some pretty high-level clinics:


(Image-finding courtesy of my friend K Dub who is like a dog with a bone when she wants to find something!)  Yes, that image is from 2014, but the clinic includes George Morris, so, for Iowa-boy Craig to be included in that company is pretty major.

Anyhoo, being me and  hearing he lives in northern Iowa, even before the clinic I went to with him this last weekend, I Facebook-messaged him and told him about Howdy’s journey to the RRP in October. I told him I don’t know anything about Ranchhorse (essentially true), but that I’m a professional in another sport (true) and Howdy is a serious quick study (also true).  He responded and said he was interested in my project and he’d be happy to be involved.  Awesome.

So we  (my husband Jay and my friend K Dub) went to Craig’s Ranchhorse clinic.  Jay and K  Dub were doing this on a lark to amuse themselves and because they are sweet.  So there we were, the three caballeros:

Howdy CAmie Kristen Jay Sammy

Howdy wins the prize for highest head, which, interestingly, they don’t give prizes for at western events.  Huh.  K Dub’s hunter mare Willow was so relaxed and K Dub had such a cool groove that by the end of the day we were calling them Western Barbie and Nugget.  Jay was apparently born to ride western as he has that strong, quiet, capable air about him and our horse Sammy just classes up anything he does.  I’m not even bragging there, that dang chestnut is just a born badass.  His nickname is BA.  All three saddles and breastplates are borrowed from K Dub’s roping, rodeo boyfriend, Coach.  He also took this picture.  Thanks Coach!

Everyone was asked to introduce themselves to Craig and he spent a lot of time listening to people’s stories and hopes for the clinic, which was nice of him and pretty interesting.  When he got to K Dub, the first in our group to speak, she let the cat out of the bag by saying that all three of us were western-wanna-be’s from another sport and every last bit of our tack was borrowed.  Blew our cover right off the bat, but I suppose they were going to eventually notice that our horses were relatively gargantuan compared to most there, our lopes were a tad quick and that there was not a curb bit among us.

The morning was spent in bending and lateral work.  Much of it things that we would do in dressage.  Howdy was especially antsy because there were 18 of us in the pretty decent-sized ring, but people were working on steering and neck reining and they were every where, changing direction and backing up.  Howdy was thoroughly Not About It, but I did learn, among other things that morning, that you CAN neck rein on a snaffle and it isn’t that big a deal to teach a horse to neck rein if you have properly taught it leg aids.  I also learned that it is much easier to keep a horse straight while neck reining, which Jay also said he noticed, and that neither one of had us anticipated.

Then we had a lunch and learn hosted by Lifeline.  I have been considering becoming involved with the company since I have heard some friends and clients say it has helped their horses.  With the help of a friend, I approached the company a few months ago and got some of the product and tried it on my horses.  In particular, I have a huge 17h OTTB, Bravado, who was just not doing well.  Rough coat, tripping, hard to keep weight on, pinned his ears when asked to canter; so I thought I would try him first.  I didn’t change anything else in his feed routine.  After two months, he looks and performs like this:

After the lunch, we tacked back up (western saddles are heavy!) and went back in.  In the second session we did more cantering, much to Howdy’s delight.  We did a very interesting weave on a circle exercise, which was unlike anything I have ever seen in the english world and I think pretty dang useful.  We also did halting (major thing in western of course, and doesn’t hurt for english horses) and spinning.  It cracked me up when he asked us why we thought we do spins in reining patterns.  After no one knew, he said, “Mostly because it is fun!”  Ha!  It kind of is.  I had put the ground work for this on Howdy at the clinic at The Horse First, a month ago, so I just used those basics and added the tools he gave us and I thought Howdy was spinning pretty well.  I didn’t think much of it and was about to let him quit when Craig goes, “Camie that is AWESOME!”  So I guess he was spinning pretty well.  We weren’t fast like you see on Youtube, but it was correct.  At the RRP at most we have to do one spin in each direction, so yay, we’ve got a good start on that.

After spinning practice, we worked on the Ranch Trail skill of going over poles, also known as cavalletti in english riding.  The only challenge for the three of us english-based people was that we are used to trot poles set at around 4’6″.  These were set at 3′.  So after listening to Craig tell us how hard the poles were, we were the first three over them, almost perfectly at the tiniest trots we own.  Then we went and had a beer and watched the western people make it look hard.  Ok, not literally had a beer, but most definitely put our reins around our saddle horns and tried and probably failed at not looking smug.

Then the clinic was over.  We all learned something interesting and I am looking forward to shining up the skills I learned and going up to ride with Craig in a few weeks for more insights.  We all do think that the western people are much more tolerant than english people are about sitting in the tack for long periods of time – six and a half hours for this clinic.  You go, western people!  Wow!

I probably should mention that the day before the clinic I took Howdy xc schooling at a local horse park.  He was quite good, but is still jumping with his head between his knees looking at the jump and trailing his forearms.  This is not the ideal safe way to jump and we have work to do, but he did well seeing new things and cantering by himself in the big new world of another property.  He also went through water and up and down a small bank.  Yay.

Meanwhile, the first day to officially enter the RRP is today, August first.  So here it is:

Dear Camie,

You have successfuly completed your Final Entry Form for Cactus Star. If you are entered for two horses please complete another form for your second horse. Below you will find confirmation of your selections: 

Discipline 1: Working Ranch

Discipline 2: Eventing

Enter Horse in Horse Sale: No

Stabling Choice: Stall

Tack Stall: No

Arrival Date: Wednesday, Oct 4

Departure Date: Before Monday, Oct 9 by 8AM

Other Requests: Not sure how scheduling Working Ranch and Eventing for the same horse is going to go on your end, but I have good help, so if we get the training done in the next two months, we’re game if you are. Ideally we would do eventing first. Oh please. 🙂

If you have questions about your Final Entry selections please contact me directly. Changes may not be made after August 21.


Kirsten Green

Director of Operations

There’s some question at this point if I am going to get the jumping work done for the Eventing portion of the RRP, but I can always scratch if he isn’t pretty solid by October.  We have jumping grids at home and a couple of xc schooling opportunities so we will intend that it will work!  But if you ask me today, I feel like there is a 50% chance that we’ll be competing in eventing in October.  It would be a pretty cool accomplishment if we did get both done, but I’m not going to put undue pressure on either of us.  If it happens, great!


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!

Ranch Horse Ridiculousness

howdy cow

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

The whole adventure started when I started stalking the internet looking for Ranch Horse competitions in the Midwest.  As you may know, Howdy and I are training to compete in the Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover in the Working Ranch Division.  The competition takes place the first weekend in October at the glorious Motherland – The Kentucky Horse Park.

Then I found it – a clinic and schooling competition for Ranch Horses and their peeps put on by the Northern Lights Versatility Ranch Horse Association, a Minnesota club which was putting on the event in Madison, my old stomping grounds!  Though it was the Tuesday before the event, I happened to know the venue (The Horse First, a beautiful farm in Brooklyn, WI) and I hoped desperately that the clinic wasn’t full.


I contacted Kelly Messera, who, with her husband Carlos Osorio, owns the property.  I enquired if there were openings and there were!  I just squeaked in.  There was no camping left so I had to suffer in a hotel (kidding, I love hotels at the end of a long day outside, this is one of my secret Princess tendencies) and Howdy had a beautiful 14′ x 14′ stall with lovely rubber mats an auto waterer.  These Ranch Horses suffer.


“Turn my fan on medium, please, and I shall nap.” This picture was taken before i put in the provided two bags of shavings. Nice!

After I got all my stuff set up, which doesn’t look that much different from eventing,

IMG_0752I tacked up and got ready for my lesson with Dave Currin who also happens to be the Founder and President of the National Versatility Ranch Horse Association (NVRHA).  Pffft.  No problem.  Might as well start at the top.


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

I tacked Howdy up (who was completely unimpressed with the surroundings, even though they looked like this):


and went to my lesson with Dave.  I think Kelly clued him in to my OTTB-come-Ranch-Horse mission because the first thing he said to me after telling me to call him Dave and not Mr. Currin, was “Ok, now what are you doing with this horse?”  I told him about the RRP Working Cow Horse and he listened politely and asked what the requirements for the competition would be.  I said, “Oh, it is run under the NVRHA rules, with only a few changes.”  He beamed and said, “Really?”  Pretty cool when an organization you helped found is reaching out to other sports that you didn’t even fathom!  Huzzah and nice work, Dave.

So we started the work, Howdy and I taking turns screwing up the exercises, the fundamental one of which was “quarter turn, back; quarter turn, back.”  Not more than a quarter turn and actual soft back.  That took the better part of 20 minutes for us to get a pretty good grip on.  Dave was patient, Howdy was game and we laughed a lot.  Then we moved on to walking on the rail and turning a 180 toward the wall.  This, sisters and brothers, is not easy either, until you and the horse figure it out, and the horse hops up and does a really cool walk rollback.  We got it to the left, but right was hard.  Jeff Barnes happened to be walking through the arena and Dave recruited him to help with right walk rollback.  Jeff had also apparently heard of the RRP mission and seemed amused to join the party.  With a few tweaks we had right roll back.  We were all pretty surprised at how far Howdy had come in about 35 minutes.

So Dave says, “Let’s go work him on the flag.”  I’m like, “Let’s!  What’s a flag?”  Turns out  it is literally a flag on a cable along the short wall of the arena.  With a remote you can move the flag back and forth and put in stops wherever you want.  You teach the horse to    “herd” it or at least to track it and meanwhile you put into practice what you learned a few minutes ago, to turn by putting the butt under and lifting the front end like a canter pirouette, but in one step and much faster.  And riders get to learn to sit that.  Yay.

Dave was really good at running the flag, so we could start out walking and focusing on how H was turning.  That was kind of a mess at first between shying at the flag, turning like a tugboat and Dave and I laughing at the ridiculousness of it all.  Lots of praise for Howdy and I’ll be danged if something didn’t click and he started to turn correctly and go faster.  It was astonishing.  (Funny side note, there was a group of about four lovely QH riders warming up in the ring and when they saw H and I doing that, they said, “We didn’t know that was an option!”  I just smiled and thought, “Dave likes Howdy best.”  Dave’s got a secret thoroughbred love. LOL)

We thanked Dave and left the arena at which point Kelly took me aside and said Carlos wanted to ride with me.  I wondered why, but I had taught a clinic at THF last year and had worked with Carlos on his jumping and we laughed a lot so I thought maybe a nice trail ride was in order.  I gave H some time to drink and eat back in the stall and then got back on and went to meet Carlos.

For the record, I am so dumb thinking we were going to trail ride.  Ha!  Carlos Osorio is a very accomplished Cutting Horse rider and he wanted to share some tips with me.  I had no idea that he had watched my lesson with Dave, was impressed at what Dave had accomplished with us, and he wanted to add a few things.


Carlos Osorio, kindly sharing his time and appreciable knowledge and looking the part while he does. Carlos is as generous a man as I know, and with a fire in his heart.

There was so much to learn, I might have gotten a fifth of it.  First he just rode his well-trained horse for me and I listened to him talk.  That horse was as on his aids as a GP dressage horse.  Forward, backward, sideways – all easy to access and relaxed in execution.  He said that ‘ranch horses are always going somewhere to stop,’ a phrase I heard elsewhere throughout the weekend.  He also mentioned that ranch horses don’t just go forward, they take a step back first and then go forward.  I watched that fact all weekend.  It is true.  To an english rider that might sound literally and figuratively backwards, but half halt anyone?  It is about balance and using the hind end.  So I dedicated myself to doing that the whole weekend.  Howdy did not seem to mind.

He showed me about getting the horse to flex his neck without moving his feet before starting a turn (including spins and rollbacks) and to slow everything down and let the horse be relaxed in the movement (sound familiar dressage friends?).  Then it was time to give Howdy some rest.

My head full of new information, and after Howdy was hosed off and settled in with much to eat and a pristine stall it was time to meet friends for supper and then crash out.  The next day the clinic was to begin!  I could have gone home after Friday and had enough to work on to keep me busy for a while!


Working Cow Horse


Howdy watching and learning

I went to my first Iowa Ranch Horse show in May because I wanted to learn about it so that I could maybe show in Ranch Horse at the Thoroughbred Makeover in Kentucky in October. I had no idea what a fun journey it would be.

At the first ranch horse show in May I was impressed by how friendly the people were (even though I arrived late, had a 17h thoroughbred which is like bringing a semi to a NASCAR race, was wearing a helmet, and begged them to let me show in the boxing (beginning cutting) class which is solely for amateurs because even though I’m a pro in eventing, I certainly don’t know anything about ranch horse work and Howdy had not formally met a cow before that day.) They were sweet and let me do it and all cheered when Howdy “showed some cow” and I didn’t completely mess it up. I love these ranch horse people. They are patient and kind. They care about each other. They care about their horses. They are fair to the cattle. At the first show, at two different times a calf got confused and ran into the fence a little hard. Both riders immediately raised their hands to signify they were stopping, and just walked away from their entry fee and the points. Hella classy.

I watched other people also do it right for the rest of the day, asked a bunch of questions and was impressed at the level of training of their horses. (Those horses stand, by god; they canter from a halt no problem; they stop; they get along with other horses: their trots are real, not a jog; they tie at the trailer, and for many of them, flying lead changes come standard! Huzzah.) After the show I audited a bit of a Clinton Anderson clinic at the invitation of my friend Mary Hanson, stalked ranch horse videos on youtube and practiced a whole bunch.


“Standing nicely is what we ranch horses do.”

Howdy, my Thoroughbred Makeover horse, is level-headed, willing and clever, so we made pretty good progress. At the second ranch horse show, this weekend in Leon, we stepped it up a bit and entered real cutting (and sort of made a mess of it, mostly we quietly scattered the herd, um twice, but eventually did cut our steer from the herd and influenced it a bit). We entered ranch cutting, too, where you have to get the steer to go in the pen down yonder. In that attempt there was more stealthy herd scattering by Camie and Howdy (“stealthy” because upsetting the cattle is a “Bad dog, no cookies” move), but I did get my steer cut and was very psyched when it pretty much volunteered to go in the pen down yonder, with Howdy and I only nearby and suggesting. We are a little slow to get in position, but we got ‘er done and almost got a ribbon. Missed 8th by half a point. So close.


Waiting to enter working cow horse with the big dawgs of Ranch Horse.  We are fully aware we are posers, but he is playing it off and standing quietly like a boss.  Rock star.

Then there was Working Cow Horse. In this class you have to do a pattern and then work a cow. The pattern has “large fast circles,” “slow small circles,” sliding stops (ours were simply, um, stops), lead changes, spins (methodical turns on the haunches for Camie and Howdy) and backing “at least ten feet.” That last one we do pretty well, so I might have done 15 for good measure. After you “hesitate to complete the pattern,” they release your calf and you have to “box” him (which means influence him to turn in both directions so that you demonstrate control over the steer), then move him down the fence line and get him past the center marker and turn him back, then run down to get ahead of him to turn him again before he gets back to the original fence line (and the herd, where they want to be), then make him do a circle in both directions in the the middle of the ring – not using the fences to turn the calf. In three minutes. I had no fantasy that I was going to get that done if I had been given the whole afternoon and a leash-broke calf, but I was there for the party. I was last to go, thank the Universe, because I learned stuff I probably should have known before entering the class by watching the three ringers before me.
The announcer privately told me I was “brave” to enter the class, which made me laugh because I surmised in that moment that “brave” was probably Ranch Horse code for “greenhorn out of her element, but good luck, cowgirl.” She was very sweet about it, and made me feel good for trying.

The class was not a complete disaster and Howdy and I had a really good time. I get why people love this sport! Thank you Jay, for waiting around in the hot sun for half the day, and for videotaping. And now, for something completely different, I present our first Open Working Cow Horse class:

A few steps back


Howdy getting a treat from the cute son of our rescuers when our truck said the air filter was too dirty!  As breakdowns go, it was pretty easy.  Coasted to a Kum and Go, waited in the shade.

It occurred to me that Howdy is missing several steps in his training process, as evidenced by his tension in all gaits.  So we are taking a step back and going for relaxation first.  I am riding him a lot more often, but for 30 minutes at a time, always ending on a good note.  We do a lot of figures.  We sing along with the radio, we breathe, we chill.  He is coming along well and we are still headed for the Ranch Horse show in Leon on Saturday.

Meanwhile, he had an ophthalmic follow-up at ISU today and he has a “minor ERU flare” in that left eye.  We had all hoped it would be completely clear, but this is still not terrible news, as it is minor.  We are going to treat it with a month of doxycycline and hope we get him completely clear.

This list below came across my computer screen today and it seems especially fitting for the remedial work I am doing with all the tbs in the barn at the moment.  Bravado and Otto are here too and a little bit ahead of Howdy in their training, but still we are laying the foundations.  Chop wood, carry water.  Not a bad way to pass the time.  Thanks to Curtis and Dana for videotaping.

Bravado yesterday:

Otto recently:

Training tips from the U. S. Cavalry Manual of Horsemanship, 1936, and still holds true today: 

1. Be systematic. Before beginning work, fix in the mind a definite program of exercises for the day. Be sure that the exercises for the day are in proper relations to the work of previous days.

2. Be patient. Do not destroy the tranquility of horses by demanding a performance that is too difficult, or by demanding it too early in training.

3. Be tactful and resourceful. Take advantage of the most favorable conditions for teaching a horse a new lesson. Never try to train a fresh horse. Undertake nothing new when the horse is excited or frightened. Do not try train the horse when his attention is distracted. Do not give a new lesson to a resisting horse. Do not send the horse to the stable in the midst of resistances or with a lesson incomplete. Finish the lesson first and then send the horse away calm and tractable.

4. Be moderate. Begin with the simplest movements and exercises. These understood, proceed to the next, less simple. In the early training introduce nothing complex or difficult. Use continuously the same means to bring about the same results, thus aiding the horse’s memory. Ask little but ask it it often; it is by repetition that a horse progresses. Nevertheless, do not let a horse continuously execute a movement incorrectly or in a dull, lifeless manner. Demand attention, correctness and a carriage and action gradually increasing in style and manner, then allow a few moments of complete relaxation. Never strain the attention or tax the strength of the horse. Require no position, attitude or movement which in itself causes the horse apprehension, discomfort or pain.

5. Be observant. Do not attribute every resistance of failure of the horse to inattention or stubbornness. These are often due to ill fitting bits or saddlery, to a poor rider, to lack of condition or approaching unsoundness, to noises, unaccustomed surroundings, or even to the weather.

6. Be exacting. Do not be content with the simple tracing of the riding-hall exercises and figures. Every such exercise or riding-hall figure has for its object to teach the horse the aids and to know how to handle himself in doing so. Accordingly, before taking the first step of a movement, the horse should be placed in a position which favors the simple and natural execution of the movement. The movement will then be executed more easily and correctly.

7. Be logical. Do not confuse the means by which an end is obtained with the end itself. Practically all of the exercises and riding-hall figures are the means for which the horse is rendered easy to manage during ordinary riding. Accordingly do not use riding-hall exercises as a proof of training or routine drill movements as a means of training. The first are the means by which the horse is trained. The second constitute the test and the proof of training.

8. Be liberal. Permit the riders to ride the greater part of the time at will, or, if on the track, without regard to the distances. They then have a greater opportunity to really control and to correct the attitudes, positions and movements of their horses. It also permits the horses to assume their individual natural gaits and avoids irritation by forcing them too soon to take regulation gaits.

9. Be tenacious. Never provoke a struggle which can properly be avoided.

10. Summation. In the horses’ training, great attention should be paid, first, to their conditioning; second, to their tranquility; third, to their training, properly speaking. ANY SYSTEM OF TRAINING THAT NEGLECTS THE CONDITIONING OR WHICH DESTROYS THE TRANQUILITY OF HORSES, IS DEFECTIVE.

A tale of two weekends

Last weekend we went to the Maffitt Lake Equestrian center show and did a combined test.  Dressage was hilarious because he almost jumped out of the ring at C because the ring fence was about as high as the jumps we had been schooling earlier that morning.  There is no video of the test, which is probably a blessing to us all because there was a lot of tension, and some struggle for right lead, but we managed to get it done and it really wasn’t that bad.  So yay.

Here was my jumping warm up, in which Howdy was apparently quite impressed with the colors of the jumps because he had been jumping a bit bigger at home.

By the end of the day he had jumped four cross rail courses with only one rail.  Doesn’t sound like much, I know, but if we get him believing he is the king of jumping and that he can jump whatever is in his sights, then then there are good things ahead.

Today’s adventure was the ranch horse show in Afton, IA.  The whole point of the day was to see if Howdy would play with cows.  We spent the morning standing in the ring watching other people do cutting, which was great for him.  He stood with all the other horses and learned from them that cows are nothing to be afraid of.


This is my new friend Megan Pigott.  She’s really good at this ranch horse stuff and was really helpful and funny.  He pattern was stellar.  We thought our horses were mutt and Jeff, but I loved her horse too!  That spaceship-looking thing in the background is the Afton water tower.

Then it was our time to play!  Our pattern was a little tense, but we got it done.  Then the Universe blessed us with about the most cooperative steer of the day!

That was a pretty exciting start for us!  The people at the Ranch Horse show were super nice and they clearly all loved their horses.  Not one person scoffed at me wearing a helmet and everybody was very kind.  It was a long day, though, and Jay was a saint and I am grateful to him for his friendship and help.

Next  up is XC schooling at Catalpa Corner on this Monday, then a ranch show on June 10th.

The Way Forward


Howdy getting his check up, sans sedation.  He was such a good man it was not necessary.  Side note, do not take a picture with your camera accidently in auto flash mode in a room darkened for ophthalmic exam.  You will instantly become “that owner.”  When it was firing up to flash I was like, “Noooooooo!’  An immediate mea culpa and a promise not to do it again and I was forgiven.  Thank you good people.

Howdy’s ophthalmic exam yesterday, a follow up to his ERU diagnosis, yielded excellent results.  Everything is stable and there is no inflammation in either eye.  This is really, really good.  However, it could just be the time between bouts of uveitis.  It is too early since diagnosis to say.  But there may be some reason to believe that the gentamicin and the enrofloxacin are doing their work.

There is much to consider.
Yes, I do think about doing the cyclosporin implants, but when I first read about them, they seemed to me to not be addressing the problem, but rather the symptoms.  I thought this because the research I had read indicated that ERU is an autoimmune(AI) disease which stems from the gut.  With that in mind, the cyclosporin implants seemed to be stopping the intruders at the bedroom door rather than meeting them at the end of the driveway.  In the case of it being a systemic AI response, getting the gut stabilized would be meeting trouble at the end of the driveway.
Through further learning, it is clear to me that researchers are not in agreement regarding whether the AI response is systemic (the gut) and travels to the eye or has its genesis in the eye.  There is good research on both sides of the theory, and it may be that there are several kinds of ERU (or maybe even separate diseases that present like ERU, but that we haven’t discerned as separate yet) that have different disease courses.  If in the eye, then the cyclosporin implants would be the way to go.  If in the gut, then pre- and probiotics would seem to be indicated, as a change in the gut flora has shown to be palliative or curative in some human AI diseases.  And the problem could be in both places, of course.
I learned yesterday that Howdy’s lepto titer in his eye fluid was still discernible at a dilution of 1:1600, which implies a very high titer indeed.  He had no lepto titer in his blood serum.  This was interpreted as good news by optho vet yesterday.  I need to talk to her to find out if they are testing for the presence of the organism or the response to the organism.  My nightmare scenario would be that treating with the antibiotics does not stop the disease process because the disease is an AI over-reaction to an organism that no longer exists in the eye.  BUT, Howdy’s eyes were much improved at his exam yesterday, which may be a result of the gentamicin eye injection or, when I consider it brutally honestly, could just be a space between uveitis attacks.  This is a realistic thought, but not one that I allow to set up camp and invite its friends over to party in the center of my thought process.  “Yes, I heard you, now run along.”  There is no need to baste myself in fear.
I do not always know which way to go, but I am going forward in confidence that if I keep moving, a way will be shown to me through both science and the prayers I send up in faith and joy.
For the moment, we are going to proceed with the enrofloxacin protocol which takes a month.  During that time, I will be giving him periodic pre- and pro- biotics to support his immune system and to replace any beneficial microbial populations that may be experiencing collateral damage from the systemic antibiotic enrofloxacin (and also continue riding him and showing him cows, LOL).
It is a little unusual, but I would like to have another intra-vitreal fluid draw when he goes in for a check up in a month to see what his eye titer is at that time.  That procedure carries some risk and most people don’t do it, but I think the risk is worth the value in knowing what is going on.  We shall see what the ophthalmologists think of that plan.  Then, the best decision in how to proceed can be made at that time.
Meanwhile, his eye looks great this morning and he is out eating grass like a boss.