Saturday, January 30, 2010

Mid winter thoughts on horsemanship

We find ourselves now in the deepest hour of winter, the farthest point from riding seasons, the one passed, the one anticipated.

Though thoughts of horses never cease. Likewise the care is a steady constant, despite the weather, the season, the schedule, the moods.

In this season, we are reminded that there is so much more to horses than riding. We see only an incomplete picture if we merely look at our horses and our horsemanship in terms of time riding. What we do on the ground matters – and I’m referring to much more than “groundwork” here. Or could we extend the term “groundwork” to include all interactions between horse and human? Perhaps in doing so, we learn to look at each simple interaction with new interest and value – each as an opportunity to discover and grow, for both horse and human.

Often it is through our littlest interactions that we both learn and teach the most. Think about it… what happens between us and our horse(s) during times of feeding, grooming, trimming, leading, handling, care of body and mind – both of which may need extra tending to during the slow and seemingly meaningless cold days of standing around waiting which winter often is. For us, in every interaction, there presents opportunities of gaining knowledge and growing through short and simple lessons of understanding horse behavior, subtle communication, body language, herd psychology, manners, boundaries, respect of human, love of human. Yes, I always seek this latter part as well. Love not because I have treats in my pocket (which I do not, nor do I consider the want of treats to be love) but because I am their fair but firm leader, caregiver, direction giver, provider. A gentle rub on their neck rewards them greater than a pocket full of goodies. At least, this is what I strive for…

Still, this is perhaps less a time of hands on learning as it is one of simple observation. The end result, if we are conscious and consistent, is of equal growth. Our minds must grow as our bodies do; skills of our mind must increase as do skills of our muscles. The two must balance each other. Once again, we strive for balance. How often that word is a part of our horsemanship language.

Last week, I received a note from my 10-year old niece, Alex, describing an opportunity she and her group of Girl Scouts recently had with horses. I had the honor of observing this young lady handle some of my horses almost a year ago, especially in helping me care for my broodmare, Tres, and her newborn, Artemis. I watched as Alex could with a most natural confidence and ease lead the mare through the snow with baby following close behind. I watched as my mare, who I have spent innumerable hours observing and understanding, followed Alex with lightness, interest and a respectful distance. Tres was soft, easy, observant and patient. An interesting combination of regard, sensativity and care.

Alex writes of her observation during her experience last week how the horses seemed comfortable with her: “I don't exactly know why. Maybe cuz I'm not afraid of them?? The world may never know.”

Many of us think we might know, and I suppose Alex does to a degree as well. First of all, because she’s right: she is not afraid. Second, because she also is not overwhelmingly bossy and aggressive. Only a fine balance of caring and confident. Something that at even at her young age comes quiet naturally to her, something that many are still struggling with. It is beautiful to see. The horses see it. They are not easily fooled.

I responded, “You know, I think with horses, they have a good ability to sense people. You can’t fake it with a horse. They see only what is real before them. And what they are most comfortable with in humans seems to be an interesting balance of confidence, understanding, and leadership (without any aggression or bossiness). They don’t need words like people, and they are not snuggly like puppies (though they can learn to tolerate this). They read body language, and seek being around a fair, strong, clear personality. They look for people they can be safe with, without being frightened, or feeling they have to be the leaders. Some humans are terribly wimpy, yes, perhaps because of fear, and that’s hard on a horse too. Horses are not aggressive. They prefer not to lead. You have that all quite naturally. For those of us who love horses, it’s beautiful to see.”

Alex shared this insight as well, which I thought many of us can well relate to: “Horses, to me, are kinda like detectors for emotions. When you're around them, they get scared if you are, or happy if you are.”

We will not become better horsemen simply by riding alone. Nor of course, would improve if we only did the thinking – growth requires a balance of both thinking and doing. Winter is the time for me to think: to observe, contemplate, and read and learn the theory, the theory I will then put into practice when the snow clears and I find dry dirt beneath the horses hooves. Many months away.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Camp meals and menu

Now is the heart of winter. We are snowed in. The horses plow through three feet of snow, or remain confined to their trenches and packed trails. More and more time is spent within the comfort of their sheds. The days of running free and wild have been snowed over for a while. Their winter has begun; they slow down and retreat in turn, accepting the powerful confines of the season.

With all this snow, it is challenging, perhaps unnatural, for me to turn my mind back to summer, back to warmer days, green grass, and open mountain passes. But reminiscence of summer and the ensuing pack trips is both a fond memory and a positive aspiration.

So, return with me, or look ahead, now to the high mountain, back country horse pack trip. We’re out there with our horses; the horses are hobbled or picketed and contentedly grazing. Camp is set, ready for a comfortable night stay. The saddles are covered, a small camp fire is built, and water is hauled from the creek. Now, we turn our attention to feeding ourselves, to the camp meals and menus.

I’d like to share some our simple menus that we’ve served for guests on pack trips, or made just for ourselves when out at camp.

My rule of thumb is to keep food as simple as possible, but make sure we have plenty of it. Balanced meals, nutrition, liquid intake, simplicity of preparation, storing foods, keeping foods fresh – all of these are taken into consideration. Most important, we want a meal that tastes good. The point of the meal is to nourish and satisfy both body and soul.

Our outfitting business has chosen not to cater to those requiring four-star, gourmet meals. We’re wilderness outfitters. We ride horses, sleep in tents, and get dirty. Save the fanciest meals for back home or in some resort where someone else is doing the dishes. As long it is just the three of us doing the work together as a team, there are some things for which I draw the line. Preparing a meal that would require me to stay back at camp, spend my day cooking instead of being out there riding, is not an option. Me, I’d rather ride. And even after a long hard day in the saddle, I can pretty well guarantee a good, hearty campfire cooked meal that has yet to leave a guest dissatisfied.

Keeping it simple for me means a one-pot meal whenever possible. It means preparing a good deal of food ahead of time at home – probably not complete meals that have been cooked and frozen, but at least side dishes, accompaniments, or the better part of the preparations. You can scramble and season your eggs, chop your veggies, and grate your cheese - all well ahead of time, then store in a ziplock bag and freeze. All of this not only saves on cooking, but on clean up.

Keeping it simple means a good, hearty camp fare, and plenty of it. No one should go hungry. And keeping it simple means allowing yourself time to enjoy the company, the horses, the view, and the mountains. That, my friends, is why we’re out there.

Prepare at home well in advance. Make your menu. Make your list of ingredients. Get your ingredients together in the most efficient packaging. Freeze foods well in advance so that they remain frozen for longer.

Practice at home first. If you’re planning on using a camp stove, become familiar with its set up and operations. If it’s your first time cooking over a wood fire and hot coals, not charcoal briquettes (unless, of course, you choose to pack in a bag of briquettes, too?), build a fire pit in your back yard, or visit a designated camp site first to learn the ropes. Burnt food, or food left raw or doughy, is a bummer when you’re down right starved. If you’re planning on using a dutch oven, try it at home first. Learning when you’re tired and hungry is not recommended.

A few things I keep in mind when planning a menu:

1. Simplicity. I can’t state this one enough.
2. Variety and good taste. Might as well enjoy it, and we do.
3. Nutrition. The better you eat, the better you feel, and that is of upmost importance when your body is working as hard as it is packing in the high country. Consider well balanced, complete meals, with adequate fruits and vegetables, not just meat and potatoes. This is not the time and place to diet, though be sure you know any specific dietary needs or preferences for all folks you’ll be cooking for.
4. Hydration. This is a factor, perhaps more so in the high country, but for any intense physical activity, which horse camping is. Encourage beverages at every meal, and make sure there is always fresh, clean drinking water available to refill a cup or water bottle.
5. Quantity. Not only considering the quantity of people you’ll be cooking for, but making sure there is enough for all. Consider the caloric intake. Better to have to deal with left-overs and table scraps than to make anyone go hungry out there. Snack. Always have food available, be it at camp, or on the trail in your saddle bags, horn bags, or pockets.
6. Time. How long will you be out? How many days and how many meals will you need to plan? How long will you be able to safely provide fresh and frozen foods, and at what point would you be safer relying on canned, dehydrated or preserved?

When I am horse camping alone, my hands are full with setting up camp, caring for the horses, and riding all day long. For practical reasons, I keep the food as simple as possible. I have resorted to those instant “backpacker” meals in a bag where all I had to do was add hot water and wait. The packages were designed for two persons. I can eat the better part of the whole thing. No way would one of those have been enough for two persons. Adequate caloric intake is important. If there is one thing I need to work on for solitary eating habits, it’s trying to make sure I get enough.

When it is just our family of three I am cooking for at horse camp, I’m willing and able to take a little more time for preparing meals, and I am far better at allowing myself more time to sit down to enjoy the meal. We’ll sit around the camp fire long after our plates have been scraped clean, just enjoying the mountain and each others company.

When I am cooking for a group, I spend more time preparing, and less time kicking back. Cooking over the fire, which is the center of attention to any camp, I can still manage to enjoy the stories and conversations just the same. However, with a group, somehow, it always ends up being more prep, more cooking, more clean-up, more dishes, and just plain more work. Unless you have (or are) a designated camp cook who remains back at camp cooking, cleaning and tending to any stock left behind, remember my advice from the last post: If you are camping with a group, share the load. Enjoy it all together.

Here is a sample menu for a five day pack trip.

Day 1

Breakfast: Not provided

Lunch: To be prepared and packed at the Ranch before saddling up and heading out. Set out all the fixings for beef and bean burritos. Each person can make their own, wrap them up well in foil and pack them in a paper sack, along with a few homemade cookies and fresh fruit. Lunches will be packed on each individual’s riding horse.

Dinner: Cream of broccoli cheddar soup (the packaged soups made by Bear Creek are my favorites), steaks cooked over the fire, baked potatoes (pre-cooked, warmed in foil in hot coals), Caesar salad and fresh bread (made ahead of time, wrapped in foil and gently warmed over the coals). Chocolate cake (made ahead of time at home) for dessert.

Day 2

Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with ham and cheddar cheese (eggs can be stored scrambled, seasoned and frozen in ziplock bags, or carefully pack cardboard cartons and bring along the real thing), cinnamon rolls (made ahead, wrapped in foil, and gently warmed in a dutch oven or over hot coals), fresh melon.

Lunch: To be prepared and packed at base camp for consumption during the days ride. Sandwiches and snacks may include: pb&j, lunch meat or salami, jerky, cheese, crackers, fruit, cookies, chocolates.

Dinner: Black bean soup, chicken fajitas with fresh veggies (chopped and marinated back home), tortillas and/or cornbread (baked ahead). Peach cobbler or blueberry crisp (made with canned fruit and baked in a dutch oven at camp) for dessert.

Day 3

Breakfast: Green chili stew (made ahead and frozen), fried eggs, tortillas, canned fruit.

Lunch: To be prepared and packed at base camp for consumption during the days ride. Sandwiches and snacks may include: pb&j, lunch meat or salami, jerky, cheese, crackers, fruit, cookies, chocolates.

Dinner: Minestrone soup, Buffalo Burgers with all the fixings, potato chips, salad. Cheesecake w/fruit topping for dessert (made at camp with an instant boxed mix and canned fruit).

Day 4

Breakfast: Veggie and cheese omelet, spice cake (made ahead of time), bacon, canned fruit.

Lunch: To be prepared and packed at base camp for consumption during the days ride. Sandwiches and snacks may include: pb&j, lunch meat or salami, jerky, cheese, crackers, fruit, cookies, chocolates.

Dinner: Split pea soup, BBQ shredded pork (made ahead and frozen), cole slaw (chopped and prepared at camp), rolls (made ahead, wrapped in foil, and carefully warmed over hot coals. Blond brownies and bourbon balls (both made ahead) for dessert.

Day 5

Breakfast: Scrambled eggs, sausage gravy (easy to make at camp, though I have also made ahead and brought frozen), biscuits (the canned ones don’t do well in elevation, but any instant mix baked in a dutch over is a good bet), canned fruit.

Lunch: To be prepared and packed at camp for consumption during the trip back to the Ranch. Sandwiches and snacks may include: pb&j, lunch meat or salami, jerky, cheese, crackers, fruit, cookies, chocolates.

In addition/all days

Beverages: At each meal at camp, I boil up a pot of cowboy coffee and have a pot of water on for anyone wanting hot chocolate or tea. I also put out fixings for tang, Gatorade and/or lemonade. A little flavor to the water may encourage folks (especially kids) to drink more.

Snacks: I like to have a grab bag (usually a large plastic container) available for each person able to dig into at will in order to refill their pockets and saddle bags or munch on while at camp, which includes: crackers with cheese, trail mix, individually wrapped chocolates, jerky, dried fruit, fresh fruit, granola bars, hard candies, and my personal favorites, smokehouse almonds and peanut M&Ms.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Camp Kitchen

Cooking at camp.
For some, the best part of being “out there” is the food. It’s up there on my list, however the riding, nature and camaraderie with my family and horses still comes first. Then perhaps the food. Why? We eat the simplest of fare, and truly make a point to keep it all as effortless and unfussy as possible. But somehow, even the most modest of meals tastes so good…

Everything tastes better out there, sitting around a campfire, after a long day of riding. And old camp cook I once met told me her secret to camp cooking: ride them an hour longer. Exhaustion makes everything taste better.

Maybe it’s the exhaustion, the elevation, or the feeling of contentment after a great day of riding. Maybe it’s the view, the fresh mountain air, the enjoyment of being out there with good friends or family, or the smell of the wafting wood smoke and fresh spruce bows. I think it is somehow a combination of all these things. Stirred together to make one wonderful, memorable – but simple – meal!

As you may have guessed by now, keeping it simple is my top priority. Just about anything tastes good out there, as long as we have plenty of it. I’m more likely to enjoy a elaborate feast and gourmet fixings when I’m home and well rested. Out there, fancy fare fine, but so is a pot of stew and tortillas. Unless we have had to cater to demanding guests, our trips are about the riding, and being out there. I’m fine saving the 4-star fare for nights back home. I guess we’re easy to please, but when it’s just the three of us at camp, we’re happy with any good hot rich meal on our lap, a sunset before us, the crackle of the fire, the snorting of contented horses grazing nearby, and the distant hum of the creek. What more could I ask for?

Being the camp cook, of course, has a large impact on my choices. I’m out there riding or working all day. I’m not a camp cook to sit around biding time before preparing the next meal, and waiting for the troops to come to the fire. When it’s time to eat, I’m as tired and hungry as the next person. But first, I make sure the horses are cared for. I can’t kick back and enjoy my meal unless I’m certain my stock is well cared for and enjoying their own meal.

So what is the secret to camp cooking if it’s not in fancy fare? For me, it all starts with preparations at home. The more I can do ahead of time, the less I have to out there, when I’d rather be riding or enjoying the view. Planning menus, packing in an organized fashion, making sure all the pots, pans and stuff I need for cooking is well arranged and easily accessible, keeping the kitchen easy to maintain, and even cooking meals ahead of time. As well as keeping the menu straightforward and uncomplicated, the camp kitchen should be kept simple, organized, clean and tidy. Laying it all out and organizing at home first is the place to start, not when you’re out in the mountains, cold and tired and hungry, it’s getting dark, and you don’t know what to do for dinner.

A camp kitchen can be as minimal as a small pit campfire or single burner backpacker style propane stove. Or as elaborate as our aluminum pack saddle “instant” kitchen. Alone, or just the three of us for an over night or two, we’re happy with a log before the fire and a folding metal grate over the embers to cook on. For an extended stay or a client pack trip, we’ll string up a tarp and create a designated cooking area. The fancier and/or cold weather operations may opt for a wall tent with a wood stove, tables and chairs.

No matter what your wants and needs for the kitchen set up, your gear will often be the same. And organization of that gear is always a good idea. No sense in rummaging about camp in search of a spoon when that soup is boiling over. Keep it clean, close and organized. I like to use those travel toiletry organization bags. Mesh pockets to hold everything in place and make it easy for me to find things. A few of them will serve our needs. They can be hung from a tent or tree to keep everything easily accessible and in plain sight. Alone or for just a quick trip, I can fit all our gear in one medium sized bag. When heading out for an extended trip or with guests, I’ll take a few bags: one for instant cooking/kitchen needs, one for kitchen/camp clean up needs, one for personal clean up (handi wipes, hand sanitizer, sun block, TP, etc), and one for first aid. All can be hung and found around the designated camp kitchen

Following is a list of gear I make sure I include in our camp kitchen supplies:
___ Kitchen tarp and rope/string for hanging (optional)
___ Matches and fire starter (know the regulations for campfires in your area before heading out)
___ Trash bags (if you packed it in, pack it out!)
___ Kitchen utensils - knife, spoon, spatula, can opener, cutting board (look over your menu and make sure you have what it takes to prepare the food accordingly at camp)
___ Pots & pans
___ Coffee pot
___ Eating utensils - plates, bowls, cups, silverware for each
___ Dish cloths, soap, steel wool, paper towels, drying bag
___ Food, in accordance with pre-planned menu
___ Extra condiments, salt, cooking oil, tub margarine, ketchup, etc. (forgetting the cooking oil is about the worst…)
___ Water filter(s) and/or water purification system for use at camp
___ Extra water containers for boiled or filtered drinking water
___ Water buckets for getting water from creek
___ Camp shovel and lightweight ax (for preparing ground and wood for fire)
___ Lightweight campfire grill (if fires are permitted)
___ Pothook frame and hook for cooking over campfire (optional)
___ Camp stove, fuel bottle
___ Lightweight cord and string for use around kitchen (used for clothesline, hanging tarps or food bag, etc.)
___ Flashlights, camp lantern (optional)
___ Camp table, chairs and table cloth (optional)

Once your menu is figured, your packing list prepared, and your gear gathered, then it’s time to pack. Pack ahead of time, so if food needs freezing, you’ll have plenty of time to get it frozen. Keep lists of last minute things that will need to be packed. I save packing the coolers for last. And if lists need to be revised, you will be able to check and double check.

Organize the gear, then the food according to dates and meals. Stick to your menu and keep track of the ingredients and gear you’ll need for that menu. Label everything. Wrap stuff well. I use newspaper, which can later be used for starting fire, or spare dish cloths, or plastic bags, which will then serve as our trash bags, for wrapping fragile items. Careful of shaking and breaking. Remember, this stuff is going on a horse… Food is packed into cardboard boxes and a cooler or two. (Extra precautions may be necessary for bear-proof food containers in busy bear country.) Boxes are then duct-taped closed then labelled. Take extra care in packing items that are fragile, breakable if dropped or shaken, and items that may rattle. All items must be safe and secure, as each pack should be sound and silent for the well being of the pack horse (and packer). Consider packing important items in trash bags or ziplock bags that can be re-used at camp, in order to keep these items water proof

To help keep food fresh and cold, consider freezing ahead of time. This can work great for complete meals prepared ahead of time, and for scrambled eggs ready to cook. Pack cold items well, wrapped in newspaper and labeled. Pack your cooler practically: food for the first meal is on top, and work your way down to the last items you’ll need. Leaving that cooler open to fish around for food wastes precious cold time. To keep food cold at camp for extended trips, consider using a nearby cold creek or snow if available near camp. If not, make sure you keep your cooler in the shade, and consider covering the cooler with a wet rag. The evaporation from the rag helps keeps the cooler colder. Don’t forget too, you may not need a cooler at all. Consider packing backpackers meals, dehydrated or canned foods. Chances are you’ll survive quite well without gourmet fresh fare for a day or two.

At camp, when it comes to cooking, just like when it comes to eating, everyone should pitch in. Even if you’d rather cook alone (to keep from crowding the kitchen with too many cooks), other folks can pitch in and help out by gathering fire wood, stoking the fire, chopping vegetables, hauling water – or even making sure the horses are well tended to so this cook can focus on the people food.

Forget something? Get creative or get over it. You can always make due. I remember the story of one trip where the group stayed an extra day or two, ran out of planned meals, and made due just fine with peanut butter and hot chocolate. They returned home just thrilled to have had the chance to be out there even longer than planned. (Of course, everyone back home was more than a little worried…)

I can’t say we like to rough it that much. But truth is, I always pack way more food than we could possibly consume, just in case. And if we ever decide to – by choice or necessity – stay out an extra day, I know we’ll always find plenty to make do.

Clean up.
Ideally, everyone does their own. It's easy to keep track of your cups (you can label them for a crowd) so you're not stuck doing the dishes instead of doing better things... While cooking or eating, I put a big pot of water on the fire. For trips with guests and for recommended water purification procedures, even wash water should be boiled first. I can’t say I do this on solitary or family trips. Once heated and after the meal, the water is divided into two pots – one for washing, the other for rinsing. Use biodegradable soap. Wash water is dumped far away from the creek and far enough away from camp (even farther in busy bear country). Keep your creek or water source clean. Don’t wash or rinse in or near it. Extra dish towels or even a large mesh bag used for hanging dishes to dry, all come in handy to keep cleaned dishes clean. Food scraps should be kept to a minimum with proper planning. If you do end up with scraps, consider feeding them to your dog (that works for us!) or scraping plates into the fire. Feeding wildlife is obviously not encouraged.

Next week, I’ll share some our simple menus that we’ve served for guests on pack trips, or made just for ourselves when out at camp.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Flying on fields of snow

Out on the field of white they run. They run because they can, because it feels good, because their legs and lungs were built to run, because our snow is not as deep as they and we anticipated. A shallow winter. The horses revel in the low snow. They move freely, unconfined to their packed trails and shelter of the barns. The pasture is as open world boundless to movement for them as it is in summer. And if for a moment they stop and paw, they will be rewarded with the tops of tufts of last years grass.

This is no place for a horse naturally; they would not survive on their own here, would have left long ago with the deer and the wiser of the elk that descended the mountain months ago. But we help as we can, with good food and open water. And they adjust. Their coats are thick and long; the curry comb does not penetrate to their skin, though is always a welcome touch as they stand with me out there in the long shadows of the afternoon sunlight, in the surprising warmth of a windless afternoon, and await their turn. They are shiny, all of them, from rolling in the snow. There is no dirt, no dust, no mud. Only snow.

For those born here, four of those out there now, playing in the vast expanse of white, it is all they know. For the others, they have been here long enough. I wonder if they can remember days before. Does the stallion recall the confinement of his little stall where he stood for years without direct contact with another horse excepting that from across a chain link fence? I watch him out there now, moving freely, nuzzling with his mares, romping with his eldest son, Tresjur, who is coming on three and already nearly a full hand taller than his sire. They play like brothers. I think of my husband and son and understand.

The horses will play because they can, because their long legs make light work of breaking through this low snow, because it feels good to move, because a part of them, somewhere deep inside, I wonder if it remembers what it may have felt like to just run wild and free across the plains, across the dessert, across the big wide open expanse. Do we forget the horses great need to move, unrestricted and unbound, even if just for a few minutes, with or without rider on back, to just fly, liberated and limitless, across a wide open expanse?

Watching them out their running free, soaring across the white hillside, veils of snow fluttering up at their heels as they race with one another, the young ones around the old mares, manes and tails waving in their currents of cold air, we remember the legend of Pegasus, and imagine from where the story was born. Our horses have wings; on horses we fly.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

New Years Resolutions

The start of a new year allows us time and encouragement (read: an excuse) to reflect upon the accomplishments, both large and small, of the past year; and to consider goals, both simple and lofty, for the year ahead. On one hand, I look at making New Years Resolutions as a trite tradition. On the other hand, I find it a missed opportunity if I pass by the occasion to reflect and review, as well as the chance to revel in hopes and aspirations.

We begin to look at the year ahead with dreams of what we would like to work on, within ourselves, and with our horses. With each horse, each lesson, each goal, each accomplishment, we evolve into a better horseman. And in turn, don’t we then evolve into a better person? We could remain stationary. What we learned yesterday is good enough. My guess is, if you’re reading this, that’s not your feeling either. Instead, more often than not, most of us strive for improvement and progress. We are not the same today as we were yesterday. Each new day is an opportunity to develop.

This development is all the more important to us because our horsemanship skills can be viewed as a clear reflection of who we are as a person. I don’t know about you, but I like to look back and see how much I have progressed with my horsemanship. The story reads like a personal growth gauge. The lessons the horses teach us, the lessons we learn interacting with horses, go far deeper than what we do in the saddle.

I allow myself the time to look where I am with each horse, and what I hope to accomplish this coming year. A review session, just me and my memories and imaginings. With each horse, there is anticipation for advancement. The greatest advancement will be, of course, somewhere inside me. I set realistic goals for each horse, each task. I look at each horse, and each goal, as an opportunity for my own growth and learning. Horsemanship does not simply represent physical tasks, but mental accomplishments every step of the way. And something great and mysterious, too, on which my words can only shed a pale light. It is this, I believe, this deeper meaning and relationship, that draws us to work with horses in the first place, and keeps us here, keeps us hooked, keeps us longing.

I begin this year by making a list of each horse, of what I hope to teach him or her, of what I need to work on within myself. It is a long list. Included are words like “patience,” “leadership,” “communication skills,” “increased knowledge,” “refinement,” “lightness.”

Each lesson is for both me and the horse. Each will teach me as I teach him or her. Every lesson is valuable, though we often fail to appreciate the value at first. Sometimes what we set out to accomplish, of course, will be far from what we achieve. The process of the lesson dictates what we ultimately learn.

All these plans, these lofty goals… and yet this year, I am willing to let them all go for the one thing that really matters: my commitment to my mares and finding a good safe place for them to foal, even if temporary, and a new ranch from which to continue our life with horses. Anything less than that is a compromise I am no longer willing to make, a selfish act based on attachment to the past, fear of moving forward, and personal comfort considered without the well being of my horses. The losses have been too great here.

That, my friends, is all I will resolve for my New Years Resolutions. The big move. That is more drastic, more time consuming, more costly, than any other I had considered. And yet… we will pull through, my horses, my family and I. And along the way, I somehow believe that if I remain with an open mind and open heart, the lessons I learn could be greater than any I ever have learned before.

So in all your time dwelling and contemplating and brewing over the New Years Resolutions you may consider for you and your horse this year, please remember too the big picture – the well being of the horse. Ultimately, what could be more important? What improvements can you make for him or her or them? Is it possible that a better life for them would also mean a better life for you?

The changes need not be as extreme as they will be for me and mine, but perhaps one small change to make their life just a little better…