Going again

Saturday afternoon I sat behind a table and announced times at a barrel race. It’s been months since I’ve done this. It was a little refreshing watching the exhibitions and see the new horses and new people running. I was a little shocked by the number of new faces at the race and how many I didn’t know. That’s a good thing right?

I haven’t entered a barrel race in probably 5 years. My horse got old, and was (what seemed like) constantly hurt. Plus I had 2 young kids to chase around and struggle with finding childcare besides pawning them off with their grandma. I’ve written before about not going to any races. I’ve promised myself a million times I’ll get another one going.

Saturday I felt a little inkling of wanting to ride again regularly and start another horse. Someone asked me if I was going to run that day, and I jokingly replied, “On foot! I haven’t rode in months.” I had a little bit of a conversation with my sister and told her I don’t want to put time and investment in a horse that I don’t know if it can run fast enough to scatter it’s own shit.

I guess it’s because I feel like my time is so valuable now, that I don’t want to waste it. But I am wasting an opportunity to get another one trained because I can’t get out of the house. I’m already a crappy housekeeper and cook, and it’s really a chore to be able to get a meal on the table, kids bathed and to bed on time and homework done before it’s 9 p.m.

It’s taken me this long to not have guilt about retiring my mare and not running any more. I sure hope it won’t take me another 5 years to get over the guilt of leaving things undone in the house to go ride. I never cared before I had kids if the house was clean, dishes were done and supper was made. Now there’s 2 little boys who always need something from me.

Someone made the comment to me the other day about how the kids come first and I should just get over it if they need something before I do. I was completely annoyed. Mom also needs to do something for herself and be some semblance of what she was before kids. She’s not there just to be someone’s Mom. She was a person before kids and she’ll be a person after those kids are grown and gone. I will provide, protect and nurture those boys the best I know how but I also don’t want to have to lose myself in the process. And if that means taking a couple hours a week to ride then so be it.

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My retreat

It’s funny how a personal possession can become part of your identity. Sure I know this is just a horse trailer that I’m writing about, but to me it was really something more.

I was a little fish out in the big world with my first real job following college graduation. Mom and Dad had provided my sister and I a lot growing up. From horses to saddles and pickups and trailers. When I graduated from college, slowly they wanted me to find my own way and pay for my own stuff. I wasn’t spoiled by any means, but this was a tough pill to swallow. During college we had a nice Cherokee 3 horse trailer which we both loved and shared. We’d sold our previous trailer and put a down payment on the Cherokee. A decision had to be made at one point, and my sister was able to take the trailer and continue paying on it. So I was left to find something of my own.

I borrowed a trailer for a while and caught rides with other people. Lucky for me I had a friend who was selling trailers at the time in Tulsa when I was living in Woodward, Oklahoma. My then boyfriend, now husband and I decided to partner on buying a trailer in 2003. Ideally, this trailer was just what we were looking for, but my only hangup was it was red. GMC red to match the previous owners vehicle. No where near my favorite color.

What we bought was a S&H 3 horse gooseneck trailer with a small dressing room. If it could talk, it might just tell you all the miles and places it went once we pulled it home from Tulsa in March 2003. From barrel races to ropings to moving us from Oklahoma back to Kansas. Just too many to keep track of.

It very well may have been the ugliest trailer at the rodeos or barrel races, but in reality, it’s not what you pull up at in, instead what you lead out of the trailer. That red trailer many times only had one horse in it but it helped me qualify for the Kansas Professional Rodeo Association finals several years.

More than once that red trailer gave me a place to reflect after a bad run or rejoice after a great one. A number of times I sat on the fender and cried because my mare was hurt or needed doctored. Several times we made the trip to Oklahoma State University’s vet school for colic. One of my most vivid memories is getting to O’Keene, Oklahoma and being pulled over by the highway patrol because I was speeding through town during the middle of the night to get her to the hospital. The return trip from her colic surgery was almost as terrifying because I was so worried about her getting so sick weeks before. But we made it home in one piece. Like we did hundreds of times following.

Another time we’d went to a February barrel race in Chickasha, Oklahoma and when it started snowing on the way home we had to find some where to stay the night. Praise the Lord for friends who let you crash at their place and put your horses up for the night. Mike successfully unfroze the dressing room door so we could get our bags out.

In the weeks after I had my first child I often needed a break and a reprieve from the smothering times of early motherhood. I’d sneak out of the house at nap time and sit on the fender and ponder my existence or bawl, which ever came first.

I could go on and on about the trips I drug that trailer down the highway but I’ll spare you. Getting rid of this trailer is like losing a piece of my being. Since having kids and not running barrels for the past few years it feels as though pieces of what used to make up me are leaving one by one.

So last night after I cleaned out the ugly red trailer and packed all my belongings away I sat on the fender and had one more good cry and reflection. I’m still not ok with this piece of the old me leaving but I guess it leaves a spot for something new.

Innocently enough

Last night while changing the youngest boy’s diaper, my oldest came in and asked, “Mom, why don’t you go to rodeos any more.” I’m sure the expression on my face told it all, but I said to him, “I don’t have a horse to ride.” He cocked his head and looked at me in disbelief. Then went on to tell me matter of factly, “You have a horse out in the pen.” He didn’t look like he believed me when I told him she was too old.

The rest of the evening I thought about what he’d said. After I had him my riding and barrel racing slowed way down. I went to a few races and rodeos for a couple of years, but injuries to my mare kept us on the sidelines more than I cared to admit. My horse was aging and I feared the day where I’d have to retire her. Fast forward nearly 5 years later and my horse is basically retired (and seemingly enjoying it) and I’ve gotten over (depending on what day it is) not getting to ride as much or go to a barrel race and enjoying my boys while they are still little.

After our conversation I told my oldest boy, some day I will have another horse and will go to some more barrel races. And no, it’s not something I am telling myself to keep me sane. When they reach an age where I won’t have to worry as much about sending them with their dad to the farm (which they kind of do already now) I will have a horse of my own again. When I gather enough pennies to buy a horse of my own again, I will. It’s just going to take time. And I have to be patient and have a plan.

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My boys and their horses

At our house we have three mares. They are very similar to one another – two bays and a brown – all with not a noticeable amount of white on them. If you didn’t know the differences you would be hard pressed to figure out who was who.

There’s Kate, my husband’s old mare. I’m not even sure her age, but she’s a tad grumpy, fat as a hog and will remind me how hungry she is during evening feedings by bumping the gate if I don’t move fast enough. Then there’s my mare, Mare. I never really had a name for her and always just called her Mare, Sis or Sweet Pea. I’ve had her for a long time, and my heart jumps a beat whenever I can’t see her from the window. The youngest of the three, Baby, as my husband calls her, is just that. She’s a little wild, hasn’t been rode much and is full of it. I’d like to start riding her, but I’m scared..

Most every night oldest son and I will go feed the horses. He get’s rather upset if he can’t “help.” Recently he’s gotten better and wants to carry the buckets and dump feed. He still doesn’t realize how powerful the horses are and how they could hurt him. I have to remind him to get his head up and watch where he’s going.

Chance is nearly 8 months old and LOVES the horses. His eyes get big as saucers when he gets close to them. He gets all excited when he gets to sit on them. I adore his excitement when he’s sitting on the back of my old brown mare. She takes it all in stride as he’s screaming “riding” her and pulling on her mane.

The other day, on a night when I actually go to ride, Shaun wanted to ride too. I asked if he wanted to trot and he was confused. “Do you want to go faster?” I asked. I received an enthusiastic, “YES!” We had to video it to show his dad. I think he was pretty proud. I hope some day the boys will enjoy horses as much as I have.

Chance on the old brown mare.

Chance on the old brown mare.

It’s been how long?

A few weeks ago in the mail I received a membership renewal for the Better Barrel Races association. Knowing what it was I didn’t even open it. The thought of me not riding my mare and going to barrel races hit me the wrong way that day, so I just tucked it away and forgot about it.

I have been a member of the BBR for a number of years, and have attended their World Finals in Oklahoma City several times. Last year I renewed knowing that I was already pregnant with Chance. I intended on riding after he was born, like I did with Shaun. I did ride most of the summer, but the last barrel race I went to was Labor Day 2013. My mare got sore after that and we didn’t get her feet figured out until nearly fall. By that time I was big and fat, so I didn’t get back on my mare until April of this year.

Now it’s already mid-August, and I can’t tell you the last time I got to ride. Between two kids, a full-time job and other activities, there’s plenty of room for excuses. Not to mention my horse is missing shoes, and I’ve missed the horse shoer the last three times he’s been here. I don’t know that she’s missing getting rode, but I know I am missing getting to go to the jackpots and rodeos. I look at the rodeo results and photos and think back to the last 10 years or so when I went to the Kansas Pro Rodeos. Now I wonder if I will ever have a horse to take to the rodeos.

My old mare is 22 this year, and deserves the best. Shaun keeps asking which horse is his and I tell him they are all OUR horses. I just can’t let go of that brown mare quite yet. I really don’t want last year’s run to be our last together, but she’s given me 16 great years and doesn’t owe me a thing. So if that run was our last together, I can accept that. She will have many more runs with Shaun and Chance hopefully.

2013 BBR World Finals, Oklahoma City, OK.

2013 BBR World Finals, Oklahoma City, OK.

Struggling

Maybe you could call it a mid-life crisis, or maybe it’s an identity crisis. Not sure what I want to call it, but lately I’ve been struggling. Struggling with who I am and what I want to be. Work is the same, and I enjoy going to work every day. At home, it’s harder. I have a 3-year-old and a 3 month old. It can be a challenge since my husband works 40 miles away and has farm chores down south after he finishes at his full-time job. Quite a bit of the time, it’s just me and the boys.

Flash back 5, 10 or even 15 years ago, and you would find me a lot more selfish than I am now. I was concerned with was what rodeo or barrel race was next and how I’d spend my next paycheck. As much as I hate to admit it, my horse was my number one priority. I can think of a dozen or more times where I spent my last dime to buy feed, a needed supplement or pay an entry fee. There was more than one occasion where I skipped a family function to go to a barrel race or a rodeo. There was more than one time when I went by myself because no one else wanted to go with me.

Now I’m lucky if I get to ride my horse once a week. Twice is a stretch sometimes. I sometimes have a willing babysitter, but I don’t always want to extend her too much. Other times I just don’t have the motivation to line up the babysitter, distract the 3-year-old and take the half our to ride and enjoy it. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy riding and competing. You can bet your sweet ass I miss the adrenaline rush. I guess that’s part of my problem. For so long, barrel racing defined me. And now I’m not that person. Sometimes I don’t like it. I haven’t competed since September and I’m missing it. Bad.

Back when my horse was ten years younger it killed me to miss a race. I absolutely hated sitting at home. Now, I live vicariously through those who still get to go. My mare’s 22 and she’s got bad knees and ankles. Sure I’d like to run her again, but at the rate I’m going she’ll be 23 before we go to another barrel race. That is if I ever get off my ass and ride.

I ran across this on a friend’s Facebook today, and found it way too appropriate. I need to stop waiting and just do it.

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All the pretty horses

IMG_0145I’ve been trying to write something about the loss of my sister’s horse for a month now, as words have escaped me. I finally sat down and just did it.

Horses come in all shapes and colors, and there’s likely one that will be pretty to someone. My sister got a gray gelding probably 7 or 8 years ago, and he was the prettiest gray I’d seen in a long time. He always managed to grow the longest mane and tail. Granted it was a pain to deal with at times, but it was long and flowing. His gray coat changed colors several times throughout the year, almost as if he was a chameleon.

Okie spent some time on the race track and a ranch. He was the kind of horse you could climb on and ride with no issues. When my horse had colic surgery in 2006 I borrowed my sisters horse Star first so I had something to ride and occupy my time. Okie later came to stay with me and I really enjoyed getting to know him and ride him. You could let him trot all day and never get wore out. Sure he did have his quirks, but all horses do.

One evening mid-March, I got a text from my sister that they had lost Okie. Stopped me in my tracks. My reply, “What? Why?” I was shocked. When I learned of the details, I was heart broke. Okie was such a kind, gentle soul. It was good to know he didn’t suffer long, and I hope he’s found his way to greener pastures where he can run – and that sucker could flat run – and be free once again. It was a good ride Okie, we will miss you!

My sisters son, Klayton and Okie in September 2012.

My sister’s son, Klayton and Okie in September 2012.

The best horses

When you’ve had a good barrel horse it can be a pretty rewarding experience. Especially when it’s one that you have trained yourself. Goals were met and accolades were achieved and it can feel pretty good.

I sometimes hear all it is to running barrels is three turns and go as fast as you can. But in reality there’s a lot more to it than that. You have to help set up the horse to make a fast and efficient turn and allow them to take the quickest path through the pattern.

When things go wrong it can make you feel like a total loser. I’m a perfectionist and hate to lose. Especially when there’s money on the line.

I’ve had my mare for a long time and this year might be the year for her to retire from the barrel pen. I need to get something younger going but it is really hard to step off one that you know so well and one who still really likes to go and run (and win).

It’s an emotional choice for me to retire her and if I hear one more “suggestion” to make this her last run I get a little defensive. It’s my choice and hers when our last time around the barrels will be. Don’t think I’m being selfish still running a 21 year old horse because I’m not. If I stopped riding her and running her I think she will take a downhill slide into old age and not act like she’s young at heart. I believe she will let me know when she doesn’t want to go.

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Best April Fool’s day of all

Fifteen years ago today I was a freshman at Hutchinson Community College. I had money burning a hole in my pocket earmarked for a new horse. I wanted something young and fast, and that fit in my limited price range. When my sister told me about a consignment sale at the local sale barn, I just knew we’d find something there. At least it was easier than calling on classified ads in the paper.

We walked through the pens out back before the sale and I was beginning to get disappointed because nothing really caught my eye. Looking back on it, I’m not even sure I laid eyes on the 6-year-old brown mare that eventually would be mine, but I do remember when she went through the ring. She was long, lean and seemed pretty nice. Brown, with a black mane and tail and not a speck of white on her. The trader who had her had his kid crawling under her and weaving in between her front legs. Then they started talking pedigree. All I remember hearing was Seattle Slew, and I was hooked. He was the 1977 Triple Crown winner and is still the only undefeated winner.

I’d conned my sister into bidding for me, and we got my mare bought, $125 more than what I had so I had to sweet talk her and mom into loaning me the extra money. Mom still claims she owns the tail.. Probably the best $1,125 investment I’ve ever made.

It’s been a long 15 years with a lot of highs and some lows. From the first ride on her when she about run off with me, and to realizing how fast she really was. The first jackpot we won in Holly, Colo., and our first rodeo check at Ashland, Kan., to the knocked down barrels that “would have” won, we’ve been through a lot. I about lost her twice (July 2005 and April 2006) to colic and have been sidelined with our fair share of injuries. I’d always wanted to get her bred, but never could find the right stud to pair her with, and when I had settled on one I didn’t have the money. Now she’s 21, and I’m perfectly content with just having her healthy and happy. I wish we could have another 15 years together, but with horses you just never know how long they will be in your lives. I hope she’s around for a lot more. There’s a little boy who adores her, and someday he wants to ride her all by himself.

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It doesn’t take much to make me happy any more

Since horses are a big part of my life, and their care is a priority to me, I often look for ways to make chores a lot easier. In the mornings, I normally hit the snooze several times and don’t get out of bed the first time the alarm goes off so my day’s often start out in a rush. Not much fun, but I make it work most mornings.

On New Year’s Eve we got a snow storm. This time it was pretty snow that fell from the sky with minimal wind and ended up being about five or six inches in places. Most often in Western Kansas, our snow doesn’t fall, it comes horizontally, blown by cold, gusty North winds. This time too it was bitterly cold, but not quite as bad because of the lax winds. However, single digit temps made feeding horses a bigger chore than it really was, plus with the snow on the ground it just made doing chores cumbersome and take longer.

First you had to bundle up like you were in the Arctic (Ok, not true but I despise the cold). In regular weather a Carhartt coat and heavy sweat pants (shorts in summer) and tennis shoes comprise my feeding attire. During this week of cold and snow, I donned the Carhartt, bib coveralls and snow boots.

Then you had to chop ice. I don’t mind chopping ice in a big tank. One that has some size to it and there’s no fear of puncturing it or breaking it when the axe hits the ice. Plus, when its zero degrees out any liquid freezes where it falls. That could be your face, your eyelashes or coat. By the end of the second day my horse’s tubs were frozen solid and no amount of chopping could clear out enough room for a bucket full of fresh water. I finally resorted to a small plastic tub that wouldn’t be a total loss if I broke it and it could easily be picked up and dumped out. In the last two days it has gotten warm enough during the days where the ice bricks/blocks have melted a little. Last night I was able to dump the big ice cubes out and fill the tubs with clean water. Success! I got my coat and gloves wet and my hands were cold, but NO MORE ICE! I was pretty excited.

However on my walk back to the house my excitement over the victory against the ice was dampened some by the fact that I realized ice-free horse tubs made me happy. Really? In my 34 years on this earth, that’s something that makes me happy? I guess I’ve gotten simple, but it works!

Kate waits for her evening meal, Jan. 1, 2013.

Kate waits for her evening meal, Jan. 1, 2013.