Tag Archives: horseback riding

Stacy Creek IMO vs. The Mormon Cricket Migration

Stacy Creek IMO

Cowboys and Horses of Western Film

“Which way is north?”


Idaho Mounted Orienteering (IMO) – “Trail riding with purpose.” Competitors, either individually or as a team, compete to find five hidden markers using a compass, topo map and bearing clues. The “mounted” part requires the sport to be completed via horseback.

It all seemed right up my ally. I spend most of my waking moments on horseback, I love searching for “treasure” and it seems I have a knack for finding lost things. I am also directionally challenged: Never have a clue where I’m at, how exactly I got there or how to get where I think I might want to be.

I joined IMO in part to learn how to use a compass in hopes it would help with my navigationally challenged brain. Knowing better than to set out on my own and risk being placed on the SAR most wanted list – I joined the IMO veteran’s team: The Circle Four – consisting of Jones, Dusty and me.

It’s like being forced to stare at a crooked picture on the wall with your arms tied behind your back. I could not tolerate 3 members in a team titled “The Circle Four.” Jones tried to quell my OCD my telling me the reason behind the name was not member number – but their unfortunate tendency to “circle for-ever” in search of the markers.  I’d later come to learn the accuracy of that statement!

Regardless, my disorder required the addition of a fourth member: Fellow mounted shooter and traveling partner – Karen Kelley. I knew Karen would make a valuable addition to our team. She has a great sense of direction, loads of common sense and is a total kick in the butt.

Most IMO teams put on at least one ride a year. The Circle Four team picked June 23rd as ride mangers. We had scouted the area above Mann Creek Reservoir in previous years. A cool, mountain location with a loop trail system and adequate parking were the main requirements. A year earlier, Jones and I had ridden a loop we thought would fit the bill.  The loop starts NE from the gravel pit (basecamp), winds along Stacy Creek to where it pours into Mann Creek and loops back up Adams Creek back to basecamp. Perfect.

Jones, Dusty and I rode the loop a couple weeks prior to the IMO. It was a little longer than we thought – but still within the 15-18 mile average of past IMO rides. They’ve cut down on the distance the last few years to try and encourage new riders to join. Some of us are just the opposite. We feel that if you are going to haul your horse 100 miles – you want to get in a good days ride. Despite the longer distance, the loop was such that you really can’t get lost (well, I could – but that’s another story.)

The trail along Stacy Creek needed work. Low hanging thorn brush and downed logs made it difficult to pass. We used Jack as our measuring horse. If he couldn’t go under a low hanging limb – we cut it out. Dusty whipped out a serrated hand saw for the task. He might as well have brought a spoon. Dull as a hoe. I found a smaller, sharper saw in my saddle bags. (I really do keep everything in there including the kitchen sink) Between the two of us we managed to clear what had to be removed. I’d go back a later day with a chainsaw and remove a log that posed a safety issue for horses.

Figuring out the logistics was a little like herding cats. Karen and I travel a lot during shooting season. Trying to figure out a day for all of us to meet up and set the ride was a challenge. Eventually we had to settle on setting the ride up in phases. Phase 1 would be Dusty and Jones setting markers #4 and #5. When Karen and I had a chance – we would set markers #2 and #3. Marker #1 is always set in camp.

In the meantime – we came up with a theme, prizes and a lunch menu: Cowboys and Horses from the old Western Film and T.V. Dusty and Jones made cut outs of Trigger, Buttercup, Silver and Chubs. Other props included The Lone Rangers mask, Tonto’s headdress, Hoss’s boot and Flicka’s shoe. Even the infamous can of Beanee Weenee’s made an appearance as “A cowboy’s breakfast” at bearing clue for marker #1. Kind of brings a tear to my eye. *sniff sniff*

Dusty and Jones made awesome prizes for 1st. through 6th place: handmade soup and cracker bowls fired in their kiln. Very talented people.

Being my first IMO as a ride manager – I wasn’t sure where to begin. Luckily, Jones’s natural leadership skills kicked in to high gear. Karen, having the nicest handwriting, would be official score/record keeper and certificate maker extraordinaire. I’d be responsible for cooking tacos for 35 hungry IMO’ers. This could be interesting. My idea of cooking consists of popping a can of Beanee Weenees for lunch. If it’s snowing out – I might warm them over a fire.

I jumped on-line and googled taco recipes for a large group. Always the overachiever, the big G offered hundreds of variations of taco ingredients from chicken to turkey and from ground beef to ground buffalo. Too many options fries my brain. I opted to wing it. How hard can it be; a little ground beef – some onions, a few spices – roll it all in a flower tortilla and call it good.

The big day was nearing. Karen and I opted to haul the horses up Thursday evening after work to reserve the area and set up camp. Jones and Dusty planned to come up Friday morning with the four wheeler. If anybody needed rescuing – we had the four-wheeler for the sections of motorized access and the horses for non-motorized.

Finding a spot to drive stakes for portable pens in a gravel pit are limited. We found the only spot you could almost pound a stake to set up pens. Unfortunately, this is the same spot Jones had planned to park the IMO “office.” As they pulled into an alternate spot- the right front tire hit a sharp rock blowing the tire. It sounded like an A bomb going off. I’ve never actually heard an A bomb – or a tire blow – but I’m guessing neither get much louder. Holy Cow.  The good news: Karen and I had experience changing flat tires from the previous IMO. Between the four of us working like a well-oiled pit crew (not really – we sort of suck at it) we got the tire changed and Dusty on his way down the mountain after a new tire. Dusty doesn’t really do cell phones. Jones swapped his flip phone for her smart phone armed with my contact information.  That probably would have been a better idea had I thought to keep my phone on me that evening. Sorry….

Karen and I saddled up to check on our markers at #2 and #3. Jones took off on four-wheeler to check on #4 and #5 while Dusty went in search of the nearest commercial tire.

Unbeknownst to me, somewhere before marker #2 I dropped my TOPO map. I was fairly sure I could remember where I placed the plates (markers) without using the map. We would look for it on the way back. Karen wasn’t with us when we set the markers. We figured if she could find the bearing points without the map, the IMO’ers should have no trouble. Going off just the clues I remembered – Karen found “Trigger” tied to the bent over tree west of the trail and “Buttercup” hiding behind the willows south of Trigger.

We found marker #3 without incident and raced back to camp. Literally. Jane and Jack got into a bit of a race on the way home. My right arm is now 3 inches longer than my left from dragging J’Lo behind me. We were also trying to stay ahead of the storm that threatened most of the way home. Pretty sure we were running INTO the storm – but whatever. It was fun.

My map lay in the middle of the road 50 yards from maker #2. What was left of it.  Apparently Mormon crickets love the taste of a freshly printed TOPO map. They had eaten all around the edge and through the middle in several spots. Creepy little buggers. Back at camp, Jones relayed a similar experience with the crickets who’d eaten all the way around poor Chubs. Creepy little buggers.

A couple teams pulled in Friday night to camp for the weekend. The rest would filter in by late morning. The markers had been checked and verified – the flat tire replaced – the port-a-pot set up for the weekend and I was almost convinced I had enough taco meat for 35 people. The Circle Four Team members slept soundly in their LQ’s in anticipation of the day ahead. At least until 4:00 AM when my horses broke loose and Jack decided to play king of the gravel hill. Crazy horse.

Saturday morning teams signed up for their check out times as other early birds processed through clock-out. Dusty gave his ride manager speech to each team. “Leave gates as you find them.” “This is a more traditional IMO. Read your TOPO map. It can be ridden as a loop and the loop is at least 15 miles.”

I’m not going to lie. I was a little worried the teams might find this ride too difficult. I’m new to IMO. The rides I’ve been on have averaged 10-12 miles max. The roadrunners (those teams known for their speed and sweeping in and out) would have to slow down, study the topo and really search for the bearings using the clues. They were not all noticeable from the trail. I felt better when Karen was able to find the bearings from the clues only, but still…

The first teams back was Jesse’s team, The Brush-poppers. Known for his “Blow in, Blow up and Blow Out” technique – I wasn’t surprised to see him a bit disgruntled. Normally Jesse and his team fly in the day of the ride – swing on their horses – grab a map and take off in a cloud of dust. They exit pretty much in the same fashion – stopping long enough to grab the 1st. place prize and maybe something to eat if Atul looks hungry enough. Not this ride. They had several strikes against them from the beginning. One of the members had to be at work that afternoon. There was no finishing this course in an hour and a half no matter how fast your horse can run. Unable to find Marker #2 – the Brush-Poppers turned around at marker #3 and came back. Jesse informed us that our “landmarks sucked.” I don’t think it was any consolation to him when I reminded him that Karen found them without the aid of a map. To his credit – he admitted that he just didn’t have the time to look that hard. Well, that’s a bummer.

Karen and Dusty checked in trail weary teams one by one.  The majority were back by 2:00 o’clock – just in time for pot-luck. I was relieved to discover that 10lbs of hamburger will indeed feet 35 hungry IMO’ers.

One team remained out. Happy Trails had been out over 5 hours. While more than capable and experienced IMO’ers – we decided to send out a search party. Dusty and Christine took the four wheeler and I saddled J’Lo. I’d ride down Stacy where the four wheeler couldn’t go and they would cover the rest. Two miles from Stacy I get a text from Karen saying the team had checked in between 4 and 5 and were fine. The girls rode into camp all smiles no worse for wear. They had tried a short-cut that did not pan out. It took them over some steep, but beautiful country placing them in 6th place for their efforts.


Out of 9 teams – only three found all five markers:

  1. 1st place went to “Shade Hunters” (LauraJean, Shane and Ellen) finding all 5 markers in 3 hours 24 minutes and 51 seconds.
  2. A close second went to team “Renegades” (Christine and Lee) finding all five markers in 3 hours, 36 minutes and 13 seconds.
  3. “Hot to Trot” team (Raina, Rita and Darrell) came in 3rd finding all 5 markers in 4 hours, 9 minutes and 25 seconds.
  4. The “Donner Party” (Kathryn, Barry and Tracy) finding 4 markers in 6 hours, 19 minutes and 50 seconds, came in 4th One member lost a hoof boot – but with a name like Donner Party – I think we can all agree a lost hoof boot was the least of their worries.
  5. “Die Hard’s 2” (Candy, Mike and Zack) pulled off a 5th place win finding 4 markers in 6 hours 40 minutes and 42 seconds.
  6. 6th. Place went to “Happy Trails” mother/daughters team (Evelyn, Robin and Patricia) finding 3 markers in 7 hours, 26 minutes and 39 seconds. Had that shortcut panned out – those ladies would have brought home 1st. place AND been IMO rock-stars.


Circle Four, Renegades and Shade Hunters stayed over Saturday night and rode Sunday to pick up the markers and props. We hashed over what we thought went well and what we might improve on for the next IMO. Most of the teams appreciated bringing back the longer course. TOPO reading skills were definitely put to the test and parts of the trail were technical with low hanging branches – narrow trails, creek crossings and a mud bog that probably ate Kathryn’s hoof boot.

All said and done – most agreed that it was a successful IMO through beautiful country (with the exception of the gazillion Mormon Crickets – creepy buggers) good food and wonderful friends. And…to top it off as Karen would say:  “Nobody died.”

That my friends – is success.

Karen’s very sassy granddaughter. <3


Post IMO: I hiked back up Stacy Creek the next week and am happy to report Kathryn’s hoof boot was found. Aside from being covered in a  gazillion Mormon crickets (creepy buggers) – the boot was unscathed and will be returned to its owner at the next IMO.

















Trail Log: 05-06-2017








  • Trail: Hammett Idaho IMO
  • Miles: 13
  • Riders: Self – Jones
  • Horses: Jack – Honor
  • Dogs: Hank, Shade and Dealer (stayed in camp during ride)

Notes: IMO ride (Idaho Mounted Orienteering) north of Mountain Home. Finished the ride between thunder storms and found all our markers. Jack did well without getting too chargy on the trail. The dogs stayed in camp during the race since you don’t know the water situation.

What is IMO?

Mounted Orienteering is a competitive, timed sport.  The object of the sport is to use a map, compass and clues to find five hidden markers while riding a trusty steed.  Competitors may ride individually or as a team of two or more.  The person or team who finds all five markers in the least amount of time places first.  Extra points are given to the first six competitors or teams finding all five markers in the least amount of time.  At most rides there is a non-competitive short course.  This course covers less distance than the regular course and landmarks and markers are easier to identify and locate.  Everyone gets two points for each marker they find.


All I Want for Christmas are Dead Balloons and a Twinkie


For the last several years I’ve written a Christmas story in some form. Some fiction – some fact and some a mixture of both. This year I am forgoing the Christmas story. No particular reason other than nothing has come to mind. Perhaps inspiration will pop into my head for New Years. If not New Years – maybe Valentine’s Day. Sure, why not…A Valentine’s Day story. Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, though.

I’m not sure why I started writing a Christmas Story as opposed to a traditional Christmas Letter. Maybe it felt a little too narcissistic. I don’t feel that way when I receive Christmas Letters from others so I will assume it’s all in my head and will take the traditional route this year. I’ll try my best not to come off too self-absorbed, but really – when your kids have flown the nest and are scattered from here to Oklahoma…about the only things you have to talk about is yourself and your critters. It is what it is.

I’ll get the boring preliminaries over with first. I still work for the Oregon Department of Corrections. I work in Information Technology as an IT Security specialist…specializing in digital forensics and electronic discovery; “NERD” would take up less room on a name tag. I’ve been a State Employee for 20 years. Wow – never thought I would stick with anything for 20 years. That’s longer than my marriages, semi-serious and not –so-serious relationships combined. I’m not sure what that says about me other than I might be hard to get along with. I am who I am.

My “real” life bears no resemblance to my professional life. The closest I want to get to electronics away from work is the electronic eye timer during a mounted shooting event. Speaking of which, I took up mounted shooting about a year ago. I have no talents to speak of. I can’t sing – I can’t dance and I’m fairly certain my daddy don’t rock and roll. Mounted shooting seemed like a talent I might be able to possess with little effort. Guess again cowgirl.

I thought I’d be a natural. Having ridden almost as long as I’ve walked I consider myself a decent rider. I’ve shot some form of firearm near as long as I’ve been in the saddle. All you have to do is shoot at a latex balloon from 15 feet with what amounts to a shotgun blast. Who could miss? Me…that’s who. Not only can you miss – but you can look like a damn fool doing it.  I quickly learned that mounted shooting is the single most humbling sport on earth. It is also challenging, rewarding and as addictive as Twinkies at a Zombie Hoedown. I do love my Twinkies.

My horses and I covered 6 shoots in 4 states including Oregon, Idaho, Washington and Montana. We wrapped up the season with two first place wins and a buckle. After much frustration and a few tears along the way, things seem to be falling into place for us. I feel as if we improve with each run and look forward to next year’s shooting season.

I traded in my S&S cab-over camper for a Bison 3 horse slant gooseneck living quarters last fall. The difference in pulling a gooseneck as opposed to a bumper pull is night and day, not to mention eliminating the hassle of putting the camper on and off. Theoretically I can now hook up to the LQ, load up my two dogs and two horses and never return home. Yeah…like a gypsy. I like it.

When I’m not working or eradicating the world of rouge helium grade balloons – I can often be found somewhere out in the boonies with my horses and dogs. I use the term “found” rather loosely since 90% of the time I am hopelessly lost. A problem I remedied this year by purchasing a handy-dandy GPS. As much as I’ve come to love the sport of mounted shooting – my heart belongs in the backcountry – on the back of a horse at 3.2 MPH. That’s the average MPH my horses and I travel. I know this because of the handy-dandy GPS that logs my trail miles and average MPH.

I logged a total of 286.52 trail miles so far this year. Not terribly impressive when you consider a horse in good condition can travel 30 to 100 miles per day. I didn’t spend near as much time riding in the backcountry as normal due to my focus on mounted shooting. Something I plan to remedy next year. Most of my trail riding was done closer to home in shorter intervals – averaging 8 to 10 miles per trip. Admittedly, 286.52 miles in a years’ time isn’t much to write home about. However, one could envision the miles in a more adventurous way: I might have ridden all the way to Winnemucca Nevada in 3 days with time to stop off in Rome for a shot of Fireball and a Twinkie.

That’s pretty much my year in a nutshell. I worked – I rode and tried my hardest to leave a trail of dead balloons in my wake. It may not impress the average jet-setter traveling the globe – but, it’s what I do.

Most importantly, I have much to be thankful for. Good health, good horses and good dogs. I am thankful for my family and friends. Even though you are scattered from one end of this country to the other – I carry you close in my heart. I pray your life is as blessed and enriched as mine for knowing each and every one of you.

Merry Christmas.

Laurie, Jack, J’Lo, Shade and Hank the Ninja.


Rock Creek Rattler

IMG_20160515_134427Step right up ladies and gentleman. We have here a sure-fire cure for the common cold. Yes, it’s true: Stone a rattlesnake to death – cut its head off with PVC pipe- skin it and attach it to the back of your saddle. No more sniffling, sneezing or wheezing guaranteed. Who knew I’d missed my calling as a bonafide Snake Oil salesman.

I gazed out the kitchen window at a stormy sky blanketed with foreboding clouds. Wind is one of the few weather conditions that will keep me out of the saddle. Between the pending storm and a full blown head cold – I decided it would be a good day to reload ammo and watch Lonesome Dove. My farrier and friend, Jimmy Mason, however, had other ideas that didn’t involve being a sniveling couch potato.

I’d asked him earlier in the week if he was interesting in riding. I was wrong to assume a more than average chance at getting caught in a thunderstorm would deter a hardened cow hand like Jimmy.

I read Jimmy’s text: “Hey Slacker….go ahead and wuss out if you want to. I’ll understand if you can’t hack it. No problem – we can wait until a nice sunny day when the conditions are just perfect. Maybe we can get somebody to saddle your horse for you too…greenhorn.” Maybe that’s not exactly what he said, but “slacker” and “wuss” were part of the text.

Finding somebody willing to ride with you is next to impossible. I better not chance bailing on Jimmy or he may never go willingly again.

“Oh…I’ll go if you want. Far be it from me to let a little potential pneumonia and thunderstorm keep me out of the saddle.” I said.

“Okey Dokey Artichokee…I’ll pick you up in 25 minutes.” He replied.

I saddled J’Lo and locked Jack in the dry lot. He got his ride in yesterday and I didn’t feel like ponying today. Normally I have everything with me but the kitchen sink tucked away in my saddle bags. Since it would be a quick ride and I was hauling with somebody else – I left my saddle bags, camera and pistol behind.

We pulled off a gravel road and backed into an overgrown four-wheeler trail that meandered through a ranch owned by Jimmy’s family. I felt kind of bare without my usual provisions. I tucked my phone into the inside pocket of my fleece jacket. At least I could take a picture if we saw something cool.

J’Lo is one of the few horses I’ve ridden that doesn’t seem bothered by the wind. When she jumped and minced side-ways I knew there was good reason. She gingerly danced around a half-coiled rattler.

“Let’s shoot it and skin it and stick it to your saddle!” He says.

“Uh..ok??” I said.

“It will be COOL!” He says.

“Do you have your gun?” He asked

“No. Do you have your gun?” I answered.

“No. Let’s hit it with a rock.” He suggests.

Jimmy kind of throws like a girl. Then again, so do I apparently but at least I AM a girl. Jimmy would take a try with his goofy little girlie toss and then I’d take a run at it. Literally. I’ve seen the You Tube videos. I wasn’t taking any chances on become the next internet sensation. I made my girly throws on the run. “DID I GET IT?!” I’d shout at a dead run 30 feet from the snake.

We must have thrown a dozen rocks at it. Eventually one of Jimmy’s girly tosses makes contact.

“We can pick it up on our way back.” He said.

I feared if we left it – it would come back to life and crawl away before we got back.

“Cut its head off so it doesn’t revive and we lose it!” I pleaded.

Jimmy looked at me like I had lost my mind. There was no way he wanted to touch that snake. I could tell by the look in his eyes. Jimmy, fearless farrier and all around tough Cowboy…has an aversion to snakes. Does anybody really like snakes?

“It can’t come back to life if its dead…can it?” He exclaimed with a hint of trepidation in his voice.

We discussed the possibility of it coming back to life before smashing it a few more times with a rock. Still – it just wasn’t good enough for me. I wanted…no, needed, to make sure that thing was dead.

I picked up an old bone lying nearby.

Jimmy looked bewildered.

“What are you going to do with that?” He asked.

“I’m going to kill the snake with it…again.” I said.

It worked for the caveman – why not. I let fly the bone in an over-handed hatchet-type throw. Dang..missed again. The second toss hit home, catching the snake between the bone and a rock.

“Did you see that!? It’s head flew off!”

I confidently (and mistakenly) imagined the last bone toss delivering the fatal blow by beheading our venomous prey. Just like Xena Warrior Princess and her deadly war lord killing chakra. This is my story, my imagination – don’t judge me.

I tiptoed closer to inspect the carnage – because everybody knows that rattle snakes don’t strike at tip-toeing warrior princesses. The snake wriggled and writhed about. Nope – not dead. Head still attached. Xena would not be impressed.

Somewhat convinced the snake would be there when we returned – we mounted up and continued on. We dropped down off the ridge into a creek bottom out of the wind. J’Lo and I loped behind Jimmy and Bling, his palomino mare. We loped up and over the rolling hills of Rock Creek. Wild daisy’s and Sunflower speckled the spring green hills of sage and bogus bluegrass. My inner Lorne Green recalled the theme song to Bonanza.

“Dummdededumdededumdumdum…” Jimmy chimed in. Neither one of us were in danger of winning the next season of American Idol. We best stick to snake killing. We all have our talents…carrying a tune is not one of mine.

We rode along the top of a ridge. The face of a vertical slope dropped to the ravine 50 yards below.

“Hold on Jimmy…let me get my phone out. You go all “Man from Snowy River” and I’ll catch it on video!”

All joking aside – I was not surprised when I asked him if he’d ridden IMG_20160515_131719down anything that steep and he said he had. Jimmy has lived the life many of us merely romanticize about. I love listening to him tell stories of days as a buckaroo for local ranches; of being lost in dense fog and bitter cold bringing cattle down off the mountain. He and his fellow cow hand spent the night in an old Railroad building until daylight…nearly freezing to death. “And that, my friend, is why you use a Navaho blanket over your saddle pad in case you need to wrap up in it for warmth.” Duly noted.

He tells of thrilling rides down hills every bit as steep at break neck speed on a wrangle horse bringing the remuda in off the range. With a big smile and eyes that glint with excitement he exclaims: “AND IT WAS SO MUCH FUN!!”

Neither one of us were carrying a knife. Everything I owned was in my saddle bags back in my trailer. I knew better. A person should never go riding without a pocket knife at minimum. How were we supposed to cut the head off our snake? I don’t care how cool of a story it would have been to tell the grandchildren, I wasn’t biting it off.

I dismounted and picked up a piece of broken PVC pipe. Jimmy asked what I was going to do with it. I informed him I was going to cut the snakes head off with it. Again, he looked at me like I might have gone daft. Maybe so – but you might be surprised at how sharp the edge of that broken PVC was.

Jimmy placed the piece of pipe in his pocket. I didn’t want to carry it. Knowing my luck – I’d go galloping across the open hills, J’Lo would stumble and fall and I’d fly through the air head over heels and impale myself on it. “You know,” he said, “riding with you makes me kind of paranoid.”

We circled around skirting a grassy hillside that met up with the road we started out on. Soon we came to the spot where we’d left the “not quite dead rattlesnake.”

Oh gross! Its guts came out! Part of the entrails had protruded from its under-belly. While Jimmy stepped on its head – I tugged at the guts and laid them on the ground. For somebody who protested the dissection of frogs in biology class – I found the internal workings of this particular reptile somewhat fascinating.

LOOK! Its heart is still beating! Let me get a video of it! Jimmy looked a bit green around the edges. I quickly shot a video of the still beating heart of the disemboweled snake. PETA would not approve.

Using the sharp edge of the PVC pipe and a rock as a hammer, we quickly separated the head from the body. We snatched a few pictures of our trophy. Jimmy said he would show me how to stick it on my cantle when we got home. I guess I’ll try anything once. Even if it is draping a slimy snake over the back of my custom saddle.

We couldn’t just leave the head and guts exposed. I’ve heard the head can still be dangerous. We dug a small depression in the dirt to lay the head in and piled rocks over the top. I placed the bone and PVC atop the snake’s grave as a monument. Jimmy removed his hat and said a few kind words over the departed reptile. “May the snake rest in peace….es. Yes, may he rest in PEACES!”


It was obvious Jimmy was not relishing the thought of carrying a snake, dead or otherwise, back to the trailer. I looped it over J’s saddle horn. It writhed a little causing the rattle to buzz. That wouldn’t do. I couldn’t have the thing acting like it was alive even if it was minus a head and several vital organs. I used the saddle strings to secure it in place just in case it miraculously re-grew a head and come back for vengeance. One can never be too careful.

Having that snake draped over my saddle horn was disconcerting. I don’t care that I had personally witnessed the beheading, disembowelment and dissecting of said snake – I could not make myself lay my hands close to that saddle horn. I rode the remainder of the way to the trailer with my hands and reins chest high.

As soon as we arrived home we went about the task of skinning the snake. It was easier than I thought it would be. I’d already removed most of the guts. All that was left was to slice it down the underside and peel back the skin at the base of what was formerly known as its head. Slicker than peeling a ripe banana….albeit a whole lot smellier. That puppy stunk! J’Lo noticed it too. Looking over Jimmy’s shoulder at the skinning process, she stomped, snorted and made a beeline for the pasture.

According to Jimmy, the underside of the skin is like glue and will stick to the cantle for a good year or so. I had my doubts…but when it was all said and done, it looked pretty cool.

One of the items on my bucket list is to cook a rattle snake. Here was my chance. I inspected the skinned rattler. It looked like a long, skinny fish with just as many tiny bones to deal with. I tossed it in the burn barrel. There’s plenty of time to check it off my list along with starting a bar fight in Montana and visiting Dollywood while Dolly’s still alive. I might better hurry on that last one.

All in all – it was a great day. It would have been too easy to succumb to the sniffles and couch up watching a Lonesome Dove marathon and I’m very glad I didn’t.

You shouldn’t wait for the perfect conditions to do what you love. It’s always going to be too windy, or two hot or too something…but as Jimmy would say: Just being in the saddle makes any day the perfect day to ride.



Faster than the Boogeyman

April 16th, 2015  will be my horses 7th birthday. His name is Jack.  As I contemplate a blog piece to commemorate Jack’s birthday, I come to the realization that our story began many years prior to the day I brought him home. It began long before he was born.

My love for this stripped back buckskin began with a love of all things horse. Their smell, their warmth and their therapeutic effect on a shy, awkward kid struggling to fit in. I was “different.” I was “odd”. I was “backwards.” Words over-heard from a childhood I would one day come to embrace.

My earliest memory is of climbing on a fence and sliding onto the back of an un-broke filly named Popcorn; the day I found my true place in the world. I remember looking down at a fascinating black line that ran from her withers to the base of her tail. Is this what holds her together? She was huge. I was huge. No longer tethered to the earth with mere mortals, I was part of a creature as free as the wind itself.

Popcorn and Whiskey
Popcorn and Whiskey

If I had a belly ache or felt sad or scared, I rode. There is something about the motion of sitting a horse that frees you of physical and mental pain like nothing in modern medicine.

The horse is incapable of judging and they won’t laugh at you (although I won’t say the same for a mule, but that is another story). The horse accepts you for what you are based on your spirit, not your outward appearance. When I ride, I become as graceful and uninhibited as the beautiful animal beneath me.

Horses have carried me far away from the terrors of my dreams and those that bled into reality. I needn’t be afraid… for a horse is, and always will be, faster than the boogeyman.

The horse saw me through a challenging childhood. From an imaginary herd that escorted me to school each morning to the Morgan Quarter-horse mare that waited for my return. I hated everything about school from the nauseating bus ride in, to the long boring hours of lecture to the humiliation that can only be experienced during lunch in a school cafeteria.

I knew this herd of wild steeds was a figment of my imagination, but they were necessary. I needed them. The herd ran alongside the bus to school each day. I stared out the small latched windows at manes that flowed like currents of speed on the wind. Recalling each by name kept my mind off the caustic smell of vinyl seats and the stomach-churning sway of the yellow transport. I imagined the creepy high school boy in the back seat being trampled beneath their stampeding hooves as he hissed unspeakable things no child should hear. The herd got me to school and safely home. As soon as my blue lace-up Converse sneakers stepped off the bus onto home ground, I made for the pasture to soothe the day’s wounds.

Life after graduation prohibited keeping a horse for many years. Occasional visits home temporarily filled the longing left behind. I’d wander the pastures of my past where I once played, exploring remnants of old forts built by the hands of a child’s imagination. At visits end, which always came too soon, I’d swing on Popcorn for a reluctant ride back to the present. At 27, Popcorn passed away. Going home would never be the same.

In my early 20’s I married a Ferrier and horse trader. Immersed in all things horse, you would think the gap would be closed. It was not. I rode a few good horses and plenty of bad ones. None of them felt like “my horse.” The ones that bucked me off or tried to kill me I didn’t want and the horses I liked and could ride were often sold out from under me.

It wasn’t until after a divorce that I considered the possibility of finding my very own horse again. I had a decent job that afforded the luxury of purchasing a small ranchett; A very empty ranchett. I remember standing in the middle of 5 acres wondering what the heck I was doing with property if I wasn’t going to fill it up. I had a dog, chickens, goats and an occasional cat that came and went. Still, something was missing. It wasn’t until a trip back home that I realized what that something was.

Auntie Karen and Addie
Auntie Karen and Addie

I happen to be in Halfway, my home town, over the same weekend as my Aunt Karen. Auntie Karen had recently purchased a pretty bay mare named Addie. I don’t normally ride other people’s horses but for some reason I really wanted to ride Addie and my Aunt complied. Addie brought me home. I knew if I could find a horse like her, I’d find the one thing that would make my pasture, and my heart, complete.

I explored different avenues in my search for the perfect horse. I skimmed bulletin boards hanging in feed stores and sale yards; perused the farm sections of classified ads and Craig’s List. Nothing I saw felt right. A horseback riding accident that landed me in the hospital years earlier had left behind a crippled leg and shattered confidence. I needed a horse I trusted and felt comfortable with. I needed a dream horse – and that’s where I found him, on dreamhorse.com.

I didn’t have the nerve or the time to start another colt. I was looking for a 6-8 year old ranch gelding, preferably buckskin if I had a choice. As I flipped through the on-line profiles of horses looking for that “forever” home, I damn near missed him. I had accidently left the “age” field in the search criteria unchecked. I liked his looks right off. He had a nice big butt and deep chest. He was certainly the right color. He had to be older than the listed age of year and a half. It must have been a type-o. The fact he was locally located in Caldwell was a bonus. Close enough to take a look even if he was younger than I wanted.

The breeder had two colts left to sell before going out of the horse business; a buckskin dun and a red dun. The buckskin was the one I’d come to look at. Nadine, the breeder, suggested I look at both colts as both were for sale. The red dun was stunning. Perfect confirmation – flashy markings, he had it all…except what I was looking for. He wasn’t “my horse.”

“My horse” stared back at me from the corner of the paddock. His tail had been chewed off, his mane stuck up every direction but down. His frizzy forelock exposed a star that more resembled a kidney bean than an actual star and appeared to struggle at finding the center of his forehead. He had a head that some might say only a mother could love and a scar that ran from his pastern to the bulb of his heal. He was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. I had found “my horse.”

Five and a half years later will find Jack and me riding through the sage strewn sands of the high desert. There is no stress from work or daily life. I feel no aches or pains. I am transformed from a body that has endured a half century of trials and tribulations to one of ageless defiance. The 1200 pounds of powerful buckskin beneath me carries me from sunup to sunset with ease. I ride without fear not because I am brave…because I know in my heart that “my horse” will always be faster than the boogeyman.

Jack and Me

Monday’s Don’t Exist When You’re in the Saddle

WRT_Soloe (2)

An epiphany: a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.

My epiphany for the week: “Monday’s don’t exist when you are in the saddle.” It’s true. I sat in my state issued, ergonomically designed office chair, pounding away at the keyboard. My head throbbed and my knee ached. I shifted in a chair that felt like it was made out of granite. Ergonomical my ass; pun intended.

I needed a drink of water to wash down a couple million milligrams of Excedrin migraine. I don’t get migraines, but I figured the caffeine infused pain killers would help keep me from falling into a mundane induced coma. I gathered up all the change I could scrounge from my purse and head for the vending machines. I find I am short .50 cents of the $1.50 required for the tinniest bottle of water on the planet. They must have used an eye dropper to get that in there. There’s probably not enough water to wash down a grain of salt let alone a couple million milligrams of Excedrin.

The phone rings – the phone always rings. A sniveling user on the other end rambles on about needing some sort of access to some thing or the other. She has no idea what she needs access to or where this thing might be – but damn it, she needs that access and I darn well better give it to her and PRONTO!  I swig down the pills and pretend like I’m crunching a cyanide capsule international spy’s take to off themselves if captured. Better to die at my own hand than live through this torture.

I must have solved her immediate issue. I don’t really remember. Most of what I do is a blur, especially on a Monday. I hate my job. No, that’s not true. I don’t really hate my job. I hate the fact that society has forced us into to needing a job to survive. I’m not going to say I love it, but I will say that I appreciate my job. It is a good job, if you have to have one…and most importantly – it puts hay in the barn. It’s just hard to remember that on a Monday.

At last the work day ends.  It had been a Monday if there ever was one. I peeled off my work jacket, kicked off the hideous black work shoes suffocating my feet and let loose the tangled mop of hair confined to the top of my head in a scrunchie.

I replaced nylon and polyester dress with blue jeans and a cotton T with “Saddle up and Ride” stenciled across the back. That is exactly what I intend to do: Saddle up and ride. Rain, shine, hail, sleet nor snow would keep me out of the saddle. Except for wind – wind keeps me out of the saddle usually, however, after a day like this particular Monday – a tornado could not keep me out of the saddle.

Jack and Shade seemed as anxious as me to get out for a good run. I chose the Weiser River Trail for our after-work Monday ride, also known as sanity maintenance. Some folks tell me they don’t like to ride the WRT because it’s boring. Boring? I don’t it. There is always something different to see and experience on the WRT. The river’s channel changes with every season. The lighting is never the same, from sunup to sundown, painting the rolling hills with an endless pallet of contrast. I’ve encountered cougars, coyotes, rattle snakes, rock-chucks and a wolf that later proved to be a big coyote. Those damn cameras never do lie.

I seldom plod down the trail on auto-pilot in a state of hum-drummedness. My mind excels at filling in gaps of languor with imagination. I’m a pony express rider being chased by renegade Indians on the last leg of the run. The Indians are gaining on us. Jack must feel it too. He kicks into another gear just when I think he’s run out.  We narrowly escape to live another day – to make another run.

After my retirement from the pony express – times are lean. I hire out as a member of the posse to bring in a band of outlaws hiding out in “The Hole in the Wall.” We’ve ridden into an ambush. Shoot your way out or die! We are off again…blasting outlaws from behind rocks and sage brush. How fortunate for me that my imaginary pistols have an endless supply of ammunition – not unlike those in the Spaghetti Western. If anyone were to see me galloping down the trail pointing at rocks and sage while making “boom-boom” sounds, I plan to tell them I am practicing mounted shooting maneuvers. It sounds more mature than playing cowboys and Indians.

I don’t always have to rely on my imagination for excitement. Often, the trail provides its own. The sun was fast going down and it was time to head home. Jack, Shade and I turned back toward the trailers. We reined in from a fast clip after being chased …I mean, after a quarter-mile exercise run, and pulled to a stop. I straightened Jack’s wind-blown mane while he rested. Shade suddenly dove into a pile of rocks on the hillside. In a flash, she reaches in, grabs hold of something and flings it toward us. Flying through the air, all teeth and claws is what can be described as a varmint possessed. All wide-eyed and hissing, the demon soars straight toward Jack’s head. Jack braced, snorted and took a half step sideways. The varmint landed at Jacks hooves. Had he not moved the thing would have hit him in the face sure as shit! A split second after hitting the ground, Shade was on it again. No five second rule for this dog. She flung it toward us for another round. This time her aim was in direct flight of my saddle horn. If that bug-eyed bundle of hissing fur lands in my lap, I hoped to die of a heart attack before it went for my throat.  I seriously believe it thought if it was going to die – it was going to take out a horse and rider with it. Jack moved out of its flight path for the second time. Shade grabs for it again. I yell at Shade, “Kill the damn thing!” Shade complies – gives the varmint a violent shake and drops its seemingly lifeless body.  Shade was proud of her kill. Jack was impressed. He thought he would give it the old “nudge” to make sure it’s dead. Has this horse never seen a movie?! You never walk up to the bad guy and poke around on him. He’s never dead! He can, and will…grab you buy the ankle for one final struggle to the death. Jack put his nose on the furry fiend. I could have warned him what would happen. The thing twitched and let out a final death squeal. Jack covered it in horse snot and gave it a good stomping. Shade looked at Jack, “I found it first you stupid horse. That’s my kill!” We left the body alongside the road. I secretly hoped it was playing possum and would run off to its family when we got out of site. If not, it would make a nice meal for a hungry coyote. Either way, Mother Nature would make best of the situation.

Evening on the WRT means gnats; lots and lots of gnats. I was not lost in the irony of similarities between those gnats and the user support calls earlier in the day. I pulled the bug spray from my saddle bags and gave me and Jack a good dousing. Problem solved. If only…well, if only they had a can of this stuff for Monday mornings.

The day was near end. My headache was gone. My knee ached less and there’s nothing like sitting in a well made saddle. Those annoying users didn’t seem so annoying anymore. They were just decent people trying to do their job like the rest of us. It was as if Monday never happened. That is when the phenomenon occurred to me: Like bad hair days, uncomfortable shoes and regrets…Monday’s just don’t exist when you’re in the saddle.


Content Writing and Safety on the Trail

Several years ago I made a little extra money content writing for the web. The service I wrote for was fairly simple. The content service cruised search engines for user “how to” searches. The writers then picked from a Q of “how to” questions and answered those questions. For example – suppose a number of people Googled “How to split wood.” The service, by use of bots, mined that search request and dumped it in the Q for writers to choose from. Writers then go in and search the various Q’s they have expertise in and answer the question. I wrote content varying from “How to wean a miniature donkey with diarrhea” to “How to export windows event logs to Excel.” Riveting stuff. 

The writers have to follow rules and formats imposed by the content writing service. “No humor.” “No Sarcasm.” “No individuality of voice.” Pretty much tied my hands. Still….I gave it a shot. I’d done some technical writing for my job. While I don’t enjoy it – its writing and I hoped it would help with the technical aspects of my writing…like grammar, spelling and all that nonsense.  

The one saving grace in the process was the free-lance writing. You didn’t have to pull from the “How To” Q. You could make up your own content and write whatever you wanted; the caveat being method of payment. Instead of a set payment for each piece based on length and content – the freelance pieces are paid based on the number of views the article received on its respective “How To” website.  

I tried it for a few months and made a few hundred dollars. It took me longer to write a $7.50 article than it would have to pick up $7.50 worth of cans along the highway. I decided I was too obsessive to hammer out an article in under the fifteen minutes needed to make it worth it. Still…it was kind of fun while it lasted and taught me, if nothing else, that content writing was best left to those free from humor, sarcasm and individuality.

This is one of the freelance articles I wrote that gleaned me the largest financial gain of a whopping .26 cents.


Horse Sense

A common-sense guide to safety on the trail


You look out the kitchen window and gaze longingly at Old Thunder grazing contently in the green pasture. Shiny as a new copper penny and slick from the summer sun stands a newly shod temptation aching to hit the trail.

Trail riding should be an enjoyable experience for both rider and horse. As with all forms of horsemanship, proper preparation before hitting the trail is essential to a positive and safe experience. Too often in our zest to gallop off into the sunset, we find ourselves in bad situations that could have been prevented with a little pre-trail planning and preparation.

It is essential that both rider and mount are physically and mentally prepared to undertake the conditions of a chosen trail. Neither horse nor rider is likely ready to undertake a 20 mile hike into the backcountry the first trip out of the pasture in spring. Take it easy and pick a nice, quiet trail that meanders gently through the countryside. Match the terrain to your abilities at any given time. Save the death defying, nostril flaring rides for Denny and The Man from Snowy River until you and Old Thunder are better legged up.

Never leave the confines of your pasture without telling at least one person – preferably a responsible one – where you are going and when you plan to be back. This is most vital if you are planning on riding alone, which is not recommended no matter how hard your inner lone-wolf might call upon your independent nature to set out on a journey of solitude.  Lying on the ground in the middle of nowhere with a broken leg, waiting for somebody to notice your horse went home without you does not qualify as an enjoyable trail riding experience. Been there…done that and have the $75,000.00 bionic leg to show for it.

Proper tack for horse and rider is essential for all types of riding. A properly fitting saddle that allows the horse freedom of movement will go a long way in enhancing a positive attitude in your trail partner; the same for bit and bridle. All tack should be in excellent repair to limit the chance of accidents caused by a broken rein or failed cinch. There is a rule of thumb I follow: if it’s metal – it will break. In particular, stay away from metal hooks and attachment points. Full leather tack is a good investment.

The rider should be as well outfitted as her mount. What kind of shirt, pants or hat you wear is of minor significance with the exception of a riding helmet. They might not look pretty, but neither does landing on your head one too many times and sporting a drool cup. However, the buck stops at the boots. Always wear a riding boot with a heel. Anything less and you risk the chance of being drug; again, not an enjoyable riding experience. Consider pull-on boots as opposed to lace-ups. Should you get hung up in the stirrup; a pull on boot will slip off easier than a lace up. If you must wear lace-ups – unlace them when riding. If for some reason you absolutely cannot see fit to put on a pair of proper footwear – sell your horse and buy a four wheeler.

Trail riding would not be complete without a convenient set of trail bags, or saddle bags as they are more commonly referred. What you pack into those trail bags is an important step in preparing for a safe and enjoyable trail experience. Your trail bags should be big enough to include the minimum items: wire cutters, pocket knife, vet wrap, Butte, Banamine, Kotex, bandana, rope, cell phone, emergency poncho,  fire starter, water and a can or two of Beanee Weenees.

Some of the above items warrant further explanation. For example: Kotex. Kotex makes an excellent bandage that is absorbent and sanitary. Vet wrap is like the duct tape of emergency preparedness. Stop a bleeding wound by slapping on a Kotex secured with Vet Wrap should get you back to the trailer and on your way to the vet clinic.

Where there are horses there is wire and they will get hung up in that wire. Always carry wire cutters anytime you are on or around horses. It is not a matter of if you will need them – it’s a matter of when.

The bandana is the multi-tool of the survivalist. Its uses are endless. A bandana keeps the sweat out of your eyes in the heat and cools you when soaked in cold water and draped around your neck. A bandana can be used in first aid as a tourniquet or fashioned into a triangle bandage. Use the bandana to filter water in an emergency. If none of these applications appeal to you, one can always wrap the bandana around the head for a cool Rambo-like appearance.

Rope or twin comes in handy if you missed the section on metal clasps. Cells phones are nice in an emergency, if you have service,  and as a backup camera when that awesome cougar runs across the trail in front of you. Note: See section on being mentally prepared for anything.

Last but not least, the Beanee Weenee. The perfect, on-the-go food, packed with protein and energy in every bean. I never leave home without them.


Safe and Happy trails