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Be In The Arena

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is not effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause;  who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly. Theodore Roosevelt

I did not grow up showing much, just a little during a couple summers on a friend’s horses that she wasn’t riding.  You could never paint us with any discipline brush because we entered as many classes as we could English or Western, including any sort of Gymkhana classes.  Then a little showing again in college on the equestrian team.  I don’t remember any great successes, but I really enjoy the process of showing, similar to the way I enjoy horses.

I love every part of horses.  Hauling hay, cleaning stalls, their smell, the way they move and talk to each other, grooming, caring and riding them, just being a part of their world.  With showing, I love the show preparation of packing, laundering pads and show clothes, cleaning tack, bathing the horses, getting up super early and spending the entire day/s immersed in horse.

Looking back on the last nine recent years that I have been, I have learned many lessons about myself and my horses.  My horses seem to enjoy getting out and they are different at a show.  More engaged.  Sometimes the engagement comes out in underlying tension and nerves.  You learn your horses.  They may need less time to warm up or more time.  They may need time to just walk around and let it all soak in.  Shows are a great way to bond with your horse and rely on each other.   They learn to be around lots of other horses, cars, people, signs, loudspeakers.  They see new arenas, new scenery, new obstacles.

Although, I learn the most about me.  Being the “doer of deeds” and at most shows my face is definitely “marred by dust, sweat and blood”.  There were times I did it for the color of the ribbon.    But just wait, partnering with a large animal with their own brain will fix your ego.  Then there is the liability of my brain.  Doing the wrong pattern, forgetting the rules, going off course, “because there is not effort without error and shortcoming.” I don’t take much for granted anymore.  The most important lesson I have learned is that it is never the horse’s fault.

Vulnerability is not knowing victory or defeat; it’s understanding the necessity of both; its engaging. It’s being all in.  Brene Brown, Daring Greatly

I want to be “all in” for my horses.  It is really all about them and they are without question a “worthy cause”.  We, horses and people, were created to partner and be a team.  We work with them to do what they were made to do, but in a certain sequence.  We add value to who they are in their life with people by exposing them to new environments and by partnering with them to reach their potential as well as ours.

Now I show partly because it gives me goals and a reason to, “actually strive to do the deeds.”  Life is busy and I have to have something I have invested in coming on the calendar to make me get out, ride and improve myself.  I owe it to the horses to continue to better myself through time riding, lessons and by showing to get evaluated on my progress and goals.  I want to ride at the best of my ability in order to show my horse to the best of their ability.  You will rarely be ready or prepared, but go anyway.  Show day is not a day to fix anything, don’t worry about the judge/s, do your best in that moment.  It’s is just a horse show, whatever happens, happens, I guarantee you will both learn, grow and many times surprise yourself.  Most importantly, HAVE FUN and make it a great experience for your horse.

“Competition does not have to be a horse show or a race against another horse.  Competition can be a set of standards by which we measure ourselves.  Your standards have great influence on your perceived results.  Choose them carefully.  It is not about the blue ribbon.  It is about evaluating the direction of our work and establishing deadlines for reaching goals… I will always compete, as I need to be challenged and held to an honest evaluation of my progress.  I don’t have to win the blue ribbon, but I need to know if I’m as good as I think I am.”  Trainers Aaron Ralston in “Ride Up:  Live your adventure.”  Co-written with Edgall Franklin Pyles.

Set goals, challenge, push and stretch yourself.  Get out of your comfort zone.  Don’t just do what’s necessary, do what’s possible.  Be relentless, because it is not how you start something, but how you continue.  Expect to fail.  Success does not come without failure.  Then accept your failures.  After all, we connect with each other through our flaws.    

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.  Martin Luther King Jr.

As we navigate the odd and sparse show season during COVID-19, I encourage riders to set some goals for next year, to find a couple shows or trail rides or team events to participate in possibly this fall and next year.  If participating seems too intimidating at first, start by volunteering and see what it’s like.  There is a kind of horse sport, competition or group for everyone with any shape or size of horse that you will enjoy and meet new horse people along the way.  Encourage each other and the strangers you will meet along the way who will become your friends.  You will see new places and know victories “and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly”.

Feel free to contact me if I can be of any assistance in helping you find a challenge or to share your horse story.  [email protected]  Heather McWilliams © 2020.

Trail Riding in Colorado!

“There are many wonderful places in the world, but one of my favorite places is on the back of my horse.”  Rolf Kopfle

As mountain residents, we enjoy some of the most beautiful trails in the nation to ride our horses on.  Not just a few, but several right in our backyards, not to mention the amazing places all over our state.  Riders “down the hill” go to a lot of effort just to come to our local trails.  While many local horse people are very comfortable riding local trails, others may need people to ride with or the fear of the unknown keeps them from venturing out.  Some friends moving here from the west coast noted that in California, horse riders are more concentrated into communities, but here we are spread out and it can be difficult to connect. 

Trail riders come from all disciplines and use trail riding as a break from the arena or a horses usual job.  Of course it is also a great way to socialize, enjoy riding and Colorado with friends and family. 

As trail riders, we hold quite a bit of responsibility in our hands.  Our most important job (other than staying alive) is as horse riding ambassadors to keep the trails and parking lots accessible to our horses and rigs.  It is no secret that the majority of the local trail users are bikers and hikers.  We are the minority, but pedestrians and bikers must yield to us, because plainly, we could be killed if something goes awry.  Hold that privilege and responsibility with appreciation and respect. 

Be kind, be aware of your surroundings.  Most bikers and hikers encountered are aware of our frailty and predicament.  As prey animals, horses get a little nervous when encountering fast moving people on wheels and people hiding in bushes ready to pounce on them, not to mention the dog that has been waiting for the chance for a good sniff of a horse.  The majority pull off the trail, stand in a conspicuous place and talk to the horses.  Avoid being rude or officious.  We need to get along with our fellow trail users.  Start a pleasant conversation with them to get them talking.  Let them know that your horse needs to see and hear them. 

Be proactive and aware of your surroundings.  If possible, put the more trail savvy horses at the front and back of your party.  That way if a bike comes up quickly, the horse is less likely to react and cause a chain reaction.  Of course, stay on the trail (unless muddy) and walk while passing other trail users.  If you are on a young horse or one with little trail experience, keep your eyes open and as soon as you see a bike or person, talk to your horse and the person.  If the trail allows, turn your horse toward the person/bike as soon as you notice them so your horse can get a good look at them.  If possible, pony young horses initially off of more experienced horses to get them used to the trails and other users. 

Venturing first on more open trails is wise.  Open trails give your horse a chance to see someone coming from a distance.  You can step off the trail and let your horse see the bike coming.  Some open trails under an hour from our area are Bear Creek Lake Park, Chatfield Park, parts of Elk Meadow and Mount Falcon. 

Take care of each other and ride to the level of the least experienced horse or rider in your party.  If you want to go on a fitness ride, go out with others with the same goal.  If you are meeting various friends and friends of friends, consider it more social and be flexible.  Although in our mountains, no matter the speed, you and your horse will get a work out.    Get a feel for the other riders and their horses.  If you think you might want to trot, first ask everyone in the party if they want to.  Then, let them know when you are transitioning back to a walk.  An easy way to not be invited back trail riding is to take off at a canter/gallop without warning.  This is a good recipe for getting someone in your party bucked off or taken off with.

Some of our best local horse trails include Alderfer Three Sisters, Kenosha Pass, Pine Valley Ranch, Elk Meadow Park, Flying J, Beaver Brook Watershed, Mount Evans Wilderness, Gashouse Gulch, Staunton State Park, Little Scraggy Peak and Miller Gulch.  I recommend going early or later in the day, even after dinner is a great time during our long daylight hours in the summer.  In addition, weekdays can be wonderfully quiet at local parks.

Riding horses is one of the most natural ways to experience the beauty and peacefulness of the mountains.  Wildlife are more comfortable with our horses than people on their own and horses can take us places we would struggle to go without them.  Stay safe and enjoy your summer riding around our beautiful state with your horses and friends!

Resources:

Margi Evans’ Riding Colorado I – II and III books are a must have for Colorado trail riders. 

ridingcolorado.equineexplorer.com

mtnhomes4horses.com/category/trail_guide

jeffco.us/open-space/parks/

horsechannel.com/horse-news/2013/09/13-trail-etiquette.aspx

Heather McWilliams © 2020

Go Horse Camping in Colorado!

What better way to get away than take your horses and go camping!  Social distancing is naturally built in and you can be with your tribe in a new location other than home.  Here are some of the places offered in our beautiful state that provide overnight facilities for people and horses.  For more information, details and additional ideas see Margi Evans’ book:  Riding Colorado III:  Day and Overnight Trips with your horse

Make reservations as far ahead as you can, but often in the late fall there are openings for spontaneous trips.  Call ahead and make sure you get together ALL of the health papers you need for the specific location.  You may need a current negative Coggins test, possibly a vaccination record and/or a health certificate within the last 30 days.  If travelling over 75 miles from home in Colorado, you will need a brand inspection.  It is recommended that you get your horse its permanent travel card when you do your initial brand inspection, then you won’t need to get a brand inspection before each trip.  In addition, some places require you bring certified weed-free hay.  Just make sure you check a few weeks before you go.

Beaver Meadows Resort, Red Feather Lakes, CO  beavermeadow.com, 970-881-2450

Beautiful common area with beaver ponds, general store and restaurant.  A great place for non-horse folks too!  Many, many well marked trails for different loop options every day.  Several small stream crossings.  Horses:  Pens at the horse stable area or large pens at campsites with nearby water.  People:  Many options including cabins, condos, hotel rooms and horse camp sites.  There are no hook ups at the horse camping area, but it is along a beautiful stream in a private setting. 

Homestead Meadows from Hermit Park Campground (National Forest), Estes Park, CO  800-397-7795

Ride to Homestead Meadows from Campground.  The trail tours through a registered National Historic District.  The area was first settled in the 1800’s and the last resident in 1952.  Each homestead is labeled telling about each homesteader family.  Two days recommended to really explore.  Horses:  One or two pens per site, but keep in mind they are too small to really put two horses in one.  Nice pens with good ground and shade.  People:  Tent camping or living quarters trailers, but no hook ups. Restrooms available and water down near pavilion or entry.  Bring water for you and your horse. 

Indian Creek Campground (US Forest Service), Sedalia, CO  877-444-6777

Several options for trailing riding in the area including the Indian Creek Equestrian Trail, a segment of the Colorado Trail, and the Ringtail Trail.  Horses:  Hitching posts, water spigots and pens at sites, some shaded.  People:  Nice campground with restrooms in the loop, picnic tables, fire pits and tent sites.  There are a couple sites that would work well for living quarters trailers, but there are no hook ups. 

Mill Creek Ranch (formally known as Old Cow Town Colorado), Saguache, CO, millcreekcolorado.com, 719-655-2224

No expense was spared designing and building this recently built cow town.  There is a restaurant, saloon, general store, museum, social club and more.  Bring more than your horse friends and family, there is something here for everyone.  Surrounded by National Forest, there are many trail riding options to explore like Hoaglund Mountain and the Hodding Creek Area.  Horses:  Very nice stall barn to outdoor pens.  People: Many options of cabins, the Social Club or a nice RV area near the arena, barn and pens with hookups.

Mueller State Park, Teller County, CO  800-244-5613

34 miles of trails for riding, plus you can connect to the Dome Rock area with additional trails.  Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument in this area as well.  There are a few areas where horses are not allowed which are marked.  Beautiful scenery and easy to moderate trails.  Horses:  Stalls/pens available at the stable area that go with the two horse camp sites 133 & 134.   People:  Water and electric at horse camp sites as well as tent pad, fire ring, and picnic table.  The horse sites are separate from the rest of the campground, but a short walk to the museum.

Mueller State Park Horse Area

Mule Creek Outfitters (formally M Lazy C Ranch), Lake George, CO  mlazyc.com, 719-148-3398

Meals available for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Some nights there is a chuckwagon dinner with hayrides, reservations required.  Unlimited access to Pike National Forest trails.  On the 4WD roads you may encounter ATV’s that were always very respectful of the horses.  There are plenty of single-track trails to explore with no ATV’s.  Beautiful open areas and distant mountain views.  You can camp here and trailer to Dome Rock as well.  Horses:  Two pens at each campsite and the ability to add more.  Some of the pens have roofs. Water at each site.  People:  There are some cabins and rooms available near the main area with pen options for horses as well as a round pen and outdoor arena.  Great camping area layout with different configurations.  Water, electric, fire pits and picnic tables at sites.  Also, a round pen and several trail obstacles in camping area.

Oleo Ranch, Lake City, CO  oleoranch.com, 281-728-0267

Off the Grid at 10,500 feet elevation.  There is an old 1800’s stagecoach road bed, local trails and the Colorado Trail and Continental Trail both come through here.  Fishing in 5 stocked ponds or 1.5 miles of stream.  Horses:  free horse corrals, water available.  People:  Seven different cabins to rent with refrigerators and hot water.  No internet or wifi.

Sun Canyon Ranch, Dove Creek, CO  suncanyonranch.com, 970-677-3377

Adjacent to hundreds of miles of BLM land and San Juan National Forest.  Great riding from the ranch as well as fishing, nearby historic Indian Ruins, Cowboy Supper and Show.  Horses:  Stalls, paddocks, panel pens, pasture, and round pen.  People:  Beautiful lodge as well as 12 RV sites with water and electric and 5 tent sites. 

Tutor Rose Bed & Breakfast, Salida, CO  thetudorrose.com, 800-379-0889

The Tutor Rose property adjoins BLM land through which you access the Lost Trail, to the new Little Rainbow Trail, to the Rainbow Trail.  Head north or south from here.  Beautiful trail along the east side of the Sangre De Cristo mountains.  Old roads, lakes, mines, and stream crossings over decent footing with some exposed roots and rocks.  Horses:  Various horse accommodations from stalls to paddocks.  People:  Main house is a B & B as well as Chalets that sleep up to six.    

Winding River Resort, Grand Lake, CO  windingriverresort.com, 970-627-3215

Trail ride into Rocky Mountain National Park and there is also forest service land that adjoins one side of the resort that ATV’s can access – bring ATV’s and horses to ride in different areas.  The check in for horses was a bit stringent.  We saw moose every day.  Recommended trails are the River Trail, Green Mountain Trailhead to the Big Meadows Loop, and Onahu Trail all in RMNP.  Pancake breakfast on Sundays.  We went to Grand Lake Lodge that was about 5 minutes away for breakfast one day and a couple dinners in Grand Lake at night.  Horses:  Nice panels pens which can be made larger or smaller with water close by.  We did not see any flies and noticed they use Fly Predators.  There is a general pen area if you are in a cabin or lodge or pens at your site if you are camping.  People:  Lodge rooms, separate cabins and many campsites available.

Heather McWilliams © 2020

A Way Forward in the Horse World

One of the popular memes going around right now for horse people is that daily life does not look much different pre or post COVID-19.  It is just the norm that some professional and amateur riders spend most of their days alone with their horses riding and training anyway.  Some have had a breather in their work schedules allowing extra time to spend with their horses and riding.  With the Stay at Home order lifted this month, what does that mean for horse people?  What do any kind of horse gatherings look like – in the near future at least?  How do we do all that we can to promote the best possible outcome for continuing to have the “freedom” to take our horses to competitions and the other gatherings that we would typically be enjoying by now?

It doesn’t matter if we agree with or not all of the restrictions and protocol that we have been living with and the new ones that will be added.  In order to do all we can to move forward and be able to start and sustain trail rides, competitions, rodeos, horse shows, gymkhanas, events and more, we just absolutely have to do our absolute best to follow the protocol. 

Equestrian Sports Productions President Michael Stone stated, “The most important thing we have to realize is we just have one chance to get it right,” he said. “When we kick off, we have to do it correctly.”

The United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) is the major governing body over many disciplines including Olympic disciplines who will have mandatory and recommended best practices outlined in the USEF COVID-19 action plan.  While many of our local competitions are not at this level, the USEF has put a lot of thought into the plan and it is a way for many of us to move forward within our disciplines, even if it is trail riding, as there is excellent protocol to follow.  Some of the key elements of the plan include risk assessment; temperature monitoring of volunteers, officials and staff (upon arrival); social distancing; banning spectators from competitions; limiting the number of entrances and exits; requiring all entries to be completed online; and using posted orders of go and published ride times to prevent groups from accumulating at the arenas. Participants will have to sign a revised waiver and release of liability and assumption of risk and indemnity agreement. Not to mention, individuals can be removed from the grounds for failing to adhere to the requirements by the organization or officials.

Some other ideas for competitions are text messaging apps to send out a mass text in case of a storm, where it could be recommended that people shelter in their car rather than the barns or public areas.  In addition, final scores, placings and scoresheets could also be delivered via text or email.  Larger horse events plan to build in buffers, like an empty stall, between participants, not to mention foregoing any kind of parties or gatherings.

USEF team physician Dr. Mark Hart addressed the most basic question of all: Is it even safe to consider going back to competitions? His answer: yes and no.  “Equestrian sports are inherently safer than some other sports because we don’t have contact with other people,” he said. “In equestrian sports—barring a couple of our disciplines such as vaulting and para—we can maintain social distancing. Do we overwhelm a local medical system with our sport? We’re not showing that we’re impacting the local medical providers that way.”

It boils down to personal responsibility and remembering the big picture.  We are blessed and fortunate to be spending time with our horses and friends by now.  We may be enjoying a beautiful sunny day in Colorado while other parts of the world are under tremendous stress.  We need to be sensitive to that so that we are not a burden or hurt our “new freedoms”.  Horse people are already used to putting others first as we strive to put our horses needs above our own.  On a practical level, good practices should begin at home, at the barn and continue at the horse event of whatever kind.

As John Madden stated about his own barn at the onset of COVID-19, “We’re already wearing masks, social distancing, cleaning things,” he said. “It’s important to develop good habits of disinfecting. Go through your day and think about what happens. Who’s going to feed the horses? Who’s opening the stall door? Where will I put disinfecting devices? Are we going to keep the air moving in different places? Do I need to buy extra equipment so I can keep everything separate?”

A life of solitude and horses sounds pretty ideal most of the time, but every now and then it is good to get together with our horse friends or work on our riding and competition goals to make us better for our horses.  So strap on those masks, hand sanitizer in tow, 6 feet apart and stay home if you are sick horse folks and help escort this renegade virus out of town.  Of course, don’t forget to wash your hands!

COVID action plan and waiver is available on the USEF website, as well as many other resources.  www.usef.org/media/coronavirus-resources.  Heather McWilliams © 2020

Virtual Horse Time

Virtual Horse Time

You can cut all the flowers, but you cannot keep Spring from coming.  -Pablo Neruda

Along with many, if not all sports, equestrian sports have been cancelled and come to an abrupt halt.  Institutions that have been consistent and unwavering, put on hold or cancelled.  This includes the FEI World Cup Finals, the Summer Olympics in Tokyo (delayed until 2021), the Kentucky Derby (delayed until September), and of course national and local shows and events for an indefinite amount of time.  Without planning months ahead, many of these events may just not happen this year.

Trail riders pine for spring, summer and fall trail rides at parks around our beautiful state.  Equestrian competitors plan and train all winter to work on their training and competition goals during the short competition season, some to be able to qualify for national and international competitions.  Horse trainers, instructors, boarding facility owners all have a new “temporary” reality.  However you have been affected in your daily life by changes in school, work, finances and health, our sport and hobby outlets are a key part of our overall wellbeing.

We all have different realities right now spending time with our horses.  Those that have horses at home may be able to get more time in with their horses than they typically do.  If your horse is boarded and your barn is shut down to boarders, the restrictions cannot be lifted soon enough.  Some barns have put in place online schedules to keep no more than a few people on the property at a time, following strict physical distancing and cleaning procedures for shared fixtures and equipment. 

Thankfully, no matter what, spring is still coming!  Here are some ideas to keep yourselves and/or your horses healthy and happy during this time. 

Ruby & Summer enjoying a mountain spring

Horseless?  If you are not able to see your horse right now, review last year, what do you want to accomplish this year (just getting to see your horse!)?  How can you take steps toward accomplishing those goals?  Use this time as a reset, a complete change from routine and a time to reevaluate from the bottom up.  TheVirtualEquestrian.com has an extensive list of courses you can take with a wide variety of disciplines and areas of interest, including therapeutic riding.  Keep yourself fit so you are ready when you can start riding again.  Go to YouTube and learn how to teach your horse a new skill like bowing, Spanish walk or laying down.  Check the #HomeWithHorses movement started by US Equestrian (USEF) with videos and content to keep you learning and inspired.

Horse at home or able to schedule horse time at your boarding facility?  This may be the most ideal situation right now.  Ride in your neighborhood, on your property or take a short trailer ride to a local park.  According to Jeffco Open Space, peak times to avoid are 9:30am-2pm.

Research the discipline organizations you are a member of to see what online resources they offer.  Some trainers have had virtual training platforms in place for years.  In one type, you pay the trainer to evaluate a video of your ride after you have shared it with them.  There are also personal auto-follow cameras, like PIXIO, where trainers can give you real instruction almost like they were there with you.  Many have a training certification programs you can work to progress through the levels by working on certain skills and then you submit a video of you and your horse doing those skills for approval to pass the level. 

Check out a few of these to get you started: 

Trainmedo.com

EquiFITT.com

CRKTrainingVideos.com

ParelliSavvyClub.com

WarwickSchiller.com

Art2Ride.com

TakeLessons.com

There are also some newer website platforms getting going where you can submit a video of you doing a specific Dressage test, Jumping course, Western Riding or Reining Pattern, etc., and get a certified judges feedback or even enter a “class” to compete with other riders doing the same thing.  The one that includes the most disciplines I have seen so far is HorseShowChallenge.com.  There is also a Facebook group called “The Quarantine Classic” that is providing a show type platform.  These sites don’t just keep us riding, competing and working on our goals, they are able to provide income for judges, show organizers and even show announcers. 

The hope of spring is here and not even COVID-19 can stop it!  Hold on to the connection with your horse and nature.  Reform your goals and time with your horse into new and motivating objectives.   Keep moving forward!  Heather McWilliams © 2020

Seeking to Save the Jeffco Fairgrounds

The threat of the closing of the Jeffco Fairgrounds came as quite a shock to the local community when it was announced mid-January that the County Commissioners had abruptly decided to close the entire facility in order to cut the budget. After what was described by opponents as “a sweeping override of existing County revenue limits that will result in a higher tax burden for Jeffco property owners and residents”, the admittedly (by proponents) poorly written Ballot Issue 1A to remove the restriction of TABOR (tax payer bill of rights), failed 55% to 45% at the ballot box last November.  Additional county budget cuts included $5 million for the Sheriff’s Office. 

For those unfamiliar, TABOR is an amendment to the Colorado Constitution passed by the voters in 1992. Among its many provisions, TABOR removed from the legislature (and all other levels of state government) the power to enact tax legislation. Instead, it requires any new tax measures to go to a vote of the people. The law also requires that any amount over collected be given back to the tax payers the following year after over collection. Jeffco hasn’t issued TABOR refunds for years, but has used excess tax revenues to reduce mill levies, lowering taxes in the process.

If Ballot Issue 1A had passed, taxpayers would have opted out of TABOR for seven years, allowing Jefferson County to raise property taxes which they presented as a means for the county to get out of debt. The TABOR refund would have gone toward the county budget which they calculate has a $12.5 million dollar budget shortfall.  The Jeffco Fairgrounds currently has $1.8 million dollars in annual operating costs and brings in about $450,000 in revenue. Many previous and current users of the fairgrounds site the high costs to rent the facilities as limiting factors to more use.

This discrepancy between income and operating cost is not unusual at many, if not all of our state’s fairgrounds. Is it a priority of a fairgrounds to be income producing?  Do any of our local parks, recreational fields for sports and open spaces turn a profit?  Of course not, they are there serving the community and the wildlife that call our area home.  Does Denver County look at Washington Park and decide the space and land could make more income for the county if they used the buildings for office space or use the land in ways that assure a profitable ledger?  Of course not, Wash Park is there for the pleasure of anyone who wants to enjoy it and the experience it offers. Our parks and fairgrounds are there for the enhancement of our state and our connection to nature.

One alternative to closing the facility has been to turn the upper area of the fairgrounds with the Event Center indoor arena, rodeo arena, and the Silver Spur outdoor arena over to Open Space to manage.  That is somewhat of a solution, but then there would be no stalls, educational buildings, exhibit halls, etc., to utilize alongside those spaces.  It would seem that the best solution to preserve the fairgrounds for all groups, would be to keep it whole. 

Jeffco Fairgrounds aerial from Denver.org

In response to the potential closing of the fairgrounds, a local group called Friends of the Jeffco Fairgrounds has formed.  Many dedicated people and like-minded organizations have come forward to share their stories and the history intertwining the Jefferson County Fairgrounds and their experiences at local county meetings. The fate of the fairgrounds may feel like a local and isolated issue, but it reflects a more national divide between the urban and rural settings.

Friends of the Fairgrounds seeks to have all groups represented that have utilized the resources at the fairgrounds in the past and present for not only agricultural purposes like 4-H, livestock events, equestrian events (including Westernaires); but also for dog events, gardeners, beekeepers, craft fairs, book fairs, the Jeffco Action Center, Rotary, emergency wildfire evacuation, and sports organizations among others. 

The goal of Friends of the Fairgrounds is to save the fairgrounds for all future generations to have facilities available for the purpose of learning about agriculture and to be an agricultural and equine recreation center for the county.  They plan to offset the operating costs that are not available to government agencies through grants, raised funds and sponsorships.

Friends of the Fairgrounds states:  Agriculture should be accessible to everyone. For some of us it is a livelihood, for others our recreation. For everyone there should be an opportunity for understanding where our food comes from.  Historically, across the country, County Fairgrounds serve as a hub for these activities and a gathering place for the community. This facility is also an essential location for animal and human evacuation in the event of a disaster. Yes, urbanization cannot be denied but neither can urban farming, youth opportunity, equestrian recreation, Colorado heritage and this amazing group of people. We cannot wait on a shifting demographic to consider our interests. Losing the fairgrounds will increase the urban/rural divide that much more.

The Friends of Jeffco Fairgrounds mission:

  1. Operate the facilities of the fairgrounds in Jefferson County, Colorado; easing the burden of county government
  2. Develop educated, open-minded, compassionate and competent youth
  3. Decrease the urban/rural divide
  4. Promote western heritage, accessible agriculture and equestrian activities

What can we do as Jeffco residents to help? 

  • Keep the momentum going to support the fairgrounds in front of the county and show our continued interest in keeping the fairgrounds whole and usable.
  • Show up to support any meetings.
  • Reach out to the County Commissioners to show your support of the fairgrounds and its value to the community.
  • Anyone with an interest in the fairgrounds needs to work together as one cohesive group. 
  • If you have legal expertise in non-profits and government or other skills that could be helpful, contact Friends of the Fairgrounds.

Emails for the County Commissioners:

Lizzy Szabo, [email protected]

Casey Tighe, [email protected]

Lindsey Dalkemper, [email protected]

Find Friends of the Fairgrounds on Facebook for the latest on meetings, information and contact information or email them at [email protected]  Heather McWilliams © 2020

We ALL Need Horses – Part 2

Last month we explored the importance of keeping horses woven into the fabric of our daily lives, not just for horse enthusiasts, but for all people to be able to have access to the many therapeutic benefits of being around horses as well as to enjoy them in our landscape.  Horses in our communities gives way to open spaces, aesthetic landscapes and the connection to that wild freedom that all horses have. 

As we discussed last month, we are in a disruption in the horse culture calling for horse people to take a hard look at our current structures and organizations.  Nothing brought the disruption as quickly into the spotlight in the past few weeks as did the potential closing of the Jefferson County Fairgrounds.  The fact is, no matter what the agricultural tradition was in the past in our communities and counties, the voices for the horse and agricultural are in the minority.  The most important question now is, what can we do now to advocate to keep horses in ALL of our lives? 

Get involved with organizations that support the entire horse community like the Jefferson County Horse Council and the Colorado Horse Council (CHC).  The CHC advocates for the social, economic and legislative interests of all horse breeds and people within the State of Colorado, the US and worldwide.  They also put on the annual Rocky Mountain Horse Expo.  An annual membership in organizations like these ensure that the equestrian voice is heard on a larger scale.  Membership in the CHC provides horse owners with a liability insurance, not to mention the ability to get the cool “Support the Horse” license plates!

Additionally, get involved with national and local organizations that support your discipline.  For a nominal fee every year, join that organization annually to help support local events like shows, rides, clinics and other educational opportunities.  Being a member of these groups, whether you ride at one of their events or not, keeps you up to date on what is going on and shows the organization your support.   Or join a local board like the Jeffco Advisory Committee the oversees the Jefferson County Trails to advocate for equestrian use of the trails.

Volunteer for trail stewardship, shows, events, clinics, and expos to keep them viable.  Those on the inside know that these events are not money makers by any means but are there to support horses in general (RM Horse Expo), disciplines or activities in our area.  Not to mention, you will a great time and  meet a lot of great people.  Plus, they are very important gateway events to promote and invite the up and coming horse enthusiasts to.

Show up to ride on the trails and park in the oversized parking spots to show that there is a need for them.  Go to the trail forum meetings put on by Jeffco Open Space for all trail users. Currently, the number of equestrians that show up to have a voice in trail use is about 1-3% of the room full of bikers and hikers.  If we want to be able to continue to ride our horses on the trails, enjoying all of the beauty that surrounds us with them, we need to show that we are interested. 

When on the trails, be an ambassador for ALL trail riders.  Clean up horse poop in the parking lots, keep your dog on a leash and stay on the trails, or if they are muddy, horses and bikers should stay off of them to help sustain the trail condition and prevent erosion.  For up to date trail information, go to:  www.jeffco.us/1531/alerts-closures.  For ideas for trail, arenas and other riding opportunities, go to:  www.jeffcohorse.com/trailsarenas.

Horse ranch in Rural Alberta Canada

Enter trail rides, events, clinics and shows put on by local people and organizations.  Go to the Rocky Mountain Horse Expo coming up February 28-March 1,2020.  For $15 you can spend the entire day with 450+ horses, watching 40+ clinicians and a plethora of disciplines at 7 venues throughout the NW Complex in Denver.  Not to mention the horse vendors, art, and organizations that you can learn about, support and join.  The line up this year is not to be missed, go to www.rockymountainhorseexpo.com for the full schedule. 

If you have horses, invite those horse interested friends or kids you know over just to brush and be around the horses.  Sometimes we forget that you don’t need to ride, just being with horses is a surreal experience. 

Stay Informed and support current issues like the fairgrounds.  There is a website set up for the most current information regarding the Jeffco Fairgrounds at www.jeffcohorse.com/alerts.   Attend the critical meetings.  Regarding the trails, the Jeffco Advisory Committee meets at 6pm on the 1st Thursday of every month at the Jeffco Open Space Admin Offices in Golden.  Sign up for the Jeffco email list to learn about upcoming trail forums at www.Jeffco.us/814/Open-Space. 

It is critical we Work together with ALL horse people to advocateto keep horses in our communities.  One key issue that seems to come up often is the need to collaborate across all disciplines to not schedule over each other’s events.  For example, if there is a local event like a poker ride in your community, it would be short sited to schedule another trail ride, gymkhana or event at the same time.  Plus, the sight of a bunch of friendly equestrians showing up at a trail or event makes an important statement to the public.  This schedule issue begs the need for a statewide horse calendar that would need to be updated by each and every organization, taking some effort, but it would benefit all of them.  Horse people don’t typically have a problem traveling a distance to attend something they are interested in and a general calendar would help everyone bring in more participants and awareness.

Without our own individual and group efforts to advocate for the importance of the horse in our communities, horse people will lose the privilege to ride on public trails, across private lands, access to local boarding facilities, access to public riding facilities and ALL people will lose access to the majestic horse.  What can YOU do to support the horse in our community?  Heather McWilliams © 2020.“When I bestride him, I soar. I am a hawk: he trots the air; the earth sings when he touches it; the basest horn of his hoof is more musical than the pipe of Hermes” — Shakespeare

Heather McWilliams (c) 2020

We ALL Need Horses – Part 1

 “Where in this wide world can man find nobility without pride, friendship without envy, or beauty without vanity? Here where grace is laced with muscle and strength by gentleness confined.” —Ronald Duncan

Since the beginning of man, any culture that found and tamed horses rode to the front of civilization.  They were faster, could move farther and had the muscle to farm the ground.  The horse was a necessity to life whether you lived in the city or country.  Over time, in civilian life, the automobile and train took the place of the horse.  In farming, the tractor and in the military, tanks and trucks.

Just within the last 50 years, our own mountain community had numerous horse breeding farms, boarding facilities, and horseback riding stables, horses in back yards were commonplace, boarding facilities were thriving with boarders, adults and youngsters eager to be with the horses.  When Troutdale in the Pines was in its hay day, horse races were held on Upper Bear Creek Road.

But there is so much more to horses than their utilitarian uses.  Their majesty, beauty, energy, raw reflection of our own energy, connection to the earth.  As Sharon Ralls Lemon states, “The essential joy of being with horses is that it brings us in contact with the rare elements of grace, beauty, spirit and freedom.”  The truth is, the more technology we have and the more urbanized we become, the more critical it is to have horses woven into the fabric of our communities.  No other domestic animal can instantly transport anyone to the present and wash the rest away. 

As we would expect, the U.S. horse community as a whole has morphed and transformed over time.  Horse people understand the necessity of the horse and they are integrated into their lifestyles.  Although, not everyone understands the important of horses in our communities or economy. 

To understand the impact of the equine industry, the American Horse Council in conjunction with The Innovation Group conducted The 2017 Economic Impact Study of the U.S. Horse Industry.  The $122 billion equine industry is a growing segment of the U.S. economy, employing 1.74 million people,

Grazing horses at sunset, plateau Ukok, the junction of Russian, Mongolian and Chinese boarders

The study found that the care, business and recreation surrounding the 7.2 million horses in the country generated $79 billion in total salaries.  Additionally, around 80 million acres of land is reserved for horse-related activities.  In other words, the horse industry is doing well and has an important impact on our communities.

At the same time though, clubs and organizations are losing members, equine events struggle with volunteers and entries, boarding facilities are being sold or are strained by development and water issues, non-horse people are buying horse properties, trail riding struggles with parking and safety.  We are in a “disruption” of our local horse industry, but the disruption does not have to be a bad thing.  If looked at in the right way, a disruption can cause us to re-evaluate and re-organize our existing systems and transition them to succeed in the current climate.  If we want to keep our local horse facilities – public and private, trail access, and open fields adorned with horses, horse people need to respond to the current disruption and not just realize what we had once it’s gone. 

Having horses in our communities enhances the landscape.  When people come to visit the west, they expect to see broad expanses, blue skies, mountains and horses.  Farms and ranches that keep horses and cattle work to care for and steward the land and create a healthy ecosystem.  Those open spaces increase the value of the homes and communities around them.  Check out and join the Equine Land Conservation Resource (elcr.org) for resources regarding trails and horse community models throughout the U.S.

The economic study also found that 38 million, or 30.5%, of U.S. households contain a horse enthusiast, and 38 percent of participants are under the age of 18.  In a recent study in Colorado, 640,000 people that did not have a horse were interested in having an equine experience.  How do we get horses in front of the 30.5%?

It has been scientifically proven that horses help humans physically, mentally and emotionally.  Equine therapy has become a critical treatment and therapy for PTSD, learning disabilities, physically disabilities, emotional and social learning.  Urban and sub-urban communities must be able to be within reach of horses and horse facilities to utilize the benefits of the horse, not have them crowded out for more houses.

What is it going to take to keep the horse woven into the fabric of our communities?  It will take horse people committing to the horse community to keep it healthy.  Disciplines and riding interests need to be set aside, and horse people need to come together as one united community.  We have to see the big picture of the entire horse community that ultimately affects all of us.  We need to get involved, stay informed and show up.

Come back next month to explore solutions and ways to respond to the horse industry disruption and where we go from here.  Please email me at [email protected] to share your ideas.

Heather McWilliams © 2020

Lizzie Fera and Gigi Conquer the US Dressage Finals in Kentucky

When asked what it was like to be at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington for the US Dressage Finals this November 7-10th, Lizzie explained, “It was definitely overwhelming, I had never been to a show that big. Although, when I got there, it felt magical – probably what it feels like to a kid going to Disneyland!”

After winning the Reserve Championship at the Great American Insurance Group/USDF Region 5 Dressage Championships in Parker, Colorado this past September 19-22 in the Adult Amateur Division, Lizzie and Gigi were nominated to represent Region 5 at Third Level in Kentucky and received a travel grant, helping them professionally ship Gigi to Kentucky and meet her there. 

Although, her journey has been wrought with health challenges, Lizzie (Elizabeth) Fera has had the goal of competing in the US Dressage Finals since they began in 2013.  The 26-year-old mountain area native started having back troubles as a teenager which lead to a diagnosis of Kyphosis at 15 years old.  This required a 10-hour surgery to fuse her spine from T1-T12 with 2 rods and 28 screws.  A year later, the surgeon removed the hardware because her spine was supposed to be fused by then and would hold its own. 

Originally starting in the discipline of Eventing (a horse and rider team triathalon which includes Dressage, Stadium Jumping and Cross Country Jumping), which has a higher rate of injury to riders, the lifelong horse lover had to switch gears to accommodate her back and began to pursue Dressage.  Lizzie did not show for a few years while she healed, but returned to showing as a Young Rider (riders between 16 and 21), winning the 2014 Great American USDF Region 5 Championship at Training Level on her horse Bojangles. 

Due to ringbone, Bojangles was retired from competition, leaving Lizzie without a horse to show for a time until Gigi (Gypsy Rose) a now 15 year old Hanoverian Mare came along.  Gigi was advertised cheap as a broodmare because of an injury and at the time Lizzie and her mom, Kristie Cotton, were looking for a nice mare to have a foal that they could raise and eventually bring up through the levels of Dressage.  Gigi did not hold on to the pregnancy, so they decided they would try to ride her.  Gigi had some significant behavioral issues at the beginning, but fortuitously one of Kristie’s specialties is retraining difficult horses and Gigi was transformed into a kind, hard-working, sound and incredibly successful show partner.

As Gigi and Lizzie progressed, Lizzie felt and could see something was wrong again in her back again, while she also was experiencing significant pain.  Her original surgeon said there was nothing to do, which she accepted for a year and a half until her mom knew they had to get a second opinion.  They found Dr. Evalina Burger at the University of Colorado, one of the top spinal surgeons in the country.  Lizzie was then diagnosed with Scheuermanns disease, a rare disease where your vertebrae form into wedge shapes in the teenage years, creating an unstable spine, causing Kyphosis.  Dr. Burger said without another surgery, she would likely be paralyzed because her T12 vertebrae was rotating and close to compressing her spinal cord. 

Spinal surgery number three was another complicated 10 hour procedure, including 2 weeks in the hospital with 3 blood transfusions.  Now, Lizzie’s entire thoracic vertebrae are fused as well as all but three of her lumbar vertebrae in order to support and stabilize her spine.  After 6 months in a brace, Dr. Burger gave Lizzie the go ahead to ride again.  Right away Lizzie was back on Bojangles, who had brought her through the first two surgeries.  Two weeks later she was back to riding Gigi with the goal to get back to showing. 

Kristie had been training and working with Gigi while Lizzie was healing.  Once the brace was off, Lizzie had just 10 months to prepare for finals.  Lizzie and her husband Michael currently live in Grand Junction where she graduates this month with a degree in Biology from Colorado Mesa University and Michael  graduates with a degree in Geology May 2020.  Lizzie traveled to Evergreen in between studying to train Gigi.  Without the luxury of an indoor arena, Lizzie trained in the early morning, late evenings and rain.  If snow made the footing too slick, “in hand” work (riderless) helped keep Gigi schooled and fit. 

Preparing for something like the US Dressage Finals, requires consistent work for both horse and rider to be fit physically and mentally prepared.  Kristie explains this beautifully: “It is not about repetitive work, it is not about riding the movements the way they should look in the test. The horse needs to understand the comfort of suppleness so they will always seek correctness, not resistance in their work. We train with gymnasticizing strategies that improve balance, strength, and elasticity. It is about creating unity, with the horse becoming completely focused on the quiet dialogue of the rider. (Because of her back) Lizzie can only sit very neutral in the saddle, she cannot influence the horse like other riders. This is actually a good thing as she is not disruptive to the horse with unnecessary body movement. Gigi has to respond with muscle nuance of the rider (sitting taller means go forward, flexing of stomach muscles means rebalance or slow) this creates minimum effort with maximum results. Coaching for shows has to meet the needs of both horse and rider. Assessing the mental and physical obstacles that can appear in the moment, means coming up with the proper remedy. Every horse is a wealth of knowledge as they cannot train in the exact same way, and just like humans, they have good days and bad. Catering to the horses comfort brings valuable success.”

Pain is still a huge daily obstacle for Lizzie, she has learned to listen to her body and rest on tough days, but also learn to emotionally persevere without becoming discouraged. Lizzie states, “Having a bond with a horse and competing in a sport I love is worth it.“ Lizzie is not one to give up.  Her love of Dressage has become more of an art, bringing her deeper into the training and tactics necessary for each part of the test (while showing), while creating a picture of “beauty and harmony.”

Once in Kentucky Lizzie recalls, “There were times I was intimidated, but I’ve been showing for so long and it’s what I really am passionate about.  I think it helped my nerves a lot to just think about that and I just kept telling myself that I qualified to go with my placing and my scores and that I worked really hard to get there.”  Lizzie continued, “I did feel like I belonged (at the finals in Kentucky) actually. Even though I’m from such a small town and I do not have the financials of most people in the sport, Gigi was a great teammate and beautiful horse to bring.  My mom is an amazing trainer and I really wanted to be able to show all that we had been working so hard on!”  Lizzie and Gigi ended up placing 20th out of over 40 horse and rider teams in her division, representing the best Third Level teams in the nation.  Congratulations Lizzie, Gigi and Kristie!                         Heather McWilliams ©2019

Fencing, Pasture & Hay Storage – Horsekeeping Mountain Style

One dream that brings many residents to larger properties in the Foothills is having their horses at home.  The ease of enjoying more time with them by just walking out the door.  If you keep your horses at home in our mountain area, you know that our location does not fit into the average book on “horsekeeping on small acreages”.  Of course, even from property to property the technicalities can vary greatly because of geography, sun exposure, covenants, flora and fauna.  Here are some ideas to consider while you enjoy having your horses at home.

Fencing and Pasture

Fencing is a very broad topic and varies from neighborhood to neighborhood with what the covenants dictate, what the ground will allow and of course what you can afford.  Whatever you do, consider the wildlife that we enjoy and share the mountains with along with your horses.  The Division of Wildlife has a “must read”, excellent brochure on many types of fencing and specifications that work for wildlife and livestock – go to www.wildlife.state.co.us and find “Fencing with Wildlife in Mind”.   In general, elk and deer need to be able to safely jump the fences and calves and fawns need to be able to safely crawl under.

With our arid climate and in order to protect your land from erosion and being picked down to dirt fairly quickly, it is always important to have a sacrifice area, lot or runs to keep your horses off of a larger turn-out area for periods of time.  Maybe you only have enough for a small lot, but if you have an area that is larger, it is worth some cross fencing to allow a little grass to grow for your horse to enjoy and feel like a horse.  In order to preserve the beauty and integrity of your property, see the past article called, Pasture Track System at http://mtnhomes4horses.com/track-system/

The fencing on your lot or runs should be made of very safe, secure and sturdy materials since the horses will be in there for longer periods of time and will likely be using it for itching, leaning, and reaching.  Other things to consider are the level and space between the fence to prevent a leg, head or other body part from being stuck or rubbing their mane out. 

Horse and Elk visiting over a zig zag fence

For fencing materials, there are many options that can be aesthetically pleasing and fairly inexpensive to obtain.  Look for local resources that are readily available to save money on the freight and materials.  Beetle kill wood is one example of this in Colorado, whereas in Texas it may be pipe and cable.   One application is “Zig Zag” or “Worm” Fencing that uses long straight trees, is attractive, requires no post holes, is relatively easy to install and if you or someone you know is mitigating Lodgepole Pine off of their property, it can be quite inexpensive or even free.

For the majority of the properties up here, there is just not any way to get around feeding horses some amount of hay year round.  Our grass is not the type and just does not get enough moisture in our semi-arid climate to recover that quickly.  There are a few properties that can and the rest of us suffer from pasture envy.  Our local “stocking rates” are on average around one 1,000 pound horse per 30 acres of dry pasture, but a water source can improve that number.   Using rotational grazing by cross fencing sections or cells of your pasture will increase the grass production and pasture health, but not your stocking rates.  The principle used on local land is called “take half, leave half”- Your horses eat down half of the forage and then you remove them from that portion for about 30 days to let it recover.   Many people in our area limit the pasture turn-out time of their horses to a number of hours that works for them, their land and grasses.  One disadvantage of this is that the horses may only eat one type, their favorite type of grass during that period, making the recovery for that grass difficult.  It is important to mention that when your pasture or lot has trees in it, it critical for the horses safety to trim any dead branches off from ground level to a couple feet above their eye level to keep them from poking eyes, legs and other body parts.  The Small Acreage Management Team at the Colorado State University Extension Service will come evaluate your property at no cost and determine the number of grazing days for your animals and property (720-634-3927, more resources for managing small acreages at www.ext.colostate.edu ).

Hay Storage

Hay Storage and fencing can be related if you don’t have a place in your barn or a hay barn to keep it from other hungry hooved animals.  If elk and deer get into your hay, it is not only costly to you, it is not good for them.   Refer again to the above DOW brochure on “Fencing with Wildlife in Mind” for great hay storage solutions.  Some options include fencing in a storage area that must be 7-8 feet high to keep elk and deer from jumping in.  Panels, similar to large wooden pallets, are also functional and can be moved around to different locations.  While in use, the slats on the panels should be vertical to prevent them from being climbed and also secured together to create a complete barrier.   Of course, hay should be kept securely tarped (remember the wind!) and off of the ground.

Keeping horses at home can be very rewarding for owners by enjoying the ability to feed, care for, ride and manage their horses themselves.  Putting some thought into your individual property, its strengths, weaknesses and how to keep it aesthetically beautiful for years to come, with the native wildlife in mind, benefits our community as a whole and ensures your properties value for years to come.  

Heather McWilliams © 2019