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It’s not you, it’s me

We can use the wisdom of an old horse. Release the old horses and follow them, and thereby reach the right road.  – Guan Zhong, Chinese politician and scholar (725-645 BC)

Horses today are mostly enjoyed for recreational purposes.  Very few horses in 2021 “make their living” transporting their people to town, dragging logs in the forest, pulling barges, farming, mining, etc.  At one time in history, we worked physically hard alongside our “beasts of burden”.  Today they carry a different burden, often picking up the burden of where we fall short.  But we can change that.

Today horses are our therapists, our team members, our hiking buddies, our partners in sport.  Most all of us are pulled in many directions with work, family, recreation and we just squeeze in time with our horses.  The fortunate horse people make their living or at least have the time to immerse themselves in horses and get to spend their efforts bettering themselves for the benefit of their relationship with their horses.  For all the horse does to engage with us and be present with us, they certainly deserve our undivided attention and engagement with them.

But a horse is a labor of love as well as a responsibility, an aesthetic as well as a dynamic pleasure, something to contemplate as well as to ride.  -Sarah Montague

With our horses, we need to expect as much out of ourselves as we do from them.  If we expect them to be athletic, we need to get in shape ourselves.  That way we can possess the athleticism and strength ourselves to not only stay out of their way but also actually become a part of the whole fluid picture, so they can do what they love and we can do what we love to do with them.

If we expect that experienced horse to teach us how to do the more difficult movements, the harder trails, the higher jumps, we must work to understand what they are teaching us in and out of the saddle.  Even with all of the schoolmaster’s experience, they need continual deposits into their confidence bank account as well, not only withdrawals.  Find the small wins as you learn and strive to work together with this incredible and kind creature.

Imagine if we were all the types of riders our horses wanted us to be.  If we were all confident, athletic, well rounded, soft, patient and consistent riders?  It’s a journey.  A dance between two species.  Have conversations, not fights.  Check in with them, give them credit, give them dignity, give them time, and above all else, give them love.  It’s not so much about learning to speak their language, its about quieting down and learning to listen. – Sarah Kuz

When you are struggling with a horse, take that struggle upon yourself, don’t place the blame on them.  Find someone who can help you like a horse friend or a trainer.  Remember that behavioral problems can be related to pain, pain that the horse can only communicate to you through their actions.

Experienced riders are not prone to brag. And usually newcomers, if they start out being boastful, end up modest. -C. J. J. Mullen

When we ask our horses to partner with us in a sport, make it fun for them too.  It was not their idea to go to a competition or go on a trail ride that day, therefore, make sure you have prepared both of you to the best of your ability.  Put in the appropriate preparation and training before the day, show up and don’t put extra pressure on your horse, just have fun.  Competitions or even just a trail ride are not the place to start working on something.  As the Navy Seals put it, you don’t rise to the occasion, you fall to the level of your training.

Enjoy this time with your horses.  Be your best for them.  Put as much work into yourself both physically and mentally, as you expect from them.  Treat them with kindness and show them how much you appreciate them. 

Horses are something to dream about…and to wish for; fun to watch…and to make friends with; nice to pat… and great to hug: and, oh, what a joy to ride! -Dorothy Henderson Pinch I am taking a summer sabbatical from writing this article, but keep in touch with me at heather@mtnhomes4horses.com.  Heather McWilliams © 2021

The Show Must Go On

“Difficulties are meant to rouse, not discourage.  The human spirit is to grow strong by conflict.”

– William Ellery Channing

Spring has sprung and all over the nation, horse enthusiasts are entering into what this year will bring for riding and competing due to COVID-19.  Now that we have a full year under our belt of shutdowns and cancellations of most any gathering or group of any kind, we are working back into getting out and about again.  The horse competition industry is doing the same with some big changes for some and not so much for others.  Is it important for the horse industry that the “show” go on?  Yes!  When dealing with a worldwide pandemic, are sports really that important?  Yes!  Channeling our energies into positive things like time with our horses and friends is important, especially now. 

There are many factors that go into what each competition will require as far as COVID-19 protocol.  Protocol will depend on the state, the county, the city, the facility, if the event is inside or outside, how many people will be there and so on.  Ultimately, it may depend on who the main governing body is for the competition.

At the highest level of equestrian sport, competitions that are related to the global Olympic sports are governed by the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI).  The FEI is the world governing body for Jumping, Dressage and Para Dressage, Eventing, Driving and Para Driving, Endurance, Vaulting and Reining. The FEI establishes the regulations and approves equestrian schedules for Championships, Continental and Regional Games as well as the Olympic & Paralympic Games.  Because of the global perspective and the reality that these equine and human athletes sometimes travel the globe to competitions, the FEI has their own rules of how each FEI related competition around the globe operates, now including protocol for COVID-19.  Therefore, an FEI competition in Texas, for example, with less protocol as a state, will have to follow the highest level of protocol globally in order to run. 

In the United States, the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) recognizes 11 breeds and 18 disciplines, including the Olympic and Paralympic equestrian disciplines (some overlap with FEI here).  Last year, many of these competitions were cancelled.  If any of these 11 breeds or 18 disciplines want to continue under the USEF umbrella, they will be required to follow the protocol set by USEF, no matter where they are located.  So far this year, there are requirements for there to be no spectators, only those competing, supporting competitors and working the competition. 

Why does this matter?  Why go through the trouble to keep going with horse competitions during a worldwide pandemic?  This and many more questions became very apparent recently on an international level when the organizer of the Kentucky Three Day Event (K3DE), Equestrian Events Inc. (EEI) threatened to cancel this year.  Citing without spectators, historically around 80,000 over the 4 day event, they could not afford to put on the event and supplement with livestreaming. 

This event has been held at the end of April since the late 1970’s at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, initiated by the 1978 Olympic Games there.  While Eventing is just one of many equestrian sports, the K3DE is one of only six 5-Star events in the world and the only 5-Star event held in the United States.  Because of this, it attracts an international set of competitors.

After an uproar from the public, the EEI side stepped slightly and stated on a Friday that if $750,000 could be raised by Monday, they would be able to run the competition.  Because of the scarcity of this level of competition and what that meant to US competitors as far as potentially having to travel oversees to compete at a level that they had been preparing for over many years, a grass roots effort of riders, sponsors, horse owners, spectators and Eventing enthusiasts set off in several directions to try to raise the money, partially through an online platform keeping track of donations. 

With good momentum, but not yet the full amount, EEI extended the deadline from Sunday to Wednesday.  By Wednesday, 5 days later, $550,000 was raised, which gave them enough reason to forge ahead with the 2021 K3DE.  With the overwhelming support and a couple months remaining before the event, they believed they could come up with the remainder in time. 

The online comments connected to the fundraising went from one end of the spectrum to the other.  Supporters saw the importance of keeping an international competition going forward and not cancelling another year.  To find a way to make it work instead of just chalking up another cancellation to COVID-19.  With a year of preparation and 2020 being cancelled, surely there was a way to make it happen.  If we haven’t learned anything else in the last year, hopefully we have learned to adapt and figure out a way to keep the vulnerable safe, yet help to get our economy moving again. 

Those unsupportive felt it was not important to continue with sports during a worldwide pandemic.  When people had lost jobs, businesses, family and friends to COVID-19, how could people be asked to donate money to help the K3DE to run in 2021?  Why was it important in the big picture? 

The reason is different for everyone.  Hobbies have become more important than ever.  Getting exercise, fresh air and having some fun.  Our brains need some dopamine.  We cannot live hour by hour pummeled by what the media wants us to hear and believe.  Fun and sports are still important.  Enjoying life amongst adversity is still important.

In the end, those who felt it was important to support the K3DE did so in order that it could take place this year not to mention showing the power of banding together in small, medium and large ways to make a difference for the whole and to show support for the horses and riders in a sport they are passionate about.  The Kentucky 3 Day Event April 22-25 will be without spectators this year, but with the grass roots fund raising and some great sponsors, the “show” will go on in 2021, including a 4-Star division that will be a qualifier for the Olympics in Tokyo this year.  This is a very important addition as most, if not all of the qualifying competitions were cancelled in 2020.  Go to kentuckythreedayevent.com for how to watch!  Heather McWilliams © 2021

Local Artist – Virginia “Ginny” Furness

Originally from Argentina, Virginia Peralta de Furness came to the United States with her family as a child.  With a medically inclined family, Ginny followed into the healthcare field in 1988 when she graduated with a BS in Occupational Therapy.  Throughout her long and successful career in healthcare, she continued to be drawn to art and sought out creative immersion in different forms. 

She started with photography, which allowed her to express her personal response to real and imagined experiences.  When digital photography ended the era of photographic film, she pursued digital media and earned a Diploma in Web Design which turned into work as a freelance web designer. 

All of these artistic endeavors continued to bring her back to traditional forms of artistic expression.   With a significant life change in 2014, Ginny made a career reset and decided to fully pursue her passion for art which lead to studies in drawing and painting at the Art Students League of Denver and then her Masters of Fine Arts in Painting and Drawing from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco in 2019.  For her MFA thesis, Ginny’s subject was wild horses. Ginny explains, “My definition of what it meant to have a partnership with a horse changed especially when I chose to study, photograph and paint wild horses for my MFA thesis in western Colorado, Utah and Arizona.” 

A lifelong lover of horses, Ginny was not able to fully realize her connection with horses until her four sons were raised and she then had the time to pursue riding at 38 years old.  Ginny reflects on that time, “Early on I became involved in classical dressage through a local Spanish trainer. In those years I really packed it in and emersed myself into trying to understand and master this art form. While my horses were in classical training, I took all the lessons and clinics that were offered. Although I learned all the high-level dressage skills, I wasn’t sure that I was becoming a better equestrian. (Studying wild horses) was my segue way towards being an intuitive rider. One that connects with the horse by being closely attuned to their behaviors and movement. My horses and I are happier now that we are in better harmony.”

Ginny’s study of the wild horses and burros changed her “permanently” and changed the way she sees and interacts with them.  She stays closer to home now and her equine subjects are local, whether that be her own, friends or clients. 

Ginny paints exclusively in oils on linen, canvas or boards.  The pigments of oil paints are suspended in linseed oil which results in a mixture that maintains a vibrant color and dries slowly. The slow drying time, during which their colors do not change, allowing her the ability to rework, correct and even scrape off areas of paint. 

Early influencers of her work were James Reynolds (cowboy artist), T. Allen Lawson, Clyde Aspevig and Michael Workman. Currently, Ginny relates she is “focusing on my own style which is loose and painterly. Representationally but flowing in and out of abstraction.  Loose means not getting bogged down with unnecessary details. It also means operating by intuition more than intellect while paying attention to the gesture, mood and flow. In the end I want the loose passages, color combinations, value patterns and composition to come together in a dynamic and pleasing manner.  I prefer depicting horses in the most natural states as possible whether alone, within a herd or interacting with their owners.” 

Ginny does commissioned work in oils or charcoal drawings of horses, horses with their people as well as people portraits.  It is up to the client if they are painted in Ginny’s “loose” style or she can render the subject realistically. 

The Stone Heart Gallery in Evergreen features Ginny’s work or for more of her work and contact her, go to: www.virginiafurness.com or https://www.instagram.com/virginiafurness/

Heather McWilliams © 2021

Time to Ride South?

Online work?  Online school?  Why not do it all from somewhere a little warmer this winter?  What if you could keep working online, keep the kids in online school, and take a break from winter – with the chipping ice out of your horses feet, blankets on and off, long periods of time out of the saddle, cold and snow?  At the same time, you would be ready for the show season a little earlier and back in shape for spring events and riding in Colorado! Sounds too good to be true?!

Maybe you haven’t noticed but it’s a thing to go south and not just for retirees. For decades, entire barns from the eastern United States head to the Carolina’s and Florida for the winter.  Or from the northwest to California, Arizona, and Texas.  It seems far-fetched for many of us to be snowbirds with horses in tow but look at us now…more mobile than ever before!  Many of us are working and doing school online at home, at the coffee shop, or anywhere else with a Wi-Fi connection.  Geographic locations matter less.  If not the entire Winter, you might consider a geographic shift of just a month?  For those online school parents, imagine just sending the kids out to mess with their horses, or go for a hike or bike ride in January as if it were June.  Here are some ideas to get your creative thoughts flowing.

Sweet Dixie South barns and RV spots

Find a spot that caters to your specific equestrian discipline with RV spots and stalls/pens for rent.  There are equestrian parks throughout the South that have RV hook ups and stalls for rent.  Many also put on events like ranch sorting, roping, schooling shows and clinics for their guests and locals to take part in.  Check in with people you know and related Facebook groups to see where they choose for destinations. 

Some of these equestrian parks are next to public land or are on large acreage parcels where you can enjoy exploring from horseback.  An example is Lonestar Equestrian in Arizona that puts on Ranch Sorting and Team Roping competitions.  The current prices at Lonestar are $1,150 monthly (each additional horse is less) which includes feeding, RV hook ups, daily sorting and roping practice and use of all facilities. 

For the Dressage, Eventing and Hunter/Jumper disciplines, there are a few facilities in the Carolina’s and Florida that have RV spots, stalls, turn outs, arenas, jump fields and cross-country courses – all on green grass!  Two such facilities in Florida are Sweet Dixie South and Majestic Oaks. Sweet Dixie South for example is $550 for a dry stall (you do all the care) and about $500 for an RV hook up.  Use of all the facilities, 140 acres, two schooling jumper shows and two cross-county schooling events per month are also included.

Sweet Dixie South Barns

Often, especially in the English disciplines, trainers will rent out entire barns in the Southeastern horse areas for a few winter months, typically from January to March, to take their training operation south.  Many of them actually own facilities they only use during the winter months.  Winter is the season for shows and events in this area which are basically scheduled every weekend with some running all week.  During their time down south, these trainers spend time honing their own skills with the plethora of top professionals gathered within a short distance.  They also attend shows weekly and take their clients to the many different facilities available for schooling that are in the area. 

Trainers based in the south may try to appeal to the northerly horse folk and offer clinics that last a couple weeks.  They provide accommodations for the horses and sometimes the owners as well.  In addition, they may have space for your living quarters trailer. 

For trail riders, find southern parks where you can stay and trail ride.  Connect with other trail riders though Facebook groups to find out the best options in terms of amenities and trails to explore.  You can choose to make a particular park your “home base” or try a different park every week.   

Walking to turnouts at Sweet Dixie South

Instead of reacting to changing schedules and safety orders, switching between work/school environments in person and online, and the uncertainty of the coming months. This proactive approach, whether for a month or three, may be an opportunity to make lemonade out of lemons. Ride south for some quality horse and kid time this winter!  If you do, make sure to take photos and videos to share with me. Heather@MtnHomes4Horses.com. Heather McWilliams © 2020

Facing Fear in Riding

Do the thing you fear the most and the death of fear is assured.  – Eleanor Roosevelt

Having fears can cripple us.  Fears are nothing to hold on to or live with.  In order to be the best version of ourselves, we have to face our fears in all parts of life and take action toward them.  Step into them in a healthy way.  Recently in my own life, I had a fairly significant fall aka unplanned dismount, while competing my horse cross country jumping.  I actually flew into the jump at about 15-20 mph with my head and cracked my helmet.  Fortunately, I was wearing all of the gear required in competition such as a helmet and body protector and was mainly just sore with a little whiplash. 

Two weeks later I had another competition coming up.  Those two weeks were full of “mental gymnastics” and fear and the desire to find some excuse not to go, but I knew that is all it was and I had to take action and get my mindset right to not let those fears grow.  I knew that if I did not push into it, it would be very detrimental to my confidence and for that matter, the best version of myself. 

There is a healthy fear that comes with working with an animal that is ten times your size.  If you say you are not afraid of horses, you may want to rethink that.  Non-horse people often tell me that horses scare them and my answer is, that’s okay, they scare me too!  But, if horses are your passion, you accept that risk and working with a large animal that has their own ideas, just like we accept risk when we walk out our door everyday, but that is part of really living.  We cannot live in fear of the “what ifs”.

First, take action.  Break down the fear into what you are afraid of.  Is it a real fear and what can you do to minimize that risk.  Everybody feels fear.  The most accomplished riders feel fear.  I don’t know any competitive riders who don’t have butterflies and nerves at a competition.  Often they learn to turn that adrenaline into an advantage of a sharp mind and reflexes that produces an excellent performance.   

When we take action on fear, we come out of it with confidence. True quiet confidence comes from, I felt this fear and these emotions, I didn’t give into them.  I took action in the midst of it.  Fear cannot win out.  John Wooden wisely stated, “The greatest failure of all is the failure to act when action is needed.”

Keep your confidence bank replenished.  If you have been riding long, you have had bad rides and bad falls.  Confidence is fragile.  It is built up over many rides and the passage of time and experience, but one fall or scare can destroy that confidence in a second.  Not only do we need to protect our bodies, we need to protect our minds.  Surround yourself with people who encourage you and push you at the same time.  Give yourself credit for a good ride, an excellent lesson and a successful competition.  Just like we thank others for a good job, thank yourself!  Change your self-talk from “that is too hard for me to do” to “I am working hard to be able to do that”.  Phrase your self-talk in a positive way. 

Most importantly, Have the right mindset.  Choose courage over comfort.  Courage is nothing more than taking one step more than you think you can take.  Holding onto fear only keeps us from being the best version of ourselves.  Turning and facing any fear in life is the only way to grow and become more confident.  As General Patton said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, it is the action taken in the midst of fear.” 

Two weeks later, I faced my fear and I am now safely past that next competition and my confidence is healing.  My goal for the competition was to ride well and not even think about where I was in the placings.  That should be my goal every time, right?!  But competing and learning your mindset in different situations and the pressures we put on ourselves, it affects our performance.  I am learning the balance between putting all my horse and I have learned together into play in the moments at a competition and at the same time slowing my brain down when I have the added adrenaline that comes with competition.  Are you struggling with fear?  It is time to take action!  Email me if I can help you figure out the next step – heather@mtnhomes4horses.com.

The adversity we face in life is the making of us.  It is a test, dig in and dig in hard. – Brian Buffini

Heather McWilliams © 2020

The On Side of 2020

You’re never in the wrong place, sometimes you’re in the right place looking at things the wrong way.

As thorough horse people we work to balance out how much we interact with our equine partners from both the on and off sides.  The on side, left side or drivers side being the side that all blankets, bridles, saddles, halters and so on buckle or get their last tighten from and the side you typically mount from.  The off side, right side or passenger side being well, the other side.  This year has certainly been the off side, definitely not the right side, feels like we are passengers on this 2020 ride and most certainly from the other side.  We will focus here on the on side, the times this year we were in the drivers seat and making the most out of the year with our horses.

Working from home and online schooling this spring gave way to the ease of slipping away to the barn over the lunch hour, the extra time without the commute in the afternoon or even the quiet roads to get to the barn.  We learned to tribe with our horse friends and family and enjoy the numerous trails that surround us, getting the nod by the COVID-19 rules to take ourselves and our animals out for exercise.  

Kids spent more time with their animals and not at long days of school followed by driving to sports practices and games.  PE at home turned in to trail rides and play time on the roads, land or in the arena.

We learned how to do virtual clinics and lessons sometimes with nationally and internationally recognized clinicians who sought out riders to keep their skills sharp.  We learned to videotape our rides correctly, found gadgets like PIVO, apps like On Form and virtual horse competitions. 

With virtual competitions, disciplines, breed associations and individuals created platforms to submit a pattern, test or whatever to get feedback on your ride and compete with others.  At the same time providing some income to the judges who typically make their living off of travelling the country to judge competitions.  Class winners sometimes even received ribbons and prizes in the mail.

Not to mention the people who either couldn’t or wouldn’t normally travel to a horse competition actually entered and tried one out.  They mustered together the appropriate outfit, recorded their ride and sent it in for judging and comments.  Longtime competitors were able to get feedback through virtual competitions that they rely on as they progress with their skills as well as separately submitting their rides to judges for individual critique. 

Enjoying time with horses in 2020!

With the mass cancellations of horse competitions, we stepped back and reevaluated our performance and perhaps found some holes in our training to improve upon as we also improved our relationships with our steeds.  Those with young horses around had time to get in some good lessons during a time those youngsters would normally be on the back burner.  Some disciplines had a late start up and were eventually able to run competitions with precautions in place allowing for some sense of normalcy for participants, albeit masked.  New coaches who would have normally been travelling the country were found by riders looking for a fresh perspective. 

The previous trend to move to more urban areas miraculously reversed and people started looking for ways to get some space around them in more rural areas.  Horses (and lots of other 4-legged animals!) were added at record rates to new families. 

2020 seems to have had us awkwardly getting in the saddle from the off side, definitely feeling like passengers.  Although, once mounted, we were squarely in the driver’s seat with the best view around, between the ears of our astonishing hooved partners.  Here’s to having access to all the controls on the on side as we enter a promising new year. 

Heather McWilliams © 2020

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.  heather@mtnhomes4horses.com.  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