Rockin’ N Stables and Ranch, Athens PA

Trail Riders from Rockin' N StablesSaturday morning, October 18, promised a few raindrops and overcast skies. The weather, perfect for riding, was in the high 50’s. Pepper whinnied to her pasture buddies as I brushed her down and saddled up. I pulled on a rain poncho, just in case the sky decided to shower the earth. Stepping into the stirrup, Pepper and I headed up Murray Creek Road; on our way to meet up with Anne Shaffer and the riders from Rockin’ N Stables.

The morning landscape unfolded before me; dull grey, splashed with muted orange and red. Quiet engulfed the countryside except for an occasional rustle as mice or a squirrel hurried through fallen leaves. I reined Pepper onto Reagan Road and saw the trail riders coming my way.

Taking a Break - trail rideI joined the group and we traveled along graveled back roads towards Round Top Park. It had been a long time since Anne and I had ridden together. Once in the park, we headed down a trail off the road only to spot a hunter stalking small game. The road seemed safer so we doubled back to the one road which cut through the park.

At a scenic lookout the group dismounted, had a pleasant lunch, chatted and enjoyed the view of the valley far below.

On the trail ride, I met Monte and Nancy the new owners at Rockin’ N Stables. The place was undergoing big changes, not only in name, but with new programs, riding lessons, boarding and plans for the future. A few days after the trail ride, I found myself sitting in at their kitchen table talking horses.Monte and Nancy - Lunch Break Roundtop

Monte was born and raised in Honeyville, Utah; a small farming community in northern Utah not far from the Idaho border and skirted by the Wellsville Mountains to the east. He grew up on five acres of land. Horses were always part of Monte’s life; first his parents horses than his own. His grandparents managed a ranch which gave Monte a chance to experience ranch life.rockinNranch 909edited1

He watched as a young boy as his father trained horses. A tragic horse accident claimed his father’s life when Monte was 8 years old but that didn’t stop him from getting his first horse; a 3 month old Quarter Horse/Thoroughbred mix. In high school, he signed up for rodeo classes. The classes stressed roping and teamwork. The Box Elder County Sheriff’s Posse worked with the students when they practiced roping skills at the local fairgrounds.

Monte participated in rodeos through high school and joined the Box Elder County Sheriff’s Posse for a few years after graduation. He improved his knowledge of horses by attending clinics and gained experience by training horses. Monte developed as a trainer and now trains horses at Rockin’ N.

Although Nancy’s dad owned Arabs and ran a tack shop, her family moved a lot due to the nature of her father’s job. So she never had her own horse as a child. When she reached her early 30’s Nancy bought her first horse from a horse dealer. Cash, a Paint Quarter horse, proved an emotional wreak; she later found out the horse had been beaten with a 2-by-4.

The dealer upon delivering the horse gave her a parting word of advice, “ride that horse as much as you can. The more you ride him the better he’ll be.” And that’s just what she did. With patience, understanding, work and love Cash turned the corner from a difficult horse to a true companion.

Little girls sharing a  rideMonte and Nancy bought Round Top Stables last year and renamed the place Rockin’ N Stables. As newlyweds, they are building and planning their dream of managing a horse business. Monte trains horses and Nancy gives riding lessons to people of all ages.

Their mentor, John Mallory, an expert horseman gives private lessons once a month as well as providing advice to the couple. Lady’s night is every other Thursday from 6 to 8 pm. Every other Wednesday the arena is available to work your horse. Play dates are scheduled for social time and working horses on barrels and poles. In December or January there will be a Trail Challenge clinic to desensitize horses to spooky things on the trail and road such as mailboxes and bridges.

Every year, the stables will host an annual trail ride. Additionally, Monty and Nancy will sponsor a reception to thank people who have participated in events at Rockin’ N. The ranch has 40 stalls to stable horses. For a schedule of events follow Rockin’ N on facebook or call (570) 250-1038 to visit the stables at 3323 Wolcott Hollow Road, Athens, PA.

Father and Daughter waiting to competeA few days later, I attended Rockin’ N’s Halloween Party/Play Day. There were participants of all ages in costume, running barrels, playing horse games, hanging out and just having a good time.

I asked Nancy, “How have things gone for your business so far.”

“The group of people that come make everything worthwhile. They have become friends and help each other. They are amazing people, down to earth, friendly and make our events a family fun environment. Our moto is ‘Living the Dream’.”Halloween Party Participants at Rockin N Stables and Ranch1

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Hannah Hooton’s Adventures in Australia – Part II

Photo 1 - Billy - Outback Station AUSHannah spent a year traveling across Australia working with horses. The first leg of her trip brought her to Okehampton, a cattle station in New South Wales. She took ‘jackaroo courses’ for a week and learned how to muster or round up cattle. Billy, an affable Quarter Horse became her working partner. After a week on the course she became a riding instructor for the program and stayed another two weeks.

Photo 2 -Coolmore AUS Hannah packed her bags and moved on to Scone, an isolated town in picturesque Hunter Valley. The town was home to the Thoroughbred Breeding Headquarters of Australia. In search of a job, Hannah checked into a cheap hotel, rooted through a phone book and rang up every stud farm in the vicinity. She landed a job looking after mares and foals at Coolmore Australia. This began a six week stay and involved caring for some of the most well-bred horses in Australia.

Her day to day responsibly included caring for two mares; She’s Archie and L’On Vite. She’s Archie, although newly introduced to the race track, came in 1st in the South Australian Oaks and 2nd in the Melbourne Cup. L’On Vite’s personality left something to be desired as she proved to be nippy and often in a grouchy mood. However, Hannah felt the mare had the best bloodlines on the farm having Secretariat for a sire and Fanfreluche for a dam.

Paypacket 2005 AUS As Hannah’s dream job unfolded there were moments which were anything but jolly. She found herself stepped on, bitten, kicked and run over within a short period of time. The weanlings looked cute until one double barreled her in the chest resulting in a trip to the local hospital. The doctor seemed more interested in the farm’s celebrity stallion, Encosta de Lago, than her injury. Luckily, Hannah only had sever bruising and no internal injuries.

She moved on to a stable in Melbourne where she cared for several unraced two year old colts. Although she had been involved with horses her entire life here she came to realize how truly different equine personalities could be. She gave each a nickname according to their idiosyncrasies. Logic could be cunning, sneaking in a nip when Hannah wasn’t looking. Denny, the clown, enjoyed play. Hemmers hated getting up in the morning and lay moaning refusing to begin the day. Dennis nervously walked his stall making a mess; head shy, he proved difficult to bridle. Ross, beautiful and majestic, displayed noble grandeur. Showella foal 2005 AUS

Pastice 2005 AUSHannah’s big racing adventure came to a close at the end of an action packed year. Looking back, she remembered the pain, joy, exhilaration, delight, and perhaps on occasion fear of her jobs; racing strapper, groom, turf club secretary, race day vet assistant, Magic Millions auction vet assistant and many more. She left Australia with journals full of horse adventures.

Hannah traded her saddle in for Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge and embarked on a career as a novelist. She received a degree in Writing and Film Studies and won two prizes at the university; one for top of her year and the other for the best dissertation/major project, which happened to be the first few chapters of Share and Share Alike.

Even though her riding days ended, she stays abreast with the UK racing scene by visiting the track. Hannah’s memories and journals give her novels detail; breathing life into her work. As of this date, she has written four novels. Currently, she is working on her next book in the Aspen Valley series. If you’re looking for an entertaining, light romantic novel involving horses try one of Hannah’s books. I don’t think you will be disappointed; I wasn’t.

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Hannah Hooton’s Experience with Horses – Part I

Cassy 1992 ZIM Hannah Hooton lives in the UK and since I live in the USA it’s understandable that we have never met. However, with the internet long distances are bridged. Hannah gregariously answered my questions about her involvement with horses and supplied the photos for this article.

“From what I read, you grew up in Zimbabwe. The Retzlaffs rescued over a hundred horses in 2002 when Mugabe brutally evicted white farmers from their farms. Did you know the Retzlaffs?”

“Unfortunately I didn’t ever know Pat and Mandy Retzlaff personally but as is so often the case in horsey circles they are friends of friends and I’ve immense admiration for what they did. I left Zimbabwe the same year as them and set up a new home in UK, and that was tough enough, so I can only imagine what the Retzlaffs went through moving over a hundred rescue horses to a new country which had been in a state of civil war for as long as I’ve been around. Truly courageous.”
Ducati 2001 ZIM

I asked Hannah many more questions about her horses and where she rode. Here is what I found out.

At six years old, Hannah rode her first pony. She received her first horse, Cassy, at age 10. The Standardbred mare proved very fast at a trot but usually that was all she did – trot extremely fast. Fortunately, when competing in the gymkhanas trotting race this problem became an asset and the duo won. However, the horse’s reliance on the trot proved a bit problematic when Cassy approached a jump at a canter. If she became doubtful of making the jump, Cassy broke into a trot; although it was only her gait that changed. Cassy still traveled at the same speed.

A few years went by and Cassy decided it was time to jump out of her stable. More than once she crossed paddocks, jumped over gates and a five foot fence to arrive at her destination; a local stallion named MacGyver. The visits resulted in a surprise for Hannah.

One morning, Hannah arrived at the stables and Cassy greeted her with a loud whinnie, head over the stall gate, ears pricked forward and with a toss of her head the horse gestured to the inside of her stall. There a small colt stood next to his proud mother. Hannah named the foal Martini, Marty for short.

Hannah’s family fell into financial difficulties and Cassy and Martini were sold. The location of the horses and their new owners was kept from the young girl. However at a horse show, soon after the sale, Hannah bumped into the girls who purchased Cassy. One of the girls showed her a massive bruise on her thigh where the horse had kicked her. This surprised Hannah as Cassy had never done anything like that when she owned her. Then Cassy slipped away into the unknown. Hannah never saw Cassy or Martini again, although several times she attempted to trace the whereabouts of the horses. Once she heard a rumor about Martini’s new owner but when she wrote to them they replied that she was mistaken.

Although Hannah’s horses were gone, she still rode at the local riding school. Two horses became her favorites; Ducati and Casey. Ducati, an off track Thoroughbred, had won at the track and retired to be a broodmare but unable to foal became a riding school horse. Casey, a bay Arab gelding, became Hannah’s exclusive ride. She helped the gelding discover the love of jumping and together they had great fun. Hannah was devastated when the riding school sold the little Arab as part of a job lot destined for Zambia.

Many years later while watching an annual pony show in Harare, Zimbabwe, Hannah spotted Casey among the numerous horses warming up for jumping classes. She approached the groom holding the horse, held out her hand and patted the old pony. In her heart Hannah knew this pony was Casey even though the groom called the little Arab by another name.

A few minutes later the pony’s rider came and divulged that the Arab had originally been called Casey. She didn’t know anything about the pony’s history having rescued the animal from mistreatment at the hand of a veterinarian in Zambia. The young rider nursed the little horse back to health and the two were now competing at shows.

Casey watched as Hannah told the woman about his history. The pony stood at hand, grey distorting the once distinct star on his forehead and speckling his muzzle and temples. She left the aging pony, sad he had suffered so much but happy that at last he had found an owner who loved him.

Tomahawk Chop 1999 ZIMIn her late teens, Hannah purchased an ex-race horse named Tomahawk Chop; nicknamed Pork Chop when the horse became pigheaded. Unfortunately Tomahawk preferred pasture life with his horse buddies to tackling her homemade jumps; resulting in a broken collarbone for Hannah.

Hannah lived on a farm a couple of hours outside Harare. The farm Hannah lived on had several farm labor families. The kids from these families developed a good relationship with Hannah. They helped her lug poles and barrels around the arena in exchange for English lessons and occasional rides on Tomahawk. When Hannah broke her collarbone she lost the use of her arm; mucking out stalls became a nightmare. The farm kids were incredibly kind to her and helped out with her chores. It wasn’t long before Tomahawk found a new owner. The ex-racehorse was sold shortly before Hannah and her parents were forced off their farm in 2002.

Hannah found herself living in the UK. She spent a year working with horses in Australia. Part II of this blog will be about Hannah’s experience in Australia. Until then, Happy Trails to all my readers.

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Hannah Hooton’s Latest Novel – Share and Share Alike

share and share alikeIn late June I received an email from Hannah Hooton requesting a review for her latest novel ‘Share and Share Alike’. I am not a professional critic although an avid reader. My list of reading material was short on romance novels but that didn’t stop me from giving it a shot. So of course, I agreed to critic the novel.

The setting for the novel is Aspen Valley and Aspen Court a fictional English manor. The premise for the book is a group of people who buy a share in a racehorse named Ta’Qali. The Ta’Qali Syndicate is made up of a circle of interesting characters; some with other motives than profits derived from owning a racehorse. The heroine, Tessa, finds more than romance when Ta’Qali winds up mysteriously injured. Tessa not only needs to come to terms with her feelings about men and passion, but also, her repressed feelings about family responsibility. If that wasn’t enough Tessa must solve the mystery of Ta’Qali’s injury to save her ancestral home and the brother she loves.

Hooton manages to write a “can’t put it down” romance novel perfect for light summer reading. The characters are well developed and the racing scenes written with the understanding of the events. The plot has enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing and engaged. All in all, ‘Share and Share Alike’ is a fun read. I recommend the book to those who love horses, romance and a good mystery.

Share and Share Alike is a digital book and can be found at the following links:

In the coming weeks I plan to write a short biography about Hannah and her experiences with horses. So until then Happy Trails to all my readers.

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Black Jack the Army Caparisoned Horse

Confusion, turmoil, intense news coverage, huge crowds and deep sorrow ordered the day. President Kennedy’s funeral and burial in Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia, was the first televised State Funeral. Dignitaries came from around the world to pay homage to the fallen President as the American people watched at home on their television sets. A nation shocked and mourning watched as a young widow, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, and her small children attended the service. Perhaps the confusion between Black Jack, also known as Sardar, a gift to the Kennedys from President Ayub Khan of Pakistan and Black Jack, the Army caparisoned horse, was a natural mistake; after all both horses had the same name, white stars, were bays, the same size and highly excitable. It would be natural for a case of mistaken identity to occur; the irony is so great it is almost unbelievable.

Pierre Salinger, White House Press Secretary, cleared up the confusion by telling the press that the horse, Black Jack, belonged to the Army and not Jackie Kennedy. Then it fell on the Army to tell its story of Black Jack the caparisoned horse.

blackjack1 (1)Black Jack, born on January 19, 1947, was named in honor of General John J.“Black Jack” Pershing. The Quarter horse received his training at Fort Reno in Oklahoma. Fort Reno, an Army Quartermaster Remount Depot, procured, breed, trained, stabled and sold horses. When the Army needed horses and mules the Remount Depot supplied them; when horses and mules were not needed they were returned to the depot. Fort Reno on average quartered approximately 14,000 horses; however, during World War II the Army became mechanized and the need for horses decreased. Finally on July 1, 1948 Fort Reno was turned over to the US Department of Agriculture. The horses and mules were sold or given as aid to foreign countries. Black Jack was one of the last Quartermaster issued horses. He carried a US brand on his left shoulder and the serial number 2V56 tattooed on his neck.

Black Jack arrived at Fort Myer on Nov 22, 1952 and became part of the Caisson Platoon of the 34d US Infantry Regiment (Old Guard). The horse did not do well under saddle; as an alternative, he became the riderless horse for military funerals at the Arlington National Cemetery. Even here Black Jack performed poorly; he was high strung and nervous, never getting used to the cannon fire which was a part of every funeral. Black Jack’s handlers changed every 18 months until Pete Duda became a suitable partner for the gelding. Together they walked in more than 200 funerals.

Black Jack Kennedy FuneralDuring the Kennedy Funeral thousands of people around the globe watched the caparisoned horse dance and paw the pavement behind the caisson. Black Jack captured the hearts of viewers. His high spirit and beauty caught the public’s attention and created interest in the horse.

However, nineteen year old Pfc. Arthur Carlson, Black Jack’s new handler, had his hands full; more than once the horse stepped on his foot. The young man feared his toes were broken. The pair made it to Arlington National Cemetery and waited as the President was lowered into an open grave and buried.

Black Jack birthday Black Jack became an overnight sensation. School children came to Arlington National Cemetery on fieldtrips to visit the horse. Nancy Schado, president of the Army Arlington Ladies, became Black Jack’s honorary “mother” bringing the horse pecan cake on a regular basis; especially for his birthday. President Richard Nixon sent the horse a birthday card which still hangs in the stables at Fort Myer. Black Jack received the attention and care of a national treasure.

Black Jack grew old and semi-retired in 1973. He died at the age of 29 on February 6, 1976. Black Jack participated in the state funerals of Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, CIA director Herbert Hoover and General of the Army Douglas MacArther. The horse was cremated, his ashes placed in an urn and carried by a funeral procession with full military honors. He was the second horse in US military history to receive full military honors and burial. The first horse to receive such honors was Comanche; survivor of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Black Jack’s ashes lay in Summerall Field. His grave, marked by a monument with an attractive metal plaque, commemorates the horse.


Photographs in the Public Domain

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Jackie Kennedy and Sardar “Black Jack”

The world in 1962 proved turbulent, dangerous, filled with espionage, closed door politics and intrigue. The Cold War fought between the principle players the US and USSR; raged across the globe pulling smaller nations into their sphere of influence. The volatile year hosted an Atomic Bomb tested in outer space in July, the Cuban Missile crisis in October, John Glen orbited the Earth in February. Pilot Gary Powers, who secretly left a Pakistan air field and was shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960, was exchanged for Soviet spy Rudolf Abel in February. In March, Jacqueline Kennedy and her sister visited Pakistan. They attended the Ninth Annual Pakistani Horse and Cattle Show at Fortress Stadium in Lahore, Punjab. During her visit, Mrs. Kennedy was given a horse named Sardar. The horse, the descendent of champions, was breed in the famed Aga Khan stables. Jackie renamed the horse Black Jack after her father “Black” Jack Bouvier.

glenorakhan jackie riding with pakistani presidentA military transport brought Black Jack to his new home; a stable at Glen Ora an estate in Middleburg Virginia about an hour’s drive from the White House. Jackie, an equestrian since childhood, treasured riding her new horse in the quiet countryside. President Ayub Khan on a diplomatic visit to the US stayed at the estate with the Kennedys and was photographed riding with Jackie.Jackiesardar

By law, gifts from a foreign country to the President or a member of his family are accepted on behalf of the United States. Such a gift becomes the property of the nation and may not be kept as a personal gift.

Jackie Kennedy received many gifts during her trip to Pakistan, gold necklaces, two tiger cubs and a horse. According to White House Press Secretary Pierre Salinger all the gifts were handed over to the State Department except one; Black Jack. Supposedly, an arrangement was made to allow the First Lady to keep the horse with the stipulation that she pay 7 ½ % of the horse’s value; a type of tax.

ST-498-1-62Events on November 22, 1963 turned Jackie’s world upside down. That Friday her husband, President Kennedy, died; brutally assassinated by a sniper in Dallas, Texas. The President’s body was placed in the East Room of the White House for 24 hours. Sunday his flag-draped coffin, carried by a horse-drawn caisson, traveled to the Rotunda of the US Capitol. More than a quarter of a million mourners paid their respects to the fallen President. On Monday, November 25th after Requiem Mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, the body was taken to Arlington National Cemetery for burial.

Jackie on Sardar The military officials in charge of the funeral followed strict protocol; however, Jackie, if a precedent could be found for her request, was allowed to orchestrate the funeral by adding her own personal touch. In 1865, Abraham Lincoln had a caparisoned horse at his funeral. His horse, Old Bob, rider-less with riding boots lodged backwards in the stirrups, draped in black, was led behind the procession. In the same manner, Jackie may have requested her horse Black Jack be used as the caparisoned horse. After all the horse, a gift from Pakistan to the US, had become part of the Kennedy family.

Here is where my research into this story goes wonky. On Sunday, November 24 a member of the Associated Press called Jackie’s press secretary, Pamela Turnure, to confirm that the horse in the procession to the Capital was Jackie’s horse. Turnure replied yes, the horse was Mrs. Kennedy’s Black Jack. However, the next day, the day of the burial, Ms. Turnure recanted and said “I was wrong.” Pierre Salinger also stated to the press that the horse, Black Jack, belonged to the Army.
Newspaper Clipping Now here is where everything gets very odd. On November 27, Jackie contacted the Secretary of the Army, Cyrus Vance, and stated that she wanted to buy Black Jack the caparisoned horse. It’s unclear what she was told but obviously the answer was no. Shortly after her request, Black Jack’s caparison, which included his saddle, bridle, saddle blanket, sword, boots and spurs were delivered to Jackie at the White House. All of this happened two days after her husband’s funeral in the midst of packing, taking care of her children and organizing her possessions in order to leave the White House within two weeks. If the horse wasn’t Jackie’s Black Jack why did she want to purchase the animal? A horse she had only seen for a few hours during the funeral procession.

So now I’m left with more questions than answers. Was there a legal issue to ownership or a question of national security? In any case here is where the “Sardar – Black Jack” story ends. I couldn’t find any other reference to the horse or what happened to the beautiful creature. It is as if the animal just disappeared into thin air.

My father always said, “There are two sides to every story.” The other side of this story is the tale of “Black Jack the Army Caparisoned Horse” which will be my next blog. Until then, Happy trails to all of my readers.

Sources:;;;;;;;;;; nid=1915&dat=19631125&id=sCAiAAAAIBAJ&sjid=vnEFAAAAIBAJ&pg=6125,3764094;; nid=860&dat=19620327&id=d39OAAAAIBAJ&sjid=VEsDAAAAIBAJ&pg=4592,3216072;

Photographs in the Public Domain

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Farrier Kenny Bellis Visits Ballentine’s Horse Heaven

Kenny Bellis and CJ
A gray haze clouded the sky restraining the early April morning. A slight chill clung to the shadows but spring definitely hung in the air. When I pulled in front of the stables Kenny’s truck was already there. I walked through the barn and found Johnn and Kenny in Myrtle’s stall. The draft horse had one leg lifted as Kenny finished off filing the hoof.

Kenny in some ways was new to being a farrier having just graduated from Oklahoma State Farrier School in September. In other ways, being a farrier seemed only natural since he was the son of a farrier. At Oklahoma State, Kenny completed the 6 week course; a hands on experience with some lecture/class time. The class was small, only 12 students. Every day he worked with different horses, solved different problems.

“Why did you decide to become a farrier,” I asked Kenny. Johnn Ballintine

“I always wanted to be a farrier, but I didn’t want to compete or interfere with my father’s business. When he passed away I decided to go to school.”

“So you’ve been around horses all of your life?”

“I grew up with horses, did all the kid stuff, shows, roping competitions, trail riding, team penning. I still do local rodeos. My wife, Dawn, does barrel racing. We run a family stables with 18 boarders.”

“That must keep you busy.”

“It does. We also have a 2 year old son. He has a mini-horse which he loves to brush, but as soon as we put him on the horse he cries. If we put him on a bigger horse he’s fine. So when we go to shows, our son rides the big horse in lead line classes.”

Kenny Bellis He finished trimming Sam and Myrtle; although draft horses, the two are trimmed without use of a stock. Stocks aren’t’ always fail-proof. After Kenny graduated from farrier school, he was hired by a farrier who had been injured by a Clydesdale. The horse was in a stock when the animal panicked, broke the stock and the farrier’s leg. Kenny was hired by the farrier, and for several weeks, Kenny rode around with the injuried man. He picked up some useful pointers as he trimmed and shoed horses for the other farrier.

“I’m careful when I go out to the pasture to get CJ or Pepper. I’m always aware of the draft horses, especial Myrtle, since she’s very attached to Pepper. Myrtle’s a big horse and sometimes runs after us and likes to kick up her heels.”

“It’s good to be careful. A draft horse is like a mule. A riding horse usually won’t run you over, but they will. Mules and draft horses aren’t animals to mess with or take lightly,” replied Kenny.

Kenny moved on to the riding horses, Jupiter, CJ and Pepper. Each horse in turn received a trim; no shoes today. Kenny lifted CJ’s hoof, did his job, everything went like clockwork.

“What are some of the challenges you find being a farrier?”

“I love what I do and I am lucky to be able to work with horses every day. It is hard to work for people who don’t understand horses. Some people buy a horse for their kid and know nothing about the horse. It’s easier to work for people who know their animals and work with them daily,” replied Kenny putting CJ’s hoof back on the ground.

Before long the horses had all received their trims and waited to be returned to the pasture. I turned my car towards home as Kenny gathered his tools, climbed in his truck and headed for another job.

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Polar Vortex and Winter Riding

Winter has been weird. So many days in January, February and March dipped into the teens with negative numbers at night. Why so much strange weather? Was it Global Warming or just bizarre weather? Weathermen started throwing around the term “Polar Vortex” to add to the abnormality created by the extremely cold temperatures. What exactly was the Polar Vortex and why did it keep happening?


Wavey Polar Vortex on January 5, 2014 — Typical Polar Vortex November 2013

The Northern and Southern hemispheres have huge cyclones which swirl in a circular pattern around the poles. These cyclones are permanently a part of the poles and are called the Polar Vortex. The Polar Jet Stream forms a border around each vortex. If the jet stream weakens frigid Arctic air flows south allowing a southern excursion of the vortex. This was what kept happening in the winter of 2014; over and over again.


Although I enjoy riding in winter, the temperature and wind-chill made it impossible. It wasn’t until early March that I finally got back to the stables. Everything was as I last saw it. Johnn was busy cleaning stalls and the horses were in the pasture.

It seemed like a heat wave, the temperature actually hit 40 degrees. I expected to see people out and about, but Johnn said the overcast skies probably kept people inside. I saddled CJ and headed up Oakfield road. I expected to hear animals moving through the woods but it was stone silent. Snow still blanketed the fields and the ground was frozen solid.

Woods near Murray Creek Drive

CJ and I circled back toward the barn picking up Murry Creek Road. The trees showed no signs of an early spring, and Murray creek was frozen solid. Within a few days, the frigid weather was back again.

Now it is the first week in April and it feels like spring, even though a couple of days ago winter still clung to the thermometer. Everyone is hoping that winter is over, but it’s not unusual to get an April snowstorm; only time will tell.

murry creek;

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The Safety of Riding with Tapaderos

Tapadaros A few years ago I purchased a used saddle with tapaderos or ‘hooded stirrups’. I had never used stirrups with tapadero coverings and was surprised how comfortable not to mention how stylish they were. The saddle was a little small for me so I covered it and used another. Recently, I moved on to an endurance saddle and decided to transfer the tapaderos from the old saddle.

A woman once told me a trail ride horror story of a girl whose stirrup became tangled and caught in brush. The horse felt trapped and started bucking to get free sending the rider to a hard landing on the ground which broke a few of the girl’s ribs. One reason tapaderos were invented was to prevent this type of accident from happening.

It wasn’t long before I realized that the tapaderos gave me a little more safety. I often rode down wooded trails with overgrown branches. When the trail narrowed and branches brushed past my leg the tapaderos prevented the underbrush from becoming intertwined in my stirrup.

Tapadaros and CJ

The tapaderos also prevented my foot from going completely through the stirrup. The rider’s universal fear of having a foot hung up in the stirrup when falling off their horse prompts many parents of young riders to insist on tapaderos. Personally, the mental image of being dragged, head bouncing along the ground was enough to keep my feet placed on the edge of the stirrups; tapaderos made it a no-brainer.

Another advantage was extra warmth. The hooded stirrups gave my feet that extra warmth riders crave on winter outings. Working cowboys often lined the inside of their tapaderos with fleece for added protection against the cold. The idea made sense and someday soon I plan to make a lining for my hooded stirrups.

Given the advantages tapaderos provide riders, you would think that more people would use them. Perhaps the reason for this is tapaderos are not allowed in most horse show classes and usually only seen on parade saddles. However for riding back roads and trails they certainly provide extra safety and comfort.


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Learning to Drive a Cart with Barb Barnes

Barb A few months ago in September, when the weather was warmer, the leaves a golden yellow and the grass still green, I found myself back at Windy Ridge Stables. Barb Barnes was expecting me. She stood in the indoor arena instructing a woman on the art of Western equitation. As I walked into the waiting area just outside the arena, I anticipated my first lesson on how to drive a cart.Barb and cart 003

“Fiona’s in her stall. Grab a brush and cleaner her up. I’ll be with you soon,” Barb said turning back to her student.

Fiona, a white Percheron, stood 17 hands at the withers. I slide the stall door open as the horse turned her head and gave me an inquisitive look. Conveniently, a brush box doubled as a stepstool which I climbed onto giving me the height I needed to brush dirt off Fiona’s back and neck. Before long, Barb showed me how to put the draft harness on Fiona. We took the horse outside for some ground work. I walked behind Fiona and with Barb’s help drove the horse up and down the gravel road next to the barn.

Barb loaned me a couple of books on driving a cart: “Work Horse Handbook” by Lynn R. Miller and “Breaking & Training the Driving Horse” by Doris Ganton. I took the books home and flipped through the pages until I came to a section in Doris Ganton’s book explaining an accident she had when driving her cart. It seems she was out late one night and lost sight of the edge of the road. Her cart’s wheel slipped into a ditch ending up with her cart flipping over. Luckily, she managed to save herself and her horse, but as I read I suddenly realized that there was a downside to carts and carriages.

On the Road After a few lessons, I gained some experience on driving the cart and harnessing Fiona, not an easy task given the size differential between me and the horse. One brisk November morning, Barb and I climbed into the cart. I drove Fiona away from the barn and out onto the open road. The wheels clicked as the horse’s hooves tapped out a rhythm on the asphalt. I tried to remember to keep track of the cart’s front wheel and the side of the road.

The countryside opened up before us as we traveled along the road occasionally increasing speed to a trot. After a few miles, Barb told me to turn around. I turned the horse back towards the barn, and immediately, like many horses, Fiona picked up the pace and trotted up the hill.

“Just don’t let her break into a canter,” warned Barb.

me and Fiona

At the top of the hill we saw a pothole repair truck coming towards us. The huge truck had a large hose attached just above the front bumper; coiled like some strange gigantic serpent. The driver saw us and slowed down but didn’t stop; not a good sign.

“Is Fiona OK with big trucks?” I asked.

“I guess we’re going to find out,” answered Barb.

Fiona’s pace slowed as the horse stopped, lifted her head and looked at the truck slowly approaching us. Before the vehicle could pass by, Fiona decided she didn’t want to have anything to do with the truck. Quickly, the horse spun around, turned the cart in the opposite direction and made a hasty retreat. At that point the driver stopped the truck and Barb took the reins. She skillfully maneuvered Fiona down a steep driveway away from the road and the odd vehicle. Before long we heard the truck rumble past us, then Barb turned the horse around and we headed back onto the road.

“That was exciting,” I said.

“A little too exciting,” replied Barb handing me the reins. She pointed to a steep drop-off and continued, “I just don’t want us to end-up down there.”

“That would have been bad.”

“With horses things can go bad real fast.”

Time passed and the weather changed. Winter brought snow storms which blanketed the countryside and made travel difficult. Then a polar vortex streamed across the Northeast plummeting temperatures into the minus digits. My lessons on driving the cart were cancelled until better weather and I found myself inside keeping warm. Even riding CJ or Pepper proved difficult, except for trips to the barn at Horse Heaven to brush down the pair. Currently, the weather report is not encouraging; another polar vortex for next week. This weather can’t last forever, and when things thaw out, I’ll be back to Windy Ridge for another lesson on driving a cart. Until then, stay warm.

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