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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Tinsel-n-Lights Celebration 2013 – Waverly, NY

It was dark, cold and anything but lonely. Hundreds of people filled the winter night on their way to or from the holiday celebration underway in Muldoon Park. Quickly, I passed the fire engine parked to serve as an emergency vehicle at the corner of Lincoln and Chemung streets. The crossing guard signaled for me to walk and I headed towards the park.

The small village park stood transformed. Max Weed and his Halflingers waited by the curb while people climbed into the back of the wagon for a ride. The bandstand decorated with lights glowed as a hum from the crowd filled in the spaces between musical performances.

At the corner of Park Avenue and Park Place near the Vietnam War Memorial, Mike Cary and his reindeer stood behind a chain link enclosure. I passed by the reindeer in search of my friend Anne Shaffer. Near the booth that housed Santa, I found her.

“Anyone else here?”
“No, not yet.”

Santa John Hansen

It wasn’t long before we were joined by the other members of our Zumba group; Fitness with Serena from Athens, PA . Zumba helped me stay in shape, keep extra pounds off and generally have fun.

Once the sound equipment was connected, the music motivated my feet and the exercise kept me warm from the biting cold. After we completed our routine, I left the group and met up with my husband, Moe.
“Let’s take a look at the ice sculptures,” I said.

Four sculptors from Sculpted Ice Works carve out their creations in ice at different locations in the park. By walking in a circle through the park, you were able to view each one. Since it was late, the artists were putting the finishing touches on their ice sculptures.

The first ice sculptor we met was John Hanson. He remembered me from last year. We chatted as he finished up his sculpture of Rudolf by giving him a red nose.

“That’s really impressive,” I said.

“Thanks, a woman stopped to watch and gave me a tube of lipstick for the nose. It works,” he replied.

Neil Tripper
neilNeil tallking to kids

Lora Borer carved her sculpture with a chainsaw carefully cutting out snowflakes and trimming off edges. The words Tinsel-n-lights swirled in gentle curves and clear-cut penmanship in a block of ice balanced on top of the sculpture. She too remembered me from last year and took time to talk with me and others in the crowd.

Not far away the buzz of a chainsaw hit the cold air as Neil Trimper neatened and refined his ice-sculpture of a kneeling angel. A crowd gathered to watch and he stopped periodically to answer questions from people observing his work.

I remembered Neil from my first Tinsel-n-Lights 2011.

“So where do you go after your done here?” I asked.

“We have two winter festivals tomorrow in New Jersey. The first is in the morning and another at night.”

“You know the weather report calls for a huge snowstorm tonight and tomorrow.”

“I heard. It makes it hard since we have a big truck to haul our equipment, but we’ll make it.”


Moe and I stopped to view Walter Gasiorek’s sculpture of an elf. This was Walter’s first year at Tinsel-n-lights. Before long, we said our farewells to Walter and called it a night. The temperature proved bitter cold and most of the crowd had left. Lucky for us it was a short walk up Lincoln Street and home.

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Memorial Trail Ride for Kenneth W. Bellis, Jr.

Farrier Kenny BellisKenneth W. Bellis, Jr. held several different jobs during his lifetime, but for those who own horses he’ll always be remember as a farrier and a horseman. Born December 30, 1954 in Sayre, PA, he graduated from Tioga Central School in Nichols, NY. He was a member of the Twin Tiers Riding Club and the Tioga County Saddle Club. For a time, he worked in Rodeos as a pick-up man and enjoyed team penning. He worked as a farrier for 20 years and traveled as far as Tennessee to shoe horses. He enjoyed attending the Quarter Horse Congress in Columbus, Ohio.

Memorial Trail Ride 10/27/13 Kenny passed away suddenly, without warning on July 16, 2013. Funeral services were held July 22, 2013 at Buckheit Funeral Chapel and Crematory in Mansfield, PA. After Kenny’s death, his son, Kenny “Buddy” Bellis, and daughter-in-law, Dawn, planned and organized a memorial trail ride in honor of they’re father. The ride took place on a hazy morning; October 27, 2013. Twenty-three riders gathered with their horses at Rising Hope Farm, had breakfast and then headed out on the trail for a couple of hours in honor of Kenneth W. Bellis, Jr. The riders followed a wooded trail under a sky that looked like rain but only a few drops fell. Kenny will be missed and always remembered by friends and family.
Kenny Bellis 002

The Cowboy Prayer (unknown author)

Let me tell you folks
Who have gathered here today
That I’m a proud and thankful cowboy
Who has just passed away,
I know it’s hard,
But please don’t cry,
For I’m now riding God’s trails
High up in the sky.
The horse I’m riding now
Doesn’t spook, buck or kick
For God stables perfect horses
And now I have my pick.
Lord, please forgive me all of my sins
For I haven’t been perfect
But I know that he that believes in You
Forever wins!
I have lived a good life
A cowboy’s dream come true!
Thank you, Lord.
For now I’m ready to ride into eternity
Me, my horse, and You.

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Horses in the Valley Halloween Parade

Waverly Senior Band Athens History Club Float Ghouls on Horseback Lou Anne Miller on Wildfire Melissa Lantz Ghoul on Skeleton Horse Sam Lantz and Lou Anne Miller Melissa and Arwen Another Ghoul on Horseback End of Parade Bill Every year one of the three Valley municipalities, Athens, Sayre or Waverly, host a Halloween Parade. This year it was Waverly’s turn to have the parade. Friends and neighbors left the warmth of their homes to stand out in the cold for about an hour on Saturday morning. They watched marching bands, floats filled with people dressed in ghoulish costumes, local fire and rescue vehicles, and last but not least costumed horses and riders.

A morning haze hid the sun and created a chill which required a jacket. There was excitement in the air which can only be created by a large crowd. I hurried towards Broad Street and knew I was late. The sound of the trumpets, French horns and drums of several marching bands floated on the wind towards me. When I reached Muldoon Park, to my surprise, I saw the parade. The Waverly Senior Band turned the corner at Park and Pennsylvania Avenue and headed straight towards me. What luck! I walked across the park and watched the parade slowly unfold before my eyes, but there wasn’t a horse in sight.

I came to see the horses and knew from my own days of riding in parades that the horses would be at the end. After all, nobody wants to step in horse poop or risk getting kicked. I walked down Pennsylvania Avenue, turned the corner at Broad Street and headed towards Ted Clarks Busy Market. Parents and kids hugged the curb as they watched the parade flow by. The people on floats and in fire engines threw wrapped candy to the crowd lining the street. Kids scurried to pick up the tossed candy and stuffed the treats into their bags.

As I drew near the center of town, the end of the parade came into view and a group of horseback riders. I walked closer, took a few pictures and realized the riders were from Rising Hope Farm. I heard a friendly voice say “Pat”. I looked up and saw Lou Anne Miller on her horse Wildfire, old friends, from my days at Windy Ridge Stables.

I followed the riders back towards Muldoon Park where I had started. On my way, I bumped into my neighbor, Bill, who was enjoying a coffee and the parade. Perhaps, that is what parades in small towns are all about. They give people a chance to come together, chat; enjoy a common event while reconnecting with community. I hurried on to catch up with the riders and by the time the horses reached Muldoon Park, I had come full circle.

Lou Anne and the other riders headed for their horse trailers and the drive back home. Various elements of the parade diverged as the on-lookers went their separate ways. The electric sensation the crowd created, faded as if instantly evaporated by some unknown force. Although the parade was over, the stage was set for this coming Thursday, October 31st. Halloween night, when ghoulish pleasure will ignite the darkness with excitement and of course candy.

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Equine Dentist or Vet to Float Teeth

What does floating teeth mean? Simply put, floating teeth can be compared to trimming a horse’s hooves. Both require filing, smoothing and evening out rough areas. Since equine teeth never stop growing and wear unevenly; it is advantageous to file down the sharp points and even out teeth so a horse can chew his food properly. This promotes good digestion and allows the horse to better utilize nutrients in its feed. The procedure takes approximately 20 minutes.

In the past, primarily older horses had their teeth floated to improve health and extend their lives. For the past 15 years growing attention has been focused on equine dental care. Now once a year, it is suggested horses of all ages have an oral examination and teeth “floated” to promote better health. Who is to perform this procedure? In the past either an equine dentist specializing in floating teeth or a vet did the job.

Legal battles have been fought in states across the nation designed to prevent equine dentists who are not vets from floating teeth. In Texas during 2008, home to big cattle ranchers, the Texas Vet Board brought felony charges for practicing teeth floating without a veterinary license against Carl Mitz, a certified Equine Dentist for 24 years. Also in 2008, Oklahoma made it a felony to practice floating a horse’s teeth unless you are a vet. In 2009, Bobby Griswold professional rodeo star and equine dentist was charged and prosecuted for preforming dental work on a horse in Oklahoma. In 2009, Chris Brown, equine dentist for over 30 years, won a New York State appellate court decision which granted lay equine dentists the right to practice their trade in the state. In 2010, the Missouri Veterinary Medical Board brought a complaint against Brooke Gray, a practicing and fully competent equine dentist, for floating teeth without benefit of a veterinary degree or state license. Gray lost the case and was prohibited from floating teeth.

If traditional equine dentists are not allowed to practice their trade, horse owners have no option other than to hire a vet to perform this simple procedure essential for equine tooth maintenance. What do you think? Should floating teeth be an area for state regulation and licensing or should horse owners be left to decide who they want to hire to perform this procedure?

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Horses and Native American Trade Routes


When I was young the idea of a vast inter-continental network of Native American trails, weaving across the North American continent was unheard of. It was Lewis and Clark who blazed their way across the American wilderness to the Pacific Ocean with minor help from their Indian scout, Sacagawea. None of my teachers mentioned that hundreds of years before Europeans set foot on the soil of North and South American, Native Americans created an extensive series of interlocking trails connecting well established trade centers.

These trade routes proved important in the distribution of the horse. The stage was set in 1680 for Native Americans to acquire the horse when the Pueblo Indians revolted against the Spanish colony in New Mexico. After forcing the Spanish retreat into Mexico, the Pueblo Indians captured thousands of horses. Having worked as slaves for the Spanish rancheros, the Indians knew how to handle these powerful animals. Once the horses fell into their hands, they managed the herds and began to trade horses to other tribes. This was an easy task since the Pueblo Indians already had well established trade centers linking the Ute, Comanche, Apache, Kiowa and Jumano tribes. Trails leading from the Pueblos radiated like the spokes in a wheel; North, South, East and West. No wonder it took very little time for Indian tribes throughout North America to acquire the horse.

Native American Trade Routes

Native American Trade Routes

By 1700 the horse was owned by tribes in the distant northwest; Bannock, Nez Perce, Cayuse, and Umatilla. At the same time, horses moved east to the Crow and Missouri River tribes. The horse quickly became incorporated into the Native American way of life and proved important in trade.

Early European settlers, traders and explorers followed Native American trade routes often with the help of Indian guides. Inevitable conflict culminated in the Indian Wars in the west, and as time marched on, the Indians were moved to reservations. Their lands were settled by farmers and ranchers, but the Indian trails were not forgotten. Many Native American cross-continental trade routes eventually became asphalted and paved during the construction of today’s interstate highway system. There are perhaps a few Native American trails winding through the continental divide which still feel the footsteps of an occasional hiker. Gone are the days of the open prairies, the vast herds of buffalo and the millions of Native Americans who traversed an intricate web of trails for the purpose of trade.


Footnote: In 2009, the US Mint struck a new dollar coin series with the theme of Native Americans. On the obverse or face of the coin, Sacagawea and her child were shown. Each year the reverse side of the coin featured a new image. Last year, the coin’s reverse side portrayed the importance of the horse and Native American trade routes in 17th century America.


Map sources:;

Painting by Charles Russell

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Dawn Bellis at Rising Hope Farm

Dawn BellisDawn Bellis had an extensive background working with horses. At the age of 13, she began training horses for other people. Her mother owned a riding stable in Litchfield, PA, where Dawn learned to ride at an early age. She learned to ride English and Western and competed in local shows. When it came time to teach others how to ride Western Pleasure, she incorporated her knowledge of the English disciplines. Then about 7 years ago, Dawn’s mother closed the riding stable.

Dawn Bellis

Dawn was almost 20 when she took a job working with Standardbreds at Tioga Downs Racetrack near Nichols, NY. At the track she worked in the barn, took care of the horses and prepared them for exercise. A few years later, Dawn moved to Taylor Farms owned by Bob and Shannon Taylor in Owego. She worked with Thoroughbreds and Shire horses. Besides working in the barn, she broadened her experiences with horses and learned to train the Shire foals, showed the weanlings, taught the yearlings to harness, then the 2 to 3 year olds how to hitch and drive. She drove the Shires at horse shows and loved working with them.

Shadow's New Home

Rising Hope Farm

In 2011, Dawn left Taylor Farms to start her own private boarding facility at Rising Hope Farm. The farm had been used for beef cows and the barn needed conversion to accommodate horses. Sixteen stalls were built and new fences put up to make several large pastures.

A few days ago, I turned my vehicle onto Park Hollow Road headed for Rising Hope Farm. When I pulled into the driveway, three barking dogs ran alongside my SUV until I came to a stop. Horsewomen walked their horse past me, then mounted and headed for the outdoor arena. I followed them and watched the riders warm-up their horses as I waited to speak with Dawn. It wasn’t long before she and I sat on lawn chairs in her yard not far from the barn.

“How are the horse shows going?” I asked.

“Good, except I’ve been having a problem with my horse reacting to noise echoing off the grandstands. He’s fine when I compete in an arena with just bleachers, the noise and music doesn’t bother him, but if there is a grandstand he spooks. I’m guessing it’s the sound bouncing off the building back at him. I was getting ready to load my horse at the Reese Ranch Rodeo and the band was warming up a few yards away. He’s usually good with the music, but he started getting nervous. I think it was the sound echoing off the trailer. ” replied Dawn.

“Horses are very sensitive to sound,” I said.

“Someone told me to try putting tampons in his ears. Just open it up with the strings hanging out so you can easily pull the tampon out.”

“That’s an interesting idea.”

“I’m going to try it maybe it will help.”

“Where do you compete?” I asked.

“I compete in barrel races. I’ve done four APRA Rodeos, NBHA Shows, and all the local fairs. The prize money is pretty good. At the Troy Fair first place for barrels is $600 and even 6th pays $150, so it’s worth trying since I usually place.”

Dawn at the Troy Fair

Dawn at the Troy Fair

“What would you say is the most important thing to do when training horses?” I asked.

“I would say that positive feedback is very important. If the horse does even the smallest step toward what I’m asking him to do I reinforce the good behavior by letting the horse know he did a good job.”

“Could you give me a tip on training horses?”

“If something isn’t working with you and your horse, stop and take 5 minutes or so to think about it. Don’t get into a fight with your horse because that’s going nowhere. Leave the training session on a good note, even if your horse didn’t accomplish everything you wanted. If your horse does a step or two in the right direction, praise your horse and end the training session on a good note. I’m a strong believer in short training sessions. Once your horse gets it, stop and do more the next day.”

I made my farewells to Dawn. The day was still new when I left Rising Hope Farms. The tranquil countryside engulfed my vehicle as I drove down the gravel driveway and turned onto Mt. Pleasant Road. The engine’s roar was the only sound I hear as I headed back toward Waverly and home.

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Shadow Goes For Training

Shadow's New Home

Shadow’s New Home

Sunshine hit the truck’s windshield as Anne negotiated the turns on Sayre Hill Road. The truck made a sharp turn and roared down the country road headed for Shadow’s new home. Overhanging trees momentarily blocked the sun until finally the vehicle crested the hill. Suddenly, the countryside turned into broad fields and pastures flowing with grass destined to be cut for hay. Before long, Anne turned the truck onto a long gravel driveway leading to a huge barn which once housed dairy cows. She parked alongside the red barn and we climbed out of the truck.



“Dawn’s working with Shadow in the round-pen. We can walk over and see how the training is going,” said Anne walking up a slight incline away from the barn.

We came to the round-pen where a horse trailer stood at one end of the large enclosure. Shadow stood next to the trailer and a young woman held his lead rope.

“Shadow did really well today. I’m just ending his training session,” said Dawn.

Anne and I stood on the sidelines as Dawn put Shadow through his paces. When he didn’t want to go into the trailer she tapped him with the end of the lead rope and circled him, then directed him to the back of the trailer, and the horse walked right in. Once Shadow was in the trailer she spoke words of encouragement and shut the trailer gate. The horse relaxed in the trailer munching hay until Dawn opened the gate and motioned with the lead rope for the horse to exit the trailer. When Shadow hurried out of the trailer, Dawn made Shadow get right back in and step out slowly, one hoof at a time.

“How long have you been training horses?” I asked.

“My mother owned a riding stables and when I was about 13 years old people saw how I handled horses and asked if I would work with theirs. That’s when I started training horses,” Dawn replied.

“I can’t believe Shadow will go into the trailer like that. For years, I’ve struggled to get him in a trailer. He just wouldn’t go in and a couple of times when he did go into the trailer he damaged the trailer trying to get out,” said Anne.

“He’s really tall, maybe he feels cramped,” I said.

“He probably felt claustrophobic. When we tried to load him at his old stable I wondered what I had gotten myself into, but he’s doing really well now,” replied Dawn.

“It took us hours to load Shadow at Ballentine’s, for awhile I didn’t think he would get in the trailer or would damage it,” said Anne.

“He really is doing great,” I said.

Shadow and Anne

Shadow and Anne

Dawn led Shadow out of the round-pen and headed for the barn and his stall. In the distance, water sparkled as sunlight bounced off a pond in one of the many pastures which surrounded the barn. In the middle of a large field a solitary cow stood grazing. Except for the tweeting of a few isolated birds, the countryside remained peaceful and quiet. The gravel road which paralleled the electric fence bordering the property was empty, no car or truck rumbled by. A slight breeze washed over us as we made our way to Shadow’s stall.

The barn had a single runway down the middle with exits on both ends and held many stalls. Each stall was a large and spacious box. At one entrance to the barn hung a hose for washing horses, cross-ties and a door which led to a tack room. At the other end of the barn, a chute and entryway allowed horses coming in from the pasture safe passage.

Shadow on Cross-ties

Shadow on Cross-ties

Dawn returned Shadow to his stall and then walked through the barn to let in horses waiting to be feed. One by one the animals entered the barn and found their respective stalls, hay and grain.

“So how is Shadow doing with his cow problem?” I asked.

“Good, it took him a few days to get used to the cow. The other horse, Barry, pastured with him offered a buffer for awhile, but now Shadow’s good with the cow,” Anne replied.

“I can’t believe that, he always got so nervous or bolted whenever we rode past a cow pasture or he heard a cow mooing.”

“I know, but the other day I rode past a dairy farm up the street and the cows didn’t bother him at all.”

So Shadow’s training went well. He learned to live with a cow, get on and off a trailer without fear and generally calm down. Shadow had new friends; a cow and a Standardbred named Barry. He looked far different from the excitable creature which once ran with raised tail, in the pasture at Ballentine’s Horse Heaven.

Anne Shaffer and Shadow's New Friend

Anne Shaffer and Shadow’s New Friend

Barry, Shadow's New Friend

Barry, Shadow’s New Friend

The pleasant June and July days passed by as Ann and Shadow settled into the new home. Dawn Bellis became an important part of their lives. Other people often joined Shadow and Anne for rides down the many dirt roads and trails which cut through the woods surrounding the stables. There will be many more long summer days for the horsewomen to enjoy.

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Farewell Murray Creek Riders

Annie, Marilyn and Pat Summer 2010Anne and Shadow at Horse HeavenKaren on Pepper next to the abandoned farmhouseDonna Horton riding SocksMarilyn and Donna ridingEmma ready to rideDonna and Pat at Round Top Parkmurray creek riders

By May all the Murray Creek Riders had left Ballentine’s Horse Heaven, except for me. There were numerous reasons that they left; training, internships or new horizons. The barn was quiet as the days grew longer. Then in June came thunderstorms almost daily which resulted in some flooding. After contemplating my situation, I decided it was time to take a break from riding. Hang up my riding boots for awhile and catch up on matters too long forgotten at home.

On June 25th I saddled Pepper up for her last ride, sort of a farewell ride. I headed out alone as overcast skies pulsated with heat and humidity. Pepper and I walked up Sutliff Hill Road towards the park entrance. At the top of the hill, I pulled Pepper over to stand in a field as several pickup trucks roared past on the gravel road. At the junction of Round Top Road we stopped and turned to go back to the barn. As soon as we did, the sky opened up dropping buckets of rain on us. Within seconds, I sat upon Pepper’s back drenched to the bone, not one article of clothing dry. Fortunately, there was no lightning, just a cloud burst. At one point I thought perhaps we could get back sooner by cantering. Rainwater hammered against us as Pepper canter up the road, not a good idea as the rain pelted us even harder. I couldn’t have been any wetter if I had jumped in the river for a swim. So for the last mile we simply walked through the deluge, accepting our fate.

A couple of days later, I took CJ out for our last summer ride. Big puffy clouds dotted the blue sky, the afternoon dripped with heat. Again, I rode up Sutliff Hill Road; the same direction I had taken Pepper a few days before. At the top of the hill a massive Tioga Oil truck making a delivery pulled out of a driveway, so I turned CJ into a field and halted until the truck passed. Before I could get back on the road, a pickup truck hauling a trailer filled with four-wheeler’s rumbled by us filling the air with dust. Finally, CJ and I walked down the long hill to the intersection at Round Top Road. At the stop sign a huge garbage truck turned and headed in our direction. This time I turned the horse around, hurried back up the hill and made a beeline for the barn.

The wind gathered speed and spiraled aloft. Warm air rushed through tree branches and leaves lifted upward. White puffy clouds moved rapidly into higher altitudes and quickly formed into thunderheads as the first rolls of thunder rumbled across open fields. I galloped up the hill hoping to get back to the barn before the storm broke.

Warm updrafts lifted dozens of birds into the air. Five goldfinch alighted on a telephone wire suspended at the side of the gravel road. Their small yellow bodies sparkled against the dark thunderheads. It was unusual to see them all sitting in a row high above the road when usually they preferred the fields and clung to weed stalks or bushes. The birds didn’t stay on the electric line; a strong updraft sent them into flight. They scattered at great speed across the open fields headed towards the creek in the gully. Other birds took advantage of the strong updrafts and in frenzy took flight soaring in different directions ahead of the storm.

I crossed the intersection at Weaver Road and started down the hill. A white car pulled off the road and waited for CJ and I to pass. When I drew near the driver, an elderly lady said, “It’s so nice to see you out riding. It reminds me of when I was young and used to ride horses.”

“I rode when I was young too, then stopped, raised a family. My daughter wanted to ride so we took lessons together. I’ve been riding ever since.”

I didn’t tell her that this would be my last ride for a few months. Lightning struck a hillside not far from where I stood chatting. The wind ripped through the branches sending leaves into flight. Dark clouds rapidly crossed the sky filling in the bright blue patches and merging with cumulus clouds turning them purple and black. Again lightning struck and thunder screamed across the skies.

CJ and I hurried towards the barn. We galloped up the last hill reaching the end of the pasture just as a few raindrops hit us. CJ nervously walked past the flapping tarp covering the storage building across from the barn. We rounded the corner and I jumped off just as another roar of thunder hit the sky. Quickly, I took CJ into his stall as the sky opened up and rain poured down from heaven.

I stood for a while at the barn entrance and watched rainwater pelt the earth. A butterfly wove its way through the raindrops, then caught an updraft, soared aloft and fluttered in midair as if playing in the rain. Birds flew faster than I had ever seen, rocketing towards branches or soaring over the barn, they too didn’t seem to mind the rain. I for one was glad to be dry inside the barn where I unsaddled CJ and brushed him down.

So many memories floated through the barn and trails surrounding Round Top Park. I thought of the good times we shared. Donna named us the Murray Creek Riders; six women in love with horses and riding. The banner heading for my blog shows us on an autumn day in the park. The five riders, Anne, Marilyn, Karen, Donna and I stood on a gravel road as an unknown photographer quickly took our picture with Marilyn’s camera. Time marches on and with it places change, people move and grow older, perhaps that is the bitter sweet essence of life itself.

Although I’m taking a break from riding for a few months, I will continue to write my blog. There are some interesting leads I want to follow up; museums, fairs, horse shows and much more. So for all my faithful readers, not to worry, I still have some good horse stories brewing. Happy trails and ride safe.

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