Sunday, May 5, 2013

What Matters Most


I would like to think that we are here for the journey and not the miles, not the membership, not for anything else but what we were designed to do in living our passions while employing ourselves in acquiring own souls.

At the end of the day, when we are all old and gray (and in my case, grayer), the legacies we leave behind are the memories and lessons we give to other people. It’s not about earning the stripes and gaining membership status, or other statuses, or about living by other’s definitions of what they believe is true or not true for us. Even though those are valuable to an extent that we all want to feel like we belong in our world, the catharsis of ourselves is within the experience and in making the memory, and the sweet acquisition of our souls on a daily basis. Sometimes these moments are huge but most likely, we are able to gain awareness and personal insight when life whispers our names and we draw close to those whispers rather than the earth shattering rock my world moments that come about sometimes.

Journey 2013

Megan DuBé’s message is simple. However, the long- trail distance delivery of that message has a most been most unusual and sometimes unfathomable even for horse minded folks who trail ride. 

In 2012, DuBé and her horse Evangeline travelled 576 consecutive miles through Texas, on a horse trekking journey to help those with emotional need and also celebrate life and share faith and hope as she travels down the trail.

DuBé’s message and trademarked byline since 2008 has been “emotional freedom starts on the trail.” 

DuBé is the founder of Buffalo Moon Expedition, an organization that preserves equestrian travel and American heritages.  She is a semi-retired psychologist who also has been helping people heal emotionally the majority of her career.  Her life is not all about book smarts either, she has had her share of life loss and horses have been a way for her to get through her toughest times.

Du Bé has owned her own equine assisted psychotherapy practice in the past.  Buffalo Moon's Expedition allows Du Bé  to continue to do what she loves doing best- counseling and facilitating healing for others from the back of her horse.

This year’s expedition is extra significant.  DuBé has done another emotional rescue --- of the equine variety.   Megan has adopted and retrained a Rescue horse from True Blue Animal Rescue out of Brenham, Texas this year.  A Tennessee Walking  Horse named Jazzy.

 “Most of the media portrays rescue horses who have been severely neglected and seized like Jazzy, “ DuBé states.  “But in many cases, horses are surrendered to rescues when family circumstances change financially.  Most of these rescue horses have been family pets and well- loved at one time or another.   I feel that the social responsibility of any horse community is to give these horses a second chance.”

These expeditions are all attempts to make it from A to B.  Whether DuBé makes it to her final destination is unknown as she says that she is not in charge of this journey in so many ways.   However, DuBé’s positive attitude and faith keep her moving down the road.

 “Rescue horses need a second chance, just like people.  Sometimes we rescue people, sometimes we rescue horses,” DuBé states with a smile. And this year, Buffalo Moon Expedition plans to do a little bit of both.

The Versatile Tennessee Walking Horse- The Basics

Gaited horses outnumbered trotting horses almost 4 to 1 in the 17th century.  Gaited horses have been around for much longer than most folks realize.

The Tennessee Walking Horse breed's beginning started in 1885 when a Morgan Mare named Maggie Marshall was crossed with a Standardbred out of the Hambletonian Standardbred Family.  The offspring of this pair was Allandorf, who would later be known as Allan F-1.

But what is this way of going "gaited".  Being gaited is a birth defect. When we realized that this defect was a pleasure to ride, we began to selectively breed for it many many years before the Tennessee Walking Horse became known as a breed.

Once perfected and over time, we came to know and love the way of going of these horses and for the purpose of simple identification, the Tennessee Walking Horse became a breed of its own.

Dangerous Intruder - AKA- Trudy

The Tennessee Walking Horse or Tennessee Walker  (Tenn Walker) is considered a light horse breed. Their beginnings were founded in middle Tennessee whose bloodlines consisted of the Narragansett and Canadian Pacer, the Standardbred and later Thoroughbred, Morgan and American Saddlebred bloodlines were added to refine and mixed into the breed.

These horses were originally bred as a utility horse and agriculturists used them as plow horses.  On their "off days" from the field, because these horses where a pleasure to ride, they would use them as "Crop checkers" and thus the term "Plantation Horse" was born  Vast amounts of land had to be checked upon daily, so a sure footed smooth riding horse was needed to check fence, crops and also be the family cart horse.  The Tenn Walker did it all, with style, a relative amount of speed and with class! 

The Tennessee Walking Horse performs three distinct gaits: the flat foot walk, running walk and canter. These three are the gaits for which the Tennessee Walking Horse is famous, with the running walk being an inherited, natural gait unique to this breed. Many Tennessee Walking Horses are able to perform the rack, stepping-pace, fox-trot, single-foot and other variations of the famous running walk.

These gaits have a variety of speed...much much faster than the quarter horse who travel at a rate of 1 mile per every three hours.  Tenn Walkers can travel up to twice as fast at the walk but usually at about 4 miles per hour.  Their running walk can be as fast at 15 miles per hour. Some Tenn Walkers who rack can "Speed rack" up to 23 miles per hour without breaking into a gallop!

Running Walk - Molley, TWH - age 27 here
In fact, I plan on dedicating an entire blog entry on the natural rate  of the Tenn Walker as many misinterpret their speed for misbehaviour.

Having had Tennessee Walking horses all my life and some other gaited breeds, I can say if they were human, they would be the engineer get 'er done personality - they are all business, friendly, willing and possess a 'professional' work ethic at all times.  They are fun to be around and endear themselves to their riders for their intelligence, versatility and overall steady disposition.

The thoroughbred and Morgan blood in them give them incredible stamina.  They burn fuel differently than a quarter horse would which makes them incredible mounts for long days on the saddle and endurance riding.

It was common for farmers to hold match races with their Tennessee Walkers, which they also used for plowing fields. Even after the coming of the automobile, many Tennessee communities kept their Tennessee Walkers to manage the poor roads of the area.

And lastly, our own Captain Kirk, William Shatner owns a successful Tennessee Walking Horse breeding farm in Kentucky....  Perhaps he will be a stop along the way...

Next up - The Mind of a Tennessee Walking Horse... their not just your regular ole' quarter horses: no way, no how..

For Gaited Horse Training Call - 630-589-2721

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Ne Jamais Oublier...

I will miss you Acadiana - and the Queen City of the Bayou Teche.. You as a people and as an area revived my ability to acquire a second language almost fluently, again - with a savvy linguistic twist!  You have taught me about a thriving equestrian heritage, oppression and succession of a people, tenacity, and Comment parler cheval en français! But most of all.. .Evangeline still your people's heroine, Cajun is still your birthright and heritage....and on a Saturday night, out of Vinton, Louisiana, the Fais Do Do radio plays the history of a people through its music.  

Merci, Acadiana... Vous m'avez appris beaucoup!!!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Heavier Riders Guide (Geared for Gaited Horses but Useful for all Breeds)

I always wanted a more accurate way to determine how much weight a horse can carry under saddle.  The Cavalry has said over and over it's 1/5th or 20% of the horse's weight.  But what about the consideration of bone mass?

On Gaited Horses' website they give this little tidbit about heavier riders which considers bone mass to some extent by measuring cannon bones.  Here is what they say... I feel this is a another option and a viable way (pun intended) to determine more closely how much weight a horse can carry during equestrian travel.

The Heavier Riders’ Guide 
to Comfort and Safety with Gaited Horses 
By Beverly Whittington and Rhonda Hart-Poe

The U.S. Calvary published “The Cavalry Manual of Horse Management”, by Frederick L. Devereux, Jr., in 1941. He recommended that the collective weight of rider and gear not exceed 20% of the total weight of the horse. These were horses in top condition whose riders’ very lives depended on the horse's ability to carry them long miles, often at speed. It stands to reason that if they were to incorporate a margin of error, it would be on the side of the horse being overly capable of carrying its rider, rather than less so. 

 Comparably, a study of 374 competitive trail riding horses compared horse/rider weight relationships. They concluded that these horses can easily carry over 30% of their body weight for 100 miles and not only compete, but compete well. As would be expected, good body condition and bone structure were found to be paramount. Bone structure was evaluated using the front leg cannon bones as representative of general structure.  


Measurement Test 

  1. Add up the total weight of the horse, rider and tack. (See TGH Summer 1998, page 37.) Our example: Damascus, Lady + tack = 1188 pounds. 
  2. Measure the circumference of the cannon bone midway between the knee and fetlock. Our example: Damascus, 7.5 inches. 
  3. Divide this total weight by the circumference. Our example: 1188 ÷ 7.5 = 158.4 
  4. Divide the result by two.  Our example: 158.4 ÷ 2 = 79.2 
Scores on Results

Values near 75 are great, below 75, even better.

Values from 75/80 are acceptable.

Values over 80 indicate weaker legs and a need to train carefully, especially downhill.

Values over 85 suggest you need a horse with more substance.

Damascus rates near the end of the acceptable range, but should still be able to carry Lady comfortably. 

*Note that cannon bone circumference (as overall bone substance) increases with the horse's fitness level, so if he is borderline, like Damascus, it doesn't necessarily mean you're too big for him. By “racking” up Long - slow - distance (LSD) miles, which builds up bone over time, he may measure up yet. Be patient: it can take up to three years for bone to remodel. But don't expect a miracle either.  This is a slight variance from the original bone mass.  Just as if a person where doing bone mass building exercises the changes are small overall.

Condition Your Horse 
Obviously no horse should be ridden if he is unsound or in pain. Add a heavy load on his back and the horse must be more than just sound, he should be fit. 

The overweight or out-of-shape horse must be conditioned, slowly, prior to carrying a heavy load. Consult with your trainer or vet for the best way to condition your individual horse. Unfortunately, the average “back yard horse” is generally not in any better condition than the average “weekend rider”, which includes a lot of us. Such horses should not be expected to carry more than 20 to 25% percent of their body weight. Add a rider who is heavier, and possibly less balanced and/or athletic, and it becomes obvious that the stouter and/or better conditioned horse will be more able to carry the load comfortably, safely, with less chance of injury. 

Have your veterinarian perform a thorough “soundness” exam. Explain that the horse will be carrying extra weight and ask him or her to be especially thorough in his evaluation of the horses back structure and the suspensory ligaments in the legs. 
Next, have a qualified farrier look at the horse's hooves. Be sure he watches the horse travel at a walk and in gait, moving straight and in a circle. The hoof should be balanced, as odd angles or heights increase the stress on his feet, legs and back. Many horses need to be shod to maintain a balanced foot, as they wear their hooves unevenly if left unshod.

Mount Kindly 
Be sure you can mount a horse fairly quickly without hanging on the side of the horse or "plopping" down into the saddle. Any rider who gets their foot in the stirrup then struggles up the side of the horse, puts undue stress on the horse's shoulder and back. Use a stable mounting block when possible to reduce strain to the horse, however, don't consider it the ultimate answer. Unless you have a physical handicap that precludes it, for safety and convenience sake, you should be able to get on your horse. 
Make sure you are mounting the horse correctly. DO NOT pull yourself into the saddle. Place your left foot into the stirrup, toes pointing towards the horse's head so as not to “jab” him in the side, push off on the right leg and raise yourself up in one smooth motion by straightening the left knee. Then swing your right leg over the horse’s rump and settle gently into the saddle. 
To dismount slip both feet from the stirrups, turn in the saddle and hop down. This requires some finesse on your part, but is much easier on the horse’s back that pulling all your weight to one side as you climb down.

Improve Your Seat 
A balanced seat means having your weight distributed equally on either side of the horse, while having your body aligned along the points of gravity. A plumb line dropped from your ear should intersect the point of your shoulder, the second sacral vertebrae, hip and ankle.  

One of the easiest ways to adjust your leg position to keep the proper muscle groups of the inner thigh in contact with the saddle is to 'roll' your thighs.  Sitting with the ball of your foot in the stirrup, reach down and grab the fleshiest part of the back of your thigh and pull it back and out. This rolls the flattest muscles of the inner thigh against the saddle resulting in a much more secure seat. If it feels uncomfortable at first, persevere. Your muscles are not used to being used properly and may protest. With practice you will find that the aches will go away and a more secure seat becomes easier to maintain.

Balance is Key 
Proper balance dictates that you carry your weight evenly distributed through the buttocks and thighs. Do not carry excessive weight in the stirrup. An old Calvary rider that I was fortunate enough to have as a riding instructor when I was very young, stressed that the stirrup was not there for me to stand in. He said to visualize a raw egg placed between the bottom of my foot and the stirrup. Keep your stirrups without breaking the egg. Use this visualization the next time you ride; you might find that you place too much weight in your stirrups. 

Stirrup length strongly affects balance. You cannot achieve a balanced seat if your stirrups are too long or too short. Allow your feet to hang out of the stirrups, then pretend you are Fred Flintstone. Yup. Remember how Fred stopped his car? He had to push his heels down and straight below him. Push your legs straight down, heel towards the ground, as if to touch it. The stirrups should hit you in the ankle bones, if not, adjust them. 

Balance is the difference between a good rider and a poor one, a safe rider and one in peril. It is also the division between a horse comfortably carrying a heavier rider and a horse straining under the load. Make sure you have your weight evenly distributed from one side of the saddle to the other, sit straight (but relaxed) and keep your shoulders even. A dropped shoulder often means a more heavily weighted seatbone on the same side. 

Weight and Gaited Horses
Often a heavier rider will cause a horse to become pacey. The extra weight causes the horse to ventroflex, pushing his back down and head up, a factor of the pace and to some extent at the rack (paso llano, tolt, paso corte, etc.). One trainer laments of a pacey horse which she had trained into a good fox trot for her owner, a fairly light weight man, only to see him give the horse to his wife, who outweighed him by a good 100 lbs. The extra weight coupled with the lack of expertise of the new rider, made the horse instantly revert to a hard pace.  

One of the reasons people seek out gaited horses is that they think they are easier to ride. Often these are people who are injured, not very athletic or merely overweight. However, to get and keep, many horses in gait requires skill, flexibility and athleticism.  

Thursday, December 29, 2011


No big news here, just wanted to stop by and thank all those who continue to read this blog and for your support and encouragement over these last months.   Texas holds promise for a ride coming up and surprisingly enough, there are many, many, trails (real horse trails) through this urban jungle called Houston area.  Very nice!  I'm on the north end of Houston at the moment and will be looking more into a route that is going to suit Baby and me. I am getting motivated again to finish what this ole' girl started coming on FOUR years ago.   Time will tell the story though.....but for now, it's just wait and see.  No matter what happens, I think a nice jaunt through Texas sounds wonderful!!

Happy New Year to all and here's to the Best of Equestrian Travels in 2012!!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Timing is Everything - an Excerpt from A Novel

Timing is Everything

            I thought I saw her when Lisa and William were running into the general store.  William came up to me and said, "Daddy, there are lots of horses out today.  I saw a girl riding a horse."  It's as though William thought that girls weren't allowed to ride horses.  I reassured him that this wasn't as unusual as he thought it was.  The horse looked strange, but the rider's silhouette didn't. 

On the first day, there was a man at my book signing that came up to me and told me that he was a good friend of Rachel Stephenson's.    I had mentioned in an interview along the way on television that I had stayed at Corkscrew Ranch which was part of the inspiration that helped me write Canon's at Dawn. He explained to me that he had been to Corkscrew Ranch as a guest.  Apparently he was there right before I arrived and that he makes annual trips to fish the Talisman River regularly. The man told me that he saw that interview…loved my books…and came here to get a new copy signed since he lived here in town.   He said that he wanted to personally give it to Rachel because he was going to travel there in a few weeks to fish on the Talisman for awhile.  He thought that she would appreciate that.  And believe me, I couldn't have had better timing.

            He looked familiar to me for some reason. I'm not sure why.  He just did.  I took the copy of the book that he had and wrote on the inside, "to the one that I really love." I wrapped the book up in brown paper and taped it.  I told the man that I didn't want him to read what I wrote to Rachel because it was a personal thank you for letting me come to enjoy the Ranch. He understood, took the copy of the book and went on his way back out of town.

            On day two, I had a break in the book signing and the kids were getting hungry.  By this time, I thought, Victoria was in New York doing great marketing things for Manus and the blazing sun on my face was amazingly bright.  

         I squinted my eyes against its glare as I walked down the street to the bed and breakfast to get the kids to go to lunch.  As I got closer tothe B&B,  Lisa and William were heading out the door.  Perfect timing again…they saw this horse and a girl rider and went running toward them. I couldn't see because the sun was in my eyes and hollered after them to get back here.  They stopped dead center in front of the girl and the horse.  After a few moments, as I continued walking, they rode over to the convenient store.  The horse almost got away from underneath it's rider which caused me to quicken my pace.  She almost lost control.  I thought to myself, "inexperienced riders need to be more careful…she could get really hurt." However, by this time, she had the horse tied off…was in and out of the store and gone.  I could swear that the rider looks familiar to me. William and Lisa were already in the general store….and the nice thing about being a famous author in a small town that over the course of a few days, people get to trust you and you them.  My kids were happy playing in the backyard with the owner's kids of the B&B and Pages and Parables Bookstore wouldn't open for another hour because they closed for lunch. I had a lot of time to wander around..and decided to take in some of the sights.

            Cemeteries always fascinated me. From the time that I wrote Chaos the stone statues were like a refuge from life for me.  I loved cemeteries because they always offered so much history about people.  Cemetaries are a leaping off point for a future history lesson.  In a cemetery you can see who died too young and too old.  Always peaceful with birds chirping in thedaylight with memorial benches and sunlight drenched on marble stone that reflected the light.  This is not a morbid hobby of mine – but they are fascinating to some degree.  I discovered the solemn beauty of cemeteries when I wrote Chaos and how the contrast of the living and the dead mix together.  To place a love story in the middle of a place like that I thought was an attractive concept that readers could visualize.

            The Cemetery was at the end of the main street road. This town was very original in it's buildings…like an old west town that just changed people and businesses over the years. The population here was only 950…but Pages and Parables was a famous bookstore.  I came here when I was little with my dad when he was writing some pretty good literature himself.

I knew a friend that bought some of the Pages and Parables Shakespeare plays in original manuscript that Yeats once had in his possession.   I saw it all dusty and old.  They went into Pages and Parables with the manuscript and set it on the table as they were going to the back room to get something.  Meanwhile, the owner's dog knocked the book on the floor, sniffed it, turned in circles and ended up using it as toilet paper!  My father was in shock, as was the owner of these priceless artifacts.  I think the dog lived.  They hurriedly soaked up as much as they could and took it home to dry out in the sun.  Even Shakespeare's worst critics weren't that rude!

I thought of this as I walked with the sun in my eyes down to the cemetery gates.  I wandered inside and was there for quite some time all by myself.  I wandered through headstones and grave markers and started to learn about the names in town and was getting a history lesson when I stumbled across a headstone that more than caught my eye.  The head stone said: Katherine Elizabeth Stephenson, Beloved Wife/Mother; 1948 – 1970.

Soft foot falls where coming up behind me.  I was nervous and went on with my business in learning more about who the once living were.  The foot falls became hoof like on the gravel road which paced around the quiet grounds.  A horse, a rider and that was all.  They stopped at Katherine's grave.  I wasn't far away and then I said, "Rachel, you are going to be alright. I can feel it.  Your mom probably misses you too." Rachel couldn't see me standing there for the sun was in her eyes this time.  I was planning my entrance and then Mark (why was Mark here?) came running frantically down the gravel path into the cemetery waving his arms frantically.  Mark sat down next to Rachel and took her hand.  Tears were in his eyes.

Lynne had died.

Mark delivered the news…and he was a far cry from the serene bartender that I knew from Talisman Creek Lodge.  He was rugged and handsome.  Worn by the weather. Tired for some reason.  Like he'd spent days on the river doing tours. Resigned to his duty to tell Rachel that Lynne had just died, she wanted him to leave her alone.  He quietly walked away.

The dead among the living and the living among the dead.  I'm not sure who was a statue in the cemetery that day. The dead seemed to have more life than the living because of the news that defeated a quiet moment trying to bridge the gap between family and loved ones who are deceased. Memories flooding heads and flowers planted into the ground trying to touch the past of others who have gone before. Rachel brought her mom a bouquet of flowers.  But I can't believe that flowers would even begin to touch the emotion that she had about not having her mom with us, in the living flesh to hold her when she sneezed as a little girl.  None the less…when a parent dies…even in death, by the gravesite, they still listen.  Even in death, you are still their children.  Even in death…they have life.

What expression should I wear? I still couldn't believe my eyes and the only thing I managed to say was, "how's thebiggest brown trough ever fished out of the Talisman River?"  I didn't even know where to begin or what to say.  Rachel was silent.  All the emotion that I ever had for her welled up inside of me like the Mississippi in flood stages and still rising.  With the way that Victoria and I had been getting along, I was surprised that I was feeling so much for her still.

Slowly and with intention and with some trepidation I wanted to touch her shoulders.  He hair was being wisped around and stray strands were blowing across her face when she turned her head slightly to the left.  A warm breeze from the north was setting in this late afternoon. 

Rachel didn't need me to say anything.  I glided up to her and slipped my hand into hers as I pulled out a folded piece ofpaper and gave it to her. I wrote it a long time ago.  It was the book dedication that said, "this is dedicated to the one I really love.  Her horse was grazing quietly as though he was watching my every move like he was her protector from harm. 

I told her that she tortured my heart. I told her how I felt about her.  I told her, "Oh my God!  The book signing" Rachel, I gotta go!  I will catch up to you later."  I turned and ran away from her and told her out loud, "Rachel, I love you". She didn't hear me…she sat there involved in her own thoughts about her best friend.  Maybe, I thought, I should just leave her alone forever.

All my speed couldn't get me back to the bookstore fast enough for the remainder of the afternoon.  She got the best of me... again.

The rest of the afternoon dragged on. The connection was still there and the realization that the man who said he was a friend of Rachel's, I figured out, was really her father.  The people in town at the signing knew all about C.W. Stephenson.  The timing that day was still perfect.

Written 1997 - "The Way of the Dancing Nova"  by M.C.G AKA Christine Rachel Bennet.