It has been established on this blog that I grew up in Eastern Montana. I was an extremely fortunate child to have been born into an already horsey family so my love of the equines was developed at a very early age. Both my parents grew up with horses, both for work and for pleasure. When I was born my Mom was into barrel racing and my Dad was into team roping. Not surprisingly, I was on a horse as soon as I could hold my head up and sit up by myself. I definitely had inherited the horse gene and couldn’t get enough of them.
My first foray into organized horse events was as a barrel racer. My parents got me a saintly old Quarter Horse named Casey. I’m confident Casey carried many little girls and boys around the cloverleaf pattern before he came to our house. He wasn’t at all fast, but that was just fine. I didn’t have, and still really don’t have, much of a need for speed. He was safe and kind and put up with the shenanigans that a little girl does to her horse. I put glitter on him. I braided his hair. I brushed and brushed and brushed him. All of the signs were there that I would ultimately not end up being a barrel racer.
When I was old enough my parents signed me (and my brother) up for 4-H. 4-H is a program that teaches kids leadership, humanity, responsibility and a myriad of other life skills. Most importantly, it has a horse program. You couldn’t start the horse program until you were 10 years old and I was counting down the days! In preparation for entering the horse program, my Mom and some of the 4-H moms from our club signed up for a riding clinic conducted by the trainer at Diamond N Ranch outside of Billings, Montana. I have no idea how they found it or why they attended, but the rest is pretty much history. This was our introduction to the Quarter Horse show world and it didn’t take long for me to be hooked.
My second AQHA show horse: Hesa Black Associate
I showed Quarter Horses all through junior high and high school and even a little bit during college. I did all kinds of different show events from Showmanship to Western Pleasure to Hunter Hack and finally Reining. I loved every second of it, and now that I’m an adult and I can appreciate what my parents did (paid for!) to allow me to show.
My first real English horse (the taller one on the right) and my cousin on a horse that my parents had for a few years.
As a kid I would voraciously read any and every horse book and magazine I could get my hands on. This is where my obsession with English riding was born. My Mom got me lessons when I was about 10 with a lady in my hometown who had supposedly ridden English at some point and later I did all the English flat classes and some jumping at the Quarter Horse shows. It just wasn’t the same as what I read about in Practical Horseman or Dressage Today. There wasn’t a dedicated jumping trainer anywhere near my hometown, so even though I did do some jumping I know now that I pretty much did so horribly wrong!
So, here I am as a (mostly) self-sufficient adult with the means to combine my love of horse showing with learning how to properly ride a horse over jumps. I posted about going to my first USEF “A” rated show back in February. This spring I was able to make it to four more shows in Tyler, Texas. Originally called the Tyler Four. I felt like I was home again. Granted, when I was showing I felt like a 12 year old kid learning how to do things correctly, but it was so satisfying to be back in the show pen (that was to see if Caitlin reads this, I’m supposed to call it a show ring). Sterling is turning out to be an absolutely delightful partner in the hunter ring. We didn’t clean house with blue ribbons, but we (I) steadily improved and (mostly) didn’t make the same mistakes repeatedly.
You know it’s an addiction when you don’t mind horse boogers ruining your perfectly nice shirt and still going in public with said horse boogers on your shirt.
We have a few weeks off from showing now that it is about to be blazing hot in Texas, but I can hardly wait to start again. In the meantime we are doing lots of work on the flat (no more unsupervised jumping) to make him and me stronger. I even joined a horseback rider focused boot camp for 60 days to make my core and my stringy legs stronger for when we are back in the show ring. This is in addition to torturing poor Jaguar with posting without irons. No pain no gain!
Being a horse show horse is a LOT of work and VERY tiring.
If you live in Texas and have watched the news lately you’ve likely heard the TERRIBLE news that Whataburger has shortened the hours they serve eggs because of an egg shortage. Well I’m here to tell you that we don’t have an egg shortage at the farm! Right now we get a little over two dozen eggs per day out of our 50’ish hens. Hens lay about an egg per day at the height of their egg laying years. We have quite a few hens who are past their prime, but since we have no interest in eating them they get to stick around. Every year in about August we get 30-40 chicks to replace the hens we lose to coyotes/bobcats/hawks/owls and illness and it’s about time to place our order so we are able to get the exact breeds we want.
The timing for when we get our chicks is very purposeful. It is best to get chicks when they days are getting shorter. This assures that we will have laying hens during the dark winter days when the more mature hens slow down or stop laying entirely. Plus, Texas summers are so hot that we don’t need to put them under a heat lamp if they arrive in August or September. Chicks need to be kept at 90-95 degrees for the first week of their life. After the first week the temp can be lowered by 5 degrees each week until they are fully feathered and can regulate their own temperature. Running a a heat lamp to keep chicks warm in December is a huge pain-in-the-neck, especially after you realise how much easier and better it is to get them in August!
Peaches the foxhound LOVES babies of all kinds. She really wanted to pick these chicks up and take them to the house to snuggle with her, however that wasn’t the best option for their survival.
We try to mix up the breeds of chicks we get each summer, but we always get at least 10 Aracauna chicks. These are hens that lay blue/green eggs and they have the cutest little tufts of feathers on their cheeks. We have had good luck with them in terms of heat tolerance and surviving predators. Generally darker coloured chickens are harder for predators to see so they tend to live longer. Aracaunas can be all kinds of colors, including white, but we’ve had nearly all brown ones.
This year we are also going to order Lakenvelder chicks. We had some a few years ago, but they were victims of a pointless raccoon crime. A raccoon went into our outdoor chicken coop and killed 30 pullets that were within a few weeks of laying eggs. Killed every last pullet and didn’t eat a single one of them. Just broke their necks and went on it’s merry way. Raccoons are NOT popular at our house. Lakenvelders are white with black heads, which kind of goes against our no-white rule, but they are small and active, which are good characteristics for free-range birds. We avoid the more portly breeds because then tend to do poorly in hot Texas summers.
We haven’t settled yet on the third breed we want to get. We have had great luck with the Egyptian Fayoumi chickens. They are wily little chickens and nearly all of the Fayoumi chickens we got 7 years ago are still around! I also like the Dominiques. Another breed we had that were victims of the raccoon attack. The last option we are considering are Blue Andalusians. We got some 2 years ago and love love love them. They are very hardy in the heat, intelligently avoid predators, and they are nice to be around. Some of the better free-range breeds can be pretty darn wild! The Fayoumis, for instance, are pretty unhappy about being caught and they sure let you know so with their beaks.
We have to place our order soon to assure our breeds of choice are available and are all female. Until then I’ll leave you with a pic of some of our existing flock enjoying a chicken spa day in the dirt. They were sure happy when the ground finally dried up enough for their dirt baths!
Chicken spa day. In this pic are an Aracauna, Leghorn, Cuckoo Maran (dark brown eggs), White Leghorn, Rhode Island Red and a mixed breed hen that one of our hens hatched a few years ago.
I have three horses. Three lovely horses with significantly different conformation and dispositions. With all the rain that we have had this year the bugs are horrific. There is a tremendous amount of standing water around which is a mosquito breeding haven. Therefore my horses all need fly sheets like they have never needed fly sheets ever before! Jaguar always gets one because his big ol’ belly gets crusty every summer from flies and such making a meal of his poor defenceless underparts. Sterling is the luckiest because he’s less desirable to the blood suckers due to his light coloured coat. This summer has been an exception so I’m using it as an opportunity to try some different types and brands of fly sheets. This is going to be a summer-long review of sorts. By the end of the summer I’ll know if I’m going to buy the same brand again for the same horse, if I need to replace any due to fit and durability issues, and finally if any of them are just too hot for Texas summers.
Jaguar got a brand new Weather beta Airflow fly sheet at the end of last summer because his old one was super stretched out and nasty after he wore it for two summers. He has to have the belly band option and it seemed to fit him just fine. He doesn’t have too much of an issue getting welts from bites so I didn’t think he needed a neck cover. I’m already a little worried about the fit of this one, though. As he ages his back drops and his withers become more prominent. His Weatherbeeta seems to be rubbing his wither area more than the same brand sheet did last summer. He doesn’t have any sores or show discomfort when he wears it so only time will tell. He’s also not too terribly hard on his clothing, but Coco likes to chew and tug on parts so it needs to be durable.
Jaguar modelling his Weatherbeeta Airflow
Sterling has a lovely traditional plaid Baker fly sheet. I’ve had a couple of these in the past and they have always been incredibly durable and fit well. Sterling is narrow, but not exceptionally so. His sheet doesn’t have any fancy options like neck covers or belly bands, but like I mentioned before he has the advantage of being a light color so less appetising to the bugs. He doesn’t get welts or runny eyes from bugs congregating on him. He’s good with his basic fly sheet and some fly spray most days. And I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I just love the classic look of all the Baker horse clothing. Sterling always ALWAYS rolls at least twice while he’s turned out, so his clothing needs to be secure enough to stay put during and after he rolls. Other than that, just the usual Coco munching.
Sterling’s dapper Baker fly sheet
Coco has already ruined one fly sheet this “summer”. It wasn’t her fault really. I got her a 76″ Baker fly sheet and it was just too big. It ended up tearing just behind her withers, at the same spot where the surcingle around her belly connects. Rather than replace hers with a Baker I got her a 74″ Fly Turtle. I’m always hesitant about buying her sheets and blankets that fit just right. She’s only three and I know she’s going to grow and change shape for the next couple years so tend to want to buy ones that give her room to grow into. However with the Baker fly sheet that was a bad ide. The reviews of the Fly Turtle are spot on for her needs. They are supposed to be super cool, super durable and provide excellent protection from all bugs. It also has a removable neck cover which I think she needs. She tends to come in at night with her exposed parts covered in hives from bug bites. I’ve only put her out in the sheet so far. I wanted to be sure it fit well and didn’t shift too much before putting on the neck cover. The Fly Turtle has a stretchy neck opening with a huge velcro closure as well as two straps on the front, two stretchy belly surcingle straps and stretchy hind leg straps plus a removable faux sheepskin wither protection pad. I’m quite impressed with it so far. It even came with an extra wither pad, surcingle strap and leg strap. Color me impressed! Coco is the easiest on her clothing because she chews on everyone else’s. I have noticed her being quite itchy this summer so she may test the durability more than usual.
Coco doing a terrible job of showcasing her Fly Turtle.
If you follow me on social media, you may have noticed a few weeks ago that I posted about my dry cleaner losing my hunt coat. I purposefully didn’t name the business and was willing to give them a chance to make things right. So this is my story about doing business with Twin Kell Cleaners.
I dropped my hunt coat off with the cleaner early on a Tuesday morning and emphasised to the woman I left it with that it HAD to be ready to pick up by 8a on Friday morning. She was a big grumpy and seemed quite put out by my request (really, is it unusual that someone would want their clothing back in 2 1/2 days?!) but committed to have it ready after 5p on Thursday.
I left a touch earlier than usual on Friday morning to give myself plenty of time to stop at the cleaners before work. I rolled up at about 7:30a and had even kept my ticket with the bar code for them to scan and (hopefully) make it quicker and easier for them to find my coat. The nice lady takes my ticket, goes to the back and starts rolling the hangers to get to my number. After a few minutes of this I can tell something isn’t right. She smiles at me and asks the other nice lady at the desk to come back and help her look. They go item by item through at least 500 garments to no avail. They ask the washing girl if it is in with the washed items (egads!). Still no coat. By 7:50a they admit to me that they have lost the coat. I explain, as nicely as I can when starting to panic, that I HAVE to have this coat before I leave for the horse show that afternoon. They are going to continue to look and will call me before 2p.
Now this isn’t just any old hunt coat. This is a hunt coat that my Mom made for me when I was in high school. It is a lovely charcoal tropical wool with a RED pinstripe and RED silk satin lining. And it fit just perfectly.
The red pinstripe coat in action.
Losing my hunt coat was definitely an inconvenience, but it was a huge sentimental loss, too. My Mom is an amazingly talented seamstress. She made all of my horse show clothes when I was growing up as well as all my formal gowns and all my regular clothes until I was in junior high (which is when one becomes way too cool to wear clothes that Mom made). She had always said that NOTHING was as hard to make as hunt coats. The fit has to be just perfect for the fabric to lay correctly.
The nice lady from the cleaners called around 1p and didn’t have any better news. The coat was officially lost. They suspected that they accidentally gave it to someone else, but wouldn’t know that until or unless someone returned it and there was no telling if or when that would happen. She did advise me that Twin Kell would reimburse me for a new coat if I had to buy a new coat. Well, if I was going to show I really had to have a coat. I had already texted my trainer about the debacle and she had rounded up some coats I might be able to borrow so hopefully all wasn’t lost.
I left work, picked up Sterling at home and drove as fast (and safely) as I could to Tyler in hopes of getting there in time to try on some coats at Quail Hollow Tack. If the cleaners were willing to reimburse me for a new coat I might as well get one. If they did find my coat at least I’d have a second in case something like this happened again. I got there in the nick of time to unload Sterling and run over to the trailer to try on coats. The Grand Prix Techlite in Navy fit me PERFECTLY! AND it is WASHABLE! No more worrying about any dry cleaning incidents!
I showed the next two weekends with my new coat and no word from the cleaners. I had my receipt for the new coat tucked safely in my purse, but just hadn’t been able to bring myself to go request the reimbursement. Lo and behold, two days before the last spring show in Tyler the cleaners called. Someone else had in fact picked up my coat and had returned it to Twin Kell. I was absolutely delighted. I did mention that I had to buy a new coat and that they had promised to reimburse me if I did buy one. She asked me to hold on and passed the phone to one of the owners. My heart sunk. I just knew he was going to tell me that he was sorry I had to buy a new coat, but that since they now had mine they weren’t going to cover the cost of the new coat. In fact, all he asked was how much the new coat cost and that they would have a check ready for me when I picked up the missing coat that afternoon. I told him the cost and offered to provide the receipt. He didn’t need to receipt and the check would be ready by early afternoon. I could have hugged him through the phone! What delightful customer service!
I picked up my coat that evening and sure enough there was an envelope attached to the hanger with a check in the exact amount I told him. I’m a forever Twin Kell customer now. I’ll tell anyone who will listen about how well they treated me when they truly didn’t have to treat me well if they hadn’t wanted to.
My beautiful hunt coat is now back in my closet, safe and sound.