Monday, October 31, 2011

"You're not working on your horse, you're working on yourself"

" You're not working on your horse.  You're working on yourself."  The great horseman, Ray Hunt, said these words.  I heard him say it at a clinic I attended many years ago, but I was no more prepared to hear that from him on that day, than I would be to hear the sun isn't coming up tomorrow.  I really had no idea what it meant.  But thanks to a friend sending a photo with that quote on it to me, I have had time to reflect on those words and what they mean to me.

I've been fortunate throughout my life to ride some pretty good horses.  I've also had the misfortune to ride some "not so good horses".  But....and I'm just coming to realize this from the aforementioned quote, I've learned something from all of them....the good ones and the bad ones.  I hope that with each horse I've grown as a horseman.  That each horse I ride I can make a little better than the last one.  But moreover that I'm better because I've learned something from each horse. 

Riding young horses is what really does it for me.  Seeing the progress, knowing I taught that horse something.  That's what floats my boat.  I don't have anything against someone buying a horse already trained.....there may come a day when time or some other obstacle prohibits me from riding the young ones.....and I'll have to buy a trained horse.  But for now, my satisfaction comes from teaching a young horse all I can, making him or her a good horse and learning something myself.  It's very rewarding.

I'll be honest though, I'm more scared than I used to be.  I can't afford to get hurt.  I have too much responsibility to be laid up and I think about that more than I probably should.  Horses sense much of what we are thinking and feeling ,which can make me not as effective as a horseman. At times anyway, I'm not as aggressive as I used to be or probably should be.  That's partly because when I was younger, I hadn't had all the wrecks I've had since then.  And I think we all reach a point in our lives, whatever we do, when we realize we are not invincible......What I've come to realize is the ground hurts.  I know this for a fact.  And it hurts more now than it did fifteen or twenty years ago.  So I'm more cautious, maybe too cautious sometimes.  Down right chicken on occasion if you want the absolute truth.  I don't think it's all bad, though.  Because with caution also has come knowledge.  Or maybe with knowledge has come caution.   I'm a little smarter about what can happen so I take extra steps to avoid it.  That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

I know that I'm a better horseman today than I was even one year ago.  That's not to say that I'm the horseman I want to be or aspire to be.  That's not even saying that I consider myself that good of a hand. I've said a lot of times that I know a LOT more than I did twenty years ago and now I just realize how little I know now. There is always, always something more to learn.  Ways to improve for both me and my horses.  I look forward to what I will learn in the years to come and with the horses in my future.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Just Another Day in Paradise

Today was not unlike most other days here.  I gathered weaned calves and fed cows.  I hauled salt and looked through the newly weaned calves.  But this evening, as I rode Maggie through those new "weaners", I had an overwhelming sense of gratitude.

It was a beautiful evening for a ride.  Maggie and I trotted out north of Dad's house up into the big rough hills where the calves like to stay.  Then we walked through them.  The sun was making its way down in the west and the sky had a bright pink glow.  A tiny breeze was blowing....just enough to tussle Maggie's mane when we rode into it and keep the windmill turning.  The air literally smelled like cotton candy and the temperature was a perfect 65 degrees. Maggie kept a nice walk on a loose rein.  For me anyway, it doesn't get much better than that.  As Dad would say, "No better seat on the ranch."

And there's just something that comes over me when I ride through those big, soggy calves.  Maybe it's kind of like what a parent feels when his kid scores a touchdown.  It's pride, for sure, but more than that.  It's gratitude.  I know that I work at what I do and I do try to do my best.  But I also know I'm very blessed.  There is so much that goes into getting those calves to this point.....feed, genetics, weather, and a whole bunch of something else.  Some might call it luck.  I call it blessings.

I am blessed.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Funny How Time Flies

One year ago on this day, I was, I was not physically ill, but I was sick.  You see, one year ago from tomorrow, was without a doubt the worst day of my life, thus far.   

I have gone through a divorce and all the mess that goes along with it.  I have watched my mother's health diminish to nothing over the course of five years and sat at her deathbed for 36 hours, watching her drift away....none of those things compare to what we all went through a year ago tomorrow.

It was the 14th of October, 2010, when the land auction of my paternal grandfather's land took place.  He didn't see fit to leave it to family members (of which Dad and I are the only ones involved in agriculture and we had been using the land all of my life.) or at least allow us to buy it privately the way most families would do.  No, he had one last trick up his more controlling hold on us.  And a public land auction was just that kind of control. 

As per the will, the land had been entrusted to a bank, who in turn, listed with an ag land sale real estate company. The agents from this company were pretty sure "locals" would not bid against family members for the land.  It's not a law, but it is one of those unwritten rules that we Sandhillers usually abide by.  One of those "Golden Rule" type things, I guess you could say.

At any rate, most of our neighbors had called or stopped in to tell us they would like to own it, but would not bid against us if we planned to purchase it.  We felt good knowing our neighbors supported us and understood what a dirty trick my grandad was pulling on us.  However, what we didn't know was who the real estate company had that might bid against us.  We had heard things about this company that made us very untrusting of their methods.  There were practically new roads in "our" pastures where the agents had driven around showing the land, which my dad had cared for so well over the past 40-some years.  It felt like they were trespassing, even though I knew legally they were not.  My heart felt heavy every time I would travel across one of the pastures checking water and looking at the cattle.

We had spent many months beforehand getting finances in order for the purchase of 4,840 acres of the land that linked Dad's land to mine. It was land we needed just to stay in business. And we had set a price that we felt we were able to spend on it. Some of that land we felt we needed more than other, although, truthfully, we needed every inch of it. We had tried to devise a game plan for how we thought things would go and how we would respond to it.  The unknown was terribly stressful.  How could we plan for this?  We had no idea what we would be left with at the end of that day......

The day of the auction was just about like any other fall day.  Dad and I penned calves and doctored a couple sickies.  I remember thinking that it was hard to imagine a day as normal as this started out could end up being so life changing.  

I won't go into all the gory details of the sale, although it was pretty sickening.  Suffice to say, we were bid up a great deal on land.  One of the worst things about this is that at the time the auction was taking place, there wasn't time for me to ask Matt and Dad what they would like for me to do.  I had all of our fates, collectively, in my hands at that moment.  I had to make decisions that greatly affected the three of us in ways we had not yet imagined.  Our game plan was out the was nothing like we had even come close to imagining.

In the end, we were able to purchase all of the land that we had wanted.  We spent a lot more than we had anticipated, but we are able to make it work.  I mourned for several months that I had to do what I had done.  I felt guilty that I had put both of the people I love more than anything in the spot I had.  But finally, I came to terms with it.  As Matt said, "you wouldn't have been able to stand seeing someone else on your land.  We'd have had to move."  And he was right.  It WAS the right decision.

So a year later, I am even more certain than ever that I did the right thing that dreadful day last year.  I feel peace when I drive or ride across those pastures.  My heart swells with pride that I was able to keep the land together as it should have been all along.  And to quote a friend, "Hannah, you proved you have bigger balls than most of the men around here." 

I kinda like that.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Meaningful Places

I suppose everyone has special places.  Places that have a special story or bring about a special memory.  Nearly every inch of our ranch has a special story or memory for me.  I can tell you where a Hereford bull took my little paint mare, Splash and tried to knock her down when I was maybe a nine year old.  And I can also tell you where another bull, many years later did knock down a big bay gelding named Woody.  I can relate stories about carrying baby calves through knee deep snow and riding a scoop shovel down a big snow-packed hill.  I can tell you about being in the right place at the right time to witness some sort of natural phenomena that will never leave my memory.  I call it can call it whatever you wish. 

My dad is the same way.  His stories go back quite a bit further than mine, of course.  Just the other day Dad and I were riding over west of his house, when he told about a little black mare he rode as a very little kid, not yet in school.  No saddle....(I had to learn that way too.  So I didn't get hung up while learning.  Of course, you DO learn to fall off pretty good).  He was about in the spot we were at that time AND he had a new quirt.  You know how little kids are with something new....he could not WAIT to use that new quirt, he said.   Anyway, the mare had been turned out all summer and was full of grass and feeling lazy.  She didn't want to move from her spot and Dad was supposed to bring the milk cow in from pasture.  The perfect chance to use the new quirt!!!  So Dad laced her a good one over and his words, "AND SHE LAUNCHED ME!!"  It was his first experience with a bucking horse.  Apparently, he liked it, because he grew up to ride bareback horses at the rodeos.

Long ago, when Okie was a three year old, we were gathering pairs to bring home from summer pasture. I rode to the top of a big hill to have a look around.  I was riding toward the west looking down toward the next hill and saw one of the most amazing things.  I could see Okie's and my shadow cast perfectly on the next hill.....but surrounding us was what looked like an aura.  All sorts of rainbow like colors radiating off that shadow of Okie and me.  It was beautiful!!  Of course it was the sun coming up behind us, but I took it as a sign from God.  A sign that this horse and I would do great things together.  And, well, maybe it was and maybe it wasn't....but I always believed that's what it was.  And we did end up doing some pretty great things together.

And just the other morning, I was gathering some pairs over west of my house a mile or two.  On the southwest side of that pasture is an old grove of Cottonwoods, still in decent shape, considering they are at least 65 years old.  The sun was just peeking over the east hills and starting to dribble onto those old cottonwoods.  There was just enough breeze that I could hear the leaves of my very favorite sounds on earth.  A few pair were resting in the trees and four old horses turned out for retirement were peacefully grazing there.  It was a beautiful sight! One that most definitely made a new memory for me.  I will be adding it to the childhood memories I have of that particular place.

Maybe I'm just sentimental......well, I know I am.  This place and the land is part of me and who I am.  All the memories that are tied up here are a big part of what makes it so special to me.  I know I talk about being grateful a lot, but I truly am grateful.  Grateful that God saw fit to put me here on this land, doing what I do, having the opportunities to see what I see and create memories that will last me a lifetime......and beyond, I think.