Sunday, July 22, 2012

Comfort and Peace

The barn where our oldest took her first truly serious riding lessons sat back a ways off the highway, not a necessarily immaculate place but highly functional.  The indoor arena was especially appreciated when the cold weather hit – late October, early November.  As winter progressed and things got seriously cold, even the barn could not completely shield from the shivers.  It would still get frosty-breath cold inside the large structure. 

There was an outdoor arena, too, as I recall.  You could hear the traffic from there.  Or watch the planes fly over on their way to or from the major airport just to the north.  I recall nice views of the mountains on the western horizon as you drove to the place, but I don’t remember being wowed by those same sweeping vistas once on the property.  

Christie was a great instructor, seeming to take a special interest in our gal.  But then, I think she probably took a special interest in all the kids who demonstrated a genuine love for horses, learning and having fun along the way.

That barn stands about five miles from the Century 16 Theatre, where the senseless killing and injuring of so many early Friday morning has changed things forever for so many:  The families and friends of the deceased.  The wounded and their loved ones.  Those who escaped the theater without a physical scratch.  The surrounding community members.   All of us, in one manner or another.

When something like this happens, there is so much to say … and yet there is a struggle for words … and words you dare not utter.  When I think of folks – kids most of them, really – out having a good time or engaging in the everyday rituals of life just an instant before tragedy strikes, my mind draws up recollections of the Fort Worth church shooting, the Texas A&M Bonfire tragedy, the Hill Country church camp flood of so many years ago.  And certainly Columbine.  The swiftness with which so many lives were changed forever in the relatively brief moments of those incidents is frightening.  And I really don’t even want to think about that.  The unimaginable. 

All I want to do is pray that God’s comfort and peace embrace the good folks of Aurora and the many across the country and around the world who are changed forever by the events of the past several days.  Amen.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

A Tremendous Machine

As he watched the 1973 Belmont Stakes unfold before him and sought to describe the action to a national television audience, veteran sports announcer Chic Anderson was grasping for superlatives to describe the dominant performance of Secretariat.  “… Like a tremendous machine …” Anderson barked as the three-year-old extended his historic lead to 12 lengths going into the final turn, an unfathomable margin that would explode to 31 lengths by the time the horse crossed the finish line.

The suspicion here is that few horse lovers – then or now – would choose the term “machine” to describe Big Red.  Whether shaped by the undeniable, real-time euphoria of that Triple Crown run almost 40 years ago – yes, I’m old enough to remember it – or perhaps kindled by the recent movie that allowed so many to relive or live for the first time the story of Secretariat, I think it is fair to say that in the eyes of multitudes, the horse was more majestic than mechanical.

And yet the venerable Anderson can be forgiven if he simply ran out of ways to illustrate the spectacle playing out in front of the sports world that early summer of ’73.  Secretariat then – just like Secretariat now – held us spellbound.  What did I know at the time of the equestrian world?  Still, I would find myself sketching the blue-and-white checkerboard pattern of Ron Turcotte’s racing silks on my school bookcovers well into the following Fall. 

There have been two Triple Crown winners since Secretariat’s run to glory, Seattle Slew in 1977 and Affirmed in 1978.  Even coming at a time when I was arguably more attuned to the broader sports enterprise, those late ’70s achievements never etched themselves upon my consciousness in the manner of Secretariat’s earlier feat.  Watching his record-setting run inthe Belmont remains spine-chilling this many years later.  Our oldest, who had a grandson of Secretariat as her beloved riding partner for a period of time, claims she cannot watch it without crying.

I’ll Have Another’s scratch from today’s race in New York adds an unfortunate twist to the lore and the lure of the Triple Crown.   Eleven other horses since Affirmed have won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness only to be denied victory in the Belmont.  Perhaps that underscores the truly extraordinary achievement by those rare horses who have claimed the prize.  I just know that, for me, Secretariat’s grand run that summer long ago remains ageless and solidly embedded at the pinnacle of athletic accomplishment.

Friday, June 1, 2012


The close of another school year punctuates thoughts about the hastened pace of the passage of time.  If you are a parent, I am sure your share that feeling with me at some level.  The achievements of our children – highlighted as they tend to be this time of year – produce a satisfying sense of accomplishment even as they underscore the rapid move from Kindergarten to Commencement.

Even the (surprisingly quick) process of culling still-fresh materials gathered from the year just past is an indicator of accomplishment and the movement of time.  “Dad,” I hear from the next room, “do you want to keep my Texas history notes?”  No, those can be recycled.  Just retain the knowledge.

Achievement is also evident in the equestrian arena.  Earlier this week, I watched from up the hill as our two girls participated in a jumping lesson.  No one else in the lesson, just our two kids.  I think what struck me deepest as I watched them alternate on courses either they or their instructor defined was how elegantly and how proficiently they perform something that I am completely and utterly unable to do.  Flying over jumps.  Speeding toward the next one.  Horse and kid (almost always) in sync. That is really cool! 

If we were talking about hitting a golf ball or returning a tennis serve, I could hold my own in the endeavor (note, no claim here of elegance or proficiency).  But in the equestrian arena, it is all them:  their desire to excel, their enjoyment of the sport that so few of their friends understand, their love of their animals.  It is really fun to watch.  And even in the face of setbacks, it continues to be a real blessing.

I have a friend whose son is the “screamer” in a fledgling screamo/rock band (I’m not making this up) and even as distant as this is from my friend’s own background, his pride in and support for his son just bubbles forth ever time we talk about it.  The achievements of our kids – whatever form they may take – bring to us this interesting sense of accomplishment-by-association, I guess.  Perhaps especially so if we find ourselves watching their talents unfurl and wondering, “Now, where did that come from?” 

Monday, May 7, 2012


Are you old enough to remember that song by the Five Man Electrical Band:  “Signs, signs, everywhere a sign? …”

Our youngest likes to make signs and write notes, which we find periodically in various places around the house.  Most recently, I walked into the kitchen to find a hand-scribbled note on the countertop:  DO NOT TOUCH it pleaded in big, bold letters.  Beside it was the body of a Breyer gelding, its broken leg surgically repaired thanks to modern adhesive science.

A couple of weeks earlier, one of her class assignments involved making a sign as part of a graphics unit in Computer Technology.  She was proud to bring that one home and display it on the refrigerator door:  “Help Wanted: My Sister Has Issues.” 

Then there is the note I discovered not long ago as I was headed out of town for a series of meetings.  I kept it in my briefcase and re-discovered it again the other day.  It made me all warm and misty-eyed initially and it does every time I read it:

I’m funny and I’m weird.  That is an assessment I can certainly live with.  And the first time I read the “sooooo” I actually thought it was 500,000.  Half a million reasons!  Wow!

I’ve got at least half a million right back at you, darling, ‘cause you’re funny and weird, too.  I love you.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Three-Year-Old

In the context of the equestrian world, the term “three-year-old” conjures up images of lightening-fast animals flying around an oval track, magnificent hats and minted drinks, “and down the stretch they come.”

In my own horse dad world, “three-year-old” calls back memories of stick-horse rodeos in the den, complete with flag-bearers, precision riders and Marshall Tucker’s “Long Hard Ride” blaring in the background.  Innocent.  Fun.  Cherished.  All on video, certain to surface at a rehearsal dinner someday. 

My thoughts are heavy now with word of another three-year-old.  A child I’ll never meet.  A girl on the other side of the world.  An innocent one who may or may not even know what a stick horse is. 

My guess is she only wanted to play.  Or eat, perhaps.  Or sleep.  Instead, she was trapped in the middle of combating forces.  And injured to the point of needing medical attention.  Stat! 

She was delivered into the capable hands of a compassionate surgeon who I know spared no measure of skill to help her heal.  He works on kids all the time – kids whose body armor saves their lives but whose lives will never be the same.  Rarely – never? – does he look down to see a three-year-old – a baby really – lying before him on the operating table.  This doctor was all business, I know he was.  I can imagine him wincing just briefly at the horror of it.  And quickly, silently praying for this child.  Praying, too, for his own children.  Then, his unparalleled training and gifts take over.  Sewing on faith, as he puts it.  All business.

She received the best possible care, this three-year-old.  I pray she knows what a stick horse is.  And I pray she will be back on hers soon.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Alternate Route

Artist Jim Franklin gained notoriety in the 1970s for his drawings promoting the legendary Austin, Texas, music venue Armadillo World Headquarters.  Franklin’s posters and handbills often featured the curious little armored critters in curiously disarming situations.

One of my favorite Franklin’s was titled “Alternate Route,” a pen-and-ink drawing set along an innocuous, two-lane byway.  It depicted a stream of armadillos leaping from one side of the road, arching high above it, and landing safely on the other side.  If you have ever paid attention to the regularity with which these creatures meet their demise on the asphalt ribbons that bisect their habitat, you can appreciate the hopeful theme of Franklin’s artistry.  (If you happen to be an armadillo, I would imagine the humble drawing takes on da Vinci-like significance.)

A variation on Franklin's autos-vs-armadillos  theme.
As my family would readily affirm, I have an affinity for the alternate route.  I’m given to traveling to a destination on one course and returning home a different, often more complex way.  While I don’t recommend the alternate route when pulling a horse trailer – the path of least resistance and widest traffic lanes is best suited for those occasions – I believe there is a lot to be said for veering off the beaten path at other times. 

Recently, instead of retracing a three-hour, straight-shot interstate trip, I decided to meander home on an alternate route.  More stop lights and more head-on traffic, to be sure.  But also a great deal more to experience in what has quickly blossomed into a verdant spring season.  The wildflowers were spectacular.  With the sun angling toward the horizon, colors and shadows made a marvelous display as horses grazed in rolling fields.  The pace and the peace were welcome companions. 

Next time you get the chance, give the alternate route a try.   

Friday, March 30, 2012

Find Your PATH

If you ever find yourself doubting the value of your family’s involvement with horses, you might want to go spend a little time with a therapeutic riding center near you.  In fact, I’m going to recommend that you do something that I need to do:  volunteer a little time helping out as a side walker or some other role at the center.

I recently had the honor of meeting Molly Sweeney, the 2011 recipient of the USEF/EQUUS Foundation Humanitarian Award.  Wow, what a lady!  All of us rightly believe our grandmother is the best grandmother in the world.  Let me just tell you, Molly’s grandkids really have something to crow about.

Molly has devoted a good portion of her life to helping build and sustain SIRE, Houston’sTherapeutic Equestrian Centers.  Beyond that, she has been active with PATH International, the national accrediting organization for therapeutic riding centers.  And she is a founder and board member of the Horses & Humans Research Foundation.  The goal of that organization is to advance research into the broad beneficial effects of equine-assisted activities and therapies.  We’re talking wounded warriors.  Folks young and not-so-young with learning disabilities.  People diagnosed with autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, stroke, spinal cord injury, and much more. 

Molly, who credits her horse granddad with influencing her passion, has done all sorts of riding – for competition and for pleasure – all over the world.  She is about as deserving an award recipient as I can imagine. 

If your family is being enriched by its involvement with horses, figuring out a way to support your nearby therapeutic riding center might be a good way to express a little appreciation for that blessing.  Just a thought.

Thursday, March 22, 2012


Archie, the bay gelding, decided to take a late afternoon stroll earlier this week.  His stall door was open, after all.  And the wheelbarrow that customarily blocks the exit while his owner works her cleansing magic with the muck rake?  Well, it must have been situated so that there was enough of a gap for Archie to morph into a truly hairy Houdini.

The grass is tall out at the barn right now.  What horse would not be lured by its green goodness?  As a row of stabled mates looked on with unbridled envy, Archie grazed and roamed and grazed some more.  First on the good stuff that grows right up against the barn, where moisture dripping off the roof assures some sort of crop even in the hottest part of summer.  Then a couple of lengths away from the barn.  In the seconds that passed before his owner noticed his escape, Archie had made his way out into the open, grassy area that separates the barn from the riding arena.

The young owner, mumbling something about how embarrassing this was, grabbed a halter and lead rope and made her move toward her “baby boy.”  But Archie was having none of it.  Each time she got within a couple of steps of him, the gelding moved away and munched some more.  Soon, other youngsters dropped what they were doing and joined the low-key bronco chase.  Archie, noting the increased interest in his liberated state, darted to another, more verdant corner of the field.  He ate some more. 

The posse grew in number.  More lead ropes.  Peppermint treats were unveiled.  Carrots.  Handfuls of grass.  (Hmmmmm?  There is a field full of grass here and our horse-on-the-lam is going to hit on this bait?)  Each time the throng got close, Archie would take off in a different direction.  The manner of it all made the Keystone Kops look like the Bolshoi Ballet. 

Now, a loose horse is nothing to be taken lightly; everyone was fortunate in this case that most of the horses were put up for the evening, no one was riding down in the arena, and so on.  Still, it was hard not to smile at the vision of Archie enjoying his freedom and the determination of his young pursuers.  Finally, one of them rattled a feed bucket.  Archie’s ears perked up, the quick-thinking captor was able to get close and secure a handful of mane.  The incident came to a peaceful close. 

Question:  What feed buckets are you listening to that are limiting your liberation?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

What's in a Name

One of our dear friends just bought a new horse, a good looking gelding paint that came with the name Waco.  Not a bad name, Waco, in my estimation.  Any city that just produced the reigning Heisman Trophy winner can’t be all bad, right? 

But Waco was not a name the paint’s new owner was able to warm up to.  In an effort to assist, a herd of alternate names was quickly rounded up by the local experts.  Several bold suggestions did not survive the first cut, however, because of a theory endorsed around these parts that says a horse adopts a behavior associated with its name.  

In other words, according to those who live under my roof and spend more time with horses than I do, “Buddy” is indeed a great pal of a horse.  The name just fits. “Natural Disaster” was, they say, a big ol’ accident-waiting-to-happen kind of horse.  And so on.

I don’t know if I fully buy into the theory or not.  But I have noticed that some horse names can spur me to certain behaviors on a regular basis.  When we participate in evening bring-in at the barn, for example, Lilly the crazy-eyed mare can almost always count on me yammering like Harvey Korman in Blazing Saddles as I slip the halter around her neck:  “Lilly, Lilly, Lilly.”  I’m able to readily identify Walker, the black gelding with two white socks, because a walker needs socks, right?  And for reasons I’m sure would justify professional help, I find myself slipping into Edith Bunker voice each time I go out to bring in the chestnut gelding, Archie.

I suppose there is a chance that this horse-portrays-its-name theory holds some validity.  If so, I opined on the way to the barn recently, I’ve got the perfect name for our next horse.  A name that would make stall clean-up fun and profitable.  Poops Gold Nuggets.

Our friend, by the way, decided to name her new paint Hank.  Outstanding.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Daylight Saddle Time

Spring forward.  Even as a damp and chilly day persists where we are, tonight is the night we leap into a fresh, new phase, surrendering an hour of sleep so that we can enjoy a season of extended evening light. 

Around our house, that means increased time with horses, extra moments to spend with friends at the barn, and a general sense that the rhythm of life as we like it best has awakened from hibernation.  Daylight Saddle Time.

It is a time of year when work around the house gets put off (more readily than normal) and time at the barn is relished.  Occasionally, after lessons and barn chores, a tailgate picnic – fried chicken or pizza or sausage and cheese – allows for bonus time out where the horses live.  On those evenings, the sun will drop below the horizon and there will still be enough of a chill in the air that no one is particularly eager to leave for the comforts of home. 

From my perspective, these times are best enjoyed with the assistance of a couple of things: a good lawn chair and a sharpened sense of observation.  Take note of the interaction between kids and animals.  Enjoy the magnificent dance of the sky – the early spring choreography of Jupiter and Venus.  Pay attention to the sounds and the aromas. 

In his masterful book, From a Limestone Ledge, in a chapter titled Noticing, John Graves writes “… in surroundings that you care for and have chosen, you use eyes, ears, nose, taste buds and whatever other aids you can muster for reception.  You notice.  And in noticing, you live.”

Monday, March 5, 2012

Dads: Never Do This

For whatever reason, this morning’s Internet-recommended reading included a recycled Woman’s Day article titled “Top Ten Things Husbands Should Never Do.”  The (far-from-exhaustive) list included such nuggets as, “Never Give a Home Appliance as a Gift” (well, duh …) and “Never Brag About Your Driving” (look, if it’s the truth, it’s not bragging …)

The piece got me to thinking that there surely must be a comparable list of things a horse dad should never do.  For example:

5.  Never turn your back on a young, energetic mare.  Once while bringing in horses from the mare paddock, I made the mistake of giving a two-year-old too much lead rope.  She got excited when some other horses in the field started to frolic in the evening breeze and she flat bowled me over in her attempt to join in the merriment.  I got up, made sure no one was looking, dusted myself off and was just thankful I did not catch a hoof in the back of the head.

4.  Never pick a horse’s hooves.  Leave that to the experts.  I’m told there’s frogs in there.

3.  Never try to act like you know when a rider is on the wrong diagonal.  It is easier to identify the nuances of the Tampa 2 defense from the comfort of your couch than to spot an errant riding position even when you are sitting right by the arena.

2. Never buy a saddle off eBay.  Trust me on this.

1. Never use any barn implement smaller than a muck rake.  Nothing good can come from you having a riding crop in your hands.  We’ve already mentioned the need to avoid hoof picks.  And for Pete’s sake, even uranium-rattling Iran is a more stable situation than you with a worming syringe in your possession.

I’m sure there are at least five more things horse dads should never do, but I don’t know what they are.  Perhaps you do.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Taking the Leap in Stride

Pope Gregory XIII is credited with having created the concept we now call Leap Year in the 1500s as way to balance the calendar and keep all of us on schedule.  How has that been working out for you?  Personally, I think it is interesting to ponder – from the Horse Dad’s perspective – what things might be like the next time February 29 rolls around. 

Not that I’m one inclined to fast-forward through life.  I can carpe diem as good as the next guy.  Still, it is true that the period between today and February 29, 2016, holds the potential for significant change as it relates to our family’s interaction with horses and the people who love them.

By that point, for example, our oldest will be well along her path in continued pursuit of equestrian goals.  What will that look like and what will her course have been up to then?  What will be the name of the horse she is riding?  Our youngest will be situated in school where our oldest is now.  What will her Ribbon Quest have yielded by then?  Will her Buddy – four years older – still be her mount or will he be enjoying the lush paddocks of a well-deserved retirement?  What will folks be paying for a round bale?  A gallon of diesel?  The mind races.

So we will slow our stride here a bit.  Back down to an easy lope.  Enjoy this sunny day and say a prayer for those across the country hit by darker skies.  Happy birthday, Billy Turner, and happy trails to all.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

An Act of Kindness

The weekend was jammed wall-to-wall with activities.  Friday evening was devoted to serving meals with a ministry that feeds hungry folks under a downtown bridge.  Early Saturday morning, we were to kick off a day-long garage sale designed to allow us to see our garage floor again.  Saturday evening held an invitation to a community-wide event to support a beloved charity.  And somewhere in there, I needed to study up for the lesson I was to teach to the 11th-12th grade class on Sunday morning.

Then, a Thursday night wind storm toppled one of the large, draught-stricken trees in our yard.  Just great.  I was not exactly counting on this looming, additional burden.  I needed to get the issue resolved ASAP and I would have to go buy a chainsaw in order to do it.

But at some point Friday, word arrived that my wife’s friend’s father had seen our downed tree and was eager to help me take care of it.  Saturday afternoon, like the cavalry coming over the hill, Mike pulled up in our driveway, chainsaw at his side.  He went straight to work with an “Eat My Sawdust” approach to the task.  I hustled to keep pace clearing the limbs as he trimmed.  Before he left, our conversation around the tailgate of his truck uncovered the fact that Mike is a horse dad emeritus.  His sweet daughter Amy, now grown and raising a family of her own, once was an accomplished dressage competitor.  Mike was well steeped in both the joy of equestrian endeavors and some of the heartache.  Isn’t that something.

I cannot thank Mike enough for his helping hand and his ready chainsaw.  Some folks look at a downed tree and see an afternoon shot to heck, a whole lot of unanticipated work, and a twist of angst about the neighborhood bulk trash pick-up having concluded a week earlier.  Folks like Mike look at a downed tree and see firewood.  

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Tack Locker Envy

The tack locker:  that humble container contemplated by but a select few, overlooked or underappreciated by most, and discounted by many who even stop consider it in the first place as a simple utilitarian cube of modest purpose and varying dimensions. 

But for the truly enlightened among us, those capable of embracing the full majesty of the free-standing tack locker, there is shared set of characteristics that make possible this higher level of appreciation:  at least one bruised thumbnail, a vehicle console littered with Home Depot receipts, and one or more children who are firm in their conviction that their world will contain a void bigger than the empty space in front of their stall unless and until you fill it with your woodworking wizardry – to their specs, if you please.

Today’s marketplace holds a vast array of beautiful tack trunks and lockers – works of art really – made by skilled craftsmen.  But I’m not referring here to those impressive masterworks of mahogany and maple.  No, I’m talking about the unassuming, homemade tack locker: a small forest of 2x4s and plywood, a rough paint job conforming to “my colors,” and an unwavering testament to function over form.  Our barn has seen a rapid expansion of this type of tack locker up and down its center aisle in recent years.  Horse dads with hammers … it is a beautiful thing to behold. 

The second tack locker of my limited career.
Of course in a setting such as this, the hobbling effect of tack locker envy is an ever-present consideration.  Though I have built three lockers (two for our daughters … I swore I’d never build another … and one for one of their adult friends at the barn), I will confess to wandering eyes each time a new box hits the ground.  I still recall the sense of inadequacy I felt when fellow horse dad Ray placed his grand handcrafted creation – the Tack Mahal – in the barn a few years ago.  At least its immense shadow shields one of my lockers from the punishing rays of the sun, I rationalized at the time.  More recently, another family at the stable installed the Twin Tack Towers at each end of the barn.  This resulted in many envious gazes skyward and palpable tremors at the thought of saddle racks reaching to the heavens.  Amazing stuff.

So, here’s a tip of the cap to the homemade tack locker and to those whose best horsemanship involves a sawhorse.  Nice job, gents.  Two (chronically bruised) thumbs up! 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Love Affair with Horses

Spending part of this Valentine’s Day considering on the love affair with horses that blossoms under our roof and reflecting on how it all began …

When our oldest daughter was not yet in grade school, we would frequently take her to the Will Rogers Complex in Fort Worth, where it seems there was a horse show of some variety every other weekend.  Taking in the sights of the show arena and meandering up and down the aisles of the barns really set a sparkle in our kid’s eye.  Invariably, with the safety disengaged on her blonde hair and cute smile, our budding cowgirl would find her way up onto the back of someone’s pony.  Little did I know how much free admission would really cost …

I remember going to a rodeo where our gal would hang on the rail and encourage the barrel racers at the top of her lungs:  “Go!  Go! Go!”  Soon, she and her younger sister were performing their own stick-horse rodeos in our den:  flag bearers, speed events, even horse judging.  Every now and then, we drag out those old videos and enjoy a full-family laugh.

At an age when her boots were still pointing skyward while sitting atop a horse, the oldest began taking lessons in a Western saddle.   Her interest grew.  With an eye toward deepening her horsemanship, her mother soon enrolled her in English lessons.  The promise always was that she could return to Western upon gaining proficiency in the fundamentals, but once she got a glimpse of jumping, her course was set.  And our youngest, who as we have previously established here was raised in a barn, was similarly drawn to the English disciplines; although, she recently took her first barrel riding lesson.  How about that.

I often joke (I think it is a joke …) that I tried to promote swimming as an interest and athletic pursuit for our children.  When, after all, was the last time you needed a trailer to haul a pair of goggles to a swim meet?  Alas, it was the horses who captured the hearts of our children and helped write at least a chapter – if not a volume – of our family’s life.

Happy trails and happy Valentine’s Day.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Faithful Support

“If you’re like most horse lovers, your dad didn’t always understand your obsession with horses,” an unattributed article in a 2008 issue of Horse Illustrated begins, “but he faithfully supported it in some fashion.”

The article, written in advance of Fathers Day that year, goes on to list several profiles that readers might use to define the various relationships involving father, child and horse.  For example, the Hands-On Dad is more adept with a hammer than a hackamore and is often welcome at the barn for his handyman qualities.  Need a bridle rack installed? This is your guy.  The Voice of Reason Dad freely dispensed advice, such as why you should consider financing your auto purchase by selling your horse.  Hey, the article did not claim the advice would be welcome.  The Born in the Saddle Dad is a horseman himself, capable in the saddle and trusted in all doings.  And the Check Signing Dad, well, that is self-explanatory and probably defines all willing Horse Dads to one degree or another.

Readers were invited to share thoughts about their fathers and how the whole horse thing fit into the equation.  Online comments filled almost a dozen pages, the last one I noticed being posted sometime in July 2011.  Talk about a topic with legs!  The comments range in emotional impact from smile-inducing to tear-jerking; many could be the subject of an entire post here. 

I don’t know about fitting neatly into any of the profiles above, but I try to position myself as a supportive father, not always meeting the mark and certainly not always in touch with my children’s passion.  But I can sense that passion and I recognize it as wholesome and deeply valuable.  How about you?  

Monday, February 6, 2012

Watch This

You have experienced it.  Or you will.  It takes many forms but it happens fast:  Our youngest is growing up. 

Recently, she and a group of friends made plans to attend the seventh grade dance.  Yikes!  Before being whisked off to the school gym for the evening, a half dozen or so young ladies gathered in our living room for the obligatory photo session.  Digital technology, of course, has eliminated all the needless waiting:  There in the photo is our baby, elegant in her dazzling dress, specially coiffed hair and the … wait … what is THAT?!  On her wrist?!  With a face rivaling Big Ben in circumference and enough neon orange to open a small traffic cone factory, it’s … it’s … her eventing watch!!

You’ve just got to love it.  No dainty wrist accessory for this one.  She truly was raised in a barn, after all, dragged along in the car seat to all of her older sister’s earliest riding lessons.  There is no question that she is comfortable in her own skin-tight riding breeches.  If I’m granted the necessary life and breath, I will stand next to her one day – arm-in-arm we will survey the assembled crowd before beginning the long walk down the aisle toward her groom – and I won’t be at all surprised to look down to see a pair of riding chaps peeking out beneath her flowing white dress.  It happens fast.

Have an optimum time at the dance, my young beauty.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Super Weekend

OK, Horse Dads, even on Super Bowl weekend, when the nation’s collective attention turns to the pigskin, it is possible to get a little horsey, isn’t it?  If you are like me, you are at a point where you can’t handle another in-depth analysis of Gronkowski’s ankle.  You have long since grown weary of the debate about who history will judge to be the better Manning (I need to find a way to let go of my concern for Cooper’s psyche …).  Soon the queso will be made, the beer will be on ice, and you’re already good-to-go in the office pool that tries to predict the exact timing and nature of Madonna’s inevitable malfunction.

It is time for a little horse mascot trivia.  Since the NFL has only two teams whose mascots are equine in nature – the host city’s Indianapolis Colts and the Denver Broncos (more on them in a minute) – our quick quiz will focus on the collegiate gridiron.  Simply match the school with the live horse mascot (no costumed imposters here, my friend) and be prepared to impress your Super Bowl party crowd:

1.  Texas Tech                  a.  Traveler
2.  Southern Cal               b.  Peruna
3.  Oklahoma State          c.  Midnight Matador
4.  SMU                           d.  Bullet

While you mull this over, I’ll share a recollection about the time I had the privilege of being up-close with the Denver Broncos’ beautiful white Arabian, Thunder.  I was at a charitable event called Men for the Cure in Denver. Philanthropist Sharon Magness Blake, the mascot’s owner, rode into the assembled crowd atop her magnificent mount.  Old Glory was waving from the flagpole she displayed from the saddle and Lee Greenwood was singing “I’m Proud to be an American.”  Not a recording of Lee Greenwood.  Lee Greenwood, his ownself.  It. Was. Spine-tingling.

Your answers are 1c, 2a, 3d, 4b.  Enjoy Super Sunday.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

An Invaluable Spirit

“There is a quality about horses that captures the attention. Once the student is paying attention, then teaching can begin.”

Those are the words of acclaimed author Donna Campbell Smith, who also answers to the titles horse-lover, grandmother and great-grandmother.  From her home near North Carolina’s Outer Banks, Donna spends a portion of her time in elementary and middle school classrooms, using her historical fiction works and her non-fiction books on horses and mules to engage her young audiences in learning.

Looking around our house and examining topics of conversation, room d├ęcor, contents of bookshelves, focus of play and the like, there is little disputing Donna’s claim about the captivating qualities of horses.  I’m not the wisest Horse Dad out there, but I recognize and forever will appreciate the deep and lasting value of the lessons our daughters have learned through the years because of their passion for and involvement with horses. 

From time to time, I am going to try to tap into Donna’s insights.  There is a lot to be learned.  You might be interested in having some of her work on your children’s bookshelf – or their Kindle.  Learn a little more about Donna Campbell Smith and let me know what you think.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Cowboy Man

I was pleased to read the cover story in the December/January issue of Equestrian magazine, featuring Lyle Lovett.  The Texas singer/songwriter is a friend of mine from our college days.  Between us, we have four Grammys … These days, Lyle can be spotted with some frequency participating in reining events across the country.  In the article, he shared with writer Kitson Jazynka some personal insights on growing up around horses – and growing up with a father who appreciated horses. 

“My dad was very hands-on with the horses,” Lovett tells Jazynka.  “When he passed away in 1999, there was something therapeutic about doing his barn chores for him.  I still miss my dad every day, but having the horses around and knowing that I was doing something that would have made him happy helped me get through a difficult time.”  Read the entire article here.

Whether you are a Horse Dad or are related to a Horse Dad, I’m wondering, what therapeutic value do you find in the barn chores you do?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Saddle Up


Because you are reading these lines, I suspect you might know someone like me.  He probably lives in your house.  You've seen him: as you performed your craft, he was off to the side, taking in all in.  Smiling - on the inside if not the outside - and finding ways to cope in those times when his heart almost leaped out of his chest when you and your partner executed some feat of daring that caused his pulse rate to spike and everything within him to want to rush to your side and assure your safety.  From your lofty vantage point, you have seen the gray in his hair intensify or the bald spot expand ever so slightly.  He is awfully handy to have around, hooking up trailers and writing checks ... lots of checks.  He may or may not be adept with the hoof pick.  But he is the master of the muck rake.

He is a Horse Dad.

In the Sports Parent kingdom, the Horse Dad may be the most unique creature of all.  The platypus of the bleachers, if you will.  For unlike the Little League Dad, say, who probably grew up playing baseball himself and is reasonably self-confident when tabbed for the parent pitch start, observation informs me that the majority of Horse Dads did not grow up riding competitively -- and likely don't know anyone who did.  We are out of our league here.  We understand halfbacks, not half-halts.

Unlike the Hockey Mom, infamously glorified in the 2008 presidential campaign for her tenacity, make-up and implied ruthlessness in the face of all competition, most Horse Dads who I know are quiet - bordering on timid - and uniformly comfortable with their place in the shadows.  This set of behavioral characteristics likely formed over time, shaped by more than a few caustic glances from instructors, directed at those fathers who dared to express an opinion or offer an observation ... Adapt.  Survive.

Ah, but the Horse Dad is a fortunate member of the kingdom, indeed.  And here, from time to time, we will explore some of the reasons why that is so.  We will marvel at the beauty that graces our world, and examine some of the inevitable heartbreak.  We will count our blessings and give thanks for their abundance.  We will extol the virtues of our spouses - the true conductors of this symphony-under-saddle - and praise our children for their commitment to the equestrian enterprise.  (They think it is fun; don't tell 'em there is learning and character building taking place here.)

So come along for the ride, fellow Horse Dad, even if you never otherwise swing into the stirrups.  And invite those who know you, who love you, who rely upon you - even if just to muck an occasional stall.  It should be fun.