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.