Life is full of beauty. Notice it. Notice the bumble bee, the small child, and the smiling faces. Smell the rain, and feel the wind. Live your life to the fullest potential, and fight for your dreams.

Ashley Smith

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Horse Camp

Wow...  It is kind of hard to believe it is over already.  After months nay years of wishing and months of anticipation and a full day of stomach wrenching anxiety... now I am on the "done" side of Horse Camp.

For those of you too impatient busy to read this whole post, I can sum it up in two words:

life-changingly awesome

I mean Horse Camp, not necessarily this post :)

Cheyenne, enjoying his dinner at camp!
So it all began on Thursday, the day before official camp beginning, the day my dearest, darling husband had agreed to cut short his sleep and drive my under-confident butt to Hunters, WA.  With, of course, my buddy sour, never been trailered by himself, slightly over-reactive gelding (Cheyenne- as seen in the photo above) in the trailer. I spent the morning packing, worrying and practicing loading him (better late than never?)  He did pretty well and I was feeling pretty good about myself, although I later found out that our loading technique is about a C-, passing but just barely.

The drive was surprisingly (and refreshingly) uneventful, although we didn't leave early enough for Brian to get home with much time to get ready for work! Luckily, I am now feeling confident enough to drive the "big rig" myself.  Next year.  When I go to camp again.  Yes, I'm telling you it was THAT GREAT!

So here is a nice view of the whole ranch, photo courtesy of Rother Horsemanship:

Horse Creek Ranch home of School of Horse, Hunters, WA
 We unloaded, unhitched and Brian took off of like the whirlwind he is.  Cheyenne had his own paddock to hang out in:

He's a good eater, that one...
Which was in a super location above the big outdoor arena:

yes, the big red arrow points at him
My digs were even cooler.

The cabin.  No inside views, because as anyone who knows me knows... I am a little piggy and I don't want to post photos of my dirty laundry strewn all about..  Trust me the inside is equally awesome.
and the views... spectacular

So, I should say here that Steve and Francesca are just about the nicest, most down to earth, hardworking people you would ever want to meet.  They run the whole ranch by themselves, although they did have 1 (yes one) intern, Brandy, to help while we were there.  Brandy is also a super gal and a fearless rider!

Since camp didn't officially start until Friday, I didn't meet all the rest of the gals until the next morning. There were 7 of us:
  • Cherie and Linda from WA (they stayed in Cherie's super cool new living quarters horse trailer), 
  • Hedi from Alberta (yes Canada- she traveled the farthest! and she stayed in her trailer as well), 
  • Tena from WA (she lives just a short ferry ride from the ranch.  She stayed in her camper), 
  • Anita from AK (she flew down, no, not with her horse- she leased a ranch horse. She stayed in the little air-conditioned house down the road),
  • Morghaine from OR (she is under 18 so her super mom was there with us all day, even though she didn't ride!- they also stayed in the little house) 
  • and me.

This is one of the funnest groups I have ever been a part of, just sayin'.  We started out not knowing each other at all and by the last evening had already made plans to reconvene next year.

I know, I know enough about people and places- where's the horse stuff? Okay, okay.

The first morning we were asked to have our horses saddled and in the arena by 9:30 am.  It was predicted to be record warm temperatures that week (of course) so we changed up the daily routine and spent the hottest part of the day in the shady classroom.

Let me just say, in my own defense, that I have never had any formal horsemanship training.

Picture this:
6 skilled women putting their horses through the paces from the ground

and me...
flailing and chasing my horse around while he pulled me by the lead rope around the arena.

Yeah, luckily no photos of that. But here's one of Hedi and April (taken by Francesca I think...)

Hedi wasn't completely happy with this lope... I on the other hand would have been happy to not look like a kite flying behind my horse!
Anyway... Steve helped me out with Cheyenne (who, in his defense, is a really good boy with a lot of try and a teeny bit of a temper) and finally got him to lope in a circle - yay!

Then (and listen up because this is actually the most important, take home lesson here) Steve kept on me to do it.  Not in a nagging sort of way or a bossy sort of way, but in a "you know you can" sort of way, while interjecting helpful comments like "keep on him, keep on him. There! He tried now stop."  I just have to say hearing on DVD or reading in articles the key element:

The reward is in the release.

and experiencing it are two entirely different things. Release for my horse does not equal running up and saying good boy, good boy, good boy and patting his neck... He could give a crap about that.  His release is me stopping and letting him stand still.  And unless you've done this you have no idea how hard it is to

All my fear and nervousness disappeared as I starting using tools that actually worked.  I no longer cared that I wasn't as skilled as my camp-mates at certain things, I discovered my try.  It was unbelievable.  And even though I am still a flailer when it comes to ropes and such, I am willing to give it a go!

I am continually amazed at how much I don't know, even when I know I don't know much... ya know?

As a kid, I learned to ride with this philosophy:
  1. Go: kick
  2. Stop: pull reins back (as hard as necessary)
  3. right turns: pull rein right (as hard as necessary)
  4. left turns: pull rein left (as hard as necessary)
As you can see there is little finesse in this operation (and no room for things like, say backing or side-passing)  I added some nuances as time went by, like clicking, clucking, kissing, talking, cursing etc. with limited success.

But then, I went to camp :)

I won't give away all the secrets of what I learned, and even if I write them it would not be the same as experiencing it, but I want to share this basic thing that I did not know.  Did you know that you carry with you at all times the 4 primary riding aids?  Oh, you did?  Well I didn't.
  1. Seat
  2. Legs
  3. Voice
  4. Hands
Yeah, amazing.  I can now stop my horse with my butt, I mean my seat... cool.  And reins are NOT just for pulling his head around.

Okay, I know enough talk, let's see some photos!!!  Here are some shots of the trail course that Steve and Francesca built.  (Francesca took all of these photos)

 BIG STEP! Go Cheyenne!

Tena and Rio in the water obstacle.

And Anita and Ruby
Hedi on the Bridge over the water obstacle!!

I love this one- here is everybody doing something. Including Linda and Blue having a "discussion" in the background!!

Steve and Shiner.  We were all wondering what to do with this one!!
And then we moved some cattle (who seemed to know the routine... I'm just sayin')
In the arena
Morghaine and Rain, the masked mare
and through the pasture
 It is so fun to have a job to do with your horse.  Even if you aren't very good at it- I let the yearlings slip by me not once, not twice but three times before I gave up my fence position to someone more capable!!

We trail rode (my favorite!):

Our fearless leader, Steve

 It was hot...

in the shade...
So we swam:



That's me!

and cooled off in other ways in the evening:
Yay Cheladas!
Something I could do without flailing around...
There were classes in the arena:



And on the trail:

Cherie, Hedi and Grace the wonder cow dog!

Crossing Horse Creek

Coming up from the waterfall

And even a show!

Francesca with her minis and of course Dally the JRT!
And every evening we had the most amazing dinner here (and we got to ride our horses there, double bonus):
Dinner was catered by the local cafe (see below)
This is the most awesome cafe/hardware store I've ever eaten in!
Our patient mounts, highlined, waiting for us to finish eating...
But most of all we had fun!

So much fun, in fact, that we are all planning on meeting up again at camp next year! Hurrah!

The Posse!
Can't wait...

Bottom line is: Summer Camp was everything I had hoped for and more.  It was worth every penny and every minute.  And truth be told, I was the only one that burst into tears.