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Head Wrangler's Blog

Ridin' The Veach (Reprise)

Posted by Head Wrangler, 12 October 2012 · 6,029 views

I love horseback riding ~ always have, and I expect I always will. As a kid growing up on the family farm, I had a couple ponies to ride. When I outgrew them, I moved up to my uncle’s saddle horses. For awhile there, I was sort of the ‘head wrangler’ on his Adirondack dude ranch. He called the place “Oleo Acres”. You probably never heard of it; after all, it was one of the cheaper spreads….

Nowadays, I’m the head wrangler at Adirondack Stable, a boarding stable/equestrian center sandwiched between the Adirondack Park and Lake Champlain, near the Canadian border in upstate New York. So, naturally, I get to ride lots of horses of all different kinds, from Quarter horses and Appaloosas to Thoroughbreds and Arabians, and even one gigantic 1,800-pound Percheron mare, named Tundra, who I ride bareback in just her halter, with reins attached to guide her with!

As a natural extension of my riding job, kind of an ‘off-shoot’ I guess you’d call it, I also buy, sell & trade used saddles. Somebody’s always dropping by the Stable looking to acquire a better saddle ~ one that is either better quality than the one they have, or better-fitting or more comfortable to both horse and rider. Of course, some folks are in the market for their very first saddle, while still others want to sell an extra saddle that they have just sitting around gathering dust, and then there are always people who want to “trade up”. So, that’s where I come in, by being a kind of ‘saddle broker’, or dealer in used horse tack.

The phone rang one day while I was mucking out stalls, and it was a girl who used to work with me at the stable, wondering if I’d be interested in buying a second-hand saddle she had for sale ~ she needed some extra money to buy a load of hay for her horses. Well, the upshot of it was, I ended up buying her saddle, which turned out to be a semi-collectible model hand-made by Monroe Veach, in Trenton, Missouri. Now, I knew a little bit about the history of Mr. Veach, since a good friend of mine had recently had a Veach-made saddle in his possession, and asked me if I could find out anything about it for him.

Being a 21st-century saddle broker, I immediately logged on to Google, where I learned that Monroe Veach had begun his career by making repairs to harnesses, saddles and other leather goods while in the Army during World War I. He went on to become a trick rider and trick roper in Foghorn Clancy’s rodeo, before returning to MO to open his own custom saddle shop. Not only did he build custom-made Western saddles of the highest quality, he also called upon his rodeo experience to help him design and build an improved trick-riding saddle for his contemporaries on the rodeo circuit, and became the premier trick-saddle maker of the era (mid-20’s thru the 1930’s). In 1993, Mr. Veach was inducted into the National Cowboy Rodeo Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, OK.

The particular saddle that my friend, Brian, had on hand was one that had been custom-ordered by a modern-day version of Buffalo Bill Cody, a gent by the name of Ben Stalker, who went by the moniker “Buckskin Ben”. Ol’ Ben had commissioned Monroe to build him a kind of ‘billboard saddle’, one that not only served as a seat atop his magnificent steed while leading the Grand Entry at the beginning of each of his Wild West Shows, but also as a ‘traveling advertisement’ wherever he went, since it was stamped “Buckskin Ben” in large letters on the saddle’s cantle, pommel and fenders. As it was naturally a ‘one-of-a-kind’ piece, and in decent condition for its age, that saddle brought in a tidy sum for Brian when he sold it on eBay.

The one that I bought was a newer model, and not a ‘celebrity version’ stamped with somebody’s nickname, so it was not in such high demand as Brian’s, but was a very nice example of a top-quality, limited edition, hand-made saddle. I rode it a few times while exercising people’s horses for them, but since it sported a 14” seat and I prefer a 15”, I decided to part with it.

The final result of that transaction was that I swapped it to a lady in Willsboro for a 2-wheeled cart and a leather driving harness for my Palomino mare. But since it had passed thru my hands on its way from Point A to Point B, I have some real good memories of ‘riding the Veach’, and also learned a bit of rodeo and saddle-making history in the process!

But, ya know, there are Definitely days when I wish I had that saddle back ~ especially since both the cart, & harness, have long since "gone on down the road"!!

An Afternoon Carriage Ride

Posted by Head Wrangler, 13 September 2012 · 1,372 views

Man, I don’t know about the rest of you, but we are enjoying one Fine week of September, weather-wise, up here in the Adirondacks: gorgeous, blue-sky days, comfortable temperatures, no humidity, no insects pesterin’, and the nights are just crisp n’ cool enough for good sleeping, with at least a bazillion stars visible for gazing at.

Perfect motorcycle riding weather, or for workin’ on the ol’ woodpile, or horseback ridin’, hiking, canoeing ~ just about ideal weather for any outdoor activity! So, yesterday forenoon, I jumped on my ‘steel stallion’ (aka “rice-burner”) and took a lil’ trip over thru Altona, and down along the river into Mooers n’ Mooers Forks, just to get a few more miles in the saddle during this glorious stretch of weather. It was a great day to be out n’ about, with little traffic on the roadways (which kinda surprisd me). I could’ve kept ridin’ all afternoon, but we had been invited up to our friends’ place, on Chateaugay Lake, for a carriage ride, behind their matched pair of Morgan geldings, so at about the 36-mile point on the odometer, I was wheelin’ back into my yard to re-group. Which consisted of trading the 2-wheel’d conveyance for my 4-wheel’d Grand Am, and loadin’ up my wife n’ son & a cooler full of Labatt’s Blue for the trip up to Merrill.

When we pulled into their yard, our friends Kate n’ Don were in the process of harnessing up their team, Rocky & Mr. T, so we wasted no time in jumping in to assist wherever we could. Soon we were all aboard their beautiful carriage & clip-clopping along the wooded shore of Chateaugay Lake. In the blink of an eye, it was as if we’d been magically transported about 100 years back in time, to the early 1900’s, and were off to town or running some errand, via horse n’ buggy! The fall colors are just starting to appear on the maples and poplars, so as we clipped along the back road behind the lake, the views were simply spectacular. Caught up in the spirit of the ride, and the stimulating dialogue & camaraderie, the 5-mile ride was over much too soon. But, thankfully, that was not the end of our visit, since our hosts had graciously invited us to stay for dinner, as well.

After we had all pitched in to feed n’ water the horses, and my wife & son had petted, and ooh’d n’ ahh’d over “Nipper”, the month-old Morgan colt that Don & Kate have, we adjourned to the kitchen, & bar-b-q grill, to whip up some grub. While Don & I cooked the venison and marinated pork outside, the ladies were boiling fresh corn on the cob in the kitchen, to go along with a side of cheese n’ veggie slices and a “pasta salad on steroids” ~ along with an assortment of beer & wine, our feast was complete! As we sat on the deck of their Adirondack chateau, enjoying more good conversation along with our sumptuous repast, night began to draw its black velvet curtain across the little valley where their home is nestled. As the stars began to twinkle in the heavens, it was time (much too soon!) to begin the trek back to our own farmstead, to tend to our livestock and get tucked into our bedrolls….

Thank you, Kate and Don, for a blissful afternoon and evening, and for your warm, country-style hospitality ~ and be sure to thank “Rocky” & “Mr. T” for us, as well (-:

My Father's Boots ~

Posted by Head Wrangler, 17 August 2012 · 508 views

I used to own an even dozen pair of Western boots, of various styles, designs & color combinations, but due to chainsaw accidents, motorcycle injuries & advancing age, I’ve had to eBay all but 4 pair ~ those that are left in the remuda don’t cause me pain or discomfort in the foot, knee or back regions! But the one pair of boots I’ll never part with, as long as I live, is a pair of Wellingtons that were my Dad’s ~ and they don’t even fit me! But, nevertheless, they’ll always occupy a position of honor on my mantle ~ in tribute to the man who taught me so many of life’s lessons.

They’re the boots he used to wear whenever he was “dressin’ up” to go to town, or to take my Mom square dancin’ ~ heck, he’d done so many do-si-does & alamande lefts & “swing yer partner”s in them ‘bad boys’ that he’d had to take ‘em down to the boot shop & have ‘em re-soled! Not once, but twice!! I told him, after the 2nd time, he should have ‘em done up like a pair of ‘Ho Chi Minh sandals’, with an ol’ chunk of truck tire “Gorilla Glue’d” to the soles!

I would dearly love to be able to wear my father’s boots, but since his feet were wider and shorter than mine, there’s no way I can ~ not & still be comfortable, anyway! So my next thought was that they’d fit one of my sons, but since the older one already wears a larger shoe size than I do, and the younger one is into the exact same size I am (already), there’s no way that’s ever gonna happen, either! Heck, at this rate, I’ll be wearin’ my sons’ “hand-me-downs” before long (:

So, for now, I’ll just keep Dad’s boots in their place of honor, and gaze at ‘em, & dust ‘em off and polish ‘em every once in awhile, as a tribute to the man who meant so much to me, on so Many levels. But, if my lil’ granddaughter, Lillian, keeps growin’ at the rate she is right now, it wouldn’t surprise me if those boots of Pa’s would fit her pretty quick ~ and ya know what?! I know that’d suit my Dad just fine….

Horse Wrangling 101

Posted by Head Wrangler, 15 August 2012 · 553 views

Now, I’ve been around horses, in one capacity or another, for most of my life. But this particular recollection comes from the year I was working out on Cumberland Head, wranglin’ horses on a small horse farm out there. More of a “gentleman’s ranch”, really ~ we only had 5 head of horses at the time, and heck, one of them was a pretty little buckskin filly that was born the week after I started workin’ there. Cumberland Head is a peninsula, of sorts ~ almost an island, really ~ in that it is approximately 90% surrounded by Lake Champlain, and our ‘ranch’ sat smack-dab in the middle of that peninsula.

I’d left the last stable I’d been wranglin’ at, after a slight misunderstanding between myself and a 16.3 hand Thoroughbred gelding. The upshot of it was that I ended up in the ER with a compound fracture to my right ankle, and he ended up back out in the paddock, enjoyin’ his semi-retirement.

Once I got healed up from that little fracas, I took the job at the JT Ranch, even though they had a couple of thoroughbreds, too! They were both retired (read: ‘washed out’) from the racetrack down in Florida. I don’t know what the actual numbers are, but there probably isn’t 1 racehorse in 100 that really makes a name for itself on the track ~ if it was easy, they’d all be Secretariat. So when I say these 2 had washed out, it’s not meant as a put-down or anything; they either weren’t fast enough, had sustained a career-ending injury, or just weren’t ‘hungry’ enough ~ they didn’t possess the head, heart and soul of a winner.

But they were perfectly-suited for life on the ‘ranch’, where we just wanted to do some light, recreational riding, and have some companion horses around. The first time I got aboard the younger one, named Dancer, I had my hands full, at least for the initial 15 or 20 minutes. See, TBs have all this nervous energy ~ heck, they’re bred to RACE, all out, full-bore, counter-clockwise around a circular or oval track. They don’t realize that it’s equally acceptable just to saunter along at a walk or a trot, or that it’s OK to travel in a clockwise direction sometimes!!

One of the carpenters who was working out there at the time asked me what it was like when I took that first ride on Dance. I said, “Well, for awhile there, it was akin to sittin’ on a powder keg, and just waitin’ for somebody to light the fuse!” But, after enough circuits around the large outdoor riding arena, the nervous energy began to subside and the balance of the session was actually quite relaxed and enjoyable.

Fast-forward 3 months….

As we near the middle of September, I am both surprised and pleased at how well the 2 TB’s are progressing. Beane, the 11-year-old, is pretty well-mannered, and stands nicely to be mounted. She also neck-reins better than I expected, considering that she was trained for the track and not for ranch work. She does have a tendency to want to ‘keep moving’ and doesn’t like to stand around while you’re seated on her ~ her philosophy seems to be: “If there’s a rider on my back, I’m supposed to GO!” But, we’re working on that….

Dancer, on the other hand, is almost the exact opposite ~ she does not like to stand still while you’re mounting, so we have been constantly working on that aspect of her training, by doing many repetitions of getting on & off her, both with the mounting block and without it, to de-sensitize her to the whole process. Additionally, this eases her into the idea that she isn’t to “walk on” until the rider has a good, secure seat and gives her the command to go.

However, once you are aboard and have your feet planted securely in the stirrups, Dance is truly a joy to ride. You can almost forget that she is a Thoroughbred ~ she doesn’t have a lot of that trademark ‘spookiness’ that is inherent in most TBs I’ve encountered. I think that she is going to be an excellent trail horse, with a few more months of exposure to the trails, and a little bit of fine-tuning here & there. I can honestly say that Dancer is my favorite, coming in ahead of Abby, the 6-year-old QH mare, and the others. I’ve always liked a horse that “rides big”, and at 16.3 hands, Dance certainly fits that description! Plus, she is a very willing student and exhibits a lot of “try”, which is an important quality, in horses and in people.

By ‘try’, I mean that when I ask her to do something new, or maybe a little bit scary for her, she won’t balk or attempt to twist away from it, but displays a willingness to at least “give it a go”, and try to do what I’m asking of her. See, we’re building a strong bond of trust, as time passes, and she’s discovering that I won’t ask her to do anything dangerous or threatening ~ which helps me to move into the ‘Alpha’ role, where the horse looks to me for leadership. And as long as I never make a misstep, or do anything to jeopardize her safety and well-being, Dancer is content and satisfied to relinquish that leadership role to me.

So, each time that I start her down a strange, new trail, or ask her to cross a water hazard (which may be only a small puddle, or possibly a ditch with an inch or 2 of standing water in the bottom of it), she tentatively steps out to “try it”, trusting that I won’t point her in a direction that will cause either of us harm. And each time we cross a new threshold, I reassure her and praise her, with some gentle pats and a soothing voice, to not only reinforce the lesson, but also as a reward for the ‘try’, and for her willingness and good effort. Then, it’s time to just enjoy the balance of the trail ride, and end on a positive note. Just as when working with children, you never want to ask more of your horse than they can realistically give, during any particular training session. Additionally, you always strive to conclude each session in a positive way, which helps support all the good work that was done that day, and further strengthen the bond of trust between you.

And that’s how it’s done, with consistency and repetition, a slow step at a time, with each one forming a building block, or “stepping stone”, to the next lesson!

Cowboys, Shiners & Quarter Horse Bars

Posted by Head Wrangler, 15 June 2012 · 643 views

I ride horses for a living ~ which makes for all kinds of interesting adventures. Like the day I was cantering Abby, a big, dappled buckskin QH mare, across a freshly-mown field, and she spotted a small sink-hole in the soil that hadn’t been visible yesterday, due to the tall grass. Well sir, to Abby that small hole must’ve looked just like the back door to ****, ‘cuz she sure locked up the binders! Which I was not really expecting, so it had the unfortunate result of throwin’ me to the left of center in my saddle ~ and naturally Abby, being a horse and a ‘flight’ animal, chose that exact moment to cut hard right, whereupon I executed an unplanned emergency dismount and a perfect ‘one-point’ landing ~ on my right eyebrow! Trying to hold onto the reins during my fall just resulted in some nice leather burns across 3 fingers of my left hand, as she lit out for the barn like her tail was on fire….

As I regained my feet and took stock of the situation, I realized that even though I wasn’t feeling any pain in my right eye, I did not seem to have any sight in it, either! Then, as I began to gather my wits and limp after my horse, I wiped the back of my hand across the eye and, lo and behold, as the blood was cleared away, I regained my sight!

Well, without boring you with all the trifling details, suffice it to say that I ended up with a beauty of a black eye (along with blue & purple, and yellow & magenta) that lasted for a good 2 weeks. The best part of the story was that immediately following my ride, I had a pulmonary function test scheduled at the local hospital, so while I was performing all of the breathing tests for the technician, I was busily wiping away blood & trying to hold a cold compress to my eye at the same time!

One of my other side-lines, along with exercising horses (kind of an off-shoot of it, I guess you could say), is the buying, selling and swapping of saddles & tack. In this line of work (horseback riding), ya just naturally run into a lot of folks who are lookin’ for a different saddle ~ either a better one, a bigger one, a rig that fits their new horse better, or one that’s designed for a different sport. For instance, they may own a square-skirted roping saddle, but they’re now getting into barrel racing. So they want to trade the heavier rig for a lightweight, rounded skirt barrel saddle, to better suit their needs. That’s where I come in, by having 6 or 8 good, gently-used saddles on hand at any given time, so that I can (with any luck at all) have just what a person needs, right in stock & readily available to them. Then, we get down to the fun part, which is trying to make a trade in which each party comes away feeling that they got the better end of the deal!

Sometimes, a horse owner will purchase a saddle for their young horse, and a rig with semi quarter horse bars will work just fine. Then, after a few more years, when the horse has finished growing, & “fleshes out” a bit more, they’ll discover that they need to swap their saddle for one with full quarter horse bars. So, I have a steady flow of people looking to buy, sell or trade saddles…. There was even one lady who was under the impression that ‘quarter horse bars’ were places where cowboys hung out on their day off, shootin’ pool & downing a few cold ones! I’m gonna keep that little ‘chestnut’ on the back burner; when I get too old and stove-up to straddle a horse, I might decide to open a beer joint ~ and I may just capitalize on that lady’s misconception when it comes time to put a name on my tavern!!

Faith Like Horses....

Posted by Head Wrangler, 21 June 2011 · 205 views

Not to belabor the issue, or “beat a dead horse” (pardon the pun), but I wanted to address the matter of faith once again. (Actually, I don’t believe you can speak about faith too often, do you?! It is one of those concepts, along with hope and charity, that warrants constant attention, and re-kindling.)

And, once again, I find myself reminded of Faith not so much by humans, but by my horses (surprise, surprise!) ~ both my own and those whose care I’m entrusted with. They just Believe that I will always show up at feeding time, to provide hay & water for them ~ that is genuine Faith! They don’t question; in fact, I can practically set my watch by them! At 7 o’clock every morning, they are lined up at the gate, with expectant looks on their long, majestic faces. I know, folks COULD say that they’ve gotten in the habit of being fed at that time daily, and that’s the reason for their “so-called faith” ~ kind of a ‘Pavlov’s horses’ situation. And I could go along with that line of reasoning, but for one thing ~ on those Rare mornings when I allow myself the luxury of sleeping in for an extra half-hour (generally on a Saturday, if it happens at all), and then lingering over a cup of coffee, so that it is more like 8 a.m. before I make my ‘Grand Appearance’, there they still stand, waiting patiently (or sometimes, not so patiently!) for their hay. Oh, they may be pacing the fence a bit, but they’re 100%, faithfully waiting. Now, I realize, some of you ‘doubting Thomas’ types may be saying, “What else have horses got to do, but wait?” But without the genuine faith that I will eventually show up, they could ‘throw in the towel’ and wander back down to their shed, and just give up on me. They don’t give up, though ~ because their faith is strong, and they’re secure in the knowledge that I will never let them down ~ and therein lies the Lesson for each of us…. That we must also be secure in our Faith, and trust that God will never leave us in peril, and that He will always tend to our needs.

New "digs" For The Head Wrangler

Posted by Head Wrangler, 06 February 2011 · 299 views

After takin' a tough fall from a tall (16.3h) TB gelding back in Oct. of 2010, and suffering a compound fracture to my right ankle, I have since moved on from the Stable I was workin' at, and am now employed at a private facility, tending to a guy's 5 personal horses. It's a good gig, for an ol' "stove-up" cowboy like me: brand-New heated barn with 8 large box stalls, hay loft overhead with sliding feed doors, so I don't even have to carry bales of hay anymore, a wash station, and large turn-out paddocks complete with run-in/loafing sheds!! Two of my "charges" are TB mares, right off the track in Florida, so I can't wait to start workin' with them come Spring, when it warms up a mite, and the ground is safe for riding. Our new Indoor Arena isn't quite finished yet, but is insulated, and will be heated, so next winter will be a different story!! No worrying about ice & snow, freezing temps, etc.

May take my leopard App out there for awhile, to work him more in a controlled environment (away from highways, cars, etc.), since he has a tendency to wanna "pop a wheelie" around traffic!! It'd be great to be able to ride Sammy all winter long, since the extra work, and consistent training, would benefit him greatly. We'll just have to see how it goes....

Hope all of you weathered this latest storm OK ~ we had 13" of 'global-warming residue' on Groundhog's Day, and then another fast 11" last night ~ so this morning found me up on the roof of my run-in shed, shoveling off God-only-knows how many hundreds of pounds worth of 'global-warming residue'!! Can't have any cave-ins now, with at least 2 more months of possible Winter weather to go.... Ya'll take care, & hang in there ~ Spring will come, eventually.... (at least, it Always has!!!)

Cousin Boone & The Half-wit Haflinger

Posted by Head Wrangler, 29 November 2010 · 479 views

The summer that my uncle brought home the haflinger in the back of his truck, I knew that it didn’t bode well for our dude ranch. In the first place, we were mostly an old-fashioned, traditional ranch, using quarter horses and paints for our trail rides and rental horses. We did own one Hackney pony, named “Hitches Boy”, (ostensibly for cart-driving use), but his main attributes tended toward tobacco chewing and extreme flatulence. Come to think of it, those were my Uncle Bob’s strong points, too. But that didn’t stop him from operating a small-time dude ranch in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. He called the place ‘Oleo Acres’, but you’ve probably never heard of it ~ after all, it WAS one of the cheaper spreads….

Problem was, of his 3 wranglers, I was the only 1 who’d even heard of a Haflinger before, and that was only because my folks had bought me ‘The Big Book of Horses’ for my birthday the previous November. Over the long , cold winter months, I had read & re-read that tome, more or less memorizing all the breeds mentioned in it, and their main characteristics. And looking back on it, I guess that it was only fitting, since I was Uncle Bob’s head wrangler, after all. Not necessarily because of my knowledge or experience, but because I was older than the other 2 ~ and age Does have its privileges!

Not being particularly adept at fractions, my cousin Boone wasn’t real fond of having to deal with quarter horses, so he really spazzed out when our uncle wheeled in and unloaded Snoopy, the Haflinger gelding he’d been given on his way home from the mail route that day.

“What the heck is a half Linger, anyway?” queried Boone. “Some kind of a trick horse or somethin’?”

“Naw,” Uncle Bob replied, “they’re a multi-faceted breed from over in Austria. They can be ridden, they’re great for pullin’ carts and buggies, and even sleighs, come winter. Heck, I figure we can pick up some extra business during the slow season by chargin’ folks for sleigh rides, ‘specially around the Holidays.”

“Aw man,” whined Boone. “First quarters, now halves and multis…..All this math is startin’ to stress me out, ya know?!”

“Well, the math looked pretty good to me ~ when I saw that ‘Free Haflinger’ sign on my way home today, I took it as a good chance to increase business around this place. You guys do want to get a Bonus at the end of the summer, don’cha?”

“Yeah, sure,” I piped up. See, as Head Wrangler, I was also kind of the unofficial spokesman for the trio. “But Gramp always says ‘Folks generally get what they pay for’. Ya really think this free horse is gonna be of any value to us around here, or just another mouth to feed? I mean, if he was such a great animal, why were they givin’ it away?”

“Well, darn it, Bill ~ some people just aren’t that sharp with their business dealings,” my uncle retorted.

“I guess you’d know about that alright, wouldn’t ya, Uncle?” I know, I was supposed to respect my elders, but this wasn’t the first hare-brained, get-rich-quick scheme my uncle had engaged in ~ it was just the most recent.

“Darn right, Junior. You’ll be laughin’ out the other side of your face when I make my first million!” Bob replied.

Yeah, irony is just wasted on some folks, I guess……

The Haunted Sugarhouse

Posted by Head Wrangler, 21 October 2010 · 219 views

The Legend of the Haunted Sugarhouse

It was back during the 1930’s, ’37 or ’38 I think, and the whole Northeast was experiencing a particularly hard winter. The wolves were coming down across the border out of Canada, looking for food. The cold & snow was making it difficult for them to catch enough snowshoe rabbits, squirrels and other wild game ~ so they started attacking the local farmers’ sheep. Back in those days, most farmers in this area kept a flock of sheep, along with their cattle, for the wool and mutton. Well, the fella that used to own this farm, ol’ Mr. Barber, got fed up with losing one of his sheep every night or 2, so he decided to set out some wolf traps, and hopefully, thin the pack somewhat.

Late one afternoon, when the farm chores were pretty well done, Mr. Barber grabbed his rifle, told his sons to finish up the milking, and headed out to check his traps, before dark. There was a storm blowin’ in, and he wanted to be back home before it really got started. As luck would have it, him being a pretty good trapper & all, the 3rd trap he came to held a rangy-lookin’ old brush wolf, kind of a grayish-brown brute with gleaming fangs, deep yellow eyes and a nasty snarl. Just as old man Barber raised his gun to finish the wolf, he saw the rest of the pack, circling, off in the near-distance, unwilling to leave their pack-mate.

So, he decided to try n’ shoot one or 2 of them first, since the trapped one wasn’t going anywhere. Well, in his excitement and haste, he only wounded one of the wolves, and as the rest of the pack circled & lunged, he slipped in the snow as he scrambled to reload his old single-shot .44-40. The brute in the trap made a lunge & grabbed onto his left leg, tearing it up pretty good. This drove the pack into a frenzy, as they caught the scent of fresh blood….

Ol’ Man Barber knew he was in trouble, as he fumbled to get another cartridge into the breech of his gun. He also knew that he’d never make it back to the barns before darkness closed in, and he couldn’t hold the wolves off for long, caught out in the open as he was, bleeding profusely and without shelter.

In desperation, he tried to think….. to figure a way out of this predicament. As he pondered the mess he was in, and the wolves circled, snapping & snarling, just a few feet away, he struggled to eject the spent cartridge from his rifle, so he could reload & maybe kill another wolf, or at least keep them at bay. But to add to his problems, the ejector seemed to be broken, or the shell stuck in the chamber or something….

Then it came to him! He wasn’t far from his old sugar shack, where he & his sons made maple syrup each Spring. If he could just hobble or crawl there, it would provide shelter from the night, and protection from the wolves, til his family came searching for him. Why, he could even start a fire in the arch, & get warm, while he tried to bind up his leg to stop the bleeding!

As the first huge snowflakes from another winter storm began to swirl around him in the darkness, Mr. Barber commenced scrabbling in the direction of the sugarhouse, the wolves maintaining their distance scant yards behind him, growling & gnashing their teeth in anticipation of a meal. At one point, he paused to remove his old yellow bandana from around his neck, and wrapped it around his mangled left leg, to staunch the flow of blood.

Finally, after an agonizingly long crawl thru the gathering snow, Mr. Barber spied the outline of the old sugarhouse, looming before him in the darkness. With a cry of relief, and another shout at the wolves, he struggled to pull himself in thru the door, and then slam it closed behind him. He was safe! He was going to make it after all !! Although he could hear the wolves slashing and clawing at the door, in a vain attempt to gain access, he knew he would be OK now ~ once he got a nice, cozy fire going in the stove, and bound up his ruined & bloody leg, he could hold on til his boys found him….

# # # # # # # #

And that’s exactly where his sons did find him, early the next morning, when they set out on snowshoes, searching thru the newly-fallen snow. His frozen & lifeless corpse lay prone in front of the firebox, his fingers bloody & raw, fingernails broken, from fussing with the stuck cartridge in his gun, in a valiant attempt to reload. His blood-soaked yellow neckerchief was still wrapped around his leg, and the frozen ground around & beneath him soaked with his lifeblood. What finally killed him?? Heart attack? Fright? Loss of blood? The cold? It’s hard to say, for certain ~ ultimately, though, it was the wolves…..

# # # #

You can still, to this day, see the clawmarks in the boards of that sugarhouse, where the wolves clawed & ripped in their struggle to get at Mr. Barber. And, to this day, as well, the local folks say that, especially on dark & windy nights, you can hear Mr. Barber’s ghost crying out for help, from the interior of the sugarhouse where he died………

@ @ @ @ @

Fresh Blackberries, & A Horseback Ride

Posted by Head Wrangler, 27 July 2010 · 157 views

Was workin’ on the woodpile again yesterday forenoon when my attention span “log’d out” (as it so often does!), so I wandered out toward the end of the driveway, ostensibly to check the mail. Which took me past the hay barn, & since I knew I needed to bring another bale down to the horse barn, I veered off to tend to that chore. But before I got to the hay shed door, I noticed a beautiful cluster of succulent, ripe blackberries hanging from one of the bushes in my yard. Immediately distracted, I began gorging on the large, juicy berries ~ woodpile & hay barn be damned! (A multi-tasker, I’m not ~ I’m a true ‘one-trick pony’, as I’ve told my wife many times before!) Give me one job to do or errand to run, and I’ll attack it with the full focus of my energies; just don’t ask me to mow the lawn AND paint the trim on the house. One or the other, but not both at once! I’m like an old workhorse ~ slow & methodical, good for a long day of toil, but don’t keep switchin’ me from job to job….In other words, easily sidetracked!

Anyway, after I’d eaten my fill of the delicious, late-July berries, I proceeded on to collect the mail, and even snag’d a bale of hay on the way back. But upon returning to the task of hauling wood into the shed, I found my mind wandering once again. Only this time, my thoughts were turning toward my Appaloosa gelding, and working him some more under saddle, now that the weather is a bit cooler, & the flies aren’t so bad.

After saddling up, I mounted my big fella and worked him in the round pen for a good chunk of time, then got down & did some ground work for awhile: leading, backing, and just steppin’ up into the saddle, sitting and praising him for a moment before dismounting, then doing it all again, and again. Repetition is the best method when training a horse ~ just doin’ things over and over again, slow & calm, til they get accustomed to it and it becomes second nature to them. Then ya move on to the next step. It’s a progressive and constantly-escalating process, one which requires patience from both trainee and trainer. For example, of all the many, many times I’ve worked with Caesar, yesterday was the very first time I’ve been able to put his hackamore on over his ears without first unhooking the brow band ~ during past sessions, it was always “too spooky” for him to have that band creep up over his eyes, so I’d disassemble it on one side, slide the hackamore on, and then re-thread the brow band before fastening the throat latch….always Trying to do it all in one smooth step, initially, but not able to accomplish it, without spooking him. However, yesterday my patience was rewarded when Caesar stood still for the bridling process, all in one fluid motion! Which called for a little ‘time-out’ for effusive praise and petting (positive reinforcement) before continuing the session.

Another crucial factor in horse training is to Always end the “class” before the horse tires of learning, and loses interest. Since it is imperative that ya end the lesson on a ‘good note’, with praise and a treat, there’s a fine line between “just enough” and too much ~ a point which you, as the trainer, have to constantly be mindful of, and as with imbibing alcoholic beverages, ya need to know when to say when!

All in all, another good day on the Coolidge homestead ~ or, as my father used to say, “Just another day in Paradise”!!

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