January 2013

Believe it or not, Northern Nevada often has a really mild stretch from the end of January through most of February.  I can remember riding in t-shirts many times during this time of year, before the winds start blowing in the spring.  We are just leaving a very cold spell and entering the milder part of winter.  There are early signs of spring, though, too.  The earliest sign is the calves dropping.  The eagles and hawks sit on fence posts waiting.  The pastures and fields have just a tinge of green where snow lay the week before.  The owls are hooting in the trees at night looking for mates, and birds everywhere are celebrating the warmer temperatures.

We have two new additions at the ranch.  First is Two Bits, a new horse.  In July I rode with Melvin Joseph, a roper friend of mine from Lone Pine, CA.  He was up visiting and we went out for a ride, me on my gaited mare, and him on his red QH, named Junior.  Well, that red Quarter Horse blew me away and out walked my mare and a TWH mare.  He was all work, even as a 6 year old.  I was very impressed and mentioned it all on Facebook.  I had a friend in Arizona who read the post and replied, “We have a horse like that.  Next time you’re here, come try him out.”   I wasn’t really looking for another horse at the time, but I humored her and said I would.  In September, she called me and said she had taken another gal out on Two Bits and the other gal wanted to buy him, but my friend said, “I’m sorry, I can’t sell him until Maggie has a chance to ride him. ”  I felt obliged to really try him now, but Kim insisted “he is your horse”.    So in October, I was back in Arizona, and I went out to try him.  My biggest fear would be that he would be too tall.  The older I get the shorter I like my horses, heehee!  Really, I like the shorter/stockier typy QH, so when I saw Two Bits, he was what pleases my eye.  Nice copper coat, short level back, straight legs, good sized feet standing at 15 hands.  I’d like him fuller in the chest, but as he matures and is worked more, I think he will fill out.  So I tossed on my saddle and off we went, down the paved road to the desert.  We rode over an overpass of the freeway, and he didn’t bat an eye.  At five years, he has a lot of hours and experiences.  He’d been used for barrel racing and heeling cows.   He has a really nice big walk -almost a single foot; and he likes to lead.  It’s hard to find a forward horse that isn’t hot too.  This guy was calm, smooth, forward – that work ethic, and big walk that Junior had……so I had to buy him.    He’s going to work out great.  Thanks, Kim!

The other new addition is an Australian Cattle pup that I named “Zorro”.   We were leaving the arena where Two Bits had been participating in a cow-sorting practice (he did great, by the way) and I saw a sign on the side of the road that said “Cattle Dog pups”.  My friend Allison, who was driving said, “Should we stop?”.  What a question, of course, we should stop!  Once again, I wasn’t looking for a puppy.  My husband’s energy is fading, and I was two weeks out from shoulder surgery, but maybe that’s why we needed a puppy.  We needed something else to think about.  Well, it turns out that he takes up a lot of our time!  I had forgotten how much work babies are, and especially working dogs that you want to come along with some social skills.  I tried to give him away the first two weeks – he is a lot of dog!  I only had him for 10 days when I had to drive to Arizona, and he was too much for my husband to care for, so Zorro came with me.  That’s when he impressed me.  He hooked right on to me, doesn’t stray too far, and despite staying in different places, he really paid attention to where we were, never got lost, and traveled well.  He even walked around old town Scottsdale and made many friends there – everyone wanted to pet him.  So…..I kept him.  Josie, my other dog kept hoping he’d go away the first month, but now seems to understand I’m trying to train Zorro, and helps me out with that.  The cat, well, she doesn’t like Zorro much, yet.  He has met the horses and so far he is not trying to herd them.  So, he won me over.  He will be a really good dog…….someday 🙂

I lost my black Morgan mare, Sundae in July.  Rascal’s back pastern has fused up.  He is stiff and arthritic.  Xena carried me through the end of summer and fall.  And so the seasons of life go by.  Birth, youth, maturity, aging, death…..and birth again.  And it occurs to me that those things that you are not looking for are opportunities.  They are life itself, and life is short.  Enjoy it!    Maggie


August 2012

Two stories stand out from this summer.  One is informational, one is emotional.

The first story I want to share is an interesting conversation that my cousin, Nancy, and I had via Facebook.  These are her remarks….

“I have a degree in Sports Med. so some of this is really fascinating to me. The whole laminitis thing….yada yada yada….yes much to learn. Anyway, I was reading and reading because I was intrigued and I came across an article about using thermography in race horses in a study done at U of Minnesota. This triggered a biomechanics and kinesiology class I had taken while pursuing my master’s degree. Do you know about vectorization? It’s a fancy word for how they put sensors on athletes and measure them in space and time and calculate that in a computer….like CGI. Then I saw this shoe company doing test for the latest and greatest in running shoes. They had sensors all over the runner plus added a special mat that measured the pressure exerted by the runner and where the foot was exhibiting the most force at any given point during the run. Along with all this is the thermogragh measuring the heat dispersed in the muscles and tendons. That got me all excited about the study at U of M using a thermogragh because they were documenting an increase in heat (inflammation) in the horses legs usually 2 weeks prior to injury or longer. They also had trainer notes and compared them to what the thermograph was saying and most were concurrent. So, my question was how to you get a device in every horse owners hand to help them detect inflammation, like founder’s, before the problem is serious? The answer is an infrared thermometer. Though not as sophisticated, it would do an adequate job of detecting temperature differentials on the skin. Ta Da. $30 at Home Depot and you have yourself a thermograph, so to speak. I went to my natural horse guy and we did 1st aid this week. We were talking about all this stuff and we got into digestion and colic. That led into founders and I said how I was reading about it and was puzzled and he pulls out a infrared thermometer! Later that morning his mare bit one of his trainers, which had never happened. It was when she went ot cinch the girth. He took Pepper out and worked her over a liitle and determined it wasn’t the girth. So, then he took a rock and gently rubbed it down her spine and you could watch her cringe as the rock went over two of her muscles. She had recently gained 100 pounds and the saddle was pinching her. His wife is an equine chiropracter so she came out and adjusted Pepper. Before she did, he took that thermometer and ran it down her back and it showed the two places she flinched at several degrees higher than the rest of her skin. One place, just ahead of her withers was swollen and tender to the touch and that showed maybe 6 degrees higher. ”  You can bet that I went and bought myself an infrared thermometer and have used it several times.  At this time of year, as we go into Fall, laminitis and horses prone to foundering are at risk.  I can monitor the heat in their hooves before turnout and after turnout.  A handy little gadget to have in your tack box.

The other story I have to tell goes along with the horse with the sore spot by the scapula.  This summer I was away from home when I lost a dear friend.  I was feeling very blue and and my heart was heavy.  I walked over to the community barn for some equine comfort.  There are about 40 horses there, and I went from stall to stall petting noses, but not really getting relief.  I got to the last stall and by then it was dark.  The horse stood in the back of the stall in the shadows, but turned it’s head to look at me.  I felt the pull of a connection deep inside of me as we looked at each other.  The horse walked over to me and we blew softly into each other’s nostrils in greeting.  It stood quietly while I stroked the neck, ears and muzzle.  The softness of the night, and the softness of the horse’s silky coat and it’s calm, patient demeanor touched me and opened my heart so I could have my cry.  The horse across the aisle nickered, concerned about my sobs, but the horse near me knew I needed her – and yes I thought, this must be a mare, she understands the long suffering female heart!  The next morning I went back to find out about this horse.  Sure enough, a mare.  A nice compact sorrel QH named Tara.  Later in the evening, I went back to the barn, but this time I went straight to Tara.  I felt I owed her.  I started stroking her neck and I felt a knot by the scapula.  I put pressure on the spot and she leaned into the pressure with her whole body, so I knew it felt good.  Over and over we did this.  Then she put her butt to me, like mares do, to be scratched.  So I scratched both sides of the tail and the tail bone.  I gently stroked the velvety underside of the tail.  Then I reached between her hind legs and discovered her teats were encrusted with gunk.  I gently picked and rubbed the gunk off down to smooth skin.  It gave her great relief.  Her head was dropped and she was very content.  Back and forth from shoulder to tail for an hour.  I left there content as well.  She had let me empty my heart, and then filled it up again.  Pretty cool.

Blessings, Maggie


June, 2012 –  This morning I found my way to “Outside Television”, part of Lake Tahoe TV for an interview about our barn, the River Bottom Ranch.  They provided me with a piece of paper for me to create four questions and the answers I wanted to cover….a script, so to speak.  What I realized was that it is hard to put 50 years of experience into a four minute interview.  I didn’t get a chance to say half of what I wanted to; however, this blog site was at the bottom of the screen during the interview, so if anyone watched the TV version and wants more information, here it is!

1. Tell us a little bit about  your background with horses.

Answer: Horses were in my awareness as early as four years old, despite my suburban family.  Don’t ask me how….I don’t know, they just were.  At 10 years I was volunteering at the Zephyr Cove Riding Stable at Lake Tahoe.  By 12 I was planning my own barn, scanning catalogs and doing price comparison of buckets, bridles and salt licks.  I had horses from 11 years old onward and can’t imagine a life without them.  When my kids left for college, it was finally my turn and at long last I designed, found financing and built my ranch.  I had wanted to train horses since I was 13, so finally I began.  I started and finished horses.  I specialized with lite shod Tennessee Walking Horses.  I gave lessons to students from 3 years old to 70 years old in english, western and harness driving.  I partnered with the recreation department of Carson City to put on kids equestrian camps.  The camps consisted of riding lessons, general horse education and horse related crafts.  We had a great time!  One of my current barn workers started as a camper six years ago.  I competed in shows locally and in California mostly to expose the horse to new experiences, to gauge their progress in their training and to let people know who I was and what I could do.  We almost always placed in the top 3 places.  I still do all of these things but now on a consultation basis.

What are some activities you have done with your horses?

Answer:  Besides the above mentioned activities, I do a lot of trail riding which I really enjoy for the peacefulness of it all. We have a variety of trails from groomed dirt roads, to rocky hills, river crossings, and everything in between.  I was the first female officer in the Carson City Sheriff’s Mounted Unit for about 7 years.  We trained and rode in crowd control situations; through fireworks, football games, parades and searches for bodies, planes and missing persons.  I have been a member of the Northern Nevada Gaited Horse Club for 15 years and have helped and attended clinics and shows put on by the club.  I trained in dressage, and still start all my horses in basic dressage and harness work.  Currently, I have been doing cattle work, participating in brandings, sortings and cattle drives at my friend’s cattle ranch in California.  I attend all the clinics put on by the big name trainers to keep up with the current teachings.  My favorites are Buck Branamen and Richard Winters.  I have put on my own clinics for driving to help people start their horses in harness.

What are some of the aspects of your barn?

Answer:  We have a first class facility on a small scale.  We have a 10 stall barn with room for 5 horses outside in corrals with sheds.  In the barn the stalls all have heated waterers and fly misters.  There is a shower stall with hot/cold water, a large tack room with a washer for blankets, and a refridgerator for medications.  We have a large arena that has recently been resurfaced by Rid O Rock, which has been one of the best investments in the ranch that I have made.  They dig down about 10 inches and sift all the rocks out leaving fabulous footing.  There is a round pen connected to the arena that has a sprinkler in the center for dust control.  A deck overlooks the arena/round pen for observation.  We have barrels, jumps, poles and cones….anything you need for working with your horse.

What is a normal day like at your barn?

Answer:  A normal day begins at 7 AM when I feed the horses.  I notice things that need to be done and leave a note for Scott, the barn manager.  He arrives at noon and  takes the horses from the barn to turnout.  This time of year it is pasture or dry lot, depending on the horse’s needs.  He removes all the manure from the paddocks, sweeps the mats in the stalls, puts out grain and/ or hay – once again based on the horse’s needs.  At 4 PM he brings all the horses in, and at 8 PM we do a night check to make sure everything is quiet and gates are latched for the night.

What makes our barn unique is two things.  We turn the horses out each day, so they are handled each day.  Most barns only feed, but don’t really pay much attention to your particular horse.  We notice if something is wrong and let the owner know.  We monitor each horse’s individual health and treat each horse as our own.  Secondly, we charge one flat fee.  A lot of barns charge for anything extra that your horse needs, like blanketing in the winter.  We don’t.  If the horse needs a blanket, we will put it on, or take it off.   Each horse has different dietary needs and we adjust for that, only asking that the owner bag up any supplements their horse may need….no extra cost.  We have a equine therapy group that works out of the barn and boarders are coming and going, so it is pretty easy to hook up with someone to ride with.  As a result of our care, good people and happy horses, we tend to have long-term boarders and a waiting list.  Some horses have been with me for 5 to 10 years.  I have had horses come from all over the United States, and one from Germany.  If you want to tour the facility call my cell phone to set up an appointment.

Now you understand why four minutes was not enough time to cover every thing I wanted to say, but even so if you saw the TV interview, well then, thanks for watching it!  Take care, Maggie

April 2012 – It has been a busy spring.  The barn is full again for the first time since the recession.   One of the new boarders turned out to be the perfect match for Flash, one of my horses.  Flash is an awesome horse, but chronically lame.  I’ve said for years that if I could find the right home for her, I would pass her on….I would know the person when I came across them.  So enter Debby from California.  She has the caring spirit and equine knowledge base to take care of Flash.  They both need to curtail their activities to mostly walking, so it works well for both of them, and I am happy because Flash gets to remain in my barn with her friends, and my care.  Flash has never looked so good!

The Northern Nevada Gaited Horse Club sponsored a ‘desensitization’ clinic, geared towards getting horses prepared for gunfire.  It was a two day clinic with about 15 participants.  The first day consisted of various obstacle ‘stations’ and people could walk or ride their horses through them at their own pace.  There was the dreaded tarp, plastic bottles, rolling balls, tires, water crossings, bridges, paper bags and logs to pull and what we like to call the ‘car wash’ – a contraption of PVC pipe and draping colored tape.  I took both Xena and Sundae and found a volunteer to help me lead the mares through initially and then I rode them one at a time through the obstacles.  They handled them all well, and had certain ones they didn’t care for.  Sundae is cautious with water and tarps, and Xena didn’t like the ‘push through’ obstacle.  The second day we started the same but then the ‘car wash’ became a gauntlet of tarps, flags, burning straw, fireworks, and poles.  Xena was braver at this and went through about 7 times.  Sundae, who is actually smarter, did it twice to please me, but saw no need to continue it!  The grand finale was shooting a 45 off the backs of both horses.  Other than an initial startle reflex, they were both fine.  Everyone was happy with the clinic, even those who suffered mishaps, so we may schedule another one in the fall.

This past weekend I went to Lone Pine, California to help with a branding.  The ranch was established about 4-5 generations ago.  My friend Sarah, and her husband, Gabe, are running it with the help of extended family and friends.  I’m honored to be included.  This branding was a smaller one that the family opted to do with just family and close friends, so they could spend time together.  We ran about 125 calves through on Saturday, but there are about 350 more to do next month.  It was a small, but unusual branding.  The first thing that happened pretty early on was that one steer had a hernia during the castration part of the process.  There was a vet attending, so he got the calf quickly sewn back up. The released him and he ran off to the other calves.   The vet said he had only seen one other like that, and whereas the other calf lived, he wasn’t convinced this one would, because of the size of the wound.  The other anomaly was that we got a call about a cow that was down.  Since our crew was fairly small, most of them left to go check on the cow.  The rest of us found some shade and waited.  It turned out the cow had a broken leg and they had to shoot it.  The crew came back, except for Tom and his Colombian daughter-in-law, Jackie, who field dressed the cow.  We got back to branding without any other interference.  Three ropers working at a time, and multiple ground people.  It gets dirty, sweaty and hectic.  But there is a comraderie too.  I was looking around at the crew in the arena and thought how that corral was the perfect leveling field.  There were 60 year old women roping, and 10 year old kids spraying wounds. The best roper was a Native American, working alongside the family he’s lived next door to all his life.  There was a Mexican boy helping in the pens  There were babies and toddlers watching it all through the fence.   Lou is the chef and makes fabulous lunches and dinners for the crew.    It didn’t matter how old, or what color, everyone had a job and it was done in the old way of the west where everyone helps.  The day ended on picnic tables at sunset watching pink clouds float above Mt. Whitney.  Laughter, good food, and a satisfying days work.  Can’t ask for much more.

February, 2012 – It is calving season in Northern Nevada and with the newborn calves come the hawks and eagles sitting on the fence posts.  I drive by one ranch on the way home and out in the field you can see the tiny black lumps on the yellow winter grass.  At least it has been a mild winter for them.  I always feel sorry when those babies are lying in the snow, still wet, or a couple of days old with their butts to a blizzard.  Anyway, for me, it is the first signal that Spring, is indeed, on it’s way.  The next sign of Spring, born out of being indoors, looking out and dreaming of warmer days, is that my weekend calendar starts filling up.  Upcoming horse shows are scheduled, brandings and cow sorting practices are penciled in, horse camping trips are proposed and organized.  Training clinics are being considered and signed up for.  It is a smorgasbord of horse events which makes living in this area fabulous.

Currently, I have reconnected with Vince Pirozzi from my Mounted Unit days, to host a clinic to sensitize horses to many things, but specifically firearms. With the advent of mounted shooting clubs, there is an increased interest in target practice from horse-back.   This clinic will be a 2-day clinic (Sat/Sun), scheduled for April 14/15 at the Silver Saddle Ranch in Carson City.  It will be conducted similar to the Sheriff Mounted Unit’s trainings in that we start off with getting the horses comfortable working together in formations, then work our way from lit flares and firecrackers to a pistol off the back of your horse.  Like Vince says, ‘you can shoot off any horse once’, sometimes.   I  remember a training where Vince shot off his horse, Lacy, for the first time and she reared up so hard she went over backwards.  Vince, was nimble enough to bail out and no one got hurt, but you never know…..Lacy was a seasoned patrol horse too.  Anyway, I want to start carrying a firearm when I ride in the mountains, and so I have an interest in having a horse that will tolerate it without dumping me to hike out on my own.

I am scheduled to attend two brandings in Lone Pine, California in the late Spring.   These are exciting, exhausting, loud and dusty events.  There are usually two pens running at the same time.  Each pen has 2 or 3 ropers to drag the calves to the fire.  Once there, a ‘bouncer’ will put his weight on the calf to hold them down while a host of things are done to him in about 2 minutes time.  There are 7 ground people for every calf.  Three of them, usually  women,  each have a syringe to inoculate the calf. As soon as they are done, a pill is shoved down the calf’s throat, he is castrated,  his ears notched, and he is branded.  His cuts are sprayed and he is released somewhat dazed and bawling like the others.  Now, all the cows are Angus, so all the calves are black.  They all look alike and they are all being dragged in at once, how do you remember if each calf got everything he needed?  I have to keep track of the horses that are working the pens.  I know if I’ve gotten their calf or not, that’s the only way I can do it.  It really gets dicey about 3 in the afternoon, when you are tired.  The entire time the cows are calling, and the calves are bawling.  Lone Pine is not a big town, so the dust and the mooing resonate down the streets.

Training wise, Xena has really come into her own.  She has mastered the left lead at canter, and is working well on her downward transitions.  Last weekend we hooked her up to a cart (first time for a year) and she didn’t bat an eye.  We didn’t put blinders on her this time, and usually I drove her with blinders, but she didn’t seem to mind.  We also got her into trot in harness….a big step, really.  Be sure to see the photos.  Sundae has been my solo trail companion all fall and winter, carrying me through many miles of solitude and peace, although Xena is growing into it also.   I took Xena for her first solo ride last week.  She got out of the trailer, looked around and whinnied ‘where is everybody?’.  I put her to work up the trail and she did awesome until we came across some horse poop.  She whinnied again, looking for the owner of said poop.  But that was all. She was steady as a rock.  Nice little horse.

So, lots of things to look forward to.  The rebirth of the planet, celebrations, goals, rituals and friendships.  Enjoy!

January 2012  – Happy New Year!  I’m hoping everyone had a satisfying holiday season and despite all the preparations, you were able to get out for some saddle time.  Nevada has had a VERY dry winter….virtually no moisture to speak of, and mild temperatures.  While this is great for riding, it’s a little unnerving for the pasture irrigation this summer, and very dusty while working horses….cough, cough, choke, choke 🙂

A group of local women started a Facebook riding group which has been fun.  I do the majority of my riding alone, but it’s always nice to see who’s going where and it gives me options to see new areas, meet new people  and work with different horses.    On New Year’s Day, I rode at Washoe Lake on Xena with the FB group.  Washoe is always a popular ride… sand dunes, beach, water, and mountains standing in the background.  About 20 people showed up to ride, and as usually happens in large groups there were splintered groups, but that’s ok. I was very pleased with Xena.  She was a little power house, setting a brisk pace at walk that kept her in front most of the time.  Her running walk was smooth, her attitude was solid.  In the arena she is working hard on her downward transitions. Now that she has figured out and is consistent in both leads of canter, she just wants to GO.  So back and forth, we go…trot, canter, halt, canter, trot, etc.  It’s a lot more complicated because she is gaited so she has extra gears.  She needs to be able to come down from canter in a trot, or a gait, depending on what I ask for.  So far, when we are going left she will come down in trot, and when going right on the circle, she will come down in gait.  Still lots of work to do….especially between her ears….listening is not her forte 🙂

I rode Sundae across the river and up the hill  to check out the burn site (we had a fire across the river in January! Unheard of).  I am happy to say that the part I usually ride on went unscathed.  The cool temperatures get her revved up, and she could trot all day…..so it wasn’t the most relaxing ride, but she did alright.  She gets fabulous after about 2 hours of riding….which is why she is my choice when moving cows.  She will work all day, nose down in the sagebrush looking for calves, and just zeros in on them.  I’m looking forward to the cow sorting practices to start this spring.  We’ll be there.

The last horse I want to mention is a little red mustang that came into my life about 12 years ago.  He was 5, and started badly the first time.  He had serious trust issues.  I restarted him, slow and steady, and got him going pretty well.  I ended up selling him, but he has stayed at my ranch and in my care.  No one does much with him, so I started working with him again after a 10 year lapse.  He is super sensitive, and a tough guy, but he is loving the attention.  He hasn’t given me one bit of trouble.  I am very proud of him and our work together.  It just shows what a little kindness, a soft voice and a steady hand can do, vs. the old style of breaking horses.  So glad we have the knowledge of great trainers now to display alternative methods.