Highlights of the Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering

The Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering is a whirlwind entertainment experience with talented performers singing, reciting, splash16even gyrating. This year’s installment was no exception, with scores of standing-room-only, sold out performances and the state’s only non-mechanized parade (itself a wonderful display of horses and horsemanship.) Next year, it’s right before next year’s BestHorsePractices Summit.

Here are some highlights:

Wylie Gustafson & the Wild West

Wylie is a fifth generation Montanan who’s no stranger to hefting hay bales, tending to cattle, and raising horses. He wove stories and songs seamlessly during two energetic evening shows (complete with Wylie’s hilarious hip gyrations) with his talented four-man band.

Wylie Gustafson

Wylie Gustafson

Gustafson said his father was a veterinarian and a rancher who called long days of haying his “Character Development Program” and who sang and played guitar for the family in the evenings, after the Lawrence Welk show. Wylie’s childhood influences were, he said, Myron Floren (accordianist for Lawrence Welk) and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. No wonder he excels at cowboy and rockin’ country music.

Gustafson instills love and respect for equines in nearly every song. “Our heroes were the horses,” the performer recalled as he displayed a custom guitar with 18 horses crafted into it.

Check out Wylie here.

I was privileged to host a new storytelling session featuring four Colorado horsemen in one of many venues of the historic Strater Hotel. The session followed a poetry recitation gig hosted by Mike Dunn and featuring Gary McMahan. McMahan, from Bellvue, Colorado, gave us this brilliant response to Ralph Lauren’s marketing of the cologne called “Chaps.”

Reprinted here with permission.


By Gary McMahan

Gary McMahan

Gary McMahan

A poem made from a letter Dick Spencer wrote to Ralph Lauren on how to pronounce the word chaps. Dick Spencer was the publisher at Western Horseman Magazine for 40 years and is also my father in law.

chaps (chàps, shàps) plural noun

Heavy leather trousers without a seat, worn over ordinary trousers by ranch hands to protect their legs.
[Short for American Spanish chaparreras, from Spanish chaparro, chaparral. See chaparral.

chap·ar·ral (shàp˝e-ràl´) noun

  1. A dense thicket of shrubs and small trees.


(This begins the actual poem.)

To: Mr Ralph Lauren

505 5th Ave

New York City


I seen on the TV Mr. Lauren

66994mThat you have a men’s cologne you call “chaps”

And it’s probably a manly scent

Or you wouldn’t have called it that.


I confess I’ve never used the stuff

And this may sound a little harsh

But I suspect men use cologne to hide

The fact that they didn’t warsh


So I can’t really comment on the product

Though I’m sure it smells just fine

It’s the way you say the name “chaps”

That chaps my cowboy behind


You see the name is derived

From the Spanish word chaparro well

It in turn got its name

from the word chaparral


Which again in Spanish means

A dense thicket of thorny brush and trees

Which all manner of cowboys

have ridden through for centuries


Thus needing protection for their legs

These chaparro’s were fashioned from cowhide

and are the leather leggin’s cowboys wear

That comes without a backside


Then us gringos got hold of the word

And shortened chaparro to chaps

Kinda like when we took the word

Tappaderos and condensed it to “Taps”


So that’s why “ch” is really pronounced

With an “sh” sound you see

And to an ol’ cowboy that’s worn chaps all his life

It seems a travesty


That you would use the cowboy’s manly image

To sell you fancy smell to the herd

And never even take the time

To learn how to say the word


‘Cause fact is Mr. Lauren

Even though I’d like to console-ya

anyone who says “chaps” for chaps

Don’t know chit from chineola


The Durango Gathering is the kind of event where one finds treasures (of the people and moment varieties) in every corner.

Check out this quick video of an impromptu lesson on tying a Buckaroo Knot, by Linda O’Dell:



Leaders or Bullies? You be the judge

Last month, I camped with horses on Bureau of Land Management land. I wanted to experiment with something Mark Rashid mentioned at his recent clinic. To paraphrase, he said that wild horse herd leaders are true leaders, defending the herd and leading it to food sources and away from danger. Domestic leaders are more paradoxical. They tend to be insecure, food-focused bullies – just the opposite of true leaders.

How would this play out in my camping scenario?


Pep wanders far afield

On Day One, I brought three horses. I kept two in a small enclosure and let Pep, who is lower in herd order than the other two, graze outside the enclosure.

Result: Pep wandered far and seemed far less interested in her whinny-ing penned companions than they were in her.

On Day Two, I brought four horses. I kept two in the small enclosure and let the two leaders, Brooke and Jodi, graze outside the enclosure.

Result: Sure enough, Brooke and Jodi were not interested in straying. They seemed insecure about their surroundings and chose to stay close to the enclosure.

Was this leadership (protecting herd members) or insecurity?

Top mares, Brooke and Jodi, stay close to their penned herd mates.

Top mares, Brooke and Jodi, stay close to their penned herd mates.

Rashid says that domestic herd leaders lack a certain sense of self. Their identity is all about who they are in the herd. That’s why they tend to be more ‘barn sour’ than other horses down the herd ladder.

Based on what I’ve seen and experienced with my own horses, I tend to agree.

Another side effect? It’s no surprise, too, that the lower ranking horses are much more enjoyable to ride. They enjoy getting out far more than their “leaders.”

An Interview with MSSPA’s Jeff Greenleaf

The Maine State Society for the Protection of Animals, founded in 1872 and currently led by President Marylin Goodreau and  Chief Executive Officer Meris Bickford, is one of msspathe country’s most impressive rescue establishments for abused and neglected equines. Over the decades, it has rescued and rehabilitated hundreds of horses, mostly seized by the state from neglectful or abusive homes in Maine.

We talked with the MSSPA barn manager Jeff Greenleaf as the organization works to make its horses more adoptable through training and evaluation. Kudos to the MSSPA for their efforts!

NickerNewsBlog: We hear that the MSSPA now incorporates teaching its employees horse handling and even riding into their work. Can you tell me more about what employees are learning and how this has had an impact on the employees, the horses?

Jeff Greenleaf: We try to hire employees who have experience with horses. This includes but is not limited to the ability to img_2816recognize injuries and possible illness.
Our employees have the opportunity to watch and assist with our veterinarians and farriers to learn more about the horses’ health and care. All employees have to have experience handling horses, but some learn new techniques with our trainer and myself.
We have a large range of horses here from backyard easy-going ones to the more challenging, difficult animals. As you know, we are a rescue barn. The horses we take in from state seizures can vary from well-trained and handled to horses with no handling to those who have experienced neglect or abuse.
Our trainers come on site to work with our staff to help to evaluate the abilities as well as the temperament of each horse for placement in an adoptive home whenever possible.
Most horses coming to us do not come with a lot of known history. Therefore we evaluate them all for their ground manners and riding experience. Some staff with riding experience work with our trainers and myself to evaluate and exercise those rideable horses. This helps in the ability to place horses into adoptive homes.
When potential adopters inquire about a horse’s abilities, it’s a big advantage to the horse when we can let the people know the training level of each animal.
Employees have different experiences ranging from trail riding to competing in the show ring. They learn new techniques in handling on the ground as well as different ideas on having horses perform to their abilities under saddle.

NN: Do you and/or your employees work to make horses more adoptable through handling, exercise, or rehabilitation?

JG: The more we know about each horse, the better we can pass that information to potential adopters.
Some adopters want a horse to groom and handle on the ground. Others would like a horse they can ride. The ability to answer

Greenleaf with an MSSPA horse

Greenleaf with an MSSPA horse

questions for adopters makes a tremendous difference in terms of a favorable long-term adoption.

All MSSPA employees have a part in handling and exercising the horses. From our newest employee to the CEO, it’s a team effort to care for and find homes for the horses in our care. The more individuals that handle and work with a horse the better chance they have of getting adopted.

NN: Can you give me an idea of your experience prior to coming to the MSSPA?

JG: My horse experience started with my mother riding while pregnant and lead to my entire life having horses in it. From the backyard shows to high level competition, the horses I’ve worked and trained with always made me feel as I was helping improve the animals’ abilities and lives.

After receiving a degree from the University of New Hampshire and working in the university’s horse program, I went on to managing horse facilities in New Hampshire, California, and Maryland. The facilities I managed varied in riding disciplines from dressage, hunter/jumper, Western pleasure.

Through all the horses I’ve cared for I’ve learned each animal is different and reacts differently to handling and training methods. I believe this is why the MSSPA is the place I should be. All the animals coming here get a fresh chance to have a better life and live to their full potential. With a little help from some caring humans, these animals get everything they need to make it to a new loving home.

img_2827NN: Do you have your own horses?

JG: Currently, I have no horses at home, although I do have two dogs, one cat, several chickens and geese.
I have 47 horses here at the MSSPA.  I may not own them, but I’m responsible for their care and well-being. I can tell you every name and each one has its own character. From Roger, the pony, with his 17-hand Warmblood attitude, to Feugo, the tough guy who just loves to be scratched on his withers.

There is not another job that I’d rather be doing.

Check out the MSSPA Adoption Pages.

Congrats and Partner Welcomes!

Congratulations to Kelly from North Carolina!

She’s the winner of our Custom Leggings contest, sponsored by Fringe Western Wear and Leather Work, a Canadian business owned by Kathy Threlfall.

od_granola_pouch_quinoa_cacao_v2_web_prod_lAnd while we’re giving props to our friends north of the border, check out One Degree Organic Foods. They produce super yummy foods and you can track ever single ingredient of every item right to its source. Pretty nifty. Their salt comes from our partners Redmond Mineral in Utah.

Stay tuned for a new Remuda Reader contest in November. We’ll give away One Degree’s new Sprouted Oat Granola and Redmond salt. Details to follow.

Meet our new and renewing advertising partners:

Darn Tough, the popular Vermont sock company, has come on board as an advertiser and a charter sponsor of the BestHorsePractices Summit.

Welcome Darn Tough!1833_majesty

We’re happy that Darn Tough is one of those special companies that recognizes the hard-working, outdoors-y horse community. They have socks to fit every horse outing, even fun cowgirl designs, like the Belle Star, inspired by a Western boot.

You’ll find even their mid-height socks like the Summit Stripe stay put. No slipping down past your heal, just all day comfort.

Steve Akeley continues to serve Maine and beyond with his equine dentistry practice. Akeley is a mindful guy who always takes as much time as each horse (or mule or donkey) needs. He invests in continuing education, too,

Photo by Kathy McCarty/Presque Isle Star-Herald Steven Akeley, a licensed equine dentist, demonstrates on his horse, Tori, what to look for when checking a horse for problems, during a visit last month to the Northern Maine Fair in Presque Isle. Akeley, formerly of Presque Isle, now resides in Damariscotta but travels the state performing dental work on horses.

Photo by Kathy McCarty/Presque Isle Star-Herald

heading down to Oklahoma every year for regular recertification.

Dr. Petra Sullwold brings her chiropractic care to the pages of NickerNews and BestHorsePractices.

Welcome Dr. Sullwold!

Sullwold is even treating Jolene, a challenging mule and one of the NickerNews herd members. You can read more about this next week. Sullwold is certified by the International Veterinary Chiropractic Association. We love that Sullwold enjoys praise_main_picbolstering her work with current research. Indeed, her website lists scores of research pages. Read more here.

Fall Riding Favorites

IMG_6163Autumn is the optimal season for riding. Kids are back in school. Bugs are nearly gone. Foliage is beautiful and falling (which makes visibility better). Riders and horses are likely in the best shape of the year.

It’s also a great time to remind readers of some of our favorite items for the trail.

In the saddlebag:

An Adventure Medical first aid kit. The New Hampshire–based company makes perfect tiny kits that fit anywhere. Also consider their bigger, more comprehensive

Few folks ever regret taking a 1st aid kit.

Few folks ever regret taking a 1st aid kit.

kits. Our favorite? Me and My Workin’ Dog kit.

A Gerber camp saw or folding saw. Both are great for taking care of deadfall and taking care of smaller trees that stand in the way of a good time and clear sailing. We like the Myth folding saw and the Freescape camp saw.

Kate’s Real Food trail snacks. The yummiest in the b22554681c_largestbar category. Kate’s have seeds, nuts, honey, oats, and chocolate. All good. All the time. Our favorite is the Grizzly Bar, with peanut butter, dark chocolate, and nine grams of protein.

EcoLips lip balm. This Iowa company makes organic lip balm with simple and edible ingredients. That’s right: you could eat your EcoLips lip balm if you really wanted to (or had to). Create your own custom lip balms here.

dsc02170Patagonia’s Alpine Houdini will take up less space than a banana and will keep you invaluably dry if you get caught in the rain. Read review here.

On You:

Kimes Ranch Jeans fit great, don’t ride up, and have seams that will not rub you when you’re in the saddle. Read review of the Francesca jean here and Betty jean here.

Darn Tough, a charter sponsor of the BestHorsePractices Summit, makes some of the best socks on the planet. Their Merino wool socks keep you warm on cold days and cool on hot ones. Read this testimonial from a Darn Tough convert.

bengal-back-flaps_30e8c0b3-8398-4d1b-a006-030993a9f8c8_1024x1024Cotopaxi is a new Utah company with some great items for riders. Check out their Barn Coat (a favorite of the NickerNews team), the Kusa jacket (with llama fibers for warmth) and the Altiplano vest. A percentage of every purchase goes to help projects in developing countries.

Fringe leggings. Kathy Threlfall is a pro at crafting beautiful chinks, chaps, and armitas. Each pair is made for your custom fit – from fringe length to special tooling. You can qualify to win a free pair of Fringe leggings. Click here.

leek3Kershaw knives. The Onion series of knives from this Oregon company is hands-down the best line of knives for horse owners. We feel horse owners and riders should always, always, always carry a knife. The Leek and Chive are especially attractive for us ladies; they are strong, easy to handle, and have sleek, unobtrusive styling. Read review.

Readers tells us Ariats are their favs. Read our review of the Vaquera here and the Monaco Zip Paddock Boot here.

On Your Horse:

Knotty Girlz gear. The Washington company knows rope and knows rope halters and lines. Owned by Robyn D , Knotty Girlz

Eye splice is simple & elegant

Eye splice is simple & elegant

has an outstanding selection of halters, ropes, mecate reins, and more. You can outfit your equine in dazzling or conservative colors. Each one feels wonderful in your hands. Read more here.


Kathy Threlfall, Fringe Leatherwork

5 Star Pads. We’ve been using 5 Star pads for many years and our horses have never had a single sore. Heck, Ben Masters and his team traveled from the Mexican to the Canadian border using 5 Star pads and never had any rubs or soring. Hard to beat. All pads are made in Hatfield, Arkansas. Check ’em out.

Outfitters Supply. If you need any item for the trail, chances are this Columbia Falls, Montana company has it. We particularly love the Calvalry saddle bags (handmade in Montana) and the saddle bags for English saddles.

Trailering? Consider these tips from our partner, Bobby Fantarella at Elm City Trailer. He weighs in here, too. And give your horses hay in the best slow-feeder Hay Pillow, on the ground or secured in a trailer.

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