Twice is Nice for Baling Twine

Consider all our horses and the millions of hay bales we toss to them every year.

Consider all that baling twine:

  • Do you toss it?
  • Do you burn it?
  • Do you bury it?

Until recently, there were no good answers to the twine waste problem.

But the Four Corners Backcountry Horsemen club is starting to collect the twine for recycling. As soon as it has enough, the club will ship it off and may earn as much as five thousand dollars for its efforts.

Christopher Smyth is organizing the recycling effort in the Durango, Colorado area. He first heard of it from Emma Van Dyck, who developed it as a 4H project a few years ago. Read more about that here and watch video.

As far as these folks know, just one American plant recycles twine: the I 90 Processing plant in Albert Lea, Minnesota. The company makes new twine from the used product. Currently, only a handful of communities are taking advantage of the program.

Certainly, there are challenges. For starters, you need A LOT of twine to make shipment to Minnesota worthwhile. Smyth says the club is aiming to collect 40,000-45,000 pounds of twine over a few years.

Next, you need a place to store it.

Valley Feed and Ranch Supplies in Bayfield, Colorado, has stepped in to provide space.

Smyth said the club is now looking for a container to place on site in Bayfield. Additional plans will be made to have collections elsewhere in southwestern Colorado.

“You have to be pretty proactive,” said Smyth of the program and its challenges. But it’s a worthwhile endeavor, he said. “Some people burn it. When it’s left outside, some birds can use it for nesting and become tangled in it.”

We all know there is plenty of twine out there. Smyth said his club plans on inviting neighboring Backcountry Horseman clubs to join in the collection. For more information, email Smyth at smyth.christopher@gmail.com

We think it’s a great project. Kudos!

Check out twine recycling opportunities here.

Quick End for Beloved Belle

Since many of us count animals as companions and friends, and since many of us have dogs, please Dear Reader, allow me to remember Belle and recount how she died this week.

Photo by Beau Gaughran

You may recall her in another piece here. The Basset hound mutt with a yard-long body and short legs even made it into A Rider’s Reader. Notable as an independent spirit, Belle was her own dog.

On New Year’s Eve, as the day was fading into evening, Belle joined the rest of us on a walk down the road. The road is gravel, four miles long, and follows a north-south canyon with steep ridges on each side. Only eight homes have full time residents. It’s quiet, beautiful, and bordered by undeveloped public and private lands.

When we turned for home, it didn’t surprise or bother me that Belle wasn’t with us. She has a history of civil disobedience and I have loved her through gritted teeth. After all, she’s a hound and her nose demands far more attention than my calls ever did. In her 12-year old form, she’d also become a dawdler. She’d come home in due course. She’d stand at the door, give me that high-toned woof, and be let in. It happened every day, several times a day.

After an hour, though, we grew concerned. With my son, Cormick (home on college break), and dogs, I headed back out, into the dark and snow. We retraced our steps and took long detours into the juniper and scrub oak, using headlamps and calling her name. We followed the dogs as they picked up scents and dropped them. We listened.

Belle as a younger dog

Over the last week, Belle had been rejuvenated by short-but-sweet visits from my three sons. She loved them and they loved her. Aside from me, she was the only being who’d journeyed these 12 years with them. They shared histories of porcupine and skunk run-ins, humid Maine summers by the ocean, long wilderness treks, and long cross-country road trips. While less than obedient in the field, Belle was an in-house ham. She would sit, stay, lie down, and roll over, often in rapid succession. She would bark loudly or “air bark” depending on the request.

When I’d last seen her, she was bounding like a puppy, big ears flapping. She’d caught a scent and was following it with obvious glee.

As the calendar turned from last year to this year, I tromped through brush and snow with a fading headlamp.

Could she have fallen into a drainage?

Could she have tussled with coyotes?

I checked the shallow ravines and watched for any sign of struggle. (Productively following her tracks was nearly impossible with our other dogs in the mix.) We searched by truck, too, covering the length of the road with high beams, stopping to call and to listen.

In the morning, I got horseback and rode the fields, checking streams and peering into the timber for any signs. The challenge of searching miles of snow-patched ground for a snow-and-dirt colored dog struck hard. I started thinking about closure, the need to know, and how I might never know.

In the early afternoon, I headed out again. The falling snow made it too wet for a saddle, so I fitted Shea with a towel and bareback pad. Checking drainages, ditches, and scrub oak crannies, we worked our way up the ridge from where I’d last seen her.

The search had become something of a mind game. In the face of needle-in-haystack odds, methodologies of reason and intuition blend like chocolate syrup and milk. Doubt and determination ebb and flow.

The dogs, horse, and I continued to climb. Four years ago, a wildfire moved through the canyon. Scads of standing, charred trees remain. My white chinks streaked black.

We paused along the side of the ridge and I looked south across miles of country. Had the dogs not gathered to inspect, I might have missed her body, perfectly inconspicuous 15 feet down the hill. Belle looked asleep and almost unharmed save some blood on her side and her head.

Had she been shot?

Did she hurt herself and then die of exposure?

I took the towel from Shea’s back, wrapped her in it, and with Cormick’s help, carried her home, placed her in the bed of the truck, and studied her body. I called some ranching friends. Belle had rough puncture wounds above one eye and under her jaw. It appeared that her neck had been broken.

From all indications, I learned, this was a mountain lion kill. It had been quick and not motivated by hunger but more likely by aggravation. Belle pursued it and the cat had disposed of her. The image at right was taken by my friend a few miles away, earlier this year.

I’ve trained my dogs not to chase game, especially in the winter. They often wear electronic collars so if necessary they can be reminded with a tone or vibration that they must not bother the wildlife. Belle, I’d figured, didn’t need a collar. She’d grown too old and slow to be a threat. Most recently, she seemed to enjoy watching her buddies do all the running and playing.

A mountain lion after a deer kill, a mile from our home. photo by Cecil Thurman

I don’t harbor any ill will towards the cat. (Though that might change if it gets a taste for domestic dog.) It was doing what cats do. Belle was being Belle. Living here requires a balance of considerations: respectful coexistence whenever possible. Mostly, I think us humans get it wrong. William Kittredge wrote about land ownership and stewardship as he reflected on the unwitting havoc his family wreaked on thousands of acres in southern Oregon. His people never owned the land “not in any significant way,” he wrote in Hole in the Sky: A Memoir. We’re all just passing through.

It took a while to dig through the frozen ground and shovel deep enough to discourage coyotes from rooting out her body. We buried her on a knoll above the house, under a tree. It was a spot Belle often chose to survey the neighborhood. I think the old explorer might have approved.

Photo by Beau Gaughran

English Meets Western in a Jean


Like a lot of you, riding makes up just a fraction of my horse time. There’s all that farm and ranch work that supports the habit – mending fence, hauling hay and water, moving horses, reseeding pasture, repeat. Jeans are what we wear. No other pants can survive our lifestyle. We like them tough, comfortable, and pretty.

As a Western rider, I wear jeans outside my boots. English riders, on the other hand, wear stretchy breeches or jeans. They wear them inside their boots.

— What if a new jean satisfied all these rider and ranch requirements for English and Western riders alike?

— What if this new jean also made you feel good about not neglecting the earth or the folks making the jeans?

This year, Patagonia answered the call with a stretchy, tough, super comfortable jean. It’s the Patagonia Straight Jean, available for men and women in short, regular, and long lengths.

What took the company so long?

The cuff snugs over boots and doesn’t ride up.

If you’re like me, you didn’t realize the denim industry is rife with abuse. From the cotton fields to the garment manufacturing, it’s a business that has historically treated the planet and the people poorly. Up to now, Patagonia chose not to engage with standard denim practices and production. Instead, it took time to research how to make a jeans purchase you could sleep with (and in).

Watch this video.

Next, Patagonia needed to get the word out about their new, standard-busting product. Who best to review the jeans?

Forget about rock climbers, hikers, surfers or sailors. Forget about urbanites or backcountry wannabes. If you really want to test the worthiness of a pair of jeans, give them to horse owners.

This horse owner wore them on and off horses. In rain and snow. Over many miles of back country and front country living. These dark indigo jeans, 71 percent cotton and 29 percent Coolmax polyester, held up marvelously, even with the jean-trashing task of haying.

I thought I didn’t like any stretch in my jeans. All cotton or forget-about-it. But these jeans converted me. With Patagonia jeans there is:

No more hitching up my pants before stepping up into the saddle.

No more wearing a size bigger for riding and a size smaller for going to town.

The deep indigo color means they will look sharp for years. Their comfort will keep them on the top of my jeans pile, ready for the next wearing. Their durability and versatility means they will stay on, from barn to trail to town to night-on-the-town.

When things got muddy, they tucked into rubber boots with no fuss. Otherwise, they wore well outside of my cowboy boots. In fact, their stretch and narrower-than-boot cut line meant that they did not inch up when we rode fast (loping and galloping), but the leg snugness may not suit every one or every pair of boots. They have all the features you’d want in a horsewoman’s jean, except maybe the rhinestone bling.

Rhinestone bling? Ew.

Rhinestone Bling? No, thanks!

Favorite Reads of 2016

We asked a few contributors for their favorite reads of 2016. Here’s what they picked:

Emily Luciano, occasional guest columnist and director of Lucky Dee Communications

Emily Thomas Luciano

Less is More

Feel Defined

Amy Skinner on Self Carriage

Amy Skinner on Guiding

WiseAssWallace on Gear

Amy Skinner, frequent guest columnist and owner of Essence Horsemanship

Wise Ass Wallace videos

Focus on Fitness articles

Amy Skinner

Katrin Silva’s feature on contact

Use Mental not Mechanical Gear

Creating Self Confidence in your Horse

Julie Kenney, Focus on Fitness guest columnist

Amy Skinner on Education versus Learning

Julie Kenney

Katrin Silva’s feature on contact

Wise Ass Wallace videos

Amy Skinner’s Drop Rotten Routines article

Amy Skinner’s Pitfalls of Training article

Dr. Steve Peters, author Evidence-Based Horsemanship and occasional guest columnist:

The Case for Cowboys

Steve Peters

Greed in Full View

Mustang Emergency and How We Got Here

Julie Kenney’s Focus on Fitness

Another Call against Cross Ties

Creating Self Confidence in your Horse

Wise Ass Wallace

Stay in the Flow, by Shelley Appleton

NCPG Welcomes The Moth

The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, the granddaddy of gatherings, continues to evolve in its 33rd rendition, taking place in Elko, Nevada, January 30-February 4, 2017.

For the first time, the event will highlight an evening with The Moth, a New York City-based organization and a premier storytelling operation.

What is a storytelling operation?

We’ve come a long way from the campfire, folks.

Storytelling has entered an entirely new domain, where first-person narratives are rehearsed, produced with music, uploaded into podcasts and appreciated by millions of strangers. The Moth was one of the first to give amateur storytellers a broader audience, complete with radio and Internet treatment. Moth parameters are simple: stories must be true, short (usually 10-minutes or less), and told in the first person. While snark and sarcasm are often the most popular sentiments in entertainment nowadays, the Moth offers listeners refreshing options: compassion, sincerity, and vulnerability.

It will be interesting to see how the New York outfit meshes with the cowboy poets of the West. Maggie Cino, Moth director of the Saturday night show, has been researching the NCPG and reviewing storyteller options. She said she was excited to highlight the cowboy way of life and those individuals’ literary and artistic passions.

“Our way of working is to find the common interest among the storytellers, but to also showcase them as individuals,” she said in a phone interview from Los Angeles.

For the Gathering’s executive director, David Roche, the Moth production is another way for the NCPG to flex and grow.

“At the core is cowboy poetry, stringing words together. The next layer is oral literature in general. We’re interested in expanding to incorporate contemporary Western literature and ethnic and occupational diversity.”

In the past, Western Folklife (the non-profit running the NCPG) has invited cowboys from Italy, Mongolia, and the Baja California peninsula of Mexico, for example. This year’s offerings include workshops, open mic sessions, teen poetry, films, and a keynote address by poet and songwriter Andy Wilkinson. It’s an incredible, week-long celebration of cowboy culture, history, humor, and handy work.

Make no mistake, Elko will still celebrate its veteran performers – the likes of Joel Nelson, Randy Rieman, Paul Zarzyski and many others are still on the bill. But other stellar reciters have “aged out,” said Roche.

“Our idea is to refresh and regenerate,” he said. “We’re all about taking risks and trying new things.”

Check out the event here.

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