Best Gift Guide for Horse Owners

Free bumper sticker!

Oh, the joys of the holiday season and gift-giving!

At Cayuse Communications, we aim to ease gift-buying challenges by focusing on items of high quality and worthy to your horse work and riding experiences. We focus on what might make your lives with horses better. The horses? Frankly, we think they’ll benefit from more from a happy you, than stuff for them.

Read our op-ed: Horses want fewer gifts, better care.

This year, we’re categorizing our recommendations by price and need. We feature everything from inexpensive stocking stuffers to dream purchases for which you might have to secure a small loan. We have suggestions for travel, education, gear and barn improvements, too.

Enjoy our annual gift guide…

Stocking Stuffers:

Skidmore’s Leather Cream – treat your boots, saddle, headstall, etc. with Skidmore’s to extend life and keep them looking good. Smells great.

Darn Tough socks – warm, yummy, and guaranteed for life.

Hestra Gloves – work gloves from 80-year old Swedish company (review coming in January). Work gloves here. Play gloves (more expensive) here. 

EcoLips lip balm – so good you could eat it!

Nicker More, Buck Less bumperstickers – FREE when you order A Rider’s Reader.

Under the Tree, under $100:

Knotty Girlz halters and leads – lots of top quality choices from this woman-owned, Washington state company.

Outfitters Supply – this Montana company has great saddle bags of canvas, nylon, and leather varieties. Check out their wide selection of pack gear and beautiful Jeremiah Watt spurs, too.

Kimes Ranch jeans – made in America. Look for discount when/if you sign up for their newsletter. Read review.

Kershaw knives – check out the Leek with half-serrated blade. Still our favorite knife for horse folks. Read review. 

Duckworth Vapor T

Duckworth tops – this Montana company walks the walk when it comes to Made in America. They go from Sheep to Shelf. We like their Vapor T (review here) and look forward to checking our their Comet Tunnel Hood (review coming in January.

Under the Tree, over $100:

CR Ranchwear shirts – Can a simple, stylish shirt morph you from slob-to-sophisticate? Yes, yes, it can. Read Maddy’s review here. Read Amy’s review here.

Custom Leggings from Fringe Western Wear and Leatherwork – Kathleen Gerwatoski has been crafting perfect leggings (armitas, chicks, chaps) for years from her ranch in Canada. (Review of chocolate brown, shotgun armitas with Jeremiah Watt buckle and conchos coming in January)

WorkWear by Patagonia

Outerwear for cool, not cold weather:

We love the Patagonia WorkWear Barn Coat, made with hemp (reviewed here) and Tin Shed Jacket (review coming in January) and the Bivy jacket with recycled down (reviewed here).

Outerwear for colder climes:

Check out the LL Bean Baxter State Parka (review coming in January)

Olathe Boots – made in Texas, these boots look great and wear great. Read review here.

Not Under the Tree, well-worth the price tag:

Western Sky Saddlery has renowned customer service and an impressive selection of saddles, most with Wade trees. Check them out here.

Gifts of Knowledge and Exploration:

A Rider’s Reader: Exploring Horse Sense, Science & Sentiment. By Maddy Butcher

Order here and get a free bumper sticker.

Evidence-Based Horsemanship. By Dr. Steve Peters and Martin Black. Order here.

Check out the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, an annual mind-expanding event with so much to offer. Concerts, poetry recitations, workshops, museum and trade events, and lots more for a week in Elko, Nevada.

Mark your calendars! The next Best Horse Practices Summit is October 7-9 in Durango. We will look forward to seeing you there! (Details coming in early 2018).

Read our op-ed: Horses want fewer gifts, better care.

Tough Filipino Horses Need Your Help

Giving Thursday!

Support International Veterinary Outreach here.

Utah horse vet Dr. Kate Schoenhals sent this report from the Philippines where she worked with the International Veterinary Outreach:

We did our first two trips this year and our hoping to continue building and developing over the next few years. 

I’m headed back in March, 2018.

Photo by Kim Ruelo

These are the saltiest toughest horses I’ve ever come across! They are dead broke to ride but completely confused if you try to brush them, pick up their feet, put a weight tape around their chest. It’s a whole different relationship than our American horses. You’d find it fascinating to interact with them, I’m sure.

When the horses don’t want to participate in a physical exam or injection, their owners first answer is to jump on their back (and sometimes double ear twitch – trying to lessen this habit). I’d could go on and on…

Thank you and your readers for your support. 

Support International Veterinary Outreach here.

Photo by Kim Ruelo

Cherry Picking Optimizes My Riding Experience

Editor’s Note: We hear this week from Nancy Lowery of Calgary, Alberta. Lowery has been blogging about her Leadership Learning through Horsemanship Experiences for more than a decade. A recent interview series began as “One Foot in the Arena” to explore what Calgary leaders have learned through their relationships with horses.

Lowery writes:

I love horses, riding, and the comfort of my Western saddle. For winter riding, shotgun chaps are perfect. But that’s about where my love affair with the Old West ends. I guess you could say I’m a ‘metro cowboy’ as my wardrobe is outdoor technical and I choose ball caps over brims.

I don’t listen to country music, cowboy poetry, or go to the rodeo. It just seems to rob me of time I’d rather spend riding. I don’t compete. For me, riding has no end game; it’s all process.

With all that cherry-picking, how do I fit into a culture that seems to attract a certain religiosity, a certain uniformity?

Go to any Western horse event and you’ll see spectators dressed like they stepped out of a fashionable 1880’s scene. If the guys walked downtown in any big city dressed like that, it wouldn’t be girls hitting on them. The strangest sight to me: straw cowboy hats worn in the middle of winter. (In the summer, I find that chaps are too hot.)

I have been to events where the emphasis on wardrobe seems to take precedence over horsemanship. My first run-in with the perfectly attired was at a Ray Hunt clinic. Ray said ‘Stop your horses,’ so, I did. This well-dressed rider plowed into the back end of my mare. Needless to say, my mare wasn’t comfortable and I wasn’t impressed to learn that the rider and her husband spent the rest of the clinic warning everyone to stay away from us.

On Day Three, when the gentleman asked Ray to talk about soft feel, Ray replied “If you haven’t been listening these past three days, there is no point me repeating it now.” Ah, Karma.

My goal is to develop a bridle horse and I will consider myself lucky if end up with a pretty good snaffle bit horse. I have shelves full of books on lightness, dressage, bridle horses, and traditional Vaquero style riding. I attend clinics when I can and I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about the connections between what I offer and what the horse understands. I now see the accuracy of the statement: “The first horse you start will be the worst job you ever do.”

I admit there was a time I wished to be included. At one clinic, I was invited to the ‘circle’ at the end of the day. It was not what I’d expected; when people ran out of shared clinic experiences there was an uncomfortable silence. It seems the only topics allowed are ones in common and agreed on. Politics, religion, the environment – all topics of importance to me – were out. When I brought up a recent event, I was told “this is not the place to talk about that.”

I’ve reached a point in my life where I brace against compliance simply for the sake of it. I care less about what others think and more about what my horses tell me. If we are brave enough to get away from mindless compliance, horses can bring out our creativity. I am endlessly curious about what will engage a horse. The more curious I am, the more creative I become.

I’ve gained some wisdom over the years along with quite a few bruises and trips to the emergency room. It isn’t about fitting in to a crowd as much as being comfortable in what I know and how my horses respond to me. How I do something might not comply with someone else’s approach, but my priority is being consistent with the horse.

So, yes, nowadays I cherry pick my moments, my engagements, and with whom I hang out with. I gravitate to people who inspire me, challenge me, and are willing to engage in meaningful conversations and ask great questions.

My life and my business focus on those connections. I’ve come along way since I started and I’ve had some amazing teachers along the way, horse and human.

Horsemanship and leadership are journeys that require endless curiosity, care, and concern. That same curiosity and concern apply to everything and everyone in my life. I believe I’ll continue to cherry pick.

Why Net Neutrality Matters to you and me

Thanks to the folks at On Pasture for reminding us that the recent developments in Washington D.C. impact folks like you.

The prospect of Net Neutrality going away, something the head of the Federal Communications Commission indicated would happen soon, is scary to folks like us at Cayuse Communications, a small business that educates and helps horse owners all around the world.

Writes Kathy and Rachel at On Pasture:

Thanks to Net Neutrality it’s easy to shop and find information on the internet. Net Neutrality is the principle that Internet Service Providers (ISP) must enable equal access to all content and applications regardless of the source, without

NickerNews is a site of Cayuse Communications

favoring or blocking particular products or websites. Without it, Internet Service Providers could charge users more to see certain content and to curb access to some websites, creating a “fast lane” and “slow lane” for the internet. Websites, like On Pasture for example, could be charged for faster connections, and costs like that would either shut down some sites, or be passed on to users, like you, who really can’t afford to pay either. (For more, here’s a Forbes article on what repealing net neutrality could mean to all of us.)

Recent polls show that three-quarters of Americans support net neutrality because they like to control for themselves what they see and read and where they shop on the Internet. It’s even one of those rare issues where we don’t

BestHorsePractices is a site of Cayuse Communications

divide along party lines: 73% of Republicans and 81% of Democrats are in favor of net neutrality. Nevertheless, when the Federal Communications Commissioners meet on December 14, they are expected to vote to end it.

If you’d like to have a say in how they vote on your behalf, here are their email addresses:

Ajit Pai, Chairman. Ajit.Pai@fcc.gov
Mignon Clyburn, Commissioner. Mignon.Clyburn@fcc.gov
Michael O’Rielly, Commissioner. Mike.O’Rielly@fcc.gov
Brendan Carr, Commissioner. Brendan.Carr@fcc.gov
Jessica Rosenworcel, Commissioner. Jessica.Rosenworcel@fcc.gov

So, happy gift giving and pardon our foray into politics. We just want to be sure we can be here for you well into the future.

Thanks for reading!

Kathy and Rachel

A Glamorous Hoodie for Horsewomen

Toad&Co. first caught got my attention with its message, not its clothing. I heard CEO Gordon Seabury speak several times at the Industry Breakfast of the Outdoor Retailer; he was smart, inspiring and made a good argument for outdoor recreation companies uniting to fight for public lands, getting people outside, and sustainability.

Like Patagonia, Toad&Co. (formerly Horny Toad, founded by Jessica Nordhaus in Telluride, Colorado about 25 years ago) commits to being pretty transparent about its production stream and contributes meaningfully to social and environmental progress.

Like Cotopaxi, it’s a company that’s easy to like on just principle alone.

Would a Toad&Co. hoodie also inspire?

Enter the Wildwood Sherpa Hoodie in delicious brown.

Brown?

A friend once insisted it was a dreadful color.

But I’d like to suggest that brown – especially this beautiful blend of three subtle, textured shades in the Sherpa Hoodie – is quite lovely. Let brown be the new black. (For you doubters, it also comes in interesting colorblocks of blue, whites, and greys.)

The zip-up hoodie is a repurposed wool blend, crafted in Italy. The wool is processed “using mechanical, not chemical, means and blended with polyester for softness and nylon for strength” according to the garment details.

Remember those tough, utilitarian, and decidedly unflattering pullover sweaters of a generation ago? They weren’t pretty, but they kept you warm and stood up to work.

The Sherpa Hoodie is warm, tough, and pretty.

Details to appreciate:

  • The zipper is not too big, not too small, and has a Toad tab to make it easy to operate with gloves on.
  • The front opening and pockets are trimmed with fine corduroy which feels good and gives the casual sweater a fine finished look.
  • The wool blend means that it breaths better than polyester fleece equivalents and handles multiple wearings without collecting body odor.

Function and practicality are musts for us horsewomen: this hoodie is a practical piece. Toad&Co.likes to label this priority Trail to Tavern but it could just as easily be Horse to Hoedown or Paddock to Party.

One more nice touch from the company, its guarantee: “If you don’t get a compliment within three wearings or if you find something wrong with your garment, we’ll take it back and make it right.”

Nifty zipper and trim details

10 Minutes Well Spent

This week, we hear from Julie Kenney, an incoming member of the Best Horse Practices Summit steering committee. She lives and rides in Harpswell, Maine.

Read her Focus on Fitness articles here. 

By Julie Kenney

Recently, I read an Eclectic Horseman article titled “The Ten-Minute Horseman.” It certainly seemed appropriate given the shorter days we are all now experiencing. My horses are on outside turnout all the time, except when they are brought in the barn during nasty storms. Lately, ten minutes may be all I can spend with them beyond feeding hay, tending to water, and removing manure.

In the evenings, I like to start early enough to get chores done before it is completely dark out. Sometimes, though, I’m running late or we have cloudy, drizzly, snowy skies which brings on the dark earlier.

Ten minutes:

  • To talk quietly with my horses.
  • To look them over or rub them where they aren’t covered in mud.

I ask myself:

  • Are the horses looking relaxed and content?
  • Are they moving around without indication of pain or soreness?
  • How are their winter coats coming in?
  • Are they maintaining, or even adding, weight for the winter?
  • Is the herd hierarchy the same? Changes in hierarchy are a sure sign one of them isn’t feeling well, especially in the Northeast where Lyme Disease is so prevalent.

Ten minutes is enough time to get a handle on herd health. It’s certainly nice to spend more time, but when daylight wanes and the cold wind is blowing, ten minutes is enough. Don’t beat yourself up if you cannot be out there longer. Just make your minutes count.

  • Ask yourself if you are leaving your horse better or worse off at the end of that short time.
  • Are you talking softly or hollering at your horse?
  • Are they moving out of your space or impolitely crowding you?
  • Do they stay soft and relaxed in your presence or are they uptight and on-guard?

If you find that the time spent is stressful, then set aside some time during the brighter, warmer part of the day for some groundwork:

  • With a halter on, ask them to move their feet in all directions.
  • Ask them to release any tension in their head and neck by giving to light pressure.
  • See if you can have them respond to the lightest pressure possible to get a correct response to your question.

Eli

My main riding horse, Eli, was recently diagnosed with Lyme Disease. He started taking almost imperceptibly shorter strides with his front end. Now that he’s been on medication for a week, I wanted to check if his shoulders and front legs were indicating continued pain. I put him in a halter with an eight-foot lead and asked him for a balanced walk and then a trot. I was pleased to see he was moving nicely with an even cadence front and back. Because it was 15 degrees with a wind chill, I kept the session short.

After I took off his halter, he stood there hanging out with me. I gave him a rub, then asked him to soften his head left and right with his feet still. I asked him to move his front end away from me, crossing his outside front foot in front of his inside front foot.

After he moved correctly, I asked him to back up with my fingertips gently touching his chest. I rewarded his correct answers with an immediate release of pressure and a soft rub on the neck. Next, I asked him to follow me and to then stop his feet and back up a step, so there was no crowding. He accomplished all of this calmly, quietly, gently, and correctly in about five minutes, with no halter.

If you have worked with your horse and he knows the correct answers to your clear questions, ten minutes is enough time to connect. If you encounter resistance, be sure you are allowing enough time for him to find a correct answer. You are training your horse every second you are in his presence. Be aware and conscious of his answers.

Then again, some of my favorite horse times are when it gets so far past sunset that the sky turns black. I love to sit and listen to my herd.

Jeanette’s Journey Part III: Death Valley Home Stretch

Editor’s Note:  In the third installment of a multi-part series, we hear from Jeanette Hayhurst, a long-time and avid horsewoman from Barstow, California. Like many of us, she has continued to connect with horses, even when her age and physical limitations kept her from doing a lot of riding. Kudos, Jeanette!

She writes of her transition from riding to driving and owning a miniature horse. This month, she will participate in her second Death Valley drive with two miniature horses.

Enjoy this multi-part series.

Read Part I

Read Part II

By Jeanette Hayhurst

That night I joined the corral group for their meeting and pot luck dinner. They opened the sign-ups for the Death Valley drive. After seeing how well Danny did that day, I was confident he could handle it.

Haflingers in a 3-up.

Corral 14 had permission from the Park Service to bring up to 13 wagons as well as outriders. In order to secure my place I signed up and paid my money that night. Since Danny and I drove at the back of the wagon train I didn’t get to talk to the people in the other wagons during the day. At the meeting, I learned Danny and I were a topic of conversation since there were a few that had doubts about how a mini horse would do on the drive.   But Danny impressed them and that day they nick-named him the “Chihuahua.” Later, I found out that Corral 14 was originally a Shetland Pony Club and it was Shetland Ponies that were used on the Club’s first Death Valley wagon drive back in the 1960’s.

We were committed. I continued to drive and condition Danny for Death Valley which was less than two months away. By this time I had decided that eventually I wanted to drive a pair and I had bought a second mini. (This new one wasn’t trained to drive, but that’s another story.)

I knew I would need a four-wheeled cart if I was going to drive a pair, so I went ahead and ordered one. I did my research and ended up buying an “entry level” wagonette. It arrived a few weeks before Death Valley.   The new wagon was only about 75 pounds heavier than my cart. Because it had four wheels it wouldn’t put weight on Danny’s back and it certainly would be more comfortable for me, so I thought maybe I would take it instead. I hooked Danny up to the wagonette and we started practicing with it. It had brakes which slows the vehicle when going down hill but they were pretty easy to figure out. After a few test runs I decided to take the wagonette to Death Valley.

Unpacking the new wagonette

The home stretch.

Since you can’t take hay into Death Valley I needed to make sure Danny would eat pellets. Everyone suggested soaking them to help keep him hydrated and avoid colic. I discovered that the “certified weed free pellets” that you are required to use quickly turn to mush when you add water, but Danny didn’t seem to mind and slurped them right up.

It was time to pack for trip. We would be gone a total of eight days. I had lists for everything. All my feed and personal stuff would be placed in the support truck so I had to limit what I took. The wagons all hauled their own bedding, clothes, and food. The outriders and I couldn’t haul our own stuff so it all went in the support truck.

They did encourage me to bring my guitar so that was my bonus item. The weather was pretty warm, but I heard that the year before it was so cold that the horses’ water buckets froze at night. I brought layers of clothes and a heavy jacket, just in case. Danny was starting to get his winter coat but I decided against shaving him in case it got cold.

Practicing with her new four-wheel wagonette

There were four of us ladies going from Barstow including me, two outriders and one support truck driver. Between us we also brought a camp stove, cooking utensils, cases of drinking water, and food for the week.   And just in case one of the horses got sick, we also had about every horse drug and remedy we could possibly need.

The time had come.

I was about to find out if I had prepared myself and my little horse for a five-day, 60-mile wagon train trip through Death Valley!

Read Part I

Read Part II

Welcome Joy Rides!

Trish Lemke

Editor’s Note: Trish Lemke is the owner-operator of Joy Rides, a Durango, Colorado company offering adventure horse travel and retreats. (If you attended the Best Horse Practices Summit, you may have met Trish. She was one of our warm, vibrant, and helpful volunteers.)

In the coming months, Joy Rides is offering horse-filled and culture-imbued excursions in Costa Rica, Spain, and Tuscany. Check out her adventure travel offerings here. 

Lemke is a certified Equine Interactional Professional in Education and a certified Martha Beck Life Coach.

Welcome to the Cayuse Communications family, Trish and Joy Rides!

Trish Lemke writes:

For so many years I subscribed to catalogs and horse publications that promoted weeklong travel trips on horseback to beautiful and exotic locations. I always wanted to be part of those trips:

  • Walking through ancient villages on horseback
  • Hearing their hooves echo along the stone walls and cobblestone streets
  • Feeling the spray of water as I galloped along the Mediterranean coast
  • Giving my horse a break near a local pub while I relished in local foods and drinks
  • Sharing stories and adventures with new friends and learning about the horse culture in other countries.

It all sounded so magical.

But I never did sign up. I’d led horse trips and trail rides for years and I had learned from a couple of the best horsewoman around. I knew how tours should be done. When I went on a couple of less-than-ideal day rides in other countries, it put some big questions in my mind about international horse travel. I felt uncomfortable going out for a whole week with a tour company that I didn’t know. And I didn’t know how they treated their horses.

  • Were the horses well cared for?
  • Were they safe?
  • Was the tack safe?
  • Were the guides experienced?

I didn’t know about putting myself in a situation with a large group of people who I didn’t know and with whom I’d be spending so much time. I wasn’t interested in nose-to-tail riding for a week.

So, I started my own horse travel business and created exactly the trips that I’ve always wanted to go on.

Joy Rides include small groups of people who understand the importance of the horse-human relationship. They are people who have a deep love of nature and animals and who are interested in self-discovery, travel, and having rich cultural experiences. They are people that want to immerse themselves in the land through slow travel, slow food and deep conversations.

And, the most amazing part of all of these trips, of course, is the horses. I’ve had such deep connections with all of my travel companions and have learned that horses speak the same language no matter the country.

I have found places in Italy, Spain, Ireland, Costa Rica, and Durango, Colorado, that all treat their horses as partners and give them incredible care, training, and respect.

A Joy Rides trip is about so much more than riding horses in an amazing location. It’s about finding balance, rediscovering lasting joy, renewing spirits, and having transformative revelations.

During every trip, it is my mission to help all of my guests find those things through eye-opening and awe-inspiring experiences. And I’m there, every step of the way, sharing in the adventure.

It is truly my desire to help people live their best lives with the help of horse wisdom.  Joy Rides trips are not about escaping your life for a week, they are about enhancing it for a lifetime.  And, best of all, they are a complete BLAST!

“There is something about being around horse people, no matter what country, that allows for immediate ease and connection. It breaks down barriers of language and culture unlike any other travel experience that I’ve ever had”

~ Susan – Joy Rider in Tuscany

Check out her adventure travel offerings here. 

Contact Trish directly:

(970) 946-7835

joyrides.dgo at gmail dot com

Amy Skinner Review

Debbie Hight, a Best Horse Practices Summit board member, longtime Mainer, and frequent NickerNews guest columnist, reports from a recent Amy Skinner horsemanship weekend in Norridgewock, Maine.

Photos generously provided by Julie Kenney.

By Debbie Hight

Amy Skinner has written: If what the horse truly has to offer speaks to you, then listen closely, consciously, and intently, for the voice of this gentle spirit is a quiet one.

I say: But the average rider will realize that it’s often not easy to “listen closely and consciously” without help.

Skinner also asks: Are you willing to dedicate yourself to a life of learning without becoming set in what you know?

And I might ask: But where to seek the necessary learning and trust the help?

Amy Skinner is a gift to horses and riders. After reading several of her articles in NickerNews, I – along with Rob Rowbottom – invited her to Maine last April to provide lessons during a two-day clinic. Few of the riders had heard of Amy, but the horses listened quickly. Then, the riders responded. What learning, what fun!

Several of us reconnected at the Best Horse Practices Summit in Durango, Colorado last month, where we were surrounded by folks helping us to listen to the gentle spirit, not through games and voodoo, but through science. It was a time for new learning and for making new friends, a truly remarkable and memorable event.

Two weeks after the conference, Amy returned for another riding clinic in Maine. The lessons had filled immediately, mostly with returning riders, but who all had new questions. And some of our new friends from the Summit joined in. Julie Kenney is not only a thoughtful rider and NickerNews fitness writer, she is an ace photographer!

Riders finished their lessons with new learning, encouragement, and a peek into their souls as well as into their equines’ souls. The lessons, whether private or semi-private, were thoughtful and geared to each rider and horse. Rarely were any of the exercises repeated and anxieties for both horse and rider melted away within the first few minutes.

Amy can see what the horse needs and helps the rider feel and answer those needs. It was another remarkable weekend for horses, riders, and auditors. We will host another clinic in the early summer and hope that the population of thoughtful riders who listen to the horses’ gentle spirits will continue to resonate and grow.

Comments from riders:

“Best lesson ever! Unlike some clinicians, Amy individualizes each lesson to the needs of the specific horse and rider. I finally understand what I need to do to help my horse lengthen and become more relaxed and supple. It works! Thank you, Amy!” Jane

Amy made me more aware of where the horse is mentally on any given day and to adjust. Thanks, Amy.

Rob

The Amy Skinner Clinic was non-cynical and very informative in an absolutely fun way.  A weekend full of improving riding skills. Everyone showed up to learn, and students gained more knowledge from other riders’ lessons as well as their own. I learned just how important the ground work with your horse is versus just hopping on and riding. Everyone was open arms and encouraging to every other rider.  Because of such encouragement, I would not hesitate to return to Amy’s next session here. She was very perceptive to each riders needs and had just the right personality, fun yet humble.

Kristin

Amy’s clinic was amazing, I learned a whole new approach of interacting and working with my horse. The difference is astonishing!!

Erika

Cowboy Poetry? Parade without Motors? Yes!

Julie Kenney traveled from Harpswell, Maine, to take in the Best Horse Practices Summit and check out southwestern Colorado. She was also a Strater Hotel guest and an awesome Summit volunteer. She filed this report as a first-time visitor to the Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering:

By Julie Kenney

Cowboy Poetry: an unfamiliar term to a woman who was born and raised in Maine. The term isn’t distasteful, but it certainly didn’t sound interesting. It reminded me of high school English classes that required poetry reading and writing as part of its curriculum. Boring! The thought of making me do something that didn’t interest me in the first place was the problem.

In early October, I had the great privilege to attend the inaugural Best Horse Practices Summit in Durango, Colorado. I’ve been planning the trip for over a year, ever since Summit director Maddy Butcher and I had a quick meet-up in Maine the previous summer and she told me about this idea she was working on. I was on board from the beginning. This Summit was just where I wanted to be!

Hotel arrangements were made. Money was saved. Airline tickets were purchased. I knew traveling to about 6,300 feet elevation coming from an average of 38 feet elevation might require an adjustment period. So, my flight arrangements had me arriving in Durango two days ahead of the conference.

It just so happens that my hotel, The Strater, and all of Durango for that matter, was playing host to the Cowboy Poetry Gathering at that time. I met some really nice people at the Strater and even had breakfast with one of the participants, a cowboy poet.

That’s how I ended up buying tickets for a couple of Poetry Gathering events. It was worth it! This poetry was stories told, with a little rhyming, or in song format. That’s all. Simple but also intricate. Nothing like the boring stuff required in high school. I was moved to tears, brought to a full belly-laugh, and everything in between. It was patriotic, touching, funny, and uplifting. I was so happy to have been there listening.

On Saturday, there was also a parade that consisted of only non-motorized participants. That meant a lot of horses of all different breeds and sizes, mules, donkeys, llamas, and even a long-horn bull. Coming from a town in Maine that worries about any amount of manure along the roads or on our beaches, it was refreshing to see a whole parade dedicated to the animals that help us move from place to place. They just used a John Deere tractor to follow behind the parade route with volunteers cleaning up the road. No big deal.

If you have the desire to head out to next year’s Best Horse Practices Summit (and I highly recommend it), go a couple of days ahead of time. Watch a parade and listen to the stories told and sung at the Cowboy Poetry Gathering. You will not be disappointed.

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