Friday, December 7, 2012

"FEATURE FRIDAY - Mark and Dusty - Ambassadors of Goodwill"

Howdy Folks,

Dusty is a Palomino. He's also an Ambassador of Goodwill traveling the country with his partner, Mark Peterson sharing smiles, fun and adventures with young and old alike. Dusty also signs autographs, hands out presents and teaches. Whether visiting children at Ronald McDonald Houses or guiding folks on adventure treks, or introducing folks to the world of animal communication, Dusty makes everyone feel happy and understood.

Mark is a lifelong horse and animal advocate. He'd been training horses, and other animals, for years when, 12 years ago, a friend suggested he have a look at a Palomino, Dusty, that was for sale. 

Mark bought Dusty and began working with him the way he had always done. One day a well known trainer was watching Mark and Dusty together and told Mark what they were doing wasn't normal. Mark was a little surprised in that he was doing what he'd always done, but he'd noticed too, a unique spark in Dusty. A kind of openness and desire to make folks feel better.

Among the things that Mark teaches is how to better communicate with your horse, and Dusty picked up on that in a hurry. Soon Mark and Dusty began to travel to not only educate, but to spread joy and smiles. The more they traveled the more Mark noticed the change that came over children when around Dusty. "There is nothing like the feeling you get when you watch a child burst into laughter when Dusty reaches into a pile of stuffed toys to hand them out," Mark said.

Mark and Dusty also conduct training courses for trail riders and search and rescue outfits, helping to put in place safe and effective techniques, or establish new teams who are ready to assist or direct searches for lost folks and animals. Yes, animals get lost too and many times Dusty and Mark have been called upon to lead searches to find everything from lost dogs to locating wildlife for film producers. The skills and techniques Mark and Dusty demonstrate help them do their jobs easier and safer for the victims.

Mark's talents as a teacher to help folks better communicate with and understand their horses, and Dusty's willingness and desire to spread goodwill, love and smiles make them perfect for our Feature Friday here at Coffee Clutch. Check out all the wonderful things they do on their website

Gitty Up

Dutch Henry

Thursday, December 6, 2012

"The Lights Went Out"

Howdy Folks,

This is a short story I wrote for a contest. The first sentence had to be, "The lights went out." It's about the innocence of love. I hope you enjoy.

"The Lights Went Out"

The lights went out as just as she raised the wine glass in a salute to her reflection in the wine bottle. That's okay, it would be easier to remember him in the dark. She thought of his brown shining eyes and how they'd always warmed her when she lost herself in them. The way they glistened when he smiled. No matter the situation those eyes had never failed to reassure her. To comfort her. She took a sip and ran a quivering finger around the rim of the glass.

They say the first anniversary is the worst. She laughed. Who are they, and did they ever go through it or are they just the appointed ones who tell everyone how and what to feel without having a clue of the richness of love. He'd been gone three months now and tomorrow would have been their fifth anniversary … and his twenty-ninth birthday. Peter loved to celebrate his birthday. She felt the corners of her mouth curve. He'd always wanted to open his present before going to work. Peter made a big deal about everybody's birthday that's why it had been so natural, and fun, to be married on his.

A loud blast of rain pelted the kitchen window and a brief flash of lightning lit the room to shine on his present waiting on the table.

The room seemed darker after the flash. She touched the bow on the box, then pulled it to her. He sure would have gotten a kick out of this year's present. She'd bought it six months ago, a little bottle of beach sand with a tiny mermaid inside perched on driftwood. A Kansas boy, Peter had never seen the beach. She had planned to fix that this year. In the bottom of the box lay all the paperwork and a brochure from the Anchor Kitchen bed and breakfast.
Some people are given a lifetime to share together. Some never find their soul mate. She and Peter were perfect together and they new it the instant they met. All their friends said so. She grinned when she thought of girlfriends' frequent threats to steal him away. Jealousy gripped her as she thought evil thoughts about how unfair it was to give them such a short time together. 

Her throat tightened, her eyes let go a stream of tears as she cursed God for creating the perfect match … and then tearing it apart. How could he? Why would he? She gulped a swallow of wine and ground the heels of her hands in her eyes, "What am I supposed to do now?" 
She looked around the kitchen, in the flashes she saw his boots sitting on the mat by the door. She hadn't been able to put them away. Hadn't been able to deal with much that she should have by now. Take it day by day, they say.
Day by day. That made her smile. Peter had said that too. On their wedding night when she was so scared she started to cry and she'd asked, "What are we going to do now?" She remembered his confident smile when he told her, "I guess we'll take it day by day."
"That was Peter," she told the darkness. "Count on him to make everything alright." She poured some wine and through blurry eyes asked his boots, "How do we make this alright? What do I do now Peter?" She dropped her head onto her arms and sobbed. "I don't know what to do." Her voice broke as she begged. "Tell me what to do … Where do I start?"
A thunderclap so loud it rattled the house preceded a burst of light brighter than any before it. After her eyes adjusted to the darkness she noticed a hint of morning's glow in the kitchen window.
Shuffling tiny feet turned her toward the living room doorway. "That was a loud one Mommy!" Their daughter announced as she scrambled toward her. "Today is Daddy's birthday! Can we open his present for him? If we hold it up really high will he be able to see it from Heaven?"

Gitty Up,
Dutch Henry

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Topsy-Turvy Weather

Howdy Folks,

The past few days have been extraordinarily warm even for Appomattox, VA. Daytime highs in the 70's nighttime temps in the 50's. They say below normal temps are on the way, that would fit in with the topsy-turvy weather we've been having this year.

Sitting next to Kessy, sipping my Folgers, as she munched her hay I watched the chickens peck and scratch at their cracked corn.

This morning, as like the past few warm mornings, the chickens were joined by Juncos, Cardinals and Doves. The warm weather seems to have awakened the squirrels too who had been absent during the insulated coverall required cold snap of just a week ago. Those coveralls hang at the ready on their peg by the back door. I even mentioned to them this morning, as I selected only my hat and vest, they'll be back on duty before the week is out.

In Ravishin' Robbie's gardens the Irises have started to sprout! At the chicken feeding stations the barley, which is part of the mix, has also sprouted! Some say the bursting forth of new growth in the spring is brought on by the longer hours of daylight. I've always wondered about that, and I'm pretty sure the days are nearly as short as they'll be this year with the shortest day of the year charted to be in just 2 weeks. It appears to me, in this silly weather year, the warm days and nights have triggered, something. Even the roosters have begun to act like … roosters. Much to the hens' dismay as they dart and scurry to escape their advances.

Kessy's winter coat is beautiful in its shining glory, but she's not able to hang it on a peg by the door until the temps dip again and she sweats just standing around. Did you know that a horse uses energy to cool from 38 degrees and above? No wonder she's sweating!

There's an old Pennsylvania Dutch saying about the weather, "If you wait long enough it'll change." So I suppose change is on the way. Stay tuned a few days for my musings about the freezing cold morning "Coffee With Kessy" where I'm all bundled up in those coveralls, scarf and gloves!

Gitty Up,
Dutch Henry

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Grandma's Christmas Cactus

Grandma's Christmas Cactus

Howdy Folks,

I spent my youth, which seems so long ago, but sometimes not so long ago, on a dairy farm in PA. When I was about 10 I was, "Farmed Out" that is to say placed on a farm to work for my room and board. There I learned much. It was there that, although I did not realize it at the time, I was first touched by the spirit of the horse. While the farm always had an old tractor much of the work was done with the heavy horses, Dan and Bill. It was huddled in their stall on one of my first nights on the farm that I felt that spirit. I can still remember that feeling of comfort, safety that came over me. The first time in my short life that I felt that way.

Life was suddenly so different. I had spent the previous 3 years locked in a room, with the sole window painted black. Here on the farm there was a vast openness that took some getting used to. Here on the farm there was suddenly no more ugliness, no harsh words and worse. But there was no love there either. I was there to work. I found my work fun though, mostly. I never really enjoyed shoveling out the privy. If you're too young to know what that is, try the google thing. It was here on the farm that I first discovered birds, too. My first was a Killdeer in the cornfield as I hoed thistles from between the stalks.

The farm had no modern conveniences, well we did have electric in the milk house, I suppose the dairy insisted on that. But the house and the rest of the farm had no running water or electric. One of my chores had been to carry and heat water for wash day Monday. Another to keep the wood box full.

One day, a few months after I'd arrived at the farm, a car pulled into the driveway between the house and barn and I watched from the barnyard as a woman walked up to the house. Soon she came out to me. It was my Grandma. I didn't know then, but she was forbidden to come see me. But she did. She told me later that she'd parked way off on other days and walked to safe vantage points to watch me work ... Until the day came that she would watch from afar no more. Years later she told me she would sit outside the house where I'd been in that room and stare at the black window for hours.

From that first meeting on the farm Grandma became my only regular visitor. The folks didn't really like it, because when she visited it took me away from my work. But Grandma was very determined.

Robbie and I still have Grandma's Christmas Cactus. It blooms some years at Christmas, other years I guess it doesn't feel like it. Over the years it has sometimes struggled to stay with us, but like Grandma that little cactus is very determined. Grandma loved violets too, it was for her they had such a big role in my novel.

By my guess Grandma's cactus is well over thirty years old, and this year it's sporting a fine display of red blooms. I paused this morning on my way out for coffee with Kessy and said howdy to Grandma.

That raggedy little plant still brings Grandma's happy visits to me.

Gitty Up,
Dutch Henry

Monday, December 3, 2012

"Saddle Tree From Start to Finish"

Howdy Folks,

When Larry Wilson comes to build a tree he starts with his foundation tree he's made by laminating eighth inch plywood together. Now this looks pretty rough because he puts plenty of wood together so he has ample material to shape to the horse and rider. Here he is placing the tree on Molly for the first time for inspection. Throughout the fitting process he'll do this many times.
First fitting for Molly of Larry's hand made tree
After each fitting he'll grind and shape, fine tuning the fit until it fits the horse or in this case, the mule perfectly. The tree is the most important part of the saddle. Trees with improper fit can cause bridging, or pinching, rocking and painful pressure on the spine. Larry does all his own leather work too, and he does beautiful work, but he stresses it's the tree that makes the saddle. He says the rest is just upholstery.

Shaping the tree to perfection ...
One of many "fittings" to get it perfect
Then it's time to fit the tree to the rider. In this step the rider sits the tree and Larry measures the rider's comfort for seat size, stirrup bar (leather) placement, pummel and cantle height. Sorry I didn't get a picture of that, but here Larry is measuring where to place the riggings.
Applying fiberglass
Back to the shop, or in this case my barn for about 12 hours of grinding, fiber-glassing, shaping and building of the complete tree. I've watched Larry a few times over the years and each time I'm absolutely amazed at how exacting he is. After a few more hours the next morning, the tree was ready for a final fit on Molly, and for Chris to ride.

Final check, after installing the rigging to fit Chris'  needs
One last inspection proved all was perfect with the rigging (attached temporarily with only one screw at each end) and stirrup leathers in place, then saddle … or "tree up" time. 
Molly all treed up ready to ride
Interesting side note here, Chis remarked, as she gently snugged the girth, that Molly had always been "Girthy" and danced about while saddling. But this morning she stood almost asleep. Chris commented that all this time she'd reasoned it was the girth bothering Molly and this proved it had been the saddle.

While riding the tree Larry asks a lot of questions, and looks at everything.
Time to ride the tree! Chris and Larry discussing the feel of the tree. Inspection of the tree while riding is critical to achieving proper fit. The horse needs room to move under the tree while at the same time the tree must secure the saddle and rider. This combination can hardly be accomplished by a static fit or examination of a saddle.
Chris and Molly float on air with freedom and comfort
Chris had always used a breast collar and crupper with Molly's old saddle, but while riding the tree today, up and down slight inclines in the pasture she did not need them. The tree, fit perfectly to Molly, stayed in place beautifully.

Now Larry will finish Chris and Molly's new saddle to all Chris's specifications for color, design and placements off accessories and in no time Molly and Chris will be all set for years of trail adventures, both comfortable in a saddle that was made just for them!

It is my hope that this little story will help folks understand the importance of correct saddle fit. In my travels working with therapy horses I see very many sore backs, necks and hind ends brought on by improper saddle/tack fit. Many temperament/discipline issues are caused by ill fitting tack. I thought perhaps sharing the fitting of a tree may help folks have a new way of looking at saddle fit.

To see the finished saddle read "Molly's New Saddle" Pt 4 in saddle fit series HERE

Gitty Up
Dutch Henry