Monday, May 25, 2009

In Rememberance

Yesterday, I went to the National Cemetary at Fort Lyon with the family. My dad's dad is buried there, and the place always hits me with a ten pound sledge, but even more so on Memorial Day.

So many graves with flags, so many people who left home to fight for their country, and whether they came home upright and made a choice to be buried here, next to their brothers in arms, or didn't make it home in time to say goodbye, here they are.

I know only the names I read on their stones, I couldn't tell you their kids names or what their favorite color was or who's cooking they liked best. I don't know them, but I'm thankful to them, and to the service men and women I do know.

Like my Grandpa:
He was never one to brag about his military service, or even talk about it very much. He wouldn't talk about the riots that destroyed the entrance to The Temple of a Thousand Steps in Korea, other than to say they happened, when I asked about the pictures. He wouldn't talk about going through Nagasaki when he was going on leave in Tokyo, other than to say he'd seen it.

But when we'd flip through the photo album with all of the pictures he took while he was serving, every once in a while his eyes would mist over as he saw one of his service buddies, and he'd simply say "He never made it home."

I don't think I can say it better than President Harry Truman did at the time, so I'll give you the words he felt appropriate for thanking those who did make it home.

Say thank you to the spirits of those who left their lives on the field of battle, today, and if you know any veterans or those who are currently serving, thank them too, and let them know that should they be asked to make that ultimate sacrifice for their country, they will not be forgotten.

Because We Remember.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Really Now,

This is getting a bit ridiculous. A while back I posted about a little old lady that had been locked out of her house, and my disgust that so many people drove by without offering to help.

Today, I got another example of the tone our society has taken, right here at home.

This morning I was on my way to the Next Minuscule Town Over, when I saw a car on the side of the road. Nobody was in the car, so I figured they'd gotten a ride. That is, until I saw someone walking on the side of the road.

Now, out here, we've got several people who like to take walks, and the shoulder of the highway is a popular path, so I wasn't sure that it wasn't just someone out for a walk until I got even with them and realized that the person was walking with some difficulty and using a cane.

It was an older lady (about Mamaw's age, and she swears she's older than dirt) who had had a flat. She's from here in the county, and had left her cell phone at home on the charger, so she borrowed mine to call AAA.

This woman, (I found out a bit later) is scheduled for hip replacement surgery in the near future, and she had walked almost a quarter of a mile, slowly, from her bright red, sitting on the side of the road empty vehicle, with no one stopping. I know four cars passed by her while I was in sight but before I got to her.

In this day and age I can understand being cautious about picking up a large man or someone who might actually be able to... ya know... hurt someone.

But a sweet lady with personalized gramma license plates and a cane? Come on, people, that's just callous, and wrong.

It pains me to see such things here where I've always thought that the tradition of being neighborly, no matter how distant the neighbor, held true.

So, if any of you people are from my county, shape up! We're supposed to be the backbone of America, the simple, helpful, small town kind of folks, and we're getting farther away from that every year. I don't want pride in the community I live in to be a memory, I want it to be an active, growing thing.

And I by gawd don't want to read in the local paper about a little old lady that got run over on the highway because she had to walk to get help when she had a flat tire.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Saddles, Saddles, and More Saddles

I've had a couple of discussions, and gotten a couple of questions, about the functionality and purpose of saddle design. Personally I find it an interesting subject, if only because the saddle is the bit that helps keep me firmly on the horse's back.

So. First, let's take a moment to look at the purpose of a saddle of any persuasion:

To distribute a rider's weight evenly and widely across the horse's back, for the comfort and increased efficiency of the horse as a mode of transport.

That's it. The comfort of the rider is completely secondary to making sure that a horse, a rather expensive, but highly useful animal, operates at peak efficiency and comfort while being ridden. Some particular designs are better at this than others, but that is the reason saddles were invented in the first place.

So, when evaluating a saddle, the important point is not English or Western or Aussie or whatever other style you, dear reader, may prefer. The important point is How will this saddle help make my horse more comfortable and free moving while I am riding?

Maybe the first fur strapped onto a horse's back when mankind decided they were useful for labor as well as food was only intended to keep the rider's sensitive bits from rubbing raw on the spine, but today's saddles were thought up to help increase the efficiency of horses as a mode of transport and labor.

I can hear you clamoring, but just hang on a minute. I am not in any way endorsing the newfangled so-called "treeless saddles." For one thing, I simply don't know enough about them to either endorse or decry them. For another, I haven't even had a chance to fondle one, let alone ride one, and until I do, my position will remain: "Hmm. Interesting. But I know this one..."

Now, on to the pictures. We'll start with a basic western saddle tree. I would give you a picture of an English saddle tree as well but they seem to be durned hard to find on the intarwebz, a condition also known as "not on the first two pages of a Google Image search."

This, my friends is a western saddle tree. At the front is the swells, which, in terms of the rock bottom purpose of a saddle, performs the service of holding the bars together in a manner that leaves room for the horse's withers, thus allowing more free movement at the shoulder. Those pieces that form the sides of the tree are the bars, the major weight-distributing panels of the saddle, which spread the load of the saddle over generous square inchage, making it easier to carry. At the back is the cantle, which serves the purpose of holding the bars together at the rear and further assisting in the weight distribution theme.

The horn, and the height of the cantle, have no purpose. Well, I suppose the height of the cantle could be a further method of distributing weight, but I'm not an engineer so I'm not sure how the math works on that. However, cantle height is generally considered to be a rider comfort thing, and the horn, while necessary to certain working conditions and jobs required of the saddle, is an example of specialization.

Now, lets move on to the bits designed to make things better for the rider. There are two major schools of riding in the US, Western and English, which both have their supporters and detractors.

Since I know Western a hell of a lot better than English, that's what I'll focus on. I'm sure someone, somewhere, has gotten into this discussion on the English side, if you're interested.

So. The western saddle. I'm not going to describe every part of it here, because this post is proving long enough as is, but I'll cover the salient points.

A western saddle is designed for long hours, security, and a fair amount of comfort, because the purpose of the saddle demanded such things. Originally, western saddles were designed with the working cowboy in mind, built for days on the range, and the kind of work that the horse and rider needed to do.

The horn... roping a bovine is no fun if you don't have anything to give you leverage, both to keep your butt in the saddle (because believe me, that animal on the end of the rope is a lot stronger than your thigh muscles trying to keep you where you're at) and to utilize your mount's greater strength to hold or drag said bovine. Secondary uses include a handle, a place to hang your reins, and a handy dandy bruise creater in the event of a poorly executed unauthorized dismount.

The swells, as I said before, primarily help to distribute the weight, but cowboys discovered another benefit and altered the design somewhat... it's not shown real well here, but larger swells that come out with a bit of a void underneath provide an excellent leverage point for keeping butt in saddle when things go, quite literally, rodeo.

The seat, as I mentioned, is designed for comfort, the high (relative to an English saddle, though some models do have extremely high backs) cantle also provides a leverage point for keeping butt in saddle during the often violent motions of a horse working a cow. In the English discipline, as I understand it, a gallop or hand gallop is ridden, at least, in two point, with the knees providing the main stabilization points and the butt being emphatically out of the saddle, which is, I am told, very tiring. Cowboys chose another way to go about riding the odd motions of a horse's gaits, creating a "pocket" in the seat to assist in the endeavor of keeping horse and rider together, with minimal effort.

Well, would you want to spend all day riding rough terrain on your toes and knees? Didn't think so.

In the picture above, the bits of leather lacing hanging from front and rear of the saddle are labeled as strings, which is accurate. Just as accurate would be latigos, or tie downs, or pack strings. These are there for attaching things to the saddle for ease of carrying. Secondarily, in today's modern world, they provide an excuse for putting a concho on the saddle and adding more flash.

Large saddle skirts are, as far as I know, extremely limited to the Western style, and they originally had but one purpose: To provide as much coverage as possible to protect the horse from branches, twigs, cactus and mesquite. Of course they're decorative as well with the designs and stamping on the leather, but really, they're a layer of armor between the horse and the world.

The wide fenders serve the same purpose, to help protect the horse from scratches and pokes, while maintaining leg mobility for the rider to cue his mount.

A Western saddle became a matter of identity, as well, for the cowboys who depended on them to make their living. Stamping of patterns into the leather of the skirts increased the strength of the leather, by compressing the fibers together, and made them less likely to get torn up if they did happen to get snagged on something. With the advent of this practical reason to add decoration to one's saddle, when every one was made by hand, each saddle became a work of art and a display for both the skill of the hand that crafted it, and the personality of the cowboy who rode it. Which only makes sense when you consider that a cowboy's saddle was occasionally his only home, his job, and his one true love.

There are a lot of people who proclaim Cavalry saddles in their various iterations to be the most efficient saddle in the world, per the real purpose of a saddle. And guess what? Most Cavalry saddles bear a striking resemblance to a Western saddle tree covered in leather, padded underneath, and bestrewn with attachment points for packs and supplies:

I guess we might just be on to something, huh?

Personally, I view the basic form of a saddle (meaning a tree to distribute weight with some form of assistance to the rider in his endeavor to remain on the horse's back and not in the dust) as one of the most elegant, and refined pieces of physical design in the modern world. Regardless of what your personal flavor is, every one of them serves the exact same purpose, in such an efficient and cost effective manner that the base designs have survived for centuries. Once the idea of bars, connected front and back in a manner that allows a certain amount of flexibility was come up with, everything since has been a refinement, or a specialization.

And, honestly, a Cavalry saddle, stripped of pack straps and rings, is, in my opinion, the epitome of the true purpose of a saddle.

That doesn't mean I'm riding one of those uncomfortable things, however. There's a reason the Cavalry always shows up at the last minute in movies, because they have to treat their saddle sores before they can get on the road!

Friday, May 15, 2009


"Hey, hey hey! I understand moving the pot a bit so you can fling the cards better but don't push it that way, it's just farther for me to reach when I win!"

Laughter all around.

It was five card draw, deuces wild and I had a queen and some trash in my hand. Since smack talking is a time honored tradition of poker night, I was only doing my part.

"Four cards."

"Nobody wins when they take four cards, so quit whining about having to reach for the pot." S, one of the younger of the group, (not counting myself of course, I'm the baby of poker night, and many nights, the only girl) said, tossing three cards into the center of the table and stretching a long arm out to gather in the new ones.

"Yeah, but I ain't nobody," I said cheerfully as I saw the four cards I'd drawn.

I have been known to bluff a time or two at poker, and I haven't been going long enough for them to figure out my tells. I'm sure I have them, but with the amount of alcohol and snark at that table, they often times miss tells that are obvious to me.

I carefully arranged my hand, peered at it, moved a card, peered at it again, sighed, and set the hand in front of me.

"Ha, you got nothin."

With nine people at the table (we only have the one, set up in the front room of a mechanic's shop in the next tiny town over,) even nickle and dime bets add up to a nice chunk of change by the time it's all said and done.

"I got a straight!" S crows, laying out a six, seven, eight, deuce, ten.

Remember, deuces are wild.

"I got queen high," I say calmly, pulling my cards one by one from my hand and laying them out on the table.

"You stayed in with queen high, that's all you got??" S stares at me as if he's re evaluating how smart I am. He's on the other end of the table, which is fairly large, so he can't see my cards all that clear. I simply look at J to my left who is staring at my cards.

"No you have a pair of deuces which doesn't beat a....... oh, shit, dude, she's got queen high straight!"

Eight, nine, deuce, deuce, queen.

"I told you not to push the pot that way."

"But you threw away four cards, how in the crap..."

"I'm just that damn good, now shove that money over here, will ya?"


Thursday nights lately have been devoted to poker. I got invited to a five dollar buy in game, went to see what all the fuss was about, and have been every week but one since.

The first week I went, I came home six dollars up. Since then, I've regularly lost my five dollars, which I consider a more than fair price for the amount of entertainment I get. Five dollars won't get you into a movie, and I have way more fun at poker night than I do watching a movie.

Last night, lady luck was with me, and I came home sixteen dollars richer than when I'd left.

At the end of the night, when S walked up to the window of the car, I smiled cheerily at him and thanked him for giving me his money.

"Damn women."

"Ha! Watch it buster or next week I'll show up in a halter top and skin tight jeans and take all of you for everything you have on you. And maybe free labor, too."

"That... would probably work, actually," he chuckled. "Hey, you know that whatever trash talk gets thrown around at the poker table, we're all glad you started coming. You say the damndest things, and keep everyone laughing."

"Oh, I know," I replied, "I wouldn't get half as much crap if I wasn't welcome. See you next week, S."

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Tulsa Pilot and Gunblogger....

On ammo hoarding.

A Beeyutiful Day

Today I'm being lazy, by my standards for this time of year.

I got my herbs planted (although I need to come up with some Cilantro as we seem to have missed that staple when gathering seeds) and watered and in the sun to germinate, excepting the Italian Basil which came as a plant. Surprised me, but it's transplanted and watered and in the sun.

Now, I'm parked on the porch with the laptop and a TV tray listening to the birds twitter, working on Jane, and watching the dogs maul the smoky ribeye bones that I got them to chew in the yard.

I'll probably go inside when it gets dark, or they tell me there's food, whichever happens first.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

It's A Beautiful Night For A Walk....

Apologies for the dearth of posting, things have been pretty busy around here and the time I've had to sit around and goof off on the puter have been spent telling tall tales and trading friendly insults over at the Gunblogger Conspiracy chat, where I seem to have been adopted into the fold, and have made many new bloggy type friends.

Anywho, this last week was fairly busy, but one tale sticks out in my mind as just begging to be told, so I've finally found the time to share it with ya'll (and no, I haven't forgotten my leather care posts, I swear!)

Last Tuesday evening I received a call from the neighbor, letting me know the horses were out. Knowing that we had a missing post on the electric where Monkey and Etta and company are, I figured it must have been them. So, I head out to get the horses in and find some way to make a bluff out of the offending stretch of fence, right as the sun touched the horizon.

Of course, by the time I got there, I was working by the gentle glow of dusk, the sun having completed it's descent in record time, leaving me squinting into the gloom and calling out the window for my wayward children.

Around ten pm, I decided to call in reinforcements. At least Farmmom could drive while I hung out the window and stared into the dark looking for the flash of reflection from an eye.

Keep in mind that I'm looking for three sorrell (darkish red) horses, two bay (dark brown with black) horses, and a... black horse. Not exactly the easiest to spot in low light conditions.

What I am not looking for is a red roan (same color as sorrell except with white hairs mixed in) a buckskin/dun (creamy tan with black markings) and a white horse.

Which of course were the horses that were out. See those guys are our pasture decorations. They're what's left from when we bred, and we've never been able to bring ourselves to get rid of them, but not a one of them is even halter broke. Well, Muffin (the buckskin girl, my beautimous baby) is but she's so people shy she hides behind the other horses whenever people are near... even touching her really isn't an option.

So, Farmmom and I are driving around, contemplating giving up until morning, "They're not anywhere near the road, or we'd have spotted them already, and they're not dumb... well, Red is kinda, but he'll stay with the others," when out of nowhere a big tank of a white streak goes flying across the road in front of us, followed by a buckskin streak and a roan streak.

Mom pulled off to the side of the road and I bailed out with the grain bucket, that magical horse magnet, and got them to come up to me in spite of being wound up and ready to bolt at the slightest provocation.

Dusty, the big white boy, who is, oh so unfortunately, sterile, basically had the attitude of "oh good, she always knows what she's doing, and she has goodies, so we shall follow her."

Of course, Dusty is about half blind at this point, so he's fairly easy to lead around in the dark, it doesn't make all that much difference to him.

Muffin and Roanie, on the other hand, see fine, which means the dark is a scary, scary situation when you're moving around somewhere that you don't know every step.

Imagine, if you will, a skinny girl, all alone in the black of night, because there wasn't much moon at all and what illumination it did provide was routinely covered by clouds, carrying a bucket of grain, talking softly into the night to three horses, only one of which she can see. Sort of. In a "wow he looks like a ghost horse" kind of way.

And, of course, this skinny girl, well known for her ability to injure herself during the daylight, is hiking through a field of knee high grass, with all it's accompanying bumps, holes, matting, and just general klutz traps.

Some day I may know what I've done to earn the trust of those three horses, but they followed me for almost a mile. The girls got nervous about the dirt road under their hooves not far from where we had a gate open to get them into a pasture, any pasture, as long as it's ours.

So instead of leading three horses into the darkness, I was suddenly leading one. One large, studly, half blind white pony that was just sure that if he followed long enough I'd give him a treat. He was right, of course, but he didn't follow quite long enough.

When I realized the girls had abandoned ship, I stopped and squatted down in the road, shaking the grain bucket. Since the normal modus operandi for giving them grain is to pour little piles in a semi circle and squat down in the middle of them so that I can get a good look at legs/feet and catch any problems, this should have brought them on to me.

Instead, Muffin (I think it was Muffin, anyway) stomped a foot and Dusty started to turn back to his girlfriends, just as I shook the bucket hoping to attract the two girls.

You know those moments in the day time, when the clouds part, and suddenly a beam of sunshine illuminates something that you never would have noticed otherwise?

They can happen at night, too. And a damn good thing, because I had heard Dusty's feet shuffle on the road, and figured I'd lost him back to the girls. What I hadn't heard, was him kicking his back feet up as he spooked... right at my head.

If it hadn't been for a chance sliver of moonlight flashing on white hide, I'd have thought that pale blur was just him leaving. As it was I had time to dive to one side before he brained me, but not time to make it graceful.

As I heard him lope off into the night, whickering low for his lovely, lovely ladies, I said a lot of bad words to myself, and gave it up for a lost cause for the night.

I set off, gimping, towards the gate where I knew Farmmom was waiting, having opened it for me and the ponies.

And she scared the piss out of me about two hundred yards later by blatantly sneaking up on me on the crunchy gravel and speaking in a soft voice.

We shut the gate, and headed home, meanwhile I had a Brilliant Idea for the next day. Instead of traipsing my happy ass all over the county leading the kids back to their pasture, I would saddle Etta, who holds an understandable fascination for Dusty, since she is a girl, and he is a boy, and even though he's sterile he's never been cut.

Maybe if I just traipsed by on Etta, Dusty would come to see if he could make her another of his lady-loves and they'd all just follow her right into the pasture.


I hadn't counted on a cool morning, Etta's unusual pigheadedness, or the fact that grandpa's saddle (the handiest one) did not have the stirrups set for me.

As I battled with Miss Priss over whether or not she could turn her head in the direction I asked but still move in the direction she wanted to go, Farmmom and Mamaw headed off to see where, exactly, I needed to parade the bratty girl by.

And saw the three horseketeers right by a gate. Farmmom hopped out, shook the grain bucket twice, walked through the gate, and it was all done.

Meanwhile, I'm discussing things with Etta at a long trot, because she really didn't want to leave her friends, in spite of my assurances that we were going to see other friends. Back down the road come Farmmom and Mamaw, to gloat about the ease of their accomplishment.

And back to the corral go Etta and I. A trip out that took ten minutes (which was five minutes longer than it really should have) took thirty going back, as we made detours in a circular sort of shape along the side of the road. I'd get her loping easy in a circle and start heading back towards home, and she'd start pushing and fighting me, and we'd circle some more.

I won, eventually. She walked calmly into the lot, stood quietly, if not entirely calmly, for a full thirty seconds before I dismounted, and I got her tack stripped and her turned back out before she decided that people were just too much bother and she was leaving without me.

All's well that ends well, though, and more stories are forthcoming as I figure out exactly how to phrase Farmmom's recent adventure with a calf, her pickup windshield, and learning once again that hindsight is 20-20.