Monday, June 29, 2009

Why I Hate ... Continued

Okay here's the deal; I was going to write about how much I love driving proposals, (not being sarcastic here, I really do enjoy them) but to tell the truth I'm not finished ranting about weddings yet, and here's why:

They suck.

In five years I've probably driven 200 weddings. That's what you get when you own a Tuxedo jacket. You get to do weddings because you "clean up good." I tell folks I love this job because you get to be with people during the happiest times of their lives: Birthdays, anniversaries, etc. Let's face it, most people don't get downsized and say, "I just got fired, let's go on a carriage ride!" But, although happy for the bride and groom, weddings are stressful and take a huge toll on a person's limits, including mine. Someone read my previous post and called me "jaded" (they also were under the impression that I am a guy…) I don't consider myself "jaded" really, but I can be uber-cranky. (And of course let's not forget the whole "mouthy & opinionated" thing.)

I drove another wedding Saturday night. Not only did it suck, but it was weird. I'm not going to elaborate, just trust me…creepy and strange. And not in a "Spiderman marries Wonder Woman" kind of way. Just…odd in an "Oh God I wish I could shower right now," kind of way. It reminded me of the wedding I drove last December where the bride was a total bitch and married a guy who looked like if Rod Stewart and Skeletor had a baby, he would be it, and so obviously gay it wasn't even funny.


Equals Super Creepy Groom...

(Hint for future brides: If your man spends more time on his hair than you do, you might want to rethink. Trust me, seen it more than a few times.)

Crazy Shelley reminded me Saturday evening of another reason why I hate driving weddings and it comes down to a very simple thing; fireworks. And being that this is the kickoff to "Independence Week" I think it's fitting that I expound on the subject.

Horses and Fireworks:

Unlike Peas and carrots, deep fried Twinkies and obesity, and Madonna and foreign adoptions, horses and fireworks do not go together. "Why," you might ask, "wouldn't an animal that operates on the "Fight or Flight" plan, weighs between 1500-2200 pounds, and has the reasoning ability of, oh wait, they don't have the ability to reason, not like fireworks, specifically sparklers?"

Because, Slave Driver replies, they just don't. There are some things you do not argue about, and horses and sparklers is one of those things. Never mind that they smell like sulfur, sound like rattle snakes and are on FIRE, but we just don't use enough sparklers around the horses on a daily basis to acclimate them to the hullabaloo.

So, imagine our chagrin when, after being hired to pick up a B&G from their nuptials, we arrive to find the front of the building looking like a Michael Bay movie set. People line the walkway, holding sparklers over their heads (burning temperature, BTW, approx. 1800 - 3000 degrees) in a configuration reminiscent of a sword arch in a military wedding, cheering as the bride and groom (in expensive and/or rented clothing) walk underneath the flaming sticks and get into a vehicle powered by an animal who is now completely unhinged. An animal who, up until our arrival at Casa de Pyromaniacs, was just fine, but now wants to be any freaking place but there!

Crazy Shelley and Bob had just that experience the other night, and it surprised me because some time ago The Barn placed a moratorium on firework pickups. In fact I believe the direct quote was "If you have sparklers, we won't be there." I think we should use it in our advertising.

But, any way you look at it, fireworks and horses do not belong together, and we try to keep them separate as much as possible. Some of our horses don't even like bubbles, but that I believe is a personal preference. And at least people have stopped throwing rice, which I'm sure Charlie Horse is sad about because knowing him, he'd be all over the sidewalk scarfing up the grains as a snack.

And I promise to talk about proposals soon, because they really are fun, and not rant-y at all.

For more information about the exciting world of wedding carriage driving, direct your browser to this classic gem from May of 2008:

The Wedding Crashers

Friday, June 26, 2009

Why I Hate Driving Weddings

Besides all the foofey gooey stuff and the ugly dresses my poor horse has to be subjected to viewing, and including the people who have no clue that horses do not like sparklers, weddings boil down to one basic equation:

They are a pain in the ass. The Bride and Groom are always late. The photographer thinks he's Annie Liebowitz. The videographer thinks he's Quentin Tarantino. They rarely carry any money to tip anyone (bellmen and valet included). Bridezilla my ass, it's more like mother of the bride-zilla.

So, here for your Day-Runner pleasure, is a timeline for a wedding I drove on Thursday:

8:00am that’s what I set my alarm for, but of course I woke up at 6:50 because God hates my guts and wants me to be sleep deprived forever. It didn't help that I stayed up late reading Victoria Dahl's newest release, "Start Me Up" which is excellent, BTW.

Okay, enough pimping, back to the timeline:

(I was told the wedding was at noon)

8:20 Ro sends me a text asking if I want donuts. No. I detest Krispy Kreme, and if I'm gonna consume that many calories it better give me a buzz. And nobody makes "Wine Filled" Bismarks.

9:45 I leave for the barn.

10:15 I arrive at the barn.

10:16 I find out the wedding pickup has now been moved to 12:30.

10:45 my carriage is pulled, a "Just Married" sign has been attached, Rex is groomed and tacked up.

I now have 1 hour to gossip with Ro and talk to Wease on the phone before I need to change into my wedding togs and hitch Rex to the carriage.

11:50 Hitch Rex to the carriage and head to West Gate. It's a beautiful day, hot and sunny, so I let him walk real slow.

12:00 I get honked at because of the "Just Married" sign. As the honker passes he must be disappointed because no bride and groom are present, leaving him to wonder if Rex and I have just gotten hitched. Which we have, but in the literal sense. Not figuratively speaking.

12:15 Arrive at West Gate.

12:26 Put my fancy long black jacket on so I look professional (translation; So I don't look homeless.)

12:32 I am sweating like a pig in my long black coat on a black carriage. My black jeans are stuck to the back of my legs and my thighs have cooked to a medium well.

12:35 Girl from Toronto starts talking to me asking questions about the horse, carriage and wedding couple. She is very concerned that they are five minutes late. She asks what happens when the Bride & Groom are late. I explain:

"The hour they booked will get them pictures and a ride up to Memory Grove and back. Fifteen minutes late gets them a City Creek ride and pictures. Thirty minutes late gets them a Temple Tour and pictures. Forty-five minutes late gets them up the street and back, plus pictures. An hour late gets them zip."

12:37 Guy walks up and asks me if I have change for a $20. I don't give people change. MBA got burned big once being nice and giving a guy change for something that looked like a $10 but it was a sham and she was out $10 bucks. Guess what folks, I'm not an arcade/retail store/casino. Get change from someplace with a cash register.

12:45 I text Ro: "Are you sure these people KNOW they have a carriage ride?"

12:50 Ro calls and ask if I've made contact with "My People" yet? My People? Who am I, Moses? I tell her "No."

12:55 A guy walks up and asks if Rex is a Belgian. "Yes," is my reply. He then proceeds to tell me about his Belgian and that he rides it. "You must have had a pretty wide tree on your saddle for it to fit him. I imagine it's kind of like straddling a Volkeswagon."

I can tell by the way he's looking at me he had no idea what a saddle "tree" is. He wanders off.

1:00 I call Ro, she confirms that the person booking the ride was advised the "ride would be over at 1:30." See, when you make an appointment, your "ride" starts when your appointment begins. So, for example, if you had booked this ride, I've been on your ride for half an hour now. You just haven't been present.

1:05 Rex and I lose the shade since we've now been sitting at West Gate forever.

1:07 A mom and two kids walk out of the Museum of Church Art and History. One of the kids starts hacking away on a cheap harmonica. This annoying noise goes on for a full five minutes. If I didn't have a horse to attend to, Harmonica would become a suppository.

1:08 Young man in a white shirt and red tie strides purposefully to me while chatting on a cell phone. He asks if I am there for the blahblah wedding and I say "Yes." He states "They're running a little late." I advise, "Yeah, they have twenty-two minutes left."

1:13 Rex falls asleep.

1:14 Red tie returns and asks if they can extend the ride. "Sure, but it'll cost forty buck for a half hour," I say. He wanders away, cell phone glued to his ear.

1:15 I move Rex forward about ten feet so we're back in the shade again. I take my fancy jacket off because a river of sweat if now running down between my shoulder blades. My pits are soaked. If I was a fruit, I would now be ripe.

1:21 The Bride and Groom, along with red tie, the photographer, and the father of the someone arrive. They ask if they can still get their ride. I tell them "Sure, but it'll be really short. Why don't you take some nice pictures while your photographer is here." I put my fancy black jacket back on.

So they did. And they got about a 12 minute ride, along with lots of photos.

And that's how I spent my Thursday, and why I hate driving weddings.

Monday, June 22, 2009

All The Pretty Horses

Note: I started writing this blog entry a while ago and then, for whatever reason, stopped. Today I was net surfing and ran across the blog of Dan Piraro, the person who writes the comic "Bizarro". His depiction of big fat tourists climbing into a NYC carriage being pulled by a surly looking carriage horse and the diatribe that followed once again pissed me off because of the inability of animal activists to see any side of any issue but their own slanted one. They spew rhetoric which is untrue and lump the industry into one gigantic specter of horse beating, food withholding, money grubbing, Snidley Whiplashes who sit on top of the carriage box in our black top hat and Dickinsonian Cape, twirling the ends of our mustaches.

Oh, yeah, we also go, "Mwahahhhhhhh," and dream of tying damsels to railroad track for some odd reason.

There are blogs and websites out there whose sole purpose is to shut down the carriage driving industry. Apparently we are all bad, nasty, cruel folk who are ignorant about horses, can't negotiate through traffic, beat our animals and make them work every day of their lives until they drop dead right there on the street. Then, I guess, we give them one final vicious kick, just for funzies, and walk away leaving a trail of money in our wake because, apparently, we also fart cash.

Now, I know I will probably live to regret the above paragraph, because someone will copy the text, careful to omit certain words, and paste it into a message board somewhere, totally out of context, and decree; "Look, this one even admits it!"

Okey dokey, then. So here's the deal; Horses are large herbivores that have been domesticated for thousands of years. They have their own agenda, which really has nothing to do with ours, but this is the kicker: They're willing to do what we ask of them (work). In exchange, we're willing to do what they ask of us (food/shelter). It's a good trade, and in this economy I see humans asking for the same thing with an increasing amount of regularity.

Now, if you want to argue that because of advances in transportation, we no longer need horses to pull people around in carriages, that's true. But taking a page from the current economic situation, if we do that then we have all these unemployed carriage horses.

A RARA (Radical Animal Rights Activist) will reason that the now unemployed horses can then be "Put out to pasture", to live the remainder of their lives in some magical happy horse valley surrounded by green grass, clear streams and, apparently, rainbows. In this nirvana they will never require veterinary or farrier care, and the Wood Sprites will stop by to groom them.

How wonderful! I bet it's located right next to the lush and fertile land that abused and neglected children, refugees from war torn nations, and Michael Vick's pit bulls live!

Oh, wait, I know where M'Vicks dogs live. That would be Kanab, UT. The land there is neither lush nor fertile, although it is awesome red rock country. And the dogs live on a sanctuary that is constantly asking for donations.

The reality is, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Someone has to put up the money for the property, fence it in, make sure there are enough sources of fresh water for the tenants, and then open wide the gates for the crush of horses being "retired." T. Boone Picken's wife, Madeleine, offered to do this when, a few months back, the BLM was considering euthanizing a large number of the mustangs they are the stewards of because the herds were overpopulated and the land they were on could not support all of them. Let me translate that for you. The "wild" horses the Petards think live idyllic and bliss-filled lives were starving to death so their management team was going to have them killed.

Wow, sounds like heaven to me. Where do I sign up?

(To date, Mrs. Pickins has not done anything since her initial offer. Talk, as they say, is cheap. Land, however, is not.)

The real "awful truth" that Anti-Equestrienne-Eco-Terrorists don't want you to hear is this:

Our horses are better taken care of than a lot of people. In exchange for taking humans on a little ride around town, they are fed, housed, groomed, doctored, have their hooves attended to and loved.

Yes, I said that. Loved. Because I love Cletus, and I love Tony just as much as you love your pet. And trust me, if Cletus wasn't willing to do his job, all 150 pounds of me could not possibly force all 1800 pounds of him into it. That. Just. Doesn't. Work.

In conclusion, because unlike PETA and ALF and the rest of the Ban Carriage Horses Now! dweebs, I don't ask for money, throw paint on people, or exploit women as a way of drawing attention to my "cause". I'll do what I've always done when I run across someone who is misinformed and insists on spreading the PETA agenda. And that is this;

Every day I add a new name to list of people who can kiss my ass.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

I Got a Whole Lotta Nothin'...

I've got nothing…Sorry, but my mother has been visiting for the last week; the only day I worked was this past Friday and you know how that went, and it's rained Every.Single.Day. for almost three weeks, which just makes me want to build an Ark. However, since Ark building is not my forte, lucky for me, I have a canoe. Three people and two dogs will fit nicely in the canoe. However, piloting a canoe has not been so good for me. The last time I used the canoe was on the Little Bear River up by Preston, Idaho, when I was with ~A~ and Wease. That trip made the movie "Deliverance" look like a church picnic. It's also the reason why my left ring finger is messed up. That means I can no longer play guitar, not that I was ever any good at it anyway.

The canoe trip before the one where the Little Bear River kicked my ass was one up the Jordan River. We were still in a bit of a drought then, so Wease, The Kid and I spent a lot of our time carrying the canoe over the big rocks in the middle of the river. That was one loooong ass afternoon.

And while that trip was interesting (we saw a fox, a martin, tons of water fowl, a dead dog which totally grossed out The Kid, and about ten million orange golf balls) I seriously doubt we'd have that problem if we went out on it today. Plus, a boy fell into the river last week and they still have not recovered his body, so… I'm good right here on the couch.

We did go for a hike on Sunday to Donut Falls. It's in Big Cottonwood Canyon, and the last time we did that hike was in 2003. For some reason neither Mr. Slave Driver nor I remembered that, while most of that is is pretty easy, the last 200 yards is a rocky, hazardous, slippery bitch. And since my 79 year old mother was with us, we did not reach the falls.

Between the rain, the swollen falls, and the way too hazardous rocks, we bagged it just short of our goal.

That's okay, we live to attempt it another day, when it's dry, and not so watery. But here are a few pictures. And the reason why I live in Utah.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Stranger Danger!

Being that I work in an uncontrolled environment in the presence of the general population and my maximum getaway speed is about 12 miles per hour, not only do I see a lot of weird and nasty stuff, at times, through no fault of my own, I'm involved in it.

For example, on Thursday MBA and I worked our specialty from 10am until 2pm. We spent four hours driving teams from a youth group participating in an "Amazing Race" styled activity around between the General Conference Center and the Family History Library. It was easy and boring. The highlight of my afternoon was when my mother and her friend ate their lunch outside the family history library where they had been doing research. I returned to West Gate with a wagonload of youth and coerced them into waving and shouting, "Hi Mom!" as we passed.

I know, we're off the hook, "Reefer Madness" quality, uncontrolled gangsta style miscreants.

The day was progressing in typical boring and lackadaisical fashion when I was approached by a family. No sweat there, MBA and I had been fielding questions all morning, mostly about our availability. We handed out a lot of cards and advised people to come back after 5. This family also inquired about a ride and I handed them a business card and politely brushed them off. MBA and I were taken. Our time was reserved for the youth group.

Behind the family there stood a solitary man. After they wandered off he approached the wagonette, rested his elbows on the sides, and looked at me. "Did you want a business card?" I asked.

He was silent for a moment and then he said, "I want to ***********."

Now, I'm not going to repeat what he said because, while he used no swear words or even any of the late, great George Carlin's "Seven words you can't say on television," what he said was insulting and inappropriate. It also pissed me off immensely, which you will see in a moment.

Now, mind you, MBA is sitting on the driver's seat of her wagonette about 20 feet behind me and cannot hear what Mr. Creepy just said. All she can see is some random guy carrying on a conversation with me.

I paused for a moment, not really believing what I had heard him utter. Then, after it registered, and before he could continue with his wish list, I said, "Get lost."

Mr. Creep looked at me and said, "Are you with them?" as he hooked his thumb over his shoulder to indicate Temple Square, headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints, AKA Mormons.

"No," I responded, getting louder, and then I added, "piss off!" By now MBA was watching with interest, still unable to fathom why I was being so rude.

"But I want to know how I get to one of those buildings with the spire on top," he said.

Not knowing exactly what state of mind this jerk was in, or his ultimate intentions, I scooted over to be within grabbing distance of my carriage whip, (Which, by the way, I keep on the vehicle for the sole purpose of using on people, not horses) and I responded to his statement with "Go ask them!" and indicated the information booth located directly inside of West Gates.

Then, just to clarify, because he hadn’t moved I added, "Leave!" My voice once again going up in decibels; I talk for a living, I know how to project.

He finally took the hint, and started moving in MBA's direction. I sat up a little straighter and prepared to grab the whip and jump off the carriage, because if he was going to pull that sh*t on MBA he would be on the receiving end of a royal ass kicking from me. He course corrected and sauntered towards West Gate, but not before he threw in over his shoulder, "You don't have to be such a b*tch about it."

And of course that goaded me into adding a very loud and nasty "F*ck you!!!"

By now MBA had saucers for eyeballs, and her mouth was doing one of those "Oooooh, you're gonna get it!!!" things. So, being that I didn't feel like shouting the entire conversation to her I indicated I would call her cell phone and I repeated the exchange verbatim.

Later she said, "I know you are very direct, but I couldn't figure out why you were going 'off' on this guy. But now that you've explained it to me, I understand. And I don't blame you. And I'm glad it was you and not me, because I have no idea what I would have done."

And my kid wonders why I don't allow her to go downtown and free range around the city.

Now, this is not the first time I have had to handle an unorthodox exchange with a local weirdo. Many times I have had to run off a person we have dubbed "Drunken Horse Whisperer." And then there's the guy with the hoodie and sunglasses that follows us when we walk through the back of the Gallavan center we call "Uni-Bomber." A couple of months ago Marky-Mark got into it with a panhandler and was punched in the face for his trouble. And don't forget that it was MBA and I working with the night the lady was standing outside South Gate talking to herself and cutting the clothes she was wearing off with scissors. So this is not exactly a new occurrence. But to date this is the first one that has made such a personal and sexual suggestion.

Because the animal rights activists that drive by and shout "Go f*ck yourself!" don't count.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

When Honesty Is The Best Policy

There is a rumor going around the valley that at one time the sky held a big burning ball. I don't believe it. I think it's an urban legend. So far we have had rain every stinking day for the last two weeks. And not just a soft little gentle rain. It's the torrential street flooding, plant damaging, when it hits you it #%*&!!! HURTS kind of rain.

Tuesday I worked and the trainee I had the night before called off "sick". Now, I'm the first person to tell a new recruit that this job is not for everyone. It's the kind of job you either love right away, or not. Really, people, if you don't like the job that's okay. But let's be honest; don't call in pansy ass "sick", call in quit. Be firm.

We have had people training with us, standing at South Gate, and ask to use the john. They go to the john and never return, opting to hoof it all the way back to the barn and go home. And you know, if in the middle of your second hour you decide that this isn't the job for you, I'd be so much happier if you would say, "This is not the glamorous and exciting career I anticipated. I think I'll call it a day." Because then I won't have to waste my time going over policy, procedure, and the ride prices. Instead the trainee disappears into the Bermuda Triangle of restrooms, never to be heard from again. After about 30 minutes of "john time" we figure they've bagged it, but still. Just tell me you quit. What do you think I'm going to do, take away your birthday?

Of course we're going to mock you, but since you'll be gone, what do you care? We're going to mock you even if you stick around. That's the way we roll.

I feel the same about the potential customers. We stand there and ask as they pass by, "Would you like to go for a carriage ride tonight?" Time and time again they struggle to come up with a plausible excuse as to why they can't possibly go on a carriage ride.

"We're going to dinner."

"We're going to a movie."

"I'm allergic to horses."

"We left the children home alone and the house is on fire."

Oh, wait, no, that's Ladybugs. Ignore that last one.

But one of the very few responses we actually get is, "No." Really people, it's a question which only requires a yes or no answer. And we're okay with you simply saying, "No." Besides, as soon as you say "no" I'm going to forget about you and move on to the next fresh meat potential customer anyway.

Unless, of course, you're dressed in a manner that requires conversation related to

1) Your eyesight and/or color blindness

2) Your lack of ability to differentiate between strips, polka dots, neon colors, fringe/feathers and their relationship with one another in an ensemble

3) The fact that the purse your boyfriend is carrying for you doesn't match his shoes


4) The distinct possibility you've just graduated "Clown College" and are currently job hunting.

Some people, as they pass, don't respond at all. They suddenly find that there is mysterious invisible writing on the wall the surrounds Temple Square and become engrossed in "reading" it. At first they are looking ahead of them and when we speak you can almost hear the tendons in their neck snap as they woosh! Quicker than you can say "Linda Blair," swivel their neck and inspect the wall. Their pace quickens, arms swinging to help the momentum, and once they've run the gauntlet everything returns to normal.

Something must be written on the wall, we just can't figure out what...

So, to borrow a line from the Regan era, "Just say no!" I mean, that is, if you don't want to take a ride. If you DO want to take a ride don't say no. That would just be silly.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Passion Piece

This is the 1500-2000 word piece I submitted for my sister-in-laws e book. I mentioned last week or so that she requested I write about my "Passion", and since horses have always been my passion that's what I wrote about.

Pretty stinking clever of me, huh?

Anyway, it's an essay (snooze) so it's not chocked full of shits and giggles, sorry. Go back and read about Cleatus urinating on AK-47's Bentley for that. In the mean time, slog on, citizens.


The Object of My Addiction

I have, for as long as I can recall, loved horses. Like many young girls I craved the freedom they represented, the bonding between horse and rider, and their all around natural grace and beauty. With zeal I daydreamed about being able to leap upon the back of a noble steed, flying like the wind in whatever direction we chose. Of course, reality is so much different than fantasy.

We lived in the suburbs, and no matter how much I cajoled and pleaded, my parents could not reconcile themselves to keeping a horse in our tiny back yard. So I settled for the next available thing; absorbing the horse through books by Marguerite Henry and Walter Farley. In my mind I was marooned with The Black Stallion. I lived on Chincoteague Island with the hardy little ponies. In Victorian England I felt the cruel lash of a whip while pulling a Hansom Cab over cobblestone streets as Black Jack, the carriage horse. I collected Breyer models, and Sam Savitt posters. I adorned my room with Arabs, Morgans, and even that ugly old grey milk cart model that wore a straw hat. I never walked anywhere, I trotted, or if in a hurry, I galloped, making snorting noises and pawing at the ground with my sneaker covered hooves. I attached a jump rope to the handlebars of my bike and taught myself, not always successfully, to ride using "reins". Each waking breath was devoted to thinking of, reading of, and dreaming of horses.

As I got older and became a popular sitter for the neighborhood children, at fifty cents an hour, I saved up my earnings and enrolled in riding lessons through the local park district. I was in heaven as I shuttled to and from the stable in the district's van every Thursday evening. Learning to ride was empowering; the feeling of all that muscle under you, controlled by your commands, a delicate dance of balance and forward impulsion. The knowledge that such an enormous animal is responding to cues given by you builds courage, confidence and self esteem. It made me realize that as I controlled the animal I could also control my life.
At 13 I attended a company picnic with my family and found, to my delight, pony rides. By then I was too old and equitationally advanced to do something so infantile, but the man who ran the business offered me a job working for him. At the princely sum of $1.00 an hour, I jumped at the opportunity.

My goal was never to be at the pinnacle of the horsemanship world. I only knew that I wanted to be involved with them. The details never mattered; boarding, training, riding, driving, as long as I had contact and was able to inhale their intoxicating warm scent, combined with the smell of sweat and leather. The exultation I felt while watching their powerful muscles ripple under sleek fur groomed to perfection. I enjoyed learning the difference in their vocalizations: the "I'm hungry" whinny so different from the "It's scary" snorty inhale, so far removed from the "Where is everybody?" call.

Although it was a rewarding job because of my proximity to the ponies, it became clear that ponies are not like horses, at least the ones in this little string. They were sneaky, conniving little buggers who would just as soon stomp on your foot as look at you. I quit that job, not because of the rotten little Shetlands, but because the owner reneged on his $1 an hour and changed it to $5 a day.
Obsessed or not, I knew the value of my time.

Eventually, life overrode my horse habit, the constant "Oh grow up. Having horses is a little girl's dream," grinding into my psyche. I settled into being a passive observer, going on the occasional trail ride, or watching the Thoroughbreds race at the track.

Eventually I married a man who was a closet cowboy, born in the wrong time and geographic location, who shared my love for horses. We took riding lessons together, ironically offered through the park district, and often discussed how we would both like to own a horse someday.

It was during this time in my life that I had an epiphany; my husband and I were in the car, driving past a field in Wisconsin. I could see across the light brown wheat to the edge of the plowed land. There were riders on horseback, trotting together in a group, kicking up dust. A small tribe out for an evening ride. The sun was setting; the rays filtering through the atmosphere giving everything it touched an ethereal quality. Filmmakers and photographers call this "the golden hour", and I knew that, where those people where, riding their horses through that field, in the company of one another, with the companionship of their horses; I knew that was where I wanted to be. That was where I had always wanted to be, but somehow I had allowed myself to be sidetracked. My envy was palatable. I had become a victim of the dream smashers, the "Be practical" shouters. I had become a hostage of the reason-pirates; the connivers who conspire to steal your heart's desire and replace it with a 9-5 job, expecting that in the frenzy of daily living you'll never notice the difference.

With double income and no kids, my husband and I settled into our jobs and a house of our own. One June evening after a particularly enjoyable lesson, we looked at each other and one of us said, "I think 'someday' has come."

We shopped around, and eventually purchased an Appaloosa, L.P. Prairie Dreamer, and began our new life as horse owners. Once again I became absorbed into the culture of horses. The riding, grooming, equipment and vocabulary were my drug of choice, an addiction I threw my entire soul into. I had finally come home, and reveled in the feeling of satisfaction, in knowing that after my daily grind at the 9 to 5'er, I could once again drive out to the stable and get my horse fix.

A year after the purchase, we had a daughter. Now the stable became my escape, my "me" time. After work my husband would return home and care for our child and I would race to the barn, allowing myself the luxury of relaxing with my equine obsessed friends. Not long after that my husband was offered a job transfer to Missouri. Although not born in Illinois, I always considered myself a native, and the move to Missouri would take me far from friends and family. I agreed to go, on one condition: I wanted horse property. Not content with keeping my best non-human friend at a stable, I wanted to be able to look out my kitchen window and watch him grazing contently.

Of course after we moved, horse mathematics came into play; three people and one horse equals two people who are horseless, so we purchased a large pony that could be ridden by adults as well as the daughter who I knew would be genetically horse-obsessed. And of course if you own a mare, you are required to breed her. Then when another pony was offered for free we had to take her in too…

It was then I realized that besides merely loving horses, I was passionate about them. I started reading about horses again, this time not novels but non-fiction. I wanted to absorb everything I could about them; learn how horses thought, how they moved, how breed form followed function. I immersed myself in my Appaloosa's pedigree, trying to figure out how his genetics factored into his development as a saddle horse. As she grew, our daughter got into 4-H, and I learned even more, absorbing all the Hippology workbooks and information they presented to the children at the meetings.

Eventually our time on the farm in Missouri came to a close and we moved even further west, landing in Utah. We chose a home in the suburbs, victims of the huge difference in real estate prices, and soured on the work involved in maintaining a hobby farm. Only able to afford board for one horse, we found homes for the others and brought Dreamer along. And so I still had him, my first horse, that animal I had craved to know for so long.

After less than a year in Salt Lake I was hired as a carriage driver. The job involved maneuvering the big draft horses through the streets downtown, giving romantic rides and historic tours. Once again I was a student, learning the art of driving, the harness tack, and the finesse necessary to negotiate in traffic; understanding what the horses see as a danger, and what they ignore. I enjoyed teaching passersby, some of whom have never encountered a real horse in their lives, what this magnificent animal with such a noble past is capable of doing. It is a job I still hold today, and I always tell people that it is the best, the most fun, intriguing and rewarding job I have ever had, something which few people can honestly say about their professions.

Several years ago I finally found a way to balance my passion for horses with another love. Having always been a voracious reader, I became a writer, blogging about my carriage driving life, along with creating fictional characters and scenes. I've found through the years my horse experience has transferred over into my writing, and that’s my genre — writing about characters that live and work with horses on a daily basis. I hope that I, too, as those wonderful novelists before me, may someday fan that spark in a person who loves horses as much as I have. Encourage them to take that passion and turn it into something they can do for a living, whether it be as a breeder, trainer, writer, or a person who gives pony rides.

Combine that obsession which burns within you, and turn it into something you can incorporate into the rest of your life.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Yin To My Yang

I have to work tonight and tomorrow night and then my mother is coming to visit…but I'm doing a specialty with MBA on Friday while my mom is in town. Why? She visits twice a year or so, up from Tucson, and while she stays at my house, most of her vertical time is spent downtown at the library. I'm beginning to think that I'm really just a free place to squat while she researches… And since the specialty staging is at West Gate, which is across the street from the Genealogy Library, she will be able to watch me "work", if you can call it that. Her diligent research has already enabled us to join the Daughter's of the American Revolution, so I don’t know what she's trying to prove next. Maybe to see if we're related to the Romanoff's; get us a piece of the Russian crown.

A note about MBA: She has a double first name and a common last name and when you put them altogether it makes for one long hand cramping name to write, or type. So years ago she started abbreviating it to "MBA" on the schedule. She often goes to lunch with Ro and I, and we frequently refer to her as "MBA" instead of using her first name. Due to privacy issues I either use a nickname, change names, or omit last names of people I write about. So, when you see something like "MBA" as a name, just roll with it.

I had a productive weekend. I managed to get a newbie to quit, and that’s a good thing, because he was just not cut out for the carriage driving life. Because of his bumbling inadequacies, another driver and I spent almost two hours waiting around for him, and we didn't leave the barn until 2:15 Saturday morning. That makes for a reallllllllly long night, people. Especially, by the way, when you have to pee, and you're hungry. Plus, last week he dunked the #2 radio, which was just replaced and is the one I always use, into a bucket of water, thus ruining it. Newbies are on a 30 day probationary period. 2 strikes in 5 days = not good. Not coming in Saturday means a no call/no show, so three strikes and you're out.

Sometimes, although a person is "passed off" and is eligible to drive, in reality they are never really cut out for this job. They just don't realize it until someone, say, moi, comes along and allows them to see the error of their vocational choice. I did not rip this person a new one ( I have been known to make people cry ) I simply advised him about all the protocol and procedure he woofed in an evening. I was not surprised when the owner called me at home the following evening, and asked what I said to him. She then advised me that he did not show up for work Saturday afternoon, and thanked me for unloading the dead weight.

*Sigh* A cowboy's work is never done.

So the specialty on Friday is a thing with a youth group, and MBA and I have to stand at West Gate for two and a half hours and give children rides. Not all children, just these children; the children from the youth group. And being that I enjoy the company of other people's children so much, I will be easy to recognize. I'll be the woman with the iPod firmly plugged into one ear, and the glazed expression in her eyes. By the end I'll probably be twitching, too, or banging my head against the side of the wagonette.

MBA, on the other hand, will be as bubbly and effervescent as usual. So she will be the yin to my yang. See? It all evens out in the end.

Slave Driver pushing a stroller full of her favorite kind of baby...

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Things To Do In Bicknell When You're Dead

You know it's going to be one of those days when you notice that your first blog visitor in the morning is from Holy See (Vatican City State) and they found you by searching for "Crackhorse."


I was going to visit Dreamer, pay board and check on Stan, but the sky darkened, the thunder boomed, and we were deluged by monsoons (I live in the desert, and unlike Arizona, we don't have a "monsoon season", but unlike when I lived in Missouri, at least here a thunderstorm is just a thunderstorm, not a potential Tornado Storm) so I bagged it opting for a Thursday visit. Instead, I decided to do some research about the town of Bicknell, Utah, which I've chosen as a possible setting for a new story I'm working on.

In April of 2006, prior to Jumping-Percheron's Stacey leaving for the Air Force, several members of our carriage driver tribe went on a camping trip to Bicknell. We stayed at a youth camp, not yet opened for the season, owned by some friends of Wease. It's located on the edge of Capitol Reef National Park; a rugged and beautiful area of Utah.

Every year the local theater (there is only one in all of Wayne County) sponsors the Bicknell International Film Festival, and part of the activities involve "The Fastest Parade in the World." The road between Torrey, where the parade begins, and Bicknell, where it ends, is about seven miles long and pretty much all highway. The participants drive 55 miles per hour, so you'd better make sure that your "Floats" have all their decorations wired down tight, and any beauty queens riding on them fasten their tiaras to their skulls with an industrial size staple gun. I would have liked to attend this year, purely for research purposes (okay, it also sounds like a riot, and I'm all about fun stuff) but looking at my calendar I will most likely be back in the Chicagoland area to attend my 30th high school reunion. But I needed to find out when the BIFF is, so I was researching.

My research brought back many fond memories from that trip. The drinking,

the barrel bucking,

the drinking, the trail ride,

the drinking, Stacey's midnight visit to the emergency room in Richmond for kidney stones, the drinking, and of course Kampfire Karaoke, which Stacey and Michelle missed because of the emergency room trip. Michelle, sister to Belle's Personal Assistant, was elected to drive the 75 miles to Richfield, Utah, because she was the only sober person in the camp. See? That's what you get for being Mormon; you are, by default, the Designated Driver.

Upon being advised by medical personnel that Stacey was, under no circumstances, to return to our secluded campsite (because if her fever spiked her next trail ride would be in a Lifeflight to Provo), Michelle and Stacey returned to Salt Lake, arriving home sometime around 2:30 am. This saddened us greatly, that is when we sobered up enough to realize that they would not be returning. It also left us with a rather huge dilemma, best explained with one of those annoying math "story" exercises:

Michelle owns a big Ford SUV and transports herself, Stacey, Oli, and ~A~, along with all of their crap from Salt Lake City to Bicknell.

+ Wease owns a Ford pickup truck, and transports herself, Slave Driver, dogs Belle and Rosie, all their crap along with two saddles, all the food/cooking supplies, and of course the Karaoke equipment from Salt Lake City, to Bicknell.

+ Bill owns a Honda (car) and transports himself, all his crap and a bunch of his gold panning crap, from Salt Lake City to Bicknell.

-If Michelle and Stacey return to Salt Lake City in an empty SUV, leaving Oli, ~A~, and all of their collective crap back at camp; how long will it take for the balance of the group to pack up all of the residual belongings and equipment into the two remaining vehicles?

=Answer: About 2.5 hours, as long as at least 3 out of 5 members of the group are really good at the game "Tetris."

Well, kids, that's enough math for today. I'm going to see Dreamer, and take pictures of Stan.

(Edited to add: I spoke to Ro this morning and am sad to report that the intrepid Max went to greener pastures today. He was loved on by Ro before he went, and his journey was gentle.)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

For Those About To Walk, We Salute You

(Editorial note: I've learned a very important lesson about checking the expiration date on Wal-Mart Home-style Potato Salad. The lesson is this: Do it. Food poisoning is very unpleasant, and will knock you on your ass for a couple of days. That's where I've been, food poisoning land. It's not a nice place to visit and I definitely do NOT want to live there… Anyway…)
Sammie Two Chews, ready for some action!

First I would like to thank those of you that contributed to the Strut Your Mutt fund, both online and off. You know who you are. We know who you are. Best of all, Karma knows who you are.

Next, a field report: Saturday dawned a bright and beautiful morning with a light breeze. Mr. Slave Driver and I awoke with a spring in our step and a song in our heart…The Kid, however was much more difficult to wake up because, although this event is her gig, the day before she had attended "The Big Ass Show" at Usana Amphitheater. This meant that from right after school at 2:50 when I picked her up until 12:30 am when she returned home, she was either talking on the phone, texting on the phone, surfing the pit or ogling guys. In other words, she had been very busy and was just plumb wore out. But…not my problem. I had specifically not worked on Friday evening because I did not want to exhibit signs of "Dragging Ass Syndrome". So we gleefully hauled her crabby butt out of bed, picked up the other teenage member of our team, along with her canine companion, Papi, and headed to Sugarhouse Park for the strut.

Two teenage girls with unbounded enthusiasm, ready for the big day...

Kenna and Papi; their first Strut!

We arrived early enough to find relatively close parking on a side street, due largely to my continuous effort while still at home of rousing the troops via repeatedly stressing "Hurry up," "Let's go!" and "Come on!". We equipped our "Army of Dog" with a cooler full of water and a baby stroller I picked up for $4 at my neighbor's garage sale. Why? You ask, would someone walking their dog around a park need a stroller? Because, I say, my dog has short little legs and like me is a bit over weight so usually a block into the strut she quits on us and we have to carry the fat little fluff ball which makes my arms really tired. Also, they have a lot of stuff that the sponsors give away and we get a bit overloaded with swag. So this year I planned ahead and we rolled most of the way.

It's all good.

The info I've gotten back from No More Homeless Pets in Utah states that this year's strut was the most lucrative fundraiser yet, so that's great. And even thought we did not meet our goal of $500 we did a fairly respectable $415 in donations, so Yay! for us.

While we were there Mr. Slave Driver did a little dog shopping and found a completely weird breed that he now wants, but they are so obscure I seriously doubt we will ever get one which is good because it's as big as a pony but with much more hair. MUCH more. And I know from experience of having a large dog, (Kuvasok, another obscure breed big enough to saddle/ride) that large breeds mean large poops and I do not relish the thought of renting a backhoe to clean up the yard, TYVM.

This dog is a "Leonberger". No, I've never heard of it either. But now my husband wants one. He couldn't fall in love with a Pit Bull or a black mutt, both of which are overrunning the shelters?
Anyway, here are my pictures from the 2009 Strut Your Mutt. Mr. Slave Driver, obviously a Luddite, uses an old fashioned film camera and his photos will not be ready until Saturday.

I must go now and catch up on the stuff I've neglected for the past 24 hours. Posting this blog for you, dear reader, was the first thing on my list. :)

You know, I didn't ask. I assumed they lost a bet...

Another large breed my husband wants. This is a Bernese Mountain Dog. Because we live in the mountains. And we speak Swiss (No we don't)

One of my favorites, a Newfoundland. Yes, they do come in something other than black.

I took this picture because of the man in the middle of the crowd. The two fisted Pom holder. You have to hold your Poms up or else they get crushed. There were a lot of dogs there.

These are Hairless Chinese Cresteds, they also come in haired. This is a rescue group, and I asked "Why does this breed need a rescue? They are very expensive, and uncommon." And the girl answered "People get them as an accessorie and do not realize the care needed." Apparently, she advised, if your dog is hairless it needs to be bathed an lot or it gets acne. And you have to use sunscreen on it. So besides being fugly looking, it gets pizza-body and sunburn. Poor little designer dog...

I've talked about the "Big Fix" mobile unit that travels Utah spaying and neutering dogs and cats at a discount. Well. here it is. And what I most loved about seeing the unit is their license plate-