Summer Love, True Love

Pearl Basin 3It really was love at first sight;  the ranch, the barnyard bustle, the summer morning air filled with the scent of horses and leather and timothy grass, the mountains and wilderness and the trails that wound intimately through, and my family working side by side.  I knew from day one, the hold this had on me, the grip on my heart and soul.  I knew this was it, that I wouldn’t need anything else in my life. Just this. And although I couldn’t see it then, I see it now.  This way of life assimilated into a relationship built on real, true love, summer love.

And as with all relationships in its freshness and grandeur,  I found myself giving it my very best, giving my all, losing myself in the ebb and flow of all the family outfitting and dude ranch business and the nature of what it had to offer.  I let it form and mold and shape me at its whim.  I took when it gave, it gave everything when it could, and I waited patiently when it couldn’t, and rested on the laurels of someday and next summer. Because I knew with each breath of a new summer season, it would once again envelop me in its arms. It needed me, and I needed summer even more.  I loved it with every fiber of my being.  I always felt that without it, I wasn’t me, that I wasn’t honoring what my family had worked so hard to build, and I wasn’t fulfilling the contract made to my heart without it.  But, mostly it was an incessant need and desire that demanded to be satiated.  I needed the mountains, the horses, the trails and the dust, the meadows, the influx of new people, and the daily touchback to my family and heritage; I needed it all.

This love took me places I never knew were possible or even existed. It pushed me, helped me see untapped potential within, and broke down walls I didn’t even know needed breaking. It opened my eyes to what this life could be, what it should be. It led me to new friendships, mountain peaks and vistas I would have never otherwise seen, the clearest streams filled with the most colorful stones, the intimate trust and love of a good horse, and it led me to my next love, my husband and children.

And as with all  good things, true love changes, and you start to wonder if you’re both committed to forever. Your needs start to change and so does its. I started to lose my grip on what seemed perfect and what I felt would truly last forever.  I started to see flaws in this relationship, and my ability to communicate my needs and desires broke down.  And the ease and comfort of my life morphed into the next phase of true love, the change.  And I felt myself changing with it.  I felt like I was becoming two different people.  There was the side of me, the drifter side, that wanted to continue to wander and wonder and love this life as it was.  But the other side of me I felt emerging desired consistency and steadfastness that this love could not offer me.  And they clashed, like a gentle war in my heart.  And it was a wash, no clear winner, no giant victor; only small wins here and there in a fraction of time that soothed  because one side of me conceded the game being played between head and heart to the other.  But only until they crossed paths again…the epitome of should I stay or should I go?

The latter of the two won. The need to find stability in something other than my love for this way of life surpassed the need to drift freely.  Because it no longer was free; it came at a price. It forced choices to be made and growth to happen.  The next phase of life needed to happen because I could no longer ride the tide of summer love.  I had others counting on me, and I needed to count on myself.  And I let go…

I didn’t give up.  I didn’t win or lose.  This love became best tucked away with words left unsaid because it was better that way.  Letting go wasn’t leaving the love, but rather leaving feelings left unexplored and thoughts left incomplete.  It wasn’t about blocking memories made, good or bad.  Letting go became an acceptance of what this love really was, realizing my own need for independence, and finding peace with what it remains to be.  It was a giant and gentle step into growth and knowing that my heart and head needed a clearer, gentler path. No bitterness was felt and no blame needed placed, because there was really no fault. Just the rawness that change evokes.

So, there my true, first love lies, back in the heart of the mountains, in the family left behind, the friends made, the horses and trails ridden. We both gave it everything we had at the time, and when the morning sun arose, we both knew it was time. It embeds itself there, tucked away in the rough edges of my heart, occupying vast space, a burning flame, awaiting for our paths to cross again. I take those memories out and  look at them, revisit what was, and sometimes wonder what if?  But more than anything, I honor this great love, a no truer love, because it made me who I am today and for that, I am forever in love and forever grateful…

Happy Trails~

Heather

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She Rides

This is an ode to the most beautiful woman I know.  No finer lady will this world have the pleasure of knowing, and at 66, may she know that’s she’s the most beautiful version of herself now more than ever.  May this serve as a reminder that even though she’s a mother, a wife, and a grandmother, that she is still all woman, and most importantly, uniquely amazing with what she offers up to this world with the biggest and kindest of hearts…. Happiest of birthdays, Mama…

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I always picture her here on the back of spry black & white paint horse riding down a mountain trail. Her black hair and dark eyes glitter, and you know she’s at home here, the most in love here, and the most alive here.  She sits tall and true.  She rides.

 But in all actuality, this is how she handles life and all the crazy it throws at her.  She’s seen mountains of heartbreak, admitted guilt, nursed sick children, loved her family and husband fiercely, she’s fallen and risen, and prayed her way through it all. Sure, she’s made mistakes and blamed herself; nobody is more aware of them than her.  But, through it all, she rides, head held high, straighter and truer with every turn of the trail. She rides.

She’s tough. I’ve seen her eat dirt coming off a rank colt, and pull herself up and throw a leg over him one more time, just to prove she’s boss.  She has a way with horses; she sees untapped potential, and she loves the challenge of the ornery ones. And she rides them. She hangs and rattles with the best of ’em because she rides.

Lord, she’s strong; strong- willed and strong-minded, but mostly, strong-hearted.  The only fear I’ve ever seen in her is the possibility of losing a loved one.  And she’s been there. She’s lost love and she cries.  And she loves again, stronger. She extends her open arms and heart to those around her, those in need of it most, stranger or friend.  She rides through this life with grace and love. She rides.

She paints beautiful pictures, she builds a home full of laughter, love, kindness and respect.  She’s music, Sunday morning hymnals, and a little kick-ass country because it’s Monday.  She’s fast horses, Sunday morning church, and a lover and a fighter.  She’s woman, all beautiful woman, refined and lady-like and tough as nails. She’s all of these because she rides.

I’m lucky enough to call her Mama.  There’s nobody I look up to more in this life, and I am forever grateful for all she’s ever been to me. Strength when I needed, a boot in the ass when I deserved it, and unconditional love always. Thank you for all the firsts in this life, like teaching my to drive a stick and pull a horse trailer, how to cook, and how to get tough when the tough get going.  Thank you for your love and support through the years when I doubted my own skills and strengths.  But I’m most thankful for your teaching me to ride. Straight, strong and true, she rides…

Love you, Mama. Happy Birthday!

I Thought of You Today…

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I thought of you today while the wind teased the loose tendrils of hair from under my hat. The familiar feel and memories of a spring with you came flooding back. The horse hair curried, the mane and tail trimmed and shaped, the tack cleaned and oiled just right. My horse rolled air through his nose, and snorted with anticipation. He knew the first ride of spring was upon him. Old Roany gave me the look, the one you used to tell me to watch for. The look that allows a fraction of insight into their heart and soul, the one chance you get at an advantage on a spry, spring-backed horse. I saw so much life there. He told me not to worry or be afraid. And he told me he would test me, but he also told me to trust. He read my hesitation. You see, he’s sort of like you were. Standoffish. Confident. Proud. Full of life. I saw your reflection in his eyes and your words echoed in my ear, softly. I saddled him up, lead him away from the hitch rail, the wind picking up force.  My bosal hackamore, the one you gave me, hung from the horn, and I always see your hands, weathered and rough, on the mecate. I bridled him, patted him, and gave him one last look as I grabbed a hunk of mane, and swung a leg over ‘ol red roany. Hump in his back, wind in his tail, and the look in his eye, he strode out just like he always does every time, quick and sure-footed and in charge. You would’ve liked Red, Popi. He would have been just your style. The smile on my face said it all.  Anyway, I thought of you today…

Leaving a Legacy

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Some moments simply leave your mouth absent of words, your eyes filled with warm tears, and your heart so full of love and pride, and when those moments come, you make note of every detail in that capsule of time.  My grandfather, Clarence Barron “C.B.” Rich was recently inducted into the Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame this month in Great Falls.  I have written about my grandpa in the past and shared how he impacted my insignificant, little life, but to witness what it means to really leave a legacy behind for another generation to nurture and care for as their own is priceless.

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He was one of thirty-five inductees, living and legacy, to be honored at this year’s ceremonies.  How a committee narrows down a group of thirty-five cowboys from all of those spread out over the years in Montana is baffling, because as I sat there and listened to the names being read and the story behind each cowboy or cowgirl, I thought how extremely lucky I was to be in the company of these fine inductees and those that came to honor them.

The stories shared were truly etched from the pages of Montana and western history; stories from train robbery attempts and assisting outlaws to carving out an honorable life from the harsh and formidable landscapes we now take for granted.  Underneath every Stetson hat in that room, was a true and honorable cowboy or cowgirl.  And somehow, I was lucky enough to be connected to this amazing moment in time.

I looked around the solarium full of people, close to probably five hundred, and with each name read from the inductee list, there was a family member or friend there to receive the award.  There was a deep pride each one felt hearing their inductee being named, the standing ovations and the well-deserved applause for those known and not known, for their accomplishments and attributions to the community we call “cowboy”.

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There were bronc stompers, ropers, farmers & ranchers, cattlemen & women, teamsters, outfitters, outlaws, horse trainers, artists, authors & poets, rodeo competitors, and  livestock entrepreneurs, all being honored. They were, and are all “cowboy”,  and all darn sure legendary.  Their stories were significant, entertaining, and different, but the commonality was all of these people were and are, tough as a new bride’s biscuits.  They tended livestock in the worst of weather, they cut trails, built barns, rode rough horses and even rougher country, all in the name of providing for a family, a community, and a country.  Their purpose was strong, bold, and etched out of crusted sweat on their brows, and callouses on their weathered hands.  Not a one of them missed the mark on work ethic and values.  They all knew what it meant to be a part of something bigger than themselves.  They loved their families and communities, and fought for their country and our freedom.  They had grit, true grit, in their guts and steel in their veins.

I observed the younger generation looking on in the room, and wondered if any felt like I did?  Will generations yet to come understand what it took for their ancestors and loved ones to build their legacies, their homesteads, ranches, and hard-earned dreams? Better yet, will they even care?  Will they know to look up from their mobile devices and televisions, and work at a back-breaking speed to beat a storm?  Does our current culture and warped society give a damn about such things anymore?  Do they care about pulling calves in a March snowstorm? Will they know the exhilarating feeling of throwing a leg over a fresh colt, or to climb a mountain pass and blaze a new trail over rugged miles of rocks and trees?  Will they know the art of carving life out of a Charlie Russell landscape? Will they appreciate the hue of the prairie sunrises and sunsets as they glance of the coulees and breaks?  Will they be inspired to do more and be more?

I hope so.  These people leave an amazing legacy to carry and pass on down the line.  They take so much knowledge and history with them when they go, and they live big boots to fill.  I am honored to be a part of such a life, and I hope that I am able to do more than ride along on the coattails of my grandpa’s legacy.  Because it’s about time I made my own…

Happy Trails~

Kindred Corral Spirits

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We never grew up owning one, single mare in my entire childhood.  Every male on the ranch preached time and time again about what a pain in the hind parts they were to have on the place.  Of course I was always slightly offended by these nonsensical statements.  Mares, in my opinion, were always far superior in the looks department, and yes, that theory was entirely based on the fact that I was in fact a female.  So naturally, it only seemed right to learn to identify with the female animals that were allowed in the family outfitting business, and that just so happened to be some of our mules.  Mules are a hybrid and are also sterile, which means they are slightly less sensitive to the reproductive nature that horses are.

My uncle owns a jenny mule named Helga, and although she was about 4 years old when he bought her, and her historical details are a little blurry to me, I developed a fondness for Helga, and here’s why… {Side note: Now, I will just say right of the bat that it takes a rather brave woman to compare herself to a mule, and I may have just admitted to a whole new level of insanity, so there is that.}

Like me, I believe Helga must be a Gemini.  No, I don’t buy into all that astrological jazz, but I find it entertaining.  Neither Helga nor I care if you don’t like our personalities, because there are usually several more to choose from.  Paranoia comes easy to both of us; i.e. I don’t like to walk in the woods alone and neither does she because every stump takes on the form of a damn grizzly bear. Both of us require friends with tough skin and a good sense of humor, and we lack the ability to sugar coat our current moods or thoughts, and tend to lash out or freely express our emotions at any given moment.  We both like change, and really hate monotony.  If you don’t change the scenery, we will change it for you.

Helga and I both prefer a shorter walk to the feed bunk. Some things just shouldn’t be so much work.  We both have “curves” and lack the desire to change much about that.  But, if you have a stitch of couth, you will not refer to us as “thick” or “husky”.  Dude, you will get kicked.

Generally, we both like attention and you can reel us in with cookies. We like cookies. But, we also generally like to be left alone by the male species; that is of course unless they are of the handsome horse variety.  We go gaga over good looking and smart horses that lead us safely down the trails and over mountain passes.

Helga works hard and rocks an awesome pack going down the trail, and that’s because Helga loves her job.  More people could learn from Helga’s work ethic and her attitude about it.  And like Helga, I believe in earning your pay honestly.  There’s nothing like a good day’s work of physical labor that leaves you satisfied at the end of the day.

So, thank you, Helga, for giving me another female to whole-heartedly identify with in this life.  I admire the heck  outta ya girl, and you’re beautiful to boot!

~Happy Trails~

Heather

Good Horses To Ride

 

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Well my friends, it’s another day, another dollar

Another milestone crossed in this life

I may not be just where I want to be

But, at least I have a good horse to ride.

 

Life was trying at times this past year,

Sometimes it felt like I was trekking the Great Divide

But, you see these were just lessons learned

And I always had a good horse to ride.

 

Tears came and went on the back of my trusty steed,

As I pondered all of life’s crazy strife.

And as we slow-loped through the worries & cares

I was never more thankful for my good horse to ride.

 

The time in the saddle was always well spent

It signified a peaceful state of mind.

Whether climbing mountain trails or pushing cows home

I always had a good horse to ride.

 

I spent time with friends, old & new,

Exploring the wilderness and new countryside

Miles upon miles of trails we trekked,

And all of ‘em on good horses to ride.

 

As this year draws to an end

And I reflect back on it all in stride

I realize I have so much to be grateful for

But I’m most grateful for the good horse I ride.

 

So, may your new trails ahead lead you safely home

May you give it your all in this crazy life.

But above all else, my new year’s wish for you

Is that you always have good horses to ride.

 

Happy Trails~

 

Heather

Cowgirl

I was recently asked if I’m a real cowgirl on a social media sight I partake in.  The exact question posed to me was “If you don’t have cows, how can you be a cowgirl?”  I pondered that thought, let my hurt feelings stroll over the words, and then I questioned myself.  Maybe I’m really not a tried and true cowgirl?  But I had  the boots, the hat, the horse, spurs, a saddle, and even a pick-up truck?    Accordin’ to good ol’ Webster, the true definition of the word is: noun. a woman who herds and tends cattle on a ranch, especially in the western U.S., and who traditionally goes about most of her work on horseback.

Well, there was the answer…I am technically NOT a cowgirl.  I don’t spend all day in the saddle trailing cows. Hell, I wasn’t even raised with cattle.  I grew up tending to horses and mules, ornery men, and dudes, riding mountain trails and passes, and cooking in dutch ovens, but not a stitch of my time was spent with cattle.

So, I chewed on that thought a while longer, and thought “the he** I’m not a cowgirl!” Being a cowgirl ain’t just about swinging ropes, doctoring cows, calving, and riding horses.  Because, to be a cowgirl means you’ve got the grit in your gut and the attitude to accomplish anything.  You have the ability to pull yourself up by the bootstraps and take life right by the horns.

Deep down, each woman I know has just a touch of cowgirl in her.  She may be hailing a cab on city street headed to a high-rise lawyer’s office.  She’s a doctor or a nurse saving lives.  She’s a teacher expanding horizons and sculpting young minds.    She pours herself into the books and balances the budget.  She’s the mother that just lost a child, and still wakes to face the day.

She’s lipstick, leather, and lace.  She’s weathered hands that slings ropes, trains colts, and pets dogs, and is the lady dressed to the nines to hit the town with her favorite guy.  She fights fires, clears trails, packs mules, and yes, works cows. She’s gypsy- souled and beautiful music and guitar chords.  She’s fighting cancer with all she’s got because she’s a survivor and a winner.

But mostly, she’s you and she’s me.  She’s the fight to win and the calm in the storm.  She’s modern and old-fashioned.  She sips fine wine and chugs a beer with the guys.  She kneels and prays at the end of the day to praise God for all she has and is.

You see, it doesn’t matter what you are. Your job does not define you.  It is your attitude, your heart, and your beautiful mind and soul.  Cowgirl is a title well earned, and I am darn proud to be just that til I draw my last breath.  And don’t ever doubt that you are one, too.

~Happy Trails~

 

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Turn Out the Old Broodmare

I’ve recently decided that I am fast approaching what I call “broodmare” status.  Nothing center-drives that harsh fact home faster than having a beautiful & elegant seventeen year old daughter. (And possibly the sway back, crabby attitude, and hay belly that is starting to appear) And as much as I tell myself I don’t mind getting older, that age is only a number, I still seem to gracelessly accept this fact. But {hay}, I am also discovering there just may be some benefits to being the old broodmare…Here’s why:

  • Fillies are oggled over for their looks.  Ya know, nice straight legs, well-muscled & proportioned, a “v’d up chest”, strong hindquarters, and a pretty face to boot. Broodmares? Na. They’re just used-to-bes. Sway backs, gray hairs, and broom-tailed crabs, but she sure “has some nice-lookin’ babies”.
  • Somebody eventually tries to find the appropriate suitor, aka stud, for the filly; therefore, she always has to look and act her best.  The old girls don’t much care anymore, because the studs lookin’ their way ain’t much to talk over the darn fence about.
  • Young fillies have to prove themselves to be hard workers, reliable and dare I say? Unemotional? The first sign of PMS and attitude gets her labeled and probably reprimanded. Broodmares make darn sure everyone is well aware of their emotional status from the get go.  They don’t mince words, and you ain’t gonna get much outta them if you talk smart about it.
  • In order for the young girl to keep in shape, you have to feed her right and exercise her frequently.  After the old girl has foaled a couple of “keepers” you can pretty much bet that unless her teeth are bad, she can sustain on a rocky pasture with no grass or special needs, so she probably saves ya a little cash.  Basically, she’s less maintenance, and you better just lover her that way.
  • You have to teach the young filly EVERYTHING. You know gain her trust, teach her slow, let her make mistakes. Broodmares already know EVERYTHING. Even when you think they don’t. Don’t ever make the mistake of trying to tell ’em different. They didn’t make it this far by being stupid.
  • Youngsters think they have to be friends with the boys, and compete with the other fillies.  Old broads know where they stand with each other and learn to rely on their herd mates because they help get ’em through the cold months.

To sum ‘er up, I suppose aging ain’t all that bad.  With age comes a little wisdom, and a lot of life lived.  Old broodmare status is well-earned and well-deserved, so go ahead and turn me out in that pasture. And don’t worry young filly, you’ll be finishing that race faster than you ever dreamed!

Happy Trails~

Heather