Thanksgiving from a Cowboy Girl

You could tell it was the 1980’s because I’d done something with my hair that made me look like a Portuguese Water Dog. A permanent wave to posterity.

I was in a laundromat washing horse blankets. I wasn’t trying to save the mess at home. I didn’t have a washer. So, two horses in a boarding barn but no washing machine. That sounds about right.

The place was empty except for a little boy who stared at me while his mom folded clothes from a dryer.  He’d peer over at me and then pretend he wasn’t looking when I made eye contact. Just as I was picking up to go, he asked his mom, “Is she a cowboy girl?”

I tried to look cool, buckles dangling from an armload of blankets, as I wedged the door open with my foot. Backing my way out, I gave him a crooked salute and a toothy smile. It was a great guess; I didn’t dress like Dale Evans. Besides, I’d take any acknowledgment I could get.

Back then, I didn’t fit in and I was too mad to even try. I felt like a fringe dweller in my own species. Back then, I got defensive when people suggested that horses were a phase I was going through. Ends up that they were right that I was in a phase; just not the one they thought.

Do you know Proud Spirit Horse Sanctuary? I was in Georgia last week and I wrangled an invitation. It wasn’t hard; Melanie Sue Bowles and I have been online friends but after meeting her, I think we’re twin daughters from different mares. She and her husband Jim have run the sanctuary for decades. There’s a large mixed herd of horses, a handful of longears, a quirky pack of dogs, and Mimi and Nina, a charming pair of pigs. Sanctuaries aren’t like other horse facilities.

In this age of superlatives, overstatement is the rule, so I’ll just draw a sketch. It’s a large piece of property with stands of trees and rolling meadows. The horses are shiny and well fed. Their health is maintained but there are no adoptions; this is a herd for life. They are not “owned” by human expectation but instead live as naturally as a domesticated herd can. It isn’t entirely flattering to see how well they do without our overt influence.

There was palpable peace among these horses, many abused and neglected previously. Driving through the pastures, many of the horses don’t bother to look up. It dawns on me that this is what it really means to be accepted by the herd.

(I could write a few books about this amazing the place but Mel already has… available on Amazon and the Proud Spirit site. Consider supporting them with a holiday donation while you’re at it.)

Home finally from my last clinic trip of the year, I got up early, anxious to be with my own herd. I was privileged to muck, build fence, and bake pies, all in the same day. I have a washer now but not much else has changed. More horses but that sounds about right, too.

But a Thanksgiving sunset like this one stops time. It gives you pause to do the math. I’ve traveled to seventeen barns this year, teaching what I know, but more than that, being given the opportunity to work with an incredible extended herd of horses. At 63, I’m on a huge learning curve. How can that even be possible?

I’ve been blessed (a ridiculous understatement) to meet an exceptional group of women. Founders and volunteers at therapeutic riding programs who have a deep understanding of how hard their horses work. Veterinarians and bodyworkers and trainers who do rehab and retraining, patiently bringing horses back from the worst experiences with humans. And everyday horse lovers who really, no really, just want the best for their horses. Each person, a horsewoman in the finest sense of the word. You all make me proud, standing on my little farm and remembering my crazy luck this year.

I guess in hindsight, it was a phase I was in, one that started out feeling like the fringe. The thing I never expected was that loving animals would circle back and reintroduce me to a better version of my own species. And there’s nothing unique about me.

There’s a whole world of us. We’re grown-up horse crazy girls; we’ve gained some power and vision. Our voices carry on the wind to the far side of the planet. We understand the meaning of collaboration. We learned it from mares, but one day at a time, we’re changing the world. Take a breath and snug your hats, my friends. We’ve only started.

My gratitude is like a prairie sunset. Beyond words, but the photo above sums it up.

Then last night at our annual used pie exchange, people were telling great stories about being told they smelled like horses but being more proud than embarrassed. After breaking my nose a couple of times, I wouldn’t know if I carried that odor with me. Then the Dude Rancher noted that if someone had smoked one cigarette, I’d sure notice that. Too right.

It all came together under the stars during the late-night feed. These days I hang out in more airports than laundromats. I’m usually working with a horse and rider until the last minute. Then we trot to the car and head straight to the airport with no time to spare. I change into Crocs, put my boots into my checked bag, and head to my gate.

This last flight home, I was seated beside an older gentleman. He was reading a Jack Reacher book. I tried to make polite small talk as I passed to the window seat. He seemed a bit put off by me but I hide in books sometimes, too. I took the hint and spent the flight scribbling out a poem and working on a halter design.

Thinking back now, I wonder if my Cowboy Girl perfume offended him. Nothing’s changed; I’m still so grateful for horses in my life that I’ll take it as a compliment.

….
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro
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Currently planning summer clinics in Scotland and the UK.
2018 is filling quickly; please contact me here if you would like to host a clinic or attend one. Check out our entire clinic schedule here. 

 

61 thoughts on “Thanksgiving from a Cowboy Girl

  1. Dear Anna,

    This was so so lovely. It brought tears (of joy) to my eyes and more joy to my heart. I hope I will encounter you some day.

    Thank you for all you do to make this work a better place for horses…and their people.

    Kim

  2. Karen

    Yes, I am very grateful for my health and my horse’s health (which contributes to my health). A delightful Cowboy girl perfume that I love and proudly wear……is the smell of my horse’s damp hair after a rainshower. 🙂 Happy Belated Thanksgiving!

  3. Whoop! (A Texas Aggie cheer) You did it again.
    Perfect words showing up at the perfect time.
    Also, the perfect antonym of immutable.
    You taught a lot of people to NOT be immutable
    this year. We, and our horses, thank you.

  4. Maggie Frazier

    Ah – the perfume! That’s what it is alright. Miss it – have to say – horses or no horses the “phase” has so far lasted thru my 70s!!! Doubt the 80s will be any different. We, all of us, are special!

      1. Maggie Frazier

        Well, some people would call it a stink – not us!!!
        Also commiserate about the Portuguese Waterdog look – wasted several years with that before I went back to pretty much the same hair style you have. Much better.

  5. Lauren

    Full heart and happy tears reading your lovely words and sentiments. Love knowing there are more and more of us around and we’re owning our cowboy girlness and way of BEing with horses.

    I choose to live simply so I can have my horses and I’m grateful every day.

    Grateful for you and your wisdom, Anna. And the tribe of women who follow you.

  6. sue

    Oh this is a rich one. I can relate to the wonderful smell of horses and when you live and work with them 24/7 it’s just who you are. I’m a farrier and several years ago I stopped by the bank after a long hot day of shoeing. At the counter I handed the deposit to the young clerk who moved to another station to punch some buttons and then came back to me with the words “Do you have horses?” I replied in the affirmative and then she said “I just love that smell”. Uh oh!. My mind raced…would that be the manure, the sweat (mine in this case) or the burning hoof smell that stubbornly clings to everything when you have been setting clips on event horses all day. In the end I just said “Me too” and made my escape. That clerk had a dreamy smile on her face when she said it though so I know she was one of us and wanted to let me know. I must admit though, I did use the drive through the next few times I stopped by after work.

  7. Cadence Farm

    Thank you Anna for the sunset.

    And many thank you’s for the words, previously lost to me, but now, finally, in hand (He! He!), to describe myself: “cowboy girl.”

  8. Black Bay Farm

    Thank you friend for giving us a vision of our breadth as horsewomen and sharing with such honesty what is sometimes, even at 64, still hard to see about our selves, our loves, and what has shaped us.

    >

  9. Sue watson

    Just brilliant, thanks so much, looking forward to your visit to us at Tullich Farm Scotland for the Summer Solstice , it’s going to be great.

  10. Chaz

    Nice reading on this Thanksgiving weekend. Spirit Farm sounds exceptional, as is your writing and gorgeous picture. Dude Rancher (almost wrote Dud Rancher by mistake) sure got your perfume correct, along with the cigarette smell possibility despite broken nose. Wish I would have been seating next to you on the plane instead of the Jack R guy. We would have had a lot to talk about.

  11. eremophila

    I’ve ‘settled’ into a small town for the summer as a respite from travelling in the heat, and as dog and I explore in the cool mornings we find local horses to exchange sniffs with. It’s the smell of heaven for me. I wish I could be more like my dog who when he finds a good smell will roll his body in it.
    You’ve got me thinking now about how horses have helped me to dream of a better kind of society…… so true!

  12. The most wonderful perfume in the world. I remember the odd looks while riding the bus home after a day working at a riding stable taking people out on trail rides. I didn’t care. I’ve treasured having that scent on me every time I’ve been blessed to have it.

  13. Lee

    Hi Anna,
    I’ve never left a comment before but I’ve been reading every post for quite a while now. I love your poems! I have been finding my way with/toward horses for the past decade or so, without the privilege of having them in my daily life yet. I know I’l figure it out, but until then, it’s a comfort to hear your voice and enjoy your photos.
    Lee

    1. Thanks for speaking up, Lee. I appreciate your kind words… and I’m getting more comfortable with the poems lately. We’re all a work in progress around here. Welcome!

  14. Judy Shaub

    Wonderfully put. This one brings back many happy, fun memories of my cowboy girl friends and I mucking stalls to pay for what our husbands called our horse habit. Stopping at the grocery store on the way home from the barn was always a fun topic. One woman I worked for talked about pulling out a spent hypodermic needle when she was rooting in her barn coat pocket for change at the post office. No matter what our background or circumstances, we are all cowboy girl sisters. We love our well earned horse and sweat stink. And our dogs, and cats too by the way, love us for it. When I notice that little back up and eye brow lift I have to give the toothy smile too. Proud and grateful to be a cowboy girl.

  15. Lynell Abbott

    My earliest memory is the only way to be close to horses was to be a cowgirl. It was 40+ years later before I was able to trade my “broomstick” horse for the real deal…No regrets. Thanks, Anna!

    1. I’m always in awe of this dream so deep that some of us never give up, not at 40 years and not at 60. The hook horses have in us is set so very deep.

  16. Susie

    Beautiful sunset! That’s one thing that will make me pull my car off the road just to really breathe in the view. I’m taking a course now that will help me help horses more. It’s the Straightness Training course by Marijke de Jong. So far I think I teach people to get out of the way of the horse mostly. It’s time for me to understand and help the horse more than the rider. I’m pretty excited. I’m going to practice on Skyler first as he is solidly in rehab from his hind suspensory ligament injury. Then I’ll use what I learn with Cash. 😀🐴

    1. Sounds wonderful. I understand the “first do no harm” approach to lessons but in my clinics I work to get riders to a place of understanding and helping. It’s high time we put them first. Good for you and your horses will benefit. Great comment, Susie and good luck.

  17. Barbara

    I am so grateful for learning of Proud Spirit! I have just finished Melanie’s first book and am ordering the other two today. Thank you for the introduction to more compassionate human beings….and that it’s fact, not fiction, makes it all the better!

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