Monday, June 17, 2013


My second full week at the polo farm was filled with long hours and a lot of learning. It consisted of figuring out the game of polo and the fastest and most efficient way to have eight horses ready to play in an hour. I met more students, players and boarding clients and hired on a young girl who is helping exercise the horses a couple days per week. She rides better than 95% of anyone I have seen and has no fear. She is very polite, hardworking and intelligent and possesses a quiet, calm, gentle but assertive confidence with the horses. Coupled with simple, genuine love for the horse, she reminds me a lot of myself at that age. I can put her on any horse and know she will get the job done. Pretty awesome for someone who can't even drive themselves to work yet!

Tuesday and Wednesday brought some brutal winds and hot temperatures to ride in. Imagine riding straight into a hot blow dryer blasting air at about 25-33 mph for 5 solid hours. Wednesday brought in an eeire, smoky haze from the Black Forest fire that started the night before just south of us.

A look at the fire just hours after it started

At first, the horses wanted to charge into the wind. They all felt good after having Monday off and a few wanted to race each other. By Thursday, however, the wind and the smoke had taken its toll not only on me, but on them as well. The hard-chargers were even on cruise control and settled into a nice easy gallop. Fighting the wind had worn them down a bit and saved my arms pulling back the ones being ponied.

Just to keep it a bit interesting, I stuck my Garmin Edge 500 (the GPS unit mounted on the handlebars of my bike) in my pocket and decided to get some horse numbers on Strava. Click on the link and scope out average, max speeds (remember this is just a slow exercise ride) and the 97 degree average temperature. This particular ride was on my favorite bay mare, Mochatika. Straight from Argentina, this horse is one of the top polo horses, but I can't help but wonder what she could do in the rodeo arena. Getting paid to ride horses like this does not suck!

Friday was the highlight of the week as I was able to take a young horse and help the neighbor (a life-long friend of my boss) move cattle. Too many years (probably 3 or 4) had passed since I had done this. I borrowed a western saddle (because mine was STOLEN this past fall out of a friend's house!!!) and spent the day searching for cattle in draws, along creek banks and in watering holes. My horse, Keke, is an unmade polo horse, she needs some work, had never seen a cow and had never been ridden in a western saddle before, but many miles up hills and across big meadows at a long trot, medium gallop or a good run made for wet saddle blankets at the end of the day. She did very well and I am excited to keep working with her.

A blurry photo from my friend's phone as we were finishing up and riding back trying to stay ahead of the storm

Riding across wide-open meadows has always given me a euphoric feeling of freedom and awareness of the present moment. On the ride Friday, after cresting a small hill at a good speed, leaning back and letting the horse lope down the other side, I came upon a small watering hole for the cows. Surrounded by a four-foot wide, sandy beach, I pulled up on the reins as I noticed the sand was alive with movement. What the....? I moved closer and to my complete amazement I watched no less than 150 small, greenish turtles scurry into the water and swim towards the center of the water hole. In all my time spent in nature either on two wheels or four hooves, I had never seen anything like it. Especially in the middle of a grazing area in a cow-trodden, sandy, muddy watering hole.

I stopped for a minute to watch the kamikaze movement of all the little turtles, silent and mesmerized by  nature's brilliance right before my eyes....

No camera, but none needed for this one. It is stored deep in my heart with all the other life pictures a tangible photo would merely pollute. To my grave I will take this and so many crystal-clear "memory images" of my life.....

I believe I grow and heal on days like Friday. Genuine happiness, contentment and joy fill my heart and stay with me. The sounds of the horse breathing, the grass in the wind, the terrain beneath me, the vast landscape, the wind against my face and the natural movements and rhythm of horse and rider are intoxicating. Nothing I can purchase will ever come close. Only a mountain bike and remote single track can mimic this trance-like experience. I thank God for this part of life and the images I am blessed enough to find, stow away in my soul and cherish forever.

Sunday, June 9, 2013


The low-pitched nicker of horses in the early morning can be equated with the sound of snow crunching beneath fat tires or the indescribable pitch made by rubber tires on singletrack.


These sounds make my world right. I don't need to try or struggle or force anything. Its as if I experience a glitch in the matrix and I get a fleeting look down the proverbial rabbit hole. I do nothing but experience the forceful, intoxicating  energy of just being....

They make time pause for a second all my awareness and genuine gratitude come flooding into my soul. I literally "feel" my presence somehow coming into harmony with all the world around me. I can't explain it with words, or logic, or truthfully, emotion. I just know that these sounds erase all worry, stress, doubt, failure, fear and frustration. I can replay the exact tone of each in my mind at any given moment--so I smile and I cherish that I AM ALIVE.

I have smiled silently to myself many times lately because my first week working on a polo horse farm has given me the opportunity to refresh my memory of the one sound I haven't heard in years--that soft nicker of a horse. It has also put me in a hot shower after a day of hard work watching an enormous amount of dirt roll off my skin and disappear down the drain. It has brought the life and the fire back into my eyes. It has put me on the back of millions of dollars worth of horses for five hours a day. It has put me in a tiny cottage with chickens running through the front yard and taught me a million new things about the sport of polo. These horses I ride everyday are phenomenal athletes and they make or break the players.

My job during games can be likened to the pit crew of a race car driver. First horse: feet cleaned, tail braided and up, polo wraps on, bell boots on, splint boots on, bridled, saddled, cinched up, warmed up and ready for the first chukka (polo term for quarter or period depending on how many played), hand horse and mallet to player. Repeat process with second horse. First chukka ends, take first horse, hand second horse to player. Strip first horse, cool out, bathe. Ready third horse....strip second horse. Ready fourth horse...strip third horse....repeat until done. All this happens really fast. Stripping polo wraps off all four legs reminds me of the guys you see in the pits changing tires. You don't think, its just go.

After the game is over, I make sure all the horses are stalled and watered. Then I get to observe and navigate my way through the polo social scene. It has been an interesting and insightful experience, to say the least, as all have been very welcoming, friendly and hospitable despite the fact that the median daily income of this crowd most likely exceeds my monthly income.

But, at the end of the day, when all the social hubub is complete and I walk back out to the barn and hear that soft nicker as I walk down the aisle tossing alfalfa into the feeders, the world becomes right again, the energy surges, time pauses and I smile at the fact that I am indeed, one very, very wealthy, young woman.

Now for the week in pictures:

A really crappy picture of the love of my life, a thoroughbred mare named Mochatika. She is like my Superfly 100--god damn fast!

What it looks like to have over $50,000 worth of horses in two hands...

Learning the ropes (or more accurately, the "wraps")...

Helping a student prior to the first lesson of the day...

My cubicle....
The evening sky in Elizabeth....

Here's to a summer of living via two wheels and four hooves....

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A Cowgirl Looks at 34...

About two months ago, I looked in the mirror and did not recognize the eyes that looked back at me. They lacked the reflection of the fire that burns in my soul. They lacked my fire for living consciously, living free, living adventurously and most importantly, living passionately.Gone was the twinkle representing my humor, mischief, adventure and youth. Then, to make a bad morning worse, the sunlight that peeped through the window to my left decided to position itself to perfectly highlight the two grey hairs framing my face.

This moment was going one of two ways---laughter or tears. Usually I would laugh at the fact that I have two grey hairs and people I know in their late twenties are salt and pepper already, throw my helmet on, clip in, and try to break a morning commuting land speed record. But instead I stared at my tired, frustrated eyes that were swollen with tears of sadness and emptiness.

And the arrows began to pierce---stop kidding yourself, unless a money tree appears, you will not be racing your bike this year...the concept of a bunch of "friends" trying to form a mountain biking team proved to be a complete should have took the team offer from have no team, no money, and you are going to be late for the first of your two jobs which pay you don't know what you want to do with your education so you better just start pouring drinks again....

Ugh. Stop.

I dried my eyes, took my fake smile out of the cabinet and headed out into the Aurora jungle. I mashed the pedals as hard as I could, escaping into my mind and creating a fast and furious sprint for the finish of theWorld Cup. I grabbed a couple of gears and blew a stop sign...the harder I went and the more it hurt, the faster the frustration disappeared behind me. By the time I got to work, I was almost ready to deal with all the stressed out Aurora zombies possessing attention spans that rival a hyperactive child. I thought about how the bike shop job was where I was the happiest, and the people were pretty great. But, we all know what bike shops pay.....

I locked my bike up and said a small prayer in my thoughts as I opened the door, "God, help me figure this all out...somehow...someway...."

When I finally got home twelve hours later, grumpy and depressed, I began searching for jobs. For some reason, I typed in "horse" and a few hits for stall cleaners came up. Ugh. I closed my computer and trudged up the stairs, pillow-bound, dreading the sound of my alarm in the morning.

The spring wore on and things got better as the weather warmed up a little and I found that riding on the road was fun when you are on a 16-lb Specialized Venge. Brevets and centuries with 16k'of climbing filled the early spring until my weekends off suddenly disappeared.

Day after day after day of work blended into each other and I just finally went numb. Long hours, long commutes, unfulfilling conversations and interactions had me dreaming of Durango, the San Juans, the LaPlatas and all the trails, huts, summits and friends I missed. Every weekend night when I got home, I would look at race results until I couldn't take it anymore. I am a goer and a doer of epic proportions. I don't do well as a spectator. At all.

One night, again depressed and grouchy at the thought of another twelve hours working for peanuts, I dug up some old pictures, hoping they would make me smile instead of cry. I had seen them two million times, but this two million and first time started something moving in my soul.

First I found this one:

It was me and my brother, Brian circa 1988 in Dayville, OR at a team roping on my mom's old mare, Jazz. I laughed because this basically coins my personality and approach to existence still today.

Then this one:

This is my amazing mother, the strongest and most beautiful woman I know. Yes, folks, she was a champion cow rider long before I was ever around. It takes some serious courage, braveness, fortitude and a little bit of crazy to nod for that chute to open. I think that's why I laugh when she tells me she could never ride as far as I do on a bike. I call complete bullshit.

It made me think about the long line of female DNA that made me the way I am...passionate, wild, free, alive, sensitive....Sticking with my theme du jour of "philosofizing" (term credit Judd Rowher), I thought about how none of those things seemed very familiar to me anymore.

Next up:

Me and love of my life (no, not the guy!!), my bay horse, Page. There was a day when I thought of little else but heading a steer for a reeeeeally good heeler.

Look at how his ears are pinned back. He loved it as much as I did on some days....

Rodeos, team ropings, barrel racing, brandings were a way of life. A few reading this will know what the hell I am doing here...

I found one of me and an old friend I haven't seen or talked to in 15 years....

And I found this which brought back memories of living on the McKenzie river and floating it every evening with my friends Chris and Joe. They taught me how to bounce bait off the bottom and cast a fly rod. We pulled in so many chrome steelhead that summer. I looked at myself grinning ear to ear at the 15(!!) lb steelhead I fought for a good 40 minutes to land and wondered where that smile had gone to this spring?

Where did this carefree, happy, silly, honey-suckle laden girl go?

Was I really becoming one of the drones? One of the mice in the maze?

I laid flat on the floor and closed my eyes and talked to God again:

"I know I am not the same as I was a few years ago. None of us are. The world is drastically different, the pace is absolutely ridiculous and technology has created just as many problems (psychologically and relationally) as it has solved. I have learned so many life lessons about family, marriage, divorce, work, friends, expectations, goals and love and through all this I have become the woman lying on the floor in front of you. I have hurt people, been hurt, succeeded, failed, laughed, cried, bled, sweat, hated, loved, worked my fingers to the bone, been lazy, rich, poor, happy, sad, fully alive and almost dead..."

I paused as the tears began to drown me and I turned to my side and cried for a little while. As all tears do, mine stopped and I just began to quietly breathe and let my thoughts calm their furious pace.

Then one word came to me: Cowgirl.

I sat straight up.

I was born on a horse. I really only have one innate talent and that is riding. I don't have to practice or train or do intervals to ride a horse. My God-given movements are designed to complement the way a horse moves. I understand and anticipate what the horse is going to do. The irony is no one taught me that. I have no idea where it came from or if I acquired it. I continued with the realization that I never once swung a rope "like a girl." I rode and roped just as hard as the boys. I have no memory of fear when it comes to horses. The one natural, untrained, pure instinct I possess is the ability to ride a horse. I am a cowgirl. Undeniably. Unquestionably.

So why the hell was I denying myself of that lifestyle? And why have I seemed to forget who I am?

The answer is a (sometimes sad) but long and boring history of my life, and my "all-or-nothing" personality that can be my nemesis, but in the end, the practical answer is that it all boils down to the almighty dollar.

This literal "come to Jesus" talk that night set me into action. Somehow, someway, I told myself everyday, horses need to be a part of my life again. I knew there wasn't going to be a magical lamp with three wishes show up on my doorstep, so I began to scan for more horse related jobs.

Four days before my 34th birthday, I found it.

I am moving to Elizabeth, Colorado. A few storage tubs filled with my few material possessions and my bikes are waiting in a tiny cottage a few hundred feet from a barn filled with 25 horses. I get to put on gloves, throw hay into the truck, get all the grain ready and feed over 30 horses starting at 8am. Then I get to rake horseshit into piles to help the stall cleaner. Then I find the exercise list and start putting polo saddles and bridles on the first set of horses. Ride one, pony (lead) 2 or 3. Hope I have an exercise girl to help. Repeat until finished. Eat lunch. Get the lesson  horses ready for the students. Groom for polo games on weekends. Untack, feed.

Work day done.

But....what about the bike? What about racing? Well....I am out for this year. After a lot of thought and some tough decisions and sacrifices, I am going to use the rest of 2013 to train and set myself up financially to complete the Triple Crown in 2014 (AZT750, TD and CTR).

And watch out in 2014. Cowgirls ride bikes like wild horses (as you all have witnessed over the past three years).The farm sits in the middle of primo training roads. I have a passion again, a way to make my biking goal a reality and something more than the metro grind that kills my heart and robs my eyes of life, fire and their ever-present twinkle.This cowgirl needs to smell like sweaty horses for awhile. She needs to remember who she is and disappear into the rural Colorado land that borders the black forest and do what is natural and effortless and makes her simply, work hard, be outside, be on a horse everyday. Breathe the fresh cut grass. Ride in the rain. Listen to the horses chew their hay outside my window. Own a rope again. Learn polo this summer, learn the hunt this winter. Grow. Refocus. Return. Scoop horseshit. Clean dirt out from under my fingernails. Take my old dog down to the creek. Ride my mountain bike on the horsetrails in the back field. Ride the never-ending, forgotten, deserted, two lane roads on skinnies. Leave the mice and the maze, shed the negativity and stress. Put on my real smile.

Wake up and live.