To Train or have a Trainer?

Recently, there was a little blow up over trainers on a driving group.  Sort of.  It’s the typical post, as with any FB group or horse forum – some beginner training their own horse comes on and says “look at me!”  And people eat that person alive and spit them out and grind their foot into the remains.

Now, the particular person in question was doing a great job with teaching her horse to drive, at least based on a brief video.  She had done it slowly – too slowly, I will admit, but hey, better slow than fast, and the horse was fine.

For my response that we all do what we can the way we can, and taking your time is the best way to do anything, I received an extremely NASTY message from a “trainer” who in the process called me an idiot.

Now, when I first was getting Chewbacca going, I sought out trainers.  In fact, if you followed my blog during that time period, you have read all about the trainer who laughed at me, the one Chewbacca freaked out on (the one and only time he ever did anything like that at all) who told me the horse was dangerous and unsafe and unwilling to work, the one who strapped him up in a twisted wire bit that was too small and told me the horse would never drive, the ones who never called me back, or acted like I shouldn’t be touching horses at all without their all-great presence……..  Yea, there were interesting experiences along the way.

So I ask – how exactly does a beginner get started into driving when trainers are not readily available and experienced drivers prefer to condescend and rip people apart for trying?

Pick any horsey town, and you’re going to find a dozen hunter barns, half a dozen western and maybe half a dozen dressage barns.  You’ll probably  find a few pleasure/trail riding barns, or barns that mix all worlds and cater to low level show people and trail people.  How many driving barns are there?  Probably none, right?   Sure,  you might find a  breed-specific show barn that has driving horses – after all, Miniatures, Saddlebreds, Arabs, and NSH’s, plus QH’s, Apps and paints all have driving as part of their breed competition, but  did you know that breed-circuit driving is a VERY different thing than dressage-based carriage driving?

So how does a beginner learn exactly?  Do they wing it and hope for the best?  I discussed “the best” in my post on How Do I Teach My Horse To Drive.  “The best” rarely happens.  In fact, that usually leads to disaster.  Should it be on the shoulders of experienced drivers to help and promote new drivers?  To mentor them?  To offer advice?  Or is it better for experienced drivers to be rude, insulting, and belittle a beginner’s efforts in an attempt to prevent them from getting hurt or ruining a horse?

Of course, the best piece of advice anyone can give anyone inexperienced is to see k live, in-person experienced help.  Only a person physically there looking at the beginner and their horse can really and truly assess what’s going on and where the future is headed (or can they??  Like all those trainers that said Chewbacca would never drive).  What is there are no trainers (or any quality trainers) in your area?  What then?

In this day and age, it is easy to reach out online for help – but what if that help isn’t good?  What if instead of help you only get rude responses from condescending people?  How is that good for the sport of carriage driving if new drivers aren’t encouraged by graciousness and willingness to help?

I will go out on a limb and guess that there are far far more recreational drivers who just prefer to take their horse and strike out on a trail than there are ones who ever enter the show ring.  So, should all driving advice come from show-level trainers and be geared towards showing?  Showing is EXPENSIVE!  Shows are few and far between and if you can find a local level show that offers driving classes, usually they are not held to any standards of showing.  So if you want a tast of ADS level showing, you probably have to travel for hours, and spend hundreds to do so – which isn’t always feasible for the most of us.  So, if recreational drivers who can’t find/afford a trainer are frowned upon, then where and how do you truly start into driving?

What can be done about this to encourage future drivers – in a SAFE, but SUPPORTIVE way?

Your thoughts?

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The End of a Legacy

It was November, 2003.  I lived in Georgia and I had a 1990 white Chevy Camaro (with T-Tops!) that continually kept shutting off and would not restart for hours!!! (always fun in the Georgia heat, especially when I had groceries…….and ice cream.  Inevitably I would have ice cream).

It started literally the day I got it.  Yes, I was a dumb kid and bought a car I shouldn’t have.  So finally after over  1 1/2 years and move southward across the entire country, I finally said I had had        enough.  I took the car to a public auction and sold it.  A week before Thanksgiving, I went car shopping and I found a vehicle I could afford.  My then-fiancée was with me at the time and pushed and pushed for me to get a white Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited with leather, sunroof, all the options.  But my eye kept going to a chargold (yes, that’s the factory color) Jeep Grand Laredo with cloth and no sunroof.  No options.  V6 motor, not even 4 wheel drive.


The deal was done.

Fast forward to February 25, 2015.  More than 11 years later, more than 140,000 miles piled onto the Jeep.  I had driven the thing from Atlanta to New Smyrna Beach and Orlanda, to Scranton, New York City,  Madison to Des Moines and Kentucky, and nearly every state in between.  The Jeep has been with me through my entire marriage, more road trips than I can remember, countless oil changes, and the time I ripped the driver’s door off the car.  (yes, I really did).  My butt is permanently imprinted in the driver’s seat.  It’s been a good, reliable vehicle for over a decade- and certainly the longest owned vehicle I’ve ever had.


I love my Jeep.  I love it very much.  It is not a hauling vehicle, for sure, but it did haul the horse carts on a flatbed trailer for two driving seasons.


Recently, it’s been having some infuriating problems – losing power, shutting off, stalling.  In the weeks since our 11th anniversary and today, it has had over $2000 in repairs and the issues still persist.  It’s also been invaded by a mouse, which is frustrating to say the least.

I had a hard decision to make – to keep struggling through figuring out the repair, or to pursue buying a vehicle newer, stronger, and more suitable to hauling so maybe I could meet some long-term goals.
Which to do?  How to decide?

I could keep sinking large repair bills into the Jeep, and of course risk that I will get stranded somewhere, and know that I can never haul the horses on my own.  Affording a second vehicle just isn’t a feasible option.  So, my only other option was to try to afford a newer vehicle.

Knowing my budget, I started shopping, just to see.  I wanted something that can haul, so I immediately started looking at GMC Yukons because I really like them.  I could not find anything in my price range that was new-ish and didn’t have high miles. I already had one vehicle with 242,00 miles on it.  I did not need another one.   So, my search started to expand to include Tahoes, Suburbans, and any other large SUV or pick up truck.

A pick up truck would be practical for hauling the carts in the bed and the horse trailer behind.  But it would be hard for me to manage myself alone getting the cart loaded and having to unhitch and re-hitch the truck to the horse trailer everywhere I went.  …. and I don’t like pick up trucks, so I really did scratch that off my shopping list pretty quickly.  I don’t haul often, barely once a month.  So, driving a pick up truck full time for a part time hauling purposes was  not appealing to me.  I’m an SUV girl.  I’ve been driving one for 11 years after all.

Considering all the options, towing abilities, miles, and of course price, my search narrowed down to 3 vehicles that I really liked:

a 2004 white Tahoe
a 2003 blue Tahoe
a 2005 black Suburban

But there was just one more that my now-husband pushed and pushed for me to see, so we went for a lookie look on Saturday….. and the dealer could not find the car!  After an infuriating and crazy run around on Saturday for nearly a full hour that ultimately never produced a car, we left.

Monday rolled around and the dealer called.  They located the mystery vehicle and we were welcome to come see it.  I didn’t know why my husband was pushing me on it so much.  It was red for starters, and I do not care for red.  At least if I’m going to buy a car, let me pick a color I like, right?!  Besides that, but the dealer really seemed to be pulling a stunt with the magic disappearing act, so I was not exactly eager to go run off and see the vehicle.

None the less, we got to the dealership and ……. no vehicle.  At some point, I was nearing the boil-over phase… sometime around the point where the sales manager was talking to us about a different vehicle that also was not yet at the lot.  It was a year newer of the one we were there to see.  Finally after over 20 minutes of a discussion I had mostly tuned out of, I was pretty well convinced I would NOT be buying a red car from this crazy dealership that couldn’t even seem to produce the vehicle listed for sale!

Lo and behold, a sales person finally comes over and says they pulled the vehicle up to the front.


My husband and I walk out the doors and the first reaction I had was say there was no way that was “my” vehicle.  Surely they had the wrong truck.  It was BEEEEEAUUTIFUL.  Red, yes, but a deep metallic maroon, and although it was a 2006, it was shiny and new and in amazing condition.  It’s leather interior looked like it had never been sat in or used at all.  It had a power sunroof, a touch screen radio/navigation panel…. and a V8 5.3Liter engine and 4 wheel drive.


I got in.  Test drove it.  Took it to the barn (dealer is close to the barn).  By the time I had driven it back to the dealer, I was ready to take the thing home that night.  I loved it.  Despite the color, it had everything I needed and wanted like 4 wheel drive, a strong engine, and the ability to tow 6500 pounds, plus extra bells and whistles just because – like a power sunroof and more options and electronic controls than I’ve ever had in any of my 5 previous vehicles combined….. oh, and working A/C.  Yea, never had that either.  Of course it took me  a day or two to get everything finalized and make sure I had the money to purchase it and make monthly payments, but here it is!


This is a 2006 GMC Envoy Denali.  It has 121,000 miles on it.  New vehicles simply aren’t part of my life.  The Jeep was only 5 years old when I bought it, this Envoy is 9, so it’s not the newest car I’ve ever own, but it looks brand new, and is my first V/ 4WD 8 vehicle.
As I cleaned out the Jeep in preparation for trade in, I realized the mouse invasion had done more physical damage to the car than I realized .  I tried catching the mouse and warding it off with repellents to no avail.  I wonder if the mystery problems it was experiencing in the final weeks were all on account of mouse damage and chewed wires.


It was very bittersweet saying goodbye to a good, reliable vehicle, that I just feel wasn’t given it’s good due.  I feel like I betrayed an old friend.  I know it’s silly to feel that way over “just a car”, but that Jeep has been an invaluable part of my life for longer than I’ve been married.  It was time though, for a new car, especially one I can haul the horse trailer with and get out at least a little bit to some shows and trails.  I can currently haul Jesse and his cart in my 2 horse side by side, but long term plans include a stock trailer so I can fit at least Luke and his cart in.  I do not believe I will be able to find or haul a trailer big enough to fit Chewbacca and his cart, not with an SUV.


I can only hope the new vehicle gets me through the next few years, but I am not going to wait 11 years again before I buy a new vehicle again.  I do love it, though, and while I feel like I am mourning the loss of a very good old friend, I am also excited and overwhelmed by how beautiful the new one is, and looking forward to logging many miles on it.  Assuming I don’t crash it today in the snowstorm – great first day to bring home a new car with all wheel drive and 4 wheel drive which I am not used to.  There’s 3 inches of snow out there and it’s still coming down!  Time to go shovel.

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Valentine’s Day

What do YOU do for Valentine’s Day?  This V-Day, it was brutally cold, extremely windy, with temperatures in the single digits and wind chills at 20 below.  Sounds like an awesome day for a horse show, right?  Why can’t we just have enough snow in May to hold a sleigh rally?

Well, that’s what I did for Valentine’s Day.  A few brave souls battled white out blizzard conditions and bundled up in the terrible temperatures in order to … erm…. “enjoy” a horse show.  I was the ring master, as well as time keeper, tracker of placings, and I took some photos too, when I wasn’t freezing or fumbling with multiple things in my hands.

Deb1 Deb2small Joe21 Roxanne2 Walter2

After the 5am start to the day, a long blustery and blinding drive, and several hours of freezing in temperatures no human should choose to be out in, I decided, what the heck…. another hour worth of driving and I can get to a dam where you can view Bald Eagles.  Last time I went I only saw a few high-gliding birds.  My photos were not so great…


^^ yes, that’s really a Bald Eagle.

Well, luckily, this time around, with the temperatures being so cold, the birds were amazingly active.  There were 7 of them, flying, swooping, landing, and fishing, and I was very happy with the opportunity to see them like that!!  My photos, on the other hand, leave much to be desired.  However, it was a great end to a lovely, but cold day!

BE2 BE7 BE11 BE15 BE24

Hope you enjoyed your Valentine’s Day as much as I did!!!

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250 Hours

I think it is official to say that I am a recreational equestrian.  Long since gone are my wild dreams about becoming a Grand Prix jumper rider.  Then a Grand Prix dressage rider.  Short lived was my hope I could become a competitive driver.  I do  love getting out to shows, but it just isn’t practical, or a large part of what I do with my horses.

That doesn’t mean I won’t work with them like I’m going to a show next weekend, because it really does keep me sharp and makes them better, fitter, and more prepared for anything I throw at them, however, showing will not be in the cards for a very long time, if at all again.  Which is fine.  Show people can be so uppity, too.  ha!

All the more reason to make logging recreational driving hours that much more fun.  I do plenty of recreational driving time, and with keeping 3 horses in work, the hours can add up quickly.  Not too long ago, I mentioned that I received my 250 hour pin:


The American Driving Society also offers members that reach the Hours To Drive goals a little write up in their beautiful magazine.  Chewbacca and I were in it in 2012 for logging 100 hours (of course Luke and Jesse helped accrue those hours, but I can only have 1 photo!).  In 2013, we missed hitting that 250 goal by just 7 hours, so that was made up for in the first 2 weeks of 2014.   Each February, the new magazine from the ADS comes out and includes members that have reached their driving goal awards.

Of course, I used Chewbacca’s photo again, so he is famous.  Maybe for the 500 hour pin, I will use Luke or Jesse  :)



Chewbacca even made it into the “R” of DRIVE.  I thought that was nice!  I love having this program – gives me something to work towards of course.

The ADS offers recreational driving awards for 100 hours, 250 hours, 500 hours, 750 hours, and 1000 hours.   I am over 330 hours currently, but I am pretty sure I will not hit 500 this year.  Normally I get around 115 hour per year of driving time.  I guess I will look forward to getting that 500 hour pin in 2016 – and giving Luke or Jesse a moment to shine in the ADS Magazine!

Obviously the hours are accumulative.  I have actually been a member of the ADS for 5 years, but only started logging hours in 2012.  Had I started logging hours in 2010 when I first joined, I would be on my way to the 750 hour pin by now.


This it the 5 year pin I received this year.  The ADS loves their pins. I like them, too.  I’m going to have to figure out a way to display them either on my jacket or somehow on my turnout if I get out to any ADS events in the future.

In the mean time, with winter still upon us, the horses are doing a whole lot of nothing.  I’m pretty convinced Chewbacca is bored.  I’m trying to come up with things to do with them that don’t involve slipping on ice or freezing.  In the mean time, I’m waiting on pins and needles for spring.  I have an idea in mind that will be fun to pursue and will definitely provide Luke and Chewbacca with some new challenges.  We’ll see how far we get with that.  So more on that later.

Dirty Chewie says have a nice day!


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Into The New Year

The  new year is well upon us!  I feel like we are all a little lucky that we are not blanketed in ice and suffering through 40 below temperatures.  The weather has actually been pretty nice, and I’ve gotten out and done a little photography both weekends so far in January.  I hope to try to get out at least once every weekend and as the days get longer and I get more sunlight in the morning, I will get back out to early morning photo walks before work.  I have a few new areas I would like to try.



These are a couple recent shots from some nature walks. I was trying to go for a different look with the bottom image.  I’ve been out there hunting hawks and eagles with no avail, so that will be a goal for this coming weekend.  Plus the weather is supposed to warm up to almost 40 and I’m hoping to at least do a little work with the horses and the toboggan perhaps!

In the mean time, the horses are just hanging out and enjoying the winter so far.  Chewbacca has discovered the joys of halter tag with a horse on the other side of the arena fence that he actually gets along with, which is nice.


Luke tried to join in the halter tag fun, too!  It’s OK if the halters are just imaginary.



After a nice roll in the snow, it’s always good to go torment the girls.  Notice the paint’s swishing tail and Chewbacca’s striking foot and flying mane.  They were being naughty.  Chewie does love the girls, though.


Here’s to looking forward to an awesome 2015!

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Looking Back And Moving Forward

It has become something of a tradition with my blog to look into the future with a list of goals.  I don’t make “New Year’s Resolutions” exactly, but I have traditionally made a list of goals for the upcoming new year as each past year has ended.  I am breaking tradition again!  No goals for next year.  It’s not that I don’t have “things” in mind for 2015, I do… but I am going to plan on “winging it”.  I set up a bunch of goals  for 2014 — LOTS of goals — and I actually hit nearly all of them.  Overall, 2014 was a great year!

Let’s take a quick look back:

January started out with a Polar Vortex bringing us temperatures that dropped to 30 below zero and wind chills that went to 55 below!


Those were a cold few days to say the least!  Once the sun broke out from behind the clouds, it made 20 degrees above zero feel like a heat wave, and I used the time to take Chewbacca, Luke, and Jesse out for a spin with a toboggan!


February offered up some single digit temperatures and I volunteered as ring master at a sleigh rally.


I was thrilled to be invited back again for 2015 and do it again – I just hope it is at least “warmer” (that is to say, not a high of 4 degrees!!!).  February was also a big month for me with another goal hit – the release of my book, the Beginner’s Guide to Buying a Horse.  It was a long-time “back burner” project that I finally completed and officially e-published.  The book is available on Amazon and is an e-Book format.  At this point I do not have plans to publish a physical copy, though that may happen someday.

Book cover art

March was a slow month as  I waited for spring to hit.

April finally offered up warm enough weather to get out and drive “for real”.   As far as photographic opportunities, I was able to try my hand at nighttime photos during the blood moon lunar eclipse.


Luke2 Chewie2


In May, I took a moment to appreciate my horses’ positives and negative sides and enjoyed a beautiful start to spring with getting out and driving!  Nothing makes me happier than being able to do that.

cavepoint6 ziplining2

May 21, 2014 was my 10 year wedding anniversary and my husband and I observed it with a trip to Door County, Wisconsin.  I went zip lining for the first time (yes, I climbed that 35 foot tower!), and enjoyed the sights around the various parks throughout Door County.  Hard to believe it has been 10 years!

In June, another goal for the year was met – I bought another pony.  Andy was intended to be a resale training project, as I had been wanting to work with another greenie.  Andy wasn’t quite so green as I expected, in fact, the 10 year old chestnut and white pinto pony had been previously trained to ride and drive.  Unfortunately, that training was poor and Andy showed many signs of being mishandled and probably involved in a driving wreck.  Andy did not work out as I had intended, and was returned to his seller.  It was  really quite disappointing.


July offered up a trip to a zoo and more warm weather for driving!  I was also super busy in July hitting photographic goals and getting out nearly every day to hunt down wildlife. I purchased a new wildlife lens, the biggest lens in my camera kit, now!


I also went to 4 horse shows with camera in hand.  Two of them were shows I volunteered at and took photos and two others were just for photos.  That was a whole lot of goals crossed off my 2014 list of things to accomplish!

elephant 3 Chewbacca1 jesse1 Luke1    dressage4 cde1 pair2 pair1   lamplight2

August started out with an unexpected horse show and then loads more photo shoots.  I took some of my best photos in 2014, and definitely fell in love with macro photography of insects.  I entered photos into a county fair and the Wisconsin State fair, and amazingly, won first places and other placings in both!  I went to a fireworks display, photographed the supermoon with my new wildlife lens, and went to a rodeo where I practiced more nighttime photography on bulls and carnival rides.

fireworks3 supermoon ride1

September arrived in muddy style, but there was enough dry days to get in plenty of driving hours towards my American Driving Society 250 hour recreational driving pin award.  I got in another surprise horse show with Jesse and earned two trophies! (yay us!).


I also destroyed the trailer that was used to haul the horse carts around, which meant that Luke and Chewbacca were now permanently grounded.  The trailer was literally ripped apart at the seams and upon further inspection we realized it was not repairable.  It was dismantled and cut apart and scrapped.  Luke and Chewbacca would no longer be able to travel to any events.


October offered up some of the final beautiful days of summer and I made the most of them by getting out and driving.  I finally got some photos and even some video that I had been wanting all year of the boys out working on the trails.  I made some how-to videos on harnessing and hitching and put them on YouTube, and they were well received, which I was happy about!

Chewie102514c Chewie102514h

November was the Nebraska State Horse Expo and I had sent in some photos for their equine photography contest.  I was thrilled to get multiple first, second, and third place ribbons.  Almost every photo I sent in won something.
A major barn fire in my area rocked the horse community with the loss of 32 horses at a well known breeding and lesson barn.  It was a sad day indeed.  I also sent in my driving hours for the ADS, and I had accumulated (and surpassed) the 250 hour mark!  Yay!


In December I received my driving pin and submitted a brief write up about my driving year for publication in the ADS newsletter/magazine, The Whip – it will be the second time Chewbacca will have made the magazine, and I am very excited about that!  Christmas came and went and now here we are waiting for the year to come to a close.

Overall, 2014 was a great year and I am hopeful that 2015 will be bringing out BIG changes for me, but only time will tell!  I did mention that I don’t have a goal list for 2015.  I plan to wing it, but I do have some things I would like to see happen.  Stay tuned!

Happy New Year!

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Christmas Is In The Air

… or maybe not considering today it is 45 and sunny out in the Chicago area!  WOW!  I wish all winter was like this!  If I wasn’t working I would be out driving the horses!   It would be something to have the ability to work the horses all year.  I know it won’t last, though – a snow storm is expected on Christmas Eve.

Things have really wound down for the year and with nothing on the plate recently, I have nothing to report.  Except that, sadly, my camera has died.

It started with an issue earlier in the spring getting weird lines randomly intermittent across some of my images that look a little something like this:


I only see this on my files on the computer, not the in-camera preview.  Technically, the camera works fine, but there is something definitely going on with it transferring photos.  I’ve also noticed that there is a longer and longer lag time for it writing files to the card.

I’ve spoke with Nikon directly about the issue, and did what they suggested.  I’ve been in touch with numerous people from professional photographers to former camera repair technicians.  I’ve tried reinstalling my software, upgrading the camera’s firmware.  It is an intermittent issue.  Sometimes I take 30 photos and they are all good.  Sometimes 1 is bad, sometimes 10.  Sometimes all of them.  Sometimes I can recover them, sometimes not.

I spent the whole summer not quite sure if the issue was the camera, the computer, or my Photoshope software, but after upgrading everything I could, there is nothing left but to determine that the camera is dying.

It is going to be sent to the camera hospital after the holidays, which may end up turning into the camera morgue.  My photo snapping days…. seem to be over.

What a way to end 2014 :(

I wish you the best of the Holidays!

The horses say Ho Ho Ho!

ChewieDec2014 DixieJesseDec2014 LukeDec2014

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