I struggled to get the metal chain loose that held the gate closed. Sojourner snickered on the other side waiting for the bucket full of grain I held in my other hand. The chain was jammed in the little slot so tightly and no matter how I pulled or twisted it wouldn't come out.
She gently placed her hand on the other side of the chain and slid it up the bar causing it to loosen from the slot on the other end. The chain slid out easily into her hand and the gate swung open.
"I have found it best to never force things", Angela Ball said with a kind smile and a twinkle in her eye...
We had a beautiful visit with one of the most talented leather workers (saddles and boots that would make any cowgirl, cowboy, or hipster drool) and his lovely wife, Jan. Darel hasn’t worked with leather in quite some time, but through 2 terms in Vietnam, years as a Criminal Investigator, and working for a Scuba Dive Company, he never sold his leather tools. Time passed along and took the other events with it, but never his tools.
This is good for me because one of these days Walter and I are going to come a knockin’ on their door again to soak up any tricks of the trade he’s willing to teach. Are you game, Darel?
We still have the homemade banana bread Jan baked for us that I am rationing and for lunch yesterday we ate the cake she sent us off with. I didn’t think we were only going to eat cake for lunch, but it was chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting and it really doesn’t get much better than that. The piece she gave us was massive and….well…we ate it all in one sitting.
The town of Willow Springs had donated a night at the Comfort Inn, which we thoroughly enjoyed. As we got up the next morning to get ready to ride the phone rang and Walter was asked to go to the front desk. The three of us had pulled in pretty tired the day before and so Darel and Jan took it upon themselves to donate one more night to us.
Walter walked back in to the room and told me the news after going to the front desk to get the message.
“No way”, I said.
He nodded. “I know. I can’t believe it either”.
So we had a solid day in a very nice, clean air-conditioned room where we could relax and get some things done. I was able to finally work on some leather orders out of the sun which made me much more productive.
There is a beautiful woman called Soula whom I've yet to meet. She ordered her first leather piece from me about a year ago and since then I have had the joy of creating many other pieces with her. We have hand written letters to one another and shared our art (she is an incredible photographer), but still wait to sit down with a cup of tea to talk and laugh face to face.
She always provides me with wonderful descriptions and photographs to help me put as much emotion into my painting as I possibly can for her.
She recalls the wonderful smell of her Grandmother's jasmines and the way they climbed up the wall of the house. She would pick the blossoms and make little jasmine bracelets that she would later hang in her Grandma's closet to make her clothes smell good.
To my dear, patient, and far away friend (although I am slowly nearing you), your Grandma's jasmines...
That evening Darel showed us photographs of the leather work he had done while Jan sat across from us smiling with a Collie on her lap. To my surprise the next morning I found that my saddle had received a make-over.
Darel had oiled it and replaced the cinch and some of the leather pieces. He also sent Soj off with a new head stall (and fixed my reins) and some alfalfa cubes. Darel had also gone to the feed store and picked up some of Soj’s favorite food, rice bran. He gets a rice bran/Omegatin (by Kent Feeds) mix and it’s been a golden diet for us. The rice bran has been harder to come across around here though and so I was absolutely thrilled when I opened the back of the truck and there were two more bags of it in there, courtesy of Darel and Jan.
Darel and Jan raise gorgeous Arabians. Sojourner has been around mostly Quarter Horses in his travels ever since he left Lari Shea's Ricochet Ridge Ranch in Mendocino, California, but now he was with his own again. The horse closest to him was a Stallion Darel and Jan had rescued and man oh man was he ever excited to see Sojourner!!
Battle, the Stallion
Sojourner received two new pairs of dancin' shoes from EasyCare, Inc. as well. I am so happy with Soj's shoes. We have traveled 2,115 miles now and have not had to see a farrier yet. Everyone is always amazed at the fantastic condition his hooves are in. We always get comments on his healthy feet. We have gone through 2 pairs of shoes now with never a lame step or rub. Soj is barefoot under his boots so I will ride him with nothing if we are in fields for most of the day. I have a rasp with me, but I rarely use it. His hooves have held their shape and stay pretty short just from walking on dirt roads every once in a while barefoot.
These aren't his new dancin' shoes...
We said our goodbye’s to Darel and Jan and their lovely horses and headed off down the road to the next town called Mountain View.
“Lasagna is being prepared as we speak and I have been asked to find out what Walter's favorite beer is and if you would like a glass of wine or what…” said Stephen over the phone.
When we got to Angela and Michael Ball's, and their daughter, Jennifer’s house we gave Soj a nice bath, fed him, and then went inside to do the same to ourselves. We had a shorter day of 20 miles but it was as hot as ever and we were all pretty sweaty and hungry.
Angela had prepared the best lasagna pretty much ever (red and white sauce…is there any other way??) along with fresh veggies, salad, corn, and fresh peaches her friend had jarred for dessert. It was perfect and so very delicious.
This morning we all rose at 3am. 2am is the usual for Angela, Michael, and Jennifer (until school starts and then Jennifer who is a Junior in High School will train in the evenings). Michael was already gone when we stumbled into the living room at 3am. I actually heard him leave at around 2am to head over to the barn.
The four of us had coffee and tea and made some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for later. At 4am a girl who works for Angela pulled up in her big truck and Walter, Jennifer, Angela, and I piled in to head to the barn as well.
Jennifer tacking up one of the horses
Work starts early when you live in this sort of heat and you are about to put horses through some serious exercise. Not only exercise, but this fine morning those horses were going to have some rookies on their backs. That’s right. Angela trains cutting horses and Walter and I were about to go cut a cow.
Now, I suppose that’s stretching it a bit since there was only one cow in the arena. I didn’t exactly cut him out of the herd, but I chased him, I did! And maybe Walter didn’t exactly cut a cow either since there was no cow in the arena, but he circled that horse, he did!
Angela is in a line of work that is mostly run by men. It is not until fairly recently that women have not only begun cutting horses, but are incredibly successful at it as competitors and trainers. Some of the top women competitors have won over 3 million dollars in prize money! And how do they win this money? A good horse trained by a great trainer.
Here is an interesting article I found on-line about women and cow cutting …
Walter and I both thought it was very cool to see how these women live. Most of America is sleeping at 2am in the morning, but not these ladies. The diesel truck sputters in the driveway as she waits, we top off our to go mugs, grab the little chihuahua, and pile in to the sound of loud country music and the feeling of warm night air.
The sun has not yet risen and won’t for quite a while as the girls throw their saddles up on a string of horses. Strong muscles circle the arena with a steady panting breath as she guides them with ease. Three women spinning, zipping into a gallop, stopping on a dime with 9 cents change (a saying I picked up a few days ago-it sounds best said with a Southern accent) and then the cows are rounded up and brought in to practice.
“Ready?”, Jennifer asks
“Yup, ready”, Angela responds.
Jennifer opens the gate from atop her horse and one little cow enters the arena. Angela’s horse’s ears pin forward as he zeroes in on the cow.
“Once I place my hands on his neck he knows to go for the cow. He’ll mirror every move that cow makes”.
After watching the cow and the young horse dance with Angela’s guidance she then told me it was my turn. It was such a cool experience. Angela put me on a horse that pretty much knew what to do without me telling it anything.
(I don't have any pictures of this, but I have a video that I will try to post soon)
I faced the cow and Angela coached me on what to do...
"Good, now go ahead and rest your hands on his neck."
It was like I switched a button when I touched that horse’s neck. He was focused and ready and his attention was fully on the cow in front of us.
The little cow took a turn and this horse was like a machine under me, pivoting on it’s back feet and then running along directly parallel to the cow, stopping perfectly with it seconds later.
Michael said to be careful because it is very addicting and he's right. I'm addicted and ready for more.
Angela's supportive, incredibly kind husband, Michael, bringing feed to the cows
This 6 day old baby was in one of the stalls
Walter and I fell in love with the two barn kittens. We almost took one, but Angela mentioned kitty litter and we opened the truck door and let the kitty back out.
We were so tempted to take one of those kittens because we had met this cat of Angela and Michael's the night before. This is Clyde. Angela said they broke the mold when this cat was made and boy, is she ever right! I think he is actually a dog.
Another cool cat.
Angela was pretty impressed. That Foxtrotter Palomino that is in our future better come soon! Soj needs a buddy and Walter needs a horse.
Walter and I ran around in the fields just before the sun came up and stayed there until it rose. It was so beautiful. The sky turned from a peaceful blue...
Walter will always remember the first time he trotted on a horse and I will always remember the first time I danced with a cow guided by an incredible woman early on a warm August morning in Mountain View, Missouri.