6 Weeks ’til Christmas: Great Gift Ideas

John Burgan has made a serious name for himself in the saddle-making craft with his Roo-Hide saddles. Originally from Australia (hence the Roo-Hide name and look), Burgan moved to the United States in 1984, and gradually grew a saddle-making business, having been fascinated with leatherwork since he was a child.

Roo-Hide’s semi-truck and traveling tack trailer have become a familiar sight at many national shows.

Here’s his “shop” in Ogden, Utah, at the NCHA Western National Finals.

Roo-Hide saddles have been known as quality pieces, and many of the trainers and riders I know own and use Roo-Hides. Swear by them. Love them.

We all know the value of a great quality saddle, but priced from $4,000 to $6,000 U.S. (not that the currency matters much at the moment, with the dollar at par), a Roo-Hide saddle is a dear purchase.

At least, until the Brumby.

At $2,450 U.S., Roo-Hide’s new line of saddle is quality at an affordable price. I’m not sure these are yet available in Canada, but if you’re in the market for a good quality saddle as a gift, they might be well worth checking out.

That places us halfway through our Christmas gift idea count-down. I”m hoping to catch up to the calendar sometime soon, perhaps even next week. Stranger things have happened.

In the meantime, be sure to check out the Christmas Gift Guide on the Home Page of www.westernhorsereview, and if you didn’t catch them, earlier posts to this series of Great Gift Ideas.

A Collection of Wonderful Reads – Pt II

As promised, My Stable Life returns today with a couple more delightful books. If you missed the first installment, check out yesterday’s:

A Collection of Wonderful Reads

And if any of you have some great reading suggestions, by all means let me know! I love books that come with recommendations.

But without further adieu, let’s begin with the last three reviews:


It’s hard to discuss Half Broke Horses without also mentioning author Jeannette Walls’ other publication, The Glass Castle. I’ve read both. Both books feature Walls’ fabulous eloquence and talent as an author with storytelling fashion. Both books are true-life novels. And both are spectacular recounts of Walls’ family history.

But I enjoyed Half Broke Horses in a way that doesn’t even compare.

The Glass Castle is a spellbinding memoir of Walls’ childhood growing up as the daughter of Rex and Rose Mary Walls. As one of four children, Walls tells of the family adventures doing the “skedaddle” and living like nomads across southwest desert towns, surviving starvation, fires and poverty and picking stars out for Christmas presents. She describes stories of her Father Rex, who was a charismatic dreamer and would drink the grocery money away. And of her mother, Rose Mary, who preferred to create paintings over making dinner for the family. It’s Jeannette Walls’ own life, in her own words and written with such fondness and genuine adoration for her parents that it left me shocked. The Glass Castle struck me to my absolute core and made me think, “Some people do not deserve to have children.” I know that sounds harsh, but it’s honest. And yet, the author doesn’t echo my sentiments. This book is a true testament to the human spirit and is a story of forgiveness that only love – in its truest, most genuine form – can offer.

Half Broke Horses on the other hand, studies Jeannette Walls’ family history one generation further back. It is the riveting tale of Walls’ grandmother, Lily Casey Smith, mother of Rose Mary Walls. Lily was a horse trainer by the tender age of 6, a teacher by the age of 15 – riding over 500 miles alone on her black and white mare named Patches to get her first job – and a bootlegger, rancher and pilot later in life. She endured the Great Depression, tornadoes, floods, harsh winters and heartbreak. She was a true cowgirl and possessed a spirit akin to a half broke horse herself. In many ways, I found myself able to relate with Lily Casey Smith when it came to her experiences with prejudices, untamed horses, personal tragedy and her sheer desire to live her life to the fullest.

As told by the author in a first-person voice, Half Broke Horses is true-life fiction book in light of the fact that Jeannette Walls had to fill in some of the details herself. Nonetheless, this is her grandmother’s story, as told to her by her mother and features the tenacity of a tough-minded, lion-hearted woman in the difficult era of the Wild West.

I’ll admit, I actually picked this book up off the shelf after reading the front and back covers. But my gamble paid off. With the tagline: The Rise of the West and Canada’s New Power Elite, plus an image of a cowboy riding through the streets of an urban dwelling surrounded by skyscrapers on each side, I couldn’t help myself. STAMPEDE! had my curiosity immediately piqued.

Written by Gordon Pitts, and the recipient of the 2009 National Business Book Award, STAMPEDE! focuses on the new frontiers of wealth making headlines in Canada and the social and cultural emergence of the West. Simply by stating facts, Pitts analyzes the complex issues our country is facing and the changing dynamics that are reshaping the way we live.

From the hot button topic of the oilsands, to Montreal’s loss of aluminum giant Alcan, to Saskatchewan’s big stake in biosciences, Pitts evaluates the developments that are happening from coast to cost in Canada and points out surprising patterns. And regardless of your political views, chapters entitled, “Welcome to Edgary,” “The Prairie is Flat: The boom that knows no borders” and “Playground of the Petro-rich: The Colonization of British Columbia,” are sure to get your blood boiling with intrigue. Any way you slice it, Pitt’s thoughts and predictions are riveting to reflect upon as we approach 2011.

I realize it’s likely not all my Easterner friends will agree, but Pitts puts forward a theory in this book that is hard to ignore. And regardless of where in this glorious country you live, STAMPEDE! is a compelling read that evaluates the steady shift of power currently drawing up a curious blueprint for Canada’s future.

7 Weeks ’til Christmas: Great Gift Ideas

Photo collages are a creative way to utilize a number of photos from the same day, event or season. Think trail ride, vacation, horse show or banquet. If you love to take photos as much as I do, any of these are likely to create a scenario resulting in “photo-excess” for the purposes of a photo album or sharing with friends over e-mail and Facebook, but perfectly suited for. . . collages!

We’ve really gotten into building photo collages this Christmas season. Such as the one above, titled Two Ponies.

Here’s a heart shaped collage comprised entirely of photos of our foal, Oliver, in his first few days in the world.

If you’re adept at Photoshop, you can save your collage to a PSD format and create a printed message in the collage or manipulate the photos.

There are a number of collage programs out on the internet, but I’m choosing Shape Collage to share with you, because it is one of the simplest to master. Plus, it’s free. Download it, watch a three minute video, and you too, will be an artist.

Just like me.


Wee plans on using it to create holiday messages for far-away cousins. It’s a fun way for her to share some of her favorite photos of the year and meld them together into a personal Christmas card. Best of all, unlike most holiday crafts, it requires zero-clean-up. That’s why she loves it so. For, you know, she usually does all the clean-up after one of her Christmas crafty adventures.



Which is why I love it.

Here, the munchkin created A Fall Day for y’all.

See how easy this is?

You can use as many or few photos as you like, and choose from a variety of shapes. E-mail the final collage, post it on your blog or Facebook, or print it out.

Find Shape Collage and download it at this link: http://www.shapecollage.com/

A Collection of Wonderful Reads

I love books. Books, books, books...

Have you ever spent time reading a book and put in the hours it took to complete the novel – be it fiction, a biography, a paperback, a hardcover, or whatever – only to regret the time it took to finish it? I have. That’s why when I am looking for a new read, I turn immediately to my best source for book reviews: my friends and peers. While it’s tempting to pick up the latest New York Times best seller off the rack, I first want to know if anyone in my circle (people who understand my likes and dislikes and share a similar outlook on reading entertainment) would recommend it. When a new title is suggested, I bombard that person with a battery of questions:

• Is this book powerful? Meaning, does this novel have the kind of emotional depth of prose that will make me feel something after reading it?
• Was it hard to put down?
• Will it frighten me to my wits end? (If so, typically I’m not interested).
• Will it keep me thinking long after I’ve finished the last page?

Today and tomorrow, I thought I’d share with you a handful of books I read this year. My reading interests are varied. I love a good fictional plot and I’m a sucker for rockstar autobiographies. I’m also very intrigued by books that focus on business. And while horses consume my real life, I still adore a great horse read. Between today and tomorrow, I’ll share with you five reviews are based on only a handful of books I read this year. If, my friends, you’re looking for great stocking stuffers, they might come in handy…

The debut novel of Sara Gruen focuses around the life and troubled times of Annmarie Zimmer, a Grand Prix rider and an Olympic hopeful who once sat high upon her rare coated, white-stripped chestnut gelding named Harry. Following a tragic accident, Zimmer wakes up in another lifetime facing divorce, a dying father and a teenager overcome with angst. Twenty years later, she returns home to her family’s New Hampshire horse farm and discovers she has become but a shadow of herself: the girl who once was so full of ambition, courage and desire to saddle up anything with four legs is now a jobless and lonely woman.

Life begins to take Zimmer in a different path when her ex-boyfriend / veterinarian / neighborhood-horse-rescuer discovers a woeful gelding that bears an astonishing resemblance to Harry. And things heat up even more as Zimmer finds herself teetering in the throes of her past love and the seductive allure of a trainer with world-class talents.

Gruen’s flawed characters are richly depicted and often easy to identify with, making this book a charming fictional read that is sure to warm your heart on cold, winter nights. Riding Lessons is a moving tale about overcoming loss, evaluating the error of past decisions, life, hope and “…the extraordinary capacity of a horse to elevate the human spirit.”

Malcolm Gladwell quickly became one of my favorite authors this year. I have read and thoroughly enjoyed his other novels as well; The Tipping Point – How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference; and Blink – The Power of Thinking Without Thinking; but the book that spoke to me the most in regards to the horse industry was Outliers – The Story of Success.

Now if you’re thinking that this book is a reference guide to instant prosperity, it isn’t. In fact, in Outliers, Gladwell argues that the story of success isn’t always centered around a person’s intelligence or ambition. Instead, he gives real life examples of people who have thrived in business or in life because of circumstances surrounding them – for instance, their birthplace, their family history, and their generation, amongst other things.

Gladwell explains what Bill Gates and the Beatles have in common and makes sense of Silicon Valley billionaires. He examines the role culture and circumstances play in the difference between good airlines and airlines who have a history of crashing planes. And Gladwell will give you new insight for looking at the world of successful people. Outliers is thought provoking and upsetting at times because it defies logical thinking – but in a fantastic way.

8 Weeks ’til Christmas: Great Gift Ideas

I walked out the front door of the log house this morning to be greeted by this.

The view to the West was unsurprisingly similar.

Apparently, it was a universal phenomena.

To the east the view was slightly warmer, but only due to the light of sunrise.

The first serious snowfall. Sometime in the night, the winds had blown in and created a masterpiece of beauty. Still, standing there in a housecoat, over my Duberry boots, I was acutely aware of the cold snap of weather accompanying this poetic still life.

Winter has officially hit.

It hasn’t quite reached these proportions, but we are all aware of the prognosis, aren’t we?

The entire scene reminded me of an Ian Tyson song . . . you know the one. . .

If I get there before the snow flies
And if things are going good
You could meet me if I send you down the fare
But by then it would be winter
Nothing much for you to do
And the wind sure blows cold way out there

And, that reminded me of the book I had just finished reading.

Which inclined me to remember my 12 Weeks ’til Christmas: Great Gift Ideas series. From there, it didn’t take long to crunch the numbers, and . . . bring you today’s Great Christmas Gift Idea – Ian Tyson’s just released memoir, The Long Trail: My Life in the West.

Tyson’s biography is candid. He writes unflinchingly about his life in the music business, from his start as half the duo of Ian & Sylvia in the folk scene of the ’60s, his fallout of the musical flavor of the next decades, and his re-emergence as the cowboy renaissance vocalist and writer of, perhaps, the century.

Throughout it all there has been the horses and the West, the changes thereof chronicled through the eyes of a man who has firsthand, from his ranch in the foothills, observed the disfigurement of the land. Tyson is a man who has fought against this destruction, through his work saving the historic OH Ranch, the Oldman Dam (though it was constructed), and against the drilling of exploratory wells in the eastern foothills of the Rockies.

Tyson lives and works at this own ranch, south of Longview. His descriptions of the ranch, the weather, wildlife and the horses are sentimental, loving and inspiring.

While his connection with horses began as a child and later, young man, near Victoria, British Columbia, where he rode broncs for the fun and thrill of it, it was in Ontario, where he met Walter Hellyer, and bought his first cutting horses.

Among them was a “big, buckskin broodmare” – a daughter of Doc Bar named Doc’s Able Mable.

“Having a horse with Doc Bar blood was a very big deal in the 1970s,” writes Tyson.

This was long before the time of chilled or frozen semen, so Tyson took the mare to Texas and had her bred to cutting legend Buster Welch’s rising star, Mr San Peppy. The resulting foal – “a little yellow colt” – was named Doc’s Summer Wages.

After his go at the Fort Worth Futurity with “Yeller”, Tyson eventually advertised him as a stallion, and today, many people are still riding the grand-get of this golden palomino.

It’s all in the book. If you love the West and horses, you’ll love the book, and you’ll appreciate Tyson’s truths about it all.

As he recently stated in a National Post article, “I’ve gotten the s–t kicked out of me, and writing the book was very emotional, but if you can make it through life’s trials and tribulations, it’s cool.”

Ian Tyson is the real deal, he’s lived the life that many only dream of.

Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

9 Weeks ’til Christmas: Great Gift Ideas

So I’ve been counting down to Christmas and sharing some of my best gift ideas with you over the past few weeks. Catch up at the beginning with 12 Weeks to Christmas.

This is one of the simplest gifts you can give your family. And, it doesn’t have to “cost” you anymore than time spent with them and a bit of grocery money.

This book is not just a cookbook, it’s a journey into learning to provide a cleaner diet for your family.

I love Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution right from the opening statement on his website. . .

“This food revolution is about saving America’s health by changing the way you eat. . . it’s a movement for you, your family and your community. If you care about your kids and their future take this revolution and make it your own. Educate yourself about food and cooking. Find out what your child is eating at school. Make only a few small changes and magical things will happen. Switching from processed to fresh food will not only make you feel better but it will add years to your life. You can…”

It’s about throwing away the packets, bottles and stuff sitting in your freezer in boxes pretending to be food. It’s a simple enough concept. Our mothers and grandmothers knew it like the backs of their hands.

You begin with a few essential tools.

And a well-stocked pantry. All the more essential when you live in the boondocks, like I do.

Jamie Oliver’s food revolution, and his cookbook, based on the movement, is about learning how to cook with real ingredients – simple ingredients.

Rediscover the cucumber salad – with four delicious variations.

Or try it out with tomatoes.

Salad dressings are really incredibly simple to make, but we’ve all become so accustomed to the colorful commercial varieties, it feels like a gourmet venture to whip up our own. How crazy is that?

In this household, we’ve made a concerted effort to rid our diets of packaged and processed food over the past few years. And, I’ve taken the time to teach some basic techniques to my kids. Teenager makes a killer chicken noodle soup from scratch, and in a pinch, Wee can whip up scrambled eggs and bacon.

My mom cooked everything from scratch. I swear the only items she purchased at the grocery store were flour and sugar.

Oh, and ketchup. But, she even made that herself for a few years.

I wish she had taught me to cook back when I was a kid, but then I probably wasn’t very receptive to it. I likely would have choosen the barn over the kitchen any day of the week.

But, nowadays, I like to cook. In another life, I lived in the city with a girl who was French Canadian and taught me how to make things like caesar salad dressing and spaghetti sauce from scratch.

The connection between the heritage and recipes beats me too. But, her love of cooking from scratch and entertaining awakened the same qualities in me.

She’s become my lifelong friend, and we still exchange recipes. Cooking together is something we both look forward to when we meet up.

Nowadays I can make a beautiful and healthy lasagne from scratch. But, someday soon, I’m going to try Jamie’s.

I’ve always loved the “it takes a village” concept and Jamie’s philosophy embraces it. He’s spent a lot of time teaching ordinary people in his neighbourhood how to cook and dispersed throughout this cookbook are their stories. It’s one of my favorite aspects of the book.

Meet Tracey & Andy. They now own Sunday dinner roast.

Geoff, who has the most amazing set of coffee mugs above his windows!

and Julie, who learned how to cook out of her traditional box.

Last night I made this. Yum.

So, if you’re still haunting the aisles of your local Costco freezer section, go out and buy this cookbook, I dare you to.

It’s loaded with photos and step-by-step instructions that are easy to follow. Perfect for the beginner cook, for lazy cooks, for busy horsepeople, like me, like you, who don’t have time to spend all afternoon in the kitchen, and for anyone who just needs a little bit of inspiration in the kitchen.

If you already practice clean diet, aka, cooking from scratch practices, pass it on! To your kids, your spouses, your friends, and neighbors. I promise it will be one of the best gifts you can give – at any time of year.

Besides, how hard is this guy to look at. . .

Ahhhheeem, where were we on that recipe?

10 Weeks ’til Christmas: Great Gift Ideas

Sometime in the next seven weeks, I’ll endeavor to catch up to the calendar and present you an idea in the correct week of count-down.

Today ain’t that day.

In the meantime you might want to catch up with 12 Weeks ’til Christmas and 11 Weeks ’til Christmas, for which, I’ve provided the links here for your extreme convenience.

Today, we’re going to check out one of my favorite obsessions – funky cowboy boots. Don’t confuse these with riding boots – that they isn’t.

My only pair of Old Gringo’s were purchased in Fort Worth, but now I’m loving the fact that the  Calgary Stampede store carries Old Gringo boots. You can check out their entire line at www.oldgringoboots.com, but here’s some samplers.

The Cactus Razz boots.

An old-style Texas look with Luckenbach.

I love pale green and chocolate together making this one of my faves.

A view of the toe.

The Old Gringo Lucky Star.

If you simply must do the white cowboy boot thing, the Vencida may be for you.

And for the really funky, the Star Cow.

Rocketbuster boots have been around for a couple of years, and have some fabulous and decidedly offbeat styles of late.

Wow. Zebra Fields forever.

Slightly more subtle, the Starfire Platinum, priced at $2,895.00 U.S.

The Day of the Dead – $1,595.00.

And, for those of you within a certain mountain range.

Yes, they really are called the Sasquatch, at $1,695.00 U.S.

Y’all oughta’ step out more often in these.

Finally, the Italian brand Ferrini has a specialty line of well-priced exotic leather products just for horse people.

The blue-sting ray at $169.00.

Or, the pink tiger-stripe.

Guitars and peace signs help the world go round.

For the Dwight Yoakam in you.

If boots are your thing, I hope I’ve brought you some new sources of shopping.

Finally, for those of you who double as these for the season. . .

Jingle. Jingle. Jingle.

11 Weeks ’til Christmas: Great Gift Ideas

Last week, I introduced my twelve-week countdown to Christmas. You may have noticed I’m running a bit behind. Obviously, we have some difficulty observing a strict calendar of timelines in this neck of the woods. Bear with me.

What I’m definitely not short of is great gift ideas, and today’s is a champion!

Over the past week, my Inbox has been receiving a series of training videos complements of Horseback Riding Lessons.

The first is one of the clearest videos I’ve ever watched describing the gaits of the horse. Excellent. Concise. Enhanced with slow-motion videography, it’s completely to the point. Watching it, I knew this video would make a great addition to our equine 4-H club, where learning the gaits is a Record Book must.

As trainer and creator of the video, Cody McArthur explains, a clear understanding of the natural gaits of the horse is a conduit to moving forward with any kind of sport training. It’s foundation. And an essential tool of knowledge. Watch this video and I promise, you’ll tuck it away in your toolbelt, as a learned skill.

Two days later I received the second of six videos, this one, focusing on the sidepass. Whether you’re opening a gate, or exhibiting in a show class, the sidepass is one of the most valuable maneuvers you can teach your horse.

I really appreciated Cody’s practical advice for teaching a horse this movement. I got it, and I can assure you, if I can get it, it will be easy for you.

Then, this morning, the third video arrived, this one revolving on colt starting, a skill Cody happens to be well respected for.

Again, I loved the simplicity and practical terms of this coaching. Anyone can learn to master these techniques. Cody spends a lot of time in this video re-enforcing ground manners and stressing the importance of that foundation building. From that understanding all else flows.

You can check out Cody McArthur’s valuable teaching, and sign up to receive six great free videos at the site Horseback Riding Lessons.

Cody draws from a wide range of talent to augment his own training videos. An online subscription to the training library gives you access to direct training with such champion-producing names as Jay Duke, Dustin Gonnet and John Swales, and more in the works.

In my book, access to this type of horse training instruction, with this presentation, is $10.95 a month very well spent. I am onto it!

P.S. By the way, every online subscription to Horseback Riding Lessons also gives you a free one-year subscription to Western Horse Review.

Now that would be akin to . . . two gifts checked off the Christmas list! Just sayin’. . .

12 Weeks ’til Christmas: Great Gift Ideas

It snowed today at the log house. A significant amount. Enough to scrap off the deck.

Alright, I didn’t, but I could have.

Instead, the snow reminded me of this idea stewing in the back of my brain for a 12 weeks ’til Christmas series on Screen Doors & Saddles, with my best shot at the most unique gift ideas for y’all I could think of. Equus-related of course.

Problem is we’re nine weeks and a bit from Christmas today.

All I can offer is “what the hey?”

Like where did October go?

I know you’re with me on that. So, I’m going to do this thing regardless. Just do it. I’ll throw in the missing weeks here and there. Try and keep up with me.

To rocket this series off in high fashion, I’m going to share with you one of my favorite books; a compilation which I guarantee would be an incredible addition to any horseperson’s library. Technically, Horses, by French photographer, Yann Arthus-Bertrand, might be categorized as a horse breeds book, but it is anything but an A-Z encyclopedia. It’s more like a cornucopia, actually a gallop, indeed a full-out stampede in the greatest of glory, riddled with richness, lavishness and incredible depth and diversity.

If there were an America’s Next Top Horse Model television series, Arthus-Bertrand would be Nigel Barker. Renowned photographer, with an incredible eye for capturing the essence and true beauty of the equine.

I give you the forthcoming cover of Italian Vogue.

Arthus-Bertrand travelled the earth and eventually completed a 15 year project of photographing animals, horses among them, against a plain backdrop, treating his subjects more as models than animals. The result is the photographic captivation of horses that are not only a departure of the four-square traditional profile shot, but animated beyond belief, even surreal at times, and in all cases, most definitely alive with the spirit of the equus.

It is a collection you cannot help but fall in love with.

I gaze through this book and stand in complete awe. Of the connections we hold with the people of the world. Of the history of the world. Of my horses, and all they represent. This book brings all of it crashing into my little corner of the world.

Majestic is a word often over-used as a descriptor of the horse. Here it stands true.

While the breeds we are most familiar with are represented, it is the stunning photos of horses from the most far-flung regions of the world which most capture my heart. Not to mention their incredible handlers.

For instance, this beauty.

This bold, magnificent pair.

Meet the Bashkirsky mare, Anessa, a mare whose pedigree dates back to one of Leo Tolstoy’s stud farms. An ardent breeder, the Russian author crossed English horses and Russian trotters with an original Cossack breed of Russian pony called the Bashkirsky. This award winning descendant is presented with foal at foot, guided by her breeder, who carries on her arm, a bucket of koumiss (a slightly fermented milk, and highly prized drink, which was once considered on the level of a magic potion.)

Consider these matching beauties.

A prized pony!

These are the heavy horses. In all their glory. The handler, in all of hers. And wearing dress slippers! Bravo!

Yes, the glorious Shires.

More ponies!

The true hunters.

And jumpers.

Cowboys and their mounts are liberally represented. As are a Canadian western horse breeder couple. But, I won’t spoil that for you by previewing it here.

The Argentina section enthralled me, including the stunning athletic sleekness of this polo horse.

And this breathtaking shot – an Argentine Criollo cow horse, with his trainer.

I love this book so much, and I’m happy to share it with you. But, if you’d like your own copy, we added it to the Western Horse Review store, for your convenience, if you wish to order. Or, you can find it at the usual online outlets such as Amazon.

By the way, Yann Arthus-Bertrand didn’t reserve his camera for only the equine. For you cattlemen and women there is a book of livestock as well with such specimens as this magnificent bull . . .

and this belle.

I refer to the Jersey, not handler.