Ultimate Horsey Christmas Gift Past

This is a part of something I wrote for the Christmas radiothon edition of  my favorite podcast. Whether the audio didn’t make it or it wasn’t selected, I don’t know. But with Christmas and my birthday this week, I decided to share my memory of a past favorite horsey Christmas. Every horse crazy kid asks Santa for a pony at some point. From a very early age, my sister and I got our pony. My memory of that time is limited at best. My story is from many years later.


In the very early ‘70s a family could have horses and ride without having a lot of money. We had very little money.  My parents were divorced but my dad lived close.  My mom had rented a small house with some horse property. She was a horse girl, too.  Mom boarded horses to help cover our costs. She did this, worked a full time job, and raised horse-crazy twin girls.  My sister, Keila and I were of the age where we had certain questions regarding Santa, but still dreamed, believed in wishes coming true, and in miracles.

We dreamed of being National Velvet, horses like Black Beauty, and of riding the trails like every TV and movie western.  Some of our dreams were more practical, like joining 4H with our horses.  One thing all these dreams had that we didn’t, were saddles.  I know it seems strange, but my sister and I rode bareback or with pads almost everywhere.  My mom had a saddle, our pony had come with a small saddle, and I remember some weird, old thing with stirrups on it around.  But Keila and I did not have saddles for our horses.

These days, my ultimate Christmas wish would include a large barn, indoor and outdoor arenas, a dressage court, expensive footing, lighting, and sprinklers… You get the idea. Oh yeah, and being a perpetually perfect athletic size 8 would be part of my ultimate fantasy.

However back then, the thing that would make all our dreams come true was a saddle for each of us. Thanksgiving was at Grandma’s. After dinner, she would have us write our Christmas lists.  First thing on our list was a saddle.   Our grandma tried to suggest we be more practical. She explained how hard my mom already worked for what we had.  Keila was upset and crying. I felt guilty and disappointed.  Kids don’t want to be practical about Christmas or presents. Being kids we wouldn’t let it go, but we held little hope.

I would like to say that “when we wouldn’t let it go”, it was because wrote letters to Santa or reverently gazed at saddles at the tack and feed stores.  We did those things, but my sister was frequent and vocal in her desire. I was quiet and resigned and maybe a bit sulky.  Being a mom, I sure it was annoying, but probably a little fun knowing what would come on Christmas morning.  To this day, I have no idea how she and my dad paid for the saddles.  No spoiler, this is about my past ultimate horsey Christmas gift after all!

Wishes made, and dreams still to come true, and the anticipation. Anticipation was and always will be the best.  Christmas Eve tradition was a trip to Grandma’s and opening a few gifts like pajamas, followed by Chinese food. I always get sentimental during ‘A Christmas Story’ when they end up at the Chinese restaurant.  Grandma, and the rest of the family would come to our house on Christmas Day.  But home again on Christmas Eve, all the horses checked and bed time loomed.  How did we ever fall asleep?

Christmas morning, and the smell of turkey already permeated the house.  Keila and I joined in one bedroom to open our stockings.  Mom and Dad came in to ask if we wanted to see what Santa brought!  My mom had somehow got my dad up early and over to the house. That was kind of a Christmas miracle in our family.  With our eyes closed, our parents lead us into the living room.  When we opened our eyes there were western saddles on either end of sofa!  We screamed and cried happy tears. That day there was more joy than I had thought possible.  Obviously, we had to try our saddles immediately! After our rides, the saddles HAD to come back in so we could show them to everyone and admire them all day long.  Best day and gift ever for a couple of horse kids.

Cherry and Pooka
Side by side a few years later in a show ring line-up

I don’t remember what we did for saddle blankets or pads.  Maybe we got them for our birthday three days later.   Yes, a twin sister and a Christmas time birthday.

1975 4H Regionals

I lost my mom and my sister in less than a year from each other.   The first anniversary of my sister’s passing was earlier this month and my mom’s second is coming up. I miss the people they were when they were living their passions, before the pain that robbed their souls.

Spirit Dance
by LancasterArt

I think if I could have them back, as their true selves, it would be my ultimate gift.

Make every moment count in 2018, and enjoy the ride!




In Memory of Keila

Having a twin can be complicated.  We didn’t look alike and once people know you’re a twin, it invites comparisons. People expect you to be the same, think the same, look the same. We didn’t agree on a lot. We never really looked alike. I wanted to go to college, she didn’t.  However we shared a passion for horses. I think it was in our DNA. Somewhere through the years  Keila lost her true self and passion.  She had a hard time understanding and being honest about her pain and losses.  Then she lost her life.

I started this blog after both my mom and sister had died. They passed at different times, for different reasons.  The first anniversary of Keila’s passing (eleven months after our mom) is  fast approaching.  I became caretaker of her 20 year old cat, and her possessions.  Among her collections were some large trophies.

Keila’s wishes included cremation and to have her ashes scattered.  We did scatter them along with her pets and some of our mother’s. She didn’t indicate how she wanted to be remembered or not (as in our mother’s case).  But, I wanted a way to remember Keila in a way that was special to her.  I chose to create a perpetual award from one of her trophies.  The trophy I selected was from The Golden State Championship and Benefit show.  Originally, it was a perpetual trophy, and in order to retire the trophy a junior rider had to win it 3 times in a row.  Keila managed to win it (1976,77,78) before aging out of juniors.


For the most part, Keila competed in western division classes.  She never rode a dressage test.  However, I am a member of the California Dressage Society – Pomona chapter.  We offer the increasingly popular western dressage classes, and this was where I decided to create an award in her name.  The Keila Hudson Melvin Memorial Award for the highest scoring rider in western dressage, Basic Level or Above has their name inscribed on the trophy, and they keep it for the year.  I also gave the recipient, Carole Perkins, a leather halter with an inscribed plate.


There is a strange coincidence.  Months before,  I had consigned and sold Keila’s custom, butterfly adorned western saddle.   The person who bought the saddle is the same person who won the trophy the first year. I like to imagine Keila was along for the ride.


Until next time, feed your passion and enjoy the ride.







Jameson made it to her first horse show!  I wanted to take every opportunity  to expose Jameson to the horse show world without over facing her at my club’s (Pomona chapter of CDS) October show.

We signed up for the Material class, USDF walk trot B and C. It might seem like a lot, but these are very short tests, especially test B.  It seems by the time you get going, it’s over. But it was enough ring time get an idea of what to expect from Jameson. Also, because it  was the October show, there was a costume class.

One Eyed One Horn Flying Purple People Eater

I wanted to see how Jameson would handle the different aspects of horse showing.  Here are Jameson’s goals for her first show:

  • Good trailer manners
  • Going into the warm-up and show rings with little fuss
  • Attempt to listen to me in the ring

I am happy to report that Jameson was usually well behaved and made a good impression. However, she was not without some young horses moments like bucking in the material class! But these moments were few.



Most of the time Jameson was willing and I had some insights to the horse and partner she could become. I would have liked more focus from Jameson.  But realistically,  it wasn’t bad. (I also, would have liked to have gotten further with my diet!)


Good Girl!

Anyone who has competed much knows prepping and riding for the show ring doesn’t necessarily further the horse’s training.  Recently, Jameson has become too comfortable ignoring my request for “more”.   I am sure future posts will reflect some of this training.

Until next time, enjoy the ride!



It’s a Disaster!

Unfortunately, quite literally.   I had been slowed down with a bad cold, so I was uncharacteristically home on Monday.  I fed Jameson breakfast and collapsed on the couch. Next thing I knew, the Santa Ana winds came on with a vengeance, followed shortly by the sounds of sirens.  I have lived in Orange for many years and this was not my first experience fires.  But since I live on the side of Santiago Canyon opposite the parks, I was sure we were not  in danger.  I responded to many texts, messages, and a few phone calls explaining all this.


I was so not concerned that when my oldest got home from his morning college class, I bribed him to help take in the recyclables.  It was a thirty minute chore at best.  While Tyler was sorting cans and bottles, I was responding to even more people.  Did I need help moving horses? Were we evacuating? Then Beth called and sounded stressed.  She suggested we get home right away.  The three mile drive up the hill was vastly different than the drive down the hill had been.  I called my husband, and my younger son to get home as soon as possible.  My younger son routinely drives the truck and it was obvious we needed to get hitched up and packed up.


My trainer, Amy Miller, called to let me know I could bring Jameson and Huey to Chino Hills.  I knew going to Rancho de Felizidad  would take away any worry about the health of other horses or the care of my two. I was right about the excellent care.  But with all the freeway and toll road closures, GPS told me my 35 minute commute would be an hour and a half.  Nope. Four hours later, we arrived.  My wonderful friends jumped in to helped settle the horses and Nabee even cleaned my trailer.

During my drive,  I heard frequently from the home front.  Things were not good, but the cats were safe, the cars were packed, and despite being on evacuation orders my husband and boys decided to stay put.  Then we lost power.  Hunter reported that it was announced that power would be on in a few hours.  But for plugged in kids, that’s roughing it!

But actually, my kids were amazing! When we realized the gravity of the situation, Tyler jumped in with a plan.  First he packed up the computers into cars.  Then he got the carrier for the cats.  One, Pixel, was found right away, but the other two, Orangello and Flop, could not be located, till Tyler found them under my bed.  The whole bed had to be taken apart to get to the cats.  He took care of other things before his own personal stuff. His maturity amazed me, but didn’t escape my notice.

When Hunter got home, he jumped in to help as well.  He helped me hook up the trailer before packing up his music and instruments.  Later that day, he called me concerned about a friend’s donkey.  I don’t know the details, but when the parents evacuated, the donkey was left behind.  The friend goes to school in another state and texted Hunter about his donkey. Hunter was worried and wanted to make sure he was safe.  I  asked him to be careful going over there, and to make his presence known, so no one would think he was looting or something.  The mom in me was proud of the compassion Hunter has for animals.

In the end, it took three days before the evacuation was lifted.  My family and home are all safe. The donkey is fine.  Not everyone fared so well though.  We have friends that suffered fire damage, and one lost their home. The stable in Santiago  Regional Park was so badly damaged that horses and trainers are spread out to different facilities for the foreseeable future.

I am proud of my community and especially the equestrian community for dropping everything to help fellow horseman. Unfortunately, some horses lacked adequate identification.  Days later horses were looking for owners and owners were looking for horses.  Another problem slowed evacuation.  Many horses would not load in trailers, either due to lack of practice or stress.  Regardless, problems like these are being addressed.  A task force has been organised in our community to evaluate what went right, what could have been done better, and what plans should be in place in the future.

Inexpensive ID: Invaluable

Plan, be safe and enjoy the ride!


Amateur Follies

When the only people to ring your front door bell are Amazon and the pizza deliver guy,  having it ring before 7 a.m. on a Saturday wakes you up fast!  To be fair, I was up feeding the cats at 5:30, but not Jameson.  I was holding out till seven.  (Time for her to eat a full breakfast before leaving for our lesson, but not so early as for her to think she should eat again.) Of course as I dashed to the door, only worse case scenarios played through my brain.

What greeted me was a woman, her teenage son, and a full grown pot bellied pig.  It seems during an early morning driving lesson, the pig was found wandering on Santiago Canyon, a major highway not a pig trail. Some how they managed to usher the pig past three properties to end up at my front door.

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Olivia having a drink

I want to help, but now the clock is ticking on my lesson prep time.  It is now pass seven and horse not fed.  Stall not cleaned.  And pig in my drive way.  So, we usher the pig up the hill to my barn level.  Now Jameson is used to goats, or at least one spoiled goat.


But  a pig is a whole different animal.   I foolishly figured she could eat breakfast, while we worked on a way to keep Miss Pig off the streets.  Nope. Nada. No chance was she eating with that thang here. Jameson decided running around and acting like we were being invaded by aliens made more sense than eating.  So much for that plan.

We quickly learned that the pig could not be contained on my open stalls or round pen.  She would scrunch under the fence.  The only stall that would have worked was housing some of my sons car parts to his ’70 GTO that he is re-building. Ah.. No.  I was left with my tack room or my feed room. Beth and I had spent a recent Sunday cleaning and reorganizing my tack room. So feed room it is.  Actually, it is  a box stall with pallets to raise the feed off the ground.  I knew my vittle vaults could not be opened by the pig so grain and supplements were safe.  Decision made and now to encourage her to go in.  Friendly pig, but not liking the idea of being contained.  We finally got her in, gate shut and tied shut for extra security.  The pig promptly began tossing everything movable that weighed less than her.  Meanwhile, Jameson was still trotting and pacing her stall and not eating.

With the pig safe it was time to quickly get ready for my lesson.  Fingers crossed my youngest (with the GTO) filled the truck with gas as I asked.  I have been having trouble raising the trailer high enough to get on my new(er) truck- another project. More time slipping away.  I figured I could just finish getting ready,  load, and make it in time to warm up Jameson before my lesson.

Still tight skinned and big eyed, Jameson was was happy to go away from her stall.  But even with the promise of  food,  Jameson was not sure about loading onto the trailer.  So using the adage act like you have 5 minutes it will take all day.  Act like you have all day and it will take 5 minutes, we just stood there and breathed.  It took 15 minutes.

Finally, in the truck and on our way- to the gas station.  Oh well, warm up is overrated on 3 year olds!  We did manage to get there saddled and in the ring on time for my lesson.  Thankfully, Amy was running a few minutes behind so we got some walk and stretching time, and then a great lesson.  Minus the hunting hawk in the next field, but that is another story.

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Jameson- it’s a start

I am happy to report that Olivia, the pig, found her family.  I had posted on the animal finder website, and called a local vet and friend and friend of mine. Lorrie (the barefoot veterinarian) and Beth saw a lost pig post and helped re-unite the pig and  her family.   By the time we got home from the lesson, the only thing left was my tossed feed room.  Cleaning up, I gave Jameson some of the loose hay. Apparently it smelled like pig and even a chow hound like Jameson wanted nothing to do with it. Horses!   Did you know that if you want a pig to go somewhere it doesn’t want to go, all you have to do is put a bucket over it’s head and it will back away, and where you want it to go? Now you do and so do I.  Thanks Lorrie for the tip!  http://www.barefootveterinarian.com

Enjoy the ride!


The Horse Days of Summer


The horse days of summer are almost over.  However, in SoCal we are on our second week of triple digit temperatures and high humidity.  I had hoped to have my first real dressage lesson on sweet baby James(on) by my next blog.  Jameson has been coming along to the point where I thought we should try a trailer in lesson.  But, with the last crush of shows and traveling to look at prospects for clients, my trainer has been unavailable. With many days over 110 degrees,  it is probably a blessing we haven’t had a lesson yet. In spite of the heat or because of it, we have stayed busy.

Jameson helps 

Of course, summer needs rest and relaxation.  And tunes! Walking and rocking

I hope you enjoy the links and stay cool.  And as always, enjoy the ride!


Does Your Husband Ride?

Whenever I meet someone new and they learn I have a horse and ride, they inevitably will ask the same question.  “Does your husband ride?”  For a lot of people, it is more of an assumption than a question.  I am sure a lot of people have visions of husband and wife riding hand in hand into the sunset.  Yep, that is about as realistic as all the rom-coms I love.  These non-horsey people don’t realize what most riders know anecdotally: Amateur horse sports are dominated by women.  One statistic I saw stated it was up to 80% more women than men ride.  Another from the British Horse Society quoted 73% regardless of professional status.

My husband, Ray,  has been on a horse a few times. I even brought home a retired roping horse for him.  But, after 6 months of feeding, cleaning, and working ‘his’ horse and only a few rides by my husband, I knew this would never be his passion.  Happily,  I found a wonderful home with a neighbor whose trail horse recently passed.  The ponies I had for my boys, also found new homes.  Although they both love animals and like having the horses around,  it was obvious riding would not be their passion, either.  So, the ponies moved on as well.  And every horse and pony deserves to be loved by a little girl.

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Hunter- lead-line ~ 2002
Hunter: At home on the stage

I recently came across the Horse Radio Network (HRN). It is a pod cast with multiple horse related shows.  One of my favorite programs is Horses in the Morning, a  Monday through Friday pod cast.  It is like drive-time radio, only in pod cast form.  On the fourth Thursday of the month is their horse husbands edition.  It is billed as for men only.  Apparently, the men have noticed  the disparity and have built a program around talking about it.   The topics are varied, informative, humorous and sometimes serious.  Not that I have listened to the show.  All horse girls do as we are told!   (A word of warning the HRN is habit forming.)  www.horseradionetwork.com/shows/horses-in-the-morning/

Two of my horse girlfriends, Karen and Trish, (from my Sunday Stroll blog) met volunteering at a therapeutic riding school.  Trish met her future husband there, as well.  The two young(er) women were both horse crazy girls and quickly bonded.  They began hanging out together and of course talked about everything.  Karen frequently talked about Joe, extolling his endearing qualities.  It was quite a few conversations in as  when Trish  realized Joe was Karen’s horse, and not her fiance.  Karen and Bob had met when they both worked at Knott’s Berry Farm during college.  He was a stage coach driver, and she was drawn to the horses.  Bob does not drive anymore and has little to do with horses as possible.  Trish’s husband has nothing to do with horses, either.  He was just helping the center with big equipment for a fund raiser. John admits after hearing the word horse in a sentence all he hears is, “Blah, blah, blah.”

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Karen and Joe 1991

So in answer to the question, no my husband doesn’t ride.  However it appears that when the horse girls are busy with their horses,  their husbands are involved with their own pursuits. So my husband and I may not ride off into the sunset, but we meet back up at the end of the day and share our experiences. He may not ride, but Ray gives good horse hugs!

*Helmet acceptance and laws have changed considerably since some of these pictures were taken.  My friends and I always wear helmets these days.

Enjoy the ride!




Sunday Stroll

Jameson has been progressing nicely in her exposure to life as my future dressage super horse (positive pony affirmation).  We have been cruising through the neighborhood to get over to Lorrie’s for a few months.  However, the shortest way there includes a narrow street side trail with barking dogs, a downed tree, and bridge over a stream frequented by birds.  This bridge has been a sticking point since we started.  My rule has been, you can stop but no turning or backing up.  We have sat there for thirty minutes at times before Jameson decided either it was safe, or she was going to starve to death if she waited any longer.  Jameson decided death by starvation was worse than facing a bridge troll.


Recently, we took Rattlesnake Canyon.  It is a short, scenic, zigzagging trail, hence the name. It  connects to streets on either end and is a way to pick up other trails or the park systems. After getting to the top, we took the road back down home. So, we have been getting some experience with trail and street conditions.

What we needed was an outing with a solid trail companion.  (Sorry, Huey. No need to apply.)  My long time friend, Trish, and the retired hunter she rides, Lauren were up to the job. With the excessive heat even by SoCal standards, we set a time for the evening, but changed to a morning ride while it was still early and even some overcast.  I was to leave from my house and she from the barn where Lauren lives, and we would meet on the trail on OPA boulevard.  This meant I would need to go through the S curve and over the bridge with the troll.  We hadn’t been over the bridge in almost a month as the tree was being removed and someone else was replacing their fence.

Jameson set out quite fresh. It was cool (relatively), and I have been limiting her exercise and turn-outs due to the heat. While a bit bouncy, Jameson was still quite manageable.    As we approached the bridge, dogs barked, Jameson’s ears flicked, but she never slowed a step.  Before the troll even woke, we were over and on our way!

As we turned on to the street to meet Trish, a car slowed to a stop, the driver jumped out of her car and asked to take pictures of Jameson.  A great opportunity for us to practice just standing, and well, she is just so pretty!  After passing another friend with her group of students on trail, we met up with Trish and Lauren.  What became apparent  quickly, was Jameson motored right along while Lauren also had her own speed. No faster than she deemed necessary.  It resembled a stroll. While Jameson’s pace was more like a power walker.  The good part was neither horse was anxious about the growing separation.  Of course, I took the time to practice turns, stops, and just standing.

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Our trail angels- Trish and Lauren

Then came the water crossing! We have not attempted this previously, because it is all concrete, has a short down ramp, a crossover with water flowing over the elevation change, and another ramp up. At this time of year the crossover is only a few inches. However, it you go off the side it is concrete and rocks. Further down it is a dirt stream but deeper with uncertain footing.  (I did have a horse, not mine, fall off the side with me and the water was deep enough then for some swimming in riding boots. But that is another story.)    To keep this as much of a non issue as possible, we had Lauren walk up next to Jameson and cross.  Jameson started down the concrete, then stopped. It took a minute of contemplation, a bit of encouragement, followed by tentative steps, and then we were over. I did feel us being drawn to the rocky drop-off, but a little more left leg and she straightened her course.  I was happy with the little stress and no drama.

Looking back on our accomplishment!

The rest of the ride was a pleasant blend of up  and down hills, some neighborhood streets and good conversations! At the end, we split off to our own places and Jameson took the troll bridge like a rock star before completing our 2 hour ride.  It’s not Tevis, but a great learning ride in its own right.

Enjoy the ride- I am!

Building an Arc

It was’t really forty days and forty nights.  It felt like more!  Winter brought record setting rains to Southern California.  With the rain came spring, and more rain.  The flooding and saturated grounds were a problem in our stall at Lorrie’s.  So, I brought Jameson home.  Ready or not.  Fast forward- It’s summer and I have started Jameson under saddle.  It’s not all rainbows, but she is progressing nicely and is fun to be around.

“It’s the control of the feet through the mind that a person [should be] after. If you’ve missed that on the ground, [from] the start, why you’ve missed the part that means the most to the horse. The person should be focused on getting the best possible connection with the horse on the ground – through feel – if they want to have those parts of the horse available to them when they ride.” – Bill Dorrance

Regardless of  the riding style, I believe there are many things all horses should learn. Proper bending is one of them.  Some people become confused when talking about bend and arc. A bend becomes an arc when the horse is put into motion in the direction of the bend with self-carriage.  Driving into the arc is the secret to success.  Back to front. (Thank you Sarah Rolston for the succinct definition.)


(Disclaimer: This is the part where I reiterate, I am not a trainer.  I read, ride, and study.  I am just sharing what I am currently using in my equestrian tool bag.)

Starting from the ground,  Jameson learned about bend. First from the ground we worked on yielding her shoulders, haunches,  picking  up her abdomen,  going forward, sideways, and back.  I need my aids to be consistent for her to learn.  I want to ride what she has learned.  Therefore,   I must have the same conversation on her back as on the ground.

Shaping – If I can gently rub with my hand up the girth area and have Jameson give me her eye (bend),  then same aid from the saddle should yield the same results.  Besides the beginnings of bend and ultimately arc, this is a useful skill.  If my horse becomes distracted in the ring or on trail,  a little touch helps get her back without pulling on her face.

I’d be lying if I said this works all the time.  Since Jameson is only three, conversations need reinforcing.  And it is the conversations that helps reinforce leadership, rain or shine.


biomechanics of bend
Great Diagram!

As always, enjoy the ride!

Graduation, Wedding, & More

June – the month of graduations, weddings, and Father’s Day.  In my case, a month of events are taking place in 4 jam packed days.  I look  less like someone trying to peck out the next ‘Great American’ novel, than I do a displaced lark in a Las Vegas casino coffee shop. My husband and boys are night owls and I am a lark.  This is a problem best handled on vacations with gyms, coffee shops, and long baths with a book.  With my coffee in hand, I type.

I am in Vegas for my step-dad’s wedding. My parents moved to Vegas about 25 years ago to an acre that has been and is currently home to chickens, cats, rescue horses and donkeys.  Sadly, my mom passed a year and half ago. Today, Gene is marrying someone I have known since I was in high school.  Auntie Linda was a good friend of my parents, worked with my them and been there through the years.  She was even there almost 30 years ago when Mom and Gene said “I do”.  I have lots of emotions, but I love them both and wish them all the best.

Gene and Linda say “I do”!

We are also in Vegas as my husband is bowling the USBC National Tournament. This is a tournament Ray, and his 5 man team have competed together in a combined total of 133 years! The nice part of his bowling is that Ray usually makes some money.  Always a good thing and  it makes my horse husband happy.

Rewind a few days, and this is a BIGGIE,  my baby graduated high school.  Sure thousands of kids have graduated this month, but this was Hunter’s graduation. Did I mention he is my baby? If you don’t have kids, but ride dressage, this would be like taking your home grown/trained horse to his first show.  Your horse may not have been high score for the show (valedictorian), may not have won his class (honor student), but he finished with some nice moments.  “Horse has a dressage future!” (judge’s comment).  “I can’t wait to tell people I knew Hunter when…” (counselor’s comment). You get the idea.  He has big potential.  I am my kids’ biggest fan and encourage them to follow their dreams.  But like my horses, I have set them up for success but leave it to them to do it.

To you all: here’s to  love, happiness, and  dreams coming true.