Sunday, December 12, 2010

Late Breaking News

For a major dose of Christmas cheer, follow this link to the YouTube video of the Moore County Driving Club Holiday Parade.

2010 Southern Pines Holiday Carriage Parade

The gorgeous pair of white horses with red trim under their harness is my gorgeous Cream Draft team, Lucy and Joy.  They did beautifully in the parade, other than a slight shy at the big railroad tracks.  I am so proud of my girls!

TBone comes along , too, driven by the husband with a reindeer friend.  They, too, performed well.  Nobody got hurt and the horses are fine, despite the really horrible weather.  Thirty-seven degrees and pouring rain--the absolute worst possible conditions to spend the morning outside.  My gloves got wet and my fingers froze into agonizing sticks.  The daughter (in red antlers) ended up doing most of the driving, but that's okay.  She did a great job (of course.)

For the record, washing a draft horse requires at least one and a half hours.  I spent three hours washing horses on Friday, when the outside temperature didn't quite reach forty.  At least the sun shone during the process, unlike Saturday, when I stood with them in the rain for most of an hour before the parade started.

Still, we had a wonderful time.  It's a pretty great start to the Christmas celebration, decorating horses and carriages for a ride through downtown, smiling and waving at the shoppers.  I can hear "Silver Bells" now...

Hhmmm.   Maybe that will be next year's theme!

Warm at last,


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Birth of a Barn

I finally realized that the only way to show the barn process was to include the photos in a regular post.  I'm still not really savvy with all this Web stuff. is my field BEFORE.  Abby and TBone are grazing near the burn pile.  Nice green grass, wide open spaces.

This next photo is from last February--what looks like snow is actually ice thick enough to support a horse without cracking.  That's the same burn pile, more or less, underneath.  The building on the side is our well house at the corner of the field.

Fast forward six months.  The burn pile, along with huge mountains of dirt, has been removed.  Trenches two feet deep were dug and filled with concrete, to support the barn walls.  A 10-inch thick layer of gravel covered the trenches and defined the floor of the barn, then was covered with plastic.  Pipes for plumbing were installed.  The result is... 

Then the concrete trucks arrived.

At the end of that momentous day, we had a wash stall and horse stalls:

And a wide center aisle.  That's the tack room across the aisle, not yet filled in.

Nicely smoothed and ready to walk on. 

This was August, so imagine sweltering heat to go with these pictures.  The stacks of concrete blocks will become walls in my next post.

Making progress,


Tuesday, November 30, 2010


And now it's the end of November...where does the time go?

We spent Thanksgiving with family in Atlanta.  I thought I would enjoy the break from feeding and exercising horses.  Instead, I found myself having horse-related nightmares, as I often do when I'm away. I miss seeing the guys and girls first thing in the morning, all of them eagerly waiting for me to dump food in their buckets.  I enjoyed being with the folks, but I'm glad to be home again.

Suzette has gone to live for a few months at a nearby barn which specializes in eventing, also known as horse trials.  These competitions involve dressage, stadium jumping and cross country riding, providing a thorough test of the horse's stamina, fitness and talent.  Suzy Q, as I call her, entered a schooling horse trial recently and did beautifully in dressage and stadium jumping--she came out tied for first place.  The cross country course did not appeal to her, however, and she dumped her rider at the 2nd jump.  No one was hurt, but I was disappointed--I'd wanted her to use her brain and not simply react, as she is prone to do.  The younger daughter will be working at the event barn and will get a lesson six days a week with Suzette, so they'll both come back with a lot of experience to call on.

I do miss that bright white head in my pasture, though.  At least the daughter still comes home every night.

Work has started up on the barn once more.  The walls are as high as the windows on three sides out of four.  Then they'll get the stone headers lifted into place above the windows and doors, the walls will top out at 12 feet and then--tah dah!--the second story can commence.

Why 12 feet, you ask?  To keep rearing horses from slamming their heads against the ceiling.  You never know when an equine will decide to get a taller view of the situation, so we're providing plenty of room.

While the bottom floor of the barn is built from concrete blocks (CMUs, or concrete masonry units, they are called in the profession,) the second story is built with traditional wood framing.  I'm told the work really goes quickly, once we get to that stage.  I'm not sure if we'll have a roof by Christmas, but I'm sure early in the New Year will give us a completed shell.  I'm really hoping to be moving in by April 1st. 

Wish me luck!


Monday, November 8, 2010

November Catch-Up

I realize that once-a-month blogs are not compelling.  Now that the clocks are back where they should be, I hope to improve my record.

First, a link:  This is another photography contest on The Pioneer Woman's site.  Her readers have submitted animal photographs and...oh.  So many beautiful horses!  So many adorable dogs!  A few spectacular cats, plus a hamster, a baby pig and quite a few sheep.  Plus a mysterious polar bear and a cheetah that will give you chills.  Amazing shots of beloved creatures.

My barn has lain fallow for the last month while we waited for stone lintels.  Lintels sit over windows and doors to support the wall above the opening.  Nowadays, steel can do the job quite nicely, but we wanted the historic look of stone.  At last report, the stone was due to be shipped on Friday.  (Please, please, please...)  I'm hoping the lintels will arrive early this week and we can get back to building!

In the All's Well That Ends Well department:  Yesterday, my horse trainer-in-residence (also known as the younger daughter) went out with TBone for a little drive.  According to her report, they took a corner too sharply, the carriage tipped and she jumped out to avoid being spilled.  Somehow, during that maneuver, she lost the reins.  Before she could retrieve them, TBone took off on his own.  Picture our pony with a fairly big carriage behind him, reins flapping at his heels--oh, and Christmas bells on his harness because we're working up to the parade--trotting and then cantering along by himself!  The trainer tried to run after him, but you know that wouldn't work.

TBone ended his madcap adventure--Safe, thank goodness!--by the fence of Abby's pasture.  Our winded trainer claimed the reins, climbed back onto the carriage and drove him around again, including taking that corner without tipping this time.  Meanwhile, I sat in church, totally unaware.



Tuesday, October 12, 2010


I'm back with lots of excitement to post about.  We got home last night from Kentucky and the FEI World Equestrian Games, the biggest equestrian event of the year.  I doubt I'll ever see the Olympics or go to Europe for any other World Games, so this was my one chance to experience that kind of craziness.

And I had a crazy good time!  We went mainly for the driving competition--strictly for four-in-hand teams, driven in dressage, marathon and  cones phases.  My driving trainer, Bill Long, was there with his team of gorgeous Gelderlanders.  The best drivers in the whole world were there, including Chester Weber, whom I've mentioned before.  The US took the team silver, which was wonderful, and Tucker Johnson from the US took the silver individual medal.  I was pretty thrilled that Australia took the team gold.  After seeing the Aussie driver Boyd Exell's dressage test, I knew he would win.  Such precision, control and grace!  Something to aim for with my own horses.

The slideshow shows some of the pictures on my camera.  I'll load in more from another camera, too.  My camera's not all that terrific--doesn't do good closeups.  But you get an idea.

We watched the last round of stadium jumping, which was a thrill.  And we took in some of the other demonstrations, including Roman riding.  I'm still wondering if the Romans had lame' costumes for their horses.  And did the riders wear black sunglasses?

We visited the International Museum of the Horse, which I've talked about before, and it was fabulous.  After our visit, I suspect the sequins the Belgian horses wore last weekend would have been gold or brass ornaments dangling from a Roman harness. Heavy, but very impressive.  The Belgians probably appreciated silver cloth, instead, because it was quite warm at the Games--cloudless skies all day long and temperatures in the 80s.  We walked what seemed to be miles and miles, but somehow managed to eat enough so we didn't lose any weight.

Today is about getting back into the routine with our own herd, and it's time to go for a ride.  Seeing a spectacle like the World Equestrian Games inspires you to reach higher for your own horses and for yourself, trying to be the best your ability allows.  I may not control a  4-horse team, but TBone and I can go for a nice, invigorating drive on a gorgeous October day.

Cheryl, who's glad to be home

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

September 1

So...I missed July and August altogether.  There is a reason--we lost a dear friend, my next door neighbor, on July 4th.  Adjusting to life without her has taken tremendous effort.

Another event consuming my energy has been the start, after years spent in anticipation, of my barn.  Yes!  I will at last have a structure with stalls and a tack room and a feed room and a wash stall with warm water for bathing horses in cool weather.  I can bring the Cream drafts inside during the summer days to keep them from getting sunburned and developing skin cancer.  The old mare can be warm in the winter.  The tack won't be dusty or moldy and I won't have to use the horse trailer to store carriages and harness in.  I can have a refrigerator for cold drinks...I can have water, period, for rinsing off bits.

Just a little excited.

I haven't been as dedicated to taking pictures as I should have been.  But I'll work on better documentation of the process, which has been pretty amazing.  For a time we had mountains of dirt out in the field, and then a huge crater.  Things are a little more balanced now, but by no means finished.

The first step, for the builder, was to set up level lines for the floor...and that was our first hint of the difficulties ahead.  When they set up a level string from the high point of the field, the lower corner of the floor turned out to be above the pasture fence, thanks to the slope in the ground.  In order to solve that problem, they had to dig into the high part of the field, thereby creating the dirt mounds.  Thank goodness for backhoes and the men who drive them!

Then there were the trenches, two feet deep and filled with concrete to provide a foundation for the walls.   Then load after load of gravel, as a base for the concrete floor.  Plumbing pipes had to be dug into that gravel.  And all of this work took place under the blazing summer sun with standard Sandhills humidity.  Some days, the "Real Feel" temperature reached 115 degrees.

Now, the gravel is being smoothed and packed while the builder frames the edges of the porches and stalls.  In a few days, there will be concrete poured inside the edges.  Voila'!  A floor!

Pictures soon.

Wishing for cooler weather,


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Happy Fourth of July!

I came across this reference on, and thought it worth publishing as far and wide as possible:

On the day before the Declaration of Independence was to be signed, John Adams wrote to his beloved wife Abigail that the following day “ought to be commemorated, as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade -- bells, bonfires and Illuminations from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward, forever more – I am well aware of the toil and blood and treasure, that it will cost us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the gloom I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory. I can see that the end is more than worth all the means. And that posterity will triumph in that day’s transaction, even altho we should rue it, which I trust in God we shall not.”

I am struck by Adams's vision--"through all the gloom I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory...the end is more than worth all the means."  The words remind me of an image from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, concerning "a city on a hill."  The words of "America the Beautiful" recall both sources:

Oh, beautiful, for patriots' dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears.

America, America, God shed his grace on thee.
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea.

Okay, there are sisters as well as brothers in the picture.  I'm not one to quibble at archaic language.  (I'm a historian--I love archaic language.)  I believe with all my heart that this country can be a place of opportunity and success and peace.    I believe we need to keep the image of a shining city in our minds as we wind our way through the maze of issues confronting us on a daily basis. 

Ronald Reagan, in his farewell address, referred to the city on the hill:

I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it and see it still.

As you watch the fireworks, think about these images...and how we, as citizens, can work to make it so.

God Bless America!


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Horse History

Returning from yet another extended deadline scramble with the news that Disney has made a film about one of the greatest horses of all time--Triple Crown winner Secretariat.  I remember (or at least I think I remember) all three races--the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness in Baltimore and the Belmont Stakes in New York--and watching Secretariat win each one.  Wow.

Those were the days (1973) when televised races were my only contact with horses.  I'd visited riding stables occasionally in 6th and 7th grades, when I could earn the $3 it cost to ride and talk my mom or my friend's mom into driving out there.  The poor animals would be standing, fully tacked up, tied to a post or hitching rack, heads down as they dozed in the hot Florida sun.  My friend and I would climb on and walk for an hour through the pine woods, hoping for a trot but rarely getting one, until we headed back to the barn.  Then the horses would lift their heads, their gaits would quicken and sometimes we would even find ourselves cantering along the sandy path, holding tight to the saddle horn as we raced for home.

Poor horses.  I'm sure they've all gone to Heaven by now and are free to run through cool, grassy pastures without a saddle or a rider in sight.

By ninth grade, my horse-loving friend had moved away and I didn't have time for everything, so I put my horse passion aside...except for the Triple Crown on TV.

Now I feel blessed every morning and evening to go out to the pasture and feed my own herd.    I love living in a community of horse-lovers, where the topic of most conversations sooner or later comes round to what's happening in the field, at the show, with the farrier or the vet.  However I acquired this passion for horses, I have finally come to the place I always wanted to be.



Monday, May 10, 2010

Merry May

I did get my book turned in, and now they're sending it back for me to go over the editing.  By the time you've written, revised, edited and proofread a book, you never, ever want to read that story again!

During the last 26 days I've been having great fun with my horses  The process of getting a pair into harness is strenuous and exhausting, but the draft girls have gotten better behaved with each trip we make.  Last weekend, we drove them around The Great Lake, as I call it, a manmade pond at least 5 acres in size.  Having so much water so close made Lucy a little nervous, but she handled it well.  The girls also deal with dogs barking and running at the fence, other horses galloping in the nearby field, and they cope with automobile traffic just fine.

I only wish I could say the same for the drivers of those vehicles.  You would think that a sensible person, seeing ahead of them a pair of BIG white horses pulling a carriage, would slow waaaay down and, if passing on this two-lane country road on a Sunday afternoon, would do so slooooowly.

Well, maybe the folks who drive this road aren't sensible.  Because they whiz past us like we weren't even there.  Yesterday, one man grinned and made as much noise as close to us as he could.  He's lucky Joy didn't kick out his windows.  A month ago, another idiot with the same instincts killed my neighbor's sweet dog right in front of her.  He didn't even stop--maybe he didn't notice that slight bump which was Ginger's neck breaking.  Damn him.

Anyway, driving my two Cream Draft Horses is every bit the pleasure I expected.  For Mother's Day, I got to have lunch with one of my daughters at a favorite restaurant, shopped for clothes and books, and then came home to brush and drive my two creamy girls.  The day simply couldn't have been much more perfect!

Watch out for the animals around you,


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Punting Again

Okay, this is another Pioneer Woman link.  I'll do it right this time:

Pioneer Woman's Dog Posts

Today she asks her readers to write about their own dogs, and the notes are sweet, funny and heartbreaking by turns.  If you're a dog lover, you'll connect with all of them.

Meanwhile, I am finishing up a book for Harlequin which has hijacked all of my brain cells for the last two months.  I'm hoping to reclaim my life Friday, April 16, at the latest.  There are many wonderful things I can write about spring and horses and the farm.

Till Friday...


Monday, March 22, 2010

A Breath of Spring?

The equinox has occurred and with it comes the need to fertilize pasture grass.  The healthier the grass, the less hay I have to buy this summer.  So today, the chicken poop man will visit us.

Chicken manure, scraped out of the many chicken houses in this part of North Carolina, makes a fabulous fertilizer for the Bermuda grass that grows in our sandy soil.  My neighbor and I are trying it out this year for the first time--it's less expensive than chemicals and less, well, chemical.  We'll be putting down lime, too.  And then hoping for rain.  Soon.

The one significant drawback to chicken poop is the smell.  CP has its own unmistakeable, indescribable odor.  Not a dirty, nasty aroma, exactly, but distinctly unpleasant.  I will not want to be outside at my house for the next couple of days.


My neighbor just called to say that the chicken poop trailer is stuck in a hole just on the inside of her gate, half in and half out of her field.  There will be a delay while a tractor is fetched to pull the trailer out of the hole.

Many are the perils of farm life.

Stay safe,


Monday, March 1, 2010

Good for a Smile

For those who want to start the week with a smile, I recommend clicking over to The Pioneer Woman and visiting her photography page.  She's gathered dog photos from her readers for a contest...wonderful, beautiful, sweet, exciting dog photos.  Every single picture makes me smile--sometimes through tears, or laughter, but always with love.



Sunday, January 31, 2010

Ice Follies

We're dealing with some real winter weather this weekend--about 2 inches of ice, to be exact, with some snow mixed in to improve the color.  Raleigh got enough snow so that the roads look like well-groomed ski slopes (beginner hills, mostly).  I know this because we drove the 50 miles between here and there to a concert last night.  Kris Kristofferson played and sang his wonderful songs for an hour and a half.  It was one of the best performances I've ever attended, worth every moment on the untreated roads.

The horses are getting lots of hay during this cold snap.  You'd think any creature with a brain would know to get in out of the sleet and freezing rain.  My horses have lovely (read: expensive) sheds for shelter, but they prefer standing outside, so they end up with ice and snow in their manes and tails.  Suzette had an icicle on her eyelash and chunks of ice on her back.  I put blankets on her, along with Abby and TBone, but the drafts were Iowa-bred, so I'm thinking they can handle the cold.   

Yes, Lucy and Joy are home again and have lost the orange tint they acquired at the training stable thanks to red clay in the pasture.  I haven't had a chance to drive them here, yet, but I'm sure they don't mind the vacation.  Today is definitely not a work day--the ice is crisp and hard, thick enough to support a 16-hand horse's weight without sinking.   The ice will melt later this week, and then we'll get to work. 

Mud, however, is eternal.  It lurks there, just underneath the white frosting, ready to break out at the slightest step and mire me in its ugly brown grip.  Thank goodness for rubber boots!

Drive carefully,


Sunday, January 10, 2010

On the Rocks or Straight Up?

The challenge of cold weather with horses, I'm finding, is WATER.  When the temperature doesn't get more than a degree or two above freezing, the ice that formed during the night on the horse troughs doesn't melt.  That's okay--I'm crazy enough to think breaking the ice in the morning is fun.  It's usually only a couple of inches deep.  No problem.

Well...except that if the water level is low, more ice forms.  Last week, I walked out to see that Suzette's entire water supply had turned to ice.  And Suzette isn't a fan of slushies.

So, we needed to fill up the tank.  Simple fix, except that the hose was frozen solid.

And to those of you who are saying, "Well, DUH," I can only reply that this doesn't happen down here very often.  This is the longest stretch of temperatures below 40 degrees I can remember in the last 14 years.  Since I've been living with the horses these last 4 years, it's never been so cold for so long.  So I'm still learning.

Anyway, buckets filled up Suzette's trough.  Now I have a trickle of water running through the hose, which keeps it from freezing.

But then I went into the wellhouse for the back pastures and discovered that the PVC pipes all around the well pump had broken.  Fortunately, the water was off, so we were spared the formation of an ice skating rink.  Instead, we got an emergency visit from the plumber to replace all the pipes with a big black hose.  And then I spent another hour or so wrapping said hose with insulation and duct tape.  I like my plumber very much, but I don't want to see him again any time soon.

I think we've handled the water issue for the time being.  The temperatures are supposed to moderate this week, going all the way into the 50s during the day.  Everything will thaw, including the mud at the back of my hay shed, which requires 4-wheel drive settings to get through in the truck.  But that's a tale for another time.

My friend in Iowa--where I found Lucy and Joy--offered to send me some snow and NEGATIVE temperatures.  They've been having really challenging weather.  He was smart, though, and installed an automatic watering system for his Cream Drafts.  The horses just walk up to this little water fountain and get as much as they'd like to drink.  I think that must be the perfect answer during the long, cold winters up north.  I told him I'd be glad to take the snow and cold, but the folks who came down here to escape just that sort of torture have me outnumbered.

For a funny look at the tribulations caused by cold weather in Oklahoma, check out The Pioneer Woman's archives, where she shows her husband chopping ice on a pond so the cattle and mustangs can drink:

Believe me, I know I've got it easy!

Stay warm,


Sunday, January 3, 2010

All Wrapped Up

First, let me assure those readers in the North and West that I realize we have it GOOD here in the Southeast, as far as winter weather is concerned.  I know, I's WARM here, compared to where you are.

But for us pampered Southerners, a daytime high of 34 degrees Farenheit is COLD, especially with the wind blowing.  We don't have snow to shovel through to get to the barn, but the ground is frozen hard.  We wear hats and gloves and heavy coats to feed.  Working the horses becomes an option, even though the sun is shining.

And because we need protection from the cold, we often think our horses do, as well.  In past years, I've left most of my horses in the pasture without blankets.  They do, after all, grow a thick coat of hair.  They run around to stay warm.  I've always tried to make sure they had enough hay for fuel.

This year, though, Abby is twenty-two years old, and doesn't run much.  TBone got clipped back at Thanksgiving and is missing hair on the lower half of his body, requiring a blanket.  And Suzette, the desert horse descendent, shivers if we have a cold rain.

So the three of them are bundled up today.  Each is wearing a wool "cooler"--a light blanket designed to wick away moisture when the horse has been working and sweating hard, to dry them off faster.  In this case, I'm using the cooler as an extra layer beneath the waterproof blanket on top.

When the temperature gets up to 40 and the wind stops, I'll probably take the coolers off of Abby and Suzette.  They do have fairly thick coats.  TBone may have to keep his until we get to 45 degrees for awhile, at night, at least.  Blankets add an entirely new dimension of preoccupation to the business of caring for horses.  Too cold?  Too warm?  Raining?  Dry?  What's the right thing to do?

The best part of  using a blanket is how clean the horses look underneath.  They still roll in the dirt, sand and mud, but it all stays off their coats.  On the other hand, horses without blankets tend to resemble the soil their grass grows in.  Lucy and Joy are quite a sight these days--I'm calling them American Creamsicle Drafts, after those lovely orange sherbet ice cream treats.  They're just the same pale orange color.

I drove them yesterday for most of an hour and enjoyed myself greatly.  We're beginning to get used to each other, and I feel our minds connecting through the reins.  I'm envisioning lots of good drives ahead!

Stay warm, wherever you are!


Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!

I find it hard to absorb the idea that we're now in the year of our Lord Two Thousand and Ten.  The eighteen-year-old that is my inner self never believed I would get that old.

I have, though, which is a good thing.  I'm grateful for the life I get to live now--out in the country with my horses and my dogs and wonderful neighbors who share the same passions.  I love being able to talk about horses with others who love them and work with them daily.  It's not always an easy life--horses can be dumb and self-destructive, or else just downright unlucky.  Barometric changes in the weather can cause colic, and colic can be fatal.  Broken legs happen in the safest of pastures.  Loving a horse doesn't keep it safe, and you never know when you might face an unforeseen tragedy. 

I guess that sums up life in general, doesn't it?

But most days with horses are simply busy, often productive and, for me, a pleasure.  Warm muzzles, soft brown eyes gazing at me with trust and the expectation of a treat, strong shoulders and warm backs, solid butts and swishy tails...these contacts punctuate my outdoor time.  My herd gives me a reason to get up every morning and the feeling that I'm needed throughout the day.  Never mind the rain, mud or cold (it's supposed to be 38 degrees Farenheit for a high tomorrow), the blazing sun, torrid summer heat and stifling humidity (my personal worst weather choice)--the horses need feed and hay and exercise and that's what I do.  Every day, all day, all year.  Thank God.

I hope you have a busy and successful life to look forward to in this new year of ours, along with friends--animal or human--with whom to share.  I'm resolved to make my blog entries far more frequent in the coming months (a new computer will help with that) and I hope you'll check back often!

All the best,