Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Look out, mama's got spurs.

A week since I last blogged. Where did that time go ? Right into my behind and heels.  I am thrilled to announce I rode in the 3 day Chris Cox Clinic in Oregon, Wisconsin and survived to tell about it. Man, oh man, oh man, what a weekend. This blog is long. If you love horses, grab some java and jump in. If you don't... read it anyway.

Thursday Aug. 19, the evening before: while loading Nora, Doolin the jackass jumped onto the trailer, dropped and rolled in front of me and the horse, kicking us both. I was ready to use the event as an excuse not to go. Excuse # 10 for those who were counting. Lesson learned, hang the donkey up by his heels before loading the horse. Calm husband convinced me WE needed a break from the farm. We left. Nora and I in a foul mood.

Friday Aug 20, 0900. It is very hot. Chris Cox meets with us, talks to us. 17 signed up to ride. 14 showed up plus 40 or so spectators.

Then he told us to saddle up, and in my head I was high-tailing it out of that there cowboy place. I had no business being there. Some people had spurs and new Wrangler jeans and one guy was even chewing tobacco. Obviously I was way out of my league, but I saddled up anyway. I imagined myself galloping off like the Runaway Bride if it got too tough...if I could remember how to gallop.

Chris had us walk, trot and lope in front of him, then he critiqued us. I felt naked and stupid. Obviously he  thought my form was just funny as did the crowd. He also made it clear he did not like my "tennis shoes" which were leather Ariat riding boots. The sole was too thick, the toes too round. I was offended. What is so wrong with round and thick ?!

That afternoon we did many hours of ground work. I learned to back my horse with just a look. In the beginning, the first time I " looked " at Nora and backed her up, Chris said " Softer Donna softer ! If I were your husband and you looked at me that way I'd run backwards as far as I could go. " Hmmmm, I sense a theme here. Mr Cox had no idea he was not the first one in my life to tell me to lighten up.

Later he chose to ride Nora to show us some more of his techniques. I could not believe the things he could accomplish on my simple half breed horse.The look of shock and awe on her face was...priceless. Chris and Nora are second from the left in the next picture. I'm the one on foot in orange unsure if I am suppossed to follow him around or just go out for coffee.

I was wiped by the end of the day. The whole day pretty much a blur as I look back.

Blisters on my heals and lots of bruises from my very unbalanced seat. Sweat dripping off my eyelids like rain off the edge of an umbrella. Yet I made Keith take me out to buy some real boots with pointy toes and a smooth sole. I was asleep by 8 PM.

Saturday, August 21. Arrived early at the stables http://galatea.meccahosting.com/~a0006393/ so I could practice and buy a Chris Cox Bridle. I was not going to give CC a chance to chide me on my old bridle which was a hodge podge of leather and lace from the bridles of two other long dead horses of mine. Bad Bridle Karma for sure. At 9 am he gathered us around . While he talked one guys horse suddenly bit its owner hard on the shoulder. The guy turned and lightly hit his large buckskin. Chris went nuts. "Don't you dare hit him like fairy ! Pop him, pop him hard ! (he was not suggesting the guy offer his horse a soda. "Get him, get  him !!!" The formerly meek owner sprang to life and made his horse regret his actions. Afterwards, Chris explained very thoroughly that a biting horse is one that can kill you and there are no holds barred when it comes to correcting a biting horse.

I asked his opinion on the use of spurs. He was very clear about the use and misuse of them. He was clear with me that my leg aides were too poor to have "earned" spurs yet. Like a dejected child I hung my head, nodded, and then began weeping into my sweat soaked support bra.

After lunch the heat was even worse. One slender woman nearly fainted and had to sit out a while. Another one got deathly white and also had to take time out. One good thing about us hefty girls , we retain water well. In the afternoon he had us cantering around him in circles in sets of two. One had to stay inside the circle and one stay on the outside of the circle. We could not take our eyes off of him or his helper Richard. We could not look at our horses, or each other, or our saddles, or the reins or the sky or the hard ground we were doomed to crash into. His point: trust your horse.  They don't run into each other, PEOPLE run horses into each other. In the beginning I was petrified. It seemed we loped those horses forever and once when my partner in the circle started to lag behind he yelled, "Don't you DARE give up !" She looked him square in the eye and finished. Still in her saddle as was I.

Sunday August 22. I passed Chris in the morning before we started. He asked how I was. "My shoulders are the worst. I've never had them ache so much."  His response ? "Good. That means you're doing something right." Direct and to the point. No mamby pamby stuff with this guy. I went to saddle Nora. She cried when she saw me. Offered me all kinds of weird stuff out of her stall NOT to ride her again. Neither of us had worked this hard together...EVER. That is when I looked at my riding helmet and left it in the tack room. It had been hindering me all weekend. Making me feel weak and amateurish. Yes, I fully understand the dangers of riding without a helmet and every child must ride with one, but for me, it was like taking off the training wheels again.

On this, our last day CC reviewed all we learned and had us put it all together in lead changes and counter bending. Not the kind of counter bending you do in the pub after your 5th shot of Red Breast. No, the kind where your horses head is turned  to the right while you are loping her to the left. A bizarre equine skill akin to rubbing your head and patting your belly while step dancing in the Riverdance Troupe.  Craziness that was soooo cool when Nora and I finally nailed it. But it took so much leg work on my part, I kicked and she barely responded, CC yelled " that kick wouldn't get a mosquito to move, now you KICK HER HARD !" I did and she moved. Of course I had a compound fracture in my leg but I had forward movement.

During our lunch break; a picture, just to prove I really was there
and received more than just a t-shirt. ( A picture, three days of intense training and too much new tack, THATS what I got you maroons !)

The last hour of our last day Chris rode many of the other participants horses. He rode consistently and practiced what he preached. It was amazing to see him address specific horse issues (really OWNERS issues) using the same techiniques and acheiving the same results time and time again.

 At the end of a very hot day on Sunday, I approached him with arm extended to shake his hand in appreciation. He grabbed it firmly, pulled me towards him, hugged me and whispered gently in my ear. "Donna, you can get some spurs now." 

24 hrs after arriving home I had spurs. It took two hours to figure out how to secure them to my boots and 10 seconds for Nora to realize I was indeed someone to respect. I was delighted. I wore them all evening, but before I end this too lengthly blog, here is my very STERN warning about spurs. Take the time to remove them before you shower. They will scratch your tile.

To summarize, Chris Cox is dead serious about what he does and expects you to be as well. He is stern but fair. He does not like "quitters". He gives full credit to horses and riders who try hard. He will not tolerate your inattention (nor should he) and he will reward your every honest effort. He is a professional and the real deal. He wants to save your life while you are riding and he risks his own life everyday to show you how. I was literally ridden hard and put away wet every day.  And I would do the whole thing over again in a blink of eye, just give me one more day to recover.

If you love horses and want to improve your relationship with them, do yourself and your horse a favor and check out Chris Cox at http://www.chris-cox.com/

Happy Trails.


  1. I was weeping with you, aching with you, and strutting in my spurs with you just reading this:)) You are more of a cowgirl than I am! Way to keep going and stick it out! It sounds like you did have a fabulous weekend and learned lots after all.

  2. I also took this Chris Cox clinic in Minnesota (last summer) and pretty much had the same experience. There was a point during this clinic where I was ready to give up and leave. Clayton chewed my butt and made me cowgirl up and get back on my horse. (pretty sure he learned that from Chris). I will never forget that. It was exactly what I needed. Chris and Clayton were pretty much the best thing to happen to me and Duelli - thanks for everything guys!

  3. Found this from a link Mr.Cox posted on facebook, GREAT blog! I saw him when he came to a local town here in Michigan (not enough cash to ride the clinic) but I LOVE his approach. He sounds like a younger version of my mentor. Great job!!! You should be proud - congrats on the spurs!

  4. Donna, you are everything that is COWGIRL!!! You can tell a cowboy by his boots and hat, but you can tell a true cowgirl by her heart! YOU HAVE A COWGIRLS HEART FOR SURE! I am a huge fan (bordering on stalker, lol) of Mr. Chris Cox. I have so much respect for what he does. And I have so much respect for you, too. You did it girl! Wear those spurs proudly! You earned them. And it is my Cowgirl hearts wish to someday ride in a 3 day clinic, I hope I can do as well as you and Nora!

  5. Donna, I agree with you CC is tough but fair. I had the pleasure of attending his farm for a week and the information obtained is priceless. I would suggest that if you ever get a chance to go for a week go for it. I was there about 2 years ago and drove to watch one of his 3 day clinics and to my surprise he still remembered me. I think he is an exceptional person both in the arena and out. By far in my honest opinion THE best clinician around today. Signed Branch from Ocala,Florida. CC would understand and may tell the story.

  6. I rode with Chris in Colorado this summer. I've ridden, shown and trained hunters and jumpers all my life. 6 years ago I packed it all in and got into riding western and chasing cattle. I'd gotten pretty arrogant over the years and Chris knocked me down to size! Made me a better rider and trainer and I worship the grond he walks on!

  7. I was pleased to see your comments on the clinic. I am also scheduled to do a Chris Cox Clinic next weekend in Chesterfield, Va. I have been waiting for this for a year. I am excited and anxious all at the same time. Reading your blog has just reinforced my desire to go. Thanks and Good Luck

  8. Donna -
    I laughed and I cried at your descriptions of the 3-day clinic as it's a pretty close version of what I went thru too! I was so nervous I hurled Wednesday morning and had to go into work late -- a first for me -- no, not hurling, going into work late!

    By Sunday I finally realized I wasn't going to die, Sam wasn't going to kill me, and Chris Cox wasn't going to turn me into a blithering sweat-soaked idiot blob in the dirt. I learned Chris Cox is honest, fair, tells it like it is but not at all in a mean way (my ex could so take lessons on that one!). I learned way more than I can ever retain and wish I could do it all over again. Wanna trailer to Texas for a 6 day!

  9. Wow,Donna, you are not only an amazing COWGIRL you are an amazing writer! I was hangin on every word! I have been to 2 clinics at CC ranch, both of which taught me far more than horsemanship skills. What this man is doing for the equine world is nothing short of amazing. Congrats on the spurs and Happy Trails!

  10. Great story... but wear you helmet!!!

  11. Donna your story was fabulous, I laughed and I cried. I love Chris Cox he is such an inspiration to me, I hope someday to ride in a 3 day clinic with him. Every time I have seen him in person he brings me to tears, pure raw emotion for what he does for us and our horses. Thank you Donna for sharing your story!

  12. Oh my gosh, I loved your blog about the CC clinic. I was laughing so hard my husband asked me to read it outloud to him. He about spilled his drink when I read to him about the spurs in the shower. :o) I saw CC at the California Horse Expo in Sacramento. We bought a cutting horse that weekend at the expo. I loved seeing CC as much as I loved buying that horse. Helmets....broke my neck and both feet...no helmet...would it have helped?? Anyway, a helmet is part of my body armour now. I could almost sleep in it. Keep writing, you've got what it takes. Nora Wolfe, Grants Pass, Oregon

  13. Loved this blog! Wish I could afford to attend a clinic myself. Loved reading about your experience. Thank you so much for sharing! :))

  14. Your blog has been added to my favorites! I rode at one of CC's clinics about 9 yrs ago and your blog brought back all the memories of my aches, pains and feeling of accomplishment. I watched him win The Road To The Horse a couple yrs ago as well. He is a wonderful instructor and just a good person. This 40 something cowgirl wishes you and Nora the best! You're a wonderful writer!

  15. You did great, Donna. You also have a way with words that gets to the point and tells it like it is. I wish I was out there riding with you instead of just watching.

  16. What a great blog of the events. I do think Chris can read minds too or my body language everytime I ws thinking I really can't do this he would give me that Don't give up . I'm a little less muscled than the good ole days but I'm still going to keep trying to finish this journey for my horses.