Saturday, September 19, 2009

Trail Riding Through Cyber Space

You’ve charted your course, saddled your horse, cleaned your leather, checked the weather and the only thing that lies between you and your destination is that old relic of a computer that makes you pull your hair out every time you hit the power button. You know you should have replaced it years ago but between the price of hay, the unexpected Vet bill, the rising cost of everything related to caring for your horse, your hopes of owning that high speed, fully loaded shiny new laptop have been dashed.

Now some of you are asking what a computer has to do with going on a trail ride but most of you computer savvy Tweeters know exactly where this is going. The technological transformation of the equine industry is apparent everywhere we go. Just try to sit through a seminar or a clinic without hearing the distracting orchestra of cell phones ringing or experience the frustration of waiting to enter the show ring while the young girl on the horse in front of you finishes texting her friend and you will understand what I mean. While presenting a seminar at Equine Affaire a couple years ago, a woman in the front row answered her cell phone which was ringing rather loudly and proceeded to have a conversation with the person on the other end so I stopped speaking. I smiled and walked over to the edge of the stage and waited. Everyone laughed and listened as she discussed the beautiful pair of boots she had purchased. Several minutes later, she became aware that she was the center of attention and hung up the phone. The call seemed important so I didn’t want to be rude and interrupt.

Remember the good old days when our time was spent wandering aimlessly through the State Park for hours with no particular place in mind aside from whatever happened to be around the next turn? Remember when the content of our saddle bags was reduced to a first aid kit, a sandwich and a cold drink? It was just you and your horse and the open trails but that has all changed. Now the trail winds through the World Wide Web and I actually saw a saddle bag at Quarter Horse Congress that included a special pocket in which to carry your cell phone.

Don’t get me wrong, fingertip access to the most current information on colic and the advertising opportunities that await you through a web based outlet are exciting and informative. Live updates from Quarterfest when you can’t actually be there is the next best thing. The ability to keep in touch with your horsey friends in real time through Facebook and Twitter and similar sites is addictive but imagine taking it one step further. Imagine, if you will that your relaxing trail ride depended fully on your old outdated frustrating computer. Imagine that your trail ride was a virtual ride that led you astray with error messages and glitches and horse treats were replaced with horse tweets and the only way you could cue your horse was to text him with what you wanted him to do. I imagine it would go something like this…

“Dear Beau (That’s my horses name) there is a cliff ahead and although you are now at a dead run because I have lost control of my reins in an effort to text this message, I need you to hang a left immediately” SEND. Imagine how long that message would take to send if you didn’t have a fancy QUERTY keyboard!

Or lets say you are riding along on your way to for example and you encounter a huge sign that says “Warning! Your virtual memory is dangerously low!” Now you have no idea what that means much less what to do to get around it and yet there it is, all big and yellow with red letters and standing in your way. This would take our frustration with that old outdated computer to an entirely new level. My point is that although the new technology definitely has a place in the equine industry, trail riding through cyber space would not only be frustrating but dangerous as well.

So I think we need to use a little common sense when mixing horses with technology and follow a few simple rules. Take the cell phone with you on a trail ride in case of an emergency but do not use it to tweet your friends that you saw a deer. If you’re sitting in a clinic or seminar and waiting for an important call, put your phone on vibrate and excuse yourself before you answer it. I don’t think it is an official rule but if you are in a class and you are texting your friends, the judge might take points off for that.

Keep your trail rides real and enjoyable and remember that cyber space has its place and balancing the two is the key. This computer geek is hoping the geniuses of the horse world aren’t developing a saddle with a laptop built in but imagine the possibilities. The view from the back of my horse is all of you, my Facebook friends, my Twitter Tweeps, my partners in the world wide web. Living where I do and being as busy as I am, if it were not for you I would have no time for friends at all I think. The moment I get a text from one of the horses, I am throwing away the new pink Blackberry! That would just freak me out.

If your life becomes more bitter than sweet, meet your friends on twitter and go give your horse a treat.

Monday, September 7, 2009


I stood at ground zero on the one year anniversary of argueably the darkest day in American history. I took my daughter who had been there the previous April and had taken the most beautiful photo from the ferry of the twin towers. The photo she took hung on my office wall where it remains today. The day of the terrible tragedy, hanging from the ceiling in front of that photo was ironically a model airplane that a friend of hers had made her. I can remember the hair on the back of my neck stood when I walked in my office that morning after the second plane hit the towers to call school and tell them I was coming to pick her up. Seeing the twin towers photo and the airplane just seemed so precognative and surreal. That day changed our lives forever. ALL of our lives. The safety net of being an American and all that it implied was shaken forever. The bottom fell out of our idealistic belief that we could never be taken by such shock and horror that comes with being attacked on our own soil.

To say that we were touched at what we saw as we stood on the NY city streets on that one year anniversary would be an understatement. There were wooden boards for blocks that held memories of the people lost there and tributes to their bravery and sacrifice. Letters from loved ones, photos and flowers. Behind the fragrant breeze of lillies and carnations and roses was the unmistakable smell of loss and death. It lingered in our noses even after a year and now as I reflect back on that day, it lingers still in our collective American soul. For those who lost coworkers and loved ones on that day, life has moved on but no one has forgotten that empty hole that used to be filled with their presence and no one has forgotten the sacrifice they made in the name of freedom. That day was such a wake up call for all of us and it doesn't matter who you are, where you were or what you were doing that early September morning, it changed your life forever.

As we approach the anniversary of that horrible day this week, I wanted to share with you a memory that sticks with me even until this day. It is the memory of one woman who knelt at that wall on the one year anniversary and sobbed. It was quiet and serene along the wall and although the jackhammers pounded and the high pitched sound of the steel workers tools pierced your ears, behind it were whispers of those in attendance. Whispers of memories and curiousity and readings aloud of letters that were left there for all to see but above it all, the moan of that one woman sobbing uncontrolably, her hand on one of the many photos and her knees on bare concrete as her two young children stood beside her in an effort to comfort her. No matter how many people attended that day to pay tribute, in her heart and in her grief, she was completely alone. I assumed that the photo was that of her husband, lost in the tragedy that day and after all these years, I wonder if she has found some assembly of peace and has moved on with her life. I wonder if she returns to the place where her husband perished on that day and most of all I wonder if those reponsible hear her cries as I do so often in my mind when I reflect on that day.

The simple truth is that NONE OF US SHOULD EVER FORGET. That we never forget the sacrifice or the bravery or the loss or how it changed our country's fabric or ever forget that one woman and her children and the cost that came with 9-11 for all of us. It was a very high price to pay for so many and history has shown us that if we do not learn from our mistakes, we are destined to repeat them. What grew out of the ash that covered the streets that day was love and hope and for that, we should be grateful. Because if we are and we remember, then none of them, not even that womans husband died in vein.

The view from the back of my horse is that woman, her children and everyone who was touched by tragedy that day. Having been a 9-1-1 emergency dispatch operator at one point in my life, I have a tack pin that I recieved when I was sworn in and I wear it on my cowboy hat still today everywhere I go because on that day, the pin took on a new meaning for me. I am often asked by people who see it where they can get one and as far as I know, they can't unless they have earned it. They assume that it represents that horrible day and now in so many ways, I wear it for that reason because it makes people remember. The photo of the twin towers that my daughter took that April still hangs on my office wall and beside it, a photo of her standing at the wall one year later. The model airplane that hung in front of it is now long gone but the pictures remain and will stay there until they fade away but for me, the memory of the one woman among thousands of people will never fade. The sound of her grief will never fade and my respect for those lost and those left behind will never fade.

May God bless each and everyone of them and everyone of you as well. We are Americans and we are strong of will and pure of heart and NOTHING will ever take that away because we are survivors and above all... we will never forget.