Ranch life in the Big Sky state through the eyes of one who has lived through it...so far.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Earn Your Spurs Podcast


Yep, it's me, yakking again. This time about the history of our ranch, what it's like when your husband is actually the boss of you, and why a writer isn't the world's most reliable employee. There's also a chance to win an ebook copy of The Long Ride Home if you check it out before March 3, 2015.


Sunday, February 22, 2015

An Earful


Three forty-five a.m. this morning, one degree above zero Fahrenheit, I was rolling around in the straw in our indoor arena, trying to wrestle earmuffs onto a hundred pound newborn while his mother wiped snot on the back of my neck.

Yeah, all his little calf friends are probably poking fun at him, but at least he won't end up like big brother, who was born this time last year when it was 22 degrees below zero. 


Monday, February 16, 2015

Crossing Over


No, not to the dark side, though some ropers might think so at first glance. Or listen, as the case may be. This blog post is a companion piece to an interview I did with John Harrer over on the Whoa Podcast, where I mentioned that the fastest loop in breakaway roping is often in the cross-over. (Helpful hint: the podcast at the top of the page is not mine. Scroll down past all the blah-blah about me and find Episode #49). Yes, I see all of you tie down ropers shuddering at the thought of roping a calf as your horse is moving left. Hang on. I'll explain.

And now all of my non-rodeo, non-roper readers are scratching their heads and wondering if I'm going to repeat that in English. Yes I am. With diagrams. And photos. And video.

First off, for the real greenhorns, what the heck is breakaway roping? Well, it's a version of calf roping where the rider doesn't have to dismount and tie the calf. The rope is secured to the saddle horn with a piece of string. When the loop goes around the calf's neck the roper pitches their slack and lets the rope go. The calf hits the end of the rope, the string breaks away from the saddle horn, and time stops. Hence the name of the event. When all goes well, it looks like this:

Breakaway is the fastest event in rodeo, not counting those bullriders who get drilled into the ground on the first jump out of the chute. And contrary to what many people think, it is NOT just tie down roping without the flank and tie. The most important difference is where you throw your rope. For a breakaway roper, that's gotta be as soon as you're within reach, regardless of the position. When it takes a run of less than three seconds to even place in the money, there's no time to be picky. The best breakaway ropers master the art of catching as they're running up on the calf and have a horse that'll let them hang out and throw a long loop at a hard running critter.

By contrast, a tie down roper will take an extra swing to get his horse, the calf and his slack all lined out. The half second he sacrifices is more than made up by being smoother through the dismount, flank and tie. His horse is trained to run in closer to the calf then slam on the brakes when the loop goes past his head, leaving the roper time to manipulate the slack in the rope so the calf spins around but stays on its feet, ready to be flanked.

In a nutshell, a tie down roper can make up time on the ground. A breakaway roper's gotta get that loop out of her hand as fast as possible.

And that brings us to the crossover. That magic slot right out in front of the roping chute where your horse's trajectory crosses the calf's. Why a cross? Because the horse leaves the roping box traveling at an angle compared to the calf, like so:

This is the sweet spot, but it's also where you can get into a whole lot of trouble if you're not riding your horse properly. Throwing while your horse is moving left in comparison with the calf is fine and dandy on one condition--you can't let her keep going left. If you do, over time what started out as a winning throw will turn into a horse that drops its left shoulder and ducks out before you can get the loop out of your hand.

How do you keep a horse honest? Most of it happens in the practice pen. For every throw you take in the crossover, you make at least two or three runs where you take a couple of extra swings and make the horse move back to the right to line in straight behind the calf. Even on the quick throws, you keep pressure on your horse with your left foot, pushing them back to the right as they stop.

But what if your horse is bound and determined to duck left? After all, everything is set up to push them that direction. You're swinging and throwing with your right hand, pitching your slack on their right side. How do you persuade them to stay straight?

First off. look at how your horse is positioned in the roping box. You want them to run to the front corner of the roping chute because that's the shortest distance between you and the calf. Start with the horse's nose pointed at that spot, they'll break out of the box in the lead that's most comfortable for them. Start with their nose pointed at the middle of the box, they'll either run to that spot, or they'll start in their left-hand lead to move toward the chute. Start with the horse angled toward the back of the chute, they'll start in their right-hand lead to adjust.

Why is that important? Because, as master rope horse trainer Bub Tate pointed out, a horse can't duck left if they're in their right-hand lead. So whether it's leaving the box or running up behind the calf, if you can use leg pressure to put your horse in the right-hand lead, they won't go left when you throw your rope.

Tricky? You bet, considering you're also swinging a rope, operating a set of reins and trying to take steady aim at a calf.  But if you're a breakaway roper and you want to keep getting that money shot in the crossover, it's a trick you need to master.

If you'd like to see what it looks like done really well, here's some excellent footage from the Indian National Finals Rodeo (Take note of Megan Lunak at the 1:07 mark, that's our hometown girl from up here on the Blackfeet Reservation).


For more information and links to buy my latest novel visit:  KariLynnDell.com


Sunday, February 15, 2015

A Valentine to Warm a Rancher's Heart


We didn't make any particular plans for Valentine's Day this year, mostly because I'm just back from a four day trip to Tacoma to visit my brother, followed by three nights of kid wrestling practice this week, which means we either stay at our apartment in town or don't get home until almost 9 pm. By Saturday you'd have had more luck stuffing a cat in a bucket of water than getting me in a car to drive at least an hour to go out for dinner. 

Which was just as well, because we got a little Valentine's Day surprise right here at home. We aren't due to start calving for a few more days but these things don't work on a strict schedule. Late in the afternoon my husband spotted one of our heifers in labor out in the lot. Less than an hour later, our first calf of the season was on the ground. And it's a bull! This is particularly good news for us and for him. With the combination of his early birth date and excellent bloodlines, he's already got his spot in our breeding program reserved. 

And so calving begins, and will go on. And on. And on. From now until at least early May. That's over a fourth of the calendar year on maternity watch. 

Believe it or not, we do this on purpose. The bluebloods like this heifer are bred via artificial insemination to calve early. Any later and their male offspring wouldn't mature in time to be herd sires as yearlings. Buying semen from highly acclaimed bulls means we can improve the quality of our herd genetics for less cost than buying well-bred bulls. Plus there's all that excitement every year when the new semen catalogue shows up. Better than back when I was a kid and we couldn't wait until the Sears Wishbook came in the mail at Christmas time. We have around sixty cows in the early-calving herd, a small enough number that if the weather turns brutal we can house all the expectant mothers in our indoor arena. 

Next up are the first calf commercial heifers. These are the non-pureblood two year olds, and they're bred to calve beginning in mid-March, as the registered cows are finishing up. We usually have thirty to forty of these depending on how many cows we culled the year before, and they require the closest supervision because they've never done this before. They're more likely to have difficulty giving birth and less likely to have a clue what to do with that slimy little thing they just pooped out. Unless the weather is spectacular and the calf mothers up immediately, we separate the pair from the rest of the herd for a day or so to let them get it figured out so Junior doesn't get lost in the shuffle and we can tell right away if he's not sucking. 

Then around April 1st the main commercial herd starts calving. This will go on all month with some straggling on into May. By that point the weather is usually warm enough that we leave the cows out in the pasture, these being experienced mamas, but if we do have spring storms all the cows due to calve within the next week or so are brought in and housed in the arena at night where they're under cover and easy to check.

Spreading out our calving this way means we never have more cows due to calve than we have space inside, which has saved untold numbers of newborns over the years. And in case you wondered how we know what cow is supposed to calve when--they all get an ultrasound in the fall and the vet tells us how far along each cow is in her pregnancy. We write down all the cow numbers and days bred and they get a little color-coded button tag in their ear to indicate which cycle they're due to calve. The vet is amazingly accurate, at least twice as good as back when we used to stand in the corral walking cows back and forth and arguing about whether they looked like they might be bagging up. 

As for our little bull, he's up and frisking around today, cock of the walk. We don't usually name our cows, but I wanted to call this one Valentine if it was a heifer. Since it's a bull, a friend suggested he should be Valentino. I like it. Here's hoping he grows up to be a legendary lover. 


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Friday, February 06, 2015

If you REALLY like me...


My publisher, Samhain, is having some fun with this week's new releases, giving readers a vote on which cover they prefer. Obviously, I'm prejudiced, but I think my cover artist knocked it out of the park. Pop on over to Facebook and give The Long Ride Home your vote and you  could win a free e-book. Plus show some love for the gorgeous work of artist Erin Dameron-Hill.

Facebook says I'm supposed to be able to embed the whole post here. Blogger does not seem to agree. So here's a link instead:  Cover Wars

And speaking of giveaways, my writing mate Fiona Lowe and I are now presenting Everything Huckleberry- The Sequel.

To enter, leave a comment over on Facebook: Big Sky Country Giveaway

Or if you're like me and sort of despise Facebook and can only be dragged there by force, leave a comment here instead and I'll make sure your name gets added to the entries. 


Friday, January 30, 2015

More Bribery for Book Sales - Win a Kindle Paperwhite

Look who showed up on my doorstep last night. *happy jittery giggles* Having a hard time putting it down. Hopefully readers will have the same problem.

Arrival of my author copies means it's getting down to crunch time for this book to hit the shelves and I'd like to reward those of you who've put up with me as I muddle through this first book release. Especially those who show your support by pre-ordering a copy of The Long Ride Home. So here's what we're going to do.

Post a screenshot of your order verification in the comments below or email your receipt to me and you get two entries in the drawing for a Kindle Paperwhite. Sign up for my newsletter, that's another entry (If you're already a subscriber,  you're automatically entered!). Pass this post along on FB or Twitter, that's one entry for each place you share. So if you hit 'em all, you could get your name in the drawing five times.

Post your pre-order proof of purchase in the comments or email it to me at karilynndell@gmail.com. All entries must be received by 11:59 pm MST on Monday, Feb. 2nd, 2015. I'll draw for the Kindle on Feb. 3, 2015, plus two other names who'll receive a signed print copy of the book.

The giveaway is open to residents of the US and Canada. I'll be drawing the winners and posting the results here on release day, February 3rd.

(This giveaway is mine, not sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, blogger).

For ordering links and how to sign up for my newsletter, visit KariLynnDell.com.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sneak Peek


Time is winding down in a hurry to the Feb. 3 release of my debut novel, The Long Ride Home. To the point that I'm now hyperventilating every few hours instead of once or twice a day, imagining real humans reading the words that I wrote. 

Hair of the dog has always been an old cowboy cure, or maybe just an excuse for week long drunks, but I thought I'd give it a try only in reverse. I figure if I give you a few peeks into the novel and no one boos me out of the arena, I might be able to persuade myself to crawl out from under the covers on release day. 

So first, a blurb from the book so in case you haven't seen it before you know the set up: 

The Long Ride Home

David Parsons is on the verge of making his pro rodeo dreams come true when his one-in-a-million rope horse, Muddy, goes missing. In the aftermath, David loses everything. His career, his fiancĂ©e´, his pride.

Four years later, David is clawing his way out of the ruins and back up the rankings when he gets the miracle he’s prayed for. Muddy has been found on Montana’s Blackfeet Indian Reservation.

But repossessing Muddy is unexpectedly complicated. Kylan, the teenager on Muddy’s back, has had a lifetime of hard knocks. His custodial aunt, Mary Steele, will fight like a mama bear to make sure losing this horse isn’t the blow that levels the boy. Even if it’s at David’s expense.

David is faced with a soul-wrenching dilemma. Taking back his own future could destroy Kylan’s. And ruin any chance he might have with the fierce, fascinating Mary.

It’s a long, hard ride to the top of the rodeo world. And for David, an even longer ride home. Unless he can find a trail that leads to both.

And now, a peek inside the cover. If you haven't visited my website and read the blurb there, you might want to do that first, as it is from the first chapter. The excerpt below is Chapter Three, when David has driven all night from a rodeo in Oregon after a friend spots Muddy at the Montana High School Rodeo, our first introduction to the boy who now has the horse...and of course, his aunt Mary. 

Chapter Three

The Sunday afternoon performance was well under way when David pulled into the Kalispell fairgrounds. He’d left Sisters as quick as he could get his rig rolling, but it had been an eleven-hour drive, and he’d had to stop a couple times to give Frosty a break.
His hands fumbled with latches and ropes as he unloaded the horse, hung a bucket of water and a hay bag on the side of the trailer and then took off for the arena. His instinct was to rush straight to the roping box, find the horse that almost had to be Muddy, but he forced himself to steer clear. The middle of a high school rodeo was not the time or place to make a scene.
He worked his way through the warm-up area, the mob of kids trotting circles, double and triple checking ropes and cinches, but there was no sight of Muddy. Around the infield side of the arena, he found a spot to lean in the shade of the bleachers. Just in time. The calf roping had started.
He watched half a dozen runs, barely noticing whether they were good, bad or otherwise. Then Kylan Runningbird rode into the arena and all the air in the Rocky Mountains wasn’t enough to keep David’s head from spinning. He knew that dirt-brown horse as well as his own face in the mirror.
Muddy, in the flesh, looking exactly as David had last seen him. Fit, glossy and cocky as all get out.
David tore his gaze off the horse long enough to check out the rider as the announcer prattled on about Kylan Runningbird. A high school junior, state finals rookie, and here he was in fifth place so far with a solid shot at qualifying for nationals. The kid looked soft, slouchy, the brim of his beat-up hat crooked in the front, the tail of his shirt slopping out of his jeans on one side.
He also looked too nervous to spit.
Muddy, on the other hand, was all business, whipping around in the box and slamming his butt into the corner without waiting for the kid to steer him. The kid’s head jerked, enough of a nod for the gate to open. Muddy exploded out of the corner and arrowed in behind the calf.
Man, what a pup. A little pot-bellied Hereford loped out, head up, practically screaming rope me. Kylan took two swings and threw. The loop bounced on the top of the calf’s head and, by some miracle, fell over his nose.
Muddy stopped, as quick and hard as the slam of door. The sight of it made David’s heart skip. Kylan flew off his side, more of an ejection than a dismount. His legs buckled and he went to his knees, but he got his left arm hooked over the rope. Muddy hustled backward, pulling the calf so when the kid stood up it was right there under his nose. Kylan fumbled it onto its side, strung his piggin’ string on the top front leg, gathered up the hinds, applied three deliberate, two-fisted wraps and a hooey and then threw up his arms.
The crowd went wild. One section of it anyway, a cluster of at least fifty people seated on the end of the grandstand. From the way they cheered and pounded each other on the back, David guessed they hadn’t expected Kylan to come through in the clutch. He could see why. The kid wasn’t much of a roper. Lucky for him, he was riding the best horse on the planet.
David’s horse.
Fury exploded in his head, as white hot as those damn fireworks in Cody. David spun on his heel and strode around to the back of the arena, drawing startled looks from the people he shouldered past. By the time he got there, Kylan was surrounded by a huddle of friends, all slapping palms and bumping fists with him like he’d won the state championship instead of barely edging into fourth place. And there was Muddy, tugging at the reins, impatient as always to get back to the trailer now that his job was done.
The kid spotted someone in the mob of people streaming down from the grandstand and started that direction. David stepped into his path. Kylan squinted up at him, confused.
“I need to talk to you,” David said, voice hard, muscles knotted as he fought the urge to yank the reins out of the kid’s hand.
Kylan looked past him, as if for help. David glanced over his shoulder to find two girls with their arms around each other, their smiles fading as they saw his expression. The smaller one pulled off her sunglasses. Her face was freckled under the brim of her baseball cap, but there was nothing childish about those eyes.
Not a girl. A woman.
“What do you want with Kylan?” she demanded.
The tiny part of his brain still capable of logic could see she wasn’t old enough, but David asked anyway. “Are you his mother?”
“Close enough.”
“Good,” David said. “Maybe you can explain why your kid is riding my horse.”
She flinched. Surprise? Or guilt?
“Who are you?” she asked, recovering fast.
“My name is David Parsons. That horse was stolen from me four years ago in Cody, Wyoming.”
“Nu-uh.” Kylan stepped back, arms extended as if he could hide the horse behind them. “He’s mine.”
The younger girl edged around David and grabbed the kid’s hand. “Don’t worry, Ky. He’s got the wrong horse.”
“No, I don’t.” David stared down at the woman, daring her to argue. “I’m betting you don’t have any papers on him.”
A crowd had begun to gather, the inner circle mostly dark-haired and dark-skinned, Kylan’s friends from the Blackfeet reservation and their parents.
“Do you?” the woman asked.
“Not with me,” David admitted. “I wanted to be sure it was him. Now that I am, I’ll have his papers faxed up to the sheriff’s office.”
At the word sheriff, a murmur went through the crowd, which had grown as bystanders realized something serious was happening.
“He’s mine!” Kylan was breathing hard, almost sobbing. “We bought him fair and square.”
The woman gave David a stony-eyed stare and spoke to the kid. “Take your horse back to the trailer, Kylan.”
“Just do it. Go with him, Starr.”
Kylan hesitated, but the girl hooked his elbow, wheeled him around and dragged him away toward the contestant parking area, darting worried glances over her shoulder. Muddy trailed along, supremely unconcerned with the whole drama.
The wall of people closed off behind Kylan and several of the men looked more than willing to take David on if he followed. He seriously considered trying it anyway.
“I’m Mary Steele,” the woman said, pulling his attention back to her. “And, yes, I do have a bill of sale for that horse, so you’ll have to excuse me if I’m skeptical. You get your papers and whatever other proof you have, and then we’ll see what’s what.”
“Fine,” David said. “I will.”
She gave a slight nod. “In the meantime, stay away from my nephew.”
She angled past David. The crowd parted to let her through and then closed ranks again. Over their heads, David watched her leave, her stride confident, her shoulders square. David watched until she disappeared into the maze of pickups and trailers in the infield and then faced the angry mob.
“You got no right accusin’ that boy,” a woman declared.
“I’ve got every right,” David said. “Give me an hour and I’ll prove it.”

Available Feb. 3, 2015. Ordering information at:  KariLynnDell.com