Monday, December 28, 2009

Connecting Through Art

Cassidy recently graduated from Texas A&M with a graduate degree in Equine Sports Physiology and Nutrition. In this difficult economy, her preferred career of teaching at a university has been put hold. So, out of necessity and with what seems to be a family spirit of entrepreneurship, she is continuing her artistic passion for creating custom designed jewelry and offering it both through private showings and on the web. During the holidays, Cassidy invited friends and family to a holiday showing of her custom designed jewelry here at the ranch and was then invited by the owners of our local farm and feed store to offer it at their special evening Christmas sale.

As I watched, whether individuals purchased a piece of jewelry as a gift or for themselves, there was usually a story behind the purchase: the turquoise hoop earrings were perfect for a tall niece; the unique light green turquoise necklace and bracelet set looked fitting for the hair coloring of a son’s girlfriend; and the varied dark green stone necklace complemented the autumn color range of a daughter who just had her first born child. And in the spirit of surprise, a young married man arranged to pay for and leave with a beautiful white necklace with crystal pendant for his wife, an employee of the feed store, while she assisted customers during the special Christmas sale. The smile on his face had the spirit of Santa written across it as he slipped out the store’s front door.

While I know Cassidy was pleased with her sales, I couldn’t help but think the theme of relationship wound its way throughout each evening---whether it was the meeting and greeting of people we’ve know over the years or the stories of thoughtfulness and caring of those who purchased a piece of jewelry for someone they knew---the warmth of the community and connection to others enhanced Cassidy’s entrepreneurial venture this holiday season.

If you are interested in seeing Cassidy’s custom designed jewelry, please visit her website at: If you don’t see something you like, please contact Cassidy. She has a number of new pieces in her inventory that are not currently online.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My Life with Emma: The Wisdom in Emma's Discipline Part I - Sit and Wait

Little did I know when I picked Emma, my Boston Terrier, out of a litter from South Dakota, that I would be reminded so much about the importance of discipline in life.

From my readings, I understood that Emma had three basic needs: discipline, work, and affection. Over time I’ve watched Emma seek these out. Emma is happiest when the world is ordered and predictable; she is fulfilled when there are tasks to accomplish, like going for a run or learning a new trick or chasing after Griz in the cottonwoods; and she is most content when she sits with me on the couch after the day is done, her place by my side secure.

When I think of my own life, these three basic needs are deeply present as well. Discipline is essential for a purposeful and successful life no matter what the endeavor; work provides the material and focus in my search for meaning in the world; and affection fulfills my deepest desires for connection and is essential to my sense of well-being.

In creating a foundation for a disciplined life for Emma, we began early with puppy obedience, then the basic skills necessary for dog agility, and finally the training for her Canine Good Citizen Test. When I looked at the basic commands that she eventually mastered, I found they easily provided metaphors for living that applied to both her life and mine.

My list of metaphors for her basic obedience commands goes something like this:

Emma’s Commands --- Metaphors for My Life
• "Sit and Wait" --- Patience and Forethought
• "Stay" --- Internal Control
• "Here" --- Life Calls Us
• "Leave It" --- Healthy Relationship Boundaries
• "Off" --- Respect for Relationship Decorum
• "Out" --- Independent Action/Individuation
• "Down" --- Submission/Humility

I think fondly of Emma as an Alpha Female. I’m not alone in my thinking. Others have nicknamed her “Little Terrorist” and “Bossy.” So, when she was a puppy, my obedience instructor insisted that I train her with a clicker to make sure I had her attention. When I first began teaching her sit and wait, she had a mind of her own. But once she learned the command, it was ironclad.

I still love to watch Emma sit and wait. It’s like she’s in the military: she snaps to attention hoping she’s the first one and the best one. The command “Sit and Wait” requires her to be patient and trusting. When I tell her to wait at the beginning of an agility course, she must be patient and trust that if she waits she will also be released and in this case, released to enjoy the fun of an agility course. The discipline supports her success and I think it supports mine as well. When I tell myself to be patient while listening to someone else speak or when I sleep on an important decision or when I corral angry feelings and wait until I can actually think about them, I benefit from the discipline of waiting. I benefit from the discipline of creating space between unbridled action and the creation of forethought and a purposeful response.

As much as I realize this idea of waiting in life is important, I know Emma and I will always be challenged with the discipline inherent in waiting: there will be times it’s easy for Emma to stop and hold still and there will be other times when the challenge will be too great, like when Griz keeps running or when the treat hasn’t yet been earned. But I will encourage both of us to strive for managing the moment rather than acting impulsively, for it will be in the stillness we will find our direction.

Next, watch for the wisdom to be discovered in Emma’s “Stay” command in Part II of The Wisdom in Emma’s Discipline.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Deep in Quarter Horses

I’m frequently asked how many horses we have here at the ranch. I smile slowly and reply, “A lot: anywhere from thirty to thirty-five.” The curious look back at me in surprise and I say, “Yes, we’re deep in quarter horses at my house.”

Pete’s been actively breeding quarter horses since he was nineteen. He selected our main herd sire, “Dudley,” officially, Zan Bar Freckles, for his stunning appearance and versatility. Dudley is a great ranch versatility horse and roping horse competitor. He has produced athletic and very well dispositioned off-spring throughout his breeding life. In order to emphasize athleticism and cow sense in our breeding program, Pete next selected , “Riggs,” officially Hesa Stylish Pepto, as our main sire. Riggs has competed in the Snaffle Bit Futurity, the NRCHA Reined Cow horse event at the Colorado State Fair, and several smaller competitions. He demonstrates great athletic ability and the same calm and even disposition so characteristic of the quarter horse and important to our breeding program.

The development of the American Quarter Horse began long ago. In the 1600s, American horses in the East were of Spanish descent with bloodlines rooted in Arabian Barb and Turkish stock. When the colonists began importing English horses to Virginia, they were bred to this native stock of Spanish descent and used for farm work and transportation, marking the beginning of the emphasis on horses that were versatile and practical. At the same time, horse racing became popular after the farmer’s physical labor was done. As the pursuit of racing progressed, so did the desire to breed a quicker, faster horse for short distances. These horses were the precursors to the modern day quarter horse.

As America expanded west, horses provided transportation and help with driving large cattle herds across long distances to railheads and developing areas of pioneering settlement. Today, the American Quarter Horse is still highly valued for its ability to move and cut a cow. Its versatility, athleticism, and even disposition are hallmarks of the foundation horses that first made up the registry of the American Quarter Horse Association beginning in 1941.

I recently visited with my neighbor, Jo Semotan. As she drew her hand over the soft cover book, torn ever so slightly on the spine, she said, “This book’s never been out of my house, but if you’d like to look at it, I’d let you take it home.” That book was the original registry of the American Quarter Horse, printed in 1941 when the foundation horses were identified and registered for the newly formed AQHA. Jo’s family had been at the heart of developing some of the early bloodlines of the American Quarter Horse association while living in Deep Creek just over the aspen covered ridge to the west of our ranch. Her father, Quentin, and her mother, Evelyn, were pioneers in the development of the foundation quarter horses using bloodlines like Ding Bob, Mary McCue, Saladin, Star Duster, and Mary Nile.

As a young man, Quentin was hired as a trainer by Evelyn’s uncle, Marshall Peavey. Marshall settled in Deep Creek in the early 1900s and began raising commercial Herefords and race horses from quarter horse bloodlines. While training for Marshall, Quentin met and married Evelyn and the two went on to shape and promote the quarter horse breed. Marshall and Quentin help establish the Rocky Mountain Quarter Horse Association. Quentin and Evelyn’s Star Duster, purchased as a yearling in 1945, went on to win Grand Champion at the National Western Stock Show in 1948 and the Champion of Champions at the Southwest Livestock Exposition Fat Stock Show also in 1948. In his career, Star Duster won 46 out of 47 showings. Quentin and Evelyn’s ability to match sires and dams was evident in the success of their breeding program: their horses often topped the National Western Livestock Sale and word of their fine horses resulted in many tourists and interested buyers stopping by their ranch on the weekends to either purchase a horse or simply appreciate the animals they had produced.

Star Duster left the Elk River Valley in 1957 after being sold to Ralph Bell in California. He was sold four years later to Thane Lancaster of Idaho who used him as a breeding sire until his death at 31. Quentin and Evelyn’s fine eye for horses continued to pass down into our own breeding program: from a gray gelding called, Smokey, to Dudley, who both go back to Quentin and Evelyn’s Star Duster.

Yes, we’re deep into quarter horses here at the Kurtz Ranch and enjoy being a part of a great quarter horse tradition in North Routt County.

Please click on this link: for further information on Riggs, Dudley, and our breeding program.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Update: Kitty Settles In

Pete recently came out of the laundry room and said, "You'll have to update your blog."

I said, "What do you mean?"

"Kitty's asleep in her bed."

And there she was. How had she transformed her protest? The idea of re-claiming her bed had for some reason slowly became tenable and the steadfastness of her routine returned.

Next time I'm faced with what feels like untenable change, I don't know if I'll be as proficient as Kitty in making an adjustment to it, but I'll remember it's alway possible.

*If you missed the original post, "Protesting Change," please see my post dated November 22, 2009.

Running Late

My husband and I were drawn to the community of Steamboat Springs over thirty years ago largely because it was a small town. We wanted the easy familiarity of friends and neighbors and a slower pace and a smaller scale to our day to day living. At that time, the stable population was around 5000 residents. Today, the population has more than doubled, but in many ways, we still consider it a small town. Compared to navigating city traffic, it’s still relatively easy to run errands in town, unless it’s the middle of winter or summer tourist season. On the east end of town, the grocery store, doctor’s offices, post office, and bike path are all within one mile of one another.

During the quieter months of late October through early December, it’s not unusual to see many old friends in the grocery store. Recently, I found myself in the produce section looking at my watch. It said 1:45 PM. I was fifteen minutes away from a dental appointment and not yet finished with my grocery shopping. I’d bumped into Holly, the wife of the doctor who delivered my children. Her son is now a water lawyer and her daughter a professional dancer on the east coast. I’d talked to a fellow Cattlewoman, Charlotte, and learned that she and her husband had shipped out their final semi-load of hay and she was ready for a vacation. She wasn’t sure if her husband had heard her make the declaration. I’d visited with Georgianne, the mother of a soccer player I had coached. She said she hoped her daughter would find a real job one day when the economy improves. And I’d talked with Jan, whose son, Tommy, grew up with Andy in 4-H and now works on the family ranch. She’d just returned from taking her mother south to Arizona where she spends the winters. With a smile, Jan said, “It didn’t look too bad. I may be down there myself because I don’t think I’ll ever get Dean to stop working.”

The conversations had taken up my usual hour in the grocery store and my list wasn’t yet complete. That meant I’d have to come back to the grocery store after my dental appointment. But on this day, when the pace and season slowed, I found myself relinquishing the list and the schedule to the spontaneous remembrances and reconnections with friends from the past. In our meeting it was easy to feel immersed in the past and the future all in one conversation.