On Rocco, love, loss and writing about it to feel better.

Rocco the wonder horse.

As y’all may be aware, I lost Rocco. I should say, we lost Rocco, as he was loved by many.

I can only speak to the empty space I and my little band of horses are struggling with today as we try to adjust to a new reality. Where there were three, there are suddenly two. And me. 

Rocco. Rock Star. Roc em Soc em. Also known by his registered name: A SmokenTucker, was a 16 year old quarter horse with a heart as big as Texas. He was a supreme athlete and the full brother of a world champion reined cow horse. He was born and bred to give dreams a place to blossom.

And none of those things are the best parts of Rocco. Like all horses, he was a flight animal. By nature and within his deepest soul, he was a wild animal with a lot of natural enemies. To handle Rocco, even in the simplest ways, one needed to have a relationship with him. Otherwise, he wasn’t interested in being touched, blanketed, haltered, saddled or ridden.

Nine years together.

I met him 9 years ago and fell in love with him on that day, during that first ride. You know when you have that feeling? That sense of belonging? That unique intimacy horse people feel with the souls in our care? Such was the feeling with Roc and it was immediate. 

I couldn’t afford him when we met for a lot of complicated, life likes to throw Rocco the wonder horse.curve balls, reasons. I was on a horse shopping trip with friends and offered the ride on a sale horse as much out of the hospitality of the seller, as any other reason. But in that ride he built his very own nest, deep inside my heart.

I rode him again at a clinic with Russell Dilday a week later. And our bond grew. He offered me a cautious eye, that slowly relaxed into trust. He showed me his super horse skills. All I had to do was think about what I wanted to do and he would offer the try. He was incredibly sensitive and giving when he trusted his handler. I felt at home on his back.

I couldn’t afford him.

I suffered over how to bring him home, but knew it would happen. Rocco needed a special kind of home. His quirks could make him dangerous in the wrong hands, and I feared him landing in a kill pen if he was mishandled. He needed a forever home for his own safety. He got that with us.

Rocco didn’t just come to live with me. He became best friends with my dragon, Chance, helped teach my kid to ride and carried me on endless adventures on trails and in competitions. He achieved scores in the 60’s at 3rd level in Dressage to add to his professional resume of money winning cow horse and he moved with us from California to North Texas and finally, Austin. 

Most wonderful horse to ride ever.When he trusted his rider, Rocco would take on anything, even if he was scared himself. He was the bravest horse I’ve ever met. One day a giant bull dog tried to eat Dixie. I pointed Rocco at the problem and he herded that beast like a steer, even reaching out to take a bite of him. He saved our little herd dog and scared the heck out of the bully.

Rocco had a near fatal run-in with colic about 4 years ago and required surgery to save his life. He’s had 4 episodes since and somehow I always knew he would be the first to cross the bridge among our 3 beloved horses. 

And so he has, leaving Chance, Holly, me, David, Jake and a large following of fans and caretakers to find our way without him. We are better for the gift of the last 9 years, but that’s small comfort just now. Rocco was special and touched everyone he met with his incredible presence and sensitive heart. 


The thing about great loss is it leaves one feeling suddenly very alone, even when they aren’t. I have two amazing horses depending on me. My family, my friends and my colleagues are all still here and very supportive. But that void, that appeared out of nowhere, in the midst of a busy and engaging life, has forced me to pause and feel my own heart beat for a moment. A long and lonely moment. 

I want nothing more right now than to feel his insistent attempts to pick my pockets and see the tilt of his beautiful head as he tries to peer inside them for cookies and carrots.

Goodbye my friend, I love you forever. Thank you for trusting me.

MyBarnHelp 2 Minute Tip: Colic Prevention

One of the easiest things we can do to help prevent weather related colic is to make sure our horses drink more. In this, our first in a series of 2 minute tips, starring our own favorite horse care pro, Daysha Palmasino, we share a trick we use to get horses to drink more during cold snaps.

Side Hustle: 5 Ways for Horse People to Earn Extra Cash

Cash for horses.Horse people always have bills to pay. And though that’s true for everyone else too, horses are a passion that frequently drives us to spend a few bucks more than your average coin collector even though the latter is actually buying cash. 

Most of us don’t mind the extra expense, even when it makes us cringe. As one client told us: ”They are part of my life and my passion. I can’t put a price on that.”

That said, most of us don’t enjoy bottomless checkbooks and cash reserves. And horses with the predictable vet bills, etc., sometimes put more pressure on us than we wish.

I used to work sign up for overtime shifts to cover the extras, but they stopped
letting me do that when I retired. Thanks to my former employer’s inconvenient policy, I have to look elsewhere these days.

After a particularly tough period, in which all 3 of my aging ponies had a few costly problems crop up, I started looking for supplemental income. This is what I found:

  1. I could drive a taxi using my own car! Or not. My own car is a heavy duty diesel pickup that attaches neatly to my horse trailer. It’s not practical as an Uber machine for a variety of reasons horse people understand well.
  1. I could catch some shifts at a local restaurant. Ummmm…did that long ago. Totally great way to make a few bucks, and get paid cash tips, but also not for me. It might work for you, though and I encourage this approach if you’re cool with carrying carefully balanced food trays and memorizing menus. I recognize my limitations.
  1. Home Depot!!! Lots of people turn to Home Depot and other big box retailers home depot cashfor extra money and it’s a great gig. They are usually hiring and offer part time options. It still didn’t land in my alley though. I’m spoiled. Since retiring I have controlled my schedule and I like it. Working for a big box store means a fixed schedule more often than not, and I have a long history of shift work under my belt. I want something different.
  1. Dog walking/pet sitting is also a great gig. The success of rover.com, WAG and other online, on demand services has proven people love their pets enough to make sure they are taken care of outside of the traditional kennel environment. Dog walkers and pet sitters make good money and get to do work with dogs! If you love dogs, that’s a great way to work on a flexible schedule for good money.
  1. What works for me. I’m horse people. From my earliest memories, the barn is the happiest place on earth. In the presence of horses, I take in the scents, the sounds and the ongoing activities in utter contentment. I found out people who love their horses are just like people who love their dogs, but horse care requires skilled horse people. My cofounder and I built MyBarnHelp to fill this niche and we offer online, on demand services to horse people. We offer trusted farm sitting, grooming, exercise and more. And because the demand is too great for the two of us, we have built a platform so other horse people, who could use some extra money can join us. 

If you are horse people with horse care skills and experience, who would rather hang out with horses than drive a taxi, serve food, play with tools or walk dogs, check out MyBarnHelp. 

4 ways to find work you love: Follow your heart, but use your brain.

At work and in the barn, with help.We’ve all heard the advice. Follow your dreams! Pursue your passion! Do what you love and you’ll never work again. It sounds wonderful.

And it might turn out well. Or not. How many people do you know with a degree in something that has nothing to do with their current job? Or switched majors because they discovered they didn’t like their first choice? Or even worse, have been doing a job they dislike, for years.

I have a close relative that was on a Ph.D track, but stepped off when she realized the job she was training for was primarily teaching. And she doesn’t like teaching. I was an art major in college, but training for a career in art took the fun out of it. I ended up in law enforcement, which is clearly at the other end of the career choice spectrum.

I became a cop because I didn’t know how to make a living at the thing that Me, as a cop.drove me. My first love was horses, and when I left school, I went to work for a show barn taking care of school horses. I’d worked in horses part time to help make personal ends meet and hanging out at the barn never gets old to me. Unfortunately, because it was a niche career path, it was hard to figure out how to navigate it from my particular socio-economic rung of the ladder.

Ultimately, police work beckoned because it was fun and offered financial security, health insurance and a pension. My life with horses taught me how to appear fearless, use command presence in critical moments and be very aware of the energy coming from others. All are excellent tools for policing. It worked out well, but when I retired, I was still searching and horses were still calling. 

I think the current advice one hears about pursuing your “passion” is heartwarming and inspirational, but frequently less than useful and often Born this way. Choose your workmisguided. I had a lot of ideas about things I wanted to do for my next career, but when I tried them, they didn’t engage my attention for long. Perhaps because I was doing what I thought I should be doing rather than anything I really wanted to do. I was listening to cultural/popular pressure to “be” something trendy or meaningful to the world, largely determined and baked into my brain by social media messaging.

As someone with the advantage of a pension, I’ve enjoyed a safety net to explore several options, without the pressure of going hungry. After a lot of trial and error, I actually landed in a new career that I love, serving a cause that matters to me deeply, and allows me to hang out regularly in the place that feeds my soul. This is how I did it:

  1. Let go of the expectations of others. Think about how you would spend your time if you weren’t concerned about being judged. Ignore all the judges, especially the one that lives inside you. Dig deep and give yourself permission to consider your wildest dreams. Operate within the boundaries of legal, moral and ethical, but otherwise, the sky is the limit.
  1. Do the research. You may start out wanting to do stand up, but after a couple of Improv classes, find out you really enjoy writing. Learn to ride a horse, if that’s something that’s always floated around in the back of your brain. You can still use your marketing degree in the horse industry, but find out if that’s the world you want to be around. No matter what you dream of, it’s important to discover whether you have a talent for it and whether you enjoy being immersed in it.
  1. Find a need and explore ways to fill it. I dislike the phrase, “there’s more than one way to skin a cat” because it’s gross and who would do that, but there’s an important premise there. We live in a time of incredible access to information and innovation. There are all kinds of creative ways to find fulfilling work in our current economy.
  1. Execute: I thought at first, to be in horses, I would need to become a trainer or work as a groom. I have always regretted not pursuing a career with horses when I was younger and I’ve thought a lot about the reasons it was difficult. My path to realizing my wildest dream was to create a way to help my younger self, who wanted to work full time at the barn and still pay rent, as well as my older (current) self, who owns horses and needs help to care for them. The company I’ve built with my cofounder is a labor of love for us both.

The world, your friends and your family will continue to offer you ideas about how you should make your life and career choices because they love you. They may even give you great advice. But finding the dream within yourself takes courage. It requires you to risk vulnerability and consider where you would go if you weren’t worried about approval from the rest of the world. If only take the first step, you may find yourself on the path to something wonderful.

Do the work. "What if I fall? But oh my darling, what if you fly?" Erin Hanson
“What if I fall? But oh my darling, what if you fly?”-Erin Hanson

The Many Phases of Life: Horse People Edition

Horse Care Pros: MyBarnHelpMyBarnHelp feels like Christmas morning a week in advance. Christmas arriving a little early is just fine with me. We have been working on a project for horse people for the better part of the last two years and we are finally watching this baby emerge from our metaphoric womb. Today is the day.

This past week included The National Day of the Horse and I was inspired to think back on all of the amazing creatures I’ve known on the journey, so far. Each one brought a book of life lessons with them and in return, I loved them beyond all reason. Today, thinking about them in reference to our achievement and the birth of a new kind of dream, I realize they were each part of this moment, as well.

A love like no other..

Horses are like that for those of us who make them an Horse Love: MyBarnHelpessential element of our lives. They become an integral part of our development as human beings. I think I have a horse metaphor for every life lesson I share with others. They inform me emotionally, but also mentally and physically. It’s horses that make me self aware. It’s horses that remind me to be present and engaged each day

Our lives together run in phases, especially if you compete. My dragon, Chance, has been with me for 18 years. There was time in-vitro, while his mother carried and nurtured him. Colt-hood through adolescence, where I fussed and obsessed over every decision, hoping to bring him safely to adulthood.

Dream a new dream! MyBarnHelpThere was the early training stage, where I hoped to create a safe place for him in this world as Buck Brannaman famously defined. And every stage since, some with health and soundness scares and some with fantastic adventures and competitive success.

Every phase of life we share with our horses is a gift. Each and every feeling we encounter along the way is founded in love. Sharing this bond with an animal that could easily do us harm if they were less mindful of our fragility and proximity as we dance. Their gentle approach is clear evidence their desire to bond with us, too.

A new adventure..

Today we went live with MyBarnHelp Texas, meaning we areWe can all use help with our horses. MyBarnHelp just beginning our regional rollout. We will be growing slowly and expanding carefully, to take in additional regions. We will be working diligently to perfect this labor of love, hopefully with your help.

MyBarnHelp represents a brand new phase of our life with horses. We built it to make caring for our horses easier, and included a platform for skilled horse people to earn extra money if they need it. Extra money makes it easier to for horse care pros to care for their own horses and so on. So you see, another phase in the horse journey begins for us today. We hope it begins for you too.

Give MyBarnHelp a boost.

Fellow horse people, please visit MyBarnHelp and take it out for a spin. Tell us how it feels and how you feel about it. We are building this for you and your horses. Help us make it great.


Horse People. MyBarnHelp

Saving Starlight: The horse that lights our way.

By Tracy Ambrico

It began with an exchange of emails. A woman in town had a  pony she wanted to re-home.

Whenever we hear of a “free” horse, I get a bit of a chill down my spine. First, the word free, offered to describe a horse, is mythical at best, and mendacious at worst. They may come live with you without a purchase price, but like every other member of your family, from children to pets to the birds that frequent the feeder in the yard, they require maintenance.

Maintenance includes money, time and emotional investment. Every living thing with whom we share our lives will require some balance of those three things. Horses are no exception.

The lady with the pony told us his name was Starlight and said he was very pretty. She said she bought him for her daughter, who was no longer interested in him. He was living alone in the pasture behind her house. Alexis and I made an appointment to meet him.

As with most things, we began with optimism (in spite of our fears) and a plan to find Starlight a home. We aren’t a rescue organization by design, but we also can’t ignore a horse in need. Something was telling us Starlight needed help.

People love horses.

People love horses. There is something magical about the connection we form with one another. We don’t need to be riders, competitors or experienced horsemen and women to be drawn to them. Their ability to communicate with us, using an ancient, unspoken language we’ve all but forgotten, offers a relationship built on something greater than words alone can describe.

The emotional bond, that lifelong passion for horses, is the foundation of MyBarnHelp. We exist to nurture the human/horse connection and share the wonder of these animals with everyone who feels the attraction, whether they want to ride, own, spectate or simply be around them and feel their magic. Our “why” is love.

As much as people love horses, too often, through naïveté, misunderstanding, bad information and/or unethical horse traders/businesses, they fail to give them proper care. Sometimes, otherwise kind people cause horses to suffer unintentionally.

It happens because they don’t understand how to care for them. They take the easy advice. They trust the wrong people. They take short cuts. They try to save  money. And other,  worse motivations they can rationalize without scrutiny on their private land.  

Horses aren’t furniture.

Horses aren’t furniture. They can’t be thrown in storage until you have time for them. They can live in the wild, if they are born wild and have a herd to share the burden of a feral existence. They cannot survive without care in the conditions we create with captivity, even in the nicest neighborhoods. And they don’t thrive without company. They are social creatures.

Due to weather, Alexis and I tried to reschedule our visit with Starlight. His owner told us it couldn’t wait. She said he didn’t want to get up and she needed to do something today. This response increased our fears. We decided to go see him without delay.

Upon our arrival, we found our way to the barn behind the large ornate house, in a gated, exclusive neighborhood. We could see a wisp of grey as we approached that told us he was on his feet. When we rounded the corner, our hearts stopped.

 Starlight was skin and bone.

Starlight was skin and bone. Looking past his beautiful, kind eyes and sweet expression, he was emaciated. There was a lady feeding him something in a bucket, that on further examination, turned out to be dog kibble. Yes, dog kibble. There were some random vegetables on the ground that appeared to come from a packaged salad. 

There wasn’t a single strand of hay or forage in the barn. The only feed bags we could see were empty and labeled as deer corn. There was some rotting broccoli in a bucket hanging on the fence. There was a pasture, but it was overgrown with inedible wild flowers and had very little grass, most of which seemed to be eaten.


Even worse, Starlight’s front feet had the characteristic length and curl of advanced laminitis. Laminitis is an inflammation of the sensitive and insensitive layers of the hoof wall that support the horse’s foot. It’s an extremely painful condition with various causes, one of which can be feeding a horse things they aren’t designed to digest. 

Starlight was in so much pain, he couldn’t pick up a front foot without nearly toppling over. A quick feel of the pulses near his hooves felt like a hammer strike with every beat of his heart. That he was standing at all was a testament to his courage and strength of will.

He looked at us with a kind eye and expression that said, “Thank you for coming. I need your help.”

There are moments..

There are moments that challenge us to respond rather than react. Moments where we behave tactically instead of emotionally. Starlight’s plight was one of those moments. We were on private property with his owner, at her grace. Our first instinct to call the sheriff could mean, at the very least, an attempt to put starlight on a trailer, and that would further traumatize him with both pain and fear. We couldn’t do it to him.

We convinced his owner to let us call a vet. We also let her know he may need to be put down to ease his suffering. We played along with her telling us how much she loved him and how she wanted to save his life. We controlled the urge to judge or scold her for the pain and loneliness we knew this sweet horse endured in her care. We barely controlled our own tears.

Our vet was the angel we needed (although he may dispute this description). He saw the situation immediately and helped the owner make the right choice for Starlight, who had no chance for recovery. Without intervention, Starlight was likely to die a slow, extremely painful death alone and scared in the field, with only vultures and predators for company.

We eased his pain with medication and walked him, pain free for the first time in a long time, to a place where he could enjoy a good graze for a little while before we said good bye. Then we eased him gently to his final rest. 

We cried. And we told him how much he was loved. And we set him free to run and buck and play again with all of the horses in heaven. 

And that was how we saved Starlight. We only knew him for a few hours, but he will forever light our way.

Starlight, star bright, first star I see tonight,

I wish I may, I wish I might

Have the wish I wish tonight. 

Farewell friend. I wish we’d met sooner.



Inspiration: Where Women Compete As Equals.

The Olympics are the oldest and most recognizable athletic competition in the world. The only Olympic events, where women compete as equals with men for individual medals are the equestrian sports.  

It’s no accident,  these are the sporting events I find most appealing. It’s more than the magnificence of the horses. I find inspiration in the courage, love and strength exhibited by the riders, in partnership with their animals, who defy limits most of us wrestle  with regularly.

Strength is Beauty.

I love all things athletic. There’s great satisfaction in finding and pushing through one’s perceived limitations. It’s exhilirating to take a risk and come out the other side unscathed and victorious. In the 60’s and 70’s, little girls were supposed to cheer others in these pursuits, rather than experience them. My mother had other ideas, though.

When I was a kid, our society discouraged young girls who aspired beyond  traditional paradigms like: get married, make babies and keep a nice house. Even women with college degrees weren’t supposed to put professional aspirations above cultural expectations.  Overshadowing the men in their lives was also discouraged. Hints of these traditions continue today, but we can all admit, it’s improved a bunch since the 60’s and 70’s.

Mom was ahead of her time.

My sisters and I were blessed with a mom who said defining our roles as women by  traditional measures of obsequiousness was nonsense. She encouraged us to be athletic and proud of it. And she introduced us to horses at a very young age. She whispered that we could be whatever we want, and if we wanted to be wives and moms, that was cool but not required. First and foremost, we should make independent choices, rather than bend with every trendy breeze and that’s what horses taught us too.

We didn’t learn in a fancy riding school. And we didn’t learn with saddles. We learned from a lady trainer, on retired show horses, bareback without a bridle in a round pen, who free lunged us in a circle until we could balance all three speeds without falling off. And we fell off many times before achieving our goal.

Life lessons.

Those lessons taught us winning meant sweating and taking risks. Getting dumped in the dirt meant taking our lumps before finding success. If you keep climbing back on, and stay in the game, eventually, you get where you want to go. Scrapes and bruises can be badges of honor, when earned on the road to achievement. 

We grew up with no quit in us. We also grew up with an understanding that persuasion works better than force, in most scenarios. We learned that fear is a healthy, but manageable emotion one can transform to triumph with enough grit and determination. 

Women love horses

Women love horses because of the relationships we form with them and our horse community, but those aren’t the only reasons.

For most of our lives, various aspects of our culture sell false limitations to women by insisting they look a certain way, participate in certain activities or wear certain clothes. We hear, through a thousand subtle messages, we aren’t quite good enough to play with the big boys.

Horses tell us otherwise. I believe them.

Dead Dog Friends: The people you can count on.

Friends for life, Jethro and Dixie.

“My friend’s dog was just shot and killed in his yard.” I sat up to listen more intently. “He’s too upset to think clearly. What needs to happen to deal with this?”

In my previous life, I was in law enforcement, making it logical for her to call me for advice. I told her what needed to be done to preserve evidence and take care of the poor dog. She said, “I’m on my way to pick him up. Nic can’t do it. I’m not sure I can get him in my car. He was a big dog.” My response?

“Give me the address, I’ll meet you there.”

I haven’t words to explain how much I would rather avoid dealing with a murdered pup on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, or any other time, for that matter. It simply didn’t occur to me to do anything but jump in and help my friend and her friend, who were dealing with something shocking and horrible.

When we talked about it later, we coined the term “dead dog friend” for the people in our lives we can call on 24/7, who will come to our aid and comfort, no matter the hour or the circumstances.

These are the people we can count on vs everyone else. All of the people in our life are important, like neighbors, acquaintances and colleagues. Almost all have good intentions and are good people. However, there’s a distinction between people we work with, socialize with and engage on social media, and the folks we depend on when the going gets tough.

I met Alexis at the address. We bundled the dog into her car to take to the emergency vet for necropsy. We walked the scene with his owner, and tried to provide comfort for his grief. It was horrible, but it would have been worse if no
one had been able to take charge for him so he could have the quiet time he needed to process his loss.

I am blessed with many dead dog friends in my life. My career was populated by people willing to risk their lives for others, so it’s understandable that dead dog personalities are a common feature among  cops. Fortunately, I also share these traits with horse people.

The cult of the horse.

One of the features of the cult of the horse, as I call it, is the willingness among horse people to help one another out and go that extra mile for our horse community. At my barn, it’s common practice for horse owners to walk the barn aisle before they leave for the day to make sure all of the horses, their own and the others, are happy and healthy. This happens in addition to the water top-offs and night checks of the staff.

In the event of real trouble like a horse health crisis? Our crew is notorious for showing up at the vet hospital en mass to support our friend in her distress over the potential outcome.

Our animals, horses, dogs, pigs and/or canaries, give us companionship, love and a connection that adds a special spark to life. I believe there’s one more ingredient in the recipe for happiness. Our pets bring a community with them when they enter our lives. A community built on love.

Wouldn’t it be something if all of human endeavor could be connected by that kind of love?

Barn Help: Mama can’t pay those vet bills, if Mama can’t work.

Any barn, anywhere, full of love.

Assuming my horses were tucked safely in their stalls for the night, I stepped out of the shower, jumped into my clothes, completed my toilette and hustled into the kitchen to feed the dogs. I was going out to meet friends for a weekly wine and trivia get together at a local tasting room. 

It’s a fun escape, and I always look forward to it. That’s when my phone rang and the caller ID showed me it was Daysha. 

Daysha is the ranch hand where my horses live. If you are like me, ranch hands, barn managers, horse trainers and anyone else connected to the barn are permanently on the short list of calls I always answer. 

Murphy’s Law of Horses:

Daysha helps Rocco look his best.

When the ranch hand calls at 6pm and you are freshly dressed to attend a social event, you know there’s a problem. She called to tell me Rocco, my much loved cowsage horse (brilliant cow horse/ 3rd level dressage horse), hadn’t urinated or had a bowel movement since he came in from pasture. He was otherwise acting perfectly fine. Hungry, thirsty and energetic, with a bright eye and his usual antics, looking for treats and attention.

The temptation, of course, is to assume he’s fine, but Rocco is a 15 year old, healthy survivor of colic surgery and stoic as they come, so I headed to the barn instead of the wine tasting room.

He looked fine. But we were in a heat wave, and he still had a perfectly clean stall. At my request, Daysha had moved him around the round pen to see if that would loosen anything up, but it hadn’t. His energy level was normal too. Normal energy for Rocco is high. His nickname, coined by Daysha, is Chuck Norris, because of his fondness for showing off fancy high kicks, just for fun.

Something Just Wasn’t Quite Right..

Daysha was worried because she knows the routine of all of the horses in her care. She has an intimate, personal relationship with each one. She does this work because she finds caring for these animals deeply fulfilling. She isn’t in it for the money. Priceless people like Daysha are notoriously underpaid for the long hours, exceptional skill set and hard physical labor they perform each day.

And Daysha was right about Rocco. In spite of his bright eye and slimy gums, indicating nothing was amiss, I loaded him up and took him to our local vet hospital. We are super fortunate to have a brilliant surgeon and fully equipped small hospital just 10 minutes away.

At the hospital.

Rocco’s blood work showed he was moderately dehydrated. His gut was disturbingly silent up high and on the left and even though his bowels started moving before I put him on the trailer, the droppings were dry. On palpation, there was more dry stuff in there. 

He was diagnosed with the beginnings of an impaction. The on duty emergency staff at Austin Equine kept him overnight. He was tubed a few times, and kept on intravenous fluids. His blood and his gut were completely back to normal, 24 hours later.

Oh Crap. Colic.

Colic is a word that strikes deep fear in the hearts of horse owners. We all know the cost and potential fatal consequences of this all too common condition. Rocco has suffered twice before and both times I was informed by terrific people who also happened to be ranch hands, that something was wrong. The first time resulted in surgery an hour after I rushed him to the vet. The second time, he was hospitalized for a week before returning to normal. Both of those times, Rocco was in a life threatening state of illness before anyone recognized there was a problem.

Make sure they drink enough fluids!

This time was different. This time we were able to resolve the problem before it became life threatening. And that was because the people who care for your horse are the most critical factor in their health and well being. And Daysha is the perfect model of the kind of people the horse industry needs to develop and nurture to grow into the future.

Let’s solve the problem.

One of the reasons we have created MyBarnHelp (due for a public launch in the next few weeks) is to help build a better way for people who have the skills and more importantly, the heart, to choose a career, or at least a job caring for horses, in whatever capacity they find fulfilling for themselves. If they don’t have the skills, but want to learn, we will  hook them up and help grow the number of skilled folks available to solve the equine labor shortage we all know exists.

As horse owners, we are motivated to solve our own problem. “Mama can’t pay those vet bills, if Mama can’t find time to work.” I need people like Daysha in my life to give me the freedom to earn the money that keeps my horses fed, healthy and safe. I would be lost without her. To be clear, I’m not sharing Daysha with the world. She already has 23 on her care list. But we will happily help y’all find your own perfect model of the kind needed to make horse care easier and our lives a little less anxious. Contact us.

In the meantime: 

Thank you Daysha. You may have saved my boy’s life the other day. Words really can’t express what that means to me.

Daysha Palmasino and one of her charges.

Midlife Crisis: Men buy motorcycles, women buy horses.

And it has nothing to do with penis envy, Dr. Freud. Nice try, though.

Tracy Ambrico and her dragon: Chance
The author and her dragon: Chance

Is this you? It’s me. I am a woman in her 50’s who owns 3 horses. I thought I was unusual. Like, maybe I had a treatable neurosis or something (emphasis on treatable). Admittedly, it’s just a bit cooler to think of oneself as living at the ragged edge of weird, especially here in Austin. 

Unfortunately, at least in terms of horse ownership, I am distressingly average. Get the picture of the American cowboy right out of your head, if you are looking for an accurate symbol to represent the horse culture of the USA.

I’m a bit of an underachiever. According to a bunch of studies, the average American horse owner is a woman between the ages of 35 and 54. She owns 3.7 horses. I only have 3. Maybe I should get a pony or a mini-donkey to pick up the slack. (The sound of my husband’s anguished “nooooooooooo” is echoing through my head at this thought.)

Mostly women?

I checked in with a local, very popular, farrier.  Cary Joe Needham is a competitive roper, who perfectly fits the cultural image of the American Cowboy. He’s soft spoken and professional, with a great respect and love for his horse clients. He likes the people too, but possibly not as much as the horses.

Cary Joe Needham

Cary Joe told me the non-pros among his clients are almost all women in midlife. He says they tend to take better care of their horses than men. “Without those women, I wouldn’t make a living.” I should add that Cary Joe makes an excellent living.

Data shows our typical American horse owner spends an average of 22 hours a week with her animals. She has a good income and the horses live with her at home, more often than not. Women are extremely devoted to their horses. Ask any family member of a horse owner for corroboration.

How devoted?

Sharon Lewis says she thinks about her beloved mare’s care more than anything else. She started to tear up when I asked her what Dietrich meant to her. She was in her 50’s when she found the 2 year old Hanoverian mare while accompanying a friend on a horse shopping trip. 

Sharon Lewis and Deitrich

Deitrich was the realization of a lifelong dream. Although she’d spent her life around horses, Sharon always thought a fancy warmblood was out of her range.  Then she met Deitrich, she said, “I fell in love and made it happen.”

It’s been 9 years and Sharon’s still making it happen. Average American horse owners aren’t necessarily wealthy, either. Sharon says, “My shoes may get holes in them, but Deitrich gets new ones every 4 weeks.”

A beautiful thing.

Barbara Moeller recently bought Little Z, a 5 year old rescue. Barbara describes herself as horse crazy from early childhood. She rode in her youth, but due to school and financial challenges, she quit riding in college. After a hiatus of 43 years, she started taking dressage lessons with a local trainer, and leased a lovely horse for a period of time. Ultimately, she wanted her own and found Little Z. Barbara told me, “ I have the time, I have the maturity, and I have a lot of experience tackling athletic challenges.”

Barbara Moeller and Zel

Barbara continues: “After a bit, I found myself in a situation where I was surrounded by a community in the stable (my trainer, other riders, stable management) that made the daunting “next step” seem doable: owning my own horse.  I’m a bit different from other horse lovers in the sense that I don’t empathize readily with others (humans or animals) but I find that as I grow older, the richness of relationship that comes when I go against my own grain and try to connect really is very, very rewarding and very good for my soul.  This has been so true since acquiring Zel, who is young and intelligent and has a bit of an edge: we are getting to know and trust one another and it’s a beautiful thing.”

Julia Hanson, a former gymnast and lifelong athlete always dreamed of riding horses. She started jumping in her 30’s but quit after a bad trainer experience. The dream still haunted her though, and she took up the sport again in her late 40’s. Julia traveled to Germany to buy her mare, Contessa 162. Julia says, “Horses are life. They are mystical beings who bring joyful bliss.”

A small niche?

The horse industry is a $122b business in the USA*. It’s a business driven primarily by women, not because they wish they were men and not because they are trying to be thinner, or more beautiful or better wives, mothers or any of the other expectations pushed upon them everyday by pop culture. 

This industry is about love and the relationships women build with these mystical creatures and the horse community. It’s a love that’s different, satisfying and feeds their souls. It’s about women who, after years of fulfilling the expectations of the world around them, are choosing something purely for themselves.   

It’s the answer to that age old question found throughout literature and all forms of media. What do women want? They want horses.

Julia Hanson and Contessa



*American Horse Council Report 2017