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September 22, 2002
Topic: PKSD (Post Keuring Stress Disorder); Part II
Phil Duke is one of the kindest people Ive ever met. Phil is the owner
of the Double D Ranch in Blairstown, New Jersey. He just happened to be
visiting a friend of his when the friend received a phone call from
someone (I really dont know who called whom or which call turned into
which person) telling him about the four people and six, medium rare
horses stranded at the Bedminster Texaco station. Phil had called us
and told us that he was twenty minutes from home and, then, forty-five
minutes from us, but hed get us before dark. Just before Phil arrived
to save the day, the manager of the Texaco station came out to tell us,
I think Ive been really patient with you people. Im trying to run a
business here. I want to know when youre going to get this situation
resolved and youre going to be out of here.
Things didnt get any better when Phil showed up with yet another truck
You people are really too much. Ive been really patient about all
this. Youve got to get out of here.
Anyway, Phil opened the gate of his stock trailer, we unloaded the
horses and reloaded them onto the stock trailer, and we were off. The
road truck from the National Tire Service had arrived at the same time
as Phil, so, after the mechanic had shored up the rear axle of the
trailer, Carol and the kids got the now empty Tolman trailer back on the
highway to the service center. And, like I was saying before, Phil, six
partially roasted KWPN horses, and I were headed to the Double D Ranch.
You know how Beauty is in the eye of the beholder? Thats how I feel
about Phils truck and trailer. The old Chevy dually wouldnt do more
than 30 MPH on any indication of an incline--and 55 MPH was really
pushing it on the flat. We did make sometime going down hills, but the
trailer brakes werent working quite as efficiently as they might and
the Chevys brakes had to be convinced to take up the slack. So, there
was some risk involved in trying to make up too much time going down
hill. Fortunately, Ive grown up with a father who used baling twine to
tie old license plates over rust spots so his vehicle of the moment
would pass inspection. My horses loved Phils trailer. LaVita, by this
point, thanks to the door she kicked open (see, everything does have a
purpose), had grown somewhat used to the tractor trailer trucks.
Consequently, the flapping of the ripped tarp on top of the trailer was
a completely moot point. All of the horses seemed relieved to have air
passing over their hides rather than to be standing in the BBQ pit of a
trailer at the Texaco station. Plus, both the truck and trailer rattled
so much, that I couldnt distinguish between vehicle noises and equine
noises. This simple, white noise effect completely eliminated my
trailering compulsions. I think, in the future, that Im going to tie
some tin cans to the side and rear of whatever trailer Im hauling so
that I can really just relax while trailering.
By the time we arrived at the Double D, Id professed my gratitude at
least a dozen times to Phil. (Of course, I didnt know if he was
racking up the dollar signs behind his quiet facade or was just
genuinely humble--that is, until later, when he told me I could give him
whatever it was worth to me and hed be happy with it. Amazing.) In
our conversation about the horses, Phil had told me that he had some
Dutch cross gelding from upstate New York that a girl and her trainer
were coming to look at as we spoke. As we pulled into the yard, the
woman and her trainer were, indeed, trying out a leggy, bay gelding who,
as Phil had warned me, needed a few groceries. I told Phil, as he
stopped the truck and trailer just beyond them, that Id bet the gelding
was an Obelisk son and a product of Cornells program. He said the
gelding had come from somewhere near the Finger Lakes, so it made
sense. Anyway, we unloaded my horses and got them set up in the round
pen with water and hay. Phil nodded to the folks looking at the gelding
and then proceeded into the house to fix himself a Margarita before
going back out to talk horse with the girl and her trainer...this is my
kind of horseman. I grabbed some water and headed back up to the round
pen. You can only imagine how delighted my three foals were to be loose
together in an enclosure that wasnt moving beneath them. Of course,
all of my bathed and clipped horses took turns rolling in the dusty, New
Jersey dirt. What did it matter? Since it was now nightfall of the
tenth, I didnt see that there would be much possibility of getting to
Iron Spring Farm by the morning anyway. As the people looking at the
gelding said their goodbyes, Phil, grinning, waved to them and then came
over to the roundpen.
Well, hope you didnt blow my deal.
What do you mean?, I asked.
They liked your horses better.
We laughed. Phil, his right-hand-man, Pat, and I stood beside the round
pen and watched my horses. They were gorgeous--covered with dust and
dirt--but gorgeous. Phils biggest love is trail riding and taking
trips to Montana for cattle drives; Pat was a champion barrel racer and
is part horse himself, according to Phil; you know who I am--the three
of us just quietly watched six really fine horses, and were happy to do
About ten minutes after we arrived at the Double D--just after Phil had
made himself the Margarita, he gave me his cell phone to use for as long
as I needed it,
I dont use it anyway., he said.
Of course, the first time that Turkey in the Straw sounded off in my
pocket, my confusion was obvious enough that Pat had to tell me it was
the phone. About an hour after we arrived at the Double D, Phil had
decided the best course of action was to get us a hotel room down the
road, order a pizza for the kids so that they could eat when they got
back with Carol, and loan us his truck and trailer so that we could take
off first thing in the morning and get to the keuring. Before I could
even protest, he had unhooked the truck and had driven off to fill it
with diesel fuel so wed be all set in the morning. What do you do in
the face of such generosity other than to say, Thank you.
I was much relieved when Carol and the kids finally pulled into the
Double D. Course of action in place, we headed to a lovely Inn down the
road and took much deserved showers. It quickly became obvious that
things were right in the world; even after our sweaty ordeal, Keagan
had to be negotiated into the shower. As corny as this may sound, the
Inn is located in the town of Hope, New Jersey. When you spend most of
your life thinking that New Jersey and the New Jersey Turnpike are the
same thing, Hope is a bit of a revelation.
Well, without much adieu, we were back at the Double D, packed into
Phils rig, loaded, and on our way to ISF by six am. While parking
across the road from the bagel shop at which we stopped for breakfast, I
did take out a reflector at the local high school; we did have to pull
over four or five times to let the lines of traffic that built up behind
us while driving the hilly back roads of western New Jersey; and I only
went through one stop sign, which, if it hadnt been located at the
bottom of a hill and if I had had brakes, I wouldnt have
missed--fortunately, it was the only intersection of the day that had a
four way stop....Later, we had few moments of reflection as the country
observed a moment of silence for the events and victims of 9/11. It
really put all thoughts of self-pity into proportion. Throughout all of
our ordeal, I was determined to remain positive and thankful for my
family. Nonetheless, by ten am, the Tolmans, six Tolman horses, and
truck and trailer that was more accustomed to transporting QH crosses,
Arabs, and trail mules complete with western tack pulled into the
immaculately groomed grounds of Iron Spring Farm. Meghan had moved us
to the last position of the ster mare class, but, due to the opportune,
late start of the jury and the amazing efficiency of our team (thank you
Zaz, Helena, and Michaela), we had our Pion mare buffed, braided, and
ready for measuring and the linear scoring on time.
The keuring itself is pretty much a blur. It was fun. We did well. I
loved seeing all of the people whom I normally get to see only at an
Na/WPN or KWPN event. Mary Alice was gracious and wonderful. Meghan
cracks me up. Karin organized a great party. Silvia sent along a
special Tolman Horses award of a band of third premium
ribbons...payback is a bitch. The jury did a good job and is really
attempting to establish open lines of communication and education. The
quality of the horses was higher than its ever been. We had a bit of
difficulty at the hotel, but, then, anybody could mistake an interdental
plosive for its voiced, bilabial counterpart and put our reservation
under Polman instead of Tolman. Fortunately, Carol quickly
recognized my mounting hysteria and sent me to change in a friends room
so I could get to the party and set up the bar while she dealt with the
desk clerk. It was the right decision. As the elevator door was
closing, I heard my wife saying,
Look. I dont care if you have a room available or not. You have
all of the reservations my husband made for the other people staying
with us. Its your problem that you spelled our name wrong. Were not
leaving here until you find us a room.
They found us a room.
Well, the keuring ends, and we were the only people and horses left in
the temporary stalls at ISF. My children have begun a revolt, fortified
with guilt and reinforced with ultimatums, because Carol and I enjoyed a
lunch without them. I hook up Phils trailer while Carol calls the
National Tire Service to see if our trailer will be ready this
afternoon, as predicted. I pulled up to load the horses; Carol informed
me of the difficulty in securing the right parts for the trailer. We
were to expect that the trailer might be ready by early evening. No
problem. There was no hurry anymore; the keuring was over. The only
thing we had planned was my mothers 78th birthday party at 6:30, Friday
night, at our house. It was 1:00 on Thursday. Plenty of time. The
only thing that we had to deal with at the moment were the increasingly
specific nutritional demands of the two younger Tolmans, who, by the
way, had no idea just how close to death they really were.
We find a meal for Michaela and a hot dog for Keagan. Things began to
settle down. In order to avoid the highway, more specifically, its
minimum speed limits, I decided to take a different way to New Jersey.
Now, let me say from the outset:
I dont get lost.
I got lost. I got so lost that our three hour drive turned into six
hours. Of course, had I been able to go over 30 MPH for less than even
half of the time, I might have been lost for less time. It was actually
threatening to get dark by the time we stopped at the McDonalds near
the junction of 22 and 519. Interesting aside here: Did you know that
horses only pee when the trailer stops? I swear, by our third day of
travel, all of my horses were conditioned to pee the moment the truck
and trailer came to a halt. It got so bad, that, by the time we got to
the aforementioned McDonalds, I had begun to follow the pattern and,
literally, had to go behind the trailer and pee in the parking lot with
them. So, its nearly seven pm by the time we pull into the Double D.
A man whom we have not met before greeted us in driveway and informed us
that our host, Phil, had been stung by a wasp on the eyelid and had to
be rushed to the hospital. Our good luck was, evidently, contagious.
We were spreading good fortune and good health wherever we went. We
unloaded the horses and turned out the horses in what they now had
happily come to recognize as their round pen. Carol called the
National Tire Service only to find out that they had still not been able
to secure the appropriate parts for our trailer and to call back around
10 pm. As were standing there in the driveway of the Double D trying
to figure out the best and, importantly, most cost effective means of
spending yet another night away from home with two kids and six horses,
neighbors of Phils drove it to let their dog run at the ranch. Hearing
of our plight, they quickly offered us supper, showers, and beds for the
night. Can you believe it? At this point in time, all we could do was
to warn them of the misfortune that our physical proximity could bring
them and to say, Thank you.
Well, Bob is a retired Wildlife Biologist with a passion for hunting;
Keagan is happy. Linda is a seventh grade teacher who specializes in
reading; Carol is happy. The couple has a bumper sticker sitting on
their hutch that reads, My Quarter Horse can beat up you fourth level
dressage horse; Michaela and I are not amused. Bob and Linda laughed
at our reaction. Fortunately, I had the numbing benefit of a really
stiff Rob Roy to temper my reaction. Michaela was not so fortunate. My
next shock came when Bob informed me that the people who used to own the
place were dressage riders and that they had some ring down past the
You want to see it?
Bob takes us through the garage, flips on a couple circuit breakers, and
leads us along a tree lined path at the edge of the lawn. We came
around the corner to see flood lights illuminating an Olympic size
dressage ring. I was sick to my stomach.
What do you use it for? I hesitantly ask.
Nothing. Weve been thinking about doing some team penning, though.
And he laughed. By the time Id had the second Rob Roy, I had forgiven
this generous and welcoming couple for their lack of use and potential
misuse of this lovely arena.
Scot, youre welcome to use it any time youre in the area.
Thanks. Thanks a lot.
At this point in time, I wasnt convinced that we would ever leave New
Jersey, so the use of an Olympic size dressage arena had risen to the
top of the possible plusses to living in the turnpike state. Now, if we
could just find a nice little farm to rent in Hope, wed be all set.
Three or four more phone calls to Mike at the National Tire Service
resulted in us being able to pick up our trailer by 10 am the next
morning. Fine. The kids had TV. We had a bed.
The next morning, we drove back to the Double D and were greeted by Pat
who had just finished watering and feeding our horses. He laughed and
told us that Phil looked like hed been in a fight and hadnt come out
the winner. Poor Phil. His face was swollen almost beyond
recognition. He needed his truck, so we unloaded all of our gear and
put it into the back of my truck. Phil took off to help a friend with a
Palomino that kept bucking her off. Carol and Michaela took our truck
and went to get the now repaired trailer. Keagan set himself up in
front of Phils big screen TV. And, Pat and I headed out to on the
tractor to get a round bale for the trail horses, who had the day off.
It was a nice morning. I had a great time getting a tractor tour of the
Double D. The horses had a super night and were well hydrated and fed.
It was good.
Well, Carol pulls back into the Double D at about noon--trailer in tow.
Were back! she cheerily calls. You want to know how much this
Are you sure?
I dont want know.
She continues, Did we leave the tack box here?
The tack box with all of our bridles and stuff.
No, Carol, it was in the back of the truck.
Oh, well, its not anymore.
In a spousal relationship, there are moments , junctures, at which one
spouse or the other makes a conscious decision not to press a point or
pursue a conversation further because he or she knows that his or her
spousal relationship will withstand the conflict, but the outcome wont
be pretty or come without a price, a very personal price. This was one
of those moments. At any rate, I can only hope that some poor, needy
equestrian in western New Jersey appreciates LaVitas KL Select bridle.
Maybe theres a little girl who can use the studded browband on Orchis
bridle--the browband that my friend, Johan, gave me for our very first
keuring so many years ago. Just maybe, some frustrated horse person
will be returning from an unsuccessful local horse show and find our
keuring ribbons. He or she wont know what the hell to do with the
orange ones, but he or she will probably appreciate that red one a lot
more than I did. Humility. That is the lesson from these few days of
hell. Humility and humor.
It was closing in on 1:00 by the time we pull out of the Double D and
began the never ending journey from central New Jersey to the New York
border. I only took two wrong turns and both of those were against my
better judgment (I said nothing about recurring spousal moments
here...). Nonetheless, at 5:00, we were sitting in traffic about an
hour outside of Hartford, Connecticut. It had become painfully clear
that we were not going to arrive in a timely fashion for my mothers
birthday party. As a matter of fact, it was questionable whether or not
we would arrive at all. Any of you who have sat on 84 outside of
Hartford will know exactly what I mean. Well, to make a long story even
longer, it took us close to four hours to make a two hour trip. We pull
into Shooting Star Farm just before 9:00 on Friday evening. All the
lights were on because we had never canceled the party. We had over
forty relatives who had just finished a pot luck supper in honor of my
Moms birthday and were now ready to leave. They had cleaned the house,
done the dishes, had a series of allergic reactions to the variety of
animals in and out of our house, and were saying their goodbyes. Within
a half an hour of getting home, we were alone. We unloaded the horses
directly into the pasture without removing a single braid and unpacked
what little was left in the back of the truck....a day late and many
dollars short, we ate left overs and went to bed.
And so closes another adventure in life of the Tolman family.
August 5, 2006
There are few things that I truly fear in lifefailure doesn’t bother me;
humiliation may sting for a minute or two; spiders, bugs, heights, small
spaces, menopausal women, nasty stallions…no problem. Snakes, however,
give me pause. To speak in the vernacular, “they scare the shit out of
me.” To see someone of my bulk in a near catatonic state at the sight of a
6” Garter snake isn’t pretty. Nonetheless, it is my cross to bear.
Keagan, ever since he could speak, has wanted every creature known to man
housed in his bedroom. We’ve had the hamsters, the mice, the rats, the
fish, the spiders, the Bearded Dragons, the turtles, the birds, and even
the leeches that he brought in from the pond…(during the night, they
crawled out of the bucket, and we found them all dried up in his carpet).
Well, up until about two years ago, I resisted….THE SNAKE. He begged. He
pleaded. He whined. He argued. He bargained. Finally, after years of
creative and tenacious persistence, he said, “Dad, the only reason that you
won’t let me have a snake is that you can’t face your own fears.”
What could I say to that? I looked at him and said, “You’re right.” Now,
most sane fathers with a reasonable sense of self-preservation would have
left it right there. I caved. We began the research. We visited pet
shops. Keagan, delighted that there was even the remotest possibility of
getting snake, allowed me to set the parameters. The snake had to be of
the nearly immobile variety and it had to eat frozen prey. Months went by
and I thought that I was in the clear; either the snakes moved too fast or
they didn’t eat frozen food. My luck didn’t hold.
It was at Paul’s Pet store in the Center at Keene. The sales girl, every
visible body part pierced and hair dyed punk black, brought out a young
Ball Python. She put the snake on the floor. It didn’t move. She picked
it up. It didn’t move. She put it back in its cage. It didn’t move.
Unfortunately for me, this particular snake had also just dined on its
second frozen mouse. Every instinct in my body and soul told me to quickly
add more to the parameters I had set…but it was too late. I had made a
deal. Keagan had his snake.
Do you know what it’s like to ride in a closed vehicle with a snake in a
box? Can you imagine the carnage if I had even sensed that the box was
moving, let alone opening? We made it homeme sure that I would never have
a complete night’s sleep in my own house again. By the end of the first
evening, the snake ( a she) was named Cuddles. My life would never be the
For one thing, the first thing I do every morning is to go to Keagan’s room
and make sure the fucking snake is still in her cage. Every morning.
Without fail. If there is ever a morning that I peer into Keagan’s room
and find the cover of Cuddle’s aquarium slightly ajar and sans snake, I’m
not sure what I’ll do. Most likely, I’ll scream like a little girl, run
outside onto the deck, and pound on Keagan’s window to get the Hell up and
find the fricking snake. There is no way that I will knowingly be in my
house and have a snake loose in it at the same time. It’s not going to
Well, me being who I am and children being who they are when it comes to
the care of pets, I was the one to most quickly know when Cuddles needed
another mouscickle. Now, it’s a ratscickle. This brings me to the point
of this journal entry. A few days ago, I had been harping on Keagan that
we needed another ratscickle. Every time that I would hesitantly peer into
Keagan’s room, I could see Cuddle’s oozing around the cage, pushing her
head against the lid, desparate to get out and….feed. (I’m such an idiot.
I should have played bad parent and just gone back on my parametersno
snakeno waytoo bad.) The downside to all of this is that I’m the one
with the driver’s license and the five bucks. Keagan can’t get the
ratscickle on his own. So, his job is to remind me to get the frozen rodent
treat while we’re in the vicinity of the pet store. This week, we’d already
returned home three times before either he or I remembered. Cuddles was
getting progressively more active and I was getting progressively more
likely to light the house on fire just to get rid of the snake. Almost
home on the the third day of forgetfulness, I turned to Keagan and said,
“Shit. We forgot again. We have to get a rat for Cuddles.” No sooner had
I said those words and glanced at Keagan in the front passenger’s seat than
we hit a red squirrel, pulling a Japanese bomber routine across Old Swanzey
I stopped the truck. Keagan says, “Dad, what are you doing?”
“Get out and get the squirrel.”
“Get out and get the squirrel. We need to feed Cuddles.”
I opened the door and started to get out.
“Dad, you can’t take that squirrel!”
Long story short, I apologized to the poor thing that I hadn’t stopped
quickly enough, picked him up by the hairs on his tail, and set him into
the back of my truck.
“I’m not feeding that to Cuddles, Dad. You’re not going to either.”
The snake ate the roadkilled squirrel. It saved me five bucks. For those
of you wondering how quickly snakes grow, Cuddles is now nearly three feet
long. My primary motivation for convincing Keagan to follow in the
footsteps of his sister and attend private high school is that if he
doesn’t live in the house, the snake doesn’t live in the house. Right now,
I have at least another year of dealing with the dual compulsions of
wanting the snake to starve to death and my uncontrollable need to feed