Cappers Farmer Blogs >

Riding & Writing

A Country Thanksgiving

Gina McKnight

Thanksgiving at Monday Creek Stables

It’s almost Thanksgiving and all my neighbors are decorating for Christmas. Seems a little early to me, but with the marketplace full of Christmas items, it’s difficult to avoid the spirit of Christmas. Thanksgiving brings not only holiday decorations, but holiday cookies, party buffets, and seasonal galas. It’s difficult to avoid the pitfalls of enticing and delectable holiday offerings.

There are many tips, tricks, and strategies to avoid temptation. Some are tried and true; others offer nothing but empty resounding words that will not keep you from having an extra piece of grandma’s famous chocolate cream-filled holiday cake.

No matter where you live — city, country, or in-between, we all need to avoid overindulgence. Here are some ideas to help you stay healthy this holiday season.

#1 Decorate your water bottle. Yes, you read that right. Create or purchase a sleeve that fits over an ordinary water bottle that you can carry with you. Place your favorite motivational quotes and pictures on the sleeve to remind you to keep hydrated, while inspiring you to avoid overeating. Keeping hydrated will help you feel full. Decorate the bottle with something seasonal — a small piece of tinsel, or holiday scene — to remind you that the holiday will soon be over, but that extra piece of fruitcake will linger.

#2 Sip. Sip. Sip. Alcohol seems to freely flow around the holidays and it is easy to pack on pounds without overeating; those extra cocktails will gladly give you a hug around your mid-section that lasts until spring. Avoid over-drinking. You don’t have to avoid alcohol completely; in fact socializing is an important part of the holiday experience. Just don’t overdo. Sip your cocktail instead of following the crowd and downing too much holiday cheer. You will thank yourself when swimsuit season arrives. Repeat three times while sipping that holiday margarita, "swimsuit, swimsuit, swimsuit."

#3 Be a vegetarian or vegan in December. OK, so you like meat and you are really tempted by mom’s holiday beef roast. The meaty aroma wafts across the room and is calling out to you. But, stop. You don’t need those extra protein calories. Announce that you are vegan. People will not tempt you to try the hearty meat-fortified casserole dripping with seasoned fat and extra butter. They will respect your new lifestyle and you will not have to worry about those extra calories. After all, you may decide to remain vegan after the holidays.

#4 Tighten that belt. There is nothing more uncomfortable than a tight waistband; you know — the one that makes an unseemly muffin top. We certainly want you to look your best in your holiday attire, but tightening your belt just a little will detour you from the pastry table. A smidgen of being uncomfortable is well worth the calories you will avoid. After the party, when you arrive home, you can remove your belt and feel proud that you did not overindulge.

#5 Stick to the basics. This is really not new advice, just a twist on an old favorite. When filling up your plate, select items that fill you up rather than weigh you down. Choose raw, organic fruits and vegetables. Insist that your fruits and vegetables are from the local farmers market. Oh, that may seem a little snooty, but it’s your health and your body. Maybe you will entice a friend or relative to insist on organic and sustainable food choices. We all need to change the world, one step at a time.

There is a ton of good advice available and, remember, knowledge is power. Dive into all the information you can about staying healthy, not just on the holidays, but all through the year.

From our farmhouse to yours, have a Happy Thanksgiving.

Gina McKnight is an author and freelance writer from Ohio, USA.

How to Build a Saddle Rack

Gina McKnight 

Every horse owner knows the importance of keeping tack clean, dry and easily accessible. A well-built saddle rack can be just as indispensable as good riding gear. It can hold all of your tack including halters, bridles, and brushes. It can be efficient without taking up a lot of stable space.

To build a sturdy saddle rack of standard size, you will need the following:


• (1) 24-inch log (pine or poplar), approximately 12 inches in diameter, debarked
• (3) 2-by-4s, 8 feet long
• (3) 1-by-8-inch boards, 8 feet long
• (1) 24-inch dowel pin, 1/2 inch in diameter
• Nails, hammer, saw, square, and marker

Step 1

Saw the log in half, longways. Remove the outer bark to create a smooth surface. This will be the saddle rest. A poplar log is recommended, but any other on-hand wood that is easily debarked can be used. This log can be purchased at a sawmill or from a person cutting and selling firewood.


Step 2

To make the saddle rack frame, saw four 2-by-4s into the following lengths:

• (2) 12-inch 2-by-4s
• (2) 21-inch 2-by-4s

Nail the 2-by-4s together to make the rack frame as shown. Check the frame with the log to make sure it fits properly. If your log does not fit the frame exactly, shave it down for a perfect fit.


Step 3

Next, saw four 2-by-4s to 36 inches in length for the saddle rack frame legs. Nail legs to the frame as shown. Trim off excess wood at the top of the legs.

Measure and mark 18 inches from the top of the frame down each leg. This mark will be used for the leg braces that will be assembled in Step 4.


Step 4

Cut two 2-by-4s approximately 24 inches long for leg braces. Nail braces to legs as shown. Mark and cut the end (front and rear) braces and nail to legs. 

Next, place an 8-inch long 2-by-4 onto the end of the log and nail securely into place.

Scan_20170918 (4)

Step 5

Cut one 1-by-8-inch board to 36 inches in length and nail vertically to the front of the log as shown. Drill two holes at a 45-degree angle, 1/2 inch in diameter, into the 1-by-8-inch board. Measure and cut two 8-inch dowel pins. Glue dowel pins into the 1/2-inch holes. Let glue dry completely.


Cut another 1-by-8-inch board to 30 inches in length and nail vertically to the rear of log. In this board, drill another hole using the same parameters explained above. Cut and glue an 8-inch dowel pin into place. Bridles, halters and lead ropes can find a resting place on these dowel pins, allowing easy accessibility to your tack. 28dsa


A bottom storage shelf can be added to the lower set of leg braces. This shelf can be used to store brushes and other grooming devices, including shampoo, fly spray, etc.

Your saddle rack is now complete!

A great way to keep your blanket dry after a ride is to place it upside down over your saddle, keeping your saddle clean while drying out your blanket. 

The saddle rack can be sized to fit any saddle — pony saddles, English, Western, etc.


Saddle racks can protect your riding equipment from dampness, dirt, and grime. Remember to always keep your tack in good condition and clean it often! Happy Trails!


Keep the Faith

Gina McKnight15895413_1362135110484754_7293310919550356833_n

We find the old adage "Life begins at the end of your comfort zone" in many memes and social groups. We can read the adage all we want, but if we don’t take action — if we don’t have faith in ourselves, in our abilities, or a higher power — we will never leave our comfort zone.

First we must determine exactly what our comfort zone is. Maybe it is getting up in the morning, going to work, staying in the cubicle, having little social contact with coworkers, coming home from work, eating dinner, watching TV, and then taking a bath before hitting the mattress. We all agree that work makes us tired both mentally and physically. But there may be a few precious hours to be tapped in the early morning before work or after leaving the workplace. Then, of course, depending upon your work schedule, there are always weekends. The point is we all need to find time to break out, leave anxiety behind, and stretch capabilities.

Have you always wanted to learn to dance, ski, paint, or scuba dive? Maybe there is something on your bucket list that you want to do, but you have not found the courage to step forward and take a chance. It's a new year. Keep the faith. Stepping out and taking risks is not easy, but can be rewarding in the end. Try these easy steps to get out of your comfort zone.

Look fear in the eye. We all have fears, whether it’s bugs, heights, water, or just life in general. It’s always good to be wary and know your limitations, but facing your fears and looking them straight in the eye sometimes can lead to excitement and adventure! For example, if you have always had a desire to learn to swim but are afraid of the water, seek out a skilled swimming instructor — one that will guide you slowly through the process and make you feel comfortable. It’s worth a try!

There’s no such thing as failure. Everyone has faced failure in some way or another. It is part of life and alright to experience letdown and dismay. It makes us grow into charismatic, courageous adults. So you tried something and failed. The fact that you tried and took a risk says a lot about your character and grit. You learned a life lesson. Tell everyone about your experience. They will learn from it, too, and everyone will enjoy the conversation. There’s no such thing as failure if you climb out of your comfort zone. It’s not considered failure. It’s considered a life experience.

It’s okay to be silly. So maybe you want to learn to dance, but you think you look silly on the dance floor with your two left feet. It’s okay to be silly. Ignore rude and disagreeable people. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t, because you can. In truth, dancing takes skill and talent. Get up off the couch, out of your comfort zone, find a professional dancing instructor, and dance! Chances are you will wow your friends with your newfound charm as you show them your new dance moves.

Find your niche. My own personal experience may help you. Recently I had the opportunity to facilitate a poetry group at a regional correctional facility that houses felons and criminals seeking social skills for entry back into society. My first response was a definite "No!" No one wants to go into an environment that is so far out of any comfort zone! After a lot of soul-searching and contemplation, I decided to take on the task. It is an unpaid position, totally volunteer on my part, requiring a lot of time and effort. Being a volunteer makes it even more uncomfortable. But the result of facilitating this poetry program has been phenomenal. I am so glad that I took the risk. All of the residents are kind and respectful. The program is in its third year, and we are in the process of compiling resident poetry for publication. It has been a great marketing opportunity for me as well as a way of helping others. Find your niche. Get out there; life doesn’t wait.

Stepping out and leaving your comfort zone can be scary and intimidating, but in the end you will realize your own potential and gain confidence to do the things that inspire you. Use extra hours to hone skills and enhance your life. Check out evening extracurricular classes that spark your interest. Learn to dance, ski, or scuba. Be safe, seek out professional guidance, and go for it! Go ahead. Give it a try. Find a new zone. Keep the faith.

Country Christmas Cards

Gina McKnightMy mother always makes a big deal about Christmas cards. Since we're a farm family, she likes to send a Christmas card with a red barn on it, similar to one of our own red barns. We love creating our own Country Christmas Cards — it's so much fun!

Of course, the first step in creating a Country Christmas Card is getting the family together ... or in my case, my horses. They are just like kids and only pose when they feel like it, hamming it up and wiggling around the corral. It takes pre-planning, decorating, and a lot of patience.

This year, the sun was just right, the sky was azure blue, and the clouds were gently holding their place, all in position for perfect pictures. Wreaths were placed intentionally on the white corral fence, the horses were in the corral, and then it was time to get the horses to cooperate. Treats always help. My gelding does not like apples, only sugar cubes; my mare loves apples and oatmeal cookies. Whatever it takes to get the perfect pose: a handful of sugar cubes and cookies in my pocket, a jingle of my keys, and the hopes of another treat, Zubie my mare, and Mac, my gelding, are ready. Manes combed, faces brushed, they look perfect. Just like kids, they begin to get impatient and prance back and forth, nibbling the greenery (*sigh*). Finally, an hour later and over 50 clicks, I am satisfied with the pictures. I think you will find the spirit of the season in my pictures of Zubie and Mac. They make me smile, and I hope you are smiling, too. Merry Christmas!



For the Love of Hay

Gina McKnightNow that hay season is over (for most of us) and the fields are spent, it’s time to reflect on what the fields had to offer. Did our plowing, tilling, seeding, fertilizer, and hard work pay off? The proof, of course, is in the hay. Is it tender, filled with tasseled grasses, and nutrient-dense? We always hope so.

If you own animals and live in the snow belt, you know that squirreling away hay for the winter is important. If you wait too long, you may not be able to purchase quality hay from your local neighbor, or, if you’re a farmer, you'll miss the "cutting" season — the opportunity to cut good hay before the weeds take over. It’s all in the timing, and it's of the utmost importance to feed your winter herd.


If you are looking for quality hay in your area, there are plenty of hay brokers who can help you find it. Don’t wait. The Farmer’s Almanac indicates a hard winter. Be prepared.

Hay — sustenance for animals, hard work for farmers, a muse for writing. October has a lot to offer, including hay stashed in the winter barn. When you use hay for your Halloween and fall decorations, remember that there are countless animal rescues who could use donations of hay. Check with your local Humane Society, or find an equine rescue near you.

baling hay, hay, ohio farm

I like hay: the smell of it, the way horses savor the taste, the way it sounds as I fork it into the feeder, the way it feels when I hold a flake in my hand. The cats play in it, the mice hide it in, and I like to nap in it. I have even written poems about hay ...


Shaggy meadow
Wafting with
Bluegrass green,
Wandering in
Four-leaf clover,
Waltzing the
Tasseled orchard grass,
Waving at
Tall timothy
While the
Alfalfa rises
With the
Windblown fescue
Waiting for
Ripe harvest,
Weathering the
Depth of

© Gina McKnight, Poetry from the Field
2016 Monday Creek Publishing

Circle of Flowers

Gina McKnightIt will be two years this December that my husband was diagnosed with stage four CLL — chronic lymphocytic leukemia — a type of cancer in which the bone marrow makes too many lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell). His first symptom was obvious: a large swelling on the left side of his neck. His lymph nodes were trying to combat the chaos going on in his body. After a bone marrow biopsy and extended tests, he began aggressive daily chemo infusions at our local hospital.

When he returned for his second chemo treatment, blood tests revealed that the chemo was having no effect on his cancer. Infusion was stopped and his oncologist called The James Cancer Hospital, Columbus, Ohio.

Within a few weeks, we were seated in a new oncologist’s office reviewing my husband’s diagnosis and a plan to make him better. After several months of "chemo wash" — getting the first rounds of chemo out of his body — he began a new chemo infusion treatment at The James.

The oncologist and nurses at The James are amazing. No question unanswered, no problem too small. They have specialists for every type of cancer. There are 12 types of CLL alone — the same cancer, but with small differences. We learned a lot about CLL and the treatment of cancer.

The James’ facility where my husband takes treatment is new and state-of-the-art. The infusion rooms are designed to keep the patient and family comfortable during treatment. The rooms are clean and bright; rooms on the perimeter of the fifth floor look through large windows to the manicured courtyard below.

On the wall of every room is a single picture: a circle of colorful flowers, framed and matted in pure white. The art draws me in every time and takes my mind back to the flowers in the field. The artist meticulously placed each petal, leaf, flower, and bud, so that the colors draw you in and calm the storm you are feeling inside.

With the passing of summer, the flowers outside are waning, some turning into stick-me-tights, some already back to seed. Passing through the meadow, I decided to create my own circle of flowers.  My choices were blooming "weeds" along the creek bank and resident wildflowers along the edge of the hay field. Gently pulling each flower from its stem, I placed them in my satchel and took them to the barn. I couldn’t find a white mat, so I used a bench.

circle of flowers

Even though my mind raced with things to do — cooking, cleaning, writing, work — I took the time to lay each petal down and place them neatly in a circle. I suppose the artist of the circle of flowers at The James used tweezers and tools to make their flower circle perfect. Mine is kind of out-of-round, a little serendipitous, but beautiful still.

Flowers fade and life has twists and turns. Enjoy the moment. I encourage you to make your own circle of flowers. Take the time to see the beauty in weeds that we take for granted. Feel the softness of each petal and soak in the beautiful hues. Winter is coming. 

circle of flowers

Riding Monday Creek

Gina McKnightATVs are great for hauling hay, moving feed buckets, and getting from one place to another quickly on the farm. The assortment of ATV implements for farm work is incredible – manure spreaders, sprayers, tillers, and more! Any farmer will tell you that their ATV is used daily and for multiple purposes.

Whenever my mare, Zubedia, hears an ATV, she thinks it's dinnertime and comes running through the pasture, mane and tail flying, hoping to get something to eat. She is always disappointed when it’s just me going from one barn to another.

Living in the snow-belt, ATVs are great in the winter when it’s too cold to walk to the barn. They are also great to pull a sled (or two) through the drifting snow! If you are like me, with a rural newspaper and mailbox a half a mile away from the house, using the ATV to get the current news is convenient. I guess I take my ATV for granted sometimes.

When the work is done and it’s time to play, there is nothing more thrilling than riding an ATV on the long, dusty trails through Wayne National Forest. Where we live in the heart of the Ohio Valley, there are ATV towns where you can ride right down Main Street. People travel from far and wide to camp and ride.

Monday Creek Trail Head Ohio USA 

Since the trails border our farm, we can easily take a ride through the canopy of towering birch and sycamore trees just about anytime we like (when the trails are open, that is). The National Forestry Service maintains the quality and integrity of the trails. For a 45-dollar yearly riding pass, we have access to hundreds of miles of scenic hills and byways.

Passage to Wayne National Forest

Some of the trails are for more experienced, rugged riders (not me), while other trails are designed for riders who like to take it easy and enjoy the scenery (that would be me). In the spring, peepers swim in and out of mud puddles while florescent butterflies mingle like angels in the air. In the fall, the changing of the leaves to vibrant oranges and yellows is a favorite sight.

Monday Creek Trails

Back on the farm, the ATV becomes a workhorse once again. If you are looking to purchase an ATV, do your research and choose one that fits your workload. Find a National Forest close to you that allows ATVs, and enjoy the beautiful scenery. You won’t regret it.