Monday, January 28, 2008


Monday January 28 2008

The Sonoran Desert surrounding Scottsdale: one of the hottest of the North American deserts, with temperatures averaging above 100 for the three months of summer. It's also one of the wettest deserts in the world, with the area around Scottsdale averaging 9" of rainfall a year.

It's still a desert. The population is growing by 200,000 a year, spreading further out into the inhospitable, untamed desert. Where Kevin and Rusty live there's no city water or well water. Every single drop is hauled in by truck, for humans and horses.

It's good to not waste water anyway, but here in the desert, you really think about not leaving a hose on that drips, not taking long showers, not forgetting about that hose you left running to fill the water trough.

Yesterday I think we must have gotten half the year's rainfall. For 24 hours, we had a steady, heavy rain, all day, and when it wasn't a heavy rain, it was dumping. The washes became little flowing streams, which became little rivers, carving away at and widening their sand walls, creating miniature roaring rapids. It was an astonishing rain, heavier and wetter than any day in the Pacific Northwest, all the more so for being so rare in the desert here.

The horses turned tail to the heavy drops and drooped. Blankets were quickly soaked, as were human hats and raincoats and shoes. Hay was quickly saturated, sandy paddocks turned to big puddles with rivers running through. Nature came to a standstill, out-done and drowned out by the rain. Birds hid in holes in the saguaros and under the heavy brush and squeezed against vertical branches. The desert mesquite and palo verde trees - already rich and green from August's monsoon downpour, which came an inch away from flooding into Kevin and Rusty's house - drooped toward the ground. The gray skies obliterated the mountains to the west. And it rained, and rained, impressive, remarkable rain, heavy, soggy, gray.

Toward the early hours of the morning there was something different: silence. The rain had stopped. The horses knew it was over - some of them celebrated by trotting around the paddock and shaking off underneath their blankets.

The morning brought small teasing glimmers of blue sky, puddles everywhere, and artistic water-carved wet sandy roads and new sandy wash channels. Blankets came off and horses rolled, and heavy gray clouds moved around the sky to let us know this desert was not done soaking up water yet.

Expect the spring flowers to be stunning.

Note: One day on your travels, pick up the book The Secret Knowledge of Water by Craig Childs - a fascinating look at water in the southwest deserts.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Company I Keep

January 26 2008

So, last year at the 3-day Eastern Mojave ride in southern California, Gretchen and I were making our way along a deep sandy wash that went on for a couple of miles. It was either that or weave sometimes treacherous paths through multiple forms of cactus (including Joshua trees, that stab you with poison, or leave star-patterned club marks when you are run into them) just waiting to attach their thorns to your horses' legs, or catch you if you got stumbled off or bucked off. So we opted for the wash.

We were in the middle of the Mojave National Preserve desert (the middle of nowhere, mind you), when we realized there was something coming up behind us, something big, and something fast.

It was not only a truck; it was a truck pulling a horse trailer. They were going fast, because they were in deep sand in this deep sandy wash, fishing-tailing about, and if they slowed down, they'd sink down into the desert and petrify.

"What the ??? Who are these crazy fools? Who would be out driving in a sandy wash in the middle of nowhere?" we exclaimed as we hoofed it out of the wash in a hurry before we were run over. They waved, smiling, like they knew what they were doing. We waved back and watched their dust in astonishment.

And rode on.

Nearly a year later, I am sitting in Kevin and Rusty's house visiting with Leslie Spitzer and her mom Linda. Kevin bought his beloved Far from Leslie last year; she came down here to see Far, and ride Kevin's horse Redford beside Kevin and Far in this weekend's Land of the Sun ride in Wickenburg. When it turned out our horses here all had strangles, and nobody would be going anywhere on four legs, Leslie and her mom came down anyway for a visit.

One evening we were talking - naturally - about endurance horses and endurance rides, and the Eastern Mojave came up, and bad crew directions, and driving down a sandy wash with a truck and trailer, as fast as possible, fishtailing so they wouldn't get stuck... "That was you!" It was Linda in that truck, with Leslie's husband, heading to the out vet-check. They'd been given the wrong directions, and once they found themselves in this wash there was nothing to do but gun it and hope the wash ended somewhere before they got stuck.

It was good to know that the crazies driving down that wash were endurance people just like me, people who next time might be on a horse waving at me doing something crazy like that.

Another evening disintegrated into a superb meal of Indian curries, good wine, fabulous dessert (the best pies in America, picked up by Leslie and Linda in Rock Springs, AZ, smothered with real English Bird's custard, made by Kevin), and topped with more sordid endurance tales with 8 endurance people from around the endurance world, from (loosely) California, Idaho, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, London, Canada, Oregon, and Washington.

What better company could one ask for?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Dear Diego (by Jose)

Saturday January 26 2008

Well Diego, it's been quite the winter here in Arizona (your old home). It sounded all fun, getting to travel with bossman Rhett, being a snowbird horse, migrating south for the winter to where it was warmer, where Rhett said there were these cool things that were tall as trees but weren't trees and you didn't want to touch them because they are mean and pokey, and where it hardly ever rains.

But as soon as we got to Arizona after a looooooooooong trailer ride, I got kicked in the knee by one of the horses here. It didn't really hurt much, and all the humans thought it healed up right away, but it only healed on the outside. It got infected on the inside so I got shots for 10 days. Those are no fun, but I am such a nice horse, I let anybody poke me as much as they want because they told me it would make my leg better, and it makes them happy when I don't make a fuss about anything.

Then I got all better, and Rhett and I got in the trailer again for half a day, and ended up at an endurance ride on flat desert with no tall pokey Not-trees. Rhett went 50 miles the first day, and he got really really tired and didn't have to go another 50 miles on the same day, and I got to do a 50 the next day and got petted at the end because I finished up all good and strong. Just wait till you get to do a 50 mile ride Diego, you will have fun.

When Rhett and I got back to Arizona a few days later, we both felt worn out, and after another week we got moved to a little round pen by ourselves, across from the other 5 horses, and I felt better but Rhett felt really bad. I was only coughing and got a snotty nose but Rhett got these big painful bumps under his chin that busted icky green snot and now he's really skinny. We both started getting shots again. Rhett really hates his shots and runs away from needles, but I just let the humans poke me. I'm so good they don't even have to put a halter on me.

M came to see us a few days ago, and it's fun because she gives us carrot treats. Rhett and I stand at our fence with our eyeballs glued on the front door, waiting for it to squeak and open and M to walk out, and we whinny at her and she brings us a carrot, many times a day. Sometimes Rhett wakes her early in the morning with his whinnies. And we get fed beet pulp with treaties in it twice a day. It's almost worth being sick for the treaties (but not quite).

Last night during the full moon, M came outside and hung out with me, she petted my face and told me all about you in IdaHome, how you have been wearing a saddle and learning to lunge with it in the round pen, but you really like to just stand there and look cute in your bonnet and saddle and necklace, how you rub your mane in the sagebrush so you smell good when M hugs you, how you were naughty and scared of boogeyhorses last time you got shoes, what you thought of your first cow, how you are all wearing snowflake blankets, and how sad and bored all of you are without me, your Social Coordinator.

I'm glad I'm here to keep Rhett company but I miss IdaHome and all the space we have to run and I miss you Diego. I am bored too. We can't leave the property we are on for a long time so we don't get any other horses in the neighborhood sick. Rhett and I tried to sneak out the other day when M was cleaning our pen, but she closed the gate before we could get out. M told me if I do ever escape not to go next door and visit those horses, because they haven't gotten our germs, but if I do escape, you know I'm going to go right over there and say hi because I am the designated Social Coordinator in Arizona too.

To keep busy I like to help the humans and horses here. I always go help M or the boys when they come to clean the poop out of our pen, and I go up and help Rhett when M and Rusty are giving Rhett his shot. I tell him not to be scared but he's scared anyway.

Yesterday I watched the other 5 horses in the bigger pen run around and around in circles, and I was sad because it reminded me of our canyon in IdaHome and because I wasn't running around with them.

Today Rhett and I got baths, which felt pretty good, and right afterwards while I was still dripping I went and rolled and rolled in the sand and scratched myself good, and got up and shook off and went and rolled again. Then I felt REALLY good. M said I was a real dirty clean now.

I'm not getting shots anymore, but Rhett still has to get them for a while. He is feeling better though, because he's bossing me around and chasing me from the feed buckets. I let him, because it makes him happy.

I don't think we can come home to IdaHome for a long while yet because we don't want to make you and everybody in IdaHome sick, but when we do get back there, I think from now on I won't get into the big trailer. I don't want to be a snowbird-horse anymore because it's not so fun. I'll just stay there and lead all the gallops up and down our canyon, and only get in the little white trailer that just takes me on shorter trips closer to IdaHome.

I miss you Diego.


Monday, January 21, 2008

Skinny Bones

Monday January 21 2008

I was shocked when I saw the real Rhett underneath his blanket this morning. He looks like a skeleton with dehydrated skin laid over the top. He's got a 'lizard butt' as Kevin aptly put it, hip bones sticking out and the dock of his tail sticking up above his dented-in butt like a starved horse. All muscle tone gone. Rhett, who usually carries his tail up in the air, has it weakly clamped down to his butt. He is better though, say the boys - he had it really bad the last week or so, droopy, ill, not eating, stocked up legs, feeling miserable, no spark in his eye. He let me hug him - Rhett never does that - and even turned his head around to hug me back. Rhett, always strong, fit, healthy; now miserable and - pathetic. To see the mighty Rhett in that condition, to just associate that word with him, and to have him hug me back, choked me up.

Gone is Jose's pumpkin belly he always carried so well, even when he was fit. He looks more like a sleek Arabian greyhound now. He's much perkier than Rhett, obviously not feeling so bad.

Some people believe in letting the strangles run its course instead of fighting it with antibiotics (this vet said that the myth of causing the abscesses to go internal with treatment is just that: a myth), but Rhett was getting to be in pretty bad shape (he possibly had the flu first, and appeared to be getting better, and that stress on his immune system made him vulnerable to the strangles); and Kevin and Rusty didn't want to take any chances with their horses, one of which had already started coughing. So they chose to treat all the horses.

The whole herd gets shots once a day, and Rhett gets orally tranquilized before his shot (because you just can't poke him with a needle otherwise, and, why stress him more?). He's on strong antibiotic shots for at least 5 days, and probably longer-term less strong antibiotics; and oral shots of cortisone for Purpura hemorrhagica - a whole-body inflammatory state caused by the strangles. His legs were big as tree trunks, all the way up and down the leg, though today we could see his tendons so the swelling has greatly decreased. He got hit hard with this. The systemic infection was what had the vet worried most and the fact he had stopped eating. Jose never got so sick - just got the green snot, (no abscesses), and he looks good to me, other than being thin. (Of course, some people like to keep their horses on the thin side anyway, so they'd think Jose looks great! I like my horses a little on the rounder side).

Today Rusty cleaned Rhett's abscess under his chin, which finally busted. He squeezed around the hole, and green crap exploded out in several directions. Poor Rhett! Once all that stuff came out, Rhett looked like he felt better already. The vet came out to drop off more medicine, and looked at him, and commented on how much better he looks today than he did a few days ago. Rusty washed off Rhett's icky halter and I took it off of him for the day... I swore I'd be able to catch him tomorrow. (We'll see).

Of course I've started spoiling Rhett and Jose with carrots. They will get plenty in the next few weeks. This wasn't quite the winter that had been planned for everybody.

Phooey on this strangles crap!

A Call To Arms

Monday January 21 2008


From snowflakes to sand: I've been sent to the rescue in Arizona. Red Cross Merri to take up the fight for a month against 7 horses with (before, during, after stages of) strangles. Strangles!

Steph and John's 2 horses in Arizona came down with it after the New Year's New Mexico ride, and their horse mates - Kevin and Rusty's 5 horses - are consequently involved in the fray.

In the midst of shots and snots, disinfecting and rehabbing, in addition to the usual feeding and scooping poop twice a day, Steph is gone to the UAE, John just left for a month, and Kevin and Rusty are extremely busy with work and school. So it gets a bit rough for them dealing with sick horses at 9 or 10:00 at night.

So I've been sent in as reinforcements, which meant me leaving the 6 horses in Oreana to fend for themselves. And the dogs - oh, the dogs! What will they do without their evening walks?? And the cat may shrivel up without petting for a month.

Although they actually won't be completely by themselves; neighbors will be feeding and petting and looking in on them all quite adequately.

I'll miss the snow and cold, especially when it gets down to 6* the next few nights (call me crazy), but then there's something I really like about Arizona too.

The good part is, I'll get to see Rhett and Jose. I told Diego I was going to see his buddy Jose, but I don't think it sunk in. I'll have to email him pictures.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Wednesday January 16 2008

After a cold spooky breezy yesterday, today the horses are all standing broadside to the sunshine and dozing, (high of 25*), soaking it up, laying down in it. Still some snow up the canyon, and the mountains have enough snow to last till August. The ground is frozen where there isn't ice, and a slight breeze is coming down the canyon.

A magpie (same Corvidae family as jays, Ravens, and crows - you could call them cousins) wandered around the horses, pecking at the hay and the poo and the frozen ground and Diego's and Finneas' backs.

Nice contrast to yesterday.

One of Those (Shoe) Days

Tuesday January 15 2008

It was one of those days - 30 degrees and breezy, 17* with the wind chill. Still some snow, and a lot of ice on the frozen ground. 6 horses to shoe or trim. Well, it was better than last week, where it was about 28* with a much stronger wind, snow blowing sideways, making us wimp out to where we postponed the shoeing for a week.

Today we went under the roof of the hay barn and used the big hay bales for a partial wind block. Definitely "partial." I had 5 layers on top, 2 on the bottom, hat and gloves, and as long as I had my back to the wind coming around the corner of the bales, my body maintained at just over freezing. Feet and hands, though, that was another matter. My feet turned numb over a few hours, and my fingers wouldn't work - had a hard time tying and untying the halter knot.

It was one of those days for the horses, too. The first one, Finneas (used to lots of uncomfortable handling, what with his big Back Leg Accident) was fairly good, even though his as-yet-to-fully-heal-cut bothered him as Bruce held that leg up. Quickie, the last one, was fairly good - she fidgeted constantly for me, but was still whenever Bruce held a foot up.

The others, though...

Dudley was a butt - not so spooky but objecting to having to stand still and have his feet worked on. After months of dieting, Bruce noticed how good he looks, having lost a good 100 lbs, and his feet look good enough to put shoes on him. Which Dudley was not thrilled about.

Mac, normally quiet, was quite jumpy.

Princess didn't want to walk near the barn, convinced there was a cougar across the creek in the bare swaying tree branches.

Diego - my sweet little brave Diego! - wigged out walking close to the barn (of course they never do this when they are walking or running or romping by on their own), sure that Princess had been right about a cougar. He about ran over us a few times while working on him.

The cold wind just did its spooky work today - good thing Bruce is quick.

The horses ran one by one, skidding on the ice, as they were turned loose, back to the comfort zone of the hay bales, far away from the cougars in the windy trees by the barn.

I was a frozen popsicle and couldn't feel my feet when I hobbled back in the house. I stuck my feet right on and in the stand-up heater for a half-hour till I could feel them, then took a long hot shower to completely thaw, then had a nice cup of steaming French Vanilla coffee.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008


January 9 2008


The pure big silence of a snow-covered winter desert in the evening.

It's not a death-silence (go visit Dachau, in Germany), but a life-silence:
a temporary absence of tumbling wind, trickling water, rustling sagebrush, swishing rabbit brush, chirping birds. The clouds are hanging motionless over the mountains.

No movement of any kind, but it's all there, still and full and listening. The canyon is covered with myriad footprints of rabbits, birds, rodents; one bird has left wing prints as if it had taken a snow-bath; but right now they all remain secretly still and hidden, attending and shaping this big soundlessness.

No sound of any kind but 14 footsteps crunching in the soft snow (me and 3 dogs) as we wind our way up a canyon, following a ridge, some spots on the crest blown bare by the wind that howled from the northwest two days ago. No sound but the dogs panting after returning from chasing a single rabbit through the blanketed sagebrush. We stop on top of the highest hill and listen.

Returning home near dark the nature-silence is broken: a great-horned owl hoots from up the canyon where we've been. I stop to listen, hoot back. I stand for 10 minutes listening to the owl, and even the dogs sit still and stop panting and listen to the owl and the silence.

In some cultures the owl is the harbinger of evil and death; in some it is a messenger of the Gods (Athena, Goddess of Wisdom, had an owl). For me it is good luck. I expect this one was singing his approval of the fall of night over this spectacular silent desert.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

(Snow) Shoeless

Tuesday January 8 2008

Bruce the farrier called first thing this morning, on his way here to shoe 6 horses. "I don't want to be a wimp or anything..."

I looked out the window - 6 horses covered with the same inch-blanket of snow the rest of the Owyhee world was covered with, with little gusts blowing big fat flakes and skiffs off roofs sideways. 100% chance of snow all day, wind between 10 and 15 mph.

"... but it's blowing like crazy here on the freeway in Boise and snowing hard."

Far be it from me to call someone a wimp, when I myself didn't fancy standing out in the white cold holding six horses for him to shoe. We rescheduled for next week, and I bundled up to go out for a few pictures (before coffee!)

The horses looked comfortable: nobody was shivering, and they weren't gorging at the hay bales either. Princess came up to get her itchy hairy neck scratched, while the snow stuck to her eyelashes. Diego sported a snow mustache to try out a new grown-up handsome look. Dudley licked the snow off Diego's rump (before biting him).

A good day for taking a few pictures then getting back inside, watching from the (relative) warmth of the house as the flakes got bigger and fatter and continued piling up.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Wild Horse Ride

January 4 2008

The last few days we've been playing hide-and-seek with the storms, "winds between 19 and 24, gusts up to 37 mph," and have slipped out to ride. We're still riding on snow and trying to avoid the ice (been white on the ground for a month now!), and have had some still, beautiful days, though not above freezing.

Today, while the west coast and the Sierra Nevadas are getting bombed by wind and rain and snow, we were waiting on the wind to hit here "between 24 and 28, gusts up to 43 mph." Looked good this morning though, so we slipped out for another ride.

We decided on the Bilbo Baggins loop, via the Lamplighter Gate, heading north out of the canyon up onto the flats, down into a canyon over that way, back up onto the flats then drop back down into Bates Creek Canyon. Well, the wind was up on top, that's where the wind was. Apparently it's coming at a 90* angle to our SW-NE canyon. It's almost completely still below, with only the smallest whisp of a breeze occasionally poofing past the house.

Up on the plateau we had a stiff breeze to our back most of the way, and when we dropped down into the canyon, it was almost still again. Along the wind-shielded trail, in the distance we saw a few cows. "I'm surprised they're this far from the highway already," said Carol. Normally they like to mow down the grass along the highway for two months and scare motorists, especially on black nights.

As we got closer, "Those aren't cows, those are horses!" Wild horses - this far east!? Well, they belong to the Oreana rancher who also owns the cows, so no, they weren't wild horses. But try telling those horses that! We stopped, and Carol called to the 4 or 5 horses so they wouldn't suddenly spring up and scare Justy and Mac; and those 'tame' horses threw up their heads, whirled as a team, and sprinted for the Canadian border. They were turned out for the winter and no WAY were they getting caught by anybody already! Justy saw them and got excited, but Mac didn't see them, and anyway they were quickly gone over a hill.

As we continued trotting along the trail - the snow well pounded down by many horse hooves having hung out there quite a while - Mac noticed and smelled the fresh horse poop, moving along at a trot with his nose to the ground, inhaling the smell of the new intruders.

After a half mile, with the wind breeze now picking up from our right side, apparently that's where the horses were over the hill, because both Mac and Justy were looking right as they trotted straight along the trail, having picked up their scent. Another half mile and the hills beside us opened up, and we saw the herd a little behind us - not just 4 but almost two dozen horses - galloping towards us! Yikes!

Our horses stopped and turned to face them, very excited. Mac beneath me grew two feet taller and let out a great whinny, like I've never heard him do before. We yelled at the horses - I could just see this herd come galloping by us and sweep our horses along, while leaving me and Carol on the ground to contemplate the state of things.

Fortunately they were still suspicious of getting caught and veered away from us, galloping over another hill. I'd gotten my little camera out to take some pictures of the 'wild' horse herd on the hill with the snow-covered mountains in the background, but Mac, having finally found what he's really been looking for all along (ranch horses running wild), was getting more animated by the second. Remembering just 2 months ago watching Karen B's horse take off running and unseat her then proceed to run off and get lost for 2 weeks, I thought it prudent to put the camera away immediately and put both hands on the steering wheel. I didn't want to have to answer Steph when she next asked, "How's Mac doing?" by saying "Well, ask me after the spring roundup."

Both Justy and Mac stayed quite exuberant as we climbed the hill back up onto the flats, and there we had not only wild horse memories to deal with, but a taste of that wind advisory in our face. Earlier I'd been comfortable riding in 3 layers, being overcast and in the 30's with the wind at our back - but it was much colder now, wind speed blasting enough to drive the water from your eyes and snot from your nose and blow it sideways, and cold enough to numb your cheeks. Mac's snot was flying sideways too, and he turned his concentration from wild ranch horses (which we couldn't see or smell anymore) to keeping his head down against the wind and watching for icy patches.

By the time we dropped back down into Bates Creek canyon - where it was still as can be - I was quite chilled. Carol said "My thighs are numb. Does that mean they're gone?" We got off and walked home on the slick icy road, and there Mac had a bucket of oats then Talked Story about wild ranch horses to his own herd.

Friday, January 4, 2008

America's Next Top (Equine) Model

Studley Dudley's Audition Portfolio, showing off his best poses and acting talent.

Sporting an equine Mullet

Kissable equine (Come on, kiss me!)

Best equine Smile

Flexing manly equine musculature

Rakish, devil-may-care equine look

Bubba Gump equine imitation

Acting little tipsy

Acting a LOT tipsy

Exhibiting an equine model's good dental hygiene

Exhibiting flaring equine nostrils

Fierce equine look

Uproarious equine laugh

Best equine Cheese pose

Equine funny bones

Vote today!