Thursday, April 29, 2010

Gearing Up

Thursday April 29 2010

Crysta at Go Diego Go just did an entry, "Ride Preparation Checklist," for her endurance ride coming up this weekend.

We have another local ride here on Saturday (the Owyhee Spring 30/60/75), just down the road.

I'm packing the same amount of gear that I would take for a 5-day ride halfway across the country (minus the sleeping stuff). Is this rational?

It's all about the weather, not any neuroses I may or may not have. (I think.)

So far, the forecast says: "A 20 percent chance of showers. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 49. West northwest wind 6 to 9 mph increasing to between 15 and 18 mph. Winds could gust as high as 30 mph." (Oh, wind gusts - yuck! boo hiss!)

Rain, cold, wind. And the weather's always changing here. But even when it's cold, I can get awfully hot, and I hate to be hot. Riding is a workout, and I tend to like to start out cool because I'll always warm up. But deciding on what to wear is a rather scientific thing, and can't really be done until right before I get on the horse in the morning.

I'll be taking: several pairs of tights (2 fleece, one non-fleece), 2 pairs of gloves (1 thick for warmth, 1 not so thick), several long underwear long-sleeved Tshirts of various weights, 1 short-sleeved Tshirt, 2 sweatshirts, a flannel long-sleeved shirt, 2 vests (a light one and a heavy one), at least 3 jackets of various warmth/wind-breaking ability (can be layered if it's deadly cold), a raincoat, several bandanas, 2 pairs of riding shoes, 2 pairs of chaps (which I wear will depend on the temperature and precipitation). Maybe I should throw in my full-length chaps too, just in case it gets down to polar temperatures...

And, by the way, none of this stuff matches. So it's not about the color scheme or looking sharp!

Chapstick, eyedrops, sunscreen, sunglasses, bug net (for me and Jose), snacks for the trail and lunch, extra water, (preferably frozen the night before, so I have cold drinks - yes, even if it's freezing outside), gatorade, bottled Starbucks.

And of course my reins and and helmet and camera and the Raven.

Did I mention the ride was just down the road? Literally. So close we are driving there in the morning to vet in and ride. I'm still taking the same amount of gear in my duffel bag.

Good thing all Jose needs to bring is his wonderful personality!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Doctor Visit

Wednesday April 28 2010

It's that time of year: spring shots.

Stormy got his 3-way today: Western Encephalomyelitis, Eastern Encephalomyelitis, and Tetanus, plus West Nile.

He really is the best patient, he's never minded shots, and I can worm him without putting a halter on him. He brings to mind a racehorse we used to have in our barn, a big and fierce stallion, who was so terrified of shots, that if he needed one, his groom had to put blinkers and a lip chain on him, point his nose in the back corner of the stall, the veterinarian literally had to get straight out of his truck, go straight in the stall with the shot, give it to him and get out of there. Otherwise there would have been human body parts laying about the stall.

But Stormy is a Gold Star Patient. And it's all better anyway, when you get The Big Treat at the end from the doctor.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Whiskey Traverse

Tuesday April 27 2010

Beginning humbly in western Wyoming at 9500' as a little river running into Jackson Lake, the Snake River loops through the southern part of Idaho before emptying into the Columbia River in Washington.

When Lake Bonneville in the Great Salt Lake, Utah area breached its natural dam 14,000 years ago, its waters tore down the Snake River, slicing gorges, stripping sediments and debris, and throwing "melon gravel" about - huge, car-sized boulders so named because of their resemblance to big watermelons. Rolled and smoothed and polished and tossed around by the great powerful floodwaters, the boulders now litter various places along the river, planted in limbo until the next Great Flood comes to move forcibly evict them to their new homes.

Some of them served as art canvases for the Native Americans that wintered along the Snake - some of the petroglyphs have been dated back 11,000 years.
The Snake escorted Lewis and Clark's expedition along for 6 days in October of 1805; it became a major water source for an estimated 400,000 pioneers that used the nearby Oregon Trail in the 1840's to 1860's.

Today the Snake shadowed us on our mission: the Whiskey Traverse through a 'melon gravel' field along the Snake River, to find a connector trail between Celebration park and the Petroglyphs Trail we follow on some of the Owyhee endurance rides.

It's called the "Whiskey Traverse" because Tom Noll and his Owyhee mustang Whiskey first followed the footpath on horseback (well... they probably weren't the first, but they were the first to convince Steph a loop could be made for an Owyhee endurance ride).

The spring flowers were in riotous bloom, and the grass mid-cannon-bone high

i.e., high enough to grab the horses' noses) along the river as we made our way along a trail below the classic Snake River cliffs and buttes. The Snake was flowing wide and fast, and Jose was not so sure about it.

In fact he was really uneasy about it the whole ride, eyeballing the rapids and deeper pools suspiciously from above and staying very close to Batman and Suz, and often getting goosed from behind.

Entering the boulder field, our horses twisted and turned and wove their way along a faint path. Some places were overgrown by tree branches and we had to flatten ourselves over our horses' necks; one part of the path was choked with thick willows and tumbleweeds that our horses bulled their way blindly through. When the going became questionable, Steph got off to scout the trail ahead on foot, while Carol and I and the three horses waited and got a taste of what it would be like to be eaten alive by buffalo gnats. They weren't bad when you were moving, but stop and you had a blinking "Fresh Meat!" sign on you.

Steph was gone scouting long enough we thought she might have jumped in the Snake and ended up in the Columbia 314 miles downriver, (Jose was looking for her), and long enough for half our blood supplies to be drained, and long enough for all the grass in the surrounding area to be eaten down to the bone by grass-starved horses (they hadn't had any grass in a couple of hours).

When scoutmaster Steph returned in one piece we mounted and rode boldly onward through the boulders, with only a few places being a bit sketchy, where the horses had to carefully look and think before placing all four feet, or step up onto a slab before picking their way over a spot, or (like superhero Batman) artfully balance on their hind legs and pick a spot to place his front feet. It brought to my mind the regular trails I always rode our pack string over when I packed for the Forest Service in the Sierras, and never thought twice about. My sure-footed steed Jose did make me think how lucky I was to not be driving a wagon through here back in 1860 and realize I took the wrong path and have to find a place to turn it around.

We successfully emerged from the other end of the half mile of melon gravel (I like that label), and connected up with the Petroglyph trail. Looks like this loop could be part of the Fandango ride.

We turned around and retraced our steps through the boulders, then rode 3 miles downstream along the Snake to Celebration Park, Idaho's only archaelogical park, established 1989. Celebration Park has thousands of petroglyphs on the melon gravel below the canyon rim on the north side of the river.

The other side of the Snake River. To get there, we had to cross Guffy Bridge.
Originally built in 1897 to carry ore from the mining town of Silver City in the Owyhee mountains, to Nampa to be smelted, it's been preserved and renovated to allow foot and hoof traffic.

If Jose had been uneasy about following the Snake River all day, now he had to walk way above it! He was quite worried as we followed Batman and Suz,
his eyes wide and alarmed, his hooves clumping on the wood, as the steel girders passed us by, and the river ran far below. He kept looking worriedly between the river and me - the river and me. There was something just not horse-right about all this.

When we emerged unscathed out the other end, Jose licked his lips like crazy, and we all enjoyed the view a while.

Jose stayed very close to me when we crossed back over the Snake on the bridge, though it wasn't quite as scary this time. He still kept close to Batman and Suz on the path back to our starting point.

Along this trail are a few remains of old stone cabins, originally built by miners in the late 1890's to early 1900's. They were searching for the very fine "flour gold" - gold so fine it floats - of the Snake River canyon. Along this section were also a pair of Canadian geese sitting on a rock in the river, honking perturbingly at us, which made Jose worried about a goose attacking from behind and pecking him on the butt.

It was a beautiful day in which to be among the endurance horse pioneers of the Whiskey Traverse - a fun, challenging trail... but don't call Jose a river horse. He prefers his familiar route along the Snake River (by Wildhorse Butte) or, better yet, he prefers scouting and exploring the dry desert canyons.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Barbecue Birdies

Sunday April 25 2010

6 nights ago, John went out to barbeque some steaks.

He found a European starling had started building a nest inside the barbeque.

(Look at the artwork!)

The starlings don't have the best nesting record right around the house. Two springs ago, a pair built a nest in a hole in the eaves in front. We eventually heard several babies - at their most noisiest when mom and dad were approaching with food. One day we suddenly heard them no more - no way they could have fledged that fast... and we saw a bull snake coming out of the hole. No more baby starlings.

Strike one.

Last spring, a pair of starlings tried the back of the house - an opening in the wall that went behind the house water heater. Ah, nice and warm and protected for the birdies. The parents were harried and hurried, feeding their hungry noisy babies during our busy endurance ride in May, dodging and trying to sneak around all the people coming and going. Then one day suddenly, we heard the babies no more. No way they could have fledged then, either. We finally took apart the wall and found only feathers and skin and a few bones: packrats got them. No more baby starlings.

Strike two.

This spring: it seemed like a great spot. Nice protected, roomy space with 2 little subtle entrances.

Except for the human barbequeing factor. John removed the nest and barbequed his dinner. Two nights later, the birds were back and the nest was back,

and by morning, it was awfully big and comfortable looking.

The National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America says of starlings, "Bold and aggressive, often competes successfully with native species (I guess that would be us humans) for nest holes."

But we can't go 5-6 weeks without the barbecue. (And the thought of bird poo, feathers, mites and maybe baby bird pieces left behind in the barbeque is not so appealing).

Strike three. They're outta there.


TENACIOUS, these Owyhee European starlings are!

I had cleaned out the nest again and taped up the holes with duct tape...
and next day by noon another nest was half built

(such art work!

Such a shame to dismantle it, AGAIN).

I removed the nest once more, told Ma and Pa starling (the male initiates the building of the nest, and thte female completes it, adding lining) to GO FIND ANOTHER SPOT! and left the barbeque open... and that has seemed to stop the nest building. They can join the ranks of other starlings building nests in the eaves of the barn.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Rock Corral

Saturday April 24 2010

When you've put on endurance rides for years like Steph has in Owyhee since 2001, (multi-days since 2002, including the now-regular 3-day Owyhee Fandango in May, and 5-day Owyhee Canyonlands in September), it would be much easier to keep using the same trails every year. (Even then, we have enough to where you have a different trail each day.)

But that's not the way Steph operates. She'll spend days, weeks, summers, out exploring new areas and trails, on horseback and on ATV and on Google Earth. Go out and explore, come back and pore over Google Earth, go back out and explore. (I don't need to mention she loves riding both horses and ATVs.)

Besides enjoying putting on the rides themselves, she loves showing off this beautiful desert country - the amazing creeks and canyons and mountains, and the hidden surprises - old homesteads, mines, petroglyphs, rock dams.

And things like this rock corral we came across (re-discovered actually) today while scouting new trail for the 3-day ride in May.

I'll contact the land owner and see if he knows how old this corral is and what it was for - there wasn't evidence of a homestead in the immediate area. Somebody went to a lot of trouble to build this.

And things like some cougar-ish looking caves in the red rock cliffs near the rock corral.

I'll have to come back on foot and check those out a little closer.

We found trails for a new loop that connected this old Rock Corral Trail with the new Forgotten Girth trail we'd found and followed back in August.

So if you come here for the Owyhee Fandango May 28-29-30 (25, 50 each day, and a 100 on the 3rd day!), you'll get to see some more new trail, and more great surprises, in this most awesome country.

Friday, April 23, 2010


Friday April 23 2010

I failed.

I gave up on Kazam.

See Failure to Communicate. (And remember he broke my rib - although I still stand by my assessment that was a legitimate scare for him, and had I been able to stay on - he didn't buck, just leapt in fright - he wouldn't have gone anywhere.)

His main problem was his anxiety on the way home from a ride. For those of you used to jigging horses, thinking "My horse does that," this was different from jigging. I've ridden jigging horses. With Kazam, there was an underlying anxiety/panic there that was more than just jigging. I tried a few things - heading him up the hardest hill (didn't work), taking him on handwalks, getting off when riding and walking him at random times (which helped a bit), leaving him tied up when we got home, working him harder at home so being out on the trail would be easier and pleasanter. Any of these might have worked if I'd kept it up and been consistent.

I could have tried more things - ride him out 50 miles one direction, haul him away from home to ride so he wouldn't have anywhere to get back to, as soon as he started getting anxious heading for home turn him around and continue going out out, etc... but I didn't.

I lost enthusiasm; I got depressed with the thought of having to work with a horse that kept showing little or no improvement; and if I had to miss a few days of riding, we always had to take a few backward steps to start things again. And if I was not in the right frame of mind to work a problem horse, I was not going to communicate well with him - I wouldn't be positive or be the alpha leader he needed.

I came to admit that, as much as loved Kazam and as much as I wanted to be able to 'fix' and ride him, I was not the person who could get him over his problem. Sometimes a person and a horse don't click, as much as you want it to happen. Sometimes horses just aren't suited for the work you have planned for them. And since my job is not really a Horse Trainer (I loosely label myself a Horse Conditioner who does some training), I gave up.

Steph gave him to the neighbors to work with and sell. We all figured Rick could get him over his problem - sometimes it just takes a different rider, sometimes it takes a man who's heavier and just has a different approach to riding; and Rick has handled plenty of horses with problems.

Rick took him out a few times and they did well; then one day out on the trail, out of the blue, no warning, Kazam bucked hard, threw Rick flying high, and he took off running towards home.

Rick walked back home, got right back on Kazam, and took him right back out. Things were going fine again out on the trail again and the exact same thing happened. No warning, hard buck, Rick flew, Kazam ran home. Rick walked a long way back home, and was going to get right back on Kazam and take him right back out, but Carol called up the neighbor cowboy and said, Come pick up a free horse if you want him. And Kazam was gone within the hour. He'll probably (hopefully) be put right to work on a ranch or the stockyards. That's what I hope, anyway. Work him hard. Wear his butt out. Make him too tired to buck and give him no place he wants to run home to.

This story is my catharsis - it took me a while to face my guilt and be able to write it... but it won't keep me from always feeling guilty. I didn't try my hardest with Kazam - and there you have it - I just didn't. I feel bad for Kazam; I feel sad for his brother Jose who enjoyed having him around. I feel bad. My biggest fear is a horse I love ending up in a bad home or in the kill pens (one of the main reasons I quit the racetrack), and this possibility - for yet another horse I've known and loved - will always be on my conscience.... along with all the others.

Steph and Carol both cut their losses... I guess I did mine too, seeing that eventually another broken rib or broken something else could have been in my future with Kazam.

I failed in 'fixing' Kazam, but I guess the moral of the story is, I'm not that bad a rider - it wasn't just me, it was him.

Doesn't make me feel all that much better about the outcome, though.