Friday, April 29, 2011

Enough Already

Friday April 29 2011

Really, it's not ME saying this, but the horses. As I said, I scoffed at the night's forecast of snow (decreased to 50% chance, and stars in the sky when I went to bed), but I woke up to a thin powder of white on the ground, and thick flakes falling fast and furiously sideways from a gale.

I threw on my winter gear - as yet not packed away for treats circumstances like these - and danced out into the snow.

The horses, however, were clearly not happy.

Krusty kept following me (as I was backing into the wind), his head cocked sideways, looking bewildered, Help!

Jose came up to me and shoved me with his head, Make it stop!

Stormy was shivering rather violently in the cutting wind, ripping at the hay in the feeder.

The whole herd was jumpy, mad,

whirling and bolting,

trotting into the wind with heads down and ears pinned,

then whipping around to turn tail to the wind,

chasing each other with bared teeth and grumpy faces.

The snow was so thick at times my camera would not focus.

I am sure Mother Nature did this one last spring/summer snowfall just for me, because only I can appreciate it fully (thanks, Mother Nature!). But pretty much everyone else says, Enough Already!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

It Ain't Over 'Till It's Over

Thursday April 28 2011

Here it is, almost May, and so I scoffed at the forecast that says 80% chance of rain/snow tonight. The temperature did drop rather quickly and somewhat fiercely with a brisk north wind while I was out on a ride at noon... but I could scarcely believe my good luck surprise late afternoon when it started to snow.


The weather is.

The horses are.

Here they'd gone and shed their winter coats already, and now they got another chill blast.

Turning tail to blowing snow while grazing.

Rhett is bewildered.

Into the flurry, heads cocked sideways.

Hurry up and get it over with.

Can you see the Owyhees? I can't either, because they are in an almost-May snowstorm!

Nothing for it but to eat hay

or sit tight and wait it out.

An experienced ranch horse knows how to huddle up and hunker down and ignore things.

Is it a late spring? Is it still winter?

Doesn't matter, because of course you know me, I'm not complaining. I think Mother Nature sent one more snowfall just for me, The Ice Princess. : )

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Big. Goal. Big. Horn.

Tuesday April 26 2011

Pickett Creek is going to the Big Horn 100.

I've done Tevis - something I never imagined I'd have the chance to do - and I don't have the searing desire to do it again. (Honestly, I am very proud of my one-for-one record and would like to hold onto that for a while!).

I'd always had it in the back of my mind that I'd like to do the Big Horn also - but never really thought I'd get a chance. Steph has done Tevis twice, including last year. This year she wanted a challenge - but something different, a tough ride without all the hoopla and hype and crowds that come with Tevis: the Big Horn 100. (And they're on the same day this year, July 16.)

Neighbor Carol has wanted to do the Big Horn also. So does Connie. Regina. John. A couple of other Northwest riders. We have the horses: and now we're planning our ride schedule with Big Horn in our sights.

Why would we want to take on such a challenge?

"Come Ride the Legend!" the Big Horn website tempts.

Legendary it is: since 1971, it's been a remote, arduous 100 mile loop through the scenic and rugged Big Horn Mountains in northern Wyoming. The trail starts at 4500 feet; high point of the ride is 10,000 feet.

Some of the trail stories - especially since 2004 - are legend, also, such as: the beauty, portions of unmarked trail, getting lost, storms. Based on some of the stories of experiences over the last 7 years one might count on variations of:

Unmarked trail - in the dark:
•"The weather has been difficult this year, and the Big Horn 100 has a very small staff, so it was not possible to mark the entire trail prior to the ride."
•"...this section of the trail somehow remained unmarked. My horse and I remembered the trail from last year and I consulted the maps and my GPS where I might have had questions." - Tom Noll 2004

•"Heading across to the trail I commented that my companions must really trust me because there was no trail and no trail markers and no discussion and it was dark. They responded; 'We have no other choice.' " - Tom Noll, 2006

•"As darkness fell, the absence of the moon soon became apparent. And we realized there were no trail markings."
•"We saw nothing: not seeing, not knowing." - Kevin Myers, 2010

•"There was much discussion about whether the trail was actually going to be marked this time."
•"He had held a constant skepticism about whether the trail would be properly marked once we hit the dark section and he didn't want to be caught somewhere totally unfamiliar."
•"This was understandable because...well, THERE WEREN'T ANY MARKINGS ON THE TRAIL!!" - Darlene Anderson, 2010

Mountain storms
•"Someone forgot to tell the Wyoming weather we were riding that day. About an hour into the second loop a hail and rainstorm came that lasted around a half hour. It was bad enough that we had to shelter in the trees until it was over." - Don Bowen, 2007

•"As we wound our way around the lakes, the skies grew ominously dark again. They would deliver hail and thunder and wind as we trudged our way back down to Jack Creek. Neither horse nor rider was happy."
"The skies were heavy and angry, the wind biting" - Kevin Myers, 2010

•"Thunder and lightening crackled around us and I was thankful for having a cover of trees, meaning NOT being the tallest thing on the landscape." - Darlene Anderson, 2010

Mud, wet and cold
•"I was cold and wet and tired."
•"The muddy roads became slick, slimy clay chutes." - Kevin Myers, 2010

•"[My jacket] was sadly, not one bit waterproof, or even water resistant, not even a little."
•"We took extra care going up this gooey black clay stuff." - Darlene Anderson, 2010

•"I could barely stand after I got off, shakey and a little dizzy."
•"The wonderful deliriums of late night riding kept us company, voices, moving lights, cattle wandering here and there (that part might have been real)."
•"By 2:00 am I was wondering if I was in a time warp. By 3:00 am I was definitely in another world." - Steph Teeter, 2006

•"My feet were numb and bruised and it became more and more difficult to choose trail instead of cliff."
•"Horses were lost; people were curled in the fetal position under sagebrush; others still were vomiting." - Kevin Myers, 2010

Lost riders
•"At Jack Creek, there was concern about the riders still out on the trail. Looking at the ride records it appeared that there were two, or perhaps three, riders still out on the trail. It was obvious that they would be spending a night out in the woods and we hoped all was ok." - Tom Noll, 2006

•"They WERE NOT LOST but did exactly the correct thing. Without GPS with waypoints, visible markers or glowsticks, or any drag rider (or 4 wheeler) to be of help, THEY STOPPED ON TRAIL." - Dr Dave Brown 2006

Real wilderness
•"If you plan to ride the Big Horn, it can be helpful to hook up with someone who knows the trail, especially for the nighttime sections because it is rough, it is long, and it is wilderness." - Tom Noll, 2005

•"I think we saw/heard a bear/mountain lion/tiger/dinosaur just as it was getting dark." - Steph Teeter, 2006

•"I will never forget the third night at ride camp when after dark we heard the howl of the wolves in the mountains around us." - Don Bowen, 2007

•"My heart went out out to her because I knew as well as she did that we were WAY OUT IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE, WYOMING!" - Darlene Anderson, 2010

Breathtaking scenery
•"I thought to myself, "How can a 100 get any better? We are riding alone through beautiful mountain meadows on the Big Horn trails at our own pace. Riding the Big Horn 100 trails is living at its very finest."
•"We rode under a full blue sky, the scent of lavender was in the air, and a sea of color was laid before us on the ground...every year I am overwhelmed." - Tom Noll, 2005

•"Spectacular single track trail - through woods and boulders and creeks, up across alpine meadows."
•"Once again, spectacular scenery - granite nolls and outcrops, timbered passes, alpine lakes..." - Steph Teeter 2006

•"It was hard to believe that the wildflowers could be so prolific and the views so stunning."
•"And every time we turned a corner, we came across a new high pasture and even more vistas that took your breath away." - Kevin Myers, 2010

•"Oh wow, the crest of this first climb brought a view of the valley and the trout pond we had just passed through! I was speechless..." - Darlene Anderson, 2010

Cool people
•"The Big Horn 100 is a special ride hosted by special people. They love the trail and the Big Horn riders who return to ride again love the trail too." - Tom Noll, 2005

•"The Ride Management was really great and I felt they were really there to help us finish. The whole time I was there I felt like I was family. Thanks Uncle Tom, Aunt Jeanette and the rest of the families for keeping this ride going." - Don Bowen, 2007

Incredible horses
•"I had the incredible good fortune of riding a really great horse (Paladin) on an Endurance trail that has no equal... What an awesome horse..." - Steph Teeter, 2006

•"Willy is incredible and I am blessed and privileged to ride him," - Don Bowen, 2007

•"Far was focused and intent and content with his role. And I was in awe."
•"As I grew more tired and less enthusiastic, Far stayed sharp and focused and ready." - Kevin Myers, 2010

•"[My horse] felt so free and happy at that moment that I just about cried. Ok, I did cry a little."
•"I was riding an incredible horse, through incredible country and I had never been anywhere near this free and happy inside my heart. I'll always be thankful to the Incredible Lumpy for that moment."
"Oh man...I can't even tell you what a rush it was to feel THIS HORSE, LUMPY, feeling SO DANG GOOD at this point in the ride!"
•"I held back tears as I hugged Lumpy as fiercely as I could."
•"It was nearly 1:30 am and here we were at the finish of the Big Horn Ride! I got choked up, I broke out in goosebumps all over, and I had trouble breathing from the sheer enormity of what Lumpy and I had just done! I love Nero, you know I do, but I couldn't have loved any horse more than I loved Lumpy in that moment. He had just carried me through one of the tuffest 100 mile rides in the entire USA!" - Darlene Anderson, 2010

An Unequaled Challenge
•"The Big Horn 100 is not a ride for everyone"
•"...the Big Horn 100 is not a ride for sissies."
•"...if you want to ride classic endurance on some of the most beautiful and tough trails in the Rocky Mountain west, the Big Horn 100 might be your ride" - Tom Noll 2004

•"The canyon trails are not for the faint-of-heart. The trails are very steep and rocky, you are a long way from help, and we had already ridden nearly 75 miles. 'One slip here and someone is going to get hurt!'"
•"...the Big Horn 100 trail is special. There is magic along that trail and that magic works its way into your heart." - Tom Noll, 2005

•"Thoughts of my companions, thoughts of their horses, and the memories of our experiences on the Big Horn trails still bring a tear to my eyes." - Tom Noll, 2006

•"There are rides, and then there are RIDES." - Steph Teeter, 2006

•"This was one of toughest rides we've done and probably the most satisfying." - Don Bowen, 2007

•"I had finished Big Horn. Max had shucked that Big Horn Monkey off his back. We did it! And we did it in fine style! We finished with HOURS TO SPARE! How dang cool was that?" - Darlene Anderson, 2010

•"...we had to watch for gates and barbed wire and cliffs."
•"...we all knew we were cold and playing some obscure game of chance."
•"At Big Horn everything is unpredictable."
•"At Big Horn you take on Mother Nature and destiny. She is the most unpredictable ride of them all."
•"It was the darkest and most thrilling experience of my life. It was an epic journey that leaves me with a dizzying sense of accomplishment." - Kevin Myers, 2010

This is my take of my upcoming adventure, from the stories I've read:

Bring your sense of adventure. Ride with someone who knows the trail. Bring your GPS with the track log from another year, in case the trail isn't marked. Have some good rain gear. Put a survival blanket in your pocket in case you get lost and separated from your horse. Bring a good crew! Bring several changes of warm, dry clothing to be waiting for you at the vet checks. Pray for no lightning. Appreciate your horse. And enjoy one of the most beautiful, challenging, remote, and rewarding rides you'll ever get to do.

Read the Big Horn stories for yourself:

Tom Noll 2004:

Tom Noll 2005:

Tom Noll 2006:

Kevin Myers 2010:

Darlene Anderson 2010:
Part I:!/note.php?note_id=410413798785
Part II:!/note.php?note_id=411158538785
Part III:!/note.php?note_id=411609908785
Part IV:!/note.php?note_id=411681638785

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

2011 Owyhee Tough Sucker

Monday April 18 2011

7:30 AM, sunrise, The Raven is ready to ride the 50 mile Tough Sucker with Jose.

Jose is ready to ride with Rhett; Rhett and Steph have snuck off with Amanda and Replica. Jose and I will ride with his other bud Mac (and John), and his cousin Justy (and Carol). We let the 11 front runners get going down the trail as we wandered around camp warming up.

Five riders had already left on the 75-miler at 7 AM; 18 were on the trail for the 50; and 16 would start the 25 miler in an hour, including two who were just pulling in: Jeff and Mary. The same Jeff who bought Ben last week. Jose recognized Ben tied up to their trailer, and briefly stopped his search for Rhett to stare at him. "How is he?" I asked. "Jeff's in love," Mary said.

As Rhett's high-flying short tail disappeared over the first hill, we three set out on the trail. Jose knew Rhett was ahead of him... and he was determined to catch up with him. He concentrated on it for the first 15 miles.

Our shadows pointed the way toward the Snake River and Wild Horse Butte. Lynne and Agnes caught up with us and joined our group. We met Cindy and Bo at the water stop on the Snake River, but we couldn't pause long because Jose was still after Rhett.

Mac and John made a pretty picture over the Snake, flowing high but smooth as glass.

No matter how many times you ride these trails, you can't help but think of the pioneers who blazed this Oregon Trail alongside the Snake in their slow ox carts, probably plagued by heat and gnats, heading exactly where or to what, they probably weren't sure. You can't help but think of the ancient people who lived here and left their marks, that you can still see, long before any white man roared through and changed the world. No matter how many times you ride these trails, it's not possible to get tired of them.

Even Jose was digging the trails, even after he forgot about catching up with Rhett. Especially today, when JOSE was in charge of leading the pack, making sure everybody stayed BEHIND him. He was incredibly motivated all day, even when he forgot about catching up with Rhett. We were moving a little too fast for Mac, and a little too slow for Jose, but he was so strong, I wasn't going to fight him and hold him back more. We reached a decent compromise, and he flew along so powerfully all day, never drawing a deep breath or feeling tired.

Getting close to camp for the first vet check, we'd stopped at a water trough at just the right time - when a pack o' mules came racing down the trail. We were glad they hadn't run up behind us! They were, in fact, racing mules from Oregon, on the LD (4 of them ridden by juniors), all having a fine time. We gave them plenty of time to get over and past the horizon, so our horses wouldn't feel like racing them in.

Our horses all vetted through for the hour hold. Rhett, tied to Replica's trailer, and Jose and Mac whinnied at each other, but they'd settled into their herd for the day. Horses and humans ate and rested. Jim Archer enjoyed his rest while his wife Vicky took care of his horse. (Vicky will have her turn... she is healing from ankle surgery.)

Then it was back out onto Loop 2, for one of the best trails in the Snake River Birds of Prey Conservation Area, a soft two-track that winds along the rim of a series of Badlands bluffs overlooking the Snake River drainage to the north and more hidden Badlands basins to the south. Moving gray clouds and scattered rain showers and sunshine painted changing hues on the hills as we trotted along.

As is his wont, Jose had to stop several times on high points to take in the panoramic view. WIth his elf eyes he spotted riders far in the distance - probably Rhett and Replica - I never did see them.

And almost too soon, we were coming back into camp for the finish. I never get tired of these trails, and I never cease to be amazed at endurance horses. Jose was phenomenal all day. He could have easily gone faster, and he could have easily done the 75 miler. All our horses finished sound and happy (in fact there was only one metabolic pull all day in all the distances, though it wasn't serious).

Only one brief shower fell all day - after we'd finished, and just enough to spread the perfume of sage in the air. The weather and Regina Rose's trails had been perfect.

By finishing the 50 today - the first ride of the 2011 season here, Steph and Rhett, Lynn and Agnes, and Tom and Frank achieved the 'Decade Team' - 10 seasons with at least one 50-mile ride with their horses. 20-year-old Rhett has over 5000 miles, 19-year-old Agnes has over 2000 miles, and around-20-year-old Frank (the horse once owned by Wayne Newton - maybe) has over 5000 miles.

Which would you rather have: the one- or two-season horse that can run 100 miles in 6 hours, or the horse you can ride for several thousand miles for 10 years or more? I know which goal I'd aspire to.

Thanks for another great ride, Jose!

Mac, after a well-deserved nap.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

It (Still) Takes A Village...

Sunday April 17 2011

...And everything in it to go to a 1-day endurance ride 10 miles down the road. It's the Owyhee Tough Sucker endurance ride, the first of the season. Literally, we could have ridden our 4 horses to basecamp on Friday, but we hauled them over - horse in one trailer, and things in the other.

You just don't know what all you'll need, so you might as well take everything. I take as much stuff to a one-day ride 10 miles down the road as I do to a 4-day ride halfway across the country!

Carol hauled her horse Justy, and our three horses Rhett, Mac, and Jose, in her trailer down to basecamp at Regina's old place, and we hauled our trailer full of stuff - grass hay, grass-alfalfa hay, oats, senior, beet pulp, supplements, apples, carrots, apple crunch treats, buckets, blankets (6 - because what if it rained overnight and the blankets got wet, and we needed more during the ride?), easyboot gloves, extra easyboot gloves, hoofpicks and hammers (to put the gloves on), brushing boots, saddles, saddle pads (and an extra one), bridles, extra sidepull for Jose, girths - and whatever else I'm forgetting to mention.

And, not to mention the huge bag of clothes and jackets I took along. I've had Jacket Angst ever since I lost my favorite riding jacket on our Wild Horse Butte training ride. I'm not emotionally attached to it, but it was just the perfect all-weather jacket - for warm weather, cool, cold, wind, rain, and snow. Now I carried about 10 jackets or vests to try to match that one jacket's efficiency (and still haven't succeeded in finding the right combo).

Moisture-heavy clouds and showers danced all around basecamp while rigs pulled in during the afternoon and evening, and Dr Robert Washington vetted horses in; but it never did rain. Weather was expected to be much the same tomorrow - overcast, chance of showers, but not so hot, and with enough of a breeze to keep the dreaded gnats away.

I'd be riding my pal Jose. It was looking to be the perfect day for our first Owyhee spring endurance ride.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Bye Bye Ben

Tuesday April 12 2011

He's a kind soul.

He came here for the September 5-day Owyhee Canyonlands ride, but when his owner Brian was seriously injured (on another horse), Ben stayed here.

He really looked bewildered the first week - enough that I felt I had to explain to him what happened. I actually told him in human words, "Brian got hurt, it's not your fault. He left you here to stay with us for a while. We'll take care of you." I think he understood me because I swear the baffled look faded away.

He never really fit into the Owyhee herd - always stood on the outer edges, waiting to get to the hay after everybody else had wandered off. He always came up to me to sniff my hands, to get a pet, to listen to words. I always stopped to give them to him.

Brian spent the next 6 months recuperating, deciding if he wanted to keep Ben or not. Brian put Ben up for sale. Someone snapped him up. He's leaving today with Jeff.

Jeff comes to the Owyhee endurance rides, so I'll likely get to see Ben again. I left a message that buying Ben comes with visitation rights for me.

So long Ben, happy trails.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Who's In Charge

Monday April 11 2011

When you go out for a ride on your horse, who's captain of the ship? Are you in control of your horse, do you and your horse work as partners, or is your horse steering the boat?

One thing to keep in mind is that your horse already knows everything you will want him to do.

Your horse only has two buttons - stop and go, and 4 directions: forward, backward, left and right. Watch any horse interact with another horse. Every horse knows these commands and directions. A day old foal already knows how to stop and go, move forward, backward, left and right. He may do it awkwardly, but he already does all of this.

You might include the directions upward (rearing) or downward (going down) - but these are normally responses to play or escape - and by your incorrect requests you may be causing your horse to rear or try to escape.

So there you go - every horse is born naturally knowing everything he needs to know, and it takes the first dominant horse (like his dam) to come along to make him realize and demonstrate this.

What horses aren't born with is the understanding of human communication. We often speak two very different languages. What many people don't understand (until they learn) is how to communicate to their horse how to perform what they already know. Some of it is more difficult, when you factor in Attitude (the horse's or the person's), but much of this just comes down to practice.

Does your horse disrespect your space when you are on the ground? Does he crowd you? Does he totally ignore you? This is not acceptable. A horse is too big and heavy - and potentially lethal - to not be paying attention to you and following your command.

All those Natural Horseman trainers, love them or hate them, agree on one basic thing: start with the ground work. If you don't have the respect of your horse from the ground, you're not going to have it on his back.

Your horse should respect you and your space. Your horse should move forward, backward, left or right when you ask. It shouldn't take him five minutes to respond, nor 5 seconds; he should do it as soon as you ask him. Nor should it take a shove with a crowbar to get him to move his feet. He should respond instantly to your light touch or gesture. A horse can feel a tiny fly bite his hide, and a horse will move away from another horse's gesture of pinned ears and a head toss; so if he doesn't respond to your ounce of pressure or your gestures that he understands, he is ignoring you and disrespecting you.

And you're not going to hurt your horse, or hurt his feelings, if you ask him to do something he already knows. You might, however, ultimately hurt yourself.

Clinton Anderson has a great article on this very subject on

If you do a little of something every day, it becomes your natural habit. Even if your horse knows everything and responds instantly to everything you ask him, every day, before you get on your horse to ride, do just a little ground work - make him move forward, backward, turn on the forehand (plant his front feet and pivot his hind end), turn on the backhand (plant his back feet and pivot his front end), step to the left, step to the right - you'll get an idea of whether or not he's using his brain today or if his mind is elsewhere.

And every day when you climb in the saddle, do the same thing from his back: move him forward, backward, step to the left and right, turn on the forehand, turn on the backhand. Do the same thing when you return from a ride, making that your last dance. It doesn't take two minutes once you've learned to communicate, and it will just become a natural part of your time together - and it will make you and your horse better communicators and better partners.

Some horses need more practice than others. Some people need more practice than others. It's easy and doesn't take time out of your ride - when you just do it, a little every day, it becomes part of your ride. Daily practice will become habit, habit will become natural.

If you don't know how to teach your horse the basics, get some help. Find a friend or a trainer who knows what he or she is doing and have them teach you; go to a horsemanship clinic; at the least, find videos on Youtube or watch some of those DVDs by the Natural Horseman trainers. Then practice. Start the habit.

When your horse respects you more, you become more like partners and you can concentrate on other things - like just having fun together.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


Saturday Aprl 9 2011

This was the day, come rain, sleet, snow, hail, wind, heat, cold, Carol and I were going a 20 mile ride, no excuses, no whining. Jose and Justy needed a good long ride, with the 50 mile Tough Sucker coming up next weekend. Justy needed some wind taken out of her sails, and Jose just needed to do a long ride, as he hasn't had one since November 1st. Come to think of it, Carol and I needed a long ride too.

We got up and on the trail early (well, 9:30), into the cold, into the brisk wind, and we did our ride.

We headed north up onto the flats, to and across the highway, and toward Wild Horse Butte along the Snake River. The cold wind blustered and made our eight eyes and four noses water, but our horses trotted along handily at an average of 9.5-10.5 mph.

We'd already hit around 10 miles when we got to Wild Horse Butte, so we opted to not go all the way around it, and instead of turning around, we took a different loop back - taking trails we knew, but trying to guess where we'd exactly we'd end up.

We followed the Oregon trail for a while (somebody seems to have made it their mission to break all the BLM Oregon Trail posts along this section), and instead of following the usual trail into the neato winding deep wash, we missed it, and ended up following a new road. I thought at one time I knew exactly where we were... but I'm still not sure if I was right. Things sometimes look completely different when you're moving the opposite way.

One could have said we were lost - but out here you can't get lost. If you go too far one way you'll hit the Snake River; too far another way you'll hit Oregon, waaaaaaaay too far another way you'll hit Wyoming; too far the other way you'll hit the Owyhee mountains and home.

We trotted onward, following a soft two-track road that eventually petered out onto a hill that eventually ran into... a road we knew that led us right back to the highway. Saved!

We missed another shortcut trail back and ended up touring through the tiny berg of Oreana (I'm pretty sure Jose has never seen it), then we followed our usual trails back home.

25 miles, 3 1/2 hours, and we trotted most of it; the horses were fresh, we humans were not cold or wind wimps; and we discovered a new little trail and an overall great loop: the CAMWHAB trail:


Jose pinning his ears at his cousin Justy.