Wednesday, February 28, 2007



A FIFTEEN HOUR FLIGHT??? LA to Hong Kong - what am I going to do for FIFTEEN HOURS? (Followed by another 5-hour flight). I had avoided looking at those flight times till now. Got drugs? I've been in the air 10 or 12 hours or so before, which was completely unbearable. Maybe Ralph Fiennes will be on my flight this time...

So, what exactly DOES one do on a 15 hour flight? I can't sit still at home for a 2 hour movie at home, and I don't particularly like watching movies anyway, and I really don't like them on an airplane. I like to read, but not for 15 hours. I like to eat, but I can't stretch a meal out for 15 hours. Same with sleeping. I can't do anything for 15 hours straight! Well... except maybe ride a horse.

Now, maybe that's the way to look at this. Count down the hours as if I were doing a 100-mile ride. The two hundreds that I've done, I was in the saddle (counting time off the horse in vet checks as time in the saddle) for 22 hours, give or take an hour.

Let's compare:

Sometimes you get uncomfortable in an endurance ride (airplane ride) - have to stay in the same seated position for hours and hours and hours (your cramped assigned airplane seat), occasionally relieving that by getting off your horse and walking or jogging with him (crawling over your seatmates, getting up and walking or jogging around the plane).

You sometimes doze off though you can't really sleep while covering ground (dozing in your assigned cramped seat).

It can be pretty loud if the wind (airplane engine) is roaring in your ears.

Sometimes your horse bucks or shies beneath you (as does the plane), which is not particularly fun.

You can eat or drink whenever and whatever you want, especially if you pack your own goodies (same on the plane).

Sometimes you are served meals by your crew at vet checks (your stewards/stewardesses).

You can visit the loo anytime you want (same on the plane, though the preferable loos, bushes, are not available on the planes). You may have to wait in line if the only bush (loo) is occupied.

You can talk to your fellow riders (airplane passengers) and get to know them, where they're from, what they do, etc. Sometimes though, even when they annoy you, you can't get away from them unless you switch positions on the trail (move to a new seat).

You can watch the scenery go by (in a plane, way down there).

You'll probably be riding (flying) in the daylight and the dark, and maybe the daylight again.

Okay, now, since my 100-mile rides lasted way longer than my 15 hour flight will, if I can recall all those miles of, say, the Virginia City ride, and speed them up a smidgen, then I will be crossing the finish line (landing) a bit earlier than I'd normally be. I will just have to stay focused on each and every long, and getting longer, mile of my 100 mile ride (15 hour flight). Right?

Think that will work?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Carpe Chaos - Leaving Scottsdale

I woke up this morning and really realized I'm leaving for Malaysia with Steph in 2 nights. (And New Zealand, and Australia, for about 3 months.) I haven't been thinking about it, because, well, I can't really believe I'm going to be traipsing around the world for in the first place, and if I do think about it, I'm going to wig out. But then, I probably won't wig out, because there's a HUGE absence of stress when you're not travelling by yourself. I think the worst thing about travelling to a foreign third world country by yourself is worrying where and how you're going to find a place to stay when you arrive - especially in the dark. Here, I think all arrangements have already been made for us. And if they haven't? I'm really not worried about it at all.

But in the meanwhile, packing's not done, (I still don't even know if everything is going to fit in my pack), other articles are not written that need to be finished before I leave, research on where all I'm going is not done, larium pills have not been gotten, I've got no DEET with me, last minute phone calls are not made, and I think we're going to the Sultan of Kedah's birthday party and I don't have a dress. Just one more thing keeps getting added to the list to do.

I've been shown the basics of internet posting wizardry I need to know but I haven't LEARNED any of it. I am walked through one thing (and I take notes to follow later), and then I'm walked through another thing (and take notes), and when I go back to the first thing, I can't recall doing any of it, nor can I understand my notes. I think I wrote them in a different language. John (my internet guru) and Steph assure me this will become so easy I won't even think about it. Uh huh.

Then there's the big question about my Raven - do I take it with me or not? What if I lose it? What if it gets confiscated in the airport in New Zealand? New Zealand doesn't want any foreign dirt coming into the country, and my Raven's done a lot of endurance rides. And it sure would be cool for the Raven to do some international rides...

We still have time for sit-down dinners, after which the 5 of us gather around our computers. I seem to be working with two computers. I'm weaning myself off my own onto my work computer, onto other programs and computer languages and God knows what all else, because I sure don't!

I don't even want to think about how long the flights are, from Phoenix to LA (midnight) to Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur. So when I do start to think, and lean in the direction of freaking out, of course there's always time to go watch and visit with and pet and laugh at the horses.

Then, it's back to work, up late, more packing, more internetting... 24 hours now to go!

Monday, February 26, 2007

Endurance.Net does Scottsdale Arabian Show



I’ve seen a few jumping and dressage shows and 3-day eventing shows on TV, but I’ve never been to a big horse show like the Scottsdale Arabian Show, first held in 1955, and now one of the largest Arabian shows in the country. I know I’m going to catch flak from show people, but here’s my astute analysis of the show world based on my observations.

Now, seeing that I ride Arabian endurance horses, I know a little bit about Arabians. In fact, I’ve ridden a lot of Arabian endurance horses, many many thousands of miles, in many stages of their training, over varied terrain and in all kinds of weather, Arabians that can go 50 or 100 miles in one day, or 50 miles several days in a row, and I’ve ridden one or two pretty good ones. Admittedly, I have terrible form, riding with my feet way out in front of me, probably leaning too far forward and hunching over my hands, (dressage teachers cringe when they see me coming anywhere near their arena), but this keeps me in the saddle with green spooky horses, which I’ve ridden a lot of. So, I know a little about Arabians. Or, I thought I did.

The first event (event?) we watched at this Scottsdale show was a Halter Class, which I guess was called that because the horses wore halters. I’d rename it the Show-Off-And-Look-Your-Prettiest class. These were 1 and 2-year-olds, and boy, did they know how to show off and look pretty. Or to not behave, I wasn’t sure which. I think they were supposed to walk around for the judges, but most were prancing, dancing with their heads high in the air, and one gorgeous paint filly was having a grand ol’ time, lunging at a two-minute lick around her handler. Zoom! Zoom! Tail in the air! Rearing! Leaping! Capriole! Whheeeeeee!

Maybe part of the reason for this behavior was that before the horses went into the ring, they were all gathered in the waiting arena, and one guy was chasing his groom’s horse around with a plastic bag to scare her into wearing a Frantic Look. (I heard that whips used to take the place of plastic bags for achieving this look, but that’s now frowned upon.)

Like at a dog show, some of the horses had great cheering sections, clapping and whooping and hollering that sounded like fire engine sirens going off. The wilder the horse acted, the louder and more the sirens went off.

At some point after this ‘walking’ around the arena, the handlers were supposed to make their horse stand a certain way. Front feet planted together, one back foot parked out a bit, skinny neck stretched far out, head lifted, higher, higher, higher to gaze at the stars… and I think the horse was supposed to lean forward, and not resist and lean backwards, like they tended to do. When the handlers finally got the horses stargazing and leaning forward, then they’d jerk on the halter, and the horse would throw her head up, either lean back or completely lose the stance, then the whole process would start again. Maybe the horses heard plastic bags in the audience and remembered they were supposed to try to stand and look pretty but frantic at the same time.

I studied and studied a few handlers, but I just couldn’t interpret the mystery dance they were doing with their horses. Leaning into them, leaning back, raising the whip then jerking on the horse’s head when the horse appeared to be standing right. Nor did I have any idea what the judges were looking for in these horses – Conformation? Shiniest coat? Prettiest color? Best pose? The most Vaseline smeared on their faces? The most frenetic eyes? The skinniest legs? The longest back and flattest croup? Just one handler who looked like he or she was enjoying themselves out there? Since I hadn’t a clue, I picked the paint filly because she was having such a good time, but the judges didn’t seem to like her at all or value that quality.

The next class was older mares, and I picked the black mare because I love black horses, which are rather rare, and I picked a liver-colored chestnut who was a very unusual and lovely color. That’s pretty much how I used to pick horses on the racetrack, the prettiest ones. And here the black and the liver chestnut came in first and second! Hey, I was kind of getting the hang of this thing! Better quit while I was ahead.

We moved on to watch the warm-up arena for the dressage riders. Horses being warmed up with their noses tucked so tightly to their chest they could almost stick their noses between their legs. Wow, that didn’t look comfortable at all. The horses could have run straight into a wall without seeing it till they hit it because they must only see 3 inches in front of them. What trust they must have in their riders! I remember the time when I was little that my niece was leading me around blindfolded and she led me right into a tree. I’m still not sure if that was on purpose or not. She won’t fess up.

There were the park or English pleasure horses that snapped their legs up in the air, the forelegs so high they almost touched their chins. That must be very strenuous for them. Bob Battaglia was riding one of these high steppers – even I know who trainer Bob Battaglia is. In fact, the great endurance horse Zayante who I rode many hundreds of miles came from a back field of one of Bob’s old places when Zay’s owner hadn’t paid his board bill for 2 years.

Okay, enough of that; on to the reining arena. Where the Peanut-rollers were warming up. I’d heard of Peanut-rollers, but never seen any in person before. Wow! Horses walking along with their head so low to the ground they look like bloodhounds sniffing a trail. Stormy does that when he’s walking along, only he’s sniffing for horse poop. That didn’t look comfortable either. The horses all looked like they were continually going downhill in the flat arena.

We watched a Western side-saddle class, where the horses’ changed gaits – walk, trot, canter - all looked the same to me, like a shuffling walk. And only one of the gals was smiling and looked like she was enjoying herself. I picked her to win based on that, since I couldn’t tell any difference among all the horses and riders, but she got 7th. I think she should have won because she was smiling the whole time.
We watched the Western pleasure class, where nobody appeared to be having any pleasure, especially one girl whose horse was lapping everybody at the trot. (And watch out for the canter – wheeeee!) What I could deduce of the techniques and goals of Western pleasure was that the object is to not touch your horse’s mouth – just hold the reins up in the air with one hand and not move your hands, as if you were carrying a full champagne glass, and your horse’s gaits should be slow and smooth enough that nothing would spill, and your horse should change gaits without any visible cueing. What I could see of the Western pleasure “trot” meant the same as a walk, only a two-beat. What I could see of the Western pleasure “canter” meant about the same as a trot, only a 4-beat. All slow and very controlled. Pretty impressive for an Arabian – at least the Arabians I ride. Well, Raffiq can walk pretty slow. He can trot pretty slow, too, when you are pointing him away from home.

Those were the gaits of all the horses in the ring, except for the runaway horse who didn’t want to be a Western pleasure horse, the one who was having a great time lapping everybody, whose rider’s face was turning red as she wrestled her horse with both hands on the reins and yanking on his mouth. I would have picked that horse to win because he was having so much fun, but even I figured out he was being pretty naughty. The girl rode out of the arena before all the ribbons were handed out.
I could see me doing this class one day, although I’d surely be the girl on the out of control horse. On second thought, I wouldn’t be allowed in the arena for such a class anyway, because I’d be leaning over introducing myself to the other riders, asking them where they’re from, commenting on their horses, enjoying myself, even while wrestling with my horse, which apparently is not the goal of Western pleasure.

We also cruised through the vendor area. Some shops had some mighty fancy sparkly spangly blouses to wear in competition. Hmm, if I can occasionally get away with wearing my leopard or zebra-striped tights in an endurance ride, why couldn’t I wear one of these tops with them? And I lusted after some great red leather gloves, mid-forearm length with red leather fringe on them – boy, they would have looked awesome with my red and black leather chaps with the red fringe! I might even get away with them (and my chaps) at the Oscars as a new fashion trend. But alas, I could not afford these gloves.

In conclusion, I obviously need quite a bit more education on what different show disciplines are about and what the goals are. And I apparently know little about what good conformation is in a good Arabian show horse. I do know they are glammed up to look pretty, but I like a horse you can have fun with (like say for 8 hours, going 50 miles). I like a horse whose head I can grab and plant a kiss on the side of his nose and give him a big hug. I get the feeling you don’t do that with these Arabian horse china dolls on display. Stormy still looks good when he’s filthy dirty.
So now after experiencing my first first-class Arabian horse show, I tried to think how we endurance riders might be able to learn and incorporate anything from these classes into our discipline. I came up with this.

Maybe at the start of an endurance ride, all our horses could be warmed up by someone chasing them around with plastic bags. Some of the riders could try riding side-saddle (some of us may unwittingly end up riding side-saddle anyway, with our horses spooking from the plastic bag warm-ups). Some of us could attempt the Western Pleasure form of riding, where we hold the reins loosely with one hand as our horses change from gait to gait at the same speed (runaway, after the plastic bag warmup). Still others of us could attempt to get our horses to bow their necks till their heads are between their knees, which we will be doing anyway, sawing on the reins trying to stop our runaways because of the plastic bag warm-ups.

I think we could learn to dress up a little better, taking a little incentive from our show sisters-in-the-saddle. On my best days I can manage to wear mostly red and black, coordinated with my horse’s red cinch, red breast collar and crupper and saddle bags, and his red and black halter, and black sidepull. Most days, though, I just throw on whatever the weather dictates and only a color-blind person could appreciate it. I’ll make an effort to wear my wild animal tights a little more often, and I think I could really spruce things up with a sequined show blouse. I don’t think the colors need match. The red leather fringed gloves are a must. I will start saving up for those, because now I’m going to be thinking about them forever!

And best of all what we can learn from the shows is, to have fun like the one gal I saw riding side-saddle. She looked good, her horse looked good (to me, who obviously didn’t know anything, since the horse got 7th), and she was having fun and smiling before, during, and after her ride.

To finish is to win!


Saturday February 24 2007



            Today, I can proudly say I was an honorary member of the HBFGMs - HuBaFuGuMs – the Hell Bitches and a Few Good Men, a  group of endurance riders from the Scottsdale area who meet on Saturdays to ride in the desert.

            Not only did I become and get to ride with the HuBaFuGuMs today, but I got to ride with them in COUGAR country!

            About 15 or so HuBaFuGuMs showed up with their trailers and horses at Rusty and Kevin’s house, turning it into a mini-ride camp. It was a beautiful cool sunny winter desert morning as Kevin led the long snake of horses on the winding trails  through the cactus, headed for Granite Mountain 9 or so miles away. It was all on dirt trails or dirt roads, but we didn’t completely leave civilization till we reached State land near Granite Mountain.

            Lots of horse farms on this northeastern edge of Scottsdale. I’ve seen farms of Tennessee Walkers, Missouri Foxtrotters, Arabians, many who sprinted around their paddocks as we rode by. It looked like we were having so much fun they wanted to come on a trail ride with us! I’ve seen big training centers for reining and Western pleasure, and many others I couldn’t identify. Maybe this is the underground equivalent of Kentucky Bluegrass Country in the Desert.

            I knew most of the flora and fauna of my summer digs in Bridgeport CA, but here riding through the desert in Arizona, I’m at a loss. I feel I’m kind of missing something, not knowing my native plants and birds. Okay, so I’ve only been here 5 days, but it’s like not being able to speak the native language when you’re in a foreign country. Sure, you can get by, but you’re missing out on a whole different world. I can recognize cholla in general (that’s the cactus you MOST don’t want to get bucked off into, though none are inviting), though there are over 20 species of it, at least 10 of which are here in the Sonoran Desert. They can be a few inches tall to as big as 15 feet tall, and can be ground creepers, shrubs or trees. And very pretty , but wicked.

Just about every plant out here has some form or barb or hook or needle point on it. I can see why cowboys wore full chaps – out here you need them if you don’t want to rip holes in your tights. (Hey, who really knows if the cowboys wore chaps over jeans or tights??) I had to protect my tights with my arms - once you get a hole in your tights, that’s it. My arms will heal!

Everybody knows the tall, distinctive Saguaro cactus  (seen in every old desert Western ever filmed) – it’s the state flower of Arizona. They can grow to be 50 feet tall but only grow maybe an inch a year, so the biggest ones with more than 5 arms are estimated to be 200 years old. I did see one ocotillo cactus, and today I learned the green-barked Palo Verde tree and the chuparosa bush.

I also ID’d great-tailed grackles, Gila woodpeckers, and a cactus wren. I’m hoping I get to hear an elf owl while I’m here… they like to nest in the old woodpecker holes in the saguaro cactus, and they ought to be getting ready to nest about now. We saw a dead coyote (poisoned, I expect). You can hear packs of them serenading every night out here.

            As we crossed into State land and began winding our way up the mountain , we ran into another small group of riders. One lady asked if we’d seen any cougars yet. What!? My ears perked up. “We’ve seen one the last few mornings out here,” she said. Well, that was it for me, I took my eyes off the trail and kept them focused on the rocks and desert floor looking for cats! My mount Quicksilver was on her own staying on the trails and out of cactus. I’ve seen 4 cougars in my life and I’m over due for another sighting. John was snapping pictures as we rode – I don’t think he caught any cougars lurking on the rocks. But let me know if you see any.

We had a short steep climb to the saddle on Granite Mountain; then we hopped off and led our horses down the rocky slippery gnarly other side. We had to squeeze underneath a saguaro with one of its arms hanging right over the trail . I hoped Quickie wasn’t going to get stabbed on top of her rump, but then, I had to keep my attention focused and my eyes peeled for cougars. When Rusty saw the pictures later, he said “You went under that thing? There was a trail around it!” 

Once at the bottom, all the HuBaFuGuMs remounted, and we wound around the backside of the mountain, on trails through boulders and more cactus,  while the view across the desert to the Mezatzal Mountains spread out before us. The scenery was marvelous, but alas, no luck today on cougar sightings.

            Back off the state land and heading for home, Quickie was getting stronger and faster the further we went. By mile 15 or so, I was getting a pretty darn good workout. Sure glad there was no spooking today, because there really is a lot of cactus out here.

            Back home it was hay for the horses and beer and soda and chips on the back porch  with the HuBaFuGuMs. Great day to be in a great part of the world and to be a part of a great bunch of people.

            Cheers to the HuBaFuGuMs!



Thursday, February 22, 2007

Eastern Mojave Day 3

Eastern Mojave Day Three

Ride day #3 was not on a horse for me, it was a hitched ride in a truck to Arizona with my load of bags and my Raven. I was headed for Scottsdale and the Teeters (who are squatting there with their horses for the winter in the back yard of endurance riders Rusty and Kevin) for a weeklong stopover before my world wanderings.

Now that I'm really a truckless, homeless vagabond, I'm a ride hitcher and dwelling drifter. And so last week I called up Michelle Mueller, an endurance rider from Arizona, and asked if she could give me a ride to Prescott after the Eastern Mojave, which she was coming to. Not knowing me from Adam, and being a typical fellow endurance rider, she said, "Sure!"

But she was leaving for home Monday, Day 3 of the ride... which worked out well for Gretchen and me. After Day 2, Raffiq was a little stiff in the left hind - I think it's all the sand we went through. This has happened to him a few times before, and in fact it happened at this ride 3 years ago after spending 2 days traversing a lot of sandy washes. And we weren't sure about Spice's metabolics Day 2 at lunch. She finished the ride fine, but since Raffiq was off, and Michelle was leaving, and since Gretchen would have had to pack up right after the ride and fight her way home through the holiday traffic, we decided not to ride Monday.

As the rain clouds gathered all around Monday morning, especially in the Mescal Mountains where the day's ride was heading, and dripped a few sprinkles in camp, we figured we would have gotten pretty wet. Not that we're wimps about the rain, (after all, there was no lightning involved, and I'm a Pacific Northwest native, so I love rain), and I'm certainly not becoming a fair-weather rider, but, you know what I mean.

And so, I ended up having an enjoyable ride to Arizona with Michelle and her husband Bobby Foxworth. Turns out Michelle galloped racehorses on the track, and when I was a racehorse groom I had wanted to be an exercise rider, till I discovered it scared me too bad and I didn't have the nerve. Michelle did have the nerve and galloped for Neil Drysdale, and she once exercised Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Silver Charm. We traded scary racehorse-galloping stories (I had one to contribute - the one that convinced me that galloping was not for me). Bobby kept us entertained with stories of his career as a Hollywood stuntman and stunt coordinator.

John Teeter picked me up in Dewey in the evening at their home, and hauled me to Rusty and Kevin's awesome place in the Sonoran Desert. This is Rusty and Kevin: strangers that welcome me into their home and their lives like they've known me all their lives. And they put me up in a horse trailer palace.

Today I took my first ride ever in Arizona, just a short ride down a wash to the Rio Verde river and back up, but it was so beautiful everywhere - surprisingly green desert all around, saguaro cactus framing the skies with layers of the purple Mazatzal and Superstition Mountains in the near distance. I was fed some great homemade tortilla soup by another endurance riding visitor Victoria. Get a group of endurance riders together over dinner and wine, and try to not have a good time. Hmmm, I think I could become a fixture here. (Well, at least until about April, when I'd start whining about the heat, when I'd probably be loaded up and sent somewhere north.) Anyway, Rusty and Kevin decided they aren't letting me leave Arizona to travel and work for Steph and John.

But then there's horses to ride in Malaysia and New Zealand and Australia. Maybe they'll keep the horse trailer plugged in for me here...