Friday, February 25, 2011

rain is not great

I take it back. The last ride in the rain was nice. This storm is much colder. I managed to sneak a ride in before this current storm, because right now it is way too cold and wet to even think about the trails.

It is so nice to be able to fit in a ride after work. I would love them to be longer, but I only have about an hour of good light right now. It is also pretty cold and I don't want to get Major all sweaty, so an hour of casual trotting has been fun. It is enough for us both to feel good, and for him to get his kicks out.

I rode out about 5:00pm, the light was just gorgeous. The sun was setting, the lake was glowing, and all the trees were beginning to lose their definition and just be beautiful shapes. We took the most outer trail, which leads to a lookout with great views...and a dead car just a bit further down the trail. Major didn't blink at that or the multitudes of deer we saw. One deer stayed about 25 feet from us, in an open field, keeping a watchful eye but sensing we weren't a danger. I like being quiet and imaging we're part of nature, though I know we disturbed the deer's dinner.

There are lots of giant puddles on the trail, some clear, some really mucky. Major has been pretty interested in snorkeling/drinking from them. Mostly he is just playing, as his muddy face will attest, but sometimes he takes a little drink. This horse truly wants his own pond!

Unfortunately part of the trail has just been destroyed by the four-wheelers. At one point we were heading up a road which is bisected from erosion. I thought to take the right side, but after going up a few feet I could tell that a truck or motorbike had eaten away that side of the trail. I asked Major to back, with dropoffs on either side, and slippery trail, and he stayed in the middle, placing his feet pretty carefully. Taking the left side was much easier, and after that Major was convinced we were heading home, and needing some reminding not to rush.

We walked up the road back to the stable in the gathering dark, the only ones out, except for a few early bats zooming overhead. I even heard an was such a cliché, but a good ending to a short but sweet ride.

Friday, February 18, 2011

rain is great

It started raining again just as my trimmer showed up. The weather report said scattered showers, I was hoping to fit in a after making Major's feet pretty, I quickly saddled up. He was feeling good, after being cooped up yesterday in the pouring rain.

Heading out I had a great view through wet perky ears, and a brisk walk. We began by slogging through a giant, deep puddle, but Major was game. We trotted when we could, including a good trot up the wide road and up another hill as well. Major really wanted to move out, but listened quite well to my admonishments to keep is slow and safe. We were quite in sync today, and I was riding with a smile.

I was pretty wet, as my jacket was soaked through. But I wore my new Kerrits winter-weight breeches, which are rain resistant and fleece lined. My legs were a little damp but warm. I love the breeches, very comfortable, but they are really unflattering...oh well, Major doesn't care, and we didn't see another soul on the trail.

I did have one of my cheap caribiners break and I lost my folding hoof pick and pocketknife. I loved them, but the chances of retracing all the cross-cross tracks we did today are pretty small.

The rain has still not let up, but I love when Major so obviously wants to be out and we have a good adventure. A day to prove that the outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man (thanks Winston Churchill for that).

Thursday, February 17, 2011

echo of my heart

It is hard to lose a friend, especially one who has taught you so much. This weekend my favorite school horse, Echo, was suffering from colic and had to be let go. There are so many people saddened by his passing, but I really appreciated the call from the stable, where I have not ridden consistently for a few years, but they knew he was my favorite. I chose not to go see him...I am like this with many things, but know (for me) that I am better off with the memories in my mind.

January 2007

Since then all the memories of him have just been popping up unexpectedly. He was a character, liked to chew on and explore everything with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. I won my first ribbon, a second place in the trail class, on Echo. And my second ribbon (in the same class) the next year. He was always my choice at lessons, and I especially enjoyed riding him bareback (though cantering bareback in the arena one time I slid off when my tired legs just couldn't hold he was the first horse I also fell off!)

Echo on the left. Avery Pond, March 2009
I took him on rides with friends between his arena lessons with kids. He was always happy to get out and see the trail. One time I had to dismount and help a friend, so I clipped my reins to his halter (and not the bit). I didn't realize until I got back from the ride that I never reattached the reins to the bit. After that I rode him like that most of the time.

He was also the only one I could consider riding after my first horse died. He had a great trot and could really move out, weaving between trees and over rocks. He carted around scores of beginners, showing little of the fire I knew he had, though the stubbornness showed through as he trotted like a slug unless asked correctly.

Echo Ears, June 2008
The trail I did with Major on Sunday is the same trail I did my first solo ride, on Echo. He spooked at a lizard's shadow that day, and I laughed and we trotted on. I was proud that day to have trotted the whole canal trail, alone, trusting the bond with Echo. I loved the view between his gray ears and wild mane.

You'll be missed Echo.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

sunday the 13th

A day of extremes. What came first: counting more than 20 rigs in the staging area, calling the park dispatch on a dirt-bike rider on the horse trail, me falling off my horse, or losing a friend?

First was the staging area. It was packed! Major was curious and antsy about all those trailers but we walked between them, winding our way to the trailhead. Down the hill, and right to the lake. I'd planned on moving out pretty good this day, we'd been building back up with some slower rides, and I knew Major really wanted to move. I hadn't anticipated on moving sideways so quickly...he did a good job of that!

And there I was on the ground. OK, note to self: look where you're going, not anywhere else! Coming at a trot around the first corner I was looking more to the left, Major looked to the right and saw two riders/monsters, did a little jump/spin that wouldn't have meant anything if I'd been paying attention. I wasn't and ended up looking at his front feet nicely stopped in front of me. I was happy not to be stepped on and jumped up. Landing in mostly sand I felt mostly ok, a little twinge in the shoulder I landed on. And who were those two neighbors! So we talked a bit...and kept going down the trail.

And promptly came across some riders who warned me of the dirt-bike. No motorized vehicles are allowed in the park, and some horses are very nervous. So when I saw the bike on the trail, right on the old rock canal crossing, I got off Major, who did his job of standing quietly, and I called dispatch. The park is understaffed and the area is hard to get to, so I just wanted to let the ranger know, maybe they can do some patrols in the area. As I was calling the bike slowly rode by on the sand below. Major was fine with that, though meeting one at speed around a corner would be another scary situation.

There were lots of people out, so we passed a few groups, though I never let Major trot up on them, we never appeared to be trying to catch them, I didn't need that attitude. My GPS hadn't been working all day, which was annoying, and as we came around the corner I could see ahead of us: a horde of riders! Maybe only 12 riders, but that's a lot in that area! So we took the high road. Literally: I took the cutoff to the Rock trail.

the notorious Rock trail
Officially the Pioneer Express trail, this section is notoriously know as the Rock trail because that is all it is: a couple miles of rocks and more rocks, up and down. Big chunks of slippery granite, steep steps and overhanging branches. A good challenge on a good day. Major does a great job of scrambling up rocks like a goat, sinking into his haunches to go down steep banks. We went along a bit, I decided it wasn't a challenge I was up for today. My shoulder was hurting, It was time to go home. I found the cutoff to the forest, and headed home, having at least 2 more miles to go. Luckily that was uneventful. Major was well behaved, we had a nice trot and fast walk all the way home.

It was warm enough to hose Major down and lead him out to the grass. Enjoying the sun and his snack, my phone rang "Call to Post" so I knew it was a horse friend. Unfortunately they were calling to let me know my favorite school horse, Echo, was colicing and not going to make it. I was only able to speak about two coherent sentences before getting off the phone.

Major's last job of the day was letting me cry in his mane.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

high alert

"There is a thing up there! A big thing, on the ground! SNORT! Don't make me walk over there! Oh, we're walking closer, I am big so maybe it will run away. Closer...Scary! It is big, I think it will eat me! Wait...maybe I know this thing? I am going to sniff it...careful... it might still jump up and eat me. SNIFF! Oh, it's the trash can. I like the trash can. It looks different when it is tipped over. I knew that. Where is the grass?"

Monday, February 7, 2011

the saga of the lost boot

A Sunday Tale. Just a short ride to loosen up from yesterday's ride. The weather was (again) spectacular, Major was in a good mood. I tacked and booted. Saturday the boots were perfect, and I think we do get more grip in the muddy sections. Heading out, I planned on a sightseeing trip to one of the lookout points, and headed out. About 1.5 mile out, the clip-clop of hooves became more of a clip-thud. I leaned over and glanced down, no right boot! Damn! I figured we'd lost it recently or I'd have noticed (right?). So we turned to retrace our steps...and Major went "weeee, we're going home!"

So dealing with the idiot-acting horse (none the worse for wear from the 10 miles the day before) we went back over the stones, through the mud, me watching the trail for the orange boot, Major just pulling for home. Almost back to the staging area, we followed two horses that we know, and then let them leave. I still hadn't seen a boot, but was dealing with Major who was convinced that if we didn't follow those horses home RIGHT NOW that something terrible would occur. So we turned back on the trail, to remind Major that we hadn't even done our ride yet!

At this point I was composing the "reward" poster for my boot. "LOST: one orange renegade boot. Owner is despondent over the disappearance. If you see or hear anything, please call."

Back down the same trail, we turned a corner and the trumpets heralded! There was the boot! It had been flung into a ditch on the side, completely intact. I have no idea how that happens, but I guess I need to tighten everything a bit more. I jumped off and just attached the boot to the saddle (reminder, bring more carabiners, they are so handy!)

crappy camera+glorious sun=Major's aura
Now to deal with the horse. We did not manage a nice ride to a beautiful lookout point. Instead we did close to five miles...of back and forth the same 1/2 mile section of trail. There was head-tossing and general crabbiness, there was jigging and circling and snatching the reins. On about the eighth time of working the same trail I finally got the walk I was asking for. It was not pretty, and not as quiet as I'd hoped for, but it was a walk. So we kept walking towards home, and he maintained the walk.

Can you see the dirt aura now?!
Back home the torture for Major continued. He was so sweaty, and it was so warm, he got a mini-bath, including tail wash and face scrub. He looks like a drowned rat when wet, his scraggly tail looks even worse, his wimpy forelock hangs limply, so I took pity and I took him to have a grass snack. It also helped him dry out a bit. Then I did was hard, but I let him...roll! In the sandy arena he coated both side quite well, came to say hi to me, quite pleased with himself. I guess we both won some battles today.

an outing

Major and I joined two friends for a picnic outing. And so did every horse owner in our area!

I apologize to people stuck in the snow and ice, don't read on if you can't handle the good weather...but Saturday it was 74 degrees and gloriously sunny, with a warm breeze. This is California, but Northern California, and usually we don't have it this good. It broke a record...while the rest of the country breaks records for cold. Sorry! If you need a break, come visit!

The three of us headed for the lake. All of the horse get along fine, but each has their issues. We work on that throughout the ride, helping (harassing) each other, pushing our boundaries. At one point on the lake Major was a snot, it was windy, and here came a very low helicopter. He's usually fine with them, but was getting silly, so my friends suggested I burn off a little Major and I trotted off ahead of them, went a bit, then headed back to meet them. That helped.

We ended up at the packed staging area. There were probably 20 trailers. There are nice benches and lots of grass, so we all ate our snack. Major really wanted my sandwich, and probably would eat everyone else's food too. He got a piece of crust at the end (very delicious with peanut butter he thought). It was nice to just sit and relax, and none of us had a plan except to enjoy the day.

Heading home we took the upper trail. It has tough footing and not many places to trot, so that is good for horses anxious to get home. We all took turns leading and following. While Major prefers to lead, he is fine anywhere. Since he is quite fast, he usually has to stay behind so the other horses don't work too hard to keep up. Even with Major's slow trot one horse (Dune) kept cantering, but it was more that Dune was being naughty. We had to work on that coming home, but it's all a process. I know Major in groups is a whole different horse (not in a good way!). It is hard when friends are frustrated, but luckily we can all help, because we've all been there (and will be there again).

I did split from my friends to work beginner's hill, and let Major burn off more steam. It is good and steep, a good canter up. At the top Major was ready to run more! But I was done for the day, so we walked back down the other side and back home. It was longer of a ride than I'd planned to do for our first big ride back. I had been being pretty cautious with him, but he was sound and happy the whole trip. I know we'll get more rain before the winter is over, but with days like this I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and plan for summer adventures.

Friday, February 4, 2011


Life has conspired in the last few weeks toward too much work and not enough horse time. That was semi-ok was Major was hurt, but now the sun has been shining gloriously, the trails are dry, Major is better, and I'm trapped in my office until late in the day.

I'd been planning to ride yesterday, To saddle up, slip on the bridle, and go. Then I got to the ranch and was just too tired. I know that if I did the work I'd feel better after (like exercise!) but with horses that negative feeling/tiredness always transmits. I haltered Major and took him down to the arena. I was just going to see if he wanted to run around, but off the lead he just stood with me. So I put on a helmet, attached some reins to the halter and climbed on none-too-gracefully (he's too tall to get on bareback even from the mounting block. I should just swallow my pride and mount from the coop jump).

I mostly let him just wander around, just using my legs and seat to make sure we didn't just stand by the outside gate or eat the grass along the edges. When I asked for a trot he was hesitant, but went into his lazy/slow jog. I'm certainly out of practice bareback riding, and when my balance would wobble Major would slow questioningly. I grabbed mane and told him it was ok, so we trotted some more, stepped over some tiny jumps, and just were. He is not the most comfy bareback horse, with tallish withers and not much padding, so next time I'll throw on the bareback pad. But this was a non-planned adventure. I am still amazed that this silly speedy trail machine will quietly walk after almost a week off (I know the trail would be a different story!).

I hopped off and we went outside the arena to eat some grass. I did make Major stand by the scary cow, and only got one jump back with a big snort when the cow ran over. It was a quiet night, beautiful sunset, the horses were fed and contently eating. A good lesson in reestablishing some balance.