Sunday, July 31, 2011

bananas and turkey

Some random days are made for strange blog titles.

Major will eat almost anything, and I had read somewhere that many horses like bananas. I had a nice slightly-overripe one I took to his paddock this morning. He gladly looked up from his hay to sniff the sweet treat, and took a bite. The look on his face! Then banana projectile being spit out! He took a bite of hay to get the taste out of his mouth. Poor guy, but it was funny. I'll stick to carrots. (He also doesn't like watermelon, which every horse I've ever met loves, or peppermints, which we tried last Christmas with about a 50% success rate at the barn.)

On a short ride today my sharp-eyed friend spotted a pretty dark and white variegated feather. Her horse being black-and-white, it would be perfect for her indian princess costume. She mentioned it could be a turkey feather. Turkey feather! That does not match with my romantic preconceived notions of indian princess! It is supposed to be an eagle! Or at least a hawk! Damn. My feathers are probably turkey (or vulture) too. I was thinking if I kept collecting them I could make Major a feather necklace. Or I could actually do something productive and not be such an embarrassment to my horse.

Friday, July 29, 2011

friday ride

yellow-flowered meadow
Hot. Already at 7:30am. And Major wasn't very happy since breakfast had just been delivered. But I took him to the saddling area, put a bucket of hay in front of him, and he was fine. Tacked up and double-checked my boot fit. Major had a trim yesterday, and we have to always keep his toes nice and short, he tends to grow hoof that way. Boots seemed good, so we hit the trail.

Headed for the green gate, right past it a kamikaze deer jumped in the bushes right in front of us! It was too fast for Major to even react as it bounded down the trail, then veered left, the right, then into the field, looking back at us like we were chasing it. Just going the same direction deer! Thank goodness we ride horses and not deer, they are too damn quick! Those turns and spooks would be crazy!

3 oak knoll

Continuing on we headed for the lake. We were near the trail and I was hot. I'm sure Major was hot. No goal for today, not meeting or riding with anyone...screw it, we're staying in the forest. Major thought turning back meant we were going home, and got some extra spring in his step. But we just took random turns, found a little meadow dotted with yellow flowers, a neat oak peak with three oaks and a view, and some cool big feathers. Those I made Major wear, like a dork, I think it comes from my childhood desire to be an "indian princess." I know it is not PC, but I thought an indian princess was the best, it was a constant dress-up costume, with braided hair and indian symbols on my face (of Mom's lipstick!). I think I wore that as a Halloween costume for about four years. I think it would be great fun to dress up the horse too, so I kept those feathers!

silly horse wearing feathers

Staying in the forest does make me hate two things: poison oak and star thistle. Both are everywhere: in the shade the poison oak, in sunny patches the star thistle. The poison oak can be bush or vine, as tall as a rider on horseback, dangling from trees, just nasty. At least it is native and supposed to be there. The star thistle was introduced I think as cattle feed, but very little eats it, it stabs the horses as they walk along, leaving little needles in their legs. Bad stuff, and while I try to avoid it, in some places the trail is just too narrow. I apologize to Major as he winces along: ow, ow, ow!

We didn't stay out long, and came back in time to say good luck to friends heading off to an endurance ride at Lake Almanor. My friend is nervous on her green horse (as I would be!) and kept suggesting she should take Major instead, Mr. Calm. I think he would be a mess with all the other horses and general craziness, he's just calm at home because he's used to it!

weeding the arena

Back home Major helped weed the arena (he loves the purslane plant that grows beneath the jumps) and finally got to eat the rest of breakfast. At 9:30am, and getting hotter.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Two years ago I bought Major and we started our partnership. There have been ups and downs: physically, emotionally, and trail elevation! The last year has been a major leap, I think we both have a level of trust that just wasn't there before. I'm looking forward to more new adventures: to more horse camping, trailering to fun places, some longer trail rides, maybe getting brave enough to accomplish a limited-distance endurance ride. I know each new adventure will stress the partnership, bring new concerns and situations to deal with. Sometimes not necessarily the ones I want to (or can) deal with. But we'll get through it. We're up for the adventure.

careful with blackberries

I'm not too sure about these blackberry things...

I'll watch Mom to see how she does it...

ow, pokey! my nose! but, hmmm, yum?

I think I've got it, and they are Yummy!

Yeah, some blackberry slobber, so what?

Are there more over there? What? I have blackberry lipstick? That's ok, I love them!

Monday, July 25, 2011

friday ride

This ride was the same trail as my solo fast ride, but now with added friends! Riding alone is great for horse and human, and riding with friends is great too. I like having a balance and doing both, and I think it is really good for Major to understand different behavior and riding styles.

Heading up the road were Major, Friday and Dune. Friday and Major are buddies, but Dune doesn't come out too much with us. He can be a handful, but I knew his mom was up to the the challenge, if someone just challenged her! We have all been there: a bit scared to push to the next level because our horse bucks/spins/spooks/goes too fast/insert problem here. I have done this through many situations with Major, as has Friday’s mom Christie. We also know the only way to get past the problem is to address it, hopefully in a controlled situation.

So we started trotting, and told Dune to deal with it, to keep up, and when the horses are kept moving they can't do much else. Major was in the front and his trotting speed keeps Dune very busy! We kept trotting even over the wooden bridge, slowed for rocks, but just kept going. We did all change places from time to time, and pretty quickly we were at the pond, where we all wandered down to the water to get a drink/stare at boats. We did continue on a bit to the Mormon Ravine bridge, where the water was really rushing underneath. It really unnerves Major, but after some tap-dancing across the bridge, we got across (just look straight ahead, we ARE going across, deal with it.) Going back across was less tap-dancing, and we walked along the lake shore, watching the fisherman on the other side of the ravine (and seeing a giant fish swimming on our side!).

There is a lovely spot for a snack break, where the horse got a few carrots and we got granola bars (Major got a bite of mine). After that it was back in the saddle for the ride home. This was going to be more of a challenge, because of course we are now going home, and all the horse want to move faster. But they were still OK with Major in the lead (I can certainly slow him down, but he loves his fast trot). We were able to move out pretty well, in a few places I even let Major do the BIG trot, but it really is too fast for most of this trail. Only once did Dune need me to slow down, and when we finally paused at the top of a hill, everyone was happy, and there was no silliness in horses or scared people. That is a successful ride!
elevation change on this ride, more than 1500 feet of up and down!

At the top of that hill it suddenly seemed super hot! We could go home the way we came, a bit longer, or shortcut home. We all looked at each other, and everyone agreed on the shortcut! The only problem with the shortcut is the blackberry bushes try to grab you, and ouch! So after dodging them for a bit I remembered my handy multi-tool with clippers, and both Major and Dune did some trail clearing. Friday got to follow in our cleared-out wake, and while we paused anyone not with clippers got to eat the delicious berries. At a point we all dismounted, and ate our way along the trail.
scary thing ahead!

We have to walk along the road a bit, with no shoulder or horse path. There are always good obstacles to encounter, and Major was in the lead, power walking home, when a monster behind some trees made him pause. He had his head-high snorty look, and I had to capture it, because it was so silly. We walked another 5 feet and he saw the man with the lawn-clippings bag, and just walked past (Major says: There was nothing scary, I wasn’t scared, what are you talking about? I was just posing!).

All the horses really seemed to have a good time, and by extension their people did as well. I know how hard it is to be the person who is being “pushed” into the situation, but I also know that is good for you in the long run (like eating your vegetables). Trotting along, not being able to worry, to just live in the moment and deal with the situation and push though it, will teach you more than any arena exercise. Those exercises have their place, but there is then the practical application that needs to be experienced.

clean and shiny...for now

My old trainer had quite a collection of sayings, and every lesson she’d go through the litany. Sometimes it got pretty repetitive, and we’d get tired of the stories. But she had spent a lot of time with horses, and most of them ring pretty true. The one for this situation: The horse will live up to, or down to, your expectations.

fast and slow

watching the boats
I took a solo fast ride to Avery pond. We followed a couple other riders for a bit. Major pulled, but with nowhere to go he did finally settle in. We did pass them at a hill, Major was just traveling faster. We left them behind with no worry from Major, and continued on. At the lake Major stood in the water and enjoyed the view, even while a fisherman yelled “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink!” Never heard that before...but at least the guy was pleasant! Major doesn’t like the trough at the pond, no idea why. Most other troughs he is fine with, but the little rock trough with clear-running stream water is not appealing (?). He’d rather drink the muddy water by the lakeshore...who can understand a horse’s reasoning?! Major did think we should go home really fast, but he is now so good about slowing for rocks, downhills etc, I can really trust him on this trail. In a few places he does need reminding to take a breather, but then we have a nice swinging walk home.

A couple days later we joined friend Ziggy for a slower evening ride to Granite Bay. The ride there Major led most of the way, Ziggy is in training for an endurance ride and needs to work on being behind another horse. We kept it at a trot, Major really wanted to canter in a few places but I told him he was supposed to set a good example, and cantering is just too much for Ziggy right now! Ziggy is much better than the last time (when even I felt sorry for Major for having to put up with the idiot.) Coming home we took it slow, as Ziggy also has to learn to behave himself going home. It is nice to see Ziggy improving so much, and it really makes me see how far I really have come with Major. I remember the rides of all jigging, all the time. Of course we still have our moments, but they are much shorter, or can be handled with more ease. It is also so nice to be out at 8pm, 80 degrees, still light out, and just walking your horse though the forest towards home, everyone enjoying the evening.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

camping: day two and three

I didn’t get much sleep, I needlessly worried about the horses, and woke a few times to shine my flashlight at them, I’m sure they were completely annoyed (“Hey, we're sleeping here!). But both horses laid down in the night, ate most of the hay, and were much more awake than the humans in the morning. The campsite is pretty close to the road, and the logging trucks all night were tough to sleep through. I’m used to true silence all night, but after some breakfast and hot chocolate, I was revived.

these woods are lovely, dark and deep...
We really wanted to do a long all-day ride, maybe to a destination, eat lunch, come home. I was in charge of navigating, but the maps we had and bad trail signage made me nervous about finding the right trail. So a couple shorter rides would have to do. On our first ride of the day we thought we’d try a different trail, maybe something on the map, even though we knew it wasn’t accurate. The Omega trail sounded intriguing, and after a fun charge up the hill, we found the trail! For awhile. Then we ended up on a super-rocky access road. Major had his boots on but Friday is barefoot, so that is no fun (and not even if your horse had shoes on, it was the big jagged-type of rock). Then we were lost again, but I had a better sense of where things were, so we wandered a bit, saw more random “trail” markings, and headed home for lunch...and a nap.

forest view
Our second ride of the day we thought about exploring, but remembered the rock experience then how nice some parts of the other trail were, so we went a similar trail to the first day. And this time cantered quite a bit, including Friday and Major neck-and-neck up the big canter hill. They were having so much fun (as were we) but when we asked them to slow down they listened nicely.

We also finally found some cell service. Phones don’t work in camp, so we both checked in at home, let them know we were alive, and said they couldn’t reach us, so don’t try calling back! I am admittedly addicted to my technology, but it was nice to have a break. (Of course, I did use the GPS and the tracking software, but that was much needed so we didn’t get lost!)

Back at camp the horses settled in, having a sloppy “trail mix” snack of beet pulp and timothy pellets. We were hungry and tired too, ate dinner and sat by the fire. I was overly happy at finding some vegetarian marshmallows, and burned a couple to a crisp (campfire marshmallows must be caught on fire). The same gooey/disgusting/yumminess I remember!

The horses eating happily, sleeping bag and tent extra comfy, I didn’t worry as much, even resisting bothering them with the flashlight.

Our last day. Camping for two nights is as much work as a week! With a better trail map (or a guide, or general directions) we could ride here for more days, but we were ready to go home. But not without one last (shorter) ride.

By this time I had a better sense of direction, so we went the opposite direction and when we came upon an access road with the trail splitting on the other side, we chose a good long canter up the road. It was really nice to find such a long stretch, I was able to canter all of it on a loose rein. I think the horses can get the silliness out in the beginning, see the long road ahead, and just settle in. Add more horses though and I’m sure that situation would change!

A wooded trail to the left looked intriguing, and we followed it along a ridge. It seemed to go higher and higher, I looked at the GPS, we were heading the right direction, just needed to get down into the canyon! But my sense of direction was rewarded, and an hour later we were back in camp to finish packing up. Both horses curiously watched us loading truck and trailer, a bit impatient as we didn’t give them any more hay. They got more hay to munch on for the trailer ride home, which was as we like it: uneventful. Major did whinny as Friday unloaded and we drove away, calling a few times, but back home was content with some green grass and a good roll in his paddock.

I was content to sleep in the next day! Horse camping was great fun, though tiring, and I can’t wait to find some other new places to explore.

camping: day one

Camping is fun. Horses are fun. Camping with horses is a lot of work!

Last week I set out with my friend and her horse Friday on my first camping with horses adventure. Also my first longer-haul with my trailer. I had my normal camping equipment and clothing, and then the horse stuff. ALL the horse stuff. The trailer dressing room fills up pretty quickly! I felt pretty confident with a good emergency kit (horse, human, trailer and truck). But making sure all the tack, feed, extra halters, carrots (can’t forget those!) blankets and random crap were all packed was a different story. Double checked it all, it will be much easier in the future now that the trailer is pretty well stocked.

We had a great plan to ride high in the beautiful Sierras. But the trails were iffy, and rangers hadn’t even been out. Rangers didn’t recommend it, with all the snow some trails were still buried, some lakes still frozen, and who knows about downed trees and other problems. So we went local and lower, Skillman Horse camp outside Nevada City.

The camp is small but very pretty, nicely shaded. The camp host was new and clueless, so we put up a highline but we could have used the corral (only a couple other sites were being used). I was a bit nervous about the highline, but Major has always tied fine, and there were no problems. (Aside from putting it up: remember to bring small ladder, standing on a bucket next to a tree while trying to tie knots is tough!)

The horses stood nicely while we set up camp (the rolling cooler was a bit scary for Friday) but we wanted to see the trails! So we got ready and headed out. We had a map, saw the trailhead, no problem! The horses were ready to go! Really ready. The first part of the trail is pretty steep uphill with switchbacks. Let the charge of the light brigade begin! (we did change it to just charge, since the actual Light Brigade didn’t turn out so well for the British)

The trail footing was great. A few rocky places but much of the trail is under pine trees with soft pine needles and everything smelled wonderful. There were steep drop-offs into the forested canyon, and curving trails through blooming ceanothus. Dogwoods and azaleas were in bloom but I don’t have many trail photos, we were going too fast! There were lots of wonderful places to trot, and fun cantering along a curving trail. One fun cantering hill had the horses going as fast as I’ve ever ridden. Both Major and Friday were amazingly well behaved, being in a new place with new trails, no silly spooks, just a willingness to explore.

And explore we did, because we quickly realized the trail map was completely useless! We came up a trail, there was a fire road, and three trails branching off: all marked with an arrow and “trail.” Not very helpful. The map had names for the trails, but we found nothing indicating that. My GPS didn’t show the trails either, but the compass and tracking feature ended up being invaluable. Coming home one large mud puddle stymied them both, 3 inches of clear water, had they forgotten all our mud-slogging all winter? I finally got Major through, we were less than 100 feet from camp at that point!

Back home the horses enjoyed exploring every water trough in the campsite, and were very good about drinking. We piled lots of hay to keep them occupied, filled a big nice (cool orange) bucket with water, and sat by the fire ourselves. We were tired.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

brain freeze

The last few days have been exceedingly hot. And busy, so I haven't had a lot of time to spend with Major. Like any bad parent, last night I decided to bribe him to keep him happy. I made him a giant horse popsicle! I took a couple apples and some slightly-old baby carrots, put them in a bundt pan, added water (with some salt for good measure) and froze the whole thing.

At first he wasn't sure of this new thing. It was strange, but smelled like apples and carrots? The first couple of tastes were hilarious! I couldn't get a photo of it, but if a horse could get brain freeze, Major had it! He took a couple licks/bites, then raised his head quite high and funny. But it didn't dissuade him, and as I left he was happily licking away.

I have one other popsicle in the freezer. I've even thought of some other ways of creating this (like a layer cake effect). I think it is cool, tasty, adds needed salt and keeps them entertained for awhile. A perfect summer treat.

Monday, July 4, 2011


Independence is being on the trail with your horse, meandering through trees, admiring the view, watching little quail burst like fireworks from along the trail.

Luckily Major doesn't mind the quail, or the numerous turkeys with their babies. Maybe he knows how Benjamin Franklin thought the turkey should be our national bird! I liked this excerpt from a letter Franklin wrote:
"For in Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America... He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on."

nice lookout, but dead car below cliff
Luckily our turkeys are not that brave, and rarely stand their ground. Plus, by chasing them every chance we get I think it helps Major think they are not a concern.

We rode to a lovely lookout, where someone decided their independent action would be to dump a car off a cliff...I hope a turkey gets him.

But the trails were calling, so we continued on from the lookout. We were chasing our shadow all day, it looked very cool to be trotting along and seeing a silent partner. Anyone who rides "alone" knows that they are not..we are with our horses, as good partners and friends.

The ride today was short, we were both happy as we cantered the final forest trail, turning for home, ducking under a branch, crossing the creek, stopping for grass.

Happy Independence Day. Enjoy your horses and celebrate whatever way you like (and remember those who have and do protect our freedoms).

Sunday, July 3, 2011

friday ride

finishing breakfast before the trail
It was going to be hot, so we got an early start. Saddled, bridled, booted, and off we headed into the forest. It is nice that some of the muddy trails are accessible again, so we descended Barking Dog Hill onto the Pioneer Express trail.

At every trail junction Major thought about turning for home, but a little leg and we continued on, toward Rattlesnake Bar. Major loves this part of the trail, and we trotted down the trail, curving through the rocks (catching a stirrup on them too, gotta have quick feet, glad for caged stirrups!). He didn't even hesitate at the first bridge, just kept trotting across. As we continued on we crossed two more bridges, the final one had something odd. This bridge has terrible handrails that could catch a rider right in the knee, so we go slow and careful. Looking down the stream is flowing, and the bridge seems to be...moving? And the dirt? Baby frogs! Everywhere! I felt so bad that we were probably squishing them!

We continued on, stopping at the lake for a drink/wade/scuba session. Major would have just walked right out and started swimming. This year the waves are no concern to him. I decided to explore rather than continue on. There is a trail that goes up to a huge power stanchion, alien-looking, 50 feet tall, that I've always wondered about. So we went that way. The trail follows the power lines, is pretty nice and open, at the top the trail forks. The left had a noisy power generator at the bottom, Major didn't seem to like the noise. I decided to fight that battle another day, and went right, down the hill, hooking back with the main trail, just farther on. A nice diversion, I'm sure we'll try it again, I think there might be other hidden trails in there, I know there used to be one for Avery Pond. Maybe good to explore when it isn't already 90 degrees at 10am.

A good (fast) return trip home. Got his great extended trot, faster than his trail canter, he just powers along, fun to see the GPS read 14mph trot! Summer rides in the heat can be pretty draining, so the plan will be to go early, even earlier than this. If I didn't ride on 95 degree days, there would be no riding most of the summer!