Tuesday, August 30, 2011


It is hot. I'm really busy at work. So Major is getting a break. I rode once last week, and hand-walked and grazed Major the other days. I had the saddle fitter out to double-check my saddle fit as well as my balance, that's been it.

I'm not riding, so of course I have no idea why Major has a puffy right rear fetlock, started last Sunday. No lameness (on the longe or in hand). Of course I just longe him around for a few minutes, but he looks and acts fine. Cold hose and hand-walk bring it down, so I'm waiting. I think the vet would prescribe what I'm already doing. If not better next week I'll call, but for now we're both just resting.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

conversations with Major

This is my "I don't think I want to" face
Major was reluctant to head out, dragging himself up the road behind me. We had many good conversations today:

"I can't possibly go out today." Major thinks.
"Why not? We're going" I insist and continue up the road.
"Umm, because it's hot"
"Not that hot."
"Umm, I think I'm tired."
"Nope, yesterday you ran around just fine."
"Umm, you forgot my boots."
"No, you don't need then all the time."

Happy ears now as we enter the forest. Striding out quickly, suddenly Major snorts and stops, head high. I ask him to move forward, he refuses. He never balks like this. I urge him forward again, he is wide-eyed and stops again. I ask for a few steps, and get halting, nervous, actual fear. Finally we get about 100 feet from where this all started, and trot on.

"I read on the bulletin board about the bears," Major mentions.
"No you didn't, you can't read."
"Umm, maybe someone told me."
"I don't think so. Let's go."

Now that we're traveling, Major is happy. I am second-guessing not putting on his boots (he is getting a trim tomorrow and I was hoping to not adjust the boots) and maybe he isn't striding out as much. Or maybe it's just me. The trail is very rocky, but he is handling it just fine.

calm pond...for now
I was going to stop at the lookout, but thought going to the pond would add a little more distance and be a nice stop. Major waded right in, though the pond is a little scummy. We stood for awhile, just relaxing. There is a water inlet that I was keeping an eye on, as water can suddenly come gushing out. I heard a slight noise, gathered my reins, and suddenly Major was bolting out of the pond, I'm trying to stop him, and then trying to stay on! It all went so fast, I was falling, but somehow landed on my feet, reins in hand, looking at Major's face.

"That alien baby head thing came outta nowhere! I think I heard about this in Cowboys & Aliens!"

"I didn't spook him, did I?" asked the helmeted bike rider who had come from behind the bushes, charging down the hill (not a bike trail.) I couldn't quite talk, adrenaline coursing through me. He bike guy asked again. I just answered "Yes," and checked over Major. What did the guy think? That I always just run my horse out of a pond and then fall off? Was I trying out for a stuntman part in the new Lone Ranger movie?

Major was fine, though jumpy for a few minutes, waiting for more aliens. But we were heading home, so the worry was quickly (very quickly!) left behind. We passed a couple trails for home, but took the rock trail for a longer loop. My concerns about not booting were unfounded, he moved out as usual, big trot home. We saw one other horse close to home, and took the same spooky trail. Not scary this time.

Major says, "Of course not, it's safe now. It would have eaten the other guy already. Duh."

A few slightly ugly apples made the bath acceptable, and I walked him up the hill to his paddock. I opened the gate and he trotted over to his dinner.

"Oh yum, I love this stuff! Every day the same thing, and still it's delicious!"

As much as we teach, we can always learn from our horses.

Monday, August 22, 2011

mad man

Last week I did a couple shorter rides, one where Major and his friend Friday were pretty silly. Then I left for the weekend, which I hadn't really done all summer. A couple days of vacation on a lake, reading, relaxing, being fed good food. Kind-of like a horse at a boarding stable.

So today I arrived at the stable and hadn't seen Major since Thursday. He came over and I took off his flymask and rubbed his sweaty face. He is good about that, and I haltered him and we walked to the hitching area. He forgot his manners a bit, and dove for some grass (even though he just left his own paddock with grass) but a quick correction was ok. He was dirty and sweaty, so a good grooming took awhile. He loves this plastic flower-shaped curry, good and scratchy. I need another one, it is easy to hold and does a great job. I decided to just walk up the road today, I'll ride tomorrow.

Walking up the road Major needed reminding to not barge ahead, to not snatch the lead rope from my hands, to not crowd. So a little training on the road session commenced. After about 10 minutes he was listening quite well, attentive and staying out of my space. I trotted him in hand to see if things would stick. For the most part, but I could tell he was full of it.

So we went into the arena. I don't spend much time in there, and don't often free longe Major. I let him go and he went to eat weeds. Nope, not the plan. I swung my lead rope around. He wasn't quite convinced. I picked up the lunge whip and pointed. And he took off like a rocket! I didn't even use it, just stood near a jump and pointed. And he ran around like a mad man! His best King of the Wind impression, but with more huge trot. It is amazing to really see him move out. I don't know/think when I ride that he goes that fast, but it is lovely, floating above the sand.

After a few minutes he stops, snorts, and turns to me. Nope, stay out there. A few minutes later he asks again. I whistle and he trots to me, all prancy and snorty and wild-eyed. I pet his sweaty shoulder, asking him to quiet. And walk off, while he follows, walks where I walk, stops when I stop, follows my turns. He is being so good, but it is time to go back, and there has been enough running. So I open his paddock gate (one side borders the arena) and ask him to walk through. He looks at the gate, and I swear deliberately looks at me, and takes off across the arena.

So there was a bit more running around. Romantic notions dashed. I don't mind, he's just a horse, having fun, ignoring me a bit. He knew when time was really up, came to me, and quietly led back to his paddock. Released, he still stood with me, a contained spirit, and I again scratched his head. "Ok, let's go," I waved, and he thundered up the hill, wild again.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

night ride

"Wait for moonlight to dance with the hills."
-song: Calabasas, band: Hey Marseilles

In the growing dark I put on Major's tack. He was a bit uncertain to being saddled at 8:30pm. The sun had set but there was still a glow on the horizon, the moon was just peeking over the treetops and it was still 85 degrees.

"Where are we going so late?"

Other friends had gone for a moonlight ride on Thursday, when I couldn't join them. So I planned for Saturday. A few friends couldn't go, and Ziggy's mom didn't want to deal with him tonight (after Friday, don't really blame her!) so I headed out on my own.

Heading down the road Major was hesitant, we'd never gone out at night before. I found a convenient rock and mounted up. Major strided out purposefully, on a mission. We entered the forest, and it was dark. Really dark! I have pretty good night vision, but the moonlight wasn't penetrating the tree canopy. Major seemed to have no problem, and seemed sure of himself, so we walked along. I tried to stay on the larger trails, but needed to cut over to get across an area. Dinosaur rock trail (near bread rock) was hard to see but Major knew the way.

One moon photo was all I got
In other places we followed our moon shadow, the trail lit ahead. A fallen branch looked like a snake to me, but I never had one step of hesitation from Major. I heard a few larger things in the bushes (deer), but mostly the night chorus of crickets and frogs. In one area a squeaky bat flew overhead, and sounds of rustling in the brush as we disturbed resting birds. The moon was framed by oaks as we headed home, a meadow that in daylight is filled with tiny yellow flowers instead glowed silver in moonlight.

I could not be any more proud of my horse. Never did I imagine trusting him to navigate in darkness, to carry me safely home, to be so brave. I never once had to check his speed, to question the trail, to remind him of anything. He walked along, a good reaching stride, a nice loose rein. He seemed to enjoy a new experience. At home he got some apples and a big kiss of appreciation from me.

I love my horse.

"The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep."
-Robert Frost

(final) friday ride

As summer winds down, work picks up, and no more Fridays off. Damn, because Friday rides this year have been great!

Major didn't think this Friday was going to be that fun, he had to go out with the dreaded Ziggy. This is the only horse so far that Major just doesn't like. But I like Ziggy's owner, and Major can deal with it, so we headed down past Granite Bay.

Now Ziggy's last ride was the Patriot's 50 mile endurance race, where he came in 13th. He was pretty ready to go today, but so was Major. Once on the trails we moved pretty quickly, though our average speed really suffers from all the slowing over rocks, technical single track and elevation. We still flew down the trail, Major usually in front being the braver "younger brother" as we call him. At Granite Bay both horses played in the water trough, Major doing his snorkeling impression, and we continued on.

After another mile or so of trotting there is a great fun hill. I led the charge in a full gallop, and we reached the top and took a break. Both horses calmed right down, taking in the view, barely breathing hard at all. We walked down the other side, onto a sandy beach. Major waded right in, and just stood, watching the jet skis on the lake, the lapping waves. He would be content to just stand and take in the view.

We began to head home, moving out pretty fast on a nice sandy trail. And Major was bad! He kicked out a Ziggy at a full canter. Ziggy wasn't that close, it was completely unnecessary, and never acceptable! After a reprimand we continued on, and Major behaved himself but Ziggy was losing it. Front or back, at any gait he was not listening. Finally we stopped and stood awhile. Major calmly stood, but Ziggy danced and pranced, being naughty. So his mom decided to turn around and do more work, I offered to do whatever necessary, but she wanted to school alone (which I totally understand). Major and I turned around, and without a glance back headed off.

A well deserved snack after the ride

Major truly didn't think twice about leaving Ziggy, though I was concerned for my friend. Major was glad to be alone, and we trotted home, moving faster now, really reaching out and extending. And then we were close to home, and walked slowly up the road, getting a good drink from the trough. I took the sweaty saddle off, took off his boots (none came off this trip!), and even hosed off his bridle and reins. After a good bath, I turned Major out in the arena to roll. But lately he has been more interested in snacking on the weeds. I was worrying about him not rolling. Was something hurting him? I put him back in his pasture, where he dropped to the dirt and flopped around, coating himself nicely in mud. No nice arena sand, just mud. Lovely. It still made me smile.

P.S.: My friend arrived back, more frustrated than ever with Ziggy. I've been there, most of us have been there, so I truly sympathize with her. She hasn't had him long, so hopefully it will be time and miles, nothing you can rush.

P.S. #2: I brought home my disgusting girth: wet, sweaty, dirty with burrs. I put it on the patio to hose off, and my cat Thomas thought it was a delightful new thing to roll on. It kept her entertained and she even took a nap with the girth as a pillow. What is with these creatures?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

alone again

Flying down the trail, dodging branches and boulders, leaping steps, faster and faster. Ears are pricked, trying to see around the corner, not looking down at the drop off to rocks and water. Downhill slowing briefly, a tunnel of trees ahead, sure hooves carrying us over the terrain. A ditch, nicely navigated, on to gallop up the hill. Around a corner, now other horses, don't talk long! Alone again, our own path, turn by turn, choices. Left, the correct trail, quieter now, cooler evening air. Walking along, a quick bite of grass, now at pasture home. Free, and a final canter, silly buck and twisty neck, to dinner waiting at the top of the hill.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

slow feeder

Our horses stand around much of the day, maybe playing with friends, or resting, but often waiting for breakfast or waiting for dinner. They get anxious to eat (as anyone knows who feeds too late one day), then devour their hay so quickly. They were meant to graze all day, but there are few of us who can provide that.

I've been intrigued by the slow feeding movement for awhile, and more motivated when a really great independent nutritionist (Clair Thunes, Summit Equine Nutrition) at the recent HorseExpo event talked more in detail. I did lots of research myself, enjoying the paddock paradise wiki and thinking I could make something myself.

There are so many types of feeders: bags and barrels and timers and grates and more. I decided to make a simple barrel and net feeder. It was pretty easy, until I realized that Major's shelter didn't have an easy way to mount it. It needed to be easy to fill for the barn staff (they have a tough enough job!) but at the height needed Major kept trying to eat out of the top, and an easy solution for all couldn't be found.

Since I didn't really have the time to make something else, I decided to try a basic, well-reviewed net, the Freedom Feeder. I choose this one because I thought I could easily install it on the pipe panel for Major munch on and the barn staff to fill.

True slow feeding is best: you keep the feeder full 24/7. At first the piggy horses eat more, but when they realize food is always there, they begin to self-regulate, not worrying when their next meal is coming. They stabilize at an amount, usually not any more than they were already being fed, without wasting hay on the ground, grinding it into the dirt, or otherwise being disgusting on it. If I had my own barn, I would do this for every horse.

Major eyes his new freedom feeder
Since I board Major, the next best solution is just to slow him down, so dinner is done in three hours and not one. It's better for his digestive system to have food in it longer (like the constant grazing they evolved with). The feeder was easy to install, opening like an envelope to the outside to fill, and Major enjoyed helping by chewing on the net, standing in the way, and not even flinching when we needed to remove a board with the power drill. I did a test run, adding some grass hay (his usual meal) and he was a little confused at first but just started munching.

The feeder has been in use for two weeks, no damage yet. If a horse chews a hole in the net you need to sew it back up so he's not rewarded by getting a big bite. I'll be keeping an eye on it, but so far, so good. I watched Major contentedly eating, and then saw the poor mare across the way, who is on tiny rations as her pasture is too lush and she is too fat. A slow feeder would make her work for it, and she wouldn't be done in 10 minutes, banging at the fence for more.

I'll see how this experiment works, and report on how the net holds up over time.

"How do I eat outta this thing?!"
Major "helping"

Monday, August 8, 2011

to auburn

We were up for an adventure on Saturday. I had to talk my friend into it. "How far is it?" she questioned. I'd estimated about 12 miles, not farther than we usually do on an out-and-back trip. But this would be one way: we were going to have a trailer waiting for us at the Auburn staging area. This is the same trip we tried to do back in the spring.

This time there was no rain or threatening clouds, just clear skies and a cooler day. The first six miles of the trip are well-traveled and known paths, and Major happily trotted and cantered along. We took a break for the horses to drink from the lake, and continued. There was a really nice breeze off the lake and not too many obnoxious boaters. Major did his usual tap-dance as we crossed the Mormon Ravine bridge, and now we were in unexplored territory, we'd only done about a mile past that point. My friend C and her horse Friday had ridden the trail before, but it had been years and she'd gotten lost, not a good sign!

But I know these trails pretty well. I had hiked the top portion, so it was just the middle area I was unfamiliar with. The trail seemed nice and open, so we began with some trotting, until coming across the nasty star thistle. I had wondered why as I was leaving the stable the neighbors has asked where I was heading. When I said Auburn they said "Good luck with the start thistle!" I didn't think it could be that bad. It was that bad.

star-thistle field
the trail ahead
So we walked though fields of thorns, no way were the horses impaling themselves at a trot through that stuff! But we were able to trot in the areas where the fields gave way to oak and pine trees, in shaded valleys with fig and blackberry bushes and still some running water. The trail very gradually climbed until we were more than 60 feet above the river. In some areas it was a smooth grassy slope down, in others just rocks. Major didn't seem to care, and I kind-of like glancing down into the water. I don't look for long, eyes on the trail! My friend doesn't like it as much, but just kep ther eyes on Major and the trail, and all was well.
view down to the river

The trail got easier as the river widened and the shallow rapids began. But this area I'd hiked, and I knew it was all a ruse. Because coming up was Cardiac Hill. Aptly named, we could have gone that way, but took the slightly easier Cardiac Bypass instead (someone has a great sense of humor). The trail still climbs and climbs, more than 1000 feet in about 1.5 miles, pretty slow hard going for the horses. As the trail levels out, the ends seems like it should be in sight, but there is still at least a mile to go.
before the big climb, the river is wider.

There are two trail options. You can follow the abandoned road, but it is hot, walking on concrete, no fun. We're on a trail ride, so took the trail. Most riders seemed to have taken the road, because the trail was horribly overgrown! Pushing through branches, being attacked by blackberry canes, rampant bush/tree/plant growth: at this point we were tired, horses were tired, we were done! But not home yet, so we slogged on. We went through some water and up a bank, where Major stepped out of his boot. I jumped off, strapped it back on, and continued. I think he stepped on himself coming up the bank, he was tired too. A tiny bit further on, the same boot popped off. Damn! (haha, OK, I'm a nerd but that is funny, we were at the dam site!) I was too tired to readjust it, so just put it back on. Less than 500 feet from the staging area, the other boot came off. DONE! I was done. Both boots got strapped to the saddle and we finished barefoot.

Auburn canyon: dam site scar on the right, river in the middle.
We did manage a final tiny canter up the hill to the staging area water trough. Both horses got a good drink of water, and my SO was waiting with the trailer and cool drinks.  A very welcome sight! After untacking the horses there are hoses provided to wash them off. Major didn't appreciate it, and danced around like an idiot. At home he is fine, this water/hose/place combination is just different. Tied to the trailer Major was figity, though Friday was behaving himself. I was just tired, and not beyond bribery, so the horses got a grass-hay pellet mash and we stood in the shade, cold drinks in hand.

Major needed some convincing loading, not much, but something I'll review. It was great to get back to the stable, unload Major and put him away. He looked none the worse for wear, while I on the other hand/hoof have a big scratch on my arm from trees and some blackberry thorns embedded in my shirt. I think the trail would be better done in early spring (like we planned the first time) to miss the star thistle, blackberry and heat by the end of the ride. It was still a fun adventure: I tend to think all rides where I stay on top and no one is hurt (much) are good rides!

The boot losses at the end were annoying, but I know it is my error. I had loosened them a few weeks ago when he was due for a trim. Now that he is trimmed, they held on for most of the terrain, but once wet were just too loose. I haven't quite got them dialed-in perfectly yet, but still like his bright orange boots.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

friday ride

Again disturbing Major's breakfast, we headed out to meet two friends. Scheduling conflicts and horse conflicts meant we hadn't ridden together in one and two years respectively! When I first had Major, my friend D had a very feisty older horse, which was not a good match for calm quiet learning trail rides. She now leases a nice gelding from my friend M, and we all headed out.

It turned into a really nice ride of everyone taking their turn in front, back and middle. Unless he is in the front, Major has crabby/bored ears. I'd say more bored, because they aren't layed back at another horse, more like sideways at irritation of not being in charge and resignation at his horrible state in life. No pity from me!

The other two horses, Sky and Zoe, have lots of trail experience, and we went up and down and around the forest with hardly an issue. Sky was a little crabby, but I told them my favorite saying of "deal with it." He'll learn crabbiness doesn't het him what he wants.

It was a shorter ride, but nice to be done before it got too hot. It was great that Major behaves like a nice grown-up horse, my friend even called him a gentleman! I don't think I'd go that far, but we all had fun.