Monday, October 31, 2011

the masked bandit

I spent a long, fun day at work in my gunslinger/cowboy costume, and thought I'd relax and visit Major. When I arrived he had to inspect my costume, smelling all the dirt and paint. I took a quick photo, he seemed calm and quiet.

I turned my back to get the camera, and when I turned around I was confronted by the steely gaze of the Masked Bandit!

He had stolen my guns and ordered me to march ahead of him, towards the roadside. My heart was racing as I heard the steps behind me, clip... clop... closer...closer. He forced me to step aside and hold the rope, I was afraid of his nefarious plans, so followed his bidding.

He forced me to walk up the road, while he grabbed bites of grass in his terrifying jaws. I knew I was next, but I hatched a plan. The barn manager came along, with her hidden weapon. She confronted the Masked Bandit, who couldn't draw his guns fast enough to defend against the carrot! He was caught, and I put him in the local jail, where he placidly ate the jailer-provided meal. But in the dying light, just as I turned to leave, I saw the defiant gleam in his eye, and knew his good behavior was all a ruse. The Masked Bandit would return again, I know not when, but until then I will sleep with a carrot beside me, if I sleep at all. In my dreams I will hear clip... clop... clip... clop...

Goodnight...and happy Halloween!

Monday, October 24, 2011


The canal trail is so much fun! I just can't can't stay away!

a rockier section, but gorgeous, green and blue (Major loves the green!)

Two great rides over this glorious weekend. The weather was just perfect, even a bit warm. On Saturday we headed out with Major's friend Dune. Dune's owner can be a bit nervous, but when we push her through things (safely) she really enjoys herself. She only wanted to trot: she cantered away from me on the canal (and survived). She needed to be in the lead: going home Major lead back up the road at his fast trot (and survived).

I was concerned at first about Major on the canal. When we had gone out before alone, we mostly walked through the sand, trotting it was too hard. We were behind Dune, and Dune was trotting (not too quickly) but Major preferred to canter. Was something physically wrong? Then we took the higher hard dirt trail home. And I got a big nice trot. I think it is just easier for Major to canter in the sand, I'm sure every horse is different.

Through all this I was testing Major. Since his misbehavior earlier in the week, I actually set him up for the same issues. Not that I wanted him to fail, but I needed to put him in the situations, and deal with it. Going up a hill in the back did not lead to bucking. And having a horse on his butt going home did not lead to kicking! We had a couple crabby ear issues, with quick corrections. The problems are not solved, but it was good. I do think more of it is an individual horse (nemesis Ziggy) and the energy of the two of them together.

The Headless Horse!

Today I went out alone, taking the trail backwards. Major wasn't too excited to be heading out, but by the lake he was happy to move out. I asked for a trot, but kept wanting to canter in the sand, and was minding so nicely, so we did, lots. He was careful over rocks and driftwood, and when he'd get too fast a little pull would settle him back down. There is almost no place on our trails to canter longer stretches, so we both need the practice. He was working well on balancing himself, and I have to remember to breathe!

Same balancing rock as last post, from the other direction, the water is already farther down.

We cut up through the driftwood, and the mental shift "we're going home!" kicked in. At the forest road leaving the lake, I asked for a canter. I got a hellbent-for-home gallop! OK, re-adjusting expectations. We had a couple discussions, and came to an agreement: we will head for home as long as you keep it at a trot. Any shift upward in gait will lead to turning around. So Major kicked it into high gear. We trotted home, literally twice as fast as our earlier cantering. My GPS clocked us at 14.8 mph, average! That was only for a short section, but that trot feels like flying.

Home in one piece, more grass snack, and a quick bath (since it was 80 degrees). There aren't many days left with the combination of the weather so great and trail conditions good. These are the days...

Thursday, October 20, 2011

it's alive!

Halloween (my favorite holiday) is close enough for the silly title of this post. But truly, it's alive, the canal trail lives!

I was planning on a fast ride with Major, to see if I could (even though alone) dig up any of the issues I'd dealt with the day before. I headed out, towards Granite Bay, and walked trotted, just casually, as he had no interest in any form of speed. So we meaneded, till I'd push him up a hill or down a straight stretch, Of course he'd perk up when he thought we were heading home.

I did want to see the lake level, so headed through the pit of rocks, logs and erosion to the lake. It was way down, and I could see trail both directions! I followed the trail to the left, where there is still a huge morass of water and mud, it will take awhile for that to be safe. But to the right there was some sandy trail. Not much, maybe about a half mile, before another muddy mess stopped us. Some areas smell a bit boggy, they've been under water for 6 months (exactly! My last ride on the canal was April 18).

Canal ahead, and a smoke monster from Lost (OK, a tree, looking weird)

I could have hopped back on the main trail and continued on, but now the spirit of exploration had me. It did not have Major, who was completely clueless about the trail, wondering where we were. I got back onto the Rock trail, then down onto the other side of the mess of the left. There is some very deep driftwood to go through, Major was careful, but it twists and turns. The path is somewhat obscured with branches and leaves, even the parts that were exposed when the rest was submerged.

Lots of driftwood, yes, the trail is though there

Once on the trail, you can tell it hasn't been ridden much yet. The sand is very deep in places, there are random rocks and driftwood strewn about. Major was pretty cautious about everything, it all looked new and different! That is the issue every year with a trail that changes so much. My favorite are all the blind corners. Most horses learn to slow a bit, craning their neck around to try and see. Later in the year it gets easier, but many people use this trail, and you can come around the corner to rides, hikers, or boats next to the lake.

Cool balanced rock and a blind corner ahead

We kept it pretty slow with all the obstacles to navigate, as well as the sand footing. Major got quite a workout walking in the sand. I know sand needs to be conditioned to, and was being careful, but Major did try to canter once in some deep sand, and not again! It was too much work, he figured that out pretty quickly. I also decided to be extra nice, and we took many breaks for the fresh green grass.

Grass on top of the berm, right at horse height!

About half-way though, a lightbulb came on in his mind. "I know where we are!" It was hilarious. He now knew we were heading home, and got a little more springy. Then I asked him to listen, slow down and even stop for grass. Grass trumps going home!

Every year this wall is still cool. Reminds me of LOTR style.

It was a good ride, though not what I'd planned. I am happy to have this trail open again, as it is different training and conditioning, and new scenery. I'm still planning on many training rides to address the previous issues, but it is hard to plan for certain kinds of rides, you just never know what will happen on the trails. Sometimes a day spent exploring is just good for the soul (of horse and man).

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

bad behavior

Take a fit horse who has had more than a week off. Mix in some nice cool Fall weather. Add in a trail ride with his archenemy. It all adds up to some bad behavior.

It started out fine, the usual slogging up the road. Neither Major or Ziggy is ever enthusiastic about leaving home, though once we hit the forest I asked for a trot and immediately got the great big, boingy, reachy stride. Major was glad to be out, and we trotted along, even over a small log (he just steps while trotting, doesn't jump, though most other horses do) and all seemed fine. He made a few snarly faces, which were immediately corrected, because I know it leads to worse.

Then we switched, and Ziggy got to lead. And Major's ears got all crabby and he jigged along, "I must keep within 2 feet of Ziggy or die!" while I tried to hold him back. And we switched, and switched, and both horses were silly, cantering in ridiculous places, cantering to keep up with slow trotting, just in a mood.

We should have stayed out longer, but you know, life gets in the way, and we had things we needed to do back home. So we trotted up the hill, where about 20 feet from the top both horses just lost it, took off, Major throwing in a buck for good measure. It took a few strides to stop him and reprimand, but I knew, he was not sorry, he thought it was fun. After circling a bit he was still not very contrite, but moved off a bit better. Then at a stop he kicked out at Ziggy, who true, was crowding, but NO EXCUSE! I was so frustrated! At least I had company, as Ziggy's owner was dealing with the same shenanigans.

This type of thing is so hard to train for, since it doesn't happen when you're alone. Or with some other horses. Just ones Major has decided for whatever reason he doesn't like. But he doesn't get to make the decisions, and I just have to work on catching him in that split moment before. Reading my horse. And every horse is so different.

I used to ride a gray mare a lot. She was great, except when she thought she was behind or being left. She would do a twisty-head thing and get both reins on one side of her neck! Clever, but I learned pretty quickly to know when that was coming, and pretty soon all it took was a little tug on the reins and a sharp "ack" to catch her before she tried it. I'm not in that same place with Major yet, but we'll get there.

It was just getting dark when we got home, so he didn't get the workout in the arena I was planning on. And I also knew that outside of the set-up situation he would have been fine. So as frustrating as it is (for Major and me!), I'll be planning some more rides with Ziggy, setting up those difficult solutions, asking for the correct behavior, and expecting it. And correcting mistakes. And continually working on it.

And to top it off, Major sweaty mess with the pleasant weather and his winter coat coming in. I debated, but it was not cold enough last night, so he got hosed off and turned back out to eat dinner and dry. Later in winter we'll have to keep our afternoon riding less enthusiastic, or I'll have to walk him dry with his cooler.

New season, new challenges.

Monday, October 17, 2011

a horseless adventure

A real vacation, getting away from it all, but still I saw horses everywhere. I missed Major and a week of riding, but saw lots of great things, and dreamed of riding a few of the trails I explored!

One day spent at Hearst Castle. I had been there years ago, but was still blown away by the amount of amazing stuff this guy hoarded. More money than sense, and personally I think much of Europe would like their ancient, historic stuff back, but still wow. They did use lots of horses (it was originally the only way to get there), there were some historic riding photos of Hearst, and he imported some desert Arabians for his ranch (at a huge expense of course, why not?)

Huge tapestry with these pretty Renaissance (?) horses.

Loved this horse, think the man is Poseidon or something Greek. (nice butt)

Italian Palio flags decorate the dining room. (Palio is a crazy Italian horse race)

Just a ceiling was 3-D and probably 10 feet tall.

OK, not a horse, but Diana the Huntress. There were NO horse statues on the grounds, which was strange.

The remains of a mile-long bridle path. Once covered in vines and fruits, imagine riding here.

Leaving the castle a quiet drive up the coast is needed, just to relax your eyes. But keep a lookout for the descendents of the escaped Hearst zoo zebras, just alongside the road. We pulled over to take photos of these, and the next day we saw another bunch with a foal, who was brown and fuzzy and so cute (through binoculars).

Zebra herd, they really blend in so well to the dry grasses.

Later in the week we did a steep hike, along Salmon Creek in Big Sur. Awesome waterfall, even better views. And evidence of horses! It would have been a tough ride, and no trailer space at the trailhead, so I wonder where they came from? There are seemingly thousands of miles of trails throughout the area, so I'm sure you could pack in for a great trip. Maybe someday.

Just one view along a trail.

A few more days of hiking, then onto more civilization. Drove past some nice looking "ranches" in Carmel, so fancy to be beyond my idea of a ranch. But then onto the Monterey Bay Aquarium, to see the new great white shark (only 4 feet long, but impressive) and the very cool seahorse exhibit. I am not sure how they thought of horses for these fish, maybe some of the crazy dishy Arabian faces?

This is a local Pacific kind, looks the most horse-like, but still a stretch.

Major got a fun week off, with his caretaker walking him to eat special not-in-the-pasture grass, feed him apples, and do nothing else. He happily trotted up to greet me when I came back, and I'm glad to be home and to enjoy this great fall weather to ride. I am sure more horseless adventures will still manage to involve horses, one way or another.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

and let there be trail!

A quick jaunt out to the lake today to check conditions. I thought it looked lower the other day, but didn't get a chance to check it out (I was with a friend whose horse recently panicked and ended up swimming in the lake and getting stuck in branches. Needless to say she is staying out if the water for awhile.)

And we were able to stand on the canal trail! The water has receded about 15 horizontal feet in that location, probably down 4 feet total. In both directions it is impassable, but there is hope.

Major wasn't in a mood to stand in the lake today, he wanted to go! Well, we did, on my evil terms. He thought we were heading for home, but my nefarious plan made him walk down hills, canter back up, and repeat when he tried to dodge onto a side trail. We did have some great canters out there today, the weather was perfect, and even warm enough for a bath back home.

Just when we're really tired of the trails, and the rain starts, the sandy canal trail should be available, yay! We're all ready for a change of scenery.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Tevis: No Hands bridge 1

It was still dark when I arrived at the bridge. A friend joined me, and a small dedicated group of spectators. Photographers were out in force, with the best views in the front row. Even a park ranger stood to keep the group back, though it seemed we were all pretty sensible horse folks.

I would have liked to take photos, but the photographers heads would have not been very interesting. The first woman across on a grey no one recognized, but then the people in the group called out to friends and those they recognized: Jeremy Reynolds, Garret Ford, lots of others (my brain wasn't entirely awake, and I don't know the endurance people by sight, mostly names I've read).

The horses looked great. Of course they'd only gone 7 miles (lots of it downhill with switchbacks) but it was fun to see the great fast trot across the bridge, around the corner, and up the trail. I saw plenty of Easyboots (mostly glue-ons) and team Renegade decked out in awesome orange tack, and it looked like they had some glue-ons and some boots. A couple riders tossed sweatshirts into the group, already hot, and a few horses had trace clips, including the cute fjord!

It was certainly fun to see the groups come across the bridge, in the "wrong" direction and at the "wrong" time. It may be a different Tevis, but I'm glad to have been able to see part of the start like this.

Good luck to everyone on the trail today! I'm going to go ride my own horse, and while I have no Tevis aspirations, it is still inspiring.

Friday, October 7, 2011

a small (mis)adventure

Escaping from work early, I met a friend to ride. Major doesn't like her horse Ziggy, but we like to go out, so Major does not get an opinion on the situation.

We headed out the lake trails, down Barking Dog hill and onto Pioneer Express trail. The rain made everything less dusty, but not quite muddy yet, and the air is so fresh and clean. Scrambling down some rocks there was suddenly a buzzing, and little things flying, and Ziggy is getting silly and there is swatting and yelling and trying to dash forward as fast as I could. We went as fast as we could then slowed, Ziggy was flinging his head and had been stung at least twice on his ears. My riding friend got stung on her ear too, ouch! Major and I escaped somehow. We decided to just walk a bit and see how they felt.

And now we come across a big branch/tree on trail! I got off and wandered through weeds to see if there was a way around. Above the trail was some space, then too many trees. Below the trail looked promising, except a steep winter runoff ditch couldn't be navigated. No way around and I was now wearing burr pants, just covered. If we went back we'd have to go through the bees again, but there was no choice.

With much trepidation we headed back, on foot, at least till we could see anything. We got to the spot and didn't see any swarming, so walked through quickly. Then I heard something buzz and a sharp sting on my leg! Luckily that was it, and we got through mostly unscathed.

After that we weren't in as fun of a mood, but horses can change that, so we headed out towards home, but then took the turn the opposite direction. The trail is narrow and steep above the lake, but we trotted and cantered, troubles forgotten. Even the blackberry canes grabbing hold had little effect. We kept it a short ride, and as we slowed towards home we noticed again our injuries nagging at us.

Back home Major munched grass while I loosened his saddle, and felt a tickle on my neck. I took off my helmet and a bee flew out who'd been stuck in my hair! Eeek! I'm glad that ride is over.

In the pasture Major made silly faces at me. Probably gloating that he was the only one smart enough to not get stung. (His face looks extra silly crooked in this photo).


Will the 2011 Tevis go down in the record books with an asterisk? This morning it was announced that they are rerouting, and starting from Auburn! There is 22 inches of snow at Donner, I guess pushing it back to October didn't work out as planned, still too much snow on the trail, what a crazy year! They have not made the final announcement on the trail map, but I am sure there are some disappointed people who prepared so hard and drove quite far to have the Tevis experience, and it will be a much different ride. I am sure ride management was considering all the safety issues, and melting snow on granite rocks and a couple hundred horses is pretty slippery! I hope everyone stays safe, and I may wander over to watch the finish, though the times for that might be different, and a colder night for people waiting in the stands too!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

the smell of rain

The sky is darkening, I can see the wind blustering through the trees outside, and it is mere moments before the first real rain of the season begins.

I have been able to fit in a few rides, including a fun adventure that began bareback in the arena and continued bareback on the trails, with a great lurch of my heart as I trusted Major so much, he was having so much fun, and we were in such sync. I also did a faster ride with two friends, one riding an ex-endurance horse, though I think for him there was no "ex" in his title. I hope Major is as happy to be on the trails at 20+ years old, in such good shape, as this horse was.

The rides last week were in the swirl of autumn dust, with the light that particular gold, the bit of chill coming in the air, a sense of desperation. With rain coming so early I worry for the trails, as they were such a quagmire this Spring, and the sandy canal trail is still under water. As you can tell, Fall is not my favorite season. It just gets darker and darker, with less riding time after work, and colder and colder, which I'm pretty wimpy about. Major is pretty pitiful when it comes to rain too, one splash and he is hiding under his shelter. I'm hoping this year with 24/7 turnout he'll figure out that he is not going to melt.

So just as the seasons wind down, so does the riding time. It just makes the shorter rides that much more fun. I do enjoy a lot of time hiking with Major in the winter, so I'll try to look forward to that. An hour walk when it feels to wet to ride, exploring the neighborhoods, with my horse sometimes in his bright orange blanket, always good for a laugh. I've also been researching a midweight blanket, now that he is in a much less protected pasture, but am still working on that. So there is enough to do.

Still waiting for the first drops...