Tuesday, March 27, 2012

getting better

(the title must be read in a Monty Python voice, "Not dead yet!" Even when worried, it's funny.)

Major seems to be improving. Yesterday afternoon he was not wanting to eat much at all, so I called out the vet. I knew I'd never sleep and just worry. I know some people wait longer, but since he's typically a pretty stoic guy, I was concerned.

Vet came, my favorite one, who knows Major pretty well. He noticed, like I had, same time last year we were dealing with the vaccine reaction. So end of March=not good.

Checked him over, a little jaundiced which can come from not eating (or a host of worse things). Pulled blood and gave benamine. Vet didn't think colic, but did a rectal (poor Major!), looked ok. They can never rule anything totally out in vet speak, but I didn't get the impression he was dying.

Extra mashes, which he started eating, and I left the barn at 8pm. Those of you with horses at home, be thankful! At home I would have checked on him all night. Vet called to say blood tests didn't show anything in particular. No bacteria, which I'd worried about tick fever. No viruses detectable either, so inconclusive and frustrating!

But got the call this morning from the barn that he seemed a bit better, took his benamine paste, and ate some regular grass hay.

But this is my lunch hour, and I'm out with Major while he gobbles grass. And gets a mash. And a blanket since some serious rain seems headed our way. His attitude is better, not so mopey (my friend used a good word: woebegone).

I'm keeping an eye in him, and so is everyone else. I think some folks at the barn were almost as worried as I was.

"I'm getting better!"

Monday, March 26, 2012

or not. Sick.

Maybe it wasn't me. Maybe he didn't feel good, because today Major isn't feeling well. Not sure what is up. He didn't eat much of his hay last night (though he ate his beet pulp mash) and wasn't interested in the hay all day today. He was laying down when the barn manager called me just to say. She'd checked his gut sounds, they were OK.

So I went over on my lunch break, and he was laying down. He got up when I came to see him, and ate a treat. I made him a mash with some mineral oil (couldn't hurt) and took his temp. Temperature was 100.1, which is fine, though he is usually about 98. Gut sounds OK. Went out to see if he wanted grass, and he ate for 45 minutes. And both peed and pooped. and drank when back in his paddock. But still seems a bit out of it.

So I made him another mash because again, it doesn't hurt, and will check on him again this afternoon. The barn keeps an eye on him too. Doesn't seem like colic, maybe a little virus or something, where he just wants to rest.

Worrisome. Worrying. And my lunch was just a granola bar that I shared with Major. He's worth it.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

rinse, repeat

After the disastrous ride on Friday, I knew I needed some just training rides. Not to worry about miles, or destination, or speed, just behavior.

But I also knew I needed to set him up in a similar situation. Riding around the arena doesn't work for us. Yes we're rusty on some finer points, but he listens and stops and rates just fine in there.

So the rain rinsed everything clean Saturday night, and we headed out to repeat. But just the trail, NOT the behavior.

I was determined. Picture steely-eyed Clint Eastwood, gritting his teeth...well, except being a woman, with glasses, and a ponytail. But other than that...exactly. That's the picture. But really, I thought from the beginning that Major wasn't going to put a foot anywhere I didn't specifically say.

The forest was a soggy mess, but there was no avoiding puddles or his random pull over to the side antics, well, he tried, no luck. I did have to let him choose his way all-wheel-drive style through a really sloppy area. Glad that each foot can get independent traction!

And I randomly stopped. And backed up. And trotted. And whoa'd. And walk on. And back, nope, keep backing.

And out at the lake, no momentum allowed. We'd trot, he did great, but I never let him ramp up to full speed lest his brain fall out. I wanted to keep it on a good note, even if it meant slow.

And he got it. Or he seemed to. As we went along I trotted a bit longer section, and asked to slow within the gait, and got it without a pulling contest. And over rocks, he'd choose to slow, I'd say keep it up keep going, and we did. And whoa. And back. Again.

Even back through the neighborhood, much better normal not crazy fast trot. And we even had two other riders follow us home, then switched to be in back, mostly good.

Was it me? Did he get it? Or sense I was not putting up with crap today? Or the weather? Or get up on the right side of the pasture today? Who knows. But I feel better (for today) and am going to continue my Clint Eastwood impression for awhile.

On the saddle fit issue, his back was fine this morning (or I wouldn't have ridden of course). I took my other Haf pad and trimmed the newer foam in it, added the felt inserts I have too, and tried that. We'll see, after the ride he was fine, but we didn't do very much. I had been meaning to buy new foam, as I know it degrades over time, and I have a lot miles on this set of inserts.

Hopefully things are looking up. I understand set backs and issues, but in the moment it is hard to see. Forest for the trees, etc. Remembering to go back to basics, to dial it down, to just take a walk...just might work.

Saturday, March 24, 2012


Zero. Zilch. Nada. Nothing. I had nothing that would get Major to listen yesterday. We did 10 miles, probably half of it was circling, backing, backtracking our trail, and stopping. I tried about every training tool I had.

I wanted to go out on the canal trail because it had been awhile and I know the lake level is creeping up. Also it was great weather before a series of storms rolls in, so my (awesome!) boss let me leave early, and we headed out. Through the forest he was fine, and heading towards Beeks Bight was fast but manageable. Turn around, all Hell broke loose.

the water creeps back in

I was going to head back through the forest, but with the bad attitude Major was having I thought we needed more miles in an open area. The canal is good for circling and such, more open. I was able to keep him in a trot, barely, but he wasn't listening. I'd do some form of correction (it depended on the terrain and misbehavior) but obviously wasn't truly getting his mind back focused on me.

I know we can go around, you're going through it

He even was in such a mood to spook pretty good at a tree stump and a nothing. And real spooks, not the usual Major jump-in-place spooks. Full of it and ticking me off.

So we were going home through Sterling Point, and he was still pulling (though we were walking along the road, no trotting there) so I turned away from home and went through the neighborhood. He thought warp speed was a good option, I kept it back as best I could. Walking just led to annoying prancing and jigging no matter what I did, so trotting used the forward momentum more constructively. We got to a place where we could go into the forest or back down to the lake. As much as I would have liked to do more miles, darkness was coming, and I was getting tired of fighting.

So we were back in the forest and I used to cantering road over and over until he would canter controlled and listen to whoa. Keeping him at a trot wasn't working, it was just a pulling contest he was winning. Barely won a battle, after the ride felt like I'd lost the war.

With this kind of behavior, how can I even think of doing an endurance ride next month? I can't even get him to listen when we're alone! I think the next month of riding will be all listening, not for conditioning, because he is fit (probably too much so) for a 25. Of course, now that winter arrived late all sorts of rain is coming, which makes riding that much more of a slippery slope.

Back at the barn they asked how my ride was, and instinctively I said "fine." Then I qualified that my horse had been an a**hole, I was a mess riding, it had actually been a crap ride. But, still, it was riding, which is still better than sitting at my work desk, or cleaning the house, or grocery shopping, or pretty much anything else.

Oh, and to top it off there seems to be a saddle fit issue! He was a bit sore after our 25 mile practice ride, and this time had big dry patches towards the rear panels of the saddle. Nothing else seems to have changed, so I'm also wondering if it is how he's carrying himself. One more worry!

Even after all that I did laugh at my sweaty horse: with long winter hair he gets a pretty good likeness of a David Hasslehoff chest hair thing going on. Sexy.

Sing it: I'm too sexy for this...

Arrgghh! All this is Fun? Frustrating? I can think of a few other F words I used...

Thursday, March 22, 2012

conversations with Major: hike

Oh, Mom brought an apple, yeah! what a good day!
Let's go Major.
Hmmm, no saddle, this must mean a walk! Oh, a walk! I love just walks, we can eat grass and more grass and sniff poop. I think this grass right here looks good, I'll tell Mom...
Nope, keep walking.
OK, soon though?
Nope, we're hiking today.
What??? And not eating?
Yes, not eating.
But I'm starving!
You still had hay in your slow feeder.
Yes, but that is OLD hay, from this morning, this is GREEN grass, and is yummier.
Later, let's go.

Come on Major, keep up!
You walk too fast. I AM keeping up.
Umm, you were a crazy man going home last night on our ride, and were easily walking this fast.
Exactly, THAT was going home.
Don't care, keep up.

poison oak, so pretty and red! Indian Paintbrush and Pipevine.
What are we doing?
We're stopping so I can take a picture, lots of cool wildflowers out.
But there is no grass here! Just yucky bushes.
Oh well.
Oh well? It's a tragedy! We're stuck here forever with nothing to eat. hmmm, moss?
OK, let's go, this is the rock trail.
I know, this is hard, I have to go up and down and up and down and up...
Quiet. I'm walking too, you don't even have to carry my weight around.
Yeah, I've been meaning to say something...
Don't! Or no grass at all!

hmm, life cycle of a mountain stream, interesting...

Hey, this looks interesting, I can read!
No you can't.
But there's a picture...and grass below...
Let's go!
But I'm not done eating, I mean reading...

Oh, we're going home now, up the road! I see things over there making noise?
Kid on baseball field, "That's a big dog she's walking."
Coach: "They don't walk dogs in this neighborhood, they walk horses."

birdhouse in your soul...or ear?

not yummy, I don't even try to eat this.

(prancing) going home, going home, this is my going home dance...
Knock it off.
OK......going home, going...
Seriously, knock it off.
Fine. Oooh, grass!
Yes, we're close enough to home, have a snack.
Yeah, I haven't had grass in like forever.
We stopped at least 4 times and you ate!
What? Can't hear you, I'm eating.

my nose is a blur 'cause I'm eating so fast!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

spring! and winter...

Happy first day of Spring! Winter has arrived!

Not a juxtaposition, here in Northern California the weather has been a bit wacky, riding in tshirts most of January. Well, it caught up with us, and rained for a week. And the weather still looked weird, and Major is pretty well conditioned, so we both got a break from riding. He got to stand around, munch hay and eat carrots.

And I went hiking. Which turned into snowshoeing. This is why the back of my car looks like a sports store exploded in it, with sandals, shoes, boots and snowshoes.

My SO and I headed to Yosemite in the rain, which cleared in time for an afternoon hike. When we woke up there was 6 inches of snow, which continued to come down much of the day. And overnight another (at least) 6 inches. We had many trails to ourselves, Yosemite in winter is great, almost no people. In summer they get 10,000+ cars a day, I couldn't handle that!

path hardly traveled

Vernal Falls through falling snow

just a tree, or an Ent?
I imagine the settlers coming across this, and I've heard they wrote home of this great valley and no one believed them. The Native Americans weren't very happy when it was "discovered," they'd been here centuries! We saw some grinding rocks, followed waterfalls and streams, and the quiet valley would have been so awesome on horseback. I tried to be patient and enjoy the view, though my impatient tendencies did creep through sometimes. This was a good place and a good time to just breathe. And take some photos.

Half Dome

Mirror Lake

just like the horses, these ravens tried to convince us they were starving

Maybe one day Major and I could attempt some back-country trails here. Until then, I'm happy with our own backyard, which is pretty great too.

Friday, March 16, 2012

not complaining

Really. Not complaining about 5 straight days of rain. In a winter where we've only had about 3 other rain days total. We need the rain, though the trails are going to be a mess.

Major however, has been complaining loudly. On Wednesday, it was still raining, and he was actually out in the rain getting wet and not melting! When I walked with him he was full of it, prancing along, so we did trot-outs along the road. Then he settled for munching in the awesome green grass.

Thursday he trotted to greet me at the gate, "let me out!" (he has a whole pasture, really, but prefers to just stand under his shelter). More grass for him, more NOT lamenting about the weather for me.

Forecast says at least 4 more days of rain. No riding this weekend, I'm not that dedicated. Saint Patrick's Day tomorrow will truly be like Ireland, rainy and green. I'll be celebrating my heritage, everyone is welcome to join in!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

cardiac hill

I've hiked Cardiac Hill many times, but I've never ridden it. And B and Ziggy had never done it. And it is part if the American River ride, so we figured it would be good to practice.

boarder's visiting granddaughter painted up Major, I think it's awesome!

good thing he's pretty, because he couldn't figure out how to get the carrot out (lift your head!)

I didn't want a really fast ride, as we were adding miles, and I like to do one or the other (add distance or speed, not both). So we headed out down the road, and trotted along. Met quite a few hikers and runners, and were soon indebted to them.

We got to Mormon Ravine, and it was rushing. Major already thinks it is the bridge of death, and the torrent below wasn't helping. The electric company uses this output to generate power, and the water always fluctuates. They must be pumping water from upriver and funneling it through this power station. Major wasn't going across. And Ziggy got partway and then backed up once he hit the middle and looked down. And we tried again. They were truly scared. And I wasn't getting off, last time I tried that Major forgot I was there and almost ran me over!

Right then a runner came along. Major likes to follow my SO, so the runner was partway across and I used that momentum and both Major and Ziggy were across the bridge! We would have gotten there eventually, but it was nice to use the runner as a training tool!

drop off to the river

sandbar not usually seen except this dry year

After that is was just trot trot trot to Auburn. The river is really low still, sandbars and cliffs. Then you get to Cardiac Hill. The sign says "steep." Hah! At first it isn't bad, but I told B just wait. And soon it is switchbacks and rocks. One close tree caught my knee, ouch! And I got off and walked, Major puffing behind me. It is about 1100 feet of elevation change, we walked it in 20 minutes. Tough, but both horses were fine, used to tough rocky trails.

the ears are questioning my trail choice at the bottom of Cardiac Hill

At the top of the hill, 1100 feet down is the river

At the top, but still a couple miles to the Auburn staging area. We went through a very muddy area, and after that I lost a boot. Damn. Close enough to the staging area I just took them both off. At the staging area both horses drank from the stone trough, though Major was more interested in the grass. I was interested in my sandwich, and we all relaxed a bit.

grass near my helmet is the most delcious

But shortly it was time to head back. Put the boots back on, and we took the Cardiac Bypass trail back down, and stayed on the abandoned road for part too. A long walk down, but easier than Cardiac Hill!

going home, halfway down the bypass an awesome view

The horses sure knew we were going home. Once on the better footing of the main trail, we trotted along. We did have a tangle when four other horses came along the singletrack. Cliff on one side, drop off the other, no where to go. We turned and found a gully I backed Major into. Somehow we all squeezed by.

Moving right along, then Ziggy's boot broke. We both have different kinds of boots, but obviously no boot is perfect! It wasn't fixable, but B had to get off and on a couple times, never fun on a cliff!

bridge of death just ahead

But the horses were so happy to be going home, we didn't worry about crossing Mormon Ravine bridge. Till we got there. Both horses took one look and said no way! Even though home was on the other side! Again, we thought we'd work them through it. And again before we could worry much about it came a group of hikers! Conveniently we followed them across, Major a little too close, but everyone was safe on the other side, and we continued on.

Major was pulling and pulling for home, and I would have loved to do more miles for that behavior, but I was done. So both horses pranced up the road, looking none the worse for wear, while the riders probably looked dirty and tired!

The weather had been iffy all day, and it was too cold to hose him off, so Major just got the worst of the sweat sponged off, and some good mash. And took another great big drink. 25 miles, tough trail, horse still chipper: he may actually be an endurance horse. Me? I went home and fell asleep on the sofa watching TV!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

goodnight grimalkin

The stable lost a friend yesterday, when Orange Kitty/Mandy/Grimalkin was put to sleep. Like any good barn cat, she had many names. She shared space with Major when he was in the lower pasture, often sleeping on his hay, and he'd eat around her. She'd inspect his food, demand attention with her green-eyed stare, and had the softest fur. They estimated that she was at least 15-years-old, pretty old for an outdoor kitty. But she always had a cozy bed made up for her, be it a manger with hay padding and a blanket, or the little nest in the back of the ATV. She would greet you with a very crabby-sounding meow, but if you picked her up her purr was loud and happy.

Sweet dreams, good kitty.

food inspector
mesmerizing you for a petting

we'll miss you Mandy

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

patient practice

I decided to just go out for a quick ride with a small goal: work on hills, and work on quietness. I thought I'd try using Major's natural calmness to get us there.

Major knew something was up. No dragging down the lane, he stepped out (though tried to convince me that he had to have grass right now or he'd starve!)

We walked. Up the big butt burner hill. And kept walking, down the hill. Then back up. Then around the pasture some, I asked for a trot up the road. It was a nice controlled trot, and we were doing good, so I asked canter. And got a nice, collected canter not the strung-out crazy fast thing I dealt with last week.

He was up after that, so we walked, till he calmed down (which was quickly). Then down the hill, and every time he'd get excited, we'd stop for a photo op.

sacrifice rock
The bottom of this trail is usually a swampy morass this time of year, this year there is barely some dampness. At the bottom of the hill Major thought we were going home, so we stopped and I took a nice photo of the cool oak.

Heading towards home (but not going home) then back up another big hill, walking again. Major was quite confused by now, seeing as we were weaving all over the forest like drunkards. Each time he anticipated and thought we were going home, we'd turn the other way. You could almost hear the little thoughts clicking in his head. 

Heading back out to the rock my friend saw the cougar at last year (always on alert here), we stopped and watched the sunset. Then went down the sketchy rock area, and did some trotting, and listening. And continued on. 

giant rock, but small trail on the left, right is more big rock!
We were actually headed home this time, but without a crazy sense of urgency. We trotted to the top of Red Dirt hill, where apparently an owl had exploded. That is what the feathers looked like. Did something catch it? Or an illegal hunter? The feathers were soft and gorgeous.

I felt a small sense of accomplishment. I actually got some medium trot on a loose rein going towards home! It wasn't much, just a few steps, but I'll pull him back and he'd respond. Not much for most people, but since he'd been extra silly lately, I thought it was pretty good. Sometimes pretty good is a perfect ride.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less travelled by,
and that has made all the difference.
—Robert Frost

Sunday, March 4, 2012


A gorgeous day. Gone were the clouds and cold from earlier in the week. Maybe we should have known it was too perfect and would spell trouble.

Major was heading out with his nemesis, Ziggy (though I quite like his owner B!) I think Ziggy really doesn't care, but Major remembers putting up with all his sh*t when Ziggy was learning, and just doesn't like him. Too bad, deal with it, right? So the trip started with a lot of crabby ears.

They were raring to go. We headed out, deciding which way to go, and chose towards Avery Pond. In the first couple miles Ziggy tried to double-barrel Major going down a small incline! We were too far back to worry much, though I still hate seeing those feet come flying in the air, head high (of course many feet away but they look closer!)

Go-Go-GO went the horses. Try to slow-slow-slow went the humans. And the battle continued. We also kept meeting runners and hikers, many of whom mentioned a tree down. We thought we'd assess that situation when we got to it. A pair of riders said the tree was down and couldn't be gone around, again, we'd deal with it when we got there. Then we got there. It looked like a pretty big tree, but some hikers were trying to roll it off the trail. The tree was swinging and swaying, people were talking and yelling, and then it just crashed over the edge of the cliff! Ziggy was having no part of that, and turned to run the other direction. Only problem was Major was in the way, so Major thought that must be a good idea too (though he hadn't reacted at first). Only a couple strides, got them both stopped, and calmed enough to walk past. Well, Major did the leading now. Past the scary big backpacks of the great scout troop that cleared the trail, we thanked them profusely and continued on,

Eventually we got nice controlled trots out of everyone, but and then slowed to a sedate walk to cross a bridge. And DOWN went Ziggy! It happened so fast I didn't even see it all. Major and I hadn't started onto the bridge yet, but Ziggy went down on his side, B hanging on to the railing, then lurched himself back up, B still on! We all stood in shock. I crossed the bridge, looked them both over, couldn't see anything, and tried to figure it out.

The bridge is in the shade, maybe it was slippery? Didn't seem wet though. Ziggy had been walking nicely, not jigging, boots in front and bare behind. After B composed herself, we walked on, Ziggy seemed ok, but we were all a bit shaken. What could we have done differently? Nothing. That is hard, because we always analyze everything that happens, but this time? Nothing we could think of.

We continued on to the pond, Ziggy very wary of all the bridges now. We got to the trough right before the pond, and neither horse wanted to drink. And Ziggy also decided he wanted nothing to do with continuing on, and decided to throw a fit. It wasn't about the next bridge, he just did not appreciate B telling him what to do. So after a bit of nice riding and correction, we finally got to Avery Pond.

Oh, but not before I fell in the trough! OK, that part was funny at least. Using the rock trough edge is a great way to get back on your tall horse, unless you are paying attention to the other rider's issues and step directly into the trough. Squishy wet sneaker, sock, pants and chap, at least it wasn't cold out!

At the pond, we were tired. We'd only gone 7 miles, but all the events were just a lot. Major calms right down and doesn't hold onto anxiety, whereas Ziggy was a sweaty mess. Ziggy also had a cut on his stifle (from his hind hoof, the bridge? not sure), so we rested a bit, the horses ate some grass, and we decided to call it a day and head back.

a calmer moment at Avery Pond

The horses were up for that! But we were careful going home. B realized she was holding her breath across all the bridges, which doesn't help calm your horse, and I had a challenge holding back Major, who wanted to canter (I don't think so) but we mostly trotted (though Ziggy in his anxiety thought he had to canter to keep up.) Major finally got his nice power-walk going home, and did drink well at the final trough. I just breathed a sigh of relief when we made it to the home stretch, got off the horses, loosened the girth, took out his bit, and let Major eat some grass.

Back home, Ziggy's injury looked superficial, thank goodness. It was warm enough for a quick bath and when I turned Major out he ran off, dropped and rolled (in the grass, but on the poop, of course) and then proceeded to gallop about the pasture a bit. Not tired!

I was! What a ride. I'll take uneventful any day. My old riding instructor used to say something like horses were "hours of riding punctuated by moments of sheer terror." Redheaded Endurance also had a scary ride experience this week. Everyone be careful out there!

Friday, March 2, 2012

weekend reading: back in Black

Horses and reading are two great passions. And sometimes they come together in such classic ways. I went away for a weekend, and discovered a treasure trove of old books. My parents run a bed and breakfast, and stock the shelves with classic books which they find at auctions and estate sales. I hadn't inspected the library much before, but at the end of one row was quite an impressive selection of Black Stallion series!

Now of course I've read all the Black Stallion books. They were a treasured part of my library when I was a kid living at home, and are still in a box somewhere in my shed. Those were standard paperbacks, that I often bought from the book sale at school. The books this weekend are hardbound and musty, not first editions or anything valuable, but old and filled with great illustrations and I had to read them all.

I remembered all the basic stories, but none of the details. Reading them as an adult (and horse owner) is a little different: suspending disbelief of a 17-hand wild Arab stallion beating Thoroughbreds, living in a small backyard barn, of the Black, his son Satan and other winning horses running to escape a wildfire, and all the myriad things. But so many things are right too, and I sat and devoured the books, just like a kid again.

The Black was back in my heart.

I wanted to share some of the great illustrations, done by (at least) three different illustrators: Keith Ward, Harold Eldridge and Milton Menasso. I'm sure most of you have your own favorite Black Stallion memories...

classic scene original book: the Black kills the snake to save Alec 

This was (and is) still my favorite of the series.
The Black coming off a plane: I think from Black Stallion and Satan
The Black, Satan and others beat a wildfire, and the Black proves himself to Alec.
The Black Stallion Revolts and Alec loses his memory and becomes a cowboy (remember, suspend disbelief!)
Black Minx
This is just a beautiful drawing
Satan racing
Back at the real stable in upper NY state
From the Island Stallion Races
Someone loved this book (circa 1940-1950)
Another cute book plate

My favorite tiny drawing, this would make an awesome tattoo (if I was that kind of brave)
Now, get out and ride your own Black