Monday, June 25, 2012

wild west 50—2012

I'll save you having to read the whole story: We did it! Major was a total rock star!

nerd alert: ride photo
Now the whole story. I am glad we got an early start. I picked up C and her horse Friday at 9am and headed for Skillman horse camp. My SO headed up early with the car to check things out. When we got there he informed us there were two parking spaces left! We unloaded the horses and he miraculously squeezed the truck and trailer between trees, up a hill and into the spot. No way could I have managed that! The camp is lovely, but totally jam packed. Huge rigs would drive through looking for a place, eventually the camp and road were totally full. Luckily a few people left after each ride day, but I think the parking issues were the one downfall on the ride.

squeezed into a little spot
But we had our spot. Major was on the trailer high-tie, Friday was on a tree high-tie (which I hadn't used for a year but was sure glad I remembered how!), we were set and tried to relax.
let someone else braid, this is what happens
There were a few clouds, but rain didn't look too imminent. I left Major's fleece cooler on, it was chilly but not enough for a heavy blanket. Until about 3am, when it really started raining! Damn, nothing like crawling out of your warm sleeping bag to wrangle a heavy blanket on your horse in the rain. And 3 hours later saddle your horse when it is still raining. I was NOT having fun at this point. My first 50, I was freaking out/nervous enough, and now I'm starting in the frickin' RAIN, in June.

blurry rain miserable...why am I doing this?
heading out for my first 50 (me in green jacket, S on the right in blue)

But, here we go. I met up with my friend S and Cisco. We've been training together, and our horses work well together. We waited till 10 minutes after the start, and walked out. Major was leading, and getting jiggy, so I let him trot. We powered up, keeping control but moving out, hopeful that moving would stem any other bad behavior. It was raining and misting, my glasses were fogging up, but we just kept going. The trail was wide fire road at this point, and while wet the footing was pretty good. Some of the downhills were getting a bit slick. I was worrying about Major's boots and the wet mud, but we just powered along. We passed some people, and just kept trotting. I thought we were moving too fast, but also know that Major needs to figure this out, and figured he'd slow a bit eventually. After about 10 miles he stopped pulling, but we were still moving fast. The rain had mostly let up, but the trees were dripping and I kept hitting branches which then dumped water all over me.

just follow red all day was all I could understand from the map
The first vet check came up quick. They said it was at 20 miles, but it didn't seem like it! I think it was a little shorter than that. We'd been going so quickly that my crew wasn't there yet! But it was just a 1/2 hour hold, and we pulsed in right away and vetted OK, then Major just ate his way across piles of alfalfa. Unfortunately my friend S and Cisco were pulled for lameness! He'd been fine on trail but was obviously lame at the check. So I had to go on alone (well, no one is really alone on an endurance ride).

some views I had (crew took this, I was too busy holding reins)
The next loop was awesome. I did the whole thing alone, and it was twisty trails and switchbacks through trees and long gradual uphill climbs on roads, both of which Major is awesome at. He was still powering along, and I'd ask him to walk a bit, and he would slow a step (so he was listening) but just wanted to keep going. So I let him. We passed a couple people, but not many. I figured we were in a nice middle-of-the-pack bubble, and was happy with my horse for moving out and now being sensible. At one point I was in a bit of a zombie zone, just riding along, and realized I hadn't seen a ribbon for awhile, and started to panic. I'd been going up and up and up this hill, oh no, what if I missed a turn and we did this big hill and didn't need to and ahhh...oh, there's the ribbon, nevermind.

As we were coming into the second lunch vet check the rider behind me mentioned we were probably in 6th or 7th place. WHAT? No, No, NO. That is NOT an option. There is no way we should be going that fast, we'll be re-evaluating our riding after lunch. Major pulsed in quickly, vetted mostly OK (B on gut sounds, but that seems to be his normal, I was OK with that because he was eating like a champ) and I rested while my awesome crew SO and friend C held my horse, made him mash, brought me food and watched over us. Nice to have such great help.

just chillin' at the hold, I really need to get him a nice orange blanket
slightly damp rider card
leaving for the final section home
We left the lunch hold quietly, walking up the road. I didn't care if we walked the rest of this loop, we were going to take it easy. Major had other plans. He knew we were going home, though I tried to tell him it was still pretty far. We were a little more sedate in our trotting (finally a medium trot, I'll take it!) and two fast riders passed us. No problem, Major watched them go. I thought he must be tired to not want to catch up, and that was fine. We quietly trotted, but were making up ground on the other riders. We caught up to them and just rode along. They were going quickly, but it felt like our heading-home training pace, and Major was strong.

I took no photos along the trail, as we were flying along, but the trails were awesome. This final section is all through pine forest, with soft pine needles underfoot, also some roots and rocks, but great footing. It is along a man-made bank of sorts, to keep water from running straight down the hillsides, probably left over from either logging operations or water collection for mining. You zig and zag, making sure not to catch a knee on a tree, Major loves this kind of trail (me too) and we just floated along.

I rode the last section with a rider named Bill, he was very nice. He had let the gaited horse who was flying downhill (not my thing either) go ahead, and then he and I rode along, the sun was out, Major was feeling fine, the trail went by quickly. Then we were at the did that happen? Bill said go ahead, and I was 7th and he was 8th. CRAZY. They asked if I wanted to weigh in for best condition. What? Well, pretty sure I don't have a chance, but sure. Getting on a scale with all your tack is not fun, I don't like weighing that much!

best condition trot out
My crew missed me again, sorry guys! So I walked into camp, surprising them, and untacked Major to do my final vetting. He dove into his mash, I'm so glad he eats well. I do wish he'd drink better, but the weather was so nice and cool, and he seems to drink when he really needs it. We just have a different idea of when he needs it! Final vetting went great, all A's except B on gut sounds, we relaxed for a bit then went to show for best condition. We trotted circles and the other stuff was standard, and the vet was Melissa Ribley (she puts this ride on too) said I didn't have much chance because of my time (can't remember how far, but behind the leaders) and weight. No problem, good practice, fun to try.

back at the trailer, life is good and filled with hay
I am so proud of Major, he just rocked it. I had NO idea he had that kind of strength, I knew we had it for 25, but didn't think we could add 25 more miles like that. I guess I have an endurance horse. I really second-guessed my final loop. Did those horses we caught up with help pull us along? Major was strong and had no issues with the speed, didn't seem tired, so I don't think so? We did do the ride faster than we train, and I know you're not really supposed to do that. But we don't train on such nice trails with good footing, we can only go quick in shorter section, but still, was that OK?

yeah for boots, stayed on all day!
I had no boot issues all day, through wet and mud and slippery, yeah! He had a tiny rub I noticed the next morning, but nothing big. He looked ready to go, and managed to run around testing his high-tie (those things are sturdy and awesome I have now decided) as his buddy Friday headed off to do the 25 (19-year-old horse, first LD, they were awesome). Major probably could have done it too, but I had no idea he'd recover so well from the 50. One thing at a time.

left behind, what, I can't go?
This was a great ride with beautiful trails and (in the end) good weather. It was really fun, and neat to see my silly Major get serious and move out like he always wants to. He had been trying to tell me he could do it, and I'd second-guessed him, so I guess sometimes he IS right. I'm not planning any upcoming rides, for now I'll wait for the right one, and just keep riding my horse. This summer is time for camping, and swimming horses in the lake, and exploring new trails with my buddy Major. (He may get an ego about all this, and expect to be called by his registered name which was on the vet card, Majestik Mirage...)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

ready or not

Wild West here we come!

Took Major on one final trail ride.

Washed my tack. (I love my beta biothane halter bridle. Dump it in a bucket, swish it around, clean!)

Packed the trailer.

Tomorrow morning I'll be pulling out for Skillman horse camp, only about an hour away. Going to pick up my friend C, who is riding the Sunday LD (her first ride). Two other riders from my stable are coming too. We'll all be saddling up Saturday morning (as of right now, 69 degree high and chance of rain 30%, what??!!) and trying for 50 miles. Scary! Exciting! Too much packing to get nervous yet.

Ready? Not? I'll find out soon...

Saturday, June 16, 2012


I ask Major to do a lot of things. Some basic, like ground manners, and some tough, like navigating over rocks carefully. I think a good trail horse has to listen to their rider, but also have a good bit of autonomy. I have to just trust him sometimes, nitpicking down the trail is not my thing.

We did a quick ride to Granite Bay before the weekend of scorching temperatures. He wasn't super enthusiastic heading out, leaving breakfast behind, and being a bit bored of the same trail (me too). So when we headed home I let him choose. We trotted and cantered, walked over rocks, I didn't really say anything, he made good decisions. At a three way trail intersection, he chose the path down to the lake, not towards home. He waded in, took in the view, ate wet weeds, seemed pretty content. It isn't much of an indulgence, but for everything he does for me, I don't mind the detour.

He also took a different scenic trail, barely used, don't know why, but he wanted to. Maybe he wanted a different view. Trotting quickly along we did almost run down a poor, confused ground squirrel, that made me laugh (sorry squirrel).

I guess I also had to indulge him after the flymask episode. He has a regular mask, but gets a sunburned nose. I was wondering aloud about a long-nose mask, and B at the ranch had one I could try. We put it on Major, and couldn't stop laughing. He was not amused. His big ears didn't fit, they were squished, and he had them laid back (he really never lays his ears back!) His poofy pitiful forelock was pulled through the hole, but it looked even more ridiculous. Sorry Major.

After all that torture, he gets all weekend off, as it is over 100 degrees, my car thermometer read 105 in the shade. I don't need to do that kind of heat training! But Major got a special treat, a carrot popsicle! He was a bit suspicious, but I think he'll eat it all up.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

d.i.y.: reins

I love my orange beta reins. But they're slick when they're wet. Slippery reins and a strong horse are two things that don't mix. With summer and sweaty horse and hands, I needed an option.

I had ordered some nice beta grip reins. They were inexpensive and not custom. I really liked the feel, but when I'd need to really choke up on them (see strong horse referenced above) I kept grabbing the section where grip was sewn to regular. Not a fault of the reins, but of Major's disappearing neck, which goes from long and graceful to short and high-headed when anxious.

A friend tried my reins and loved them (her horse isn't an idiot). She kept them and I ordered some beta-by-the-foot and decided to try making my own. $20 to try versus $80+ for custom, my stubborn cheapness won out.

"They" (the internets) say you need an industrial sewing machine and fancy stuff. I say I have super strong outdoor thread, needles and my old Makita drill. This little old drill just keeps going. I have a more powerful one for "real" jobs, but for small things it's perfect.

Way better than a sewing machine. My sewing machine is old, from the 60s. It was my Grandmother's, and I've had it for 15 years, probably used it 5 times. Great machine, even if it takes me half an hour to remember how to thread it. I can paint, tile, do basic plumbing and electrical, use all forms of power tools, but a sewing machine just puts me in fits.

Beta is tough stuff. It has an internal core of something I'm too lazy to look up, so drilling with a tiny bit gets you through easier than just a tough needle. You probably could use just a needle, but pliers are your friend when sometimes the needle just gets stuck. I marked with a ruler and pen where I needed to drill. I did glue the two pieces with some super glue, figured it couldn't hurt. (anyone see the Mythbusters show with superglue recently? It was awesome! They suspended a station wagon with 7 drops of glue!)

I made my reins ten feet long, which I already know I like. The grip section is seven feet of that. Overall, I'm pretty satisfied. For a $20 experiment, not bad. Does it look like a drunk monkey sewed them? Yup. Do I care? Nope. Will they work? I'll see!

Monday, June 11, 2012

sans-horse river adventure

Horses need rest days. And so do their people. Major got all weekend off while I attended the expo, went to a wedding reception, did yardwork and played in the river.

We have an abundance of gorgeous river access, and the North fork of the American River is actually just a hike down from my backyard. But I love the Yuba River. Flowing over granite, it warms sooner than the icy American, and has great rocks to lay on, read a book, and relax. It's Monday, so imagine yourself here as your workload piles up....

South Yuba River at Edwards Crossing
this path to relaxation
manzanita tree, cool peeling bark
Our favorite spot: we call it Lion Head Rock (can you see the lion?)

upstream view, yes the water is that color, and perfectly clear
Lion Head Rock and SO's rock stack
I just sat on the beach and read my book for hours, occasionally dipping into the refreshing water. My SO can't sit still for quite so long, and he swam across and built some rock stacks. Eventually we had to go home, but I could be here every day.

For random fact/history nerds: The area actually has a very cool history, and right behind Lion Head rock is a giant tunnel, big enough to drive a bus through, where gold miners diverted the entire river to get to gold on the bottom. So much silt from the hydraulic/placer mining (mining which uses water cannons to blast hillsides apart to sift through and find the gold) upstream at Malakoff Diggins park was being sent down the river, it was causing flooding in the central valley and filling San Francisco bay with silt. The very first environmental law ever put into effect was to halt the destructive placer mining. The area is still full of the environmental scars, abandoned mines and current mining claims.

When I finally visited Major (I hadn't seen him Friday or Saturday, usually it's every day!) he was very happy to see me. We just wandered, and he munched on grass. While I got something out of the trailer, he found the apple I'd saved for him sitting on my car. And proceeded to slobber all over. Only a horse lover would think this was funny, and proceed to take a picture, instead of trying to move the happy horse.
yummy, with extra slobber for window and hood
Of course the coming week is supposed to be very hot. I'm going to get out one day and do a final longer ride before Wild West. And hope we're ready!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

expo day

Once a year here in Northern California is an extravaganza of epic proportions. HorseExpo is three days of shopping and lectures, clinicians and vendors. I could only manage one day this year, so opening day 9am I was ready to rumble.

Looking over the schedule there weren't a lot of lectures I was interested in this year. Now that I've gone every year for at least 5 years, many great topics (horse camping, trailer repair) I've heard many times. Colt starting didn't sound right for me, and while I did watch some great dressage and interesting nutrition demos, it was mostly about shopping.

This is just one part of one building. There are four buildings, two with second floors, I like to go through once, see where things are and check prices, then go back later to buy.

Mainly, there is lots of useless crap. Horsey toilet seat cover? Horse toy with mirror, stall latch and mini cowboy? But useless for me probably means someone else would love it. Lots of western bling shirts, belts, etc. Sadly, the vibrating manure fork was not in attendance this year.

The art show is very cool, statues, paintings, photography. I love the dragon horse.

There are a few things for dog lovers too, because every tiny mutt needs chaps!

It was a long, fun day. I need to wear a pedometer, I think I walked miles! I didn't buy too much, but found a gorgeous orange rope halter, and an orange water scoop. My big purchase is a cantle bag, just plain black. And I finally found a new Shed Flower, my favorite grooming tool.

Now I just want to get out and try out my new out Major!

Monday, June 4, 2012

olmstead loop

Another new trail adventure. That was actually a beginning adventure too. Major and I joined S and Cisco to head from Auburn to Cool, and to do the Olmstead Loop (which is the same trail that is the second loop of the American River 50). I hadn't done that trail since I took Major on his trial test trail ride in July of 2009!

Cisco just wanting to share Major's haybag
come on, let's go!
Major and Cisco are still figuring out their relationship. They're warming to each other, but Cisco is a bit pushy. Major actually stood up for himself, and was NOT going to share his hay bag with Cisco. Then he discovered that Cisco's haybag has bigger, easier to eat holes, and they worked out a deal to share. Of course both bags have the same hay...

ridiculous, useful visor
And today I tried an experiment. I already had a small visor on my helmet, which seriously, is useless. It was going to be hot, I have given up caring what I look like out on the trail, and created a big brim visor. I'd been looking at some options to buy, (like the DaBrim) and may still go that way, but I made this out of about $5 worth of supplies, and it worked like a charm. Keeping your face shaded seriously helps keep you cool. Ego be damned (since I'm already wearing tights and bright colors and glow-orange reins, seriously, who cares.)

OK, back to the trail. Down the canyon, over the bridge (as usual) and up the canyon on the other side. It is a long, gradual uphill on the other side, Major was leading, I asked for a trot and we just powered up the hill, going up and up, fitting in some cantering too. (I did lose a boot here after a creek, slapped it back on, and we were good for the rest of the trip). We'd switch and have Cisco lead, the horses are pretty well matched. Once up the hill, it becomes rolling grasslands on one side. I don't know those trails, so S took the lead and we found a cool pond and just some nice trails, single track and fire-road wide too. We avoided the actual original dam (not ever built) construction road, but the open spaces were hot, we cantered along, and we got to the staging area in Cool quicker than we'd wanted.

pond loud with bullfrogs
Dam (Damn?) road looks like it goes forever
After a brief rest, where Major snorkeled in the trough and Cisco ignored the water, we were off on the longer loop. Usually I prefer to do the longer section before a break, but this is how it worked out, and we headed off onto actual Olmstead loop.

horse property on the left, awesome trail access!
down the hill into the cooler, green swale
Gorgeous, dry rolling hills and oak trees interspersed with seasonal ponds, now mostly muddy with green reeds and cooler air. The evil star thistle isn't quite blooming yet, but the telltale blue-green of its invasive, nasty branches are everywhere, poking through the grasses. There was an old orchard, and more fun trail, when we got to the other part of the loop.

cool dead snag, usually home to many creatures
a view all the way into the valley
old orchard ahead on the right
change of terrain
That section's topography changes dramatically, and goes to steep canyons with rocky trails, pine and manzanita, with a few creeks. The horses were lagging a bit, hot and tired, and the rocky trail and downhills didn't help. Major had been drinking like a champ, but Cisco hadn't had a sip, and S was concerned. Knickerbocker Creek was a welcome sight at the bottom of a hill, and we waded in and relaxed a bit, sponging the horses, watching the giant bullfrog tadpoles, butterflies and dragonflies.

No spring this time of year at at McElroy Spring
Knickerbocker Creek, with butterfly on Major's neck!
annoyed horse doesn't like his head sponged

We didn't want to leave, but headed back up the steep hill, making the horses walk. Soon we were on the trail home, but still a long canyon down and back up. But the horses knew were were going home. Cisco lead on the way down the canyon, trotting the gradual descent. There are a few stream crossings, soon to be dry for the summer, but Cisco still didn't drink. Major slurped out of a couple, good boy!

Major's ears say "How far to go? No way!"
We found a little friend in this spring
People swimming in the river, looked so nice and inviting

Crossing No Hands Bridge, and heading back up, Major found another gear, and wanted to lead. We power trotted most of the way up the canyon, cantered in some stretches, the tired horses from before completely forgotten. Cisco finally drank from the tiny spring a couple miles from the end, relief! I was glad to feel that power Major had left, I wasn't sure if this had been too much on a warm day, but bright-eyed and happy as we trotted into the staging area, and dove into the trough with big slurps.

Leaving Black Hole of Calcutta, sweaty, salty going-home ears

Major munched on grass, had a little mash, and loaded up for home. Another adventure complete, a good ride with a friend, a happy horse: that'll do...

stats and questions: 23.5 miles, 5.5 average moving speed, moving time 4:18. Pretty good for all the climbing (from 1300 feet, down to 500, up to 1500, and back, not counting all the in between!). I'm really happy with Major's attitude, drinking and energy at the end. I know we can tackle close to the LD distance without too much difficulty. Ready for a 50? Not sure, but I know the 50 is not just another 25, it is another 25 after you just did one, and are tired and have to keep going. It seems like too much to consider, but a 20+ mile trial ride used to seem huge too! Still pondering.