Friday, December 31, 2010

last ride of the year

I should have known when I got to the ranch and Major was kicking up his heels running around the pasture. It was only 35 degrees, but he must like it. But he came to the gate, and we got ready to go. But he was in a mood.

Major seemed to be auditioning for a part in "Spaceballs the Movie," the part of Major Asshole. To the non-nerds, yes, that an actual character in the awesome Mel Brooks movie. But back to the ride.

I thought I'd check out the trail to Rattlesnake Bar, which we hadn't done since summer. Heading out down the road he was a bit silly, but settled and was great for about 3 miles. Then we saw other horses. And turned around for home...and his brain fell out. Jigging silliness, I tried all the tricks in my repertoire, nothing worked. So we went home the long way, but even the additional 4 miles didn't help. This ride also has lots more elevation, so we climbed 1000 feet and descended 800 feet. No matter.

So back home we worked in the arena. Trot, circles, cantering, cantering circles. And when I asked for whoa, just with my voice, he slams on the brakes like a cowhorse. sigh...

Not the last ride of the year that I hoped for, but I was just happy to be out, in the sun, on my horse. Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Neither wind, nor rain, nor hail...

"Neither wind, nor rain, nor hail, nor gloom of clouds, stays this rider from the swift completion of her appointed trails." -apologies to Herodotus, 503 B.C

The ride started out clear, and I thought last night the news said a break in the storm...very wrong. Walking up the road the rain started, pretty heavy. The clouds looked dark, but I was determined to ride. Major had a spring in his step, perked ears and seemed just as determined. Then the hail started.

At first I thought the rain was just coming down harder, but then little white balls are bouncing off of Major's mane, and the road was turning white. We were out in the open, no trees for shelter, so we just kept trotting. Luckily it didn't last long, but enough to get my unwise choice of summer-weight breeches soaked, wet socks and gloves. I thought once we were on the trail and moving I'd warm up.

Except the usually well-drained sand trail was mostly a creek. It makes sense that after a big storm like last night the water flows to the lake...on the most convenient path. At one point there was a waterfall going off the trail. So instead if a nice trotting ride we slogged through puddles.

The large puddles Major thinks are fun, the deeper the better. He sniffs and takes a lick (would hopefully drink if thirsty) out of all of them, and at one also did his scuba routine where he dunks his head over his eyes into the water. And that time he grabbed a small log/branch underwater, and picked it up. I had to remind him he is not a dog.

The rest of the muddy puddles he'd rather avoid, but we worked on walking through them. We did get a little trotting in, though my cold legs made for some awkward posting. Coming home through the forest was sloppy, and I was glad to be home in one piece. Back at the barn the sky was a brilliant blue with puffy clouds...guess I should have waited a couple hours.

But we both enjoyed the adventure. And I brought home my very wet saddle for a good cleaning and conditioning...

Horse cookies

I love to bake. But I certainly don't need more cookies to eat! And it was raining and yucky yesterday, so I found myself making horse treats.

First was the horse "popcorn" ball. A hard treat that you hang to make your horse's face all sticky and gross. But Major loves them. They involve making a candy-like sugar mixture and stirring in grain, etc. I used beet pulp, some oatmeal and corn meal. FYI: don't turn your back on the sugar mixture even for the time it takes to dig out the mini bundt will be cleaning your stove of burning sugar lava and setting off your smoke alarms.

The next was basic cookies. Molasses, water, salt, beet pulp, oatmeal and some sweet feed. Mix until disgusting looking and spoon into mini muffin pans. Cook until the house smells like a feed processing facility.

Major will pretty much eat any treat (but not mints of any kind). He only gets one of the cookies each time, so even though they're sugary it seems ok. I still like that they're not store bought and no preservatives.

Next time I am going to try a low-sugar treat with pumpkin in it. But I may wait till I can open some windows.

Monday, December 27, 2010


I had a nice holiday post but it somehow disappeared into some internet space-time continuum. You can never say it the same as the first time...

It boils down to good friends, good horses, trails, and the new year. Too simplistic? I was able to ride Christmas eve, then again a couple days later. Nice quiet rides, where I figured out what to work on next (passing and being passed at speed). Family was nice at the holiday, but it was also nice to be back home, a bit more quiet, and to have some time off.

My previous barn always had a New Year's day ride. I hope to continue the tradition, to ride/walk/hang out with my horse. After staying up late the night before, getting out to the barn isn't the easiest, but it is a great way to usher in the horsey new year.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Major's view

"I heard my Mom's car drive up, and I looked over the fence to find her. She brings me good things to eat. I was in my house, but had been playing on the hill before all the rain came. I don't like to get wet. She brought me a carrot, just one! Then we went to eat my snack...but there was no snack! I wanted to walk over to the snack area, even if it was wet, but she made me keep walking. I tried to walk really slow and show her where we were supposed to go, but we had to walk down the driveway. I was getting wet. I wasn't in my pen. I didn't want to go. I walked really slow and looked behind me too. But she made me.

We walked down the road, I was wet, my head was wet, my Mom laughed at my crabby face. And said "blah, blah, blah, Major." then I tried some grass. It was good. Then some more, and we walked down to where there was some really extra delicious stuff. And I got to eat a whole bunch, mmmm, nom, nom, nom, I crunched grass so fast my mouth couldn't get enough! and then it was ok that I was wet. It had been my idea all along!

I wanted to keep eating grass all day, but Mom made me go back. But then my snack was ready! Mmmm, I love this snack. I eat it every day and still it is good. Today it was warm and mushy, my favorite way! I like to share some with Mom too, but she just stands far away till I am done.

It was still wet, and my new idea was to go stand inside again. This time I got to do what I wanted, and my dinner was already there! Wet days aren't so bad..."

Friday, December 17, 2010


Typically there are the usual: deer, quail, Canada geese. Today I got to see something special.

tiny bad photo of bald eagle!
One last clear day! I thought yesterday was the last, and wasn't really prepared to ride, but I rushed out of work and saddled up Major. He was looking forward to going out, maybe he was sensing the impending week of rain, and we trotted up the road. He loves the lake trail, and I let him move out. The lake is at least 5-6 feet lower than Sunday from the water releases, so muddy shoreline was more apparent. At one point I was admiring the view and saw a speck of dark on a rock in the lake. With a white head. I thought it was one funky duck, but as I looked closer he was much larger. I realized it was a bald eagle! I've never seen one at the lake (or anywhere else either). I also realized how far away he was, and that he was huge! I tried taking a photo, but camera phone has no real zoom, one time I wished I carried a real camera. I know the bald eagles overwinter in Cache Creek, but that is a ways from here. Maybe he was just passing through and saw some tasty fish.

I've seen a golden eagle before (who was huge and gorgeous and spooked the pony I was riding who then dumped me) but I'd love to see more bald eagles. I'll have to keep an eye out. The rest of the ride was good, Major wanted to move out sometimes a bit too much, but was rateable most of the time. Almost home we had to cross a muddy (but safe) area. We crossed and coming towards us on the trail was a gorgeous coyote. Full bushy coat and tail, finding some good hunting in the field it looked like. Major and I have no worries of coyotes, and the coyote passed up and went to the muddy area, clearly not wanting to get his legs that dirty (4-6 inches deep of water and mud).

I was so glad I'd decided to ride out, to have one more day before the storms. One more day, one more ride, I think that is what most of us hope for.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

slip and fall

I knew the trails were slippery. And so I carefully headed out, down the road to an easier access. Through the gate, down to the tiny creek. Major started down the bank, put his head down to check the water...and whoa! Not sure how I stayed on as his back legs slid underneath him, he caught himself from falling and lunged out of the creek. He'd gotten pretty muddy, and I jumped off to make sure all was OK. Walked around a bit, everything seemed fine, so found a spot to remount and continued on. I'd just planned a forest walk, and that was all we did. It was a nice quiet hour or walking and a tiny amount trotting (after the first 10 minutes of scary!). The trails are so pretty and going green right now, Major keeps wanting to stop for a snack!

There was a recent good post by Karen Chaton about riding in mud, with some good hints and ideas, and there will certainly be a lot of practice in the months to come. Maybe 6 inches of rain in the next week, they're letting water out of Folsom Lake in expectation of the deluge, oh holiday joy...

Monday, December 13, 2010

something clicked...

Something clicked today. I don't know if was a product of the extra groundwork and listening exercises, or if Major just wanted to move and was willing to listen so he could do so...I didn't really care why. But after a few miles of occasional unresponsiveness (mainly consisting of breaking into canter when expected to trot) I got a very nice trotting ride of about 9 miles, along the lake in the nicely drained sandy footing. The forest trails had been pretty slick with mud, so we took those slow in the beginning, but the lake was great.

(I'd been reading some great blogs about riding in the snow, cantering horse along snowy paths, it all sounded so beautiful. But after yesterday, where it was 65 degrees in December with startling blue skies, I'll stick with my weather, though visiting the snow would be fun).

There were quite a few riders out, Major doesn't seem that interested and leaves them no problem. I also think part of our successful ride was that I finally felt a good posting rhythm...his fast trot is just so damn fast and I don't want to 2-point the entire time. The trot I managed to get him to stick with is a notch down from the fast version, GPS clocked it at about 11.5 mph. He seems willing to keep this up for quite a while, but I was glad to get about 10 minutes straight of that, then some more in the 7-9 mph range (but was fighting him to stay that speed).

We did one 6-mile loop, and he still wanted to go, so I added on some more. I don't want to be a weekend warrior, but last weekend was the last big (although slow) ride. I'd love to do more long rides, but during the week I can truly only ride in the arena or up the road a bit. With some holiday time coming up I'm looking forward to more rides like today!

When we got home he was a sweaty mess (even though he was cooled off). At first I was just going to sponge him off, but with the weather so nice he got hosed off...then put out in the arena. I sat on a barrel and got to watch my pretty horse rolling no less than 3 times, including grinding his face into the sand, and thoroughly enjoying himself. He'd roll, flipping entirely over, then trot a bit, roll some more. Happy and not seemingly tired from our excursion. When he seemed satisfied with his messiness, he sauntered over to me to share some dirt (and get a carrot).

Good pony. Good day.

Friday, December 10, 2010

the wreath incident

I had a message on my phone the other day from a friend at the barn. Major got in trouble...but it was so funny she had to call and tell me. She was taking a decorative wreath to her horse's paddock. To get there you have to walk through Major's pasture. He came trotting up, and she thought he wanted to be pet (he's sometimes a bit of a pest "what are you doing, huh, huh??). Instead he zeroed in on that wreath...and grabbed hold! She politely asked him to let go...and he insisted on pulling harder and trying to run off with it! She pictured him running amok through the pasture, wreath flying, scaring the other horses and having a grand time of it. So she insisted he let go and he did, I'm sure a bit dejected that his fun was over.

I think I'll get him his own wreath, or some such playtoy. Might be a good holiday photo shoot!

rainy benefits

Rain all week, dark after work, I don't see many benefits. But Major does! The best part of his day comes when we go for a walk through the arena. I turn him loose, and immediately he makes a beeline for the closest barrel. On top of each barrel is about a 1/2 inch of what must be the most delicious, fun water ever discovered. First it is swished around on top, then it must be slurped, then licked up. After that the barrel is grabbed by the edge and tipped so any remaining water falls to the ground. The barrel is usually tipped so as it falls it falls towards Major...who doesn't care at all. Then the barrel gets kicked around a few times, before it is abandoned for the next amazing barrel and water discovery. One time last week he played, tipped the barrel over, and tipped it right back up into position! If he could do that more often, but instead I pick up the barrels later.

I love watching him doing this: he is obviously having fun, and he'll look up at me "see what I did!," wander over to check on what I'm doing, wander over to another barrel, repeat.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

a fable

The internet is an amazing trove of information. I was looking for one thing, and was caught up in reading interesting aesop's fables. This one I particularly liked, by French writer Jean De La Fontaine. There are differing translations, but all are interesting. I read the ones with horses...most of the time the horse beats the wolf but the horse is also dumber/more self-involved than the donkey. 

From the beginning of time Horses were not born for Men. 
Once Man was quite satisfied eating acorn,
Donkey, Horse and Mule dwelt in the forest; 
And one saw not, as in this century, 
So many saddles and  various packs, 
Nor such fittings for warfare, 
Many poste-chaises, legion of coaches; 
Likewise one did not witness  
So much feasting and numerous parties. 
One day, a Horse had an argument   
With a Stag capable of great speed, 
Chased it all about and failing utterly, 
Sought help from Man, begged for support. 
The Man rigged him with bit and rein, leapt on his back, 
Gave him no repose until 
The Stag was caught and lost his life; 
This done, the Horse gave thanks 
To Man his benefactor saying; I am grateful,  
Farewell, I'm going back to the wilderness. 
- Nay, said the Man; our dwelling is more suitable:
I clearly see how useful you might be. 
Stay with me you'll be treated well 
And to your belly in a bed of straw.
Alas, what good is fine food 
When one has lost freedom? 
The Horse perceived his foolishness; 
But it was too late: already his stable 
Was ready and  built so very well. 
He died there while pulling on his rope! 
Wiser had he forgiven a petty offense. 
Whatever pleasure vengeance may bring, 
It is too costly, when bought at the expense 
Of what is gone, all the rest is naught.
Never seek revenge for it may be your undoing

It makes me a little sad, but I know most of our horses are treated very well. But the first line of this piece just pulls at my heart: From the beginning of time, Horses were not born for Men. I keep going back to this idea, so it must be important to me: horses give us such gifts...

all is quiet

It has been a nice quiet couple of weeks. I have really enjoyed just spending time with my horse. He is quickly groomed and then we do a little work in the arena, then go eat some grass on a meandering walk. He is no longer favoring his leg when hand-walking or on the lunge, so we did a short little ride yesterday, it was nice to see the forest, how green it is getting, to feel the very brisk air. He seemed happy and ready to go...especially heading for home. It is dark way too early, it was 4:30 when I was coming back the road, and I put his blanket on in the dark.

I think it has been good to take a little break, it will be like this much of the winter anyway. A nice quiet break from monitoring and charting and expectations. I am hoping to do some very casual rides with friends, to get Major relaxed and walking along with other horses, so he is not expecting fast rides all the I guess I do have expectations!

It is cold and clear right now, I know Major likes to stand in the corner of his paddock where the sun hits first. When he is turned out after breakfast he'll have a good roll and spend the day with his friends. I'll arrive this afternoon, and he looks up when he hears my car. Deciding on whether to come to my whistle is a day-to-day decision, but he comes eventually, and we'll go in search of the sweet new grasses...