Saturday, December 31, 2016

the story 2016

Again I have no summary of 2016. And no definitive plans for 2017. I have read and admire everyone else's though! I felt like a slacker, and even more guilt as my mileage tracker app sent me daily email reminders that the year was ending. 

Fine, I give in. I took a look at the tally for 2016: 605 miles, 62,365 feet elevation climb, 128 hours in the saddle. There are even more stats provided, but it's a bit much: number of rides and when, average distance, etc. 

But those numbers don't tell the story for me. There is no account of all the time tacking up, untacking and taking care of Major. Of feed and shoveling and trailering. Of grooming and hanging out, hiking and grazing walks. 

And the ears tell the rest of story. 

So I finished the year as I started: looking through those two black-tipped brown ears, and all the attitude between them, through some of my favorite views.

Miles. Time. Carrots. However you measure, it's the ears that count. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

conversation with major: gift

Hey, you're here! But it's dinnertime? And already dark?!
I know, sorry I'm so late.
I ate my mash.
I see that.
Now I have hay!
You always have hay in your net.
This is NEW hay. It's better.
Ok. But do you want to leave dinner and go for a walk? (hold up halter, jingle of halter tags)
Yeah, lets go!

I had a very long day at work Major.
I played bite face with my neighbor Drummer.
Well, I had to meet with the company president and a big committee.
Then I ate more hay, and took a nap in the mud.
I see that.
My stuff was more fun.
I agree.

Dark grass is extra good.
Dark grass?
It's dark. I'm eating grass. Dark grass.
 I can only see your blaze and one white foot.
I can see for both of us.
Not sure if I trust you on that one.
Is that why you have the sharp bright?
The what?…Oh, my flashlight?
Too bright!
Ok, no flashlight. The clouds are covering the moon, but it is enough.
Over here. More grass.

So, what do you want for a holiday present Major?
What holiday?
Solstice, Festivus, Christmas, Hanukkah…whatever you celebrate.
More than dark grass? And mash? And new hay? And mud naps?
Well yeah, I could buy you a present.
More than that?
Well, yes.
Do you have a carrot in your pocket?
Then I'm good. Grass mash hay naps carrot. I don't need anything.
You're right Major. You're right.

Happy Solstice everyone. May your days be lighter.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

dark, rain…stars

On the days when it hasn't been too dark after work, it's been raining. I fit in one short weekend ride, where Major got to see his un-friend Tux, before more rain came. We need the rain, the lake is rising. But the trails are super slick. I could maneuver about a mile of snot-slick trail down to the sandy lake trail, if it would stop raining long enough!

I'm trying to ignore that guy Tux… (photo by H.S.)

Major is enjoying his evening walks in the swiftly fading light. A little too much. Anxiously bouncing on the end of his lead rope…even last week when recovering from injury (three-legged lame to recovered in four days=abscess/bruise?). Limp...trot! Limp...trot! Ridiculous.

really, soaking is dumb, I'm good Mom, let's go!

meadow in creeping darkness

And I'm almost as anxious as Major is. We do a bit of hiking, four horse feet and two human feet walking are more stable on the slippery trails (if Major could keep from prancing along behind me). It's almost winter, the downtime is good resting time, right? Major and I both need the reminder to slow down sometimes.


sunset over Major

Because it's good too. A quickly setting sun over the back of my grazing horse. Lovely sky on an evening walk. Today the meadow began filling with ground fog and the moon rose on our way back to pasture and waiting dinner.

Major watching the fog roll in

ground fog rising, 4:45pm

The stars come out. A cold, crisp night before more rain is forecast. Warm mash. Extra hay. Breathe. Repeat.

moonrise over Major

Wednesday, November 23, 2016


Current events weighed too heavily…so I ran away. Clear skies, epic views, hard hiking, clearing my mind at 8500 feet.

clear Tahoe water at Skunk Harbor

feeling small

in the end, at 8500 feet, the snow was much deeper

far above Tahoe near Maggies Peak

Desolation wilderness view

Hiking in golden fields under dying light. Fast rides on quickly greening trails. Warm mash on damp days. New green grasses.

an afternoon hike

muddy river after rain

low lake epic views

the messy face mash aftermath

deep green grasses

I'm still overwhelmed. But focusing on the smaller things. And so thankful for having them.

Friday, October 28, 2016


What haunts our trails? What lurks around corners, behind trees, beneath rocks? What is spooky on the trail?

noise in the shrubbery!

something killed the balloons!

mud puddle ate Major's head

skeleton rider

really dead thing

evil seeds

scariest of all: late for dinner

Happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 15, 2016


Today is 2 minutes and 25 second shorter than yesterday. 2:25 less minutes of daylight. 2:25 less time outside. And it's increasing as we get closer to the winter solstice.

But we have time. There is always a little time.

The first big storm of the year was blowing in. But we had time. And trail. And clouds blowing in overhead, wind-whipped mane.

But we had time.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

show time

Well, it could have been worse!

We certainly did not win any prizes, and there is much room for improvement, but we survived our foray back into the "show" world.

This was a very casual local show, and our portion was held on the trail behind the actual show arena. Major and his friend Friday (and my friend C) arrived a bit early so we could wander about. Major was pretty unconcerned about the surrounding, as was more interested in whatever C had thrown into the delicious hay bag. We were parked right next to the warmup ring, but even that was unimpressive. So far, so good!

(As an aside: we could immediately tell we were not at an endurance ride: these people could not park! So much space between trailers, they could have fit a lot more into the tight space without using the overflow, but I digress…)

This was the Western day of the show, English had been the day before. So there was pretty bling to be seen everywhere. My dressage saddle and helmet may have gotten some looks, but we warmed the horses up and practiced a bit, then headed over to the trail area to start our class.

waiting before the class

Here is an obstacle-by-obstacle re-enactment and my pretend scores (out of 10 per obstacle):

1. First judge takes our number and explains we need to go to the marker on the ground, and sidepass over to the gate. OK. Go to sidepass, stop, need to sidepass left, Major steps right INTO my leg. Argh. Only one step though, then we sidepass over to the gate.We did it but ugly: Score 4

2. Then we need to take the rope gate hanging on the tree, open it, walk through, close the gate. Rope gate? We hadn't practiced that, only real gates. Damn. The gate was an utter disaster. No excuses, but he was focused on everything except me, including the puppy and owner on the trail about 10 feet away, talking to a rider just standing there. But we did open and close it in the end. Score: 2

3. Walk horse between parallel poles about 10 inches apart (it is supposed to be a very narrow trail). Major at first thought it must be a sidepass, being so narrow. So he was a bit hesitant, but then did it ok, with a little knocking of poles. Score: 5

4. Dismount onto the mounting block, then trot horse about 20 feet, around pole, and back. This is a trick: you need to either unclip your reins and put them on the halter, or have a leadrope. I knew this an unclipped my reins, and Major and I did our endurance trot out. Pretty easy. Score: 8

5. Lead horse over to another mounting block, and get on without moving the block. Since we never move the block, and Major knows a cue "one step" to line up, no problem. The trick here: check your girth before getting on, judge will watch for that. I remembered! Score: 9

6. Ride horse down into creek, past the scary plastic bag, turn a complete circle in the creek, getting all four hooves wet. Major was a bit forward, thinking he was leaving his BFF Friday behind. He wanted to charge back up, but we walked, and I remembered to stand up in the stirrups and get out of the saddle coming up the hill. Score: 7

The next obstacles was a little way down the trail. And Major was fretting about Friday, and Friday was freaking out that Major was leaving. Sigh… and we had to wait awhile while the previous person finished, Major heard Friday calling to him, he called back, but just once. Arggh!

anxious Major, forced smile, gee, is this fun?

7. Finally our turn! Go up the the picnic table, pretend it's a rock. Dismount on the off side. Get down and check the horse's right front foot for a stone and clean it out. Tricky part: have your own hoof pick. Win for me! Got my folding hoof pick out of my saddle bag, done. Remount from the off side. But I forgot a key element: check the girth (every time you mount). Damn. Score: 6

8. In front of you is a half box with lines made of flour. From about 20 feet back, trot your horse and stop directly in the box. Yeah, we've got this! Perfect stop. Score: 10

9. Ride through three uneven cones, don't go outside the flour lines, about 30 inches apart. Walking forward, no problem. Backing, um, not so much. Obliterated the first cone, stepped outside the box, did the final cone OK. Judge (an old friend) said "Maybe if he was less anxious." Yeah, I think that too! Score: 4

Estimated final score: 55/90. Ugly.

finished, but distracted Major waiting for Friday (obstacle 9 on left)

Through this all poor C was dealing with Friday having a melt down, even when he could see Major. He probably would have been better to go to the show alone, but your unfortunately, you ride the horse you have that day! After we were done we did hang out for awhile and watch the kids ride adorable well-natured horses and ponies. Some putted around in too-slow western jog, but there were some cute pairs. And Major and Friday just stood there, watching everything calmly.

watching arena, my trimmer's daughter on her adorable pony!

relaxing after our bad rides
I'll await the real scores, hopefully I wasn't too nice to myself! And maybe next year more than a week of practice. But I'm glad I went, and to have the reminder that I need to do some arena work more often than never!

Saturday, October 8, 2016


A few days before our mess of an arena practice, I came home after being gone almost a week. First thing I did when I got back was go see Major. He was happy to see me, though he probably would have been just as happy to have had the apple and carrot provided daily by friend S instead!

But I wanted to get out, even if it was threatening rain! Turns out he did too. Major briskly set the pace, and we headed for the lake. The wind was rising, and I thought better of taking the exposed, sandy lake trail. Instead we opted for the more often tree-covered upper Pioneer trail.

gathering storm

changing redbud leaves

Not a single person on the trail. A silent lake. The only sound was the wind in the trees. A few drops fell on the dusty trail (and dusty horse) but we avoided the larger storm. Redbud trees the first to show their fall colors.

over-shoulder dusty rain-dappled horse
Kings of all we survey.

I am monarch of all I survey, my right there is none to dispute." -William Cowper

Thursday, October 6, 2016

arena ugly

Oh, that was not pretty.

Not every ride goes as planned. And certainly not our last (and only) arena practice of the year. I somehow had the great idea that I would attend the local show this coming weekend and do the basic Trail class. It actually isn't an arena trail class (thank goodness) but takes place on the small trail behind the horseman's arena, with many of the same type of obstacles.

waiting for obstacles to be set up

mmm, a leaf!

So I should practice, right? Now I actually do practice on trail, backing and sidepassing, turning on the hindquarters, etc. But maybe we needed some refinement, and obstacles! I was enthusiastic.

I set up a tarp and cardboard to walk over. And an L to back and barrels to work. A pole to sidepass over. Friend C was also up for the challenge. She set up a flour line and box, scary bags on the fence. We had umbrellas, buckets, things to drag, it was good.

On a positive note: Major will walk over and through anything. Tarps, cardboard, no problem. He did put his nose down at the flour line…and tried to eat it! Dragging the feed pan was scary at first, then just fine, same with the yellow toy bucket filled with sand.

non-scary flour line

flour nose, not tasty

Now for the ugly. For a horse that will easily move from one side of a wide trail to the other with just light leg pressure, sidepasing in the arena was impossible. Major couldn't possibly remember to move off my leg. With encouragement (dressage whip) that improved. Briefly. C was also quite frustrated with her horse Friday.

Major's attitude wasn't quite "I don't remember how to do that." Instead it was "F* you, I don't WANT to do that!" So we'd work something, then take a break. I'd set him up for success (first, just take one step sideways) which was met with head flinging, backing nonsense. Correct response, we'd move on. It did get better, but showed a big hole in our training.

Standard backing was better, though not pretty, working on straightness is very necessary! And not continuing to back when all pressure is off. And not plowing through obstacles. Oh my.

We also trotted and cantered, that was fine. We went back out of the arena to give the horses a mental break, Major opening the gate perfectly. We practiced out on the road, again, both horses were very good, nothing like their behavior in the arena. Arghh!. Then we went back into the arena. And Major refused to sidepass over to close the gate. He was saying no more practice, let's go on the trail! But he doesn't get to decide that. We had not been practicing that long, and he was fine outside of the arena. Sigh.

Ok, totally my fault for not ever practicing in the arena. And just because we did this great a few years ago doesn't mean Major remembers. Though he still knows things like leg, sidepass and backing, and should remember to MOVE OVER when asked and not behave like an a** in general. Being in a sandy arena versus a forested trail should not make a difference on that.

So we will practice some more. And still go to the show. Because we can learn from every experience. I already learned that we need to practice these rusty skills. I'm figuring did not place in a show is better than did not try!

I'll fit in another practice arena ride and a fun ride before the show. I'm pretty sure our fun ride will be doing all the trail challenges, but in the forest! I'll return with the event debacle details and results next week…

Friday, September 30, 2016

choose your own adventure

The days are getting too short. Time is speeding faster and faster, so I'm fitting in all the rides and adventures I can. What will you join me on? Choose from Ten Buzzard Ride, Canteriffic Sand Pits, Vet Visit, or Early Exploring.

What? you don't choose the vet visit?

Vet Visit Luckily, it was uneventful. I wanted the doc to give me the all clear on Major's large splint. Poked and prodded, trotted out completely sound, (all after a 10 mile ride the day before, which I did as a diagnostic). I also had the vet weigh Major on the big scale, as I think he's a bit...chunky, right now.

probably should stop the snacks

ok, maybe we're not this bad…yet

1070 pounds. Vet thought he was fine at Major's height of 15.3, just a little bit fat, nothing more exercise can't fix. So with the all clear, we're ready for increased adventures!

Major thinks there is something suspicious up the hill

Yes, Major can read! This ranch adjacent to the vet has flying pigs!

Ten Buzzard Ride Evening rides are squeezed between getting off work and the encroaching dark. Often I take no photos, and just enjoy horse and forest time. But finding the high point in the forest and seeing the lake view with eight circling turkey vultures (and two sitting on the rock), it stopped us in our tracks. (I had read earlier that more than 20,000 turkey vultures pass through California on their migration from Washington state south to Mexico every September. Here was a small group. How cool. Another random fact: A group of flying turkey vultures is called a a kettle!)

Canteriffic Sand Pits Working on our listening skills (OK, Major's listening skills) we worked on trot, walk, whoa, back, trot, mixing it up for a mile out to the lake. By the time we got there he was actually listening (yes, I should work on this more). Trotting through the sand he asked to canter, and picked up a lovely canter on single track through shallow sand. He even jumped a tiny log on trail while cantering (this horse does not jump, he's pretty dumb that way, me too.). Then we hit the sand pits! And we walked, even Major knowing speed is too hard and not safe through the deep sand.

sand shadow

lake getting lower!

sand pits

a shady break

Early Exploring The local park is not that special, but we hadn't been in awhile and needed a change of scenery. But it gets inundated with bikes and clueless hikers by 10am. So let's get it done early! Almost empty trails, golden early light and Major was having fun exploring (in spite of suspicious dead sticks). Traded trail back and forth with a nice group of mountain bikers, stopped and splashed in the green creek, and almost got ran into by another idiot cyclist coming around a blind corner at speed. Luckily, we were not the reason that four emergency vehicles passed us on the fire road, and that two fire trucks were in the parking lot when we got back!

early morning light and shadow

along the quiet creek

dead sticks are weirdly stacked

have a seat?

head-eating slime

I love how every adventure, even over the same trails, always has something different to discover. As every day gets shorter, Major and I speed up a bit, anxious to fit it all in before the dark and cold catch us.