Reluctant Cowgirl


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To the Mountains

I live about 20-30 miles from several trailheads into the biggest wilderness in Oregon. Last week my cousin was in town, and we took her up there on her first backpacking trip. Three days after returning from the three-day trip, and with the major projects of fixing the water and replacing our batteries (off-grid living is fun) complete, we realized we had a free weekend day and went back up for an afternoon with Henry.

It might be only 20-30 miles, but they are all dirt, and for most of them you can’t go over 10-20 mph. So it takes more than an hour to get to a trailhead, and when you arrive the horse is coated in a thick layer of road dust. (God I hate you, stock trailer.) He steps out and shakes off and it is absolute Pig Pen.

Also there are a million blind turns and rednecks drive like idiots and I try not to pee my pants in the passenger seat from nerves the entire time.

It was a Sunday afternoon and the horse camp was deserted. Henry, as usual, did not seem to care about anything other than how much grass he could consume, but I was getting myself all worked up about llamas. Because the weekend was ending and it was possible we’d run into pack llamas coming off the trail we were heading out on. My mustang busted through two fences and had a 1-hour long meltdown over a donkey. I don’t want to see him meet a llama.

I put on our awful western saddle because I don’t know why (I feel like people judge me riding in english tack out here?), realized I’d forgotten a part of the breast collar at home, and promptly walked off without a helmet on. I was so nervous I didn’t know if I’d even get on him, so maybe I figured I didn’t need it.

Our first encounter was with two women backpacking with fishing poles. I allowed H to stop, stare and listen as we chatted with the girls. He soon realized they were just humans with long pokey things and OH HEY, THERE’S SOME GRASS.

Next we crossed a wooden bridge with a snort but no real hesitation. Then we just walked normally like a human and a horse on a trail. Then I realized I’d just backpacked 30 miles and had blisters and an Achilles strain and deserved to ride on this overweight horse. So I hopped on (sans helmet; I’m mortified) and we rode a couple miles with four creek crossings, some gnarly rocky terrain (I got off for the worst of it) and our biggest issue the continued struggle to impress upon him that riding time is not eating time unless access to grass has been granted with a certain command. (At one point RCowboy asked if it would be possible to ride him with a muzzle on.) Also he is fat and out of shape and several times performed like a dramatic, unruly pony who would just like to be left on the mountain rather than have to climb one more step, please.

“I could not possibly go on”

On the way back down we rode through a huge meadow (SO MUCH NOSE-LEVEL GRASS) and through the big creek. I took off his saddle and let him have a swim/roll because he’s a good boy and he was going to get filthy with dust on the ride home anyway.

Horse-shaped hippo/water buffalo

So we don’t have proper trail tack that either of us enjoy and we still haven’t gotten the llama thing (or the bear thing…or the other million things that could go wrong on the trail) out of the way but it was a nice ride and a great first step in the mountains. Where there’s lots of grass.


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Two Years; an Extreme Mustang Makeover Adoption Story

Today is my two-year adopt-aversary with Henry Wheeler. Certainly people have accomplished more with their horses in two years in terms of ribbons and trophies and points, but we’re taking the slow and steady approach, and I’m okay with that.

Yay.

Since I’m not sure I’ve ever shared the story of Henry’s adoption, today seems like a good a day as any.

Once I decided I wanted a horse, I decided I wanted a mustang. I am a firm believer in and lover of mutts and their associated hybrid vigor, and as an ecologist loved that I could be the reason there was one less horse on the range. (While I certainly don’t want to see wild mustangs extirpated, I definitely think their numbers are too high to be sustainable for both the ecosystems they inhabit and their own survival. It’s a very complicated issue but there is no disputing that gathers happen and horses go to holding facilities and any chance to adopt one out is a good move for everyone concerned.)

Once I decided on a mustang, I started looking for adoption events, and the Extreme Mustang Makeover was the best option for me because the horses would be saddle trained. I may have been sort of clueless adopting a horse with just 100 days of training after being ‘out of horses’ for 20 years, but at least I knew enough not to get myself an untouched or TIP-trained mustang. (TIP horses have been gentled and taught to load and unload from a trailer, halter, and pick up all four feet, but nothing more.)

The Extreme Mustang Makeover is an outstanding program. Say what you will about forcing horses to a certain place in 100 days (I would argue ‘forcing’ isn’t even an appropriate word because a lot of trainers hold their horses out of the competition if they don’t think they will be ready), the pageantry and fun of these type of events do great things for the breed. Leading up to the event I stalked every trainer I could find online, looking for updates on Facebook and Instagram that would give me insights into the personality and experience of the horse and the philosophy of the trainer. But not all trainers are social media-savvy, and some just don’t post very often. In the end I made a short list of horses I was interested in based on a single photo of each on the EMM website.

We drove to Nampa, Idaho with the dogs and an empty trailer, having set up a round pen in the apple orchard outside our residence at the time, a 460-square foot single-wide. We stopped at the feed store and picked up two bales of hay – one grass, one alfalfa, because I had no idea what I was doing – on the way. We arrived Saturday in time to watch the pattern class and attend the ‘Meet the Mustangs’ event in the stables. Youth freestyles were going on, but I tried not to get distracted by all the cute yearlings. The group of riding horses was mostly made up of representatives from the Idaho Black Mountain and Hardtrigger HMAs, with a couple of Beatty’s Butte (OR) and Triple B (NV) ‘stangs thrown in. All were geldings. The color range was mostly bays, sorrels, and a couple blacks. No greys or flashy pintos to catch my eye and make me irrationally choose a horse with an incompatible attitude because of its color.

The first thing I asked each trainer as I made the rounds at each stall was whether they planned on adopting the horse. I did NOT want to be in a bidding war with a trainer that had fallen in love with their mustang. I’ve been a foster mom for dogs and I know how easy it is to get attached to an animal, and if they want to keep them they should be able to do so, by all means. Some folks responded along the lines of “hell no,” (those raised red flags for other reasons), others said squirrely things like “I’d really like to keep him, but…”, and one or two said they planned on bringing the horse home no matter what. I crossed those off the list and didn’t bother with any more questions. A few said they loved the horse and wanted them to go home with a wonderful adopter, and those were the ones I pushed further with questions. How tall is he? Is he good with dogs? Has he ever bucked, bitten, kicked, reared, bolted? Is he “stud-y”? How is he on trails versus the arena? Perhaps not strangely I remember the answers to these questions from only one respondent, Whitney, Henry’s trainer. She stood in his doorway with the door open and he quietly munched hay beside her. She ran her hands through his mane and talked about how much she’d come to love him, and how once she’d earned his trust he’d decided he would do anything for her. Everything she said was the right answer, his easy-going demeanor was hypnotizing, and Hip 5 moved to the top of my list.

Stable signage from the event.

After my time in the stalls, I had a short list of three horses and it was time to go back to the arena for the freestyle competition. Henry and Whitney had made the top 10, and would perform for about 7 minutes with a sock hop theme, doing everything from bouncing giant beach balls to jumping into the back of a pickup to chasing a cow. It was a great performance and they ended up fourth overall.

Mustang in a Ford.

 

Like some kinda cow pony. (Credit Lynda Allan Photography)

I had full on chills and wanted to bring this horse home with me so badly at this point, and was very grateful he had such a low hip number so I wouldn’t have to anxiously wait through all the others to bid. Have you ever bid in an auction? Have you ever bid in an auction on a living being that you have suddenly fallen madly in love with? I had not. I was nervous, but Whitney wanted him to go to me, as did several new friends we made in the stands. I had an idea how high I wanted to go, and when they called out for bidders I started waving my number like crazy, and the new friends helped get the auctioneer’s attention when it was needed. Someone across the arena was also bidding on him, and my entire body was shaking as I kept pleading for them to give up before I had to. They did.

I jumped up and down and ran to the arena fence to hug Whitney through it. We were both crying. It was such a good feeling knowing she was rooting for us to be together, especially because I know how much she cared for him.

Not a fake smile. I got a pony!

 

It was a whirlwind day and we wanted to get him home before it was pitch dark out, so after completing the paperwork we said many teary goodbyes and exchanged numbers. He got a hay net and lots of pets and we hit the road.

Still wearing his hip number, first day home.

He slept so hard the first few days I had him, I started to wonder if it was normal. What a crazy 100 days for a formerly-wild stallion from Nevada. I’m glad to have learned a lot from and about him in the two years since, and can’t wait to see where we are in another two years.

Like a giddy child.

 


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Notes from a Summer Evening

It was still in the 90s when I grabbed my pony tonight. Summer is real.

Lately we’ve been trying an assortment of approaches aimed at relaxation, focus and building our partnership. I’m sorry about how sappy and cliché that sounds. But when I have more bad interactions than good with my horse I am ready to try anything.

We start with slow, careful catching using approach and retreat. When he doesn’t show stress I move toward him, when he does I back away. There are generally some scratches and a treat involved. I do my best to wait until he’s fully relaxed and willing before I put the halter on. I’m tired of rushing. It doesn’t work for us.

Next we went to the arena and did ground work. The aim was keeping him with me and engaged, so I broke out some cavaletti and cones because he gets bored easily in the ring. We walked and trotted, we side passed, turned on the haunches. We worked on backing into parallel ground poles, which was the hardest obstacle for us today. I laughed and had a big stupid smile on my face because he seemed to be enjoying it all, which is mostly all it takes for me to be happy.

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OK, this is cool.

Finally, I threw on my saddle and did a few of the obstacles riding, then rode him out of the arena and across the property, climbing one big hill and taking a nice break in the shade for a few bites of grass.

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This is even cooler, frankly.

We observed that the cows had been moved from one side of the road to the other, and it was very interesting to him. I didn’t make fun of him and tell him to get over it. I said I was sorry the cowboys didn’t send him a memo; that he really should be the first one they tell when they are planning to make changes to the surrounding rangeland. I forgave his tension and waited for it to pass.

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But…but…but that’s not where they belong.


Incidentally, I also took some photos of my ass in the saddle while he was having that grass break and boy am I sure now that my 16.5” saddle is too small. Turns out I’m not some string bean teenager anymore. I keep lamenting how hard it is to stay in the correct position and going, ugh, stop making excuses, probably your riding just sucks. But maybe I really do need something a little more roomy.

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3-4 fingers? I can barely get a single pinkie back there. Geez. #amateurhour

I don’t even know where to begin the saddle search. I asked a couple friends on the East Coast and one said Wintec or Albion, the other, a saddle fitter, suggested County. When I google ‘dressage saddle fat wide short backed mustang no withers’ I get a lot of hits for Duett. But will I like a Duett? Will I like a County? WHAT THE HECK THERE ARE 7,324 SADDLE BRANDS AND MODELS OUT THERE WHERE DOES ONE EVEN START.

I’m not really ready to buy new, but even if I was, if I haven’t already mentioned this one thousand times, I live in the middle of nowhere, in cowboy country. The closest tack shops with dressage saddles are 3-5 hours away. Saddle fitters, same. So do I buy used from a seller/consignor with trial periods? It seems like that’s probably the safest bet.

I’m most comfortable in a dressage saddle, and think the right one should be something I can use for lessons and trail riding. Maybe down the line a proper endurance saddle will become necessary, but for now one good, well-fitting dressage saddle is all I want.

(Except for the Wade western saddle I need for my cowboy cred. I never can tell when one of my neighbors is going to ask me to help move cattle, and I absolutely cannot show up in a dressage saddle.)


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Lessons in Humility

This could probably be the title of every post about a lesson, but this one was especially humbling.

It was a brisk, breezy day and we rode outdoors. Lately Alice saddles up her young Azteca mare to ride with me, which I love. Not only does it give us both experience riding with other horses, it also gives her a birds-eye view of my riding, and Henry a kick in the pants. (Would you want to be chased by a fiery grey mare?) I have no idea how in the world she is coordinated enough to both control her green horse and critique Henry and I for an hour straight at all three gaits, but she’s really good at it. She prefaces these lessons by saying “remember, I’m not yelling at you!” because she really does have to yell sometimes, and when the yelling is also combined with chasing it can be a little intimidating.

RCowboy got a good amount of video from this lesson, so I could slowly scroll through and take screenshots of us and remember how little I know and how poor my equitation is.

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Left: how to canter. Right: how not to canter.

The words I heard the most during this lesson were “HE’S BRACING” which are also the words I say to myself the most when I ride in the arena alone. In the journey to suppleness and self-carriage we are taking very baby steps which include all the bending and rollbacks and 10-m circles. I am learning how to properly hold my reins and keep my eyes up and shoulders level.

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Try to focus on the scenery and not the miniature trotter and his incompetent jockey.

We did have our moments. Some of those turns really got him to engage and when it all comes together Alice gives a whooping “YESSSSS!” and I smile. My mindset and attitude have come a long way and I definitely have fun with these lessons, even if we are far from perfecting anything or even showing consistency. I laugh out loud a lot, because if there’s one thing I can master it’s not taking myself (or any of this) too seriously. I’m lucky to own a horse and have the time and means to ride him in lessons; everything else is just gravy.

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Me: bend, pony, bend! Pony: THESE MARES ARE SO DISTRACTING

When we finished up Alice asked if she could ride him to demo some homework. She first showed me three rein positions to ask for suppleness at the halt and then at the walk and trot. Then she got him to do some very pretty trot and canter work.

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Gosh my horse is pretty when someone else rides him.

A lot of times I have to remind myself that when I got this horse less than two years ago he had 100 days of training, and his trainer spent about 60 of those days just trying to touch him. He came to me with less than 30 rides on him. When I got him, I hadn’t owned a horse or ridden consistently in 20 years. It’s fun to see what he’s capable of in experienced hands, and where we might go with time and patience.

And maybe spurs.

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Zoom zoom.

 


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Annual Vet Visit

[Warning: terribly long post about a terribly boring vet visit. Feel free to TL; DR.]

I’m more than a month late for getting the boys their vaccines. Rube is slopping half-chewed balls of hay all over the place, his old man teeth desperately in need of floating. Henry has weird nodules at the base of his mane that I really hope are just hives but my brain screams NOPE, PROBABLY MELANOMA because I grew up with grey Arabs.

I don’t want to sound like a whiny baby here, but it is really hard getting back into horses as an adult and living in the middle of nowhere with few horse friends. I’m grateful that I found someone to take dressage lessons with here in cowboy country, but I do that once or twice a month and the hour goes by so fast that I can barely take care of my riding concerns let alone ask for advice regarding what the heck I’m supposed to vaccinate my horses for and if perfectly healthy, fat mustangs need their teeth floated every year.

I know what you’re thinking; ask your vet! That’s what vets are for! Yes. Sure. I can imagine what it would be like to have a conversation with your vet in suburban not-flyover-country. Do you want to know how my conversation with my vet went last year? Henry has this extremely charming/horrifying habit of sticking his head in the air with his mouth open and ‘clicking’ the back of his throat. He does it mostly after eating or drinking, and aside from looking like he could be dying appears completely not-at-all distressed. His leg is cocked, his tail swishes lazily at flies, he flicks his ears to and fro and will even pin them at Sam, all while doing this odd mouth business. I describe this to the vet (who is approximately 70 years old and more concerned about talking about hunting with my SO than hearing me ask him questions about abnormal horse behavior) and he chortles at me, saying something along the lines of “that sounds odd!”

Face. Palm.

I know what you’re thinking; get a new vet! I tried another one, and he was, if you can believe it, worse in every way except he was a little bit younger. I believe there are a total of 3 equine vets in this county, and I don’t like the odds that number 3 is any better. We took the donkey three hours to Boise when she got sick, but come on, as much as I know veterinary care needs to be a priority, do I really need to spend 6 hours in the truck for routine annual exams and shots?

This all leaves me with the over-informed, under-cited internet as my guide. Today I googled ‘horses tetanus’ and got the following result:

Your horse’s muscles are contracting in spasms, he’s arching his back, and his body is rigid. The movements of his eyes and lips are unlike anything you’ve ever seen, rendering him unfamiliar. Brewing and multiplying deep in a puncture wound you might not even know he has is the dreaded Clostridium tetani, which is already wreaking havoc in his nervous system. He has tetanus.

Unknown

The article goes on to say such things as “wound contamination generally leads to tetanus” and “usually 50-75% of the horses that get tetanus will succumb to the disease, no matter what is done to treat them.” My horses always have wounds. They are filthy, marauding wild creatures who constantly rake their teeth across each other and poke themselves on all the protruding bits of metal I have yet to find on this neglected property that will take years to rehab. So. I guess I should be vaccinating for tetanus. No, my vet didn’t recommend it last year. *sigh*

Flu/Rhino/EWT/WNV appears to be the default combo of vaccines given in these parts, and that’s what appears on my bill from last year. That’s influenza, Rhinopneumonitis (equine herpesvirus), OH MY GOD WAIT. EWT = Eastern + Western Equine Encephalitis + tetanus. God. This is a boring-ass post but I’m glad I’m writing it because I’m learning so much. And West Nile.

Sorry. Anyway, to the vet we go!

(Last year we did a farm call but we live so damn far away from everything that the mileage fee was bonkers and this year I said let’s take them in, it will be good for all of us. And probably cost just as much in gas. Also we have no suitable place to hang the headrest for floating.)

I told the tech that I didn’t know if Henry needed his teeth floated but Rube certainly did. I said I wasn’t sure which vaccines to give old horses, if any. She said we’d ask the vet (how novel!), and he could check Henry’s teeth, too. I had no idea there was an entire indoor horse area with stocks. For some reason I guess I thought you went to the vet and just stood in the parking area, holding your animal for them to poke and prod, or maybe there was a place to tie outdoors. Stocks! Wow. That was surprising. I’m not sure why.

Henry and I lingered by the open door while Rube got loaded in. We need to shut the door, the tech said, so you guys can come in or wait out there. Um, okay? There was already one thousand-pound beast in the small-ish room, but you think I should bring this second one, who was once a wild animal, and who I have never taken to a vet before, inside as well? Henry seemed game so we went for it, turning his bulk around in the tight quarters so his head was near Rube’s. I tried to relax. RCowboy made commentary about how he’d rather not be holding Henry when the switched on the floating tool. I imagined him throwing his head upward and bolting back, knocking over computer stands and expensive tools, embarrassing me and hurting himself. We’d never get him in a small veterinary clinic room again.

Just two large horses in a small, enclosed room.

Maybe it was Rube, maybe it was me, maybe it was just the fact that Henry really is a very chill horse, but he stood there for Rube’s entire exam and float with not much more than a twitch of concern. He raised his head a couple times when the floater got especially loud, but most of the time he stood with a leg cocked, licking, chewing, and putting his nose to the ground like he does when he’s trying to say look mom, I’m a good boy, can I have a treat now please?

I guess this is fine.

I was rather shocked, for some reason. I’m continually amazed how good he can be. I expect train wrecks and failure at all junctures and he farts out rainbows and blue ribbons. (Not literally. We don’t really try for ribbons yet.)

Rube’s float and exam were uneventful. He got vaccines for tetanus, West Nile, and WEE. The tech pushed him, stumbling, out of the stocks and they opened them up for Henry to go in.

OH NO IS THIS REALLY NECESSARY was my reaction, because what if my completely placid horse becomes a wild mustang again when you confine him in this small body vice, what if he has flashbacks to being branded and poked and gelded and all that awful stuff he went through while still wild? These thoughts went zinging through my brain and wouldn’t you know it, he balked, heading backward toward that very precarious computer stand. The vet, a very old man, waved his hand and whatever was in it (I forget) toward his butt to cease the backward motion. We stopped and took a breath and tried again. He followed me forward and they closed the side, I walked through the front and they latched that too. He lurched backward, his m.o., and I waited for something terribly awful and ugly to happen, like him rearing up and attempting to exit the stocks over the top of the front and getting caught, broken, traumatized. My whole body tensed and I waited for the explosion. Henry, of course, bumped the butt bar and came forward, then realized he was stuck and stood still, however stiff. He was swabbed, vaccinated, his vitals listened to. We discussed his fat deposits (which are not melanoma). The tech made jokes about feeding a fat horse sweet feed, but that’s exactly what she did to calm him down when the needle came out. His neck was stroked and business was tended to and no one got hurt or overly traumatized. I panicked more than he did. We both survived. He loaded back into the trailer again without hesitation. Rube, still recovering from the demerol, stumbled aboard as well and we did a bunch of errands and got home.

I was my usual unconfident self. I made wishy-washy conversation and didn’t get most of my questions answered. I didn’t ask for advice on how to slim him down. I didn’t say I wanted to find out why he does his odd burping behavior after eating, but I told them about it and stood there, awkwardly. I blurted out some sob story about the donkey and once again doubted my ability to care for a hoofed creature, ever. My brain said it was a failure.

But come on. I took two equines into a small room with odd smells, noises, and power equipment and only one got sedated. Stocks still seem like an unnecessary torture device for an exam and single shot, but we got through that. The tech said she prepares her horses using -R pinch and release to simulate the needle. It seemed to make sense, though sensitive Henry isn’t really ready for me pinching him when I can’t even get him to stand to have his neck brushed every time. Still, it’s something to consider with training and desensitizing.

Oh, and Sam stayed home alone without incident. The Neighbor called not long after we got to town and I was all OH GOD, SAM IS LOOSE but it turns out she just left the water on and was hoping we could turn it off for her. We could not, but I was so dang relieved.

I guess we wore Rube out because he napped in the middle of the lawn the next day.

So sleepy.


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Ranch Diary ~ May 2018

I think May is my favorite month in eastern Oregon. This year has been particularly wet, which makes things particularly green, and colorful. My walks are very slow this time of year because I must. photograph. all. the. wildflowers.

I’m still learning the names. There are so many varieties out now it makes my head spin.

Henry is particularly fond of the balsamroot (top left in ‘Yellows’, top right in ‘Smorgasbord’) and buckwheat (not pictured). He likes lupine once it gets all dry and seed pod-dy. Lupine is supposedly toxic to livestock but whatever, he lived 7 years in the wild and didn’t kill himself so I’m not going to micromanage his plant intake.


We stayed home over Memorial Day weekend to work on projects and avoid the crowds. It was our last full weekend with the current foster dog, Jimmy Dean, and he spent some time as foreman on the garden fencing operations.

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“Y’all are doing a great …zzzzzz”

One highlight of the weekend including an episode of snake rustling. I am a biologist by trade and love snakes, so if you don’t feel similar or at least have a tolerance you might stop reading here. (i.e. TRIGGER WARNING.)

We live in rattlesnake country. We have one species, the Northern Pacific rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus oreganus), a subspecies of the Western rattlesnake. It is, lucky for us, much less likely to do any big-time damage than some other species (mortality rates for untreated bites are 10-20%, and who the heck is going to not get treated?), but is still venomous and no one likes getting bitten by wildlife – not people, not horses, not dogs. Still, they belong here and play a vital role of the ecology of the shrub-steppe, so killing them is not an option for us. (Plenty of our neighbors do enough of that, and I find it to be loathsome, repulsive, ignorant, cowardly behavior. I will not judge a person for being afraid of snakes, but I will for being hateful toward them. But I digress.)

Anyway there was a snake in my covered arena, likely dining on ground squirrels making a living in a pile of old fencing we’ve yet to remove. RCowboy’s first response was “get the dogs! teaching moment!” to which I was like, ugh, really? because I’m pretty sure the dogs already want nothing to do with snakes. We leashed them and brought them over anyway, and they both said “NO THANK YOU PLEASE” just as suspected.

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Sir, this is not an acceptable place for you to be, sir. 

We discussed what was next and both agreed the arena was not rattlesnake habitat. We decided to move it to where I’d seen a snake last year, up on the northwestern corner of the property which has a very snake- and rodent-friendly rock pile and is easily avoidable by humans, dogs, and horses during snake season. RCowboy began poking at it with a broom and a long pipe, eventually picking it up and carrying it between the two objects quite precipitously.  I said, “is that really the best we can do? Should I go get a sled?” We have a couple black plastic sleds around for moving brush and wood and other objects, and I thought with it in there we could pull it the quarter-mile or so up to the rock pile. He mostly ignored me and kept on snake charming and I went to get the sled.

By the time I got to where the sled was he was already approaching the rock pile with his snake chopsticks. I left the sled and went back up there with my camera in tow. The snake very thankfully backed him- or herself into the rock pile and I got some nice shots (with a long lens).

[Please note: everything about the snake’s behavior during this encounter was defensive. It never moved toward us. It threat-struck maybe once or twice, and considering all the manhandling it received, that was really quite justified. These animals want nothing to do with large mammals of any sort. If anyone tells you they are aggressive, those people are big, fat liars or completely ignorant.]

RCowboy walked around the back side of the pile while I was snapping away and immediately found a second snake. We agreed that this landmark shall heretofore be known as “Rattlesnake Point.”

And I’m not going up there again until October. Have fun, kids. Eat all the rodents you like. Stay out of my arena.

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Hiya, gorgeous.


May was a good month around here with decent weather, my and Henry’s first endurance ride campout/volunteer/trail ride experience, some very good riding lessons, and a fun, if not high maintenance foster dog. Looking forward to what June brings.

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Here’s a handsome male mountain bluebird to cleanse your palate after the snakes


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Theme of the Week: Pace

We had another lesson last weekend and my friend Paul and his wife Nel (and her mule) came over the mountains to join in. Paul tried out and purchased a new horse that day – a grey PRE gelding named Mateo that I might have bought if he didn’t. Those Spanish horses are just so gosh darn pretty.

We worked on one-handed riding to emphasize the use of our other aids in steering, which I found very helpful. It can be so easy to fall back on the reins and grow dependent on them. Henry was a little distracted in the group lesson setting, and we also talked about empathy and giving credit to the animals for putting up with all the wild scenarios we put them in.

The best part of the group lesson was when Alice hopped on Mateo at the end to do some “military style” riding with Nel and I. She turned on some music and we rode three abreast and I had flashbacks to drill team riding at 4H camp and boy, was it fun. Henry was very good about being packed in with two strange horses but it was harder than I thought to keep the right pace with a snappy little mule and a big, stretchy Spanish horse.

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Column of threes, aka the odd trio

Pace is something that’s been on my mind a lot lately as I think about endurance riding. The books all say you need to find your horse’s ‘all day trot’ and that has been a real challenge. Henry has reverted to the giraffe trot on many occasions recently, and I feel like I’m begging and pleading with him to put his head down a bit and relax into it, engage his core and hind end. Aside from looking ghastly, the giraffe trot is also horribly uncomfortable to ride.

I thought maybe I just needed to get out and trot him a good long time to find that trot, so last night we trailered two miles up the road to ride on the forest roads. My goal was to ride for an hour and do more trotting than walking. I brought RCowboy on his mountain bike and two dogs badly in need of exercise.

I will now summarize how this ride went from start to finish in bullet form:

  • 6 pm, unload from trailer. Woo, hoo! Beautiful night. Let’s start off walking and jogging in hand to get us both warmed up. This is going to be great and we’ll be home in time to make spaghetti and meatballs.
  • Mount up. He’s forward but controllable. Dogs are going berserk.
  • Argument with RCowboy about which road to take. I loathe going out-and-back and would give my kingdom for a damn loop. He claimed there were no loops where we were. I figured he was probably wrong, but had no good evidence.
  • Took the trail I wanted. H suddenly kind of tense but I’m trying to just ride through it.
  • H explodes into a bolt because the grey dog runs in from behind him. The grey dog goes everywhere with us. He has never before cared one bit about the grey dog. I ride my first bolt without dying.
  • H remains tense. “Well, this is terrifying.” (I actually say this out loud.)
  • All trails I pick dead end, so we turn around and get on the one trail we know goes a long way. We trot some, canter a little. I cannot find the all day trot. It is either too fast and bouncy or he’s breaking back into a walk. He’s especially unhappy about trotting on the stretches of hard, rocky ground. I start obsessing over buying hoof boots, which is probably not what I should be doing while riding.
  • We have a couple pretty good stretches at trot and canter. (They feel long, but in reality are probably only a minute or two.) I’m smiling. Everything is green and lupine and balsamroot are blooming and it’s a very WOW spring evening. I’m SO going to do my first LD on this horse soon. I love this.
  • I keep waiting for the loop to form, but don’t say anything. It’s probably like 7:30 pm. We’ve been out 1.5 hours.
  • Again, even after 5-6 miles, I cannot make my horse do a comfortable, consistent trot. He’s starting to be Obnoxiously Hungry Horse, threatening to go full stop from a trot to stick his face in whatever green thing is on the side of the trail. I have to keep rein and leg on constantly.
  • There’s still no loop. RCowboy finally asks how far we’re planning to go; it’s going to be dark soon. I tell him about the loop. He reiterates that there. are. no. loops.
  • We turn around. It’s a long way back and the sun is setting and I *still* can’t make my horse go the speed I want. I snap at RCowboy and tell him to “just go back” because I’m tired of him stopping to wait for us. We’re plodding along at a pokey walk now because I’m too frustrated to keep trying to trot right and my legs are fresh Jell-O.
  • My brain is going “I’m never doing this again.”
  • A mountain lion killed someone on a mountain bike in Washington this week. Mountain lions like to hunt at dusk.
  • I hate my horse, I hate my tack. I hate everything. I don’t want to do endurance. Our ride has become a slow, sad death march back to the trailer. We have gone 8.5 miles. It is dark-ish.
  • Horse suddenly terrified that there’s a mountain bike on the trail ahead of us. I dismount because another bolt right now will absolutely kill me.
  • Silently walk next to angry man on mountain bike the last mile back to the trailer.
  • Horse will not load into trailer. Of course he won’t. It is full dark and after 9 pm.
  • RCowboy, displaying an amazing load of patience for this juncture of the evening, loads horse for me. It is not pretty, but it gets done. He also tries to talk to me about focusing on all the good things that happened tonight, and I want to murder him.
  • Get home, examine odd sweat patterns that probably mean saddle doesn’t fit, feed, feel terrible about myself, pour large glass of wine and eat leftovers while watching dark crime show set in rainy city. Sleep the sleep of babes.

Regarding goals for the ride, we were certainly out for an hour. We most certainly did not trot more than walk.

It’s amazing how little time it takes to forget how shitty something can feel. Today I’m all “let’s go out again! I bet I can find a loop! Where’s the entry form for my first LD?”

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At least we saw a pretty sunset