Sunday, May 31, 2009

Gaming Day

Since it is no longer considered socially acceptable to ride the wild and woolly West for to mete out range justice wherever it may be needed, we horse folks have been forced to turn to other venues for our entertainment. To this end, one of the local riding clubs sponsors a monthly Gaming Day. Gaming consists of timed events, the most well known being Barrel Racing. Other events have catchy titles such as International Flags, Cal Stake, Texas Rollback, and Pole Bending, to name a few.

As you’ve probably surmised by now, today was Gaming Day. The weather could not have been better, and there was a great turnout. DN2, DN3, and I would be riding today.

These gatherings tend toward the chaotic for the first few hours, what with many of the horses being rather high strung, combined with a number of people of questionable breeding. Smokey, being half Thoroughbred (I like to blame it on that, anyway), reacts very strongly to his surroundings. This tends to manifest itself in a general unwillingness to be parted from the horses of his “herd”. Disregard the fact that he treats them with a general sense of disdain, if not outright hostility, at home. He suddenly has the epiphany that they are now his best chums.

During warm up, he spent a great deal of time throwing his head around, in part because he’s part doofus, and in part because I was constantly on the bit to prevent Flash Gordon from bolting to make the mad dash back to the trailer where his pals were. Needless to say, we both had a pretty good sweat going prior to the first event.

The first two events weren’t much better. With ants in his pants, he absolutely would not stand still while waiting to go in the arena. While making our runs, he was headed only he knows where, causing us to zigzag down the course as I constantly corrected his direction of travel.

By the end of the second event, I was ready to hang the FOR SALE sign around his neck. Perhaps trade him for a bottle of water, or a cold beer.

Now, the horse folks reading this have probably already figured out what is happening here. Horses are very sensitive to their rider. As he got amped up, I got amped, in turn causing him to get more amped up, which caused me to get more amped up, ad nauseum. It’s a vicious cycle, and it’s up to the rider to break the chain.

After the second run, I dismounted, collected my thoughts, and put myself in the correct framer of mind. Remounting, we rode over to the end of the arena where the entrance gate is. My only goal was for him to stand still. We didn’t actually spend any significant amount of time standing still, and I must have said the word “whoa” about 1456 times, but we never left the area near the gate. A great many circles, plenty of backing up, but he did not get his way.

When we entered the waiting box for the Pole Bending competition, he stood stock still. Success! I was relaxed, and in turn, he was relaxed. The event went perfectly. To wit:

We clearly didn’t set any course records, but we were in control the entire time, and didn’t knock over any poles.

In the next few events, I really opened him up. Damn, he’s fast! Sadly, no one got video of those times. I’ll correct that situation next month.

Saturday, May 30, 2009


Our Grand Old Lady Khira began acting lethargic on Thursday night, and wouldn't come in the house. By Friday morning she was vomiting, trembling, and not eating.

Mrs. BR took her to the vet. The root diagnosis was that she is old, and her body was beginning to shut down. How old we do not know, as we adopted her from a rescue four years ago, but best estimates place her at 12 to 14 years, which is fairly ancient for Alaskan Malamutes. We were faced with the decision that pet owners do not like to make. Is she suffering, and should we let her go now? We went through a similar bout with her about a year ago, and she bounced back. After some reflection, we decided to wait 24 hours. If she was not better by noon today, then we would end her suffering.

Friday was a hard day. She wouldn't eat, and although she drank as much as possible, she would immediately vomit the water. By late night, she was curled up on the lawn, unmoving. She was awake, but the light was gone from her eyes. More than a few tears were shed around Che Buckskins last night.

I sat with her for awhile around midnight, petting her, and told her that it was okay if she needed to leave. As listless as she was, she rolled on her side and lifted her leg so I could scratch her belly.

I came in awhile later, questioning our decision to wait, now that she was clearly suffering. I went to bed, saying a small prayer for her, with little doubt in my mind that I would find her at peace in the morning.

Waking up this morning, I heard a ruckus downstairs, and the sound of happy voices. Could it be? Going downstairs to investigate, I found our old lady back to her usual self, begging for food and a pat on the head. As though nothing had ever happened. This evening she is as healthy as she was earlier in the week. She is on a diet of hamburger and rice for a few days, which doesn't seem to bother her a bit. Go figure.

I do not believe that anything happens by chance or accident. Everything occurs for a reason, even if we do not understand the reason at the time.

And there is a very clear reason that we decided to wait 24 hours.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

First Trail Ride of the Season

The denizens of Che Buckskins, along with four of our friends trailered the horses to a place known as Buck Creek, which is off Highway 410 in the Mt. Baker Snoqualmie National Forest. The weather was beautiful, and, for the most part, the horses were well behaved.

The trails are in pretty rough shape, however. The winter was particularly hard on the mountain regions, with a lot of blowdowns and washouts. We ran into several trail crews who were running their chainsaws on overtime. Apparently this is the worst it has been in years. We had to negotiate more than a few fallen trees, and my handy dandy pack saw, which Mrs. BR gave me last Christmas, got put to the test a few times. I'm pleased to report that it made short work of the logs I attacked.

This is the first time I've been to Buck Creek. It's a rather multi-purpose area, with a horse camp, trails, an airfield of all things, and seemingly thousands of campsites, full of campers enjoying the long weekend.

After riding up in the trails for a couple hours, we wanted to take the horses down to the river to water them. In order to do this, we had to ride along the dirt roads in the campground.

As it turns out, much to our surprise and bewilderment, people were thrilled at the sight of our horses. I can't tell you how many people snapped photos of us as we rode by. Children would come running up to the road to watch us. Overheard from one little girl, "that one looks like a cow", in reference to DN2's paint horse Dozer. That drew a laugh from all of us.

Two of the pictures I took while down on the White River:

As you can see, there's still snow in the higher elevations. I think it will be late July, early August before I can hit the really good trails this year.

One moment of levity occured while we were down on the river. While snapping photographs, I dropped my left rein, with about three feet of it landing in the river. Despite my best efforts, I couldn't quite reach the bit to get hold of it. It didn't help that every time I reached down the left side of Smokey's head, he turned it to the right. Finally, one of the other riders grabbed it and handed it to me.

Problem was, he handed it to me on the right side. Now I had two right reins. This would never do. With a bit of effort I managed to pass it under his neck, and balance was restored in the universe. Thankfully, Smokey stood passively while this whole fiasco was in progress. There's a reason I like that horse.

As Winston Churchill once stated, "No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle." Today was a wonderful day.

This look seems to say, "can we go home now?"

Yes, Smokey, we can.

Monday, May 18, 2009

A Recent Discovery

Pendleton Whiskey, from Hood River Distillers. Straight, it goes down smooth as silk.

I may be branded a heretic, but IMHO, Crown Royal can't touch this.

And how cool is the label?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Spooky Joe and the Blue Tarp

Horses, being prey animals, are always on the lookout for the next thing that is going to eat them. 99% of the things that frighten them are inanimate objects. The sheer number of horse eating rocks is nothing short of amazing. Many horse owners go to great lengths to "de-spook" their horses, while others simply pray for a spook free horse.

Alas, Smokey is not one of them.

But here's the rub. If I haul him miles away and take him on a trail ride in the mountains, he is as solid a horse as anyone could ask for. Sure footed, with great stamina, he doesn't let anything bother him. Narrow trails, steep trails, water crossings, elk, rocks, nothing seems to faze him. Last summer while riding in the hills, my nephew and I encountered two bears on the trail. Smokey never batted an eye.

Around the farm is a different story. If there is something new in the barn, he will stop dead in his tracks and cast a wary eye at this potentially horse eating object. If there is a barrel where there wasn't one yesterday, it must be carefully avoided. And the first time he saw a miniature horse...well, suffice to say that he nearly jumped out of his skin, and gave me a look that seemed to say "what happened to that horse, and am I next?"

Tonight, I was leading him up the alley to the barn. There is a horse blanket draped over the fence near the barn. Now this blanket has been in the same spot for weeks, and he hasn't given it a second look. But tonight, it was flapping in the wind. Thankfully, he didn't try to jump in my pocket, but he started, and gave the blanket a wide berth.

But the best Smokey spook story involves an event that happened while were attending a Ken McNabb clinic several years ago. On the last day, Ken brought out the dreaded Blue Tarp. Many of you may not realize that blue tarps are natural predators, which are at least one step higher on the food chain than horses.

The tarp was probably about 8'x8', and was spread out on the ground. The goal of this exercise being to get the horse to trust the rider's guidance enought to walk across it. When a horse is unsure of their footing, they will avoid the obstacle. Several of the horses walked right across it, as though they did it everyday, whilst others required a bit more coaxing.

Then it was time for Smokey and I. He wanted nothing to do with this tarp, turning left, then right as I forced him to walk up to it. Several times he started a quick fake to the left or right, whipping my spine around like a tilt a whirl. Each time I brought him back to face the tarp. I was finally able to persuade him to stand quietly in front of the tarp, but no amount of liberaly applied leg pressure to his gut was going to convince him to set foot on it.

Have I mentioned that Smokey can jump?

I should have filed a flight plan, for, in the very next instant, the horse and I were airborne. With nothing to do at this point, I merely held on, waiting for the flight attendant to roll the beverage cart past. Was that a flock of geese?

Returning my saddle to the upright and locked position, we came in for a four hoof, landing. But the fun wasn't over, as we were quickly running out of runway, the momentum carrying us toward a line of horses and riders. Gathering up the reins and pulling back, I uttered a well timed "whoa". Smokey complied, and we came to a stop in a cloud of dust.

After the laughter subsided, I was complimented for having a good seat and riding the whole thing through. Those who witnessed the event attest to the fact that not one of his feet ever touched the tarp, and that I never lost my composure, and rode the whole thing through as though I do it everyday. I can assure you, there was no skill involved in my part. I was merely a passenger on the flight.

In the end, I did manage to get Smokey to walk quietly across the tarp.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Never a Dull Moment...

Being the father of three girls, I have grown accustomed to squealing and screaming. The causes of said noises are varied, from fighting, insects, hairballs left by the cat, and, of course, any number of things which may be deemed as "gross".

In a category of it's own is the special scream which accompanies the appearance of a member of the arachnid family. This scream is of a pitch and volume which can only be heard by dogs and fathers. (Since most of us spend some amount of time in the doghouse, this shouldn't seem unusual).

My reaction to the spider scream is generally determined by the amount and volume of screaming. If the duration is short lived, I know it is small spider, and I need not bother. For the more intense screaming, my reaction generally takes one of the following forms:

1. Pick the spider up and throw it outside. This is usually not well received, as the spider may, of course, "get back in the house".

2. Swift execution of the death sentence upon said spider, carried out by the most expeditious means, be it paper towel or shoe. There was the one instance where I requested that someone get one of my guns. But, I digress.

Last night I asked the girls to let the dogs in.

With the Alaskan Malamutants weighing in at 100lbs each, and being of the rambunctious sort, this usually involves the two of them dashing in, and running around the house looking for any "treasures" that may have been left lying about, for which they might eat, or, at the very least, chew to shreds.

Last night, their entry was accompanied by the sound of screaming.

My first thought was that a spider, lying in wait, had taken advantage of the conveniently opened door, and was preparing to wreak havoc. Listening to the bedlam, and biding my time, I noted that the screams were interspersed with "come here, come here!" Finding it unlikely that my daughters would be attempting to coax a spider, I went to investigate.

As it turned out, THREE dogs had entered the house. The mutants, and a smaller black and white dog that looked like a cocker spaniel. He was running around, just as happy as could be. None of my neighbors have such a dog, so I was at loss as to his origins. Corralling him, I discovered from his tag that his name was Grady, and he had a phone number. The number yielded only voicemail, so a message was left.

But how did he get in the backyard? Surrounded by a six foot cedar fence, I found it unlikely that he had jumped in. He was fairly dirty, so perhaps he had dug his way in. Searching the perimeter of the fence, I didn't find any holes, but I did find six boards that were loose at the bottom, and could be pushed in, allowing a dog of his size easy access. Yet, the folks that live on that side have a little yappy foo foo dog. However, the teenage boys that live their have a gaggle of friend over all the time, so it seemed the most logical choice.

As luck would have it, Grady's owner was in fact visiting. He was very apologetic about the whole thing. I told him there was no need to be sorry, that I found we found the whole thing to be rather funny, and we were just glad to find his owner.

So, now I have a new scream to add to the list, under the heading "stray dog in the house".

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Kentucky Derby

I suspect most of you have heard the results of this years Kentucky Derby, which makes this post a little late.

I'm not a fan of horse racing, but I won't pick that scab.

I do take great satisfaction in this story, however.

The Good News in the "Unwanted" Horse Problem

My previous post generated a few emotionally charged comments. I wasn't surprised, and I feel that a few of those comments reinforced my point that making decisions based solely on emotions tends to result lack of education and unintended consequences.

I do want to reinforce my stance on this issue. I am very reluctantly in favor of it, but only as a last resort, when all other options have been exhausted. Once a better alternative is available, I will turn anti-slaughter without a moment's hesitation. However, now that all such facilities in the U.S. have been closed, I am not in favor of shipping them to Canada or Mexico. The conditions in the shipping trailers are horrifying, and only make a bad situation worse.

When I first learned that slaughter facilities existed for horses, I was repulsed. In my opinion, no other animal, save the Eagle, symbolizes the United States of America more than the horse. Although they were imported from Europe, they are part and parcel of the history of this great country. How could we actually continue to slaughter them in this day and age?

Not being one to form opinions without researching the facts first, I learned why they exist, and reluctantly accepted it as a necessary evil.

I found a copy of the May 2009 issue of Horse Illustrated laying around yesterday (apparently Che Buckskin has a subscription). To my surprise, I discovered an article entitled "Unwanted Horse Solutions". It is part 2 of a series. I searched about for the April issue, which contains the first article, "The Unwanted Horse Problem". The article regarding the solutions was of the most to me.

While the closure of these facilities as led to a glut of neglected and abandoned horses, there is a silver lining in the cloud. According to Horse Illustrated, many of the breed associations are actively addressing the problem head on. The American Quarter Horse Association is working to educate members on the problems with irresponsible breeding. The Jockey Club, the breed registry for Thoroughbreds in the U.S. is allowing rescue and adoption agencies free access to racing tattoo information, to allow them to better assess the horses they have.

Many animal welfare organizations are working to reduce the number of unwanted horses, through education and support of the many equine rescues in existence. From Horse Illustrated, "Another example of organizations working together to help rescues is a proposal drafted by a faculty organization at the University of California, Davis. Under the proposal, a template outlines how communities across the nation could create shelters for horse in much the same way as small-animal shelter have done".

It has taken years for this situation to be created. It will take years to correct it. But, at least, the equestrian community is beginning to tackle the problem.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Problem of Unwanted Horses

Today I'm going to give you a glimpse into the dark underbelly of the horse world. This decision was prompted when I found this article on the Seattle Times website this morning. This subject is political, and gives some insight into the rule of unintended consequences. Please give the article a read before taking in the rest of this post.

I hesitate to use the term "unwanted", but that is the moniker that has been applied to horses that people can no longer keep, but are unable to find a new home for. The reasons horses fall into this category are are numerous. Some horses are dangerous. I suspect, however, that in the vast majority of cases, people simply can no longer afford to keep them.

Owning a horse is not an inexpensive endeavor. As domesticated animals, they depend on us for nearly all of their needs. They must be fed, watered, and receive regular hoof and veterinary care.

The cost of hay has doubled in the past two years. The price of grain has increased. As discussed in this post, horses require regular hoof care. In this area, a trim with a new set of shoes costs $100, and, on average, is required every 8 weeks. Horses don't have Blue Cross, and veterinary costs are pay as you go. Last fall I paid $200 for four horses to be vaccinated and have their teeth looked at. We are $400 into Ellie's leg injury.

The vast majority of horse owners are regular folk, probably living paycheck to paycheck. Now take that paycheck away due to a lost job. It's not long before they can't afford that bale of hay. They need to sell the horse. But so do many other people. Look at Craigslist. People can't even give good horses away right now.

Make no mistake, I don't like the idea of sending any horse to slaughter. It's a sad end for these noble creatures. But I don't wear rose colored glasses, and I realize that it is a far more humane end than slowly starving to death because the owners cannot afford to feed the horse.

Animal activists promote euthanasia as an alternative. The one quoted in the article states that people can pay for the euthanasia and rendering in installments. Horse puckey. Every large animal vet in this area requires payment at time of service. Period. The same goes with the rendering plant. Our county forbids burying of animals, therefore rendering is the only legal option. If the folks facing this choice can afford the cost of euthanizing and rendering the animal, then it is very likely they could afford to feed the horse, at least a little longer. I know many horse owners who would eat ramen and rice before they would stop feeding their beloved equine friends.

Two years ago, animal activists succeeded in shutting down all horse slaughter plants in the U.S. Currently, horses that are sold into slaughter are now packed into cattle cars and spend two or three days, without food or water, being hauled to Canada or Mexico. Now they want to eliminate even that as an option.

As with many single minded activists, they achieved their goal, but failed to offer any viable alternative. They aren't the ones left to deal with the consequences. Horse rescues are full. They depend upon charitable donations for their continued operation. Not surprisingly, donations to most charities are in the tank right now. Many rescues will tell you, "we can't save them all, so we save the ones that have the best chance."

I don't have the answer to this problem. But eliminating choices does not fix anything.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Deer, Beer, & Human History............

I received this via e-mail from a fellow retired Chief Petty Officer. I felt it was worth sharing.

For those that don't know about history ... Here is a condensed version:

Humans originally existed as members of small bands of nomadic hunters/gatherers. They lived on deer in the mountains during the summer and would go to the coast and live on fish and lobster in the winter.

The two most important events in all of history were the invention of beer and the invention of the wheel. The wheel was invented to get man to the beer. These were the foundation of modern civilization and together were the catalyst for the splitting of humanity into two distinct subgroups:

1. Liberals, and
2. Conservatives.

Once beer was discovered, it required grain and that was the beginning of agriculture. Neither the glass bottle nor aluminum can were invented yet, so while our early humans were sitting around waiting for them to be invented, they just stayed close to the brewery. That's how villages were formed.

Some men spent their days tracking and killing animals to B-B-Q at night while they were drinking beer. This was the beginning of what is known as the Conservative movement.

Other men who were weaker and less skilled at hunting learned to live off the conservatives by showing up for the nightly B-B-Q's and doing the sewing, fetching, and hair dressing. This was the beginning of the Liberal movement.

Some of these liberal men eventually evolved into women. The rest became known as girlie-men. Some noteworthy liberal achievements include the domestication of cats, the invention of group therapy, group hugs, and the concept of Democratic voting to decide how to divide the meat and beer that conservatives provided.

Over the years conservatives came to be symbolized by the largest, most powerful land animal on earth, the elephant. Liberals are symbolized by the jackass.

Modern liberals like imported beer (with lime added), but most prefer white wine or imported bottled water. They eat raw fish but like their beef well done. Sushi, tofu, and French food are standard liberal fare. Another interesting evolutionary side note: most of their women have higher testosterone levels than their men. Most social workers, personal injury attorneys, journalists, dreamers in Hollywood and group therapists are liberals. Liberals invented the designated hitter rule because it wasn't fair to make the pitcher also bat.

Conservatives drink domestic beer, mostly Bud. They eat red meat and still provide for their women. Conservatives are big-game hunters, rodeo cowboys, lumberjacks, construction workers, firemen, medical doctors, police officers, corporate executives, athletes, members of the military, airline pilots and generally anyone who works productively. Conservatives who own companies hire other conservatives who want to work for a living.

Liberals produce little or nothing. They like to govern the producers and decide what to do with the production. Liberals believe Europeans are more enlightened than Americans. That is why most of the liberals remained in Europe when conservatives were coming to America . They crept in after the Wild West was tamed and created a business of trying to get more for nothing.

Here ends today's lesson in world history