Wednesday, July 29, 2009

What the...? Who the...?

What the hell is wrong with people?

I like my horses, but not this much.

I think it would have been justifiable homicide, and one less virus in the gene pool.

Ms. Kenley is my kind of dame. Knows her way around a shotgun and all.

Saving the Wild Horses

Admittedly, I'm biased on this topic, but I must say that for once, I approve of a plan that is working it's way throught Congress.

After the untold quanities of money that have been thrown down blackholes that provide no benefit beyond filling re-election coffers, I find it almost laughable to hear politicians suddently worried about "Taxpayer Drain". I hate to state the obvious for our challenged politicians, but that horse has already escaped the barn. Pun intended.

Not only does this help the wild horses, but it also preserves untamed land, keeping it free from further unchecked growth. Granted, much of the land is probably in the boonies where it won't be developed in the first place, but still...

I approve.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Work Party

As a member of the Backcountry Horseman of Washington (BCHW), I had the privilege of spending last weekend participating in a work party to repair a section of the Pacific Crest Trail. The goals of the weekend were to build two bridges, replace another that had collapsed, and redirect a section of the PCT that had been washed out for years.

The United States has thousands of miles of trails in the wilderness. Winter, and the never ending onslaught of nature, take their toll on these trails. Once upon a time, the United States Forest Service used summer work crews to perform trail maintenance in the wilderness. A victim of ever shrinking budgets, they have, for the most part, been forced to discontinue their efforts. Much of this work has now fallen on the shoulders of volunteers. The Pierce County Chapter of the BCHW, of which I am a member, has teamed up with the Tahoma and Enumclaw chapters, and the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) to adopt a 35 mile section of the PCT, between Crystal Mountain and Government Meadows. Bear in mind that much of this section of trail can only be reached on foot or horseback. While the USFS has little budget for this work, they do provide tools, and through grants received by the PCTA, hay and water for the horses, as well as food for the workers was supplied. What is needed is labor.

We were operating from the Government Meadows Horse Camp. This accessed via National Forest Development Road 70. For the first ten miles it is a paved, windy road. After that, it becomes a dirt, windy, logging road. When traveling a dirt road, towing a horse trailer, and you reach sign that indicates a 12% grade, you will crease the seat a bit. And although I was traveling 10-15mph at best, I was throwing up quite the cloud of dust. This is the view from the drivers window on the way up.

I'm sure that by this time, Smokey was certain that he had died and gone to hell.

I arrived early Friday afternoon. People had been arriving and working since late Wednesday. After checking in, I saddled up, and headed out on the trail to one of the designate work sites. Shortly I began to pass riders who were heading back to camp. Talking with them, I learned that work had stopped for the day, and most were headed back. I decided to continue riding, to see the trail and enjoy the solitude. Soon, I reached the first section of trail that had been rerouted. It was a nice series of switchbacks that led up to the place at which the trail crosses the 7080 Road. At this point, it was still necessary to ride about 100yds up the road to pick the trail back up. Turning back onto the trail, Smokey and I headed another mile or so down the trail, before turning back.

This is a view of Blowout Mountain from the trail:

Returning to the 7080 Road, I soon realized that I had not paid as much attention to the location of the trail as would have been wise, since the new signs had not yet been posted. I wasn't lost, just geographically misplaced. We went up and down the road a few times before I finally spotted the freshly turned dirt between two small trees. Picking the trail back up, we rode back to camp.

Saturday morning, we ate breakfast at 7:30. This was followed by a riders meeting, and work assignments. Lunches were picked up, horses saddled, tools loaded on the pack horses, and then the teams would set out for work. I was on a team of six that would be posting new signs, assisting with the final section of trail that was being rerouted, and then helping to complete the bridge that was being replaced. An active group to say the least.

On the trail:

Smokey and his new found friend tied up at the trail work site:

Where are those darn horses hiding?

While chainsaws and weedwackers were available to clear the brush, the work of trailbreaking fell to basic hand tools, such as shovels and pulaski's. After our stint on the trail, it was time for our group to return to Government Meadows to assist with the bridge. Government Meadows lies along the Naches Trail. This was a trail that used by wagon trains back in the day.

Government Meadow:

Signs at the Government Meadow Cabin:

From what little I can find, Mike Urich was a trail worker back in the first half of the twentieth century.

Upon arriving, the task of gravel hauling became our primary focus. This involved shoveling gravel from the bed of a pickup into wheel barrows and then hauling it 100yds to the bridge.

This provided one of the highlights of the day: The Pickup Ride. To get more gravel we had to drive about a mile downhill on a dirt road to where a dump truck had deposited the rock pile. Now, this "road" might be considered a road to jeepers, but to those of us riding in the back of the 25 year old F350, it was anything but. And the driver seemed to have forgotten that there were six of us in the bed. More than one of us was nearly bounced clear of the pickup. The cackling laughter coming from the cab of the truck didn't exactly help, either.

Arriving bruised, but intact, we shoveled a huge pile of gravel into the pickup, then traveled uphill with the load. For some reason, I had a mental image of the tailgate fallling up, and being washed out in a cascade of rocks and dirt.

Back at the worksite, we shoveled the gravel out, then back for more. The second and third trips were a little less chaotic. It may be related to the threats that were levied at the driver, but I could be wrong.

The bridge complete, we headed back to camp. After watering and feeding the horses, we settled in to await dinner.

We were fed like royalty at this event. Chicken Friday night, steak on Saturday, with no shortage of food. A huge breakfast each morning, and an ample sack lunch for the trail. The evening entertainment was anothe of the highlights, courtesy of Denny, a colorful old mulerider, who is a talented guitarist and singer. His repartoire consisted of country songs, none newer than 30 years old. In his words, modern country music is "rock and roll with a twang".

Sunday consisted of some minor trail work, and the major endeavor of breaking camp. I rolled out around noon, dirty, hot, sweaty, and tired, but with an overwhelming feeling of satisfaction at having played a small part in something that is bigger than me.

Some hikers happened upon one of the work crews, and stopped to help them work for awhile. This is IMPORTANT. I will discuss why in my next post. As my picture of the cabin at Government Meadows fell victim to my shoddy photography skills, I was searching online when I came across this post by one of the hikers involved.

How cool is that?

It's HOT!!!

Personally, I think the whole Global Warming/Climate Change thing is a bunch of hype and hooey perpetuated by a narcissistic, hypocritical politician.

With that said, it's hot here in my part of Western Washington. 100F right now. Now, I know it's probably hotter where folks such as Buck are, but at least it's a dry heat in his neck of the woods. And I don't say that tongue in cheek. I've been in Yuma, AZ when it's 115F, and it was more tolerable than the weather we've been having the last two days.

We had a bit of a scare with one of the horses last night. When I went to get DN3's mare, Bailey, to bring her up for the farrier, I immediately noted that she hadn't touched her hay, and was standing listlessly in her shelter. Bailey is normally a voracious eater, wasting no time devouring her flakes of hay. In the barn, we noted that her breathing was fast and shallow. Taking her temperature, it came out at 103F. Normal temperature for our equine friends is 99.8F to 101.3F.

Betting that it was the heat that was getting to her, we gave her some electrolyte paste, and 2 grams of bute. This was followed by hosing her down for about 15 minutes with cold water. By this time she had noticeably perked up. DN3 let her graze on some grass for awhile, then hosed her off for another 15 minutes.

By 8:30 her respiratory rate had returned to normal, and her appetite had returned. Returning to her paddock, she drank some water, then attacked her hay as though she hadn't been fed in weeks. By this morning, her temperature had returned to normal. As a precaution, DN3 has been hosing her down periodically with cold water.

With temperatures expected to remain near 100F most of the week, this will continue for a few days, just to be safe.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Random Photo

Mrs. BR wanted me to post this photo:

Sunday was the monthly gaming day at Meridian Riding Club. Smokey and I are resting between events. The odd thing is that he sat there with his nose resting on my hat for a good five minutes. And his big ol' noggin is rather heavy.

On a positive note, Smokey has been in the ribbons for the last two outings, with steadily improving times. And I've figured out how to sit a run without getting my ass beat by the saddle. Riding a horse at a dead run has to be one of the biggest adrenalin rushes I've ever experienced.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Elbe Hills Poker Ride

Each summer, the Pierce County Sheriff's Posse sponsors three Poker Ride at the Elbe Hills Horse Camp, in order to raise funds for their sponsorship of the Special Olympics. Not only is it a great cause, but it's a makes for a darn nice trail ride. On Saturday, the family BR, plus a few friends, attended the first ride of the season. The weather was beautiful, the horses well behaved, and the company good. It was a great ride.

One of the great things, for me at least, about living in Washington is the beautiful country we have. Top on the list is Mt. Rainier. Elbe lies on on Highway 7, along the rode to Mt. Rainier National Park. One of the most fabulous views of the mountain, IMHO, is found along a series of switchback trails that we were on yesterday.

My camera isn't fancy, and my photographic skills are not of Ann's quality, but, without further adieu, I give you a few of the pictures I took yesterday.

In regards to the light blogging of late, it's summertime, the weather is beautiful, and when faced with the choice between blogging or riding the horse...well, the horse will win out everytime.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

I'd Have Never Made a Good Teacher

Honestly, I don't know how Chris does it.

It's not just because I generally don't care for other people's children. No, not at all. It's because I would find the endless grading of papers maddening. I'm talking men in white coats bringing me the shirt with extra long sleeves maddening.

I'm in the process of judging record books for the 4H Horse Department. I've been at it for three hours. Four hours last night. Looking at the same thing over and over, ad nauseum. My brain is numb, my eyes going cross.

Gee, only two more boxes to go....

Like I said, I don't know how Chris and his fellow teachers do it. They have my undying respect.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Random Musings

I spent most of yesterday afternoon watching the Military Channel. The programming consisted of a series of shows, narrated by Charles Kuralt, profiling the history of the Revolutionary War. It was very well produced, making use of re-enactors for many scenes, and IMHO, time well spent.

When I was 8, my father was transferred to Norfolk, Virginia. This was the age that I began to develop my fascination for history, particularly American history. One of the great things about living in Virginia was the presence of Colonial history. We were constantly exposed to this history, particularly the Revolutionary War, in school.

While watching the show, I began to wonder how many people in our country today truly understand what Independence Day celebrates. Do they understand the principles upon which this country was founded? Or, is it just a day to light fireworks and drink beer?

In my case, it was both, with the emphasis on the former.


Mrs. BR and I went grocery shopping this afternoon at the local WinCo. Today's theme: Trailer Park meets South of the Border.


Rode the horse yesterday and today. I seem to have made some cognitave breakthrough in my riding ability. It's difficult for me to put my finger on what has changed, but others have noticed and commented on it. In simple terms, it feels that Smokey is responding quicker, and my cues are more subtle. Less use of the reins and bit, more use of light pressure with the spurs. In short, I'm pushing against that barrier that lies between being a horse and rider, and working as one. I know that sounds a bit corny, but that's the best explanation I can find. If you watch the video of Stacy Westfall (two posts ago) you can get a glimpse of what I'm referring to.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Happy Birthday, America!

On July 4th, 1776, our Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence.

233 years later, our Republic still stands, warts and all. Happy Birthday!


As it turns out, there is much more to riding a horse than merely sitting in the saddle looking good. Which is fortunate, or I’d be doomed from the outset.

Convincing a horse to do what you want, when you want it, involves “cues”. These cues are generally transmitted via the hands, thru the reins and bit, or by leg pressure applied with the calves, heels, or spurs for those of that wear them. The better trained the horse, and the better the rider, the more subtle these cues are. Take this video of Stacy Westfall, for example (it’s a bit long, but please watch):

That’s right; she’s riding bareback, with no headstall. That is a combination of an amazing horse and an amazing rider.

One of the challenges, for me at least, to owning an older horse, is deducing how he was trained, and what his cues are. I have most of them down, although Smokey’s modus operandi is to pretend that he has “forgotten”, particularly when we haven’t worked on something in awhile. He’s not a pushbutton horse. If I don’t cue exactly right, he frequently gives some bizarre response that isn’t even close to what I’m trying to get. This means I’m doing it WRONG. It’s always the rider, never the horse.

For some time I’ve been trying to master the side pass. Side passing means walking sideways. This is not natural for a horse. Watch them in the pasture. You will never see them side passing. Getting Smokey to side pass has been a huge struggle. I usually end up moving his shoulders or his hips, but never both at the same time. The harder I try, the worse it looks.

Wednesday night, after working on collection on turning off leg pressure, we were standing in the middle of the arena, relaxing. Almost subconsciously, I shifted my weight to the left, and gently pushed my left spur into his ribs. He side passed perfectly! Thinking that perhaps I entered the Twilight Zone, I repeated the cues. Again, he side passed. I repeated it again in the other direction.

I frequently relearn the lesson that trying too hard does not always render the desired results. Sometimes you just need to relax and let it come naturally.

I’ll be the guy on the horse that is walking sideways around the arena.