Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Trial By Fire

Smokey and I went out eagle watching again today. Well, I went out eagle watching. Smokey was not so interested, preferring to provide constant reminders that we really should be headed back to the barn.

I shot a brief video. Skip to about 1:30.

Some folks had set up an impromptu firing range on their property just off the levee. We had passed them earlier, so I had a pretty good idea what was coming. Poor old Smokey was more startled than anything, but had no desire to hang around. When I watched the video afterward, I must confess that I got a good laugh out of watching the old boys ears going into "high speed radar" mode.

I guess Cowboy Action Shooting may not be for us.

Both of my readers may be tired of my posts about the eagles, but it's my blog, and I doubt that I will ever tire of them. Click to enlarge.

Six in one tree. How cool is that?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Predator on the Trail

In the early afternoon of Christmas Eve, with Mrs. BR out for last minute shopping, and DN3 helping her Grandmother bake pies, I concluded that there could be no better way to spend the afternoon that a ride out along the Puyallup River levee. Things were quiet and uneventful until Smokey pulled up to a stop, head high, and ears forward. I scanned the trail ahead, and peered into the brush trying to discern the source of his concern. Seeing nothing obvious, I prodded my trusty steed forward.

He would have none of it, choosing rather to whirl and attempt to bolt in the other direction. With some pressure on the reins, and a well applied spur, I reminded him who was in charge of steering. Or so I thought. More whirling and twirling. Realizing that I would have none of it, he resorted to backing down the trail. To correct this, I turned him 360 degrees.

Finally I was able to get some forward momentum. The horse moved slowly, head craning toward the source of his fear. When, suddenly, something leapt out of the brush at us. Thinking quickly, I reached for the Iphone, and snapped a picture of the ferocious beast.

Yep, that's a log. Pretty scary isn't it? I took him out again today, and returned to the scene of Friday's attack. He walked past it without notice. I will never completely understand this horse.

I counted 36 eagles in a two mile stretch of the river today. I snapped this shot of one that was no more than 20 feet above us.

I'm going to borrow my father's Nikon, and take a hike out there, so that I can get better photos of these majestic birds.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Night Before Christmas

I hope this post finds each of you well and happy, in your own ways. Be you Christian or otherwise, I would like to wish all of you a Merry Christmas.

I haven't had much to post about this month. Or time for that matter. I've worked many a long hour this month. That isn't a complaint, as I have a great job at an amazing company. I started vacation Wednesday afternoon, through the end of this year, so time for a little R&R. I rode the horse yesterday, the third time this month, and probably only the fifth or sixth time that I had even laid eyes on him.

I seem to be suffering an inexplicable bout of the humbugs this year. The Christmas season has always been one of my favorite times of the year. I have fond memories of Christmas from my childhood, and while our three daughters were growing up. I am a Christian, but have always bought into the Santa Claus myth, for the symbol of hope that he represents. The thought St. Nick always brought hope and excitement to a young BR, and certainly to my own children. None of them were devastated when the truth was learned, and they even helped to perpetuate the belief for their younger siblings. Of course, now that our youngest is 16, the Santa Claus aspect is no longer part of the picture.

This past summer, two of our daughters, and one dog, moved out, ready to make their own way in the world. The house is much quieter these days. That comes as a mixed blessing, and perhaps plays into my lack of Christmas spirit. I haven't spent a great deal of time analyzing it, and don't plan to, but I do hope this to be a one off year.

From the ages of 4 thru 8, I lived with my paternal Grandparents, who were the two greatest people I have had the privilege of knowing. When the Christmas decorations were brought out each year, a book which contained an illustrated version of Clement Clark Moore (or Henry Livingston, but that's a story for another day) came out with them. To this day, I can remember the texture of the book, and the illustrations contained within. And the way the story made me feel when my Grandmother would read it to me. It is the only poem that I can recite from memory.

So without further babbling on my part:

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,

While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;

And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,

Had just settled down for a long winter's nap,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,

I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.

Away to the window I flew like a flash,

Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow

Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,

But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,

I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,

And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;

"Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!

On, Comet! on Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!

To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!

Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,

When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,

So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,

With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof

The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.

As I drew in my head, and was turning around,

Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,

And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;

A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,

And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

His eyes -- how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!

His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,

And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,

And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;

He had a broad face and a little round belly,

That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,

And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,

Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,

And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,

And laying his finger aside of his nose,

And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,

And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.

But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,

"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night."

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Monday, December 13, 2010

Pineapple Express Update

We dodged the bullet here in my little town. Other folks in the region weren't so lucky.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Pineapple Express Has Arrived

The Pacific Northwest gets hit with the "Pineapple Express" about every other year. This results in a deluge of rain, and warm weather. It was 59F at 8am this morning. This results in the the snow level increasing to 7000ft. The problem lies in the fact that the rain melts the snow below this level, causing the threat of flooding for the multitude of rivers in Western Washington.

Two years ago, our town was evacuated. It's surprising how quickly 95% of your possessions can be relegated to the category of "it's just stuff", and left behind. Evacuating with two Alaskan Malamutes, a fat cat, and half a dozen horses adds to the complexity. But, with help, we managed. The town didn't flood, but only for the Grace of God.

I don't think the current frog strangler washing through the area is as bad as Jan. 2009, but one never knows what Mother Nature has in store for us.

So far, levels have stayed below predicted values. I'm keeping my fingers crossed, but not burying my head.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Horses and Wildlife

In the comment thread of the previous post, Kris made the statement "Can't imagine the closeness you must experience on a horse."

That comment highlights something that I've noticed while riding horseback. I've experienced more, and closer, encounters with wildlife traveling on a horse, as opposed to hiking on foot. Deer, elk, and black bears seem to react differently to the horses . I've stared a blacktail deer down on the trail not 20 feet in front, while we both waited for the other to get off the trail. I watched a young bull elk parallel us on the trail. When riding in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness last September, we got closer to Mule Deer does and fawns than I would have ever imagined. Rather than getting spooked and hightailing it out of there, they would just watch us pass by. I did try to take several photos, but was rather amazed at how well they blend into there surroundings, as few off the photos turned out very well.

The black bear encounter was a bit unique. My nephew and I were riding on a logging road. Coming around a bend, we spotted a bear in the road, about 50 yds away. It was just watching us. As black bears can run very fast for a short distances, we stopped, dismounted, and unholstered our sidearms. After a few moments, the bear turned and ambled off the road. We waited a bit, and chose to walk past the area, leading the horses on a foot. Not two minutes past this sighting, we found another bear walking towards us. It initially showed no sign of stopping, which, I'm here to tell you, can get the adrenalin running. Suddenly he stopped, as if just noticing us, and twirling in a cloud of dust jumped off the trail. Encounter over.

Later on we were kicking ourselves for not getting photos. However, the cameras in our saddle bags were not in the forefront of our minds at the time.

Do wild animals react differently to the presence of horses than they do to lone humans? Or is it my imagination? Despite the fact that two legged varmints are still present, my experience, albeit it limited, leads to believe it is the former.

The other noteworthy fact is the reaction of my horse. He has never batted an eye during any of these encounters. This is the same horse that will jump sideways 10 feet sideways at the sight of a blue tarp or orange traffic cone. But he's not afraid of a bear? Go figure.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Eagles are Landing

"If I lay really still, maybe he won't see me."

Today's weather was cool, crisp, and rain free. Tired of arena work, I took Smokey out on a solo ride along the Puyallup River levee. The ride was remarkable only in that it was unremarkable, so I won't bore you with the details.

Each year around this time, eagles descend upon the rivers of Western Washington to feed upon the remains of spawned out salmon. Some folks pay money to take river trips to view these majestic creatures. I need merely ride along the river for this privilege.

One of the first arrivals was roosting in a tree above the trail this afternoon. The picture isn't that great, as I was armed with only the cell phone camera.

I'll take a better camera camera out when more of them are in town.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cow On!

On Sunday, we took DN3 to the Tacoma Unit for cow sorting. She joined the High School Equestrian Team this year, and sorting is one of the team events, so practice is needed. For this event, she is riding our mare Bailey, who, with Poco Bueno on her papers, is cow horse through and through. The horse enjoys it, and knows her business.

Cow sorting is an event which consists of two round pens connected together, ten numbered cows, two horses, and two riders. The object is to move the cows in numerical order from one pen to the other within a specified time period (usually 60 or 90 seconds). If a cow should slip through out of order, it is considered a "dirty cow" and ends the run. Moving all ten in order before time is up is the ultimate goal, but getting five clean cows beats having a dirty one slip through.

The riders take turns cutting the next cow out of the herd. When not cutting a cow out, the other rider acts as "turnback", preventing dirty cows from slipping through. On one of her runs, DN3 and the guy she was riding with moved all ten cows before the clock run out, with all cows being clean. There time earned them second place in the novice division.

I took Smokey along, just to get him out, and had no intention of working the cows. The last time I tried it was about four years ago, and frankly, I wasn't worth a darn. The fact that I barely knew how to ride at the time may have been a factor. Regardless, it didn't pique my interest, so I never gave it a second thought.

Through a certain chain of events, I was talked into signing up for a few "goes" in the green novice division. While Smokey isn't a cow horse, he is willing to try. Mrs. BR has had some success on him in the past.

My first two runs ended rather quickly, with one of those darn dirty cows sneaking past either me or my partner.

My third, and final run was with DN3.

That's 9, count 'em, nine clean cows. We timed out before the tenth cow, but I'm not complaining. We were both pretty stoked. Oh, and we earned second place in the green novice division. Not bad for a half Thoroughbred Quarter Horse with a hack rider, if I do say so myself.

I might have to try this again.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope today finds you all safe, and that you have the chance to enjoy time with friends and family.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Rats...Part II

Monday lived up to my expectations. Snow in this region is a rarity, especially this early in the year. And, invariably, the last few have hit in the middle of the work day. The mad rush to get home before it gets worse begins, and soon the streets are jammed with desperate commuters. The snow gets packed into ice, and before long the streets are blocked with vehicles which have lost all traction and spun out. King County Metro's famed articulated buses begin articulate at the wrong times as the bus slides across the ice, soon blocking multiple lanes where it comes to a rest. Throw in a few questionable decisions by WSDOT, and soon the entire Puget Sound Region is gridlocked.

I left work at 3:30, hoping for the best. By 5pm, despite attempting several routes, I was little over a mile away from work, which meant that I had another 32 miles left to cover. I leave you to do the math. Throwing in the towel, I turned around, and went back. Better to be productive there, than idling in the pickup. Shortly after I arrived, a co-worker showed up, having arrived at the same conclusion.

DN1 works in Seattle. She gave up trying to get home, and headed to spend the night at the home of a friend who lives near where she works. She was involved in a minor 5 car fender bender. No one was hurt, no one got mad, and the Police Officer who responded declared that no one was at fault. It was just time, place, and circumstance.

Andy, who lives in Seattle, got into a minor scrape himself. He has an excellent take on the experience.

At 10pm, I decided to give it another go. I find myself stuck in Renton briefly, but after a quick map review, I negotiated some side streets to an arterial road which was only lightly populated.

I arrived home shortly before midnight. Well worth the wait.

It should be noted that the 1999 Ford F150 is quite the snow machine. Put it in 4 High, and did not slip, slide, or slither once. Everyone should have one.

The commute on Tuesday was a breeze, as many folks chose to stay home.

There, are, of course, the folks who are up in arms over the gridlock. "How could this happen?" they wail. "Why didn't somebody do something?" they bemoan.

To me, it's just a day in the life. One long night is not the end of the world. If this is the worst I experience, then it will have been a very good week. Other parts of the world get far worse than this, so we have nothing to complain about in our neck of the woods.

I did find it to be bit nippy last night, though.

Monday, November 22, 2010


Taken 4 hours ago

Because people in this part of the country can't drive...especially if the sun is out (it gets in there eyes), or if it's raining (slick roads).

So just throw a little snow in the mix, and guess what you get. I'm having a hard time getting interested in leaving work today.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Rainy Day Blues

I rode tonight, the first time since Sunday. This gap is due in part to some long work days early in the week. I get up at 4:15 am, so getting home at 8pm leaves little time to do anything but rustle up some chow, and head back to bed for the purpose of repeating the it all again the next day. Not that I'm complaining. I work for an amazing company, and if long days are occasionally required to get things done, then sign me up. Besides, the building never goes to sea.

But there were a couple nights where I could have, no, should have ridden. But I just couldn't muster up the motivation.

This is not my favorite time of year. The Pacific Northwest has a well deserved reputation for rainy, dreary days. Not seeing the sun for weeks on end doesn't bother me. I spent many years at sea aboard submarines, after all. It's not even the rain really. I've ridden in the rain. Filson Tin Chaps and a good poncho will get the job done.

The thing that drags me down and demotivates me is this: In the past few years I've grown increasingly intolerant of being cold. Call me a weenie if you will, but it is a simple fact. I've found ways to keep my torso, legs, and melon warm (Under Armour Coldgear and Rivers West are perhaps the greatest things since sliced bread). But keeping my hands and feet warm has proven to be a bit more challenging. If either get too cold, I'm done. Stick a fork in me, I'm not enjoying myself anymore.

Cotton roping gloves have proven to be the trick to keep my hands warm, at least when riding in the covered arena. They keep my hands just warm enough, without removing the "feel" that I want when the reins are in my hand.

Finding riding boots that will keep the lower set of phalanges warm has proven to be more challenging. There seems to be a dearth of insulated, stirrup friendly boots on the market. But, heark! All is not lost. It would that at least one bootmaker has recognized an unfilled niche. I'm hoping that Santa Claus will leave a pair of these under the tree this year.

Don't get me wrong, there are things that I like about this time of year. To wit:

"Liquid Goodness Since 1982"

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Overheard at the Arena

Mrs. BR: "These are pleasure horses, they aren't supposed to go fast."

Me: "What's the point of horses that don't go fast? Madness!"

Just sayin'.

Did Anyone Get The Number Of That Bus?

This past weekend, the annual Washington State Horsemen (WSH) Convention was held in Ellensburg. I drove over for Saturday's meeting of the Gaming Division, to keep up on the rule changes, and renew my judges card.

Part of this was election of officers. After voting for existing posts was completed, it was announced that a new position had been created, West Side Vice Chairman. Brittany, from my group (Puget Sound Zone), shouted, "I nominate Dave!" The words were barely out of her mouth when Patty, from the Canal Zone chimed in with "I think Dave should do it". Was that two buses?

The vote was unanimous, and before I really knew what happened, I was a sitting officer of the division.

Of course, I didn't put up a struggle. As many of you are aware, I enjoy Western Gaming. I also believe in the philosophy of "put up or shut up". A few years back, before I became a member, WSH gaming in western WA ceased to exist. I'm told this was due to various disagreement's and infighting. Whatever. There is a strong push to revive the event on this side, but it won't happen if there aren't people willing to step up and make it happen. We have a good group of people over here, and I know we will make it happen.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Lost With All Hands

I missed this on Wednesday.

On November 10, 1975, while plying the waters of Lake Superior, the SS Edmund Fitgerald sank. 29 mariners perished with her.

Never forget.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

In Rememberance

The holiday we know as Veteran's Day originated as Armistice Day, in commemoration of the cessation of hostilities during World War I.

In Flanders Fields
By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Thank you to all my fellow Veteran's...past, present, and future.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Based On a True Story

It's been my experience that there are several indicators of an impending tall tale, which is based in little, if any, fact. Instead, the product will be based almost entirely on the imagination of the teller.

One sure sign is a Sailor opening a story with "This is no shit...". I also have it on good faith from Gordon that this applies when an Airmen begins with "There I was...".

In my humble opinion, another clear warning of malarkey on the horizon are the words "Based Upon a True Story" appearing in the opening credits of a Hollywood product. Too often, the movie is then presumed to be "fact", which can result in some unfortunate opinions developing. This is often true of movies which depict the Armed Services of the United States in an unfavorable light. There are factions in Hollywood who view the military as little more than the imperialistic arm of our government, populated with unthinking, uncaring goons. They will leap at any money making opportunity to discredit us.

My last post mentioned the deactivation of the cavalry. This resulted in a couple comments evoking the movie "In Pursuit of Honor". The gist of the movie is that in 1934 the cavalry is becoming mechanized, and the cavalry units have been ordered to destroy there horses. A small band of soldiers rebels against this orders, driving a of remount horses to safety in Canada.

While long on story, it would appear that the movie is extremely short on facts. I found a host of information online that repudiates the story. The best researched example I came across is In Defense of Honor: General Douglas MacArthur and the Horse Cavalry of 1934, by Bob Seals.

Cavalrymen had a very special relationship with their horses, and I find it unbelievable that these soldiers would have ordered or participated in the massacre of their trusted steeds. The horses were considered to be soldiers every bit as much as their human counterparts, even having their own unique rank structure. I have read accounts of soldiers of the First World War who were as distraught over the death of horse or mule as they were over the death of a human comrade.

To further understand the relationships with these horses, read the story of Chief, the horse considered to be the U.S. Army's last mount. Or perhaps this account of the deactivation of a mounted cavalry unit in 1932 at Fort D.A. Russell in Texas.

I'm not able to buy into Hollywood's version of a true story.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Horses as Healers

The last horse mounted Cavalry unit in the U.S. Army was deactivated in 1946. Having served continuously since the establishment of the Continental Army in 1776, they were rendered obsolete by mechanization.

The connection to this storied past is not forgotten, however, as Ceremonial Units are still maintained.

More importantly, horses are helping some of our wounded warriors.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Case for a Dark Colored Horse

Smokey makes it.

I think Jessica is on to something with her bay horse.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Ride Your Horse to School...Get Suspended

At least that's how they do things at Hamilton-Wenham Regional High School in Hamilton, Massachusetts.

Read the story here.

If you find this as ludicrous as I do, please share your opinions with Principal Matthew Fox.

Edit: I unintentionally posted this before I was done writing it. I was mildly curious if the suspension may have been related to the sword strapped to his hip. As it turns out his "Squire" was suspended also, so I think this may just be another case of school administrator's hiding behind some "zero tolerance" (of what I'm not sure) policy, without applying common sense or basic reasoning to the situation.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Smokey as a Cow

DN3 will be using our mare Bailey in the High School Equestrian Team in the Working Cow Horse events. Bailey is descended from Poco Bueno, and bears a striking physical resemblance to him.

And she is all about working the cows. Knows her job, and takes it seriously. As we don't have any cows, we use another horse in the role. Today was Smokey's turn in the barrel.

What you can't see in this video is that when we turn, Bailey bares her teeth and pins her ears. She is also business, and if given the chance, would take a bite out of the cow (or horse). It's a bit unnerving when you are the receiving end.

(Edit: You'll have to double click on the video and view it in You Tube. For some reason it's chopped off here. Sigh.)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

In the "Thanksgiving Comes First" Category.

The two lane highway leading into the two and half horse time where the BR abode occupies it's spot of land is lined with, among things, Christmas tree farms. Early each December, the family BR makes a pilgramage to one of said farms for the annual cutting of Treezilla.

I snapped this photo on the way home today (click to enlarge):

At least three of these farms have their signs up already. Really? It's not even All Hallow's Eve yet, for the love of Pete.

At least they don't open until the day after Thanksgiving...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Blast from the Past

Cause I got nothing. Well, actually I have quite a bit of material brewing in my gray matter. What I currently seem to lack is time.

This picture from my previous line of work recently surfaced. Circa 1994 at the USS Bowfin (SS-287) Memorial, in Pearl Harbor, upon the occasion of my second re-enlistment. I was but a young Machinist's Mate Chief (Submarines) at the time, with orders to the USS Houston (SSN-713).

I do not get misty or nostalgic thinking of my Navy days. I do not regret one single day of my service, but you won't find me bellied up to the bar at the local VFW, saying "This is a no shitter..." (Pardon my French, but that's Navy jargon for "I'm about to weave a tall tale, which is based only in small part upon true events")

Besides, I didn't have any horses.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

When is a Horse Too Old?

I certainly won't pretend to have the answer to that question. Like people, each horse is an individual, subject to their own rate of aging, effects of past injuries, illness, and infirmities. Some breeds, like Arabians, are known for their longevity. I've heard, from reputable sources, that one of the keys to their longevity is continued use and exercise.

Smokey turned 21, this year. I find myself more acutely attuned to his health and well being. Towards the end of summer, I found myself wondering if, perhaps, he was getting too old for what I ask of him.

The other night, as I was bringing him in from the pasture, I couldn't help but notice that his eyes are bright, and he has a spring in his step. And, in the arena, the old boy was hotter than a two dollar pistol. He wanted to go fast. Being an equine speed junky, I of course, let him.

Nope, he's not too old.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Few Housekeeping Items

My apologies on the light (read: non-existent) blogging. Last week was a really long month.

Back before the whole "Blogs of Note" affair, my dashboard indicated that I had 9 followers. As of this writing, the number is 186. I'm not entirely certain what to make of that.

Glass half full, or half empty. We'll start out on the positive, just because. I have nearly doubled the number of blogs I am following. If a blog stands the test of time, I will add it to my blog list on the right side of this page. Initially, I was going to post endorsements of those who make my list, but in order to spare them the spam barrage currently inundating my comments, I will just quietly add them to the list. BTW, there are two new ones already. For my new readers, if your blog doesn't make the list, please don't be offended. It may just not be my cup of tea.

The downside has been the increase in spam. Word verification, apparently, is not foolproof. At this point, I'm keeping up by simply deleting it. I have no desire to implement comment moderation, as it isn't fair to my faithful readers, and it would likely become one more thing I do not have time for.

I'll take the good with the bad, because the infusion of new readers has provided some fresh motivation for blogging. I think many of go through the "should I close this thing down" phase from time to time. Guess I'll be sticking around.

In the meantime, what do you do with a geriatric Alaskan Malamute who has lost much of her coat? DN3 has a good solution:

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch...

"Can't you see I'm eating here?"

It was 37F this morning when I left for work. It was 72F when I got home this afternoon. I'm not real fond of 35 degree temperature swings, and the accompanying 'blanket on', 'blanket off' routine.

What I Saw Yesterday

I flew down to the Bay Area yesterday on work related travel. One the stops on our itinerary was in Santa Rosa. As we were driving through town, we passed a coffee shop with the rather memorable name "Bad Ass Coffee".

Standing in front of this store, in a parking stall no less, was a fully saddled Paint Horse. I kid you not.

Unfortunately, I was unable to convince the city slickers in the van that we needed to stop for a photo op, and I'm just not that quick on the iPhone camera.

Shortly after takeoff on the return trip.

The plane was an Airbus A320. Prior to this trip, I hadn't flown on an Airbus product. After yesterday, I'm not in a rush to do so again. The plane made more screeching, bumping, and other weird noised than I've ever heard out of an aircraft before. Several others made the same observation.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Collection and the Art of Toilet Bowling

"No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle." That quote is attributed to Sir Winston Churchill. I couldn't agree more.

With that said, I must confess a dislike for riding in the arena. I don't think Smokey is too fond of it either. Or maybe I'm just trying to project human emotions on a four legged beast. Regardless of how hard I try to liven things up by working on this, that, or the other thing, riding in circles in a cloud of dust is, for me, a bit on the unexciting side. Except for the occasions when I'm riding alone, and I let old Smokey Joe out into an extended lope, some hand galloping, and the occasional flat out run thrown in for good measure. That gets the adrenalin flowing.

With that said, I accept that arena work is a necessary evil. It is the place to learn and hone riding skills.

Lately, I've been working on collection, which is the horse equivalent of good posture. The short explanation is that the horse keeps his head down, and arches his back. It's a little more complicated than that, but I hope you get the picture.

I know how to collect a horse. Smokey knows how to be collected. But, somewhere between my hand and the bit, there is a disconnect between this particular horse and myself. I push him up with spurs, tug gently on the bit, and his head will drop. After a few seconds his head will come back up. Rinse, repeat. It seems to be a test of who will tire first. Maybe some day we'll get there.

In the last few months he has developed this habit of tilting his head in toward the center of the arena while riding on the rail. And, soon enough, his body follows the head, and we start spiraling inward, circling the drain. I point out the error in his way, we get back on the rail, and start the whole thing over. It doesn't matter which direction we're going, we just start circling inward. Since my first thought is always "what am I doing wrong", I've made sure my legs are off and the reins are loose. No matter, it still happens. If anyone has any thoughts on this behavior, I'm certainly open to suggestions.

On some level, I think he's trying to tell me that it would be much better to go stand in the center of the arena, instead of working on this silly collection business.

I wonder if horses respond differently to riders they are familiar with. When DN3 rides him, it's all business. She is an amazing rider, and doesn't put up with any monkey business. I'm more like Good Time Charlie, preferring to go fast, run gaming patterns, and ride for hours or days in the mountains. In a large arena, I can point him downwind, make a little a kissing sound, and Bam! It's like getting shot out of cannon as he heads full steam for the other side. But he won't do that with other people on him. Riding point on the trail, I can drape my reins over the horn, and eat lunch or read a map while he keeps up the same pace. But with other, less experienced riders, he is known to stop, and refuse to move again, no matter how much kicking is involved.

If anyone ever unlocks the key to finding out how horses truly think, they will make a mint.

"What's all this collection nonsense about, anyways?"

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Hard Keeper

Smokey, while a registered American Quarter Horse, is actually an Appendix American Quarter Horse, because his sire is a Thoroughbred. The Quarter Horse Breed was established in 1947, and, to a large extent, the first QH's were Thoroughbreds, so this isn't such a stretch. Quarter Horses today tend to be very stout, strong horses. Smokey is tall and lean, more like his sire must have been.

Keeping weight on him has always been a bit of challenge. To aid in this, he gets a daily ration of grain. For the past few years, he's been on a product known as Enhance Daily, manufactured by Arkat. With a 24% fact content, it has been amazing. Combined with a helping of rice bran, it has aided in keeping 'ol Mojo healthy.

Sadly, Arkat has discontinued this product. Combined with a hard working summer, he has suddenly experienced some weight loss, and his ribs were beginning to show. To combat this he is on extra rations of alfalfa, close to half a bale per day (he's not complaining). We located a product called Moorglo, which at 18% fat, is darn close to what he was receiving before. It may be wishful thinking, but I believe there has been a perceptible improvement. Combined with nightly blanketing (horses expend energy to stay warm when it is cold), I'm hoping we can get ahead of this problem before the weather turns cold.

One of the hazards of older horses, I guess. Amongst the many things my horse has taught me, I know quite a great deal about the equine digestive system.

I'll keep you posted on his progress.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Good Lord and a Gun

It's been a long day, and I'm too drained to spend time writing. Got off work late, stopped at the feed store, mixed grain, admired my horse, and put his blanket on for the first time this season. It's supposed to drop to the low 40's tonight, and we're battling some weight loss (more on that tomorrow), so a little extra warmth is needed.

He's looking a bit rangy. He enjoys a good roll in the mud.

Since I'm lacking in anything meaningful, I will leave you with something that, for me at least, speaks volumes.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

I'll be darned...(Part II)

I've suddenly received more comments than I can keep up with. So...

To all my longstanding, faithful readers, a Big Thanks for your continued support. You are the reason that I keep this blog going. Even if I am never blessed with the opportunity to meet you, I consider you friends nonetheless.

To all the new folks who have visited in the last few days, I send out a hearty Welcome and Thank You! I can see that I have quite a few blogs to peruse, and suspect I will be adding more than a few new ones to my Blogroll. Please be patient with me as I catch up.

Trust me, the last post was entirely tongue-in-cheek. I tend to see the humor in most situations, and like to poke fun at many things, myself included.

As Lou and Jill have noted, we have definitely gone International. Previously, Alison in England was my only visitor from afar. And yes, Andy is right when he observes that I do not post enough. With the summer riding season winding down, I'll will get to posting. I have quite a few topics swirling around in my brain, time to set them to record.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

I'll be darned...

As it turns out, the Blogger Team at Google maintains a blog called Blogs of Note. I know this, because my humble tome made the list for October 1st. Since I find it somewhat doubtful that my blog is, by any stretch of the imagination, noteworthy, I'm reasonably certain that there has been some mistake. In all likelihood, some Google employee is on probation as a result of this oversight.

The upside, for me, is that my readership has doubled! That's right, I now have two readers! Who'd a thunk?

This does, of course, create some performance anxiety, as I clearly have some high standards to live up to. I will do my best to live up to expectations.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Sometimes Only a Horse Can Get the Job Done

Read about it here.

See it here. (Edit: Apparently you have to suffer through a brief commercial before the photos show up.)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Alpine Lakes Wilderness

My buddy Tim and I, along with our horses, spent last weekend riding in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, located within the Wenatchee National Forest. Smokey was his usual trusty trail self, and the ride was event free. We rode in about 12 miles on Saturday, with the weather warm and alternating between clouds and sun. Rain started around 8pm, and continued non-stop until around 4am Sunday morning. Sunday was blustery and chilly. Thankfully we were outfitted with proper raingear, so we stayed warm and dry when the skies opened up on us during the last two hours of the ride out.

While only 35 miles from the Norse Peak Wilderness, the terrain and vegetation are vastly different. The terrain is very rocky, and is covered with enormous boulders deposited by the glaciers thousands of years ago. The vegetation is mostly alpine scrub.

I never really cease to be amazed with Smokey. The horse who can be a complete idiot in the arena, was a calm, surefooted, trusty steed the entire weekend. Riding in the lead, he was surefooted, kept a good pace, and never balked at any obstacles. Occasionally he would just stop walking, and look back at me as if to say "I think this is a good place to camp", but a gentle reminder would set him to walking again.

The Waptus River

There are numerous creeks crossing the trail which feed into the river.

The view from the top of the Polallie Ridge Trail. (Elev. ~5500ft). My pitiful Nikon Coolpix does not do justice to the sheer beauty of the views from up here. I must return in the summer time.

We think these piers used to be part of a firewatch tower.

I wish Smokey could take his mind off eating the grass long enough to pose for a picture.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Belay My Last!!

Smokey and I won't be headed out this weekend. I just received a phone call that the great white hunters have struck camp, and are packing out today. Apparently the weather has been none too hospitable.


Hittin' the Trail

Smokey and I are headed out again this weekend. We'll be overnighting, and visiting some friends at their elk camp. Since it will just be Smokey and I on the trail, with no pack animals, it just might be an adventure free outing.

A man can hope, can't he?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Weekend Wilderness Adventures (Sunday)

The site of the Old Tin Shack still has a hitching rail. We had the six animals tied to said rail late Sunday morning as we were breaking camp.

One member of our party is not a horseman. He was folding up a blue tarp, and in the process of doing so, gave it a vigorous shake to get the dirt off. Now, next to perhaps grizzly bears, blue tarps represent the thing most feared by horses. The area of the hitching rail erupted with the thunder of 24 hooves trying to affect the escape of 12 wild eyes from this dreaded monster. With no two animals headed in the same direction, the rail came free of its moorings. Wunderbar.

After the animals were calmed down, we were able to re-engineer the rail. Bailing twine has many uses.

Next came loading the pack animals. Today, the mule would be carrying the pack boxes, with the pack bags on the horse. As I lowered the second box onto the pack saddle, something inside clanked, and spooked her into absolute terror. She took off at a run.

SL had her lead rope, and did not let go. She began running in a circle around him. As we had been unable to tie the boxes down, they were banging against her sides, making a bad situation worse. She was looking to SL for help, while he just talked to her in a soothing voice until she calmed down. The boxes were lashed down, and he led her through the nearby woods, so that she could get the feel of the boxes hitting trees and making noise. I told SL that he could lead the mule today. I would be happy to lead the pack horse, thank you very much.

By this time all the animals were adrenaline charged. The first hour of the ride out was chaos. Smokey would not walk, choosing instead to jig-jog. This is something that infuriates me, as it is very unpleasant to ride, not to mention with a horse right in front of him, I kept having to pull him back. With one hand on the pack horses lead rope, and the other fighting the horse with the reins, I was very busy, and none too happy.

Under questioning, I will deny that I may have, at some point, offered to solve Smokey's behavior with .357 solutions. Just saying.

The tide finally broke when the mule got loose from SL. She spun around, and headed up the trail at a run. Silence befell our group. It was broken when SL said, "she'll be back". As if on cue, she reappeared, headed at us at a dead run. I pulled the pack horse in close, ready to maneuver both horses in whatever direction would keep us safe.

She stopped abreast of our group. SL retrieved her, and we started out once again. This seemed to have broken the tension, as the rest of the ride was calm and uneventful, except for the Mule Deer doe that briefly appeared on the trail.

All because of a blue tarp.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Weekend Wilderness Adventures (Saturday)

A few posts back, I mentioned the horse and mule that showed up at the trailhead when our group was tacking up. What I didn't mention was that it was only the beginning of an equine adventure filled weekend.

Our party consisted of four riders, five horses, and one mule. The mule and one of the horses did duty as the pack animals. Both of them are in training, and this was to be their first overnighter. The trip in on Saturday was fairly uneventful. I ponied the mule, and she was a delight. I hardly knew she was back there. Smokey was his reliable old self. The only time he buggered up was when we passed two backpackers who had stopped to rest along the trail. Their pack were lying on the uphill side of the trail, and he was rather convinced that the blue backpack would find horses to be quite palatable. Having your horse dive off the side of the trail while ponying a mule does have the ability to initiate a burst of adrenaline.

Our destination was the site of the Old Tin Shack, which is near Airplane Meadows. The Tin Shack is off the trail, and if one does not know its location, it is unlikely to be found. As the only member of the party who had ever been there, it fell on me to guide us there.

Of course, there was a fly in the ointment. On my previous trip, we had ridden in from the south. This time we were on the north side, in Airplane Meadows. Rather than leading the whole party on a bushwacking expedition, I told them to stay put while Smokey and I scouted.

Now, I fully expected that my plan to ride off from the rest of the herd would result in something between a rodeo and a disaster. To my utter astonishment, Smokey headed off into the woods at my direction with nary a hesitation. That horse never ceases to amaze me.

It took about 15 minutes to locate the path, which is little more than a dry creekbed. I followed it, and in short order, Smokey and I found the site. We headed back down the path to retrieve the rest of the folks. To liven the ride up, I kicked Smokey up into a trot. When we came out of the forest and into the meadow, the others were on the far side. I was waving my arm to get their attention. My brother-in-law said that the sight of the horse and I trotting out of the woods with me waving was quite the scene.

The horses were untacked, and set out to graze, while we pitched cap. After several hours, the younger animals were starting to play and get a bit mischevious. Not old Mo. He steered clear of the juvenile delinquents, and kept his nose in the grass. Never know when your next meal will be. When the youngsters were beginning to get out of hand, they were tied to the highline. I left Smokey out to graze.

After awhile, he wandered closer to camp, and slept for about an hour. He then walked over near the highline. In fact, he stopped near his loop on the line. All I had to do was pick his lead rope up off the ground, and tie it to the line. Gotta love a horse that puts himself to bed! I tried to convince the others that I had trained him to do that, but they weren't buying it. Can't imagine why.

Tomorrow I will post the other half of this story, when the real excitement began.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Saddle Sore

As mentioned in the previous post, when I unsaddled Smokey at the end of the first day of the work party, I was greeted by a bright pink spot where the hair and flesh had been rubbed away. Because his health and well being is first and foremost when on these trips, there was no question that he was unrideable. I rendered first aid, and he spent the rest of the trip at camp on the all you can eat alfalfa program.

24 hours later, the area was quite swollen and tender to the touch. By Sunday morning, the swelling was subsiding, but was still noticeable. He rode back to the trail head where our rig was parked in someone else's trailer. Our local chapter vet was there guarding all the pickup's and trailers. His initial assessment was grim: severe hematoma, which would require months of recovery, and possibly surgical removal. To say that I was depressed about hurting my friend would be a vast understatement.

We arrived home on July 25th. Within two days of arriving home, the swelling had subsided, and the skin began to heal. I'm happy to report that by Aug. 12th, he was healthy enough to be ridden by one of the girls in our 4H club at the County Fair, where he took several Grand Champions, I might add. And, we did an overnighter in the backcountry on Aug. 21st and 22nd.

So how did this happen? After some soul searching, and a few in depth discussions with some experienced folk, I've narrowed it down to three factors:

1. Smokey's spine protrudes upward above his hips. This is known as a roach back. Notice the hump in the picture below. This is fairly uncommon. Whether this is a natural conformation defect, or the result of some past injury is unknown.

Compare to the same spot on Bailey's back. No spine to be seen.

2. I was using a crupper for the first time on this trip. A crupper is designed to prevent the saddle from slipping too far foward while traveling downhill. When walking downhill, horse and mules will naturally clench their tail, holding the crupper in place. I feel that the crupper placed extra pressure on the back of the saddle above his protruding spine. Needless to say, I won't be using the crupper again. I'm going to spring for saddle britchen.

3. I failed to tighten the cinch adequately. My saddle fits Smokey as if it were made for him. As a result, I tend to get somewhat complacent with regards to how tight the cinch is. He's a bit cinchy, and puffs up during the process. Because we were traveling on hills, I should have paid extra attention, and perhaps tightened it up a bit more than usual.

Bottom line: My fault, and it will not happen again.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Beer for My Horse

For no particular reason, a song that has at least three of my favorite things: Whiskey, Beer, and Horses. Can't be anything wrong with that.

Some days I think it's a darn shame that range justice is frowned upon in the current era.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Work Party (Finally!)

Well, I think I've delayed the final part of the tale long enough. The work party was, well, a work party. A lot of trail clearing and rerouting. Two bridges were rebuilt, and some logs were cut out of the trail.

One of the highlights was the christening of the Waterpark on Thursday morning. The group I was in was headed to work on the lower part of the Arch Rock Trail. Our crew was headed up by RD. RD has been riding and packing for more years than I've been standing on the earth. He's been there, done that, and has the worn out cowboy hat to prove it.

To reach the trail, we had to ride over a puncheon bridge which crosses the Greenwater River where it feeds into Echo Lake. RD was riding in the lead, with two pack horses in tow. His saddle horse started across the bridge, and the first pack horse followed. The second pack horse, however, decided that it would be easier to bypass the bridge and ford the river. As the bridge is low, and the water shallow, this wouldn't have been a problem, except for one thing. There was a log in the river, which caused the horse to stop.

When pack horses are tied to each other, the lead rope of the following animal is tied to the pack saddle of the one in front via a "pigging string". This is nothing more than a few light strands of bailing twine. The idea being that should any pressure be placed against it, it will break.

Well, bailing twine must be of stronger stuff these days, because the pigging string didn't break. As the horse in the water pulled back, the horse on the bridge pulled forward and to the left.

Then the pigging string broke, and the crash unfolded before our eyes.

With the sudden release of pressure, the pack horse on the bridge crashed sideways into RD's saddle horse. Two horses and one rider tumbled sideways off the bridge, and into the water. The horses were thrashing around in the river, and RD was no where to be seen. The horses were struggling to get their feet underneath them when RD's head popped up out of the churning water.

There was no doubt in my mind that he and at least one horse must be seriously injured.

Incredulously, RD came out with a scrape on his nose. One horse had a minor scratch on one leg. Beyond that, the worst problem was that the pack bags were full of water. To RD, it was all in a days work, and hardly the worst wreck he'd every experienced.

As for me, I don't ever want to experience anything approaching it.

When we arrived back at camp that night, I unsaddled Smokey, and, to my dismay, he had a nasty saddle sore on his back.

There was no question that he was now unrideable. While he had not given any indication of a problem, I was not going to risk further injury. He would spend the rest of the week resting and eating. I'm going to visit this injury in a later post.

My friend Mark had brought extra stock animals with him, so, for the rest of the weekend, I rode a Mule. Well, a horse named Mule, anyway.

Mule is a 7 year old Saddlebred mare. She's a big, stout horse, and was an absolute pleasure to ride. She looks good in my saddle doesn't she?

Smokey and Company on the highline.

Our living accommodations.

The Rock Slide, at the top of the Arch Rock Trail.

The view from the top of the Arch Rock Trail.

Kenny's mule was more than a little interested in my lunch.

Hard at work...err, lunch break.

I couldn't get a picture that captures how steep this trail really is.

Your's truly after cutting this log out of the trail. Chainsaws are strictly forbidden in the wilderness, so it has to be done the old fashioned way. That saw is amazingly sharp, and it took me less than ten minutes to make both cuts.

Big Al is King of the Mountain

Oh, by the way, Mule is for sale. Did I mention how much I enjoyed riding her, and that she looks really good in my saddle?