Saturday, July 25, 2009

In which we take lessons and learn stuff: an afternoon very well-spent

We Swamplanders think that any temps above 75 degrees is pretty dang hot, and this week it's been above 80 degrees most days. The ground is not only dry, it's actually dusty!

We mostly ride trails during the summer, but with a new rider in the house, riding lessons are a priority for all of us.

My lessons are not just for me (although I certainly need them!), but also for Fiddle, who is a very fancy dressage horse when she (finally) figures out what we're asking her to do.

Fiddle's canter has improved dramatically in the past month--she now offers to canter, even on flat ground. When she gets tired (at the end of a hot, dusty lesson, for example) she would rather throw a fit than cooperate, even though being naughty is harder work!

For our next few lessons, we decided to work on the canter at the beginning of the lesson, and practice familiar stuff when she's starting to get tired.

Her collected trot has improved dramatically, as has my posture. Hmmm. Those things are probably connected.

She has a lot of "rear engine" available now. It's very cool to ride all that power!

Madeline was waiting for her lesson, and really wanted to ride Fiddle for a few minutes, even though Fiddle thought that lesson time should be over and it should be time for a nice cool bath and a bite of grass.

Mads rode through the naughtiness and got to enjoy some of that amazing trot.

Uh, oh. More naughty.

Then, back to work.

Willy and Guy were working on posting the trot again, and Willy's confidence is definitely boosted.

They even did some canter work!

See, Fiddle: if an old horse like Guy can canter, it probably won't kill you to practice it. Heh heh heh.

Willy says he'd like to try galloping soon.
I'm not sure Guy will allow galloping, though. Guy has strong opinions about what "his" riders are permitted to do, and if he doesn't think a rider can handle a particular gait or speed, there's not a stick in the world big enough to make him do it.

He also won't spook, shy, or do any other doof-headed manuever with a beginner aboard.

Truthfully, I think horses like Guy are worth gold. Lots of gold.
Madeline's usual lesson-horse was lame this week, so she went to the pasture and pulled an old friend out for the afternoon. Ross is a crazy-shaggy pony during the winter, but he gets lovely and glossy in summer, doesn't he?

Mads had the same posture-issues I have, but she's really worked hard to overcome them. I see a lot of improvement in her riding these days!

Finally, it's Jim's turn for a lesson with Hana. Hana has had lessons with Dory before (with me riding), but Jim hasn't. They had a great time.

He was pretty sure that he would never be able to sit the trot on his mare, and less than an hour later, he was doing it!

Yeah, you heard it here first:

Life is good.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

In which some things are pretty tasty, and other things are just pretty

Willy had his first experience with a salmon barbeque the other day. Of course, we eat salmon a lot at home, but there's a lot more going on in the cooking of several hundred fish on the same day....

I had to explain that this barbeque was a "white guy" salmon barbeque, which is not quite the same cooking as "powwow" salmon barbeques we will encounter later in the summer. There are a couple of significant differences:

1. White guys build a barbeque pit above the ground. This one, at a local park, was built from cinderblocks, a common white guy barbeque building material. It will last for 5-10 years without needing any significant maintenance unless somebody drives over it with an industrial lawnmower (yup, seen that happen....a little embarrassing for the lawnmower driver, but quite amusing for bystanders).

Powwow barbeque pits are below the ground, and closely resemble a double-wide grave: about 4-6 feet deep, with lovely coals at the bottom.

White guy barbeques and powwow barbeques both rely on alder wood for fuel. Nothing cooks salmon better than dry, fragrant alder coals and alder smoke.

BTW, those pricey alder planks sold to gourmets for plank-roasting salmon create a lovely-tasting fish, but it isn't actually "traditional." If you want real traditional, you want powwow-style fish as I'm describing, or else you can toast your fillet over a fire using an alder branch (same technique as roasting a hotdog) for a similar flavor.

Also, for crying out loud, if you really want to plank-roast a nice chunk of fish, just go get a board of alder at the lumberyard instead of paying $25 for 4 scrawny chunks of the stuff. Sheesh.

2. White guys buy the grill at a place like Home Depot. Powwow grills are usually made from rebar, woven or welded in somebody's garage. It's a little rougher in appearance, but does a fine job of keeping fish from falling into the fire, which is the important thing.

3. White guys have these little metal "hats" for the fish. Powwow grills are further from the fire, so the fish can bask naked without getting over- or under-cooked.

Both types of fish-cooking uses fresh or fresh-frozen salmon. Fresh is best, but if you've got some really nice-quality fish that was frozen at sea and kept frozen, it's just fine.

Doesn't that look tasty?

4. White guys serve salmon with garlic bread, beans, and Costco salad. Lots of garlic, yummm. The beans had sausage in them, which is kind of unusual--usually it's just beans from a can.

Powwow barbeque comes with frybread and roasted corn-on-the-cob, plus sometimes beans.
Since I have to avoid sugar, frybread is technically "out-of-bounds" for me, but I usually have a bite or two because it is so wonderful. I like mine with butter and no sugar, but lots of people put butter and sugar and cinnamon on frybread.

Either way, Willy thought it was pretty good (he had two chunks of salmon, the chefs were very flattered).

Elsewhere on the farm, the apples are growing....

and the flowers are blooming.

Life is good.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

In which we take a twenty-mile mosey and they give us a t-shirt

We went out to the nearby trail system yesterday at the invitation of a neighbor and fellow endurance-rider. Kathy has ridden endurance for many years, but her real love is for one of our "sister-sports" : Competive Trail Riding.

Unlike endurance riding, which rewards all riders who finish the course with a healthy horse in the time allowed with no maximum speed limit, the goal of CTR is to cover distance in a specified time and speed.

Along the way, horses and riders are judged by a trained CTR judge and a CTR veterinary judge not only for the objective criteria of heartrate and respiration, but also for the grace and correctness of their technique over common trail obstacles and conditions. Open Division riders trotted most of their course, and Novice Division mostly walked.

Our task for the day was to "drag" the novice trail. In other words, we were asked to ride last on the loops, making sure that riders didn't get lost on the flagged trails, and offering help if a horse or rider got into trouble. The first loop, we followed the last rider, whom we called "Lady Grey" because she was riding a lovely grey gelding. We couldn't figure out how she did it, but Lady Grey got off-trail six or eight times on a ten-mile trail. We generally waited at a polite distance behind her until she realized that she had taken a wrong turn and came back. At least twice we didn't realize she'd gone off trail until she showed up behind us.

The first judged obstacle event that we saw was a little figure-8 trail littered with low step-over logs. We took the obstacle course just for fun, since we weren't being judged. It wasn't very challenging, but it was kind of fun. There was a P/R stop on each loop, and they gave the results in numbers that seemed strange to me: 11 and 4, meaning the number of heartbeats or breaths in a period of 15 seconds. (In endurance we use "normal numbers" like 44 beats per minute.)

There was also a judge on the second loop watching riders navigate a steep downhill/steep uphill area. When I asked her, she said she was looking at the rider's posture through the slope--are they laying down on the horse's butt like that scene in Man From Snowy River, or are they riding lightly with their spine parallel to the tree trunks?

On the uphill, she wanted to see riders who are out of the saddle, leaning forward to help the horse negotiate the steep climb. I thought that was interesting.

They also had a trot-out exam...but the horses were trotted with a rider on-board! That's just really weird.

Because there is a specified pace that riders should travel in this sport, we sometimes came upon horses and riders who were ahead of schedule, standing around with their horses, waiting for time to go by. Endurance riders will stop on the trail to let horses eat grass during the course of an event, of course, but the idea of standing around on a ROAD looking at my wristwatch just seemed very strange.

During the lunch break back in camp, we sat on the truck tailgate to eat sandwiches and drink ice-water. The horses were enthusiastic about the hay bags.

Fiddle ate for about 15 minutes and then fell fast asleep. Story used to do that at vetchecks when she was doing endurance: no matter how far she had trotted and no matter how many miles we had left to go, she would eat for 15 minutes and the sleep for the remainder of the vetcheck and nothing-but-nothing was going to interrupt her nap until I put my foot back in the stirrups. Looks like Fiddle is going to be another vetcheck-napper!

Our reward for walking our horses 20 miles was a nifty t-shirt emblazoned with a horse and rider, and the date of the event. Not bad pay for riding our own trails!
After participating in the event and meeting the players and seeing the rules in action, I decided that the slower pace was interesting and probably good training for a young horse. Riding 20 miles of familiar trails isn't much of a challenge, but perhaps riding 20 miles of new trails would be more interesting, even if I had to walk most of the way to meet the event criteria.

It was really more like a 20-mile horse show than anything else. So if you give me the choice of a 20-mile horse show, or an ordinary horse show where you get 5 minutes to do a bunch of circles in an arena, I'll probably take the CTR. But given the choice between 20 miles of moseying and 50 or more miles of trotting up and down mountains, the trotting will get my vote every time.