Saturday, March 6, 2010

In which we get another prestigious award, and answer questions

Thanks to Kate who identified this blog as Beautiful. Thank you so much, Kate! We think you're beautiful as well.

The rules of this award are:
* Link back to the person who gave you the award.
* Tell 7 things about yourself
* Pass the award on to [up to] 15 other bloggers
(pretty soon, with math like that, unless we do a lot of duplicating, every blog in the universe will have had the award!), especially blogs that are newer to you.

If you're named below, please feel free to do this to whatever extent you wish, or not - it's your choice.

So here goes - 7 things about me that my readers have probably always questioned:

1. I am a grouch in the morning, and don't like to talk much until I've been awake for a while. At home, as soon as I'm awake, I put a kettle on to boil and go immediately outside to feed the horses, goats, and chickens (usually in my pajamas + rubber boots, plus a parka and toque in winter!). By the time everyone is fed and pens are cleaned, the kettle is whistling and I can make some tea and start becoming more civilized. In camp, I'll get up at least an hour before everyone else and do all the outdoor chores, then take the dogs for a walk in order to avoid talking. Yes, this does mean that I don't get much sleep on ride day.

2. I have trouble saying "no" to fun. I think that's how I became a storytelling librarian trail-building pirate endurance-riding radio disc jockey. All those parts of my life go together, but not in a very logical way until you know that the common denominator is the fact that I think fun is, well, fun.

3. Speaking of pirates, I play the "pirate librarian" in a forthcoming short movie made by my buddy Charlie Williams, which will be shown to schoolkids around the county to promote the library system's summer reading program.

4. I met Jim after he heard me on the radio and showed up to an event I was hosting. He started coming to storytelling events, learned to tell stories, and then joined me as a radio host soon after...and started taking riding lessons and then started riding endurance as well. What a cool guy. He cooks, too.

5. All my pets have always been named out of books, beginning with the kitty I got at age six, whom I named "Puff" after the cat in the Dick & Jane readers.

6. I hold a third-degree blackbelt in GoJu-Ryu karate, but I don't practice anymore. I consider the confidence given by the training absolutely priceless in my dealings with green horses and unruly library patrons.

7. Life goals I still haven't met: touring Mongolia, Iceland and Tanzania on horseback; learning to drive a chariot, and riding the Tevis.

Sharing the beauty, here's my ten faves:

1. Lytha at A Horse Crazy American in Germany who inspired this blog in the first place. She has a unique view of the world, which I treasure.

2. Leah Fry at Barn Door Tagz whose life in Texas is so different from mine, and yet so similar!

3. Jared at Moon over Martinborough who experiences the seasons exactly opposite of my own on his beautiful olive tree farm in New Zealand. His summer blue skies keep me sane in winter, his rain cools me in summer.

4. Mel at Boots and Saddles, who is wonderfully brave about learning new things and pushing herself further down the endurance trail.

5. Monica at Horsebytes, a local gal who gives me a new perspective on horsey events in my native land.

6. Funder at It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time, who moved recently from the American South to the area near Rena NV with her pretty gaited mare. Funder's a busy lady, but never too busy to share the interesting details of her life with Dixie.

7. Janet at Mugwump Chronicles, a real-world horse trainer who doesn't hold with weird gimmicks or trendy techniques. She's also a helluva storyteller, bless her.

8. Now That's A Trot is a terrific chronicle of a standie in training on the other side of the U.S. Willie is such a handsome horse, it's always a joy to see photos from their adventures together.

9. Jane at The Literary Horse is able to make ordinary events funny, and make funny events outrageously hilarious. Treat yourself to some fun by reading her stories about the demonic pony Mr Chips.

10. Jonni at Trot On Hank has been doing the "endurance thing" a lot longer than I have. She's a bunch better at it than I am, no surprise--or else she's able to make herself appear more graceful in print than I've ever been.

Life (you know this part, right?) is good!

In which I muse a bit about legging up a a young endurance horse

I don't want to pretend to be an expert horse trainer, nor an expert endurance rider. I've done some rides. I've learned some stuff. I guess I'm only wondering what I don't know.
My first horse was an off-track standardbred mare called Story. We plinked around on trails for a few years before I started riding with a friend who not only wanted to try out the sport of endurance, but she also had a truck and trailer, which I lacked.

Off we went. Story was calm, quiet, sure-footed, and smart enough to stay out of trouble. She wasn't tremendously fast, but she could trot all day, and she flat-out refused to trot at a speed faster than her metronome all-day pace. She didn't have much of a canter--her track training has strongly discouraged the gait, and quite frankly, I wasn't a very good rider. She was a nice horse in spite of me, not because of me.
My friend knew more about riding, and she taught me some stuff. She didn't know any more about endurance than I did, and we all learned together.

After a few years of LD rides (25 miles or more, but less than 50 miles), I started wanted to bump up to longer rides. 50's, 75's and possibly 100's. Alas, Story had some old injuries--probably souveniers of the racetrack--that limited her ability to do long miles.

Enter the Toad.
My friend bought the Toad as a glow-in-the-dark green 7 year old. Unlike Story, he was bred for the sport of endurance: a CMK Arab gelding with impeccable breeding. His parents, siblings, and most of his close relations were succeeding brilliantly in the sport. "If he has half a brain, he'll be fabulous," said my friend.

Famous last words. He had exactly one-half of a brain.

Unlike Story, he wasn't calm, and he wasn't even vaguely inclined to stay out of trouble. He bucked, he pronged, and he spooked at things like leaves, ferns, branches, and his own thoughts. Despite my inexperience and his lack of useful grey cells, we hit the endurance trail together. We completed more than 2,000 miles together. We finished a bunch of 50's, a handful of 75's and one 100-miler.

But I missed sensibleness.

Less than a week after Story died, I got a call from the standardbred rescue people up in Canada. One of Story's cousins needed a home.
What have I learned? What did I do right? What would I do differently to improve the endurance careers of the horses? What am I doing differently with Fiddle?

With Story, the years spent puttering around on trails were the best base we could have engineered. We not only learned to cover a huge variety of territory gracefully, but we also learned to trust each other. I did that part right.

I would have gotten her more chiropractic work, earlier and more often. I would have taken more dressage lessons. I would have loaned her out less, and ridden her more myself.

With the Toad, I played lots of games. He loved to play "follow me", where I would run in crazy patterns and he would be just one pace behind every step of the way. He even would step in time with me--in many photos, I see that his left front foot steps forward at exactly the same time that my left foot steps forward, and the right front was exactly in step with my right foot. He trusted me. But truthfully, I could never trust him completely. He was just a little too squirrely.

If I could go back and start over with the Toad, I would take a lot more time to plink around on trails. I would have spent a year or more doing shorter distance rides with him, and spent more time teaching him skills other than trotting down the trail and spooking at ghosts of his own invention. I would have taken more dressage lessons.

With Fiddle, my intention is to apply what Story and the Toad have taught me. We have already spent almost 3 years plinking around on trails. We have been to several gaming playdays, we have built trails, we have played tag, we can do tricks, we have camped in the backcountry. We have learned to trust each other.

And I will keep taking riding lessons, I promise.

How about you, Dear Readers? What have you done? What have you learned? What would you do more of, and what will you do differently next time? I look forward to your wisdom.

In which we celebrate Saturday Stories : another trickster tale

Remember the story a few weeks ago about the Mulla Nasruddin? This one seems like it was probably told as a Nasruddin story as well, doesn't it? Enjoy. --A

The Purse of Gold, A Jewish Folktale

A beggar found a leather purse that someone had dropped in the marketplace.

Opening it, he discovered that it contained 100 pieces of gold. Then he heard a merchant shout, "A reward! A reward to the one who finds my leather purse!"

Being an honest man, the beggar came forward and handed the purse to the merchant saying, "Here is your purse. May I have the reward now?"

"Reward?" scoffed the merchant, greedily counting his gold. "Why the purse I dropped had 200 pieces of gold in it. You've already stolen more than the reward! Go away or I'll tell the police."

"I'm an honest man," said the beggar defiantly. "Let us take this matter to the court."

In court the judge patiently listened to both sides of the story and said, "I believe you both. Justice is possible!

"Merchant, you stated that the purse you lost contained 200 pieces of gold. Well, that's a considerable cost. But, the purse this beggar found had only 100 pieces of gold. Therefore, it couldn't be the one you lost."

And, with that, the judge gave the purse and all the gold to the beggar.

Monday, March 1, 2010

In which Fiddle gets a haircut and ascends the Ice Cream Cone of Doom

It's hard to believe that the first endurance ride of the season is less than a month away...and yet, Home on the Range is scheduled for March 27th, a mere 26 days hence. Fiddle and I have been getting ready!

Today was overcast and warm, with not much wind. Perfect weather to bring out the clippers.

I didn't want to do a full-body clip. Fiddle's hair coat isn't THAT long, and she's finally started shedding. I clipped her throat, the sides of her neck, and a little bit on her tummy. I was prepared for fireworks when I applied the humming, buzzing electric clippers--Hana is convinced that the clippers are really a handful of bumblebees, and she behaves accordingly.

I did a little bit of preventative training with Fiddle: Turned on the clippers. When she moved her head towards the sound, I handed her a cookie and turned them off. Chew. Chew. Chew. Okay, no big deal.

Then I put the back edge of the clippers on her shoulder (blades facing away from her) and turned them on. Again, she turned to look at the sound, and I handed her a cookie. Chew, chew, chew. Still no biggie.

Turned them on, handed her a cookie, and clipped one side of her neck, plus her freezebrand. Now it's legible!

Still no big deal, so I handed out more cookies and finished the job, including a little "extra" clipping on her butt, just for fun:

Yup, there's no question about who owns THIS horse!

With the beauty parlor procedures out of the way, it was time to hit the trail. Today we went to a stretch of the Tree Farm that's north of our usual trails. There weren't any other horses/riders on this tract, but there were plenty of logging rigs!

This (below) was turned off and parked by the side of the road.
Fee wanted to go waaaaay around it, but unfortunately, there was something worse (I thought) on the other side of the road:
Ergh. Look at all that sharp, rusty metal. We compromised, and walked right down the middle of the road, keeping an eye on both sides to make sure we could run away if either object suddenly came to life and decided to attack.
It's been about 4 years since I've visited the road we call the Ice Cream Cone of Doom. It winds around the outside of a steep hill, in roughly the shape of a badly-constructed soft ice cream cone, hence the name.
The hill was being actively logged while we were on it, which would have made it impassible if I'd been riding the Toad. All those beepers and boom cranes bulldozers and falling trees and stuff? Forget it. He only ever agreed to go up this road with me because it was the only place I would let him run as fast as he wanted--he'd always lose steam before he got to the top, and his brains didn't have a chance to fly apart because he was too busy conquering the Cone.

Fiddle, who is allowed to trot or canter as fast as she wants most of the time because her brain doesn't fall out when she accelerates, sized up the grade and length of the road, put her head down and trotted. All. The. Way. Up.

Jim did the math when I got home: the ICCoD is almost exactly a mile long, with an 8% grade incline, from 656 ft elevation to 1066 elevation. It seems steeper than it is, but it is plenty steep. And long.

And there's a heckuva view from the top!

We stopped for a snack when we found a more peaceful spot, away from the loggers.

The deal with the IIC0D is: she trots up to the top. I hop off and walk down to the bottom beside her. If I were a better, stronger, fitter person I would jog or run down this. I'm not. I walked.

I checked my GPS when we were about 2.5 miles away from the truck...we'd only been out for an hour and 45 minutes. Hmmm. We could do another little spur trail up to the top of the Knob!

So, we did. From the top of the Knob, you can see the top of the Ice Cream Cone.
Click to biggify the photo (below)
The road back down the Knob (photo below). Steep, nasty. But not very long. Fiddle was careful with her feet and did just fine.

Here's the route we took today:

12.5 miles in 2.5 hours. Lots of hills, lots of trotting. Not exactly record-breaking time, but it should get us to the finish line at Home on the Range, and that's all we need for now!
End of the trail: bath time.
Life is good!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

In which a bunch of seasonal employees are added to the staff

The menfolk are doing something...?

Aha! The new sign for the entrance to the farm! (I intentionally blurred out the numbers, just in case any of those interwebular stalkers are stalking around here).
But, hold on a sec. The sign is up, it's pointed towards the road, and Jim is attaching something to the back.

A roof! He's putting a roof on the back of our farm sign.
And under the roof, he is hanging a little condominium for our newest farm staffers:
Jim and I learned a lot about these native pollinators, and we decided to invite some to live with us on Haiku Farm.

Here's cool stuff about mason bees:
* They are native to our region, and are not affected by whatever mysterious ailment is killing \european honeybees worldwide.
* The males will hatch first; the females hatch a few days later, mate very soon after emerging, and then start nesting a few days after that.
* The bees will work, pollinating the flowers and trees in the orchard, for about 4 to 6 weeks before they die, leaving behind the larvae to develop inside the nests, make cocoons, and become new adults resting in the cells. When it gets cold again in the fall, the adults will hibernate.

* Mason bees are not aggressive. Because they do not have a hive to defend, they sting only when they think they're being squished.

Orchard Mason Bees can be reared in cardboard tubes, hollow reeds, straws, or blocks of woods with holes drilled.

We bought our bee condo locally; it's made of corn! Dr. Margriet Dogterom is the recognized "queen" of mason bees, and her Canadian company Bee Diverse provides easy-to-understand books, instructional videos, and equipment for people who don't want to spend a lifetime studying mason bees. The condo is re-usable and will be home to many generations of mason bees.
The condo will provide homes for our "bottle of bees", as well as any locals who decide to move into the neighborhood and join our staff.

Okay, Spring: we're just about ready for you!