Saturday, April 24, 2010

In which I discuss the reasons for going horseless to a ridecamp

When I'm in camp to compete, a lot of my attention is focussed on myself and my horse.

Sure, I meander around camp on Friday afternoon, chatting with friends, but at the same time I'm doing a mental inventory of every blade of grass my horse eats while we wander, mentally calculating the amount of electrolytes she's already had balanced against the amount she needs to have before sundown, mentally second-guessing the weather forecasters...

...You get the idea. There isn't much of me left to enjoy camp, mentally-speaking.

That's one of the reasons we go to at least one ride every year without our horses. This year (as last year) we've chosen to attend the Milwaukee Road Rail Trail Ride, and leave the horses at home for the day.

Working as pulsers at the ride also gives us terrific opportunities to catch up on the gossip.

We can admire the fashion sense (or lack) demonstrated by our friends and fellow competitors:

I think these gortex chaps look really stupid...but they are waterproof...and warm...and lightweight...and they come in purple. You know I want them.

Patty's dedication to the color pink is not even slightly impaired by the gender of her patient steed. (Shade is a gelding).

Ryan borrowed this cooler from the ride manager (they are both on my team, the Pirate Nation Endurance Riders). I want it.

...except purple, obviously. I'll just keep dreaming.

Okay, here's something I really do need:

Check it out: a fold-up tripod mounting block! It has a string attached, so that once I've climbed aboard Gigantor, I can yank my mounting block, fold it up neatly and stash it in the nifty carry-sack tied to the saddle. Oh yeah.

Incidentally, this is the horse who was carrying the mounting block:

His name is Hector, he is 17hh, has size 3 feet, and he looks verrrrrry familiar, doesn't he?

Hector is Fiddle's half-sibling, a horse from the same stud, born 3 days after Fee. Their neck tattoos are only 3 digits apart! Penny has Hector's full sister, who is 2 years younger and a bit shorter and daintier than Big H. I can hardly wait to meet little sis.

Then, there's stuff in the catagory of "what have you got on that horse?" Check out the headgear...a german martingale? I do not consider this safe equipment for trails, especially competitions. If the horse should stumble, he has no way to catch or balance himself.
Tie-downs in general are on my "no fly" list for competitions, after witnessing a horse who dumped his rider at a ride several years ago and then got himself lost in the desert for 3 days. The tie-down kept the horse from reaching food -- and more importantly -- kept him from drinking water. Bad scene.

Team competition is very fierce among some of the groups in camp. The Pirates and the Fish are not hot competitors...and the Fish presented me with a little gift today:

"Fish or Cut Bait"

Fun, huh?
More photos from the ride:

The trail actually travels under Interstate 90.

Mimsy is an excellent lap-warmer for Jim. (Luna is my lap-warmer.)
Ryan took Reba on her first LD ride. Yes, I know he isn't wearing a helmet. I keep keelhauling him, and lashing him with the cat o'nine tails, but he keeps sneaking out of camp without it. What's a Pirate Captain to do? Sigh.

Sue is rather famous for riding one of the most powerful and most ugly horses in camp. This isn't that horse--this is Hum-Vee's little brother Imp. He's kinda cute, especially compared to Hummer:

Sue has a t-shirt that says, "Yes, I DID ride his tail off."

(Humms and Imp are curly horses. They don't grow much tail, even if you don't ride them hundreds of miles).

Another picture of Penny with Hector. Jim says that Hector looks like Fiddle, except his ears aren't as big.
Actually, I think their ears are the same size. Hector's head is bigger.

In which I sing a decomposed song to make endurance riders laugh

We're off for the day to work at the Milwaukee Road Rail Trail Ride--not taking horses, just going to help out ride management. Here's a song to keep you busy while we're gone!

Prop Me Up Beside the Vetcheck (if I die)
with profuse apologies to Joe Diffie

Well I ain't afraid of dyin', it's the thought of being dead
I wanna go on being me once my eulogy's been read
Don't spread my ashes out to sea, don't lay me down to rest
You can put my mind at ease if you fulfill my last request…

Prop me up beside the vet check if I die
Lord, I wanna go to heaven but first I gotta finish this ride!
Fill my boots up with sand, put a ride card in my hand
Prop me up beside the vet check if I die.

Tie me to the saddle with baling twine
Make my rig into a spot for one more good ol’ time
Put me up on a trotting horse,
I’ll be back in camp by dawn
I'll be the life of the ridecamp, even when I'm dead and gone

Prop me up beside the vet check if I die
Lord, I wanna go to heaven but first I gotta finish this ride!
Fill my boots up with sand, put a ride card in my hand
Prop me up beside the vet check if I die.
(photos stolen from Monica Bretherton, whose amazing blog is HERE. I hope she likes the song.)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

In which we celebrate poetry month with some poems about dogs

for Jerry & Kathy

It’s no good standing on the porch
& yelling. He’s deaf
as a man with long years
in the engine room of a ship listening
for the sounds metal makes
before it fails, a faint break
in rhythm, something out of tune.
He is lying in the middle
of the road, staring east
across a field of pumpkins
ruined by the cold.
He can’t hear ducks or geese
resting in the marsh talking one another
through the night in comfort
or complaint. Or coyotes
barking across the Valley.
Traffic is far away, only a whisper,
like blood through a vein.
Some dark scent, perhaps, tugs
his head back & forth
in an old, old way.
If he hears anything, it is likely the light
beating in his chest, already diminishing,
though neither of us knows it.
He is sprawled in a black bed
of glittering frost,
so that I wonder if he’s had to lie down
to keep from falling into the sea
of stars above him. When he turns
his head at my touch
his eyes fill with a small joy,
as though love is so easily given
even I might as well have a little,
as though, when he rises
& trots toward the house
& his bed,
I needn’t follow after.

"Calling the Old Dog In" by Samuel Green
Sam Green is Washington State's very first poet laureate.

Old Dog
Old dog sits and waits
Not allowed inside
Weary and lost
Looking for his master
Not knowing he has gone
To that undiscovered country
But waiting and willing
To follow when he's called.

"Old Dog" by Stephen Hollen, Appalachian storyteller, humorist, and poet.

Mother Doesn't Want a Dog

Mother doesn't want a dog.
Mother says they smell,
And never sit when you say sit,
Or even when you yell.
And when you come home late at night
And there is ice and snow,
You have to go back out because
The dumb dog has to go.

Mother doesn't want a dog.
Mother says they shed,
And always let the strangers in
And bark at friends instead,
And do disgraceful things on rugs,
And track mud on the floor,
And flop upon your bed at night
And snore their doggy snore.

Mother doesn't want a dog.
She's making a mistake.
Because, more than a dog, I think
She will not want this snake.

"Mother Doesn't Want a Dog" by Judith Viorst, author of fiction, nonfiction and poetry.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

In which I talk about horse containment and stuff I've learned the hard way

Funder is in the process of buying a trailer so that she can take herself to endurance rides and other horse events. Hooray for her! But the prospect of being mobile is also causing Funder to ask a bunch of questions.

I don't consider myself an expert horse-trainer, or expert anything, actually. But I do have some experiences that I can share that might save Funder (and others) from learning lessons I've already learned (the hard way)!

So, let me write about keeping a horse contained in ridecamp.

When I started riding endurance, I rode Story, who could easily be kept contained by a fence made of masking tape. My riding partner rode Blaze, who could easily be kept contained by a really big pile of hay + proximity to Story. We used an electric-tape fence connected to a charger run on a bunch of D-cell batteries. No worries.

After a few years, I brought the Toad to his first ride, and put him in the electric-tape fence. He was nervous about being away from home for the first time, but he was parked next to his buddy and a pile of hay, so all was first.

Around 11pm, a mare in the camp next to us saw a ghost (or a leaf...or a piece of paper...or an air molecule...) and slammed into her PVC-pipe corral. The night was cold, and the cold plastic exploded like a beer bottle tossed from a 4th floor window. The mare ran towards our horses, who ran away from her...dragging the electric tape for quite a while until it finally got caught on the tires of a rig several camps down.

They were in a fenced enclosure. The problem was, the enclosure was the size of Bellevue, WA (population: 130,000).

Our horses were gone. Gone. For 4 and a half days, they were GONE.

I assure you that you never want to hitch up an empty trailer to drive home from a ride.

They were eventually discovered by cowboys on quads who were moving cattle, and were transported home not much worse for wear. However, that ended the years of containing those horses with electric tape.

My friend tried some other containment systems, most of which were really freakin' heavy. Safe, yes. Toad couldn't break out of those things, and nothing could break in. But they weighed down the rig, they rusted like crazy, and they were an enormous PITA to assemble in camp after a long day of driving.

Friends of ours like Horses2Go corrals, which is not too expensive and not too heavy. I find the three-rail fence rather short to contain a horse intent on jumping out or bashing through. The company has a new 4-rail style that I think would be a better visual deterrant. I'm not convinced that the 3/4" square tubing will stand up to a horse who wants to throw his or her weight against it, and bent tubing easily becomes cracked and broken tubing. Not so safe.

HiTie makes a good system, but it won't keep out a horse who is running loose in camp. Since our mares are hussies, leaving their tailfeathers un-enclosed is not ideal.
The Spring-Tie system had some "attachment" issues a few years ago, which have apparently been fixed. (Horses were disconnecting themselves from the tie, and then wandering away. The hardware failure has been re-designed and I haven't heard complaints for several years...but if you buy a used system, be aware that you might want to re-configure the clips). Spring-Tie seems quite sturdy, but has the same tailfeather-exposure problem as the HiTie.
Here's a system that I like better: Hold Your Horses corrals.

They are tall, lightweight, and a good visual and physical barrier to a horse who is interested in escape but not determined to bash her way out no matter what. If a horse really wanted to kick the stuffing out of the panels, she could. So, not perfect, but pretty good for a cooperative horse.
Here's what I use:

The Silver Medal Panels were manufactured by a friend of ours in Oregon. They are square-tube aluminum, with diagonal braces for strength. Each panel weighs about 30 pounds, so a middle-aged librarian can move them around pretty easily. The rails are wide enough that a hoof will not get caught, narrow enough that a head won't fit partway and get stuck. A horse can jump on the top rail and it won't bend. The panels connect with steel pins and pegs that won't bend or break or disconnect the corral.
...and he doesn't make them anymore. Sorry.
I can't recommend a specific product, but I can tell you what I've learned (the hard way):
* Know your horse.
* Visual barriers are important, and physical barriers are also important.
* Sturdy is important too, but if your corral is too heavy, you will hate it.
* That said: get something sturdier than you need...because not all the problems come from inside the corral.