Saturday, July 17, 2010

In which the narrative returns to the farm and looks at the garden

Without intending to be contrary, how DOES the garden grow?

Vegetable garden (above), herb bed (below).
We are eating snap peas every day now.
and also...
I did plant yellow and red potatoes in the garden, but they aren't ready for harvest yet. The potatoes we are eating now are the offspring of "russets gone wild" --baking potatoes that got forgotten for too long in the kitchen last winter. Jim wanted to give these to the chickens but I said, "Go throw them on the manure pile instead."

(Yes, I've done this before.)

So, with no effort expended in planting, weeding, or watering, we started digging up young potatoes this week. Do you know how wonderful fresh potatoes taste fried up with a couple of eggs that were just laid an hour before breakfast? Plus a scattering of chives from the herb garden, of course.

Oooooooh, yeah.

The beans are growing well now, and they should be blossoming any day.
The pumpkin plants, while still puny, are further along already than the squash plants ever got in the disappointing garden last year.

Outside of the vegetable garden, the blueberry plants are finally starting to "blue up" a bit. Willie and I often stand there for 20 minutes at a time, grazing straight off the bushes.
The grape plants are more enthusiastic than last year, having been freed of blackberry vine tyranny for more than a year. Our biggest challenge is keeping the goats away from the grapevines!

Up in the orchard, the cherry trees sulked their way through our rainy spring and rainy early summer, producing very few cherries (which the birds ate). Ah, well. Perhaps next year.

The plum tree seems happy, though. Last year we got so many plums that Jim made ten gallons of plum wine, which will be ready to drink this winter. I hope we get another crop like that one!

The apple trees are happier this year. They've been neglected for so long that Jim pruned them this year with the chainsaw. Some of the older trees didn't appreciate the loss of all those gigantic sucker branches, and aren't producing fruit this year. By contrast, the younger apple trees are doing much better!

And then, there's the flowers. The echinacea bush is just starting to bloom. My gardening friend told me that although echinacea is an annual, it will happily re-seed and spread if I let it. Ooooooh, flowers that don't need my help? Sign me up!

The roses seem oblivious to my refusal to care for them, and open up new blossoms every week. I told all the rose plants that they were welcome to stay as long as they didn't expect me to dump bug-killer and fungicide all over them, and I guess they took me seriously.

My favorite plant is the lavender. It grows, spreads, seeds, and de-bugs itself entirely without my help.

Someday, Haiku Farm will be completely knee-deep in lavender plants!Life is good.

You knew that, right?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

In which I think about the Ten Essentials and wonder about stuff

I grew up surrounded by Boy Scouts. My brother was a Scout (eventually an Eagle Scout), my dad was a Scouter (scout troop leader), I dated Scouts, I hung out with Scouts, I even spent some time hiking with Scouts.

With a background like this, I suppose it's only natural that I didn't really realize that "regular" people don't always know about the Mountaineers, and thus might not know about the Ten Essentials.
So, for all the "regular people" who are reading this, here's the information:

The Mountaineers are a group of Seattle-based outdoor recreation enthusiasts, who first banded together as an organization in 1906. The main purpose of the organization is to to explore and study the mountains, forests and water courses of the Northwest and to gather into permanent form the history and traditions of these regions and explorations.

They've also, collectively, written a ton of books about hiking and climbing and how to do those things safely. Their most well-known and universally-used bit of advice is to always carry the Ten Essentials.

And what are these Ten Essentials? I knew you would ask!

Ten Essentials: The Classic List

Sunglasses and sunscreen
Extra clothing
First-aid supplies
Extra food

Pretty common-sense stuff, right? Um. How many of these "essentials" do you always carry on a long ride?


Well, because the Mountaineers are based in the Extreme Geek-Heavy Pacific Northwest, the list has been updated to the Ten Essential Systems:

Ten Essential Systems

Navigation (map and compass) 
Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen)
Insulation (extra clothing)
Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
First aid supplies
Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candle)
Repair kit and tools
Nutrition (extra food)
Hydration (extra water)
Emergency shelter (tarp/plastic tube tent/garbage bag)

With the recent extreme conditions endured by the 100-mile competitors at the Big Horn Endurance Ride (to read the details, go to and search the discussion list for the past few days for stories about the ride in Wyoming), it occurs to me that it might be a good idea to think about the good ol' ten essentials.

What do I have with me? What am I forgetting?

Lemmee see:

navigation - During a competition, I take whatever navigation aids are available, including ride maps and trail descriptions, a local map if I can find one, and my GPS. I also have a compass, because the GPS is notoriously unreliable in some of our more frequent Swamplander weather systems. When I'm riding but not competing, I generally take the GPS (unless it's very cloudy) and a roll of surveyer's tape to mark trail as I go if in unfamiliar territory. Check!

sun protection - I sunburn easily, and I not only wear sunscreen, I take extra with me. Check!

insulation - I also get cold easily, and I normally carry an extra jacket unless I'm on trails very familiar and close to home. Check!

illumination - there's a little maglight in my fanny-pack. Check!

first aid supplies - bandaids, vet wrap, duct tape, ibuprofen, benedryl, desitin. Is that enough? Hmmmm.

fire - I have a little purple lighter, wrapped in a little piece of paper--the beginnings of a bonfire, if one is needed. Check!

repair kit and tools - duct tape, vet wrap, (hmmmm, hopefully I won't need first aid and equipment repair on the same day?) cable "zip" ties, a hoofpick, and a multi-tool gadget. Check!

nutrition - I usually carry at least a granola bar or string cheese except for very short local rides. For a longer ride, a sandwich, a little can of V-8, and some almonds get tossed into my bag. And some horse cookies, too! Check!

hydration - as mentioned in a recent post, I generally carry a couple of water bottles for myself and a couple of bottles to squirt on my horse, especially during competitions, but also for any trail ride longer than an hour. Check!

emergency shelter - an emergency-prep guy once recommended garbage bags over space blankets to me, with the explanation that space blankets tear very easily, they make a lot of noise (which isn't necessarily welcomed by spooky horses!), and they aren't a good shape to drape over a person. A garbage bag is sturdy, can be made "blanket shaped", "poncho shaped", or even "garbage bag shaped", depending on the need, is quiet, and can be squashed permanently at the bottom of a pack until it's needed some day. Which is what I did. It's still there, just in case I need it some day. Check.

Whew! I thought I was going to feel bad for going without my Ten Essentials, and apparently I don't leave home without them.

How about you, Gentle Readers? What do you take with you? What do you leave behind?

Also: what do you have in your horse packs, and what do you have on your body?

(Because sometimes those two things don't stay together.)

I want to hear your thoughts and opinions!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

In which I talk about keeping a big dark horse cool during a ride

I read an interesting article yesterday about keeping horses cool written by a researcher at the University of Guelph. (You may have to sign in to view the article--accounts are free and they don't send stupid spam, and an account gives you access to tons of well-researched and well-written horse info).

I thought the article was interesting because of the information it presented, and also because I thought it missed a few useful points that I consider "common knowledge" among endurance riders.

Here are some of the high-points of the piece:

Michael Lindinger, PhD, MSc, an animal and exercise physiologist at the University of Guelph, explains: "It only takes 17 minutes of moderate intensity exercise in hot, humid weather to raise a horse's temperature to dangerous levels. That's three to 10 times faster than in humans. Horses feel the heat much worse than we do."

And the effects can be serious. If a horse's body temperature shoots up from the normal 37 to 38°C to 41°C (98.6 - 105.8°F), temperatures within working muscles may be as high as 43°C (109.4°F), a temperature at which proteins in muscle begin to denature (cook). Horses suffering excessive heat stress may experience hypotension, colic, and renal failure.

Scary, right? Reading that bit, I wondered why the pastures in the Midwest aren't full of barbequed horses.

This guy was a researcher who worked on the conditions for the Atlanta summer Olympics, and I know a lot of good information came out of that--and I also don't remember any equine metabolic crashes from that event. Clearly the research found ways for humans to avoid cooking their horses. And, in fact, the article has some good suggestions, including

* supplement electrolytes in working horses

* rinse the horse's body with cool water

* keep the horse in the shade

* acclimate horses to heat by spending 4-5 hours each day for 3 weeks in hot conditions, and get them accustomed to working during the hottest part of the day.

Great advice, but sometimes not practical for people who can't carry a bucket of salty water on the trail with them, who compete in events held on a sunny mountainside, and who don't live in (or near) a hot climate and can't take three weeks off in advance of every competition.

Here are some practical workarounds that I've learned over the years:

Rather than "teaching the horse to drink electrolyte-enhanced water", as the researcher suggests, most endurance riders use a dosing syringe to make sure that their mounts get supplemented electrolytes. I daresay that the much of the "salty area" in the photograph the researcher referred to was not only salt from normal horse sweat, but also salt from the extra electrolytes that endurance horses are commonly given.

The electrolyte supplementation helps to maintain the salt balance of the horse's blood, and also makes the horse feel thirsty so she will drink at puddles and water tanks along the way.

Proper hydration is vital. Here's a quote from an article written by endurance rider and veterinarian Susan Garlinghouse:

As the body dehydrates and blood loses plasma volume and fluidity, the cardiovascular system becomes less efficient at transporting oxygen and other resources throughout the body. The heart rate increases to compensate, so that a horse that canters easily at 130 beats per minute when fully hydrated may have a heart rate of 20-30 beats higher when dehydrated, simply due to the extra work of pumping less fluid blood. Not only does this result in slower recoveries, but it also has a significant effect on the efficiency of muscle function. To maintain the same intensity of work, the horse will rely more and more heavily on anaerobic metabolism, contributing to faster fatigue and greater incidence of metabolic disease, such as colic or tying-up. As effort increases and efficiency decreases, the body responds as though to an emergency (which, in fact, it is), and begins to shunt blood flow away from less-vital organs, such as the gastroin testinal tract, in order to maintain maximum circulation to heart, lungs, muscles and central nervous system. As blood flow decreases to the digestive tract, gut motility slows and may stop entirely, leading to colic until blood flow and motility are restored.

So, a big part of keeping my big horse cool is keeping her hydrated and keeping the blood thinned with water so it's easier for her heart to pump. The heart doesn't work so hard, it doesn't beat so often, and the horse doesn't get so fatigued.

Another useful technique is to keep her wet on the outside, by sponging her at creeks and water tanks and by squirting her with bottles water I carry on my saddle for that express purpose. By putting water on her (and scraping the water off promptly, so that the water doesn't just heat up and act like an insulating blanket!) I can decrease her need to sweat--which means that the water she would normally use to sweat for cooling can stay inside her body.

Because Fiddle is large and dark, I carry up to 5 bottles of water on a hot, dry 20-mile loop, and will only drink two of them. The others (which I refill at water tanks whenever possible) get dumped on her as we move down the trail. If her skin is dry or hot, I dump on water until it isn't, and until the water I scrape off is cool instead of warm.

Another technique for keeping cool is to slow down. A hot humid day is not the time to push my Swampland mare for a fast finish. When the weather is cooler we can speed up a bit. We also trot in the sun and walk in the shade, to maximize the time spent out of the direct sunlight. Sometimes that means we change gaits every 1/2 mile, which is fine. In practice it means that on a hot ride like Renegade Rendezvous we finish 26th out of 33, whereas on a cooler ride like Klickitat Trek, we were able to finish 19th out of 53. The heat makes a huge difference.

Here's something else: build long, lean muscles in the horse, rather than big bulky muscles, because bulky muscles are harder to cool. Even a quarterhorse (or a standardbred) can build the kind of lean muscle that occurs rather naturally in many Arabian horses, but it takes effort and time. I spend a lot of time (years!) in training going slowly--trotting rather than cantering, and cantering rather than sprinting along the trail at full-tilt, so that my big mare's muscles are the long stringy type.

The result is that, although she is still gigantic, she is built more like a marathon-runner rather than like a body-builder.

Here's our vet card from Renegade:At the vet-in, she scored all A's (except capillary refill--that's odd!), and her heartrate was 32. She had travelled about 5 miles on flat, easy trails earlier in the day, and had spent the rest of the afternoon snoozing in the shade.

At the first vetcheck, her scores were A's again, and she pulsed down to 60 beats per minute within 60 seconds of arriving, despite carrying me uphill for 10 miles.

At the final vetcheck, she pulsed down as soon as we crossed the line--I didn't even get my saddle off before Ryan pulsed her in. More important to me was the vet's pulsecount, taken 60 seconds after a CRI trot-out: 48 bpm. In other words, my horse was properly hydrated and not overly tired at the finish line.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

In which a rider has no sense at all, the answers to your questions

A. Not only is that a t-post, it's a 5-foot, uncapped t-post. See Fugly Horse of the Day's tirade about uncapped t-posts. They are outright dangerous...and the caps are freakin' cheap and easy to install. A 5-foot uncapped pole is exactly the correct height to impale a horse who is jumping around. Duct tape is not an adequate substitute for a cap.

B. Yes, that un-capped t-post isn't properly submerged. The foot blades are sharp, children--sharp enough to cut through the bottom rubber of a cheap pair of sneakers (uh, ask me how I know?) and certainly sharp enough to cut a horse foot or leg wide open.

C. Not only is that heavy winter blanket several sizes too large (entanglement hazard), but also it was left on the horse until nearly 11am in 70+ degree heat. Shameful.

D. The halter would be too big for Gigantor. Why on earth is it strapped onto this pretty little Arab face? If you can't afford another halter, fer cryin' out loud, punch a few new holes and make some adjustments to the straps!

E. There is no hay in front of this horse, and he has eaten all the grass in his pen. He has no reason to want to stay on the inside of this catastrophe of a corral.

F. And really, there is no reason he will stay in the pen, because that isn't electric fence tape strung between the t-posts. It's rope. Actually, it's heavy twine, maybe strong enough to hold one of my Shetland Sheepdogs, but not nearly sturdy enough to hinder a 1,000 horse who decides to blow right through it!

G. Lest you think that the horse is liable to starve, think again. You can't see the feed pan in this photo, but if you could it might make you scream: this horse is fed fifteen pounds of grain daily. Can you say "gerbil on crack cocaine"? His eyeballs were twitching from the high-octane fuel, and who could blame him?

H. When the rider set up this pen, there was only one bucket of water. A kid camped on the other side of the access road added the second water bucket.

Extra Credit: where the h*ll is the rider?!?!?!!!!!!
The rider went to town--not a quick jaunt to purchase some necessity, but to stay overnight in the motel so he could drink some cold brews and pick up a local lady for a night of frolicking!

He made no provisions for the horse in the case of an emergency (like, uh, injury? or COLIC?!!). There is no cell service in this camp, so nobody could have called him even if he had left his phone number (which he didn't). He left around 5pm, and wandered back to camp around 11am the following morning. He isn't camped near anybody else, either, so if the horse did have an emergency it might not be noticed right away.

Oh, and the rider informed me that he intends to win Tevis in 2012 with this horse.


"If you don't kill the horse first," thinks me.

A number of us did finally spit out out our disgust long enough to make some constructive suggestions. It took me three days to think of something positive to say, but when I finally thought about beet pulp, I marched down to the Dude's camp and gave him a Beetpulp 101 talk, including a sample scoop of the stuff and a quick tour of my own feeding strategy for a hard keeper--with Fiddle watching me carefully the entire time, willing to demonstrate how nummy beetpulp really is. He took the scoop, and the advice. Whether he uses either of them remains to be seen, but at least I tried.

As for that travesty of a pen, another rider got tired of watching the cute little horse careen around inside it and tied him safely to the trailer (and left a very informative note on the trailer door as well, by all accounts).

Tevis winner 2012? I doubt it. If they both survive this season, they will perhaps have learned enough to have a little more respect for that ride...and each other.

We can always hope.

Monday, July 12, 2010

In which a rider has no sense at all and we learn from his mistakes

Here's a new game, Readers:

Spot the potential disaster.

Here's how we play: I'll post some photos, and you can collectively try to identify everything this rider has done to provide opportunities for catastrophe in a ridecamp.

Ready? Okay.......GO!

By the way, this game is rigged. This rider created so many possible crisis situations that the entire camp was ready to drop him head-first into an empty water tank.

I'll post some of the details soon. Meanwhile, see how many hazards you can find!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

In which we fix trail mostly by going around the really bad spots

Erosion is always on the minds of trail-builders.

On the Wet Side of Washington State, erosion of our roads and trails is nearly continual, thanks to the nearly-continual season movement of water over the surface of our Swampland home. On the Dry Side of the state, erosion can be more subtle...and then suddenly, more devastating.

We had to drive past the Nile Valley landslide in Yakima County to get to camp--if ever we needed a reminder about the need for sustainable trails that would resist erosion, this gigantic tumble of mud and rock which still (9 months later) blocks Highway 410 will do nicely as a "don't forget" piece.

Thus chastened, we examined several stretches of trail this season to see how it could be made more stable and sustainable. This piece, in particular, is a mess:

There's a little spring at the top of the incline that keeps the soil moist in summer and sloppy in winter. All of the loose gravel and sand on the trail bed has long-since washed or slopped off the trail from years of water combined with years of horse feet stirring up the muck. The material that remains is slick clay punctured by hoof-shaped divots that are almost 24 inches deep. It's a shoe-sucker at best, and a tendon-yanker at worst.
On Tuesday, we tried a little first-aid to the trail, knowing that it wouldn't be used much during the week. If the trailbed were flattened and allowed to dry, it might be useable in the future, if not for the event on Saturday.

We put up "CAUTION" markers so that the few people using the trail during the week would avoid this particular trail, to optimize the opportunity for recovery.

When we returned to inspect the site on Thursday, however, the verdict was clear: the trail was not sufficiently dry, and we needed to route around the troublesome stretch, and move the trail to the high-side of the little spring that was causing all the mess.

We brought the crew down to the trail site the following morning, and built a little re-route, about 1/8 of a mile to the side of the original trail. The new trail avoids the bottom of the hill, and instead utilizes an old elk trail to cut at a slight angle across the side of the hill, above the spring.
Then, we marked the old trail to encourage riders to avoid it, and also to label the new section so that people would know that the pirate crew was responsible for building it. Usually we try to make new sections of trails blend seemlessly with old sections, but we really wanted people to stay off the old trail in this case.
Fiddle approved the new trail and tromped along it quite happily as our first test-subject once it was finished.

The Pirate Trail Crew pauses for a photo.

Then: off to another trail repair site!

This site wasn't in a state of emergency like the first trail had been; rather, it was a "klunky" trail that ran riders down a gully and up the other side on a steep scramble that was gradually tossing the trail material down into the bottom of the ditch.

Once again, we scouted the existing elk routes,
and removed some obstacles on the ground
and in the air.
Pulaskis are the tools to use to create a deep, sturdy backcut into the top bank.

and we use McLeods to clear out and flatten the footbed.
With ten human crew members and five assisting dogs, we completed re-routing about 1/2 mile of trail in about two hours!
The finished trail is about 48 inches wide, with a sustainable grade that allows water to flow down the hill and across the trail, rather than create a gully down the middle of the trail.
If you feel stable on your own two feet while running on the new trail, you know your horse will feel comfortable on it too.
We like to make motorcycle noises while testing new trails.

Life is good. Silly, but good.