Saturday, October 8, 2011

In which I recommend a horse book and give a Sensible Award

I just finished reading this:
The Eighty-Dollar Champion  by Elizabeth Letts
Ballantine Books, 2011.  978-0345521088

In 1956, a young Dutch immigrant went to the New Holland horse sale seeking an inexpensive horse to use as a schooling horse.  He arrived too late:  the sale had ended, the horses were packed up and gone except for those purchased by the kill-buyer.  Not willing to leave without at least trying to buy a horse, Henry de Leyer asked to see the animals destined for the meat truck, and offered $80 for a plain, skinny, grey gelding.

The horse was a decent but non-exceptional schoolie.  When a parent asked to buy him as a safe horse for a young rider, the gelding named "Snowman" was sold for $160...a nice profit.  Except that the horse wouldn't stay put.  He jumped out of paddock fences and came back to de Leyer, not once but several times.  Recognizing that the horse didn't want to stay put, and also recognizing that the horse had jumped several seven-foot paddock fences to escape, de Leyer bought him back...and trained him as a jumper. 

In 1958, Snowman won the big awards at Madison Square Garden.  And that, believe it or not, was just the beginning.

This is a terrific story, the stuff that Disney movies are made from--or rather, the stuff that Disney movies copy.  Real life, fortunately, is much, much more wonderful than anything Disney ever put on a silver screen.  A great horse, a great rider, a great story.  You've been waiting to read a book like this since you finished reading The Black Stallion when you were in, what, fourth grade? 

And the good news is:  the story is true.

Not much is known about Snowman's pedigree.  He had harness marks when he was purchased.  He was "working stock" in build--possible part drafthorse--a stark contrast to the finely-bred thoroughbreds that dominated the show-jumping scene in 1958.  Many of his competitors were "hot" to the point of idiocy, requiring numerous grooms and assistants just to get them pointed forward through the in-gate.  

Snowman, on the other hand, was a schooling horse, a child's pet.... other words, a Sensible Horse.

My regular readers will intuit where I'm going with this. 

Although Snowman's paperwork probably never existed, I'm going to posthumusly award him a membership on Team Standardbred Sensible.  A horse like him is unusual in the TB circles, but the Standie people are nodding their heads along with me, and saying, "yes....and?"   because this is the kind of horse that a lot of standies are.  Welcome to the club, Snowman!

Copious source citations make my librarian-heart pound for joy, and the details of living and loving a lovely, sensible horse like Snowman make me want to tell everyone about the book. 

Go read it.  You can thank me later.

Friday, October 7, 2011

In which it's that time again...sort of...and for once, I'm not envious

I've made no secret of my ambition to ride Tevis someday.
Tevis, aka the Western States Trail Ride, is possibly the most difficult endurance ride held in North America...and possibly the most difficult endurance ride in the world.

And this year, it's completely different.

The ride is usually held during the full "riding moon" of summer--July or August. 

However, as the ride date approached in July 2011, ride management reluctantly postponed the ride, because so many of the high points of the trail still had sn*w.

The new ride date is tomorrow. 

And guess what happened at the trailhead (and all along the trail, which runs through the Sierra Nevada mountain range) this week?

5 feet of sn*w at the start line--which is NOT the highest point in the ride!


At first, ride management tried plowing the trailhead at Robie Park.   Then they learned the extent of the sn*wfall.  A plow was not going to be able to rescue this thing.

So, in the past three days, ride management has scrambled like crazy and basically created a brand-new ride, starting and ending at the fairgrounds in Auburn, California.   The course will now run  backwards to Chicken Hawk, then down Gorman Ranch Rd to Mosquito Ridge Rd., turn around and head back to Auburn. 

It is going to be a heckuva horse race.

For one thing, all those native California horses who normally excel at Tevis, who train all year to deal with the rocks and the heat of this exceedingly difficult ride, are now faced with a completely different set of obstacles.   The heat of the canyons is not the big concern this year--I'm more worried about ice on the rock faces, and about horses who are trained and conditioned for heat, because this ride is NOT going to be a hot one.

There's a single Standardbred signed up to start tomorrow.  So, let me say it here now: 
GO CECILY G, whoever you are!!!

Of course, all these changes mean that some of our Northernmost Citizens have a shot at the winner's circle this year.  I'll be cheering for all of our Pacific Northwest riders this year, including the Blakeley family, ex-pat Swamplander Rusty Toth, and my friend Chuck Cowan and his daughter Terry. 
Chuck and Terry ahead of Fiddle and me, at the Home on the Range ride, March 2011
Chuck took his mustang gelding "Blazer" to Tevis, and left a perfectly good Standardbred mare at home.  Sigh. I wish him well anyhow.

There are two Pacific Northwest riders in particular that I expect to excel in this new-and-different Tevis: 

Sue Summers and "Humvee" - photo by Darlene Anderson

Dennis Summers and "Lola" - photo by Darlene Anderson

Sue and Dennis are very savvy riders who know how cope with adverse weather conditions. 

I'm cheering for all the riders, of course.  I wish them best of luck, happy trails, and a silver buckle.

But I'm sure glad it's not me at Tevis this year. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

In which a friend finds a home, and everyone stands up and claps and cheers

His race name is "I'm a Pocket Picker."

(do people take classes in the art of bestowing stupid names?  srsly?)

 Pocket has been adopted!
He has a friend now!
Have a great life, Pocket!  You deserve it!

Monday, October 3, 2011

In which we finally have LIGHT: proof that Jim is a superhero

A light eminating from the stable?  It might be a miracle...
but December 25th is still far away.  So, maybe it's the work of:

I'm beginning to suspect that his secret superhero identity is

This weekend, he wired plugs for water tank heaters--hooray!
Now when the weather gets cold, I can plug in the tank, instead of spending 20 minutes each morning bashing holes in thick ice with a rock bar! 

Then, he re-fixed my ghetto repair of the Shakespearean roof monsters.

re-cut and fold back the part where the bird nested, and then...

...apply a tidy patch.  Lovely!
Next, he installed the wiring a plug for a temporary light (we can't yet afford the low-temperature fluorescent fixtures that we need;  apparently, our nighttime temps are often too low in winter for regular shop lights to actually function.  Yeah, who knew?) 

We've got a halogen light that we can move around the barn as needed--yes, it runs "hot" so it needs to be unplugged when not in use, but that's not a problem, b/c it doesn't have a switch.

To turn if off, you unplug it.  Instant safety.

Now that we can see inside the barn (even at night!) I took a few pictures to share.

The tack room, visible in the photo of Jim (above) and here:
The countertop at photo-right is mostly used for mixing up electrolytes or meds.  Sometimes I also hoist a dog up on it to be groomed.  The rubbermaid boxes hold all kinds of gear:  stuff for ridecamp, stuff for trail building, and assorted extra tack I haven't gotten around to selling.  Somehow, I always have an extra box or two of assorted tack, and I'm not sure why.

The tack room also houses a few saddle racks and a bunch of steel trash cans containing various kinds of feed.  I have learned the hard way that rats can eat right through rubbermaid trash cans.  Sigh.  I really do need a barn cat...

Hay storage.  It's a 12x12 open-bay stall.  We put tarps on everything. 
(Chicken Twelve often tries to nest in the hay storage, despite my attempts to encourage her to use a nice nesting box somewhere.  She is her own hen.)

The aisleway.  I usually drive my truck right through the barn,
and unload feed or gear directly into the hay storage or tack room...which can be REALLY handy in a wet climate.    Duana wanted to have her photo taken in the aisleway with the manure cart.  See?  Lots of room for stuff like that!

Of course, the stalls are the really important part of this barn.

Fiddle's stall, with a view of the pasture:
from stall door looking to paddock
This is the other side of the stall, looking from paddock door to interior of the barn.  The clear vinyl strips we used in the roof above the stalls do drip a little bit of water, but it's worth it for the extra light.
Fiddle's stall, looking to the interior of the barn
 I think we will be REALLY glad for the extra light in winter!

so much light in this barn--natural and otherwise!
 Now that the monsoonic weather has arrived
 we love our barn even more.
Life. Is. (dark, cold, wet) GOOD!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

In which the weather isn't abysmal yet, and I make a new word

The weather here in the Swamp could, and probably will, fall apart at any moment following the first of September. 
Some years we get sunshine interspersed with light rain through the end of October, but it's also possible to get sunshine interspersed with sn*w and plagues of frogs anytime after the equinox, so every moment of non-catastrophic climate is a moment to celebrate.

 By now, I'm sure you can figure out how we like to celebrate:
 Oh, yeah. 
Patty and Sirie and I were so glad to be outside in the sunshine!  The horses liked it, too.

Saturday, it rained all day, and I was assigned (by my employer) to spend the day at the Northwest Bookfest, a sort of uber-geekfest for fans of the printed page.  My boss was pretty sure that, because I was on company time, I would be spending the day in a completely non-equine environment.

Imagine my delight when I saw this booth in the vendor area:
 Cute, much?  Now everytime I look at my horse trailer I will want to go riding and I will want a donut.  Not a great fitness strategy, but think of all the happy thoughts...

Inside Bookfest:
Authors, author-wannabees, and lots of readers.  It's not a bad way to spend a day that is full of dumping rain.

But didn't rain!   C'mon Duana, scrape the mud off that pony and let's go for a ride!

Not exactly blue skies overhead, but I'm not complaining about any October weather that isn't "monsoonic." 

(I'm not sure that's a word, but after our experience in the dumping rain at the Bare Bones ride last month, I'm going to submit "monsoonic" as a new word for the dictionary).

It wasn't monsoonic while we were on the trail.  There was some mud, but not a bunch yet.  Hana and Du haven't been out much lately, so we did a medium-slow ride: 13 miles, lots of walking and a bit of trot/canter...Fee barely broke a sweat. 
When Fiddle was in front, she kept the pace deliberately slow so that Hana could keep up.  The air temps are getting cooler, the clouds are flying lower.  Winter is almost here...but not quite.
Life is good!

(addendum:  about an hour ago, it started raining monsoonically.  Ah, well.)