Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Oreana Fourth of July Parade

July 4 2017

Nothing says patriotism more than a July 4th parade. Nothing says JULY 4th PARADE more than the custom Oreana Fourth of July Parade. You won't see the it on television or Twitter or in the newspapers. You'll only see it by special invitation, and a few select people get the honor of observing every year.

Parade mistress Linda put on her 11th annual Oreana Fourth of July parade, starring her various menagerie: war horse Ted, 
various dogs (Goat Dog, Coyote Dog, and possibly others; Henry refused to participate; Edna the donkey wasn't interested this year), and various goats, 
tossing candy 
to her throngs of fans. 
Hercules the horny jackass was barred from this year's activity. 

This year's guest star was Yvonne's donkey Marie who stylishly showed off her panache.

It's an event not to be missed!

Monday, July 3, 2017

Hillbillie Willie the Explorer

Monday July 3 2017

Hillbillie Willie the ex-racehorse Standardbred's got a lot on his plate right now. Since he's now a bona fide endurance horse, and is in training for his next ride, he's covering a lot of local desert trails, exploring parts of Owyhee he hasn't seen before. He even got a hill and a loop named after him the other day, Hillbillie Willie Hill, the climbing end of the newly christened Hillbillie Loop.

Last week he went Around the Block (a 16 mile loop up Spring Ranch Road to the base of the Owyhee mountains, and back down Bates Creek Road), where he got an up-close gander at the foothills of the Owyhees, and waded through a sprightly flowing Pickett Crick, upon whose banks he grazes (on weeds) daily.

This week he put his exploring hat on again, visiting the old Wagon Wheel homestead on Brown's Creek, and, with August, discovering a couple of new trails we can return to investigate.

That horse loves leading down trails, watching new sights and sounds and birds and bunnies and (once) antelope unfold in front of him. He's bold and sure-footed (surprising for such a tall, lanky horse) and interested in the scenery of the Wild West, because this is where he's dreamed of coming to his whole life.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

They Don’t Use Real Bullets, Do They?

Wednesday June 28 2017

That’s the first question I thought to ask, after I signed up for a Cowboy Mounted Shooting clinic. Or is it Mounted Cowboy Shooting. See? I didn’t even know what it was called.

I signed up on a whim, just because they seemed to be wanting more riders, and, since it was something new which I really knew nothing about, well, why not?

And since I really had no time at all to think about it or read up on it, I put it out of my mind until the bullet question popped in my head. No, a friend reassured, it’s some kind of blank with black powder. 

Which you could still injure or kill yourself with. I might shoot my foot, right? (No quick-drawing involved, I found later.) Or shoot my horse’s ear? Or faint from the heat (in Scottsdale in June, mind you), fall off my horse and shoot myself? But, no real bullets. Right. Good enough. 

All the sign up page said was, Experienced Riders Only, of which I suppose I fit into that category, and Helmets Okay, or something of that nature, of which I fit into that category, as I don’t get on a horse without a helmet. It didn’t say anything about being Calamity Jane, which fits as I don’t always hit the center of a target (or, indeed, the target) when I’m target shooting. It didn’t say anything about having to wear a Western outfit, which is fitting, as I am an endurance rider. Riding tights it would be, with my riding shoes and fringy half-chaps. After all, if the Pope came to a MCS clinic, nobody would expect him to ride in anything other than his Pope robes, right?

Since I knew nothing, at all, of this sport, I decided to dive headfirst into it with no preconceived notions (read: complete ignorance). I didn’t read up on it. I didn’t watch any videos, other than a quick re-viewing of the first couple of episodes of Bonanza, where the good Cartwright boys are chasing the bad guys on horses at full tilt and shooting, bang bang bang. 

The clinic opportunity was a bonus at the American Horse Publications conference. About 10 riders, from all imagined disciplines participated. Ross Hecox, managing editor of Western Horseman magazine, led a photography workshop. Excellent - any faux pas by shooting newbies would be duly recorded!

Clinic took place in 101* heat (did I mention Scottsdale in June?), but under the covered arena at the Horseshoe Park & Equestrian Centre in Queen Creek, Arizona. Giant fans with air conditioning distracted me from the withering heat, as did the iced tea with a tub of ice cubes.

Clinicians Kenny Lawson (of the Silver Dollar Ranch in California) and Dan Byrd (of Cave Creek, Arizona), both World Champion Cowboy Mounted Shooting competitors, brought trained horses and a sense of humor and patience for us pleasure riders, dressage riders, endurance riders, hunter-jumpers and Western show competitors.

According to Kenny’s wife Leann, Cowboy Mounted Shooting is the fastest growing horse sport in the U.S. The Lawsons recognized this training niche and successfully train horses and people for this sport (and other disciplines).

In the clinic we first learned the basics of cowboy mounted shooting equipment and gun safety, before strapping on our own holster and .45 caliber single action revolvers (yes, plural; you use 2 pistols) and tried our hand at shooting while walking past the balloon-on-a-stick targets on foot. 

“Technique, technique, technique, not speed,” the instructors stressed. “It all has to become automatic.” Draw, aim, cock-fire, cock-fire, (5 times), holster gun one, draw gun two, repeat.

The ammunition spray (my non-technical term!) is quite forgiving, proven by the fact that I hit 90% of the balloons I shot at. And, bonus, I did not shoot my foot or my horses’ ears! I only failed rather spectacularly (all day) at not looking down at my holster when I switched guns. “Don’t look down, don’t look down, don’t look down,” Dan and Kenny kept reminding me. Of course I looked down, many times, because where did that hole for the gun keep going, anyway?

Next, racing (not!) the course on horseback and blasting at the balloons! The instructors followed each of us on the simple course, at a walk, or, when I wanted to get really adventurous, a jog. Bang! Bang! Bang! I actually hit most of the balloons. And of course looked down to holster my guns. But I looked pretty Bonanza-like, I’m sure, particularly in my endurance tights and purple helmet.

The funny thing about mounted shooting is this. We were all experienced riders. But the more we concentrated on shooting, the less we looked like we knew about riding, particularly me when I tried the roundy-round course. “Keep your arm straight, don’t cock yet, wait, fire at 90 degrees, wait, now.” Bang. “Watch your horse.” I was angling my horse way too close to the target. Correct the horse. “Stay focused on the next target.” Re-aim at the next balloon. Overcorrect my horse with my rein hand up high in the air. (Why?? I never ride like this at home.) “Pay attention to where you’re going, inside or outside the cones?” Correct my well-trained horse with just my legs, but forget I’m supposed to fire a gun. Oops, I already passed a target. Now my horse is steering herself inside the cones, since I am now giving her so many mixed signals, like a novice rider, that she has decided to help me out and choose her own path, and I pass another target. I’m trotting because I want to go faster than a walk, but that makes things come a whole lot faster. Now I can’t get the one gun holstered and have to look down (“Don’t look down!”) and then I can’t get the other gun out of its holster, and meanwhile I have figured that if I steer my horse outside the cones it gives me a little more time for shooting, then I accidentally signal her to canter, but then I can’t get a shot off because my thumb has slipped off the hammer improperly and did not cock, and, “Don’t cock your gun until you’re ready to fire,” well, you get the picture. And the pros do this at a sprint? And they have to execute a new and different pattern each time at a sprint??

I can see how the approach of doing it slowly, over and over and over, to establish the right steps and the right technique so that eventually everything comes automatic is the key, and I can see how this sport is addicting!

It was such a fun afternoon with some new friends and personable, entertaining clinicians, that I forgot how I hate the heat. And even though I rode like an amateur, I didn’t shoot myself or my horses’ ears. I can call my Cowboy Mounted Shooting day a success and hang up my revolvers. I’ll watch some mounted shooting competition on YouTube, and I’ll watch those Cartwright boys as they keep chasing the bad guys. And I’ll practice my riding skills on my endurance horses sans the guns!

*Thank you Marsha Hayes for the photos and video!*

Monday, June 19, 2017

Tevis Cup Magic: Top Book Award in Equine Media Awards at AHP Conference

June 19 2017

"It is not for the faint of heart: a hundred hard-won miles of rock, dust, elevation, uphill (19,000 cumulative feet of climbing), downhill, (22,000 cumulative feet of descending), imposing mountains, plunging canyons, wild rivers, wilderness, extreme heat, suffocating humidity, effort, and luck - good or bad, all in various doses, across the Sierra Nevada mountains, in the dark and the light and the dark, all done within a 24 hour time limit. Time magazine listed the Tevis Cup as one of the Top Ten Endurance Competitions in the world…"

Saturday evening in Scottsdale, Arizona, my e-book Tevis Cup Magic: Taking on the World's Toughest 100 Mile Endurance Ride was announced the winner of the 2017 Equine Media Awards non-fiction book category at the American Horse Publications Conference. "You had me hooked from the first paragraph," the judge stated. "You have a fabulous, engaging writing style that grabbed [m]y attention and kept me engaged throughout the book.."

I was surprised to make it to the finals, and beyond thrilled to win. I was in good company among my peers. Thank you, AHP!

Dedicated to excellence in equine media through education and communication, American Horse Publications promotes excellence in equine media.

Tevis Cup Magic is available as an e-book (no hard copies, sorry!) on Amazon here.

And now will somebody please pass me the eyedrops, I can still feel the dust from the trail!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Branding Day: Part 2

Thursday June 1 2017

Part 1 is here.

There was a little twist to this branding day. After lunch, a couple of cowboys mounted up and went in the Other Pen. Don's longhorns needed branding. Fortunately the longhorns are rather gentle compared to those mean ol' mama angus cows, and while it took some skill to stay out of their way in a smaller pen, and to rope those bigger horns while they were ducking one behind the other, it all went quite smoothly. Once a longhorn was roped, it just sort of gave up and didn't put up any fight.

Here are some photos:

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Watch Out Kitties

Monday May 15 2017

Mo, the big black cat, is always getting in fights with some gray tomcat who keeps trying to sneak in to get his cat food. There's always a horrible yowling caterwauling ruckus when they clash. I run out to try to yell them apart. Half the time Mo comes out on top, and half the time he gets the crap beat out of him, but he won't stop (Audrey the Wispy Terrorist just avoids conflict, though knowing her, the tomcat is terrified of her).

I heard some awful caterwauling the other morning and ran out to see if I could find the cats. As I stood by the crick trying to locate them, this great horned owl flushed from a tree above me.

He may have been drawn by the ruckus… either for a meal, or else he's wondering what the heck is going on and would they shut up already. 

He's beautiful and I love owls, but I hope he wasn't looking for a meal, and I sure hope he doesn't get Mo or Audrey!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Branding Day: Part I

Tuesday April 18 2017

It was branding day 5 weeks ago on local ranches. Friends and family gathered to help Don Barnhill brand his herd. Before lunch it was the new calves and a few new mean ol' mama angus cows that got branded and vaccinated.

Here are a few photos from the morning.

Friday, April 14, 2017

2017 Antelope Island Endurance Ride: Weather Wonderificous II

Friday April 14 2017

This post is to replace the previous one… which I meant to put on my endurance blog, Merri Travels. It is now up on there, for your read/re-reading and shivering pleasure about the most stimulating weather we had over the weekend!

And, my Smugmug photos are here.

Meanwhile here is a short pictographic essay from the weekend.

Endurance riders dwarfed by Frary Peak

Riding along the Great Salt Lake. Which, you can see, isn't very full.

Riding in the wind/rain storm.

Emerging into some sunshine between storms.

A few buffalo… a lot fewer on view than during the September AERC National Championship ride.

An out-and-back trail


Another storm coming!

The DOOZY thunder/lightning/wind/hail storm that hit.

Frary Peak, with a new coating of snow!

Christoph (en route to a win on Day 2) leading his interns beneath storm clouds and snowy peaks on a mountain range across the lake

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

2017 Antelope Island: Weather Wonderificous

April 11 2017
By Merri Melde-Endurance.net

Well, yes, there was a little of the Worst of Times too, though looking back, it's with a sense of humor and a laugh and rather a bit of giddiness at knowing you really were a Real endurance rider the weekend of the 34th Antelope Island endurance ride.

In keeping with Mother Nature's curveball of a very unusual, extreme winter for most of us (at least in most of the Western half of the country), she wasn't done yet the weekend of the Antelope ride. It had everything, in the extreme: sun, wind, rain, sleet, hail, snow (not quite in ridecamp, but just above), thunder, lightning.

But: NO BUGS! The endurance riders and horses handled the weather, but the No-see-um bugs were too wimpy. Ride management had bug hats ready to hand out to riders, but they were not needed. (The day the No-see-ums adapt to radical weather, the globe is in trouble.)

Regina (doing stats for the ride) and I (photographer) arrived after 10 PM Friday night. We congratulated ourselves having driven through some rainstorms north of the ride, and arriving in ridecamp with no rain. Surely the forecasters were wrong and it would be a fabulously dry and sunny weekend! And then sometime in the night, the rain started. Rain, hard rain, sleety-rain, wind, more rain, more sleet, more wind.

You start to think… boy, I'm glad I'm not riding. I'm glad I don't have to saddle up in the wind and rain. (Getting up and saddling up in crappy weather is the worst… if the bad weather starts when you're already riding, that's much easier.) 33 riders DID, however, buck up, get up, saddle up, mount up, and head out under dreary skies and a cold, wet, blustery wind on Day 1 (11 on the 50-miler, 22 on the 25-miler). The sun played hide and seek with storm clouds as the morning passed, and the Great Salt Lake was churned up all muddy brown and alarming gray and slime green and stormy blue, making for dramatic scenery on this mountain island State Park.

Keely Kuhl aboard EA Victory Ddannce was first and got Best Condition on the 25. The 2 engineer-cowboys (they are engineers, who dress up as cowboys, and come enjoy this one ride every year) Scott and Todd Austin finished second and third.

Bill Hobbs aboard LS Sir Gibbs finished first with Leah Cain and OT Dyamonte Santo (you'll remember this pair as winning the 100-mile AERC Championship last September, and Bill as one of their crew members), conveniently and considerately right as the Big Storm was rolling in across the lake. I'd been carefully watching and tracking the 2 thunderstorms that just skirted us, but I knew this next one was going to hit, and it was going to be a doozy.

It started raining as those two did their final vet check, then all hail broke loose. As I hunkered down in a truck, the hail started falling, then pelting, then hurling while the wind got its hurricane on. Bonnie Swiatek, who'd finished turtle on the 25, was hanging onto a blanket strap of her blanket that had blown over her panicked horse Baracha's head, effectively blinding him while he was being buckshot by wicked hail. Tonya Stroud, who was in the office trailer, bounded out to help her, slipped on the hail and landed on her butt. Several other people jumped in to help Bonnie catch and calm Baracha, and that and another horse, with a group of people huddled heads down tightly together in the lee of the office trailer during the fury of the storm.

Others caught out on trail simply had to stop as their horses did the same - turned butts to wind and hail, and head down, waiting it out. Kathy Backus was aboard Raji near a bathroom when it hit; she jumped off and ducked inside and held the reins of her horse out the door… while her horse probably wondered why she she couldn't squeeze inside also.

But the storm passed, the sun came out (with more cold wind), and everybody finished the ride in both distances, showing just how tough and durable (and, perhaps, crazy), US endurance horses and riders are.

Mara Schima, one of Christoph Schork's interns from Germany, won Best Condition aboard GE RW Carl on the 50.

The wind was such a howling annoyance that awards/ride meeting/dinner were brief, since the wind tended to blow the melted cheese out of the spoon, or the baked potato off your plate. Not much visiting went on with the weather, and the whole of ridecamp curled up and went to bed before dark.

Ride manager Jeff Stuart had a slight panic attack when, after he'd gotten undressed and crawled in his trailer bed, he saw a weather forecast that was even more horrid than what we'd already had. He got up, got dressed, and sought out his assistant Shirley, then Regina, saying "What am I going to do? Do I go to plan B? Plan C? It's supposed to be four degrees in the morning! Should we cancel the ride??" Consensus was, wait and see in the morning. He got back to his trailer, undressed, crawled in bed, still stunned that the temperature could possibly drop so low and bitter. Winter should be over, for heaven's sake!

Then he started playing around with his phone, and realized it had switched itself to centigrade from Fahrenheit. It was going to be 4 degrees F, not C, in the morning. So he got back up, got dressed, went back out, informed Shirley and Regina of the phone's mischief (they had a good giggle).

Meanwhile during the night, another drizzly/sleety howling windy rain fell, and again I started to think, oh, poor horses, standing out in that cold wet mess. But… if you think about it, what else is your horse going to do in a storm? If he's like our horses at home (we don't have stalls or barn), he's going to stand with his butt to the wind/rain/sleet/assault, head down, and wait it out (or eat while he's waiting it out). We so often project our feelings onto our horses (they look so cold! they look miserable!) that we think they must be miserable too. But they're just horses. Horses just wait out weather and go about being horses. The horses in Ridecamp were simply waiting out the next storm, butts to wind/rain, heads down, most of them eating.

Just the same…. I was glad I wasn't riding in the morning that dawned quite cold and windy… and sunny… and wintery. Snow had fallen everywhere but ridecamp. Every mountain range in view was whited out. All the local ski areas must have been thrilled. Frary Peak on the island was whited out. Made for stunning scenery. Riders would be riding up into the snow today.

And 20 hardy riders headed out onto the trails (8 on the 50-miler, 12 on the 25-miler) - and it turned out to be a great riding day: sunny, cold wind, and, again, NO BUGS! That was the most popular comment of all the riders all weekend. Not that the weather was insane, but that We Had No Bugs! All but one rider finished - Kathy Backus turned around and took a rider option when her mare was a bit off during the first loop.

Jeff Stuart and JV Remington won first place and Best Condition on the 25. Christoph Schork and Starlit Way won first and Best Condition on the 50. Several newcomers rode their first ride, and forever after, they will probably never experience such extreme weather.

The Antelope Island endurance ride is known for its beautiful scenery, varied trails, and its buffalo herd. Most of the buffalo seemed to be hiding out elsewhere on the island (the "reds" are being born, so maybe the mama buffs are separated and secluded), though a couple dozen bulls were on display around ridecamp and along a few of the trails.

What the Antelope Island endurance ride is not known for is the extreme weather we experienced, but the hardy endurance riders and horses who attended this year made it a great success.