Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Standardbred Lightness: The Shift

Wednesday September 19 2018

I committed back in April to the challenge of converting the endurance Standardbred Hillbillie Willie from a high-headed, upright forehand-heavy horse to a head-lowered, rounded, more balanced horse. (Connie got him started in the arena: The Incredible Lightness of Being Standardbred.)

Working up hills out on the trails has definitely helped develop a real horse butt, instead of a sloped flatlander giraffe butt like he had when Steph first got him off the track.

don't have a real picture when we first got him, darn it, but this cartoon is quite accurate!

And with consistent work at it while trail riding/conditioning him, with rare arena work, and with occasional work with the pessoa rig in the round pen (no more than 10-15 minutes at a time a couple days a week), it slowly started to make difference over time.

(video link:
Willie in the pessoa today… today it was windy, and the crick was spooky… he’s gone better

I could already tell a difference by the time Willie did his first 50 of the year at City of Rocks in June. He was really moving well, with his head lower, more relaxed, moving lighter; and on the downhill trotting at times he would shift off his front end onto his hind end. (I really work on getting Willie to respond to the shift in my weight/seat.)

And it was last month (August 7 to be exact, because I emailed Aarene Storms-with-a-Standie, at Haiku Farm, all excited about it), I felt a Shift.

It was out on one of our training rides, and this whole ride was almost magic, the lightness of moving, no Clop Clop Clop Clop, the absence of pulling and leaning forward on the bit, the dropping head and rounding up, all on a loose rein. Omg! That's the first time I could really say that I really felt the progress of the work I'm putting into him.

Granted, he doesn't do this the whole time in every training ride (nor do I ask him to, especially at the beginning), but now he does it right at least part of every ride. Now he moves properly more than he doesn't, and I can say that we have really turned a corner. He gets it.

To be sure it's still constant work - and it's harder work if he gets excited, like when the horses in front of him take off - and some rides are just harder than others and he takes more reminding (i.e. much more leg leg leg, less hands hands hands). And it still may take years. (And I am no dressage rider.) And he may never be extremely light and contained, what with his years of being a racehorse.

But we're progressing!

Can you tell a difference in his topline from the two pix? The top picture is from May, this one is from September.

Anyway, I still think he looks pretty magnificent. (So does he. Willie thinks he's hot $h*t.)

Monday, September 3, 2018

What's In A (Trail) Name? Part III

September 4 2018

Mankind has named roads and trails since the beginning of time, to indicate where you're coming from and where you're going to, and to give you a kind of invested ownership in a place. Same thing here in Owyhee with the trails we ride. Yet even more examples:

Dudley Antler Loop
So named because, you got it, Dudley found, you guessed it, a deer antler when we were bushwhacking around the hills and washes back here. Part of it is the start of Merri's Trail (in Part I), but instead of heading right for Hart Creek, you turn off left into a wash downhill, then loop around to another steep uphill wash, climb a hill and find your way back to Spring Ranch road. This 'find your way back' part was where Dudley found his deer antler, and we returned and rode it enough times it's now a nice trail. You make a loop out of it, returning up Blonde Cow Wash - either on the trail alongside the wash, or in the wash. It's a perfect 5.5 mile training loop that you can make a hard or easy ride out of, depending on how much of the sand you trot in.

The Plane Crash
OK, it's not really a plane crash site, but you might not know it for all the metal sheets and pieces scattered along this trail. 'Plane crash trail' sounds better and more entertaining and light-hearted (?) than 'You'll be riding along this trail where Some dumba$$e$ mistook this for an actual trash dump, and dumped loads of metal - washer, drier, god-knows-what-all that will never degrade in my desert, thanks a lot, jerkweeds.'

I tell whatever horse I'm riding that, I know, it looks like a plane crash, but it's really just trash, nobody was hurt, and there's nothing to worry about, so just keep trotting onward.

The Dead Car
Not sure what the story is behind this one… maybe long ago somebody ran out of gas way out here and had to crawl out for help, or maybe it was a romantic date gone awry, but it's a very old rusted car (from the 20's? 30's? 40's? 50's? I don't know my cars) that drove off a little hill and is now half buried in the desert sand. It sort of pops right up on you as you crest the hill, so be ready for your horse to spook!

Commando Hill
Now renamed Toilet Paper Hill (in Part II), it was originally named Commando Hill when, riding up this hill, Diana's underwear were just not cooperating, and she stopped, got off her horse, and ripped them off, and went commando the rest of the ride. Or so the story goes. The toilet paper later came into play on this same hill, and "Toilet Paper Hill" just stuck. (Pun intended.)

Steph's Trail
If you don't have a lot of time, and you just want to get a horse out, like, say, a fat horse, like, say, Dudley who always needs exercise, on a short ride, you can trot or canter a good non-stop 1 1/2 miles of Steph's trail up on the SE flats, then either turn around and take it right back, or make a loop of it back along the Tower Trail.

Tower Trail
This trail houses the internet tower, the means by which all my brought-to-you-by-me stories are sent out into the enet-osphere. The last part is a steepish pay-attention-and-watch-your-footing kind of scenic trail back down into the canyon. You can trot or canter most of this mile-plus trail to the tower, with a bird's eye view all along and down into Pickett Crick. 

Dudley likes to stop up here by this tower and observe the canyon below him. He has even fallen asleep on his feet up here, with me on his back, for like 5 or 10 whole minutes, until I finally wake him up to ride back home because I'm getting bored or cold.

Rye Patch
Is a nice good-footing, fairly easy 18-ish mile loop, if you want to get a long one in with a lot of steady trotting. It goes out to and across the highway by the Plane Crash and the Dead Car and on the Bones Trail (in Part I). It's out to the NE. It's called Rye Patch because there's an actual dirt road we cross named Rye Patch. Because why, I don't know. What is a rye patch anyway?

Brown's Creek
It's out to the SW, also around 18 miles, and it has some good sand washes to work down, and some good hill climbing on the way back, including the second most scenic half of the Hart Creek Loop.

Hart Creek Loop
If we want to impress a riding visitor, we take him/her on this loop. You take Merri's trail (Part I) to and along the Hart Creek drainage, ride along the creek for a while and right up to the Little Hart Creek Canyon notch, (that's the top photo), then make a big climb back out of the drainage, along a knife(ish) edge ridge back up onto the flats. It is often part of our endurance rides, but we do only take visitors we like on this trail.

Rim Trail
This is often part of our endurance rides, the 2-track rim trail overlooking the Hart Creek drainage and the distant tiny 'burb of Oreana. It's pretty spectacular. Both Jose and Dudley love to stop along here and just look at the scenery.

Carol's Gate
Somebody, who shall be left nameless, cut the fence wires and put this easy-open horse-back gate in the fence. I don't know who did it, but it's a safe gate in a Public Lands fence line that gives us easy access onto Our Public Lands, whereas we and everybody else was just going through the wash where the barbed wire had originally been washed and torn out.

Lost Juniper RANCH
Not to be confused with Lost Juniper Trail (in Part II), it's the ranch next door. But the Lost Juniper stories are common. When neighbors first looked at the ranch, there was a tiny juniper growing near the creek cottonwoods. Next time they looked they couldn't find the juniper, until it grew a bit bigger. Now, you still can't find the juniper - because it's so big it blends right in with the cottonwoods. In fact, when my eyeballs were pointed toward this "lost juniper," they immediately focused on the little juniper-child next to it. Both the ranch and the trail junipers are lost, except to those of us who know where they are.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Book Review: ARKLE: The Story of the World's Greatest Steeplechaser

Wednesday August 8 2018

Can you name the world's greatest steeplechaser?

If you can't, you should know: ARKLE.

And when you read this book, there will be no doubt that this Irish steeplechaser who ran in the 1960's was transcendent among his kind.

What is it about the national hunt racing and steeplechasing in Great Britain and Ireland that gets to me? Chapter 2 in my book Soul Deep in Horses gives you a glimmer of the romance of working in an Irish yard, grooming and leading 'round the paddock the heroic grand Thoroughbreds who willingly (most of the time) hurl themselves over monster fences and ditches, and either stay on their feet or fall and get back up onto their feet. It got so it was hard for me to watch their races, but at the same time I couldn't not watch, gritting my teeth and cringing at the rough and tumble sport, but mesmerized at the magnificent power and heart and athleticism of the jump horses.

ARKLE: The Story of the World's Greatest Steeplechaser, by Sean Magee, brings to life this spectacular gelding who ran from 1961-1967 in England and Ireland, winning an astonishing 27 of his 35 races. He beat the best of the best, and became better than the best.

Part of the reason, I'm sure, that I have a special jumping spot in my horse for Arkle, is that he ran over some of the very tracks I led our racehorses around the paddocks and onto the turf: Navan, Naas, Fairyhouse, Leopardstown. Punchestown. In another day and time, like 30 years earlier, I might have been leading the God himself!

Yes, there was that 1964 season, March 7 to be exact, "the day Arkle became a God." That was the day he beat the reigning jumping great, Mill House, to win the first of his 3 consecutive Cheltenham Gold Cups, the greatest steeplechase on earth (not to be confused with the Grand National - the other greatest steeplechase on earth, but one Arkle never ran in, as his owner, Anne, Duchess of Winchester, thought it too dangerous). He simply, and widely, was referred to as "Himself." Capital H, of course,

Then there was his '65-66 "Arkle for President" season - because he really was that incredibly amazing. (Someone had scribbled this phrase on a Dublin wall in 1965.)

That he was personable and loved people, and he loved to run and jump, and loved the adulation, just adds to his incredible story.

Himself is magnificent eye candy, no?

*By the way, I do have a couple of the Arkle 2020 bumperstickers.
Arkle for President in 2020? Why not! Is there anyone else more magnificent? (Read the book, and you'll agree.)

$5 includes mailing, PM me theequestrianvagabond at gmail dot com if you've got a sense of humor and you're interested.

**By the way, Spell Check likes to correct "Arkle" to "ankle". seriously??? Spell Check needs to learn the greatest steeplechaser of all time's name.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Nyssa Nite Rodeo Part III: The Art of the Rodeo

Thursday August 9 2018

Nyssa Nite Rodeo Part I: All the Pretty (Rodeo) Horses is here. 

Nyssa Nite Rodeo Part II: All the Pretty Cowgirls and Cowboys is here.

For the crowds in the stands, the events are all glitter and spectacle, dash and splash and crash.

It's the in-between-events and the behind-the-scenes context where I found the art. From the press box, and down in the hole where all the stock is prepped and the power is constrained and the electric nerves hum, I found some cool shots.

Exloding right out of the gate on a bronc, into the sunset of a wide-open arena

The myriad lariats the pickup men use. Depending on the event - bareback broncs, saddle broncs, or the most rankest of them all, ranch broncs - and often depending on the particular bronc - the lariats are carefully coiled and hung, and then before each horse (or bull) leaves the chute, each pickup man deftly and calculatingly chooses the right lariat like an artist chooses the right brush.

Delicately trying to get a halter on one of those rank ranch broncs without getting knocked out

The classic bucking pose

Making sure his saddle is firmly planted… or bowing his head in prayer

One of the heroes of the rodeo - one of the pickup men

These pickup men were, seriously, The Art of the Rodeo. Working wordlessly but cannily and seamlessly together, they rescued cowboys, delicately danced and rowdily roughhoused, foxtrotting and swirling, spinning and cajoling and dragging and shoving, flirting with disaster, to persuade these crazy broncs out of the arena. Watching them, I couldn't help being hypnotized by their skill and, just, art.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Lil' Tooters

Sunday July 22 2018

They can drive you mad, these juvenile screech owls, always hiding in plain sight, but incredibly camouflaged. They might even give you a tooting clue during the middle of the day to zero in on… and you still probably won't find them.

There are at least 3 juveniles, and 1 adult hanging in the cottonwood trees in the creek. I hear them often at night, and I'll see their silhouettes as they fly in to check me out (some seem to be very curious). I spent half a day hunting for the adult the other week, and finally find him (her?). I think it's the male I hear hooting at night, and, yet another year went by, I could not find their nest that is very near and fledged at least 3 young.

This youngster tooted once this afternoon; I went looking for him, (also heard one tiny chirrup out of a sibling, but could not find him), and after looking and looking and looking, and staring and staring, I finally realized that stump-y thing in the crook of a cottonwood was one of the juvenile screech owls staring at me, and not, in fact, a stump of wood.

Here's what a screech owl sounds like. For several weeks, these youngsters only did one little "whop!" at a time; they've just in the last couple of nights started doing the whole ping pong ball call.

Cute lil' bugger!!!!!

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Big Horn 100: A Most Epic Adventure

Wednesday July 18 2018

The short of the story is that us 6 Idahoans (5 riders: me, Connie, Layne, Anne and Shyla, and Crew Master Regina) had a fun time at the Big Horn 100 in Wyoming. I was the only one who didn't finish - I pulled Dezzie at around 40 miles when he started to feel a little off.

You can read a ride recap here, 

and stay tuned, because an alternate story may appear as a book or an e-book! 

Meanwhile, here are a few photos from one of the most beautiful endurance rides I've done (and lucky me, I got the best scenery in the first 40 miles of the ride!):

This was our warm-up ride on Thursday, over the first 8 miles of trail we'd be riding over in the dark at 4 AM.

Going up the Dugway into the Big Horn mountains - looking back over our tailfeathers

Looking back down the Dugway over Dezzie's tailfeathers as the sun is rising. that's Connie on Saruq and Tom on Rocky

Top of the Dugway. Now heading back down… before heading up again 

Finally on top top of the mountain, leaving the first vet check

We traversed so many beautiful meadows. The wildflowers were downright raucous (Connie took this pic)

Friday, July 6, 2018


Saturday July 7 2018

What with a very busy June, and with one thing and another coming up lately, and being semi-whiny-worried about the heat and migraines and stamina, I've been conveniently ignoring the fact that we're headed for the BIG HORN 100 in Wyoming on July 14.

But now departure day is 5 days away, so it's kind of hard to keep ignoring it.

Connie's riding DWA Saruq, I'm riding Sarah's horse Dezzie, since she can't be here; Regina our Big Horn Guru is hauling us there and crewing for us (yay!). 3 more Idaho peeps are planning to caravan there with us. 

Our horses are sound and fit, their last ride being a hard and fast 55 at City of Rocks on June 8.

Me? I'm fairly fit, but… for 100 miles? And for (my nemesis) the heat? 

I think I'll just continue to ignore that part of the equation for now, but it is time to think about starting to pack.

I haven't done a 100 miler since my Tevis Cup Magic in 2009 - almost 10 years! - and I probably haven't pulled an all-nighter for anything since then, either! I've never done the Big Horn, but if I did do another 100, this is the one I'd want to do.

So, I reckon it's time for me to face the facts and admit it and put it out there: it's official! We are bound for the Big Horn 100 starting line (knock on wood). 

Friday, June 29, 2018

Nyssa Nite Rodeo Part II: All the Pretty Cowgirls and Cowboys

Wednesday June 27 2018

The Nyssa Nite Rodeo's a big fast-paced, slick show, of cowgirls and cowboys, flash and glamour, dust and sparkle, speed and horsemanship, skill and daring, rough and reckless. 

The cowgirls with their long flowing hair and brilliant smiles, the cowboys with their swagger and stern stares (or cracking smiles after a successful 8 second roughstock ride) dazzle the crowd and bring the old Western way of life to the spotlight.

Yep, Garth Brooks knew what he was talking about when he sang about the broncs and the blood, the dust and the mud, this thing they call rodeo.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Nyssa Nite Rodeo Part I: All the Pretty (Rodeo) Horses

Monday June 25 2018

It was an honor and a treat to get to shoot the 73rd annual Nyssa Nite Rodeo in Nyssa, Oregon.

During three nights of fun and competition, luck, skill, timing, bad timing, rough, tough, fast and furious, the barrel and roping and bucking horses were impressive to watch.

Here's a sample of some of those fit, fast, athletic, smart, wily, wild, rank, well-trained, pretty rodeo horses.

More photos at: