Wednesday, May 31, 2006

A Darn Busy June

May 31 2006

Now, I like to work, and work hard, but it’s going to be an awfully busycrammedtogetherJune. Willow Flycatcher survey training Thursday and Friday up in Truckee. Saturday and Sunday get rides in on the forest service horses. Alas, I will not get to ride with Gretchen, because she is leaving Saturday and taking her 2 horses on a 5-day endurance ride in Nevada. I am not jealous; I am not disappointed. (So I always have to tell myself, when I miss a ride.) Even though this will be over the original Pony Express Trail. Even though a lot of my friends will probably be there, having a great time riding the Pony Express Trail. There are always more endurance rides (our big goal is the Virginia City 100, in mid-September.) Monday through Thursday I must cram in as many Willow Flycatcher surveys as I can (they begin around 5 in the mornings) in this area, to finish them in the first survey period. Thursday night I must get up to Reno, because I fly to Vienna on Friday, for a 10-day stint as a S.E. – sound engineer – for a black gospel musical, The Gospel at Colonus, at a big annual Vienna theatre festival. Not much time for sleep or sightseeing I’m afraid – tech set up and rehearsals as soon as I get off the plane until opening night on Wednesday, then shows every night through Saturday night; get about 3 hours of sleep, then fly home early Sunday morning. (I don’t see how roadies do this for big concerts, night after night.) Flying through the time zones, get home Sunday evening, then cram another 5 straight days of Willow Flycatcher surveys in Monday through Saturday mornings, before the 2nd survey period ends. Which means I miss the first day of a 2-day ride in Fallon Nevada on Saturday and Sunday that Gretchen and I hope to do as part of her horses’ training for the Virginia City 100. But then I can’t rest on Monday, because I have to go back to work.

Then maybe I can rest.

In July.

Saturday, May 27, 2006


May 27 2006

Gretchen and I were out for a ride again, she on Spice and me on Raffiq. Higher and higher along a gradually sloping old mining road we trotted above the Bridgeport valley, with great views of the icy blue Bridgeport reservoir framed by the snowy Sierras (lots of snow for this time of year!!). Crisp sunshine and pleasant cool breeze – not windy but enough to keep those danged no-see-ums out of my ears and hairline. We’d neared the top of our loop, and were trotting and cantering along a dirt road, with me in the lead, coming around a corner, and, “Uh-oh,” I said.

And just then Raffiq saw what I saw and planted himself, and Spice saw what I saw, and she planted it and wheeled around and bucked and reared. Was it a cougar in our trail? A black bear? A ghost?

No, it was a helium Happy Birthday balloon, caught on a sage bush lining the road, dancing merrily in the breeze. Didn’t exactly belong out here in nature. Raffiq had danced off the road and so could no longer see the Horse-Eating Balloon, but Spice could still get an eyeful between her bucks, so while she was freaking out from the H-E Balloon, Raffiq freaked out because she was freaking out. Raffiq tends to want to bolt when he gets stirred up, so I had an anchor hold on his reins. We both managed to stay in the saddle – Gretchen having the harder ride - and when we got the horses stopped, we both jumped off. I handed her Raffiq, and I walked over to the H-E Balloon, both horses eyeing me with big eyes and pricked ears and twitchy legs, ready to bolt in case I got eaten and it came after them. I removed the offensive piece of trash, stepped on it and popped it. (I wondered belatedly, if I’d sucked up the helium and walked up to the horses talking funny, you think they’d’ve run off in panic, having already been spooked? We were probably 7 miles from home, maybe a good thing I didn’t try it).

The horses jumped, as did Gretchen and I, because it sounded like a shotgun, echoing off some of the cliffs above us. I walked back to the horses, and we led them both on foot a ways, past the scary part, with them both looking around us in case another Horse Eating Something jumped out.

We hit the main road and hopped back on, headed up the road a little further till we could see the old Shimong mine, then turned around and headed back. All downhill along a graded dirt road, we walked and trotted and cantered, stopped for grass snacks, and got off ourselves and walked a few miles, the whole time facing the awesome view of the Bridgeport valley a thousand feet below.

Another great ride on another great day in Bridgeport!

Monday, May 22, 2006

My First Date with Buddy

May 22 2006

My First Date with Buddy - A Flippin' Thrillin' Ride

“I don’t see how you can just get on other peoples’ horses. I wouldn’t have the nerve.”

Several people have said that to me. It’s not that I have a choice, really; I can’t afford my own endurance horse(s), so if I want to endurance ride (remember my letters: ROER – Rabid Obsessed Endurance Rider), I have to ride other peoples’ endurance horses. It’s not anything I really ponder, it’s just what I do. It’s my job (even though I rarely ever get paid), and I take it seriously. Some of it is with friends, much of it has been for endurance trainers, who often have a plethora of horses to ride, many at questionable stages in their breaking and training – no matter what the trainer tells you or thinks! (You sure learn a lot that way, especially on green horses.)

Riding is supposed to be fun! But it isn’t always fun - when you ride for other people and get on crazy horses, or ride with a crabby person, it’s only fun about half the time. But even then, I would rather ride. A friend has a bumpersticker: Endurance riding is like sex: when it’s bad it’s still good, and when it’s good it’s really great! That about says it all. Since my bad horse accident 6 years ago, I have luckily not been afraid to get on a horse, or been afraid while riding. And if I do get anywhere close to that feeling, I have no problem bailing off. If I had been afraid to ride, I don’t know what would have happened to my soul, because riding is such a big important part of my life.

Just like when you have a first date, or a first meeting with someone you will be working or living with closely, there’s that initial tentative feeling out of each other, not knowing how the other will respond. Since every rider rides just a bit (or a great bit) differently, and gives different signals, the horse may be confused while he tries to figure out what exactly his new rider is trying to say to him. The rider is likely thinking, Why doesn’t this horse know what I’m asking, or, Is he going to freak out if I ask him to do this?

I go through a lot of those first dates (and sometimes the 2nd and 3rd dates are the same way), because I get on a lot of different horses. And there is always that little voice in the back of my head, not fear or apprehension, but maybe a very very slight unease, way way back there, or maybe an Awareness of things that could possibly go wrong. And there’s always a little prayer I say, a little mantra to every horse I get on, Please Don’t Hurt Me.

So today I got on a strange horse, and he flipped over on me. Buddy is Gretchen’s husband’s horse, although her husband has only ridden him twice. Gretchen and another friend have had him out a few times. He’s a paint/arab, nice enough personality though somewhat dull. He’s not very athletic or nimble or flexible, he’s not real responsive to the aids, and though he doesn’t stumble a lot, he’s a heavy goer. Kind of takes your breath away when you ride him, because you’re working on his back. We’d been trotting up a road for a mile or two, then climbed a little hill, and headed down the other side. When he got down to the dirt road, I wanted him to turn left, but he thought we should turn right. Left rein, right leg, hard right leg, harder right leg… it was hard to convince him to go my way. So we stopped there a minute and worked on turning the hindquarters. Hard, very hard for him; he couldn’t pivot at all without moving the forehand also, and his left side was even less responsive than the right. To pivot his hind end to the right, I had to pull his head all the way to his left side, then ask him to move off my left leg, move off, MOVE OFF. He could get a few steps, but then it turned into a clumsy half falling to the right, moving his whole body… which was our undoing.

His back legs stepped over the edge of the road, and though I’d ridden by there hundreds of times, I’d never noticed how steep the drop-off was. And Buddy, being not so athletic, could not catch himself, and he immediately started to go over backwards. Now, it’s easy for armchair riders to say, You should have done this or that, but when these events happen, they happen so fast, you don’t have time to sit and think, Now hmmm, maybe the best way out of this situation would be…

I really don’t recall what precisely happened. I sensed he was going over and I must have bailed off. (Gretchen said I did. I think I heard “Oh, shit!” in there, but I’m not sure if it was her or me). I think I landed on my back in the brush (thank goodness it wasn’t in cactus!), head downhill and my momentum carrying me over backwards. And instinct flashed through my mind that if I am flipping over backwards, my horse must be flipping over too; as my body came to a stop on my belly, Gretchen yelled something like, “MOVE MOVE! HE’S COMING OVER AGAIN!” I’m not sure exactly what the words were, but I heard the urgency in her voice and my body was already responding, scrambling on hands and knees away, until I completely lost my footing and slipped down in the brush, even as I caught a side glimpse of a part of Buddy’s body coming my way. Your mind thinks so fast but your body can’t react that fast: because I knew I couldn’t get out of his way, I thought instinctively to curl up in a ball, but my scrabbling arms and legs were strung out all over and I didn’t have time. I fully expected a 1000 lb horse to land on top of me, and, while there was no fear, I braced myself for the knowledge that I had another split second or two before I might be dead, or broken into pieces. As my slow body was still trying to respond to the immediate instinct of curling up in a ball, Buddy’s butt came to rest gently against my back.

That was it!? My body instinctively burst up and away again, in case he might start thrashing. I turned back to look, and Buddy had gotten to his feet, and was standing there below the road. He didn’t look shaken up, more like, Duh, what happened there? I walked up to him, took hold of the reins that were still in place, and led him up to the road. There we both stood for a minute, Buddy looking like nothing at all had happened. I realized I was completely out of breath, my heart pounding a mile a minute. Was that from being out of breath, or from a delayed adrenaline rush? Buddy and I stood there a while, till my breathing slowed down, and I refused to think of the myriad disasters that could have happened there.

After moving his front and back end around a bit on the ground, to make sure he was okay and he knew what I was asking, I got back on. We continued our ride, and Buddy did fine (we did stop a few times to practice our turns again, only not near road edges), even crossing a rushing creek, which he’d had trouble with on a previous ride. It turned out to be a nice ride, or, I could even say a thrilling ride – I am so thrilled I did not get hurt!

There are obvious things I could have done differently. Not pushed him so hard to do something he can’t do yet. Often I think we tend to do that. When a horse can’t (or won’t) do something we think he should be able to do, we tend to try to push him through it. I should have just asked for one little step at a time. I should have moved him around on the ground before I got on him, something I always used to do, but have slacked off on. You know, Parelli’s Seven Games? Many people swear by Parelli, many deride him and his Seven Games, but call it what you will, clever or stupid, just doing something to get your horse to respond to you on the ground, and see how he responds to you on the ground, can give you a clue as to how he’s going to respond to you on his back. If the horse can’t move off the pressure of your hands on the ground – backing, turning on the forehand, turning on the hind end, he’s probably not going to move off the pressure when you’re on his back.

Had I done that before I got on, I would have seen how hard it is for Buddy to pivot on his front end, especially on his left side. I just didn’t take the time to do it. Which I will be doing again from now on, even the horses I ride regularly! It makes for a much more responsive, lighter horse, which can always helps in unexpected situations. The horse usually feels good about himself when he can easily do these things you are asking of him.

A shaky, scary, but ultimately fine (and thrilling!) first date with Buddy. I know our next date will go much smoother!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Where in the World Is... The Equestrian Vagabond

May 16 2006

If it’s May I must be…. In Bridgeport California, back for my 9th (!!) season working for the Forest Service. That’s where some of my letters come in: T.B., H.P., S.O.H., W.L.T. - Trail Builder, Horse Packer, Spotted Owl Hooter, Wildlife Technician. I worked on trails for 6 seasons, wildlife for the last three.

The best part of this seasonal job (and take note, after nine seasons I am still a very low peon on the governmental totem pole), besides living and hiking in some of the most beautiful country in the US - the eastern side of the Sierra Nevadas in California, and in Nevada - is I get to work with this district’s pack horses.

I’ve known these 5 horses (actually, 4 horses and 1 mule) for nine years now, more than I’ve known a lot of people, and I like them better than a lot of people I’ve known for that long. We’ve been through a lot of miles and adventures and bags of carrots together over the years.

Since our Wilderness Manager left 4 yrs ago, the horses have been underused and mightily underappreciated, except for me. I’ve donated hundreds of hours over the years to looking after them, providing plenty of TLC, and riding them to get them into shape each summer, because no one else would. Not that I am complaining – I was quite pleased to have them all to myself. I did get to take them on an 8-day pack trip into the wilderness last year… it was quite the educational adventure. It’s an entertaining chapter in my future book.

We have a new district ranger now who not only likes horse, but she rides! She’s not only planning to keep the horses around a while – if we ‘got rid’ of them, they’d have to go to auction, and, very possibly, slaughter, a very unfair FS policy, IMO – but she plans for several people to actually use them. I may use them for packing on a few of my surveys.

I’ve been taking them out on short training rides – a couple of miles up a long grade. I’ll ride one and pony 1 or 2, in a string, like I would on a pack trip, or, the DR will ride with me and we’ll get several out. A new range young con started this week, and she rides! And a new young seasonal rec person, and she rides also! I thought I might actually get a little jealous of these other people horning in on ‘my’ horses, but I am actually happy they are being ridden by people who I can trust to handle them well, if not as precisely as I know how to (my ego talking), having known and worked with them all these years. The horses will be in good hands if I’m not around to ride them every time they go out.

Monday, May 15, 2006

You May Ask Yourself...

May 15 2006

You May Ask Yourself... Well? How Did I Get Here?

So that you know which ride you’re taking, this is the Blog of The Equestrian Vagabond Professionale, T.E.V.,P.

T.E.V.,P. is shorthand for: E.P., F.W., B.A., E.H.C., H.P., C.D., S.O.H., T.B., S.E., W.L.T., R.G., P.W.T., R.O.E.R.

And in case you’re like me and you never know what all those letters behind peoples’ names stand for, here’s a cheat sheet for later reference. Equine Photographer, Freelance Writer, Budding Artist, Endurance Horse Conditioner, Horse Packer, Carriage Driver, Spotted Owl Hooter, Trail Builder, Sound Engineer, WildLife Technician, former Racetrack Groom, Passionate World Traveler, Rabid Obsessed Endurance Rider.

I’m in the same boat as my friend Maryanne in Egypt, (, or, who says ‘I don’t know yet what I want to do when I grow up’ (other than ride horses). Pretty much everything I do in life involves horses, or is some means to support me so I can be involved with horses. OK, so I’m a horse fanatic. I think it’s because I never got a horse when I was little, so I’m making up for that now. And I happen to own the Most Beautiful Horse on the Planet, Stormy.

Mount up and see where this all takes me: I never know what’s around the next curve in the trail!