Saturday, November 25, 2006

McSteamy, McDreamy

Saturday November 25 2006

It was about 12* this morning in Bridgeport and 30’s during the day, and very very dry. In Malaysia where Steph is for the endurance ride, it’s, well, tropical and (I quote) wet and steamy, hot and humid, very very humid, sunny, hot, woke up to pouring rain, already drying up, sunny, raining…

Steph rode out with her friend the King of Malaysia yesterday morning (okay, with a couple of other riders). Riders from all over the world have arrived to participate in the 160 km (about 100 miles), 80 km (about 50 miles), and 40 km (about 25 miles) rides, which will be held today… or rather tonight. Steph’s 80km ride starts at midnight.

I’m all alone bird- and house-sitting and horse-less here, riding muscles aching to get back on a horse, and snow’s predicted for tomorrow. Not complaining or anything – I’ll just pull out another blanket and follow along and dream I’m in steaming in Malaysia…

Speaking of Egypt

Sunday November 26 2006

Okay, so Egypt and Malaysia aren’t that close, but, I’m dreaming of that side of the planet…So, from the archives:

Saturday March 6 2004, Egypt


I am in LOVE. His name is Asa’il (or Harry).

We woke up to a beautiful sunny morning. This was My Day – to finally ride a horse in the Egyptian desert. Maryanne dropped me off at Morad’s. Denise was riding with us and Julie (and her black stallion) and Hortense and Morad and Christina.

A groom leads out into the sunshine my mount Harry: a huge magnificent flaming red stallion with a flowing mane and white-rimmed eye. My eyeballs popped out, and when I climbed aboard my jaw dropped. He turned into a fire breathing dragon - he tried to savage the groom holding him and tried to bite my leg several times, and he lifted me out of my saddle (English saddle, not used to this!), and lunged, mouth wide open into the palm branch we walked under as if he could devour the whole piddly little date palm itself.

When he walked he bowed his beautiful neck to his chest and his mane rippled over both sides of his neck and his forelock covered his face. His steps were light but he was so terrifically powerful I was like a mosquito on his back.

I noticed the reins were extra double duty thick - probably because he pulls so hard he’s broken a few. Great! As we walked a short distance down the paved road, he shook his mighty head and jerked it down again, and I knew he could launch me to the moon if he wanted.

Oh, Morad, what have you done to me, putting me on this monster??

We turned into the mango grove which drops you right onto the desert at the Sun Temple. Harry was walking calmly but I could just feel him ready to explode. I remembered the first racehorse I rode just bolting away with me at a dead run (or so it felt) and I had no control and I was scared. If Harry took off on me, I’d be completely powerless.

This is why I love endurance riding - it’s my speed (slow), and lots of it. We got to the sand, and there were maybe 7 or 8 of us, and I thought Oh God, we’re all going to take off like a cavalry charge, or Morad’s going to come charging by me, and Harry’s going to deposit me neatly in the sand (thank goodness it’s sand).

But everybody just walked on, chatting; Morad trotted near me, and I said "Morad, you might’ve put me on too much horse." He gave me a big grin and said, "He’s the lightest one I have," over his shoulder as he cantered off to some other riders on a hill. His lightest one? Right. I was going to die out here. Visions of getting my face smashed again popped into my head - I wanted to gallop in the desert!? How 'bout just a pleasant little canter on a quiet little gelding instead of this colossal mighty dragon?

Morad came cantering back toward all of us, and then he and Pal took off galloping up a little wadi. Hortense said to me, "Come, we can go up this hill." I thought, well, if he bolts off at a dead run, at least it’s sand and he’s going uphill. I had a cross on Harry’s neck if I needed it though so far out here on the sand, I hadn’t touched his mouth. I was ready though, I knew it was coming.

I moved my hands just a little, and thought Forward, (but please not too fast), and Harry bowed his head and floated into a trot. I could feel every powerful bone and muscle of this horse beneath me; I wanted to canter in the desert!? Heck this trot is pretty darn nice, and fast enough, thank you.

At the top of the hill where it flattened out, I thought Oh Shit, here we go - and Harry did nothing but continued floating over the sand at the trot awaiting my command. I did notice I was still barely touching his mouth. He had a big smooth trot and was ahead of Hortense, so she moved Maximus to a canter to catch up with us.

I thought, OK, THIS is where Harry bolts off, and what the hell, it’s time to find out if I’m going to hit the sand or get scared or whatever. I gritted my teeth, I touched my legs to his sides every so lightly - and Harry bowed his flaming head and touched his nose to his chest and broke into a canter the same speed as his trot, and I still had never touched his mouth. Oh my God, I thought, what is this thing I am riding!?

We cantered on, trotted on, and came to another group of people, and Pal joined up with us from another direction. Mohammed said, "Come with us," and Pal said "Let’s go!" and he took off. I said to Harry, "Let’s go!"

Harry tucked his nose to his chest, picked up the right lead I asked for and we cantered along the western Sahara desert (or the Libyan desert, or Egyptian desert), past the pyramids of Abu Sir. We came to the top of the little wadi we were in and the desert flattened out - acres and miles and countries to ride through - anywhere! I could ride from here straight to Morocco if I wanted to! Morocco!

The group cantered onward; my wonderful mount and I cantered by ourselves 50 yards away. Much of the footing out here is not as deep as you’d think - a galloping hoof leaves an impression as deep as one on a groomed racetrack, though the sand’s just a little harder. A lot of the sand is also rocky, and it almost sounds like a gallop over cobblestones. The consistency/footing of the sand changes: from the harder sand to the rocky sand with firmer footing, to soft sand where they do sink down. I could feel the change in the footing and the adjustment in Harry’s stride - I’m sure the horses quickly learn to read the footing - though he never bobbled. I could’ve drunk a glass of champagne from his back. And I still didn’t touch his mouth - the reins just sat on his neck.

Harry and I drifted further from the pack; I urged him to a gallop, and my magnificent steed and I flattened out into a gallop, past the pyramid and temples of Saqqara, and it hit me: oh my God, I am GALLOPING A HORSE IN EGYPT BY THE PYRAMIDS!! I could have cried.

I did cry, many times that morning. This couldn’t be real, I was in another world and another time.

Walmart-but-not-Walmart-but-worldly-cancerous-plastic bags rolled across the desert like Nevada tumbleweeds. One was heading our way and would intersect us if I didn’t change course. Maryanne said these Egyptian Arabs didn’t spook at flying plastic bags. I noticed none of them had in our rides in the countryside. We continued on course, and Harry galloped right on over the plastic bag without blinking an eyelash.

Harry and I veered back toward the others; we climbed another hill and looked around us. It was a beautiful partly cloudy and cool day with a slight breeze - just perfect. We walked/slid on Harry’s haunches down the hill, and Pal said “Let’s do the Back 40," or something like that, and we all took off again. Pick your path - anywhere, any direction, any speed, any company - just go!

Pal and I fell behind the others, and slowed down to a walk. He said "I read some of your stories on EnduranceNet - I just can’t wait to see how all these Eccentrics you’re meeting are going to flesh out!" He also read about mine and Steph’s tea with the Sun Temple guide. Yes, he said, we did eat his lunch. No matter how poor they are they pride themselves on sharing whatever they had. To have refused to share his tea and food would’ve been impolite. But geez, I didn’t have to pig out! Pal's wife is the Norwegian ambassador to Ethiopia. He talked about his wife’s job, and Addis Ababa and Ethiopia. "You have not seen, nor can you imagine, the utter misery and poverty in Ethiopia. I’ve been to slums in Mexico City and Bogota - they don’t compare." It sounded absolutely hopeless with no light on the horizon - not to mention completely depressing: civil war, famine, disease, millions of refugees, an unbreakable cycle. I said, "Then there’s no solution." Pal said, "Short term, no. Long term, yes. You just have to keep hope and keep pushing forward."

We talked about ruins in the area - he said there are hundreds of known sites buried out here - they just aren’t excavating them. A lot of it’s political and a lot of it is Egypt’s treasury - to be dealt out over time.

Pal told me Harry had another name: Asa’il. It means "Honey." Julie of the new black stallion had previously owned him, and couldn’t quite pronounce Asa’il. “It sounds like Asshole,” she said, “I’m giving him a new name!" And Harry he became.

By now we’d lost the others - here riders can cover a lot of ground and they quickly become spots on the horizon - they’d swung east around a string of sand hills. We walked till we got out of the deeper sand, and Pal said "Let’s see if we can find them."

As we walked along, I couldn’t keep my hands off Harry. I patted his beautiful neck, I ran my hands through his mane, I patted his big red butt. No queen had ever had a more beautiful seat on a golden throne than I had right here. "How do you say 'You are beautiful’ in Arabic?" I asked Pal. He said "'Enta gameel.’ It means not only physical beauty, but beautiful from the inside." Oh, yes. I leaned over Harry and put my arms around his neck and I hugged him. "Enta gameel, Asa’il."

Pal moved his horse to a trot, to a canter. Harry graciously bowed his head and floated to a trot, and bowed his head again and glided to a canter. Pal was now galloping, full out running ahead of me. Harry asked me - asked me! - if he could go. "Meshe Harry!" Go on!

Harry spread his wings, and we ran through the desert. The wind roared in my ears and whipped his mane in my face and drove the tears out of my eyes and across my face. If I cocked my head to the side I no longer heard the wind but the 4-beat of his hoofs on the sand. I dropped the reins and put my hands on that golden red neck and felt his strength through my fingertips. "Enta gameel Asa’il!"

Maybe it lasted a minute, or maybe 10 minutes - but I’ll never forget it. We rounded the corner and saw nobody, so we cantered on to the top of a hill. Still no other riders, so Pal said "Let’s go that way. I’ll show you something." And so we cantered on, down one row of hills into a little wadi and back up another hill. Harry adjusted his strides perfectly to the uphill or downhill, softer sand or hard. We crested the hill that Pal had picked out - and we met Maryanne, Jackie and Christina coming from the opposite direction. On top here was a big hole about 20 feet deep and maybe a car’s width all around with a hint of remains of a wall, with sand piled all around the hole. "It’s a tomb. They just aren’t bothering with it because there’s so many other big things. There’s hundreds and hundreds of them."

Can you just imagine what this area looked like 4000 years ago before sand buried everything? You just get the feeling out here that you are riding over ancient treasures everywhere. We walked down the hill, and walked and trotted along a while, talking. Harry had a big walk and we were out in front, when I spotted 5 or 6 riders off in the distance. I wondered if it was Morad and Hortense and Denise.

Wait - why wonder? I can zip on over there and find out! I lifted my fingers and Harry confirmed with a bow of his head and we cantered a mile across the desert. As we got close, I could see it was nobody I knew - it looked like a slow plodding tour group. Boring! Harry and I arc’d in a big circle and cantered the mile back to our group.

Pal then trotted up to me. "You want to go?" He read my mind! Off we cantered to the distant Japanese Hill, near Saqqara. And cantered and cantered and cantered, over buried remains of Egypt’s 4000 year old history.

Japanese Hill is where the Japanese are excavating a huge site a little distance, maybe ~1/2 mile from the Saqqara Step Pyramid, which is all likely part of Saqqara. It’s the highest hill around, and you can see the 3 Great Pyramids of Giza, Abu Sir, Saqqara, and the Bent and Red Pyramids from Dashur, stretching north and south as far as you can see. The pollution wasn’t so bad this morning after yesterday’s bit of rain. (Maryanne said that last year Cairo surpassed Mexico City as the worst polluted city in the world.)

Harry posed with me up top for pictures, then we slid our way down and galloped around the hill to meet the others. I took pictures of everybody, and kept handing off my camera to people: "Take my picture!" Usually I prefer to be behind the lens. Not here - not with my new gorgeous Egyptian boyfriend! (Who was quite photogenic I might add.) Please - nobody tell Stormy about this. He gets very jealous.

And OK, now I understand a little the Egyptians’ love affair and addiction to stallions. I think this is the first time I’ve ridden one. They are different! We trotted on past the Abu Sir pyramids, heading back home. I was looking at a nearby hill, and thought - why look, just go! I turned my hand, and Harry picked up a canter, loped to the top, and we stopped and looked around one last time, then trotted back down to join the others, to the Sun Temple, and exited the desert at the mango grove.

I was so happy I cried all the way home. I didn’t have to say anything to Morad when he and Hortense and Denise got back to the stable a short time later. He laughed. "See? I told you!" I gave him a big hug - thank you, that was the best ride I’ve ever had in my life. I’d’ve given Harry a kiss on his big red nose but he’d’ve probably bitten my face off. (And Stormy would’ve been REALLY jealous, because he loves the nose kisses.)

Dinner was at Janie’s. We had a great dinner with everybody and a last visit (this trip) with my friends in Egypt. When we left the full moon was shining straight down on us. I said a silent goodbye to my Egyptian boyfriend Harry as we drove past his stable the last time (this trip).

Enta gameel, Asa’il. Shukran.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The King and I

Monday November 20 2006

There seems to be a bit of the travel bug in the air.

I just emailed a friend in Seattle and asked if she’d be there when I visit in December. “No, I’m going to the South Pacific for 3 months. Come meet me in Vanuatu!” (Had to get out my map.)

An old boss of mine is on his way to Egypt right now to sightsee and birdwatch.

Earlier, the plan was for me to go spend November and December in Egypt, to do a bit of horse stuff, be there for a local endurance ride, the Gamoosa Gambol, that Maryanne was putting on. My friend Steph was going to meet us there for the ride – a kind of mini-reunion from 2 years ago, when Steph first traveled to Egypt at Maryanne’s invitation, and I invited myself along.

Before my winter Egyptian plan fell through, Steph’s did also. She couldn’t make it for the Gamoosa Gambol ride because “my friend the King of Malaysia invited me to come do a ride there.” Or something to that effect.

I didn’t make back it to Egypt this winter (yet)(for the 3rd time), but my friend Steph is, indeed, currently on her way to Malaysia to hob nob with the King of Malaysia, who himself is an accomplished equestrian. She’s going to be doing an 80 km ride in a few days on a horse from her friend the King’s Royal Stable.

Her Royal Adventures will be on and I, the friend of a friend of a King, will be awaiting the stories of her escapades with bated breath.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Golden Aspens

Friday November 17 2006

Aspens are not your friends.

Beautiful and shimmery, green in the spring, golden, fiery yellow or orange in the fall, they demand adulation from a distance, or from close-up – but not too close. They are exquisite but untouchable; they are aloof. Nature is friend of the aspens, but not man. No hugging of these trees! No picnicking under these trees unless you’re a bear! If you must hike through an aspen stand, woe to you! You’d better be wearing Kevlar or Mithril because the aspens are often guarded by wild rosebushes that grab and tear at you and rip your hiking pants and stab and scratch your skin. Favorite trick is for an aspen branch on sloping ground to trip you up so that you reach out scrambling for balance and grab onto a rosebush for balance.

If you still insist on hiking through an aspen stand, if the rose bushes do not get you, some of the aspens themselves might. They can grow dense as a jungle and low as bushes, and if you can squeeze through the intense growth, they will snarl and snag you and trip you up and eventually become impassable.

This particular aspen canyon we walked through on an old jeep road for an archy survey was known as Quaking Aspen Canyon. It was not known as Welcome-Humans Canyon. The aspens had lost their leaves and looked dead (and still aloof), but they still had their own nature thing going on.

We intruding humans disturbed a red tailed hawk out a tree, a covey of quail, an injured hawk who was fluttering and running on the ground, and limping-crashing-flying to get away from us. Some other birds I couldn’t identify were squawking warning calls.

Plenty of bear sign in this aspen-bear playground – climbing claw marks on many of the trees and piles of poo from bear picnics. We got to a fence at the end of this old road which we crossed to try to see a little further up-canyon, but the rosebushes clawed at us, the downed aspens tripped us up, and concealed wire grabbed at us.

Time to retreat, tail between our legs, and leave this Quaking Aspen canyon to itself.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Top Ten

Monday November 13 2006

6 AM, away we go down the trail on the Git R Done 75 miler! At the start, just before dawn, just light enough to see, Gretchen on Raffiq and me on Spice hooked up with Nick on his beloved Don (aka Forever Dawn, aka Princess, aka Ned of the Desert) doing the 100 miler.

The whole ride was a flat trail, 3 25-mile loops, (the 100 milers would repeat loop 1), the biggest hill of which was about 7 feet high up and over railroad tracks. The footing – dreamy! Soft jeep roads, maybe 20 yards of rocks in the entire 100 miles. The weather – dreamy! Not too cold, high diaphanous clouds to keep the sun visible but the burning rays away.

As we cruised along at a nice steady trot, Nick reminded us that there were 11 horses in the 75 miler. “You’ll be racing each other for Top Ten so you can show for BC!” That’s Best Condition – any horse that finishes in the top ten can show for BC, and the horse with the highest score, based on vet score, weight carried and finish time, receives the award. Some might say that’s a better honor than finishing first. Which we definitely would not do – our horses just aren’t fast horses. We trot along and do our thing, and usually end up mid-pack. I think I’ve finished in the top ten twice before. This time – one of us would Top Ten if we finished!

After about a mile – we passed a 75 miler mule! Now we were 9th and 10th!

Another 10 miles went by and we passed John Parke on his little Norwegian Fjord pony – now we were in 8th and 9th! Our horses coasted easily along, seeming to enjoy this ride – soft footing, easy elevation (2600 vs 6500+), and no hard mountainous climbs! Even with our vet check and 30 minute hold out on the loop, we finished the 25 miles in 3 ½ hours.

Another hour vet check in camp and we were on our way. Debating what to wear, we looked up at the Sierras just to our west. There were darker clouds behind them, and, I’m not kidding, 3 minutes later I looked again and now there were definitely rain clouds above them. Rain in the desert!? Nick said “Oh no, it’s not going to rain down here,” and he stayed in his one layer long-sleeved Tshirt. Gretchen put a vest on over her short-sleeved Tshirt, conceding a little to the cool wind that had picked up a little. I didn’t think it would rain on us either, (I mean – rain in the desert!?), but I opted to carry an extra layer along (lessons learned from pack trip misadventures).

Spice didn’t eat as much as she usually does at the vet checks, and her poop was not firm, but it had been that way since at least yesterday, and she felt strong beneath me. On this second 25-mile loop though, she had to stop more often to poop. She’s one who has never learned to poop on the go, so while stopping was the norm, this was getting to be a bit much, and the poop sure wasn’t getting any firmer. So, was this just the way it was today, or, was something bothering her? I don’t like it when I’m worrying about a horse I’m riding.

About 3 miles out of camp it was definitely raining over the Sierra peaks, but, as usual when that happens, the rain stayed over the mountains and that darned Mojave Desert wind kicked up on the desert floor. Hmm… I think I would rather ride in rain than wind, because I HATE the wind.

It howled from our right side, so at least we weren’t going into it (yet). But of course with the wind suddenly comes a gazillion Horse-Eating Things, blowing in our path and catching on the big fence to our left, flapping alongside the road we were trotting. Ned of the Desert was up front, spooking occasionally at Horse Eaters. Being in back (having to stop to poop, then catch up), Spice wasn’t as spooky, as horses in back tend to be, since the horses in front are the ones likely to get eaten by the Horse-Eating Things.

There was one big bed-sized thin piece of flexible something-or-other up ahead to our left, about 10 feet off the road, and I saw the corner of it moving, but fortunately it wasn’t flapping. Until, of course, when we had just passed it. A perfectly timed bigger gust whipped through right then, must have lifted the Horse-Eating Thing off the ground to come attack Spice, because she braked and whipped around so fast I was hanging off her left side before I knew what was happening. I do remember thinking as I was falling off, Damn, I really hate to hit the ground, it usually hurts, and here comes the ground…I could feel it… and it was either my wrenching hard on the left rein to stop her spinning, or she just stopped herself, or it was my intense loathing of hitting the ground that stopped things, because Spice did stop moving and I was able to wrestle myself back in the saddle without kissing the ground. Whew!

We continued trotting our way south, and south, forever it seemed down this straight road, until we came to a water trough where we finally turned west toward the mountains.

And then came the really bad warning that things really were awry for Spice: her pee was brown. Not good – brown urine indicates some kind of muscle tie up. Keep going with that, it’s possible to kill a horse. That, with the runs, and the having to stop often, made me suddenly very worried, and through my head flashed the different bad scenarios I’ve been around or heard of.

A few years ago one horse we knew died the night after completing a 100 mile ride, and her only indication of something wrong was one incident in the middle of the ride of the runs – she was fine before and after that. My buddy Zayante suddenly colicked and almost died on us in the middle of a ride last year. Spice colicked suddenly in the middle of the Eastern High Sierra Classic in August.

Gretchen and I told Nick to go on without us; Gretchen walked with us for a while, and when she and Raffiq picked up a trot and Spice didn’t, that was it. I told Gretchen to go on; I’d walk Spice in and pull her from the ride. We had maybe 12 miles to go to get back to camp, but at least Spice wasn’t in distress. I got off and started the long trek back, leading her on foot. Raffiq screamed in the wind till we were out of earshot (he’s the Drama Queen); Spice neighed a few times but didn’t really mind being left behind.

After 3 or 4 miles, we got to a spot where a ride volunteer was checking numbers, and just as we arrived, our trailer-ride back to camp arrived! What service! Gretchen had requested it for us when she rode through.

Safely back in camp 10 minutes later, Spice dove into her food and ate like she should have at the last vet check; later her pee got lighter, and by evening even her poop had firmed up.

So, I was very glad Spice was going to be fine, and, I was glad we pulled… and I was a little stung with disappointment. Pulled from a ride! Every ride I do is precious, because I just don’t get that many opportunities to do them. And this, an opportunity to Top Ten (okay, so there were only 11 starters, and, at least one of these would elevate up to 100 miles, so there were at the most 10 starters) – gone. A whole ride – gone. No, the 35 miles or so we’d done didn’t count unless you finished the whole thing.

I’ll any day happily opt for not possibly killing a horse, and I never felt I made the wrong decision about pulling Spice, but, there I was, sitting in camp, feeling a little sorry for myself, while Gretchen and others were out enjoying themselves on the rest of the ride.

Well… maybe not enjoying so much. The wind was now blowin’ a wee littl’ gale (as they say in the Scottish Hebrides, when a person can no longer stand upright in the wind), and I really, really hate the wind. I moved Spice to the leeward side of the trailer (where she continued to contentedly pig out), and I sat outside bundled up in layers so I could keep an eye on her. The sand sandblasted my face and sandpapered my eyes – in ten minutes they hurt like hell and I had a headache. I chased a few things down from peoples’ trailers and anchored them down.

Nick and Ned came in for their next hour vet check then headed out on their 3rd loop. Gretchen and Raffiq came in (Raffiq screaming till he saw Spice) for their hour hold, then headed back out into the howling sandstorm.

Okay, so I was let down about having to quit, but then, I had to admit, the stinging sand and blustering gale took quite a bit of the sting out of the defeat. Have I mentioned how I HATE THE WIND??

Nick and Ned arrived just before dark for their last vet check, then headed out for their last 25 miles. Ned was looking great and his vet scores were great. Gretchen and Raffiq finished (with flying colors) about an hour later. They finished, not just in the Top Ten, but 5th!

Spice was now looking pretty fine, and Raffiq looked fine (and had fun despite the wind) after his TOP TEN FINISH, and by now I was too sandblasted and tired from being sandblasted to be so disappointed in my finishing fate.

There’s always the next ride, and Spice will be hale and hearty for it!

Saturday, November 4, 2006

Horse Trials: Heat and the Attack of the Motorcycles

Saturday November 4 2006

Dang, is it hot in Ridgecrest. Well, okay, maybe it only hit 77* this weekend, but being used to 15* mornings and maybe 40-50* days, Gretchen and I just can’t take the heat. Wimps, we are.

First thing before our ride on Saturday, we shaved Fuzzy Bear – Raffiq. We’d already taken a little hair off his neck and chest for the last ride, the High Desert in October, but that was up north where it’s pretty chilly. Next weekend’s 75 miler will be down here near Ridgecrest, where, if Gretchen and I think it’s hot, Raffiq must think it’s hot too. We can peel layers off, but he can’t. We took a lot more hair off, his neck, shoulders, belly, left a big brown pile under his feet. Anybody ever figure out what to do with all that horse hair? There must be something. Pillows? Mattress stuffing?

Spice isn’t nearly as hairy so we didn’t shave her.

We hauled the horses up to one of our favorite training trails at Brady’s, in the foothills of the Sierras. It’s the shortest hardest ride we know. Eight and a half miles of: a stiff climb up to a dirt road that meanders flat for a few miles, then another long tough climb, then a long downhill, a fun sandy glissade-able trail, then one more medium uphill climb, then down another sandy trail, and a few easy flat miles back to the base.

For the first time ever here, we ran into a few motorcyclers.

Now here, a few words about motorcyclers and 4-wheelers. Spice is afraid of motorcycles, and that is because last year on a ride, an idiot riding one almost crashed into us. We were rounding a curve on a logging road, and here came two dirt bikers. The first one immediately slowed down, and made sure the horses were okay as he slowly rolled past us, and the second one saw us, gunned his bike around the corner, hit a groove in the road, wobbled crazily and almost slid and fell right into Spice and me. She blew up (who wouldn’t have) and jumped up and twisted away from him even as I and the other riders around me were yelling curses at the asshole while I tried to stay on Spice. (He continued gunning it on down the road, never slowing down, almost getting the next two riders thrown.)

Thanks to that one mentally deficient person having intelligence in the lowest measurable range, Spice has since been afraid of motorcycles. Also since then, Spice and I have met only one other idiot, and that was a young kid who actually did stop when his elders told him to, but he didn’t wait long enough for us to pass, and he gunned his bike to a start right behind Spice (Gretchen aboard), which caused her to freak again. Everybody else we have run into has always slowed down (sometimes we wave them to slow down but usually, they automatically slow) or stopped and turned their engines off till we pass. And believe me, we will always happily give motorcycles and ATVs and dune buggies as much space as we can – they can have the trail, road, whatever they want, we will move off - they can just come up on you so fast.

Today at Brady’s, one group of about 5 passed within 20 feet of us, but we were off the road, and they slowed down, and while Spice tensed up under me, she didn’t panic or jump. (I told her she was very brave.) Then, while on the dirt road, we ran into another group coming towards us. We waved at them to slow down, while looking for a place to pull as far off the road as possible. These guys, about 8 of them, stopped and turned off their bikes and were going to sit there while we rode by. Instead, we waved them to come on, but, seeing as there were so many bikes, I jumped off Spice. Good thing, because even though they went by slowly and as quietly as possible, after about the 4th one, Spice couldn’t take anymore. She reared up a bit and jumped back, crashing into Star, who, fortunately, like Raffiq, was not bothered in the least by the bikes. I talked to Spice and petted her while she was trying to figure out an escape route, and then they were all past, and I told her how awfully brave she was for withstanding the attack of the motorbikes. Maybe, since they didn’t really attack this time, she believed me and maybe she won’t be so scared next time…

It turned out to be a lovely ride on a beautiful day (above the desert floor, it was nice and cool), but the horses sweated quite a lot.

I think we’ll be giving them both pretty good body shaves for next weekend’s 75 mile Get R’ Done ride, and come to think of it, I may be doing the same thing, because it sure feels like summer already…

Friday, November 3, 2006

Trailer Terror

Friday November 3 2006

Trailers and trailering horses always makes me nervous.

An acquaintance of ours had a terrible trailer accident with her horse about 2 weeks ago. She was about to unload him, and she didn’t get him untied before he started backing out. He hit the end of the rope, freaked, reared up, got a front leg caught in the upper part of the trailer (where the horse’s head would be looking out), snapped it in two, then was caught there for a while. I don’t know the details, don’t want to know the details, just know that it was pretty awful.

Spice used to shoot backwards out of the trailer as soon as the door was opened. We’ve always been careful to make sure the horses are untied before any doors are opened, but it still scares me. One guy at a ride saw Spice come shooting backwards out of the trailer, and told us of someone whose horse was still attached when he did that; the horse’s back leg slipped under the trailer and he broke it that way. Trailers are just dangerous even if you do have a horse that doesn’t panic. You and a horse in a small enclosed place…

Spice has gotten better about flying out, and we’ve found that if you put her in last or next to last, she isn’t in such a rush to get out. A friend who was explaining this last accident said, “That’s why it’s so important that your horse will stand in there a while until you ask him to back out.” Common sense of course, but we’ve just never done it. We started that day on working with Spice to stand in there until we ask her to come out. It’s going to take a while.

And then we come to Stormy. Yes, we all know Stormy is The Most Beautiful Horse on the Planet, but, I must come clean, he is not the most intelligent one. When we first got him in our barn on the racetrack, he came with a reputation of being a flipper in the paddock. He never flipped in the two seasons of racing that I had him, but those reputations aren’t made up.

After his racing days were over and I’d had him a while, I witnessed him pull back when tied to a trailer; he panicked and fought and pulled so hard the rope broke and he fell over backwards – luckily not on cement. I saw him another time tied in a stall at the Hunewill Ranch where he jerked back, panicked, and would have done the same thing except the stall was small enough to bump his butt, which scared him into jumping forward, which eased the pressure on his head, which removed the impulse to panic and struggle. He since learned to spend all day tied to a hitching rail when he was being used as a dude horse, but, once a pull-back always a pull-back. He can never be trusted.

He also has a few trailer issues. He will back out of a trailer, but he gets very nervous about it the closer he gets to the end, and when he feels that foot going down to the ground, he panics and throws his head up, which results in a terrific bang on top of the head on the top of the trailer. Happens every time. He panics because he knows the trailer is going to bang his head, which it does because he panics. He’s also panicky when he’s separated from other horses unless we work on this diligently – and being turned out at Hunewill Ranch with 150 horses all summer, he has not been alone at all.

So, that set up the scenario for when Gretchen and I picked him up from the Ranch to haul him down south with Spice and Raffiq. Spice and Raffiq were unloaded and tied to the trailer; we were going to put Stormy in first since he’s the heaviest. (Uh, okay, I must come clean – the fattest.)

Stormy was getting a bit wiggy, because here was a trailer, the thing that bangs his head really hard every time he gets out of one, and it meant he was going somewhere, and that is always nerve-wracking, and even though 2 horses were standing there (and he knows Raffiq), well, it was just terribly unsettling. I led him into the trailer, and slipped his rope through the metal tie loop. Something in my head said something wasn’t right, wait a minute, and, instead of standing quietly facing forward, Stormy turned his head right, which pushed his body into me into the side of the trailer (meaning he was paying absolutely no attention to me), and still my hands wouldn’t start to tie the slip knot, because this did not feel right, and I was just about to call to Gretchen to come close the trailer door, and right then, Stormy shot out the trailer backwards and 15 feet beyond.

My heart was pounding because that right there would have been a disaster – a broken leg, him crashing back into the trailer into me, the rope breaking and smacking him or me in the face, whatever - the death of him if he’d been tied. Kind of makes you feel like throwing up.

I caught Stormy, who was still nerved out, and Gretchen moved Raffiq to the other side of the trailer, where Stormy would be able to see him when he was inside. She got on the door, ready to close it behind us as soon as Stormy got in, but, now that Stormy was wigged out, he didn’t want to go back in the trailer. He’d get close, then refuse and turn his body sideways. If I swing the leadrope at his shoulder, he knows that means to move forward, which he’d do, and get his front feet in the trailer, then jerk back out in panic again. Once, twice, then the third time he went all the way in and Gretchen had the door shut right on our heels. Stormy started to back up, but bumped his butt into the side of the trailer, and he stopped. He then followed me forward, and we stood there, with me petting him, telling him Raffiq was just there outside, (he could see him), and he calmed down. I didn’t tie him up till I was sure he was calm enough. If he panicked with me in there, there was no escape route for me but the back door, which he’d be heading for.

I tied him up, then backed up to swing the compartment door shut. He started moving backwards again, but I patted his big fat butt and told him he was okay, and he stopped moving, and I swung the door shut and pinned him in there. He started moving around, and I patted his butt some more, then slipped out, and we loaded Raffiq in right away. Stormy was fine after that, except maybe for being a little claustrophobic, being so fat and all.

The trip down went smoothly, and once we got to where Stormy was going to stay, I made damn sure Spice and Raffiq and Stormy were all untied, then we unloaded Spice then Raffiq. I wasn’t going to ask Stormy to back out because he’d slam his head again, so I had to let him turn around, which he was going to do as soon as I swung his gate open. Only thing was, he’s so FAT, he almost got stuck turning around, which made him start to get scared, which was going to make him bolt once he got unstuck. Which put me in a vulnerable position, trying to hold the gate open enough for him to swing around.

Anyway, he safely made it out, and he was happily reunited with his buddy Woody from last winter.

We loaded Raffiq and Spice back up and hauled them to their place, where I made Spice stand in the trailer before letting her out. She didn’t like it, didn’t take it well, and when I let her go, she flew backwards out the trailer, which is exactly what we don’t want her to do. I loaded her right back up, which she also didn’t take well, but once in, she stood there a little longer, and didn’t fly back out quite so fast.

That’s what we’re going to be working on this winter with everybody – trailer safety. It won’t guarantee no accidents, but it can reduce at least a few of the possibilities, and (besides being common sense), will just plain reduce trailer trauma for horses and people.