Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Good Feather Week

Tuesday August 26 2008

I'd thought birds molted their feathers more in the spring, but that's not true for most species. The spring is when they need their energy for breeding, nesting, and raising babies. It would make more sense to conserve the extra energy involved in molting till the late summer and fall, when those hard chores are done.

Which is probably why I've had a good feather week: red-tailed hawk (found by Jose), long-eared owl, magpie wing and tail feathers, ring-necked pheasant (! - I thought it was a snake at first and I jumped away from it), kestrel tail and wing feathers (wing feather found by Quickie), nighthawk (found by Steph). Treasures!

Karen S and Gil hauled over to ride the other day with me and Jose, and she clued me in on the mostly late summer-fall molting. And as is the karmic bird wont of Bird Biologist Karen when she comes here, we saw a pair of eagles. I don't think we've ever NOT seen eagles when she comes.

I also gave the dogs the slip the other day and hiked up the creek to visit the long-eared owl roost. Without all the general chaos of 4 heavily panting mouths and 16 feet crashing through brush - just me creeping slowly and quietly along - I spotted one of the owls hiding deep in a shady, cool cottonwood. There were probably more (I've flushed at least 4 before), but I just sat and watched this one for a while, and he watched me, not looking too concerned.

Then I said thanks to my lucky owl stars and slipped away, leaving him in peace, picking up a little long-eared owl feather on the way out.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Endurance Roundtable

Friday August 22 2008

I had a friend once who, when I enthusiastically said I was going to do my first 50-mile endurance ride, said, quite derogatorily, "WHY?"

Rather taken aback at first (I mean - who WOULDN'T like to ride for 50 miles?!), I replied, "Well, you know how you like to go on a little trail ride, well, I can go on a little trail ride - for 50 miles! It's fun!" But she was never convinced. Personally, I think her kind of riding is boring (or maybe she's boring?). I think cross-country riders are insane. I think dressage is dreadfully tedious (and of course I'm dreadful at it). I think endurance riders are quite normal (especially those who ride with broken bones, too soon after surgery, when they can't even walk, etc). Of course those are just my opinions, and of course they are right.

Sometimes you wonder exactly what your horses think of this sport we've picked for them. (Well, sometimes we actually do have a good idea what they think of it...)

I posed the question to the horses at the Teeter Rancho:

"So... what do you guys/gals think of endurance?"

Here's what they said.

STORMY (Thoroughbred, retired racehorse - 3 wins and 4 seconds and $45,000, pack horse string leader, Dude Ranch Wrangler horse, Big Eater): 50 miles - are you guys crazy? I can run 6 furlongs in 1:09 and change but 50 miles? No way. I'd die after 5 miles. Although now that I'm not quite in my slim fit racehorse shape I'd die after 2 miles. Because I'd get so wigged out at all the horses I'd have to race past and beat. You guys are nuts.

PHINNEAS (1 LD, 3 50's): I don't know, I kind of like it, because I look gorgeous for 50 miles! (Or 60 miles if my rider misses the ribbons).

QUICKIE (11 seasons, 2150 miles, 45 for 47, 1 baby - Dudley): Been there done that. I don't want to have any more babies, dudley broke the mold. I don't want to do any more endurance rides, I just want to stay home and hang out with Rhett and Jose and eat.

DUDLEY (one 50): I was Fat, and everything was fine. Then I lost weight and I did a 50 and my feet hurt afterwards. I'm going to be a dressage horse and win a Gold Medal in the Olympics. Or maybe be a Performance Artist or Comedian or a Great Houdini Escape Artist. I can already do many funny things and I can escape from anywhere.

RHETT (11 seasons, 3365 miles, 4 wins, 4 BCs, 9 100's, 62 for 68): Like it? I guess so, because it's easy and I'll beat all of you.

JOSE (2 seasons, 7 for 7): Wherever Rhett goes I go whatever Rhett does I do.

PRINCESS: Endurance? I am a Princess and I think I am Pregnant.

KAZAM: (AKA The Great Orange Pumpkin): My belly is too big right now to even imagine it.

DIEGO: Endurance? Work? I just want to look cute and get kisses and I sure don't have to wear a saddle to do that.

RUSHCREEK MAC (2 for 2 LDs): Where are the cows??


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Freakin Handsome (by Stormy)

Wednesday August 20 2008

What can I say? You get told that you're sooo Handsome all day every day, you don't know any other way. Mom says I make Owyhee County look good, and it looks pretty dang nice already. But I don't let it go to my head or anything, it's just what I am. The other horses were all jealous at first, but they are finally getting used to my gorgeousness.

Now while I am one especially good looking Thoroughbred ex-racehorse from the side, I do have to admit that my Mom avoids looking at me from the front and the back. My belly kind of bulges out and it kind of swings back and forth, bloop, bloop, as I waddle around. Someone around here mistakenly said that I was so fat I looked like I was a pregnant broodmare. But I am not FAT. Fat is what Dudley was last winter, so I heard. I was quite paunchy (okay, like a pregnant broodmare) a few summers ago, check out this picture! Mom was pretty appalled then, but I was pretty proud because I worked hard to get that way. You just never know when the world will run out of grass or hay, right? So it pays to stock up. Besides, a 17-year-old is entitled to a little spare tractor tire, right? And it just makes me more horse to love.

But it's just my belly that sags outwards a wee bit, (and only when you look at me head or butt-on)(see me now in my fly mask) and I've been working out daily to start toning it up. As you heard before, I am now busy with many jobs: the Oreana Bookmobile, the local Postman, the Building Inspector. I'm also the Trails Assessor and the Dog Walker. It's my important job to make sure the trails are all still in place around here. And sure, Mom takes all the dogs out for a walk in the evenings, but I take Spigot out for a special extra walk during the day. (Psst - I also still work hard at Eating Hay when I can get to it - but don't tell anybody about that job.) So not only am I a Good Lookin horse, I am a hard working Good Lookin horse.

In my life since I was a racehorse and my mom was my groom, I've heard it all: Drop Dead Gorgeous, Freaking Handsome, Stormy Stud Muffin, The Most Beautiful Horse on the Planet... and I accept it graciously. You be the judge. Am I all of those things or what?

Friday, August 15, 2008


Thursday August 14 2008

One gooood-lookin' Handyman has moved into the neighborhood. Actually he's been living here since March, but he just started picking up some odd jobs along Bates Creek.

He wears many hats: he is, so far, the Oreana Bookmobile, the Building Inspector, and the Local Mailman.

Need "Winterdance - The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod", one of my Top Ten Books Ever, delivered to a neighbor? Stormy is the Oreana Bookmobile.

Need to check up on the progress of the buildings on Connie's new property? Stormy is the Building Inspector.

Need to drop off a letter at a neighbor's so they can take it to the post office on their way into town? Stormy is the Local Macro Mailman.

And you know how, when the UPS man drives up into your driveway and the dogs run out to bark at and/or greet him, and the UPS man gives them all treats (so they don't bite him)? Well, Stormy expects YOU to run out and greet HIM with treats, not because he'll bite, but because he just did you a delivery favor and because he's just soooooo good lookin'.

He's pretty pleased with himself and his important new jobs. Especially when there's a bucket of carrots waiting for him when he gets home and gets off work.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Heck Outta Dodge

Wednesday August 13 2008

I love riding in our Owyhee back yard, which stretches all the way to Nevada and, heck, probably to Mexico and Canada if you know where all the fence gates are, but it's great to cover new trails too.

This was still in our back yard - just 18 miles down the road by diesel truck and trailer, (10.57 miles as the Raven flies) to the top of Bachman Grade. We could have ridden there, and Steph's rides have gone there before; but Rick's horse Surri is still young (four) and isn't in condition to do long or hard rides yet, and it's good experience getting the horse used to loading up to go ride, and riding over new territory - and we all wanted a change of scenery.

We left in the morning so it would be cooler - and we'd be higher, 5900' instead of 3200', in a juniper forest in the lower hills of the Silver City range of the Owyhee Mountains.

We followed an old road to the south, up and up with a view over the Jordan Valley and more layers of Owyhee Mountains to the west, and the Oreana valley to the east. Much of the ground was littered with small natural obsidian (no flakes, no worked pieces), and we threaded through some big rocky outcroppings. Jose loved the very tasty lupines, and he really does like to stop and look at the scenery. (Or... is he looking over his shoulder for cougars?)

The horses got some hill climbing in, and we all had a nice hour and a half ride - a picturesque alternative to the high desert.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Jumping And Dumping

Friday August 8 2008


This heat wave on the Eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains was thankfully replaced with days of dark clouds, thunderstorms, scattered showers, and heavy foggy mist - and, the temperature dropped 20 degrees (hooray!!).

Bobbi Richine and I postponed riding on Thursday for the weather, and Friday at noon we decided to give it a go.

I'd visited her and ridden with her a few years ago at her place near Larkspur, but she'd since moved to another fabulous place in the mountains outside Woodland Park. She's nestled on 34 acres up against thousands of acres of Forest Service land, pine- and fir-forested Rocky Mountains, at 8400 feet. I asked her how she ever discovered this place: "I looked all over the United States before I found it!" It was a big fixer upper, but now it's fixed up, and a little slice of heaven.

Bobbi used to own Rocky Mountain Training Center, and had dozens of endurance horses coming and going for sale at any one time. She also had a bed and breakfast. She's done with all that, (for now, anyway...), and while she still sells a few horses here and there, she has about 5 right now.

Three horses were waiting to be saddled as I drove up; 14-year-old Sophie was riding with us. Bobbi had recruited her from the dressage and jumping world to endurance. Sophie had competed a bit in the ring, but it wasn't really her cup o' tea... "Everything had to be perfect. You had to do this perfectly, you had to sit this way perfectly, you had to wear this, you had to do that." Which is precisely one reason why I wouldn't even be allowed in a show ring. The other reason is, I'd have to ride with my Raven, and I expect I'd get a few points deducted for that. Not that I'd have any ring skills in the first place.

Anyway, Sophie just started endurance riding with Bobbi less than a year ago, and she loves it. She sure looked at home on the forest trails. And superb trails they were - soft two track, or single-track trails, winding around through the forest, very few rocks underfoot, with some great hill training. My mount (and the Raven's - residing in the saddle bag) Catnap was really huffing and puffing up the hills and sweating. It was a cool day though still and muggy - with dark clouds all about, and you know what muggy and still can mean in the mountains on a summer afternoon.

I was quite happy to be going out for a ride with someone who said she had no desire to ride in a lightning storm, either. These were two riders I knew wouldn't lie to me when I asked, "Was that thunder?" (Since I can't hear it until it's much too close.) Bobbi decided that, since the clouds did look ominous all around, we'd do the shorter 7 mile loop and see how the weather held.

We trotted along the trails, gaily zipping through the cool and quiet forest for a couple of miles, when we came to a fork in the trail, and Bobbi said... "Uh oh."

I could tell by the tone in her voice that the Uh Oh had nothing to do with horses or trails or wild animals. "What!" I asked. "Thunder?"

"Yes!" OK, so we took the trail that led toward home, and even then I could hear a rumble of thunder, which meant that it was pretty close. I wasn't nervous yet, until Bobbi said, "We can go up onto this ridge where we'll have a view of Pikes Peak." A view - great - on a ridge in a thunderstorm... uh oh...

Thankfully the thunder, which I could clearly hear now, appeared to be over the ridge to our right (nevermind the fact that lightning can strike 9 miles away from the cloud), and I wasn't seeing any flashes, though the clouds dead ahead, as we climbed, were DARK. And we still had a ways to climb...

We hit a warp trot, and, suddenly, there's a log over the trail - log! Wait! I recalled something about "Catnap likes to jump" being said before I got on, which made me think I'd just go around any logs, since I don't jump, and suddenly, here comes a log, but wait! I don't know how to jump, but then it was over before I could say anything (and I should mention, this was about a foot high, though Catnap leaped though it was 3 feet high), and we landed galloping after the other two, wheeeee! and for the next 50 yards I forgot about being afraid of lightning.

We finally reached the top of the ridge, where we got off to lead the horses down. (Down, yay! ... though lightning doesn't always strike the highest points, it's still a mental relief to lose altitude). We still hadn't seen lightning, and in fact, the thunder had died off too. We stopped for a few pictures in a little meadow with Pikes Peak in the background, then we mounted up, just when raindrops started to fall. Bobbi and Sophie put on raincoats, then we continued zipping along the trails, with go-go little Catnap in front - with "two more jumps coming!" Bobbi yelled behind me.

AHHH! OK the first one was 10 inches high, which Catnap trotted over, and the next one was a big whole 16 inch jump, which we were flying at and we leaped over - really, I have no idea how to sit these things, so I just didn't worry about it - and we landed and kept cruising right along.

And quickly, we were back at the home gate, with the rain already coming to a stop. Almost a shame to be done already, but, we'd lucked out with the storm, and it was probably for the best, since it was still heavily overcast.

Catnap and I closed the gate, and our horses walked the last bit of downhill. Just as the road flattened out, there was a big rumble of thunder ("OK, I heard THAT!") which ended with a loud CRACK. "I saw two lightning bolts," offered Sophie, and Bobbie said, "Well let's just get moving!"

As soon as we picked up a trot, the raindrops started falling again, and, escorted by another loud crack of thunder, we whipped around the corner and up the little hill to the tack shed. Just as we jumped off it started raining in earnest. We quickly pulled the saddles, and jumped under the little roof shelter just as the heavens opened up, and it DUMPED rain. Like a monsoon, it poured in buckets and sheets and it beat on the roof like a thousand drums.

We turned the two mares loose (and fed the gelding, who didn't care about the rain, as long as he had grain to eat), one of whom crowded with us under the roof. A bright lightning flash brought a loud crack that made us all jump, humans and horses. And it just kept dumping, 15 minutes of momentous unadulterated rain. And it was a cold rain - without a raincoat, I'd have been quickly soaked and very chilled. (Reminded me of another thunder/lightning/hailstorm I'd been caught in unprepared in the Sierras, with 3 horses...)

Finally the rain let up a bit, and we ran to the house, where Bobbi whipped up some coffee and tea, and we watched from indoors as it dumped another unbelievable monsoon drenching of rain.

When I left later, the sun had come out briefly, darkening the deep blue storm clouds to the east, and making sparkling the surrounding crisp cleansed forest - the forest smells so perfect after a rain.

I inhaled and inhaled till I got a mountain high, to hold onto that aroma till the next time I'm back home in a forest.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Wildlife Smorgasbord

Monday August 4 2008

Ooooh - good wildlife karma!

The first evening I drive up to my family's house up in the hills above "The Springs," I'm thinking, "Maybe I'll see a bear tonight!" (But I always say that - "Maybe I'll see a bear/cougar tonight!") They see a handful of bears every year wandering through their neighborhood. Always plenty of bunnies and deer, the occasional coyote. But they hadn't seen any bears this year yet, and, I haven't seen any for 2 years.

I pull into the driveway, honk my horn, Matt comes out, I get out of my car, and Matt says, "There's a bear," pointing behind me.

I think he's kidding, but I turn and look and see a bear. But surely that couldn't be - it had to be just a bear statue... and then it starts moving towards us. Ohmigodabear! We stand still and watch as it ambles casually towards us, in no hurry, not looking for anything in particular. I reach in my car and pull out my little camera which is, luckily, handy. It isn't the biggest black bear I've seen, but it is at least a 3-year-old, I'd guess.

The bear strolls closer, and closer - Matt watches from the steps, and I watch from beside the car - will he come in the driveway? He turns just before the driveway and drops in the little trees below it; I move closer to watch him. Bears can't see well, and the wind is in my favor so he can't smell me; he pauses and looks my direction, but doesn't see any more movement, and isn't concerned, so he strolls onward past the house.

Everybody in the house had been watching from the porch; we all run through the house and to the back porch and quietly watch him from there, as he ambles on through the brush and trees, to the neighbor's house, and around and onward.

It was everybody's first bear of the year!

The next evening we're all sitting out in the driveway, and I see some movement at the same neighbor's. "Oh, look, a coyote!" I'd gotten only a glimpse of it, more just the movement. Nancy says, "Do you guys have bobcats around here?" I leap up - "A bobcat!" and run down the driveway, into the street, and around the corner...

And there it is, a young bobcat, walking down the road, not bothered by me (or Matt, who'd run after me). We slow to a walk, and track a ways behind him as he angles off the road, into the brush, and sidehills up a hill till he is out of sight.

That was my first bobcat sighting in maybe 8 years!

And next day, 3 hawks were making an awful lot of screeching noise in the nearby pine tree-tops. I saw one with a red tail (therefore, a red-tailed hawk) but wasn't positively sure what the others were, as I didn't see any red tails.

Same thing again today, I heard one screeching loudly, plaintively, very close; I went out on the back porch, and there he was, almost close enough to spit on. He didn't fly off when he saw me; I ran inside, grabbed my camera and returned. I got several photos, then Matt and Barb joined me on the porch, and he still sat on the tree top, screeching away. He finally spread his wings to fly - and he flew right at and over us odd behavior for a hawk not defending a nest. He was a red-tailed hawk though his tail wasn't red; therefore it was a female or juvenile.

He flew out of sight but later he came back - with 2 more hawks. One definitely had the red tail - the adult male - and the same one was still screeching away (it was likely the same one - same calling, same pitch in the voice). My conclusion: the screeching one was this year's juvenile of the two adults; he flew right at and over us - something I've never seen an adult hawk do other than a goshawk defending a nest - because he didn't know any better, and, he was still begging for food from his parents. The parents probably weren't feeding him anymore (unless he really got on their nerves), but they were following him around and keeping an eye on him.

Any biologist's input is welcome ...

He was back around the house toward evening, still screeching plaintively, and I was again able to get close to him for pictures - within 20 feet of him and I could have gotten closer. He probably went hungry tonight, though there are plenty of bunnies everywhere... I bet we see him again tomorrow.

And tomorrow, "Maybe I'll see a cougar!"

Colorado Dreamin'

Wed-Thurs July 30-31 2008

It's a sort of working vacation - I'm in Parker Colorado to cover the 75-mile Young Rider Endurance Ride (a championship ride in the making - maybe next year) with 10 Young Endurance Riders (all happen to be girls), then after that, a week with relatives in Colorado Springs.

And maybe some riding ...

At the ride I ran into Bobbi R, an endurance riding horse trainer/trader in the area. I visited her gorgeous place in Larkspur and rode with her a few years ago. Now she's near Woodland Park, and she invited me to come ride with her one day.

Of course I brought my helmet and chaps and the Raven : )

Here are some photos from the Endurance Ride:

More stories and photos at: