Saturday, January 29, 2011


Saturday January 29 2011

Through the desert, we fly.

A sliver of fear, breathlessness on an unfamiliar horse

We are going fast.

Twisting trails at a transcendent trot

Hard hills at a careening canter.

Ducking beneath the saguaro

Twisting away from the palo verde

Desert claws reach out and tear, trading blood for skin.

Nimble horse feet dance past jumping cholla.

We fly...

the mass of muscle effortless beneath me, perfectly balanced.

Fear fades to exhilaration, breathing synchs in rhythm with horse and desert.

Winding washes at a hurtling gallop, the sand no more than a magic carpet

Munger Hill looms above - charged up at a run!

The earth churns and spatters beneath hooves. We are long gone before it settles.

We are flying


(Thank you, Redford! : )

Friday, January 28, 2011

Swim For It!

Friday January 28 2011

Maybe I've been too long out of touch with the racetrack, but on a visit to the Turf Paradise backstretch in Phoenix, I was surprised to find they had a small swimming pool for exercising the horses. (Do the bigger tracks have this now, too?) Any horse can use it during the hours that the track is open.

Some horses take to it naturally like fish to water; some have to learn to swim efficiently (when one horse first started swimming, he just kicked with his back legs, and he had to learn to use his front ones too). Some plunge right into the pool down the steep ramp; some have to be forced in even though they've done it before. (The design is not the best; the ramp entering the pool is steep, and it makes a curve, so the horse can't see around the corner to open space.)

Once they get in, though, they seem to paddle right along, though some look to be doing it more effortlessly than others.

The pool is about 30 yards long and 10 wide, and the handler walks around the edges of the pool while the horse swims along the outside edge, guided by a pole attached to their halter (and with a lead rope also attached for safety).

Depending on the horse - sprinters usually take fewer laps; stayers usually take more - a couple of laps gives them a good workout and saves the pounding on their legs. Often a horse will swim a few laps,

be led out to catch his breath, then take another few laps. I wonder how many our endurance horses could do?

I'd always wanted to gallop racehorses on the track but due to one a small detail (i.e. my terror) I couldn't do it. Perhaps I could still ride racehorses - while they are in the swimming pool!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

'Toons: Rabbit Quest Art

Wednesday January 26 2011

The Masterpiece!

The footwork behind the scenes:

Created by the feet of Owyhee

(No rabbits were harmed in the creation of this Owyhee masterpiece)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

2011 Fire Mountain

Tuesday January 25 2011

If you want to feel a little like a wimp, ride for 50 miles beside a guy in shorts and tank top when you've got 4 layers on and your hands are numb. However, he will wear extra clothing once in a while: "I'm getting older and sometimes get cold at rides so I have to wear gloves." Once in a while he might wear a sweatshirt, and there is one photo known to exist of him wearing actual jeans on a horse, though none of us have ever seen this extraoardinary phenomenon in person.

If you want to feel humbled, ride 50 miles beside one who has ridden 50,000 AERC miles. (He's second on the high mileage list.)

Riding with Hall of Fame endurance rider Dave Rabe is a bit humbling, but it's also enjoyable. It's also nice to watch his handsome white gelding move down the trail. Dave and 10-year-old White Cloud have racked up over 4500 miles together, in just 3 seasons of endurance riding. "He's a nice horse. He's been very sound."

But it wasn't always easy riding White Cloud. The horse had been dropped off at an animal sanctuary 4 years ago, and when the woman there tried riding him, he dumped her. She gave the horse to Dave. It took Dave a few times of getting run away with and dumped before he figured White Cloud out. It's usually when he mounts White Cloud that he bolts and runs. "Last time he dumped me at a ride was Death Valley over a year ago...." Amazing what wet saddle blankets can do for a horse that nobody else could ride, although White Cloud still has that bolting trigger inside him.

Dave is known for riding difficult horses and turning them into good competitors. Dave made the AERC Hall of Fame in 2009, and when accepting his award, he said, "I suppose I really like a horse that bucks and runs away with me. That’s why people give me their horses.” Dave is also known for going out of his way to help at rides. He'll arrive at a ride a few days early to mark trail, and he'll stay afterward to unmark trail. If you need any help applying easyboot glue-ons or gloves, or fixing your tack, or repairing your truck or trailer, he'll do that before a ride, or during a ride when most of the rest of us are sitting down to eat lunch.

Gretchen and I rode her two horses Spice and Kav with Dave and White Cloud on the 32nd annual Fire Mountain ride. We survived attack jackrabbits (just ask Kav and White Cloud about those), and

a jeep with a dubious driver in Nazi Canyon. (For some reason, the driver had decided to attempt to drive over a 4 foot high boulder. It didn't work.)

The Fire Mountain ride was almost called off the week before due to low entries. When 38 signed up, the ride was declared on; ultimately about 75 riders took off into the desert sunrise on Saturday morning, the boulders and cholla glowing golden and our long shadows stretching toward the pink Sierra Nevada mountains.

The Farthest Traveler Award went to Amada Rayner from West Australia. She and her husband Jared were coming to the US on vacation and she wondered if she might fit in an endurance ride. Finding the Fire Mountain ride on the schedule, she contacted ride manager Sue Benson, who put her in touch with local Jackie Bumgardner, who offered her home-bred Fire Mt Odyssey to ride. Amanda was all smiles during and after the ride - Amanda's first US endurance ride and completion. Amanda is not the first foreigner to be carried to a finish by Fire Mt Odyssey. The 14-year-old mare carried Japanese ride Hiromi KItake to a Tevis finish in 2007.

Often this ride is done in near-gale force winds, but Saturday had only the slightest pleasant breeze with temperatures in the mid-70's - unless you hit that long climb on Loop 3 around 2 PM. Then you were wishing for some of the "W" word. Not a single puff of air disturbed the sun beating down on our winter-coated horses on that sheltered climb. By the time we got to the top of the hill, the horses thought they'd died and crawled through Death Valley in the middle of summer. The water trough was almost empty at the bottom of the hill, but since we could see Mike Montgomery coming with a refill in the water truck, we used the rest of it in the tank to douse our hot horses. We let them rest and eat hay a while to recover there; and at the same time, a nice cloud cover took over the sky, enough to make me pull my sleeves down and for Dave Rabe to put his tank top back on his bare back (though he said "It's so I don't sunburn.")

The Fire Mountain ride isn't an easy one - we finished in about 8 hours, and we had moved along all day. We measured exactly 50 miles on our GPS, and each loop had some fair climbing up into the Rademacher hills, and our horses all had minimal winter clips. But all the loops had great footing, awesome views - and great company.

Next time you're doing a ride out West, try tagging along with a Hall of Famer. You might feel a little insignificant... but if Dave Rabe's the Hall of Famer, you'll be glad you did.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Farewell: Sierra Fadrazal +/

Monday January 24 2011

There's one less set of hoofprints on the endurance trails.

Jackie Bumgardner's horse Sierra Fadrazal+/ , aka Ross, was put down Friday at home in Ridgecrest, California at 33 years of age. Jackie bought him as a youngster shortly after buying his sire Sierra Fadwah (who lived to 31 years of age); and Ross and Jackie spent more than 20 years on the endurance trails together.

He carried 24 different riders over his career, and was always eager to go down the trail. His ears would prick forward, his head would go up in the air and his long legs would fly into overdrive as he ate up the miles.

Never lame, his record speaks volumes: 8430 AERC miles, 145 starts and 145 finishes, 14 hundred mile finishes, including 4 consecutive Tevis buckles (1985-6-7-8) and three straight Virginia City buckles (1985-6-7), 9 Best Condition awards.

He completed his last 50 mile ride in 2002, but he continued to carry riders on LDs until his last one in 2005 on his home summer turf of Bridgeport, California in Jackie's Eastern High Sierra Classic ride. After that, he continued his work as 'Uncle Ross', breaking new horses to the trails by ponying them. Most memorably, he was Zayante's best friend since 1995 - the two of them were inseparable for 16 years.

I saw Ross the week before he died. We'd spent a lot of training miles together, summers in Bridgeport, winters in Ridgecrest. Ross stopped eating to come up to me. He sniffed and sniffed my hands, Hi, my old friend, and he stood there while I scratched his back and sides, and he lifted his neck so I could scratch beneath it.

He left for the next world on Friday.

Goodbye, my Old Friend.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Wednesday January 19 2011

If you want a good workout in the Ridgecrest desert for your endurance horses, you haul to Brady's. The trails are no-nonsense, as they go right up and into the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas.

If you do the short loop, your horse has a mile-long climb up to the water pipeline road (water for Los Angeles that comes from Owens Valley), which gets steeper toward the end. He gets a little breather before he has another mile-long hard climb up, before descending back to the valley. (If you do the long version, he has the mile climb, then a couple of miles of flat road,

then a 1 1/2 mile very steep climb up before descending a steep trail down to this second mile-long climb.) We did the short loop today.

The views of the Ridgecrest basin get broader as you climb, and the views of the Sierras grow even as you ascend towards them.

With their wooly coats, Kav and Spice and Raffiq were coated with sweat. As were we three girls. And that was just at a walk. Even when it was a mild 71*. If your horse is really really fit, as in Tevis-fit, he might trot some of these trails; but today, with the horses' winter coats, they didn't need to trot to get the full-on super workout.

When your horse's eyebrows are sweating, you know they are working hard. It should be 10* cooler for next weekend's Fire Mountain ride, and we'll shave some of their thick hair off.

If you can't appreciate what your endurance horses willingly do, you probably shouldn't be riding them. I could feel every muscle working beneath me as Kav dug his toes in the sand in his efforts to get to the top of these little mountains. I heard his huffing and puffing, and I rubbed his sweaty neck. And he was done with one hill, I pointed him toward the next, and up he went.

It was a good day's work on our amazing mounts.