Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Keeper of Souls

Tuesday February 26 2013

The white floor of the narrow valley glows ghostly white from the full moon hidden behind the clouds. Snow sifts lightly to the earth, powdering the pines needles, dusting my feet like the forest floor, caressing my hair, brushing my upturned face gently before leaving its cold kiss. The snowflakes are as a mist on the distant luminescent hills.

I sharpen my ears and summon an archaic language and call into the night. The sound reflects off the side mountain, echoes down the valley, rolling through the peculiar muffled silence of falling snow. And in the fold of forest between the hills, a barred owl answers, first distant, then closer:

Who who who-who who-who-who whoooooo.

We converse a while, he and I, his eerie sonorous articulations bearing the gift of contact with another world we seldom get to share.

He is a seer of souls: perhaps he is guarding the spirits of the dead who have tramped these forests and mountains. Perhaps he is hinting at the sacred knowledge he keeps.

Perhaps we are sharing consciousness, an unenlightened, unworldly human and an otherworldly, wise owl, ruler of the night.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Snow Earth Sky

Monday February 25 2013

A maelstrom of snow, earth, sky forges winter art in an Owyhee sunset.

A taste of photography by The Equestrian Vagabond!


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

2013 AERC National Championship Trails Preview

Wednesday February 20 2013

Steph is putting on the 2013 AERC National Endurance Championship at City of Rocks National Reserve, same place as the City of Rocks Pioneer Trails multi-day ride (which will be in August of this year). The 50 mile championship is on September 20 and the 100 mile championship is September 22.

Jose and I are scheduled to ride in the 50!

Here's a video preview of the trails to tempt you!

(or link)

Saturday, February 16, 2013


Saturday February 16 2013

What goes through his head, I always wonder, when Jose stops on the top of a hill, and looks, and looks. He's not nervous or anxious, like some horses who stop to look at things and who will react: fight or flight.

Jose is looking. He's thinking. I see the minute muscles over his nostrils quivering, spinning, absorbing, his ears swiveling back and forth picking up sounds of birds, wind, distant cows. I can feel the cogs turning in his brain, and the feelings swirling in his soul.

And he doesn't just look at scenery, he appreciates it. He'll stand for 5 minutes on a hill or a ridge and look, study, absorb and think.

I love this horse.

Gawd, I just love this horse.


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Luna: The Long Walk

Monday February 11 2013

Back in my teens, I worked on the King Ranch in south Texas. One of their methods of halter breaking weanlings was simple and took a minimum of human hours, which was a good thing, because they had a big crop of babies every year. Once the humans got a halter on the baby the first time (which wasn't always simple), they tied the weanling's halter to a donkey's halter and turned them out in a pasture.

From then on, wherever the donkey went, so did the weanling. If the donkey wanted to get a drink, the little horse went to get a drink with him. If the little horse wanted a drink later, it was too bad if the donkey wasn't thirsty. If the donkey wanted to trot to the far end of the pasture, the little horse trotted to the far end of the pasture with him. If the donkey turned his head to the right, the little horse turned his head to the right with him. Didn't take long to halter break those babies, because donkeys don't take no for an answer. They don't even realize the little horse is saying no. Those weanlings came off those donkeys right proper halter broke.

Right now, 8-month-old baby Luna is at that age… think Terrible Twos. Smart-ass. Little Miss Attitude. Thinks she knows everything. Thinks she's in charge.

She has no qualms about badgering the older horses in the pasture,

and a couple of times she's come at me with ears pinned, until I acted like a irritated dominant horse and charged her and scared her.

It was a good time to remind Luna about her earlier halter breaking and respect lessons; and short of borrowing a donkey, I got out the halter and lead rope, and enticed her and mom Perry and another horse in the front pen with some hay.

Day 1: Luna politely let me put her halter on. I clipped the lead rope to the halter and let it drag on the ground. After walking around and stepping on the rope a couple of times, Luna remembered to stop when she felt the pull on her head. She doesn't panic like some horses do when they feel sudden head pressure. After a couple of hours, I used the lead rope to lead and turn her - follow the pressure of the rope, turning left, turning right, backing up. 

Day 2: This time Little Miss Smart-Ass Pants had a little halter tantrum. Luna stood there while I slipped the halter over her nose, but then suddenly decided she did not want to wear the halter today. She backed up and wheeled away before I could tie it. I had no shot in holding onto her, and it would have been dangerous to try, as she kicks with her hind legs when she's feeling saucy. She's only 8 months old, but she could still inflict some damage.

So, she got the Big Naughty Horse treatment: You want to run away from me? OK, you're going to run away from me, and you're going to keep running until I say stop, and it's going to be long, long, far, far beyond your naughtiest, wildest running imaginations.

Luna thought she was Boss for the first 3 minutes, racing around me with her nose up in the air, tail up in the air, giving me the horse finger.

I began following the little monster around. At first she thought it was the You Can Chase Me But You Can't Catch Me game, but it was really the I'm Driving You game. Around and around she ran as I walked steadily after her, only running at her if she tried to stop, or if she dropped her head trying to get a bite of hay when she passed it.

Luna's running quickly disintegrated to a trot after she decided it wasn't so fun anymore, then a walk, then, as it went on, a weary walk. I simply kept putting pressure on her to move forward by walking steadily towards her, and tossing the rope at her if she tried to stop. At first Mom ran around too with Luna, but then she quickly realized I was not after her, so she went to eating hay and ignoring me and her naughty child, while Luna walked and walked and walked. Batman totally ignored everything but the hay. He even pinned his ears and snapped at Luna when she got too close to him. He wasn't going to help her out!

I kept giving Luna chances to stop walking and face me, or stop and let me get closer, by changing my language: saying "Whoa" and stopping the pressure I was putting on her by standing still. But nope, she wouldn't do it; and so she kept walking, around and around and around, almost unto (she thought) exhaustion. Think Stephen King's The Long Walk.

Luna was so tired she tried to lay down in the middle of walking, and once her eyes closed while walking, but no, I did not feel sorry for the little sh*t, and no, she was not going to win this battle. I had all day to walk. It was her choice to keep walking, or to stop when i asked.

After about 45 minutes, finally her armor cracked. When I asked her once again to stop, Luna stopped walking and faced me, stood there huffing and puffing, and let me walk up to her. I rewarded her by letting her stand and catch her breath while I scratched her itchy sweaty neck and body and belly. Then I put the halter on while she continued to stand there quietly, and then I scratched her some more.

I walked away and then approached her again, and Luna started walking, then trotting away, so I drove her around a couple more rounds, then she was like - OK, I give, I think I learned my lesson, turning to face me when I asked her to, and waiting quietly while I walked up and petted her.

The next time I walked away and approached, she stood there.

Day 3: I put Luna and mom Perry and Batman in the pen, and I approached Luna with her halter and lead rope. She started backing away, but stopped when I started rubbing her back. I raised the halter and she stepped away… but stopped when I scratched her neck. I slipped the halter over her nose while continuing to scratch her, and she stood there. I scratched her some more then immediately walked away and let her alone. I approached her several times during the day and she didn't step away; I turned her around with her lead rope both directions each time, then walked away and left her alone.

At the end of the day's lesson, when I took off her halter and she remained standing quietly, I scratched her all over and gave her a horse treat.

Day 4: In the pen, Luna stood quietly for her haltering, even reaching over to put her nose in it, and she did everything I asked when I moved her around with the lead rope.

She got a treat at the end of the day's lesson.

Every day now, she sticks her nose in the halter, and waits to see what I'm going to ask her to do. I think she's got it all again.

However. I do entertain a fantasy of tying Luna to big old Krusty, and watching the old man drag her around everywhere. Is that bad?

Saturday, February 9, 2013

What To Do on A Cold Windy Day

Saturday February 9 2013

If it's a bone-chilling cold howly-wind winter day like today, you bundle up well, and carry an old holey tarp out to the horse herd, who's spent half the day spooking from Horse Eating Wind Monsters, a day I wouldn't for any reward take my chances riding a horse in this wind.

I knew some of them wouldn't be bothered - Stormy, Jose, Mac, and Finneas, each of whom I've been mounted on, ridden up to a tarp hanging on the fence, picked it up, and passed it over their necks and butts to the other side, dragged it around off their sides, and tossed the tarp back on the fence. (Don't try this at home with just anybody!)

But what would the rest of them do, including baby Luna, who gets jumpy when I gently swing a small noise-less rope around her body…?

I thought for sure there would be a few rodeos… but the horses all came up to the flapping tarp to check it out like bees to honey, led by Luna!

Jose's reaction didn't surprise me - he cared less that the tarp was there, flapping in the gusts.

You can see that while the ex-cow horse Mac is afraid of cows, he's not afraid of a potentially scary Horse-Eating Monster Tarp, even when it blows up and wraps around his face.

I was surprised the rest of the herd was just as brave as Luna.

Luna wasn't scared at all. In fact, she pinned the tarp down right away and had her way with it!

Even when the wind whipped it up off the ground and it suddenly cuddled Luna with its crackly embrace,

she wasn't scared and she stood there till Smokey spooked and took off, taking the herd with her.

I followed the herd, then led the horses further into the pasture, dragging the flapping tarp behind me, with the horses again following the tarp with interest,

and Luna was the first to eagerly approach again.

She gave the tarp what for again, showing it who was boss,

and who not to mess with on a cold and windy day in Owyhee.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Owyhee Deputized

Wednesday February 6 2013

I am no cowgirl, and I hadn't planned on herding cattle today. I daresay it wasn't on Jose's calendar either. But when the 2 young heifers showed up in our back yard, and wouldn't take "SHOO!" for an answer, and Jose was standing right at the fence looking at them, I thought… 'what if?'

What if I just grabbed Jose and threw a saddle on him, and we tried herding the heifers down the road? Jose's helped move cattle out of our canyon with other horses, and he's plenty brave, but… moving cows by himself?

I grabbed Jose and threw a saddle on him, and we took aim on those heifers.

I figured they belonged up on the north rim with the other black cows turned out up there and roaming all the way up to the highway, but all I really planned to do was get them started down the road away from here, and if they turned into any of the neighbor's driveways, well… I'd say "Oops!" and Jose and I would turn around and come home, and the neighbors could Have a Cow (or two). So I admit up front we didn't start out with the best of intentions.

Along with Girlie the cow dog, who hasn't herded cows, but has some instinct for them, we  successfully pushed the 2 heifers out our driveway, and successfully turned them down the road to the right, instead of up the road to the left.

Jose was interested in the fact that the black cow butts kept a constant distance between us, no matter our speed. If we walked, they walked. If we started trotting, they started trotting.

When the heifers by-passed the first neighbor's driveway, and I didn't have to say, "oops!" and turn around, we kept pushing them on down the road. And the cows passed the next neighbor's driveway without turning into it and I didn't have to say "oops!" and turn around, and we kept pushing them on down the road.

An idea formed in my head. Another half mile down the road and back up a draw was a small gate (aka Carol's gate) that led on up that draw and eventually up onto the north flats - where the other cows were.

What if Jose and I could just take the cows up there and turn them back in with the herd, instead of just leaving them further down the road and someone else's problem?

When the cows came close to the next neighbor's driveway and started drifting in that direction, Jose and I drifted off the road a bit on the driveway side, successfully edging the cows away from the driveway. They continued on down the road.

Heck, we were getting the hang of this. At the next driveway, the cows started to turn into it, but Jose and I angled off the road into the driveway and pushed them back up onto the road, and on down it they continued.

Well now. Since we were so good at this, and were now obviously official deputized Owyhee Cowgirl, Cow Horse and Cow Dog, there was no question that we had to continue our mission and return the heifers to the proper grazing allotment. 

The trick would be the next turn in the road, which hair-pinned to the right. We needed the cows to go left, and walk up the draw a ways and hang out there a while, while we raced around them to open Carol's gate up ahead, and raced back around them before they decided to leave, and then push them on up the draw and through the little gate.

Well. Now that we were experts and all, it was too easy!

We skillfully turned them off the hairpin road to the left, and after pushing them partway up the draw we let them stop a minute;

then we cantered a wide circle around and ahead of them up to Carol's gate, propped it open, then cantered wide around to the back of the cows, and started pushing them on up the draw toward the gate.

Those obliging heifers walked right on through,

and Jose watched them out of sight as we closed the gate on them.

Of course, I'll always leave driving bulls to the real cowboys and cow horses, and I wouldn't try herding cows alone with just any of our horses, like, say, Mac the ex-cowhorse who is now afraid of cows.

And of course any 2-year-old ranch kid could do this on any half-broke ranch horse, but…

we were quite pleased with our excellent impromptu roundup!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Got Baling Twine?

Monday February 4 2013

Baling twine (known as binder twine back in the day) was developed as a replacement for wire for tying bundles of reaped grain together in the late 1870's. A manilla fiber was used early on; in the 1930's sisal was the primary twine. That was eventually replaced by hemp fiber, then paper twine. In the 1960's, polypropylene twine was developed.

The quality of the polypropylene twine improved in 1977 and eventually became the rage it is now. It's simply good stuff for baling hay, and just about any other thing you might need in a pinch. Which is a good thing, since any farm or ranch that feeds hay will have an overabundance of baling twine. The stuff piles up, reproduces, and grows, no matter your best intentions of cleaning it up.

Which is a good thing. It's the best thing since sliced bread. I never ride without a knife and baling twine in my saddlebags.

You can hold most anything together with baling twine, like a falling-down tree, broken tack, or fencing.

You can tie a quick bowline,

make a loop,

slip it over a horse's neck (as Stormy happily demonstrates here),

take a twist and slip it over the nose,

and you've got a quick halter

with which to lead a horse.

As fashionable accoutrements it can be used as a pony tail band, or suspenders, or, if you can't find, say, your Tevis buckle and belt, you can use it for a belt that any hip designer would envy. (Remember Elly May Clampett? An early fashion Maven!)

If you were Batman or Robin, you could use it to climb up the side of a building.

It can be used as a saw to break open baling-twined bales of hay (took me 10 years on the racetrack to learn this one!) just as easy as a knife. It's often used as a fireplace fire-starter.

Even birds get in on the act, and use it in nests - check out osprey nests, or oriole nests in your cottonwood trees.

The Kyneton Agricultural Show in Australia has an Ag Art Exhibition and Competition featuring Farm Art and Baling Twine as Art.

I think they're on the right track. I turned some of our twine into a woven rug that's guaranteed to scrape the mud off my boots and last forever.

I am belatedly adding a P.S. to this story, which my bird biologist friend Karen pointed out: while Ospreys seem to like decorating their nests with baling twine, it can be deadly for them, when they get entangled in it.

I got hooked on a live bald eagle cam one year and we all watched in horror as one of the 3 babies ('Tiny', the youngest one who got picked on) got his feet hopelessly entangled in orange baling twine in the nest. Unbelievably, we all watched as his mean older sibling untangled and removed the string from his feet, and he survived. 

Friday, February 1, 2013

Coverboy: Horsemen's Journal - Winter 2012

Friday February 1 2013

I am remiss: I didn't flaunt Stormy's fourth magazine cover!

This is the cover of the winter 2012 issue of The Horsemen's Journal, the official publication of the National HBPA (Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association), editor Denis Blake. I took the photo of my retired Thoroughbred racehorse in a snowstorm, who, as most of you know, or should know, just happens to be The Most Beautiful Horse On The Planet. (I am not biased; it is just a fact.)

Stormy's been featured twice on the cover of the Washington Thoroughbred, once on the cover of Southern Racehorse, and now on The Horsemen's Journal.

The rest of the Owyhee herd isn't so impressed. They keep Stormy in his humble place by chasing him around. And anyway, Stormy would rather just eat than look at himself on a magazine cover, but I sure enjoy his celebrity!