Thursday, May 31, 2018

Cover Photo #48

Thursday May 31 2018

I've been waiting for the surprise to hit the fan. 

I knew my photo would be on a cover of Endurance News, I just didn't know which cover or when. It's the next June issue!

It just so happens that my 48th cover photo features my good friend Connie and her horse DWA Saruq (one I've ridden in a couple endurance rides), who was bred by my good friends Helen and Archie of DWA Arabians.

I kept it a secret, and the timing was such that I told Connie her birthday surprise was in the mail. Helen and Archie will be thrilled, too, when they find out. They breed wonderful Arabians, and they have long contributed to our sport of endurance, so it's lovely that one of their home-bred horses is now a cover boy!

Sunday, May 27, 2018


Sunday May 27 2018

I knew we'd be getting to help band young ferruginous hawks on our field trip (a repeat of the one I did a couple of years ago), but little did I know we'd get to help with juvenile RAVENS also!

It's a local outreach program between the Boise BLM and the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area and Raptor Research Center that gives raptor (and RAVEN) enthusiasts like me a chance to go on a field trip with biologists to assist them in banding birds of prey (and RAVENS!!!).

Our first stop was a platform nest with 5 juvenile ferruginous hawks. As the adults circled in consternation high above (they are generally not aggressive), one by one the babies were plucked from their nest, and handed off to the arms of us eager hawk holders, each bird awaiting their turn to be measured and banded.

These babies, averaging about 30 days of age, are just about as big as they'll get, but their flight feathers have not fully developed, nor the muscling needed to flap those (one day) powerful wings yet. Nor are they aware of the strength of their toes yet nor the razor sharpness of their talons. In your arms, a ferruginous hawk baby will pretty much do exactly what he does when sitting on the nest: just sit there unafraid and seemingly unworried, not trying to escape. Two of them were even set down on the ground under the truck in the shade to await their banding, and they just sat there and waited patiently.

These birds are currently plentiful in the Snake River Birds of Prey Conservation Area, on the flats north of and above the Snake River canyon. Their primary prey is ground squirrels (of which this year there are approximately a billion) and jackrabbits, though they'll also eat insects, lizards and snakes. I told the little one I held that maybe one day he'd be flying above my place in a year or two.

Our plans had been to go to band a second nestful of ferruginous babies, but due to propitious unanticipated circumstances, we instead went to a RAVEN NEST to band 4 juvenile Raven babies!

Oh, my stars. I have held a Raven before, an adult that we crick neighbors rescued from a dog injury, and nursed back to health (and it was probably Hoss, the same crick Raven that Linda raised from a baby when his nest blew down years earlier), but it's still a thrill to hold a RAVEN, any time, anywhere.

This nest of 4 was conveniently ensconced in the crook of a weather station on the flats (not far from another ferruginous platform nest), and these babies were cranky and nervous and LOUD (and so were the parents shrieking at us flying above) and they *did* know how to use their beaks and very healthy vocal cords and their feet, on the ends of which were some rather sharp talons (though not as dangerous as the hawks'). They could flap their big wings just fine, too, and were probably within a week of fledging, and would then have been uncatchable.

The first Raven I held was a bit smaller and settled down well enough while I held him/her in the shade awaiting his banding.

The second Raven I held was handed to me after banding, and he/she was bigger and really perturbed and insulted and cranky and NOISY, and gripped strongly with his claws and wanted to flap away towards his nest. I named him BRUISER, but I held him firmly in the shade and told him, too, that one day maybe he'd be flying over my place and I'd say hi and he'd remember me.

While Ravens eat primarily carrion, they'll really eat just about anything. They'll eat other birds' nestlings and eggs, reptiles, insects, seeds, fruit, garbage. They're great opportunists. They're also  known for collecting shiny pretty things. They're very smart. And I LOVE RAVENS, if that needs telling.

The opportunity to do something like this really makes you think about the birds. They aren't always just a speck in the sky or a sentence in a news report. They lead a precarious life growing up on a nest in the wild, where it truly is survival of the fittest, from weather, predators, humans.

Conservation efforts you support or don't support can effect their future, for the better or the worse. If you've made the effort to go out and see a wild bird up close and *particularly* if you get to hold it in your arms and feel its heart beat, what happens to them might really matter to you. 

And, anyway, it's just a thrill if you love birds. If you've never closely visited or held a wild bird before, I highly recommend it!

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Standardbred: Watch That Topline

Tuesday May 15 2018

After a year of successfully going down the endurance trail, and a good start this year (he won his 25-mile ride at the Owyhee Tough Sucker in April), now it’s time for Hillbillie Willie, Steph’s off-the-track Standardbred, to start going down the trail right.

He moves along easily, and fast, and easily fast and fastly easily, just like an ex-racehorse would, but he can be high-headed and heavy on the forehand - especially when he gets excited, when those hooves go CLOP PLOP CLOP PLOP CLOP PLOP CLOP PLOP.

If he can learn to drop his head, round up, get his balance better underneath him, it will likely keep him going sounder longer… and that’s what most of us want in an endurance horse, right?

So I’ve gone and done it, committed (see, right here in writing), to work on it. Aarene Storms and her Standardbred Fiddle are my inspiration; she says that getting Fiddle to ‘lighten up’ was huge for them.

I’m not great at it… kinda clumsy at times. So it’s a bit of me and Willie learning together at the same time, working out a language that gets the results. 

Connie got him started on the dressage-type work in the arena, giving him the idea of what’s wanted, and I’ve taken it from there, more or less. No, I don’t enjoy arena work - it’s work, and tiring, for Willie and particularly for me - but the good thing is, I really do see just a little improvement day by day.

Willie’s starting to carry his head a bit lower on his own, he can hold a round collected shape longer, and I can now often get it while trotting down the trail, even in company. And it’s all getting a wee bit easier for him to do. Of course, the big test will be getting him to be able to do that and relax in an endurance ride… which may be a ways down the road. He raced for 2 years, and probably trained for 2 before that, so that instinct is not going to be so easily erased or replaced. But we're on it.

So watch that topline. He's grown a wee bit of a butt from working and endurance riding hills for a year, and his giraffe butt has mostly disappeared. One day, we may see his body changing shape for the even more better.