Thursday, September 27, 2018

Hillbillie Willie and the Dead Bunny

Wednesday September 26 2018

The jackrabbits took a big hit in the unprecedented heavy winter 2 years ago - pretty much the whole population around here wiped out. It's taken almost two years, but they've started to make a comeback. It's not too unusual now to see one on just about every ride, scooting out of the sagebrush or rabbit brush, their big ears swiveling like radar discs.

Most of the horses are not afraid of them, even when they pop out of a bush underfoot.

What *is* scary is a dead jackrabbit in your front yard!

Hillbillie Wille and I had a great ride this awesome fall morning, and I dismounted at the top of the driveway to lead him in. I noticed on the way in what I hadn't seen on the way out (was it actually there?? Or did it appear while we were out riding?): a dead jackrabbit with a hole eaten out of its back/neck. What's odd is that it was laying in the 'yard' by the driveway. Jackrabbits don't normally come out here into the grass-less front yard, and nor would I expect a coyote to snag a rabbit from out in the brush and bring it in here this close to eat. Maybe an owl or hawk was flying with it and dropped it?

Willie didn't see it as we passed it, and I didn't think anything of it, but then I thought to lead him back and show it to him.

Live rabbit: no problem. Dead rabbit: DANGER!!!!!

I led Willie back to the small dead lump of fur, and when he laid eyes on it, he spooked back and stood there big-eyed and trembling. Dead rabbit, omg, dead rabbit, omg, not right, not right, was swirling through his Standardbred brain.

I told him it was OK, it had been a rabbit, but the rabbit died and went to Rabbit Heaven, and now it was just a furry carcass. Not a big deal, we all die and become carcasses at some point. 

Willie wasn't immediately convinced, because all rabbits he knows are hopping around with big floppy ears, and he stood at the end of his reins I was holding, and snorted and kept staring at the rabbit. I finally got him to step up, slowly, and put his head down and sniff the rabbit, but he stayed leaning back on his heels ready to bolt, as he wasn't sure there wasn't still great danger about.

After he stood calmly, we turned around and started back to the house, but Willie was walking slowly, and wanting to look back over his shoulder. He was still thinking about that dead rabbit, still had unfinished business with it. He wanted to go back and check it out again. 

So I led Willie back to the rabbit, and he looked at it a while, then put his head down and slowly walked forward and sniffed the rabbit again and touched it. I told him it was OK. And I could see the cogs turning in his brain, and he decided, If he's really in Rabbit Heaven, and this is just his carcass, I guess that's OK then.

And as we walked on toward the house, two Ravens called from a tree and a post, waiting to snack on the jackrabbit meal conveniently waiting for them.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Standardbred Lightness: The Shift

Wednesday September 19 2018

I committed back in April to the challenge of converting the endurance Standardbred Hillbillie Willie from a high-headed, upright forehand-heavy horse to a head-lowered, rounded, more balanced horse. (Connie got him started in the arena: The Incredible Lightness of Being Standardbred.)

Working up hills out on the trails has definitely helped develop a real horse butt, instead of a sloped flatlander giraffe butt like he had when Steph first got him off the track.

don't have a real picture when we first got him, darn it, but this cartoon is quite accurate!

And with consistent work at it while trail riding/conditioning him, with rare arena work, and with occasional work with the pessoa rig in the round pen (no more than 10-15 minutes at a time a couple days a week), it slowly started to make difference over time.

(video link:
Willie in the pessoa today… today it was windy, and the crick was spooky… he’s gone better

I could already tell a difference by the time Willie did his first 50 of the year at City of Rocks in June. He was really moving well, with his head lower, more relaxed, moving lighter; and on the downhill trotting at times he would shift off his front end onto his hind end. (I really work on getting Willie to respond to the shift in my weight/seat.)

And it was last month (August 7 to be exact, because I emailed Aarene Storms-with-a-Standie, at Haiku Farm, all excited about it), I felt a Shift.

It was out on one of our training rides, and this whole ride was almost magic, the lightness of moving, no Clop Clop Clop Clop, the absence of pulling and leaning forward on the bit, the dropping head and rounding up, all on a loose rein. Omg! That's the first time I could really say that I really felt the progress of the work I'm putting into him.

Granted, he doesn't do this the whole time in every training ride (nor do I ask him to, especially at the beginning), but now he does it right at least part of every ride. Now he moves properly more than he doesn't, and I can say that we have really turned a corner. He gets it.

To be sure it's still constant work - and it's harder work if he gets excited, like when the horses in front of him take off - and some rides are just harder than others and he takes more reminding (i.e. much more leg leg leg, less hands hands hands). And it still may take years. (And I am no dressage rider.) And he may never be extremely light and contained, what with his years of being a racehorse.

But we're progressing!

Can you tell a difference in his topline from the two pix? The top picture is from May, this one is from September.

Anyway, I still think he looks pretty magnificent. (So does he. Willie thinks he's hot $h*t.)

Monday, September 3, 2018

What's In A (Trail) Name? Part III

September 4 2018

Mankind has named roads and trails since the beginning of time, to indicate where you're coming from and where you're going to, and to give you a kind of invested ownership in a place. Same thing here in Owyhee with the trails we ride. Yet even more examples:

Dudley Antler Loop
So named because, you got it, Dudley found, you guessed it, a deer antler when we were bushwhacking around the hills and washes back here. Part of it is the start of Merri's Trail (in Part I), but instead of heading right for Hart Creek, you turn off left into a wash downhill, then loop around to another steep uphill wash, climb a hill and find your way back to Spring Ranch road. This 'find your way back' part was where Dudley found his deer antler, and we returned and rode it enough times it's now a nice trail. You make a loop out of it, returning up Blonde Cow Wash - either on the trail alongside the wash, or in the wash. It's a perfect 5.5 mile training loop that you can make a hard or easy ride out of, depending on how much of the sand you trot in.

The Plane Crash
OK, it's not really a plane crash site, but you might not know it for all the metal sheets and pieces scattered along this trail. 'Plane crash trail' sounds better and more entertaining and light-hearted (?) than 'You'll be riding along this trail where Some dumba$$e$ mistook this for an actual trash dump, and dumped loads of metal - washer, drier, god-knows-what-all that will never degrade in my desert, thanks a lot, jerkweeds.'

I tell whatever horse I'm riding that, I know, it looks like a plane crash, but it's really just trash, nobody was hurt, and there's nothing to worry about, so just keep trotting onward.

The Dead Car
Not sure what the story is behind this one… maybe long ago somebody ran out of gas way out here and had to crawl out for help, or maybe it was a romantic date gone awry, but it's a very old rusted car (from the 20's? 30's? 40's? 50's? I don't know my cars) that drove off a little hill and is now half buried in the desert sand. It sort of pops right up on you as you crest the hill, so be ready for your horse to spook!

Commando Hill
Now renamed Toilet Paper Hill (in Part II), it was originally named Commando Hill when, riding up this hill, Diana's underwear were just not cooperating, and she stopped, got off her horse, and ripped them off, and went commando the rest of the ride. Or so the story goes. The toilet paper later came into play on this same hill, and "Toilet Paper Hill" just stuck. (Pun intended.)

Steph's Trail
If you don't have a lot of time, and you just want to get a horse out, like, say, a fat horse, like, say, Dudley who always needs exercise, on a short ride, you can trot or canter a good non-stop 1 1/2 miles of Steph's trail up on the SE flats, then either turn around and take it right back, or make a loop of it back along the Tower Trail.

Tower Trail
This trail houses the internet tower, the means by which all my brought-to-you-by-me stories are sent out into the enet-osphere. The last part is a steepish pay-attention-and-watch-your-footing kind of scenic trail back down into the canyon. You can trot or canter most of this mile-plus trail to the tower, with a bird's eye view all along and down into Pickett Crick. 

Dudley likes to stop up here by this tower and observe the canyon below him. He has even fallen asleep on his feet up here, with me on his back, for like 5 or 10 whole minutes, until I finally wake him up to ride back home because I'm getting bored or cold.

Rye Patch
Is a nice good-footing, fairly easy 18-ish mile loop, if you want to get a long one in with a lot of steady trotting. It goes out to and across the highway by the Plane Crash and the Dead Car and on the Bones Trail (in Part I). It's out to the NE. It's called Rye Patch because there's an actual dirt road we cross named Rye Patch. Because why, I don't know. What is a rye patch anyway?

Brown's Creek
It's out to the SW, also around 18 miles, and it has some good sand washes to work down, and some good hill climbing on the way back, including the second most scenic half of the Hart Creek Loop.

Hart Creek Loop
If we want to impress a riding visitor, we take him/her on this loop. You take Merri's trail (Part I) to and along the Hart Creek drainage, ride along the creek for a while and right up to the Little Hart Creek Canyon notch, (that's the top photo), then make a big climb back out of the drainage, along a knife(ish) edge ridge back up onto the flats. It is often part of our endurance rides, but we do only take visitors we like on this trail.

Rim Trail
This is often part of our endurance rides, the 2-track rim trail overlooking the Hart Creek drainage and the distant tiny 'burb of Oreana. It's pretty spectacular. Both Jose and Dudley love to stop along here and just look at the scenery.

Carol's Gate
Somebody, who shall be left nameless, cut the fence wires and put this easy-open horse-back gate in the fence. I don't know who did it, but it's a safe gate in a Public Lands fence line that gives us easy access onto Our Public Lands, whereas we and everybody else was just going through the wash where the barbed wire had originally been washed and torn out.

Lost Juniper RANCH
Not to be confused with Lost Juniper Trail (in Part II), it's the ranch next door. But the Lost Juniper stories are common. When neighbors first looked at the ranch, there was a tiny juniper growing near the creek cottonwoods. Next time they looked they couldn't find the juniper, until it grew a bit bigger. Now, you still can't find the juniper - because it's so big it blends right in with the cottonwoods. In fact, when my eyeballs were pointed toward this "lost juniper," they immediately focused on the little juniper-child next to it. Both the ranch and the trail junipers are lost, except to those of us who know where they are.