Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Hillbillie Willie and the Mormon Crickets

Wednesday May 1 2019

GAAAAHHHH - a new mormon cricket hatch, a swarm of millions! 

I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the ground starting to move ahead of trotting Willie - we'd powered up the Rim Trail and rejoined Spring Ranch road, heading toward the Owyhee mountains when it began. But it wasn't the ground moving; it was a million little inch-long crawling jumping flopping things - baby mormon crickets!

In some cases, baby animals can be ugly-cute (think warthogs)… but there is NOTHING cute, at all, about any-sized mormon crickets. Disgusting creatures. Mormon crickets can't hop straight; they just flop, in all directions, sideways and upside down. When one dies, the others swarm and eat it. They can make highways dangerously slick when they get run over (then the others swarm to eat the dead ones, and get run over, etc). There are never just a few mormon crickets, which one could cope with, but swarms. They get big and bulbous and they are uncoordinated and ugly and creepy and gross. Even horses think so - just ask Hillbillie Willie!

Willie's spook is more of a duck-jump, and when he saw the ground begin moving beneath him with these strange crawlie-jumpy things, he began duck-jumping back and forth and back and forth, because he didn't know which way to spook! He lowered his head and shook it in aggravation, and the durn crickets bopped him in the nose when they flopped upward, and he really disliked that!

I urged him to keep up his trot - I mean, he for sure wouldn't want to walk through those things, and *I* was for sure not getting off to walk, and I was for sure not going to fall off - can you imagine the horror! Most scary were the bushes with clumps of flopping crawling crickets beneath them, making the leaves shudder and shake. 

We rode through at least a mile and a half of these creatures, and every single one was a baby - not an adult in sight anywhere. Where do they suddenly come from anyway - spontaneous combustion??

They reminded me of the White Walkers, the walking dead in Game of Thrones - they just kept coming on and on, swarms of them. I've heard of the crickets dying and making bridges of the dead bodies to keep moving onward across a creek. (Like Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 3, where the dead made a bridge to cross the burning barrier - creepy!)

While I gagged and bemoaned out loud this dreadful event, Willie bravely kept up his trotting through the incessant pool of mormon cricket babies. When we finally left their territory, Willie was still shaken up a while - trotting along and lowering and shaking his head as if to shake off the daytime nightmare!

above photos is Hillbillie Willie on another ride…. not pictured are the mormon crickets. If only I'd had a video camera!

Monday, April 22, 2019

Hillbillie Willie's National Geographic Moment

Sunday April 21 2019

"Get off the web and into the wild" is the campaign of the PNTS - Partnership for the National Trails System. PNTS is encouraging people to "pledge to turn your gaze from your phone and computer screen to your natural surroundings and explore a park, trail, wildlife refuge, or forest near you - even your backyard. You never know what you might discover!"

Easy for me - Hillbillie Willie and I get into the wild on a regular basis. We're surrounded by BLM high sagebrush desert, 6 miles below the Owyhee mountains, in the southwest corner of Idaho, in one of the least populated counties. On just about every ride we see some kind of wildlife: deer, antelope, sage grouse, chukar, coyotes. Willie - the off-the-track Standardbred racehorse - is quite sensible and doesn't get alarmed: he enjoys encountering the wildlife too.  
The very day I took the PNTS pledge, Willie and I had a fabulous National Geographic moment.

As we started riding down the narrow and at-places-steep Tower Trail ridge, we surprised a herd of 8 mule deer in a fold of the hills below us. We stared at each other momentarily, till the deer decided to evacuate. However, instead of moving downhill away from us, the lead doe angled straight ahead and up, aiming for the trail we were on. As we popped around a little corner, the herd had just reached the narrow trail 15 yards ahead of us; their sensible option was to run on down the trail, or to seemingly irrationally leap over the precipice down the 80-degree cliff.

There was a moment's hesitation before the lead doe committed: then she hurled herself over the edge. One by one the others followed unquestioningly - like a waterfall over a cliff - catapulting, catching air, landing 20 feet down the slope before touching ground again. The adrenaline enveloped the herd as they hurtled downward; when one stumbled she'd leap and fly another 30 feet downhill; when another almost fell down she sprinted faster down the hill with the others rocketing recklessly after. The herd's mad charge left dust curling down the cliff and they were gone before Willie even got to their leaping platform.

If I can anthropomorphize here a bit, there may have been a touch of prey-fear in the deer, but what I really sensed was arrogance - their utterly unrivaled and untouchable grace and speed, knowing that, even if this little human had wanted to, I did not have the capable mount, nor the guts, to follow them; and even if I was the Man from Snowy River and gave chase over the cliff on my horse, I could not have gotten anywhere close to them. The deer picked the steepest cliff - because they could.

A camera would have gotten a fabulous video, but I had my hands full with an excited horse! Willie gave off his own excited Deer Snort and I had to use a bit of focused riding to keep him on the trail.

It was an extraordinary deer encounter neither of us will ever forget!


Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Goodbye Dudley

My heart is forever shattered.
Belesemo Dude - Dudley


Monday, April 8, 2019

Another Tough Sucker for Hillbillie Willie

Monday April 8 2019

Hilbillie Willie had a terrific seasonal debut in the Owyhee Tough Sucker 50 mile ride this weekend.

We rode with "Uncle Mal" and Naomi, "Cousin Hawk" and Lee, perfect mentors for this young whippersnapper Standardbred racehorse-turned-endurance horse.

Here are a few shots from the scenic (green!) desert ride along the Snake River, around Wild Horse Butte, over the Oregon Trail.

Wild Horse Butte ahead
Love the long Standie neck, no?

That's the Snake River

Snake River
Love the long Standie neck, no?

Snake River - the trail in reverse, completely different scenery!

on the Hallelujah trail, looking at the Owyhee mountains

Willie's ride story is here on

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Story Behind the Photo: Tevis in Colorado

March 13 2019

I’ve ridden horses around the world, but this Colorado #betweentheears photo is one of my most favorite memories ever. Why? Because I am riding Stoner, a future Haggin Cup winner, with Garrett Ford aboard The Fury, a Haggin Cup winner, and future Tevis Cup winner, and dear Kevin Myers aboard Auli Farwa, a future Haggin Cup and Tevis Cup winner. Behind me, not pictured, is Rusty Toth riding Take A Break, a future Tevis Cup winner. I am so honored to have been in such amazing, elite company, both two-legged and four-legged.

#StoryBehindThePhoto #HorseStoryBehindThePhoto #EnduranceLegends #TevisCup #HagginCup #EnduranceRiding #AERC #AERCEndurance #DistanceRiding #ArabianHorse #LifeThroughTheEars #LifeBetweenTheEars

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Story Behind the Photo: A Cowboy's Work is Never Done

February 26 2019

A cowboy’s work is never done: neither snow nor rain nor barbed wire fences nor rank bulls interfere with the work of a cowboy or his cow horse or his cow dog. Here in the West the cowboy is a common sight, any day or season of the year. We occasionally help them move cows, but whenever a bull moves in and takes up uninvited residence, we call in the experts to remove them!

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Hillbillie Willie: Snow Rider

Wednesday February 13 2019

Here's something I didn't know about Hillbillie Willie: this California Standardbred loves riding in the snow!

It's supposed to be raining and snowing the next 48 hours - like 100% chance - but it was neither, and the footing was actually good, so we went out on a training ride. I'm sure it's the first time he's been ridden in the snow. He was enthusiastic, forward, fast, and fun!

Friday, January 25, 2019

Story Behind the Photo: Thorung La Pass - Nepal's Himalaya

January 25 2019

One of the most stunning places on earth that I've been is the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal's Himalaya. Our 19 day trek around the Annapurna peaks was the ultimate challenge: fun, utterly exhausting, staggeringly beautiful.

This photo is from our 5 hour daunting crawl to the highest point, Thorung La Pass at 17,872 feet. That's my Norwegian trekking partner Kjersti bent over trying to gasp enough oxygen, and Welsh Andrew is the little dot far below.

I got altitude sickness at the top and going down The Other Side, and I just wanted to lay down and die. Kjersti and Andrew wouldn't let me. They helped me stumble downhill 4 hours to the first village where I recovered.

I hear that roads now cover much of this circuit, and I am grateful we had the chance to trek the entire loop.

"The Other Side" is the name of my short ebook on Amazon about this trek.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Story Behind the Photo: Borcan in Egypt

January 11 2019

Yes. That view #BetweenTheEars of my mount, the magnificent blustery white stallion Borcan, is in Egypt - the Step Pyramid in Saqqara. He was the puffiest beautifulest blowhardiest windbag, whose biggest worry was to look magnificent for the fillies who weren't looking at him.

Those ride in the desert among Pyramids on my equine companions were simply magical. I've had the pleasure of visiting Maryanne in Egypt twice.

I'll have a book coming out later this year on one of those trips.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Story Behind the Photo: Rabbit Brush

January 6 2019

This is my horse Stormy, The Most Beautiful Horse on the Planet, hanging out in blooming rabbit brush in the Sierra Nevadas in California. 

A Thoroughbred former racehorse, he’s now 27 years old. I was his groom on the racetrack in Washington where he earned his keep: six wins in 42 lifetime starts, $45,000 in earnings. My housemate kept saying I was going to own him one day. No, no, no, I said; though I loved Stormy, I had no money and no place for a horse. 

But things that are meant to be eventually happen. He’s given me joy now for almost 20 years. Stormy is profiled in my book, Soul Deep In Horses.

Note: this photo was taken around the year 2000, when Stormy was a young buck!