Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Nice Ride, and Some Thoughts on Fear

 Kate and I joined 12 other riders from the Kittitas Valley Trail Riders for a ride out of the Lower Elk Heights trailhead, to an overlook of the Taneum Valley.  She was pretty good most of the time...

 In the half hour or so that Pat and I waited last Monday, to see if the rain would quit (it didn't), Kate had done a bunch of flirting with Pat's boys, Rambler and Chief.  There was much squealing and tail lifting and squirting.  I commented at the time that, because the girls don't pay much mind to RT, I seldom notice when they are in heat.  (In the past, when either Kate or Maddie have had a naughty day, someone will often ask "Is she in heat?" to which I usually answer "I don't know.  I guess that could be the problem.")
On Tuesday's ride with Rambler, Kate was good as gold, and I didn't think much of it.  Of course, she only had Rambler to focus on.
Yesterday, as soon as Pat loaded Chief in the trailer, Kate started carrying on again!  When we started out up the hill, Pat was towards the back and Kate and I were in the middle of the group.  But the first time we stopped for a breather, Kate suddenly HAD to find her boyfriend, and didn't want to continue up the hill without him.  That was okay, as long as we were on a trail that allowed us to ride side-by-side. 
When we had to go single file, Kate wouldn't walk in front of Chief ("I can't see him!"), but behind him, she kept pestering him, and he got a bit balky.
After our rest stop at the overlook, I made a point of putting Kate up with the leaders.  As long as she wasn't in the very front, with no one to follow, she was okay with this, keeping up well, and with a good attitude.  Every time we stopped, she looked back to make sure Chief was still with us, but didn't insist on being with him.
Back at the trailers, Kate started calling and looking for Chief.  When Pat tied him up next to her, however, she got really nasty, squealing, and threatening to kick.  So we moved him to the other side of the trailer, which just made Kate MAD!  She stomped, she called, she paced as far as her leadrope would let her.  Eventually she settled down, as we sat nearby eating our lunches.  At loading, Kate was worried Chief wasn't coming along, but once both were loaded she behaved herself.  Surprisingly, she we dropped Pat off at her place, Kate did not carry on about losing her lover, and traveled well the rest of the way home.

There was one other unnerving incident during the ride, that Kate handled fine--I was the one that got shook.
A gal behind us was riding a fairly green horse, and when she took a drink out of her water bottle, he spooked at the sloshing ice in the bottle.  He took off, and I definitely heard several seconds of thundering hooves, before Kate turned slightly and I saw the woman bail out and the horse take off into the woods.  Kate scrambled a little as he went by, but as soon as she stopped, I climbed down, as did several other folks, either to keep their horse calmer, or to aid the woman who had gotten dumped.
The horse was soon caught, and we started back down the trail.  The woman chose to walk the rest of the way down, and I was hesitant to get back on, even though Kate seemed fine, so I walked with her for a bit.  But these feet were not made for walking (I tell folks that's why I took up riding) and after a half-mile or so, I climbed back on.  Kate was steady and responsive, but I continued to have butterflies all the way back.

Even though it was not Kate who got spooked, I spent the whole ride back debating whether or not I should even take her to next week's trail competition.  In spite of how pleased I was with her behavior and skill level on Tuesday's ride, I was back to thoughts of selling the whole bunch and retiring to a cozy cabin on the beach--With no horses, we could actually afford it!
Fear has been the theme of numerous blogs lately, as well as several magazine articles.  Especially for those of us who are getting older, and already facing various other health issues, the fear of getting hurt raises huge road blocks to our enjoyment of our equine pursuits.  And I am not one of those women who returned to riding after a long hiatus of raising a family/pursuing a career:  I have ridden pretty much continuously for the last fifty years, including training and competition.
I'm not sure how I would handle not having horses in my life, but I've got to figure out how to get past this nagging feeling of dread whenever I ride, or it's not the relaxing escape that I ride to experience.

Friday, July 29, 2011

A Romantic Interlude...

What with me being away for two weeks with my Mom, and Al leaving today for Connecticut to see his Mom for a week, I had a plan for some special "together" time when he got home from work last evening.
At my request, Al called me when he headed for home.  This gave me about 20 minutes lead time.  Pre-heat the oven for yummy spinach and mushroom pizza, jump in the shower to wash the day's projects away, and put on my silk PJ's.  Brush out my hair and pull it back into a easy release clip, for him to let loose at the appropriate moment.
Then sit down to wait for his arrival.

The dog runs to the window and barks a warning.
I glance out, expecting to see the car coming down the driveway.
Um.  No.
What I see are five spottie horses, headed UP the driveway!
Pull bib overalls over silk PJs and jump into rubber barn shoes.

Beth is higher than a kite, and running laps around me.  RT doesn't know which of "his girls" to guard.  Momma Misty, Kate and Maddie just want to fill their faces with the long grass next to the fence.  I manage to catch Kate by her fly mask and lead her back to the paddock and through to the south pasture, where they're due to go out for the night anyway.  I'm hoping the others will follow.  Beth runs another lap, between the drive, the paddock and Kate.  I slam the gate shut behind her.  RT races from one pair to the other, then does a quick detour into his small paddock--shut that gate!

I'm luring the last two back into the arena as my lover boy shows up.
Dirty feet, dusty hair, sweaty Victoria's Secret, over-crisp (but not quite burnt) pizza.
The height of romance!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Lost in the Woods!

After getting rained out on Monday (thunder and lightning, too!), Pat and Rambler, and Kate and I headed out to Joe Watt Canyon on Tuesday to explore various possible KVTR routes around the L.T. Murray Elk Preserve.
This is the same area that the Ellensburg Rodeo Posse holds it's annual poker ride, site of Kate's first outing in the big wide world, three years ago.
When Pat and John and I rode the poker ride last month, Pat commented at one fork in the trail "I want to come out here and see where that goes..."
So here we were to check out that trail.
I am SO pleased with the dependable trail horse Kate is becoming!  We followed that trail until it dwindled and disappeared, then bushwhacked all over that darn mountain trying to find a decent way back down! There were vast expanses of nasty volcanic rock (glad I put on her boots), a nasty washout that we had to clamber down and back up again, and narrow elk trails that scrambled down the sides of canyons, only to require a careful about-face when we would have had to leap across a small ravine--Kate had to lead here, if only to get herself the heck outta there!
We finally headed uphill until we crossed a forest service road that we were pretty sure would take us back down to the trailers. (It did).

We were out about four and a half hours.  Mapping the excursion as best I could from the satellite version of Google Maps, it looks like we did at least 10.6 miles, with 1700 foot of altitude gain.

[I'm not sure why this site won't let me embed the satellite version of this map, but click on the map to go to their site, then click on "map options" to choose satellite or hybrid, to see the terrain.]
The next day, Pat and seven other members of the Club went out for another four hours, though they took an earlier switch back from the original trial, before it petered out.  They managed to avoid the more rugged terrain we had traversed. 
I passed on the ride--I was sore all over, and my cheeks were chafed (and I don't mean the ones on my face!).  And I felt like Kate deserved at least one day of rest--she did everything I asked her to, and was pretty pooped on the way down the mountain.  I stayed home and gave her a good bath, and trimmed both hers and Maddie's feet (so now I'm sore in totally different places) and some other chores that have been waiting.  We'll head out with the group on Saturday.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Brenden's Busy Bacation

I have been away from the computer for a couple of weeks, for a family semi-emergency.  Got back late Thursday, and am slowly catching up on chores and laundry and blogs of my friends.  Went to ride this morning, but got rained out!

Here are a few photos from just before the trip, when grandson Brenden visited for a week or so (with church camp locally while he was here).

In past years, I've mostly led him around the arena for short rides.    Somewhere I learned the "ABCs" for knowing when one can truly teach very young children:
A: attention span
B:  balance
C: confidence
This year 8-year-old Brenden was ready to be more independent.  I put him on Misty, because I consider her a little more predictable than Kate, who I ponied him on last year.  Misty has a touch of navicular syndrome, but with careful management, she is doing a bit better this year; and we don't do much but walk and a little bit of [giggly] jogging, so she seemed to be doing okay.
After a day of refresher lesson on the lunge-line, he was ready to "steer" all by himself.  And did a pretty good job of it, too!  Circles and figure-eights, over poles, backing. I was busy supervising this, and totally forgot to get any photos.
Bad. Grandma.

He's starting to do some of his own "gettin' ready" chores.
Learning to lead safely.
Getting on all by himself.  [Hey, grandma uses a mounting block, why can't he?]
And off.  It's not quite so far down this year.
On the third ride, we took a little "trail ride" around the outside of the property.  Kate was balking a bit and definitely taking advantage of my having Mama Misty in tow.
Grandpa Al caught us on the way in from the back gate.  It was easier to just lead them the last 200 yards than try to get back on, while avoiding getting tangled in the pony rope.

Helmet Hair [and missing teeth].
Speaking of missing teeth, Brenden also got to accompany me to the vet's for old man RT's semi-annual dental check-up.
Dr. Mark checking RT's teeth--he had to pull two loose/cracked molars that have been questionable since last year.  Otherwise he thinks 31-year-old RT looks pretty good, and getting rid of the accompanying infection might actually be better than having the teeth.
 I was going to bring Misty along for the ride, to keep RT company (she gets along with him better than the younger mares, who like to boss the old man around).  Since she was there, I also had Dr. Mark check her front feet.  Her left front heel has contracted a bit, because it's the one that tends to bother her most, and she favors it.  But last year when we nerve blocked it, the other foot was also tender, so we just have to be careful with what we ask her to do.  She's earned her retirement (12 babies in 22 years), so she'll grace our pasture (and give pony rides when she's able) until she joins Corky on the hill.

An artistic under-the-belly hoof shot by Brenden (Dr. Mark using hoof testers on Misty).
An artistic foot shot (in the shadow of the round pen).
Headed home.

Haying, from the perspective of an eight-year-old.
Unfortunately, with the crazy spring weather we'd had this year, haying season was very late, and overlapped Brenden's visit.  This meant he was stuck driving around in circles with me i the tractor.
I gave Brenden the point and shoot and told him to take pictures that he could use to explain the process.  Some of them came out pretty artsy, too, I think.

The hay pick-up.
Swather rows, finished bales, and one of the other balers (five total).
Spittin' 'em out the back.
Harrowbed (bale wagon) pickin' 'em up.
"I'm gonna be a farmer when I grow up!"  [Grandma took this one.]  He actually drove a bunch of rows, until we got to the ends, then Grandma took over for the corners.
Another angle of the harrow bed.  Five of these pick up 4 1/2 to 5 ton loads that stack directly in the barn.  I've already got a stack and a half in my barn--ready for winter!
We "lost" one of our strings, and had to undo and re-bale a few.
The baler's fly wheel.
Part of the string-tying mechanism.
This gauges the length of each bale and triggers the tying process.
The knotters.
Brenden intuitively knew that this wedge is what flips the bale on it's side as it leaves the baler.
We didn't use the "tail/work light."  To keep it's moisture content low, timothy hay needs to be baled and put in the barn before the day cools off and the humidity rises.
Strings leaving their box on the way to the knotter.  At the edge the shadow, you can just see the end of one of the big "needles" that pushes the twine up through the formed bale to be tied off.
 All in all, it was a good visit to Grandma Laurie's farm, and Brenden is proving to be a good hand.
Next month, older grandson Mike will return for his annual visit.  He actually rode out with the KVTR club last year, but we'll have to wait and see if I get my butt back on Maddie before we can count on that.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Lazy Lunch Ride

The Monday before the 4th of July, The Kittitas Valley Trail Riders had an early mid-week ride, knowing that as we neared the long holiday weekend, there might be conflicts with up-coming events.
Each year we try to make at least one trip up the Coal Mine Trail, an old rail road bed that runs from Cle Elum, through Roslyn (where the TV show Northern Exposure was filmed) to the tiny hamlet of Ronald.  There the group has lunch at the "Old #3", a reference to the #3 mine up the road.
Leaving town; Mike, on foot on the far left, pushed the crosswalk button for us, before driving his trailer up to Ronald for additional tie-up spots.
It's a very green trail, with good footing.
It's a really easy 5 mile walk, so I think they're all just bored.  That's okay; we don't need any excitement.
Twelve riders, and four others joining us, made for great company at lunch.
Back down the trail towards home.
A photo opportunity in front of a gorgeous hillside of poppies.
Kate was very mellow, even passing hikers and bicycles.  The only thing that bugged her eyes out was one of those big-wheeled strollers, in red!  (The blue one later didn't bother her.)  The only other excitement was at a watering spot where she willingly went down to the creek, and was getting her drink, something I'm not sure I've had her do before.  Suddenly her front feet slid a foot or so down the silty bank!  I'm not sure, but I think she ended up on one knee for half a beat, then scrambled back up to the trail.
'Nuff drinkin' for her!

On a different note, I also got a work session on to Beth, her first of the year. She did well, mostly, with a little balking at leaving the place when I long-lined her down the driveway.  But we worked through it.
Standing at the learnin' tree.
When we got back from our walkabout, I led her up to the mounting block and weighted stirrups.  I could have gone ahead and climbed on, but that nasty little voice in my head (and the sudden butterflies in my stomach) convinced me not to.
I'm not sure what to do about this issue with Maddie, and now Beth...

On a more fun note, grandson Brenden was here for a week, through the 4th, then off to camp nearby.  I'll be away for a couple of weeks (family emergency), but I have a post in the works about an 8-year-old's look at haying season.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Is It a Good Fit?

Alright, you experienced saddle fitters out there in the blogosphere.  I need your opinion.
I purchased my new Tucker Cheyenne Springs trail saddle for two reasons:
1)  My "dream" saddle, a Hereford roping saddle, at close to 40 pounds, was getting too heavy for this old body to heft onto a horse.  Although I liked it's heavy-duty construction and full rigging, it was really a case of overkill for the riding that I do.
And, more importantly,
2) The Hereford had a semi-Quarter Horse tree, which it became evident was too narrow for either of my wide-bodied girls.
Kate developed patches of white hair at the top of both shoulders, indicating that the saddle was pinching her there, preventing both sweat (she would have a little dry spot there on an otherwise wet back) and circulation (hence killing the hide's color-producing cells). (By the way, it seems I switched saddles in time to prevent permanent damage:  this spring those vague white patches shed out with Kate's winter coat, leaving her dun coloring intact.)
Maddie is white on both shoulders, so the color-change wasn't there, but the lack of a proper sweat pattern was enough to cue me in.
So the Hereford went down the road to a [strong] young gal in Oregon who wanted to do cow horse work, and I began my search for a new saddle.
 I looked at various saddle designed for the middle-aged, female trail rider and ended up deciding on the Tucker brand, that was developed specifically for this particular market sector.  Because I have my English saddles if I want to ride in that fashion, and I have Paint horses to show/market in cowboy country, I wanted a pretty traditional looking western saddle.  The Cheyenne Springs fit the bill.

My friend Anita and I had hauled the girls down to Yakima earlier this year to make sure of the tree width to order, and put in my order.All of Kate and Maddie's rides this spring have been in the Tucker, with escalating problems with Maddie seemingly related to the dropped rigging necessitating a switch in girths.  But Kate has done well.
The only question I have is about the sweat pattern that developed after our ride last week in Robinson Canyon.  It was the most strenuous ride we've had this year, on a fairly humid day.  When I pulled Kate's tack off, here is how her back looked.

Her shoulders where the last saddle pinched were nicely wet.  The "tunnel" of the gullet was appropriately dry indicating plenty of air circulation down her spine between the bars of the saddle.  The thing that has me perplexed, however, is the dry area 2+ inches either side of that:  does this indicate that the saddle is "bridging" between the front and back, and not distributing the saddle/rider's weight uniformly across her back?
 This side (left) seems passable to me, but...
 ...her right side had an odd circle of sweat around the lower dry patch.
And the reality is that as Kate gets a little more fit (and loses a little more weight, though she's not as bad as last year) the "table" that is her back may become more sloped.  It will bear watching how this effects the saddle's fit to her back in the future.
What do y'all think?