Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Fifteen What!?

February 28 2007

A FIFTEEN HOUR FLIGHT??? LA to Hong Kong - what am I going to do for FIFTEEN HOURS? (Followed by another 5-hour flight). I had avoided looking at those flight times till now. Got drugs? I've been in the air 10 or 12 hours or so before, which was completely unbearable. Maybe Ralph Fiennes will be on my flight this time...

So, what exactly DOES one do on a 15 hour flight? I can't sit still at home for a 2 hour movie at home, and I don't particularly like watching movies anyway, and I really don't like them on an airplane. I like to read, but not for 15 hours. I like to eat, but I can't stretch a meal out for 15 hours. Same with sleeping. I can't do anything for 15 hours straight! Well... except maybe ride a horse.

Now, maybe that's the way to look at this. Count down the hours as if I were doing a 100-mile ride. The two hundreds that I've done, I was in the saddle (counting time off the horse in vet checks as time in the saddle) for 22 hours, give or take an hour.

Let's compare:

Sometimes you get uncomfortable in an endurance ride (airplane ride) - have to stay in the same seated position for hours and hours and hours (your cramped assigned airplane seat), occasionally relieving that by getting off your horse and walking or jogging with him (crawling over your seatmates, getting up and walking or jogging around the plane).

You sometimes doze off though you can't really sleep while covering ground (dozing in your assigned cramped seat).

It can be pretty loud if the wind (airplane engine) is roaring in your ears.

Sometimes your horse bucks or shies beneath you (as does the plane), which is not particularly fun.

You can eat or drink whenever and whatever you want, especially if you pack your own goodies (same on the plane).

Sometimes you are served meals by your crew at vet checks (your stewards/stewardesses).

You can visit the loo anytime you want (same on the plane, though the preferable loos, bushes, are not available on the planes). You may have to wait in line if the only bush (loo) is occupied.

You can talk to your fellow riders (airplane passengers) and get to know them, where they're from, what they do, etc. Sometimes though, even when they annoy you, you can't get away from them unless you switch positions on the trail (move to a new seat).

You can watch the scenery go by (in a plane, way down there).

You'll probably be riding (flying) in the daylight and the dark, and maybe the daylight again.

Okay, now, since my 100-mile rides lasted way longer than my 15 hour flight will, if I can recall all those miles of, say, the Virginia City ride, and speed them up a smidgen, then I will be crossing the finish line (landing) a bit earlier than I'd normally be. I will just have to stay focused on each and every long, and getting longer, mile of my 100 mile ride (15 hour flight). Right?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Carpe Chaos

Tuesday February 27 2007

I woke up this morning and really realized I'm leaving for Malaysia with Steph in 2 nights. (And New Zealand, and Australia, for about 3 months.) I haven't been thinking about it, because, well, I can't really believe I'm going to be traipsing around the world for in the first place, and if I do think about it, I'm going to wig out. But then, I probably won't wig out, because there's a HUGE absence of stress when you're not travelling by yourself. I think the worst thing about travelling to a foreign third world country by yourself is worrying where and how you're going to find a place to stay when you arrive - especially in the dark. Here, I think all arrangements have already been made for us. And if they haven't? I'm really not worried about it at all.

But in the meanwhile, packing's not done, (I still don't even know if everything is going to fit in my pack), other articles are not written that need to be finished before I leave, research on where all I'm going is not done, larium pills have not been gotten, I've got no DEET with me, last minute phone calls are not made, and I think we're going to the Sultan of Kedah's birthday party and I don't have a dress. Just one more thing keeps getting added to the list to do.

I've been shown the basics of internet posting wizardry I need to know but I haven't LEARNED any of it. I am walked through one thing (and I take notes to follow later), and then I'm walked through another thing (and take notes), and when I go back to the first thing, I can't recall doing any of it, nor can I understand my notes. I think I wrote them in a different language. John (my internet guru) and Steph assure me this will become so easy I won't even think about it. Uh huh.

Then there's the big question about my Raven - do I take it with me or not? What if I lose it? What if it gets confiscated in the airport in New Zealand? New Zealand doesn't want any foreign dirt coming into the country, and my Raven's done a lot of endurance rides. And it sure would be cool for the Raven to do some international rides...

We still have time for sit-down dinners, after which the 5 of us gather around our computers. I seem to be working with two computers. I'm weaning myself off my own onto my work computer, onto other programs and computer languages and God knows what all else, because I sure don't!

I don't even want to think about how long the flights are, from Phoenix to LA (midnight) to Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur. So when I do start to think, and lean in the direction of freaking out, of course there's always time to go watch and visit with and pet and laugh at the horses.

Then, it's back to work, up late, more packing, more internetting... 24 hours now to go!

Saturday, February 24, 2007


Saturday February 24 2007

Today, I can proudly say I was an honorary member of the HBFGMs - HuBaFuGuMs – the Hell Bitches and a Few Good Men, a group of endurance riders from the Scottsdale area who meet on Saturdays to ride in the desert.

Not only did I become and get to ride with the HuBaFuGuMs today, but I got to ride with them in COUGAR country!

About 15 or so HuBaFuGuMs showed up with their trailers and horses at Rusty and Kevin’s house, turning it into a mini-ride camp. It was a beautiful cool sunny winter desert morning as Kevin led the long snake of horses on the winding trails through the cactus, headed for Granite Mountain 9 or so miles away. It was all on dirt trails or dirt roads, but we didn’t completely leave civilization till we reached State land near Granite Mountain.

Lots of horse farms on this northeastern edge of Scottsdale. I’ve seen farms of Tennessee Walkers, Missouri Foxtrotters, Arabians, many who sprinted around their paddocks as we rode by. It looked like we were having so much fun they wanted to come on a trail ride with us! I’ve seen big training centers for reining and Western pleasure, and many others I couldn’t identify. Maybe this is the underground equivalent of Kentucky Bluegrass Country in the Desert.

I knew most of the flora and fauna of my summer digs in Bridgeport CA, but here riding through the desert in Arizona, I’m at a loss. I feel I’m kind of missing something, not knowing my native plants and birds. Okay, so I’ve only been here 5 days, but it’s like not being able to speak the native language when you’re in a foreign country. Sure, you can get by, but you’re missing out on a whole different world. I can recognize cholla in general (that’s the cactus you MOST don’t want to get bucked off into, though none are inviting), though there are over 20 species of it, at least 10 of which are here in the Sonoran Desert. They can be a few inches tall to as big as 15 feet tall, and can be ground creepers, shrubs or trees. And very pretty, but wicked.

Just about every plant out here has some form or barb or hook or needle point on it. I can see why cowboys wore full chaps – out here you need them if you don’t want to rip holes in your tights. (Hey, who really knows if the cowboys wore chaps over jeans or tights??) I had to protect my tights with my arms - once you get a hole in your tights, that’s it. My arms will heal!
Everybody knows the tall, distinctive Saguaro cactus (seen in every old desert Western ever filmed) – it’s the state flower of Arizona. They can grow to be 50 feet tall but only grow maybe an inch a year, so the biggest ones with more than 5 arms are estimated to be 200 years old. I did see one ocotillo cactus, and today I learned the green-barked Palo Verde tree and the chuparosa bush.

I also ID’d great-tailed grackles, Gila woodpeckers, and a cactus wren. I’m hoping I get to hear an elf owl while I’m here… they like to nest in the old woodpecker holes in the saguaro cactus, and they ought to be getting ready to nest about now. We saw a dead coyote (poisoned, I expect). You can hear packs of them serenading every night out here.

As we crossed into State land and began winding our way up the mountain, we ran into another small group of riders. One lady asked if we’d seen any cougars yet. What!? My ears perked up. “We’ve seen one the last few mornings out here,” she said. Well, that was it for me, I took my eyes off the trail and kept them focused on the rocks and desert floor looking for cats! My mount Quicksilver was on her own staying on the trails and out of cactus. I’ve seen 4 cougars in my life and I’m over due for another sighting. John was snapping pictures as we rode – I don’t think he caught any cougars lurking on the rocks. But let me know if you see any.

We had a short steep climb to the saddle on Granite Mountain; then we hopped off and led our horses down the rocky slippery gnarly other side. We had to squeeze underneath a saguaro with one of its arms hanging right over the trail. I hoped Quickie wasn’t going to get stabbed on top of her rump, but then, I had to keep my attention focused and my eyes peeled for cougars. When Rusty saw the pictures later, he said “You went under that thing? There was a trail around it!”

Once at the bottom, all the HuBaFuGuMs remounted, and we wound around the backside of the mountain, on trails through boulders and more cactus, while the view across the desert to the Mezatzal Mountains spread out before us. The scenery was marvelous, but alas, no luck today on cougar sightings.

Back off the state land and heading for home, Quickie was getting stronger and faster the further we went. By mile 15 or so, I was getting a pretty darn good workout. Sure glad there was no spooking today, because there really is a lot of cactus out here.

Back home it was hay for the horses and beer and soda and chips on the back porch with the HuBaFuGuMs. Great day to be in a great part of the world and to be a part of a great bunch of people.

Cheers to the HuBaFuGuMs!

Thursday, February 22, 2007 Does Scottsdale Arabian Show

Thursday February 22 2007



I’ve seen a few jumping and dressage shows and 3-day eventing shows on TV, but I’ve never been to a big horse show like the Scottsdale Arabian Show, first held in 1955, and now one of the largest Arabian shows in the country. I know I’m going to catch flak from show people, but here’s my astute analysis of the show world based on my observations.

Now, seeing that I ride Arabian endurance horses, I know a little bit about Arabians. In fact, I’ve ridden a lot of Arabian endurance horses, many many thousands of miles, in many stages of their training, over varied terrain and in all kinds of weather, Arabians that can go 50 or 100 miles in one day, or 50 miles several days in a row, and I’ve ridden one or two pretty good ones. Admittedly, I have terrible form, riding with my feet way out in front of me, probably leaning too far forward and hunching over my hands, (dressage teachers cringe when they see me coming anywhere near their arena), but this keeps me in the saddle with green spooky horses, which I’ve ridden a lot of. So, I know a little about Arabians. Or, I thought I did.

The first event (event?) we watched at this Scottsdale show was a Halter Class, which I guess was called that because the horses wore halters. I’d rename it the Show-Off-And-Look-Your-Prettiest class. These were 1 and 2-year-olds, and boy, did they know how to show off and look pretty. Or to not behave, I wasn’t sure which. I think they were supposed to walk around for the judges, but most were prancing, dancing with their heads high in the air, and one gorgeous paint filly was having a grand ol’ time, lunging at a two-minute lick around her handler. Zoom! Zoom! Tail in the air! Rearing! Leaping! Capriole! Whheeeeeee!

Maybe part of the reason for this behavior was that before the horses went into the ring, they were all gathered in the waiting arena, and one guy was chasing his groom’s horse around with a plastic bag to scare her into wearing a Frantic Look. (I heard that whips used to take the place of plastic bags for achieving this look, but that’s now frowned upon.)

Like at a dog show, some of the horses had great cheering sections, clapping and whooping and hollering that sounded like fire engine sirens going off. The wilder the horse acted, the louder and more the sirens went off.

At some point after this ‘walking’ around the arena, the handlers were supposed to make their horse stand a certain way. Front feet planted together, one back foot parked out a bit, skinny neck stretched far out, head lifted, higher, higher, higher to gaze at the stars… and I think the horse was supposed to lean forward, and not resist and lean backwards, like they tended to do. When the handlers finally got the horses stargazing and leaning forward, then they’d jerk on the halter, and the horse would throw her head up, either lean back or completely lose the stance, then the whole process would start again. Maybe the horses heard plastic bags in the audience and remembered they were supposed to try to stand and look pretty but frantic at the same time.

I studied and studied a few handlers, but I just couldn’t interpret the mystery dance they were doing with their horses. Leaning into them, leaning back, raising the whip then jerking on the horse’s head when the horse appeared to be standing right. Nor did I have any idea what the judges were looking for in these horses – Conformation? Shiniest coat? Prettiest color? Best pose? The most Vaseline smeared on their faces? The most frenetic eyes? The skinniest legs? The longest back and flattest croup? Just one handler who looked like he or she was enjoying themselves out there? Since I hadn’t a clue, I picked the paint filly because she was having such a good time, but the judges didn’t seem to like her at all or value that quality.

The next class was older mares, and I picked the black mare because I love black horses, which are rather rare, and I picked a liver-colored chestnut who was a very unusual and lovely color. That’s pretty much how I used to pick horses on the racetrack, the prettiest ones. And here the black and the liver chestnut came in first and second! Hey, I was kind of getting the hang of this thing! Better quit while I was ahead.

We moved on to watch the warm-up arena for the dressage riders. Horses being warmed up with their noses tucked so tightly to their chest they could almost stick their noses between their legs. Wow, that didn’t look comfortable at all. The horses could have run straight into a wall without seeing it till they hit it because they must only see 3 inches in front of them. What trust they must have in their riders! I remember the time when I was little that my niece was leading me around blindfolded and she led me right into a tree. I’m still not sure if that was on purpose or not. She won’t fess up.

There were the park or English pleasure horses that snapped their legs up in the air, the forelegs so high they almost touched their chins. That must be very strenuous for them. Bob Battaglia was riding one of these high steppers – even I know who trainer Bob Battaglia is. In fact, the great endurance horse Zayante who I rode many hundreds of miles came from a back field of one of Bob’s old places when Zay’s owner hadn’t paid his board bill for 2 years.

Okay, enough of that; on to the reining arena. Where the Peanut-rollers were warming up. I’d heard of Peanut-rollers, but never seen any in person before. Wow! Horses walking along with their head so low to the ground they look like bloodhounds sniffing a trail. Stormy does that when he’s walking along, only he’s sniffing for horse poop. That didn’t look comfortable either. The horses all looked like they were continually going downhill in the flat arena.

We watched a Western side-saddle class, where the horses’ changed gaits – walk, trot, canter - all looked the same to me, like a shuffling walk. And only one of the gals was smiling and looked like she was enjoying herself. I picked her to win based on that, since I couldn’t tell any difference among all the horses and riders, but she got 7th. I think she should have won because she was smiling the whole time.

We watched the Western pleasure class, where nobody appeared to be having any pleasure, especially one girl whose horse was lapping everybody at the trot. (And watch out for the canter – wheeeee!) What I could deduce of the techniques and goals of Western pleasure was that the object is to not touch your horse’s mouth – just hold the reins up in the air with one hand and not move your hands, as if you were carrying a full champagne glass, and your horse’s gaits should be slow and smooth enough that nothing would spill, and your horse should change gaits without any visible cueing. What I could see of the Western pleasure “trot” meant the same as a walk, only a two-beat. What I could see of the Western pleasure “canter” meant about the same as a trot, only a 4-beat. All slow and very controlled. Pretty impressive for an Arabian – at least the Arabians I ride. Well, Raffiq can walk pretty slow. He can trot pretty slow, too, when you are pointing him away from home.

Those were the gaits of all the horses in the ring, except for the runaway horse who didn’t want to be a Western pleasure horse, the one who was having a great time lapping everybody, whose rider’s face was turning red as she wrestled her horse with both hands on the reins and yanking on his mouth. I would have picked that horse to win because he was having so much fun, but even I figured out he was being pretty naughty. The girl rode out of the arena before all the ribbons were handed out.

I could see me doing this class one day, although I’d surely be the girl on the out of control horse. On second thought, I wouldn’t be allowed in the arena for such a class anyway, because I’d be leaning over introducing myself to the other riders, asking them where they’re from, commenting on their horses, enjoying myself, even while wrestling with my horse, which apparently is not the goal of Western pleasure.

We also cruised through the vendor area. Some shops had some mighty fancy sparkly spangly blouses to wear in competition. Hmm, if I can occasionally get away with wearing my leopard or zebra-striped tights in an endurance ride, why couldn’t I wear one of these tops with them? And I lusted after some great red leather gloves, mid-forearm length with red leather fringe on them – boy, they would have looked awesome with my red and black leather chaps with the red fringe! I might even get away with them (and my chaps) at the Oscars as a new fashion trend. But alas, I could not afford these gloves.

In conclusion, I obviously need quite a bit more education on what different show disciplines are about and what the goals are. And I apparently know little about what good conformation is in a good Arabian show horse. I do know they are glammed up to look pretty, but I like a horse you can have fun with (like say for 8 hours, going 50 miles). I like a horse whose head I can grab and plant a kiss on the side of his nose and give him a big hug. I get the feeling you don’t do that with these Arabian horse china dolls on display. Stormy still looks good when he’s filthy dirty.

So now after experiencing my first first-class Arabian horse show, I tried to think how we endurance riders might be able to learn and incorporate anything from these classes into our discipline. I came up with this.

Maybe at the start of an endurance ride, all our horses could be warmed up by someone chasing them around with plastic bags. Some of the riders could try riding side-saddle (some of us may unwittingly end up riding side-saddle anyway, with our horses spooking from the plastic bag warm-ups). Some of us could attempt the Western Pleasure form of riding, where we hold the reins loosely with one hand as our horses change from gait to gait at the same speed (runaway, after the plastic bag warmup). Still others of us could attempt to get our horses to bow their necks till their heads are between their knees, which we will be doing anyway, sawing on the reins trying to stop our runaways because of the plastic bag warm-ups.

I think we could learn to dress up a little better, taking a little incentive from our show sisters-in-the-saddle. On my best days I can manage to wear mostly red and black, coordinated with my horse’s red cinch, red breast collar and crupper and saddle bags, and his red and black halter, and black sidepull. Most days, though, I just throw on whatever the weather dictates and only a color-blind person could appreciate it. I’ll make an effort to wear my wild animal tights a little more often, and I think I could really spruce things up with a sequined show blouse. I don’t think the colors need match. The red leather fringed gloves are a must. I will start saving up for those, because now I’m going to be thinking about them forever!

And best of all what we can learn from the shows is, to have fun like the one gal I saw riding side-saddle. She looked good, her horse looked good (to me, who obviously didn’t know anything, since the horse got 7th), and she was having fun and smiling before, during, and after her ride.

To finish is to win!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Eastern Mojave Day Three

Tuesday February 20 2007

Ride day # 3 was not on a horse for me, it was a hitched ride in a truck to Arizona with my load of bags and my Raven. I was headed for Scottsdale and the Teeters (who are squatting there with their horses for the winter in the back yard of endurance riders Rusty and Kevin) for a weeklong stopover before my world wanderings.

Now that I’m really a truckless, homeless vagabond, I’m a ride hitcher and dwelling drifter. And so last week I called up Michelle Mueller, an endurance rider from Arizona, and asked if she could give me a ride to Prescott after the Eastern Mojave, which she was coming to. Not knowing me from Adam, and being a typical fellow endurance rider, she said, “Sure!”

But she was leaving for home Monday, Day 3 of the ride… which worked out well for Gretchen and me. After Day 2, Raffiq was a little stiff in the left hind – I think it’s all the sand we went through. This has happened to him a few times before, and in fact it happened at this ride 3 years ago after spending 2 days traversing a lot of sandy washes. And we weren’t sure about Spice’s metabolics Day 2 at lunch. She finished the ride fine, but since Raffiq was off, and Michelle was leaving, and since Gretchen would have had to pack up right after the ride and fight her way home through the holiday traffic, we decided not to ride Monday.

As the rain clouds gathered all around Monday morning, especially in the Mescal Mountains where the day’s ride was heading, and dropped a few sprinkles in camp, we figured we would have gotten pretty wet. Not that we’re wimps about the rain, (after all, there was no lightning involved, and I’m a Pacific Northwest native, so I love rain), and I’m certainly not becoming a fair-weather rider, but, you know what I mean.

And so, I ended up having an enjoyable ride to Arizona with Michelle and her husband Bobby Foxworth. Turns out Michelle galloped racehorses on the track, and when I was a racehorse groom I had wanted to be an exercise rider, till I discovered it scared me too bad and I didn’t have the nerve. Michelle did have the nerve and galloped for Neil Drysdale, and she once exercised Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Silver Charm. We traded scary racehorse-galloping stories (I had one to contribute – the one that convinced me that galloping was not for me). Bobby kept us entertained with stories of his career as a Hollywood stuntman and stunt coordinator.

John Teeter picked me up in Dewey in the evening at their house, and hauled me to Rusty and Kevin’s awesome place in the Sonoran Desert. This is Rusty and Kevin: strangers that welcome me into their home and their lives like they’ve known me all their life. And they put me up in a horse trailer palace.

Today I took my first ride ever in Arizona, just a short ride down a wash to the Rio Verde river and back up, but it was so beautiful everywhere – surprisingly green desert all around, saguaro cactus framing the skies with layers of the purple Mazatzal and Superstition Mountains in the near distance. I was fed some great homemade tortilla soup by another endurance riding visitor Victoria. Get a group of endurance riders together over dinner and wine, and try to not have a good time. Hmmm, I think I could become a fixture here. (Well, at least until about April, when I’d start whining about the heat, when I’d probably be loaded up and sent somewhere north.) Anyway, Rusty and Kevin decided they aren’t letting me leave Arizona to travel and work for Steph and John.

But then there’s horses to ride in Malaysia and New Zealand and Australia. Maybe they’ll keep the horse trailer plugged in for me…

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Eastern Mojave Day Two

Sunday February 18 2007

No wind this morning, a mild 56*, and clouds covering the sunrise for 87 riders. This morning when Gretchen and I were walking Spice and Raffiq to limber them up, we ran into Jane and Scamp, and Jackie and Odyssey. Odyssey! Raffiq stopped in his tracks and whinnied to his buddy. They walked on, and I had to drag Raffiq along after Spice, because he wanted to go with Odyssey.
As Gretchen and I walked to the start, we again ran into Jackie and Jane, and hooked up with them, so Raffiq was one happy camper. We cruised away from base camp across Shadow Valley heading toward the Mescal Range, through more spectacular cactus and Joshua tree forests. The first hour flew by at a steady trot, with just our group of 5 or so, and 4 others in front of us. You’d think you could see forever in the desert, but it’s funny how you can completely lose 90 (or 130) riders in the desert and feel like you are riding along out there.
We started heading up Chevy Canyon on an old pack trail, used by a lost Chinese miner when he went the wrong way a long time ago. As the trail climbed up, the scenery expanded, cool rock formations, winding canyons, juniper forests. We climbed up to Blue Buzzard pass, which gave us a great view of the valley behind us and the Piute Valley before us that we were to cross.
Scamp and Odyssey had gotten far enough in front of us to be lost from sight, and as we headed back down the mountain past some old mines, once we hit the valley, Raffiq was on a mission. He knew Odyssey was somewhere ahead, and he was going to catch up, no matter what my opinion was. We cantered along till we caught up with them.
The trail wound around through more Joshua tree and juniper forests, old mines, and the New Era Mining District – some old mining ruins and shacks, and some inhabitable shacks – reminded us of Darwin, the old mining town in the Panamint mountains we ride through on the Death Valley ride. Climbing back up another pass, we headed back down into the Shadow valley where we came to the lunch stop at Cross Rocks, a popular hiking area.
Raffiq and Spice had been pulling us along, feeling strong, but after an almost an hour of resting and eating, Spice looked a bit uncomfortable. Belly ache? We weren’t sure, so we hung around lunch for another half hour. She seemed fine, so we decided to continue on back to camp about 25 miles away, but taking it slow, walk the whole way if need be.
It was a beautiful day to take it slow and absorb the scenery – cool but not cold, pleasantly breezy but not Windy as Hell like yesterday. Some of the not-so-distant clouds looked a little suspicious – as in, if I were in Bridgeport in the summer, I’d be worried about thunderstorms. But, this was not Bridgeport, and it wasn’t summer, so I wasn’t too worried, though I kept my eyes on them.
We passed a lot of hikers leaving lunch. I’m not sure what they thought of having to step aside (or let us pull over) for some 80 horses, coming at them a few at a time. Heading up onto Cima Dome, we turned past a windmill, sitting lonely and quiet up on the hill. Until, that it, we passed it, then we were attacked by a HORSE-EATING WINDMILL! The four of us heard some strange moaning noise – I thought something had shot past us. Raffiq naturally got goosed in the butt and I grabbed him before he bolted away. We both turned to look at what had attacked us – there was the windmill turning merrily in the breeze. Why it wasn’t turning in the same breeze before we got there, I don’t know. I suspect somebody was actually hiding in some Joshua trees (well, maybe not – try climbing one of those), and when we were passed, they said “Watch this! I’m going to start the windmill turning and scare the horses!” Which is what happened.
Raffiq would stop and stare back at the moaning groaning squealing turning windmill, then he would turn tail and scoot very rapidly along the trail behind Spice, his tail tucked between his legs; then he’d slam on the brakes and turn back to look at the windmill. Which was now suddenly still as it was when we first came to it. Raffiq was then goosed another good two miles down the trail before he settled down.
We traversed Cima Dome, 3 miles of it, before heading back down to the valley and toward camp on some of the same trail we’d ridden yesterday. We let Spice set the pace – walk when she felt like it, trot when she felt like it. The further we went along, the better they both felt, pulling us along.
The last ten miles or so we ended up riding with Julie and Michael Elias from Arizona. The horses were feeling great, Raffiq pulling me along, weaving in and out of the cactus on those trails beside the sandy wash. Back on the sandy road, we were cruising along, when Raffiq was almost attacked by a HORSE EATING DEAD JOSHUA TREE! The laying down Joshua trees always get their attention, and this one literally stopped him in his tracks. Slammed on the brakes and wheeled to his left. I almost kept going, losing my right stirrup, but somehow I stayed on, and Raffiq decided the dead Joshua tree was not actually going to eat him, so we continued on down the last 2 miles to camp.
Our horses crossed the finish line with a half hour left (it was a 55-mile ride today) before another beautiful desert sunset.
Another 50 miles for the Raven!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Eastern Mojave Day One

Saturday February 17 2007

At 1 AM it begins: WIND! The cab-over was rocking around, the vents flapping. I got about 10 minutes of sleep the rest of the night.
It was still blowing in the morning, not the hurricane like Death Valley Day 1 that Gretchen and I wimped out on, but merely Blowing Like Hell winds. It was only 56* but the wind made it a bit cooler.
An astounding 129 horses started the ride. Of course we started out directly into the wind, which was howling from the northeast. Gretchen and I fell in behind about oh, 60 or 70 riders, which meant we got the dust from 240 to 280 hooves kicked up and blowing in our faces. We walked a long way, so our horses would stay calm (no fun bucking in the wind), and because there were plenty of horse traffic jams. No need to run up on heels of excited horses. Dick Dawson’s horse got double barreled right in front of us and Raffiq (the Drama Queen) wigged out. The Duck insisted later that the winds were only a steady 20 mph, but I beg to differ. He was sitting in his jeep with his windows rolled up, while the wind was blasting in my face. I couldn’t hear anything but roaring, and I kept my eyes closed half the time. It was disorienting, and was making me rather crabby. Raffiq just puttered along, even while I was battered around on his back. An hour we headed into that wind, then finally turned south, along the base of the Mescal Range. That sheltered us somewhat from the wind, though when we passed drainages, the wind howled down those and knocked us sideways. (20 mph! Right.)
We wound down washes, toured through fantastic forests of Joshua trees, barrel cactus, cholla, and dozens of other cacti. Not a place to fall off!
Raffiq felt strong, especially when we turned west after a nice corral water stop – he thought we were headed home. When we turned back south, the pace slowed considerably. There was some heavy sand in a long, soft road, but we joined some other riders on the side of the road, weaving in and out and through the brush and cactus. Raffiq loves these little weaving runs, but you had to be a little careful to avoid the hidden cholla, waiting to grab horse legs.
By lunch time on top of Cima Dome, the wind had died somewhat, and the horses chowed down the entire hour. Leaving lunch, winding up around the south side of Cima Dome, we toured through some absolutely fantastic Joshua tree forests, some of them towering to some 30 feet high and multi-branched as a thick fir tree. That had to be a very very old forest, unbothered by humans and untouched by fire for a long time. We had some great views of distant mountain ranges, layered gray and red mountains dotted with the green flora of a healthy desert.
I am a tree hugger, but wouldn’t stop to hug a Joshua tree – they hurt. In fact, 3 years ago when I did this ride, I got speared in the knee. This year, I got clubbed twice, but fortunately the spines were all going the same direction I was. I narrowly missed kissing some cholla with my legs when Raffiq chose those choice times to spook from the wind goosing him in the butt.
We wound through some artistic rocks and boulders, passed a few old mines – Copper King mine and Evening Star Mine. Then we turned towards camp, and Raffiq and Spice picked up speed. In fact, the last 10 miles, I was hanging on Raffiq because he was having a great time, especially when we went back to weaving in and out of the cacti, ducking under Joshua tree branches. I felt like Luke Skywalker zooming through the forest, leaning left and right. We had to abort a few times when he got going so fast I was afraid we’d crash into cholla.
Last stretch the wind had let up quite a bit, was holding the dust cloud we kicked up right with us. It was like morning in that I had to keep my eyes mostly closed and hope Raffiq knew where he was going.
We pulled into camp at 3:30, in mid-pack, in the 60’s. Only three people pulled, and two of them turned back this morning when the wind proved too fierce for their horses.
At the evening awards/dinner, Carol Hoeft had a special thanks for Rebecca Jankovich – she drove all the way out here to bring her champagne and a cake. A few years ago, Rebecca went through and survived breast cancer; and she helped Carol go through the same thing. Without Rebecca to talk to and lean on, Carol felt she would not have made her way through her ordeal. Endurance riders are just one big family at times like these.
A successful ending of Day 1 of the Eastern Mojave Scenic: another 50 miles down for the Raven!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Eastern Mojave Ground Zero

Friday February 16 2007

Gretchen and I set off for the 3-day Eastern Mojave Scenic ride, in the National Mojave Preserve outside of Baker, CA, whose claim to fame appears to be having the world’s largest thermometer. Gretchen and I were a bit worried as the temperature started climbing… 68*, 71*… not bad. Then it got to 75*… 78*…
“If it hits 80* let’s turn around and go home.”
The traffic was awful – thousands of people heading for Vegas for the holiday weekend. It appeared that thousands of Vegans were also fleeing Las Vegas for the better (?) environs of Los Angeles.
We pulled into ride camp where, by 2 PM, it was looking a little like the crowd at Burning Man: BIG. Lots of trailers, and more coming in. We unloaded the horses and saddled them up for a ride.
Boy were they raring to go! They hadn’t been out since Sunday, and it was like riding a couple of banshees out in the desert. Either Spice was out front tripping and bucking and Raffiq was behind bolting because something was goosing him in the butt, or he was out front climbing and trying to run off because he didn’t want Spice in front of him and anyway she was getting goosed in the butt and bucking behind. We’re using BRIDLES tomorrow instead of sidepulls.
The golden setting sun lit the mountains behind us gold and magenta.
At the ride meeting there was quite a crowd… ride manager The Duck said we had permits for 100, or “maybe a few more,” the BLM guy allowed. It was 100 and Maybe a Few More come out for this 3 day ride in the beautiful high desert of Joshua trees.
The Duck is very vociferous in insisting his rides are for pleasure, not for racing. No special awards for finishing first, or top ten. Not a problem for Gretchen and me, because our horses just poke along. We always get to absorb lots of scenery.
It seems to take forever to get ready for next day’s ride. Lunch is an out vet-check, so we have to pack crew bags, food for the horses and for us. Already we’re hauling horse water to our trailer, already we’ve filled hay bags and water buckets several times. Don’t forget to pack the Raven in his saddle bag. Get the camper set up for beds, eat a second time (ate once before the ride meeting), eat some desert.
Then off to bed, with the busy hum of constant traffic on I-15 two stone’s throws away, sleep a few hours before starting down the trail with the sunrise at 7 AM, all 100 and a Few More of us endurance riders.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A Stormy Farewell

Wednesday February 14 2007

This is why I’m not a horse trainer/trader: it’s not because I don’t know what I’m doing; it’s because it’s traumatic just selling my vehicle. My last car I sold I’d had for 13 years, and it was like watching somebody take my favorite cat away when they drove off in it. This truck I’ve had for 10 years, and I’ve really lived in it. And today someone drove it away. I’m going vehicle-less for a while… something I have not done since I’ve had a driver’s license.

If I can get that attached to a hunk of metal, the idea of selling a horse that I’d been training would be unbearable. I’d never sell Stormy.

I’ve sold my truck, stored my goods, taking only 2 bags with me… I’m leaving for places and things unknown. Well, I pretty much always do that, but this time I’m going to work for Steph Teeter and as a photojournalist, the first 3 months of which will be in Malaysia, New Zealand, and Australia. After that… who knows?

Which brings me to Stormy.

I’ve left him for months at a time without seeing him, and it seems to be much more distressing to me than it is to him. Sure, he loves me, and is always happy to see me when I get back, be it 3 weeks or 3 months, but sure, he loves the person who feeds him 3 times a day too. (But he loves me best). Leaving a person is much easier – he can pick up a phone or email. Stormy doesn’t do either.

Now, I really don’t ever say goodbye, I always say See ya later, because you always do. So, today Stormy and I had our See-ya-later ride. And he must have understood, because the ride was AWESOME!

Awesome for Stormy is staying relaxed the whole ride, and if I’m really really lucky, he’s not reluctant to go out (he’d always rather stay home and eat). And today he was not reluctant; and in fact we did some trotting much of the way out. Maybe he finally figured out that if he moves along a little quicker on the way out, we’ll get home quicker, even though we walk all the way back.

We’d trot along, rabbits shooting out from under our feet, then walk along in his big 100-mile walk, trot some more, watch the little birds (white crowned sparrows?) hop from creosote bush to bush. And when we made the turn and headed back home… loose rein, relaxed walk, stop to sniff all the poop piles along the way. He seemed to enjoy the outing.. Dang, I did a great job with this horse calming him down and getting him out on his own. (And last weekend, I rode him out with Gretchen on Buddy, and another horse joined us halfway out there, and he was able to trot along in the small group, and remain calm.) Not to say in certain situations he wouldn’t wig out, but I’ve been able to avoid those situations or present them in a way he can handle them.

I’ll walk him over to his summer pad tomorrow, leave him with many carrots and smooches.
This evening the girls and I got together for a See-ya-later dinner at Jackie’s. Great food, red wine, fresh baked brownies.

Great send-off for a new direction in life…

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Fire Mountain Purty

Sunday February 11 2007

I look out the window this morning and see a hawk flying low and close by – it’s a Northern harrier! I’ve never seen one here in Ridgecrest. What’s up with that?

The harriers start passing through the Bridgeport valley (about 4 hours north) in August and September en route to their winter grounds somewhere south, I expect in South America.
I’ve spent about 6 winters in Ridgecrest and have never seen one here before. Is this one lost? Passing back north early because of the very mild and virtually snow-less winter in the Sierras? Maybe it never migrated because of the mild winter and the abundance of prey.
Margaret and I ran out the door to watch it bewilderment.

I worked for the forest service in Bridgeport for many years with Margaret until she went off and became a district ranger in the Sierras. Margaret was the first one who taught me how to pack with horses, and in fact she now owns Woody, one of the old forest service horses – who’s Stormy’s buddy and sometimes-pasturemate now.

Naturally she works way too hard and too much, due to normal requirements of the job but also due to shrinking budgets. The people hired are fewer (same with my seasonal forest service work), but the workload increases, or the jobs double up. Funny how that works. But she was at least able to come down for the weekend and ride with Gretchen and me.

It blew most of the night, and was a bit breezy in the morning, but we’d already psyched ourselves up to ride at Brady’s. Gretchen and I are going to the 3-day Eastern Mojave Scenic ride next weekend, and this is a great training ride. Sometimes the foot of the Sierras don’t get the same wind that’s blowing across the flat desert and picking up speed as it hits Ridgecrest. But then, looking at the Sierras with the ‘tablecloth’ hanging over the peaks, we figured we’d have a little wind there, too.

We took Spice and Raffiq, and borrowed one of Jackie’s horses, Star. Now Star’s an older mare, about 15, and she’s very unique looking. A few people around here refer to her as Fire Mountain Ugly. (Jackie’s place is Fire Mountain Arabians.)

She does maybe look a bit better with a saddle on that covers up her big swayed back, and she does have a big head, and a rather angular body, but I still call her a pretty girl, with or without a saddle. My niece had a great dog once, Chucha, sharpei and stinky as all get-out, and one might have mistakenly called her UG-LY, but we called her purty, because we thought she was beautiful; and so Chucha spent her life knowing she was beautiful and the best dog in the whole world, and the happiest.

I think Star is the same - it just takes the right person to appreciate her beauty. She goes along nicely, and Jackie says she likes to do lessons and jump, in addition to hitting the endurance trail.

We had a bit of a breeze at the bottom of Brady’s, and weren’t bothered too much till we hit the turn that took us up the big climb. The higher we got, the harder we got blasted, till we couldn’t even hear each other yelling. Normally I can’t STAND the wind, but somehow this was okay, I guess because we knew once we crested the ridge it might let up a little, and once we were fully on our way back, the wind would be behind us. Besides, it’s so pretty up there, and the horses didn’t seem bothered by the wind.

We actually met some people on top who’d found a geocache. I think it’s amazing that our horses get up that long steep hill, but I find it really wild that somebody would drive up there. I wouldn’t have the nerve!

It was a good ride. Spice protected us up front from some horse-eating boulders, and Star protected us from behind from a cougar that she was sure might be lurking in the rock sculptures we rode down past on the last steep downhill.

It was blowing a minor gale when we got back to the trailer, time to pack up, go home, and sip a few brews out of the wind!