Saturday, November 30, 2013

Completed! NaNonFiWriMo!

Saturday November 30 2013

November is the month of NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month - and NaNonFiWriMo - National Non-Fiction Writing Month - and on November 1st I committed to finishing my horse-life memoir.

I not only finished it but I sent it off to my editor today!

So far Stormy, a main character in my book, is quite pleased with what he's heard, particularly the chapters about him. So far my editor Pat Barnhart peeked at only the Prologue and…(heart in throat)… she loved it! (Actually the words she used were "LOVE IT LOVE IT LOVE IT!")

The Owyhee herd is excited and can't wait to sit around a campfire this winter and hear some of the stories.

Stay tuned… I will have updates here on my blog, including title, cover photo, inside excerpts, and publishing progress!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Owyhee Thanksgiving Day Parade

Thursday November 28 2013

They come down the canyon to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Rhett leads the way,

until Stormy takes the lead near home.

Only 1 human and 4 dogs witness the Owyhee Parade, and we are thankful for it!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Happy Stormy (and Raven) Thanksgiving!

Tuesday November 26 2013

Here's to another year of Thanksgiving, with good horses, good Ravens, good trails and good friends!

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Spirit Horse Christmas Herd!

Thursday November 21 2013

New Christmas Spirit Horses are ready for the holidays. They aren't just pins: they now double as ornaments!

You can see how they look hanging on these Owyhee Christmas trees.

If your Christmas themes aren't red and green, there are many other Spirit Horses to choose from.

Other art is also available… The Equestrian Vagabond photographic prints, Stormy Cartoon cards, Owyhee barbed wire designs. And more to come!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Autumn Gold Dust


Monday November 18 2013

Nothing eclipses this time of year when the dust and the evening sun angle adds drama to the outlines of the desert hills and Owyhee mountains.

 The herd strolls down from the canyon

Stormy ambles among the saltbush

Rhett stops to eye me suspiciously

 The cottonwoods are rather riotous!


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Black Helicopters

Tuesday November 12 2013

They've been flying directly over us in this Owyhee desert for weeks now, day and night. The black helicopters.

Claude Dallas was an outlaw in the 80's who shot and killed 2 game wardens, and hid out in the Owyhee desert for some 15 months before he was caught. Maybe they're searching for another outlaw?

They're clearly doing something besides just flying. They've flown directly overhead way too many times for it to be a coincidence. Sometimes they fly high, sometimes low. Sometimes they fly slow, or fast, or they hover. Sometimes at night they use spotlights. Some might think they are black military helicopters.

I think not.

They are masquerading as military helicopters, but I know what they really are.

Paparazzi! You know how they fly over movie stars' houses, right? Here they are obviously spying on The Most Beautiful Horse On The Planet, having finally discovered where he lives, trying to catch him in some compromising position. Today two of them flew in a box directly over me. Then one flew back and forth, back and forth over me. Trying to figure out exactly which brown blob was TMBHOTP. I didn't let on which one he was.

Well, it won't happen anyway. Whatever Stormy does, he's beautiful, never compromising anything. Even first thing in the morning, without his makeup, he's beautiful. Even in his winter fat, which isn't quite there yet, he's beautiful. Even when he's rolling in the dirt, he's beautiful. Even when he's tried to scratch himself on the bushes, and has saltbush stickers in his tail, he's beautiful. Even when he's passed out in the poopy uneaten hay, he's beautiful.

So, the helicopters can fly and spy all they want: Stormy has been, is, always will be, in any position, The Most Beautiful Horse On The Planet.

And on a serious note with Veterans Day just past, I am so grateful I don't live in a war zone, where the constant sound of helicopters brings fear, not curiosity, where one expects accompanying machine gun fire or the explosions of bombs, and I'm grateful for those veterans who have, do, and will give their lives, in legitimate and even illegitimate wars, so I can live with my Most Beautiful Horse On The Planet.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Zayante, The Best Endurance Horse

Friday November 8 2013

He was a beautiful brilliant white bundle of energy floating above the tan sand, in the golden winter light, a happy horse in the Panamint Valley. - Me, Death Valley Encounter, 2004

He could sneer like nobody's business while motoring down the trail, intimidating the horse next to him with his fearsome attitude.

And well he should - not many could hold a candle up to this invincible endurance horse that is 5th on the all-time AERC mileage list with 13,200 miles, and who was gracious enough to carry 19 of us on his back throughout his 15-year career.

He was bred and born destined for the show ring but through a series of fateful twists, he started his life as a pack horse named Paco, before ending up where he was meant to be: on the endurance trails. Jim and Jackie Bumgardner renamed him Taco and started his endurance training before selling him to Bob and Julie Suhr. The rest is endurance history.**

Julie renamed him Zayante. "We put him in a corral overlooking Zayante Canyon, named after an Indian tribe that once inhabited it," Julie said. "Taco let out this gigantic bugle call to tell everyone he was here and he had a new name as of that moment." For five seasons, Bob and Julie owned and rode their Superhorse, who went 5000 miles without a pull – that’s 89 straight rides, on distances of 50 to 100 miles, including 4 straight Tevis finishes, 42 Top Ten finishes, and 5 Best Condition awards. "He's the best horse I've ever ridden," Julie still says, and coming from someone who has over 30,000 endurance miles and finished the Tevis Cup 22 times and won the Haggin cup 3 times, that's saying something.

In 1995 the Suhrs sold Zayante back to Jackie Bumgardner, because he could be quite the spooky horse. Jackie and Zayante continued on Julie’s original quest to reach 100 rides without a pull. Not only did they accomplish this; in Zayante’s 100th ride, the Gambler’s Special in April of 1996, Zay and Jackie finished in first place.
Jackie and Zayante after they hit 10,000 miles in 2002

I stepped in around 2001. I rode for Jackie in the winters in Ridgecrest, California, and there were a number of us vying for Most Coveted (Saddle) Seat of Affection in the Zayante Fan Club. Zayante ultimately willingly carried me over 715 AERC miles.

One of the best endurance horses I've ever ridden, Zayante gave me some of my greatest and most memorable rides on some of the most spectacular trails.

In 2003, Zayante took me on my second 100-mile endurance ride. I was the newbie - it was Zayante's 24th 100-mile ride.

It was great to be riding a white horse in the desert at midnight; there was still a bright moon glow from the low clouds, I was quite warm, my horse was still going strong, and I was so fortunate to be out here, spending a day and a night with a super equine companion.

Zayante didn’t look or feel like he’d been 92 miles – like I certainly did – and he perkily trotted right on out for the last 8 miles. He was still pulling, jigging, ears pricked forward, neck a bundle of energy beneath me. This horse blows me away. I myself was worn, tired, aching, but I could not complain because of this horse who would faithfully and much more willingly than I continue another 50 miles if need be. The wind was blowing a gale at our backs. My tongue was thick and heavy, voice was gone, throat dry and raw, but I couldn’t be bothered to make the effort of reaching for a handy water bottle to take a drink.

The last few miles seemed to take the longest of all until we made the last turn to the north. The lights of the Fairgrounds could be seen in the distance. At 99 ½ miles, at 2:30 in the morning, Zayante gave me a special gift: he spooked so hard (at nothing) I almost hit the sand! Just testing to see if I could stay on after all that riding. What a great, great horse he is!

I rode and finished my first multi-day ride on him at the Death Valley Encounter in California in 2004:

We wound on up through a pinyon forest, ensconced in its permanent blanket of snow for the winter. We reached Rogers Pass at 6560 feet, and it wasn’t the strong cold wind up there that almost blew me off Zayante, but the stunning view into Death Valley and the Badwater Basin (below sea level), and the jumble of Black Mountains and the Amargosa Range and Greenwater Range. Climbing the last steep hill, we could also see the Owlshead Mountains covering the southern horizon. Now I knew why Zayante wanted to get up this canyon so badly - he knew what was waiting here on top.

This was on the last day of the DVE, the last few miles of the 4 days in a row, 200 miles:

Down, down, step by step beside this amazing horse I’d ridden and walked beside for 195 miles, sometimes stepping in rhythm with, sometimes moving on auto pilot with, legs stepping one after the other, on and on, with 2 goals in mind: getting to the finish line and starting the next day. Just me and this horse, taking me up mountains and canyons and valleys I’d never see otherwise, with a power and speed I could never attain, this amazing 18 to 23-year-old steed, now approaching his 10,685th career mile.

We finished just before dark, and passed the final vet check. I got my wish, completing my first multi-day ride on the best endurance horse I have ever ridden.

There are two more very special unpublished stories about Zayante that will be featured in my upcoming memoir. I hope they will do him justice.

Zayante's record stands at 241 finishes in 252 starts, 20 of 25 100-mile completions, 5 Best Conditions, 4 Tevis buckles. He was elected to the AERC Hall of Fame in 2002.

When Zayante retired from endurance in 2005, he hung out on Jackie's ranch with his best pal Ross (Sierra Fadrazal +/ , 8430 miles, Pardner's Award with Jackie in 1998), until Ross crossed the Rainbow Bridge at the age of 33 in 2011.

Ross and Zayante, 2009

Zayante then went to live at Nick and Judy's in the Bay Area - Nick being the president of the Zayante Fan Club, with several thousand miles of trail together. There Zayante continued to live the good life - forever revered, constantly spoiled.

Just a few of Zayante's Fan Club - including The Raven!

Nothing stopped Zayante on the trails, but colic finally stopped him Tuesday night. He's gone to join Ross now, where I'm quite sure they are already galloping circles around the other endurance horses up there.

Zayante, you took our hearts with you when you left us. You will be forever missed.

**Zayante was featured in a story I wrote about him in Equus magazine in 2004, before he reached his 10,000 miles. Read about it here.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Rainbow Bridge: ZAYANTE, ? - 2013

Originally published in Equus Magazine, 2004

And Miles To Go...

Glancing at his papers (he has none), he’s just another gray Grade gelding, who used to first have no name, which became Paco, which morphed into Taco.

In the horseflesh, he’s a brilliant white, utterly obvious Arabian piece of class, one who has left many broken hearts along his way. With big knowing eyes, one competitive attitude, and a legion of fans rooting him on, he is about to leap into the pages of Endurance history books as one of only eight horses who have ever reached 10,000 endurance miles in their career.

His complete origins remain a mystery, but the story of the horse with no name begins somewhere around 1983 – or 1989, depending on whose story you choose to go with. Back then a horsewoman/trainer/trader named Laddie with a keen eye for horses spotted a young gray stallion in a field across from a fancy Arab show barn near San Luis Obispo, California, the now non-existent Baywood Arabians. The gray’s owner hadn’t paid his board bill for 2 years, and so the gray was left alone to rule his pasture kingdom with an iron fist. The 4-year-old (so she was told) hadn’t been handled at all, no shanks, shots or shoes; in fact he was barely halter broke and he did quite well at intimidating the girls who had the chores of just feeding and watering the almighty horse daily.

Laddie took him off their hands for $100. She immediately had him gelded, and in a couple of weeks was headed to Bishop, California with a few other colts where she was going to start his training. On the way down Highway 395 she had the misfortune to break down. 

Fortunately a northbound trailer turned around to help, and it happened to be Laddie’s friend Billy Martin. Billy took one look at the gray on the trailer, and said, I want that horse. They made a deal, and the no-name gray became Paco and landed at Red Meadows Pack Station near Mammoth, California, a far cry from the show ring for which he’d been supposedly well-bred.

There Billy worked with Paco on occasional summer evenings after work, breaking him to saddle and bridle. 

In the fall the pack station horses had to be rounded up from the mountains they had been turned out to graze upon, and the job fell to Billy, who was by some mix-up left no horse upon which to do it… except a recently broke gray gelding, completely out of shape, with no more than sixty hours of training in him, who’d never been up and down hills, never been over rocks, never done much of anything but trotted around the flat meadows a few times when Billy wasn’t too tired after a long day of work.

Billy saddled up in the early morning and headed out on Paco, up and down mountains, over rocks, through streams and bogs, cross-country following horse and mule tracks through forests that might have scared an ordinary inexperienced horse. At one point Paco had to leap four feet straight up onto a rock shelf to get them out of a tight spot. 

When Billy and Paco did finally find the herd, they all headed back up and down and through those same mountains and rocks and streams. A few miles from the pack station, near dark, the herd took off toward home at a dead run. Paco kept up with them, but by the time they stopped in camp, Billy was afraid he’d overdone it on his little horse. But all Paco did, says Billy, was huff and puff a few times, then take a deep breath, and his eyes lit up and that son-of-a-gun was ready to go on again. It scared me, he said, I’d never seen that Look of Eagles before. 

That was when Billy knew he loved this horse, a feeling he’d never developed before for a horse or mule. 

After that, Billy packed him down the Pacific Crest Trail from Bishop to Inyokern, a week-long trip leading 2 loaded-down mules. Billy just rode Paco in a bosel, never having to ask him anything but to slow down a bit for the mules to keep up. At night Billy hobbled the mules but let Paco loose; while the mules went off to graze, Paco was much more interested in hanging out in camp with his buddy Billy.

The next person to utter the words, I want that horse, was Jim Bumgardner, who with his wife Jackie, rode and sold endurance horses. Jim shod horses at the place Paco lived, and he eventually talked Billy into selling him the gray - a sale Billy regretted immediately, and still does. To this day he’s glad to hear the horse is doing well, but he won’t even look at a picture of his beloved Paco.

At the Bumgardners’, Paco became Taco; and after a few months of riding, Taco was on the move again. In 1991 Bob and Julie Suhr, an older couple of serious endurance endeavors, called Jackie looking for an endurance horse. After trying Taco in a ride, they bought him.

And so began the endurance career of Zayante, (no longer known as Taco!) Esteemed Endurance Horse. As there were no papers to prove his breeding, he was registered as a Grade, although you couldn’t find a horse anywhere with a more classic Arabian look and build. 

Bob and Julie owned and rode their superhorse for five seasons, going 5000 miles without a pull – that’s 89 straight rides, on distances of 50 to 100 miles, including 4 straight Tevis finishes, 42 Top Ten finishes, and 5 Best Condition awards.

In 1995 Bob and Julie decided to sell Zayante because at their age – a youngish 70’s – the ground was starting to feel a bit harder when Zayante spooked and Bob came off. They offered the champ back to Jackie Bumgardner, under the condition that she no longer call him Taco. She readily agreed – Zayante no longer resembled anything like a taco. He looked like and carried himself like royalty.

Jackie and Zayante continued on Julie’s original quest to reach 100 rides without a pull. Not only did they accomplish this; in Zayante’s 100th ride, the Gambler’s Special in April of 1996, Zay and Jackie finished in first place.

Since that special day, Jackie has racked up 3325 miles on her gelding. Nine others have been privileged to get on his back to continue piling on his miles. We all love him and fight over who gets him next.

Nick Warhol, self-described as “Zayante’s Biggest Fan,” has logged 1300 lucky miles on his back. 

I am Zayante’s Biggest Buddy. I’ve put only 100 miles on him, but they were the best rides of my life. I was lucky to still have my life after a serious horse accident, and Zayante was my first two rides back. I told him to take care of me out there, and he did so with aplomb and pride. 

Zay can have his bad days. Like when you ask him to pony a younger horse. Such a task is far beneath his dignity, and he proves your decision wrong every time by acting worse than the green horse you’re ponying.

He can throw in some annoying spooks, and can jig till the cows come home if you aren’t going the speed he prefers. He can make a terrific “Meany Face” meant to scare off lesser horses; it’s a sneer that many an endurance rider has come to know well. 

He can be a real bear when, for example, he wakes up the morning of an endurance ride thinking he’s going to Top Ten, but his job that day is to escort a less fit horse on a slower 50 miler. Take it from me, Zayante can stay extremely mad at you for 8 straight hours.

You forget those minor disturbances, however, when you ride him. He’s the Energizer Bunny: he keeps going, and going, and going. He thrives on multi-day rides, looking as good at the end of the last day as he did at the beginning of the first. He’s a champ at the vet checks, saving his energy, never excited, looking pleasant and interested and polite. He’s push button to ride – after all, at 21 or so years of age and nearly 10,000 miles, (and easily triple that in training miles) he’s pretty much seen and done it all. He knows which way to go, how fast to go, where he is in regards to the pack. He won’t let you take a wrong turn on a trail. If he’s tired (never) or a bit arthritic (a little more now in his twenties), he lets you know, although he’d just as soon keep on going down the trail regardless.

He loves endurance. You can see it in his eye, you can feel it when you’re on his back. I have never been on a better horse – he’s simply a joy to ride.

This spring, March 16th, in the Geo Bun Buster endurance ride in Coso Junction, California, Zayante should hit his 10,000th mile, with Jackie aboard. Those of us in the Zayante Fan Club hope to celebrate the amazing accomplishments of this amazing horse - although, we are sure, it won’t end at 10,000.

There’s a record of 19,000 miles to top, and Zayante won’t hear of retirement.

 - Merri Melde 

Farewell, Zayante

November 7, 2013

Destined for the Arabian show ring in the early 1980's, but instead picked up for $100 by a horse trader because of an unpaid board bill at the now-defunct Baywood Arabians, the paper-less gray gelding nicknamed "Paco" first started his working life as a pack horse in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

A lucky twist of fate landed the gelding - renamed Taco - on the Fire Mt Arabian ranch of Jim and Jackie Bumgardner, in Ridgecrest, California, in 1990. Lucky, because he ended up where he was meant to be: on the endurance trails.

He shortly found a home with Bob and Julie Suhr, in Scotts Valley, California. "We put him in a corral overlooking Zayante Canyon, named after an Indian tribe that once inhabited it," Julie said. "Taco let out this gigantic bugle call to tell everyone he was here and he had a new name as of that moment."

For five seasons, Bob and Julie owned and rode their Superhorse, who went 5000 miles without a pull – that’s 89 straight rides, on distances of 50 to 100 miles, including 4 straight Tevis finishes, 42 Top Ten finishes, and 5 Best Condition awards. He gave the Suhrs' daughter Barbara White - she's the leading finisher of the Tevis Cup, with 32 buckles - her 20th Tevis completion in 1994.

It was the 1992 Tevis ride on Zayante that was one of the fondest memories of Barbara's life. She recalls: "Except for passing two other riders, I rode those miles from Francisco's to the finish line alone.  It was so strange to be out there in the dark by myself, on a bright white horse who wanted to go with such eagerness.  I remember frequently slowing him down and turning a flashlight on my heart monitor to make sure his pulse was still recovering, then letting him go again. 

"It was a special night for me - warm, moonlit, and solitary, except for Zayante. And, except for the sound of the river and his footsteps, it was quiet and personal. It didn't seem that it could be the very same day that had started out in a mad rush of horses from the point of beginning, full of trail gridlock, jumpy animals, nervous people.  Instead it was a very special evening, not an organized event, just me and a very special equine partner racing through the darkness to a finish line in Auburn. 

"I get emotional simply reminiscing about that magical night." 

In 1995 Bob and Julie decided to sell Zayante because he was rather spooky. They offered him back to Jackie Bumgardner, under the condition that she no longer call him Taco.

Jackie and Zayante continued on Julie’s original quest to reach 100 rides without a pull. Not only did they accomplish this; in Zayante’s 100th ride, the Gambler’s Special in April of 1996, Zay and Jackie finished in first place.

Jackie and Zayante hitting 10,000 miles in the Geo Bun Buster on March 16, 2002

Zayante went on to reach 13,200* miles, 5th on the all-time mileage list, over his 15-year career. His record stands at 241 completions in 252 starts, with 20 of 25 100-mile rides completed, and 5 Best Condition awards.  He excelled in multi-day rides, and he gave 19 different lucky riders memorable rides over his career.

After he retired in 2005, he lived at Jackie Bumgardner's ranch until 2011, when his best buddy, Sierra Fadrazal +/ (8430 miles, Pardner's Award with Jackie in 1998) died. Then he went to live with Nick Warhol and Judy Long in the Bay Area of California, until November 5, 2013, when he passed on from a bout of colic.

He was probably born in 1979 or 1985, which would make him 34 or 28.

Zayante, you will be forever missed.

*Zayante's AERC records say 13,200; the list of high-mileage equines says 13,255.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Committed: NaNonFiWriMo

Friday November 1 2013

NaNonFiWriMo - for non-fiction writers - developed as a response to fiction writers' NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month.

I can't fiction-write my way out of a tube sock. So, non-fiction it is. I've gone and done it: committed to NaNonFiWriMo - finishing my memoir by the end of November. Parts of it have just been sitting there and ...aging (like a fine wine, perhaps words get better with age?) for …months… years… but now I'm committed to finishing this work of nonfiction in 30 days.

Stormy, The Most Beautiful Horse On The Planet, has been waiting for this commitment for quite some time (for about 20 years). Since he's featured in my memoir, he wants his story out there, "and hurry up already," he added.

And what better time of year but fall, when it's cool and inspirational and most beautiful, with Stormy looking over my shoulder, prodding me along. He'll be monitoring my weekly progress.

I'm sending this blog link to my editor, Pat Barnhart!