Sunday, April 27, 2014

A Four-Hand Endurance Ride

Sunday April 27 2014

It's always somewhat exciting (for lack of a more encompassing word) climbing on a new horse for an endurance ride. I've done it throughout my 15-year endurance addiction, since I've never had my own endurance horse. Some horses are easier than others. And we all know how endurance horses are usually much less animated in a training ride (read: more lazy) than they are in an endurance ride.

I got on Quinn, my Tevis horse, (owned by Nance Worman - she offered him to me 5 days before Tevis), for the first time the Friday afternoon before Tevis for 20 minutes and called it good, and I got on him Saturday and rode him 100 miles. He was an easy ride.

Other horses are a little more exciting. Take Bodie. I'd been riding him on training rides for a couple of months, but last year when I got on him for our first 50-mile ride together, he was a bit wound up. In fact, I quote: "Linda (riding Tex with us) said I was riding 4 different horses. It sure felt like I was riding 4 different horses doing 4 different things at the same time. I did manage to stay on." (My second 50-mile ride on him was great.)

And take Connie's horse Saruq, in yesterday's Tough Sucker II. I rode him once in the arena, and he was easy. I rode him on a training ride, and he was easy. I didn't expect him to be 'easy' on an endurance ride, but, Whoa Nelly!

He used to be a racehorse. He still thinks he's a racehorse. He likes to be in front. We rode with Connie on her other horse Finneas. He's THE GRANDSON OF THE BLACK STALLION, in case any of you have never heard this. And he knows it! And he thinks he has to win every ride (including cattle drives). He insists on being in front.

The start was rather, um, exciting, with 2 hot horses wanting to be in front. We found a little pocket at the start, a little space behind horses in front of us, but that didn't matter at the start of this HORSE RACE!!! (so thought Finneas and Saruq). A whole lotta shenanigans were going on beneath us, and I discovered the gloves I was wearing were not particularly good for gripping reins, something which was very important at that stage in the ride. I thought at one time I might lose Saruq there when he threw his head straight up in air and tried to leap to a gallop… but I managed to keep a hold of him.

The rest of the ride, 49.8 miles of it, took a lot of riding. A Lot Of Riding. Saruq knows how to pull. The harder you pull on him, the harder he'll pull and the faster he likes to go. He can bend his neck like a pretzel and still pull a freight train at 35 mph. When you're on a horse that pulls, you want to do the opposite: don't pull - because he'll just pull harder and go faster. That means really using your legs and weight, a lot, and trying to keep your hands light on the reins. Less pulling but more communicating with the reins, but still taking a good grip on them. Not pulling them, but working them a lot. I couldn't use my grip-less gloves, so the reins did a number on my fingers throughout the day.

Connie says, Look ma, one hand! And note Finneas' ears are going back because Saruq is daring to come up beside him
I'd carried the point n' shoot camera along to take pictures during the ride, like I always do, but it wasn't until 15 miles into the ride, when we were heading up the Hallulujah Rim Trail, that I even thought about taking pictures. I hadn't been able to take both my hands off the steering wheel the whole way. Connie wasn't any help as a photographer either - she had to keep both hands on Finneas' reins. We did snap a few photos as the horses were (momentarily) standing still at the lip of the Hallulujah Trail, just before we got off to walk them down the steep hill back onto the flats. I gave the camera to Steph for loop 2, since she was doing a 1-Hand Ride on Jose.

Me on Saruq - notice he is snarling. That's his racetrack snarl. Curls his lip, wrinkles his nose, and bares his teeth.
One good thing about our horses is that they aren't affected by wind, like some spooky Arabs. Which was a good thing, since we were riding in a hurricane.

I've always wanted to ride inside a Dust Devil and we did just that! One came at us, fast, (like 35 miles an hour, the speed the wind was gusting), while we were trotting along the trail into the wind, a wall of howling whirling brown dust (think: Hidalgo), and Saruq puffed up a bit but didn't know what else to do so he just kept trotting! The Dust Devil slammed into us head-on, then batted us to one side, then flung us to the other, then whapped us from behind as it went on, and we came out trotting the other side, having not missed a beat. I closed my eyes as the Devil passed, and I'm sure Saruq did too!

Our horses were monsters all day, making us work to keep them from going too fast. I think I used every muscle in my body, including my hair follicle muscles, because I feel every one of them today. I'm whooped, muscles are sore, face and eyeballs are windburned, fingers are thrashed, dry-crack cuts in my hands everywhere - I love being an endurance rider!

Just whooped

More photos of the ride (including ones of the second loop, taken by Steph on her pleasant, calm, one-hand ride on Jose) are here.

Top photo: The Raven had a great ride on Saruq!

Friday, April 25, 2014


Friday April 25 2014

Since we've been getting a lot of practice this spring mooooving cows off our upper acres, when the local Owyhee ranchers needed help gathering and driving their cows, we Rent-A-Cowgirls volunteered.

Connie sat astride her Grandson of the Black Stallion Finneas, and I rode tall (and wide) on The Dude. We joined 15-20 Real Cowboys and Cowgirls, riding out into the sagebrush and splitting up to gather a hundred or so head of cattle, pushing them together and driving them up to an awaiting corral for some branding and sorting before turning them loose in the next higher pasture.

Finneas spent much of the morning ignoring the cows but, more importantly, trying to win the ride, sweating and fretting and covering a lot of extra ground. The Dude spent his morning getting more fretful, as the cattle spread out in a half-mile mooing bawling long line, and as the calves shot back escaping behind the line and the cowboys took off at a gallop to retrieve them, and as Finneas occasionally disappeared over a hill out of sight to go let off some steam.

Once the cows bunched up at a fence corner and gate, and Dudley got to squeeze together with a line of cowhorses and move in close on the cows, that's when he found his comfort zone, being big and bold and bossy, throwing the Stink Eye at the cows and charging at them to get them moving onward. The bellowing cows and hollering cowboys and cowgirls and barking cow-leg-biting cowdogs didn't bother The Dude a bit, and he threw his own snorts in for good measure to scare them.

Once the herd was corralled, the ranch owners lit the fire and heated up the branding irons, the Real Cowboys and Cowgirls roped and branded the "slick" calves;

and after a cowboy lunch the fun began: sorting a dozen dry cows from the herd.

Wisely, Connie and I did not join the sorting. That was where the real cowboying came in, where you see those rodeo competition events really put into practice. It was fast and furious - it took a strong and imperturbable horse and rider to cut a mad cow out of a swirling bawling herd, and a coordinated effort from several other riders to keep that cow moving to the other end of the corral. "You can't outrun a cow," one of the cowboys said - but that didn't stop them from trying. The skill of the cutting horse facing a dancing cow was apparent. One particularly cantankerous cow took 8 cowboys and cowhorses, driving her, literally leaning on her and shoving her along, doubling back to chase her down when she slipped back through holes in the line, a neck rope to pull and a butt rope to shove - and 10 minutes to finally get her across the corral into an adjoining pen.

Those riders and horses knew what they were doing. It was clear from the beginning that we Rent-A-Cowgirls and  our Quasi-Cowhorses would have been way out of our league, in the way, getting dumped or run over. We were happy to watch from the sidelines in awe.

So if you're an Owyhee rancher that needs an extra Cowgirl or two for the day, we're rent-able. We probably won't disgrace ourselves (i.e. we probably won't fall off or get lost), and we might help moooove some cows, and we know when to stay out of the way and admire the professionals doing their thing.

Here are a couple of short videos from the day:
Gathering cows


Pushing cows


Waiting on cows to filter into the corral


Sorting cows

[the white face, white-legged horse is a mustang, an awesome cowhorse]

Sorting cows


Friday, April 18, 2014

My King: Borcan

Saturday April 19 2014

I couldn't wait for our ride among the Pyramids in Egypt… until I learned I'd be riding Borcan:

Borcan, the blustery, formidable, woman-hating, breast-biting ("He's bitten three breasts so far," owner Paul declared adoringly) white stallion, who lunged at anybody, mouth wide open and teeth bared, who walked by his paddock. 

The Breast Biter himself was already tacked up and standing at his paddock fence, with his lips peeled back to expose his enormous nine-year-old teeth, which were grabbing one of his reins and clamping down tightly, grinding the rubber till it squeaked in protest, exhibiting what he'd do to me if he managed to get a hold of my breast.

Was it too late to back out of riding? Surely, I reasoned, Paul would not put me on a horse that would hurt me. And I really wanted to ride in the desert... 

Once I had mounted, how silly it was of me to think that Borcan would stand still and wait for the others - that was far beneath his Great White Dignity. Oh, no, it was time for the Great White Peacock Parade down the long drive. Neck bowed, white mane billowing, Borcan consented to a walk, but only so everybody could get a very long look at his magnificence. He strutted, he waltzed, he erupted with absolute equine masculinity. 

And there you have it - against my better judgement, I had already fallen for him. He was such a blustery show off, but he was simply magnificently breathtaking...

"My King" is one of my favorite chapters in my book Soul Deep in Horses. I'll be featuring tidbits from my book on this blog from time to time.

You can get the book as soft cover or ebook on here, or autographed copies will be available starting Monday on my website:

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Today, The Cows Won

Sunday April 6 2014

We got this cow-moving thing down. (Maybe not the fence-fixin' so much, but definitely the cow-moving.)

A rancher's cows have taken up residence on our upper 200 acres (and Connie's 40 acres) this spring - and why wouldn't they? Abundant grass and water, a 'nursery' to have their babies and raise them in safety, while the BLM land they're supposed to be on is scanty with feed, and the water is a long way away.

We've fixed some fence (over and over - the barbed wire is very old and not cow-sharp, and therefore not much of a deterrent), but once a week or so, after the cows either hop the fence or bust through it (calves just slither right through), Connie saddles up Tiger, and I saddle up Dudley again (sometimes Steph joins us on the ATV), and we moooooove the cows back on up the 200 and out the gate back onto BLM land. Last time there was a bull in with them, and he obediently mooooooooved out with his harem.

We'd gotten good at it. I don't know if Dudley's done this before, or if he's instinctively just a smart cow horse (he's smart at everything else). Tiger's getting brave and smart on cows too, with all the mooing and hollering and "HYAH!"ing; and even the cows have been getting smart. Last time they obediently mooooved along steadily in single file, up the crick much of the way before they let us turn them up the hill, and moooooove them on out the gate.

Today was that time of the week again. We saddled up Dudley and Tiger again, and today Sarah and Krusty joined us to mooooooove 30-40 cows out again. It was Sarah's first cattle drive.

The cows and calves were harder to drive this time, as if they'd get bogged down in quicksand along the way. They'd mush up into a pile like a freeway traffic jam, then they'd split up and down and left and right, scatter back down in the crick, break away back up in the tall sagebrush.

Long about the time we finally got them pushed up 195 acres and turned toward the gate, we saw the problem. The bull did not want his harem to leave paradise this time.

We 3 cowgirls and cowhorses pushed the cows and calves on one side, while on the other side the bull was busy running the line pushing them back toward us. The cows didn't know who to be more worried about - 3 brave and strong cow horses and 3 hollerin' bawlin' cowgirls, or one big bull that was getting madder and madder at them.

We cowgirls perceived we were no match for a mad bull, and we sure didn't want to get him mad at us, too. And since we're some pretty smart cowgirls, we admitted when we were whooped.

So we gave up. The bull and cows stayed on the upper 200. We rode home.

The cows won this round. Might be time to quit pretending and call the Real Cowboys and Real Cowhorses and Real Cowdogs in on the job.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

New Release! Soul Deep in Horses: Memoir of an Equestrian Vagabond

Tuesday April 1 2014

It's here!

Clinging to a four-legged rocket ship among the Pyramids in Egypt. Riding a racehorse on the Curragh in Ireland. Winning a first endurance ride in Texas. Flipping a packhorse down a cliff in California. Flying on a Lord of the Rings horse in New Zealand. Cowgirling it in Idaho.

All of these serendipitous equine adventures, and more, are disparate pieces of a puzzle that have merged to create the eclectic, nomadic lifestyle that Merri Melde lives every day with horses. And none of them might have happened if she had not first met the racehorse Fred, who taught her how to fail spectacularly at her dream job.

It's not the destination of new dreams but the journeys toward them that allow Melde, by chance or by divine intervention, to experience such diverse escapades and to come to know and love such magnificent horses as Harry—a fire-breathing dragon who gives her a great gift; Zayante—one of the country's best endurance horses; Jose—an Avatar and Kindred Spirit; and Stormy—The Most Beautiful Horse On The Planet.

In Soul Deep in Horses: Memoir of an Equestrian Vagabond, Merri Melde paints a vivid portrait with her moving words of a unique life irrevocably entangled with horses—the beauty, the humor, the thrills, the fun, the fear, and above all, the love that goes deep down into the soul.

Part memoir, part travel and horse-riding adventure book, this heartfelt narrative packed with excitement and emotion will appeal not just to horse lovers, but to anybody who has ever experienced failure and success in following their dreams, and anyone who has ever lost their courage and rediscovered it once again.

Available now on! - click here.

If you're wanting an autographed copy, you will be able to order directly from my website around April 15 (then allow a couple of weeks for delivery). I'll announce this option when it's available.

I hope you enjoy the ride!

And sign up here for The Equestrian Vagabond Dispatch for publishing exclusives.