Thursday, September 24, 2009


For those of you who are not familiar with horses, a bit of information about their hooves and their shoes. Horses' hooves are basically heavy, tough fingernails—the middle finger, in fact, which evolved over thousands and thousands of years to be the only finger, or toe, left on the horse (with the exception of tiny bits of horn midway up each of their legs, which are vestigial bits of other toes). As nails, they are constantly growing. In the wild, horses wear off their feet naturally on rough ground (occasionally injuring themselves with chips and cracks). When they're domesticated and wearing iron shoes, however, the rough ground doesn't wear on their feet. Their feet grow at a rate of probably a little less than half an inch per month, and two months is really about the longest that shoes should stay on, because the length of the hoof starts to change the angle of the horse's leg. Anyway, Shadow was definitely stumbling yesterday, and we've called the farrier to see if we can get her and Sikem's shoes pulled as soon as possible. They were kept on in case we had to walk on gravel roads, but we've gotten pretty good over the years at avoiding the real rough patches, so in the future we'll definitely plug for shorter feet.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Not Broken

My friend MS and I have been here at Jerome Creek for two nights now. She's staying tonight as well, and then tomorrow heading for home on the flight from Moscow/Pullman, which we know is an oasis of civility in the maelstrom of modern air travel (i.e. short necessary check-in time and, more importantly, a lovely free glass of wine in the air). My goal, which I set when I was here back in July, was for us to take a long ride up to the top of East Gold Hill, packing a lunch and spending five or six hours. I have done a lot of obsessive mulling of trail choices and directions, and worried over the question of water, and where to leave the two middle-aged labs, who would not be joining us, for such a long period of time.

Yesterday, she and I and the four dogs drove partway up Gold Hill for a recon mission and discovered a massive downed tree blocking our first choice in paths. It seemed that we would be able to find another way, though, and so we determined to do it. Snickers, after recovering from her cystic stone bruise of earlier in the summer, has lost a lot of her physical fitness and so we decided to not, after all, take her.

But then, yesterday evening as we were returning to home, just across the road from the gate, Sikem (who I was riding) lost his footing in the gloaming and went down on his knees in the gravel road, skinning them both. He immediately stood up, and I immediately jumped off and checked to make sure he had not been seriously injured. He was not limping, and seemed to be fine, although he had some not-insignificant scrapes. MS dismounted too, and we all walked the last ½ mile home. I sponged Sikem's knees and slathered them in Bag Balm for the night, and this morning he definitely looked better.

Nevertheless, both Shadow and Sikem's feet are very long at the moment, because the shoes that they got more than two months ago are still on. I thought they were going to be off by now, but they're not, and so they have been over-stepping, back feet kicking front feet when they stride up hills (actually, Sikem frequently does this even when his feet are shorter, but Shadow doesn't). I was a little concerned that the extra-long hooves might be hard on the horses for a long day, the first half of it steeply uphill.

I fell asleep last night worrying over what to do about the labs, which is perhaps why Spackle, just after 1 am, fell off the bed with a loud bang. It scared me awake, and it really scared Hoover and Sadie, who were both on the floor. I turned on the light and Sadie leapt into my arms to be comforted. I got her and Hoover situated again on their dog beds on the floor, and lifted Spackle back up on the bed with me (he showed no inclination to stay on the floor, somewhat surprisingly), where I allowed him to stretch out horizontally across the middle, as he is generally wont to do (for good reason, it turns out).

Anyway, I had been jolted out of the wrong cycle of sleep and couldn't find it again until after 3am, but in my tossings and turnings I decided that the best idea about today's ride was to take it relatively easy, with the two mares, and save my really ambitious ride for another day. MS is happy being here at all, and has no complaints about a 2 ½-hour ride through wilderness.

And so, I listened to the Universe, and I think dogs and horses are all going to be better for it.

Monday, September 14, 2009


Our intrepid Trail Boss

Sikem, belying his noodlies.
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Weekend Away

I have been remiss in my postings this last week, because I went on a whirlwind trip to Idaho during Labor Day Weekend, and I have completely failed to find time to write about it.

First of all, I flew, on Horizon Air, to Pullman/Moscow National Airport, which is about 45 minutes from K&A's house, so I didn't have any dogs with me. Even if the plane had been a normal size one and not the turbo prop, neither one of them would fit under the seat in front of me, and I think they'd both be traumatized by an experience in the luggage compartment, even if it were only a 50-minute flight. I know I would be.

Second, K&A were there, so I didn't have endless hours of alone time to either study maps or write pithy summaries of my activities.

Third, even though I arrived back in Seattle long before bedtime last Tuesday, Spackle had just developed a red, weepy eye issue (he currently looks like he has basset hound eyes) and so we ran off to the emergency vet, which seems, from the patient's point of view, to be equally efficient to the human ER. I made it home just past midnight, and just too late to text my friend C and my cousin T birthday wishes on the 8th, their actual shared birthday. Since then, blah blah blah, I've been busy.

The trip was great, though. I went specifically to join the fundraiser trail ride that they've been organizing for years, which formerly involved playing cards and was called the Poker Ride, but which currently just involved K&A leading trail rides in the morning and afternoon. I stayed two nights, but the flight from Seattle arrives at 11am, which offered plenty of time for the three of us to take a trail ride on Sunday afternoon. I rode Shadow, of course, but I used a Western saddle for the first time in about 20 years, and it really felt like there was NO WAY I could fall out. It felt practically like I was strapped into a carnival ride, compared to perching on top an English saddle. This is in no way meant to ridicule people who do fall out of Western saddles—it's just clear that they are meant for roping and herding and all sorts of things that English saddles aren't. A rode Sikem and he acted like an untrained, prancy noodlehead—which I'd actually never seen before, but which I guess is the behavior that their daughter W doesn't like. Naturally. K rode Snickers, who had had a stone bruise earlier, but she seemed to be back to being perfectly sound.

Sikem had never been a noodlehead like that for me, though, (much to all our surprises—misbehaving for his mom, I guess) so the next day on the trail rides, I said I would take him.

The morning ride, about two hours long, went very well. I really don't understand how other people can hold it so well in the morning, but I had to take myself up an unused spur trail and piddle about one hour out. Sikem stood there and let me—all the horses are used to this strange behavior from me. The only issue when we were actually underway on the ride was that he wanted to be by his mares—not mixed in with the trucked-in riff-raff, but he has a slow walking pace, and so he went at a slow western jog the whole time, meaning I was basically doing the sitting trot for two hours. A had said the day before that trail riding doesn't really give you the core workout that you get in arena riding, but two hours of sitting trot sure does.

It sprinkled a little over lunch, back at the ranch, and then we went out for our afternoon ride, which was planned to be 3 or 4 hours. A stayed behind to tidy up and prepare for dinner (lunch had been potluck and dinner would be lasagna). Everyone else took what raingear they had (mine was a high-tech lightweight shell, of course, being the city girl that I still am, which meant that my lap was not covered at all and got very, very wet) and headed out. Much to the surprise of K and me, a new fence had been built right across one of our trails, within 15 minutes of starting the ride. I was surprised because I'd been there a little over a month before, and disappointed, because that way led to a perfect canter spot—gentle, uphill slope, grassy, wide with no overhanging trees—for people (i.e. my inlaws) who want to canter but don't get to ride very often. Rather than retrace and go toward our destination on a different trail, K led us up and over several peoples' pastures and through several barbed-wire gates. At each, he dismounted and handed me Shadow's reins, and she, pretending she was just giving Sikem a sniff, would nip him in the neck. He did not like this, and once when someone unknown (on a horse) got a bit too close behind him, he kicked (but missed).

Just as we arrived back on track, after 40 minutes longer than the original trail would've taken, the storm that had been brewing hit, with frozen drops as big as jelly beans. K was on the ground, I was riding Sikem and holding Shadow, and the sudden downpour freaked everyone out. "Run for the trees!" yelled K, but there weren't a lot of them right there, for 10 horses. Sikem started dancing and noodleheading, and I was still holding Shadow, who started to prance, and I dropped her reins, into which she immediately stepped.

"Whoa, girl," said me and several other voices, and Shadow stopped dead. I leapt off and ran over, dragging my circus horse, and met K to get the reins undone. He then went off to check everyone else and I sheltered for a minute with my two charges.

The rain slowed marginally, and K came back and mounted, and rode off. Well, this did not appeal to Sikem at all, and he danced around and danced around, tall, wet and whinnying, and would not stand still for me to remount until someone yelled at K to stop. He did, Sikem stopped for 10 seconds, and I got up. At that point in the storm, of course, sitting back into my saddle was like sitting onto a sponge. I.e. really uncomfortable.

Sikem then really noodleheaded, sidestepping and cantering slowly in place on the slick, muddy ground, petulant that I wasn't letting him just run to Shadow, his protector. "He thinks he's a Lipizzaner!" someone called out, which would've been fine if not for the risk of him slipping and falling on me. "K, HOLD ON UNTIL I GET UP THERE!" I finally yelled, Sikem resumed his place, nose to Shadow's tail, the rain lifted, and we went on.

K took a vote and people decided that 25 minutes would be better than 5, since it had cleared, and so we continued on our way for a while, nevertheless falling far short of our intended destination (and getting stuck in another squall). Back at the ranch, most people decided to load up and head home to warm showers and dry clothes instead of staying to dinner, and a couple hours later after we'd dried off and dried off the clothes of close friends from far away who were staying, seven of us enjoyed the lasagna.

On Tuesday, A and I rode again—me on Snickers for the first time ever and her on Sikem, to see if he was still noodleheading the third day in a row of being ridden, and aside from a bit of a stiff back from requiring about 4 hours of sitting trot out of me the day before, he seemed to be back to his normal self. On high alert, but not being an idiot.

We enjoyed a glass of wine and some prosciutto in Moscow on the way to the airport (and ran into friends of K&A), and they dropped me off 25 minutes before the plane was due to take off. There were three of us left to board when we arrived (one of whom knew K&A, of course), and I heard someone murmur to her husband as I walked down the aisle "these must be the locals!" As much as possible! I thought.

I was pleasantly surprised to be offered a complimentary glass of wine—how civilized!—as we flew west across the darkening state, and I determined I would definitely do this trip, in this way, again.