Saturday, September 24, 2011


It was 93 degrees outside on the first day of fall. Ninety-three degrees and bone dry. How dry?

So dry that I raised a cloud of dust just by standing.

So dry that every photo I tried to take was blurry yellow-brown.

Yes, the dust is unpleasant. But the light, fluffy soil that fills the air (and is great for growing onions), also grows my mortal enemy:

Puncture vine.

AKA, goat heads.
AKA, the things that I track around with me everywhere I go.
Heat and dust and puncture vine are not what we're here to talk about though. I'm here to talk about culicoides.

They call them no-see-ums, so look closely while you can.

We had a cold spring and a late summer, so here, all of a sudden at the end of September, the bugs have arrived.

Quincy stopped shaking long enough for a picture. I see at least eight flies on him.

Bunny's tail never stops.

Blue's eyes were red and swollen from the constant irritation.
 Something had to be done. So I got out the arsenal:

The nice thing about it being 93 degrees is that I could safely give Blue an early-fall scrubbing. I spent an hour working medicated shampoo into this:

Hair loss and dermatitis caused by culicoides and the neck threadworms that they transmit. Blue has a lot of these nasty patches of so-called sweet itch.
Then I drenched him in Flysect, smeared his face with Swat, hit all the sweet itch patches with EQyss gel, and topped it all off with a fly mask. The end result looks a lot like what I started with... minus the flies!

Who's a pretty boy? Blue is!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Run or Roll

Some of you probably saw my triumphant post to Facebook on Friday. I was running my C25K workout while leading Blue. I was also taking a picture and posting to Facebook. All of this was possible at the same time during Week 1.

See, isn't this fun?

Day 1 of Week 2 started off a bit more challenging. Yes, the time spent running increased. But the more challenging part was literally dragging my extremely barn-sour horse down the road with me. It is one thing to go for a run when you aren't fit. It is something else entirely to do it with 1,200 lbs of dead weight behind you (and still not be fit).

I thought the plan was a good one in these days of waning daylight. It is dim by 7:30 now, so I wanted to multi-task. We have an established loop of about 6 miles of road. The first section doesn't have a shoulder and people bomb down it at a ridiculous speed. I figured I'd run/lead that section since it is so dangerous to be mounted on it, then hop on and finish the loop once my half-hour run/walk was done and we were on a more horse-friendly stretch of road.

I didn't count on my horse leading so sluggishly, or on the road noise being so loud I couldn't hear the prompts from my iPhone. The leading problem was such a mess that I finally stopped and picked a good switch from a bush next to the road. When Blue lagged, I gave him a little smack and he smartened right up. Except then he was rushing ahead, dragging me down the Mojonnier hill. 

So then I had to jerk him back into the correct leading position again. Then he'd start thinking of home and lagging. Smack. Jerk. Smack. Jerk. ...for half a mile or so.

I knew he was lazy on the lead line, but it wasn't a training priority until now. Now we need to establish that his place is at my shoulder, on a loose rope—no exceptions. I think we made a lot of progress in that direction on Monday, but I didn't set out for this run to be a training exercise. Of course, all that jerking and dragging and switching and stopping to rewind the program to hear if I was supposed to be running or walking meant that I did a lot more work than I was really meant to. C'est la vie.

So, workout complete, I mounted up to finish the loop. Of course, Blue thought he knew a shorter way home. (And actually, the way he wanted to go would have been shorter, but that wasn't the point. I am the one who picks the route. I am The Decider.) We trotted along beautifully at a nice clip on a loose rein for about 100 yards, then, with no warning at all, Blue simultaneously broke into a canter, turned back on the pavement (as luck would have it, there was no traffic at this point) and attempted to high-tail it back to The Pen.

We had a conversation involving backing, bending, turning, some mild swearing and an application of spurs, and set off again in the correct direction at a very smart "working walk." I only had to dismount once more as we passed the two gray mares who like to run up and down the field fence as we go by. Normally, I'd ride past them for practice, but Blue was still pretty volatile, and I didn't want us to end up tangled in the barbed wire on the other side of the road.

Once we were at the end of the mares' enclosure, I mounted back up and we made tracks for home. Back on familiar road and facing the direction of The Pen, Blue perked right up. To keep it interesting, I switched diagonals 10 times in one straightaway and then made him go slower and slower the rest of the way home. We even saw Heather and family out for a walk as we neared the house, so I turned Blue back to ride alongside them for a little bit. He was none too pleased, but as I said before, I am The Decider.

Once we got back to The Pen we had another short lesson on bowing—we're getting very close now! I look forward to the day when he will bow so I can mount bareback. Wouldn't that be a cool trick?
[Tuesday update: I did Monday's running program again today, sans horse. Guess what? It was waaaaayyyy easier.]

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Elbe Hills Challenge: The exciting conclusion

OK, truth be told, it was so long ago, I don't have any detailed information about the finish. I was really hoping to have some photos to share by now, but no.

So here's the pertinent info in bullet points without any jazzing up:

• Heather and I completed the trail ride with nothing lower than a B on either vet card, and both horses pulsed in the 40s.

• Once I had lunch and a little nap, I grabbed my book (Dick Francis, of course) and my camp chair and went to watch Laurie come in on the 50.

• Laurie and Otto were 11th in the 50-miler, in spite of getting seriously lost at least once, and taking a break to talk to the radio guys out on the trail. I definitely have a little of that "proud momma" feeling when it comes to Otto. I knew he had it in him, and at the same time I am soooooo glad not to be the one riding him!

Laurie and Otto at the end of the 50 at Elbe—they were both surprisingly perky!

• At the awards ceremony, I won the raffle for an American Trail Gear $25 gift certificate. Guess who's getting a new crupper? :)

• After another great, long drive with Laurie, we got home just as the big storm clouds were building over the valley in the late afternoon. But this is Walla Walla, so it rained mud, not water.

Funny how Elbe got me thinking about next year. I'm already looking forward to HOTR!


I had kind of a long holiday weekend. It was my MIL's 60th birthday, so we headed over to Boise on Thursday to celebrate with her. Contrary to popular belief, my natural state is introversion, so it is a test of stamina for me to spend several days in a strange place with unfamiliar people—and without any "alone time." By Sunday afternoon, I had stretched my social graces to the absolute limit. We got home that evening, and I didn't hesitate to tell Brian that he probably wouldn't be hearing from me during the day on Monday. I had a date with Blue. I needed to get out on my own and ride the tension out of my system.

That's normal, right? Using a good, hard ride to clear your mind and drain off the stress? (I hardly know the answer because before I had Blue, riding was a stressful activity too.)

Since I was looking forward to a day of solitude tackling the Cache Hollow/Lincton Mountain loop, it was pretty much inevitable that I would wake up to facebook and phone messages asking me to do that very same loop in a group that afternoon.

Sigh. So much for alone time. One of the (very few) disadvantages to boarding with your main riding buddy is that she can tell pretty easily that you totally ditched her to go off riding by yourself. Luckily, the group plan was for 2:30 in the afternoon. The clock said 11:30 a.m. I had just enough time to squeeze in a solo ride before the group ride.

I took Blue out to Madame Dorian, and we blasted out 5 miles of deep sand trails in blistering noon-on-Labor-Day heat. Yes, it was an hour of driving in order to do an hour of riding under the worst possible conditions, but that's missing the point. It was the wind and the sagebrush and the solitude that I needed. I would have hauled Blue to the ends of the earth just to find a quiet patch to ride on.

We had a steady, fast, happy ride, and were home by 2:32. Not too shabby, if I say so myself.

I had no sooner turned the trailer around in Heather's driveway than she loaded up Bunny and we headed to Cache Hollow to meet Shana.

Shana's husband made a video of her a couple years ago that shows some of the Cache Hollow Road loop. In my opinion, it doesn't capture the difficulty, though.

Google maps doesn't really do it justice, either, so here's a simple illustration:

You Western Washington people are probably rolling your eyes at this little climb, but I grew up in a county in Nebraska where the highest point was about 10 feet above the lowest.

We had some pretty sweaty ponies by the time we crested the hill, but we pushed on past that until my GPS said we'd gone an honest 4-plus miles, all uphill. Then we turned around and flew back down again.

Bunny trotting downhill on good footing is a force of nature. I couldn't clock her because I couldn't keep up. Blue and I were well behind, with Sinwaan somewhere in the middle. Blue and I were pretty well spent after this. He'd done 5 miles of sand that the other two hadn't done, but he stayed willing and soft all the way back down the mountain. He is by no means ready for an LD, let alone a 50, but I like what I see so far. The mind is willing, but the body needs conditioning. We just need more days like Monday to keep stretching the boundaries of his fitness.

And speaking of stretching our fitness boundaries, I started "Couch to 5K" on Tuesday after work. If you aren't familiar with the program, here's an overview. I bought an iPhone app that tells me when to run and when to walk over the course of a half-hour workout. So far, so good. Every step of running under my own steam makes me appreciate my horse all the more.