Invisible swordsman!

Today we did the Mines, backwards, plus some extra wandering in the desert. It was 5.18 miles in 1:43, average 3.0 mph.

We meandered off at our usual pitiful pace, but Dixie picked up her speed pretty fast headed down the wide canyon trails. Everything was going pretty smoothly til we rounded a corner and encountered the Invisible Swordsman. I don’t know what else it could’ve been – I sure couldn’t see anything there, and Cersei couldn’t see anything either. But Dixie was sure a monster was lurking. She did that Horse Helicopter Thing. You know what I’m talking about – the horse starts snorting with that extra WHRRR noise and helicoptering her head up and down to get a better look at the monster. I just sat there and talked quietly to her til she decided the danger was past, and we continued down the trail.

She was pretty nervous after that brush with death, so I rode extra calm and things went well. We made it to the furthest out point and turned onto the canyon that would take us home and proceeded up it. Then the Invisible Swordsman struck again! (Or more likely, Cersei broke a branch behind us.) Dixie lost her shit and bolted up this narrow canyon. On the first stride, I hollered “Dixie!” in exasperation. On the second stride, I reached forward and grabbed the left rein as far up as possible. On the third, I briefly considered how one-rein-stopping her was a Very Bad Idea, but how letting her run was An Even Worse One. I pulled her head left, up the canyon slope onto a pile of boulders and tree branches, and she stopped instantly. What an awesome mare!

We continued toward home, but she was even spazzier and I kinda lost the trail and ended up at the top of a sand slope, surrounded on all sides by nasty rocky footing. My only choice was to turn around and head back down the slope, but Dixie felt very stupid. Like, she was going to either plunge down the slope on her forehand or she was going to bolt down the slope and kill us both. I got off and walked her for almost a mile, and she gradually calmed down more and more. We detoured down a wash til I found a mounting block – a juniper that was probably 500 years old and hadn’t ever grown more than 24″ high. I stood on the scraggly stump and she lined up perfectly by it!

We did a little more exploring on the way home. I found a mountain we can climb next time. That sounds kinda silly, because everywhere you look there’s mountains, but some of them are too steep for me to comfortably ride back down and most of them are too rocky. I’m not worried about Dixie’s feet as much as I am about her slipping! :( But this one looks doable.

The three of us shared a tangerine when we got back safely.

Lazy holiday!

I’m not merely neglecting my blog, I’m neglecting all of my friends’ blogs and my horse and the kitchen too.

Thursday we had a private Thanksgiving feast. I thought it was partially really nice, not having to go anywhere or get dressed up, and partially really lonely, for the exact same reasons. My husband loved it – he can’t really relax if he’s got Something To Do coming up, so holidays are usually very tense for him. (Me? I can sleep on anybody’s couch if I’m full and there’s football on!)

We didn’t do turkey. I have actually never cooked a turkey! Ever! They’re so big, and so inherently bland. The biggest bird I’ve ever cooked was a goose for Christmas a couple years ago. I’d be willing to try a wild turkey, or maybe a small free-range heirloom bird, but not a grocery store turkey. That’s because turkey is vastly inferior to the traditional alternative, HAM. I made a brown-sugar ham, mashed potatoes, ham gravy, green beans, and rolls – all homemade, of course. I meant to take a picture but by the time the last few pieces came together I’d forgotten all about it.

After stuffing myself, I promptly fell asleep on the couch listening to the ballgame. Ahhh, now that’s Thanksgiving.

Friday’s weather was overly dramatic. It was in the 50s when I headed out to see Dixie at noon, but there was snow coming in by 4. WTF? ~C trailered out with Diego to ride with us, which was totally cool for everybody concerned. Diego got to see scary new things, and C got to see my nice trails, and Dixie got a buddy, and I got good conversation. Cersei got to scare the pants off poor Diego, too – SIGH.

I had an internal timer going – I wanted to get back with the horses in time for them to cool down and dry off completely before the wind really picked up, and for me to get down the mountain and headed home before the snow started. I figured we’d have plenty of time to do the Mines slowly, and we actually did. Unfortunately I (accidentally) turned off the GPS at 1.61 miles, but we did about 3.5 miles in maybe 1:20.

Diego started out doing that Arab Tigger thing, and Dixie wasn’t exactly modeling calmness either. I think she suspects she can’t outrun him. My theory is that Dixie likes having other horses around because you don’t have to run faster than the bear, just faster than your friends. Anyway, Diego was pretty bouncy so C led him til his tail went down, then rode, then walked, etc. He’s doing that green horse thing where he’s much, much happier if his human is in front being the bold leader, rather than up on his back. I have walked more miles than I (redneck that I am) care to admit in front of my own silly mare!

Dixie really thought we should run home when we turned the “magic corner.” I had to get up in her mouth more than I like, but she didn’t actually even break to a trot and I didn’t have to circle or yell or get frustrated and get off – she listened! Once I got her attention, it was just miles of constant half-halts, which is tiresome to ride but effective. It was very good for both of us – we both like to go fast, but she is not in TWH race training.

I forget that other people don’t ride with small yellow dogs on a constant guard circle. Cersei popped up behind Diego in a canyon at one point and the poor fellow jumped straight up in the air and bucked once. Luckily C was leading him, and to his great credit he settled right back down. I made sure to keep Cersei on point after that!

It was a very good ride. We live an annoying distance apart – it takes about 45 minutes for C to trailer up to Spanish Springs – but hopefully we’ll keep riding together once a week or so!

Everything went perfectly according to my timer – we got the horses cooled off before the wind got too bad, and I got home right as it started to snow. I took some pictures of the Overly Dramatic Weather from the grocery store parking lot on the way home – these are like an unstitched panorama.

Looking west:
Dramatic lighting at Smith's

South:
Dramatic clouds at Smith's

Southeast (with bonus seagull!):
More dramatic clouds

A snow cloud ate Peavine! Our apartment is at the very base of the peak you can barely see.
Invisible mountain

It snowed an inch that afternoon, then NOTHING. Graham and I were all excited because the weather swore up and down we’d get 1-3″ overnight. We got nothing!

Yesterday was very lazy. I read two books and ate a lot of tangerines. Today I’m getting back in the saddle!

Failed experiment

I tried something that didn’t work out today. But I looked at it as a scientific experiment, and failure is just as valuable as success.

Stats: Mines without the Mines, 4.12 mi in 1:21, average 3.0 mph, max 10.2 mph. I don’t think I’ve ever explained the whole Mines trail, and it’s important to the story. We walk down the road for almost a half mile, then head off on a singletrack sandy trail, through the sagebrush and over some small hills, for about 3/4 mile. Then we go down a very short but very steep slope into a canyon, head out for another half mile, then turn back towards home up another canyon. The canyons are wide enough for two horses abreast, with moderate to deep sand footing. The canyon gradually becomes jeep trails, the same sandy footing, and we pop back out at the end of the road a half mile from home.

Dixie has gotten so much braver, but she’s still very slow for the first mile or two headed out. She’ll walk forward, kind of hesitantly, for a couple hundred yards, then she has to stop and stare. After she stares for a bit and maybe sighs, she’ll go forward again… for another hundred yards. This goes on for a mile or two, no more, when she somehow becomes resigned to her fate and snaps into get-r-done mode and we chug down the trail.

It seems to me that everybody who’s really successful at endurance (or CTR, foxhunting, eventing, or even dressage) talks about having a horse who loves its work. In outdoorsy sports, that a means “let’s go see what’s down that trail” attitude, not an “oh jesus I think that rabbit’s looking at me” attitude. Nobody ever acts like maybe their horse just wants to stay home, so I’m hoping we all gloss over those days when the horse would rather stand in the pasture and fart. So I’m operating on the assumption that as Dixie gets fitter and gets more and more successful (i.e. not scary) rides under her belt, she’ll start looking forward to our work.

And it’s not like she’s really resistant, anyway. After I tack Dixie up, I unclip the lead rope from her halter and stand on the tailgate of my truck, and she walks over so I can mount. She just has to be encouraged to head out and face the trail. Not forced or bullied, just gently encouraged. Same in the arena – she’s perfectly happy to let me climb on her back and then let’s just stand here ok?

Anyway. She’s very stop and go in the early part of a ride. She’s not extremely nervous anymore – when she stops, her head stays pretty low and she’s still breathing normally. Usually, I let her stand until she flicks an ear back at me, then I ask her to walk forward again. Today, I decided to try to push her to keep walking forward.

We pushed on (I felt like I was nagging, which I really don’t like to do) through the sagebrushy part of the trail. When we got to the scary dropoff into the canyon, she STOPPED. She wasn’t tired, just nervous. It felt like she was really getting panicky. It took 20 minutes of me just sitting and her just looking around before she decided we were ok to proceed. I never got off or let her turn towards home, and she never got really upset – she just needed to stand. And pushing her til she mentally HAD to stop ended up being slower than letting her pause on her own. Experiment failed!

Eventually, Dixie relaxed and we headed on, quite peacefully. She wasn’t particularly excitable coming home – we did a bit of trot/rack/canter on the straight jeep trails, and she didn’t try to bolt on me. She did cross-fire on me at one point. We were cantering past a tree, and she spooked at it, jumped sideways, and came back down on the wrong lead or feet or whatever. I asked her to slow down, and she dropped back to a rack.

So today’s question: Did your horse always love her job? Did he or she eventually grow into it? I think she’s still improving, so I’m not too worried, but I do wish she loved heading out on the trail as much as I do!

Foxtrot!

Dixie totally foxtrotted today! I think it’s official, she’s offered me every gait possible now. My horse rules!

Rode with S Saturday and Sunday. We did 6.5 miles, roughly, both days. We explored a little bit – Saturday we went up the side of the canyon, but we ended up on private property so we turned around. Sunday she showed me a different bigger mine off the main mines trail.

Today I wanted to do a slightly shorter ride at a faster pace, so we went down the wide sand trails to the point where they enter the mine canyon. Then we turned around and came back up the deep sand at a nice fast walk, then when we got to better footing I let her canter. We ended up doing three walk/canter sets, about .5 miles walking and .2 miles cantering each time. By the last set she was getting tired, so I asked for a trot, and she trotted a bit then broke into a foxtrot. It’s quite nice! I hope she decides she’d rather foxtrot than dressage trot, but we’ll see.

I was quite pleased with Dixie. She rated her speed for me! No fights! And she only spooked twice on the way out – those devilish jackrabbits.

Cersei and I are both really tired, and I’m pretty sure Dixie is too. I might take tomorrow off.

Eclectic

Today’s post will have even less of a unifying theme than normal.

I didn’t ride this morning. I got up at 7, to go ride at 8 after Dixie had finished her breakfast, but the wind was already howling. The weather said sustained winds of 40 and gusts up to 65, and I believe it. I was going to study a bit, but I ended up studying with my eyes closed under a warm blanket, if you know what I mean.

I headed into town shortly before noon to get a haircut and do the grocery shopping. The wind was amazing! On the highway, I hit three tumbleweeds and one fairly large chunk of wood, and barely dodged a big piece of hard plastic and a flappy loose sheet of tin. While I was stopped around town, I started recording some videos to try and show yall what it was like. (I have wide ranging tastes in music – you are forewarned.)

You can’t take a picture of the wind, not under any normal circumstances. But you CAN take video of large metal poles swaying in the wind, so here’s the Dancing Poles at Plumb and Kietzke.

Crazy wind in Reno, NV from Funder on Vimeo.

When I went to get gas at Costco, the wind wasn’t howling quite as badly but the storm clouds were coming down the mountain. The trees are whipping, but the whole truck is shaking too.

More crazy wind in Reno from Funder on Vimeo.

When I got out of Costco, it was sort of slush-raining. As I climbed out of the valley back to our home on the mountain, it turned into snow. Please remember that I was born and raised in Mississippi, where it NEVER snows. Any snow at all is cause for panic, school and work closures, and lots of celebration by kids. Our grocery stores sell out of milk and bread. Little old ladies publicly implore Jesus to save us from the white death. Little kids run outside to make 12″ snowmen, everybody slides off the road into the ditch, and rednecks do donuts in the empty parking lots. I am fully aware that other parts of the country get so much snow that they’re just jaded about the whole thing, but I am not. I get as excited as a little kid when the white stuff appears!

SNOOOOOOW! from Funder on Vimeo.

Cersei, on the other hand, doesn’t approve of water falling from the sky. She loves to snuffle snow and wallow in mud puddles, but she doesn’t like feeling the snowflakes or raindrops falling on her back. She’s kind of torn between snuffling the snow and running back home to get away from the flakes! (I actually talk in this one – a rare video indeed. I probably sound like you think I sound.)

Cersei is not so sure she likes snow from Funder on Vimeo.

And now for the horse stuff. Dixie needed a cooler to help her dry off, but I wasn’t sure if I should get fleece or wool. Plus, those things are really expensive, and I can’t turn her out in a blanket! The weather here fluctuates too much (see above), and one of the other horses in the field is a master at undressing his friends. So I decided I’d only blanket her to dry her off after rides, and something homemade would do – at least for now. So I bought 2 yards of soft, fairly absorbent fleece and one of those horribly ugly grey wool “emergency blankets.” I clicker-introduced her to the fleece, made some markings, and brought the fabric home. I sewed some velcro to the neck and belly of each piece of fabric, and I have homemade coolers.

Would you like to see Dixie’s fleece? I thought you would! Here is a rather long video of me and my obviously colorblind horse. This is the fitting, where I just tossed it on her and marked it – tomorrow I will see how well it velcros on.

Dixie must be colorblind from Funder on Vimeo.

I really think everybody should do a bare minimum of clicker training with their horse. It’s like teaching a horse a one-rein stop – it doesn’t take very long, and you don’t have to c/t every interaction, but it’s there if you ever need it again. I showed her that fabric, asked “touch it,” and she got a treat. You can see she’s not too sure about it the first couple times I wave it around, but she clearly knows that standing still will get more Frosted Mini-Wheats. And she was totally unconcerned – after I turned off the camera, I kept fiddling with it and it flapped wildly in the wind and she did. not. care. one. bit. What a good girl! C/T is a really easy way to make Scary Horse Eating Things seem like Good Things Where Food Appears, and it complements classic training quite well.