Saturday, October 27, 2007

More packing notes and pictures

I finally sat down and put a series of pictures together. Some of them were taken by Tammy Ybarra, our instructor's wife, and some by me. She took the shots of us pulling and tying all that rope -- since our hands were busy -- and the one above of Four-by-Four and me.

Click here to see the set of pictures.

Steve and I are both trying to retain what we've learned and find ways to keep the rope patterns in our heads until we can get some way to practice.

In the meantime, we are riding Lena and figuring out where we go from here. Obviously, we'll need at least another horse and probably some more tack and gear. (Yay!) We also need to work with Lena to get her less spooky and more able to deal with weird things we might encounter. Like scary blankets and tarps, for example. Not to mention mules. She might wonder why on earth these fine large-eared critters seem to want to follow her everywhere.

Steve Ybarra kept telling us that the more we can expose her to, the better, so we'll be working with her on new things, trying to make her as trail-worthy as we got our loads to be by the end of the class. Mostly, she's pretty good at learning. Sometimes, though, it depends on her mood. And the weather. And the full moon. And any number of other factors that are involved with having a horse.

One of the many things that make owning Lena worth a lot, actually. She's a good - if sometimes goofy - teacher.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Yosemite Packing School

Well, it was indeed an adventure and a grand one at that.

Unfortunately, my grand plan of typing up my blog entries every night in Notepad - or even live since we actually had wireless - ran into the harsh reality of total exhaustion every night except the first night.

Here is what I wrote the first night:

Thursday night, 10/18/2007

So here I sit, on the ground next to the tent, watching the mosquitoes fly in front of the computer screen. Bonnie Raitt sings in the background, sounding a bit tinny through my laptop speakers.

Yes, actually, I'm at a campground. AND! I've got power! Very cool. There is even wireless, but I can't access the network, yet - I suspect I need to pay a fee for it.

Wow. Big mosquito just buzzed my screen. Hang on.. time for repellant, be right back.

Okay. This this is pretty geeky. Oh, well.

The sky is beautiful, pinky, orangy clouds as the sun sets. Oak and Manzanita curling up around us into the sky, sweet, cool air to breathe.

And, yes, I miss my horse. However, unlike other times I've been away, at least I'll get a horse fix this time. Without accosting mounted police officers, anyway.

We made sure to stop by the barn and say good-bye, of course. My daughter will come up and ride her Sunday and a couple of our barn-mates are keeping an eye on her, so she won't feel too neglected. Lucky horse. :-)

More on our adventure tomorrow night - maybe even live, if I can get onto the Wireless. :-)


And that, folks, was as far as it went where documentation was concerned. I was lucky to stay awake through dinner most nights. :-)


It was awesome and we learned a lot. Like the fact that mules follow horses without having to have halters on them. (At least most of the time - unless you've captured them just to worm them and give them shots, then they might give you a little trouble for a second or two. Or 30. More on that later.) We also learned that there is a lot to learn and that common sense and communication go a long way when you're working together to tie weight on 1,200 pounds of muscle.

I have never pulled on so much rope in my life! Steve and I figure we loaded and tied the equivalent of a 5-day, 6-mule pack trip in two days. (30 loads, easy.) My hands, though not blistered much, were indeed feeling the strain. As were my shoulders, arms, back, and stomach muscles. Great workout, by the way. It made me very glad I'm in decent enough shape; it was hard work! But very satisfying, too. And really, the only way to learn the art of packing is to do it over and over again until it's second nature. We're hoping to set things up so we can practice at home, though I can't imagine Lena being nearly as cooperative as the two mules we worked with, Mabel and Four-by-Four, and suspect we'll have to rig ourselves a practice mule like we started with.

This is Mabel, she's 26 (-ish) and retired. She's a Percheron cross, so very tall and a bit challenging for those of us of the short persuasion when it comes to checking our knots. Luckily, she is also very patient with folks tying loads to her.

This is Four-by-Four (4x4) and I am not sure how old he is. He is a quarter-horse cross, so a "small" mule compared to Mabel.

On the last day, we also worked with Steve Ybarra's horse, Peanut, a cutting-horse bred gelding who is actually distantly related to Lena. We rode him and led 4x4 through an obstacle course. He did a great job of showing us how to deal with mules and various obstacles.

It was a great trip and my first real exposure to mules. They are pretty cool animals and fun to work with. I'll be setting up an online gallery of more pictures of knots, loads, and mules shortly.

Lena was mostly glad to see us, and really glad to get out on the trail today with Doc. It was absolutely gorgeous here and she was on remarkably good behavior.

All in all, a great experience that I would recommend to anyone seriously considering wandering into the back country with horses. It's an eye-opener about what you really need to do to safely get to some of the most beautiful places in this country and not end up hiking out chasing your stock.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Off on an adventure

So Steve and I leave today to go to our 3-day introductory packing class with the Yosemite Packing School.

We'll be learning the basics about balancing loads, working with stock, basic livestock first aid, and I'm sure a few other things. There are actually three courses you can take, this is just the beginning. The Intermediate and Advanced actually include going out on the trail. (Click on the "Courses" tab on on their site to see them all listed.)

We are NOT bringing Lena this time, mainly because it would have been our first long trip and we didn't know what to expect once we got there. Probably our first long trip with her will be up to see Ike and Cheri at Slide. (She says hopefully.)

I don't think I'll have internet access, so most of the posts will have to be typed into Notepad and posted when we get back. Should be an interesting experience at very least.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Cowboy Hall of Fame?!

I just saw Katie's post about Oklahoma City and The Cowboy Hall of Fame! How cool! I wish I could be there, too, but instead of Maker Faire, I'm going to be going to an introductory class on packing with horses and mules!

Steve and I leave Thursday for our class at the Yosemite Packing School in Coarsegold, CA. We'll be learning about balancing and tying loads, as well as trail first aid and stock management. One of our biggest questions is how to feed your animals while you're out there, including how much food would you have to carry and what is the best way to do that. Fundamentally, we need to know if we need more than two horses to do any back-country trips!

We are not bringing Lena this time, since it's mainly introduction and classroom work, but are looking forward to it nonetheless. We could have brought her, but figured that combining our first long trip with her and completely new circumstances would be a mite distracting for us, as well as a bit scary for her.

We'll be camping, so I hope the weather isn't too bad. My daughter Katie will be coming up to tend and ride Lena while we're gone, which is really great news. Good for us and good for Lena.

Morning greetings

One of my favorite parts of any day is getting to the barn and seeing this nose pointed at me, those big curly ears directed at my voice as I come up the path to the barn.

I know it's mostly because I bring food, but it still makes me smile every time I see her, hear her nicker at me, watch her pace her circle while she waits for me.

Every morning during the week, I stop on my way to work to see Lena and give her a scoop of grain. I also give each of her neighbors a bit of carrot. That means that they all perk up when they see me, of course.

While she snarfs the grain, I pet and talk to her - sometimes I even sing to her. If it's sunny, I stand in the sun, soaking in the warmth as the day starts. If it's raining, I stand with her under her shelter, listening to the sound of rain drumming on the tin roof. Yesterday, I moved her hay enough under the shelter so she could either stick her rear out in the rain or stay dry. I have no idea what she decided to do, since I had to go to work, but I am sure she did whatever suited her mood that morning.

After she eats her grain, we do carrot stretches. They help keep her flexible and that's a good thing. (Stretching is good for me, too, I just don't do it for carrots.)

Just like me, one side is more flexible than the other and some stretches are harder than others, but I've noticed more fluid movement since we started and she actually seems to sort of like it, though it's probably just the carrots.

Oklahoma City

Howdy from Oklahoma City!!!
I'm here on behalf of CRAFT magazine for an arts/crafts show called the Girlie Show.
It was really neat show, well organized, cool artists, and lots of people.
So what does this have to do with horses???
Well tomorrow before my flight to Austin, I'm making a stop at the Cowboy Hall of Fame!
I can't wait. Ellen's (my horse trainer) mentor, Tom Dorrance, is in the Hall of Fame so I'm really looking forward to seeing his exhibit. I'll post some pictures tomorrow night!
Jess - I wish you could go with me!!!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Maker Faire

I may be MIA for the next couple of weeks because I'll be putting on an event called, Maker Faire, in Austin! Maker Faire has nothing to do with horses but yet it's like a horse show in many respects. Maker Faire is two-day family friendly event celebrating arts, crafts, science, and engineering. Makers from all over come to share and show off their projects and inventions that they've been working on.
Ways in which Maker Faire is similar to a horse show:
*You get up really early everyday
*You go out to late dinners in a big group
*The Show Office is similar to the tack room at a horse show because it's always messy! And it's the hang out spot!
*The food is generally crummy!
*You're tired and dirty at the end of every day!
*You leave at the end of day feeling like you accomplished something big!

Click here to find out more about Maker Faire

Friday, October 05, 2007

Horse-to-human therapy

While I think there is great merit and progress yet to be made in the realm of physical therapy for injuries and disabilities using horses, that's not what this post is about.

We had a rough few weeks here around some personal family things and I ended up taking Tuesday off to both get some sleep and to get my brain back into some semblance of normality. (Hush, out there.)

For me, that process involved yoga in the morning and a trip to my favorite spotty therapist, Lena.

Just being outside, under a big blue sky, with the warm smell of horse and earth was a great start. She and I had a great ride, working on some basic stuff, and the usual "I'm the alpha mare" discussions. (The picture above is from many months ago, it was just Lena and me on Tuesday.)

Riding her, working with her, feeling her move with me - or in spite of me sometimes - cleared out a lot of the cobwebs and ickiness lurking in my head and my heart. She gave me a little peace, even while she tested the limits like always.

By the way, warm, dusty horse skin makes for wonderful aromatherapy.

Herd dynamics

I had an interesting lesson in herd dynamics this week when my friend Karen (yes, Lena's favorite masseuse) moved a mare to our barn.

Ellie is a four-year old thoroughbred mare who didn't race (I don't think). Pictures are coming, but I keep forgetting to grab my camera and since she's out in pasture, sometimes she's too far away. Karen is training her to sell and says she's a great trail horse.

Monday night, we picked Ellie up and moved her into the big pasture at our place with two Belgian mares - mother and daughter - and two geldings that are also new to the barn. Karen said Ellie was pretty dominant, but I was a little concerned because Ellie isn't very big and, well, I've seen those two mares be awfully nasty to some of the other horses in there.

I needn't have worried.

First of all, she out-ran all them -- trotting big, bouncy circles around them as they chased her, galloping with her tail up in the air while they watched her as if they had no idea what hit them.

Lena was watching me as well as all the commotion with great interest.

I left, telling Karen I'd be sure to check on Ellie when I got there in the morning, and telling Lena to keep her eye on Ellie, but still feeling vaguely worried.

The next morning, I got to the barn and saw the pasture bunch by the gate of their pasture. One of the mares pinned her ears and ran at Ellie, who pinned her ears back, but didn't budge one inch. Not one. She just swung her rear end in that direction slightly and the other mare veered off. Meanwhile, the two geldings were not only following Ellie like lost puppies, they were ready to defend her, too.

Today, they were all in relatively close proximity and mostly getting along.

The way I understand herd dynamics, that's about right. The alpha mare organizes the herd and keeps them together, though when a stallion is present he "technically" runs things. That probably defaults leadership to an alpha mare in a non-stallion environment, or so it would seem in this case.

I can't help but wonder what would happen if we had Lena and Ellie in the same pasture. Hmmm.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Horse Anatomy

Last Monday night Ryan and I went to his Uncle's horseshoeing class at SRJC Shone Farm.
Task of the day - dissecting horse legs! It sounds like a gross activity but it's actually very interesting. The horse's leg is very complex and it's fascinating to see how it actually works. At Cal Poly we did a lot of dissections in my animal science classes so it wasn't foreign territory but it's amazing how quickly you can forget!
See if you can identify some of the main tendons,ligaments, and bones:
Extensor Tendon
Superficial Flexor Tendon
Deep Digital Flexor Tendon
Suspensory Ligament
Navicular bone & bursa

For a more detailed picture (slightly grosser) check this pic out : Detailed View