Tuesday, August 25, 2009


I was invited to join some friends on a camping trip to Yosemite this weekend (well, we were in a "cabin", so I can't really consider it camping). Of course I jumped at the chance, having never been to Yosemite and seriously needing a break from the city and stress I've been under.

It was a little mind-boggling to be among scenery that, until now, I'd only ever seen in pictures. Everywhere you looked was a photo opportunity.

We were planning on hiking up the Half Dome, but it was raining hard so the trail was closed off. Which, really, was for the better, since I don't think I would have been able to make it, but I certainly wouldn't have admitted that front of my friends. Thanks for giving me an out, Mother Nature!

We ended up hiking to the top of a waterfall instead, which was perfectly fine with me. The water and the mist was beautiful, the hike was appropriately challenging, and the rain was actually a very welcomed relief.

Here are some of my favorite pictures from the trip:

A tiny rainbow that marked the beginning of the trip.

I was obsessed with the misty cliffs and trees. Can you tell?

Cybernetic Deer roamed all over the park, coming shockingly close to visitors. These four stags in particular were total hams. (there are three pictured - the other one was off entertaining another photographer)

Halfway to the waterfall we conquered. I've just discovered that I love waterfalls!

A swallow's nest we found back in the town of Groveland.

In town we ate buffalo burgers at the oldest saloon in California, The Iron Door. Everyone was extremely nice.

On the way home, we stopped in Oakdale, "Cowboy Capital of the World," and one of my favorite towns. We found a Native American store and I ohh'd and ahh'd over tons of stuff I couldn't afford (including Kachina dolls!), before picking up a necklace and a few beads.

It was a fantastic trip! Much needed. Though I can't wait to see my pony this weekend.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Long Awaited

Spent the night at my trainer's again this weekend. There was a penning in Modesto on Saturday, where I helped ready and warm up horses. It was the same arena where my grandfather last competed, where had me walk around the arena with him and introduced me to everyone. He'd been so proud then that I was training to follow in his footsteps and compete in team penning. It made the trip a little bittersweet.

Sunday, we had an easy work day around the ranch. The owners of one of his horses in training came out, and he showed off what the horse had learned, then I cooled the horse off. Of all the horses at the ranch, he was probably the horse I liked the least when I first started apprenticing. I was amazed at his progress; this is a horse who, the last time I rode him, reared and threw tantrums. This time I was riding him around on a very loose rein, using mostly leg cues and no stirrups. He's practically a month away from going brideless! The more I work with him, the more I start to find little things to like about him.

After that, we worked with Kachina. We were having such a good day, and Kachina was doing so well, that what started off as just a driving lesson quickly advanced into a riding lesson. We saddled her up and I got on and, even though we had her on a lunge line, it was my job to guide her with the reins and use my legs to drive her. This is the most work we've done with her on the bit, and the first time we've really started to leg cue her.

She took to it so well that, in no time, I was walking, trotting, loping and stopping her around the round pen using mostly leg, voice and rein cues. It was the first time she'd done any of that with someone on her back.

Unfortunately, I only had my phone handy, but we did manage to get some of the long awaited Riding Kachina shots that I've been promising:

As I've mentioned before, I've never started a young horse, or even ridden one so green. It's a challenge to remember that she isn't a finished (or even green broke) horse like I'm used to, and can't be ridden the same way. I'm not refining or tuning up previous training; this is a completely blank slate.

Still, Kachina did amazing! She doesn't fight anything. The most she does is stop when she's confused, and I have to patiently drive her forward again. No hopping, no tossing her head, no rearing or bucking -- just a desire to get it right.

It's amazing, too, realizing just how much your body cues a horse. With a young horse there's no "white noise" between the rider's body and the horse -- every signal comes loud and clear. The first couple of times I moved her into a trot I'd post and, after that, whenever she felt me posting she'd move into a trot (or slow into a trot, if she were loping). If she felt me sit back, she knew that I wanted the lope and would start to extend her trot until I moved her into a trot.

Perhaps the most amazing example was when we were working on "woah." I had stopped her once or twice into the session (she stops very nicely for a colt, by the way!) and, on the third time, my trainer told me to stop her when we passed the gate. So, just as we passed it, I sat back, lifted my reins a little and...she stopped! I sat there surprised and a little dumbfounded.

Did my pony has E.S.P.? Did she understand what my trainer meant when he said "stop her at the gate"..? It took me a minute to realize that Kachina was completely tuned into my body. She felt me sit deep, felt the little shift of the bit as I lifted my hands, and knew what I wanted; my body was telling her stop before I ever got the chance to pull back on the bit and say "woah." It's something I've always read about, but hadn't ever experienced to that level. Riding a colt is truly special!

My trainer was pleased with both of us. He seemed to be really excited about Kachina's progress (he even stroked her more than I've ever seen him do, and gave her a lot of praise). Because my trainer is honest (brutally so, sometimes), and I was curious from a trainer's perspective, I asked him what he thought Kachina's biggest training issue will be in the future. "None," he said, "She does everything I ask, she doesn't fight, she gives to the bit and flexes well...As of right now, I don't anticipate any problems."

He also said that she learns fast, and that she's very strong bodied, so we should be able to put her on cattle sooner rather than later. I can't wait to take some Kachina vs. The Cow shots!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Getting My Feet Wet

Saturday I got my first taste of competition.

We went to a very relaxed Sorting Match in Gilroy, California. For those of you who don't know what Ranch Sorting is, essentially it goes like this: There are ten head of cattle, numbered 0-9 in one pen and that is joined to an empty pen. A number is called (we'll say 3), and a two-person team has 75 seconds to sort the cattle through the gate into the empty pen in sequence (3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 0, 1, 2..) without letting the wrong number get through. One person guards the gate, and one sorts the cattle. Often, you'll see the team members switch off.

I was there warming up my trainer's horses, helping him get ready, observing..the usual. It was great watching all of the competitors, and they were all really good! At the end of the match, they had a pot draw: you pay $5 and get a playing card, and the person who has your matching suit is your partner. My trainer offered the other apprentice and I a chance to play, and I agreed, even though I was extremely nervous (I couldn't, however, back down from the challenge! No way!). I ended up drawing the King of Clubs, which was fortunate for me since Kings go last!

My partner was an extremely nice guy, and one of the best sorters there. Unfortunately, he also didn't speak any English and relied on his partner to call out the numbers for him in Spanish. Ho-boy, I was a complete rookie and we couldn't communicate. Frantically, I went over my high school Spanish lessons in my head (uno, dos, tres..).

I was a bundle of nerves waiting but, once we were in the pen, it was like no one else was there. You just don't have time to be nervous. In the end, the cattle totally ate me alive, but we managed to sort out five before an odd cow got through, which definitely didn't make us the worst run! I thanked my partner profusely, and apologized, to which he only smiled and shrugged and said "Was fun! Good job!"

All in all, it was a great introduction to the sport. I wouldn't mind trying it out again. After some practice.

And, of course, Kachina was well! Since we were at the show, I didn't have much time with her, but she looked happy and healthy and gave me a congratulatory snort when I told her all about it.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Helping The Economy

I found this on the Western Shooting Horse blog and had to share it!:

* * * * * * *


TO: President Barack Obama

FROM: Ange Finn

RE: Economic Recovery Stimulus Ideas

Mr. President, it has come to my attention that you're having some challenges with the economy.
If I understand things correctly, we're in a recession, consumer confidence and spending is down, credit is tight, investors are spooked , we need renewable energy, and health care costs are through the roof. Trillions of dollars, not to mention our future, are at stake. Mr. President, I'm just a regular citizen, but I think I have a solution.

Give every American a horse.

My proposal may not make sense to you at first, but let me give you a little background. First of all, horses in the U.S. are a multi-billion dollar industry, and that’s just at my house. I suggest you have your economic advisors do a little research on the spending around horse ownership.

You'd be surprised, Mr. President.

Start by visiting the tack and clothing retailers like State Line or Dover. Look at the variety of goods available there. Now take into account that every horse owner, especially if it’s a woman, is buying not just one or two, but tons of these items. Believe me.

So my thinking is that if you give every American a horse, starting when they reach the horse-receptive age of 10, you're going to do two things: boost consumer confidence and boost spending immediately.

Horses make us feel good, and once Americans all own horses (at the government’s expense, of course), they will all logically fall into the pattern that every horse owner succumbs to: accessorizing. For starters, we need horse-care implements like buckets and muck rakes, hoof picks and curry combs. And we need at least basic tack, halter, leadline, saddle, saddle pad, bridle and bit. But then the fun begins.

Zebra print leg wraps. Neon bright fly masks. An assortment of sheets and blankets for all seasons; you've got your cooler, your lightweight blanket, your medium blanket, your heavy blanket. Then there’s your stable sheet and your pasture sheet. Also your hoodie, and tail wrap items.

And that’s just the clothing for the horse. Don't get me started on the clothing for the rider, even if he or she doesn't show. Since most Americans don't have a basic riding wardrobe, the stores would be swamped for jeans, boots, breeches, T-shirts, dozens of pairs of cute boot socks, and the ubiquitous ball cap. Tell the retailers to get ready. It'll be Christmas all year long.

Now let’s talk about support industries. In addition to the usual veterinarian and farrier expenditures, people also give their horses chiropractic, massage and acupuncture, not to mention buying more beauty products for their horses than they do for themselves. All those professions and industries will benefit. And of course there will be a big spike in hay and grain demand, so the farmers will be happy too.

You see, that’s the secret to jump-starting consumer spending through my stimulus package. People will spend money on their horses when they won't spend money on anything else.

But, your advisors might say, there’s a catch. Aren't we paying the price, in global warming, of the large number of livestock animals we currently have? They produce a all that methane!

Ah, Mr. President, here’s the real beauty of this idea. When you introduce the Methane-Assisted Natural Unrefined Renewable Energy plan (M.A.N.U.R.E. ), you'll be a hero for coming up with an alternative, renewable, home-grown source of clean energy. Just challenge the energy gurus to come up with a methane gas collectio system that can harness all the “natural resource” produced by all those horses to power our cities. Talk about shovel ready-projects:
M.A.N.U.R.E. fits the bill!

And you keep stressing how we need new industries for investment; well, under the M.A.N.U.R.E. plan you can sell Petroleum Offset Opportunity units to investors. By buying these units, investors can help us gradually convert from a petroleum-based economy to one basedon horse P.O.O.

Health care costs will go down, too, as everyone cares for their horses. You can give tax credits based on the amount of time people spend working, riding and hanging out with their horses, which will automatically make them healthier. (Don't tell the docs, but most horse owners already get their own basic healthcare from their vet.)

One more thing: everyone is annoyed by these corporate CEOs and their big bonuses in a down economy. So give the executives, say, one horse for every $100,000 of bonus money they've received. Those bonuses will be plowed back into the economy in no time.

Finally, because you, Mrs. O, and the girls are such role models, you can encourage us all by getting a pony for Sasha and Malia. It will teach them responsibility, help the First Lady plow the garden, and as a bonus: free fertilizer for the Rose Garden.

If you don't believe me that horse ownership stimulates spending, go ahead, Mr. President. Buy that pony for your girls. You'll see.

* * * * * * *

Monday, August 3, 2009

Driving Lessons

If you follow Kachina's Twitter, you'll know that this weekend was my first time staying overnight in La Grange. You'd think this would give me more opportunity to take pictures of Kachina, but it was still more work than leisure time. I got there at 11:00 Friday evening, worked until 5:00 Saturday morning, up at 6:45 and, by the time I got home and in bed Saturday night, it was 11:00. Ah, the apprenticing life!

I did get some shots of Kachina's driving lesson, however! She did really, really well -- it's amazing to watch her learn right there in front of you! I also rode her again, while my trainer drove her, and introduced bit pressure. It was interesting: there were things about the driving, like backing up, that she'd throw a little fight about, but she was noticeably more compliant when I was on her back. Maybe it was the extra weight, or maybe she was tired, but I'd like to think that she may have been reluctant to put me in any danger.

Kachina didn't go to bed until 5:00 Saturday morning, too. I think we were both feeling it!

Starting the driving lesson!

I don't know if you guys can tell how much she's grown from these pictures (they aren't the best by any means), but I notice it. That plug of chopped hair that was so short it practically stood up is now more than a third the length of the rest of her mane, and her tail is now down to her hocks. She's definitely looking more "horse like" -- though she still has that tiny baby mouth!

No pictures of me on her yet, but they will come. Promise!