Jun 26, 2011

Horse Play - A Pictorial

When I first got Ritz, my white shepherd, he took a hankering to chasing the horses.  I don't remember how long it was before he was kicked in the mouth and lost a couple teeth.  So he keeps a respectful distance, though the herding instinct is pretty strong.  When I go out to pasture, he knows that it is Windy who I usually fetch and he always tries to cut her out of the herd for me.  She ignores him mostly.  When I ride the roads around here, Windy, Ritz and I are a team.  So he is really no threat to her.  

Today has been a weird weather day.  Hazy and humid and then windy and cold.  At one point, the sun was shining and it was raining; yes, at the same time.  The sky was dark with clouds so with the dogs in tow, I wondered out to the pasture to take some pictures.  

It wasn't long before Ritz had Windy's attention.  While the other horses grazed around them, she chased him and he chased her.  Even our St. Bernard, Bo, got in on the fun for awhile.  Never moving from my spot, I snapped pictures as she weaved in and out of the herd, sometimes in pursuit of Ritz and sometimes the other way around.  

I love the expressions on Windy's face and her body language as she plays.  

Windy is sizing Ritz up.  He is pretending like he doesn't notice.  

And they're off....

The big pounce in his Ritz's direction.  He is just off site of the camera.  

Ritz and Windy weaved through the herd; the others barely looked up from eating.  

Quite a dance!

Bo joins the game.  Windy looks to be saying, "You want a little of this, too?"

She is done.  Look how quickly she dismisses the dogs.  

As Windy goes back to her resting position, right hind leg cocked, it is now Butter's turn 

I never rode today, but watching the horses at play was just as fun.  


Jun 25, 2011

A Short Lived Camp-out

Yesterday was a Top 10 day.  The weather was mild, no wind; just perfect for camping.  We didn't plan to go camping but why not?  There are several parks/trails within 30 miles from home.  We have plenty of food in the refrigerator and freezer.  And it would just be for overnight.

I called John in the afternoon.  "Let's go camp at Two Rivers tonight," I told him.  While I waited for him to get home, I packed the cooler and ran to pick up Case's buddy who would camp with us.  We got to Two Rivers around 7:00.

We quickly set up the horse pens and then started a campfire to ward off the nasty mosquitoes.  It was getting late to ride, but figured we could get up early and go after our morning coffee.  The only other horse camper in the park was someone we knew; she shared our fire and right before we went to bed, she mentioned there was rain in the forecast.

Rain?  It was a Top 10 day!  I never even considered rain as a possibility.  My mind rewound to the weather bug on my desktop.  I seem to recall a 30% chance Saturday morning.  But that's like saying it won't rain!  I glanced at the weather app on my Blackberry.  Hmm.  40% after midnight.  Still....

I heard the crash of thunder a little after 3:00 AM.  And the rain started.  Then the hail banging against the roof of the trailer.  There was no sleeping in this tin can.  The lightning and thunder continued to roar!  An hour later, it still hadn't let up.  I imagined my poor horses standing in their makeshift pen, heads down; mindful of the lightning above them.  I imagined trying to get the truck and trailer out of the camping site.  Granted, the footing is pretty sandy, but still....

I told John we were leaving; that if he could get the truck and trailer out to the road and I would meet him there with the horses.  We put on our rain gear and stepped out into the dark.  Water was standing on the ground; it was ankle deep.  I shined the flashlight on the horses; they looked like they were standing in a small pond.  I led them over to the hitching post and John and I quickly took down the fencing.  John woke the boys and then started the truck.  He put it in 4WD and started to drive slowly across the grassy camp.  When I saw he had successfully reached the road, I led the horses over to the trailer.  We quickly loaded them and headed for home.

Note to self:  Check weather carefully before going on an impulsive camping trip!

(We weren't camped long enough to take any pictures.  The picture above was taken earlier this week.  We have had some humdingers of storms lately!)

Jun 23, 2011

Until We Meet Again

I was reading the local paper yesterday and was saddened to see a funeral notice for a fellow trail rider whom I’ve known casually over the years. I met Diana and her husband, Tim, years ago at Rock Creek Station. Not much older than me, we shared a passion for the trails and loved to spend hours on our horse. Although we didn’t ride together, she, too, had wanderlust for finding new trails. Occasionally Tim would send an email telling me of their most recent trip and sharing their pictures from that adventure.

A couple years ago, his email was simply a request for prayers; Diana had been diagnosed with cancer and would be undergoing treatment. In the months following, we would run into each other occasionally at other horse events. No doubt going through their own hell, they always stopped to chat and were gracious with their time. We’d talk about our horses and plans for the upcoming season; hopeful her most recent treatments would answer their prayers. Perhaps guardedly optimistic, there was never a question if Diana would ride again. With God’s blessing, she would when she could.

I thought about Diana on my ride last night. The wind had quieted, the sun was setting and its light through the trees was refreshing and warm. I’d caught a whiff of wildflower mixed with the scent of the horse. As I listened to the sounds of dried leaves and rock under the hooves of our horses, I knew, without a doubt, Diana was riding again.

Happy trails forever, my friend.

Jun 21, 2011

Beware of the Blob

Early last week, before my camping trip to Halsey, I started to get super-duper sick. It may just be “regular sick” to some of you but for me, who doesn’t get anything other than headaches, super-duper sick is bad. It was so bad that I had to see a doctor, because I couldn’t sit up and I couldn’t lie down. Everything just filled right up! Good drugs were the only cure.

The good doctor fixed me right up with a mix of over-the-counter and prescription drugs. One little pill, a steroid I was told, would open me right up. Oh. My. Gosh. It was the miracle drug. I swear, within hours of taking the initial dose, I was pretty sure I was going to live. And not only that, I would ride and camp all weekend long!

I continued the cocktail of prescribed drugs all weekend and enjoyed the weekend festivities with my friends at horse camp. Did I mention when we camp, we eat well? It’s not like we have a buffet set-up whenever we aren’t saddled up, but no one leaves the evening campfire hungry. And really, we do wear stretch breeches for our riding comfort….

Getting ready for work on Monday morning, I went to slip into a pair of Capri pants. Hmmm. I had just worn these pants a couple weeks ago and I don’t remember them quite-this-snug! Okay, not a bit – A LOT too snug. I felt like a big fat blob! I stepped onto the scale knowing it was bad news. WTH? I have crossed over to the dark side! Although I haven't kept the weight off that I lost, I am now closer to the weight I was than the weight I reached after a successful diet three years ago and that is not good. (And yes, that sentence makes perfect sense!)

As I commiserated with my online friends, I noticed my ankles were swollen to a size I haven’t seen since I was pregnant fourteen years ago. I need to lose this fast and began to contemplate the side effects of Phen-Fen vs. the Karen Carpenter diet. (Sorry, I am in a dark, dark mood). Someone, much smarter than me mentioned perhaps that little wonder drug might have something to do with my very abrupt weight gain. I Googled and sure enough; increased appetite, weight gain and water retention. Not to mention mood swings. Bingo! All of the above!

Is it possible this little drug turned me into a moon-faced blob in one week? And that it had nothing to do with rhubarb crisp and campfire sized marshmallows? Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Jun 19, 2011

Halsey Trip

For the past seven years, I have planned an early summer camping trip for the Horsetales group which was just starting to become more active in 2005. Many of the group had never been on a long trail ride with their horse, let alone camped overnight. Since that first trip, every 3rd weekend in June, the tradition continues. Although many of the riders subscribe to both the Horsetales and our Platte River Riders group, it has evolved into more PRRs than HTer over the years. None-the-less, the faces change, the places change but the idea to get together outside the confines of our hard drive, is still a good one.

This year I went solo. Case had a baseball tournament this same weekend. The ball team has struggled with rain-outs this year, so John opted to stay home so Case could play. A text message to camp that first night told me it was a good choice. Although they lost a game, he hit a home run. I am sorry I missed it; the exclamation marks in his text message communicated his excitement.

The Nebraska National Forest began in 1902 as an experiment to produce trees and plant them in what is now the largest man-made forest in the United States. The first and last time I was here, specifically at the Bessey Ranger District near Halsey, was in 2004. McCain would have been ten and Case just seven years old. That time, we were invited by friends and rode with a big group that we didn’t know real well. I remember riding a lot of sand hills and being rather disappointed in the lack of timber in the “forest”. I was told later that our guides at the time preferred the openness of the sand hills and that we should give it another chance. There is definitely diversified riding in this 75,000 acres offered to us. This time we hope to see the forest and the trees!

I pulled into the campsite at about 7:00 Thursday evening. There have been some major improvements to the campground since I was here before and found a beautiful spot next to my friends, Jules and Steve. We visited with the other campers; discussed an evening ride, but was also mindful of the bank of clouds coming in from the west. Luckily our premonition about the rain paid off and we hurried to our trailers as the thunder boomed above us.

There was another storm that came through later that night and we woke to a crisp damp morning. Being that we are in the sand hills, there is no mud to deal with, so no worries about delaying a ride. We saddled up around 10:00, rain gear in tow and headed out on the trail.

I wasn’t disappointed. Our friend and guide, Anita Hertner, gave us the grand tour. We rode through the pastures into the trees, dropping into cow trails and stopping at the numbered windmills along the way to water our horses. Some of the pastures have cattle while others have not been grazed. The views from the saddle were incredible.

We chased up a mule deer and then moments later saw a very young fawn still hiding in the thick grass, its mother probably waiting not far for us and hoping we would quickly move on. Once, when coming up a hill, Windy startled. She is not usually spooky so curious to see what she saw, I glanced in that direction. I’ll give her the spook; it was a porcupine! It wobbled along the fence and then started to climb a tree. I wanted pictures and between getting my camera out and trying to convince Windy it was a good idea to follow it, I missed some good shots. But how cool is that?

After lunch, more riders arrived and settled into camp. We rode out again for a few hours in the early evening, this time skirting some high hills with beautiful views of the valley. I wish my family was here to see it this time; it is so much different than I remember in a good way. A huge dinner shared by all and no storms overnight. We’ll be ready to ride the next day.

Jun 14, 2011

A Different Path

My last blog post, Down Time, was not the post I intended it to be. Sometimes even writing, I get unfocused and off-topic and my mind wonders someplace I never planned to be; kind of like in everyday life. Today I went to the kitchen for a bowl of cereal and ended up in the horse trailer for the bag of black licorice.

In that particular post, I was going to mention the fact that it was suppose to rain on Sunday (80% chance!) and so we spent the entire NICE day of the weekend getting chores done. And then when the rain didn’t come (20% chance it wouldn’t), I took advantage of the mild weather and had one of the nicest rides on my horse. And it ended up going to the dogs… literally (the blog post, not the ride).

So meanwhile, back on the “ranch”, I went out early Sunday morning and fetched Windy from the pasture and took her over to the trailer to tack her up. I haven’t ridden the roads here at home lately, so Ritz, my White Shepherd, was just beside himself. He loves to come along when I ride and lacks terribly in the patience department when I am saddling up.

I have my regular routes that I ride around here; chosen mostly to avoid any highway riding. I am just fine with traffic on gravel roads but 65 mph highway traffic just scares me to death. I blame it on the movie The Horse Whisperer; can’t get the picture of the horse and semi out of my mind. And for the record, it’s me, not my horse. She couldn’t care less about traffic! I also avoid farmsteads that might have aggressive dogs both for the sake of horse and rider and Ritz.

A few weeks ago I scoped out a new route in the car. I was pretty sure there were no homes along the way and the one dog that I knew about was pretty old and I was sure we could outrun him. On the last mile, there is the neighbor with the huge garden right next to the road. They have “Frasier” dog (the breed name escapes me) that is noisy, but not aggressive. Once again, if I put Windy into a nice trot or lope, we could quickly pass. It was time to explore.

The old dog must have died or wasn’t interested in us. There was no sign of him when we past that farm. We had to then cross the highway to get to the next road. Crossing doesn’t bother me too much, as long as Ritz isn’t too far ahead. I called him back next to me as we checked for traffic and quietly crossed the pavement to what was a nice dirt minimum maintenance road. We flushed up some pheasants along this route; saw a deer off in the distance. The view from the top of the hill was beautiful this particular morning and definitely a route I would travel again.

We turned at the next mile and followed the road that we had taken for the cattle drive earlier this year. I hadn’t noticed the pond then – it was probably covered with ice or snow at the time, but today was the color of the sky and very inviting to Ritz.

Instead of turning for home at the next mile, I continued down yet another minimum maintenance road that we used to ride more often. It is a shade covered road, lined with mulberry trees. Years ago, the farmer who leased the property gave us permission to ride the creek beds and tree lines around the fields. After its owner died, the property went up for sale. We entertained the idea of buying it, but once up for auction, the opening bid per acre was more than the max we could have paid. Some “city-folk” snatched it up and quickly put up fences and “no trespassing” signs. They can keep me off their property but not off the roads and I enjoyed a brief ride down there that morning.

Later, I went and took Blue out for a short ride. I think he has only been out once this entire year and he made me work for it this time. His feet were going forward but his mind was on the mares left behind. That’s his black ears at the top of this post.

On another subject (see how the mind wonders?), I was reading Saddle Up Nebraska magazine, a regional publication for horse owners. There was a small ad asking for readers to submit their favorite pictures for publication. I love the picture of Windy which I took at the Friday before Mother’s Day Ride (shown in the header of this page) and submitted it to their photo editor. She liked it and asked where it was taken. Via email, I told her about the Friday before Mother’s Day Ride and the history of the ride. It’s never hard to get me talking….

A few days later, I got an email back from the photo editor who said her editor liked the story about the ride and asked if they could use it. I was flattered and this first story was published in their June edition. I shared a few more emails with the magazine’s editor and was asked to submit a story for the next issue. I have to admit, it was a bit harder writing “on request” than it is when I write for fun. But I liked the challenge and the opportunity. I’m excited that the editor has just accepted my second story for publication.

Jun 12, 2011

Down Time

As much as (almost) summertime is for riding, it's also time for acreage keeping. Another lifetime, when I lived in town, I enjoyed a pristine lawn and flower beds. I had plenty of free time to keep things mowed and weed free. That was my life. When we bought this land in 1992, we moved the house onto what was an oats field; there wasn't a tree in sight. That first year, we planted the windbreak and the shade trees but the size of our large yard was so overwhelming compared to what I had that it would take years to landscape. Remodeling the house came first and then we had babies; landscaping beyond the necessities, grass, trees and a few shrubs, wasn't even on my radar.

As the boys got older, their activities increased and once I started riding, many weekends found me on the trails. I have never had any regrets that I didn't get carried away with a busy yard that required lots of time and care. Twenty acres are alfalfa and horse pasture; we probably have close to five acres that we must mow. If we can get an early start to it, we can get it done in a day. It's a lot easier using the "farm" tractor with the shredder instead of trying to do the whole thing with a garden tractor; saving it for where the big mower can't go. I did use the garden tractor on my newly seeded arena, now officially "turf". I probably won't use it until fall or later, making sure the grass has a good start.

The dogs are my shadow when I am home. I call them my weekend team. No matter where I went, they were underfoot or nearby. I had John snap this picture of me while I was on break; the team nearby.

The Big Fat Lying Weatherman said it was going to storm today; 80% chance of rain. The neighbor who cuts our alfalfa asked me on Saturday what I thought; should he mow? What, was he crazy? An 80% chance of rain; that's as good as saying 100%, right? No, let's not cut it now. Well, I woke up this morning to sunshine and a nice breeze. Not a cloud in the sky. And now here it is bedtime and there wasn't a drop of rain all day. Who pays these clowns?

So here it was a beautiful Sunday morning; like stolen time! I went and fetched Windy. It was time to ride.

Jun 10, 2011

Turkey Creek Ranch

We spend a lot of time in the winter planning where to ride during the nicer months. When my friend, Jules, said she wanted to spend her birthday at Turkey Creek Ranch near Newcastle, knowing what a popular place this has become, we made reservations right away. Just a short 2 hour drive from home, I am surprised we don't get there more often than we do. The last time, you might recall I blogged about our Extreme Ride at Turkey Creek.

McCain was left to his own accord while Case stayed at a cousin's home. I liked when our boys went camping with us and miss this part of their growing up but it certainly is a lot easier having to pack for two less people and two less horses. John and I left not long after noon, hoping to get to Turkey Creek by 3:00 and for an evening ride.

About 20 miles outside of Wayne, I knew a horse hadn't fallen in the trailer, but that we had yet another blow-out. What is up with this? Unfortunately, not only was that tire trashed, but it ripped out the break wires and compromised the tire in front of it. John put on the spare while I called ahead to find tires. We limped our way into the next town and they got us in and out quickly. Both the tires we lost in the last few weeks were the ones on the trailer when the axle was bent. After replacing the axle, we didn't replace the tires. It is possible they just had worn wrong or were aged out. I ordered another tire from our local shop and by my next trip, I'll have all new tires all the way around, so hopefully that will be the end of it.

We pulled in to Turkey Creek about an hour late, the last in our small group. After unloading and setting up camp, we went for a short evening ride up to a lookout over the flood ravaged Missouri River and down through the trails we call the Enchanted Forest. The trails were as beautiful as I remembered.

If you have been following the national news, the Missouri River is flooding and many people in Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota are being evacuated. Some call it a man-made flood; for whatever reason water was not being released from the dam soon enough. Last Friday, Gavin's Point Dam began releasing water from the Missouri River at unprecedented levels, to release the flood waters brought on by this year's massive amounts of snow melt in the nearby mountain states. There is concern about why it wasn't released earlier but as our governor said in a recent statement, the focus right now is on protecting those affected by this disaster. Investigations of why will be addressed after the crisis.

We rode again the next morning and evening, enjoying the campsites during the warmer part of the day. Turkey Creek not only offers the best trails and views in this part of the state but their campground is second to none. Full electrical hook-ups, plenty of water hydrants, pens for our horses and a picnic shelter for our group dinners. And rumor has it they want to put in showers next! Is this camping or what! If you don't have a trailer for camping or want to tent it, consider staying in one of the Turkey Creek cabins. You won't be roughing it At. All!

Colleen Hamer, the Nebraska Long Rider, joined us for dinner on Saturday night and departed Turkey Creek early Sunday morning. Her goal is to ride all around Nebraska, touching the adjoining states. It will be a 1,000 plus mile ride which she calls her "spiritual journey." As temperatures were predicted to hit the high nineties on Sunday, we, too, had an early morning ride and then packed up to return home. It was an uneventful trip home; we made it with all tires still up.

I've bragged up the trails and the campground at Turkey Creek Ranch, but I must also mention the owners of this place, Brenda and John Wortman, who share their paradise with horse riders. They are incredibly generous hosts and great folk to have around your campfire. Brenda, an accomplished equestrian in her own right, enjoys riding with her guests and can show you the good spots! Thank you, John & Brenda, for sharing your ranch with us again.

This weekend is a down weekend, recovering from being gone; buried in laundry and housework. The trailer goes to the shop for the last new tire and the brake repairs. Next week, it'll be "another tank of gas and back on the road again" (name that song).

Jun 9, 2011

Gone Riding

If I'm not blogging frequently, it's because I've been riding. And then when I get back, there is a barrage of chores that need done and of course, that job which supports this silly hobby.

I spent the weekend riding at beautiful Turkey Creek Ranch near Newcastle, Nebraska. I'll tell you all about it. Soon. Real soon.