Sunday, April 20, 2014

Endurance Ride - Grizzly

Yesterday, I went to the Grizzly Mountain endurance ride, to crew for my friend Shar, take photos, and help out wherever I could.  Turns out they had plenty of volunteers, so I didn't do as much helping as Nathan did.

I showed up a little later than planned (after setting my alarm for earlier than on a weekday!), but no biggie.  Helped Shar tack up when I could, and took a couple of photos of both her horses pre-ride.  She would be riding Flash, but her other horse Goodwin was there too, to spend the day hanging out at the trailer and learning that it's not the end of the world when you buddy leaves for a few hours.



Flash, cool as a cucumber.  Been there, done that.

Love how relaxed he is.

We made sure she had everything she would need for the 22+ mile first leg (I know!), and then it was time to mount up.

We headed to the vet check area, also the starting area, and without much fanfare, they were off!

Nice and relaxed, leaving at a walk

Nathan and I settled in to the vet check area with our snacks, water, and camp chairs, to wait for her return, and in the meantime, to help out.  I let the crew there know we were willing and able, but there wasn't much to be done until the first few horses came back in for their vet checks.  Nathan bought a hot breakfast sandwich from the caterers, and hung out in the area making friends with them.  When the first few riders were spotted on the horizon, Nathan was quickly briefed in how to check them in--greet them as they approached camp, ask for their vet cards, and write the "in time" on them.  The in time doesn't count for much, except when certain distances are finishing, because what starts the clock on the mandatory hold time is when the horse's heart rate meets criteria (for this ride, 60 bpm).  I have a stethoscope my mom gave me when I was pregnant with Nathan, so I pulsed a few horses, but there were more pulsers than we ever had riders, so mostly I took pictures.  I took over 200 photos, 48 of which I decided were good enough to keep, but I won't bore you with ALL of them.  Maybe just a few:

One of the two vets checking a horse--they make sure the horse is well-hydrated, digesting their food, and not sore anywhere.  And endurance horse has to be "fit to continue," even after the final leg, or it will be disqualified.  You can ride all the miles but still not "finish" if you horse is pulled at the final vet check.

Part of the exam includes trotting the horse away from and back toward the vet so she can look for lameness.

After the required time has passed since the horse "pulsed down," and the vet check is complete (most people vet right after pulsing down, but you can technically do it whenever you want during the hold time), you check with the timer and she tells you you're free to go.  

After being out on the trail for 3 1/2 hours or so, Shar and Flash returned.

And of course they had to follow the same process:

Vet exam

Trot out

 Not pictured because I was helping her, but the hold time was 45 minutes.  Which goes by pretty fast, especially when the vet check is right in camp so you spend a few minutes walking back to camp and back to the vet check again.  I told Shar to take care of herself while I took care of flash.  She ate, changed pants but then changed them back again when she realized the new ones were too big (nice!), and just rested.  I untacked flash and put a blankie (fleece cooler) on him, and made sure he had lots of nice hay and water.  Oh, and I massaged him a little.  He's spoiled!  Flash was pretty tired and kind of napped the whole break, but soon it was time for Shar to hop back on.  She was worried about how tired and sore she'd be since this is the first ride of the season (and it's a LONG first loop!) but she did great, and so did Flash.  All the preparation clearly paid off.

A friend-of-a-friend and her trail buddy, leaving on another of many loops to complete a 75-mile ride

Shar and her trail buddies leaving on their second and final loop

This loop was only 10 miles, so less than half the distance of the first, but they rode a slower pace and it took them about two hours.  I actually didn't realize it was Shar and her buddies riding up to the finish line because they were trotting.  Finishing the LD (limited distance--anything less than 50 miles) or for any vet check when you're not yet done, your completion time or the start time for the hold is when your horse pulses down, so most people come in at a walk so they will be pulsed down right when they arrive.  However, for those finishing the 50-mile ride (as some were doing around this same time since they start earlier), the completion time is when you cross the finish line, as long as the horse DOES pulse down within an hour, which in all but the rarest cases is no problem.  So people will come in across the finish line much faster in that case.  So when I saw them trotting toward us, I assumed they were 50s coming in from their last loop.  Nope, it's Shar and her trail buddies!  They did it!!

So happy!  They did it!
As you can see from this photo, the clouds had come in and chilled the air down a lot.  What you can't see is the wind that made it even chillier.  So I helped Shar through the final vet check (mostly just holding stuff so she could do all the steps), then went back to her camp area with her and helped settled Flash back into his little corral with his buddy Goodwin, who had really missed him.  They both got hay, grain, and a top-up of their water, as well as a cozy blanket to block out the cold wind.  I was cold and sunburned and tired, so I bid Shar farewell and headed home.

Great job EVERYONE who rode, and congratulations to those who finished.  To finish is to win!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Another good day for horseback riding

Julie and I would like to try a "trail ride" (just 10 miles) at an endurance ride sometime this year, and realized we (especially me!) and the horses would need to shape up a bit to do well at one (any horse and rider can likely GO 10 miles, but doing it well and coming in feeling good is another story).  So we are going to try to ride at least one weeknight a week in addition to weekends, and tonight was that night.

I got there a little before Julie (I'd taken off work early to volunteer at the Humane Society and she was coming straight from work) and got "my" horse out of the paddock and groomed her and even put the saddle on.  Then Julie arrived, so I fetched her horse for her and she tacked HER up, and we were ready to go.  We started off in the indoor arena.  I quickly bored of riding in circles, and asked Julie if she wanted to ride on the "poop" trail.  (They spread the manure on a network of trails on the property--it actually makes for really nice footing!)  Her horse was acting up in the arena, so she didn't want to take her chances on the trail, but said I could go alone.  A few weeks ago, I wouldn't have, but I felt ready, so I did.

I hopped off in the arena, then led her to the mounting stairs out behind the barn.  At first she wasn't cooperating (she wanted to eat all the new greens coming up!), but she finally stood still and I hopped on, and she took off at a quick walk.  No, no, no.  You have to obey.  Especially outside in the big wide world.  ;-)  She settled down quite a bit but was still on high alert, out there in the breezy evening all by ourselves.  We looped around the front of the property, around the cross-country course and near the barn.  She kept wanting to trot but I kept her at a walk.  Then we headed toward the upper loop that goes more through trees (though still near the outdoor arena and a house, we're not talking boonies here).  Once we got a little away from the barn area, I let her trot up the hill a bit, and she seemed well under control, so I notched her up a gear into a canter.  She didn't try to take off with me, and we had a nice controlled canter up a nice gentle hill.  Good girl!  We walked back down the hill, trotted and cantered back up the same loop again, and when I got to the top, I realized that that was my fourth time (two were a different day) doing the loop in the same direction, so I turned her around and we walked back down the way we came.  One more trot/canter back up the hill (still going the opposite direction than the first few times), and walk down, and we headed back past the barn area to the lower (flatter) loop.

She wanted to go back to the barn, so she was a little squirelly going past that area, but then she settled in again, so we trotted and cantered a little more on the flat.  Another gal (not Julie) was out there with a horse that had only learned to enter/cross water on Sunday, and she was trying to get that horse to go into the pond again.  I was pretty sure Julie had said that "my" horse had been through water before just fine, so I headed that way to see if she'd do it (I wasn't going to push hard--don't need to end up in the drink right before sunset!), and after a quick sniff, she plowed right through.  Good girl!  And good to know if we encounter water on the trail (though there isn't much out here in the desert, and often when you do encounter water, it's uncrossable irrigation canals, but whatever).

I called that a win, and we headed back to the barn, met up with Julie who had done much better with her hourse there in the arena, and we both untacked and took the girls back to their respective paddocks for a well-deserved dinner.

I was still a little sore from Sunday, and now I'm going to be REALLY sore.  And we're planning to ride again on Friday morning!  (No work for Julie and me--woo!)

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Awesome Day!

So, my friend Julie invited me to ride with her this weekend.  That isn't all that unusual, she's been generous enough to let me ride one of her horses pretty frequently lately.  The plan was to meet up at her barn at noon, catch, groom, and partially tack the horses, then load up and meet our friend Shar at her (new!) house and ride out from there.  However, Julie texted me just as I was leaving to say that the farrier wasn't even there yet, so don't hurry.  Well, I was literally already out the door, so I took my time trying to rig my sunglasses to stay on better (tip:  stickers with a little thickness to them stuck where the two pieces meet when unfolded, to cause the temple pieces to press onto my head better), then got gas before heading up to her place.
Even with the little bit of stalling, I still got to her place right around noon, as originally planned.  Oops.  I guess I hadn't really realized that she wasn't just waiting for him to ARRIVE, but that he would be shoing the horses we would be riding before we could ride.  Oh well.  The farrier pulled in about when I did, but first he showed one of his horses to a potential buyer, then he wanted to ride one of his other horses in the arena (he doesn't have a large arena at his place).  

Finally he seemed ready to start on shoeing, but first he had to do something else...I swear that guy dawdles more than Nathan.  Finally, he got the hints we were giving about wanting to go riding, and he actually started and quickly got both horses done.  We loaded the horses and gathered our other supplies (water, helmet, etc.) and headed out.  Unfortunately, in the meantime, Shar had invited some other people over and so when we realized we'd be running late, she and her other friends went without us and Julie and I decided we'd end up riding on our own.  No biggie.

Oh, after loading up all the horses and other gear, we started to pull out down the driveway, but realized we'd left behind the mounting block.  We COULD use a bumper (or one of the big boulders at the trailhead), and Julie can actually get on from the ground when necessary, but I really can't, so I hopped out to go fetch it, and promptly turned my ankle in a pothole in the driveway and fell to the ground on my hands and knees.  I think my jeans are unhurt, but my hands took a little bit of damage.  But I chalked it up as insurance against a worse fall later on, and got up and fetched the mounting block.  :-)

So yeah, we loaded up then drove to the nearest trailhead.  We were the only ones, so Julie had an easy time of circling the parking area and parking facing back out to the exit, no backing required.  :-)  We unloaded the horses, added bridles on top of their halters, and I hopped up first because we weren't sure the stirrups were adjusted correctly, but they were perfect.  Julie mounted, and we were off.  

The day could not have been more beautiful, nor more perfect for outdoor activities, including horseback riding.  Gorgeous blue sky, and the temperature was perfect--warm when standing still in the sun (in fact, my dark wash jeans got ridiculously hot), but a nice breeze to keep it from being too hot.  At one point I even commented that we should soak up the perfect weather because it'll soon be too hot (and I won't rule out one more snowstorm before it becomes summer, either).

Anyway...this was my first trail ride in FOREVER, and after the bad experiences I had with Trigger, I've been nervous at each "first" since then--first time back on a horse, first time on a new horse, first time in the outdoor arena, first time outside the arena.  So I was understandably (IMO) nervous getting on at the trailer, but honestly not really very nervous at all, compared to the first few "firsts."   

Julie had warned me that about the only "vice" this horse had on the trail was that if she saw something that made her nervous, she would "spin."  Well, that made me nervous anyway because I'm unbalanced enough (and top heavy!) that a spin would unseat me just fine, and a spin plus a bolt would leave me stunned on the ground for sure.  So the first couple minutes on the trail, when the horse kept feeling "humped" up under me, I was a bit concerned.  It turns out it was less from being ready to buck (or do anything else problematic), but more because she was in a shanked bit for the first time in a while, and was really rounding not just her neck, but her whole back.  She settled into it after a few minutes and did just fine, and I was careful to stay off the reins as much as possible.

I relaxed significantly, and then we approached some signs posted alongside the trail that Julie warned me she would spook at.  Well, she definitely didn't want to be near them, but I was hugely relieved to see that Julie's definition of "spin" was much different than the spin and bolt I'd been afraid of.  I later commented that Julie's comment had me thinking she (the horse) would be saying, "Aw, HELL no.  NO no no no no no no!"  But really what she "said" was, "Nah, I think I'm gonna just walk over heeeeere a little bit instead.  Okay?"  So I went along with her desires out of concern for my own hide, and we gave the evil horse-eating signs a wide berth.

We moseyed on down the trail, throwing in a few trots when the trail cooperated.  Speaking of which, this trail is also frequented by motorized vehicles (mainly ATVs and dirt bikes), and has lots of "whoops" in it (the little hills and gulleys that build up from such traffic).  It's kinda fun riding them on horseback, too.  At the walk, you're already moving your hips to follow the horse's movement, and going up and down hills that are only a horselength apart means it's like doing pelvic tilts while also moving your hips to follow the horse's movement.

Julie navigated us through a few turns, and told me she was hoping to take me somewhere special.  We found ourselves at a gate, but a gate you're allowed to open as long as you close it again.  Julie did me the favor of hopping off to open it, then hopping back on using a rock as a mounting block.  I'd already been commenting to her on how cool the view was, with cliffs looming above us, and she said, "Just wait!"  Sure enough, we entered a canyon, with cliffs above us on both sides, and some really cool rock formations, lichen-covered snags, etc.  However, cliffs looming above on both sides go against a horse's natural instincts, which tells them that those cliffs would be the perfect spot for a cougar (or whatever predator) to lie in wait to pounce.

So we'd head down the trail, and the lead horse would be on high alert (ears forward, body tensed up) and might even start trying to turn around back the way we'd come.  So we'd pull the other one into lead position to coerce the other down the trail a little further, and then at one point both horses refused to go any further.  Neither Julie nor I are the bravest horsepeople, and it is entirely possible that they were spooking because of something totally harmless, or even just to convince us to head back to the trailer.  But we decided to play it safe and assume the horses knew better than we did, so we turned around.

When we got back to a junction, we explored a different direction for a bit, and again the horses refused to go forward after a certain point, so we called it a day and headed back. 

On our final pass by the supposedly horse-eating signs, I circled the horse back around them at what she felt was a safe distance but with much protesting.  Then I got her to get a little closer, but again with much protesting.  Then all of a sudden, she just walked right up to the signs, as if to convince me that they were okay after all.  Then spooked again walking away and a few times again even though we were heading TOWARD the trail.  But again, her form of spooking is totally doable, even by me, so whatever.  

We eventually ended up back at the trailer, where the horses loaded up very nicely, and we all headed back toward food, water, and shade.

As we pulled up to the barn, Julie commented that the farrier was STILL there, as evidenced by his truck out front.  Then we saw WHY he was still there--he was on his horse he was so anxious to ride in the arena, but not in the arena this time--he was at a full-out gallop on the trail on the property.  We unloaded the horses, took them to their paddock so they could roll and eat and drink, and then watched the farrier and Julie's husband (a horse trainer) goofing around on horses.  At one point, the farrier put away that horse and grabbed another, who had apparently only been ridden twice before, so they careened around a while, then attempted a water crossing.  The horse wanted NO part of that, but after a few minutes, he gave in and was soon splashing around enjoying himself.

All in all, a successful day for all of us, and lots of fun.  Thanks again, Julie!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Adoption Day at PetCo

Nathan and I volunteer at the Humane Society, and lately the bulk of our volunteer hours are at PetCo.  We have a standing day of the week that it's our responsibility to go to PetCo and check in on the four cats who live in cages there for extra exposure to the public for potential adoption.  We make sure they seem to be eating and drinking, note any odd behavior, but mostly just play with them and give them some human interaction and touch.

But every once in a while, the stars align such that an adoption day at PetCo falls when I'm not traveling and am available to help.  Today was one of those days, and even better, Nathan was with me, too.  This was only our second time participating.  Last time, someone else brought the stuff and the critters, and all we had to do was show up at PetCo and hang out, available to answer any questions.  Pretty uneventful.

Well, today, the first difference was that there was no one else to haul the supplies and critters.  I live not too far from PetCo, but the Humane Society is on the other side of town, so I asked for me to be the last resort for hauling stuff, not least because my car also wouldn't fit everything, but the volunteer coordinator told me I could drive the HSCO van.  So this morning, Nathan and I headed out around 8:45 and got to the shelter at around 9:10.  We were shown where the supplies were, and I pulled the van around and we loaded up the inanimate cargo.  Then we headed back inside (we got to go into the employee-only areas like the intake and clinic areas, so that was cool) to get the small animals we were supposed to pick up--a guinea pig and two mice.  Then we realized we only had "kennel cards" (sheets of paper with their names, ages, intake dates, and a brief bio) for the mice but not the guinea pig, so we went back and got them.  We got on our way at around 9:25, and I was pleased to realize that we were not only going to get to PetCo on time, but actually early enough to set up before the adoption event was supposed to begin at 10:00.  Yay!

But a mile or two away from the shelter, I commented to Nathan that at least these critters were quiet (we've hauled cats between PetCo and the shelter before, and they are never quiet), and I realized that I was pretty sure we were actually supposed to be taking a cat.  I pulled over, checked my e-mail, and sure enough--there was an empty spot at PetCo, so we were supposed to take a cat over, and possibly a dog if they had an appropriate candidate.  Shoot!

So we headed back to the shelter, asked if they had a cat we should take, and an employee loaded one up for us.  Then for some reason, she wondered aloud whether he had a microchip, checked, and he didn't, so she popped one into him real quick and we were on our way.  Except that as Nathan was loading the cat carrier into the back of the van, he saw movement and realized one of the mice had escaped and was loose in the van.  I shut the side door as quick as I could while he looked for it, then hopped in the driver's door as fast as I could and coached him from the front.  He lifted up the table, found the mouse, and caught it.  Luckily, since it's super tame, all that happened was Nathan got peed on.  I grabbed the hand sanitizer from the glove box of my car, and we headed off in the van, now running late.

We arrived at PetCo without further incident, and ended up only being one minute late (in the door--it took another few minutes to get set up, of course).  Nathan was a great helper, and we quickly got the table set up, tablecloth and other supplies on it, with the small animals' cages on it as well.  We settled the cat into his new abode, and sat down to wait for customers with questions.  Before too long, another volunteer showed up with a dog.  A small dog, but the most mild-mannered small dog I've ever seen.  Daisy is a Bichon Frise mix, and was SO sweet.  She sat nicely, didn't bark, loved attention, and laid down and just calmly watched all the goings-on most of the morning.

Daisy, just chillin'

Daisy, checking out the action, but sitting so quietly

This is our setup--cats are out of the frame to both the left and right

Princess the guinea pig

Penny, the escapee mouse

Sugar, the less adventurous mouse

These mice were SO tame.  They actually LIKED being held, and when we tried to put them back in their cage, they'd cling to our hands rather than go back to hanging out in their usual home.  They never tried to get out of our hands when holding them, and truly seemed to enjoy being held and petted.  So sweet, so tiny, so soft.

We sat around for a while, answering questions, showing people the animals, and so on.  A couple of people asked about kittens.  We didn't have any there at PetCo, and in fact I don't think there are currently any at the shelter, so that's what I told people.  The second person to ask about kittens said that the TV had announced we'd have kittens from CRAFT (a different local cat-only rescue), and I said that must be at PetSmart, not PetCo, because we weren't CRAFT and we didn't have kittens.  She then went into how she'd go over there, then, because she wanted to give them a piece of her mind after she adopted a kitten from them who had to be put down at four months old due to fatal health issues.  Wow, that sucks, but also glad we dodged that bullet since we're not them.

Then a woman came up to us--she had a dog in the kid seat of the shopping cart, and a fairly large bird cage in the basket part.  She asked if we would mind babysitting her bird while she took her dog into the grooming area right near us.  Would we mind?  Nah, it was awesome!  We found out the bird was a female named Pegasus, and spent the next half hour or so (along with three other boys and quite a few other adults) chatting with the bird.  She can say a few words that resemble English, but mostly just speaks jibberish with a very conversational intonation, like a baby does.  She was very friendly, and even very gentle to fingers that poked through the cage toward her beak.


Then, as if that wasn't enough excitement, we spotted a guy with a giant lizard (an Australian Sand Monitor) named Slick.  He wasn't for sale, the guy just does demonstrations to school groups or whatever, and brought him to PetCo to show him off and promote his demonstrations and the fact he'll be on TV later this week.


THEN, a store employee brought out one of the birds for sale - a conure named Sunny.  The bird was young and not completely used to humans yet, so she kept gently biting my fingers, hand, and arms when I held her, but I think she was just trying to get a feel/taste, not trying to hurt me or anything.  Pretty bird.



Lastly, there was one more dog brought over from the shelter--Sunny, a male mix of some kind.  Speculation for breeds includes pit or boxer (his head is pretty blocky), husky, or maybe German Shepherd.  He's only 10 months old, and still acts very much like a puppy, but is SOOOooo cute.  I have no doubt he'll be adopted soon.

Sunny (the other one)

Speaking of adoptions, Daisy (the small dog shown at the top) was adopted and is spending tonight in a house with a new human to love, and one of the four cats had had the paperwork finalized Friday, but the new owner came today at the very end of our shift to pick her up. Yay!

Like I mentioned above, in addition to the animals hauled over from the shelter who would also go back there for the night, there are four cages at PetCo for kitties.  They all got plenty of attention, too, though I didn't take photos of them.  Except for Ollie.  He's such a sweet friendly kitty, and he got a LOT of attention throughout the day, and by 1:00, he was passed out, in bliss from all the attention but ready for some hard-core napping.

At 2:00, we started packing up, and that's right when the adopted cat's new owner came to pick her up.  I called the volunteer coordinator to see if she'd want to have a new cat brought over to PetCo.  Since I had to go back to the shelter regardless, and since I live near PetCo, it wouldn't be far out of my way to bring another cat back with me.  And another volunteer who'd spent all day there said she'd clean the cage out so it'd be ready to settle the new cat into, so we put the plan into action, and Nathan and I headed back to the shelter.

Nathan had done a GREAT job loading up the back, jigsaw-puzzling the cages and carriers amongst each other and on top of the flatter cargo.  My mom would be so proud.  However, he failed to take into account the (lack of) friction between the folded table and the bottoms of the rodent cages, so when I applied the brakes (gently!), the guinea pig went sliding, and when it reached the edge of the table, it also tipped over, spilling the shredded paper bedding, knocking the water bottle off, and shaking up but not harming the guinea pig herself.  Ugh.  Then the next time I applied the brakes (even MORE gently), the mouse cage slid off the table, though at least it stayed upright.  However, Nathan noticed that Penny had escaped once AGAIN.  So I pulled over and he got the cages and critters all sorted back out again, left them directly on the floor of the van (instead of back on top of the folded table), and we were finally on our way again.

Back at the shelter, we unloaded the critters, unloaded the supplies, and were told just to leave the mess in the van for someone else to vacuum up later.  Oops.  Sorry!  They also didn't have a cat to transport back to PetCo after all, so we were off the hook in that regard, and got to head straight home.

I don't know how people who work retail do it.  I got to sit down for a good portion of the day, didn't have to talk to THAT many people, and thoroughly enjoyed meeting all the different critters, but I am EXHAUSTED.  Wiped out.  Ready for bed.