Monday, February 24, 2014

Wildlife encounters & cliff-walking

Sometimes, blogging stalls because the rides are all feeling consistent and not-bloggable, nothing particularly exciting.  Sometimes, blogging stalls because I don't have time to adequately put words to the events.

For once, I had a few days off that coincided with spring break for teachers!  This makes for excellent ride planning.

Tuesday, we saw a coyote, or maybe it was a fox? It didn't stay still long enough for pictures.  Short hour-ride where no one worked too hard.

Thursday led to hopes of seeing the coyote-maybe-fox again to figure out which it is (and pictures!).  Instead, we happened upon a bobcat.  As any sane people would do, we lowered our voices and pointed the horses after the cat, snapping photos frantically as we went.

Bobcat on the trail in front of us.

It wandered down the trail and around a turn - but no, we didn't lose it, there it is!
And.. there is a bobcat on the fence.
Just to the right of the fence, not more than ten feet away.

 Ponies got lots of praise for being excellent tripods - I took at least a handful of photos with the reins dropped, leaning forwards out of the saddle and balancing off Confetti's neck.  She wasn't even remotely worried about the bobcat.  Screaming children, on the other hand, got an ear flick.  Oh, pony.
We were both pretty impressed with how utterly fearless the cat was - the photos show that pretty well, just chillin' on the trail next to some horses and humans, whatev', pause for a photo op, why not?

It pretty well made up for not seeing the fox-maybe-coyote.

Despite fifteen minutes of wildlife photography, there was still time for our seven-mile loop.  Off we went!  It was gorgeous at the top, clear enough to see the beach sand.  Back home and even with a bit of time before it's properly dark.  Confetti led a lot of the way and we kept a fairly brisk pace.

Friday, we took her out with her sister.  Attentive readers may recall that the last time I took her out with just her sister was the day I got bucked off in December.  There has been a bit of lingering anxiety, absolutely.  The past few weeks have done much to settle that and my rideable horse has returned to normal; I figured it would be fine.

It was a bit surprising when Confetti settled into lazy babysitter mode on Friday.  Normally, a cluck sends her briskly forwards.  Instead, it took four or five asks before she'd head forwards into a slow-to-medium trot.  It was exactly what we needed and while I have no idea how she knew that, there were absolutely no complaints that the pony had things figured out.

Our vague goal for the day was around ten miles or so - out to the Deck, then Buckeye if things were going well.  Things were, indeed, going well, so down the steep singletrack we went!

Buckeye is a trail that's frequently not maintained much in the winter or spring.  It's a bit of a pain to get places without a horse, and it's steep enough that once the rains start, it really is not a useable trail.  Granted, we're in February now, and we've had a bit of rain..  but we were not expecting to find a tree in the way.

  Note that the pony's nose is just about level with the fallen tree.  Not shown in photo: the tree ends just out of frame on the left.  The side of the trail.. well, gradually falls off at about the same place.

I hopped off, pondered, contemplated, tried it on foot, and wasn't convinced we could do it.  C did it with slightly more success and thought we could, so I handed Fetti over and told her to go for it (C was already on the other side of the tree, why switch?).

Confetti, being the absolutely awesome pony she is, looked at us, looked at the tree, looked at the trail, and only dropped one foot through the underbrush before leaping her way off the cliff and back onto the trail.  Very good pony.

Her sister wasn't willing to follow me around; I tied her to the tree and switched horses with C to let her do it.  Both ponies successfully around, we hopped back on and proceeded down the trail.  No sense letting a tree get in the way of a good trail ride.

There was one more downed tree later on; luckily it was on the river-beach and not more singletrack, because we were not turning around.  We skirted around that one through the rocks and could have gone over if we had to.  Not bad.

Up the hills, down the hills, next to more cliffs, and up yet more hills where Confetti ran out of energy before her sister, much to my surprise.  She wasn't done by any means, but didn't find it necessary to go cantering up the whole hill.  Okay, pony, you're being polite and calm and mellow?  I'm okay with that.

Three hours, 10.5 miles with a lot of walking.  Good mares!

Due partially to my migraine and partially to two medium-hard rides in a row, my ride Saturday consisted of walk/trot around the barn bareback.

I was pleased to find my forwards horse on Sunday.  I don't mind the occasional Western-pony ride, but it's always a bit disconcerting!  Sunday's ride was notable primarily because of the didgeridoo in the park making funny noises.  I got off and walked her past; I think she would have been fine, but decided it was silly to push my luck.  Nice brisk ride with another friend and her mare.

There's rain forecast again for this week.  I'd be glad to see it; temperatures have been in the 70s the past few days and that's just not right for February.  I am absolutely enjoying it, but none of my usual rainy-day tasks are getting done this year.

Sunday, February 16, 2014


On Thursday, a friend and I took back roads out to the park and headed up a particularly hilly section of trail.  Total mileage, counting the road: probably about eight miles.  Back at the barn, we turned the two horses out and they went cantering around the arena with enthusiasm.. not tired at all.  Well then.

I resigned myself to wandering in circles on Saturday.  Almost a mile of walking circles around the barn bareback in a halter, threw a saddle on to work in the round pen, decided we needed a bit for that so went back to add that too.  But hey - I've got all the tack on, we can go trot in the back woods!  So we trotted along in repetitive loops and lines for a brisk mile and a half.

A brief but satisfying ride when I looked at our speed.  Last winter, we struggled to get to a 5mph pace on those trails (though granted, we had to walk over/through a fallen tree).  This year?  6.7mph.  Good mare.

Since there were no photos in the last blog of how awful the river crossing looks this time of year, we headed down that way to get some for you folks.  Oddly enough, I couldn't quite see the river from the top of the trail.  I could have sworn that was my viewpoint earlier in the week, but new trail, maybe I was wrong, fine, head down the hill a bit... and huh, there's the trail at the bottom of the hill that gets covered when the dam goes up.  They took the dam back down.  They took the dam back down!

One excited (if thoroughly baffled) phone call later, and five verbal notifications that we're not doomed again yet, the Haffies headed out into the park for a few miles.  Woohoo!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Hello winter!

While the rest of the US is getting snow and rain and generally miserable cold weather, California's in a drought.  This past weekend was the first real few days of rain we've had this winter.. if not longer!  Good news, since it means we're now marginally less concerned about the drought (but let's face it, we're still pretty low on rainfall here).  Bad news for my riding, since after a few days of rain the dam has gone up just downstream of the barn.  Our river crossing is over for at least a month or two. 

It rained Thursday, just a bit.  I got on bareback, put the halter-bridle all on, and attached the reins to the halter.  I have to keep things interesting somehow, right?  Tree limbs falling had me dismounting fast, but Confetti just flinched and looked hard at the tree.  Bravery was limited and I still had the bit attached, just not to the reins.  We wandered around the barn awhile and didn't really work, but that was okay.  I got some pretty pictures instead.

This captures her look better than any other photo I've taken.

She's looking pretty good, as long as I stay confident that there won't be ribs showing again when she sheds out!

The hike was a little bit foggy towards the top.
It rained Saturday.  Saturday morning I went hiking up north, expecting it to be raining there too.  It wasn't!  I had a lovely miserable three miles all uphill and a significantly less miserable three miles downhill.  My boots finally started to give me blisters.  I vowed to return them to REI and try something new.  Nine months, a year, fine!  But these boots I've had for maybe six or seven months, and that is the absolute fastest I have ever worn out riding/hiking boots.

Drove back over the hill.  Sure enough, still raining.  I got on bareback, put the halter on, and attached the reins to the halter - no bit at all.  It was pouring pretty good on and off.  Pony was a coiled spring of tension ready to explode.  She dutifully tolerated a few laps around the barn to socialize, and then I hopped off and jogged a few laps with her in my not-good-for-running rain boots.  It was raining harder and my new, pink waterproof jacket that I bought specifically for the barn?  Not entirely waterproof.  I was wet.  I put her away and went home.

Sunday I went to REI.  I did not get a new raincoat, but I did get new hiking boots.  Luckily, I found a raincoat in my car.  I don't particularly like it to ride in, but I knew it was still raining at home.  Plus it cost $0 to find it in my car, and would have cost $100+ to get a raincoat at REI.  And they have a pink shell-only raincoat online for something like $60 anyway.

I went home and went to the barn.  It was still raining.  I was going to get on, but opted to turn her out in the round pen instead.  Pony promptly cantered in circles and threw hissy fits about not having her sister with her.  She riled up several other horses being walked and we eventually just put her sister in so they could both trot/canter around and blow off steam.  I'm guessing she did ten-fifteen minutes of running around by herself and another twenty with the two of them.  The footing was actually rather nice under the puddles.  Put her away, hopped on another Haffie bareback for awhile, and swore we'd get a good ride in on Tuesday.

It did not rain on Tuesday!  I zipped out to the barn, planning to get in a good 8 miles or so.  The river no longer had a viable crossing.  Our path to the highway has various fallen trees that dramatically change the landscape.  It took easily fifteen minutes to find a workable path.  We jogged on the highway for nearly a half-mile to get to the main park entrance and our usual starting point, dodging traffic, RVs, and motorcycles.  There is not much shoulder and drivers may or may not respect that there's a horse nearly on the road.  It's one hell of a way to do road sprints though: dash past a bunch of parked cars, wait for a gap in traffic, run like hell to get past the next six cars when there are no cars coming head-on towards you.

Confetti has proven herself to be road-safe and generally okay with anything we encounter.  I don't ride her on the road and I keep us as out of the way as safely possible, but we've had motorcycles go by and she barely blinked.  It's possible to dodge a lot of the highway by going on side streets.  We'll do that with horses that don't like big trucks flying by.  Side streets have houses, though, and turns and smoother asphalt, and roads barely big enough for two cars to pass each other.  The highway is a straight shot down the road to the park.

Road or not, we were going to Do Something and that meant we had to make it to the park, so we did.  I jogged/walked with her a bit, found our way around a particularly large fallen tree, and eventually hopped on.  Pony's brain stayed intact, which is impressive!  Last year, she never settled much for me to feel very comfortable riding her on the trail alone after coming by 9.  This time, she wasn't thrilled nor confident.  She didn't want to go fast.  That was okay; the trails are still muddy enough I wasn't asking for fast, just forwards.  We trotted some, then turned around towards the end of the flat section and headed home at a walk.  Idiots throwing things near the river made both of us nervous.  I hopped off and walked/jogged with her awhile again.  Confetti was getting the hang of sticking right next to me for our jogs!  I am quite pleased with that and hope it sticks.  Ran back on the highway, wandered around lost in the woods for a few minutes to find the stupid trail, and made it home in one piece.

Four miles, all told.  A very mentally challenging four miles.  How are the rest of you coping with your winters?