Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Re-Tackling the Tevis Part 3

Yesterday Sweetie and I saw a bear!!  We were getting a ride in before the storm hit that's supposed to go all week.  We had gone down to Cherokee Bar on the Middle Fork, right across from the Tevis trail as it runs between Francisco's and Poverty Bar.  We had climbed almost all the way back up the canyon when Sweetie decided to take a side trail that turned out to be a shortcut over to the French Trail from the Robie Trail.  She apparently knows these trails better than me.  Suddenly she halted and went into high alert position, neck straight up, ears forward.  I craned to look ahead at what she was looking at.  All I could see were branches swaying about 100' up the hill.  I told her, "come on, it's just the wind, let's go!"  She stood her ground.  I looked again and realized there was something moving up there.  It was the rear view of a medium sized bear straddling two branches!  "Ok!" I said, "We're turning around now!"  and we headed back down and continued up the original trail.

After a short distance we came to the French Trail turnoff and I realized we were now heading straight for where the bear was!  Needless to say, Sweetie was very hesitant.  I listened for rustling noises, and sure enough, we heard them and stopped and waited for them to fade into the distance.  I looked down and saw fresh, still wet bear scat!  It looked like the bear had been eating some kind of dark purple berry.  I don't know what the bear was doing up in the tree, but it was gone now.  All the way up the French Trail Sweetie was on the lookout, checking out every large object we passed as a potential bear, boulders, logs, everything.  Hey, she's no fool, she has the Mustang defense mechanisms going for her.

She never panicked, I never felt her heartbeat through the saddle, but I would've liked to see what her pulse reading was while she was looking at that bear.  Unfortunately, I had the monitor all hooked up but had left the watch receiver at home.    About a month ago, riding with Sue, Raven was on a mission to explore new trails, and tried to turn off every side trail we came to.  Suddenly he took off down a game trail, dragging Sue through branches in the process, and disappearing into the woods with Sue yelling all the way.  Sweetie tried her best to follow him, but I was damned if I was going to let her do that, so she spun around and started to panic.  It was then that I felt her heart pounding through my treeless Sport Saddle.  I hate it when they do that!  I talked her down and did my best to calm her until finally Sue got Raven turned around and came back.  One of these days I'll get a heart monitor reading of that pounding-through-the-saddle heartbeat.

A week ago on a Sunday, Sue and I set out for ride, and not twenty minutes into it, Raven sideswiped a branchy tree and scraped Sue right off.  She fell hard on her side right in front of him and hit her un-helmeted head on a rock!  I yelled, "Are you alright?" and Sue said yes, but when I jumped off and went over to her, all she was concerned about was where her iphone was.  It was a couple of feet away on the trail and I handed it to her.  She had road rash on her upper arm but was otherwise OK.  She got back on and decided to go a different way at the next intersection, cutting her ride short and telling me to do as long a ride as I wanted.  She still went and rode for two hours.  I told her she needed to start wearing a helmet.

I continued on alone after fighting with Sweetie to keep her from following Raven.  We went all the way down the French Trail and then took the Robie Trail in a southwesterly direction.  When I got near the creek crossing I started hearing singing.  It turned out to be a big group of Japanese tourists marching along with walking sticks and singing in Japanese.  They pulled over to let me pass and the last one saluted me.  I saluted back.  They cracked me up.  The two Mounted Assistance Unit riders I caught up with a few minutes later felt the same way.  

Eventually I met up with the Dead Truck Trail, which really does have an old 40's truck down the side of a ravine.  How it got there I don't know.  The trail must have been much wider many moons ago.    I continued towards Poverty Bar, the Tevis Trail crossing.  There was recent trail work there by the Tevis Trail work crew and it was much wider and not rutted anymore, thanks to the trail machine provided by Echo Valley Feed.

Soon I reached the spot where the Quarry vet check is, and there were a lot of hikers and riders in the picnic area there.  The weather was great, in the 60's and spring-like.  I chatted with a couple who were also on barefoot horses, one of which was a BLM Mustang like Sweetie.  He was wearing a fancy tooled breastcollar that said "Mustang".  There's a lot of pride in gentling and training a horse that was formerly wild.  

I can't wait to start training my own BLM Mustang, Taqi.  He's about four and a half now, give or take, and I've had him for 3 years.   He's well halter broke, I can touch him all over and trim his feet.  He's from a special herd known as the Sulphur Mustang, from the Mountain Home Range in Southwestern Utah.  They are almost 100% pure original Spanish Conquistador horse due to being in an isolated area.  They were discovered in the late eighties and were DNA'd because they had unique characteristics.  They come in various shades of dun with zebra striped legs.  They are descendants of  escapees of horses stolen by Indians from the Spanish missions in Southern California and driven up the Santa Fe Trail.  They are genetically identical to an ancient breed called the Sorraia that still runs wild in Portugal and used to be in Spain as well.  They are the predecessors of the Andalusian and the Lusitano, were used as war horses in ancient times, and are known for their bravery.  The picture below was taken last summer.  

My Future Tevis Mount

Taqi is in fact, fearless and quickly dominated his two pasture buddies as soon as he was turned out with them, even though they were 3 times his age.  They both had patches of hair missing all over for the first two weeks, and Taqi was left unscathed.   In a few years he will be my next Tevis horse.  He is a silver grulla with black points.  He has zebra stripes all the way up his front legs and on his hocks, a dorsal stripe and a black mane with blonde streaks.  He is very unique.  I may mess with people who ask what kind of horse he is and say he is half zebra.   

Sulphur's Nataqua

There are more pictures of him on my Facebook page.  I hope to have him under saddle this summer.  If things go really well he might be ready for a limited distance ride in the fall.  We'll see.  That's probably wishful thinking.  First I have to get him moved up to where I'm living in Penn Valley, once the horse set up is finished in a couple of months.   He's only 13.3, but they are late bloomers.  He seems like such a midget when I visit him after riding Sweetie.  

Two Tevis's ago I spotted another Sulphur Mustang at the Foresthill check.  It was a red dun mare named Lakota that was also only 13.3 and ridden by Victoria Saitta of Southern California.  The mare looked great, but unfortunately was pulled at the Quarry for lameness about 8 miles from the finish.  I looked up her record and was very pleased to see she was a consistent top tenner on fifties, with a couple of best conditions.  I hope Taqi does as well.  It shows you that size isn't everything.  

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Part 2

This is Sweetie last October on my first ride on her since riding her on a 50 in '03.  We were on our way back from doing about 15 miles along the middle fork of the American River near Greenwood and Cool.  Sue's place is right on the trails on the opposite side of the American River from the California Loop Trail section of the Tevis Trail.

 All of our conditioning rides have been done completely barefoot in all the rocks.  Sweetie is amazing.  She goes over them like they're not there.  She will have glue-on boots for Tevis.  I am planning on drag riding the American River 50 next month and will be carrying boots for that and using them as needed.  Her hooves are as hard as a rock and never chip.  The long slow distance work of drag riding is good conditoning for 100's.  It's been a long time since I've been in the saddle for nine hours.  I should be good and sore after that.

    This was taken in November in front of the Hawver mine near  the Old Quarry Vet Check at about the 90 mile point of Tevis.  This is one of the features of Tevis I was never aware of until I moved out here and had the opportunity to ride by it in the daylight, unlike during Tevis when you get to it in the wee hours and are too bleary and half out of your mind with fatigue to notice much of anything except your horse's head in front of you.  There is an iron gate at the entrance to keep people out.  I am standing under the ruins of some kind of concrete tunnel.  On this day we did about 25 miles.  She was a bit chubby and cresty and as you can see, had worked up a good sweat.  She has dropped some poundage since then, but still needs to lose about 50 pounds.

This was taken in February as Sue and I made our way back up the trail from Cherokee Bar on the middle fork.  The sunbeams made it look like I was being blessed from above.  Sue said it was her late dad approving.  You can make out the side of Sue's horse Raven's head in the lower right corner.  Right after she took the picture Raven decided he couldn't stand having Sweetie in front and took off, disappearing around the bend, Sue yelling all the way and trying to hang on to her iphone while yanking on the reins.

On the way down earlier, we had heard gunshots.  Since we were within the Auburn State Rec Area, this was a big no-no.  Then we spotted three vehicles that also weren't supposed to be there.  About eight yahoos were out on a bluff overlooking the river, firing away with rifles, without a care for what might be below.  Sue got on her phone and had quite a time getting across to the sheriff's dispatcher our location.  He kept asking what cross street we were near and what kind of guns they had.  Then the call got dropped.  The second call was more successful.

On our way back up we noticed they were packing up to go, and we wondered if they were going to get away with it.  But soon after the picture was taken we met up with the sheriff coming down the trail in an SUV, followed shortly after by a ranger.  Our faith in the authorities was restored.  I hope they fined them up the wazoo.  Sue said she hoped none of them were her neighbors.  She's already having enough trouble with the meddlesome old lady across the road.

This final shot is the one mentioned in my first blog, after my first successful attempt at mounting her from the ground.  This was taken in mid February at Cherokee Bar on the middle fork, which is in the background.  I had just plopped my butt in the saddle.  More to come.  Stay tuned.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Re-tackling the Tevis

After 13 years away from Tevis competition (except for '05, which doesn't count 'cause I didn't pass check in) I suddenly have the opportunity to do it again.  I say suddenly because as I am currently without a suitable mount, I was only  planning on helping a friend get her horse in shape for it and then crewing for her.  After about 3 months of weekly conditioning rides she unexpectedly asked me if I was interested in riding instead of her.  She had just learned of a fairly major health issue and decided she was not up to it.  I leaped at the chance.

My mount is a 15.3 hand BLM Mustang mare named Sweet BLM Gold.  She was adopted as a yearling by my friend Sue's dad, Bob Walz, the inventor of Easyride Stirrups, the most widely used endurance stirrup in the world.  She is 14 years old and has completed about 500 miles of 50 milers, each ride with a different rider.  In fact, I started a 50 on her, back in '03, but got pulled at 19 miles after she came up footsore.  She had done 50's barefoot without boots up in Oregon where there are fewer rocks, but really hadn't had enough training on the rocky trails in the Sierra foothills of California to develop enough of a callous to go barefoot here.  We were kicking ourselves for not booting her in front.

For me 15.3 is huge.  I am only 4'11" and am used to riding nothing over 14.2.  Until recently I was afraid to get off of her out on the trail unless there were big rocks or logs or better yet, a picnic table nearby to use for mounting blocks.  But after 4 months I am now able to mount her from the ground if I get uphill from her.  In my teens and twenties I could get on 15.3 horses with an English saddle from the flat.  But decades later, (I'm 53) my mounting skills aren't what they used to be.

The first time I clambered on her from the ground I felt like I was climbing a mountain.  With great effort I hoisted myself, pulling up with one handful of mane and the other hand frantically grasping  for the cantle on the opposite side of the saddle.  I basically clawed my way up.  It was a relief to finally throw my leg over the saddle.   Mercifully, Sue didn't take a picture of me with her iphone while I was doing this, but waited for me to put my butt in the saddle.  I say mercifully, because she always immediately posts all pictures taken during rides straight onto Facebook.  There are usually comments waiting for us about them when we get home.

I recently hooked up a heart rate monitor on her, and her recoveries are good.  After 3 rides with it I can already see some improvment.  Have you ever been on a really scared or upset horse who's heart is beating so hard you can feel it through the saddle?  I would love to get a reading on the HRM when they do that.  It must be way over 200 bpm.  I had an experience with her doing that a few weeks ago, but I'll tell you more about that in my next blog.  This is all for now.