July 2006 horsenews


I wish it would never end.


My favorite kind of sign.


Didn't notice the piling until after we'd crossed over. It only sagged a little bit at that point.


Shopping cart art.


Above the Mokulumne Aqueduct, looking toward the Sierra.


The aqueduct emerges briefly.


July horsenews

          Horses grazing without any shade on a hot, dry, sunny California summer’s day want .5-.75 gallons per hour, assuming my 5-gallon buckets really hold 5 gallons. (If you set it up so that they run out of water a couple of hours before you want to bring them in, they’re easier to catch.)

          July 1, first day of what was to be 3 days of ridecamping from Stockton, Traveller and I set out from the UOP campus along the Stockton Diversion Canal. We got a good 25 miles in, much very nice; turned around way out in the orchards to the east. Nearer to town there were some campers along the canal, seeming like new-style gypsies: for one, a college-age boy and girl seeing the USA with a dome tent and a suite of camping gear, not just the standard-issue derelict alcoholics that one usually finds under the bridges. Then there were a couple of co-eds in swim suits pushing boogie boards into the water – I was too decorous to gawk. But in the hot afternoon, further out on the border between housing and farming, I did stop and stare for a long time. Three adolescent boys were splashing under the bridge with a big black dog. Two boys and a girl in a long cotton skirt, about 8, appeared on the levee top and came down to join them. Then came some girls of about the three boys’age, one leading by the hand a toddler she must have been babysitting.

          Saw the movie Beowulf and Grendel – the Icelandic horses were totally cool to watch, zipping across meadows and pebbly beaches carrying these hulking warriors, mostly tolting but sometimes cantering, furry pasterns like bellbottoms.

          Granada is kept in a small paddock so her left hind suspensory, injured either by slipping while running in the winter mud or being kicked, could heal. After an ultrasound the vet said the tendon fibers had grown back without much disorganization or scarring, but in the area of the injury the tendon had thickened and shortened. So my idea was that by letting her walk around in the paddock as much as possible, encouraging it by feeding her last so she’d pace impatiently, maybe she would stretch the tendon out gradually, but in the relative confinement she wouldn’t have enough room to run and maybe reinjure it.

          An apple tree hangs over her paddock, and apple season is beginning. One day I saw her standing up on her hind legs and stretching her neck up for an apple high on the tree – it was awesome, spectacular; I think she reached higher than the top of the barn. And when she did it twice in quick succession it made me think her hind leg couldn’t be bothering her that much and maybe she was ready for me to ride her a little, to see if it was time to bring her back, start to stretch out that tendon a little faster. And so we’re up to about ten minutes of gaiting around the arena. She doesn’t seem to be off, and what’s more she spontaneously puts weight on her injured left leg by lightening up her right rear when it is time to lift that hoof to pick it.

          I have to say that this horse’s gait is the most amazing on any Peruvian I’ve ridden – it’s like being rocked on a spring-mounted porch glider.

          In the middle of a ride at Hamilton, got off the horse for one reason or another, and was appalled to find a barbed wire barb – the double-pointed twist with a hole in the center where it wraps around the wire –  embedded in my saddlebag. Could have been embedded in the horse.

          Reading a book about the evolution of insects, I find that horseflies started out drinking dinosaurs’ blood.

          Finishing up the first day’s Stockton outing, Traveller and I were crossing a field of fallen-down dried grass that I was scouting for a campsite. We were under some palm trees that had been shedding fronds, many of which, it developed, were lying criss-crossed covered by the grass. Traveller stepped through something with a snapping sound, and started limping. I didn’t see anything, so I led him the last couple of miles back to the trailer. Next morning his left front pastern was very swollen and he was limping badly. So we came back home and I laid him up for a couple of weeks, thinking he had a sprain, although eventually I came to think that more likely it was a bad scrape. I fed him only a little less than his working diet, and in about a week and a half he went from lean to a little bit fat.

          With Traveller recuperating, I started riding Grandiosa. After two weeks of conditioning, Jean and I took her to Rift trail at Pt. Reyes with Margareta, Jean’s excellent mare. I had got Grandiosa’s gait to a reliable four-four but it was uncomfortably bangy, so I decided I had better make one final try, before I went back to Traveller, to see if I could smooth her out by going for more of a sobriandando with reaching under. We did get it going pretty good. Plus, following Margaretta up the hills Grandiosa learned how to canter (and when she learned that she had learned how to canter, she started trying it out in various situations). Also, after four encounters she learned that I want her to go right up to within a foot of a gate before I get off to open it.

          It is so gratifying to have a horse learn useful things. I had forgotten how much more manageable mares are than geldings like Traveller. Grandiosa still doesn’t have a lot of rides under her girth, and she’s really nervous, but unlike Traveller would have, she stood up close to the blackberry bushes so I could stand in the stirrups and get the ones the pedestrians couldn’t, and she even held steady while a bicycle whizzed past 4 feet away – the cyclist unexpectedly ejaculating enviously at my reach.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

          On the other hand, riding Traveller can be like riding a cannonball.

          I like the paso club playdays, so I went to a playday at Skyline Park in Napa that I had found on BAEN.com, the Bay Area Equestrian Network. But it turned out to be all girls, the oldest of whom might have been 17, practicing what they’d been learning in their riding classes. So Traveller and I took a turn through the Society of Creative Anachronism camp, with it horseless ersatz medievalism, and then took off and drove around Napa looking for places to ride.

          Just east of the Napa River we got into the county water treatment fields, where we started a fox out of some shrubbery and, to my regret, a white owl who had been laying up in a row of eucalyptus trees waiting for the sun to set. I’d have rather not disturbed him. Traveller gaited beautifully in the soft, grassy dirt, but then he got overamped by his own fast action and by the wastewater sprinkling machines – huge rainbirds, taller than a rider, big heavy arms pulsing at what must be less than 60 beats a minute, shooting the water out in hundred yard arcs. His gait, which I usually have to keep pushing away from the huachando unless he gets really up, went beyond the paso llano all the way to the trotty side, the first time that’s ever happened.

          This was the weekend of the great heat wave, and where we were it probably hit 107. As the heat built up, T started acting like he was having a problem with his back end, to the point that I thought briefly of equine encephalitis. I stopped to inspect his feet, and his hind shoes (but not his front), shiny as polished silver, were hot to the touch, almost as hot as if they’d been soaking up direct sun, even though we’d only been on dried grass and a little dirt. This was water district land, so it wasn’t hard to find some runoff a few inches deep for him to stand in while cropping the greenery, and when we left he no longer acted like it hurt to gait. But he had lost all his pep, so we gave it up and went home. It wasn’t too hot to be out in, just too hot to work in.

          Last weekend of July, back to Stockton. The heat wave was over. Saturday we went up the Calaveras “river”, more like the Calivaras ditch, but good for at least five miles out into the fields and orchards. On the way back we stopped for water at a shallow, low-banked irrigation ditch, and Traveller went down on one knee to get to it. I got pretty thirsty too, and on the way back I hid him in a ditch behind the flea market and went in and ordered a shaved ice from the handwritten list posted on the cart from the monolingual vendor, and it wasn’t English. Looked like the vendors and patrons were about 70% latino; more vegetables being sold than I would have expected.

          When we got back to Go, it was still before 5, so I trailered up to some little waterway we’d been along before, this time to go through the walnut orchards along the track on the opposite bank.

          Walnut orchards can be spooky. No matter how bright the day, they’re always dark and shady. Everything is quiet, muffled by the trees, and you can’t see more than 20 or 30 yards. There might be vigilant, malevolent people lurking, hostile to horsemen because walnuts are harvested by shaking the trees and scraping them up with machines, and hoof divots in the soft soil sequester the loot.

          We passed a small section that had sprinklers chattering. It seemed like someone must have just been there, or might be coming soon, because it didn’t look like they covered more than a tenth of the orchard, so they must have been turned on and off frequently. Then, a little ways off in the orchard, a little behind us, a dog began to bark – a small house dog, to judge by the pitch of his voice, and not far beyond the range of view. If I owned a walnut orchard, I’d definitely put my house in the middle of it.

          We camped out under a bridge that night, and Traveller drank seven gallons of water right away. I don’t know why people (and trolls) are so likely to choose under a bridge as the place to be along a waterway, when it’s not raining or there are trees to shade them, but we do. After all, the traffic overhead makes them noisy, and they’re easy for the sheriff to scout. But after Traveller and I got settled, a couple of bums came along the opposite bank and stopped under the other end of the bridge, and after a few semi-coherent exchanges, went silent too.

          Camped out under a bridge with my horse – I guess I’m a certified horsebum now.

          The next day we tried the Mokulumne Aqueduct. It is actually a buried pipeline belonging to East Bay MUD, but there is an unforturnately not completely continuous right-of-way over it. I say unfortunately because it runs from the Oakland hills on the west side of the Central Valley to the foothills of the Sierra, and in the area east of Stockton it is generally a flat, smooth, mowed grass boulevard 100 feet wide with trees or cultivated fields on each side. Despite pushing forward very aggressively, I was able to make it no further than six or eight miles northeast, where a couple of large, scruffy white dogs barked at us from the opposite side of a fence that we couldn’t pass or circumvent without significant physical risk or substantial property damage. The dogs were lonely, and after a little while were glad to be petted.

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