March & April horsenews

9.89 mph … 13.25 mpg … shopping for a horse … misjudged

            Means and motive coinciding for once, I went to West Sacramento to check out a new Brenderup. Since he had to ride in it, I took Traveller. The trailer place was at the edge of an industrial park, so afterwards I parked a block away and we took off across a field.
            At the Sacramento River Deep Water Ship Channel levee, behind the FedEx facility, we turned right and gaited happily along the ledge below the levee, looking across the water at the big silos. Before long we came to some racing shells with colorful four-woman teams rowing up the channel. We stopped to watch a race official in a motor boat lining up three shells with megaphone commands.
            She gave the start signal, and they pulled in the direction we had been going. I turned Traveller and we gave chase. He was fresh and it was still cool, and he got into the spirit of it. We zigzagged at full tilt through the dried tire ruts and left-over rain puddles that pocked the ground. The yellow-and-black Davis team was leading, but we gained except when I had to stop to pick up my hat, and then at the end when the dirt turned to gravel. The Davis four posted 7:32.25 over the 2000-meter course – 9.89 mph.
            We carried on clockwise along the levee. At about the juncture of the ship channel with the Sacramento proper, in a no-mans-land pocketed between the river and a fresh subdivision, we had to dodge through the crossfire of an unsanctioned Mexican paintball skirmish. Beyond, the developments abruptly gave way to seas of waist-high mustard lapping at farmsteads. There was a very nice shoulder inside the levee to ride on most of the way, and we came down at one abandoned farmhouse, Traveller to graze and me to nap on a comfy old chair in the shade.
            We followed the levee on down to about Garcia Bend. From there we dodged some fences and tailed up a steep leveeside, atop which we headed due west. It was very nice, quiet, grassy and tree-lined, leading past fields and through an overgrown slough. We hit the ship canal again and turned north, completing the 16-mile loop by flanking some fences and thinking our way through a really nasty barricade of scrap iron and broken cement chunks.

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            To pull the Brenderup I got a 2006 Toyota Tundra V6, the one before the really mammoth ones, the smallest truck I could find with a bed big enough to for me to sleep next to a bale of hay. It’s really more truck than the trailer needs. With a shell on it and cruising at 65-70 mph we get 13.25 mpg. The Brenderup has some design shortcomings, none really major, but it is light. The inertial brakes make it possible to stop perfectly smoothly, as if there were no trailer attached, impossible with the electric brakes on my old iron rattler.

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            Jean is trying to find a horse that is fast enough to keep up with Traveller (see above) but still smooth, so we went down to see a mare Tammy Winchell was offering at distress-sale prices. Sunny Bright Ranch is one of the ranchettes in Gavilan Hills, a horse community above Perris. It has a network of 8-foot-wide trails between the houses, back yard fences pressing in on both sides, dogs charging, stallions whinneying, rider mowers roaring, well pumps cycling on and off, shed doors banging open, pool divers splashing, rainbird sprinklers pulsing, you name it – any horse exercised here is at least as desensitized as a parade horse. (Tammy mentioned that as the economy has been sliding, the original horsey settlers are having to fend off the aspirations of an in-creep of lower-class dirt-bikers.)
            She described nearly getting killed on her horse by a butterfly. It flew right into her eye, so hard that the shock and pain knocked her right off. Its wing disintegrated in her eye and the jagged shards hurt so bad she had trouble getting back on. At home, she couldn’t wash the pieces out, so she had to get to the emergency room, where they put her under anaesthetic to get them out. She said that during the ordeal whenever she had a thought to spare she congratulated herself on not being killed in the fall – it would have been the most ridiculous, embarrassing way to go she’d ever heard of.
            On to Hacienda Sosegado, to check out Cleopatra, who might work. Joy Gould showed us a baby Peruvian running with its birth mother, a quarter horse they’d had to transplant the embroyo into because the genetic mother had some problem that kept it from carrying the baby. Joy pointed out the genetic mother in a small herd on the other side of the fence from the baby. She was standing at the fence looking at the baby and nursing mother. Joy said she was often like that.
            When buyers come to try horses Jorge Valenzuela, Sosegado’s trainer, always tacks them up with a gamarilla, which lifts the bit off the bars. In case the guest is the type that pulls on the bit and hurts horses’ mouths, I presume. Contrariwise, Tammy Winchell let me ride her “fun horse”, the one she rides when she “wants to be 15 again,” in the bit, and the poor horse leaned into the reins like it was wearing nothing but a rope halter. Tammy said she’d come up as a hunter-jumper rider and tended to be pretty hard with the bit.

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            Went to the all-gaited show in Elk Grove to try to sell Verdadura, who is the smooth horse Jean got that is too slow to keep up with Traveller. Took Traveller too, thinking I might have a chance to exercise him. I entered him in the “natural horsemanship” class, where you are supposed to ride your horse with the minimum of tack and aids.
            There was one entrant with a bareback pad and the rest had saddles. None had bits; everyone used ropes on bridles. Traveller’s spine looks like the ridgeline of an A-frame so bareback is out of the question, but for fun I took the girth off the saddle. For the last couple of months since Larry Braun asked me if I ever rode with my feet out of the stirrups I’d been practicing riding with all my weight on my butt and none on my feet, so I also took the stirrups off to to see how it would go. I normally ride him in like a sidepull but with a wide leather strap over the nose instead of the rawhide ropes, so it was no big to steer him with a lead rope tied to the cheekpieces of the halter.
            When we got in the arena, the judge first wanted us to go at our “pleasure gait.” My boots dangling free at his sides, Traveller took off at his 10 mph highball charge right down the rail and took the corners pretty tight, better than any of the others, who I kept passing on the outside. When the judge said walk, I let go the rope, and in three steps Traveller had dropped his head and fallen into a stroll. At the lineup we did the four steps back and forward just fine, but T can’t sidepass so we blew that. Only two of the other five could sidepass, though, so I figured we’d be an easy third and given the gaiting deserved a blue. The judge posted us dead last. I had been in so few shows that it didn’t occur to me to require the judge to explain himself, but I tell you, we showed him the most horsemanship I believe the man saw that whole weekend. Although if he’d caught Traveller an hour earlier in the aisle between the stalls and the arena soaking his chest and my boots gaiting in the spray fanning out from the back of the dust-control watering truck, that fool would have seen the equal.

For some pictures, go to March & April 2008 slideshow. One of them is now one of my all-time favorites.