Pandemics and outdoor recreation

The world has been turned upside down, inside out and beaten thoroughly, like a freshly washed down comforter. Emotions have been set to critical for over a month with only more confusion in sight, which doesn’t make for lovely, pleasant spring days for many. Personally, I’ve had major writer’s block since I returned from our first try at a Mountain Trail schooling show and my state implemented “Stay Safe, Stay Home” orders. An argument now rearing it’s ugly head has unstuck me to some regard, so here’s my thoughts on trying to recreate outdoors during a global pandemic.

Really wishing we could do this again soon!

I will state right up than I’m still grieving the loss of being able to go hiking, walking and camping with my little dog, pony and 9 year old son show. I may be heavily pregnant, but I was still planning on getting out at least every other week with friends until June if I could. I’m pretty sure my 19 year old, been everywhere gelding will pretend he’s never seen a trailer in his life when all this is said and done.

The last time I hauled this face, it was to his new barn over a month ago!

For every argument for throwing public lands back open, come what may, there’s a great deal of solid science, utter unknowns and plain humans being humans reasons not to; or at least, to try to find alternatives. The hardest part of all this for me, who likes to rely on experts and solid science, is that even the experts are flying a bit blind and there’s just so many unknowns around Covid-19, it makes “returning to normal” especially fraught…and humans, as a species, don’t always operate the best in the grey areas.

Proof Blondie can be uphill and balanced!

My neighbor to the north state, where a good chunk of my friends live, is cautiously reopening state public lands for day use next week, with several caveats. The biggest impact to me personally being the “don’t drive far” and “only travel with those you live with” directives. My state has prolonged opening the state parks until Memorial Day at least, which considering the supposed cross state agreement we joined seem a bit moot on the surface.

  • If one state opens but another doesn’t, people will be people and will travel across borders. This will lead to the crowding and overuse the officials are trying to prevent. Large fines and other enforcement strategies won’t change this behavior, as there are only so many officials able to enforce directives available anyway. Trail heads regularly see break ins, trash dumps and vandalism during normal times due to lack of enforcement, and that will just get worse.
  • State lands already feel the effect of budget cuts, chronic under funding and lack of staff. I did a stint as a park ranger and can attest to the uphill battle it normally is to keep up cleanliness; I shudder to imagine how much harder it would be with facilities closed and unable to be safely maintained by park staff even further constrained by lack of PPE and other materials. Opening access without opening facilities leads to the more careless humans making a huge mess, not recreating responsibly enough and providing disease spread (which even now is still not totally clear).
  • For those crying “But those are our lands!” This is true on the surface, but we live in a system in which we’ve given over management of such places to officials in whatever form. They currently face a heartbreaking battle between open access for all, maintaining the health and safety of both staff and visitors, and halting progression of a virus we still don’t have a clear picture for. Whether we fully agree with their decisions or not, they do have the power and the right to make them, and shouldn’t be vilified for it, only supported in whatever ways we can; whether that be through public comment, staying home or recreating as responsibly as we know how these days.
  • To those of pretty much all my friends, who I include in the “can recreate responsibly” guidelines and/or be reasonably self contained, I’m with you on desiring open lands where we can make our own choices and visit safely. But just enough folks just won’t or can’t follow the LNT guidelines or just manage to care enough about other people to open public lands without a solid, safe plan in place for managing such people, and that’s the bottom line officials have to reckon with. That part sucks the most for me, to know how hard my friends and I work when we camp, hike and volunteer to keep our public lands safe, clean and usable, and being unable to due to the subset of folks that just don’t care enough.

I don’t have any answers to the underlying issues above, maybe a few suggestions that I still don’t know would lead to a “safe enough” opening. Sure a permit system to avoid overcrowding is a decent idea, but leads to it’s own subset of problems, chief among them access for all and the time and budget to even set one up or expand the existing system (plus the additional cries of “It’s my land, why should I pay for it or have to arrange access to it?”).

As much as it sucks in the short term (and boy howdy does it really freaking suck when the sun shines and everything is bursting into bloom), the most responsible, ethical and kind thing to do is to stay at home until a safe enough system is worked out. I still hold hope for at least one more camping trip before I pop, even if it is just to my friend’s pasture!

If we all keep our heads, surely we can figure this out!

Camping in February?

Damp but happy to eat everything in sight!

Between work stress, pregnancy, new horse/truck/trailer excitement and frustrations, the winter blues have been real this year. So when the weather quietly murmured the mere hint of a not freezing, not raining day a week ahead, I reserved an equestrian campsite at Battle Ground State Park and hoped for the best.

Settling in…before the rain appeared

That’s not quite what we got…but this trip was a shakedown of everyone’s new gear, new and/or rehabbed horses, and to scratch the cabin fever itch. Lessons were learned, rain was endured and good food was eaten, and for a last minute tossed together trip in February I count us lucky enough.

I never fail to have extreme trailer envy when I see this beautiful, well thought out, every excellent detail covered Double D…

On the good side, Flash camped pretty much alone for the night and didn’t loose his mind. My friends horses were there, including a member of his old herd, but they were in a separate area and due to the miserable weather we didn’t have them interact much. I remembered his mid-weight blanket so he wasn’t totally soaked and cold overnight, plus his coolers to dry off in the morning, and grabbing a flake of alfalfa was a pony approved choice.

Still don’t know when the “I HAVE MY OWN TRAILER!” excitement will wear off.

I’ve been hammock sleeping the past few years, but with increasing awkwardness around pregnancy and limited space in my trailer, I sprung for the Kingdom Cot 3 from REI and I’m in love! Cyrus and I spent a warm, dry, and comfortable night together while Kade took the hammock. My in-trailer camping set up is pretty spot on, so that was a definite win. I’m still going to figure out a way to enclose the sides with mesh, to keep out bugs and stuff off the roadway while driving.

Cyrus actually slept on the cot with me instead of his dog bed, but nice to know it fits for hotter weather

The only major bummer was the total change in the weather; it was both much colder and much wetter than we’d expected, though that’s the chance you take with camping in February, after all! I also realized I haven’t really done any camp cooking and have been relying on the generosity of friends for…well, years, so clearly there’s still some adjustment to my equipment and skills in that area needed. Sandwiches are fine but a hot meal on a cold day definitely makes a difference!

I think Flash loves hiking cause it equals more time for eating…

Up next…maybe a jaunt over to Reehers Horse Camp? LL Stub Stewart? My plan is to fit as many trips as I can before I really balloon up and bending over to hitch up my trailer becomes an exercise in huffing and puffing!

So many questions

I’m a terrible blogger, but here’s something that’s been floating around many of the horse blogs I read. Actually stolen from Haiku Farm!
1.   Why horses? Why not a sane sport, like soccer or softball or curling?

There are so many facets to this answer, starting with “it’s in the blood” and constant early exposure thanks to my mom, and the enduring love of dirt encrusted fingernails, hay in the bra, slobbered covered shirt and miles in the saddle.

No stirrup November!

2.    What was your riding “career” like as a kid?
 
A bit scattershot, I did some horse camps, 4-H, but couldn’t keep my grades up or focused enough in the noise of high school sports. I’m making more of an effort with my kid though!
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Be still my heart!
3.   If you could go back to your past and buy ONE horse, which would it be?  
I don’t think I actually would. There was one spookily smart, shark fin withered Arab I worked with at the summer camp I taught at during college, but I wasn’t and still am not ready for the huge responsibility and financial burden of a whole horse. A kid, house, dog and husband is enough!
4.  What disciplines have you participated in?
Key word there is “participate” not “competed.” That list is thankfully wide and varied, though it could always be wider! I’ve driven every type of horse and hitch from a single Belgian to four in hand Fjords, driven carriages on Mackinaw Island, trotted a giant Appy down an endurance trail, dabbled in jumping, taught basic English and Western, and worked horses from ponies to drafts in the woods and the fields.
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Bobby and Tucker, the best team ever (not biased of course!)
5.   What disciplines do you want to participate in some day?
This next year will be about trying different things with Raymond, trail obstacles, some cow work, mounted archery…I want to dabble and try new things!
And I still want to do the Cross-State Ride–maybe 2020?
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6.   Have you ever bought a horse at auction or from a rescue?
Nope! That’s a project I don’t see myself well set up for for years, if at all.
7.   What was your FIRST favorite horse breed – the one you loved most as a kid?
The kind that talks to you in your head and convinces you to be a better version of yourself just by virtue of being super magical and blue eyed.
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8.    If you could live and ride in any country in the world, where would it be?
Money not being on object, both Australia and New Zealand. Gorgeous mountains, bays, deep back country, different wilderness and wildlife (brumbies!), and overall a lot less people!
9.    Do you have any horse-related regrets?
Mostly I wish I’d had more time with them as a kid. My parents did tell me if my grades were high enough, they’d keep driving me out the barn for 4H, and I might have if I’d been involved with OHSET or something a little more exciting than plodding around a ring on a wet Oregon winter’s day, but as a kid I couldn’t see that!
10.  If you could ride with any trainer in the world, ASIDE from your current trainer, who would it be?

I’d take a bit from everybody, but I’d love to go back and take a lot more lessons from the old farm owner I worked with in college at Briar Hill Farm; she’s doing mounted archery with her Fjords and Dales now and she’s an amazing lady all around!

 

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Fjord mare named Dasha (if I remember right), the first horse I was allowed to train to drive at Marcy’s farm
11.  What is one item on your horse-related bucket list?  
Riding in every state and Canadian province.cropped-img_59431.jpg
Much more of this!
12.  If you were never able to ride again, would you still have horses?
Yes! My time in college exposed me to a lot of different things you can do with horses. I once met a 75 year old Mainer from the backwoods with Parkinson’s still working Percherons in the sugar bush. I may be a lot slower but I’d still have them!
13.  What is your “biggest fantasy” riding goal?

Ride either the Gobi Gallop across Mongolia or Race the Wild Coast in South Africa (or both!)
 
14.  What horse do you feel like has taught you the most?  
They’ve all taught me so much (what horse person can’t say that?
I would say Pete the Belgian logging horse overall; he really taught me to take a deep breath and really listen to what they say, especially when they know the job better than you!
Tucker on the left, Pete on the right at my alma mater, Sterling College in Vermont
15.  If you could change one thing about your current horse/riding situation, what would it be?

I wish the barn I lease Raymond at was just a little closer! If I go out now, I’m going to ride, not just “hang out” and I do miss that critical part.
 
Kade set up these obstacles for me all by himself!
16.  If you could compete at any horse show/venue in your home country, where would it be?

I wouldn’t. Competitor at this point I’m not! But my overall goal is to ride in every state, and I’ve only ticked off….9 so far!
17.  If you could attend any competition in the world as a spectator, what would be your top choice?
Again, not huge into competitions, but probably the Vermont 100, how did I miss that ride when I lived in Vermont for five years???

18.  Have you ever thought about quitting horses?
Nope. My life is an ongoing, never ending scheme to spend as much time with them as possible.
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Jokker the giantest and goofiest Appy ever! No horse makes me laugh like he does, though Raymond comes closer every ride!
19.  If you could snap your fingers and change one thing about the horse industry, what would it be?

Take away money prizes for all events.There, I fixed it.

(That was Aarene’s answer and it cannot be improved upon).
 
20.  What’s the dumbest horse-related thing you’ve done that actually turned out pretty well?

Watching a winter woolly, slightly bug eyed, shark fin withered Arab hop and spin off the trailer with 20 other camp horses just off their winter range in Nevada a week before campers showed up and picking him to be my partner for the summer. He turned out to be the smartest horse of the bunch, and when we rode drag for the trail rides no one could keep the fat, hungry ponies going like he could!
 
21.  As you get older, what are you becoming more and more afraid of?
Gravity sucks but it’s not the worst thing yet. As someone who catch rides and leases, I’m most afraid of loosing someone else’s horse in the wild or broad lands where I ride most of the time.
Funny story, it did almost happen on the PCT this summer. I was riding Raymond bareback at the trot and slid off in slow mo (more core strength needed damnit!) and he started heading back to camp without me (there’s a nightmare vision right there!)
Luckily, I had a carrot in my pocket and Raymond never turns up a treat. I snapped it in half when he was about 50 yards from me, he heard it and did the fastest U-turn ever!
About half a mile before Carrot gate!
22.  What horse-related book impacted you the most?
Probably one of Mark Rashid’s.
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23.  What personality trait do you value most in a horse and which do you dislike the most?

Uncontrolled speed is my least favorite right now; I don’t mind speed (Raymond has the huge Quarter horse acceleration that makes me whoop like a cowgirl every time!) but it’s nice to be able to direct it at will.

I love a horse that knows his job (whatever it happens to be) and doesn’t get ruffled easily.

More core strength+shorter stirrups=enjoyable rides versus scary ones!

24.  What do you love most about your discipline?  
Miles in the saddle! Seeing beautiful scenery you otherwise might not, and building that critical, awesome relationship over long hours moving down the trail.
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25.  What are you focused on improving the most, at the moment?

Myself, always myself. The depths of winter are sprinting closer, so it’s a good time for No Stirrup November (my goal is to be able to canter without them!) and more strength workouts, since that’s what’s really holding me back currently.
Okay, everybody else, it’s your turn!  

Copy the questions, paste in your own answers, and ping me so I know where to look.  Wheee!

Dry Side Jaunt

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Two bridleless, three bareback & one horses first real camping season, Three Sisters behind us!

Last weekend was a perfect start to the riding and camping season, but it made me re-examine my equine priorities. My main goal for the past two years has been to train for and complete a 50 mile endurance ride. I obviously have to loose a few more pounds, seriously up my fitness to post 50 miles, and get over my first five miles of racing brain anxiety.

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Relax, sit deep, shoulders back, post to the movement…room for improvement, but a nice power trot!

Starting an endurance ride is deeply stressful for me, mainly because I’m usually on a horse I’ve only met a few times before, if I’m lucky. My most successful ride was last year at Klickitat with Jokker; I finished feeling like another 25 would be easy, albeit dusty, and I loved most every second of it. Any horse can feed off the energy of ride camp, dozens of horses high as kites and fit as cougars and ready to go. Problem is, I hate riding that high headed, upside down back when I just know I only have .1% of the horses attention, cause that’s when shit hits the fan.

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Camping with my current trainer and a few of her working students and friends was…amazingly relaxing. I had only one moment of stress, and it was based on my lack of fitness at keeping up at the canter/almost gallop, but by the end of the weekend I was riding bareback up to the viewpoint on the same horse. Ray and I really hit our grove this trip, and now I’m looking forward to the summer spent with this mostly easy going, occasionally surprising redhead.

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It was wonderful to lumber out of my cozy hammock where Cyrus and I had snuggled all night, sipping coffee in front of the fire and waiting for the sun to rise and the day to warm before we slowly tacked up and moseyed out of camp, no hollering or jigging required. We set our own speed, not quite completion speed but moving out more than we’ve been able to all winter.  Each horse had to have their moments of spring fever, cantering in place, spinning, side passing down the trail but those were mostly in good fun, no one bolted or screamed or disagreed too badly.

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There was plenty of time to chat, take awesome photos, revel in the dry and the sun and the open forest of the dry side. It was a good shake out for the season, testing equipment and rider’s legs and recovery times.

Cyrus even got to come along and see if he would make a good camp dog…he makes an excellent camp dog! He never strayed too far or ate too many weird things, he charmed all the other ladies, snuggled all night in the hammock with me, and even got to join in on the sunset ride to the viewpoint.

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That ride ended up with three of us riding bareback and two bridleless to boot! We soaked up the sun, huddled out of the wind, ate good food and drank just enough to relax and hit on every topic under the sun.

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I think I might like horse camping better than endurance, ya’ll. All the fun and horses and company, none of the stress! Many thanks to Terreka, Shannon, Verena & Stacy for an epic weekend!