the best weekend

I had the best freaking weekend at Camelot.

I got to meet some super cool animals and their even cooler humans. (Stupidly forgot to take a pic with Skully or Meaty!  I am a fool.)

My horse was as brave as he knew how, never stopped being himself, and was  handsome AF to boot.

I rode my little heart out and made all new mistakes!  And I learned from them!

We went really, really, really fast.  Like, speed faults if we hadn’t circled for the refusal fast.

The jumps all looked tiny!!

Losing never felt so good!!!

adventureful weekend

I had a weekend filled with the most awesome pony adventures!  Full recaps to come later in the week, but suffice to say that I am planning to eke out a little sleep in on Monday morning (till a luscious 7 am, ha!).

We started with a dressage outing that can be described as nothing less than “epic”.


good pony gets all the sweet nothing whispers

For real, we knocked so many accomplishments off the list on Saturday: got in the trailer, went to a place, kept our heads, did the dancing queen thing with zero (ZERO!!!!) theatrics, got recognized for the fucking superstars we are. Even better, we got good feedback from the judge (verbal and written), and a flow chart in the comments.


we knocked out a 65% at T3 and 67.7% at 1-1

Truly, the best part is that I went into the ring with a game plan, actually rode (instead of just kinda steering and sitting like a passenger), and Murray took my suggestions and responded in a way that I could manage and work with, instead of with interpretive dance.  If we can pull that off this week at Camelot, it will be money in the bank.

On Sunday I took a ridiculously large number of selfies with strangers’ horses.  And by “strangers” I mean Olivia, David, and Kate.  Olivia arranged a really fun wine tasting trail ride for us out of her barn to honor the visit of Jen, and it was so insanely fun!  Literally every horse on the planet Earth is better at selfies than my horse is, so I am obligated to take them with any that I can get my hands on.

Olivia even let me ride THE MULE!!  Literally the first thing I did after I got on was take a between the ears pic, but I later got much better ones on the beautiful, winding, and sometimes terrifying trail that is, evidently, a part of Olivia’s and David’s daily riding routine.  I had played around in my head with the idea of bringing Murray down for a future trail ride, but I honestly have no idea what he would do with a trail that is only 4 feet wide in places with a fairly steep, hilly drop off on one side and the correspondingly steep hill going up on the other.  At least there would be plenty of grass for him to eat while he walked (which Nilla is a professional at)?

The two of us have a fairly light week of riding planned before we go to Camelot on Thursday (with potentially more blogger meetups!!).  I’ll squeeze in a jump lesson and a dressage ride, and hope not to break any of our newfound talent in the process.  And there is potentially RAIN in the forecast for dressage day?  Inconceivable!

cruising

It’s Spring in Davis, and that always means one thing: WIND.  The Spring winds are awful and persistent and awful.  Last week it was gray and windy, and this week it is hot as balls and windy, but sandwiched in the middle there were a couple of days of beautiful, 72* weather and no wind.  So friends and I took advantage and hauled out for a hack.

Our journey wasn’t without drama.  Murray decided that post-Twin he was never getting in a horse trailer again, or something like that.  The trailer we used for that 5 hour haul was on the small side, and Murray and his big ego don’t do small-horse trailers, I guess.  On the way home he flat out wouldn’t get into the second spot (which is actually bigger, but appears smaller and harder to get in to), and only got in to the first spot after my trainer took a hold of him.  I was a little worried about it on Thursday, but since we were using a different trailer that Murray likes (normally), I tried to play it off like I was super cool.  Alas, Murray wasn’t buying it, and would get two front feet on and then pause and wildly back up when I asked him to come forward.  I’m not really willing to let him slam his head on the top of the trailer, so I’d let him.  He was so not on board with the trailering game that he wouldn’t even eat a carrot out of my hand, which is pretty clearly not a happy Murray state to be in.

Eventually my barn manager got him on, but not after standing for about five minutes with his hind feet out of the trailer, stretching his neck as far forward as possible to be with her, little toes pointed.  I can’t remember exactly what precipitated it, but eventually he bunny-hopped his little feetsies into the trailer and off we went.

We joined a friend at WSS, and the three of us cruised all over the property.  Murray is always pretty good in groups on trail, as long as nothing too exciting is happening.  Too exciting is defined as a gait above a sedate walk, or doing anything other than eating grass when other horses are achieving said gaits.  That was awesome for my friends, as their ponies needed a little mellowing out away from “home” (though she boards there, my friend’s horse is not totally comfortable in the wide open spaces just yet).  In his own way, Murray was a great teacher for this.  Want to trot? Eat some grass.  Worried? Eat some grass.  Don’t know where you’re going? Eat some grass. Feeling a little queasy by the vast expanse of the unknown and your sudden realization of your own miniscule existence in the universe? Eat some grass.


solution focused, this one

We walked all over the cross country course, and would have gone through the water were there any.  We even cruised over toward a many-mile (I think like 12 miles?) perimeter trail that goes around several neighboring properties and is part of an easement agreement between all the owners.  I would be totally game for that trail some time, just maybe not on a weekday when I have work to get to at home.

We cruised for nearly two hours, and were probably past due to head home, really.  Though we did nothing but walk, I felt like it was a good notch in Murray’s fitness belt, since the terrain undulated gently, in addition to a couple of nice hills.  Plus, how often do I walk my horse around for more than ten minutes, even?

I would like to do more hacking out this year, and add in some trot and canter sets.  I think I can find a mile long track on the perimeter to canter, which would be a fantastic fitness exercise.  But we will see – real life and real jobs have a habit of getting in the way of these things.

island time

I went to Hawai’i for a week.  I intended to post but then I didn’t write anything in advance, and I thought I’d write while I was there, but that didn’t happen either.  Shocking.

the milky way, several shooting stars, and a little moon aurora from partway up mauna kea
the little red glow in the bottom is the lava pool at kilauea

We went to the actual island of Hawai’i.  It was beautiful, in an unfamiliar kind of way.  The whole island is lava flows from several rather large volcanoes (as are all the Hawaiian islands), and it’s very strange to see the jutting, rocking A’a lava flows across the island.  They look like someone did a terrible job of discing a field, but of course, you can’t really disc lava.

I wish we’d had time to go to the Hawai’i botanical gardens — I’m such a plant nerd.  The plant life in Hawai’i was already amazing, so it would have been extra neat to see it all collected in one spot.  Next time.

lava tube coming out of the kilauea eruption

What we did get, before we even left, was a rather alarming wake-up call.  We stayed overnight at my in laws’ place (it was a family vacation so we were all driving to the airport together), with luscious plans to wake up at 4:30 in the morning and drive to the airport for our 7:20 flight.  At 3:15 in the morning, MIL knocked on our door and I bolted upright in bed, afraid we’d missed the wakeup call.

“You don’t need to get up right now,” she said, “but the toilet’s been overflowing for hours and the hallway is full of water. Your carpet will probably be wet.”

there are thousands of feet of waterfalls in the more heavily-forested regions of Hawai’i
this one was in a valley over from the Waipio valley

I mean, there’s no response to that really.

The house is on septic, being out in the boondoggles, and the leachfield on the side of the house where our bedroom is situated has been struggling this winter. The heavy rain and waterlogged ground just don’t drain the water from the toilet and shower away the way it should.  It was actually two plumbing problems at once that caused the issue.  Someone used the bathroom late at night and didn’t notice that the bowl was filling.  Normally this would never crest the bowl of the toilet, but the tank also malfunctioned and kept running. And running. And running.

Boyfriend’s sister got up in the middle of the night to pee and thought, at first, that she’d stepped in puppy pee.  But when she put her second foot down on the carpet she knew it was no pee spot.  When she opened the door to the hallway, an inch of standing water greeted her.

We spent from 3:15 to 4:20 mopping the hallway and drying off anything that we needed for the trip.  We still made it to the airport, and fortunately there’s nothing left of the incident but a vaguely mildewy smell that should go away soon.

Nothing like country life, amirite?

#sunrise on the peak of Mauna Kea

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dissertation vacation

I told my friends and colleagues that I was taking my Dissertation Vacation over Christmas and they shouldn’t expect to hear from me until I returned from Oregon in the new year.  Everyone seemed to understand immediately and agree it was a good idea (and a few even said they took a few months on theirs, though others didn’t take a break at all).

Jumping forward in time (we will go back shortly), my secret Santa gift was awaiting me when I got home on Wednesday evening!  Micaylah sent a package with a big toy for Jelly, a darling set of studs and matching necklace for me, and cookies for Murray.  Murray will get his cookies when I go to the barn on Thursday, but Ellie got her present immediately.  Because she deserves it.

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She loved it, obviously.  And I love it and so do my roommates, because it has a quiet squeaker!!!! Ellie will go to town on squeaky toys for hours and hours minutes on end (we have never let her go as long as she wants).  Most squeakers are loud and obnoxious and this one is pretty quiet – but still entertaining enough that Ellie wants it. The newspaper also does not have stuffing (major requirement of my boyfriend’s as he doesn’t find cleaning clouds of fluff up from the floor very appealing), and I can already tell it will last.  Micaylah wins for puppy toys!  And the way to my heart is 100% by treating Ellie (but not too much, because then it’s like you’re trying to steal her love from me, and that is unacceptable).

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So, back to vacation.  I went with my boyfriend to see his family in Oregon where we ate a lot of food, drank a lot of beer, I played a lot of pokemon, and packed on the pounds.  Like a lot of pounds.

I spent most of my time sitting in front of fireplaces and heaters, only opened my laptop a few times, and read a lot.  I got most of the way through one book (Way of Kings, Brandon Sanderson, only giving it like a 6/10), and finished another (Taming the Truffle, Ian Hall, 9/10 if you’re interested in growing Truffles).  We went snowmobiling and the snow was PERFECT for playing in — soft and fluffy and not too deep.  About a foot of dry powder, but not so dry that you just fell through.  Boyfriend and his step brother (a fair bit younger) had a great time throwing me around in it, I did not object, and managed to dump them a few times myself.

#whitechristmas

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It was seriously lovely to be able to relax and not worry about not working on my thesis for fifteen days.  I still have to re-analyze data and prepare for publication, but at least the first big deadline is behind me!

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We also spent a few days in Portland hanging out with my friends from graduate school.  Almost everyone from my lab has ended up in Portland in the last three years — so perhaps I was just looking into my future?!  Food was central to our Porland detour.  We made a crown roast of lamb for NYE, a crispy roast pork shoulder the next night, and fried chicken for our last night in Portland.  I failed to go to the zoo (oops), but did spend lots of time

wp-1483593271096.jpgFried chicken – gluten free on the left, regular flour on the right. I 100% recommend Bob’s Red Mill GF mix for fried chicken — it was so crispy and delicious! The difference in color is a little unfortunate, the brown rice flour just doesn’t golden up as well as AP wheat flour.  I will probably do a 50/50 mix with regular flour for added crunch for my own fried chicken in the future.

img_20170102_145051Lompoc brewing.  If you look carefully, you can see standing rings in the surface of the dark beer (LSD – Lompoc Special Draft), because our table vibrated the entire time we were there. This bemused us mightily until I realized that the family on the other side of the booth had a portable compressor of some kind.

I did not get to meet up with Megan (boo, sadness), as we couldn’t quite get our schedules to sync up.  Portland was just too big and interesting for both of us!  However, based on past experience, I rate Megan 10/10, will hang out again.

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Now that I’m all rested and rejuvenated I’m ready to attack 2017!

Africa Fridays: Blaboons

Baboons were omnipresent when I lived in Kenya.  They hung out around the research center, nibbled on grass and leaves on the soccer field and landing strip, filled the trees around the chimpanzee sanctuary, and foraged for scraps from human garbage and chimpanzee garbage.  If you want to read a really amazing book about baboons (also: research, growing up, biology, Kenya/Africa, and the amazingness of the field in general), try A Primate’s Memoir by Robert Sapolsky. (10/10, have read multiple times, recommend without hesitation.)

img_3005lives dangerously

It’s a good thing too, since they were my early-warning system walking around.  Baboons are loud, gregarious, sassy, and pretty much always let you know what’s going on around you.  I loved walking “in” the group of baboons.  Sure, they gave me a wide, 10 foot berth, but I was still within their center of mass as we traveled from place to place.  If there were no baboons, I knew that I needed to be a little more cautious than if I was surrounded by a large group of romping, grunting, galloping fuzz balls.  On more than one occasion I saw baboons running panicked through the bush from my observation vantage point, and sure enough not far behind them would be a lion or hyena.

Baboons rank right up there in terms of the scariness of males.  An adult male is about 2′ tall, though much of that is a big mane of hair goes from his neck down past his shoulders.  The thing that’s really scary care the canines — long, 2″+ canines that he proudly displays whenever he smiles or yawns.  And those canines can do some serious damage given the opportunity. I mostly saw that opportunity exercised upon other baboons, though a few small mammals became the victims of those teeth.

img_4941like when lions casually visit the gate that I needed to get out of my car to open and then close behind me; this only happened like 10% of the days I needed to open this gate

Inevitably, male baboons are always the ones who get tangled up in human business.  Classic boys-are-young-and-dumb syndrome.  Big males would always be the ones that had to be, um, humanely relocated for breaking into houses to raid the kitchen.  The staff I worked with told me about male baboons that would plunge their hands into boiling pots of ugali (corn meal) in order to get the ugali before it was distributed to the chimpanzees when cooled.  One afternoon another researcher and I walked into the research center (a converted barn, we slept in the stalls, I know you’re jealous) and heard strange noises coming out of the kitchen.  We approached the kitchen door with trepidation only to have a HUGE male baboon explode out of the kitchen, shit all over the floor, and run out of the door with his hands and mouth full of our food.

That was obviously not the only time that happened. Because our windows didn’t close all the way (or lock, frankly).

One afternoon I climbed up the stairs to the roof to my regular observation point.  I always walked up to the wall that edged the perimeter of the roof to look down the wall to check for chimps sitting at the base of the wall.  The roof was about 18 feet up, and 15 feet up the wall (aka 3 feet below me) there was an overhang of electric fencing to prevent the chimps from using branches (aka tools) to climb the wall.  (I think that’s also called a kick in, but you know what I”m talking about. It’s the stuff that stops people from climbing over fencing because you have to go upside down.)

img_4931sassy baby baboon is sassy

As I leaned over the wall and looked down I found myself staring into the open-mouthed face of an adult male baboon at the exact moment that he leapt from the overhang wire back up towards the wall.  I can still see his face — his mouth was open, canines on display and flying toward my face.

I bolted.  Without thinking or looking, I ran anywhere but there.  Within about three steps I had tripped on a skylight grate and sprawled across the roof, winded, binocular strap snapped, camera grazed and lodged somewhere in my ribcage.  The big male baboon had, it seems, also looked into the face of terror and was sitting on the edge of the wall about 15 feet from where he started, panting and staring at me.

img_3354so tiny and new!

On the same roof, weeks later, I convinced one of the chimp caregivers to give me a 1′ piece of sugarcane to gnaw on.  The chimps got sugarcane to eat sometimes, and I’ve had sugarcane before — it’s delicious and sweet — and I figured I deserved a snack.  Turns out there are two kinds of sugarcane: soft and hard. I had previously consumed soft. The hard sugarcane tasted fine, but was essentially impossible for me to bite into.  I placed the piece on the wall next to me as I continued my observations.

A few minutes later something drew my attention to the right, and I looked over to see a subadult male baboon standing Right. Next. To. Me. He had adopted his sneakiest possible posture, one hand outstretched and reaching for the stick of sugarcane, eyes darting between me and the sugarcane.  I’m not going to pretend I didn’t scream.  The baboon grabbed the sugarcane and bolted.  I did not run away and trip over the skylight this time.  I may have soiled myself a little. (Look, live in the field for long enough, and you just accept these occurrences.)

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Baboons sleep high in the trees at night, snugged into forks in branches and piled up on their sisters and mamas when it’s cold.  Often they do this over water, and in the morning after they get up but before everyone comes down from the tree, they have morning ablutions.  By which I mean, they crap all over the place.  But over the water the plinking and tinkling is astonishingly musical, like nature’s first set of wind chimes.  I loved it.

Sometimes two groups would come together and fight on the rivers edge, all the males from each group getting growling, screaming, and barking at one another in a giant ball of bodies rolling and cascading down the riverbank.  It defied physics — it was like a cartoon of animals fighting with a lot of dust and way more limbs and size than seems possible.  But it happened more than once when i was watching, and from the sound of things happened at other times too.

img_5699let me nom you tiny baby

One afternoon I climbed into a bush Euclea to visit the facilities.  It was the same bush that an adult male baboon had climbed to the top of while looking for his friends.  When male baboons are lost they let out an alarmingly loud, barking contact call.  I did not know that Mr. Baboon was in the tree and a contact bark sounds a LOT like a carnivore.  A carnivore who is really close and really in the same bush as you.  And di I mention that it is REALLY loud?

Let’s just say it’s a good thing my pants were already down, because those pants would have been toast.

just go toward the light

Murray and I took a personal day on Sunday to go to a local event derby, where I planned to ride in the BN derby division and school a Novice jump round in the field for practice.  I had just one goal for the weekend: to actually ride through my dressage test (and stadium round, though dressage especially).  This meant getting Murray to a connected, rideable place at the show and not freezing up and backing off the second he decided to be slightly an asshole/a horse.

novdress01
spooking at a spot of light in the arena

Fortunately, the assistant trainer/my friend who was coaching me gave me the same advice, and encouraged me to stop falling into the trap of twiddling with Murray’s face when I could solve my issues from actually activating his hind end (I knowwwww).  She also reminded me to keep my right shoulder back/straight and not break over my right wrist.  These two little position pointers were perfect — they effectively changed my position and connection, and were just enough for me to think about without freaking out over positional things entirely.

Murray warmed up pretty well.  At one point Murray tried to run off at the walk instead of play along with an almost-on-the-bit walk, but I convinced him to stick around.  He tried again when he saw a horse cantering past in the derby field and got excited, but I just tried to keep my reins consistent and the horse moving forward.

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dear dog please don’t let it touch me

Overall, the test had some nice moments but was behind the leg, tense and somewhat choppy, with borderline terrible geometry and one massive spook at a patch of light.  Murray spooked in the third quarter of a 20m circle, and then in the fourth circle experienced some after-shock spooks where he apparently thought he was reliving the light-spot experience.  But it turns out that when I use my seat, leg and core, and try to keep pushing my horse forward into a consistent connection, I can get some pretty legit results*.  A test that felt like it should score in the 42-43 range got a generous 35.3 from the judge, with the verbal comment that we visibly improved as the test went on.

* Compared to previous results!

novdress03
It’s still over there!!!

Our BN jump round went well, though I struggled to ride Murray at a consistent pace due to him looking at a few things and me erring on the side of slowing him down.  We ended up with one rail down and one circle between two fences (not an associated distance), and I honestly don’t know how the round was scored.  I opted to go back in for another BN round and Murray was the perfect ride. He was totally forward, happy to move to the fences, rateable, and listening.  We had no jump penalties or time penalties that round either.

I opted to scratch my Novice jump round in favor of some light adulting (meeting a new tutoring client).  I really would like to get out and jump some Novice in a foreign location, but will have to wait for a few more weeks at least before I can finagle it into the schedule.  But we had two great rides and one good ride, so I was happy to end with that.  To have Murray listen to me and respond so reasonably in the dressage court was fantastic, though I’m equal parts ashamed that I have been riding so poorly in the past and elated that the changes I’m making are having an effect.  And our jump rounds were fun and awesome, even if I did make some questionable choices that led to a rail and (maybe) refusal.

novedress05
but still, some nice moments

To top it all off, my generously-scored dressage test and jump round with one or two (let’s split the difference and call it 1.5) faults landed me a sixth place ribbon and a jar of cookies!  Which Murray hates.  Because of course.