Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Riding in Thailand

...was tough. There really aren't horses there, and the only place I was able to ride in the two years that I lived in Thailand was at least a couple of hours away. In 1997 I signed a 2-year contract to teach elementary Art and P.E. at the New International School of Thailand, which was located in the heart of Bangkok. There was a little stable in a place called Khao Yai, and you could stay there and hike or rent horses.

Again, my friends, who did not ride horses were up for adventure and agreed to go on a few rides with me.
With sneakers and without helmets they were ready to set off into the jungle.

Even in the jungle there are things to jump!

My flatmate Linda and I on the second trip.

Living without horses for two years was really tough. I wouldn't do it again. In my second year there, I found out that the stable was having a jumping competition. A showjumping course, and then a cross country course that included getting off and shooting things. I decided to enter and was given a very lazy horse and a protective vest.

I had a choice of doing the little course or the big course. I chose the big one, how many opportunities did I get to ride? Might as well make the best of it. I now wonder if this horse had ever jumped this course. My friends overheard the locals saying that I was fearless. Now why would they say that? The horse was sluggish and backwards. I had to get off and shoot things at one point, which went well, but I think I fell off before the last jump because I was so exhausted trying to get him to go. The jumps were pretty big!

I think I actually got a second place ribbon for the showjumping phase. I took a tight turn that no one else tried and made up a lot of time but took a rail.

Luckily there were things to ride besides horses. Living in Thailand began my lifelong fascination and love of elephants. Linda and I going for a ride in Chaing Mai. I loved sitting on their necks even though their hair was like toothpicks sticking through my shorts.

Linda and I at the Grand Palace in Bangkok.

A member of the Longneck tribe and I in Mae Hong Song.

Next country: South Africa. (A short one)

Friday, January 15, 2010

A trail ride in Budapest

Cairo American College is an excellent school, pays it's teachers very well, and has excellent benefits. The teachers who work there have years of experience. It's very hard to get a job there, unless you were like me and walked into a part time gig with no benefits. I was just out of college and didn't "fit in" with the CAC crowd. However, over in Heliopolis was the American International School. Didn't pay too well. Not so great benefits. And full of teachers my age, out to party, see the world, and have a good time.

They became my social group and I was able to tag along with some of them on a trip over Christmas break. We flew to Budapest, Hungary and stayed there a while. Then took a train through Slovakia to spend New Year's in Prague, Czech Republic. Everyone in my group except for me and Brian were kicked off the train in the middle of Slovakia because they were Canadian and didn't have the right stamp in their passport. Man that was a mess.

Anyhoo while in Budapest we all got to choose one thing we REALLY wanted to do. I, of course, wanted to find horses. I think the family we were renting the house from knew somebody who knew someone's uncle's cousin's brother, and a trail ride became possible. NONE of the people I was with rode so it just showed how good of sports they were when 3 of them agreed to come with me. They didn't know enough to be nervous about riding in english saddles.

I was the one with the camera, and it was hard getting shots through all the trees. Here are Kelly and Sandy. Almost all of the trail was winding through these woods. They were giggling the whole time, and not screaming but kind of making "oooo" panicky sounds when their horse would take a big step or something. And then Sandy's horse took a really big step, or tripped, and...

Here is a portrait of a good sport. It was cold and wet. Sandy was SOAKED to the skin in mud, and she just laughed it off. It probably didn't help that Kelly and Cheryl were laughing so hard they were crying. Never mind we were traveling and didn't have easy access to a washer and dryer, and she had to ride home in this guy's clean car.

Adventure, right?

Next country: Thailand.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Bee-yootiful Beaded Horseshoes!

Look what came in the mail today!

They are even more spectacular in real life. Mindy from Always there are the horses made these. I ordered the girly purple one as a gift for my friend Elizabeth, and there was a little something else included in the package for me! Love it!

You can't tell from the pictures but they're done on pony sized shoes and are the cutest things EVER.


(Mindy can be reached at

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Riding in the Eqyptian Desert- Freedom!

My first sighting of the Pyramids on "Sugar".

After getting fired from my job exercising racehorses in Ireland, I spent a week working for a different trainer and then decided it was time to leave cold, damp, sleeting Ireland. Although I was just planning on going home, my mom told me that as long as I was over 'there' I might as well go visit my uncle who was working in Egypt.

My uncle Keith had been living and working in Maadi, Egypt (an expat suburb of Cairo) teaching Choir at Cairo American College. CAC is a K-12 school for kids who plan on attending college in the States, the student body is a real mix of expat's kids and locals. When I got there I found out I could substitute teach and make $50 a day. (Even though I SWORE I would NEVER set foot in another classroom after my student teaching experience). Fifty bucks was a lot of money at the time and I ended up staying from January until school got out in June. In June I accepted a half-time position the following school year teaching elementary P.E.

One of my favorite parts of Egypt, and the reason I would return in a heartbeat, was riding the incredible Arabian horses through the sands of the Sahara Desert. Endurance? Check!!! We would drive through the complete mess of traffic that was Cairo- cars, busses, donkey carts, and motorcycles packed like sardines and constantly honking and fighting for space on the road. There are no lines on roads in Cairo, everyone drives with inches of each other.

Once you get over the bridge that goes over the Nile things thin out a bit. You drive by the Sphinx and the Pyramids down the last dirt road before the city ends and the desert starts. Along this road are stable after stable of horses for rent. All of the stables have 2 letter names, like "FB" stables or "MG" stables- usually the initials of the owner.

My friend Barb and I drove out to the horses and on the recommendation of a friend rented horses from FB stables. You ride out into the desert, then gradually work your way to the right until you see the Pyramids off in the distance. Just ride towards the Pyramids and then complete the loop back. There are no roads or trails.


The Sphinx is always being repaired.

How big are the blocks that make up the Pyramids? This big.

Zeeku! This was one of my favorite horses, and I pretty much exclusively rode him the first 6 months I was there. One of the best parts about the desert is that there are no fences. Or trees. Or anything else that you would have to watch out for in a full-on gallop with tears streaming out of your eyes.

Look at all that galloping space!

Baby camel making ungodly noises. Some of the stables in the background.

Cairo American College campus. It was surrounded by a high concrete wall and 'protected' by Egyptian soldiers with guns.

My second year and one of my second grade P.E. classes. Swim unit.

The all-day ride to Sakkara. It was 3-4 hours one way. At first when we would do this ride a guide would come with us but after a while they let us go on our own. I have absolutely no sense of direction and it was disconcerting to me to not have a guide. We rode under power lines for quite a while.

One of my friends rode a new horse that the stable hadn't named yet. When she was done she said that she'd been through the desert on a horse with no name...

A boy holds some of the horses for us at Sakkara while we eat lunch and explore the step pyramids there.

My friend Mike on a feluca ride on the Nile- relaxing! Just don't touch the water.

Aseala and her groom Abdu Nabi. Oh Aseala. I ended up leasing her my second year in Egypt. She was one of the most amazing horses I have ever ridden. Her endurance and speed were beaten by none. Often we were asked to race while riding, usually friendly "you wanna race?" type deal. She blew every single other horse out of the water.

This was the area where there were more hills and varied terrain.

Aseala jumps over the sand bank.

One of my favorite pictures ever.

Luxor and the Valley of the Kings.

The Red Sea has some of the best snorkeling in the world. In Dahab (little hippie town) I rode a camel into the water much to the owner's aggrivation. I could only get him to trot for a few steps at a time.

Me and Bob Marley.

Life on the Autostraud- the main highway to the Airport.

Donkey cart.

Mom comes to visit! Just leaving the stables. The little mare they gave her (because she was a beginner) was slow and stubborn. We ended up switching horses half way through and mom had a great time walking through the desert on Aseala.


It was really cool riding at night because everything was dark and the horse's shoes would send off sparks when they stepped on the rocks.

Next country: Hungary! (A short one).


Friday, January 1, 2010

2009, The Year in Review.

At the end of January 2009 I decided that Ellie, the horse I had been working with for 9 months was not ever going to be the partner and possible event horse I was looking for. She was a gorgeous bright bay with a star and snip and 3 big white socks. Super athletic uphill conformation. Sweet as pie puppydog on the ground. And a nutcase under saddle. She was purchased for $15,000 as a 3-year-old and went to a hunter/jumper barn on the west coast. She came to me at 6 because when they tried to sell her the best offer they got was $1,000 from a guy that said he'd breed her. I figured I could work with her on all of her spooking/rearing issues by keeping her out of indoor arenas and letting her be a horse for a while.

Let's just say she came a long way. She went from not being able to walk through a field (she would spook violently at weeds, holes, rocks, shadows...), could not step from one surface to another, and could barely be ridden on trails even when she was in the middle of the pack. I took her out in the field every week. I took her on trail rides and on camping trips. I rode her bareback with a halter in the arena to try to build trust. I took her to two event derbies where she reared before the dressage test but completed a cross country course. In the end, though, she was still neurotic. You had to ride every step because there was no telling what she would do at any given moment. I never had a relaxing ride on her. I could tell that though she was much, much better about things in general she would never enjoy eventing. She was challenging and I was determined to make her better. I thought she needed me because who else would put up with her behavior? At the end of January out on a ride in the middle of a frozen field, she freaked out, spun, and reared at the same time. I came off and landed lower-back-first on ice chunks. It was months before I could ride again, and after a lot of soul searching and guilt and tears told her owners I didn't want to buy her.

But the eventing bug had bitten, and I was determined to find a horse with potential for the sport. I put up announcements on eventing blogs and the Area VII chat page. I figured with the economy there would be tons of horses to choose from at rock bottom prices. People were desperate to give their horses away, right? I wanted something between 3-6 years old, if it was 5 or 6 I wanted at least walk/trot/canter. Between 16-17h. Warmblood or TB type. 0 to $3,000. Training not important, I could do that myself. I was sent info on nice horses that were out of my price range. And horses that were not what I was looking for at all- yes, your pinto Appy Saddlebred cross that's been in a field for 8 years might just have potential but I don't care to find out. And if your warmblood is so completely fabuous and uber talented and worth so much money, why is she barely green broke at 15?

I started checking out the OTTB rescues in Washington and even told one of them I was interested in adopting one of their horses. On their website they said they were desperate and needed help due to the amount of returnees and the economy. After one email they quit responding...??? I think it was just supposed to be that way because I found out about Katie at Hidden Fox Farms on the internet. Her husband was a trainer at Portland Meadows track in Oregon. She answered my email and phone call right away and sent me info on a couple of horses from her website she thought would be good at eventing (she events herself). Then she said that the following weekend there would be a LOT of horses for sale from all of the trainers at the track as the season was ending, would I like to come down and take a look?

Coincidentally (if you believe in coincidences) I was heading to Portland that weekend anyway. One of my friends was helping out by being a 'test dummy' rider at Brian Sabo's ICP training. She was riding 2 horses so his students could learn how to become certified event instructors. I was to be Terri's groom and to check out the training.

Katie had a list of 11 or so horses with the names of the trainers and the stall numbers of the horses on a piece of paper. We walked down the shedrows peeking in stalls. "There's a young bay horse in stall xx I havn't seen yet but everyone tells me to go look at him". He was technically only 3 as his birthday wasn't until June. He didn't care about going fast and wouldn't "hook up" with another horse to race. You know, it wasn't exactly love at first sight. It was more like good feeling at first sight. I had a good feeling about him. He had nice eyes. He looked sound trotting up and down the pavement. He had horrible feet and long pasterns. I really didn't think too much about it, the whole experience was a bit overwhelming, I just said "I'll take him".

My dad and I brought him home to the Boy's Ranch where I worked on April 2nd. He didn't need the 2 months to decompress from the craziness of the track that everybody talks about. I was ready for young, hot, and crazy and I got a pretty mellow baby horse. He lived out in the pasture with other horses and was brought into a large pen at night to get supplements and his own hay. Even thought the pen was large, when he got back out in the pasture he ran. And ran. And ran. Lap after lap, all by himself as the others watched. And I realized that THERE was my young, hot, and crazy horse- self regulating. If he had been kept in a stall and had to contain all that energy every day I think he would have been nuts. But given a chance to move all day, and run, and play with the other horses, he got rid of his extra energy all on his own and I was able to start riding (without lunging) within a week.

He was so... balanced. And athletic. After spending 10 years with my oversized warmblood, it was like riding a feather. Cantering was easy. Transitions were easy. He was (and is) just so light. That's the best way to describe riding him- light. The first trail ride was a complete success, and that was the day I finally realized I had made the right decision about Ellie. She would never have been as relaxed or as confident as he was on his FIRST ride out.

Some highlights of 2009:

April, Jasper leaves Portland Meadows and arrives in Spokane. He is ridden in the arena and goes on his first trail ride on the property.

In May I set up the camcorder and video him jumping his first cross bars. He takes everything in stride and doesn't seem to think it's a very big deal. We go to a dressage show at Post Falls Equestrian Center, and he pulls so hard while tied to the trailer I can't get the knot undone. Pulls again and stretches out his leather halter. Pulls yet again and stretches out the new nylon halter and makes it too big for his head. He can't stand still and trots in circles around me. I get on and once we start moving everything clicks. He happily walks around the grounds. He happily trots around the indoor and outdoor arenas. We complete Intro Test B under a tough judge and score a 64% and get 3rd place. I was beyond thrilled with him. We don't try tying him up again.

He breaks my finger when I ask him to step on a tarp.

In June we compete at the Deep Creek Derby, Rockhopper Division. Intro A test, and a course of 12" or less "jumps" set up in a field. Includes a water crossing. We're late to our dressage test due to the fact he ran one of the boys over that was holding him and got away, and then absolutely refused to get anywhere near the creek we needed to cross to get to the competition grounds. The test goes well, and the boys get video of him warming up before cross country. He is leaping over the rails with one or two feet to spare. We have a lead rider on course, and Jasper wants to keep as close to them as possible. Until the water. Luckily we were one of the last riders and everyone was really patient. At one point the lead rider grabbed a rein to try to encourage him to get in. Eventually he did and we completed the course with a dressage score of 34 and 8 (??) jumping faults. Brought home a pretty purple 6th place ribbon. And a lot of compliments- "After watching you I have hope for my Thoroughbred!"

Later that month we go to a schooling show where we do Intro test B and Training test 1. Jasper gets the wrong lead 6 times on Training 1. We also compete in the trail class where Jasper conquers his fears and crosses a bridge. Perhaps some lessons from the tarp incident come through. I take him in some english pleasure and eq classes with 15 -18 other horses in a smallish arena and he does great until we line up and have to stand still at the end.

In July we haul him to Slavin Ranch for his first trail ride away from home. We meet up with friends (who have the same misconceptions about OTTBs that I did) and everyone is impressed with how good he is.

In August I take him on our camping trip to Farragut State Park. I find out just how fast he can powerwalk. He can be in the lead, in the middle, or in the back of the pack. However he is nervous constantly has to be checked so he's not too close to the horse in front of him. At every opportunity he tries to pass the dumb slow horses in front of him. WHY are they walking so slow?? He can trot and canter in front. He actually seems the most relaxed and happy when canterning in front, and doesn't try to increase speed.

We go for our first dressage lesson (my first lesson in 4 years) and he does very well and gets complimented by our instructor. I learn my position sucks and have things to work on.

In September we go on an all adult camping trip to Farragut (yay!). found a big field with pine trees at one end and galloped in and out of them and all around the field. It was like cross country without the jumps. Had a few moments of relaxation towards the end of the trip.

We also go to Tulip Springs and stay for 3 days. We participate in a hunter/jumper clinic that was... interesting. The next day he has his first jumping show. We enter in the 18" division and the 2' division. He gets champion in the 18" and a HUGE tri-colored ribbon, and res. champ in the 2' and another HUGE tri-colored ribbon.
The next day we jump our first real cross country jumps in a clinic with Jil Walton. He does banks, ditches, and up and down into water. The hardest thing for him was the height of the jumps since he's never jumped that high before and is trying to figure it all out.

At the end of September I am involved in a mass-firing from the ranch and have to find a place to take Jasper and Alexandre immediately.

In October my two horses stayed at my friend Pam's place. Pam takes care of my retired Quarter Horse mare Mindy Lou. She was very kind and a lifesaver in a horrible situation.

In November Jasper and Alexandre are settling into their new home, a 20-acre pasture at Valley Chapel Farms.

December brings some trail riding and silly santa hat pictures.

And... hello 2010!

Happy New Year everyone!