redroanchronicles: Trudeau is Innocent. Really. (trudeau-innocence)
Don't be fooled by this face.



Look, I understand: he's difficult to resist. I know he looks all innocent and angelic. He's using those eyebrows on you and he's totally working it and all you can think is, "Aw, what a handsome fellow! He's so well-behaved and charming!"

That's what he wants you to think. He wants you to be impressed by his easy-going and affectionate nature. He's trying to draw you in, and when you make the mistake of thinking that "adorable" is the same thing as "trustworthy"... well, then he's got you.

Then when you least expect it, he's gone.

It's not that he's a bad dog, it's just that sometimes the urge to wring his massive neck is overwhelming. )
redroanchronicles: Juno - Kiss Me (Default)
A few weeks ago we got our first real snow of the winter. It's gone now, a victim of unseasonably warm weather, but while it was actively happening I ventured out with my camera and captured a few photos of Juno and her pasturemate Sienna. You'll find quite a few beneath the cut.



The snow is softly falling )
redroanchronicles: In Harness (in harness)
I was sorting through my "photos to process" folder -- which as it turned out contained folders up to two years old -- and came across a few shots I thought I might share. Today, I have no witty commentary to offer you. The best I can come up with is "OMG WTF BBQ PONIES!"



More photos beneath the cut )
redroanchronicles: Seasons (seasons)
Autumn is by far my favorite season; the combination of the bright fall color on the trees, the sharp bite in the air, the smell of burning woodstoves, the crunch of walking through fallen leaves, the bare branches of the trees, fogging breath and steam rising off the hot springs... there's no end to the natural wonders of autumn. It's got the best holidays (Thanksgiving: it is all about eating!), and the shops start stocking in the best of all possible foodstuffs, like baked goods with pumpkin in them and chocolate oranges and peppermint cocoa. The photo opportunities are endless and pretty much golden. The only thing that would make autumn better was if it was longer; here in the mountains, it seems to be finished practically in the blink of an eye, and I'm pretty sure I'm going to wake up one day soon and there will be a few feet of snow on the ground.

On the other hand, the fleeting nature of the season is pretty good for prompting me to get out of the house and take some photos, before all the spectacular color vanishes until next year. I've been wanting for years to visit one of those pumpkin patches that also has a horse-drawn cart (I don't really care about pumpkins, if I'm honest, aside from caring about how delicious they are), and when I saw one advertised in the newspaper recently, I just had to go. I made a little time on the last weekend of the Chimney Rock Farm pumpkin patch, and drove out to photograph some harness horses, which as a bonus, turned out to be Suffolks, a breed I'm not I've ever actually seen in person before, and definitely haven't photographed.



Beneath the cut: More draft horse photos, fall scenery, and a trip to Piedra Falls )
redroanchronicles: Juno - Drowsy (juno)
The acreage surrounding our house is beautiful this time of year -- or, I suspect, any time of year. I've taken to sitting on our deck with the dog (we have a deck!) and looking out over the surrounding woodland while I drink my tea or eat my lunch or... whatever. I mostly like to find excuses to sit outside and survey our rental kingdom. Today my roommate and I let our horses out for the first time into one of the pastures, a large-ish stretch of woodland that wraps around and behind our house. It was great to watch them picking their way between the trees and exploring, and they certainly make for attractive scenery; we could sit on the deck and watch them watching us back.



More photos beneath the cut )

Of course, having horses isn't all sublime moments of connection with nature. Today I also got a little adventurous and let my dog Trudeau off his leash a few feet outside the door when we were on our way in, and he took this as an opportunity to chase the horses. And then an unlatched gate led to our horses being discovered out on the road by the neighbors, who shepherded them back inside and closed our front gate; the horses were subsequently discovered by our landlady, who got them put away in their paddock again. After hearing this news, I nearly suffered a massive panic-related coronary. I'm fine now, I just hope that my roommate finds my new intense paranoia bearable. (She probably will. I suspect she shares it.) I'm probably going to have nightmares about horses in the road for the next oh say forever.
redroanchronicles: Seasons (seasons)
Recently, my coworker Sharon and I have been looking for new housing, so that we can keep our horses at home. Boarding here is generally either unavailable or extremely expensive in the winter -- most people seem to send their horses to pasture about an hour south to not have to deal at all with horsekeeping in heavy snow -- but neither Sharon nor I were particularly happy with that. Here in horse country, we figured we wouldn't have much of a problem finding a horse property to rent, and in thinking that we were, of course, embracing some sort of optimism-related insanity.

The process has been... well, I don't really have a word for what it's been. I feel like I should see a psychotherapist to start recovering from the trauma. Finding anything in a small town is less about how thoroughly and repeatedly you scour the newspapers and more about who you know, how much they like you, and whether they'd rather see you happy or see you sleeping in the gutter. It just complicates things to be searching with another person, who will inevitably bring their own priorities, preferences and demands to the table.

I won't go into all of the ways in which this process has felt a bit like being repeatedly bludgeoned with a heavy object... I think it's sufficient to say that, after months of searching and undoubtedly the development of some hard-core ulcers, we've finally got a place to live. It's a deeply terrific, just barely on the attainable side of affordable, and has a terrific set-up for horses. There's a hay loft and a garage and a fireplace and just a ridiculous excess of awesome things (can anybody say "bathtub with freaking power jets"? I thought you could). Somewhat ludicrously, one of the things I'm looking forward to most is the barn cat who comes with the property. I don't know what his name was to begin with (it was Smokey or Sooty or something along those lines), but I call him Awesome. And he totally lives up to his name. I would go so far as to say that he is made of 100% pure awesome.

Though I own a dog -- more specifically, a dog who would like to eat cats -- I'm mostly an animal person in general, so the idea of living with cats again is pretty exciting to me. (This is in spite of the fact that my last living-with-a-cat experience was pretty much like this.) Sharon will be bringing with her an indoor cat, in addition to Awesome the barn cat, so I'm sure I'll have my hands full just with preventing Trudeau from eating any of the other animals who will soon be his housemates, but I'm not letting my dog's dickishness dent my optimism.

In honor of the good news, I thought I'd do a little cats photo post today... a retrospective, if you will, on the felines who have deigned to tolerate my presence... these are barn cats and pet cats both. I love barn cats in particular, though, because they tend to be a bit rough around the edges, unpampered and self-possessed... and sometimes just possessed, period.



Oh ye felines we have known... )

I like to think that all people are cat people at heart. (And if they aren't, then the cats somehow know and will attach themselves to those people purely out of spite. So really, it pays to be a cat person.) Care to share a few photos of yours? I promise to ooh and aah over them. It's sort of a knee-jerk reaction anyway.

(And if like me you're enjoying a nice rainy day and would like a little animated cat noir, try the short animated film The Cat Piano, narrated by Nick Cave. Great animation, great filmmaking, and incredible artistry.)
redroanchronicles: Seasons (seasons)
Over the weekend, my dog Trudeau and I explored a few local trails. Our first attempt, Fourmile Stock Trail, was disappointing: it was neither particularly scenic, nor was it comfortable to walk (lots of loose rock everywhere, and plenty of noise when the ATVs came out to play). It did spill us out onto a nice gravel road and beyond that, the continuation of a much more comfortable walking trail (it wasn't signposted, so I don't know what it's called)... but of course by then it was time to turn around and go back.

So I was pretty delighted when our next attempt turned out much better. We drove out of Pagosa into the San Juans, looking for the Piedra River Trail. The directions I'd found online were fairly accurate (see below for my own directions, which will lead you to the actual trailhead, unlike the directions I had used) and we found the spot without a problem. The trail forks to both an upper and lower trail; the lower trail is the one you see in my photos, and I'm told the upper trail is pretty awesome, too, and there are ice caves if you know where to look. Which I... don't.



More photos, info and awesome beneath the cut )
How to get there: From Pagosa Springs, take Hwy 160 to Piedra Road. Proceed north on Piedra Road for about 17 miles. When you reach the Piedra River bridge, drive just a bit further up the road and take the next available left, into a parking lot which will lead you directly to the well-marked trailhead. You can also park in the turn-offs just on either side of the bridge, but your access to the trail from there is a fairly steep ascent up a rock face; going up that way worked fine for me, but I'd hate to try to get back down that route after a little rain. Horseback riding, hiking and fishing are all allowed, but no motorized vehicles, and the trail seems both popular enough and narrow enough that I didn't picture it as the most fun ever for horseback riding, either.

Area access: The majority of the drive on Piedra is on a well-maintained gravel road. In good weather, a 2-wheel-drive vehicle will get you there without a problem. A bike would probably make for an even better trip. Winter is likely another story. The drive itself is gorgeous, especially with the fall color coming out.

Difficulty: The Piedra River Trail is mostly an easy hike, with the difficulty increasing to moderate as you go further. If you're not quite up for the exertion, or you're just stopping through the area on your way to somewhere else, stop in at the Piedra River picnic area across the road (signage on the road will point the way); it's a lovely spot with picnic tables, restrooms, and a very nice view.
redroanchronicles: In Harness (in harness)
Awhile back, I went to the local fairgrounds to watch a couple of my coworkers tackle a bit of team sorting. The locals get together every week or so when the weather is good to get some practice putting their horses onto cattle and honing their own cattle-sorting (and counting!) skills.



More photos beneath the cut )

For more images from team sorting at Red Ryder fairgrounds, check out the full gallery.
redroanchronicles: In Harness (in harness)
There are a lot of things that we can learn about ourselves and our horsemanship just from watching horses together in a herd. There are enough books on the subject to fill a library these days, but sometimes it's the simplest things that impress me the most: the way horses cooperate thoughtlessly and easily, as if there is never a reason for lasting discord.



More photos beneath the cut... )
redroanchronicles: In Harness (in harness)
Yesterday morning I visited Pagosa Springs' local horse rescue, LASSO, to take some pictures of their animals... it's about the only donation I can manage these days, my budget is running so close to red. I had a great time hiking around 60 acres of gorgeous forest on the search for a herd of geldings... who we finally found back at the barn, the little devils! It was well worth it when we finally did find them though, because they're a pretty photogenic bunch. (And we had the pleasant company of an entourage of cats as we tromped around the property in search of horses!) The late-morning light started off okay and turned increasingly brutal as the day ticked on toward noon, but I managed a few good shots.



more photos from LASSO beneath the cut )

LASSO is engaged in a hay drive to help support LASSO's own rescues and local horse owners facing financial hardship over the winter. To donate, or for more information on adoptable horses, visit their website at lassohorserescue.org
redroanchronicles: Juno - Drowsy (juno)
Juno's eyeTo be completely honest, I've never actually minded much that I can't ride my horse.

I realize that to the average person, that sounds slightly like insanity. Horses can be tremendously expensive animals to keep, and in my experience, most people balk at the idea of holding onto one that doesn't have a use. We're a little less sentimental about them than we are our mostly-useless dogs and cats, and I think most people who own horses want to be able to participate in the full horse-ownership experience -- trail rides, shows, incredible feats of equine athleticism, the works.

So you can probably imagine the kinds of looks I get when, after trying in vain to keep myself to myself, I have to admit that my horse isn't trained to ride. Oh, and also, she's around 16 years old. Surprise! In my defense, she hasn't been sitting around in my backyard, all potential wasted, for all of those years. She was wild until she was around 9, then she was rounded up, then she was starved and needed time to recover, and then I embarked upon the daunting task of turning a wild animal into a willing partner.

The saying in the horse world goes that "green on green equals black and blue." It's not a sentiment I'd disagree with: an experienced horse person can be paired with an inexperienced horse, but an inexperienced person should be teamed with an experienced horse. In whatever situation, one part of that horse and human duo should know what they're doing. But reality has a way of intruding, and sometimes we let our hearts rule over our better sense. Plenty of horse owners get into trouble this way... and plenty of horse owners who make the "right" choices, who buy an experienced horse, still end up in way over their heads. Horses are living creatures with ideas of their own, and some of the most seemingly docile horses only seem quiet because they're quietly planning your demise. (This is particular true of ponies. Evil, evil ponies. ILU, ponies. Call me.)

I would never recommend that others do what I did -- adopting a wild horse as a novice horse owner -- because having worked in rescue, I've seen too many times the end result of that kind of foolishness, and it's usually the horse who suffers because of our ignorance. For me and Juno it's worked out pretty well, but only because I had quite a bit of wild horse experience (just not riding experience) before I took her on. Still, in a way I'm grateful that I set out into horse ownership with an animal that isn't trained to ride: it forced me to spend a lot of time building our relationship, building trust, and perfecting ground skills, instead of just climbing on and riding headlong into anything I wasn't prepared for. For the most part I didn't rush, because I couldn't rush.

Granted, five years or so is a long time to work on ground skills, but at least now Juno and I have reached a point where it's not her lack of knowledge holding us back, it's mine. I'm not qualified to start a horse under saddle, and recognizing that is a pretty big thing for me. (Let us not speak of the long-ago days of yore when I thought that I was perfectly capable of starting Juno under saddle myself. Suffice it to say that were I not a huge advocate of wearing helmets for all equine activities, I would not be here at this moment, typing at you. Aw, bless, Juno, you didn't kill me after all!)

One of the big perks of living in Pagosa Springs and working for Parelli Natural Horse-man-ship is that I'm surrounded by people who share my philosophy on horse training, who I can count on to handle my horse as I would handle her, and for perhaps the first time I have the option to hire a trainer who I would have no reservations about. (Look, I'm really particular about my horse, okay? I won't let just anyone touch her, much less train her. I'm not going to apologize for it, because I think my overprotective mama bear impression is totally awesome.) Of course, I can't afford to pay any of those people to start her for me, and having lived with that state of affairs for years, I had thought I was getting used to it. But now that I'm finally working on my horsemanship in earnest again, and getting instruction from qualified people, and really getting somewhere with my horse, I have become sharply, keenly, pathetically aware of just how much I want to ride her. Oh, Juno, I want to ride you so badly, you poor oblivious creature, and you just have no idea.


This is how our saddle-training sessions usually go (though not usually with a borrowed Aussie saddle).


I put the saddle on and go, "Yay, Juno, you're wearing a saddle! Move around, do a little twirl, let me see how it looks! OMG, so fashionable!"


And Juno says, "Well, okay, um, I wore it for awhile. Like, maybe two whole minutes. So, I'm good. You can take it off now."


"No, really. Off now. Please. Please and thank you."


"It's not my color. Really. It's... I don't want it. Do not want. Remove. Now."


I'm pretty sure she's caught on to the fact that if she's okay with the saddle, I might try climbing into it. So instead she makes sad faces and demands that I rub her forehead to comfort her.


It was one thing when I was living at random locations around the west and watching other boarders in my barns have a series of misadventures: horses that kicked, bolted, ran off with riders aboard, ejected riders before running off, rubbed riders off against fences... the list goes on. (On one particularly memorable occasion, my then-landlord pulled up his shirt to show me the series of purpling bruises on his chest, each perfectly western-saddle-horn-shaped, which had been inflicted as his horse tried -- ultimately successfully -- to buck him off.) I've known some great riders who have great relationships with their horses, but mostly I've known people who are scared and won't admit it, who aren't scared but should be, who get on and ride by the seat of their pants but not necessarily with the input of their self-preservation-oriented hindbrain, and I've wondered what exactly about the horse experience appeals to them at all, because a lot of what I've seen just does not look like fun. It just looks like an emergency room visit waiting to happen.

Watching people play with their horses at the Parelli campus has been a different experience, though. Sure, I see students who aren't as safe or savvy as they seem to think they are, but for the most part, what I see at the Parelli campus is people and horses having a good time together, doing incredible things, and for maybe the first time I've really looked at that, and realized that most of those people haven't had some amazing childhood equine education that I missed out on -- many of their histories are much like my own. And it's made me realize not only how much I want what they have, but that it is attainable. It can be done.

My excellent and talented instructor Chris -- who I have decided is my BFF whether he likes it or not, poor sod -- has been searching for a way to get Juno into a training program, either at the ranch or with a qualified local Parelli instructor. I'm determined to make it happen one way or another. Maybe I'll just show up at the ranch and put her in Pat's barn and hope that nobody notices she doesn't belong there until after they've ridden her for a few months. Maybe I'll spray-paint her a nice chestnut so Pat's proteges will think she came from Atwood Ranch. Maybe I'll launch a Get Juno Started Under Saddle Before She Dies Of Old Age fundraiser and actually get the money together. I'm determined to get there in the end, onto that path toward excellent horsemanship, but hopefully this time doing a little less walking... I'll let my horse carry more of the weight.
redroanchronicles: Juno - Drowsy (juno)
It occurs to me that that last set of photos was kind of formal. I like formal, but sometimes you've got to cut loose a little. Sometimes, I am told, you need to break out the pink paint and glitter and help your horse to be far more fabulous than he has ever been before. Here in Humboldt, we like to do that with the HERO Ride for Life. In addition to being very brightly decorated, the participants are also raising money for cancer research with every lap they and their horses take around the racetrack at Ferndale's fairgrounds. Because I was in Eureka shooting photos of that Pony Club show, I only caught the last hour or so of the Ride for Life, but I still got some great photos of the local horse community coming together for help fund the race for the cure. HEROs of Humboldt, I salute you.



























I tried with all my might to get the perfect photo of that last horse -- something about his dark face, dark tack and blue eyes just gave me the shivers in a good way -- but this was the best I managed, and the focus isn't where I wanted it. (Shooting events with a lens that doesn't auto-focus with my camera body is both awesome -- for lo, it zooms! -- and soul-destroying. Oh, the shots I could've had if I were faster on the focus...) Does anyone know this horse and rider duo? (They're also pictured here, in a shot where you can actually see the people.) I'd love to have another chance to photograph this horse.

If you haven't yet had enough pink, there are more photos right over here.
redroanchronicles: In Harness (in harness)
As an equine photographer in the American West, there are some facts of life that I just have to accept. One of those is that most of my opportunities to photograph equine athletes in action are going to also involve ropes, shank bits and chewing tobacco. And I'm okay with that. Honestly. It's just that deep down in my soul, at the very heart of me, there's a little voice crying out for braids and breeches and helmets and a shiny row of neatly turned-out horses.


Thank you, Lord, for the Pony Club. Blessed is the Pony Club, where the photo opportunities are made of solid gold.


I love the Pony Club. I mean, I love the Pony Club. The style of horsemanship they teach is rather more traditional than my own, but I'm constantly impressed that the Pony Club always stays true to its basic mission, which is to make these kids better citizens in the equestrian world, and to require them to have actual knowledge of horse care and behavior, rather than just riding. My fondest wish is that I had been able to do Pony Club as a whippersnapper, but since I didn't have the chance, I'm happy to lend my support to my local Pony Clubs in all of their endeavors. (For any of you who might be reading in Humboldt County, the Lost Coast Pony Club is based in Ferndale, and the new Six Rivers Pony Club is just starting up in Eureka. If anyone has an interest in either club, drop me a line and I'll send you contact details. Or for anyone in any area who has an interest in Pony Club, you can visit the national organization's website to find a club in your area.)







The adults are there to mentor the kids. The kids are there to be amazing.



The horses are there to lend a little class and respectability to the proceedings. They have that effect everywhere they go.









These Pony Clubbers, adults and kids alike, were truly a credit to their organization: the show classes ran like a well-oiled machine, the horses on the whole seemed fairly happy and well-tempered (though I'd love if flash nosebands weren't such a fashion), and I went the whole day without seeing anyone streaking by on an out-of-control horse, striking or otherwise berating a horse, or displaying any of the other forms of bad behavior that sadly I have often witnessed in events all over the west. The adults and instructors were supportive and helpful to their students and fellow Pony Clubbers without being overbearing, and the general sense of good cheer remained steady throughout the day.

If I had a dapper cap, Lost Coast Pony Club, I would tip it to you. Job well done, and you looked darned good doing it. I couldn't have been prouder unless I had in some way made a real contribution to your success. BRAVO.





For more photos from this event, check out the full gallery here.
redroanchronicles: Trudeau's Mighty Brow (trudeau-brow)
It could fairly be said that I am a control enthusiast. This is merely one of my excuses for why I don't normally let my dog Trudeau run and frolic off-leash, even though many people in my life seem to think that this is some form of hideous cruelty. (Trudeau is on the "hideous cruelty" side of the argument, too.) But I have a very vivid imagination and what I like to think is a keen understanding of Trudeau's psyche -- inside his mind is a bleak world of perceived starvation and inadequate snuggles -- which is why I can see very clearly how things would go if I were to become one of Humboldt County's ubiquitous leash-less dog owners. And I am telling you, it would all end in tears. And possibly blood. And on my part, there could be a heart attack. Even at the pound, they let him run around off-leash, and apparently they didn't have any problems with him running off, and it's not as if he's normally able to be more than five feet away from me in the daily course of our lives, so I probably shouldn't be quite so paranoid, but I am. Sure, he likes me now, but the moment another dog appears, all bets are off.

A few friends suggested that I take him to a beach. A remote beach. Where could he run? they said. The ocean will get in the way, they said. But beaches usually only have ocean in one direction, and plenty of havoc-wreaking possibilities in all the other directions, so I was determined to be a little more choosy. I would be needing a lot more ocean.

Luckily, with Humboldt Bay right here, we have some convenient jetties that have ocean on three sides, and some pretty deserted beaches. So I took Trudeau out there on a long training line, and worked on endless recalls, and then I got really brave and let him off the leash entirely.



It could be accurately said that Trudeau approves of this development.



He also approves of the ocean, birds, sand, foam, crabs, seaweed, and things that smell mysterious.







I enjoy these outings almost as much as Trudeau does, mostly because by the time we get home he's completely knackered. It has been a great confidence-builder for me, though, knowing that I can let him off-leash, and when I call him he'll come back. Mostly. Except when he's found something interesting. Or when there's a bird.

Elsewhere in my travels around town, I came across another face that I thought you'd want to see:



I met this adorable little face in Halvorsen Park, and her owner was clearly accustomed to fielding the admiration of this dog's adoring public. She's an "American Indian Dog," which I had never heard of (is that sort of like yet another American Horses With Spots And Things registry, or is it legit?); gorgeous little puppy, kind of shy, but she's certainly going to make one hell of a beautiful dog. And meeting her was a nice change from the way I usually encounter dogs; typically I meet them when they're running loose in the streets, in the dark, and they launch themselves at Trudeau like they're all members of a canine fight club.

Oh, shit. I wasn't supposed to mention that. It's the first rule. Forget you heard anything.
redroanchronicles: Trudeau's Mighty Brow (trudeau-brow)
This is my dog Trudeau.


He is very regal. Very dignified. Sometimes he says that with great power comes great responsibility, and I can only assume that he knows this from experience.

Or else maybe he's talking about my power to give him dog cookies, and my responsibility to do so without delay.

There are more photos of Trudeau under this cut. )

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