Friday, September 29, 2006

Bernice stays a few days in Red Cloud, Nebraska

We recently heard from Bernice as she was trying to pass through Red Cloud, Nebraska. Red Cloud is described as an American classic, a typical small town in the heartland. Red Cloud is a small, vibrant community nestled in the Lower Republican River Valley, neatly self-contained by pastures and cornfields. Here, Bernice describes her longer-than-expected visit.


How did this happen? I rode into town an innocent horse rider, and I am now judging a chili cook off in a couple of days! So much fun!! This is the Red Cloud Chamber of Commerce’ Third Annual September Fest Chili and BBQ Cook-off. It will be held September 23 at the Red Cloud City Park. There are categories for Chili, Beef, Pork, “Other” and (yea!) Desserts.

I just spoke at the Senior Center for a “pass the hat” talk – I walked away with $10 AND lunch. I seem to be doing more and more speaking to pick up a few dollars here and there.

Red Cloud - Home of famous writers like Willa Cather. It is a “Historical Town”, with brick streets. Kind of a bookish/literary kind of town I did not expect to find way out here; so far from anything, really.

More later...

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Long Riders' Guild

Since we’ve started working with Bernice Ende, I’ve gained even more inspiration from and respect for long distance riders. After suggesting that Bernice call the Long Riders Guild to discuss membership, I began researching The Long Riders’ Guild and their mission.  The Guild is a fantastic organization, which strives to bring together and memorialize the greatest riders, horses and equestrian journeys of the past, present and future.

The Long Riders' Guild is an invitation-only international association of equestrian explorers, representing men and women of all nations who have ridden more than 1,000 continuous miles on a single equestrian journey. It was formed in 1994 by CuChullaine O’Reilly, and has since pioneered the study of equestrian travel research and methodology. Using a world wide network of historical and equestrian contacts, The Long Rider's Guild has documented nearly 300 equestrian trips, gathered vital information on more than 275 Long Riders, and confirmed more than 822,000 documented miles traveled in the saddle.

Members currently reside in at least 32 countries, with varied languages, backgrounds, creeds, origins and religions. They do however share true love and compassion for the horse and equestrian travel. These Long Riders have collectively written more than a hundred books on equestrian travel and ridden on every continent except Antarctica.

I’m always on the lookout for new products, and after long conversations and emails with Basha O’Reilly, one of the founding Long Riders, I’m very proud to offer several books from the Long Riders’ Guild Press.  Many of these historical books are on my personal reading list for this winter.  At some point the world has to slow down long enough for all of us to enjoy a good book by the fire! (doesn’t it?)

I’ve just begun reading the first book on the list, Ride the Wind, the Amazing True Story of the Abernathy Boys by Miles Abernathy. It may be a week or two, but I’ll add a book review to the blog just as soon as I finish.

If you’d like more information on the Long Rider’s Guild, please visit their website.  Whether you are Long Rider material or just aspire to be a better horseman, you’ll find a wealth of information.

Happy Trails!

Monday, September 18, 2006

Which Rifle Scabbard is Right for You?

Bugling season has started and the store is busy with hunters looking for gear. One of the most popular pieces, of course, is a rifle scabbard. With three styles to choose from, I am often asked which one would be best.

Best Protection

My favorite rifle scabbard for protection is the Guardian Rifle Scabbard. We designed this scabbard to completely enclose a scoped hunting rifle. The butt of your rifle is not exposed to the elements and snow or pine needles will not collect on your rifle and scope when you pull it out. The Guardian is designed to be versatile. The flap can be zipped shut, buckled shut or even left open for easy access to your rifle. If you have a longer barrel or a larger scope, this is a great scabbard as it is large enough to accommodate barrels up to 30” and scopes up to 56mm. The scabbard is easy care, with a durable nylon cover and slick nylon liner.

Easy Care

For low maintenance in a traditional smaller style, there are also many open-ended rifle scabbards available in heavy nylon. These are made in the classic style that offers protection to the majority of your rifle, while the butt remains uncovered. Some of these, like the TrailMax Rifle Scabbard, are designed with a flap over the end and others are simply a slide-in style. The flap offers more security for your equipment, but it is a little more work to get to your rifle in a hurry. The slide-in style offers easy access to your weapon, but doesn’t offer much for keeping snow and debris off your equipment or your equipment in the scabbard, for that matter. But the choice is yours depending upon your needs.

Traditional Look

If you like a truly classic look, you can choose a Leather Rifle Scabbard. I recommend that you consider the following when choosing a leather rifle scabbard.

  • Quality of leather. Is it durable, well-oiled leather?

  • Shape of the scabbard. Is it designed to fit your rifle? Is it designed for a scope? Is it pre-molded so you don’t have to force your rifle into it?

  • Features. Does it have a protective lining for your scope? Many scabbards are lined with sheepskin; I prefer that only the scope area is lined, as once fleece is wet, that moisture stays within contact of the rifle barrel and is very difficult to dry.  Does it have a flap or any additional protection for your rifle? Are the straps long enough to attach to your saddle the way you like?

Remember that leather requires more care than synthetic materials and you will want to clean and treat your rifle scabbard regularly to keep it in top condition. Leather scabbards can also be heavier. This can be a deciding factor if weight is an issue for you.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Bernice talks about her Thoroughbred, Honor, Part III

Now you are probably wondering, “Why am I telling you all of this?” Because several remarks were made to me about how terrible Honor looked when we arrived in Minnesota. All I could think was she looked amazingly well for all she went through – 1300 miles we traveled. All I could think was that it was a blankety blank miracle we made it at all. Yes she was thin – we all were. I had to remind myself that it was ignorance because those that criticized have no idea what we’d gone through. From central Montana all through the Dakotas into Minnesota we had 6 weeks of 90 degree heat and up – unbearable heat. There were problems with her withers, problems with just riding on an unseasoned, not very strong, nervous horse, Claire’s terrible barbwire cut, my feet and again the heat.

We had to be up at 4 am to ride until 11 am, then off until 5-6 pm, then riding again until dark. We had a time restriction with weddings in Minnesota. I think I wanted to quit every day. So must have Claire and Honor. I walked many mornings with bundles of cut grass from beautiful wide ditches we walked along and I’d hold it so Honor could eat as we walked. I picked young field corn and did the same just to get more food into her. Each night, I bathed her back and massaged her. But one could not keep enough water in her, not with heat like that.

Our one month off while at my sister’s and brother-in-law’s home was a much needed time to rest and recoup. Another worming, corn, oats, a high protein feed, grass hay, alfalfa hay, grass and oil was fed in ample supplies. She’s filled out more than I’ve ever seen her. She looks strong. Her shoulders and back have muscled in and there’s a set of hind quarters on this horse to show any horse off. We rest today – this afternoon in Lake Park, Iowa off the side of the road, yards and homes (dogs) on one side – a farm implement business on the other. It is cool here under huge old oak trees and the breeze has just a hint of fall. Waconia to Lark Park, a little less than 200 miles, took us 10 easy days along the nicest riding roads – straight soft gravel roads with bountiful, luscious, smooth ditches full of alfalfa, clover and corn fields from which I now pick maturing corn twice a day. When we stop to ask for water, which is often three to four times per day, we rarely leave without our bags full of garden produce from these park like farms of white old farm houses, neatly mowed lawns and red barns. I would recommend Minnesota to anyone for a long ride – safe, nice traveling and very friendly, curious people the entire ride.

Last year’s ride, already so very different from this one (as I’m sure all rides will vary greatly) reminds me once again how little I know about the horse, how great the understanding can be. My brother-in-law has hunting dogs – bird dogs – way fast, never still dogs. I said to him I thought that perhaps these dogs would make good traveling dogs; they’d keep up so well. Of course, they would have to be trained not to hunt. His reply: “It would break their spirits.”

And I thought many would think the same about my taking a horse bred to race, whose spirit is meant to run, loading her with heavy weight and asking her to walk – quietly – thousands of miles. But I beg to differ. Come, follow along as we share between the three of us apples, carrots, bananas, crackers, plums, peaches. We share grass beds as she lies next to Claire and I. She stands quietly waiting for saddle and packs with a morning feed bag of oats and salt. She walks easily, looks around with interest and truly shows affection for both Claire and I with soft knickers and her desire to stand close to us. Perhaps I do know why I chose this horse. Because I knew without a doubt what I saw in this animal’s eyes was willingness. That is why I said, “OK, let’s try.”

Long Rider, Bernice Ende
Lake Park, Iowa

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Bernice talks about her Thoroughbred, Honor, Part II

The second week at the stable, she ran off through the barn and jumped over a little Ford tractor standing parked in the door way -- cuts and scrapes. How she came through with only that, I’ll never understand. Only with a lip chain was I able to clean her up and keep those wounds clean three times a day. What was good, however, from the situation -- if there is one -- is it gave me another opportunity to step even closer to her -- she had to trust me again and gain. Two weeks later I no longer needed the lip chain and the wounds were healing well. I set up a training schedule that went something like this: morning feed and brushing, ground work, leading, longing, saddling on and off, voice commands, plastic bags and scary obstacles. The morning would end with a massage and feeding.

In the afternoon, I took her for walks with my little pony (his name is “Little Pony”). We learned about hobbles, packs and being tied up and left alone.

The third week, I’d begun to ride her. Now something I rarely mentioned to anyone was her back. First the rain rot all along her shoulder, back and hips made her very sensitive to touch -- I could do a deep massage along her back and she’d sink to her knees. “Whoa!” most would think and so did I! But as I massaged more and more her back became less and less sensitive, so I just kept on rubbing oils onto her and she got better about her back. So I lay across her back before saddling her just to see what she’d do -- I took a milk crate and stood on it so I could just lie across her. Much to my surprise, she sunk like a wet noodle. I have never seen a horse bend their back like she did. I thought “Oh now what, my horse is a cripple.” Anyone would have called a vet in and had her x-rayed, etc. But I knew -- I just knew -- that

  1. this horse had probably never had a person on her bareback,
  2. the rain rot was a factor and
  3. she moved too fluidly to have back problems.

So I kept going. When I used a saddle, there were no problems and no sign of weakness. Yet when I mounted bareback, I thought her belly would touch the
ground! So I started laying across her and I’d slap her belly with my right hand to encourage her to stand up straight (she was tied while I did this). How much weight does a racehorse carry in its racehorse world (60-80 pounds, maybe 100 pounds?) They only pick up the left lead; a right lead would be severely discouraged. They are trained to run in to the pressure of the bit, not yield to it. And one can only imagine what it must do to their psyche…the noise, the ringing bells, the loud speakers, the adrenaline rushes and the feed they are wired up on to run.

Today we crossed Interstate 90 heading south nearing Iowa. There are semis, heavy equipment on trailers, pickups and cars racing by us. The over pass is wide, but still a semi is a semi. She walked bravely, quietly even when in the middle of the over pass, semis were now racing under her, out of eyesight, making the earth shake beneath us. I am proud of her! It has been such a long haul with her and even as I reflect back to those early days with her -- the afternoons of dressage training, then an hour of climbing, then maybe road work and then maybe just let loose to run and stretch. It all seems so long ago. Yet many problems remain. She still paws, although it is better. She still gets oh so crazy when in heat and if any one of you out there can give me a “try this,” I am always willing to listen to something new. I consequently keep her from other horses. When I stop to ask for water or a place to camp, I choose homes without horses. If I stay at a fairground, I do it during the middle of the week. I believe she needs to unlearn her instincts and I believe it can be done -- a long process and much time to reverse old habits -- like us all. But I believe also I must approach this differently as I have a very unique situation with this horse. We are together 24/7. Her training continues everyday. She is now, I say with confidence, road safe, town and city safe. Four-wheelers, motorcycles, bicycles, llamas, pack of dogs, plastic bags waving on barbwire fences. We have ridden into pig farms smelling so strongly I wondered what other horse would do this. We pass turkey and chicken barns. Yesterday we rode in to the town of Windom, along a very busy highway, and once had to ride past a noisy, foul smelling meat packing plant. I thought what must this horse smell? Yet she handled it with the ease of a well-seasoned, long-distance, cross-country horse. We made our way through town to the fairground where although no horses were in sight, she could smell them and she
threw a fit in the stall. Had it lasted much longer, I’d have put hobbles on her. But these little tantrums last less and less. I don’t leave her sight, nor does Claire, until she has settled down.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Bernice talks about her Thoroughbred, Honor Part I

We received a letter from Bernice last week in which she describes her experiences with her horse, Honor, thus far in the journey. For those of you who regularly follow Bernice, some of the information her may not be new, although she does expand on her earlier information.

August 25, 2006

I will be the first to admit my dear Honor is one of the most unsuitable horses to have purchased for a long ride! She is finicky, a “Miss Princess”, a high-strung Thoroughbred of Native Dancer lineage. She is hard to keep weight on, has a heat cycle that taker her to near unmanageability and is a challenge for me everyday. I sit here looking at her with a fly mask on and mosquito netting wrapped around her, picketed by a front leg, calmly eating thick, thick Minnesota grass, having now traveled with her nearly 1500 miles, I smile and am so very proud of her.

When Honor first came into my life, when we first laid eyes on one another, when I first ran my hands down her back, along her legs, as I listened to her breathing, she was a sorry sight to behold. To be perfectly honest, I do not have any idea why the first horse I looked at and the first ad in the paper I respond to, I have to go and say “yes, I’ll take her.” Perhaps it was just her poor condition that would not let me walk away from her…rain rot on her legs and back, worms, lice, terribly thin, standing there nervous, cold in the pouring down rain and ankle deep mud. Honor, I have come to learn, hates the rain on her back. Some horses seem to mind it not at all. She gets fussy, huddles down and is most uncomfortable.

I like to think of myself as a competent horsewoman. I take pride in my skills and seek always to improve my skills and relationship with the horse. But nothing, no horse has ever posed more of a challenge.

The background information I do have on Honor is like this. She raced as a 4-5 year old -- lost, lost, lost -- was sold to a good farm as many are, sold to another good farm, got passed around (the last being “She’s too aggressive around the other horses. We can’t keep her.”). A horse trader in Washington had picked her up for a nickel or dime, put a little -- very little -- time on her and “turned her around.”

So what did I know about Thoroughbreds, let alone Thoroughbreds off the track? How did I know the problems that would come with a horse that has been trained to pump up, pump up and spring like a loaded sling shot? She has no ground manners. She still has a hard time standing still when she’s nervous. She paws until I put hobbles on to make her stand. When she’s in heat, she can throw a tizzy around other horses.

The first night in the stall where I’d brought her to begin training she rocked back and forth, back and forth, then circled round and round, repeating this over and over until hunger got the best of her. She could not stand to be brushed, nor wanted her legs handled. She wouldn’t eat and acted like she was in heat -- always.

So the first step, of course, was to address health issues. This was the 1st of February and I had 3 months to not only resurrect this horse, but get her trained for a long ride. So I moved into the stable! I knew I’d need to work with her all day. She needed to hear my voice at night, she needed handling and lots and lots of contact. I did an extensive worming program that I carried out over a 2 month period. I brought in good orchard grass hay. Her feed was mixture of corn, oats, flax seed, sunflower seeds, wheat germ oil, sea salt, vitamins, carrots and apples. I don’t think Honor has ever been abused. She doesn’t behave like a horse that has been beaten, but rather like a horse that’s never been disciplined.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Attaching a Rifle Scabbard, Bow Scabbard or Camp Tool Scabbard to your Saddle

There isn't just one right way to attach a gun scabbard to your saddle. I have seen rifle scabbards slung on horses many different ways. Just watch a few old John Wayne movies and you will see leather rifle scabbards on the (near) left side of the horse and on the off (right) side, stock forward and stock facing toward the rear. Whichever way you choose, the most important thing is that it works for you.

Rifle Scabbards and Shotgun Scabbards
I personally hang my rifle scabbard on the off-side of the horse. The butt is toward the front at about horn height and the rifle barrel angled slightly toward the back. Here's why:
  • The barrel of the rifle extends under my stirrup leather and I never know it's there.
  • This keeps the weight on the front quarters of the horse where he can carry it best.
  • I hang my rifle scabbard on the off-side of my horse so that on the off chance I should spot game while in the saddle, I can pull my rifle out before I dismount.

Also, if you hang the gun scabbard on the near side of the horse, it adds that much more weight to tip the saddle when mounting. Hanging the gun scabbard on the off-side can help offset your weight when mounting.

If you use an open-ended leather or nylon rifle scabbard and hang it with the butt toward the rear, be aware that your rifle could end up missing. I have heard many stories where folks have found their rifle way back on the trail (or not at all) because they never knew it had been snagged on a branch and yanked out of the gun scabbard.

In terms of actual attachment, most rifle scabbards have two sets of straps. I loop the strap by the butt of the rifle through the gullet of my saddle. I attach the lower strap to my flank cinch dee ring. If you want to attach your rifle scabbard with the butt toward the rear, attach the upper strap to any available dee ring on the back of your saddle. Or, if you don’t have rings, tie the scabbard on by running your saddle strings through the strap on the scabbard. Then attach the lower strap to the front rigging ring. These are just suggestions. Most scabbards will have straps long enough to offer you many options of attachment to position your rifle scabbard where you want it.

Bow Scabbards
When hanging a bow scabbard on my saddle, I secure it to the rear of the saddle behind the cantle and angle it slightly forward so that my bow is facing toward the rear with the quiver to the outside. I prefer this attachment so that my horse is free to turn tightly to the right without being hindered by the bow. And once again, the weight of the bow and bow scabbard are on the opposite side from me when I mount the horse, helping to offset my weight as I mount and dismount.

I use my saddle strings in the rear to tie the bow scabbard on through the upper straps. My wife’s saddle has rings on the back, so she loops the straps through these rings. I attach the lower straps to my front rigging ring.

Pack Saws and Camp Axes
I prefer to attach my saw scabbard with the saw handle tied to the back strings and the blade coming just under my leg. I usually pack my camp axe on my pack mule to the outside of a mantied load, but you can certainly attach it to your saddle if you prefer an axe. An axe sheath is designed with rings to tie your saddle strings to. This hangs the axe at an angle where it is easy to secure the handle out of your way. And, as always, I prefer to hang my pack saw on the off side of the horse.

Balance the Load
Wherever you decide to hang your rifle scabbard, bow scabbard or pack saw scabbard on your saddle, it is important to balance the weight loaded on your horse. Since you have just added weight to one side of the saddle, be sure to offset it by adding as much weight to the other side. You can do this by packing heavier items in the horn bags or horse saddlebags on the opposite side from your scabbard. Be sure to weigh your scabbard so you know how much extra weight it adds to better offset it. Remember that horses carry weight best over their withers, so the more weight you can get up front, the better.