Category Horse Girl

The British Museum part deux

We had but a scant half day in London before we had to catch the Eurostar to Paris, and we elected to spend it at the British Museum, mostly browsing the Sir Joseph Hotung Gallery of China and Southeast Asia. The last time I visited, security did a very cursory glance into my purse. This time, the guard very nearly unpacked the whole of my backpack; if you haven’t had the joy of having a stranger paw through your clean and dirty underwear on a table in front of spectators, just know that it’s a really special experience.

This is a Native American saddle pad design from the mid to late 1800s; with it, their horses had much greater endurance, able to travel twenty miles more per day owing to the relief of direct contact on the spine from bareback riding, while still allowing for close contact between leg and flank. Cree, Ojibwa, Plains Peoples.

Mosaic mask of Tezcatlopoca: Human skull mask inset with turquoise, iron pyrite, white conch, and thorny oyster. Aztec, believed to have been worn for ritualistic purposes. Extremely dilated from the optometrist.

Double-headed serpent turquoise mosaic: turquoise, hematite, and shells inlaid into cedar.         Aztec, 15-16th century.

My face whenever I hear something juicy; jade, Tang dynasty AD 600-1000

This jade horse sculpture was HUGE compared to most of the other jade in the exhibit. An absolute unit.

Number three is a silver bong, pissing off parents in China since the 1800s when they find one in their kids’ sock drawer.

Jade, marble, and ormulu (an alloy of metals, gold-colored, often gilded) base for a hookah pipe, London, 1700.

My mind boggles when I think about how many uppercuts this guy could do all at once.

The mother of pearl inlay is just stunning. This platter is alive with iridescence.

Ceramic pillow, China, Jin dynasty (AD 265–420). The inscription reads “The wind rustles flowers under a snow white moon.” There are many of these uncomfortable looking pillows in existence, some plainer and some far more elaborate, but no one really knows for certain their purpose. Because they were a woman’s possession, it’s believed they were a reminder to women of their matrimonial duties. “It’s hard and uncomfortable–like your life! Now start rustling your flowers.”

Ravi Shankar’s sitar. Gourds, teak, bone.

Ladies and gentlemen: the world’s most fabulous crocodile.

Tsam-Tanz boots, Tibetan. 

Conch shell trumpet, used in Tibet and China in Buddhist temples to call monks to prayer. 1700-1899. I know in my soul that this one in particular summons an oceanic dragon when it’s sounded but they keep it behind glass because the dragon makes a mess.

Ritual dagger or kīla, 1800s, used in Nepal for religious and magical purposes. They derive their power from their connection to the deity represented on the handle.  Not traditionally used for stabbing, but there is no classier way to be stabbed than with this baby.

If this is your ladle, your soup had better be damn good.

So many pieces in this wing referenced human dominance over animals, most often with their foot planted on its back or head. I liked this reversal of fortunes.

All too soon, it was time to make our way to St. Pancras. Years of mostly traveling in US airports has conditioned me to expect security lines to be long and painful, but this one was breezy and involved no tumbling of my underwear into public view so it was a vast step up from the morning. The train ride itself was uneventful but my chill kind of evaporated in Gare du Nord where I officially became the sole sort-of French speaker between the two of us and did not feel all that confident about it, despite the Duolingo owl stalking me day and night to practice for a year and a half. No doubt part of my insecurity lay with the fact that I’d never spoken French with another person, only into a microphone at my computer, and I suspected that in my efforts to pronounce words properly, I sounded more like someone putting on a bad French accent than a regular everyday French speaker.

The train systems in Paris and further into France are complicated enough that I wanted to handle as much as I could in advance, figuring out exactly what trains we needed to take, where to board, and booking tickets in advance if I could.  It’s not a trip planning method that leaves a ton of room for spontaneity but when it comes to transportation, I’d rather have a plan than feel like a free spirit.  I’d booked our first night at the Hotel Eiffel Seine, not due to its visibility of the Eiffel Tower* OR the Seine but due to its proximity to the RER-C train which we’d be taking to Versailles early the following morning. I knew what trains to take and where to transfer to get from Gare du Nord to Champ de Mars – Tour Eiffel…on paper. Gare du Nord in person was sensory overload, huge and loud with so many trains and a sea of fast, purposefully moving people and an unforgiving subway ticketing system that only vaguely indicates what you’re buying and if you make a mistake, you need to start the purchase process completely over which isn’t frustrating at all. After I finally figured out the machine I was at was broken, I waited in line for another one, had to start and restart my purchase three times but finally had subway tickets. Finding the correct train was another struggle but once that was figured out…boom, there’s the Eiffel Tower.

We made our way to the hotel and the moment came: I was going to have to speak French. As I opened my mouth, I realized I didn’t know the words for “reservation” or “check in” and it was just like when I got into my first car accident: I was blinded by the morning sun in the direction that I needed to turn, I couldn’t see if a car was coming, there was pressure behind me from other cars in the neighborhood and so I decided to just go for it, pulling out in front of a white van perfectly camouflaged by the sun, totalling both vehicles. “I’ll never drive again,” I cried on the phone to my father. “You’re driving again TODAY.” he replied.  So here I am, in the lobby of this hotel, I know I’ve got to say something, but I don’t know the right words, and pressure real or imagined made me decide to just go for it, so I opened my mouth and a car crash in French with my name came out. The receptionist replied immediately in English. I felt simultaneously better about my chances of surviving the week and disappointed in the Duolingo owl for preparing me to inform someone that a bear has pants but not this. Still, I wasn’t going to let this stop me from continuing to attempt to conduct business in French; I didn’t want to assume everyone speaks English and I also felt as though it would be rude to not at least try to communicate in the language of the land. And also because I didn’t spend a year and a half mangling a language into a microphone to get shy about mangling it now.

Our room was oriented to get a peep at the Seine but somehow we still ended up with a view of the Eiffel Tower(s).

After we checked in, we dumped our bags and walked to get a closer view of the Eiffel before it began its hourly disco party. I don’t know if we could have gotten closer to the tower than we did, but not far up the block from us were soldiers carrying what appeared to be automatic rifles and my reaction was to find some pressing business in the opposite direction. I know that they are a continuing presence on the streets of France ever since the the January 2015 Île-de-France attacks but generally I don’t see a person with a huge gun and think “Hurrah! My personal safety level has increased!” No, I’m more invested in the idea of not having to try to explain myself in French to someone with a huge gun who wants to know why I’m trespassing after visiting hours. 

BURGER PIZZA

We spent the drizzly evening walking around, taking in the sights and trying to figure out where we wanted to eat. Neither one of us was really in the mood for a full restaurant meal so we went to Poilâne where I conducted a transaction for bread in French pretty easily (hurrah!) and they gave us each a small, buttery cookie. Afterward, we walked to Franprix and bought some cheese and fruit and other goodies and had a hotel room picnic.

 

 

 

*It is my understanding that the Eiffel Tower is visible from any part of Paris which is why any movie or TV show that cuts to Paris always has the Eiffel Tower in the shot. Look at how many times it appeared in this post alone!

An Introduction to Mounted Archery

Even before I bought Navani, I knew that I wanted to get into playing mounted games, and having had some practice at and aptitude for archery, it felt like an ideal place to start. I signed up for a two day intensive clinic with Heart Horse Industries in southern Washington, and resolved to become a good enough rider by the time it rolled around. 

June came so, so fast. In the intervening 8 month period between signing up for the clinic and driving to the clinic, I had come to learn that owning a horse and riding your horse are two distinct hobbies. I also fell off Navani in late December (my first fall since returning to riding) which did a number on my body and my confidence. It was hard to practice riding when I felt anxious about falling and hurting myself again and being anxious on the back of a horse is essentially asking to fall or be tossed off, as they are a half ton of empathetic nerve endings waiting to fire. A horse takes its cues from its rider, and if you’re afraid, they will also be afraid, and if they’re afraid, you’re going to have a bad ride which isn’t going to help your confidence any. It’s a feedback loop of fear and inadequacy*. So I’ve had to do a lot of mental and emotional work since then to deal with my anxiety and build my bond with Navani to help me get my confidence back. Unfortunately, that meant that I hadn’t made nearly as much riding progress as I had anticipated, and I was concerned that I wouldn’t even be allowed to take part in the riding portion of the clinic when my inexperience came to light. As there was nothing I could do about that, I determined my best course of action was to go in as confident as possible, and to that end, I borrowed the mare on which I’d learned to ride and rode her easy trot hands-free up and down the arena, turning my torso left and right and pantomiming drawing a bow. It must have helped, because I had a couple of good rides on Navani after that, and managed to stay aboard when she was startled on our most recent ride by that noted danger to horses and public menace, a butterfly.

It’s a three hour drive from my neighborhood to Brush Prairie, give or take, and so I elected to spend the weekend in nearby Vancouver at an Airbnb in the Hough neighborhood in order to be fresh for class and fresh for the drive both ways. The drive from my accommodations to the clinic wound past all manner of homes–mansions with great lawns situated across the road from run down trailer parks surrounded by debris. Several homes in a row had signs advertising the potency of their CBD oil (“with 0% THC!”), one behind a chainlink fence with a pointy Doberman stalking the yard. Almost everywhere had horses grazing nearby.

Our group of learners was small: four women. We took some time to discuss our riding and archery backgrounds and how we came to be interested in this fusion of two highly specialized sports, and it all essentially boiled down to wanting to be horseback riding warrior women, to claim power and space for ourselves. “I’m just tired of women being diminished,” said the woman seated next to me, and that is how I came to know and admire Kim, because I feel very inch of that sentiment. My other classmates were Kristi and Magalyn, two fierce women whom I also came to admire over the course of the weekend.

Introductions made, we were each issued a hip quiver, the side effects of which include at least 50% additional swagger in one’s step, and a heightened sense of both competence and coolness. We were introduced to the principles of loading, drawing, pulling, and releasing on the bows, and I learned that the technique is very different from the recurve three-finger archery I learned at Next Step Archery. In mounted archery, the arrow goes to the outside of the bow, you twist your draw arm to stabilize the arrow, you thumb release, and the arrow rides over the thumb of the bow hand. I also learned firsthand that you can crack your arm with the bow string if you hyper-extend the elbow in either form of the discipline. 

After we learned the basics, we started playing shooting games, like walking at a consistent pace on a track around a beam on the ground, loading your arrows without looking at them (because your eyes should always be seeking targets), and shooting at the targets as you walk by. We also practiced shooting at moving targets (rounds of duct-taped sound board rolled across the arena). After we broke for lunch, it was time to mount up. Magalyn and Kristi rode Ronan and Columbia, both Lipizzaners, and Kim and I rode Tuffy and Tommy, both American Quarter Horses. Our position in the lineup also reflects our horse’s status within the herd: nobody likes Tommy. Maybe, and I’m just spitballing here, it’s because Tommy is kind of an old curmudgeonly jerk, and I mean that in the most loving way possible. When we would wait in lineups, Tommy would constantly be trying to fidget with Tuffy, rubbing his face on Tuffy’s hindquarters, wanting to just groom and be in Tuffy’s space. On our way into the outdoor track, Tommy tried to take a bite out of Columbia’s butt, and on the second day when Ronan was watching from the sidelines, he made it clear that he would love nothing more than to take a chunk out of Tommy. Tommy was also the only horse who necessitated the wearing and use of spurs, something I have never worn or done before. With those spurs jingling on the back of my boots and the hip quiver combined, my swagger became almost unbearable, because every time I walked, I felt like I was off for a showdown at the O.K. corral. 

Tommy knew I was bluffing, however. He could feel my reticence to use those spurs and took full advantage of it, attempting to cut through the track and crack my knee into walls and other objects and this continued until I finally did bump him with the spurs on the second day, because I had tried and tried and tried to ask him with a strong leg and no spur and treat him like a fragile egg and he told me again and again that he wouldn’t unless I got more assertive.

I also had some struggles with the saddle on the first day–the stirrups had been adjusted as short as they could go, and still my left foot kept sliding out which makes it difficult to impossible to be in the 2-point position, where you’re standing in the stirrups, because with one foot out, it’s more of a wobbly 1-point-I’m-gonna-fall-off-this-horse-in-front-of-everyone-and-either-I’ll-die-or-I’ll-wish-I-had position. I’m sure it was also challenging for me because I’ve not yet learned to post the trot, which is the thing that I think marks me most as a very beginner rider. Posting involves rising from a seated position into a 2-point and settling back down in time with the horse’s gait to compensate for the bounciness of the trot. Going from not having that piece of the puzzle at all to having to learn to do it in front of an audience while clapping my hands overhead and/or juggling a heavy ball hand to hand, combined with my need to be immediately good at something despite never having done it before was almost too much for me. It was one of those times where I manufactured pressure for myself, and that self-generated pressure was making it harder for me to be successful. Another negative feedback loop. Thankfully I recognized it and self-corrected. 

At the end of day one, I was exhausted from four hours of drawing a 25lb bow and three hours of riding with strong leg cues while also drawing a 25lb bow. Exhausted. It was 5pm, and I drove back to my Airbnb, walked to the nearby Vancouver Pizza Co where I guzzled ice water on their patio and devoured half of a calzone stuffed with mozzarella, spicy Italian sausage, goat cheese, and cashews, served with a creamy garlic sauce, and I maintain that this meal had just barely enough fat and protein in it to keep me alive as all I’d eaten that day was a croissant. The other half of the calzone I saved for my lunch on day two, and I decided that a successful day of riding a horse I didn’t know hands-free while juggling a ball at a trot deserved some ice cream, so I walked down the street to Ice Cream Renaissance. It was a hot day and they were jammin’. I ordered a scoop of lemon raspberry cheesecake in a waffle cone and brought it outside to enjoy, but ultimately ended up discarding it after two bites, the second bite to confirm that it was oddly gritty-icy-crumbly and not worth the effort it would take to eat it. That is how tired I was. After binning the ice cream, I walked back to my Airbnb, took a cool shower, and immediately went to bed. 

I was surprisingly not sore when I awoke the following morning. Not very sore, anyway. Aside from the sunburn I’d gotten and the hand-sized bruise blooming on my forearm, I mean. 

We started off the morning again with stretches and a series of archery games and exercises, my favorites being launching arrows 50 meters downfield at a Hungarian target which required you to use every inch of draw, and a supremely fun game called “Battle Bows” wherein two people stand inside of a hula hoop across from one another at a distance, you’re armed with arrows with big soft foam heads, and you shoot at one another’s knees.  You can’t leave the hoop but you are otherwise allowed to dodge. If you strike your opponent, you win. If they catch your arrow out of the air, you lose. If they touch the arrow but fail to catch it, you win. Any arrow that lands within reach of the hoop can be reused. This game ramps up your adrenaline in a major way and really forces you to keep your eyes on target–you can’t risk looking at your arrow to nock it, because that lapse in attention could make you an easier target for your opponent. I struck two hits on Kim and managed to escape Battle Bows unscathed…this time.

Magalyn departed at lunch to attend a Portland Thorns FC game, and the rest of us were put into a friendly competition with one another. Of course, all it takes is the word “competition” for me to get in my head and start biffing things, and the teacher, Lisa, came over and spoke with us about her technique of dealing with pressure by treating it as a wave: something that can pass over you and beyond instead of carrying you away. Breathe, allow it to pass, and move on. She also encouraged me to engage with more intensity, ferocity, aggression and that’s an entirely different way of being for me but it feels freeing. We had several rounds of competitive shooting on the ground, and then we mounted up. As Magalyn was gone, I got to use her saddle instead, and found it much easier to sit properly and keep my feet seated in the stirrups.

We did a couple of laps around the outdoor track shooting at a walk, then we practiced shooting at the trot (a first for everyone), and finally we had a few rounds of free-for-all shooting at myriad targets including styrofoam heads and a half buried small green target worth fifty points. You could shoot at any target you liked, but the points only counted if you were trotting. You could enter the track with your first arrow loaded, and it was wise to do so as that fifty pointer was on the first stretch and you don’t want to be fumbling with an arrow instead of drawing on it. Immediately after the entrance was a larger yellow twenty-five pointer, and I committed to shooting at them both on every lap. This meant that the arrow I had loaded upon entering the track was dedicated to the twenty five point target, and I had about a third of the track to draw, load, aim, and fire on the fifty pointer, at a trot. I didn’t hit either one of them on any of my attempts, but my misses were close, and hearing Lisa compliment my gutsiness for going for those targets was all the reward I needed. Plus I nailed a couple of bullseyes off of the back of a moving horse when just a day earlier I wasn’t sure I was ready for that kind of riding.  Kristi brought home the championship golden arrow keychain, and I brought home a confidence boost to end all confidence boosts.


 

 

 

*Feedback Loop of Fear and Inadequacy would make an excellent title for my memoirs.

The Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, Wisconsin

My hometown has one of the best Renaissance faires in the country, and I was so excited when Dee suggested going there for one of the days Dianne and I were going to be in town. YES. YES. It’s so great. I remembered it being really good but it had been fifteen years since my last visit and many of the details had faded, no doubt dulled in my mind and muddled by my feelings that nothing that great had ever come from my hometown*, myself included. I had even blogged about my 2004 visit but that post got ‘lost’ in a digital purge because pretty much nothing about how I portrayed myself from that era of my life was a good look for me or anyone around me. Regardless, the Bristol Renaissance Faire is not merely really good, it’s great.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. After we parked in one of the fields that serves as their lot, I strapped on my (mandatory) jingly bellydancer’s coin sash to jangle my way around medieval-adjacent times. Not only does wearing one make me feel like I’m throwing a parade for my ass,  it also makes me a lot easier to find in a crowd, as without it I can just disappear, like any short person. It’s one of our powers. Stringing myself with noisy metallic coins that crashed about at the slightest movement was really the only responsible thing to do, so as to aid the people who didn’t know me well to be able to track me and simultaneously deny they know me if I start to sound too much like Santa Claus at a bell convention.

As the renaissance faire exists so that we might feast like kings, shop like lords, and befoul ourselves like…most everyone, we immediately set to feasting upon entry. Dianne and I got some some surprisingly good iced coffee (“surprisingly good”, my Seattle is showing) and Dee beelined directly to these amazing deep fried cheese fritters which she shared and I gladly partook. They were crispy, dark brown, stuffed with gooey monterey jack, and came with honey mustard and barbeque sauce for dipping on the side. You go to Wisconsin, you eat fried cheese. It’s what you do. Fried cheese is the Eiffel Tower of America’s Dairyland. 

There wasn’t any cheese eating on at least one of my previous Bristol faire visits with my family.  I was about twelve or thirteen, and my mom had us all on the cabbage soup diet.  If your family never participated in group disordered eating, the cabbage soup diet is basically a week of starving yourself with as much bland, horrible cabbage soup as you care to eat with extremely rigid rules about supplementary eating. Day two is the hardest day, when your food for the day is cabbage soup, raw or cooked vegetables, plain, with an emphasis on leafy greens, and, in the evening, one medium baked potato with a tablespoon of butter or oil. That sad potato was the high point of the day, the rest of it being spent alternatively peeing gallons from all of the extremely low calorie soup you’re eating, trying to generate enough saliva to swallow dry leafy greens, and wishing you could eat something that would actually stop the gnaw in your stomach so you could forget you were on a diet for even five minutes. And of course it’s all for nothing because you’re mostly just shifting water around and the weight you lost comes right back on when you start eating normally again.

This is the diet the whole family is in the trenches of in the middle of this renaissance faire. Everyone was hungry and crabby, and our misery was compounded by all of the awesome smells wafting on the wind, reminding us of all the things we couldn’t have. It was day four: banana day, the day that with your soup, you can eat unlimited bananas and drink unlimited skim milk, both of which were verboten every other day. That morning post-soup banana was almost heady, intoxicating, after days of it literally being forbidden fruit, but it couldn’t hold a candle to funnel cake. I don’t remember precisely how it went down, but I remember my younger brother and I inhaling funnel cake while my parents made disappointed noises about not finishing the things we start and willpower, like the cabbage soup diet was something we wanted to do instead of something in which we had no choice but to participate, like somehow any one of us was going to peel off enough weight over the course of this week to make a difference, to make this utter misery worthwhile, to ruin an otherwise grand day out. We went home shortly thereafter, missing the final joust that I’d very much wanted to see. My parents were too hungry to stay any longer.

Also absent from that trip with my parents was any activity that cost an additional fee above and beyond the cost of admission, because it was understood in my household that those things were for suckers and no self-respecting person would spend money on them. As a person who lacks self respect and understands that additional fees tend to be opportunities to try something novel, I jingled straight up to the first knife throwing booth I saw, even if it was luring me down the path of financial ruin, five dollars at a time. Those of us participating were given a basic rundown on how to fling a knife with deadly force and accuracy and then we were set loose. We didn’t get to choose our targets; mine was an innocent merperson. I fired a good seven warning shots and never delivered a killing blow but I did manage to stick a knife to the target which was significantly better than I did axe throwing at the 2018 Washington Midsummer Renaissance Faire when I accidentally hurled an axe into a field.

I’ve spent more than a little time thinking about the three-legged roving crotch target in the middle, what it could represent, and ultimately decided that when rotated and viewed from another angle, it probably looked like this** (not NSFW but at first glance it could register as somewhat obscene, but what did you expect from a crotch monster?) keeping with the mostly water creature vibe they had going on.

Sassafras, one of many beverages I genuinely enjoy for about three sips.

This instrument is a hurdy gurdy and I want one.

We made sure to get decent seats for the joust, which made us a captive audience for a variety of vendors. The first was the flag seller, a foppish red leather crown on his head, his deeply low cut medieval toppe baring his chest, which also glistened red in the sun. He beseeched us for five dollars for a flag to support the knight of our section, Sir Maxmillian, by telling us that the funds raised would go toward the feed and care of the horses, and that after the show, Six Maxx would autograph them. And another five dollars I crept toward financial ruin.

After him came the meat wench, a box of three flavors of beef jerky strapped to her waist as she walked through the crowd bellowing “MEAT.” “MEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT.”

After her came the pretezel vendor, bearing a wooden pole, crossbraces strung with salted pretzels, and a satchel filled with individual portions of liquid cheese for dipping (Wisconsin), and after her, the flower crown vendor with a similar setup minus the cheese (I think), and in the distance “ᴹᴱᴱᴱᴱᴬᴬᵀ“.

The joust was full of pageantry and fanfare and feats of athleticism and at least two very cool people seated directly behind me who made certain to audibly mock me every single time I led our section in cheering for our knight. And the real kicker is, why am I the one who feels shame when I was contributing positively for the enjoyment of all, including the turd golems behind me and all those guys contributed to was my desire to turn clear and just skulk about for the rest of my days cosplaying as a ghost? But I’m the one that’s gonna go read a self help book about it while those walking chaw stains are just gonna continue to inflict themselves on people by existing. Regardless, our team’s knight won and I didn’t stop cheering him despite knowing I was going to get jeered and that seems like two kinds of victories.

After the joust, we did wait in line to meet Sir Maxmillian. I told him that I wanted to get into his line of work (true!) and about the horse I was potentially looking at to buy. (Dragon at the time.) He gave me a business card and told me to drop him a line, which I have yet to do but have a feeling I’ll get around to soon. The stick for the flag that he signed was too long to fit in my carry on, so I got to cheer him with my flag waving all through the airport.

Goddamn we looked sultry in this swamp. I’m not dripping buckets of sweat, MY SKIN IS DEWY.

 

On our way out, we stopped to see part of a fire-whip-cracking show that looked quite promising–there was actually a lot on their entertainment schedule that I didn’t get an opportunity to see. The only thing for it is to come back! And no one had better be on a diet. 

 

 

 

 

 

*And then I looked it up and it turns out all these very cool people came from my hometown, like Orson Welles, Mark Ruffalo, and both the inventors of the answering machine AND the QWERTY keyboard! And a whole bunch more but you could just look at the Wikipedia page yourself.

**You have no idea how much I regret attempting to draw in those insect mandibles. No idea.

2018 in Horses

It was about a year ago that I dove back into the horse world. I started learning with my friend Marita’s horse Poppy in late October 2017, and it really helped me deal with some of the grief I was feeling over the loss of Napoleon. Even though I don’t really think Poppy liked me all that much (good lord that horse tried to bite me so many times, for offenses including “attempted to brush my dirty belly”, “made me walk somewhere”,  and “stood within range”), working with her gave me something I didn’t know I was missing. Something more than just being around horses and smelling their horsey smell, it was being outside and having to move and work my body in order to properly work the horse…it has tethered me to the physical world in a way that I needed, pulling me out of my own head where I tend to otherwise live. 

Poppy

Still, by the time Poppy moved to her new home in February, she had threatened to bite me enough times that I’d started to become a little afraid of horses, which is something Marita noticed when Poppy turned her head toward me curiously one day and I damn near jumped to the moon, expecting bared teeth approaching my person. It was then that Marita decided that I should start working with Africa, a half-blind Arabian mare being stabled at the same barn. Fresh off the Poppy fear and nervous about Africa’s blindness and what it might mean for her predictability, it didn’t help matters at all that Africa was extremely herd bound and so when I led her away from the other horses into her stall, she backed me into a corner and started screaming at full volume. I didn’t know that she was just upset about wanting to be with the other horses and was pretty convinced that she was going to rear up and knock my head off in the stall that day…and yet I STILL kept coming back to the barn so clearly, afraid or not, I had the bug. 

Africa

Over time, Africa and I became really good pals. At first she’d call and call and call for the other horses after I’d catch her and bring her in, careless if whether she was yelling at full volume directly into my ear (she was). After  a while and a number of disapproving looks, she settled on a hilarious compromise where she’d decide she wanted to yell, would look at me first, open her mouth wide and then issue this tiny whispery ⁿᵉᶦᵍʰ that no one heard or responded to. The best days were when she wouldn’t call for other horses at all, content to be with me and do whatever.  And we did a lot! I started learning to ride properly on her, I gave her her first all-over bath (her coat got this amazing metallic sheen), and we got to know one another through some games and liberty work. But I was getting a little anxious for more–Africa is not my horse, and I was not allowed to handle her when Marita was not present. That’s perfectly reasonable but I was itching to get some unsupervised/more horse time, and that’s when I started looking at leasing a horse.

Tiede Z, a Friesian gelding I looked at leasing 

…I stopped looking at leasing a horse shortly thereafter, because nothing felt like a good match, training philosophy wise or riding style or personality. Likewise with a co-op barn where people pay a monthly fee and get to hang out and work with their horses–I tracked them down, filled out an application, went for a three hour tour, and ultimately didn’t sign up because it still wasn’t what I wanted. None of these places or people or horses were bad, it was still just another situation where I would get to be with a horse but it wouldn’t be my horse. 

In the meanwhile, I had struck a deal with Africa’s owner–that I could take Africa off property on trail rides so long as I was accompanied by the barn owner, and the barn owner would haul us off to those trails if I helped her bring in and feed the horses once a week. You mean I get to pay for something I love with something else I love? SIGN. ME. UP. I got to go on a lot of fun trail rides this summer, and I got to pay for those rides by leveling up my horse handling skills, learning to lead two at a time through gates, deal with rearers and rope biters and one gal who was so tall I had to stand on my tippy toes to get her halter on (while she snapped at the rope). Unfortunately, the barn owner broke her ankle in the most horse person way possible, by falling down a few stairs while looking at a picture of a horse, and that was the end of our trail riding. I had already been doing some horse shopping, but this got me looking in earnest, because while I enjoyed my lessons in the arena, I had gotten a taste of the outdoors on horseback and I was loathe to give it up.

But when I started horse shopping, I was very picky because I wanted a fancy horse, a dream horse (and brother, I’ve had a lot of years in which to dream about this horse), on a medium-to-low fancy budget. A discount dream horse, because a dream horse requires a dream house modest apartment reasonable stall and dream tack and a dreamy vitamin intake and a dreamy massage regiment plus a pedicure every six weeks and no wonder my parents told me Santa had a prohibition against live animals on his sleigh!

If I’m going to be completely honest, while I was open to a lot of breeds and coats–I was looking at Halflingers and Fjord Horses and native ponies, what I wanted was a Friesian or a Friesian-Andalusian/Warlander. I adore the Friesian breed, especially the heavier, more baroque build. They’re almost always black, they have big, thick fairytale manes and tails, heavy graceful necks, a gorgeous floating trot and they’re known for their sweet puppydog in-your-pocket personalities. The whole package. Combined with the Andalusian, the horses tend to be that more baroque build, with beautiful movement and strong bone. A destrier-type, nimble and strong. But unless I won one or Santa changed his rules about live animals, my chances of owning a thirty to seventy five thousand dollar horse seem about as likely as my chances of being struck by lighting while riding the loch ness monster.

Free horses aside, although my heart would flutter for all those gorgeous Friesians for sale I’d see online, they tended to all be bred to be taller animals, maturing above 16h. This means that the top of their shoulder is 5’3″ from the ground. I’m 5’2″(barely, at the top of my head, not at the shoulder) and while I have the use of a mounting block when I first get on if I’m at the barn, if I have to get off at any point during a trail ride, getting back on can be a big issue. Plus, as a short person, I have short legs, and as such, my stirrups are short and thus hang higher above the ground. I don’t honestly know if I could ever be fit enough to be able to launch myself upward from the ground and onto a horse after somehow getting my toes into a stirrup that was dangling at face height. Like, at that point, I think you just have to be Superman and float yourself up while pretending you only used your insane core strength and buns of man-of-steel.

So my dream horse was fancy bred or the appearance of fancy bred, on the short side, heavier build, with strong bone, young but not green to middle aged, ideally dark coated, able to easily carry me and the additional burden of armor, brave, forward, friendly, a good awake mind, but on a budget. I can’t believe I didn’t add my childhood “wish upon a star” horse qualities of “doesn’t need to eat or pee or poop so it can live in my bedroom” for as exacting and needle-in-a-haystack as my wishes were.

The first horse I was really interested in was Shadowfax, a Morgan gelding. He’d already started training with mounted archery (which is a goal I am actively working toward), he was of a medium height (I can’t remember exactly, around 15 hands high) and what appeared to be a fit, heavier build. Unfortunately, I found him three days before I was set to leave for Atlanta and he was located in southern Oregon and I didn’t want to make a 13 hour there-and-back high pressure road trip snap decision. But that turned out to be my only chance to meet him, as he was sold by the time I got home.

Shadowfax

The next horse I looked at was Dragon, a 7 year old Percheron/Fell Pony gelding, 13.2 hands (“if he’s feeling himself that day”), built like a war horse in miniature, an absolute tank in pony form. I messaged the owner less than thirty minutes after the craigslist ad went up (my friend at Gnomeland Farm has an alert set to email her if any native pony breeds are listed), because I was head over heels about Dragon immediately.  This was just days before my trip to Chicago, and I told the owner that I’d be willing to pay earnest money for them to hold Dragon until I was home and able to drive to Portland to meet him. They were not willing to do that, but through luck in timing, I was still able to be the first to meet him.

He was charming and personable from the first moment, investigating my pants and playing with their fake motorcycle ribbing with his lip. He did OK in the crossties–he got impatient pretty quickly and started pawing at the ground but that’s not a dealbreaker. In the saddle, however, I could barely get him to walk around their indoor arena. “Kick him! Kick him! Kick him harder!” the owner called to me…but man, I don’t want a horse I have to wale on to move. That doesn’t feel like partnership. I don’t know if he got soured as a kids’ riding horse or what, and it’s possible that with time and training, his sensitivity would return, but it was a gamble I wasn’t ready to take. I didn’t ride him for very long to know that it wasn’t right, and when I got off so soon, the owner’s demeanor completely changed from nicey-nice to barely concealed hostility. I get that when you ride a horse you’re either training him or untraining him and getting off of him while he was being purposefully pokey (which is what he wanted) didn’t teach him anything good, but I also think it’s also not my responsibility to kick your horse into submission.

We hustled so fast outta there we ran out of gas, and I shopped my feelings away by buying a 13.2h stack of books at Powell’s.

Dragon

Things got really serious with Dante, a 7 year old 15.2 Andalusian/Friesian/Percheron stallion located about an hour north of me in Washington. His owner had bought him at auction after he’d been seized from his previous owners, but then she just let him sit for a few years aside from lungeing. I didn’t know a lot about him, and she didn’t know a lot about him. She knew he had been bred a few times and had gotten kicked in the jaw once which resulted in a cracked tooth, and that her vet was managing it with floats. Since he hadn’t been ridden for years I didn’t want to be the first to pop on his back, so I evaluated him from the ground. I liked him. When I worked him on the line, he was responsive and respectful. He loaded into a trailer easily, he picked up his feet willingly. His eyes were soft and sweet, and I felt quite certain that I wanted to buy him–here was the discount dream horse I was looking for! A horse fancy-bred for athleticism and looks that just needed someone to see his potential and get his brain and body working again! Hallmark Movie The Horse!

I started to make plans for Dante: he’d need to be gelded and recovered from the gelding before I could move him into my barn, and then I thought I might send him to Oregon to be retrained under saddle with other new geldings so he could learn to transition to a life of being with other horses rather than the solitary life he was living as a stallion. First, however, he’d need a pre-purchase examination, which was conducted at the big fancy equine veterinary hospital nearby, Pilchuck. Dante’s owner trailered him there from Edison, and I watched as the vet and his assistant put Dante through his paces, check his eyes, heart, lungs, and overall soundness. They asked me if I wanted to add the dental exam, and truth be told, I almost said no because so far the vet had found nothing out of the ordinary from what I expected–he was a bit underweight and undermuscled but he also hadn’t been working.

But the dental exam was such a reasonable additional fee and there was the aforementioned cracked tooth to consider. They anesthetized him a bit so he wouldn’t be stressed by the dental contraption that ratchets the horse’s mouth open, and he was a very good boy as he stood there and was inspected. Within two minutes the dental specialist vet told me that Dante’s cracked tooth had not been managed, had in fact broken and rotted in his head, almost penetrating the sinus cavity, causing several other teeth to turn and grow out of whack, which would require two to three dental surgeries at two thousand dollars apiece, all of which are extremely complicated as they have to go through the side of the horse’s face and since there were issues on both sides, they would have to be split up into separate surgeries. He needed the dental work immediately as he couldn’t chew properly: this is why he was losing weight and didn’t have a ton of interest in food. It probably also explained the empty-stomach-jouncing-up-and-down sound when he’d trot. The infection in his body meant that any of the surgeries had the potential to kill him and the vet emphasized that he would struggle for months in recovery if he ever recovered. With these dental issues unknown, he could have succumbed from being gelded.

Dante’s owner and I were left reeling, as this was obviously terrible news for us both. And poor Dante! At home, I cried myself sick over this horse who was a Very Good Boy despite all the pain he must have been feeling and what was likely to happen to him, how he’d been bred with hopes and went unnoticed until he was ruined. I thought on him and tried to justify “saving” him and cried some more. Ultimately, I did what I could and set his owner up with a few different horse rescue organizations that could potentially help with vet bills, including one with ties to my barn, but then I had to back off because he’s not mine and I’m not buying him and I’m just an overinvolved stranger. I hope that he got the treatment that he needed, but I don’t know and I don’t want to know. I think about him still. I hope a rescue helped with the bills and he’s alive and thriving.

Dante

Dante

Dante

Over the summer, I entered a raffle for a 3 year old Friesian Saddlebred cross mare, Ultra Heir, located in North Carolina. Raffle tickets were $65 apiece, with 100 tickets sold and the raffle taking place once the last ticket was sold, and numbers assigned in the order they were sold. I bought one ticket and strongly considered buying two but ultimately was too cheap, preferring the idea of “my $65 dream horse” to “my $130 dream horse” as though she wouldn’t have been an outstanding bargain at either price.

In late September the raffle board finally filled. My raffle number was 48. #49 won.

Realistically a 3 year old would have been too much horse for me to handle in addition to being on the tall to really too tall side for me but if I won her I would’ve considered using her as a broodmare for a perfectly baroque baby. After I figured out how to get her home from North Carolina.

Ultra Heir

After Dante, I had decided to pause looking for a horse for a while–I didn’t know how well I’d deal with another close disappointment, but my friends kept putting horses in my path, and ultimately I decided that I’d better shop for myself if I didn’t want other people to shop for me. I placed a couple of ads in northwest horse sale groups looking for “A heckin’ chonker or above” and got no bites that appealed–people pushing their unbroken, green, and in one memorable instance, the ugliest horse I’ve ever, ever seen at me. He looked like if Homer Simpson was an obese, flabby horse.

Continuing my search, I did a deep dive on Dreamhorse, dialing in my exacting parameters, and got so far back in the listings that the main photos expired and I could see was the thumbnail. But there was one that caught my eye. A 14.2 hand Friesian Sporthorse mare, 13 years old, located in Florence, Oregon. She was described as a talented, tractable, sweet mare with a great work ethic and lovely movement, with dressage movements built in such as collection/extension, leg yields at walk and trot, shoulder in/haunches in at walk, and pirouette at walk and trot. They also said she has a willing and engaged temperament and is eager to please, playful with just a hint of diva pizzazz, that she LOVES to jump, could be suited to the hunter ring, has no vices and that she loads easily and trailers quietly, is a lady for the farrier, ties, clips, bathes, and that she’s smart, athletic, and willing; a bargain at her asking price. My needle in the haystack.

I responded to the Dreamhorse message, but I didn’t know if the messages would actually go through since the ad had expired. The ad mentioned that I could find photos and video at the trainer’s personal facebook page,  and so I looked her up and dug through her photos until I found one that she’d posted publicly that looked like the mare in the ad so I could comment on it, asking if she still had her and if she could tell me any more about her. The trainer said that she no longer had the horse and that she’d gone back to her owners in Eugene and tagged the owner into the conversation. I messaged the owner AND commented to let her know that I’d messaged her and to check her filtered messages if she didn’t see it, because I was going to take no chance that this beauty was going to slip through my fingers. 

Navani

I drove to Eugene to meet her shortly thereafter. On the lead line she danced and called to the other horses. They lunged her briefly, and then their trainer showed up to ride her for me to demonstrate her movements and abilities, as she’s had significantly more dressage training than I have.  I climbed aboard and we did not communicate very well–she was used to being ridden with a lot more contact on the bit than I like to have, and at one point she broke into a trot and together we barreled down on the entire family who were seated and couldn’t easily flee, and my only option for not running over a person was running over my purse with my phone and camera inside that I thoughtlessly left on the ground near the mounting block. I hoped I remembered the way back to the highway in case my phone got smashed and did everything I could to turn her toward my purse.  After we managed to come to a stop and not kill anyone or break anything, I decided to buy her. I liked her gentle and interested energy, I liked that even though she didn’t understand what I was asking her, she kept trying. I felt confident that I could teach her an easier way of going and that we could be great partners. 

We set a date to come pick her up on November 3rd. Before that, I had a vet come out, check her teeth, and do a coggins test, which she needed in order to cross state lines. In the early dark hours of the morning, Marita, Jason and I rumbled away from her house with her truck and trailer attached and headed to Oregon to get my girl and bring her home. We made excellent time there. We made excellent time home. The three hours it took to load her on the trailer, on the other hand…

So that’s going to be something I work on with her over this winter so she’ll be ready to load up and go when it’s time to take her to some shows this summer. Or renaissance faires in the future. Or to rides on the beach. I’m excited to see the places we’ll go together, just us two chunky childfree middle aged goth ladies. I’ve renamed her Navani and she is wonderful. She’s taken to riding in a bitless side-pull really quickly, she sidepasses like a dream, and I know that once I get her focus and her trust, we are going to be great partners. I feel it in my bones. My dream horse.

A visit to Epona Moon Farm

Horse mustache!!

 

Recently, I was invited to a friend of a friend’s ranch, Epona Moon Farm. Nestled in the shadow of Mount Rainier, they casually breed friesian and vanner horses to ride and drive. Though I spent but a few short hours there, I can safely say that it’s one of my favorite places on this earth: dappled sunlight playing over the backs of these healthy, strong, and content animals, the air teasing your nose with pine and rain even in the summer, the lofty barn that glows inside like a cathedral, the fat and happy barn cats that want love so much they’ll flop directly onto one’s feet. I got to help bathe one of the friesians and detangle the mane of one of the vanners, who thought my mango-scented organic hippie sunscreen tasted delicious and proceeded to lick it off of my arm.The mare in the last photo, Edain, has since had a healthy filly named Grace: I love her from afar and I cannot wait to have an opportunity to go back and meet her.

Poppy Time

In November, I made my first horse friend! As I’ve talked about extensively before, I’ve always been nutters about horses, but mostly haven’t had the opportunity to work with the same horse repeatedly. Vacation trail rides are fun, but they don’t teach you anything about working with horses, and as long as you can manage to stay on top of the horse, you’re doing fine. I really would like to improve my horsemanship (both riding and on the ground) and get a real taste of what horse ownership is like, and luckily, my friend Marita was in need of someone to work her horse, Poppy.

Poppy is a ten year old 14h high Arabian mare (which means she’s so short she’s technically a pony!), she has the loudest neigh in the barn, and she has a lot of strong ideas about how things should be and some attention issues (she’s way more interested in where the other horses are going than any person)–which is fine, but Marita wants her to be more mannerly and understand that she’s participating in a conversation with the person working her, and can’t just issue orders (Don’t brush my belly! Don’t pick my feet! Don’t let your legs touch my sides while riding!). I’ve already learned a lot: bringing her in from the field and haltering her, leading her, and doing some liberty work–getting her to walk/trot/canter in a round pen in the direction I choose at the speed I choose with no physical attachment to her.

Working with Poppy under Marita’s supervision has also garnered some personal insights: that I can be too nice and let certain adorable horses (and less adorable people) bowl me over, that my asks tend to be wishy-washy because I want to please but that is a hindrance to communication, and that I need to be firm and establish boundaries. Poppy is smart enough that she will test those boundaries, to see if she can get me to move by jamming her head into my space, and it’s my responsibility to stand my ground and communicate to her that if she has a problem with something I’m doing or asking her to do, she is always free to make it stop by moving her body away from me, but that it is not an option to move me instead.  

As mentioned above, Poppy has some issues with being ridden and my horsemanship is not good enough to stick on her back if she decides she doesn’t want me there, so it’s going to be some time before that happens–if it ever does. In the meanwhile, there is another horse in the barn, Africa, whose owner cannot get out to the barn often and has given Marita and I permission to work her, so I’ll be spending some time with her as well. I don’t know if that means riding or not, and I’m not particularly bothered either way–I can always sign up for riding lessons and get more experience that way. I do know that Poppy day is the best day of the week–I’m excited to get up and go to the barn and see all the horses. The first time Poppy called to me from the field, I was on cloud nine. It just feels like fate that this short, loud, black horse and I (short, loud, wears lots of black) ended up friends. Prepare to see a lot of Poppy everywhere.

The Viking Horses of Iceland

viking horses frosted glass

My flight to Iceland departed on a Thursday afternoon and arrived bright and early on a Friday morning. In order to prepare for the time change and make the most of my time there, I thought it was best if I went to bed late on Wednesday, woke up very early on Thursday (3:30am early) and had no caffeine all day so I’d be good and ready to sleep on the flight. I dragged ass allllll day. Then the flight was delayed for three hours due to mechanical problems, so I had to put off sleeptime even further, looking longingly at the airport Dilettante cafe and all of the happy, perky people sipping their delicious mochas. By the time I boarded the plane, I was good and ready to sleep…only to discover that my seat was in the last row before the toilets and thus didn’t have the option to recline even a fraction of an inch. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! The seats in front of me, of course, reclined just fine. Maybe farther than normal, even, because I felt like the man in front of me was practically sitting in my lap. I’m not generally one to feel claustrophobic on planes, but the seat situation coupled with my extreme tiredness was a bridge too far.  Have you ever been so tired that you didn’t know whether to cry or go limp and boneless in despair? That was me, except I was too dehydrated to cry and strapped into a seat with two inches of breathing room in front of my face, there wasn’t enough room for my bonelessness to achieve its full dramatic effect. The flight was just over seven hours and of that, I got maybe two hours of terrible, terrible sleep.

But somehow, that two hours was enough for me to rally once I landed in Iceland. After getting through customs and taking the bus from the airport to my hotel in Reykjavík, Jason and I had only a couple of hours to spend before it was time for the horseback riding excursion I’d booked, and since we couldn’t check into our room yet, instead it was just enough time to fuel up with a sandwich and black coffee at Sandholt beforehand. Our ride leader, Viggó, who looked every inch the tall blonde Nordic gentleman you’d expect from hearing that name, picked us up promptly from our hotel at the previously agreed-upon time and drove us to the Viking Horses stables, where I got to meet my very first Icelandic horses.

Icelandic horses are unique; the breed has spent 1,000 years in isolation after originally being brought to Iceland by Norse settlers. In fact, they are the only breed of horse found on Iceland. No horses are allowed to be imported to the island (no livestock at all, actually), and horses that have been exported cannot return; this is to protect the breed as any new disease has the potential to be absolutely devastating. As a result of their breed isolation, Icelandic horses are much shorter than your average horse, more akin to the size of a pony, but with the strength and stamina of a horse. They’ve got full manes and tails and a double coat to protect them against the weather, and in winter, this means that they are so shaggy and adorable that they can make a full grown woman in her thirties squeal with delight at first sight (I’m talking about me, of course). Their personalities are the best, too–not easily spooked (no predators in Iceland), willing to work, and so flipping sweet they could make a diabetic keel over while they inquisitively nuzzle and nose into their way into his coat pockets. This is a horse that moves into a hug instead of backing away and going “whoa there, human, let’s  maintain that personal space bubble, shall we?”. What I’m saying is, I love them. I love love love love them. 

curious

shaggy chops

At the stables, after I managed to tear myself away from the horses, we met the two other people riding on the afternoon tour–some lovely British girls on holiday. We chatted a bit and then it was time to suit up and ride. If you don’t have all the proper clothing, Viking Horses has a great stock of loaner clothing–my fleece lined water resistant pants were stuffed into my suitcase, so I grabbed a pair of their loaners to go over my jeans so I wouldn’t get cold and horsey. When we went back outside, we introduced ourselves to the horses we were going to ride in the pen by grooming them a bit, and then it was time to mount up and head out. This ride marked a couple of firsts for me: the first time I’ve ever ridden in an English saddle, and the first time I was able to get up on a horse without standing on a box (especially impressive because with two pairs of pants on, my leg mobility was more than a little diminished). All of the horses in the group were named after Icelandic features, except for mine, Neo, who was named after The Matrix. I can be trusted to pick out the trenchcoat wearing goth in any given group. Small (even by Icelandic standards), dark, and oh-so-shaggy, I wanted to minify him even further, put him in my pocket, and steal him away.

hekla

Our tour was the afternoon Mjölnir tour, which is a one and a half hour ride through Hólmsheiði hill and around the Rauðhólar pseudocraters–the deep red iron-rich rocks in the lava fields outside of Reykjavík. It seemed to be a popular riding area, as we saw several single riders and one very large group. One of the single riders joined us briefly, riding one of the most strikingly beautiful black horses I’ve ever seen, and without thinking, I complimented him on his horse in English. He agreed with me in Icelandic, and as ridiculous as this sounds, it kind of made my day that he understood me and I understood him. Not that I would have known how to compliment him in Icelandic, anyway, because I am awful and learned about five words before I went and was reticent to use them in case I screwed up and insulted someone when I meant to thank them. It’s actually deeply embarrassing how well nearly everyone I encountered in Iceland speaks English, when I know that given my five years of Spanish classes, I could barely direct a Spanish-speaking tourist in Seattle to the baño if need be, much less educate them about the geographical history of the area.

 

riding icelandic horses

red rocks iceland

ride scenery

It was a gorgeously crisp day outside, and the snow crunched delightfully underfoot. On a clear day, you can can see a semicircle of mountains surrounding the area as well as Reykjavík city. It was a bit cloudy during my ride, so no mountains, but it was scenic nonetheless. I was able to pop out my phone on the ride for a few quick shots, but I was primarily concerned with keeping my seat, unlike Viggó who was able to whip around in his saddle and snap photos of the group. While it’s true that Icelandic horses are more comfortable and less bouncy to ride, a bit like a moving couch, when riding English style not only do you have no saddle horn to grab onto if things get hairy, you also have one fewer hand with which to grab since they’re both on the reins. And things indeed got a little hairy–one of the Brits and I were dawdling toward the back of the group, and I decided to try and catch up, which meant passing the other horse, Hekla, named after an Icelandic volcano, also known as “the gateway to hell”. Hekla decided this meant we were racing, and both horses broke out into a gallop and I lost a stirrup, at which point I fully resigned myself to the idea that I was going to go flying off Neo’s back. Somehow, that did not happen and I regained control just before I would have crashed into the rest of the horses, but the shame of doing pretty much everything wrong in those few seconds lingered with me, because shame never really leaves me, it just hangs out in the background waiting for a quiet moment to resurface. Maybe as late as 20 years later. Maybe longer.

neo

om nom nom

aww sweet face

grooming

they see me rollin they hatin

i whip my hair back and forth

sweet face

horse pats

After we got back to the stable, the horses were unsaddled and they promptly began to roll in the snow, groom one another, and shamelessly beg for human affection. After we’d had enough pats and hugs, we were invited inside for an Icelandic snack–thick skyr loaded with plump blueberries and fresh cream, Icelandic flatbread and cheese, hot coffee, tea, and a slice of dense chocolate cake. We all chatted a bit more and I did my best to not bring shame to America by inhaling everything on the table and making loud, obnoxious jokes…I made softer obnoxious jokes instead. The Brits were on the tail end of their holiday while we were still at the very start of ours, and they told us the trouble they’d had with their rental car; namely that they were unused to driving in snow and went offroad almost immediately, with nothing to dig themselves out. One mentioned her utter loathing of tea and her inability to make a decent cup of it, which surprised me because I thought that was the sort of attitude that got you personally booted out by the Queen while she splashes boiling water in your face and makes a suggestion not to let the door hit you in the arse on your way out, but I guess I was wrong. So far they’d struck out catching a glimpse of the northern lights, and were giving it one last go that night. I wished them luck (a bit selfish as I was also going aurora hunting that night so clear skies benefited me as well) and we went our separate ways, them driving off and Svava, the Viking Horses manager, giving us a lift back to our hotel, but not before recommending several different heated pools we could frequent on our trip.

viking horses base of operations

light lunch

viking horses instagramEvidently this is my horseback riding shirt.

piano skull

greatest picture frame

a little light readingA bit of light reading.

I researched a lot of different horseback riding companies in Iceland before settling on Viking Horses for a few different reasons–I liked their Sleipnir logo which indicated to me that they embraced their cultural history, their commitment to small group riding (immeasurably better than huge nose-to-tail groups), from stalking a number of website photos their horses appeared to be the cutest (an important consideration), and far be it for me to say no to free lunch. I was ultimately thrilled with my decision to book with them. They responded to my messages quickly, they were so warm and inviting, and it was the perfect start to my time in Iceland. Takk!

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Horseback Riding on Orcas

horseback riding on orcas shoop

Sadly, no, not horseback riding on orca whales, which is probably a ton more exciting though rife with danger if you’re shitty at holding your breath and a wimp about getting hypothermia. Instead, I went horseback riding on Orcas Island, the largest island in the San Juans (though not as populous as San Juan Island, which I visited briefly last year and plan to revisit soon).

Just like San Juan, you can get there by ferry or plane–I elected to take the ferry again, this time taking my car across so I’d have an easier time getting to Moran State Park, where the ride was to be held. In case you would like to do the same thing–learn from my mistake and make ferry reservations. I hadn’t even considered that capacity would be an issue, because I was getting to the terminal so early and just figured it would be first come, first served. When I pulled up to the ferry ticket-seller, she scowled and asked if I had a reservation. When I told her that I didn’t, she said I’d just have to wait and cross my fingers…uh oh. Luckily, I was able to drive on to the ferry I’d planned on taking, as there are so few ferries that I never would have made my ride time with a later crossing. After the crossing, Jason immediately made reservations for the trip back, and I’m glad he did, as some of the scheduled crossings were already indicated as full and I had no intention of spending the night.

After the ferry docked, I made my way to Moran State Park, which is on the other side of the horseshoe-shaped island (you know, if a horseshoe was sort of mutated and mangled and really nothing like a horseshoe at all), bought a Discovery Pass, and parked. I ended up with a good amount of time to kill, so I took a short hike on the Cascade Lake trail and also started on the trail to the waterfall before second-guessing my ability to get there and back before the ride and doubled back to wait. And wait.

cascade lake

docile deer

Eventually a big horse trailer pulled up, we filled out some waivers indicating that we would not sue if involved in a horse-related injury, checked off boxes pertaining to our level of horsemanship and whether or not we wanted helmets. As I’ve fallen off of a horse before (in a lesson that was attempting to teach me to ride at a trot bareback, which I wasn’t ready for and promptly went ass-over-teakettle), I definitely wanted a helmet. Not so much to protect my head from impact with the ground, but to protect it from those four skull-crushers that they have the audacity to call hooves while I’m rolling around on the ground like a helpless squishy bug. No one else wanted helmets, but after they saw me strapping one on, they changed their minds. I’d like to think that it’s because I make wearing a helmet look cool, but not even I am that self-deluded.

safety first

Once we were properly geared, we were assigned horses based on our skill levels. I’d selected that I’d had more than 8 hours of riding under my belt (which is true, I probably have at least a hundred hours, just not, you know, in the most recent twenty years save for a couple of rides at Long Beach), and I was selected to ride Candy. Not because she was particularly difficult or spirited, but because saddles tend to slip on her and they figured I’d be the least freaked out if I started going sideways.  Which didn’t end up happening, so hurrah for that!

candy the horse

trail ride orcas

horseback riding on orcas

The trail ride was suitably difficult, not the nose-to-tail plod I expect from the majority of rides, but a lot of narrow switchbacks with steep ascents and descents, needing to pick your way through huge roots and other hazards and duck under low hanging branches. On my beach rides, I felt 100% comfortable pulling out and fiddling with my camera, but on this ride, I was able to take a quick shot while we were stopped and immediately put my phone back in my pocket because I needed my concentration elsewhere.  Speaking of stopping–we stopped every single time a horse pooped so one of the company riders could hop off and kick the poop off the trail into the weeds, which meant we stopped a lot. A lot. Sometimes we’d ride ten feet before having to stop again. Candy pooped six times. Multiply six poops by seven horses and we stopped 42 times. I don’t think it was quite that many, but it was close. 

Close enough that by the time we made it back to our starting point, it was nearly an hour later than we were supposed to have finished. Which wasn’t really a problem for me insofar as the ferry was concerned since I still had nearly five hours before I had to board, but was a problem in that nearly everything else on Orcas was closed. At 4pm.  Someone recommended a pie shop in nearly Olga. Closed. Back near the ferry terminal, the gift shops were closed, the ice cream shops were closed, and the only place that was open, the Orcas Hotel, sold us a sandwich and a drink and then hustled us off their property so our sandwich-eating wouldn’t be in the photos of the wedding they were hosting.  So we went back to the car and waited. And waited. And waited. I ended up falling asleep for a while. I actually considered trekking back to Doe Bay and paying for access to their clothing-optional hot tub because trying to avoid looking at hippie schlong would at least be something to do.

orca friend

Finally, FINALLY, the ferry arrived and we boarded just in time to catch the tail end of a really pretty sunset.

orcas island ferry sunset

sunset orcas

purple sky

purple and blue sky moon

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Coming up on America’s Next Top Gluestick

Today, Jason took me to see the Lipizzaner show at Comcast Arena. I, like many young girls, grew up obsessed with horses. I participated in the 4-H Horseless Horse program, which is like a rent-a-horse service for preteens. “One horse, please” topped every Christmas wish list until my parents could no longer take me tearing out the front door in sub-zero temperatures every December 25th, looking desperately through snowdrifts for the horse which Santa had assuredly left for me. (They weren’t so concerned about how distraught I was, more over the heating bill that resulted from doors and windows being flung open.) However, their patience for my obsession was limited, because there’s only so long an adult can feign interest in watching twelve year olds in cowboy hats riding shaggy ponies circle a ring over and over and over. Eventually it got to the point where they pretended that all horses had died from a rapidly-spreading horse disease, and so they flipped the channel whenever they saw something with four legs on TV larger than a dog, avoided taking me to Medieval Times, and nearby Tempel Lipizzan shows were also a no-go.

Over time, I began to suspect that my parents weren’t exactly truth-tellers on the whole horse issue. When I heard on the radio this week that the dancing horses would be on display, I came home and immediately demanded that Jason take me.

…As it turns out, perhaps my parents didn’t have so much of a problem with horses as they did with mind-numbing, soul-sucking boredom. I hadn’t expected the show to be a thrill-a-minute, and I would have been sufficiently entertained if I had been busy trying to take decent photographs, but Comcast Arena has a ban on professional cameras, and I was given the option of either returning it to my car, where some nearby transient could break in and steal it, or checking it in with Comcast Arena employees, and letting one of them steal it. I decided to take my chances with the car instead of leaving it in the hands of The Worst Company in America, where lying and stealing must be in the employee training manual. Everyone else with their phone cameras and handheld cameras were allowed inside, so the message they’re sending is “Comcast: We love a shitty, blurry picture!” At least it’s in concordance with their television service. I wonder if when the wind blows moderately hard, the arena goes down, too?

So instead of being distracted with fiddling with my camera settings, I was forced to listen to the MC and observe the audience around me, focusing my hate beam. It almost read like a single mom’s convention, filled with a lot of greasy-haired, exhausted women dandling one or more very young children on their laps. The children were too young to appreciate the show, so it was clear these women were there to ogle some horses for themselves. Save for the miracle of birth control, I would probably be one of those women. Nearly everyone was decked out in Everett-level finery, because nothing says “big day out” like shorts with a hole in the rear end, t-shirts with stains, or Batman capes (I should note that said cape was on an adult, not a child).

I very nearly lack the language to describe how thoroughly I hated the MC. When he wasn’t talking about the history of the horses in excruciatingly boring detail, he was stumbling over the names of the horses and the riders, or telling jokes of the sort that cause one to want to find a flaming hot poker and jam it into their ears to avoid the risk of hearing one ever again. It’s like he built a comedy career around jokes that make audiences want to groan in despair.

Because the horses are named after their sire and dam, all of their names are quite similar, and it’s difficult to tell them apart. Jason and I solved this dilemma by giving them more memorable names: Tapey Joe, Poopy Bob, Foamy Steve, and Slobbery Mike. Tapey Joe was named as such because when he was supposed to perform a jumping trick, he pulled up some tape from the arena floor onto his hoof, and then his leg bandages came untied and he turned into a sloppy, angry mess. They kept trying to get him to perform the trick, emphasizing how natural the movements are to these horses, but Tapey Joe was having none of it and kept kicking out at his trainer. I hoped he would break his lead and put a hoof through the MC’s jokehole, but no such luck.

Aside from the incident with Tapey Joe, the rest of the show was entirely unmemorable, and word must have gotten around about it, as the arena, which is about the size of a large-ish high school gym, was less than a quarter full. I feel like they could have done a few things to make it more interesting and profitable, and I’ll list those things now for free, as I’m feeling charitable:

One: Know your audience. Sure, the show emphasizes the tradition of training these horses in this manner by accompanying the performances with classical music, but in this day and age, that doesn’t play well, particularly in places like redneck mecca Everett. If you have the horses burst through the curtains in a shower of fireworks and the strains of “Rock You Like A Hurricane”, the audience is way more likely to get pumped up.

Two: People don’t want to buy your program for an extra ten bucks. There’s this thing called the internet now, and people can look at as many pictures of horses as they want to for free, with their pants off if they would like. If you want to get extra money from your audience, institute a U-Pet-Em program where for an extra ten bucks, they can pat the horse’s neck, and for an extra twenty, have their picture taken with the horse. People are there at the show because they want to see pretty horses and imagine riding them. They aren’t going to get that feeling from a printed program.

Three: People are there at the show because they want to see pretty horses, not to listen to an MC yammer on and on with the world’s worst repertoire of jokes. More horses, less MC. Maybe have the MC lay on the ground and have the horses perform a leap maneuver over him.

Four: Less dressage, more tricks. If you’ve seen one horse perform a flying lead change, you’ve seen them all. There’s no need to have every horse in your lineup perform that same maneuver over and over and over again. Instead, have the Evel Knievel of horses jump over a flaming bus. Have a Horseasaurus robot stomp around the ring. Give your audience something to marvel over and talk about!

Five: Let people take decent pictures. Seriously. Good photos are a good, free advertisement. Not one person who sees this photo is going to think “Hot DAMN I need to see this show no matter the cost!”

 

Man, that light blur inside that lighter blur is, like, so inspiring.

Six: Run it like a reality show. Let audience members vote on which horse gets sent to the glue factory. Will it be the obstinate one who won’t perform tricks? The ugly one that snotted on the person in the wheelchair in the front row? The other obstinate one who performs tricks poorly? YOU DECIDE.

In conclusion, until this horse act steps up its game, you’re better off staying home and watching horse videos on youtube. Here’s one to get you started.