Hauling Ass: My first pack burro race

Editor’s Note: This week, we hear from Katrin Silva, an accomplished horsewoman as well as an impressive endurance runner. She writes about the burro races at the Leadville Boom Days celebration in the mountains of Colorado.

Colorado’s State Sport? Pack burro racing, of course!

By Katrin Silva

Pack Burro Racing is, in fact, a sanctioned sport. It involves running with an ass in tow on mountain trails, for distances between 10 and 30 miles. The rules are specific: burros (not mules, not ponies – asses only) must wear a pack saddle with 33 pounds of mining gear, including a pick, shovel, and gold pan.

Runner and burro must work as a team and cross the finish line together. Runners may push, pull, drag, or carry their ass, but they may not ride it.

Katy, a fellow ultra runner I’d met from Sydney, Australia, found this niche phenomenon particularly fascinating. She had heard that burro racing is not a strictly BYOB sport. It might be possible to rent a burro, she said.

Who wouldn’t be tempted by Bella and her cute keeper?

I was curious, too. I’m a cowgirl at heart and I train horses for a living, but had never worked with a donkey.

Intrigued though I was, I had planned to leave by noon at the latest. I would, of course, resist any temptation to run a burro race all day, then drive back to New Mexico really late. No way, I kept telling myself as Katy and I walked to the pack saddle weigh-in. I’d just to check things out. Really.

Downtown Leadville was teeming with burros of all colors and sizes, tied to horse trailers, to trees, and to lampposts. The ratio of cowboy hats to sun visors and cowboy boots to running shoes was 50/50.

The humans were busy with brushes, hoof picks, ropes, and packs. Donkeys were braying, pawing, and circling.

Two silver grey burros caught my eye. They stood like islands in a storm, while a grey-haired man and a young boy fed them hay and brushed their sleek coats.

I complimented the man on the excellent condition of his animals, and their calm demeanor. I patted the donkeys, a nine-year old brother-sister pair named Silver Jack and Bella. They were clearly the pride and joy of their owner, Maple. “Like a tree,” he said.

Maple couldn’t run today because of an injury, but his friend Nathalie was going to race Silver Jack. I mentioned my background with horses and expressed my interest in burro racing. Maple looked at me thoughtfully.

“No one is running with Bella today. Would you like to?”

He didn’t know, couldn’t know, that he had just offered the equivalent of a whiskey shot to a horse-a-holic. I bit back the enthusiastic “Yes!” that wanted to escape my lips. What was I thinking? The race didn’t start until 11 a.m. and would easily go on until late afternoon, depending on the burro’s mood.

I am a responsible woman. I wanted to get home in time to have dinner with my husband and to get ready for work the next morning.

Katrin and company

“I would love to, but I can’t. I have to be at work in the morning.”

Maple and his grandson looked disappointed.

“Well, we’re going to find some breakfast. You think about it,” said Maple.

Tied to a fence post, Bella munched on some grass. I stroked her exquisite ears. I scratched her neck. She nudged me, which I took to mean “Come on, run with me!”

I walked down the block to the cardboard table that served as burro race headquarters. Katy had found a burro and was signing up for the 15-mile women’s race. Her excitement was contagious. Before I knew it, there was a pen in my hand and a registration form in front of me. Forty dollars and a signature later, Bella and I were signed up as team Number 19.

Maple looked pleased and not surprised. He introduced me to Nathalie, and we proceeded to saddle our race partners. Silver Jack and Bella are inseparable, so our strategy was to keep the four of us together and move at a steady pace.

Maple expertly tied our numbers and all our gear securely to the saddle, then it was time to line up for the start.

Part II coming next week: Stop, Go, Gallop!

The Perfect Student is Here!

Horsewoman Amy Skinner knows that learning tends to be directly proportional to how engaged and motivated her students are. She shared her tongue-in-cheek list for optimizing learning here:

Perfect Student Qualities:

  • Dedicated and hard working
  • Willing to stay open-minded and humble enough to take direction.
  • Active and fit, or willing to get fit to better his or her riding
  • Actively involved in reading new material, watching DVDs, going to clinics, and learning through various methods.
  • Punctual to lessons and attends regularly without making excuses or cancelling at the last minute because it’s too hot, it’s too cold, or I have a “thing”).
  • Willing to take my advice before purchasing a three-year old, unstarted mustang as a midlife crisis, new-to-riding, let’s-help-the-world project.

Once I was satisfied with my list of perfect qualities, I dropped everyone who didn’t meet all these standards.  I woke up the next day excited about the possibilities. I wondered how amazing would my students be.  In no time, I said to myself, I’ll have everybody looking great!  Horses will come along faster and my students will be amazing riders.  I sat at the barn twiddling my thumbs, waiting for the first student to arrive.  Crickets chirped.  Hours went by.  Nobody came.

A month went by and the electric company shut off the lights in my barn.  I was eating ramen noodles and my dog and I were soon living out of the truck without money to afford rent.

Waiting for the perfect client nearly caused me to starve to death!

Read West Taylor’s thoughts on teaching challenges.

Finally, great Apps for Riders

Editor’s Note: Guest columnist Katrin Silva grew up riding dressage in Germany before moving to the United States at age 19 to learn to ride Western. She’s been riding both disciplines for the last twenty years. Read her article on Contact here.

Katrin Silva

Based in New Mexico, she enjoys improving horse-rider partnerships and firmly believes that good riding is always good riding, no matter which type of tack a horse is wearing. Check out her blog here.

Silva writes:

The App store is full of ways to streamline our days, ease our frustrations, and improve the quality of our lives. And yet, few address the unique needs and concerns of equestrians. It’s time to remedy this sad situation!
Here are some timely applications for horse owners:

Spook-No-More

Ride the trails with confidence, even if your horse has none. This detailed, interactive map allows you to navigate your trail ride around llama farms, dumpsites, old plastic bags caught in trees, loud weed wackers, tumbleweeds, and irresponsible kids on four-wheelers.

The paid premium version also shows less obvious threats to your horse’s life, like rustling leaves and imaginary predators. Choose from eight different sensitivity settings to accommodate a variety of equine personality types, from “OTTB with PTSD” or “Green-broke Arabian” to “Seasoned Show Horse That Has Never, Ever Left the Arena Before Today.”

Muck-Motivator

Do you detest shoveling manure in a snow storm? Do you occasionally dread unloading bales of hay? You won’t anymore, once you consider your horse as your fitness coach.

This handy app will track:

  • how much weight you lift for how many reps while cleaning stalls
  • how many steps you walk while catching your horse in the pasture
  • how many calories you burn while doing these and other chores

It uses a sophisticated algorithm that considers variables like outside temperature, wind speed, and mud depth. Bask in your accomplishment, then tell your friends!

The app lets you upload your barn work data directly to social media. Pretty soon, spinning classes will be a thing of the past, replaced by group mucking classes.

Bullsh*t-Detector

Ever wonder:

  • Whether the woman you just met at the schooling show has really spent months riding with Charlotte Dujardin, rather than just catching a glimpse of her from across the arena?
  • Whether the the cute guy you just met at a bar has really earned that Ranch Riding championship buckle gracing his Wranglers?

You no longer have to trust your imperfect gut instinct or act impressed in spite of niggling doubts.

This app discreetly scans your conversation partner’s subtle changes in bio-markers including brain activity and body temperature to discover when a narrative diverges from the truth. Set the Bullsh*t-Detector to give off your choice of a high-pitched noise, a blinking red light, or a quiet vibration, depending on the level of embarrassment you wish to cause people who tend to embellish their qualifications and experience level.

All-Gone

Tack stores are dangerous placesMoney Management for horse owners made easier! All-Gone is a budgeting tool with categories you really need, like “Impulse purchases from Dover,” “Overpriced supplements the other boarders at my barn guilt-tripped me into buying,” “Snaffle bits that did not solve my horse’s contact issues like I thought they would,” “Vet bill for mysterious lameness,” “Clinic with Olympic Champion,” “Sport psychology sessions to prepare for attending the clinic with the Olympic Champion for which I already paid the non-refundable, outrageously high deposit.” Pie charts will let you see exactly why you are broke before the end of every month. Upgrade to the paid version if you’d like an interlock device that keeps trigger websites like Dover saddlery or Dreamhorse from opening after you’ve had more than one glass of wine.

Equi-OM

Finally, a mindfulness meditation app you can use when you need it most – during training sessions and at horse shows.

Let go of frustration when your horse has ideas that differ from your training goals for the day. Come back to the present moment whenever you start to consider alternative hobbies, like quilting or gardening.

Includes visualization tools (choose between a picture of perfect horse-rider harmony or a pyramid of dogwood cans). For $2.99 more, you can upgrade to the Ego-Rebuilder, which will gently remind you of your past accomplishments and positive attributes in painful emergency situations, like when you pick up your score sheet for your dressage test, or after a lesson with a clinician who destroyed every shred of your self-esteem.

Seven Sins of Horsemanship

Editor’s Note: Guest columnist Katrin Silva grew up riding dressage in Germany before moving to the United States at age 19 to learn to ride Western. She’s been riding both disciplines for the last twenty years. Read her article on Contact here.

Katrin Silva

Silva has competed successfully through fourth level dressage on quarter horses, Morgans, Arabians, Hanoverians, and many other breeds. Based in New Mexico, she enjoys improving horse-rider partnerships and firmly believes that good riding is always good riding, no matter which type of tack a horse is wearing. Check out her blog here.

Drawings by Norman Thelwell. Check out this website dedicated to his iconic work.

By Katrin Silva

I may be a lapsed Catholic, but some concepts still ring true for me. Take the Seven Deadly Sins. Working with horses has taught me that these concepts still make sense. They won’t send you into eternal hellfire, but they will keep you from acheiving a harmony-filled horse-human connection. A worse fate, for sure.

Greed

When your horse learns a new skill, be content with little at first.

Greed can sneak into your practice of any new movement or skill. Let’s say you’re teaching your horse to leg yield. After some trial and error, your horse finally takes a couple of steps forward and sideways. You feel elated. You’re excited to show off the new maneuver to anyone who is watching. You also want to make sure it wasn’t just a fluke, so you keep asking for more steps.

Pretty soon, one of two things happens:

  • your horse loses interest in going sideways and starts to resist,
  • your horse enjoys going sideways so much that he now uses it to avoid other things he knows but finds more difficult

Greed likes to disguise itself as diligence and dedication. Practicing something over and over works fine in golf or tennis, but in working with horses, greed is the enemy of progress. It’s easy to get greedy in training, especially with willing, talented horses. Stay strong. Resist the temptation. Be happy with a little, reward often, take breaks before your horse forces you to.

Envy

This green-eyed monster will suck all joy out of your horse time if you let it. Comparing yourself to other riders, and your horse to other horses, can be a positive thing because great riders make great role models. Participating in shows and clinics exposes us to the type of horsemanship we may want to practice. Watching a rider with truly soft, following hands and perfect body alignment can help fuel our ambition.

But those things can be a recipes for feeling less than satisfied with our own riding, and our own horse. I’ve slunk away from shows and clinics feeling like the world’s worst equestrian.

When you quit enjoying the here and now of your riding or quit appreciating your relationship with your horse you’re riding, step back and walk away from envy.

Lust

St. Augustine originally defined lust as “disordered love.” In horsemanship, disordered love takes the form of a smothering, misguided affection, which leads to a lack of clear boundaries between you and your horse.

Loving your horse means letting him be the best he can be. Rewarding him is great, but rewarding for random things at random times will only confuse him. Horses thrive on consistency. Many riders who claim to love their horses give them mixed messages instead: rewards for no reason, or rewards the horse does not perceive as a reward. Don’t go there – be clear, be consistent.

Gluttony

Overfeeding your horse is not kind and can lead to all sorts of equine health problems. Overfeeding yourself can have the same effect. Horses should not carry more than 20 percent of their weight. An average full-size horse weighs in around 1000 pounds, the average Western saddle about 30 pounds or more. Do the math and be considerate. Riding is more than sitting on top of a horse – it’s a sport that requires physical fitness and body awareness. Do your horse a favor and get yourself into the best shape you can be.

Sloth

Laziness is not working with your horse on a regular basis. There’s a difference between skipping a session for a legitimate reason and looking for all sorts of flimsy excuses to avoid getting on the horse.

A blizzard is legitimate, a breeze is not. Of course you shouldn’t ride a sick or lame horse, but often, some exercise, like hand walking, is better than none even then. Shortcuts are lazy, too:

  • No, using a thinner bit will not make a horse’s mouth softer.
  • No, using draw reins will not teach the horse to accept contact. There is no substitute for spending the time it takes to develop a responsive horse.

Wrath

Good riders are calm riders. Horses can be good at testing human patience – so good that most of us have reached the limit of that patience at some point or other. But two minutes of anger can undo two years’ worth of careful training. Take a deep breath, or five, or ten.

When all else fails, get off the horse. Kick a rock, or use the angry energy to clean a couple of stalls. It helps to think of your horse as a great Zen master – someone who helps you find you inner yogi.

Pride

Like Envy, pride can be a positive thing in small doses. Taking pride in what you do will make you want to do it better. But too much pride can keep you and your horse from making progress, or worse, get you hurt.

It’s ok to admit you don’t know something.

It’s to ask for help when things get difficult.

I wish I had sought the advice of my mentors sooner, and more often, when I was younger, instead of muddling through training issues by myself. It’s possible to problem-solve through trial and error, but sound advice from a professional you trust works much more quickly.

Maine Reader’s Critique and Review

One of the most rewarding elements of publishing NickerNews and BestHorsePractices is getting to know our readers.

I’m extremely fortunate to know reader Debbie Hight, a Mainer who has developed into a dear friend. Hight often emails her comments on articles, letting us know what works and doesn’t work for her and her horses.

This year, Hight became a member of the BestHorsePractices Summit steering committee. On the non-horse level, she is a busy board member of the Maine Grain Alliance, a Skowhegan nonprofit that runs the popular Kneading Conference each summer.

Amber Lambke, President of Maine Grains, Inc., described Hight:

“She is a graceful swan above water, while she paddles like mad underwater. She can routinely pack 36 hours of work and play into a 24-hour day.”

Said Tristan Noyes, the executive director of the Maine Grain Alliance, “Debbie is passionate and pours herself into goals with dogged determination, positivity, and a terrific sense of humor… You want Debbie on your team, but more importantly, you want her in your life because just being around her makes you happy and inspired. “

Around the farm, Hight is equally energetic, despite her trim, petite frame. According to friend, Rob Rowbottom (who with Hight has been featured in several NickerNews guest columns.):

“Debbie studies hard and her energy is off the chart…We share duties for taking care of six or seven horses. With friendships, you don’t think alike all the time. But we get along well.”

Here, Hight provides feedback for several recent articles:

On Warwick Schiller’s comments of so-called “Freak Accidents:”

I really enjoyed the Schiller rant.  When I walk into the barn or out to the pasture, my mantra is always “what stupid thing will they do today?” I guess that it might be better stated as “what stupid thing will I do today,” after all, they are just being horses.  I have avoided a couple of mishaps lately just by keeping tuned to this mantra.

Rob has been busy lately and that has given me time to be more mindful of my riding and to find solutions to questions, other than yelling and swearing at my horse.  I’ve made good progress at very small things, happily.

On our recent Stabil gear promotion and baling twine recycling:

This year’s weather has meant colder than cold and then a thaw and rain, which really means ICE.  The area around my barn has poor runoff, so I get a lot of ice.  When it is really awful, I generally scoot down and slide into the barn.  Of course, one recent morning, I decided to carry two buckets of water out to the heated buckets.

Yup, I slipped and wore the two buckets.  At 40 degrees, I was ok, not to mention the personal steam.   That was when I decided to look for my shoe grippers, but of course, they fit only with certain boots.  I had to modify them.  So, that is what I do with my baling twine!

I had actually saved balls of it for years, thinking that I would crochet them (and I have NO idea how to crochet) into some kind of bag. In the end, I tossed out the big balls that littered my floor with twine and hay.

Of course, the ice extends into my paddock and the bully, Postcard Jack, likes to chase around Mr. Arthritic Sweetheart, Elliot.  I had someone come out and move snow onto the paddock once last week, but it was warm and sunny and the paddock turned to ice again.

So, yesterday, I shoveled snow by hand onto the ice and packed it down for 5 hours, impressed that I could get a glass of wine to my lips last night. (Guess I need to break down and learn how to use the tractor.)  Then I let them out one at a time.  If Elliot goes down, that might be ballgame. So I do like to take care.

On Confessions of a Sugar-holic:

Hope your healthy eating is going along well.  I thought that it would be a good idea to eat better as well, though I like to think that my habits are pretty good, other than the must-have dessert at night.  But the holidays call for more butter, sugar, alcohol, etc.  Big deal.  Guess I’ll go back to my normal eating pattern and not think so much about it.  As for veganism, I cannot understand what the problem is with eggs, pretty much the perfect food. Thank heavens for eggs! Even the cholesterol people are coming back to it.

Thanks for your email, Debbie!

Stay in touch, dear readers! Contact us here.

Relax with links to horse-friendly humor and poetry

As summer winds down, many of us are soaking up fine rides and remembering the highlights of the season. We might also have our first breathers, breaks in the busy business of riding, haying, training, and get-togethers. As such, let us bring you an array of light reading and viewing:

Ode to Summer, a music video and slide show from our time in Iowa.

When I am an Old Horsewoman, a poem by Patty Barnhart

Boots, Bras, and Balance

Psychology of an Exciting Moment, a wreck reflection

July Storm, by Elizabeth Coatsworth

IMG_9173

Psychology of an Exciting Moment

Scientists try to explain the slow motion phenomenon of a wreck, saying it has something to do with the almighty amygdala.
aaaThey say that cherry-sized bit of brain rules the day when emotions are in play and messes with the laying down of memories.
But what really happens within those three pounds of gelatinous, grey goop as you pitch, crash, fold, and collapse?
For starters, I do not believe it’s Slo-Mo. If they say neuro-connections are electric, then tumbling times become super-charged. They hum and buzz like transformers in the rain. Recollections stay static long after the storm has passed.
If memories of everyday happenings get laid down like thin pads of butter, congealing together over time, then mishap memories start with butter to which we add oats, sugar, olives, beef jerky, and plum preserves.
aaIt’s a mess that won’t coalesce into a loaf of ordinariness.
If an ordinary afternoon is a flat square of blue velvet, an extra ordinary one is a blue velvet pillow, with piping, applique, and swatches of extra color.
If a regular ride is a postcard of a forest, then a ride gone wrong has birds, bugs, smells, and breezes pushing out of the card stock.
That is why – as I shift my weight off the hurt – I remember:
— The fist-sized rocks of the downhill road coming up to meet me
— The cloud of dust settling on lips, legs, and arms
— Blood seeping through that dust, like a commercial’s colored water through a paper towel
aaaa
— Your hand on my knee and your voice saying, “Don’t get up.”
— How quickly the flies descended.
— How sunny the sun.
With these memories, the jostled, jelly organ has its fun.

 

 

Game of Thrones gets horses right

I’ve been sucked into HBO’s Game of Thrones medieval fantasy drama like so many millions of others. It started with an audio book over a long cross-country trip with my son, who helped me learn about the many layers of intrigue, from character development to overarching themes and messages (climate change, feminism, etc).

250px-Dany&TheSilverI give author, George R. R. Martin, proper due for getting horses and horsemanship right. Check out the following Game of Thrones mentions and corresponding articles and posts on NickerNews and BestHorsePractices.

To note in Book 1, A Song of Ice and Fire:

  • Martin writes that tight reins held by frightened riders will result in edgy horses. Read about contact.
  • Mules do better than horses in mountain terrain, notes one of his characters. Read about mules.
  • When contemplating training a horse for an atypical task, his character says, “Better to get a young one, so you don’t have to unlearn it from what it already knows.” Read Brienne-041715about unlearning.
  • After Daenerys has been riding her first horse, Silver, for days on days, Martin writes that the horse knew what she wanted without hearing any cues. Read about softness.
  • The author even weighs in on rider weight, noting that big, heavy-set men need bigger horses. (It should be noted, however, that in the real Middle Ages, all horses were smaller than they are nowadays. The Hound and Brienne of Tarth likely would have struggled to find a suitable horse to ride. Read about rider weight.

 

A Little Bundle of Burro

Burro number 9192, now known as Wallace

Burro number 9192, now known as Wallace

Cute burro faces and persuasive auctioneers make for a dangerous combination. Together, they have a way of convincing you that bringing home a 450-pound burro isn’t much different than bringing home a bunny. If you add to that scenario a cocky belief that handling this animal can’t possibly be more challenging that handling your once-unruly pony, then folks, you have yourself a Set Up.

During the Impact of the Horse event at the Wasatch County Events Center, I’d visited the burro paddock earlier in the day and watched them mill around, looking placid and adorable. I picked out Number 6 for his wise looks and initiative (he made eye contact with me and came over before his herdmates).

I should have noted that none of the BLM handlers were actually handling the burros. They moved

BLM folks at the Impact of the Horse. Why are they smiling so much?

BLM folks at the Impact of the Horse. Why are they smiling so much?

them by opening gates and shutting others. When it came to loading Wallace into my trailer, I backed it up to a corral chute and they waved flags and closed off all other exit options.

With a wave of thanks and a nervous giggle, off I drove with my new cute-n-cuddly charge, onto the mountain highway and into the darkness of one exciting Saturday night.

I arrived home and parked the trailer near our corral. I figured I’d just halter the little fella and lead him into his new home.

Opening the trailer’s center wall, I felt a heavy pressure from the other side. It was Wallace, pressing with all his might, seeking to escape. I reached in to push him off the wall. He responded by trying to bite my arms and quickly resumed his pushing.

While Steve held firm to the wall, I squeezed into the space and attempted to halter him. Wallace’s main interest now became defending himself (more biting as well as kicking) and avoiding the halter.

Wallace is slowly getting used to direct human contact

Wallace is slowly getting used to direct human contact

After 15 minutes of struggle, we had a haltered burro. Steve cautiously opened the barrier and Wallace bolted for his escape, halter-be-damned. Thankfully, I’d looped the line through a brace. When we failed to hold onto him, it held.

With both of us holding steady, we moved as an awkward, frenzied trio towards his enclosure. Later, Steve compared it to deep sea fishing and trying to land a marlin or maybe a tuna. If either of us had let go, Wallace would surely have taken off into the night and into the Oquirrh foothills. That we abut BLM land seemed wickedly ironic at this point.

Steve muttered something about a “recapture fee” and I yelled back, “just don’t let go!”

At last, we maneuvered into the corral and closed the gate. We put our hands on our knees and took a breath. It took another cooperative feat of strength and patience to approach him (by snubbing the line around a tree stump) and to untie his rope halter.

In the moonlight, we watched from the gate as Wallace contemplated his new pile of hay and bucket of water. He glanced back at us, making sure we didn’t have any plans to re-approach. Not tonight, my friend! I’m going up to the house and have myself a big slice of Humble Pie.

Introducing The Clothes Horse

Dr. Steve Peters, author of Evidence-Based Horsemanship

Dr. Steve Peters, author of Evidence-Based Horsemanship

It’s not common knowledge, but aside from being an accomplished neuropsychologist and horse book author, Dr. Steve Peters is a heckuva clothes horse.

He’s mighty particular about his riding outfits. Everything has to be Just So. In the morning, he doesn’t so much as get dressed as he creates an ensemble.

I find this hilarious. As the gal in this partnership, aren’t I supposed to be one standing at the closet door, hand on hip, deliberating what to wear? Isn’t that supposed to be me, checking the mirror to make sure my outfit’s workin’ for me?

(In truth, I tend to wear the same thing, day in, day out. If you asked me to close my eyes and describe what I was wearing, I could only say, “same as yesterday: jeans and t-shirt.”)

Steve doesn’t throw things together. His get-up is varied, respectful of tradition, and well-researched. He pscpulls from a vast inventory (I get just a fraction of the closet space.) He knows the difference between Texas gear, Nevada gear, and Mexican gear. He can discuss the merits of chaps versus armitas versus chinks. And with every weather condition, he’s got an appropriate hat to match.

Who better to kick off Clothes Horse, our new NickerNews feature?

Here, we will feature regular posts by Peters and other fashion-savvy riders as they discuss the decisions, merits, and enthusiasms behind their wardrobe choices.

Stay tuned for his first post, an ode to Texas cowboys.

Think you’d like to contribute to the Clothes Horse? Let us know!

A new regular feature on NickerNews - the Clothes Horse

A new regular feature on NickerNews – the Clothes Horse

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