Insight from a Height; Equine Partnership has Many Forms

Clinicians say their clients are focused more than ever on the development of the horse-rider relationship. The personal connection with a particular horse and the development of thScreen Shot 2016-06-08 at 10.26.20 AMat connection is what matters most to us.

Relationships can certainly grow with studious application. They can also grow with the camaraderie of hours, seasons, and years on the trails. It’s a BFF kind of thing in which decisions are made cooperatively, often subconsciously, and in which the destination is less the point than the journey.

I head out with Pep, the paint pony on a warm, sunny day. My goal is to find a route up Joe’s Canyon and onto Menefee Mountain. The area suffered a devastating wild fire in 2012, so the canyon is marked by a seven-foot deep, mostly dry stream bed with vertical walls. (With no trees or plants left, areas often flood after fires. Subsequent erosion damage can last for eons.)

We find ourselves dropping into the stream bed when the going gets too thick or steep on either side. This strategy involves identifying a not-too-steep place to descend and then an equally doable route for getting back up.

Pep considers the route

Pep considers the route strategy involves identifying a not-too-steep place to descend and then an equally doable route for getting back up.

On one stretch of creek bed, I get off and walk with Pep and the dogs. We come to a cul-de-sac, where dead fall has jammed up the narrow fissure and clogged the way. A box canyon in miniature.

We all stop to examine the remains of a deer who had recently met its demise here. A small pool of water should have triggered a yellow flag in my brain. Instead, I’m just happy the dogs could rehydrate.

I turn to face Pep, who has been more wary about the dead-end spot with its high embankments on each side. I watch as her hooves are being swallowed up by the fluid mix of sand and water underneath us. With Pep in the lead, we u-turn and get out lickety-split. I thank my partner for her attentiveness.

Further along, we need to cross the eroded stream bed again. I clamber down the steep embankment and ask her to follow. Six feet above me on the bank, Pep hesitates. To get out of her way, I climb up the other side, holding the very end of my mecate reins.

Not easy going

Not easy going

We’re staring across a divide at each other. It’s at least six feet across and six feet deep. Pep hesitates, assesses, thinks. I believe she’s flustered by the dogs; they are waiting at her heels for the next move. I call them to my side of the stream bed.

Suddenly, the mare gives me a I-have-a-better-plan look. In a split-second, she bows her head, sits back on her haunches, and l-a-u-n-c-h-e-s herself across the gap to land right beside me.

My jaw drops. I’m made speechless by her daring, by her athleticism, by that I-have-a-better-plan mentality which I’ve come to accept and love.

On days like these, our partnership – one that has had its share of ups and downs, literally and figuratively – becomes that much more of one.

I laugh. She licks her lips. And we continue on our way.


Solo rider tackles the PCT

We talked with Gillian Larson, who blogs here about her travels on the Pacific Crest Trail.

3f7179_5a03747cd358404ea0f16c438be3f1dcThe 24-year old and her two horses, Shyla and Takoda, are cranking out 25-mile days at high elevation. That’s about what the Unbranded team was doing, but Larson is solo and doesn’t have the budget or support of Ben Masters’ Big Adventure. Her total cost is under $20,000. Larson hopes to write a book on the technical aspects of her trek, with plenty of personal anecdotes woven in.

NickerNews: How does your gear compare to that of Unbranded?

Gillian Larson: All of Unbranded’s gear was too heavy for me. I’m at a higher elevation and usually just riding one horse. No pan. No campfire equipment. No bottle of whiskey. The map planning is different. I have a lot more maps available because I’m on the PCT.

NN: The snow is a big issue? You’re chipping away at it out of order, instead of doing it simply from south to north? It was problematic when you tackled it last year?

3f7179_948b73ab712243329f17ffafab1288bdGL: Yes, two thousand miles of the PCT is under snow until July. Doing it out of order is the only way to do it with no snow being an issue.

Initially, I thought I could go from South to North all in order.. But the trail chooses your route. This second time, I have much more respect for the snow

NN: How have your first weeks been going?

GL: It takes time for the horses to get serious about eating. Unfortunately, I don’t have glutinous horses.

Recently, we did 150 miles in six days. I’m hoping to finish by September.

Screen Shot 2016-05-11 at 2.03.19 PMNN: You have an ingenious method for tackling it with minimal support and with minimal gear for your pack horse to carry. Can you explain?

GC: Yes, I have two rigs. I am borrowing my mom’s truck and I have my own. It’s a leap-frogging arrangement. On the map, I’m riding north to south. However, I drive the trucks and trailers south to north.

Safe travels and happy trails, Gillian!

Follow her here.

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
— 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.



We found awesome barn snacks

Here’s the thing with being outside and active: you get hungry.

And the more you tune into your body, the pickier you become about what goes down the gullet. If you listen, your body will tell you what works and what doesn’t.

pickybarsAnd, if research shows that being sedentary and eating fast food can become a destructive, self-fulfilling cycle (It does. Click here.), I’d like to suggest the opposite is also true: eating well and getting outside beget more eating well and getting outside.

So, I was happy to check out the food offerings at the OR. Here are two standouts:

Picky Bars might be the first bar I won’t get sick of. The Bend, Oregon company uses simple ingredients like dates, blueberries, almonds, rice cereal, and apricots. They’re flavorful without being too sweet. They have a balance of complex carbohydrates and protein that tastes good going down and doesn’t wig you out with a rush & crash or the sluggishness that comes from eating too much protein. We tried Blueberry Boomdizzle, Need for Seed (with sunflower butter), and Smooth Caffeinator (with hazelnuts and mocha. Yum.

I love oats. My horses love oats. My genes love oats (I’m fairly fit and trim, yet I still have high cholesterol. Doctors recommend Untitled-1oats.) So, I downright gravitated to the Munk Pack booth which featured single serving packs full of flavored oatmeal. I tried them on rides and hikes; they gave me instant and delayed satisfaction.

The instant element comes from yummy flavors (I tried raspberry coconut and blueberry acai flax.). The delayed satisfaction comes as you feel the nutrients begin to course their way through your system. No rush. No crash. All good.

Skeptics might balk at the packaging and texture. Munk Packs, based in Connecticut, could be mistaken for apple sauce pouches for toddlers. But get over it! It’s what inside that matters. And you can tell kids it’s strictly an adult taste.

Pick either when you’re between meals and still have an hour’s worth of chores or three miles to go until you reach home. Your body will say, “Thanks!”

Read more about what we discovered at the Outdoor Retailer.

Game of Thrones map can’t beat reality

g o t The Game of Thrones series opens every televised episode with a fantastical, moving map, detailing the terrain and boundaries of the Seven Kingdoms. In the show, fans watch battles, treacherous river crossings, and rugged mountain travels. Truly invested fans can then refer to the maps to confirm their understanding.

It’s cool escapism. But I tend to think NickerNews and BestHorsePractices readers prefer the real landscape and real escapism of their own backwoods and familiar trail systems.

Since landing in the Oquirrh mountain foothills of Utah, I’ve learned my way around, shed my fear of steep ascents and descents, adapted to the 6,000 foot elevation, and embraced the rocky terrain (with the help of Renegade Hoof Boots).home turf

Thanks to satellite imagery and USGS topographic maps, I’ve detailed local features and trails and given them names to make it easier to chat about them with family, friends, and fellow riders. There is Nap Rock, Tent Ridge, Raven’s Peak, the Meeting Place, the Intervention site, and so on.

Redmond Equine is building a fun, interactive map of their own. It covers the entire globe and has hundreds of pins for Fave Rides. Anyone can add a pin by sending an image of their Fave Ride (photo must be taken with horse’s ears in the foreground!) and providing a location. Check out my Fave Ride here.

Add yours by visiting this page.

Check out this GoPro tour of the Oquirrh foothills.

Happy Trails!

Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 4.37.47 PM

Ramblers Way suits this rambler’s way

The parcel from Ramblers Way arrived with perfect timing. I was packing for a 20-day, 6,000 mile, truck-camping trip to Ramblers-Way-Farm-logoMaine and back. I might see a washer and dryer at the midway point, but nice-looking, packable, stink-resistant tops would be key. They’d have to be versatile: for city and country, for hiking and reporting stints. They’d have to be warm or cool, depending on weather conditions over three weeks and 20 states.

Read more about Ramblers Way and its founder, Tom Chappell.

Like the perfectly chosen audio book or the most comfortable pair of hiking shoes, these tops were the tops. They helped make the trip easy and enjoyable.

I tried the women’s Henley tank, crew neck and quarter zip polo – all sized medium, in a warm charcoal grey of superfine Rambouillet wool.

“Itchy wool?” you ask.

On the Ramblers Way road

On the Ramblers Way road

No, yummy-next-to-the-skin, lightweight, delectable wool. Not your grandfather’s, scratchy beard wool, I reply.

The three items can be worn together or on their own. I mixed and matched. On a balmy Colorado walk and for a sultry college commencement in New York, the Henley tank served marvelously on its own and under a blazer.

The long-sleeved crew has the perfect neckline for showing off a necklace, but isn’t so scooped to make it inappropriate for active use. I wore it hiking and tucked it into my jeans for a slightly neater look and a dinner engagement.

To be honest, I also wore both as pajama tops, that’s how inseparable I was to these separates.

The quarter zip feels a bit like your favorite flannel shirt, but it’s warmer, classier and exponentially more versatile.

When I buy fabrics like wool or silk, a red flag immediately goes up: What about the dry cleaning or handwashing?

rwwRamblers Way items can be tossed in the washer and dryer. The care instructions say you can also hand wash and line dry them, but they held up well to my regular, no-fuss wash and dry treatment.

The last requirement for an active traveler, of course, is pack-ability. All of the tops were crammed into my pack (they’re made of fine, four and five ounce knit and compact exceedingly well). I even balled up the crew neck and used it to help with my sciatic pain while driving. They retained their shape perfectly and always looked wrinkle-free.

They might cost a bit more, but there’s something to be said for feel, the literal and more thoughtful varieties.

It’s nice on the skin. And, with Ramblers Way’s mission of sustainability and Made in America values, it’s nice on the brain, too.

A real model wears Ramblers Way top

A real model wears Ramblers Way top

Read more about Ramblers Way and its founder, Tom Chappell.

Ramblers Way, talking with Tom

We met Tom Chappell and his new company, Ramblers Way, at the Outdoor Retailer earlier this year.

Most of us know Chappell (pronounced “chapel”) from Tom’s of Maine, the hugely successful, natural toothpaste and personal

Tom Chappell

Tom Chappell

care product company bought by Colgate-Palmolive in 2006.

So, what’s this new gig for the tall, white-haired man who grew up on a farm and spent many a day riding his horse in the fields of Uxbridge, Massachusetts?

Chappell, 72, first brainstormed the Maine clothing company after a trek with his son in Wales, to celebrate the Tom’s of Maine $100 million sale.

They hiked for two weeks in cool, rainy weather. He tried all variety of garb – polypropylene, capilene, silk, wool, cotton – yet, he found nothing would keep him warm, dry, and body-odor free during those 12-mile, rambling days.

He admired the local sheep, seemingly comfortable and content in their own coats.

Ramblers-Way-Farm-logo“My first concept was to have something soft and comfortable, not scratchy, but that would insulate,” said Chappell by phone last month. “I wanted it for active, outdoor use.”

Read review of Ramblers Way products.

He did some research. (His wife, Kate, says he stayed retired for just a few weeks.)

He learned that by using the superfine fibers of the Rambouillet sheep, one could create soft, fine yarn that didn’t itch. From that, you can make light, insulating, breathable clothing.

With help from family members (son Chris Chappell helps on the technological side and daughter Eliza Chappell is a designer.), the company was born in 2009. With their help, the senior Chappell has learned about bounce rates, click-through-rates, and the world of Internet sales.

“If customers see an image of a white-haired guy in a Volvo, they’re just going to move off,” he recalled.

Ramblers Way is not another clothing company, selling high-end products sourced and made in China. Chappell, who earned a Masters from the Harvard Divinity School in 1991, wanted to create something more meaningful and valuable.

Tom Chappell with Rambouillet sheep

Tom Chappell with Rambouillet sheep

Heard of “ethical fashion?” It’s an umbrella term describing a range of issues including working conditions, fair trade, sustainable production, the environment, and animal welfare in the production and sale of clothing.

Ramblers Way is ethical fashion. The wool comes sheep in Colorado, Montana, Nevada, and Maine. It’s sent to mills in the North and South Carolina, then sewn by garment makers in Fall River, Massachusetts. Natural enzymes are used to clean the wool. Plant extracts are used to dye it. And the company has a thorough plan for sustainability which includes geothermal and solar energy for their offices in Kennebunk, Maine.

It started out exclusively on line and as appealing most directly to Baby Boomers. But Chappell learned that reaching younger buyers was crucial. The clothes are now geared for “value-centric” shoppers who are “stylish, fit, and trim,” he said.

He also found he disliked the “lack of relationships” inherent in the online-only entity, said Chappell. So, they connected with retailers. Its clothing is now in 400 independent clothing stores.

Read review of Ramblers Way products.

To Wear or Not to Wear, that’s the Helmet Question

Culture and vanity vie against common sense and science in plenty of our personal decisions. Take tanning:

This year, the World Health Organization added tanning booths to the list of the most dangerous forms of cancer-causing radiation. People get skin cancer and die from frequenting tanning booths and eschewing sunscreen. But there are lots of tans folks out there. Society chooses tan over pale nearly every time.

Likewise, evidence overwhelmingly supports wearing a helmet to protect oneself from head injury while horse riding.

emergencyHere are nuggets from several research projects aimed at riding and hurting your head:

  • Head injuries make up 23 percent of riding injuries resulting in Emergency Room visits. Read more.
  • You’re four times more likely to die while riding if you don’t have a helmet. Read more.
  • Most injuries happen in younger and less experienced riders; many occur when working with a young horse. Read more.
  • Most traumatic brain injuries result from falling or being tossed off a horse, but some happen while on the ground (like being kicked in the head).

Helmet wearing seems to be a no brainer.

Yet millions choose not to wear one and suffer no ill consequence during a lifetime of riding. Insurers increasingly mandate helmets at events and facilities. For the rest of us, the freedom, risk, and choice is personal.

And like many personal choices, folks can get downright emotional about it.


Emily Thomas Luciano with helmet

The usually sensible Rick Gore has a long YouTube tirade against wearing helmets: he says they give riders a false sense of security, empower riders to take greater, ill-advised risks and that only helmet companies are advocating for helmet use. It’s silly stuff, but serves to illustrate how polarized the argument for and against helmets has become.

NickerNews and BestHorsePractices are more concerned with providing perspective and less concerned with taking a position. But here’s a middle of the road stance from our Marketing Director, Emily Thomas Luciano. She writes from her home in Florida:

I’ll be the first to admit that I probably should wear a helmet every time I saddle up, but frankly, sometimes I just don’t want to. Maybe I’m having a good hair day or maybe it’s hot. Whatever the reason, I’m not always the poster child for safety.

I do, however, have a few hard-and-fast times when I’m a stickler for wearing one:

  • If I’m putting the first handful of rides on a horse.
  • If I’m hitting the trail alone.
  • Emily Thomas Luciano without helmet

    Emily Thomas Luciano without helmet

    I take the horse into consideration as well: my mustang gelding who can be a bit unpredictable, so I always wear a helmet when riding him. On the other hand, I leave it off when riding my quarter horse mare that I’ve owned for all of her 15 years.

  • Lastly, I try to be a little smarter about helmet usage when my husband is deployed. With family 12 hours away by car, I couldn’t manage a head injury with him gone.

But really, is a head injury something that any of us can afford to manage?

The risk and choice is yours.

Read Anatomy of a Wreck.

Perfect Barn Coat Found

IMG_4054Some years back, I got quite a scare. Within 24 hours, my horse went from fine to perilously sick. Dr. Charlie Brown from Annabessacook Veterinary Clinic answered the midnight call. She initiated the intensive care that helped save the big thoroughbred gelding. Read more about it here.

In the eye of the storm, I noticed Charlie had a pretty nice-looking barn coat – brown, cotton, multi-pocketed and falling below the hips. Cabela’s sold them, she said.

As a sort of celebratory purchase, I bought one. It was functional but didn’t shed hay or horse hair. I brought plenty into the house or car whenever I wore it. Nor did it look nice enough to wear in town without looking and feeling frumpy. So, I kept looking. Carhartt and LL Bean jackets have served me well, but they didn’t exactly ooze femininity or fit the horse-tending bill.

Now, the quest for the perfect barn coat is over. I found it in Cotopaxi’s Bengal insulated waxed canvas jacket.

Enter “nickernews” at checkout to receive 20% off.

bengal-side-pockets-2Surprisingly enough, Cotopaxi didn’t design it with us horse gals in mind. You’d never know. Here are some features which suit our needs and wants:

  • Waxed canvas means you don’t bring hay, hair or shavings with you. They shed off, along with the rain and snow.
  • Side snaps at the hips make it perfect for riding.
  • Pockets don’t billow out, giving it a tailored look while still retaining functionality.
  • It’s insulated with Polartec, but has a nylon lining. Layers slip under it easily and you don’t inadvertently turn the sleeves inside out when taking it off.
  • It falls below the hips, making it all the warmer and classier.
  • Snaps and flaps on pockets means they don’t fill with hay (or snow). Nor does your phone or camera fall out.

It’s good to note that this jacket is styled for slim figures. If you’re between sizes, order up.

bengal-lifestyle-oxford-blue-womens2_7dd245e4-3755-4fd1-9ecb-983801fc1feeCotopaxi is a Utah company that partners with non-profit organizations. Their “Gear For Good” is direct to consumer and helps fund a wide array of charities.

Purchase of the Bengal jacket helps fund Radiating Hope; it provides radiation equipment, training, and cancer treatment in developing countries.

Enter “nickernews” at checkout to receive 20% off.

Read Cotopaxi backpack review.

Montana gal crafts what we crave

AdvStu-9-editloresHere’s the thing about jewelry and women like us (smart, lively, and outdoors-y):

We appreciate style, but will choose no-fuss over fashion.

We enjoy earrings and necklaces, but not if they get in the way or cost too much.

We especially like products and companies with a good back story.

Adventurista Designs has these elements in spades.

We met founder Meghan Holler at the Outdoor Retailer this summer.

Holler is an adventurista, defined here as an active woman with a passion for travel and exploration.

She lives in Missoula, Montana, but has traveled widely. She’s hiked, biked, and kayaked in Argentina, Ecuador, and Peru. She took a horseback tour in Bolivia, checked out the Galapagos Islands, Cuba and parts of the Middle East as well.

Over the miles and years, she honed her sense of what works and what wholly fails when seeking to look good on the go. She sought out jewelry for active women, but found a whole lot of tribal and stick figure stuff. “It was all kind of masculine,” said Holler. “Not something I’d want to wear if I was going out ad vento dinner or dressing up.”

Soon after landing in Missoula, Holler decided to solve the problem. She created Adventurista Designs to fill the niche, to “offer something I could never find.”

The result is lovely, functional pieces you can wear in the barn or boardroom, on a horse, mountain, or plane.

I tried Puff Drop and Large Open Oval earrings. Both were so light, I forgot I was wearing them until a friend said, “I love your earrings!”

The Puff Drops are made of sterling, but are hollow so they swing easily and don’t pull on your ear. If pearl studs are that standard go-to earring for a classy look, these are the happier, more fun-loving alternative.

I also wore the Water Drop necklace which features enamel beads and a sterling drop on a colorful cord. It has a fabulous magnetic clasp which not only makes it super easy to attach, but proved itself worthy on a recent ride:

My horse and I were navigating a tricky stretch of trail, thick with juniper and very steep. I asked her to turn off an AdvStu-21lores-2embankment, but she balked and barged through the brush. I ducked quickly and felt juniper branches scraping down my neck and back. They snagged the necklace’s thin cord. Had the clasp not released, I’d either have a broken necklace or a very sore neck. Thankfully, I had neither and retrieved it from the trail, still good as new.

Another nice thing about Adventurista Designs? No middle man. You can order straight from home and take comfort that in a little western Montana shop, a few like-minded women are crafting your next favorite trinket.

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