Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Part IX in the series on Horse Packing How-To: Setting up camp

The first tid bit of advice, coming from my recent experience of doing it alone: work together! Share the work load!

Usually, it’s the three of us (my husband, son, and self) and we all take our respective jobs. It is pretty much the same when just the three of us are out there, or if we have a group of clients we are taking on a pack trip. After unsaddling and turning out the horses, a job which always comes first, the next order of business tends to be to string up a large tarp. The tarp is double duty – it serves as a mantie or cover for the panniers on the pack saddle as well. At camp, the tarp will serve as “camp kitchen,” and sometimes, all we need for sleeping quarters. In stormy weather, it’s a good place to unpack the panniers and sort out the camp supplies, keeping gear (and yourself) relatively dry.

Our two quickest methods for hanging the tarp: One is by stringing a lash rope from one tree to another, using the cinches for tree savers. Run the tarp length wise, centered across the rope, then string out and down all four corners to neighboring trees or to stakes in the ground, creating an instant gable shaped roof line. Method two is stretching and tying off diagonally opposite corners to trees, up high enough to make a comfortable and workable ridge line, then tying off the two other opposite corners to stakes in the ground. This way is fast and easy, though your tarp may not be as high. Even works quite well for one person, as I learned recently.

After the tarp shelter is secured, then the other assorted tasks can be delegated. One of us gathers wood and water, digs a fire pit, starts the fire, and purifies water if need be. One of us sets up the tent, if we are using one, or lays out the sleeping pads and bags and pulls out camp chairs (a great luxury and one of the finest reasons for selecting horse camping instead of back packing!). And one of us unpacks the groceries and starts the meal. I can pretty well guarantee by this time, we’re hungry and tired.

As a single camper, this can seem like quite a lot of work after a day in the saddle, as I learned. However, when we work together, like with so many things in life, we make light work of it. It’s just one small “chore” for each of us, and a good way to stretch out after a day horseback.

And before you know it, camp is set, we’re sitting comfortably by the warm fire, eating a good meal, and enjoying the incomparable view of the wilds in the evening in the high country.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Obstacles along the trail

I learned the hard way about solo horse packing. However, the best thing I learned was that it’s really not so hard.

The biggest obstacle is, of course, fear.

Fear of runaways. What if my horses leave me, run for home, and I get stranded out miles from a road on a trail I probably won’t see anyone on for a day or so? What I found out was that after the first night of being tied up next to my tent and being let out to graze at first light, just the two of them quietly eating next to me sitting on a log with my hot coffee in hand, was that only through trials and traumas like this do we really bond. My horses were there with me, in body and mind. Perhaps it was survival. They were going to stick with me. By the second night, in a new camp, I allowed one to graze untethered. When he became frightened, he ran back to me. I learned to trust them. They were trusting me.

Fear of bears. Probably the most common question folks ask. And truth be known, I slept with a weapon by my sleeping bag, just because of the fears others have instilled in me with these questions. Around these parts, a loud noise (and I can be loud) is enough to scare a bear away. I have done that. I have lived in bear country for years, know how rare they choose a human confrontation, and have even chased a bear away by myself. I should know better than to be afraid of wildlife. Respectful and understanding, yes. Paranoid, no thank you.

Fear of being lonely or bored. Well, I’m a solitary sort. I don’t know if I’ve been bored for more than a fleeting moment in my entire adult life. And loneliness is a state of mind. Alone need not be lonely. I had a loving husband and son back home. That is a security blanket to wrap around any time loneliness may poke its ugly face in the “alone” picture. In the meanwhile, I cherish time alone. And besides: when you’re with horses, you are never alone.

Fear of getting lost. Perhaps this could be a true fear if I was in unknown territory. But I had been on this trail twice in my life. It was not entirely new. More important, I know these mountains well enough from years of working and exploring with my boys. And most important, after spending enough time off the beaten trail with my husband and son, I’ve learned enough about survival that “lost” I suppose is a “more or less” deal, kind of like alone/loneliness. Taking an alternate or indirect route might be a better way to call it. But lost? By now I better be able to find my way around. I suppose this is where preparation, planning, and experience come in. Believe me, I’m not trying to brag here. My experience is still minimal compared to many. But I was not heading out unprepared. I knew what I was doing, and where I was going. More or less.

Fear of people. The stereotypical back country crazy man? My fear of people is tested enough back home with my neighbors. On the trail, however, folks are pretty awesome and friendly. As a rule, I stop and talk to everyone I see. There are some neat folks out there. I try to be “an ambassador for the sport” at each opportunity which arises. I think we all should be. However, the opportunity didn’t arise much. I ran into one man on a motorbike on the first day, and a couple backpacking on the third day. They were, as I expected, great encounters.

Now, what did turn out to be the hardest part above and beyond the fear in my own mind was the physical work. Doing the work that I am used to sharing with three: me, my husband, and our son. Going alone in this respect was HARD. Setting up and breaking down camp, lifting the load on the pack horse, lashing down the load alone, preparing meals and cleaning, gathering water... Riding was easy. This other stuff was hard. I learned a few tricks, and a few things I’d do different next time. First, I want a small pack horse! My days of lifting a fully loaded pannier onto a 15.2 hand horse are OVER. Well, truly, I don’t think I could ever lift 60 pounds alone that high. So, I have these fantasies of a couple of little horses or mules… no more than 13 hands high. In the meanwhile, I learned I could load just a fraction of the panniers first. Then lift that small load on the pack saddle. And then stuff the rest of my load into the panniers in place on the saddle, standing on my tippie toes, or on a stump or rock if available. I didn’t bring a scale, but weighed my contents before leaving the ranch, and kept track of what went in each pannier. I actually kept a list, and this worked well for repacking evenly each time.

Setting up and breaking down camp, including pitching tent, stringing up a tarp, gathering fire wood and water, covering the saddles and gear, etc. took one hour in the evening and one hour in the morning. I reckon next time I’d try an easier tent. Simplify! But I don’t know how to save much time there… except share the work load!

And tending the horses takes about a total of ½ hour in the evening and ½ hour in the morning. I wouldn’t skimp on their care. As they’d graze in the evening, I’d brush them out and double check for any wounds or sores (of which there were none). My one mistake here was that I didn’t pack them any treats. There is plenty of good high mountain grass out there; they did not go hungry. But the extra treat also represents extra care and loving, and my horses would have appreciated that. Goodness knows they deserved it.

See? It was not so hard, and will be even easier… next time!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Going alone

I don’t know why I did it, except for some ceaseless, burning voice inside me, whispering, almost nagging like the wind that I had to go.

In part, I did it for myself. In part for my son. In part for my husband. And a part for anyone else who might be intrigued or inspired by what some middle aged woman born in Jersey might do after living in the wide open wild mountains this long.

It was not a big deal, not a long trip. I planned on four days and three nights. I completed it in three days, two nights. And during that short time, I accomplished all I set out to do. I had all the adventure I set out to find. I achieved all the goals I made for myself. And by returning early, showed my husband and son how important they are to me. Brownie points.

It was certainly not about getting away from them. It was just about proving I could do it myself. All by myself. Something I used to always feel I could do before I got married (that was later in life – I was 35). Something I used to feel before my “little boy” surpassed me in height. Now six feet tall and still growing, I surprise myself to hear how often I ask him to help; how regularly I leave the hard, high, heavy work for him to handle; how much I turn to him now when chances are, I could do it myself.

And then there is the issue of proving oneself. To oneself, to ones family. Not so much to prove strength, ability, independence. No, it is far more than that. More important, I feel, was that I wanted to prove to my son that with proper preparation combined with confidence in ones self, a hunger for adventure, and a trust in faith, in whatever direction ones faith may follow… that one can do anything. We can go anywhere. We can be anything we want. Even some crazy woman’s version of Jeremiah Johnson, just for a few days.

My faith is in my horses. My mountain. My boys. My self, including body and mind strong enough to get me through alone. Mother Earth and her wilds, her wildlife. This is my temple. And so, in a way, I set off to a sanctuary, both within and around me.

It was just a pack trip, a solitary journey covering 40 miles in the mountains we call our Big Back Yard. A distance my boys could cover within hours on motor bike or snowmobile (if allowed into the Wilderness…). A horseshoe shaped path around our ranch. Just me, my riding horse, and my pack horse.

No big deal, I suppose. Yet I feel bigger for it. I feel as if I climbed my own Everest. That’s nothing I’ve wanted to do, but this, a solitary pack trip, was. And I did it.

I tell my husband we can not wait for change. We have to create it. If it comes unannounced, we learn to ride the waves. But in the meanwhile, instead of sitting back on the shore and waiting for the big one, we can dive in and enjoy. Change is all around us, with every ebb and flow. It is what helps us see the magnificence in the sun rise, the beauty in the evening light, the joy in every day, as every day is new, and we too are as new as the hour. If we let ourselves. If we remind ourselves. And sometimes, if we challenge ourselves.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A DVD Review of "The Linda Tellington-Jones Series: Riding With Awareness"

Not being one to leave the mountain very often, I have learned a great deal at home from books and DVDs. They have been my horse mentors. All of different names, styles, philosophies, teachings… and from each, I have taken what works for me and my horses, at whatever level I find myself learning at… or stuck at.

After a summer of theory in practice, but little time to sit and watch a DVD, my boys are off to town (getting me, or rather my horses, more winter hay) and I found myself with time… I chose to watch “The Linda Tellington-Jones Series: Riding With Awareness” DVD. This comes with special thanks to Kim from Enlightened Horsemanship Through Touch. Thanks to her Blogging Contest earlier this year, I was able to receive and view this DVD.

Let me start by saying that although I have heard of Tellington-Jones, and the T-Touch for many years, I have not read her books nor seen her speak first hand. From there, I can tell you, I learned it is time I did…

The majority of the material covered in this DVD is not basic, introductory information about the TTEAM approach, philosophy and method. It is assumed (and suggested) that the viewer has essential knowledge of Tellington teachings. I did not, however was still able to get a good deal out of this DVD. In fact, I was so inspired by the bits and pieces I could put together from her very clear and simple teachings, combined with my previous horsemanship knowledge, that after viewing mid-way, I couldn’t resist running out, saddling up my little Arab stallion and trying some new stuff with him. To great result. Then after watching the second half, I can’t wait to saddle up again tomorrow to test out more new methods.

Her teaching made sense to me. The fundamental premise she began with was the statement that everything you do should be as comfortable as possible for you and your horse. If it’s uncomfortable for either one, we (more than likely: me) are doing something wrong. I fully agree, however I do not always figure out the right way on my own.

Her section on practicing hand movements with the reins on an innocent victim (her sister) were so clear that although I could not find a willing victim, I could see the point Linda was making, and you just sort of “feel” the right way as she’s talking and showing you, if you pay attention. Likewise, her simple demonstration of the posting trot, again using her sister here standing up from a chair, was one of those “Duh, why didn’t I think of that before?” moments.

I do not (to refer back to a comment from Jane of the Literary Horse) drink anyone’s Kool Aid, but try to take what works for me, my horses, and my somewhat unusual circumstances of high mountain outfitting with a positive approach to horsemanship. And although I do believe everyone out there has something to teach you if you’re open to listen and learn, there are some people you can see have obvious and great knowledge, skill and insight when it comes to riding, horses and horse handling. I could see Tellington-Jones was one such person, and that I would be smart to take the time to listen to her. I may not want to follow her or any teacher’s direction 100%, but a good teacher I would imagine leaves room for the student to take what works for them and their horses, and put new theory into practice.

For example, although I believe all horses should accept and understand a variety of bits, I prefer riding and refining my little stud with a hackamore, a traditional rawhide bosal and horsehair mecate. Many of the same principles Linda teaches for her roller leverage bit worked wonderfully well with the hackamore.

Well, a detailed review for those already knowledgeable of Tellington’s TTEAM solutions this is not. But for those of us “green” to her teachings yet with a basic knowledge of horsemanship skills, it’s a good step forward in learning, and a good start to understanding the T-Touch and TTEAM systems. I can say it has inspired me to see and learn more from Linda Tellington-Jones… Any more contests coming up, Kim?