Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Rogue Wave Ridge

The past week and a half have been intensive find-the-BLOY days... the annual BLack OYstercatcher survey week followed by the annual follow-up week of surveys. I love this yearly excuse to spend time at the coast, especially during the beautiful weather we've had for each of our survey days. The BLOY have been pretty cooperative, too. Here's one I came upon quite unexpectedly while emerging from a path I'd never been on before at Boiler Bay. I love exploring new paths to new vistas overlooking rocky shorelines, the favored Black Oystercatcher habitat.

And here is the beautiful coastline where that BLOY and quite a few others live. We found eight Black Oystercatchers on our follow-up survey yesterday to Boiler Bay.

Boiler Bay gets its name from all that's left of a long ago shipwreck -- the boiler -- corroding away.
Once in a while, though, the hunt for Black Oystercatchers is more exciting than appreciated. And so it was at Cape Kiwanda last week. While Johnny set up the scope at the parking lot to survey Haystack Rock, a mile out at sea, and the south side of the Cape, where a BLOY was conveniently foraging, I climbed the dune to check on the pair that often hangs out on a cliff side by an inlet. They were, indeed, in their favored spot, just resting.

They didn't seem to be going anywhere anytime soon, so I trekked on out to the end of the cape, to see if there were any BLOY on the rocks visible only from that point. But the tide was high and no BLOY in sight. I started back toward the dune. I was on the highest ridge, many meters from the end of the cape, when I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, a wave coming toward me... not a lapping at my feet sort of wave but one that looked to be coming *over* me. I hit the deck, or rather the sandstone ridge. That seemed preferable to being washed out to sea. The wave washed over my legs and was gone as quickly as it had come. I made a quick exit back to the safety of the dune.

I had heard about rogue waves, those that loom up much higher than the highest waves around them with troughs on either side, coming out of a calm sea for apparently no reason, swallowing ships. But I never expected to find one on the top of Cape Kiwanda, washing over me.

Yesterday, during our follow-up survey to the Cape, also near high tide, I did not go out on Rogue Wave Ridge, as it shall forever after be known (at least to me). Instead, I took photos of it from the dune. There were two people on the ridge when I took one of these photos but they're not very visible. In the first photo, the ridge I was on is the farthest in the distance, with just the top of Haystack Rock peaking up behind it. The closer view shows Haystack Rock looming large behind the ridge (with a small human visible if you look closely... standing about where I was when the wave hit).

There is just as much of the cape beyond that ridge as shows in front of the ridge in the second view. But, somehow, a wave, many times taller than its neighbors, rose up and washed over a small portion of that ridge... where I happened to be at that moment. Scary. Very scary.

Normally, our trips are much less exciting. In fact, they are pretty relaxing. We often sit for long leisurely moments, watching an Oystercatcher to see if it has a partner and if they're nesting, all the while we're enjoying the view, often of seals and sometimes whales, Bald Eagles and/or Peregrine Falcons. Here's Johnny hard at work on Fishing Rock, just north of Boiler Bay.

It's a pretty good job... if you don't happen to run into a rogue wave.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Steffen Peters at Traumhof!

It has been a week since I audited the Steffen Peters clinic at Traumhof and I still don't know how to describe that weekend. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that the top dressage rider in the U.S., whom I had seen winning the Bronze on Ravel at the World Equestrian Games last fall, would be teaching some of the best trainers in the Northwest at my son and daughter-in-law's barn in Washington this May... and playing tennis on the WII with my grandson.

It was a magical experience for the riders and the many auditors, as well as for me. Trainers riding in the clinic came from Canada, Washington and Oregon. Steffen rode many of the horses to get a feel for what was going on and then told the rider what to do to correct that horse's issues. Imagine having your horse ridden by Steffen Peters! Not surprisingly, there was a waiting list a mile long of trainers hoping to get into the clinic. Here is Siggi Wolff watching Steffen ride her horse French Kiss. Siggi, a Washington-based trainer from Germany, posted on facebook that "Frenchie", under Steffen's tutelage, made tremendous progress over the weekend.

Steffen trains people the way he trains horses: tell them at the beginning what is expected of them, keep it simple and make sure they understand, do not tolerate any deviation from what is expected, praise them when they get it right.

His emphasis all weekend was on "rideability". Some people have asked Steffen how he rides with such soft hands. "I do not get on any horse and ride with two fingers," he assured us. "I *train* my horses to be ridden softly." He spent the weekend attempting to teach the riders how to do just that themselves.

It was reassuring to me to see that these high level riders, many of whom have trained numerous horses to FEI levels, have some of the same riding issues that I have ("keep your legs under you... not so far back... heels down"). And some of these highly trained horses still have some of the same issues my training level horse has ("stretching to the hand is okay, looking for the bit is okay, but pushing against the hand is not.") ... or they did on Day One. By Day Two they had made amazing progress... thanks to Steffen's insistence on correct rider position and use of aids. It sounds so much easier that it is.

Self-carriage is the goal, said Steffen. To get there, work in whatever frame that works for that horse's conformation and temperament and mood that day. With a lower level horse who was not accepting the bit and bulling ahead (like my Mr. Smith does), Steffen had the rider keep him low so he couldn't pull the reins away from her. "Is he behind the vertical? Yes. Would the judges like that? No. But if it works to keep him listening, it's okay. He must learn to accept the bit."

Keep it simple was his mantra, so the horse can understand what we're asking. "We don't want to make this into rocket science," he said several times. Then he told about a clinic he held in Australia when he used that phrase. "An auditor stood up and said, 'I am a rocket scientist. And this is ten times more difficult than rocket science.'" We all agreed!

Traumhof, always a beautiful place, was especially sparkling for this exciting weekend thanks to the many hours of work by boarders, trainers, staff and family in the weeks before. Flowers bloomed everywhere.

Ian was in charge of the concession stand and proudly set up the display.

Ian also challenged Steffen to lunch break games on the WII. Steffen, a thoroughly nice guy as well as a superb rider/trainer, took up the challenge and looked to be having as much fun as Ian.

Most exciting of all, Steffen will be back at Traumhof next year for another clinic! As soon as I know the date (it will be posted on the web site), I will plan my goat kiddings and reserve our farm sitter so I am sure not to miss it. Maybe by then, I will have Mr. Smith properly accepting the bit (after all these years), using what I hope I learned at this year's amazing Steffen Peters clinic. Miracles happen. It did one weekend in May at Traumhof.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

2 Busy 2 Blog

As a reminder to myself and as a preview for anyone who reads this, when I catch my breath I will blog about the events of the last week:

Steffen Peters Clinic at Traumhof!

More American Dipper Stories

Bad Dogs and Good Birds Day

Black Oystercatcher Marathon

The Blooming Jungle Room

The Herb Bed Turned Raspberry Bed Story (or Dumb Garden Ideas I Have Tried)

And because photos are my favorite part of my blog, here's one of the Hoya that's been blooming upstairs for way too long and perfuming evenings and mornings to the point where I can't breathe. It has a wonderful aroma, but there really can be too much of a good thing.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Red-tailed Hawk Nest

Every year a pair of Red-tailed Hawks nest somewhere on our property or very close by. In the good old days, they nested in a tree at the edge of our lower pasture. The nest was huge and nestled against the trunk. We were able to watch the nestlings being fed, tromping around the branches after they were older screaming for food, and finally, daring to make that leap into the air and fly. But the top of the tree broke off in one of our major wind storms, taking the nest with it. Since then, we've had a tough time finding where the pair builds their nursery. It seems to be in a different place every year, judging from the sounds of begging youngsters, but only a few years have we actually found the nest's location.

I had given up finding it this year and strolled down toward Agency Creek today just to see what birds were about and what flowers were blooming. (And to take a break from digging out the defunct herb bed in preparation for turning it into a raspberry row.)

The lower pasture was yellow with buttercups. Blooming amidst the buttercups were jillions of wild strawberries. (Obviously, horses don't like buttercups or strawberries.)

Our best view of Spirit Mountain is from that lower field.

The Bleeding Hearts (or Dutchman's Breeches as I've always called them) were in full bloom in the woods. Agency Creek was lovely in the afternoon sun. (Yes, sun! All day! And 70 degrees!)

As I approached the big mossy log at the edge of the creek I heard Red-tailed Hawk begging cries. They sounded very close. I scanned the firs on the other side of the creek but could see nothing. But then something at almost the very top of a very tall fir moved. An adult Red-tail took off. I trained my binoculars on the place the hawk had been and found the nest!! The hawks must be feeding offspring now as they returned again and again. I watched an adult apparently ripping something apart, presumably prey to stuff down a hungry nestling's throat although I could see no nestlings, looking up at the bottom of the nest as I was.

Pictured is the nest tree on the right of the far left photo. The large fir to the left of the nest tree is our boundary line across the creek so the nest tree is just off our property. In the photo on the far right is the nest, zoomed up almost as far as my camera will zoom. The fuzzy middle photo has, if you look closely, an adult hawk by the side of the nest, with my camera maxed out on zoomability. Perhaps you can at least pick out the hawk's head.

There were many birds besides Red-tailed Hawks out enjoying themselves on this sunny day in the woods, from Red-breasted Sapsuckers to various Warblers, Goldfinches, Purple Finches, Chickadees and more. But finding the nest was an exciting highlight in a lovely, highly lit day.

Of course, the raspberry bed is still unfinished. It will have to wait for another day.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Happy Birthday, Polly!

Polly, our registered Morgan mare Renwood Pollianne, is 32 years old today. I figure there are 2 1/2 people years for every horse year making Polly the equivalent of 80 years old, if she were a person. I wanted to get a photo of her today, on her birthday, but it is rainy and cold, so I dashed outside and snapped her pic as she grazed by the pond, unbrushed and dirty. She is a little thin these days, but still sound and happy, living with her beloved Mr. Smith, her daughter Jessie Anne, and her granddaughter Nightingale. What a wonderful legacy she has given us. We had no idea when she came to live with us 14 years ago what a greatl horse she would turn out to be.

We bought Polly when she was 18 as a companion for my two-year-old Morgan colt, Mr. Smith (Rogue Hill's Skybird). I researched Polly's history by contacting the Morgan farm where she was bred. It was a sad story. Polly's mother had been leased, in foal, to a couple in Washington. The deal was that those people would get the first foal, rebreed her to the same stallion and the breeder would get the second foal. But one week after the mare had a filly foal, the mare fell into an irrigation ditch and drowned. The foal, Polly, was raised on a bottle by the people who had leased her mother. But since there was going to be no second foal and the breeders were not going to get their mare back, they took Polly home when she was weaned at four months of age. So Polly lost both her birth mother and her surrogate human parents when she was just a young foal.

As a two-year-old, Polly had sticky stifles (a condition where the ligament covering the stifle joint of the hind leg, equivalent to our knee, gets caught and prevents the horse from bending that leg). At the time, it was believed that the only cure was to cut that ligament. Now it is realized that usually young horses outgrow the problem. Polly had both stifles cut. It is also now known that the ligament usually grows back normally after this operation, but the breeder didn't know that and thought Polly was good for nothing but a pasture ornament. She was sold to some people down the road for just that. Separation number 3.

Those people soon ran into financial difficulties and sold Polly to a man who used her for packing elk out of the mountains. This was probably the best time thus far of Polly's life. From all we could gather, he loved his horses and took good care of them. He bred Polly to a registered Morgan stallion. Unfortunately, before she foaled or shortly after, this kind man died of cancer. Polly and her foal were left to fend for themselves on a hillside acreage. The foal soon died.

Our friends Hazel and John inquired about the mare living on a hillside near them and were able to buy her from the deceased owner's brother. Polly was thin with long, unkempt hooves. They brought her back into good health and had her feet taken care of. But they had no other horses, just goats, and Polly often walked the fence line crying for the horses on the other side of the road. Hazel and John did not have time to ride and offered to sell her to us as Mr. Smith's companion.

Polly fell in love with Mr. Smith. After all her separations, she did not want him ever out of her sight. We thought having a foal would help her be less stressed when I took Mr. Smith out for a ride, so we bred her to a buckskin Morgan. Unfortunately, the stallion stood many miles from us and Polly had to go live there for a time. She was heartbroken at being separated from Mr. Smith.

Fortunately, the stallion owner had a young daughter who loved horses. I enlisted 6-year-old Emily's help in keeping Polly exercised, brushed, and loved. For the first week, Polly stood with her head in the corner, miserable. But soon Polly bonded with young Emily and with the other horses. When we came to get her after she was bred, she didn't want to come home! Emily had ridden gentle Polly bareback around the paddock nearly every day with just a halter and rope. Here is that mite of a girl on Polly at Blacksaddle Morgans in 1998.
Once home again, Polly went right back to being Mr. Smith's shadow. To keep her in shape during her pregnancy, I drove her to Mom's cart, the wooden cart Mom bought years ago for a lawn ornament and later gave to me. My dad and Johnny restored it. Mr. Smith and Polly both learned to drive in front of this cart. This photo was taken in April 1999, two months before Polly foaled.
Jessie Anne was born on our daughter-in-law Jessica's birthday in June. I was not there for the birth, having taken a fall off Mr. Smith three days earlier and landed in the hospital with broken bones and a punctured lung. These photos, on the day Jessie Anne was born, were taken by my father, who drove the 70 miles from his ranch to our farm to take them, then 35 miles back to Salem to get them developed, and 25 miles to the McMinnville hospital so I could see my new foal on the day she was born. What a great dad. And what a great mother Polly turned out to be.

Jessie Anne is now 12 years old. Since then, Polly has given many, many people their first ride on a horse. Countless school children have sat on Polly's back. Many adults who had become afraid to ride gained confidence again after being taken care of by Polly. She knows before someone climbs on how well they can ride and acts accordingly. Polly is a one-in-a-million horse. We had no inkling of what we had brought into our lives all those years ago.

Polly's palomino daughter Jessie Anne foaled when she was four years old with a black filly, Nightingale. Here are the three mares together in 2009... a colorful herd all from plain ol' chestnut Polly.

The photo below was taken last September. Then 31-year-old Polly is on the left; Mr. Smith on the right. Three generations of purebred Morgan mares are in Mr. Smith's little herd. Thank you, Polly, and happy birthday!