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Quadrille!!

 

Back in early spring four of us formed a dressage quadrille team. We had never done this before, and it was “fraught”! I had just acquired my new mare, Charm, and she was not fond of drill team-style riding. Didn’t like other horses coming at her. Didn’t like being squashed among three other horses. Expressed her opinion by bucking, snarking, weaving, snapping, tail swishing, ear pinning and any other number of horsey rebellion tactics. Another horse was intermittently lame (read: of uncertain status to guarantee appearance at a horse show). A third (another mare) decided that this was the year she would be in heat about every other week. Which meant she preferred to stop every other minute to pee whether she was part of the quadrille or not. Can’t have that happening in a show! The fourth horse was a pretty good egg. Thankfully.

Here’s a pic of the former trouble maker this past Sunday at the Willow Tree show where we (now known as the “Rockin’ Riders”) presented our debut performance of our quadrille. She doesn’t look like a trouble maker because miraculously in the last week before the show she decided to get with the program.

 

Here I am with Charm, who is looking like a proper dressage horse. Quiet, obedient...

Here I am with Charm, who is looking like a proper dressage horse. Quiet, obedient…

For the quadrille our leader chose 50′s rock and roll for music and poodle skirts for a costume. There was some doubt at first about the poodle skirts but they too miraculously turned out to be perfect for the theme. The class we entered was an “anything goes freestyle”, which meant that we could come up with the most creative costumes we could imagine and that we also could create our own choreography rather than following the patterns of a standard dressage test. We worked on costumes and choreography pretty much up to the last minute with the thought always in the back of our minds that we would muff the timing or the horses would help us mess up if we weren’t capable of messing up by ourselves! But the miracles continued, and on Saturday we had a near perfect performance and got a score of 80%! Here’s a little sampling of what we looked like–

Perfect single file down the center line.

Perfect single file down the center line.

Perfect timing on our crossing where each pair meshed with the other.

Perfect timing on our crossing where each pair meshed with the other.

Perfect start to a pinwheel in front of the judge's booth. Even the horses' legs were in sync!

Perfect start to a pinwheel in front of the judge’s booth.

Four abreast down the centerline.

Four abreast down the centerline.

These photos are from Sunday’s performance which, while good, had a couple of bobbles in it and lowered our score by about 4 points. But that didn’t matter because all of our months of hard work and pain and frustration paid off when everything came together in the end way beyond our wildest expectations. 80%–that’s practically unheard of! When the judge stands up and laughs and smiles and claps for you (two judges–a different one each day) you know you got something right!

If you feel inspired to watch the whole thing, you can entertain yourself here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gRT22NAlhl0

The last two weekends were horse show weekends for me, two days at Reins of Life in South Bend, IN and three days at the Fox River Valley Pony Club horse trials in Barrington Hills, IL. First off, the most important thing from the artistic point of view–I completed five new Aquabord™ paintings while I was at these events, so I’m here to show them off! All are available for purchase, $35 each plus shipping. Details on my website.

Two bachelor stallions from my mustang trip.

“Sparring”–Two bachelor stallions from my mustang trip.

Two more bachelor stallions. Go, boys!

“Pursuit”–Two more bachelor stallions. Go, boys!

Scopey bay from last year's FRVPC show.

“Scope”–eponymous scopey bay from last year’s FRVPC show.

Another bay, this one from Fox Valley Saddle Association mini event.

“Effortless”–Another bay, this one from Fox Valley Saddle Association mini event.

Elegant palomino from last year's FRVPC show.

“Elegance”–Classy palomino from last year’s FRVPC show.

As anybody who has followed my blog for a few years knows, it wouldn’t be a benefit horse show at Reins of Life without some mud. Who would have thought, from this gorgeous vantage point?

Reins of Life's pristine dressage ring.

Reins of Life’s pristine dressage ring.

Until you looked here–

Except for the puddle at A

Except for the puddle at A

But no matter, Reins of Life had what I love to see–very happy riders! A smile says it all.

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And one talented little rider may be going horse shopping soon.

Cutest kid on the cutest pony will soon be outgrowing her steed from the looks of her legs!

Cutest kid on the cutest pony will soon be outgrowing her steed from the looks of her legs!

Fox River Valley Pony Club had been dodging rain successfully for the entire week, so setup in the field was a breeze. Nothing worse than trying to set up or tear down your booth in the rain. Here’s what it looked like in the dressage warmup area the first morning (all that green and one would think this was Ireland, not northern Illinois).

Morning weather tease

Morning weather tease

Warmup area gets crowded when you have 250 horses entered.

Warmup area gets crowded when you have 250 horses entered.

"Green as grass"

“Green as grass”

The next afternoon, near the end of the cross-country phase, this happened…

Rain. Wind. Thunder. Lightning. My booth, behind the white truck. It survived unscathed.

Rain. Wind. Thunder. Lightning. My booth, behind the white truck. It survived unscathed.

Riders who were out on the cross-country course had to hurry back to shelter as quickly as possible. A few of them ended up in the indoor arena, which had already been set up for a big dinner party that night. Normally horses in an arena are an expected sight, but the tables and chairs added an air of oddity to it.

Horses in the dining area!

Horses in the dining area!

Shades of red seemed to be popular eventer colors this year. A lot of hot pink among them.

Pretty in pink, two more to come.

Pretty in pink, two more to come.

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Pink was nice, but some preferred orange!

Pink was nice, but some preferred orange!

The last day, I took some time to go over to the grass course where the upper level stadium jumping was held. I got some great photos, and also some quite unexpected ones. You never wish a bad round on anyone, but when it happens it can make for some pretty dramatic stuff. Here’s the sequence, starting with a successful effort–

Here's what it's supposed to look like.

Here’s what it’s supposed to look like.

Here’s what happened to another pair:

Rider can see trouble coming...

Rider can see trouble coming…

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Uh oh...

Uh oh…

frvpc6-20-crash5frvpc6-20-crash6frvpc6-20-crash7frvpc6-20-crash8frvpc6-20-crash9

And don't forget to let go of the reins...

And don’t forget to let go of the reins…

Both horse and rider walked off the field and didn’t look any worse for wear, just disappointed that they had been eliminated. As Chicago Cubs fans like to say, just wait till next year!

I just returned from California where I spent several days riding out to track and photograph wild horses. If you are a blogger reading this on the WordPress Reader, you should click through to the original post because it is just chock full of story and picture. That being the case, I will forewarn you as I did for my previous “longest blog ever” (see Mackinac Island for that one) that this one will also take some time to read, but it’s just such cool stuff!

DAY ONE

My friend Merry, who accompanied me a few years back to “dressage boot camp” in New England, was my riding partner for this trip. Our ride started out at River Springs, which is in the Montgomery Pass Wild Horse Territory about 60 miles north of Bishop, California. The area we would explore would also include parts of Nevada, but first we had to meet our horses and ride about 2 hours up to our base camp site. Once we got there we checked our tents (Merry’s and mine needed a little extra reinforcement and we were glad we did it because one night it got really windy) sorted out our stuff and then relaxed around the kitchen and the camp fire circle to listen to what we were about to experience and how to best approach it. With wild horses, there is always the possibility that you can go on a trip like this and never see one. So while we had high hopes, we were prepared to accept disappointment. Fortunately we had very canny guides who knew the horses’ habits pretty well and we saw more than we ever imagined we would. Here’s a little photo break to show you the people accommodations–

Dawn at the camp site.

Dawn at the camp site.

A section of the camp site. My tent was the green one on the left.

A section of the camp site. My tent was the green one on the left.

The camp kitchen, getting ready to make breakfast.

The camp kitchen, with our extraordinary cook Gene getting ready to make breakfast.

Our horses wait for breakfast as the day breaks.

Our horses wait for breakfast as the day breaks.

The "water main" for our camp--from a stream somewhere up the hill!

The “water main” for our camp–from a stream somewhere up the hill! One night it got so cold the line froze.

Our camp shower even had hot water.

Our camp shower even had hot water.

The "bridge" from the kitchen back to the tents. If you think a tipsy person would fall off this bridge, you would be right!

The “bridge” from the kitchen back to the tents. If you think a tipsy person would fall off this bridge, you would be right! Someone did (not me).

Our tack room...there was no rain, so no worries.

Our tack room…there was no rain, so no worries.

DAY TWO

We rode out in two groups of eight along with two guides in each group. We sometimes crossed paths, but were basically on separate routes each day. This day we went out to an area near Boundary Peak, so named because it sits on the boundary between California and Nevada. Our first sighting was of a mustang stallion who has been dubbed “McBride” because he likes to hang out near McBride Flat. We found him near there at an area called McNamara Lake.

McBride

McBride

McBride is unusual in that he’s a loner stallion. He may hang out on the edge of a herd, but seldom has mares of his own. He will occasionally “adopt” a wandering mare, who will then leave when she decides to look for something more interesting. We heard that he had recently adopted an injured mare and was shepherding her to water and looking out for her. But our guide said she was so lame he was pretty sure she had a broken leg. As we were returning from this day’s ride we did find her dead just off the trail. There were no marks on her from an animal attack (there are mountain lions in the area and we did see lion tracks along a sandy part of the trail but not here). So the assumption is that she just couldn’t keep going on that bad leg and laid herself down to die. We would not have seen her if a scavenger bird had not flown up out of the brush as we approached and got our attention.

Anyhow, after we met McBride–I say “met” because he was quite approachable for a wild horse, which is why I got a good photo of him–we continued on until we stopped for lunch. Lunch was almost always at a high spot with a great view of flats and/or mountains. We tied our horses to the nearest tree while we ate and explored the immediate area. I was on a tough, savvy little trail horse named Topaz. He was 20 years old but truly tough as nails. And careful as they come. The trails were almost all exceptionally rocky, and when going downhill Topaz would stop to evaluate the situation and always pick the easiest route down. As a bonus, I was able to mount him from the ground except on the few occasions when I did need a 3-4″ rock to help me out. There were always plenty of rocks…

Topaz waits for his ritual lunch cookies. I did not fail him.

Topaz waits for his ritual lunch cookies. I did not fail him.

Natural seating, and plenty of it.

Natural seating, and plenty of it.

Petroglyphs, probably around 5000 years old, just a few steps down the trail from our lunch stop.

Petroglyphs, probably around 5000 years old, just a few steps down the trail from our lunch stop.

What the major portion of the "trail" looked like most of the time. Lots of rocks, not a lot of dirt.

What the major portion of the “trail” looked like most of the time. Lots of rocks, not a lot of dirt.

Boundary Peak

Boundary Peak, from a lunchtime rock seat.

Mules and mountains.

Mules and mountains.

After lunch we continued our mustang search. On the way over to Truman Canyon we took a little detour to see something unusual in wild horse country. A mare (not the one we found) had died quite a while back and almost the entire skeleton was still on the ground and bleached totally white. One of our guides showed us how the head and jaw fit together and I was also able to identify a lot of the bones even though they were a bit jumbled on the ground. Normally a lion will run off with various parts of the prey and bury it or cover it to save it for later, so finding all the pieces in one spot and visible is somewhat out of the ordinary.

Mackenzie shows us the mare's skull.

Mackenzie shows us the mare’s skull.

Our second guide, Mark, went ahead after this stop to scout Truman Canyon and see if the horses were there. This is where the fun began. As we continued that way, he came back and told us he had seen them and which way they were moving. But we didn’t get there quite soon enough, so we revised our plans and started moving to another vantage point so we could get ahead of them. Did I say we were really high up and the canyon they would be passing through was a long way down??? Ay-y-y-y. Almost straight down. I’ve never gone down anything that steep, not even on foot. I kept thinking I should “help” Topaz a bit, but I decided he knew best and even though he slipped and slid a bit he did indeed get us down safely. So did all the other horses, some of whom carried first-time riders. Which may mean that those horses actually had it easier than if their riders had tried to take over. We made it down before the band arrived, and I had a good vantage point for photos. No photos of the actual descent, as I was not about to pull out a heavy camera while sliding down a cliff. As for the wild horses, the only drawback was that they were still at the very far end of the range of my 300mm lens, so if I wished for anything it would be sharper photos. However, I’m still pleased with what I got.

Lots of foals in the springtime!

Lots of foals in the springtime!

Playtime, which was most of the time.

Playtime, which was most of the time.

2-2-foals

2-3foals-3-mares

We saw lots of horses roll, but this guy put on the best show.

We saw lots of horses roll, but this one put on the best show.

 DAY THREE

This day we went back to McBride Flat, by way of Horse Trap Canyon, where you can still see remnants of fence left by folks who used to drive horses into the canyon. We stopped at a very high rocky overlook into McBride Flat and found several bands of horses there, including the one we had seen the day before in Truman Canyon.

Just to give you an idea of the size of the landscape. There were three bands here but I couldn't get them all into one photo and still be able to distinguish them from little dots.

Just to give you an idea of the size of the landscape. There were three bands here but I couldn’t get them all into one photo and still be able to distinguish them from little dots.

We were lucky to see a new foal who had just dropped to the ground a day or two earlier. The brand new foal is looking for lunch.

We were lucky to see a new foal who had just dropped to the ground a day or two earlier. The brand new foal is looking for lunch.

Exploring his new world. He was a little difficult to see from a distance because of his sandy color which blended in with the scrub.

Exploring his (think it’s a “he”, but a little hard to tell) new world. He was a little difficult to see from a distance because of his sandy color which blended in with the scrub.

Horsey love. Although the mare looks rather bored here, when she'd had enough she kicked him away.

Horsey love. Although the mare looks rather bored here, when she’d had enough she kicked him away.

On two days on our way back to the camp site we stopped in a lush green meadow with a little creek running through it. It was such a treat to see green in the high desert–we rode trails from about 6,000 to 8,000 feet high–and also a surprise to find wild iris growing here and there in the meadow and along the trail.

Wild iris in a meadow where we stopped to water our horses.

Wild iris in a meadow where we stopped to water our horses.

Here’s what the more typical high elevation flowers looked like.

Yellow and red wildflowers at one of our highest elevations.

Yellow and red wildflowers at one of our highest elevations.

 

DAY FOUR

Day four was pack up your stuff and ride back to the trail head, but not directly as we did the day we came. We did a high altitude detour above River Springs where we could see that mustangs awaited us way below in a huge flat area that they liked to frequent. These horses always stay in the lower area and do not move in any area where we had seen previous bands. We kind of suspected that they would be there because they had been there on Day One. But we only rode by them that day and didn’t get close because our other trail group was already there and in position to observe them and we didn’t want to disturb them.

High view of the flats near the trail head at River Springs. I pasted together about 9 photos to get this. Sorry I'm not a perfect "paster"!

High view of the flats near the trail head at River Springs. I pasted together about 9 photos to get this. Sorry I’m not a perfect “paster”!

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One of the resident bands at River Springs, after we descended to the flats.

One of the resident bands at River Springs, after we descended to the flats.

This group had probably 5 bands in it, including one of young bachelor stallions. They provided lots of thrilling entertainment on our last mustang sighting of the trip. Their nature is to “play-fight” to prepare themselves for the real thing later in life, and they were practicing really hard while we watched in awe.

Lovely bachelor stallion!

Lovely bachelor stallion!

 

Picking your sparring partner.

Picking your sparring partner.

Setting up for a fight.

Setting up for a fight.

And here we go!

And here we go!

And go!

And go!

Another pair of bachelor stallions.

Another pair of bachelor stallions.

And so we ended our trip on a very very high note. Downsides? Not many. It got near freezing almost every night but the sleeping bags were cozy. There was a lot of dust but bandannas helped immensely. I got a split lip, I think because my lips got sunburned. I also got a nice blister under each seat bone because I have yet to meet a Western saddle that fits me. Fortunately I had brought along some huge Band-Aids just in case I got some sort of horrible gash but they fit perfectly over the blisters and I carried on. If you would like to go on your very own mustang trail adventure, you can get all the info you need on the Rock Creek Pack Station website, http://rockcreekpackstation.com/mustangs.shtml

These folks are the best–they really take care of you and they’re loads of fun. Happy trails!

All caught up

From "paint by number" pencil to watercolor splendor!

From “paint by number” pencil to watercolor splendor!

Happy to report that I got my rear in gear (actually I was sitting on my rear for several hours to get this painting done, but why be nit-picky?) and got Luke from pencil drawing to full color. This is watercolor on Aquabord™ again. I think I’m getting fairly good at this. But as usual, half way into this painting I was sure it wasn’t going to work. That’s when the artist just sits back and calmly says something along the lines of well, I guess this is just another rabbit I’ll have to pull out of a hat. I had been laying down the preliminary colors fairly rapidly. It felt almost as if I had no control over what my hands were doing. When I realized what was happening I commanded myself to slow down, and then things started to take shape nicely. Thank goodness for self-realization, right?

Playing catch-up

Several things are in the works but somehow I have become major sidetracked from reporting on them. So, here goes…

Remember Valor and Stonie?

This painting which I completed a few months ago will now appear on a promotional poster for Reins of Life therapeutic riding center in South Bend and Michigan City, Indiana. Valor’s owner is delighted that the painting of her two horses will now be, at least locally, “famous”. Hopefully I will be able to get my hands on a poster or two and gift her with one.

It's not a horse, but a horse might like to be here.

It’s not a horse, but a horse might like to be here.

This little watercolor titled “Conkle’s Hollow Meadow” (located in the Hocking Hills of Ohio) will be featured in a local florist’s window during the Dowagiac Dogwood Fine Arts Festival from May 9 to May 18. This is an annual event which includes the Art Walk, storytellers, dance, play performances, Pulizter Prize-winning authors, culinary events, celebrity musicians and bands, and loads of cultural activities for kids. I’m sure I’ve skipped something, because there’s so much offered. Proud of my little community!

Pencil drawing on Aquabord™ of Luke, a Hanoverian gelding at Willow Tree

Pencil drawing on Aquabord™ of Luke, a Hanoverian gelding at Willow Tree

And finally, the latest horse portrait. This lovely Hanoverian gelding belongs to a client who already owns two other portraits. So this will be a “three-peat” for her. Just the kind of customer I love! It’s so great to know that somebody likes your work so much they are willing to invest in it three times!

Can't think of anything else to tweak here. Hope my client can't either!

Can’t think of anything else to tweak here. Hope my client can’t either!

Here’s what we started with:

I’d been staring at the 6th+ pass version of this painting for about three days knowing that something just wasn’t right about the background but waiting to be sure exactly what it was. After I decided this morning that all it needed was to be lightened and less definite (it was hardly definite to begin with, but needed even less) it only took about 10 minutes to fix it. As so often happens, when you adjust one thing you end up needing to change another. Junior was too red (the photo above was lightened in Photoshop so I could see details,but the original was quite dark–the challenge was getting the happy medium). So it took another hour to figure out toning down the red and then going about it. It felt really good to put the final touch on these horses: whiskers! So for those who were counting, it turned out to be a 7-pass adventure plus whiskers.

We are skipping over version 4 of Bella and Junior because the camera just didn’t capture much difference between it and version 3. However, version 5 definitely shows all the nuances of shading beginning to smooth themselves out nicely. At this point I would say there will be a version 6 and then maybe some touch-ups and added details. As usual, you can click on either image for a larger version. Enjoy!

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