Things To Do in Utah: See Elk by Horse-Drawn Sleigh at Hardware Ranch

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It’s a well-known not-secret that I’ll go out of my way to take a picture of a horse. If it’s a draft horse working in harness, I’ll go even farther out of my way. Which is how I end up every few years driving about two hours through a canyon in the winter time to take a twenty-minute horse-drawn wagon ride at the Hardware Ranch Wildlife Management Area.

It’s a great activity especially for lovers of wildlife and rural tradition; visitors can take a horse-drawn tour through a peacefully grazing herd of wild elk and get a much closer look at the animals than they usually will in the wilderness. There’s also an interpretive center for visitors with displays on the local native wildlife, pelts to touch, and other exhibits, along with a beautiful view out over the wildlife viewing area.

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Utah Department of Wildlife Resources administer the programs at Hardware Ranch, including tagging, testing, and research centered around the elk and other wildlife. The animals are fed in this area when they come down from the higher elevations in the winter, and the feeding program helps to keep them from wandering into town where they’d be at risk of coming into conflict with people. It also ensures that they’ll have adequate feed to get them through the winter, even though the lower elevations that have traditionally been their wintering grounds have been crowded by human development.

You’ll have a chance to visit with the horses who’ll give you your ride out among the elk — by sleigh when the snow is deep enough, and wheeled cart when it’s not — and the drivers are very knowledgeable about the elk, the horses, and the area. In early December, there are also a few special events, including the annual Elk Festival, and a biathalon where the competitors run on snowshoes and shoot muzzleloaders. (I didn’t know about that. I think I know what I’m going to be going to watch next winter. That sounds amazing.)

It might not be a quick trip, but the beautiful snowy drive into Blacksmith Fork Canyon, the beautiful draft horses pulling the sledges and carts, and getting to see elk up close, all make it more than worth the drive. The exhibit in the visitor center are a great added bonus. The scenery can’t be beat and the photo opportunities are wonderful, and if you’re interested in wildlife there’s a lot to learn. If you’re looking to get a little closer to the wild without any off-roading, this is a great day trip.

The horse-drawn vehicle seats about 20 people, and rides are first come first served, with no reservations. Tickets can be purchased in the visitor center. (The cost is $5 for people 9 and older, $3 for kids 4-8, and kids under 4 ride free.) In addition to the actual ride, you may need to wait outside for a little while before your ride (particularly if you go on a very busy day, like a Saturday or holiday), so be sure to dress warm and make sure the kids have their mittens. There is no food or fuel available at the visitor center and it’s a pretty good drive to the nearest service stations and restaurants, so make sure you’re all fueled up on gas and snacks before you leave Hyrum and get on Highway 101. (From Hyrum, it’s about 15 more miles into the canyon to Hardware Ranch.)

For the 2016-2017 season, elk viewing rides opened in early December and will be going until the end of February. They’re closed Tues-Thurs, with Mondays and Fridays typically being the slower days if you’re hoping to avoid doing any waiting in line.

GETTING THERE

Access to Hardware Ranch is along a paved state highway, and it is regularly plowed, but be sure to check weather conditions and the forecast before heading out. (You can call the Hardware Ranch visitor center at 435-753-6206 or 435-753-6168 to check in on conditions, sleigh rides, and any other info you might need.) Chains and 4-wheel drive aren’t really necessary as long as the weather isn’t bad, and the highway back to the WMA is curvy but not winding, for anybody else out there who gets motion sickness. (Holla!)

Unfortunately, plugging the Hardware Ranch visitor center into your GPS doesn’t generally work. I’ve just tracked down the actual visitor center building on Google Maps and added it as a marked place, so hopefully in the future it’ll be easier to find, but as of this writing it isn’t up yet. You can try plugging in the numeric coordinates (41.602161, -111.562611), or use the map below. (Hit the “more options” link to plug in your own address or send the GPS directions to your phone.)

You’ve arrived basically when you reach the end of the paved highway. You’ll likely see the horses and wagons, as well as a large open field with elk, on your left. There are a few pull-out parking areas off the main highway where you can park, but you might want to drive past them to take the driveway that leads up and to the right to park in the lot at the visitor center, where you’ll need to purchase your tickets. (If you run out of paved road, you’ve gone just barely too far.)

The drive is about two hours from central Salt Lake, and more detailed directions can be found on the Hardware Ranch website, as well as FAQs, event information, and probably any other info you’re looking for.

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A Horse in the House: Great Gifts for Horse Lovers

I’m not ashamed to admit it. I have a handmade problem. I just really like things that somebody made with their own two hands and a healthy dose of creativity. I also like horses, as reading this blog may have made you aware, so I like to occasionally share some ideas for gifts for the horse lover in your life, since I know we’re often tough to shop for. (If you’re the horse lover in question, feel free to buy yourself gifts. You’d be very good at wooing yourself.) I’ve put together a list here for you of some of my current favorite items and shops in the handmade marketplace at Etsy, where I also have my own shop. (I don’t know any of these sellers and haven’t received any kind of sponsorship for this, I just think their stuff is really awesome.) I’ve put together a few previous lists here and here, if you’re looking for more ideas. I’ve taken pains to select sellers who carry a variety of horsey goods, so please be sure to check out their shops and dig through their inventories. They like that, honestly.

EQUINE by Lauren

When I first stumbled across EQUINE by Lauren Radvansky, I was enthralled and aggravated in equal measure: the former because her pieces are beautiful, the latter because I desperately wish I’d thought of this idea first. This shop includes some vintage clothing and jewelry, but Lauren’s signature item has to be her re-purposed Breyer horse models, which she turns into bookends and racks for hanging hats, bridles, and show ribbons. The combination of cleanly painted model horses and rustic reclaimed barn wood makes for a beautiful contrast in her horse pieces, and she also does custom work.

Morris PotteryThe essential dilemma posed by Morris Pottery is this: do you put these very functional pieces of art to work in the kitchen, or do you keep them on the shelf where you can admire them 24/7? Whichever way you end up going, you can’t deny that these pieces are insanely pretty; the designs are applied with glazes and slip trails, and the style is beautiful, dynamic and full of motion. Some of the plates are rigged for wall hanging, but all of the dinnerware items are food and dishwasher safe. I for one would like to give this whole herd a home in my kitchen.

Copper Tree Design

Copper Tree Design has a great variety of horse stuff, from the decorative to the practical. My favorite of their pieces is that really cool portable fire pit — it’s made out of steel sheets, which slot together to form the pit. You can set it up on your patio or take it with you to the beach, lay a grill rack over the top and cook up some grub, or just use it as a decorative border around a tree. And in winter you can disassemble and store it. So smart, you guys. This particular motif is reminiscent of a forest trail ride, but they’ll also create these custom, so be sure to ask if you’re after something special. Their other offerings include rope halters and hackamores, jewelry, and some pretty awesome metal windchimes.

Moon Lights

Moon Lights is a mother-daughter team in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and they cut all of their beautiful nightlights and candle holders out of upcycled tin cans. They work freehand with a torch, and maybe that’s why their work has such energy and vitality, or maybe it’s because they’re just awesome. I have no words for how awestruck and jealous I am of their artistic stylings. And their pieces are screened with theater gels, so they’ll cast a beautiful array of delightful colors in your house. Basically if you have money and you’re not purchasing one of these for every room of your house I feel like you’re wasting your potential, is all.

Rustic Designs by Riley

Don’t front… even if you’re a barefoot hoof enthusiast, you still have to admit that horseshoes make for some seriously cool decoration, not to mention some seriously useful household items. Rustic Designs by Riley has an awesome selection of horseshoe crafts large and small, useful and decorative, from large wall-art pieces to lamps, keyhooks, and even a tiny rocking chair.

Helkatdesign

Helkatdesign‘s cushions are handmade in England, and they have a beautiful rustic but refined flair. They’re hand printed and appliqued, and although the horse and pony-themed designs are beautiful, it’s the shaggy-coated Highland cattle that are really rocking my world. If you’re living the farm life, you’ll be particularly interested in the countryside collection, which is full of farmland charm. There are curly-horned sheep, bounding foxes and rabbits, hedgehogs and bees. You’ll also find collections of dogs, hares, stags, and other sights and symbols of the British landscape.

The Grape Leaf

The Grape Leaf gives new life to empty wine bottles, turning them into a variety of brand new creations with beautiful etched-glass designs. There are Cups, vases, jars, windchimes, and hydroplanters. My particular favorites are the votive candle holders and hummingbird feeders. You guys, beautiful artistic hummingbird feeders out of empty wine bottles. I just can’t even describe to you how happy that makes me, for reasons I can’t even entirely explain. They also have a great variety of designs, with some very simple stuff, some that are almost photorealistic, and some very stylized tribal-type designs.

Branch Handmade

Branch Handmade creates beautiful original screenprinted designs. They’re simple and striking, and available on a variety of fabric items, including tea towels, t-shirts, duvet sets, and pillow cases. There are several horse designs available (and a zebra!), not to mention a range of great designs for other interests. I’ve got my eye on one of those arrow t-shirts.

Chalk It Up

In all honesty, I have no idea what I would do with one of these things if I owned one, but I’ve still been coveting them for ages. Chalk It Up is a pretty simple concept: old Breyer horses re-purposed — thanks to the amazing innovation of chalkboard paint — into a little decorative writing surface. They have a model that sports a coat of magnetic paint, so you can also use magnets to pin notes to it in addition to writing on it with chalk, and they’ve chalked up some other creatures too, like zebras, deer, elk, buffalo, and elephants. If you’ve got a horse-themed wedding to plan, you need look no further for your table numbers. They come with a few pieces of chalk to get you started, and when you’re done doodling on your horse you can just wipe it off with a damp cloth and start again. This is one of those ideas that’s so simple it’s brilliant.

Hiro's Heart

Hiro’s Heart specializes in a single, adorable craft item: upcycled glass jars with animal figures attached to the lids. That might sound unimpressive, but the end product is adorable. In addition to a range of brightly colored horses, there are dogs, deer, barnyard animals, owls, and other awesome beasts. You’ll also find recycled jars with chalkboard lids so you can write their contents on top.

Winchester Pottery

Winchester Pottery makes awesome stoneware mugs, plates, teapots, and other kitchenware and containers. Their horsey pieces are great, with a lot of diversity in types and breeds — there are mules, fjords, appaloosas and more, and each type of equine gets its own distinctive look or pose specific to its breed. They’re all microwave, dishwasher, and food safe.

Etched Dreams

Etched Dreams has a great selection of different forms of etched glass, with a lot of horse designs representing different disciplines and designed for different occasions. You can pick up a pair of bride and groom wine glasses for a horse-themed wedding, some show-jumper mugs to commemorate the big show, or some western-themed margarita glasses to get your drink on. They’ve also got horse-themed vinyl for walls and cars, and they do custom mug printing.

Made by Jessica

I love the rough, rustic charm of these stamped tiles Made by Jessica. They’d make great coasters, or you could incorporate them into a backsplash — they’re sealed with a glaze to keep the ink on. Jessica also sells stamped cards and bookmarks, hand-painted Christmas tree ornaments, and horse-shaped bar soaps.

Dad & Sons Woodworking

Dad & Sons Woodworking makes some pretty adorable wooden beasts, including a sleepy horse that’s perfect for topping shelves indoors or fencelines outside (hopefully out of reach of your horses). They also make sweet mailboxes, animal birdhouses, life-size wooden cats, holiday decorations, yard art, and planters. I’m a particular fan of their really cute and really affordable corner shelves in the shapes of barnyard beasts. I don’t even go in for this type of art normally but I still just embarrassed myself by cooing over a corner shelf in the shape of a pig.

Silvertree Studio

Silvertree Studio boasts an awesome, eclectic collection of housewares, fine art originals, and art prints. You might drop in for one of these beautiful boldly colored animal silhouettes — that turquoise horse is rocking my socks off — and walk away with a gorgeous watercolor piece to add to your art collection. Or maybe you’d prefer a woodburning piece. Or a photo print. Or an original in acrylics. Clearly shop owner Kel is too talented and needs to be stopped.

Bright Strange Things

Bright Strange Things is my own shop on Etsy, where I sell a variety of mostly horse-related things. My most popular items by far are my wire Christmas tree ornaments/mirror hangers; their legs move and frankly they’re kind of awesome. I also have photo prints and apparel for sale, with handmade jewelry and some unique stationary designs on the way. I do hope you’ll drop in.

I also hope this little list has been helpful in your shopping endeavors. Please consider shopping handmade with these and other artists to help support artists in your area and around the world. I’ll be doing more lists like this one in the future, on a semi-regular basis, along with more blogs on art and crafting. If you’ve got a favorite artist or your own store that I should check out, or there are particular horse items you’d like recommendations for, please leave a comment!

Great Gifts for Horse Lovers, Part II: Personalization Strikes Back

As a continuation of my previous post with some recommendations on gifts for the horse people in your life, I thought I’d do a follow-up since it’s now officially gift-buying season and let’s face it, horse people are simply not getting any easier to buy for. As per usual, my suggestions are handmade items, and I urge you to support artists and crafters directly, because they’re awesome and they could use your business. With this post, I’m going to concentrate specifically on the kinds of gifts you’re not likely to be able to buy from the equine catalogs: gifts that you can have customized or personalized to make them one of a kind. Horse people are seriously hard to shop for, but we also appreciate the personal touch… like when you remember our horse’s name. And let’s face it, we are delighted with anything at all that has our horse’s name on it. Below is my latest Etsy treasury of customizable horse gifts; you can also check out the treasury directly on Etsy if you’d prefer.


Personalized Fine Silver Hor…

$88.00

Horse Gift Art Framed Print …

$38.00

Chalk board Stall Sign

$35.00

Custom Horse Portraits LOVIN…

$75.00

Personalized Horse Ornament …

$8.00

Personalized family ranch Na…

$54.99

Horse Necklace Custom Person…

$44.00

HORSE Ornament Personalized …

$8.50

Word of your Choice OR Your …

$4.25

Horses Personalized wall art…

$14.99

Personalized Christmas Cards…

$18.00

Personalized Silver Horse Je…

$92.00

15″ – Personalized Hand…

$37.00

Western Horse Christmas Stoc…

$29.00

Lariat Rope Necklace – Perso…

$46.00

Custom Ribbon Display

$45.00

Treasury tool supported by the dog house

And now for the shameless self-promotion:

Copper Wire Horse OrnamentsI make my own personalized or generic horse, donkey, and mule ornaments out of wire and sell them on Etsy; you can find my shop at Bright Strange Things on Etsy. I can customize ornaments to try to match specific horse colors and breeds, or to symbolize particular riding disciplines. I also sell photo prints and sometimes t-shirts, and am working on some new lines of products, so I hope you’ll also give my shop a look, and check out some of the sellers above when you’re shopping for Christmas, birthdays, horsiversaries, or any other equine-related gift-giving occasion.

Five Awesome and Unique Gifts for Horse Lovers

If you ask me, having to buy a present for a horse person is a massive pain in the hindquarters. As a horse person myself, I understand the dilemma. Every horse-crazy individual probably has a massive wish list of tack, equipment, adorable knick-knacks and sassy barn signs that they’d like to add to their already equine-heavy lives, but it tends to be a very specific list, and even for a fellow horse person it can be impossible to get right. For somebody who doesn’t know a manure fork from a salad fork, buying anything horsey can be downright impossible. Tack is easy enough to rule out: it’s usually expensive, requires specific measurements, and isn’t worth bothering with as a gift if you don’t know exactly what you’re buying. The same problem crops up with more mundane items. Does your giftee prefer flat halters or rope halters? Does she use only one specific brand and shun all others? Is this muck bucket you found in the tack store the kind she loves because they last longer than a week, or the kind she’s always cursing because they break if you so much as look at them funny? Will his horse eat carrot-flavored treats or does he only like the peppermint ones? It all gets a bit fraught after awhile.

The obvious route, then, is horse-themed items of a less practical nature. Horse people seem to be pretty happy with any gift featuring an equine, and entering their homes you’re likely to see Breyer horses on the bookshelves and horse photos on the walls and pony silhouettes on the bedspreads. Even those get tiresome, though, when you notice that pretty much every horse equipment catalog carries exactly the same collection of apparel and home decor. (I do want to offer a brief tip of the hat, however, to Back in the Saddle, which tends to offer a wider and much more interesting selection of these sorts of goods than your standard everything-horses catalog. If you have other suggestions, please feel free to offer them up in the comments!)

For my own part, I no longer buy gifts for the horse lovers in my life through catalogs. In fact, I’ve taken to buying handmade items directly from artists, usually through Etsy.com. I have an Etsy shop of my own where I sell some pretty sweet little horsey items (I’ll get into a little shameless self-promotion later), but as a buyer I love Etsy purely because you can find something completely original, that your giftee didn’t even know existed, and you can directly support crafters and artists by buying from them. I’ll also highlight here a few services and whatnot that I think are highly underrated as gifts, but my aim here is entirely to expose you to some awesome new stuff that you might want to buy for your friends or for yourself. I’ll likely post a few more lists like this one as we draw nearer the holidays, so if you have a favorite seller of equine goods or are a seller yourself and you’d like me to check out your stuff, please feel free to offer it up in the comments.

I’d like to also point out that I don’t know any of the sellers mentioned, have not dealt with most of these vendors or products personally, and have received no freebies or anything else for my endorsements. I just think the items and services listed here are awesome. And now, without further ado:

Five Awesome and Unique Gifts for Horse Lovers, In No Particular Order

Membership to Giddyupflix.com

As services go, I think Giddyupflix is one of the coolest inventions of all time. As the name implies, it’s essentially Netflix for horse people, and their selection of available DVDs is so diverse that it doesn’t particularly matter which specific brands of horsemanship your giftee likes most, they’ll be able to find a staggering number of rentals to choose from. This is also a particularly thrifty gift since with horsemanship videos, a single disc can cost three or four times as much as you’d pay to buy your favorite new Hollywood release on DVD. This way your giftee can explore topics of interest to them specifically — whether they want to learn about horseshoeing or trick training, rawhide braiding or wild horse taming, showjumping or mounted shooting — without spending a fortune. Unfortunately the service is only available in the US and Canada, though, so if your giftee resides outside those countries, you might want to take a look at the rest of the list for some other suggestions.
Cost: From $10.95/month to rent one disc at a time to $26.95/month for four discs at a time. When purchasing a gift membership, you can decide what level of membership you’d like to gift and for how long a duration, so this is a great flexible gift as far as cost goes.

Hand-painted glass art by CaroligraphyHand-painted Glassware by Caroligraphy on Etsy

Store-bought etched glass has nothing on the beauty of Carol Koch’s hand-painted pieces. The first time I saw Carol’s work on Etsy I fell in love with the bright colors and the beautiful motion in her paintings. She has a wide range of different types of glassware available, from votive candle holders to wine glasses to Christmas ornaments and suncatchers. There’s also something for all kinds of breeds and disciplines, from Gypsy Vanners to show jumpers.
Cost: Prices range from about $15 for smaller and individual pieces to around $100 for larger pieces and matched sets of glassware.

Fox Mask Novelty Fly Bonnet by EquiEars on Etsy

Normally I’m against this kind of thing. I particularly loathe the fly masks that are painted to look like sunglasses. It’s a thing I have. This, though? This is hilarious. This is one of the best things I have seen ever. It’s cute enough not to look totally humiliating and it’s also made in a great vibrant orange that makes it good safety-wear for hunting season. Mostly I just want to see every well-dressed foxhunting pair sporting this stylish ear covering. Just think! Foxhunters won’t even need dogs, they can sneak up on the foxes with cunning disguises! EquiEars also sells other custom fly bonnets and and they’ll even personalize with monogramming and appliques and whatnot, so be sure to check out the entire shop!
Cost: $40, plus shipping

Custom Horsehair Jewelry from Spirithorse DesignsCustom Horsehair Jewelry & Accessories by Spirithorse Designs

You can buy all sorts of pre-made horsehair designs, including bracelets, earrings, necklaces, zipper pulls, and keychains. You can also have items custom-made with your own horse’s hair, which is a particularly great memorial for a beloved companion who has passed on. There are a variety of different designs and different sorts of braids and knotwork available, with both intricate and simple options available, and you have your choice of different beads, ornaments, pendants, and colors to make your own piece truly unique. The artist sells gift certificates as well, which is a great option particularly if you aren’t able to order far enough in advance for Christmas or whatever gift-giving occasion you’re after.
Cost: Prices range from around $15-25 for something simple like a zipper pull, up to $50-90 for necklaces, bracelets and earrings.

Unique vinyl wall art by aluckyhorseshoeVinyl Wall Art by aluckyhorseshoe on Etsy

I’m a huge fan of vinyl wall art.  I love that it doesn’t damage your walls and it’s a great way to give a room a little extra decoration, especially if you’re a renter and you don’t want to deal with painting and repainting. It’s also great for people like me who like to change their lives by rearranging their rooms. Vinyl art is easy to apply and easy to remove, and you can do just about anything with it. There are a lot of vinyl artists on Etsy so there’s a pretty staggering array of vinyl available if you search for what you’re after, but one of my favorites is aluckyhorseshoe because this particular shop has a great variety of different horse-themed art available, some with customization options, and a portion of their proceeds goes to help support horse rescue.
Cost: About $20-40, depending on the size of the art.

And Now For The Shameless Self-Promotion!

Copper wire horse ornaments by Bright Strange ThingsWire Horse Ornaments by Bright Strange Things on Etsy

I’ve been working on my own line of products, mostly horse-related, which I sell in my own Etsy shop, Bright Strange Things. I have a bunch of new stuff in development, but at the moment my most popular products by far are the Christmas tree ornaments I make out of copper wire. They’re pretty awesome if I say so myself; I make them in a variety of colors and poses, and their little legs swing like they’re running when you touch them. They make great year-round decoration too, as a hanging ornament from your rear-view mirror or wherever else you can find to hang them. Maybe your ornate crystal chandelier, I don’t even know. They’re classy as hell, is what I’m saying. Check out my shop for pre-made ornaments, and the option to order a custom-made piece in your choice of colors and poses, or if you’re after something else, I also have a variety of photo prints and a few t-shirts on hand, so I hope you’ll take a look!

If you have favorite handmade sellers, if you make horse-themed items yourself, or if you just have really strong opinions about decoupage, please share your thoughts in the comments!

The Modern Pentathlon, And Why It Makes Me Want To Punch People

By all rights, the modern pentathlon should be the most epic of all Olympic sports. It’s the sort of sport that a group of mustachioed Victorian gentlemen might have dreamed up over cognacs down at the club. In the modern pentathlon, competitors engage in five events: Pistol shooting, fencing, swimming, running, and show jumping. They’re exactly the sort of activities that a proper gentleman might engage in on a mounted hunt, especially if his horse chose to dump him in a river and he’s forced to duel with a passing bear. It’s the sort of sport that I imagine bored cavalry officers came up with during a lull in fighting on the battlefield. In short, victory in the modern pentathlon should be a lot like winning at manliness.

Unfortunately, the modern pentathlon has gone horribly awry, and as far as I can tell, it’s because the participants have failed to properly train for the whole thing. In looking into the modern pentathlon — which I’d never seen before, if I’m honest — I’m struck by the fact that, although none of these athletes would dream of entering the pentathlon if, for instance, they didn’t know how to swim, apparently they don’t see it as a problem at all that they don’t know how to ride.

Protip: Climbing on a living breathing animal and trying to ride it over jumps can, in fact, be just as deadly as drowning in the pool. Also, it makes you look like a complete tool.

It says in the pentathlon rules that the athletes must ride horses which are not familiar to them, but they seem to have taken that one step further by deciding that they should not be familiar with riding horses, period. After spending a few rage-inducing hours watching videos and looking at photos from past competitions, it seems that the average pentathlete’s strategy is to careen around the course at an uncontrolled gallop, while clinging like a monkey so as not to fall off the horse. (They seem to fall off a lot anyway, so I guess as strategies go it’s not a winning one.)

Hwang Woojin’s day did not go well. Click the image to watch the video.

Take for instance Korean athlete Hwang Woojin, whose horseback emergency management skills were not at all up to par when his horse immediately expressed his displeasure with being roped into this event in London 2012. Woojin reacted to his emergency in exactly the wrong way by basically pulling the horse over on top of himself. Apparently he was able to remount and ride the course with 464 penalty points for his troubles, though whether that means that he cowboyed up in spectacular fashion or whether it just makes him insane remains to be seen.

This Olympics saw the gold medal go to Czech David Svoboda; I can only assume that he had a better run this year than he did in Beijing, because this is what his ride looked like in China. As you can see in these other photos, in which the athletes display their mastery of show jumping and their impeccable jumping form, these are highly skilled horsemen who–

Sorry, I couldn’t keep typing all those blatant falsehoods. These fine people have learned to shoot and fence and swim and I suppose all human beings know how to run pretty instinctively. I can’t speak to how well they do any of those things (but it doesn’t seem like they’ve got the concept of fencing quite in hand either), but I can tell you that apparently actually knowing how to ride, before representing their respective countries on the world stage at the Olympics, hasn’t occurred to many of them.

Look, I don’t like to make fun. These are Olympic athletes. They are in better physical condition than I will ever be in in my life, and I wouldn’t want to play against any one of them in a game of laser tag. I’m not a show jumper by any stretch of the imagination, so I’ll just give you all this video of World Cup men’s riding highlights, and you can tell me what you think of their form. Personally, I watched these horses flying over (and sometimes through) these fences and wanted to have myself a little cry.

I have no doubt that there are pentathletes who are fantastic horse riders. I also have no doubt that all of them ought to be. Because the thing is, this is not an individual performance. The moment you get the horse involved, you’re part of a team. And most of these riders don’t seem to realize it.

If you skip to 15:45 in the video, you can watch Egypt’s Omar el Geziry both completely stuff up the course and be a total berk to his horse! Click on this image and you will be treated to his atrociously bad ride and even worse sportsmanship.

I was going to continue telling you about the pentathlon history and stuff, but I kept watching that video and found that Omar el Geziry was far surpassed by the 2010 world champion, Russia’s Serguei Karyakin, who not only rides a horrible round (see it here at 27:31) but also apparently blames his horse for it, considering the way he gratuitously beats the poor animal and snatches at its face as punishment for the bad ride.

Go ahead, Serguei. Beat your horse some more. That will totally help when the problem is your shitty riding.

You will also undoubtedly find the commentators’ remarks infuriating, as one of them is a pentathlete himself and also likes to talk about what the horse did wrong. I will tell you what these poor horses did wrong: they allowed their grooms to catch them this morning. I have never seen so many rails go down in a single event. Their jump crew must have enormous muscles from picking up a million and one downed rails per day. I have never seen so many horses display the patience of saints as they sailed half out of control and completely ungracefully over a series of jumps. And lest you think it’s just the men, you can watch the women’s competition “highlights,” too. I put highlights in quotations there, of course, because I’m not sure highlights is the right word.

Riders are accustomed to being told by our friends that we aren’t doing any work when we ride, that the effort is all on the horse’s part. We all know that’s not true, of course, that riding well takes a lot of effort from the rider, too; the best riding is a result of partnership. But in the case of the modern pentathlon, apparently, it’s true that the rider doesn’t need to do much at all, because these horses are pointed at the fences and then left to do their jobs not only with no help from their rider, but with active interference.

Apparently the modern pentathlon has been an endangered event at several times in the past, with Olympic planners wanting to drop the event, which is costly to put on and not particularly popular. It’s been granted a stay of execution several times, with Princess Anne and Prince Albert coming to its defense, and apparently some completely clueless individual described it as the “sport that most accurately conveys the ideals of Olympism.” If so, that doesn’t say much for the Olympics. And I’m not sure “ideals” is really the word.

Unlike many sports in the modern Olympics, the modern pentathlon is truly amateur. As this great piece in The Atlantic points out:

In a culture where we celebrate our biggest sports stars as often as they celebrate themselves, maybe there’s something to be said for the Modern Pentathlon. Maybe it’s because of sports like these—so pointless, so non-remunerative, so culturally irrelevant—that we care so much about the Olympics. We care because of the real amateurs who toil in obscurity for little more than the purity of the pursuit.

I can absolutely get behind that, but not at the expense of the horses, who don’t get much choice about competing and who don’t even get the benefit of experienced handling like the rest of the Olympic horses do. (Putting aside, of course, the rampant practice of rollkur among dressage elites, because that’s a whole other rant that we don’t have time for.)

Here’s my idea: Remove the show jumping round, because the competitors apparently don’t have the resources to learn how to show jump. Replace it with, I don’t know… a BMX biking round or a unicycle-riding round or a jumping round where instead of a horse they ride a motorized pogo stick. I don’t see how any of those things would be considered less legitimate as Olympic pursuits than things that are already included in the games, like trampoline and racewalking (which are both modern Olympic sports featured in the current games). Let the athletes show their own physical abilities and leave the horses out of it, and we’ll all be better off. The horses can have a nice lie-in, the athletes are less likely to be killed by their runaway unicycles, and it’ll definitely be a beneficial move for my blood pressure.

Edit: The Guardian has a fantastic photo collection from the London 2012 pentathlon riding, which features heavily on some truly spectacular falls, and also offers some pretty funny captions to help you enjoy the action. The New York Times also had a good article about the horses and how they are selected and paired with riders, and which discusses some of the difficulties in sourcing appropriate mounts at various competitions (but which, I think, overlooks the fact that the athletes aren’t exactly holding up their end either). There’s also a hilarious thread over on Chronicle of the Horse in which posters shared their own feedback about the event as they watched.

For US viewers, if you’d like to check out the replay you can find it online here, with both the complete coverage of the men’s riding and the women’s riding. If you watch you will have the distinct pleasure — or displeasure, whichever way you want to look at it — of seeing some truly phenomenal horses attempt to save the collective bacon of their amazingly unprepared riders. The horses of the London games, and the people responsible for their selection, really ought to be the ones walking away with medals. I could not be more impressed with the caliber of horses offered at these Olympics and the effort those animals put in; the people of Britain should be justifiably proud.

Horses! Kilts! OMG Horses! (Or, Why The Renaissance Faire Is Awesome.)

The title of this post might be a little bit misleading. Not because there aren’t horses and kilts — I didn’t take pictures of said kilts, though, I’m sorry, I was too busy ogling the men in them — but because I have my reservations about Ren Faires. When I turn up at one I kind of feel like a Trekkie at a Furry convention. I might appreciate and understand the enthusiasm and extreme fannishness of those present, but I am not One Of Them. While I enjoy A Game of Thrones as much as the next girl (Peter Dinklage, how are you so awesome?) and am actually a medieval history fan from way back, I mostly just find Ren Faires kind of awkward. My default reaction in these sort of cosplay situations is to find an appropriate huddle and start talking Doctor Who while pretending that nobody in the conversation is actually dressed up as a Stormtrooper, but when everybody who greets me calls me “my lady” (or more frequently, “my lord,” which is great for my self-esteem, thanks a lot), and when sometimes people say things like “doth” in a serious and straight-faced way, it just makes me realize that I am in the wrong crowd. I begin yearning for the fjords regular old Highland Games events that are much more in my wheelhouse. (There are several of those coming up in the area over the next few months, though, so expect plenty of photographs of kilts in this blog’s future.)

Still, it’s nice to get out and mix with those outside your social circle and specific niche of geekdom, and events like this are a jolly good time. The Utah Renaissance Festival and Fantasy Faire (click that at your own risk, because it will play music at you whether you like it or not) has been on for the past couple of weeks here, so I decided to give it a go, primarily because of The Knights of Mayhem, a full-contact jousting troupe I had last seen a few years ago in Arcata… I blogged about that over here, in case you missed it and/or wish to look at pictures of pretty horses again. They also have a show on National Geographic Channel, though I’ve never seen it on account of not getting that channel. Sadness.

Anyway, I really thought the jousting was the best part, so here are some fun jousting photos. What I notably did not get are shots of the actual impacts, though you can see a few of those on that previous blog I mentioned. I had a great idea to try this time standing in a spot where I could look down the list to get photos of the horses charging right at me, but completely failed to factor in that there would be squires at the ends of the lists to help stop the horses after each charge. Good going, me. Anyway, here are some guys on horses.

You guys, I have a serious crush on this horse. SERIOUS. I mean the guy’s okay and all, but LOOK AT THAT HORSE. LOOK AT IT.

I quite liked this one too, but not with the kind of burning passion that I liked the other one. This horse is Daisy (her full name, we are told, is “Daisy the Destroyer, because her opponents will be pushing up daisies!” har de har har), and she is clearly a Belgian, and that guy riding her is Jason Armstrong, and he is clearly a Canadian. You can tell because even when he’s talking smack he’s polite about it.

A little love for the ponies. You might notice that the bay shire in the background (I think they called her Lady Chaos?) is being ridden by two different guys in these photos. The armored guy pictured riding her is “Sir” Edward, and this guy is one of their knights in training, who also wanted to have a go when they were playing their skill-at-arms games with the spear-throwing and whatnot.

They all had pretty decent aim with their spear target practice. I can guarantee you that I would miss. And probably fall off the horse. Look, they run REALLY FAST, okay?

Daisy is new to jousting and was not very keen on setting herself up in the list. Actually, she tried to take down the list several times. And thought about taking down some spectators, too. I was marveling at how the crowd wasn’t moving out of her way until suddenly they all scrambled for cover, and then I lol’ed. Is that bad?

OMG THIS HORSE. She’s a Shire, by the way. In case you were wondering. And considering forming her fan club.

The way these huge horses just ROCKET themselves down the list, I would probably soil myself. I’m man enough to admit it, I’m just not man enough to do anything this insane. Look at this horse, she’s just like, “Screw this, I AM GOING TO RUN NOW OKAY.”

Daisy the Destroyer seems to be aware that she’s very photogenic.

This is seriously the only shot I got in the vein of what I wanted, which was pictures of the horses charging RIGHT AT ME. Don’t worry, I had a really big zoom lens, I wasn’t going to get anywhere close enough to be actually charged at.

I have some more photos of the festival, including some snaps of the Oak Hills Vaulters kicking ass and taking names; you can find those over here on Facebook (and you don’t have to be a Facebook user to see them).

Free to a Good Home: The Best Horse in the World

There isn’t a sale ad, as such, just a Facebook post and later a note that’s titled, “FREE TO THE RIGHT HOME: 18yo Mustang Mare.” The title fails to encompass everything that that sentence means. It could just as easily say, “Free to a good home: my best friend” or “Free to a good home: life-changing equine” or “Free to a good home, because I can’t do this anymore.”

Posting the finished ad feels like giving up. It feels like abandonment. It feels like breathing again after drowning. And that’s all well before a single possible home has presented itself.

When it comes to the subject of finding a new home for my horse, my Juno, I’m about out of words. I didn’t have many to begin with. It might seem melodramatic to be so wound up over the sort of transaction that happens every day, but Juno and I have always had a relationship that runs down to the bone, at least from my side of the equation. There were days when the only thing that got me out of bed was having to drag myself down to the hay barn to serve her breakfast. She’s been the catalyst of a tremendous amount of personal growth for me, and I honestly can’t imagine the person I’d be right now without her.

So now that I’m facing the prospect — the reality — of a future without her after eight years with her, and I can’t really imagine what it looks like. Sometimes I think the idea of not being able to drive down to the barn and see her will drag me deeper into the depression that I’ve fought all my life. And some days I can’t help but guiltily think that once she’s making her home in someone else’s barn, I’ll be able to breathe more freely than I have in eight years. There’s no way to know, really, until it’s done.

Of course, finding a home is in itself a challenge. The list of people wanting an 18-year-old, green-broke, undeniably beautiful mustang mare is remarkably short, and shortened further still by the fact that I’m picky about where she goes. On the other side of the equation is the list of exhaustively trained, child-safe, experienced, excellent saddle horses under ten who are being given away or sold cheap in the face of a truly awful horse market. Factored together, these things add up to what can only be described as a really crappy situation.

I can’t afford to keep my horse — have, in fact, never been able to afford my horse, and have been steadily digging myself deeper and deeper into debt to keep her. The end of all this is both sudden and inevitable. So it figures that right now, at a point where I could be looking forward to a summer season of riding for the first time in our partnership, instead I’m looking for a new partnership in an impossible economy. She might have a place with a friend in Oregon, a really ideal placement with a great person in a place with abundant pastures and relatively affordable hay supplies. I wouldn’t have to worry about her.

I want more time.

I want it over with.

I don’t want to talk about it anymore.

So I’m spending what time we have left enjoying Juno’s company, and I’m making an effort at moving on, pre-emptively. I’m changing my blog and my shop and every other piece of me — well, except the tattoos — so that every minute of living my life isn’t a reminder of a face I’ll miss like mad. I felt I should probably also do something to reflect the fact that, although I’ll still be driving a carriage and probably eventually be getting into riding lessons or something else, it’ll probably be quite a very, very long time before I own a horse again.

So, you’ll shortly find this blog continued in all its random glory at BrightStrangeThings.com, and from there you’ll be able to find my art, photos and other endeavors. It’ll take a little time, but hopefully it’ll be more organized this time around. Thanks for reading so far, and for following my chronicles with Juno, and I hope you’ll continue to read. I solemnly promise that I won’t usually be this maudlin.