Monday, December 7, 2020

Precious and Fragile

We lost one of our herd November 17th. Ruffy was fighting what was thought to be Lyme disease, but complications ensued. Six days after treating her with Doxycycline and flunixin meglumine, she went into shock. We put her down on a cold dark night under spitting rain and snow pellets.

Horses are such amazing animals: full of power, grace, and beauty, yet fragile. We get on the back of a thousand pound animal and ask this creature to carry us, performing feats of atheleticism. Their fragility is incongruous to their size and strength. We humans do our damndest to keep them healthy and safe. But despite our dilligence, we still lose them to injury and illness.

The weight of holding Ruffy's head as she staggered from her stall left a bruise on my shoulder, and in my heart. This was my first experience euthanizing a horse---our horse, and the images imprinted on my brain resurface every night, sometimes just as I close my eyes, sometimes waking me at 2:30 in the dark, still room. Crying into my pillow, I relive those last days. Did we miss something? Did we wait too long to call the vet again? Could we have saved her?

Ruffy (known as This Chic's Got It by the Jockey Club), our big 16 hand off-track Thoroughbred, by Vicar, out of Miss Ella, spent her days as a pasture pet more than a riding horse due to physical limitations. She was only 13, with years ahead, I'd hoped.  I'll always cherish my one ride on her--feeling her broad chest and powerful body under me. She passed her days as girlfriend to Vance Lustre, the old retired Standardbred who never returned that infatuation, or so I thought. But lately, he spends a number of hours standing by the gate into the field where she's buried. So maybe he does miss her. 

Horses are like elephants; they remember. The herd knew one was missing the next day. Harley whinnied for her down in the pasture. They followed, like a funeral procession, as we laid her to rest. I think Harley is still checking for her at night. He walks down the barn aisle, sticks his head in her stall, then walks back to his stall, recognizing she's not there. They're a tight herd, just like a family, and they know one is gone.

Farewell, Ruffy. Run with the best, my good girl.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Different Directions


Heading down the Secret Trail

A few brisk nights put some spring in our steps this week. Harley jogged out to the road before I even had the girth snugged up. I felt re-energized to, despite foot pain that's plagued me for months now. With the oppresive heat and humidity gone, we were ready for an adventure. An aging woman on her aging OTTB pranced down the road, headed out for a morning trail ride before the remaining summer bugs decided to test the temperature and hunt for breakfast. 

I let Harley choose the route, although I did have to give him some guidance when he tried bushwhacking into the woods, convinced he was on a trail....yes, a game trail, with no overhead clearance for riders! He felt good enough to trot up a few hills, where the footing is soft and easy on his joints. I can appreciate that, between my old knees, and my bum foot, hiking hasn't been in the cards since May. A shorter, gentler ride fit the bill.

When Harley and I headed down our first trails together, it was a toss-up whether I'd make it back without us going in different directions. I even rode with a long rope off his halter as a way to hang on, should I come off and lose the reins. Harley's incredible left-hand spin sent me into the dirt the first time I attempted to ride outside the ring--a giant spook over a little lawn mower. These days, I'm able to ride on the buckle, while shooting pictures and video. But as each week passes, I'm afraid I've missed any opportunity to do much more than gentle trail rides with Harley. I had high hopes of participating in organized trail rides, maybe a Le Trec event, or even a rinky-dink show. But time and age have changed our course. So we'll go for little lollygags with an occasional trot or canter if Harley wants to step up the pace. 

Rolex Girl is waiting in the wings; a smart, sassy Thoroughbred that is awesome on the trails. But she needs continuous work--something John and I have neglected this year. Fall is coming, and so is another week's vacation. Maybe that will be the time to throw a leg over Rolex, head for the hills,  and begin to develop a partnership with her. Who knows, as this pandemic erupts again, we may all be home-bound for the fall and winter--a perfect opportunity for us.

I've felt rudderless this spring and summer, wafting back and forth over decisions for our future. With the country holding its breath until November 3d, and the pandemic still spiking in some spots, it's been hard to make concrete decisions. So I take each week as it comes. We have our winter supply of hay, and I get a feeling of warmth, looking at the stacked bales, knowing our horses will be well-fed through the cold months ahead. I'll top off the oil tank, order wood bricks for the wood stove, and start restocking the pantry in case events take a turn for the worse. The uncertainty of what lies ahead, and which direction this country will head only compounds my apprehension. I still won't give up the dream of a small farm, near excellent trail riding, with a view of the mountains, somewhere in Vermont.

Harley stealing the carrot bag

Friday, August 21, 2020

Slogging Through Summer (With a Pandemic)

Harley & Rolex re-hydrating

My summer grinds on with hot, humid days, steamy nights, and no rain in sight. The horses' coats have bleached out, stiff with salt by late afternoon, as they suffer through sweltering days. I don't ride; it's too hot. Our horses enjoy evening baths to wash away the day's sweat and dust, with a final spritz of bug spray to keep the insects at bay. The ritual begins again, tomorrow morning: feed, hay, water, pick pasture, fly spray. Head off to work, hot and sweaty by 8:30.

The deer flies bar us from the woods, their endless swarms making the trails an undesirable location. At least the barn flies have not been too bad, whether this is due to the ongoing drought, or the fact that fewer horses reside here this summer, I don't know. Quite possibly, it's a combination of both. 

I'm looking forward to some vacation (one that was cancelled due to COVID-19) time, a week in August and a week in September. Maybe the weather will improve, as will our well-being as a nation. Some peaceful time spent in the saddle, on the tractor, and in the relative calm of home is just what I need.

Working through this pandemic has left me anxious and angry. Anxious about staying healthy, angry at the federal government's handling of the pandemic. John and I are sole providers for our horses. We need to be well enough to care for them--not such a worry in the summer when the workload is lighter--but come winter, if we get hit hard again, one of us needs to be able to muck stalls, feed, blanket, etc. etc. This is what keeps me up at night. And we are some of the lucky ones--we have our jobs, we have health insurance, and we have a roof over our heads. The disparity in our population between the haves, and haves not, glares out at us from our screens and on our streets every day. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

A taste for retirement

As the Covid-19 pandemic grinds on, Maine is reopening to tourism: beaches, vacation rentals, and shopping. The hordes that descended on Orris Falls Preservation only come on weekends now, but I choose my route carefully. I can "social distance" from atop my horse, but it's really a matter or enjoying the woods without clamoring crowds. I suspect these hikers miss a lot of what I'm seeing, purely based on noise and numbers. Mid-week, or early morning offer me the best times to ride, and may be the only time I can access the Orris Falls trail head.

Last week, John and I saddled up for an evening jaunt and spotted a fox at the forest edge along the power line. A few days ago, I came across a flock of turkeys, and a couple of deer. And there's the birdsong serenades that I use as training for bird identification.

Meandering along at the pace Harley chooses, I ride on the buckle, taking photos and videos of our adventures; what a life. I could do this all day, every day, if I didn't have to work. And John would do the same! Even working a little, or doing freelance, without the hassle of having to be somewhere by a certain time lessens the stress. And boy, I'd love to have a LOT less stress!

After 11 weeks working from home, attending online meetings, webinars, and computing on the laptop and phone,  I really developed a taste for the freelance gig and no commuting. I multi-tasked to the max! Laundry while I worked on library stuff, bread baking while listening to a webinar...the list goes on. So, this is what life could be like if I was always working from home, or retired!

Someone else is slowing down, heading towards retirement too. My best boy, Halawa Moon, is now 18. It's hard to believe I've had him 10 years already! Arthritis in his knees limits the amount of time I go out, and the pace. Each ride is Harley's choice. "Where shall we go today, Harley?" An hour and a half is good when he's feeling sparky. If he's up for a little uphill canter, away we go! If it's just a walk, or occasional jog, that's fine too. Yesterday, I decided to jump off for the steep descent down the power line, giving his knees a rest from lugging me around. The trails through Orris Falls have eroded and packed down early this year due to the "pandemic traffic", with the exception of our Secret Trail. John has told me, it may be time to start transitioning to Rolex. She has spunk, and a lot of spring in her step, but we need to develop a partnership like I did with Harley.

As Harley and I age together, we're mapping out our
plan. We need to find our own property, where I can stroll out in the evening and check on my herd, give them carrots for dessert, and kiss them on the nose. I want to have the comfort of looking out my window and seeing my horses, happily eating in their pasture. We need a ring for working Rolex, and possibly Ruffy as well. I'm not a big fan of ring riding in my dotage, but some of the basics need to be done in that setting.  My one-sided wonder, Harley, will not be forced to endure circling, bending, extending, but I just might create an obstacle course for fun and games, complete with a bridge, pool noodles, and a gate to practice opening and closing while on board. These are required skills for any good trail horse anyway.

Harley and I reached our Jockey Club Thoroughbred Incentive Program for Recreational Riding 25 hour milestone two years ago. Last year, we reached 100 hours. At this point, I don't plan to push him on for the next mark, 500 hours. We will take each day we get, and enjoy our time together, in,  and out ,of the saddle. Watch out Rolex, I just may get a T.I.P. number for you!

John passing out carrots, sneaky Harley stealing the bag!

Friday, May 29, 2020

Birding By Horseback

Riding through the woods, I try to identify as many birds as possible by their songs. Rarely do I see the warblers, flitting among the treetops, but occasionally, a wood thrush or ovenbird silently wings past in the deep woods, exposing a brief glimpse of chestnut and white.

What I need to do, is carry my binoculars, but I also need Harley to stand still while I hone in on the bird I'm seeking. That could be a challenge; he's either ready to turn around and head home, or he's at the point of return and walking at a fast clip. Standing still is not an option!

On foot, my bird walks allow me to stop, listen, and observe. Riding allows for purely listening and sometimes, a brief glimpse. As the warbler numbers increase, so does my frenzy to get out there and memorize the various calls and songs. It's like learning a new language every spring, the language of birdsong.

The world of Orris Falls can be broken down into a number of micro-environments; the swamps, the deep conifer woods, the upland deciduous forest, and the open grassy shrub mix of the power line. Within each of these regions, I find different birds. Around the beaver ponds, and amid the swamplands, wood ducks, Canada geese, and veeries can be heard. In the dark hemlock groves, hermit and wood thrushes sing their beautiful, haunting songs coupled with the nasal nuthatch's call and the chickadee's cheery "chickadeedeedee". Up in the treetops of the deciduous woodlands, scarlet tanagers, black-throated green warblers, white-eyed vireos, chestnut-sided warblers, and wood peewees, fly from branch to branch. Every so often, I will hear the scream of a broad-winged hawk, or see its shadow as it flies overhead. In the alder and witch hazel shrubs, I hear ovenbirds, common yellowthroats, and black-throated blue warblers. Emerging from the forest onto the power line, I encounter the "zzziipppp" of the northern parula, the bright flash of the yellow warbler, and "Drink your tea" call of the rufous-sided towhee. Even riding home along the road, I'm serenaded by bluebirds, orioles, and song sparrows.

I followed the song of a northern parula one day, and only caught a few glimpses of him as he flew from tree to tree. But at home, I was able to study one closely, and, with the help of online photos and guidebooks, came up with this for my Mom's Mother's Day Card:

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Riding Through a Pandemic: Thoughts on Horses and the World Around Me

Heading home with Harley
With life nearly shut down around us, I'm grateful for my horses. They allow me to escape the reality of what's happening, except I find myself at the barn at odd times. What am I doing here riding at 9:00 in the morning? Shouldn't I be at the library? With remote work, I'm logging in early to check my emails before heading to the barn, then working into the evenings, listening to webinars, checking emails again, following up on ongoing projects, editing pictures for our library's Facebook posts, and staying caught up with the library's ever-adapting updates for services and plans for our Summer Reading Program.

So much for social distancing--the endless crowds of people on the trails is overwhelming!  The lovely weekend weather has led to so many cars parked up and down the road at the trail head, that the town put up NO PARKING signs in a vain attempt to limit the numbers. If nothing, the Covid-19 pandemic has forced people outdoors to rediscover the natural world around them.

Harley has proven to be a champ this spring, going solo time and again, even into new territory. He's gained so much confidence over the years. Oh, there may be an occasional spook, but no serious meltdowns. Yesterday, he stopped and tried to turn around a few times, but with urging, he continued down the trail. I think he's missing the company of Rolex. With John's hip pain, riding isn't in the books. So I will try and pick up some extra hours with Rolex when I can, and preferably under John's tutelage. She's a feisty girl with a lot of spunk, and a seriously bad case of spring fever! Here are a few pictures of me riding her, after John longed her--note the safety vest! Now is not the time for an E.R. visit.

Me aboard Rolex Girl

Rolex and I at one of our better moments.

We're into week six of the library closure. Mondays, my department has Monday email meetings, and Fridays we have a library-wide Webex meeting. Last week, I had to go into the library for some website work; eerie best describes the sensation I felt. As we adjust week by week for working, I do the same at home, trying to keep a similar schedule so when we finally do go back, my rhythm won't change. Horses in the early morning, clock in and work, sometimes throwing in household chores as I walk around plugged into my phone, then back out to the barn in the evening for feeding and de-mudding. Yes, the horses have made some lovely wallows for scrubbing off their winter hair.

Spring has taken its time arriving. Just this morning, we had another dusting of snow. The wind howled across the fields, making it feel more like February than late April. I wished I had worn my insulated boots! But the horses don't seem to mind, as long as the grass keeps coming up and turning greener every day, life is good. It feels strange, watching nature going about the seasonal changes, unaffected by the pandemic. Deer romp in the pasture at night, woodcocks call from the alder swamp, the first spring migratory birds arrive, trees form buds, flowers push up through the ground, and we humans are dropping like flies. Is Mother Nature getting her revenge for the awful way we we've treated this planet? The news tells of clean air over cities, so polluted just months ago, and dolphins swimming in the canals of Venice. Will we take this to heart and treat our home better once this pandemic has passed?

I admit to enjoying my time in the woods, whether on foot, or on Harley. Hiking offers more opportunities for taking pictures, although I admit regretting not having film for my old camera. I miss taking macro shots of critters, flowers, and nature's beauty in patterns. A few weeks ago, I came across a tree, struck by lightning not too long ago, possibly during the year's first thunderstorm back in March? I imagined what it would have been like to see and hear the crash, smell the burning, and watch that tree split and catch fire. The power of nature is truly amazing.

When we finally make it through this, and if life returns to some normalcy, I need to go visit my parents, quarantined in a senior living facility since March. Then, I need to make plans; plans to get ourselves and our horses onto the same piece of property, whether it's here in Maine, or hopefully, Vermont. Until then, I'll keep riding, keep hiking, and keep our lives moving forward with hope.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Bashing through the woods

In the golden glow of autumn, Harley and I rack up our hours as we close in on our next Jockey Club Recreational Riding level of 100 hours. Yesterday, we nearly reached that goal, but ran out of time. This will be the week we achieve that goal!

Over the past year, I've messed around with all kinds of hoof boots. We went from the Easyboot Backcountry to a short hiatus on Scoots, then ended up with Gloves, heavily modified!. I need something that will stay on through mud, water, and bushwhacking.

Harley's Easy Scoots

It's been a journey, getting boots that fit his Thoroughbred feet. I've modified theses further, but next spring, I may opt for shoes. We'll cross that bridge when we get there. For the rest of this year, it will be boots or barefoot (once the snow flies) when we hit the trails.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

A blizzard, a chimney fire, then spring sneaks around the corner.

Winter arrived with arctic cold that held New England and most of the eastern United States in a frigid grip. A blizzard roared in, dumping snow and leaving thigh-high drifts at the top of the pasture. We had to dig our way in through the gate to turn out the horses. Our poor farrier, St. Butch, gamely trimmed the horses under mind (and finger) numbing conditions. The saddle remained idle, and out came the cross-country skis. Orris Falls was a dream of dry snow and fast trails!

We only blanket our horses when truly necessary, but when the mercury reached no higher than zero and the relentless wind blew, we decided to utilize the extra insulation so our horses need not expend calories trying to stay warm. Blankets plus unlimited hay made for happy horses.

Early on a Sunday, towards the end of our arctic freeze,  I heard the wood stove roaring, looked out the window and saw smoke pouring from the chimney. John called 911, calmly stating, "It appears we have a chimney fire." The South Berwick Fire Department showed up with two trucks, and all the extras. Bundled in my Carhartt overalls and down parka, I watched as they knocked it down and "condemned" my wood stove from further use until I had it inspected and cleaned. Long story short, and nearly $2000 later, I re-lined the chimney, just in time for the impending heat wave. But we know Mother Nature isn't finished with winter yet!

Snow on Saturday covered the frozen mud, laying a fluffy carpet over the ugly brown. The horses enjoyed snow baths and hay, but soon decided to paw for the grass hiding underneath. This winter seems to be exiting quietly; just small snow storms followed by rain. But I wouldn't be surprised if a late blizzard catches some people off guard. The around-town-crampons and shovel remain in my truck until winter truly recedes.

John and I took a break from barn chores to sit on the hay sled down in the pasture, and watched the horses enjoy the bright warm sun and breakfast.

Grain seems to be a second choice for food in the morning, surpassed by grass and morning frolics. By late morning, thirst will send them up the hill for water which is when they will finally eat their breakfast meal. Once the sun disappears, the lights come on in the barn, and I whistle into the darkness, thundering hooves and shadows appear at the gate, ready for dinner.

Rolex & Vance check out the hay sled

Friday, February 17, 2017

Ahh...winter vacation!

Most people's idea of a winter vacation is to pack up a suitcase with shorts, t-shirts, a bathing suit and suntan lotion, hop on a plane and head south. Our winter vacation is simply a time to relax and relieve the stress of barn chores, battling snow, and getting to work on time. With the pressure off, we can leisurely wile away the hours cleaning stalls, digging out and scrubbing the water tub, and maybe, get in a little riding or cross-country skiing.

After a multitude of snow storms, the sun broke through, melting some snow and offering an absolutely lovely day. The snow remains knee deep in most places, so delivering the hay required snowshoes as well as my trusty plastic sled. I decided to send the sled down without me on board. That way it wouldn't take a nosedive into the deep snow. The horses trammeled out a chute of sorts for it to rocket down--which, as always, erupted a ruckus. "The hay sled is here! The hay sled is here!" Everyone investigated and began snatching at the hay bales, jostling for feeding space. I waved them back, swinging baling twine in the air. It's not a job for a neophyte--keeping oneself safe as they close in like sharks, pinning ears and chasing each other away. I've even considered wearing my hard hat when they're being especially rowdy!

The pecking order worked itself out: Vance, head honcho, sampled each pile before settling on one. Rolex hassled Harley and Ruffy, trying to share their piles. Ruffy, having none of that, sent her packing. She nosed her own pile for a bit before sidling up to Harley and taking snatches from is pile. Harley tolerated her nose in his feed bucket earlier and agreed to share his hay as well.  They have a unique partnership.

Ruffy, Harley, & Rolex enjoying winter.
Rolex and Ruffy seemed particularly interested in the cedar tree. They have stripped the bark on some of the lower branches. All that nice hay, and they'd rather chew cedar! Late winter always brings on the need to chew on something besides hay. They will be happy when the clover and grass come back!

Rolex trying to upend the sled.
To survive on a New England farm, there are a number of tools required. A working tractor with a bucket would be ideal, but alas, I'm without at present. My little 4WD Tacoma gets me to the barn, and my snow scooper allows me to dig my way into the driveway when necessary. It is also key to getting the path cleared out to the manure pile. And, of course, my invincible plastic sled not only delivers hay, but gives me a hoot when I go barreling down the hill, especially when there's an unbreakable icy crust. But two items from my old backcountry winter adventure gear have been lifesavers: my ancient (25+ years old) Sherpa snowshoes and my Voile avalanche shovel. That shovel travels with me all winter until the last storm has melted away.

Today I used all those tools...and it's only Vacation Day 1.

And, it's our girl, Ruffy's 10th birthday! Welcome to the double digits, girl!

Rolex & Ruffy

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

My Two Faces

Out for a ride on my OTTB Halawa Moon
I was a late arrival on the Facebook scene,  joining to catch up with classmates and long lost friends. Most of the world seemed "connected"; so I figured I'd wade into the world of social media. Along the way I discovered the vibrant horse community, and only realized later that two equestrian worlds existed in Facebook-land.

One world consisted of horse people of many levels and disciplines, but most of the posts were idle chatter regarding  training tips, what to feed your hard keeper, and distorted selfies of owners and horses faces. Some posts were interesting and many quite humorous.  I was awed by the number of Thoroughbred enthusiasts out there, especially those promoting and sharing OTTBs, or off-track Thoroughbreds. Then a post crossed my radar and I discovered a darker world, the world of horse rescues, auctions, kill pens, and kill buyers. All-breed and Thoroughbred rescue groups posted daily and weekly pictures of horses in peril, on the brink of heading to slaughter.

After joining a number of off-track Thoroughbred groups, I was drawn to the OTTBs at the feedlots and auctions. I joined the rescue groups working every day to get these horses to safety. With little money to spare for donations to rescue groups, I try to stay on top of horses needing networking. I've helped "bail" a few horses when I could afford to, but spend most of my Facebook time doing my damned best to network horses needing new homes through the numerous successful rescue groups out in cyberspace. And I am still amazed weekly by the "horse warriors" who rise to the occasion, saving so many horses, week after week, day after day. My hat (or helmet) goes off to their perseverance.

At the end of a day, home from the barn, I log on to Facebook and check the status on "my horses"; the horses that are still needing a safe place to land. I now know the schedule of auctions from Pennsylvania to California to Mississippi. A lovely bay Thoroughbred gelding, with panic in his eyes, ran loose through the notorious Sugar Creek Auction in Ohio. Susie Gordon's photographs stunned me and brought home the plight of horses at auction. Hip number 465's face haunted me. I saw him in my sleep. A group of amazing people worked through the day and into the night to save a group of horses. Number 465, a nine year old Thoroughbred gelding, was safe. I sobbed with relief and made a vow to become more involved and work harder to rescue horses stuck in the slaughter pipeline.

So now I have two Facebook faces; one with happy pictures of me and Harley, sharing our fun times together. And then there's my other, grim, serious, desperate face; the "horse warrior" trying to save horses in immediate need of help--slaughter bound, auction bound, Craigslist freebies, and our wild mustangs being systemically eradicated by our government agency, the Bureau of Land Management and the welfare ranchers they are beholden to for the beef on your table.

John sees me sitting at the computer with tears in my eyes. "Someone need rescuing?", he says. "No, they're safe", I tell him. He replies, "Just remember, Harley is safe. He would have eventually been heading north on a truck. And Ruffy? She too would have headed that way. We saved them."

I urge fellow Facebook and equine friends to become involved, take a stand, take action, email or call your legislators to pass the SAFE food export act. Over 140,000 U.S. horses went to Mexico and Canada last year, headed to slaughter. Put the available social media to work doing some good for our animals. After you finish posting happy horse thoughts, post some horses needing help. If you have the spare change, donate to a 501c that attends auctions weekly. There are so many to choose from, too many to post here. If you want more information, message me on FB--the happy chick with the happy OTTBs will gladly get you started in the world of social media rescue.