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 it's 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.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

April snow showers?

Harley, Ruffy, and Rolex

I can't believe I'm using winter blankets in April. But since the horses are all blowing their winter coats and we're having a snow storm, I feel obliged to give them some shelter from this weather. By five p.m. they had seen enough of the white stuff and were ready to come inside for a warm dinner.

Vance, our octogenarian resident Standardbred who would prefer to be outside in most weather, even wanted to come into the barn. In fact, he was waiting at the top of the hill!

This crazy weather has wreaked havoc with some horses leading to many colic cases. Fortunately, knock on wood, ours seem to be doing fine and drinking enough water. But of course, I obsess about their diet and well being as poor John can attest.

I found the first few ticks, one on me, one on Rolex. Maybe this snow will keep them at bay for another week or so. I always enjoy those first few warm rides when the sun is shining, the leaf buds add a spatter of color into our world, and the biting insects have not yet arrived. Here's to spring--let's hope it's right around the corner.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Only ride out as far as you are willing to walk!

Everyone was overcome with spring fever. Harley and Rolex seem to have experienced some role reversal over the winter. Now she is Miss Spookypants while Harley is (relatively) the staid old hand. Well, at least that was the case for the first half of the ride...

We needed to detour from our planned loop due to the amount of ice on the trail in some cool, protected areas. Rather than risk someone slipping and being injured, we decided to head back via the road. Harley was leading the way, albeit like a giraffe, craning his head in the air, and with a springy walk bordering on a a prance. But he and Rolex seemed to be doing fine until some kids playing behind a house sent Rolex into a tailspin. Before anyone could get tossed to the pavement, we jumped off. But I'm not so sure we were any safer with both horses spinning around in circles. And the worst part is the lack of courtesy and caution on the part of drivers. Some barely slow down, and some hardly leave enough room should one of the horses wheel into the road. Isn't it common sense if you see an animal, the size of a moose, prancing in the street to slow down? Where is the common sense in these drivers? How did they manage to pass their drivers' test if they have no clue about driving near horses?

Harley and Rolex faced other demons as we made our way home: barking dogs running along a fence, donkeys, chickens, and the piece de resistance, a flock of guinea fowl that emerged, squawking up a storm. Unlike the chickens and turkeys our horses are used to, guinea fowl tend to screech, unnerving both Harley and Rolex. Mr. and Mrs. Prancypants had worked themselves into a dither where every little thing had them wheeling in circles.

Our horses were in a lather, our arms were soaked from walking alongside with our sweating steeds. My feet were beginning to get damp and slide around in my Mountain Horse insulated boots. I could feel blisters starting to form on the bottoms of my toes. If I'd known I'd be walking three miles, I would definitely have worn different boots. So word of warning to all you trail riders out there: only ride out as far as you are willing to walk!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

And our vacation begins!

The snow is melting and the horses are shedding. March is almost here and we've tapped the maple trees. Another winter under the belt.

We're off to a lazy start for vacation. After last year's constant hammering of snow, we're glad to be not be shoveling through knee deep drifts to the manure pile!

The horses have wintered nicely--good coats, nice condition, and sassy! Our feeding regimen seems to work well; lots of high quality hay, a forage balancer, rice bran, and beet pulp. Granted, they have not done a lot except play in the pasture, but spring is just around the corner. So Harley and Rolex, get ready to hit the trails! And Ruffy, there's a driving harness heading your way!

We took Harley and Rolex out for their first trail ride together in weeks. Starting out, things were a little dicey as noise from next door had their attention. But once we hit the woods, the pair settled down and took turns leading the way. A quick turn up the power line eliminated balking and backing at ABC Farm with its menagerie of chickens, goats, and a dog. Better to pass them on the way home! Although I have to commend Harley for walking past their tractor, running with the bucket in the air, a few weeks ago. He gave it a good look, but no silly stuff.

With most of the snow melted, and only icy patches, the trail riding should be really nice soon. Of course, then we'll be dealing with muck, but soft muck is nicer than frozen hard ground.

Now is the time to start looking for some replacement winter boots. I've tried to Shoe-Goo my Mountain Horse Active Riders, but it didn't seem to work. Nothing like walking down to get your horse and having icy cold water seep in around your feet. Ugh!

Friday, February 5, 2016

Harley's vacation ends

Harley thinks he's on vacation, and he might be right. The longer he goes without work, the more of a challenge he can be to ride, especially if we go solo. After three weeks off, I needed to end said vacation!

The last few weeks of January consisted of ice and rain followed by beautiful spring-like weather. I had to keep reminding myself that winter was far from over!

The long warm days convinced me I'd better take advantage of the weather and throw a leg over my horse. Except I admit to being a bit worried how he would be with so much time off. I chickened out riding and opted for a walk down the road instead. This would allow me to "take the lead" and should he be a whirling beast, I wouldn't have to bail off. He stopped almost immediately after we left the barn, but with urging, we made it all the way to the bottom of the hill where he could see, "Ack! Cars!"
After having a good long gander down the road, we resumed walking and made it down to Orris Falls. Not bad for starters. And we ended on a good note.

The next day I decided to ride him. Of course, the wind was howling when I left work. "Oh God, this will be fun" I thought. "Well, worse case scenario, I walk him--again."

While I tacked him up, he had a little lunch and only whinnied once for his girls. And even with the blowing leaves, we managed to reach Orris Falls without a stop. Oh, I watched him think about it as he slyly peered to the left and swiveled his left ear, but lots of leg and reminder tap, kept him moving forward. Unfortunately, the trail under the hemlocks was still quite dicey with lots of pooled water over ice. So we didn't go too far, but it was a trip away from home, all on his own. He only did his racehorse jig a couple of times but came back to a walk nicely. I was proud of him. Heck, I was proud of me! After waffling over whether to ride or not, I was glad of my decision--it boosted my confidence, and Harley's!

The gang being silly