Friday, September 23, 2011

Lesson Ride

Harley in his new bitless bridle
Off and on rain today, and limited time, made for a short ride. But John and I were anxious to try out Harley's new bitless bridle. I also got a much-needed lesson! I could easily stand to spend hours working in a ring, and many of them, without stirrups. I try to get away with just riding on the trail without stirrups, now and then, but both Harley and I could stand some schooling. John spent some time giving me a lesson and Harley discovered that without a bit, it's much easier to snatch at the grass! He seemed to do just fine with the bridle--a smooth enough transition.  Then we tried it out on Nina--she too seemed to do well with it. Come winter, I'll definitely like not having to put cold metal in his mouth!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Harley & Nina: Peak Baggers!

Harley tacked and ready to go
Our Saturday ride included summiting Second Hill (we were only on a sub-summit on Tuesday's ride) and a picnic lunch for all. With temperatures hovering in the low 60's and no humidity, the weather was perfect for a long ride. What a wonderful vacation week we've had thus far--riding all but one day.  If I ever plan to do an excursion in Wales, I'll definitely have to be sure I've got myself conditioned for it!

With sandwiches, water, carrots, and apples packed, we headed out. The horses felt sparky with the cool weather--primed and ready for a long walk in the woods. Harley was happy to follow Nina most of the way. When asked to step out in front, he balked. Only taps from the crop would convince him to take the lead. I think he'd rather let Nina deal with the demons residing behind the boulders and stumps. If they stopped together, it was a tie for who would be least willing to lead. What a pair! When out front, Harley's ears are up, he's watching his surroundings, and peering around corners. But when he's following, the ears flop to the sides and he shuffles along like a dude-ranch horse. I can't help but laugh at his behavior. Much to his chagrin, I made him lead a few times, as a confidence-builder (I don't know if he'd agree).

Our peak baggers
The last pitch up to the summit of Second Hill requires a bit of scrambling around granite boulders, but both horses seemed to manage just fine. Though Second Hill is only 555 ft., and lower than its neighbhor, Mt. Agamenticus, it's probably the highest elevation Harley has ever achieved being a Maryland-bred flatlander!  Surprisingly, we encountered no people on this beautiful, sunny Saturday until we ate lunch. When a couple appeared out of the woods, it gave Harley a start, interrupting his noshing in the grassy patches. He whirled around thinking, "Where the heck did they come from?"

En route back down, we heard voices below. Harley and Nina, unable to see where the chattering children were hiding, tentatively picked their way down the trail, peering through the trees. The hiking group, taking a break at the trail junction, admired our horses as Harley and Nina looked sideways at everyone, fearing woods trolls. Pointed in the homeward direction, Harley stepped out at his fast walk,, telling himself, I'm going home, I"m going home with each step.

Ah, lunch!

Sunday was a short ride day--only an hour and a half of meandering through the woods. Unfortunately, the mosquitoes seemed to have appeared with the warmer weather. Our plan is to hack Nina home on Monday. Echoe will miss her company, as will Vance, he beau in the neighboring paddock. It's been such an enjoyable week for all--John, myself, and the horses.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The riding vacation continues

After two long rides, we decided to do a short loop. Plus it was hot and steamy once again. Indian summer returned, bringing with it, voracious mosquitoes. Michelle arrived at the barn just as we headed out, so she grabbed Echoe, gave him a quick grooming, and jumped aboard. Dasher, always up for an adventure, trotted along with us, tail wagging, tongue lolling, ears flapping, and nose to the ground in typical hound fashion.
Dash & Echoe at the old quarry

Poor Echoe has fallen in love with Nina--he'll be sad when she leaves. But in the meantime, he's enjoyed her company. Our ride took us out to the old Jepson place and along the quarry. As we approached the quarry road, I heard heavy equipment moving and said, "I hope we don't hear the whistle. That means they're blasting."

No ground-shaking booms, and no mud wallows on this ride. We admired colorful mushrooms, enjoyed each others company, and laughed at our horses. Harley wanted to be right with Echoe (who wants to be right behind Nina), but he gives Nina quite a bit more space. I think she's enjoying her position as Queen Bee, having all the geldings go gaga at her.

I made Harley go out front (something he'd rather not do, the big chicken) for a bit. He bravely stepped into the giant puddle in the flooded woods road. Once we reached the other side, he gallantly went back to where Nina stood, still questioning the sanity of this, and showed her it was o.k.

We stirred up all the mosquitoes in the swamp and they followed us back through the woods to home. Thankfully the weather changed that night, bringing rain and cooling temperatures.

Yesterday we hooked up with Michelle again for another shorter ride, but one with a bit more speed involved. With the cold weather, came snappy-kneed horses. Everyone was keyed up, and ready to go. If Nina got between Harley and Echoe, he began jigging and grinding his teeth. It's like playground antics--who gets to play in which group. Echoe doesn't mind who's in front or behind, but he too was ready for a good romp. We had some nice trots and canters, with a few little bucks thrown in for good measure. The horses enjoyed the cool weather, and a nearly bug-free ride. Our next adventure? Well, probably another long, slow ride. That spunky little Arab, and long-winded Thoroughbred just keep on trucking!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

From the boggy bottoms to the summit

Today we took Nina and Harley on another ride with mud, but none so deep you could lose your horse in it! As John said, "You know the mud's deep when your horse is using his chin to get out!"

Our plan, was to ride to Second Hill, a sub-summit to Mt. Agamenticus. This is a ride with mud, brooks, and foot bridges. We rode out the Orris Falls Trail to Emery's Bridge Rd. A half mile later, we turned off into the woods on, what I call, the Bennett Lot Trail (a cut through the woods to Bennett Lot Rd). We took a little break here so John could adjust Nina's saddle a bit. The air was steamy and it was shaping up to be a hot ride, but our plan was to take our time and enjoy the ride. Mushrooms carpeted the forest floor with splashes of mustard yellow, orange, red, pale purple, olive green, and ghost white. Some were just gelatinous masses, some were just peeking out from under a carpet of hemlock needles or leaves. It smelled like fall, crushed sweet fern, ripening berries, and dead leaves. Our last wildflowers,  autumn asters, bloomed in sunny spots along the trail edge and roadsides. A last gasp of color.

Our first obstacle: a giant mud puddle in the old woods road, complete with frogs leaping in and out. Nina would have no part of it! Harley, just following Nina's lead decided, "if she won't go, I won't go".
Finally, with much urging, I convinced him to step into the water. He opted to stay "close to shore", hugging the edge. But it was enough to convince Nina to follow. Then came the first foot bridge. Once again, Harley took the lead, ears up and looking off to both sides at the tumbling brook below, but calmly walked across. Again, Nina followed. We then doubled back around to make them cross the water. This proved more difficult than the bridge, but they did it, both ways.

Break  en route up Second Hill

The trail up Second Hill is built for human foot traffic. It winds between narrow tree gaps (watch those knees!) over rocks and roots, and between ancient stone walls. I tried to picture what this area might have looked like in the last century. Were these hillsides all pasture? We stopped for a break and decided to lead the horses for a bit. We should have brought lunch with us. At least we had some crunchy carrots for the horses. They deserved treats--it was a bit of a climb for them!

The trail turned to granite ledge near the summit. Here we stopped again for a water break and to determine which path to follow next. The last bit to the summit was a scramble over rocky terrain. I was ready to turn back, and Ariat boots are NOT make for hiking. John willingly agreed--we'd already been out for a couple of hours and it would take us the same to get home.

My best boy near the summit
We are notorious for heading out into the Agamenticus region with maps, but we were prepared this time--compass, map, and GPS. There are blazes on the trees, and some signs at junctions, but if you're not sure where that trail leads, you're sunk without a compass. We guessed which trail  would lead us back towards home, and John was right. We came out on the Porcupine Trail (saw none) which led us to the Cedar Trail (saw none, but there must be some there). This trail had two low foot bridges crossing boggy areas (pretty dry this season, but I certainly wasn't going to test it after yesterday). Harley looked hard at them, but willingly stepped across, cloppity clopping with Nina right behind.

Once more, we had to face the first foot bridge, but since that didn't seem to be as much of an issue as water, we opted to make them cross the brook. Harley was happily playing "dude horse" and plodding along as second. So when I asked him to pass the snorting, spooking Nina, and go in the water, he wouldn't budge. "Ladies before gentlemen". Right, Harley. So we waited it out until Nina decided it wasn't so scary after all, and they both waded across.

By the time we came out onto Bennett Lot Rd., I was beginning to get stiff in the knees. I kept dropping my stirrups and swiveling my legs to loosen things up. The last time I spent this many hours in the saddle, I was 20 something! And just to make sure I didn't think Harley was really a "dude horse", he'd have a nice little spook every now and then--a gentle reminder!

The last leg, back through Orris Falls, was a relief. I'd been riding for over four hours and, boy, did I feel like it! As soon as we came out onto the road for home, Harley stepped up the pace, passed Nina on the inside and lengthened his stride, even jogging up the hills. I'm not sure who was happiest to be home, us, the horses, or Echoe, standing with gang at the gate, nickering to his long lost love, Nina.
Tomorrow--a short ride, only 2 hours!

The bog down in the valley-o!

John is stabling Nina with Harley for our week of vacation so we can ride together. This will be good experience for Nina, and we'll have the added benefit of not having to do the switch and ride! I dropped John off at Nina's home and then went out to get Harley. The plan was to meet about halfway and ride back home together. What a trip it turned out to be!

First, I got a late start. Harley was in a lollygagging frame of mind and I had to really push him to step out. I tried to make up for lost time in places where the footing was good and soft. But by September, most of the dirt roads are baked to the hardness of concrete. So we mostly walked, slowly.

As I headed down Dennett Road at a brisk trot, Harley slammed on the brakes--something in the woods to the left! He spun around, only to see a man and two dogs coming from behind! They're coming from both directions, Harley...turkeys, man, and dogs. What's a poor horse to do? The man kindly waited, but I told him to walk past; it would be best for all. Then Harley skirted the turkeys and we resumed our amble down the road. John called and I told him I'd meet him in about 5 minutes. Sure enough, there he was, Nina all ears up, Harley all ears up--who is that horse? 

We made a couple of wrong turns trying to find a short cut to eliminate a long road walk. The logged areas are always so confusing--twisting trails that just stop at a pile of brush, or just peter out. So we opted to try the pipeline route that, theoretically, will take us right to the lower pasture gate. Hah!

Finding the turn offs which resemble game trails more than established riding trails proved to be nearly impossible. We did a lot of bushwacking, resulting in banged knees, elbows, scratched arms, and a load of pine needles down my shirt. Then came difficult stream crossing #1. Now I know Harley has been through this one before, and we're heading home. With some strong leg, he stepped right in and crossed to the other side leaving Nina stranded on the other side. I finally dismounted, holding her line while John urged her from behind. The game little girl nearly jumped the entire stream bed!
John undoing the lead line while Harley watches
Our next attempt at difficult stream crossing #2 proved to be less successful. We seemed to be cut off on the wrong side of a large swamp. John knew there was a crossing somewhere in these dense woods. Harley was bravely bashing head first through the trees, on a quest for home. I think he knew just how close he was. I finally found a spot that had a lot of vegetation and presumed this might be solid enough footing. WRONG! Next thing I know, Harley is belly deep in a quagmire. I launched myself off of him and roll away so he can get himself unglued,  and crawl as quickly as I can for the edge, grabbing at roots.

Poor Harley got out and (thankfully) stood quietly, quivering, on the other side while I spoke in soothing tones and removed his splint boots (all down around his hooves now). I stuffed them in the saddle pad pockets and told John we were striking out for home. I suggested he turn back and make for the road.

We thrashed our way through the woods until we hit the trail leading to the lower pasture gate. When Harley got to the gate, he would have galloped for home if I'd let him. We squelched our way up the hill to the barn where I gave him a nice shower. After being assured everyone was fine, I got laughed at--I was head to toe mud, like I'd just come out of a mud-wrestling pit. About half an hour later, John rode up the road, missing one shoe--another victim to the viscous black mud of the South Berwick bogs. What a grand finale to the ride!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A nearly bug-free ride!

Wagon Wheel Rd. (the darn flash went off)
For the first time since last spring, we went out without the bug net. Now I can admire Harley's cute little ears! Some mosquitoes harassed us, but I only smacked about 3 deer flies on the entire 2 hour ride. The temperatures were cool, with passing clouds, just perfect for a walk in the woods. Here's Harley listening to kids voices down at the end of the road. Always curious about his surroundings, we had to stop so he could check out the kids. And then we saw kids chalk drawing on their driveway. "Oh look, a horse", they shouted. Once again, we had to stop and scope things out. But later, 2 dirt bikes and a quad bike, roared through the woods towards us. They kindly slowed down, but Harley wasn't fazed in the least! Who'd expect loud machines to not spook him, but stumps and large boulders are fierce monsters in his mind? Oh, and bicycles in the woods? He doesn't mind them in the least either. But then since we only have one horse, our other "steed" is the mountain bike. Harley considers it part of his "herd".

When we got back to the barn, the hay trailer was unloaded and stacked overhead. But the loose chaff on the floor was awfully enticing! While I untacked Harley, he gobbled up what he could reach before I turned him out in the back where he grazed for and hour on the "Steak House" grass.
Steak House lawn

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Ah, a break from working on the house!

I've done all I can on the house until the roof and skylights are done. Time for me to get in some fun in the saddle. I took Harley out for a nice long 2+ hour ride on Saturday. This time I was brave enough to bring along the camera and tried my hand at taking pictures from atop my steed. He's not always the most willing horse to stand, especially if we're headed for home. As luck would have it, half of them were blurred from movement, but that's the beauty of a digital camera--no good, just hit delete and try again!

Here we are heading down the trail to the old Jepson farm. No, Harley doesn't have a purple fly net, but the flash went off, making it iridescent.  And all along the trail, mushrooms! You would love this, Colleen. Unfortunately, my pictures didn't do the 'shrooms justice.

Out by the Pike quarry, we came across a giant hemlock that came down in Hurricane Irene. Harley thought about turning back--we were blocked by a 10 foot wall of green. But I dismounted and he willing followed me down into the woods and around the tree. The great thing about quarries--old granite blocks are great for remounting! I do have to brag here--Harley stands so well when I go to haul myself back up on him. Pat, pat, good boy, Harley. 

This was a new trail I discovered off Cheney Woods Road. Click on it for a better view, but the sign said foot travel only. Does than include horse feet? We explored a bit of it, then returned to the road when it got too narrow, rocky, and steep. I may check it all out on foot first. Heading back up Cheney Woods Road, I saw another white blazed trail. Hmm...I wonder where that one goes? Maybe on our next ride, I'll find out.

On the trail past North Point, I pass this lovely place and wish it was mine. It's for sale with 65 acres abutting conservation land and awesome trail riding! But way too much money for me, sadly. So I admire it from Harley's back.

We got in a few more rides this weekend, one long one out towards Mt. Agamenticus, and a short one today. It was just too hot and muggy. But the good news is, the deerflies are abating. I'm looking forward to bug-free, cool fall riding, just around the corner!