Saturday, March 24, 2012

Harley hits the double digits and I ride 2 horses in one day!

Halawa Moon--my best boy!
Harley turned ten Friday--twice as old as our fillies. Sometimes he acts his age; sometimes his shoe size (somewhere between 00 and 0). Yesterday, he acted his age and even though we headed out on our own, he did well. John and I have spent so much time riding together, Harley has had the luxury of company on the trail--someone else to take the lead now and then and face the "demons" out there.

After our last episode with the goats, I decided that rather than start off the ride with an obstacle, we'd take the easier route and face the goats at the end, when we were nearly home and he had no option but to walk past them. So we headed out the Orris Falls trail. With the sun shining, a wind blowing, and not too much heat, it was nearly perfect. Harley stopped when a mountain biker came skidding down the mud--his first mountain biker of the season. But he moved forward easily. It wasn't until the biker turned around and came up behind him through the mud that Harley spooked. And of course, that was right at the moment when I was riding on a loose rein, listening to the birds, and singing to Harley (his favorite--Oh, Harley was a racehorse....) There's a reason he likes to watch his back trail. You never know what might sneak up on you!

With the ground soft and forgiving, we had a couple of nice trots. He was eager to go, especially when we turned left up towards Big Bump. I think he thought, Oh good, we're heading home. But rather than going down the power line, we continued on to the Savage's land where we have to pass all kinds of spooky stuff in their drive: snowmobile trailer, tractor, woods piles with blowing tarps, a canoe, and worst of all--a deer (target)! Harley's convinced it's real. At the bottom of the driveway, he pulled his stunt--pulling to the left to go home. I should have seen it coming. The only thing to do is circle him and continue on (then he's Mr. Grumpypants) until he relents and steps out.

We rode up towards North Point, but rather than heading towards civilization, I decided to keep us in the wilds, crossing brooks, watching for turkeys, etc. I rode a nice little loop which included a lovely canter and a little jump over our favorite fallen birch. Since Harley has had little schooling over fences, he sometimes heaves over things a bit awkwardly. So I reminded myself, the old mantra: Head up, heels down, look forward (not down)! He handled it nicely and then trotted through a pair of nature's cavaletti, a couple of downed birches laying over the trail--he got a big pat for all that! My good birthday boy!

Rough & Ready--our jumper girl
With the current heat wave, our horses decided they would only eat their dinner outside. We've had a hard time getting our 2 ADD OTTB's Harley and Rolex to eat up their grain. So John came up with a solution. Feed them outside! Of course there's a fair bit of musical feed buckets, but at least it's all getting cleaned up whereas before, half the feed remained. Ruffy, our big girl, never left food until spring fever hit.  But now, she's back on track, chowing down her entire ration.

Rolex Girl--our baby girl
Poor little Rolex; she wants to share. Her idea of the perfect setup is eating with everyone out of the same bucket. Harley tolerates her nose in his feed for a bit before chasing her away. Then she tries the same thing with Ruffy, who's less tolerant. And on top of that, Rolex likes a feed pan, rather than a bucket, because then she can see around herself better. Her eyes aren't deep in a bucket. So the only way I could get her to really eat the other night, was to hold her bucket waist high so she didn't have to worry--I'd watch out for her. If there ever was an "in your pocket" horse, this girl is it. She likes to be mollycoddled and is just like a puppy. She followed me around the pasture while I distributed hay, trying to tear it out of the bail. She's the baby of the bunch, and her behavior reflects it!

John met me out at the barn after work and I got in my second ride of the day. He rode Ruffy and I rode Roley Girl. This was the first time we'd taken the girls out without Harley along. For all his foibles, he does redeem himself by "jump-starting" the girls when they stop to look at things they are unsure about. Unless Harley's in terror (ie. goats), he will usually go forward without too much fuss. So there we were--trying to get our girls to move forward down the trail. It went something like this: stop--logs, stop--mud, stop--water, stop--??, who knows why?

Riding Rolex is SO different from Harley, both in build and way of going. For one thing, she's much narrower. Secondly, she has a cat-like quality going up and downhill. Her balance and athleticism is amazing on tricky terrain. Unlike many OTTB's she picked up quickly how to maneuver on steep, slippery footing. Watch and observe, Harley! She's not very keen about walking through water and would rather jump a ditch than mess her pretty toes. She caught me off guard as I was trying to get a dead branch out of the way--whoops, lost my stirrup as she leaped! Ruffy, on the other hand, likes to jump any obstacle in her path--brooks, ditches, logs, stone walls, etc. John has a jumper on his hands!

We had an awesome ride. Hopefully, we can sneak in another Saturday evening. Rain returns Sunday, bringing colder weather with night time temperatures back in the twenties. Mother Nature is reminding us it's barely spring. The heat wave was only a teaser!

The whole gang

Monday, March 19, 2012

Spring hat gesprungen hier!

John escaped early from work on Saturday leaving us enough time to get in a ride. That extra hour of daylight gives us the edge we working folks need to squeeze in some spring riding. We did the Lollipop Loop ride with a little side detour past Orris Falls. The rushing water reverberated against the chasm walls, making Harley and Rolex veer away from the path along the edge. When we reach the headwaters at the beaver pond, the waters rang with peepers calling. I said to John, "Do you hear that?" It's a sound that makes me smile every spring. As I was closing up the barn, I heard another sound of spring, male woodcocks giving their "bzzzzt" call and spiraling whistle. Oh, and the fillies came into heat. Yup, spring has definitely sprung here!

Our Roley Girl
Sunday's ride was to be our first long ride; a good training jaunt with lots of hills and water crossings. Harley and Rolex were full of themselves, raring to go, so once we got onto the Orris Falls Trail, we let them work out the kinks with some nice trotting. Everyone and their grandmother was out and about on Sunday, enjoying the fine weather. Couples with dogs, a troop of boys with a couple of men, then a troop of girls with a couple of women--Cub Scouts and Brownies? Rolex hoped they had carrots; Harley watched their walking sticks with a wary eye.

You can see a little bit of snow behind Rolex--not much left except under the hemlocks and in shady swales. Floating icebergs dotted the many vernal pools we passed. John, equipped with his hand saw (in scabbard on saddle) was prepared to trim back limbs, if necessary. And given our horses' rowdy tendencies, he humored me by deigning to wear his helmet. Brain buckets are a good thing when riding flighty horses--thank you, John!

Once out on Emery's Bridge Rd. we headed towards our link that takes us up to Bennett Lot Rd. The ride down Emery's Bridge can always prove interesting, especially on a fine spring day when the ponies are prancing. There were barking dogs, water gardens with gushing water, and fluttering balloons on a mailbox. Rolex, our curious girl, approached these with caution, but was keen to investigate. Harley, under the guise of following suit, did the same, then jumped sideways which, of course, so did Rolex. Mr. Spookypants is not always a good influence on the girls! 

Harley at Bennett Lot Rd.
By the time we reached Bennett Lot Rd. I was beginning to regret wearing a long-sleeved flannel shirt! And full-seat, black breeches were not the right choice either. Not only was the color absorbing all the heat, but the full-seat material was making them even hotter! Thinking I might have to jump off occasionally, I'd also worn my winter boots. Sure was glad to have those fuzzy warm boots keeping my toes toasty!

Approaching Bennett Lot Rd., Rolex let out a whinny. Both horses had their ears up and kept looking off to the right. We heard voices out on the road, but not until we cleared the woods did we see them on horseback. Rolex and Harley thought this was great--friends out here! Both eagerly headed out to see who was out there. They are such herd creatures, it's fun to watch their behaviour when meeting new equine friends. The riders were from Lyman Hill Farm out for a spring ride like us. The owner, aboard a happy Appy, said they had just left and inquired about the trail conditions. Her friend, with St. Elmo's Fire, aka Elmo, made friends with Harley. I imagine their conversation that goes like this: 
"Hi, how are you? Where did you come from?
"I live up the street. Where do you live?"
"Have you seen anyone else out here?"
"No. There are lots of people and dogs, but no other horses."
"Hey, what do you think of all that mud? Can you believe they want me to walk through that?"
"Have fun, but watch out for the balloons!"

Harley and Elmo having an equine conversation

We did a loop up around the Norman Mill Trail, saving further exploration for a later date. It was going to be a 2 hour plus ride, enough for today. Naturally, once Harley realized we were heading home, his pace picked up making the return trip a bit quicker. We passed a pond full of brrrping frogs--another indicator of Spring's arrival. Rolex, our unflappable filly, was spooked by a mourning dove flying up into the trees. This sent Harley sideways as well. What can you do but laugh--our silly guys. Rolex still doesn't care for large mucky puddles or water, so when she trotted up to a trail-wide mud hole, she put on the brakes and waited for Harley to go first. He redeems himself all the time when he "shows her" it's okay to go through muck. That's my good boy!

The weather forecast is calling for more warm weather, so tomorrow--the beige breeches, the paddock boots, and a lighter shirt!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Saturday snow storm and Sunday maple sugaring

Snowy sunrise in the pastures
This is what we woke to Saturday morning, another 3-4 inches of snow. Just Thursday, it had been almost 70 F and here we were, with snow. That's March--fickle! It was a lovely drive out to the barn despite the lack of plowing. I think the town highway department decided it wasn't enough to warrant plowing. So they dribbled salt in the middle, creating slush-filled icy trenches and left the rest of the macadam unplowed. There was some white-knuckling up to the barn, but by the afternoon, the roads were, indeed, bare.

Sunday's plan was to get a permit to burn a brush pile in one of the pastures. We also needed to boil down gallons of sap for maple syrup. And we hoped to squeeze in a ride. To expedite things, John decided to take the sap over to the barn where he rigged up a "sap drip system" that kept a rolling boil and a continuous flow into our "evaporator" pot.  While this was going on, we had a bonfire going that needed our attention due to the constant wind. Plus we did some spring cleaning at the barn. Grain bags were baled up for our local dealer (anniversary gala with deals on grain when you bring in bags!), the loft was swept out, and lumber located for fixing more fencing. Harley, my cribber, always finds the soft, rotted boards to hook his teeth on.
Portable pickup sugar shack
Rolex Girl received a much needed bath and Ruffy got a partial dunking. Harley missed out due to the late hour and only two coolers for three horses. Once the girls were done with their visits to the spa, we put them inside for a snack then ambled down to check the fire. Now just a smoldering pile of ash and some soggy logs, we took a break and watched the season's first bluebirds hopping down from the fence for spring snacks.

Once Rolex was dry, we decided we still had enough daylight for a short ride. John wanted to try the trail beyond the ring area. We saw a red-shouldered hawk lurking by the pond, probably hoping to snack on a duckling.  Mama wood duck paddled around with two ducklings behind her, seemingly oblivious to the hawk. Once we rode by, the hawk flew up into the trees. Snow still covered the trail in the woods, especially where the hemlocks grow tightly together. At one point, Harley had to nose his way through dense hemlock saplings. Rolex wasn't having any of that--Harley disappeared on her! So we turned back, trotted back to the ring area, and both horses broke into a canter. Harley wanted to really go, but I held him back as he performed a sideways canter and tossed his head. They both felt really good, so we decided to go down the road to Orris Falls and dip their feet in the brook. Harley took a look, but went forward, Rolex too, with further urging. Not bad for horses that haven't been ridden in two weeks.

We got back to the barn as the sun was setting--7 p.m. Harley and Rolex finished their dinners and everyone got blanketed for the night. We packed up the portable sugar shack, shut the barn and headed for home to finish off the sap and have some dinner.

Tomorrow promises to be another fine warm day for riding, and maybe a bath for Mr. Muddypants!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Five horses in the barn, only one sound...

Yesterday, I noticed a gash on Harley's near hock. Looks like he got into trouble out in the pasture. When everyone was kicking up their heels, he must have gotten in the line of fire. So that meant no riding yesterday.  We washed it off and hoped the swelling would go down.

Today, Harley's hock was still a little puffy, but he didn't appear lame. Still, another day off would be for the best. Heck, it wasn't like we were missing out on any stellar riding! The snow is frozen and crusty, the wind blew steadily up the hill, and the temperature was only going to continue to drop. By now, it was coming up on 4:00 p.m.  Ruffy must have wacked he knee--she was lame, Gator is gimpy due to age, and Vance, well firstly, we don't know if he's ever been broke to saddle coming from a trotter track, and secondly, he's got ankles the size of coconuts, although he's still got a good trot in him! So there we were: 5 horses, and Rolex the only sound one. So we groomed them within an inch of their life, until they couldn't stand our fussing anymore. By then, it was getting colder and darker--time for dinner boys and girls.

To expedite things in the morning, John decided to distribute the hay tonight, and while he was at it, do his Ethan Frome imitation. Here he is, heading down the slope before it tipped over:

Once at the bottom of the hill, we were treated to a beautiful winter sunset. Mother Nature was reminding us that winter isn't over yet. The mercury should hit single digits tonight, around 9 F. This  cold snap also means no sap running--but later in the week, it should be dripping at a fast rate as the temperatures rise up into the 50's.  Then it will mean, feeding the horses, and then going home to boil sap for the next 5 hours. All for that lovely sweet elixir--Maple Syrup!
Cold night coming our way

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Horses being horses

Post storm antics
After being cooped up all morning due to the pouring rain, everyone was raring to go outside this afternoon. First, I let the sorority sisters out. They trotted up and down along the fence line, waiting for the rest of the gang to join them in some fun. Here's Harley trying to start something with Vance while the girls are off and running. Gator is happy to be in a separate pasture where he can see the gang, but not have to play any of their games. Like a grand dad, he'd rather watch from afar, with a fence to keep those annoying hooligans away from him. Everyone had a good roll in the snow, leaving behind an imprint of dust and some hair. Shedding season has begun in earnest!  The snow was quite slushy, and the footing a big slippery, but it didn't stop the horses from having a good time.

Rolex taking a snow bath, "Ahh, that feels so good!"
The games then moved back up the hill to the top of the paddock. All the excitement made a couple of the horses thirsty. Vance, playing Mr. Stud, chased everyone up the hill and then cornered them by the watering trough. For an old guy, he likes to strut his stuff and show us his Standardbred trot when he's feeling good!

Vance taking charge of his herd
After things cooled down, Rolex and Ruffy had to come see what I was up to in the paddock. Did I have carrots? No, just my camera (carrots were in the truck). I've decided the C-shaped star on Rolex's head stands for Curious. And where one filly goes, the other is bound to follow.

What'cha doing?
Got carrots?

Then things mellowed out. Everyone had burned off their excess energy, stretched their muscles, and kicked up their heels. Although Harley persisted in trying to start a nipping contest. See them in the background, behind Ruffy? What a happy crew!

Vance at the center of attention

Friday, March 2, 2012

Winter's last hurrah

Oh the weather outside is frightening...
This is what it looked like driving out to the barn around 3:30 Thursday afternoon. There was a good 10 to 12 inches of snow and the storm had not stopped yet. I got out of work early, and would loved to have curled up with a book by the wood stove, but I had to check on the gang. All the horses were snug inside, but antsy to get out. Since it was getting on to dinner time, rather than letting them out into the field, I put each one on a cross tie with something to munch on while I cleaned their stalls. Then I went home to clear the drive way. I think I finally finished shoveling around 7:30 p.m.--my kingdom for a plow, or a snowblower!

Today was sunny and bright, giving the horses a chance to stretch their legs--a good thing since tomorrow we're slated for a wintry mix of sleet, rain, and freezing rain. Blah!  So much for our beautiful winter wonderland. And I had to spend it all indoors at work. Looks like I may never get on the cross-country skis this winter, bummer...