Sunday, April 22, 2012

Here comes the rain, da, da, da, da....Happy Earth Day

The farrier came to trim everyone's feet today. By the time he was done, and we had Rolex and Harley tacked up, the rain began to fall in earnest. The forecast calls for the rain for the entire week, so we decided we'd tough it out and get in a short ride. We rode for about 30 minutes--just a little jaunt up the power line (our version of the Tevis Cup cliffs) and over Big Bump. By the end of the ride, rain was dripping off my helmet and my thighs were quite wet. I finally used my Cashel saddle cover which kept my ancient, but well-loved, Crosby Mark VI saddle high and dry. Thanks for the cover, John!

Ruffy watching me take flower photos
 I bought that saddle back during college, many moons ago, and used it for lessons as well as my summers spent trail riding at camp. Using it on wider-withered horses seems to have broadened it a bit, but it's so comfortable! With the cut-back, it seemed to fit many of the different shaped horses I rode. I think back to when I bought it for $350 and nearly choke at what people pay now for a saddle, especially when I look at the poor quality of the stitching, and they're priced over a grand! One of the unusual things about this saddle is the lack of knee rolls and thigh blocks. It provides nice close contact and works for people with different thigh lengths. I'll use it until it, or I, wear out.

Speaking of tack, we spent Friday morning at the Dover Saddlery Tent Sale in Plaistow, NH. Always a dangerous enterprise, we shopped wisely and only bought "wicked good deals", plus I had a gift card to use! John picked up a nice wool cooler for $35, and I found a $20 pair of Composite Reflex stirrups with hopes that the wider foot bed will alleviate foot pain/numbness. I also need boots with stiffer soles--I'd never buy another pair of Ariats! You can literally fold them in half and poke a finger up into the sole, plus I hate the elevated heel--not good for hiking with your horse! I know--they are called paddock boots because that's where you're supposed to use them. Any recommendations on stiffer-soled paddock boots or other all terrain footwear? Anyone tried Blundstones? Ariat seems to have cornered the market.

 After the shopping spree, we went to barn to try out our new gear and get in a ride with such lovely weather. Ruffy needs to spend time going over damp drainages. So we went to her usual "hot spot" and then did the Lollipop Loop ride. Bit I called a halt so I could photograph some delicate wild columbine growing alongside the trail. A sure sign of spring and a great hummingbird flower. On today's ride, we passed dwarf ginseng, but I didn't have my camera due to the rain!

American Columbine

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Monday, Monday, so good to me...

Snack time!
The heat wave continued on Monday, so the horses were, again, in lollygag mode. Who could blame them? Even Rolex, who usually will step right out, followed along by Harley's flank, rubbing her sweating head on him. I couldn't blame them--I felt the same way. We took many short breaks for carrots, and I even walked Harley up a steep section of the trail. The horses have nearly lost all their winter fuzz, but not entirely, making them sweat even sooner in the heat. Since carrots and apples are good for replacing electrolytes, we try to always have some along for the ride, especially during the hot months. And with the bitless bridles, it's easier for them to chew!

Some of the spring wildflowers are appearing: delicate white wood anenomes, bright yellow marsh marigolds, and the swamps and swales are greening up with carpets of skunk cabbage. The deciduous forest is finally getting a light blush as the maple flowers and red oak leaves open. A tinge of pale green suggests a tree canopy on the verge of unfurling its leaves.

We rode up through Orris Falls and out to Tatnic where there are trails with lovely footing. Harley, usually keen to stay right behind Rolex, didn't even feel like catching up. As long as he had her within eye contact, that was fine. John had a little canter and I think I had a total of three brief trots--just too dang hot! Back at the barn, both horses got a nice bath and time out on the "steak lawn", munching down as much green grass as they could. Rain is  heading our way at last--that should really green everything up quickly.

Mr. Clean Jeans

With the long daylight hours, it means we're now eating dinner between 8 and 9 p.m. Yes, the days can be long with 3 horses to care for and exercise, but I'm making up for lost time. Those 30+ years  between college and the present, when I yearned for a horse, are now being crammed into my waking hours not spent at work or doing chores around the house. Yes, I'm tired at the end of the day, but the horses enrich my life that much more. And having a partner that shares that passion makes me all the luckier. The only frustrations are not having the horses on our property, and middle aged stiffness! We got off to walk them down the road and looked like a couple of geriatric cowboys hobbling up the road.  "Slow down Rolex and Harley!  We can't walk that fast yet--need to get our land legs!" Man oh man, to think I used to spend nearly all day in the saddle as a summer counselor! Anyone got tips on how to regain that suppleness?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Two for Sunday

Bath time for Ruffy
We tried to get an early start this morning. John was out at the barn by 8 a.m. to take care of Ruffy's  frog, which seems to be doing much better. I finally arrived by 9:30, got saddled up, and we headed out.

Ruffy is loving her Easyboot Backcountry Gloves--some cushion and plenty of protection. What she still doesn't love is crossing water. Harley was the man and led the way, back and forth a number of times over a small drainage. Ruffy insists on jumping it and will not walk across--she's a jumper all right! Unlike Rolex, she hasn't had as much time out in the woods, but she also doesn't have the same mind set--more like Harley, "Oh my God, yikes, we need to get out of here!" She gets agitated when the footing is dicey and just mashes her way onward in hopes of ending the "crisis". Harley used to be much more like her, but with time and experience, he's made great progress. He still has his panic moments, but he takes a lot more in stride. We only rode for about an hour, then Ruffy got a nice bath, especially her tail, as you can see John gathering up in the picture.

After lunch, it was back to the barn for ride number two. The horses were enjoying a siesta and their own lunch in the barn, plus a break from the bugs. Today's heat brought out the black flies (Maine state bird) and voracious mosquitoes. Rolex and Harley were in lollygag mode. So we decided to take the nippers and make it a relaxing trail trimming ride. Rolex disproves the "hot-headed chestnut OTTB mare" stereotype all the time. But today, she even boggled my mind.  She stood  placidly, while John snipped branches that rained down around her, sometimes landing on her neck and backside. What a level-headed girl! Even the black flies didn't seem to upset her too much. I must say, Harley behaved quite well too. He didn't mind stopping every so ofter and just standing still while John trimmed. Even once they realized they were heading home, both horses slowed enough for John to continue snipping away as we went.  Harley stood like a rock as four ATVs passed us. Rolex was a little concerned about them, but maintained her composure. Big pats for both horses!

Heading home

Yesterday I flew solo with Harley. We went out to the Tatnic Woods region via the Nature Trail where the footing is nice and soft. There are some great spots for trots and canters, except Harley kept spooking at large piles of fire wood where there's been some cutting going on. Since they are right along the trail, he was weaving side to side, arching his neck, and looking hard at these "demons".  

Giant wolf pine in the woods
I read an article in Northern Woodlands magazine about "wolf trees"--those left standing by the settlers because they delineated a border or corner, and we often of little use for lumber due to their branching structure. We came across such a tree on our ride in Tatnic--a lone white pine in a stand of much younger growth. I recommend you go to the link (be patient while it loads if you've got a slow computer like me) for the photographs of some stunning trees. Seeing old trees like these, I imagine what the surrounding woodland must have looked like over 100 years ago. Adding to the magic,  are old stone walls, marching off into the woods, crumbling cellar holes from long-vanished hamlets. When the west opened up, many farmers threw in their lot to head for more fertile, less stony soil. All that remains are their tilting headstones, lilacs and day lilies gone wild,reaching up for the sun, flanking the front dooryard marked by a granite chunk in the middled of the foundation wall. The historical scenery is one of the many enjoyments of our trails around here.

I tend to be more contemplative when I ride alone, hence the long-winded history lesson. But I also wondered how this dry weather may affect the spring breeding season for frogs, salamanders, and turtles. If the vernal pools dry up too quickly, will breeding/egg laying territory be lost? The Tatnic Woods region is dotted with vernal pools and thin soil covering a large amount of granite. I did hear peepers singing in this pool,  but I pondered the drought-like situation we've been in all spring due to lack of snow melt and/or rain.

All that day-dreaming almost unseated me on the way home. As Harley picked his way home, with me riding on the buckle and sing my version of Handsome Molly, aka Handsome Harley, something large in the woods, possibly a deer, rattled the leaves and Harley took off with me picking up the slack reins. Yee--haa, and we're off! He came back down to a walk, albeit more of a jig, until we were well away from the "scary noise". That'll teach me to not pay attention!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter Day Adventure

Do you think that's the Easter Bunny, Harley? 

Can you believe it was snowing this morning here in Maine? The grey skies spit for a bit, then quit, but it stayed windy and chilly all day. Every house we passed had the fire or wood stove burning. So far, it's been colder this April than it was in March. Old Man Winter doesn't want to let go.  After taking care of Ruffy's foot, and giving Rolex and Harley a little extra lunch, we saddled up and headed out. But first, John had to work out a few kinks in our little Roley Girl. She had her dander up and was ready to rock and roll. He worked her a little in the schooling area, then we struck out for the woods.

A favorite spot for a canter
After some exploration on our previous ride, we found some new trails on Nature Conservancy land. Some of these trails are not built for horse travel--way too windy and narrow. But others appeared to more suited to ATVs and horses. Give it was Sunday, I half expected to run into ATV riders, but the woods were truly ours--quiet.

We encountered a maze of trails crossing old roads and decided to follow the established road bed. I was trying to remember where we turned left, where we turned right, and keep track of significant land marks so we could retrace our steps. So many options and so many trail junctions--which way to go next. Of course, the horses always seem to find the way home. They have a built in compass. The old road, bordered on both sides by ancient stone walls and cellar holes, replete with day lilies poking their leaves up, carried us out to a new house and bridge. As we emerged out of the woods, I recognized our location--at least I knew where we were in relation to the barn and our direction homeward as the the crow flies. But the adventure wasn't over yet. We still had trails to explore. So we headed the other direction, again passing cellar holes, stone walls, and even a cemetery along the road side. It must be cared for by relatives, for it appeared raked and cleared of winter's debris.
Stuart Cemetery

Harley and Rolex seemed to be enjoying the new territory. Rolex likes taking the lead until she hits a muddy spot. Then she slams on the brakes and waits for Harley to show her the route, willingly following in his footsteps. They've become trail buddies this year, happy to share carrot treats and tag along behind one another--nose to tail. One would never guess that our little Roley Girl is still less than six months off the track. She walks along easily, ears up, negotiating the trail gamely. Harley, years off the track, still likes to exhibit his Thoroughbred hot-headedness from time to time, especially if it's a solo ride and he hasn't got Rolex for support! He only had one spin out on me today, and it was a half-hearted on at that. I just circled him back and he moved forward without a problem. I think he likes to just test me--the wiley guy!

Here's a section of the 1944 Kennebunk map showing the region of the Tatnic Hills we were riding. The roads haven't changed much in past 68 years. There are more houses, but the dashed line dirt roads are still that--only now you need 4WD or 4-hoof drive to negotiate them. And this only shows the established roads--not all the trails that thread through the woods as well.

Which way now?
It was a chilly day, as you can see by John's down jacket and wool cap. Most of the ride was at a walk with trotting on some of the better footing. Harley and Rolex didn't even break a sweat until we did some sustained trotting, heading for home. Then Harley gets all psyched to be going home and keeps trotting to catch up with Rolex Girl's swinging walk! Things get a bit more interesting at a fast pace. When Harley begins to trot past Rolex, her racing nature takes over, she pins her ears and cuts him off. And if he passes her, then he tries to cut her off. Maybe I should whistle "Call to the post" and see what happens then!

John and I both worked on the horses' paces--extending the trot, slowing the trot, halting and backing. Harley sometimes like to break into a canter rather than trot, but for conditioning purposes today, I held him to the trot. Oh, we did pop over a few downed trees, although I chickened out at one John wanted to try. Maybe next time...for there will surely be a next time! We need to see where all those trails go.

Our first S.M.A.R.T. ride is six weeks away. It will probably only be 10 to 12 miles since it's early in the season, but we want the horses ready to go, plus we're hacking Eeyore (aka Harley) & Rolex to the ride since one animal, who shall go by his alias, doesn't like trailers (something else to work on)!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

April Fools Day Ride

Poor Ruffy is laid up with a cut on her frog. We've had some late nights at the barn caring for her, but we're hoping all will heal soon. In the meantime, she's been on stall rest with a bandaged foot until her Easyboot Glove Back Country booties arrive on Tues. Once we've got her in a pair of those, we should be able to turn her out and keep her foot protected. She's been so antsy, even starting to make faces at us--what I call her "chipmunk face" (smacking her lips and tongue, squinching up her nostrils). I suppose she's used to having feet soaked, legs wrapped and all kinds of fussing from her days on the track; and she's behaved very well for us, only upsetting the foot soak tub once.

Harley, which way do we go now?
This has left John with only Rolex to ride, but of course, she's great fun for him, and Harley is her best bud, especially out on the trail when she's not quite sure how to handle what's in front of her. Ole Mr. Little Ears will sometimes just bash right along beside her, ramming my knee into her rump, or John's leg, as if to say, "This way, you silly girl".  Although, when we did come to rushing brook with a stony crossing, he looked twice and tried to get out of it. He tossed his head, barged back up the trail as if to say, "Forget it, I'm going back!" I even thought  he might give a buck he was being so stubborn. But once John dismounted to lead Rolex, he decided it wasn't all that scary, and he could manage it like the big boy he really is.

 Rolex had her first meeting with ATV's on the trail today. She was spooked by them, but was a good girl. Surprisingly, they don't really faze Harley. He looks at them, but isn't scared by the noise, and all the drivers have been courteous about slowing down when they see horses.

We headed out to the quarry.  Part of the quarry trail is made of soft, sandy footing. It's a great place to let the horses canter up the hill. But with the bitless bridles, Harley thinks the race is on and likes to tear up it, not so willing to slow down. Beware low branches and duck low on his neck! We need to trim some of the canopy! John rode ahead to get a picture of me. Harley began to prance, thinking Roley Girl was leaving with out him. Then I let him go. Here we are rounding the bend:

And then slowing down as we approach Rolex and John (about halfway up the hill). The race wasn't over yet--we still had to get to the top! Can you see that big grin on my face? Yes, we were having a blast!

After having discovered some different trails veering off in new directions, we decided to do a little exploring. One branch we discovered last week, dead-ended on Route 9, a busy east-westbound highway heading to the coast and I-95. But today we took another turn, literally the "road less traveled". A lot of mucky drainage probably keeps most of the ATV riders away. Our new route actually dumped us out on Cheney Woods Rd. From there, we knew to turn right for home--as did Harley. Even though it's a dirt road, it's quite stony. Since he's barefoot, Harley is not keen to walk on rocky, pebbly terrain. So rather than risk a stone bruise, I dismounted and walked him down the road until we reached the next trail junction. The old road bed is blocked by giant boulders, perfect to use for mounting blocks!

We had to dismount again to cross a dicey old corduroy road in a swampy area. From then on, it was smooth sailing. We had our second fun canter up another hill whereupon Rolex just kept going and Harley, sure we should turn for home, reluctantly followed her, ear twitching to the side, pointed towards home. John pulled her up, Harley swung around and showed her the correct route. We got in a little jump over my favorite downed birch, then we walked them back out to the road for a cool down.
Another lovely weekend in the woods on horseback.