Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Winter is on its way

Rolex in the snow flurries

We awoke to a dark, dark morning. The horizon didn't even begin to lighten until nearly 7 a.m. due to the heavy cloud cover. I've spent the last few days battling a bad head and chest cold--the thought of trudging out to the barn in the early chill didn't sound enticing, but the horses needed looking after.

John and I arrived at the barn, hot coffee in hands, and welcomed by nickering horses. Ruffy tosses her head when she's hungry and Harley makes his "giraffe face"--opening his mouth and twisting his head sideways. Rolex relentlessly paws the floor. Since they all eat better outside, we walked them down the hill then delivered feed, hay, and water via the truck. The loggers were already hard at it, their saws whining and trucks rumbling in the forest. One log truck was nearly loaded and ready to pull out by 7:15 a.m. They begin work in the dark, working by headlights, and finish in the dark as well, headlights bobbing through the woods and over the pasture as they shut the gate at the end of each day. The horses don't seem to mind the constant traffic of log and chip tractor trailers passing by them all day long. Chalk it up to life at the track--trailers, tractors, airplanes--they've seen it all before.

I was beat by the time we got back to the house. Time for little breakfast and then a nap. My stuffy head and chest made me feel woozy and exhausted after mucking stalls and the multiple trips up and down the hill. The weather station predicted snow in the afternoon, and sure enough, it began to snow around 1:30 just as I awoke from my nap. As the snow flurries intensified, I decided to go out and get the two old guys, Gator and Vance, in out of the wet. They are both recovering from bad bouts of rain rot and needed to stay dry. Of course, once I brought those two in, everyone figured it must be time for dinner. They stood at the bottom of the hill, looking up at me with ears perked, as if to say, "What about us?"

Harley in the flurries
By the time I had their stalls ready--fresh shavings, water, and hay--the flurries had diminished. I took Harley up, then went back for the girls. Rolex wanted to go next, but Ruffy didn't want to be left all alone and began running the fence line. So I tried taking both together. Rolex, not to be passed by Ruffy, made snake faces at her, leaving me stretched between the two. But Ruffy wouldn't follow Rolex through the top gate, so I had to loop her rope around the fence and tell her to be a good girl--I'd be right back once I got little miss redhead in first. Ruffy stood good as gold, hind foot cocked, relaxed, but happy to come in with her stable mates. I lit the lanterns, checked everyone over and picked feet, then grained them all, and tucked 'em in for the night. I needed to get home and warm up after getting damp and chilled--just what I needed on top of my cold!

So here I sit, snug by the wood stove, tapping on the computer, knowing our gang are toasty warm in their stalls for the night.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Dream of handsome Harley

Black Friday is a day I abhor. John has to work a long killer day and miss out on fun with the ponies. I, of course, managed to spend at least half the day at the barn, and did not go near any stores!

We had an icy fog last night--enough to send out the sanders. Thankfully it melted by the time I got to the barn (the first trip) this morning to feed. Our ramp was a bit slippery so I threw some stone dust onto it to keep everyone safe.

After working a few hours in the garden, putting things to rest, and cleaning up, I decided I'd done enough around the house by midday. It was time to ride! Two days left for regular hunting season, and this has brought the hunters out in droves! I saw trucks parked everywhere, including along the lower pasture where the same guys have been out on the powerline all week. I saw another hunter pull into the parking area at Orris Falls, so I decided to ride in the opposite direction, but still wearing plenty of blaze orange.

Harley was his usual jumpy self as we passed the goats/scary rock location. He settled once we got into the woods, but his ears continued swiveling around as I sang and talked to him.  I've got a fair number of folk songs reworked to use "Harley" in them, such as "Handsome Molly" and "Stewball", This also makes enough noise so the hunters will hopefully hear me! We rode a loop, but saw only one hunter in a blind--a very nice man who lets us ride behind his house to access trails. He gave Harley a good spook! We chatted about wildlife while Harley learned patience and standing still. "Lots of turkeys, but no deer. I like to come out a half hour before sunrise and again in the evening. Don't want too long a drag--it's about 500 yards back to the house." I wished him good luck and we left him to await his quarry.

Mr. Prancy Pants hopped over a couple of little log jumps and jogged back up to the road. Considering he was solo, he did very well. Oh, and earlier this week, he actually stopped and drank water from a brook! This is something he's only done once before. Both he and Rolex had a good long drink--a good trait in a trail horse. He's learning how to relax and trust me out there.

We got back to the barn while the sun was still over the treeline. I let Harley eat some hay and cool off while readying the other stalls for the night. He nickered to his friends a few times, so, feeling sorry for him, I put him back out with his pals for another hour while I finished up in the barn. Chilly rain in the 30's is tonight's forecast, so they will be in. This guarantees a good night's sleep and a tail full of shavings.  Pleasant dreams, Harley.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Ride AND Adventures with loggers

Yarding entrance in the pasture
As is we didn't have enough going on around the old place, now we've got a full crew of loggers cutting in the woods behind the pastures, in the pastures, and around the property perimeter. We're still waiting for a miracle: floor and electricity. Now we also have to shift horses around between stalls and pastures to accommodate the logging activity! This means keeping the horses inside at times during the day while trees are felled in the pastures, then booting them back out at night. But to make matters more interesting, the logging equipment and trucks are cutting across the middle pasture which meant removing two chunks of fence. This sent John and I on an emergency run to Tractor Supply for 2 tubular pipe gates to keep things under control. They offered to put up snow fence--not our choice for safety reasons. So we now have all six horses down in the lower field, held in with sliding planks, and water trucked down in carriers to fill the tub. Whew! I can't wait until they are done and gone! Hopefully, we'll then have power at the flip of a switch and a completed floor. The mild weather of the last two days hasn't helped. The ground got too soft and the loaded trucks bogged down in the soft ground. The skidder had to push them out onto the high ground. This will probably churn everything into a fine gooey mess and hold them back from finishing--grrrr!

John, keen to investigate the operation, decided we should ride down into the woods on Monday and check it out--Harley (and I) weren't so sure this was a good idea. Not only would OSHA frown on us being in the vicinity of whirring saws and falling trees, but Harley isn't nearly as brave as our curious Rolex, who didn't mind taking a closer look. I pointed out to John that the skidder was heading our way and I really didn't want Harley to see it coming at him. So we turned around and went for a nice canter back to the ring area. John headed Rolex down by the pond, but when I saw the skidder muckle onto a big felled pine and start dragging it away, I decided to keep Harley headed for home. Don't look back, Harley!

Rolex comes to investigate
Everyone seems to be doing fine together. Some excitement ensued when the girls realized they had more male company and decided to lead them on a merry chase, or in some cases, chase the poor old guys. "Oh goody, more boys to play with!" Harley tagged along in the fun, but Rolex and Ruffy like to get the ball rolling. Argos, the yearling, thinks this is the nuts, and try as he might, can't keep up with the girls. He's a QH/Percheron cross and hasn't got the TB speed. But he's having the time of his life.

Our redhead also thinks it's great fun to walk away from you when you approach the pasture. Lucky for us, Harley and Ruffy hear the crunch of carrots and come right up to us. Rolex then realizes she may miss out on snacks and better head over or miss out. But you need to be ready to throw a rope or arm around her neck with a gruff, "Whoa".

The loggers stopped work Wednesday night and won't be back until Monday. That left us with the option to let everyone out in all three  pastures with just the perimeter gates shut for the long weekend. If everyone steers clear of the felled trees lying in piles, awaiting the saw blade, it should be o.k. Our three discovered there was a whole new pasture to run around in. "Oh boy--let's go see", said the intrepid Rolex.

Rolex the woods horse
While the turkey roasted on Thanksgiving, John and I got in a ride down through the woods. He's hoping that the logging operation will give us access to the power line trail while avoiding the bog.
I have no desire to revisit that swampy mudhole! Rolex nimbly picked her way out the skidder path, undeterred by branches, or trappy footing. She's such a level-headed girl, whereas poor Ruffy hates bushwacking through brush or dealing with mucky, tricky trails underfoot. Harley gamely followed, although if he'd been on his own and seen the logging equipment, I suspect he would have stopped and tried to whirl for home. But with his brave girl out front, he walked right past the skidders, fellers, and piles of logs.

We might get some nice trails out of all this. In a couple of spots, the footing is soft and loamy right now. Sunday will be a day of exploration to see if we can hook up with the stream crossing location we used last year (before I landed in the bog hole). We'll need to get the GPS fired up and enter some waypoints to pinpoint our exact location in relation to the beaver pond and stream crossing. Given the waning daylight, I didn't want to wind up bumbling around in the woods. I suggested we get an early start, and maybe head out without the horses. That way we aren't trying to manoeuver through trappy terrain while trying to read a GPS and map and steer our mounts. And, there won't be any hunters lurking about on Sunday. We'll see what we find!

Harley being a brave woods horse too!

All the horses received a little Thanksgiving treat. Besides the usual carrots, I brought over a bowl full of apple cores and peelings from my apple pie. Harley, Ruffy, and Rolex only nibbled on it, but Vance, Argos, and Gator slurped it right up---yummy!

What's out there, Harley?
I've found an alternative use for cycling jerseys--riding! Those nifty rear pockets designed for spare inner tubes, energy bars, jackets, etc. are perfect for carrying carrots. And the vibrant colors are great for visibility if you're caught riding the roads at dusk. One of my pet peeves is the lack of pockets on riding apparel. That sleek, streamlined look may be nice in the ring, but out in the woods, pockets are a MUST!  And why do men's breeches have real pockets,  but women's have tiny zip pockets no bigger than credit card size? How useless is that? I think Kerrits finally put out a tight with a thigh pocket (accessible on horseback). Maybe others will follow suit!

We still had enough daylight remaining for John to get on Ruffy as well. Not as keen to be a woods horse and explore the skidder road, she needed some coaxing. Plus, she had no company. Like Harley, she does better with her "brave companion of the road", Rolex, out in front!

Our elegant Ruffy and John, home from the forest, in the sunset's last rays

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Winter riding ruminations

What's down there, Harley?
This is the time of year when I seem to only ride on weekends. There just aren't enough daylight hours during the rest of the week. I get in a morning greeting when I feed, then run off to work. And by the time I see them at night, it's dark. Ironically, I love winter (as long as there's snow to play in), except for the short days and little riding. Winter is when I wish we had an indoor arena, even though I'm much more inclined to escape to the woods. And the only way to survive winter riding is with mittens, insulated coveralls, and insulated boots. Despite the woes of winter--frozen buckets, shoveling gates clear, icy wheelbarrow path-- there's something cozy feeling about having all the horses tucked in for the night with a mountain of hay, some warm alfalfa dengie, and thickly spread shavings. Even though I may be seeing my breath,  and the horses', the barn will feel snug with the gang contently munching on hay. Is there a better sound and smell combination? Eau de cheval avec foin? Even though my feet and hands may be freezing, I could stay for hours, listening to the horses, giving them their last hugs goodnight, and especially burying my nose in Harley's fuzzy neck.

Saturday afternoon, as I drove up the road, I had to stop and take a picture of our three. Harley and Rolex were napping while Ruffy kept "guard". I had to get out and snap a picture of equine bliss:

Rolex, Ruffy, and Harley enjoying the afternoon sun

I ran a few errands, and by the time I came back, all the horses were up and had moved off to a greener spot. I gathered up leftover bits of breakfast and whistled them up to the top of the hill for an afternoon snack. Harley reluctantly left his girls and came into the barn for grooming and tacking. All it took was that one little dose of acepromazine to convince him the ramp wasn't too scary and now he goes up and down like a champ, even in the dark.

We headed down the road past the scary bleating goats, and up into the woods via a neighbor's drive, replete with tractor, wood piles, camper, deer target, crowing rooster, and assorted other items--enough to make Harley swivel his head back and forth wondering which "monster" was going to get him first! I planned to ride the Lollipop Loop, but at the top of the climb about half way, a tree was down. Too high to go over, couldn't go under, and we couldn't easily go around. Remind anyone of that childhood rhyme "Going On a Bear Hunt"? That was us. I dismounted to investigate possible alternative routes and opted for turning back. We'll come back with the saw and maybe an axe as well!

In spite of his many silly antics, Harley is stellar at standing still when I need to get back on. I can sidle him up to any nearby rock or log, and get remount easily. For this alone, he always gets a "Good boy" pat and a piece of carrot! I'd already had to dismount once before to fix his blaze orange rear flank "flags"--something I'd rigged up to the saddle, but had not stayed tied. Even when he's alone, and heading home, he's still remarkably good at standing.

We got in a couple of jogs, but I didn't want to get him too sweaty since the temperature was dropping as the sun slid over the horizon. Harley wanted to stop by the beaver pond and check things out. There may be active beaver moving about since this is the second time he's halted and peered out over the water. Ruffy did the same on our last ride here. If you look closely at the center of the picture, you can see the pile of sticks forming the beaver lodge. Oh, and the honking Canada geese gave Harley pause as well. We couldn't see them, but they certainly made their presence known.

We passed some late afternoon hikers and one hunter heading into the woods to try his luck. Firearms season ends next Saturday, so all the hunters that still haven't gotten their deer are still stalking the woods.

Back out on the roadway, someone had the nerve to park a giant backhoe across from the trailhead parking. That spooked Harley--it wasn't there before! And I knew he would do this which is why I routed our ride the way I did. If it's between our homeward destination, Harley will eventually go past whatever is scaring him.

I untacked Harley and let him nosh on his hay in the disappearing daylight, then brought in the girls for grooming and the once over check. After an early dinner, I put on their sheets, and sent the gang back down the hill where I'd put piles of hay to keep them warm through the night. Soon, it will be blanket time, but for now, we'll let them keep growing their fuzzy coats, and staying out at night.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Summer camp in the winter

We're now on week 5 of "camping out" with the horses. Have you ever had to pick feet by lantern light? How about mucking stalls by headlamp? A couple of days ago, I told John I felt like I was back at summer camp, only in much colder temperatures. As a trip counselor, I spent most of my time out of camp, somewhere in the Vermont wilds, with 8 to 10 campers and their horses. I remember doing my night watch shift, walking up to each horse in the dark without spooking them, and checking that they had hay and water. Well here I am, decades later, still checking my horses in the dark, only it's in the 20's instead of the 50's (yes, there is global warming, I remember wearing sweatshirts at night and staying close to the campfire for warmth!). We ought to bring marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers to the barn!

I've never been much of a cat person, but this little fuzzball, named Precious, has become the best little barn cat. Rather than hang out at the house, she spends all her time in and around the barn, popping out of nooks and crannies now and then to say hello. She's a friendly cat; she even wanted to say "hi" to Harley, who snorted at her! She has startled him a time or two when she appears out of nowhere in the dark barn. I'm thinking she's a good mouser!

Before darkness overtook me tonight, I got everyone groomed. It seems they are bent on finding the best wallow to roll in. Harley and Rolex were both rather dirty, but Ruffy, our little neatkins, prefers to not have caked mud on her hide. Our little mudball Rolex Girl was not keen to come inside until she realized the rest of the gang was in for the night too. As long as EVERYONE will be in, she'll deign to be shut inside as well.

Do I look fat in this picture?

The loggers began cutting today, clearing the woods out back by the ring and will soon be going along the fence line as well. Our next chore will be getting some temporary electric fencing up to keep horses and logging equipment separate.  I will be a happy camper when the loggers are done, the barn is fixed and electricity is restored. We'll have a "Welcome back to the 21st century" barn party!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Our soap opera saga continues...

Mr. Fuzzy looking for carrots
Still no floor, nor electricity at the barn, but John's car is back in working order. This, after I had to tow him into the parking lot at work Wednesday night, just as our first Nor'easter began, with snow swirling in the headlights. He drove to work that day, only to have the car die mere yards from work. Turns out it just needed a fuel injector fuse. So that was good news, and he got it back tonight!

But on the down side, Harley managed to cut his hind leg. There I was, cleaning hooves in the dark, by headlamp Thursday night when I noticed the swelling and blood. Oh man, just what I needed. So I cleaned it off and applied Vetrimycin (works exceptionally well!), knowing I'd at least be able to see it in the light of day on Friday morning.

By today, the swelling was nearly all gone and it looked much better, but rather than ride, he got a thorough brushing. Because naturally, once I put them out Friday morning, after the snow and rain, they had a good gallop, followed by a mud roll. And now that Harley's getting good and fuzzy, it takes that much more to work the dirt from his coat. He's living up to John's pet name--Fuzzy Bastard (meant in an endearing way). So I took each horse out of the field to give them the once over. Thankfully, nobody else had new injuries!

When I got home and tried washing my hands, I realized the hot water tank is either dying, or dead. Oh yeah, another problem. In order to shower, we heated water on the stove and filled the MSR Dromedary bag. This item has been a life saver for power outages (like the infamous ice storm of 2008 when we had no power for 5 days), and now, when I have no hot water! So I'm heating water on the wood stove to wash tonight's dishes, and it's a long weekend--no help until Tuesday...our saga continues...barn disaster, earthquake, hurricane, septic issues, nor'easter, hot water tanks....ENOUGH, I say!

Friday, November 2, 2012

What a month it has been

Halawa Moon, aka Gnarley, Snarley, or Harley,
October flew by with so many obstacles jumping in my path. I'm ready for a clean slate with no more problems--a smooth sailing November with more riding than the last month offered, a new barn floor, a non-problematic septic system (composting toilets are the way to go!), a sounder shoulder, no more hurricanes, electricity in the barn, and a fully functional car. Oh, and Obama still sitting in the White House. This past month added way too much stress to my already crazy life. I'm looking forward to a long weekend over Veteran's Day. But I know how it will go--I'll still be up at 6 a.m., toodling out to the barn to feed, day off or not.

Daily visits are a must for me. I like to give everyone the once over and make sure they've not scratched, kicked, nicked, or bruised themselves out there. If there ever was a reason for a padded suit--these horses are it! Storm or not, we still were down to one sound horse a week ago.  We hadn't made any plans to ride in the November S.M.A.R.T. ride after Harley's performance last year! He'd have to hack there and home, plus do the 12+ mile ride. He probably could manage it, the bugger, but since he's just recovered from his banged knee, I don't want to put too much stress on it. Rolex Girl (our tough little OTTB brumby) could probably do it to, but I think we'll pass this year and just have a nice ride to get the kinks out (of which Harley has many!) after not being ridden for over a week.

A VERY puffy and knobby knee
Harley managed to do something to one of his knees. It was hot and puffy, like he'd knocked it or been kicked. Cold hosing and bute mixed in with my homemade cardamom apple butter seemed to clear it up over time. Mr. Knobby Knees always looks lumpy and swollen. I don't know if this is post knee surgery scar tissue or what. His knees aren't pretty, but he's sound, except when he gets into trouble and whacks himself.

And then our girl Ruffy, managed to scrape a hind leg along the suspensory and cut the inside of her fetlock. I have no idea what she was up to. John thinks she did it on the fence. Regardless, we were down to one sound horse and too many things to get done around the barn and the house as winter looms ahead. So they've all been having fun being lawn ornaments and watching the hunters troupe up and down the power line. Oh, and yes, deer season is in full swing, so if it ain't Sunday, you must bedeck yourself AND your horse in blaze orange!

Ruffy's swollen leg
So our mollycoddled gang have had time to heal. The barn is awaiting new concrete footings to be poured and composite beams to be delivered. I'll be happy to see things get rolling on that front. The horses have been stars dealing with the changes---coming up the ramp and entering through the narrow cow door. Harley, always the first to spot something different, is still not happy about seeing that hole in the front. Today I bought yet another leather crown piece for his halter. He's trashed two so far when he suddenly decides he can't stand looking at the funky barn entrance and freaks out. He's been relegated to his stall for grooming unless I have John there to hold him. I don't like these cross-tie freakouts which I'm afraid could become a problem. So rather than get him stressed, I'll avoid the situation until the barn resembles something he's used to before we try the cross ties again.

So much for October--let's move on to November!