Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Spring comes to Mt. Agamenticus

Last week, we had a saddle fitter visit to help us determine what was going to fit our horses. My lovely Crosby is too narrow on Harley; six saddles later, I decided to keep a Wintec 2000 for trial. Ugh--way too much saddle between me and my horse. I'm coming from the generation with little to no knee roll, so this saddle was a giant step! It fit Harley well, but after 10 minutes, I decided it wasn't what I wanted. Granted, a fractious horse didn't make it a fun ride, regardless of the saddle. I'll chalk this one up to just a test ride for the saddle and wipe it off the books. Harley was being positively ridiculous. Too many rides partnered with another horse has spoiled him into thinking he can't do it alone! So after backing and spinning moves prevented us from passing the turkeys en route to Orris Falls, I opted for going up the power line. Oh, and that sticky Wintec suede makes it hard to do a quick dismount! Well even the power line proved too much. About half way up, he again pulled his stunts. "O.K. then, how about we go up through the clear cut towards Caroline's?" He seemed keen to go that way because, of course, there were deer to see! One bounded off into the woods, the other had a staring contest with Harley before it leaped into the woods too. I just prayed Harley wouldn't do anything too foolish! We pranced our way home, back down the power line. I felt like he was in charge the whole time (and I think he knew it), but he wouldn't stand still enough for me to come unglued from saddle to dismount. Usually, I'll get off and lead him when he gets unnerved on the road--no point in courting danger--until we get past the scary stuff. So all this ride proved was that I don't like too sticky a seat and that Wintec's are too "stuffed" for my tastes. Onward and upward, fast forward to this past weekend's adventure!

Rest stop on the Norman Mill Trail
Sunday, we padded up our saddles for an adventure around Mt. Agamenticus. I couldn't bear the thought of using the Wintec 2000 and I didn't want it to get damaged, so I used my 2nd choice, the Tekna synthetic with an extra thick wool Cavallo pad under it. John used a wool felt and one inch foam pad over a cotton pad with his Wintec Endurance. He even brought an extra pad along to swap out if need be. I stowed a sandwich, hoof pick, and camera in my saddle pad pockets. And of course we had lots of carrots; in vest pockets, in our saddle pad pockets, and in extra saddle packs. With our supplies stored or strapped on, we headed out through Orris Falls.

The horses were in a lollygag mood, a contest of who could go slower. Rolex seemed content to let Harley lead, then they swapped. Sometimes, they both just stopped. Then it would take a lot of urging and smacking one's leg to get either to walk on. At the speed we were moving, our lazy morning amble might have taken us into next week! We dismounted along the Norman Mill Trail for a pit stop, strip down, and to give our mounts a break. On long rides, I like to walk a bit now and then.

The hardwoods have started to show some color as the leaf buds open. The first blush of spring; pink and rose mingling with pale lime green colored the hills and dappled the sunshine. We spotted egg masses in vernal pools and the first flowers pushing up through the leaf litter; Canada mayflower and marsh marigolds greening up the ground.

We set Second Hill as our goal. It's a bit of a scramble to the summit, but very do-able with a nimble-footed horse. Harley has to look and think about where he puts his feet, but he's come a long way over the years. Rolex, our cat-like horse, handles this type of terrain beautifully. She's so light on her feet and athletic.

A little grass at the summit was their reward, in addition to lots of carrots. Then a pair of cyclists bumped up and over the rocks. Thankfully, our horses are used to running into mountain bikers out there and took it all in stride. Next, a group of hikers with a dog appeared. The dog was very well behaved and didn't even bark! The horses took it all in, but didn't spook. Poor John was having some back pain, so we didn't linger for too long; enough for me to take some pictures and for John to stretch his back and eat lunch.

We decided to walk back down the steep terrain to give the horses and John's back a rest. Even though we had "made the turn for home" both horses, usually eager to go, took their time picking their way over rocks and didn't rush, knocking us to the ground! A good round of pats to both our mounts.

Rolex's first peak bagged!
Once we reached flatter terrain, we remounted. I kept it to a walk for John's comfort, although Rolex has such a rolling forward walk, she passed Harley who had to jog to keep up with her! I didn't know which horse's pace would feel worse for him, but riding was quicker and easier than leading them home. Plus, it would be a heck of a long walk--this was turning into a 4 hour plus ride, let alone a hike!

I dislike the road ride home. Too many idiots behind the wheel with no idea what could happen if a horse jumps sideways. I'd love to find a short cut to eliminate the road walk. But we made it back to the Orris Falls trail head with no catastrophes. Harley began grinding his teeth in eagerness to get home. Only home wasn't so calm a place to be...

Halawa Moon summits again!

There was a party at the house, complete with kite flying in the adjacent pasture. Oh my--kites! I don't think any of the horses had ever seen such a beast. Even old Vance was prancing in circles. Ruffy was on full alert. Rolex and Harley didn't know what to do--head home? Into the face of dangerous flying objects? I dismounted so I could get Harley out of the road and into the barn. We managed to get them hosed off and turned out, but the kite still spooked them. Add to that, a burn pile in full flame that evening and the poor guys were not sure the home front was so safe after all.

By 8:30, with the fire nearly burned out, and the party-goers leaving, we headed for home, assured all was well. The horses headed down into the field for the night's grazing. After a late evening dinner, we were bushed. I hope our horses had a restful night; I know I slept well.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Navigating our way around the woods on Patriot's Day

On Monday, we met our friend Hank halfway up his driveway for a little exploratory walk behind his property. We've talked about showing him different places we've ridden, and compared notes with places he's explored on his snowmobile. This ride put to rest some questions about who's land we were on and where some trails intersected his property line. The last time he was out here, the woods had not been logged. It's amazing how logging can totally change your perspective on the lay of the land. Right behind Hank is the top of a cut through some granite, an old quarry from decades ago. It's kind of cool to ride through a grotto of dripping cold rock and feel the temperature drop as you pass by. Off in the distance is Bauneg Beg Mountain, we think. From atop it, on a clear day, you can see the Kennebunk Plains to the Atlantic Ocean.  

Rolex was feeling jumpy that day--spooking at the rocks and a large bird (turkey or turkey vulture) flying up out of the woods. Of course, that made Harley jump too, but he was being a very good boy. He just didn't want to stand still and listen to Hank explain where we were. He tossed his head and tried turning back for a home a couple of times. We got in a little loop ride that took us right back towards Hank's land; certainly not a big workout, but a nice leg stretcher after Sunday's long ride.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Rain, sleet--is that hail in Harley's mane?

More crazy weather hit us today. Thickening, threatening clouds began to let loose rain and I thought we'd get soaked like we had on our April Fool's Day ride. "Oh no", I told John, "oh no!" He assured me it was only a passing shower. By now, we'd made it up Emery's Bridge Road, heading to the Bennett Lot cutoff that takes us over towards Agamenticus. The rain stopped, so we kept going. Harley was feeling good since we rode right out of the barn--no morning romp before saddling up. It was going to take a bit for him to settle down.  He was anxious to go, but when I stuck him out front, he kept wandering back and forth, peering behind to make sure Rolex was right with him. So much for being the fearless leader!

We went out to Emery's Bridge via a trail that's been inaccessible since last fall when a tree came down creating a chest-high barrier. But the trail crew must have come through recently--the tree was gone, but so were all the little low "jumps" as well. We passed a peeper pond with the last of the snow hugging the shore. The hemlock canopy on the hillside shades this bit of swampy water. But it's also home to some wood ducks. We heard their calls, but saw only the spreading wake rings left from their take-off spot.

Once we reached Bennett Lot Road, it started to spit sleet for a bit, but then quit. Rolex took us off on a spur trail that required mashing through saplings and around downed trees. She's smart enough to assess things before crashing forward. Harley, worried about being left behind, was crashing around trying to stay right with her. He's not the lightest on his feet, and I have to admit, I remembered what happened the last time things got a little crazy in the puckerbrush! I was walking home with a fractured sternum. I suggested we get back on an established trail. At least if he's going to be silly, I only have to deal with him, not worry about getting smacked in the head by branches while controlling my snorting steed. Harley was Mr. Prancypants the rest of the ride--gotta catch up to Rolex, gotta get home, let's go, let's go...a rather unsettled ride! When we re-entered the Orris Falls trail, he was finally calming down, just jogging to catch up to his power-walking gal, Rolex. Then it started to hail, lentil-sized pieces of hail bounced off my helmet brim and stuck in Harley's mane. If he would have stood still long enough, I'd have taken a photo.

We came upon a family out for a hike. The kids thought it was fun to feed the horses, and their yellow lab was curious, but calm. Rolex thought the whole thing was a hoot--more people to feed her carrots, and interesting dogs to sniff. Harley, anxious to be home, but happy for carrots, made his giraffe face, as if to say, "Can't we go home now?"

One of the best things about this ride was that both horses stopped to drink. This is always a good thing when we're out for long trail rides. When we first got both of these horses, they were afraid of the water. Now both are willing to stand in it and slurp down a good glug.

Back at the barn, we turned Harley and Rolex out to take mud baths, which they did in no time. They plastered themselves with goo, enjoying themselves while we groaned. Ruffy came in for her spa time. She had so much mud on her legs, it looked like a clay poultice! John pulled her mane, brushed her until she shone and gave her a pedicure too--she looks great!

This Chic's Got It! aka Ruffy

The wind howled up the hillside, drying the mud to a nice crust on Harley and Rolex. We brushed them outside, letting the wind carry away the dirt. I think half of it went in my eyes and nose! The stiff wind blew so hard, it held a kestrel aloft over the barn. We watched in amazement as the bird just hung in the air, not moving forward as it hovered over the barn, then winged off on the wind. An amazing sight!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Spring arrived today

For many people in New England, spring's arrival is determined by the day the ice goes out on the big lakes. But for me, it's when the peepers start singing. Today spring arrived as the peepers began trilling in a vernal pool we passed on our trail ride by the quarry. Even though ice and snow are still present, the water reached that magical temperature of 42 degrees when the peepers wake up and announce it's spring.

We decided to ride the same loop as yesterday, but without the dead end detours--just the Jepson Farm, quarry, North Point loop. It was such a beautiful day without the chilly winds we've had for so long. Today's breeze was refreshing. I finally left the jacket at the barn and rode in a t-shirt and flannel shirt. It's time to stow away the fleece breeches and the Carhartt overalls until next winter.

Both Harley and Rolex were in a lazy mood today. I think they'd rather have stayed in the warm sunny pasture, dozing. They did have spunk, enough for Harley to have a good spook and pass it on to Rolex, but overall, they picked their way along the trail at a leisurely walk. Harley, always afraid of being left behind, kept trotting to catch up to his girl when he wasn't in the lead position. And Rolex, every so often would just stop and tuck her face in behind my leg, along Harley's flank.

Since they were both behaving so well, I decided to take photos. Standing was NOT a problem today; they both seemed happy to stop every so often, get a bit of carrot, and just relax. Sometimes it was hard to get them started again. It was a race to see who would take the first step!

As you can see from the first two pictures, there's still plenty of snow under the hemlocks. I think Harley was peering at the open water at the bottom of the hill. Yet he gallantly walked through all the water and mud today, no matter how deep. As the rotten ice floes slowly melt, Rolex's bravery increases. She's smart enough to question stepping on ice, but will go forward when she's decided it's safe, especially if Harley goes ahead of her.

We left the icy, snowy woods near Jepson Farm and stepped out into sunshine by the old homestead and up around the quarry. The soft footing was perfect for a good trot, buy our sleepy steeds only gave it a half-hearted attempt before stopping for a rest and another look and what might be up ahead. Rolex decided it would be nice to have Harley walking beside her and didn't make any snake-mare faces at him today. I think she was enjoying his company.
She's a funny one; sometimes she wants him behind her and sometimes she just doesn't care. Today was one of those days, "Go ahead, Harley, I'd rather sniff your stifle".  
Here's a moment when they just stood and gazed up the road, and munched on carrot bits.

 The horses were enjoying each others company--they couldn't get much closer. Our knees kept hitting against one another! Note the bag for camera, bandana, hoof pick, and CARROTS.

Then we passed the peeper pond. That got their attention! "What's all that squeaking?"

The pace picked up once we turned for home, and got especially quick when John urge Rolex to canter along our little cut-off for home. Harley, already trailing, suddenly stepped on the gas and took off, leaping over a tiny branch like he was clearing Becher's Brook at Aintree. And all the while, I'm saying, "John, uh John, JOHN, hold up!" And when he did, Harley stopped so hard it nearly unseated me--good golly!

I left the barn around 7:30 tonight, serenaded by a chorus of peepers and a woodcock BZZZ'ing in the field. Yup, spring is finally here, I can smell it in the air.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

A fine spring ride

By midday, it finally warmed up enough to counter the non-stop wind we've experienced most of the winter. Today was no exception with whirling dervishes of leaves making Harley jumpy. When he's like that, I'm glad to get off the road and into the woods.

The ride began with a challenging crossing--water with ice breaking under foot. Rolex was NOT keen to go forward, nor was Harley, but they both jumped it with room to spare. We headed out towards Jepson Farm but took a detour up through the logged woods, following skidder trails until they petered out at a swamp. The staging area road was a quagmire, not worth riding on unless you wanted to risk having the shoes sucked off! We headed back up to where I'd seen a trail leading into the woods that appeared to be clear of ancient barbed wire. It came out right where I expected--on the trail to the Jepson Farm. We rode around the quarry where the trotting was quite nice, although Harley got in a nice bit of cantering. The road is hard as concrete by summer, but nice and soft in the spring.

A wicked cool tree--and a little spooky too!
John wanted to explore the trails that lead out to Route 9, but a fallen tree forced us to turn around. Just like the children's rhyme, Going On a Lion Hunt, we "couldn't go over it, couldn't go under it, and couldn't even get around it (thick helmock growth)! We tried heading down another side trail, but it dead ended. Rolex turned around and decided to bushwhack back to the trail, but got a little stuck in small saplings. Harley found a better route, and she leaped over mud and water to catch up to him. Of course, that meant the race was on as Harley pranced and danced, especially when she passed him! Ooh boy, I thought, keep your wits about you and your butt in the saddle, Lisa!

We made it back to the quarry road and continued down the trail out to Cheney Woods Rd. This is always flooded, but right now, the puddles are more like lakes, with knee deep water. Both Harley and Rolex splashed on through without a hitch. The ice floes in the middle made it a little tricky to get around, but both managed bravely. We ambled down Cheney Woods Rd. until the dirt gave way to pavement, then we backtracked at which point, the horses knew they were headed home. By now we'd definitely taken the edge off. Harley was finally relaxed enough for me to drop my stirrups and ride on the buckle. You can see that last bit of snow on the right side of the road. It may be gone by the end of the week.

The trail back to North Point is usually good for trotting and cantering, but I didn't want to get Harley too wound up. I decided to ride him with the snaffle today. I'm not sure if he behaves any different compared to the bitless, but he does grind his teeth more. Does it make him more anxious, or is he just taking advantage of having it present? In both bridles, when he's ready to go, he sticks his nose up and evades the bit and the pressure from the bitless. Hmmmm....the good thing is, my brakes work better with the snaffle, should he get going!

On the last leg home through the woods, I got in a nice little jump over our favorite fallen birch. Harley always seems to clear it in style with a nice little canter away. Both horses had calmed after nearly 2 hours on the trail. It was a good training ride for this summer. Tomorrow....where shall we go?

Rolex looking cute with her shortened locks

Friday, April 5, 2013

Harley is feelin' gnarley!

I almost didn't get a ride in today, but since daylight lasts until 7:30 now, I was able to throw the tack on Harley and get in a short ride while the sun still shone. The wind was blowing leaves and hay around in the barnyard, and Harley wasn't willing to stand still in the cross ties. This was an indicator of what our ride was going to be like--bouncy!

As I turned down the road, I could see his left ear swiveling to the side, and he was carrying his head with the "I'm going to go left" tilt. I think he was remembering the turkey incident. So rather than face a battle, I turned him up the power line. We still encountered spots of deep snow and large puddles which he bravely stepped through. But Harley was on full alert today--large rocks, stumps, trees, and of course, people on the trail were giving him the willies. We wandered around a bit, enough to let him settle, or so I thought. The minute we turned for home, he stepped right out and gladly trotted when I asked. Enough snow and ice have disappeared on much of the Orris Falls trail to get in some good trots. I was a bit reluctant to get a canter going, given how strong he was feeling, but I did have the snaffle bridle on today. I think braking power helped make the ride a bit smoother--he's notorious for sticking his nose out when I've got the bitless on! Harley trotted back up the road, didn't spook at the turkeys, and was overall, a good boy until I rode behind the barn. Then all hell broke loose--he spooked and went right, then spooked again at who knows what. Just as we rounded the corner of the barn, he spooked again, tucking his butt, like a grizzly was after him! What a ridiculous ending to our ride.

Harley safe in his stall where the grizzlies won't find him--but he's watching...

Monday, April 1, 2013

Easter Weekend Mud and April Fools Day Rain

Saturday was my first solo ride with Harley since recuperating from the sternum crash and carpal surgery. The sun promised a warm day with melting snow and lots of mud. I should have started sooner since my steed was caked in dried muck, baked to a firm crust on his hide. With all the snowmelt running down the hillside, the pastures have become one big giant quagmire. Harley was so dirty, I decided to brush him outside and let the wind carry it away. Silly me should have determined which way the wind blew before starting. One side was downwind, leaving me to brush blindly so as not to have dust in my eyes!

This was Mr. Muddycheeks good side. His other cheek and eyebrow looked like he had gone to a spa for a mudpack! After brushing the heck out of him, I finally got tacked up and headed down the road towards Orris Falls. That's when trouble started...

The folks at the bottom of the hill have chickens and turkeys--critters Harley has seen and heard all winter long. But top that off with a smoking barbecue, kids on an ATV, and much chatter, complete with gobbling turkeys and it was enough to stop Harley in his tracks. We stood and looked at things, assessed the situation and moved forward a bit. "Nope, I'm not going there. It's time to head home", thought Harley. As he backed up the road, turned around, and backed some more, I decided this wasn't productive. Off I jumped and proceeded to lead him down the road. Once we reached Orris Falls, I clambered back on board. He amazes me that even when he's spooked, he will stand still while I mount. Of course, he immediately turned for home while I picked up my stirrup. "Oh no, pal, we're not done yet!"

All sorts of hikers in soggy sneakers (there was still a fair bit of snow and water on the trail) came our way, heading back to their cars. One family had a youngster on Dad's shoulders. That stopped Harley--a person on top of a person? Yikes! We made our way up to Spring Hill summit, then turned back for home. I think he hoped to sneak past the turkeys without them noticing, but all their gobbling had him peering over his shoulder all the way back to the barn. What a silly bugger!

Easter Sunday required an early start. Our farrier was arriving at ten, and we needed to work the starch out of Harley and Rolex so they would stand still for Saint Butch. We wanted to make it a brisk workout, so we trotted up the roadside where the shoulder permitted, then trotted down the snowy trails behind North Point. Whenever Rolex trotted, Harley broke into a canter, ready to charge ahead. I reminded John, "Bitless bridle equals no brakes", as we steamrolled through the snow and leaped over brooks!

We had taken the edge off Harley and Rolex, but they still had plenty of energy. We're fortunate to have such a patient and good natured farrier. He doesn't get mad when they dance around, just calmly holds on and says "You're o.k., just relax". Ruffy, who had been on stall rest since Tuesday with a big knee and thrown shoe, was pretty good, not her usual quiet self. But she had a right to be antsy after being cooped up for so long.

And today, on our April Fools Day ride, mother nature had fun with us. Rolex and Harley got quick pre-ride baths since both were crusted with mud (again). A nice road walk would dry them off! We put on quarter sheets and headed out with Rolex bravely leading the way past the scary house with turkeys and past a tree crew trimming limbs. Thankfully, Harley didn't see the guy way up in the cherry picker--he was too busy gazing into the maw of the chipper! Then a car backing up gave them both pause. No one moved forward. When they both get "stuck" it's a challenge to get anyone moving again. We passed leashed dogs, barking dogs, junk by the road (toaster oven and a baby seat), trailers, and crowing roosters. I thought we'd never make it home--at least not without us getting off and walking. Once Harley realized we were homeward bound, he stepped out in front, gamely or not, and pranced his way to the trail head that would get him home. Once in the woods, he relaxed, although he still maintained a brisk walk, even through the ice and snow. Rolex finally passed him and maintained her front position with ear pinning and her winning "snake face"--I want to be the leader now!

The thickening grey clouds finally opened up on us in a downpour. Freezing cold rain soaked my sweatshirt, dripped off my helmet brim, and ran in rivulets down into my boots. Thankfully, my quartersheet has a nylon shell which kept most of Harley's backside dry. Both horses dropped their heads in misery, squinted into the rain,  and walked home as fast as possible. We rode right into the barn, untacked, and wrapped the horses up in fleece coolers. Then I ran outside to get Ruffy and Vance in out of the rain. Everyone looked miserable and ready for dinner, especially a warm beet pulp mash!

Just as I was leaving the barn, the sky turned all pink and lavender--a beautiful sunset ending to the day and Mother Nature's April Fools joke on us.