Thursday, May 30, 2013

It's here....the saddle AND summer!

Harley in his bonnet
Rather than twiddle my thumbs, waiting for the saddle to arrive, I padded up the Tekna and off John and I went on an exploratory ride. John wanted to see how long it would take to ride to a nearby stable with an arena. The route took us out through the woods behind the quarry. There's a lovely sandy hill the ATV's have churned into soft footing. We always get in a fun gallop up the hill. This time, Harley tried to pass Rolex by veering off a short cut, but he came up short.

We needed to cross busy Route 9 and Harley hadn't been ridden in a week--you get my drift. So I chickened out on John. Harley is much spookier on the road than in the woods and I just didn't feel comfortable with the idea. So instead, we followed some logging trails in hopes of finding our way to the road that would take us back to the Jepson Farm. Harley did well leading, even at picking his way through the slash. Then he had to spook at something, possibly a turkey, and toss me in the dirt (man, can he wheel fast, just as I bent over to look at footing).  The he walked past an empty storefront window and saw another horse, no TWO, staring back! Seeing his and Rolex's reflection gave him a good start. Once they recognized their surroundings, the race for home began with Harley jogging now and then until Rolex passed him and forged on with her bouncy walk. Poor Harley hasn't quite got her stride and ends up jogging to catch up.

When we got to Jepson's, Harley decided it was time for lunch and started to graze. This is the best reason for a bitless bridle. The horses can easily munch grass or carrots without the hindrance of a bit. Even though Harley hadn't been worked in a week, I decided to be brave and take him out bitless that day.

I'd like to get in a ride over in Wells to explore a region in the Tatnic Hills that we haven't visited since last Easter. And to think we were in down jackets then too!

My vacation is spinning by too fast. I haven't done near all the chores on my list; call it horse fever! I've got a chunk of old plaster looming overhead, waiting to fall, and I've yet to get it fixed. It's easier to avoid tackling it by running away to the barn. And then there's all the painting, plumbing, and electrical work I need to address...I'd really like the guys from This Old House to come fix everything for me!

This past Sunday was Rolex Girl's birthday--now she's truly six, and truly, our baby girl! Here she is, sporting Harley's headnet on our ride. Happy Birthday to our little Miss Marquetry Girl.

My Bates Hunter Jumper saddle finally arrived Wednesday, but by the time I picked it up and got home, it was too late to get on Harley--plus he needed another coat of mud removed first! So today, after doing more chores, and leaving John at home working on a canoe repair, I dashed to the barn to try it out. I certainly like the feel of it--a cushy version of my old Crosby. I could do without the metal "bling" for the stirrup leather holder and under the cantle, but what the heck--as long as it fits! And the gullet change was even easier than before. This must be their newest version--easy peasy. I only had a brief ride, but I think it fits fine. Tomorrow, we'll do a breakfast ride in the morning, before it gets too hot and buggy!

Monday, May 27, 2013

He's caked with mud on both sides now...

We've received more rain in the past week than we did all spring. Every night I went out to bring in the ponies, they were covered in mud. Nothing like a visit to the spa, right? Gee, thanks guys! I needed to wrap a bandana around my face to avoid breathing in the tremendous clouds of dust I brushed off of each horse. I know it's their natural bug repellent, but what a chore to clean them off!
Saturday night, the skies let loose with a final hurrah. We woke up to thinning clouds and rivers full to overflowing at near-flood stage.

Yet as people complained of the rain, myself included, I had to stop and say to myself--at least we don't have tornadoes. The heart-wrenching news from Oklahoma was horrible. And while the news talks of the 24 people killed, I can't help thinking about those poor 200 or so horses and their owners. I can't imagine facing such devastation and tragedy, and feeling so helpless for my horses.

Harley and Rolex come to investigate my work

With John and I on vacation this week, we spent Sunday and Monday working around the barn, doing some much-needed spring cleaning. I worked on picking up limbs and debris from the loggers in the lower pasture (yes, I'm still picking up sticks). The gals and Harley came over to see what I was up too, but once I chucked a piece of wood over the fence, they took off. After being cooped up from the stormy weather, they kicked their heels up and let the wind whip under their tails.

Today, I finally got some more planting done. The lettuce and mesculin mix is doing well, the cold, I think! I put in carrots, beets, onion, and beans today. Our weather is going to cooperate from now on and warm things up. But to play it safe, I'm keeping the basil and tomatoes under cover in the tent. We don't need to grow any kale; it reseeded itself everywhere. Note our edible driveway! John wants to try corn this year. We never seem to have too much success, but what the heck--it will be fun to have it growing right here. Tomorrow I will get the potatoes, radishes, spinach, and cucumbers planted.

On our drive out to the barn this morning, we saw a pair of turkey vultures warming up their wings, waiting for the temperature to rise enough for them to catch the thermals. They were right by the road, so I made John stop so I could shoot some pictures.

Memorial Day sped by, but knowing we have the rest of the week off to play, I didn't push too hard to ride. My saddle probably won't arrive until Wednesday, but still, I wanted to work some of the kinks out of Harley. Once we had Rolex and Harley cleaned and tacked up, our energy had returned. And it was a good thing too! None of the horses have been worked in a week due to the weather, so they were in "good spirits". This meant spooking at deer, and prancing down the trail. We made a lot of noise to warn the deer, hoping to not come around the corner and have one right by the trail. I brought my camera along, but today was NOT the day to try and take pictures--I needed to have my wits about me and my hands on the reins. We rode the Lollipop Loop in reverse with Harley out front for part of the way. He was being a prancypants but went a little better when I put him out front. Rolex, keen to pass him, dogged his quarters until she could sneak past. Harley always willingly gives in and falls in behind her. He'd had enough leading for one day.

By 7:30 the horses had finished dinner and ambled down to the pasture for the night. "Good night, my beauties. Everyone behave and stay out of trouble. I'll see you in the morning."

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

New toy arriving!

Bates Hunter Jumper - courtesy  Bates Saddles
After much deliberation and saddle swapping, I ordered the Hunter Jumper model last night from my local shop. I hope it fits Harley to the tee. Poor John has listened to me belabor the "new saddle" issue for so long, I'm sure he's hoping this one works too. And Harley is tired of me standing over his butt taking pictures! Janie over at Pelham Saddlery has continued to offer insight into the many options I've put on Harley and been extremely helpful throughout this process. Let's hope this is the one!

Our first S.M.A.R.T. ride is this scheduled for this Sunday. With the saddle question still up in the air, we did not commit to riding yet. I want to be 100% sure of the fit first. Yesterday the vet came for spring shots, and now we're expecting rain right through Friday. So Saturday will be my only day to test the saddle.

Did anyone catch the Derby and Preakness? I missed both, which is especially unfortunate since Harley's half-brother Orb, won the Kentucky Derby impressively! See Harley, I know you're not nickel-bred, just a knuckle head sometimes. He made up for his misbehaving by being all lovey-dovey with me yesterday. He stood like a doll for the vet (but what OTTB isn't used to shots), and nosed around my hands and pockets looking for treats while I groomed him. He knows what works, that smartypants!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Here we go again...

So the local tack shop had an open house today and the Weatherbeeta rep talked me into trying the Bates Caprilli Close Contact. After swapping out the gullet, I trotted around in it for awhile and then let John try it too. I think it's a good fit, and it's the same price as the used Jaguar I tried that needed some extra flocking done in the front to really fit well. But I think I might swap this one for the Caprilli Hunter Jumper model--it's got a little bit wider channel and might have a nicer fit around his withers much like the Wintec AP I tried. I've sent pictures off to our very helpful saddle fitter to see what she thinks about this fit. Oooh boy, what a trial this has been! I do like the ability to adjust these new CAIR saddles with shims, but I'd like to know what other riders think of this as a good fit option. Any opinions our there are welcome!

We've had a wonderful stretch of weather and with these lovely long days, I've been able to sneak in evening rides before dark. The cool breezes have kept biting insects to a minimum, but I suspect they are just around the corner! This year, we're trying out fly predators at the barn. I've been holding off setting them out since it's been so cold at night! I think we're over that now and I've crossed my fingers that they didn't die and will kill off any fly larvae in the manure pile!

Well good 'ole gnarley Harley was up to his old tricks this week. Thursday evening I decided to hack him up the road towards North Point. He pulled his stunt of I won't go, trying to wheel left. I gave him a good smack which set him on the right track. He's a stubborn old nut when he's got it in his mind to say NO. Once we got past the scary goats, all was well. We had some nice trots down through the woods and he behaved just fine. When we came up on a deer though, he put on the brakes. The deer bounded off the trail, but then stopped and we had a staring contest. Heading for home, we even had a nice little jump over our favorite fallen birch.

But yesterday, the wind was blowing and there was a chill in the air. First, I decided to do a little ring work with him. He can always use some flatwork exercises. But when I tried to ride up the road, he decided we'd done enough for one day and gave a repeat performance of yesterday. A smack got him out of the barn yard, but we didn't get far before Mr. Prancypants tried to prove what a great roping horse he could be by backing up to go home! No, we had no steer on the other end of a rope, but you would have thought there was one out there spooking him! Then, to add to the mayhem, the gal who kept her yearling at the barn last fall came by with someone driving the pickup while she sat in the bed, leading her colt at a brisk trot (YIKES). That gave Harley an eyeful as his head shot up like a giraffe while he side-stepped and pranced in the road. I said, "OK, enough, before you kill us both" and went back to the ring for more flat work. Thinking I could take the edge off and at least ride down back through the logged area, I headed him for the woods, but oh no, he began thrashing his head and backing up again! I wasn't going to let him win entirely, so I jumped off and led him off into the woods. Jeesum--what a brat! Finding a nice stump, I remounted (he stood like a doll for this) and made him go down into the deep dark scary swampy woods--all within earshot of the barn, the big baby! So I kind of won, but I would say it was NOT a good ride. If I hadn't had the truck/horse hullaballoo, I would have dismounted and walked him up the road until we reached the woods, but he was so agitated, I didn't want to court danger. As my friend KC over at AllHorseStuff can attest, being tossed into the ground is no fun, especially when the ground is tarmac. So I decided to ride safely yesterday. As I trotted around in the Bates saddle today, he was playing I'm just a pokey school horse, circling round and round, but I know he has that inner fire, just waiting to burst into flame when the mood suits him. Ooooo he can be handful and a headcase--I just never know what horse I might get--Mr. Pokeypants, or Mr. I'm Terrified Of Anything Outside My Pasture. Just hang on and enjoy the ride!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A spring cold snap

Here's a sight I didn't expect to see in mid-May--the horses in blankets!

We're having a cold snap with possible frost. So after hemming and hawing about what to do last night, we opted for the blankets and turnout. Everyone would rather be outside, especially with all the green grass, than cooped up in their stalls with boring old hay. But now that the horses have shed nearly all their winter coats, we didn't want them out in the brisk northwest wind last night, getting cold. At least there won't be any black flies or mosquitoes! After dinner, I lit a fire to take off the chill, and I said to John, "When was the last time the horses were turned out and I had a fire going?"

We took Harley and Rolex out for a fast workout on Sunday, despite the wet weather so we could take the edge off them for our farrier. Harley is so much better when he's a little tired--a lot less antsy which makes it much easier for Butch. Silly me used the bitless bridle--Harley knows I have no brakes!

After a wet ride on Sunday, we had a brisk evening ride yesterday. Rolex was startled by a deer as she crested a hill. After they see one, the horses are on full alert. Harley expects to see one around every corner and tree. The myriad of warblers have returned to Maine: black and white, northern parula, yellow, black-throated green, and common yellowthroat, making the woods come alive with their songs. As we ambled along, I called out to John all the different birds I heard.

We ended our ride with a closer look at a backhoe. Neither horse wanted to approach it, even though they have seen it for weeks. Rolex didn't like the squishy sandy footing--it probably reminded her of the track! "I thought I was done with all that! I just want to have fun." Of course, Harley was only going to feed off this behavior and wouldn't go past it either. I dismounted and led him which is the only thing that will work once he's made up his mind to be stubborn. For that, he got a carrot treat and we called it a day.

Blankets on again tonight, and then we get warmer weather.

Friday, May 10, 2013

A busy weekend ahead

This is the view I got Tuesday morning--the gang checking to see if I had breakfast.

The horses are so happy to be out 24/7 that they are reluctant to come up the hill unless they know we have food. We've had wonderful weather--clear and not too hot, although the fire danger is quite high due to the dryness. We're finally getting some rain now and it's predicted to go right through the weekend.

Since I've taken a break from saddle hunting, a rainy weekend is perfect for me getting some stuff done around the neglected house! Spring cleaning chores are long overdue. And after the rain, I will certainly have to mow the lawn. If only I could get the gang over to trim the grass for me!

My local tack shop is having an open house next Sunday. I will see if they have any "special deals" on saddles. I'm keeping that Harry Dabbs Jaguar on the back burner, but $1600 for a used saddle is steep for my pocketbook. I need to contact Smith-Worthington to about trying their Avalon model--brand new and about half the price!

If the rain holds off enough on Sunday, my father will bring his tractor up with a York rake so we can clean up the remaining twigs, sticks, and limbs the loggers left behind. If he has time, I hope to also rake the "ring" area as well. Sunday should be busy since it's also Mother's Day and the farrier is coming! Harley was a little off earlier in the week, but if he's sound, I'll need to give him the "pre-farrier" workout so he's easier for Butch to shoe. And I might need to do the same with Rolex since John's back has been a bit under the weather.

Our first S.M.A.R.T. ride is coming up soon, but without enough conditioning, or a proper-fitting saddle, we may have to sit this one out. :(

Ruffy and Harley--the two hungriest horses

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The woes of saddle fitting

Ok, this is my issue: my 35 year old Crosby Mark VI doesn't fit Harley, especially for long trail rides. He's had sore spots after long rides, so I figured it was time to do something as we head into the season. We had a saddle fitter come out and assess the situation. The channel is too narrow. It's also too curvy for his back and seems to bobble a bit. Now I'm on the hunt for a perfect fit both of us. This is what I'm dealing with: Thoroughbred withers, but a broad back behind.

So far, I've tried a County Eventer--sits funny, felt better on the "horse" at the tack shop.

A Harry Dabbs Jaguar XJS--very comfy, a little unsure about the wither fit with me aboard, but a definite contender. It's has a "familiar feel" to the Crosby, more of a HJ than AP saddle and I like where it puts me on him.

And here's a Stubben Roxane S--seems to have a bit of a bobble like the Crosby, and not sure about the channel width. I'll give it a whirl today (ooh-don't say that, Spinner Man may get ideas).

We ruled out a Jeffries, a Bates Caprilli AP, a Collegiate Sr. Event, a Wintec AP. The Wintec fit him well, but I couldn't stand all that bulk between my horse and myself. As the tack shop associate said, "like having a whole village between your legs"! She and I both prefer the feel of little to no knee roll. Some of the jumping saddles have blocks above your thigh which doesn't seem to bother me, ie. the Jaguar and Roxane, but the Wintec had a good 3 inches of saddle, knee roll, and padding--UGH! I could feel it in my hips after a while. So, given the price of these beasts, I'm not rushing into anything and will take my time to find the right fit.

On the humorous side of things, I was reading/writing on my camp's Facebook page one night, and a comment pops up from non-other than the saddle fitter who had just been out earlier that week! She had attended Camp Catherine Capers for 10 years, but a different decade. How small a world it truly is.