Monday, June 17, 2013

Harley flies solo

Harley has been spoiled by too many rides with his girlfriend Rolex. Now that summer's long days are here, I'm trying to get in evening rides. Saturday, we attempted to head out, all on our lonesome. This proved impossible as Harley began thrashing his head and backing up, refusing to go forward, away from the barn. I had a feeling this might happen. A smack on the hind end only makes him grumpy. The answer is to get off and lead him, which I did, all the way down the road to Orris Falls. Once inside the trail head gate, I mounted up, and off we went.

I trotted along in a couple of places, expecting him to spook since he didn't have his support team along. His head was in the air like a giraffe, ears up, steps springy, as we boinked our way up the trail. I anticipated him pulling a fast one at the Big Bump turnoff--a place he's notorious for this stunt. I sat down and rode him hard and we scooched past without any problems. The brook was running high due to all the rain we've had, but nothing else looked too different. Harley gave it a good look, but stepped on through. Then we came to another little crossing that had A LOT of water moving. This did not look the same as before, so he stopped short and began to back up again. I asked him to stand and just take a look, but noooo! Again, he backed up and tossed his head. OK, time for dismount number two. Even leading him up to the water didn't work. So we took a minute to just calm down. By the fourth approach, he calmly stepped across--silly bugger!

I remounted and we headed up to the top of Spring Hill. When we reached the scenic vista, he again pulled his "I'm going home" stunt. "Oh no", I told him. I jumped off for the third time and led him down the other side. This time, when I remounted, I was ready for him to try and spin back. I pushed him forward and asked him to turn on my command, and head for home. Just to keep him reminded of who was in charge, I halted a few times and made him back up which he did, but swished his tail in disgust! I also worked on lengthening and shortening his stride at the walk and trot. He was being a little too rowdy for me to want to try a canter, heading for home, with the bitless bridle! With all that extra hiking time, I was now running late, but I accomplished what I wanted--Harley had to leave home, ALONE!

Mr. Grumpypants happy to be home!
Sunday was a day of fence fixing. We had to replace a post and 10 panels, plus cut back scrubby saplings growing up against the fencing. The weather looked like it was heading downhill, and by the time we got the truck towed out of the mud (that's another story), there wasn't much impetus left to ride. So instead, John gave Harley a summer cut, a nice mane pulling so his locks won't be full of mud balls all summer. John did it so quickly--my professional equine stylist!

Thunderstorms rumbled through today, so again, no riding. But later in the week, I will have the chance to take Harley out on some more solo rides. I will have to wear my hiking shoes in case I need to walk a bit.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Thoroughbreds keep on running

The heat wave continued on through Sunday, but throughout the day, the temperature slowly dropped. It was hot, but only in the 80's, hot enough for us to dismount and walk a bit down Cheney Woods Rd. Rolex and Harley plodded along, happy to have me out front to scare away any "monsters" and let them maintain their snail's pace. Lots of carrots always work to lure the horses forward and reward them for their hard work!

Our plan was to find the trail that would lead us out to Hill Road so we could ride a loop through the Wells Tatnic hills. Since we could only go so far with a truck, we would have to find the other end via horse. John and I had looked at the map and figured if we took another right at the point we named Green Road triangle, we should come out somewhere in the vicinity of Hill Road.

Well of course Harley picked up on this being the turn for home. It's amazing how they always know! Suddenly his walk picked up and he forged ahead, stepping out, confident he was heading back to his buddies at the barn. But first we needed a break. The trail climbed, up out of swampy low lands and over a hill called The Saddleback. In a valley, between The Saddleback and Tatnic Hill, nestled a cute little camp. I called for a break and photo session. Here's the lovley place we found.

I could do without electricity and indoor plumbing if I owned a little retreat like this! Even the horses were curious and took a good look around. To the right, some flowers bloomed and a couple of patio chairs sat near a little stone campfire area. All it needed was a shed for the horses and a little paddock!

Even though he was anxious to get home, Harley stood still while I mounted from a nice rock. He always amazes me with this trait, even when he's being silly. The trail descended steeply over large rock faces in the eroded old road bed, through open woods with few face-slapping branches. Sure enough, we emerged on the maintained end of Hill Road. John and I had a laugh about the sign that read "Road Not Maintained In Winter". John said, "Doesn't look like they do much about it in spring either." We'd found our loop ride! Our next option was to ride back up to Cheney Woods Road and take the cut-off home, or head down Tufts Road to 3 Maples Farm where we cut through Great Works Land Trust land and pick up the Nature Trail. We were unsure of how far it was down Tufts Rd., so rather than subject ourselves to a long road ride (turns out it was only about 1/10th of a mile to 3 Maples), we took the route we knew would get us home.

The horses kept up a good strong walk, Harley even jogging half the time, proving they had plenty of energy after two hot hours on the trail. They hungrily gobbled down more carrots and had a nice bath at home. When we turned them loose, Rolex and Harley cantered down into the field to share their exploits with Ruffy and Vance. Yup, Thoroughbreds just keep on running!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Roundabout Wells AND Harley Gets Drilled

Rolex on Cheney Woods Rd. cutoff
The heat wave hit us hard, but we managed to get out riding. Friday we headed out to the Tatnic area of Wells to explore further than we did last April. We managed to cover more ground and discover new territory, albeit some was a little less desirable in the horses' eyes. Without a map and GPS, we still avoided getting lost and figured out where in the world in Wells we were!

Our route took us out via Northpoint to Cheney Woods road. There was a nice breeze blowing in the open woods which surely felt good. We dressed the horses in bug nets although I really think they dislike them. I believe they feel their vision is somewhat impaired as they seem to really LOOK at things harder; things they would ignore otherwise.

We followed Cheney Woods Road to the trail head; a bunch of boulders across an old road/ATV trail. We passed a couple of other "trails less traveled" that will warrant exploration as well. I'm trying to get it all mapped out in my head if not on paper! Once we get GPS waypoints, I may be able to download the trail onto a USGS quadrangle. We took one wrong turn that was more of a skidder path and I really hate trying to pick my way over slash. Harley is pretty good about forging ahead through the stuff, unlike Ruffy who just has hissy fits and head for home!

Harley on the skidder trail

I decided after my brief test ride on the new Bates saddle, to just go for it and really break it in. I figured the shims could be added, if needed, and it appeared to be fitting well. I used a sheepskin pad in conjunction with a baby pad (good for saddle prints) so Harley would have the ultimate cushion.  The stirrup bars sit a bit further back than the Tekna which I like--it puts me in a better position on Harley. I also like having moveable knee blocks. This will allow the saddle to work for John and me, especially for those days when I ask John to "get on the F.B. and work the kinks out, please!" I've already splashed mud and water on the virgin leather, giving it it's first taste of life with Lisa!

Once we covered familiar trails, we veered off into the unknown. Worst case scenario, we'd retrace our footsteps following our hoof prints home. We encountered some pretty deep puddles in the road, complete with large frog populations. Rolex was not being her usual brave self, which again made me wonder about visibility through the headnet. She refused to got through some of the puddles without a lot of urging. Some of them were quite murky, so not seeing the footing may also have played a part in this.  And the muck has a lot of clay in it which can be quite slippery. The woods in this area transitions from a lot of hemlock, to oak, to maple with some ash and hickory. And you get to see it up close and personal as you get smacked in the face! In places where the trail is rocky, Harley hugs the side (another reason I contemplate rear boots) with complete disregard to the overhead limbs. But I really do care about the footing for him--I don't want to any stone bruises--so I let him haul me through the underbrush! In the next photo you can see just such a branch. That hemlock overhead, almost smacked me in the face as we descended the trail--in fact, John snapped a photo of me with a face-full of foliage!

Our last major obstacle was a fast flowing brook that had washed out the road. A giant boulder sat on each side of the water, so in Harley's mind it was triply scary! He started pulling his backup stunt so I decided to dismount and let him have a good gander at the water. Rolex didn't like it much either and would not cross. John dismounted as well and with much urging, she went across with John nimbly skipping from rock to rock. I hoped I could replicate the river crossing with as much aplomb! Harley was not going to get left behind in the Wells wilderness and gamely stepped through the water. My poor flatlander horse, used to Maryland pastures and flat tracks, now had to walk over round river stones. Tricky footing!

We finally emerged in civilization. The road broadened, power lines appeared, and so did a house. This would be our turnaround point. We would have to come back in a vehicle to identify the road. John hoped we could make it a loop ride, but our option led us to a little "campsite" complete with lawn chairs, by the aforementioned brook. So we backtracked and tried another trail. This ended at a four and half-foot high pipe gate marked "NO TRESPASSING". Out of luck, we retraced our trail back home. This ride would be long enough with room for more exploration another time. We crossed the brook again with no issue--heck, they were headed home now! Harley was in "forging ahead" mode.  He'd only stop for carrots! Any when we got home, he got a nice bath, and I'm happy to report, no "hot spots" or bumps from the saddle.

Yesterday seemed even hotter, so we only went for a short ride. Back at the barn, we made some repairs which included fixing the stall guard Harley ripped down with his enthusiastic cribbing. I've read a lot about OTTB's having ulcers and had wondered if Harley suffered from them as well. The vet said he seemed to be in good condition, not exhibiting many of the symptoms. She said his cribbing, while it's not been proven, may be a way of him calming stomach acid. This has been a theory I've read. But she felt he looked healthy, and since his lifestyle is mostly in a turnout situation, she didn't feel it was necessary to scope him. I'm sure Harley liked that too!

So, while John tried to screw the ring back into the wall, Harley decided to come over and oversee the project. Maybe it harkened back to his Suffolk Downs days where trainers need to cobble together repairs among shed rows (we witnessed this ourselves). You'd expect Harley to be scared by the noise, but he actually LIKES the feel of the drill, whirring against his nose--a nose massage, as can be seen in the video. What a silly guy!