Sunday, November 24, 2013

Driven by the wind

We wimped out on the riding today. And the ponies had breakfast inside for a change. While they ate, we trekked to Tractor Supply for barn stuff, then let 'em loose and mucked stalls. After wheeling the barrows outside and having wind blow shavings back in our faces, we hunkered down, doing indoor repairs. By the time we'd finished, it was time for a nice warm cup of tea and neither of us really wanted to ride. John and I looked at each other and said, "Let's go home for tea and some pea soup." We were driven inside by the wind. The non-stop gusting put the temperatures in single digits, I believe. My hands, feet, and ears were cold, even in winter boots, and heavy hat, and gloves.

Our rhododendrons are the "other" thermometers at the house. We can gauge the temperature by how tightly the leaves are curled. Today, I guessed 22, and the window thermometer proved my guess correct. We have to use the bushes on the north side for an accurate read. The one on the southwest corner always comes in higher due its exposure to nearly full sun.

John and I warmed up by the wood stove before moving on to other tasks. While he worked on repairing a kayak, I split up a supply of kindling. By 4 p.m., it was time to go check on our gang. As we drove up the road, Ruffy was rearing and they were cantering around--from the cold, or just because they were feeling rambunctious? Once we had the stalls readied, grain dished out, water buckets filled, I went outside and whistled them up. First, they stopped their games and stared at me, but then cantered up the hill, eager for dinner.

Here's Harley getting his warm mash served up while I groomed the caked mud from his coat. He was a little spooky with the barn doors clanking in the wind and the beams creaking overhead, but having John there calmed him--John would keep the demons out of the barn.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Wild wooly weekend riding

Three red horses.
I feel so lucky today. I got in my fourth ride in four days--a new record for November riding, I think! Granted, it was a short jaunt today. After work, we dropped off John's car for repair and dashed out to the barn as the sun was beginning to set. I whistled up the horses and began brushing the mud off Harley, sending an immense amount of dust into the air. All the horses had a layer of mud pasted on their coats, even our Miss Neatkins, Ruffy. In fact, she was the worst! John witnessed mud flying off her as she gave a post-roll shake this morning. Donning our blaze orange vests, we rode up the power line, whistling, talking loudly, and singing in hopes of scaring off any hidden deer. By the time we emerged back on the road at the Orris Falls trail head, the sun was gone. I felt like I cheated old Man November today--an afternoon ride after 4 p.m. Hah!

This past Friday was a short work day. I hustled out to the barn so I could get in a ride before dark and get the stalls done. Harley hadn't been ridden for over a week and was full of himself. Oh, it's cold and windy, and I'm feeling spooky! Yup, we'd barely made it up the road before he pulled his wheel and spin moves. I know what to expect when he's like this, so I jumped off and led him up the road until we reached the woods--it's just easier and safer. Without shoes, he's still a little touchy, so I avoided gravel and rocky trails, but I think even the acorns bothered him. I let him just walk, although he got in a springy jog here and there when we turned for home, head in the air like a giraffe, jumping at squirrels dashing through the leaves.

Saturday proved to be a better ride. Consistency is what Harley needs. I decided to tackle the same route up the road. This time he only hesitated a bit, but I kept urging him forward with seat and legs as we pranced past the scary goats. I don't think he will ever warm up to those strange bleating four-legged creatures peering at him from inside their dim barn. We did the same loop in reverse--just to keep it interesting and a little challenging for my wimpy boy. He was happy to be home where he could see his girls, and nibble on grass.

Here's Harley give Rolex love bites in the sunset...they have a funny relationship!

John and I took Rolex and Harley on another loop ride Sunday, but this time, I tried using a pair of Easyboot Trail boots on Harley's front feet. He seemed to go much better with a lot less mincing. Because he overreaches, I've ordered a test set of Easyboot Gloves to try. His way of going might damage the rear Velcro closures on the Trails, and the Gloves appear to have a snugger fit. Any fit tips or boot opinions from my fellow bloggers would be welcome.

Harley had a repeat spook, similar to last week's when the runner popped out of the woods. This time, I have no idea what he saw, or heard--a squirrel, a turkey, deer, a big rock? But suddenly, he whirled left, crashed through some saplings, causing Rolex to spin and run too. Gotta love how this always happens as you're on a loose rein with a bitless bridle! Poor John was bent over trying to adjust something when all hell broke loose. Yee-haaaa and hang on tight! Oh my, poor Harley.... Thankfully, the only injuries were a scratch on John's face a weal on my cheek. Lacrosse masks--that's what we really need.

After we got home, John still had time to tack up Ruffy and take her for a little ride too. She was a good girl, glad to not see moose, deer, turkeys, or get tangled in any brush. Her idea of perfect terrain is a nice open field where she can build up good speed on smooth footing--our turf mare!

She's such a sweet girl--I can't resist snapping shots of her lovely head, despite all the "trail tack" she's wearing.

And then we've got Buster--look at the neck on that horse! See what neck muscles a hardened cribber develops? Refined loveliness above, neck like a Belgian below. Oh Harley---get off the fence!

I'd love to know how to stop this and yet it may be something he needs to do when eating (he'd been noshing on some grass at the time). It's certainly not a vice he has from being cooped up and bored since they spend all day, and most nights (spring through fall) outdoors. Some speculate it helps buffer stomach acid, and releases endorphins. Yes, I've got a cribbing strap, but how effective is it and does it do more harm than good? Right now, it sits up in the loft, collecting dust.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Preparing for winter

Winter is just around the corner, teasing some folks with scant layers of snow, a tickling reminder that we had better be prepared. Our farrier, St. Butch, had an inch on the ground at his house this past Sunday--a mere hour or so north of us. Last year, we'd already received our first big snowfall with the Halloween storm. We'll see what Mother Nature has in store for us soon enough.

Not only am I preparing for winter at home, but at the barn as well. John sprung for a "shelter-in-a-box" so the horses would have a run-in shed while we are both at work. I'm hoping it will hold up to winter's brutish winds and snow loads. The past few days have put it to the test with gusting winds, day and night. We will have to keep the roof clear of snow with a broom, but I'll have peace of mind when I'm 30 minutes away at work, knowing the horses have an option. Rolex has shown no fear of it (our brave brumby), but Harley and Ruffy might need to get used the the flapping green structure sprouted in their pasture!

I'm trying to pack the "safe" pounds on Harley as we head into winter. This involves a nice mash made of up from rice bran, flax seed, beet pulp, corn oil, and alfalfa-blend hay. He and the girls love this warm concoction, but heating water by the bucket is slow, especially when the temperatures are down in the twenties. So John purchased a nice hotpot--instant hot water for the mash, and for a nice cup of tea!
We've got little containers with sugar and tea, ready to heat up our innards and extremities while the horses slurp up mash. This is a must-have barn accessory when there is no running hot water. I wonder why we didn't get one sooner? After waiting for slow-to-warm buckets in freezing temperatures, I finally said, "We need a little hotpot here." And this is what I got for my birthday! Thank you, John--and the ponies thank you too.

"Yummy, yummy, yummy, I've got bran mash in my tummy."

On these cold nights, I like knowing they've had a little warm treat to tide them over until morning. Oh, and it smells good too! I've got the recipe down just right--mix up a rice bran slurry, with flax seed, add oil, and beat until smooth. Pour into pre-soaked beet pulp and stir until blended. Feed to happy horses.

Ruffy and Harley got their shoes pulled this week; another step towards winter. Here's a shot of Harley and John coming in for dinner Sunday night--my two best boys.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Fall follies

Morning gang waiting for breakfast
We have enjoyed some wonderful fall riding now that the bugs have retreated and the days are cool. Unfortunately, the diminished available riding hours have forced me to give up after work ambles. So we savor our weekends, squeezing in whatever work needs to get done around the house and the barn before the snow flies. I heard northern Aroostook County received their first four inches of the white stuff. Our days are numbered. We still need to replace a fence post before Harley pulls it down with his front teeth. And our "run-in shed in a box" needs the canopy attached. I'm hoping all the horses will accept it as a form of shelter, even claustrophobic Ruffy, so they will have access to protection when the weather is bad and we're stuck at work.

Mother Nature has sent gusting winds our way. It seems we've had days and days of leaves flying through the air. Harley, being his usual silly self, spooks at squirrels, leaves, birds in the bushes, you name it! But I expect this from him this time of year. He's always more than happy to head home at a springy trot. This past Monday, John and I headed home when Rolex stopped and let Harley take the lead--this was a mistake! As we approached the brook at Orris Falls, a runner popped out of the woods and Harley whirled around, spooking Rolex as well, as they began to run away. Thankfully, Rolex pulled up and Harley right behind her--no brakes with that bitless bridle. They snorted and watched the runner trotting along the trail by the beaver pond. Hmm...we'll see what happens the next time I try to ride solo in that neck of the woods.

This time last year, we experienced an earthquake and weathered Hurricane Sandy. Thankfully, we had no storm damage. And since we still had no power in the barn due to the "cave-in debacle",  it really made little impact on our daily barn chores. We were used to functioning by flashlight, headlamp, and lanterns. Water was lugged from home in canisters. And adding to the fun--loggers were cutting in the woods and churning up the pastures as they hauled out logs with heavy equipment.

Well this fall brought its own challenges; mostly in the form of vet bills. I found a nail in Ruffy's hoof last Friday night as I did the rounds. Somehow, I'd managed to leave my phone at home--what a mistake. Sixteen miles and forty minutes later, I had spoken with John, and the vet was on her way. Ooooh boy--the x-ray revealed a bent nail curving right up into Ruffy's heel, thankfully missing the bone. She was a stellar patient, even with her sore foot, but she was not happy to be stabled over the weekend! With her buddies romping outside, she was a bit of a handful. John and I hand walked her, although she was feeling good enough to prance around like she was heading to the track. The nice green grass only held her interest for a wee bit.

Whoa, race mare!
Bandages and antibiotics to have done the trick. She felt good enough today to wheel, buck, and canter off into the windy pasture with her buddies. So as I pay off Harley's visit at the five-star spa (aka New England Equine Medical Center), we wait for another bill in the mail for Ruffy's emergency visit.  And the final clincher was buying more hay at a premium price. But I can't complain since it is some of the loveliest hay I've ever seen--a nice clover, timothy, alfalfa blend we purchased from a hay farmer in Buxton. The ponies have sampled it and relished every bite! So much for hopes of maybe attending Equine Affaire...maybe another year.

So all the woes have been a setback in the house-hunting department. But the market slows down in the winter, and this may be a good thing. It will give me time to stash some cash while we muddle through another winter out on Thurrell Road. Much as I love the location and its access to prime trail riding, I would much prefer having the gang in the back yard where we can monitor everything better--and of course, I can go out and give Harley a late-night kiss goodnight!