Saturday, December 28, 2013

Horse swapping

Rolex Girl watching
John and I swapped horses today. He took Harley on a ride yesterday and had a good time. So he announced I was riding Rolex today and he'd take Harley again. They are such different horses to ride, and Harley even more so when he goes solo. He's braver with Rolex's company, yet he moves out at a better pace when he's alone. Rolex is a more athletic horse with a spring in her step, a consistent forward walk, and a lot less spooky. Her only fault, if you can call it that, is she hates being passed on the way home. So if she's leading--give her hind feet a wide berth! Otherwise, Harley can have his head right behind her--just NO PASSING!

We rode out to Orris Falls with a nice trot going, but once Harley veered off onto a non-packed trail, he came right down to a walk. John said he got spooked by snowshoers on the trail yesterday. What are those funny things on their feet? Yikes!
Harley pondering his next move

The trees still had loads of snow in their branches, many just low enough to dump it down my back. I could have used a scarf to keep it off my neck! We had a couple of lovely canters on the packed trails where the footing was awesome. Rolex got in a couple of extra canters when Harley was still trotting, maybe hoping she could pass him!

Harley pulled his first stunt as we approached the brook from the trail along the chasm. I said to John, "You know what he's going to do?" And sure enough, he tried to pull left and head for home, but John brought him around and he forged through the brook with Rolex right behind, after sizing it up with a small snort.

At the next brook crossing, Harley jumped over it--one he usually just steps across. John must have asked him to take the leap. Even Rolex hopped the brook.

I passed the camera to John for the rest of the ride. 

We rode out to the other end of Orris Falls where we met 2 snowshoers enjoying the fine hiking weather. Everyone had big smiles today.

Then we had  a bit of road riding before cutting back into the meadow at Three Maples Farm. Now that we'd turned for home, I asked John to keep it under control in the field until we hit the woods. We had a nice, controlled trot--no bucking or racing, which I thought might occur. The horses were awesome and I was thoroughly enjoying my ride on Rolex.

We rode through Tatnic Woods and then onto the Nature Trails--the funny place with the kooky signs and bits of odd rubble here and there.

Both Rolex and Harley had to take a long look at this building. It's a small shack that does NOT serve any food. I have no idea why this sign is posted on it, nor do I know what the shack's purpose is--some remnant bob house/restaurant that was hauled off the ice and into the woods?

Once the horses determined no snow monsters would jump out at them, and that no feed was forthcoming, we continued on our way out to the road near North Point.

Suddenly, Harley pulled up so fast he slid on the ice. Up ahead, two women were pulling a toddler on a sled and making silly noises. Harley wouldn't budge. Rolex, always curious, decided to move in for a closer look which convinced Harley to follow. Every now and then, the women would run along with the sled, yellling, "WEEEEE!" Finally, we had to pass them in order to get home. They pulled off the trail behind a parked pickup, so I warned Harley, "Look out, there behind the truck!" More smiling people and a smiling baby.
Back up the trail behind Skinners and out onto Thurrell Road, headed for home--an awesome ride!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Day ride!

John was up and off to the barn at 6:30 this morning to give the ponies their breakfast: a special morning mash with alfalfa hay in the single digit weather. From what I heard, they happily tucked right into their feed. I was still snoozing and didn't roll out of bed until 7:30--lazy day for me!

After a leisurely breakfast by the wood stove, we got busy cleaning tack (some pieces having been hanging around here for way too long).  Then I moved onto my paddock boots and dress boots. O.K., enough chores for this day! We got dinner started in the slow cooker--lamb vindaloo (yumm...) and then off to the barn at last!

We ran into our friends Hank and Lili at the barn and gave them their gift of chocolate and homemade horse treats to give the horses on their visits.

Finally, we were mounted and off by about 3:00 just as it was starting to get cold. But the sun still offered some warmth as we headed down to Orris Falls.

Harley was a star today--no spooks, and he led for part of the way. We had a nice trot on the snowshoe-packed trail, and even a pleasant canter. A lovely ride on a lovely Christmas Day. And the good news is more snow coming tonight and tomorrow! 

My best fuzzy boy!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

White knuckling in the winter woods

Harley had not been worked in about a week. Our farrier was due to come Sunday, so I pleaded with John that we get in a ride between or before the rain showers. All the horses are feeling good, and downright sassy! Note Harley leading the charge down into the field.

A wet, fuzzy guy
Saturday dawned cloudy with threatening skies, but the rain held off enough for us to get chores done as well as some last-minute grocery shopping before Christmas. By the time we arrived back at the barn, dusk was closing in on us. Mind you, this was on the Solstice, so those precious daylight minutes were fast disappearing.

Logging work has begun at the end of Thurrell Rd. where a new house lot is being cleared. We could hear chainsaws and chippers not too far away. This had Harley prancing down the street, just looking for something to invoke a spook. But I was ready--sitting up, feet out front, ready for a whirl. Without Rolex leading, we probably would have spun for home. Our next obstacle was the snowbank by the road, but both negotiated it with ease, better than last year. My fuzzy friend was a handful and I asked John to please keep our trots under control as I could feel Harley pulling on my hands. John said, "Bridge your reins!"

The fast girl--Ruffy!
We rode a loop out through the woods behind Skinner's, and across the brook towards Jepson. The fast-fading daylight had me a little concerned since we had some road riding at the end of the ride. Rolex made the decision to take a short cut (almost the right way) that would take us back to the old quarry and behind Hank and Lili's property. Riding up between the granite cut, we saw signs of porcupines where they'd scuttled out from their rock den. Something spooked the horses in the woods, quite possibly deer. Back on the trail behind Skinner's, Harley jogged along, nice and sweaty along his neck and shoulders. Good thing I had the cooler ready and waiting.

The days will be getting longer now--each minute promising a bit more daylight as we inch along through winter. A snowy winter promises clean horses as they take their snow baths each morning, starting the day with a nice roll. They all seem happy and healthy so I won't complain, except when we get freezing rain and the icy footing.

Today began with steady rain--I could hear it pattering in the gutter. So I wasn't in a tremendous rush to turn the horses out. But I knew Rolex would be anxious to get going, so I didn't dally too long. The rain seemed to come and go and a cold breeze blew across the fields. I decided to put on the rain sheets while I cleaned stalls and waited for our farrier, St. Butch. Rolex had a hissy fit, kicking and shaking her head while I blanketed Ruffy, as if to say, "Would you hurry up! I want to get out, and I mean now!" She wasn't happy to be turned out second. Then Butch called to cancel. He had freezing rain up his way. So I decided to take my time and draw out my hours as long as possible, keeping an eye on the weather and the horses. Rolex has decided to make a toy of our shelter and torn a big hole in one side--she wanted a window. I witnessed her sticking her nose in said hole yesterday! Everyone was happy to eat hay, although Vance got pushy and began to swing his hind end around to hog the hay for himself. We tried to provide enough options for everyone, but it's always a game of musical horses as they move from one source to another, driven by whoever is vying for king of the herd position.

After I got the stalls done and the lunchtime mash made up, I decided to treat myself to a hot chocolate down at Dunkin' Donuts and to check out the logging operation down the road.

By the time I returned to the barn, the rain had picked up with an added bit of icy patter and the wind had moved into the northwest. The gang seemed happy to come up when I whistled, ready to come in out of the elements. With only about and hour and a half of daylight remaining, I figured they could come in for the night and I wouldn't need to take a slippery ride back in the dark on icy roads.

With the horses snug inside with steaming mush and lots of hay, I headed for home, the wood stove, and a cup of tea.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Ruffy begging for carrots
If only I had more time in my days. With all the recent snow we've had, I'm dying to get out and play; but I've been foiled by work. No skiing, no snowshoeing, no skijoring, and no riding. And now we're supposed to get rain and freezing rain for the weekend! Bah humbug, I say!

John and I drove out to the barn early on Monday. The mercury hovered in the single digits. At my last look, the thermometer read 2 F. Yowza--that's cold! And of course I wheedled John about putting blankets on the ponies. He reassured me, yet again, that they would be fine with hay to eat. I'm trying to break myself of the blanket habit, except when truly necessary.

When we got Harley, he was underweight and needed blanketing since he didn't have the fat reserves. The same held true when we acquired the mares. You can see how it's hard for me to say "no blanket" when the snow squeaks with cold, the icy night sky shimmers with stars, and the horses' breath steams over their warm buckets of mash. I constantly run my hands over Harley's plush sides, making sure he's holding his weight. John has come up with the perfect recipe for happy horses: beet pulp, rice bran, flax seed and corn oil, all stirred together with hot water into a thick porridge. The horses enjoy their mash more than their grain. And we top the meal off with bulging hay bags.

Harley waiting for breakfast
So on frosty Monday morning, as I turned the gang out, I figured John must be right. What's the first thing they all did? Each horse had a nice roll in the snow. Afterward, they shook off the snow and had a nice game of tag until I brought out the buckets of grain.

This time of year, many posts on blogs talk about the need (or not) to blanket horses. I guess if I look at the bright side; no blankets means less laundry, less chance of an accident with the straps, and definitely a happier Ruffy! She hates the static electricity, poor girl. I just have to remind myself that Dale Simanton's Gate to Great OTTB's are running around in South Dakota without blankets and it's certainly much colder in his neck of the woods!

As we approach the winter solstice, I'm looking forward to the lengthening days. Getting up in the dark, coming home in the dark, and no riding in between makes for grim days. I get in my morning sled ride down the hill, delivering hay, but aside from shoveling, that's about all the snow play I've had thus far.

Here's a silly picture of me after my sled ride and mucking stalls. It was so cold my face felt like it was about to crack! You can see all the frosty condensation around my hood. Brrrrr!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Big snow!

Mother Nature dropped about a foot of snow on us Saturday night and Sunday morning. After all the shoveling--at the house and at the barn, I never even got in a ride. But the horses self-exercised in their exuberant joy by galloping around the field full-tilt. After all the excitement, their settled down to nosh on hay. By late afternoon, I was ready for a nap!

We got out to the barn early this morning. The singled digits and squeaky snow had the horses' hair standing straight out! Rolex was keen to start a some games and soon they were tearing back and forth across the top of the paddock, jumping over the snow banks, bucking, rearing, and working out their kinks.

I wish I had taken a movie of them--High--oo Silver, away! John said they looked like a Marlboro ad. Now I'm dating myself--they don't have cigarette ads anymore!

So much silliness--looks like Harley jumped the snow bank (left). It was hard to leave and go to work. I could just watch them all day.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

I'ts beginning to look a lot like Christmas

We woke up to fresh snow Saturday, a nice coating to tell us winter is on its way! The minute we turned the horses out, they ran and rolled, the equine equivalent of making snow angels. I love to watch them frolic in the cold--so much joyful enthusiasm. Harley looks like he's trying to tag Rolex while she's having a good roll.

 And then Ruffy came to join in the fun!

And here's a picture of the hooligan twins, Rolex and Harley--can see that impish glint in Rolex's eye?

After we got the stalls cleaned and a few errands done, we saddled up Harley and Ruffy for a ride. They behaved quite well--only a few stops and one place where we had to get off and walk--the holiday fair at the tiny Wells-South Berwick Baptist Church. Too many ladies carrying gifts made the horses stop, stare, and not move an inch.

Unfortunately I took no photos during the ride--my hands were to busy holding my horse. I didn't quite trust him enough to drop the reins to take pictures. We road about and hour and half in the lovely snow.  The trees caught in the sun dripped snow onto us, but in the deep woods, it remained powdery. After we untacked the horses, I finally got a couple of shots.

Here's Ruffy telling John secrets--note carrots in plastic tub on upturned bucket next to John

And here's my best boy looking for treats as well! The alfalfa dengie in the green bucket was not as interesting as carrots.

Winter is officially a couple of weeks away, but it felt like the season began a few weeks ago. We've had a fair amount of cold weather, and only a dusting of snow. This past week, I went out to the barn early one morning. Jack Frost had visited the barn windows and the fields were limned with ice crystals. Once the sun cleared the rise, it melted away. But the north-facing windows remained icy!

The hard ground has not been easy for Harley and Ruffy, our thin-soled Thoroughbreds, so the snow was a welcome respite for them. We're hoping it won't be an open winter. Snow may make more work in some ways, but it surely enhances the holidays and adds more fun at the barn. Time to unearth the skijoring harness and wax up the skis!

Our friends Hank and Lili stopped by the barn tonight to bring some holiday cheer. They hung a wreath outside the barn and Lili made stockings for each of the horses. Hank tacked them up over the feed room door. Here's Lili below her handiwork. The stockings were hung by the feed room with care....

In hopes that St. Nicholas would soon be there.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Thankful weekend

While many folks got together with family and friends, John and I went to the barn to spend the day with our horses. I'd like to have a family gathering, but it involves juggling  travel time to and from the barn and ride time (got to get some exercies), all tied tied in with keeping the turkey basted and non-equine family members entertained! And if those non-equine people want to watch football, I'm afraid they're out of luck--no cable or reception at my house. I'm hoping the day will come when the horses are on the property and I can host a Thanksgiving get together. We're keeping an eye on the available properties, watching for something that will fit our needs. But until then...

 So loaded with a thermos of hot tea and carrots, we headed for the barn to round up our steeds.

Thursday was frigid. Harley and Rolex were coiled springs as we rode out. I made Harley lead up past the scary goats. Without Rolex's company, I'm sure I'd have been walking him on foot up the road! I watched his ears and head--he thought about turning for home, but my insistence and Rolex's presence kept him moving forward.

Thanksgiving Day gaves all those hunters who still haven't gotten their deer a chance to roam the woods mid-week. We decided to avoid the power line--a truck was parked there, a sure indicator a hunter was up in the woods. We decked ourselves and the horses in blaze orange for good measure. I wonder if they make those crocheted ear nets in blaze orange? Even though the bugs aren't present, the color will add to our visibility. Heck, I make so much noise yammering at Harley and John, they would hear me coming, not to mention the shuffling of eight feet through the oak leaves!

I tried out the Easyboot Trails on Harley since he's such a tenderfoot. The Easyboot fit kit arrived, but due to the flare in Harley's hooves, I don't think the Glove will work. There's too much of a gap around the hoof wall and no spread at the V. They recommend the Backcountry Trail for trim issues (although this is really a shape issue), and I think those will work better. I'm still pondering the Renegades, but not sure I want to fuss with cables--been there done that with the original Easyboots! And given the mud we can get around here, I want a secure boot. Please feel free to share your experiences with boots, fellow bloggers.

Here's Harley, looking down Cheney Woods Rd., waiting for monsters to come around the corner.

And here he is peering behind. "Always watch your back trail", say's Harley. I look like I'm crying--don't know what I was doing!

We turned off into the woods, headed for the quarry. There's a large portion of the woods road that's flooded, even in dry times. After all the heavy rains, deep water was guaranteed. I asked John to take some photos for me, but Rolex, always a go, go, go girl didn't want to stand still for long. He snapped off a few before we tackled the deep water.

I'm grinning like a fool because I'm having so much fun. Even Harley was, despite the fact that he tried to act like a chicken when he realized Rolex was not right behind him.
When he gets too far away from her, he panics, stops thinking, and his survival gears kick in--wait for me, Rolex! Then it's smash n' dash. Harley was happy to turn around and stay with his girlfriend. But his bravery weighed in just up ahead when Rolex took one look at the icy flooded roadway and said, "No way, I'm not walking through that!"

 Harley approached, looked, sniffed, and began cracking through the skim ice. By the middle, he was in water just below his knobby knees. Rolex followed Harley and then we warmed up with a mad gallop up the soft sandy trail leading to the quarry. When he passed Rolex, I thought, Oh boy, let's hope he pulls up at the top! If he were braver, and had better knees, I wonder how he'd do on a cross country course--he's a strong bugger!

A tremendous amount of logging has occurred around the quarry. I think they are planning to expand the gravel extraction. But until it's impassable, we can still ride around the barrier gates. One section is blocked by boulders. Rolex would not walk between them, nor would Harley. So I hopped off and led Harley through. I think she was confused by where she should go--it was a narrow gap. And now I had a perfect mounting block--a nice big, flat boulder. Once we moved away from the quarry ridge, back into the woods, the freezing wind abated. I informed John that Harley had to go first at this point so he wouldn't dash after Rolex and get me smashed in the face by an offending oak limb I invariably hit every time we go home this way. I need to bring the saw along and remove this hazardous branch.

I'm thankful to have 3 lovely horses, and a wonderful partner who shares my passion. So many women have spouses who support their "hobby"; I'm so lucky to have one who is an active participant--one who went out on a limb and got me Harley. My horse and I are works in progress. Was he the best first horse for someone returning to riding after a 30+ year absence? Probably not, but I'm giving Harley the opportunity not many others would have. He's no school horse--he can be ornery, but he can also be such a sweetie. What discipline would he excel at? I'm not sure, but I think he knows he's got it good with us and he's happy to have his trail buddy, Rolex Girl.

For Thanksgiving dinner, he horses had a nice warm beet pulp/flax/rice bran mash and we went home to tuck into our turkey dinner!