Thursday, December 25, 2014

Oh give me a home, where my horses can roam...

Merry Christmas from our gang to yours!
A solid week of rain, snow, and ice left me feeling miserable all week. The poor horses, hovering in their new shelter, venturing out for bites of hay, gladly ran into the barn at dinnertime. I hope we're not in for a winter of nothing but wet snow, rain, and mud. How dreary!

Our snow has disappeared, except for a few remaining chunks--big scary chunks to scare silly Thoroughbreds--by the side of the road. We have only been able to ride a couple of times with the uncooperative weather, making for pogo-stick ponies! When things get a bit out of hand, I take the lead, literally on foot, proving to Harley that everything truly is safe out there.

The Winter Solstice has passed, so I can start adding those extra minutes of daylight onto my punch list of chores I need to get done. My goal over the holiday week is to finish painting the bedroom. Then I can move on to the kitchen doors, all which need a refresher coat! I've been advised that we will need to sell the house before we can successfully put in an offer on anything--the competition is too stiff!. This scares me--no house or barn to call my own. I even considered renting a place, complete with a barn, but someone beat me to it--that's the story of my life these days. So I'm trying to keep positive and pray our "farmette" will become a reality in the new year.

As long as our horses remain healthy (Ruffy--2 abrasions, Harley--1 choking incident, Rolex--0, tough as nails), as do we, I know we can slog though another winter with traveling to and fro for our horse care. Better days are coming.

The horses all seem to be doing well on their hay, balancer, and beet pulp/rice bran mash diet. I see dapples in their winter coats, and if they were clipped, I imagine those dapples would really stand out. The high quality hay is consumed, with very little wasted, a sign of how much it's enjoyed by our gang!

With no snow, and lots of soft muddy ground, we've been paying careful attention to hoof care. At least if the footing is soft, I don't have to bother with booting Harley. The down side is they come in, covered in mud. Snow baths are so much nicer!

Who knows, we might have an early spring and see grass by April?

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The hounds of hell on Harley's heels

Our weather has been a little crazy here in Maine--some early snow that teased us, then the temperatures soared back up into the low sixties bringing rain and lots of fog. We know winter is just around the corner, but it's always nice to squeeze in one more ride when mittens and bulky jackets aren't required!

Oh what a weekend it was--a great ride, and a not-so-great ride. But I think I jinxed myself this time. With the short days our time in the saddle is limited to just weekends and my Monday afternoons. And John's new shift only gives us Saturdays to ride together. So my steed has been spending most of his hours hanging out with his girlfriends, munching hay.

John and I had a nice little ride on Saturday with Rolex and Harley. But when I asked Mr Little Ears to go solo on Sunday, well, his home-bound highness gave me quite the performance. I could tell it promised to be an interesting ride when Harley would not stand still while I tacked up. Back and forth, back and forth, he paced in the cross ties. Once on board and headed up the road, he was jumping at every squirrel rustling in the leaves. But when two dogs came tearing up the trail, that was last straw for Harley. He turned tail and began to run--fast. Now trying to stop a horse in the ring, or in the open isn't too bad, but when it's over undulating terrain with overhanging branches--well, good luck. As I ducked, he veered right, gave a little buck and as I scrambled out of sticks and leaves, I had a great view of his big bay butt galloping off down the trail. Damn, I thought, I need to catch him before he heads for the road. Thankfully, Harley missed the turn for home. There was a chance I could intercept him if he didn't go cross-country as the crow flies. As I hobbled through the woods, whistling and calling, he appeared, trotting towards me, ears up.

I grabbed the reins and led Harley back to the scene of destruction and on up to the house with the dogs. The owner had them tied up, but they continued barking, which was good. Harley had a chance to stand near their yapping maws, and realized he wasn't about to be eaten. I've had run-ins with these tenacious dogs before, and the owner admitted they like to chase and nip (oh yeah), but in the past, I've turned Harley towards them, they've given up. Not so  this time. With the dogs no longer on his heels, Harley settled down a bit. I remounted, and we continued our ride. Jumpy as he was, we needed to work through all this together.

We encountered a couple of other riders, which gave Harley pause, but after nuzzling noses, we continued our ride. All went smoothly until we returned to the road and a bicycle zoomed past. He jumped sideways, and proceeded to prance. For self preservation, and to help cool off my sweating beast, I decided to lead him the rest of the way home. Harley's shaggy coat was going to need a good sponging after his mad dash! I went home, a little beat up with bruises on my shin, ankle, thigh, and derriere, but walking and upright!

Then came the calm before the storm; a lovely sunset before our first really big storm of the year. More on that in my next post.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Another best birthday ever

Another birthday has come and gone, but I vowed to get in a "birthday ride" despite having to be at work by 9 a. m. on Thursday. It's become a special treat for me ever since I got Harley. My parents were subjected to the constant "horse present" wish for way too many years. I can now fulfill that dream every day when I go out to the barn and see our gang.

The minutes ticked by as I jogged between chores, glancing at my watch every few seconds. Once I had everyone fed, and the water tank filled,  I began cleaning off Mr. Muddypants.  There was time for a very short ride, or at least a walk, before I had to jump in the truck and leave.

I coerced Harley into the barn to tack up. He was not pleased to leave his girls, but grudgingly relented. I briefly thought about going bareback, but he hadn't been ridden in about a week and a half, so I opted for the security of a saddle. I had just enough time to ride out behind the barn to do some leg yields, turns on the forehand, and a few trots before it was time to go. Harley felt spunky--looking around at everything, especially the green tarp that had blown into the woods, and the ladder teetering on the back porch railings. Then Pete appeared and said, "Where's your orange?" Well, since I wasn't leaving the ring area, I decided to skip the blaze orange. No hunters would be shooting that close by and not have a clear view of us! We only had one minor "blowup" when he began snorting and thought about throwing in a buck, but he quickly came back down and settled. Thank you, Harley, for being a good boy!

A morning ride, no matter how short,  can set the tone for the day and put a smile on my face. And it's the best view of the world from atop your horse's back!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Last sunny days of October

With autumn winding down as we head towards the short, dark days of early winter, the horses soaked up the last bit of warmth the sun had to offer. The past weekend offered some of our best weather for fall riding. The horses are beginning to get their winter coats. Cold nights have given Harley a bit of a shaggy look, and Ruffy has started to get fuzz-face; long hairs growing around her cheeks and jaw. Rolex appears to have the least amount of winter hair growth, but she'll be catching up soon enough with the snow headed our way!

This is what I like to see this time of year--sleek Thoroughbreds ready to face the winter. They enjoy their beet pulp/flax seed/rice bran mashes and we can see the results in their shiny coats and the extra "padding" along the ribs. Coupled with the alfalfa mix hay, they've never looked better. Even Vance, the elder Standarbred in the heard, seems to be holding his own and feeling good.

We put the hay barrels down in the field to encourage the horses to eat down there, rather than along the upper fence line which has turned into a mucky mess from all the recent rains. The reduced traffic should help the mud dry out a bit. As I worked on the fence, I had the "assistance" of the gang, first Rolex and Harley, inspecting my work and sniffing my pockets for carrots, then the inquisitive Ruffy, also hoping I had treats to hand out.

Walking the fence line, noting what repairs I still need to do before winter, the gang moved with me until they decided I was of no interest without carrots. I know some people feel strongly about giving horses treats, but I look at it as a reward for letting us catch them. When I first got Harley, he was fond of walking away when I approached. That's not to say they all don't try this on occasion, especially when they're feeling fresh, but treats do keep them approachable in the field. No one is especially nippy, but I might feel a nose and lips snuffling at my pockets when I'm picking out feet!

Our latest adventure took us back out to Jepson Farm and the quarry. I always love the ride out to Jepson Farm. This time, I gave the camera to John, and he snapped off numerous shots of Harley. Here's my Halawa Moon, looking like his dad, Malibu Moon--big spooky eye and little short ears! He was feeling a bit fresh early in the ride. In fact, he was a handful just leaving the barn, but settled as we got going. Standing around is not something OTTB's do very well.

Here's another shot of Harley with his "look of eagles" pose for the camera.

"Enough of this standing around", said Rolex, "let's get the show on the road and go somewhere! "Hey, what's Lisa looking at? Jeezum, Harley, can you see those tiny trucks down there?"
There's been a lot of activity at the quarry as the process material before winter. Once things start to freeze, they can't run the gravel plant any longer and things quiet down for winter.

We decided NOT to take Rolex's short cut down to the bog, up the ridge, and through the ravine, this time. But we did stop to take a picture of what we now call "Rolex's Ravine" since she's the one that got us into that little adventure. John's new nickname for her, Rolodex of Trouble, really suits that mare. She keeps us laughing, our Roley Girl. The camera doesn't show the depth very well, but believe me (and Harley), it was a scramble. For those of you that have seen The Man From Snowy River--that's what came to mind, maybe not as steep, and certainly not at the same speed, but still a scramble!

When we got to North Point, Harley and Rolex had to stop and watch the horses in the pastures. Harley started walking down the drive to go investigate while Rolex watched and wondered, "Do I know you guys? Did I smell you out on the trail?"

North Point is for sale, for a cool $770,000--too bad it's way out of my price range. Its adjacent to conservation land with many trails, has a lovely barn, three pastures with run-in sheds, and a half mile "track".  Harley and Rolex wish I could buy it for them (and so do I).  Ah well, it's nice to dream.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Waning days of autumn

Late autumn is the time of year when I scurrying around like a chipmunk preparing for winter. All those projects I planned to do all summer finally come under the gun as the temperature drops and daylight fades. Amidst all that chaos on the home front, I'm trying to keep Harley exercised so we can maintain some semblance of sanity on those cold windy rides.

A barn full of hay gives me the warm fuzzies. I now sleep better knowing the horses will have plenty of lovely alfalfa and timothy to keep their furnaces stoked on a winter night. The sweet aroma fills the loft and spare stalls.

It's time to clean the stall fans and put them into storage for the winter. Summer bug nets need washing and put in the tack trunk. I still have to fix a broken pane in Harley's stall window before the snow flies. Right now, the ventilation is fine, but once winter hits, I'm sure Harley would appreciate not having snow blowing in all night!

It's tough to get in an evening ride by mid-October.  When I drive up to the barn, I see horses, catching the sun's last rays at the hilltop. Autumn sunsets turn all our horses a fiery orange-red just before it sinks over the horizon. Suddenly, it's very dark and I'm now leaving the barn under starlight.

Harley and Rolex

The horses enjoy the last warm days, basking in the sun. Most of the flies are gone, yet the pesky deer ticks have reared their ugly heads again. Fall always seems to bring another bout, despite the cold nights. The turkeys need to get busy gobbling up the little suckers!

I've been following the plight of the remaining Suffolk Downs horses, hoping they all find good homes as the track closes. The folks at Canter New England have been updating the trainer listings as status' change. My bank balance prevented me from taking on any more, but I do what I can sharing them out on Facebook. Hopefully, readers and followers will pick up these horses, offering them new homes and new careers. My "wish list" is dwindling as some of my picks are sold, or move with their trainers to different tracks. As one person advised, don't ignore the "ugly ducklings". They may not be the prettiest, or fastest, but they have other qualities, maybe talents yet untapped.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

End of an era

Photo courtesy of Friends of Suffolk Downs
Suffolk Downs, New England's last remaining Thoroughbred racetrack is slated to close in early October. The last live race will be on Saturday, October 4, 2014. Its closure will leave a void in our region--the Sport of Kings will be gone from East Boston, replaced by a casino in Everett. I can't imagine that the people employed in the shedrows and on the backstretch want to trade working with Thoroughbreds for dealing cards and stocking slot machines. And where will the trainers based in Massachusetts and its border states go? Sell their farms and move south to the Mid-Atlantic, or west to New York? Approximately 2000 people will be out of work with the track's closure.

This track has a richer history than meets the eye. Constructed 79 years ago on the mud flats, it has hosted such famous equine athletes as Seabiscuit,  Whirlaway, Cigar, and John Henry. Suffolk Downs took the lead in establishing a "no kill buyer" policy. All retired horses needed to be re-homed. Any trainer found in violation would be banned from the track. Many tracks have since followed suit and now have the same rule on their books. Suffolk Downs isn't glamorous, located in a gritty part of the city. It has been struggling to keep open for years and had pinned its hopes on winning the bid for a casino with the racetrack. This past week, it finally lost the battle--a sad day for Thoroughbred enthusiasts in the Bay State and its surrounding environs.

The folks at CANTER New England have been working like mad to re-home the remaining horses still at the track that won't be moving on to a different venue. My hat goes off to these people who have worked tirelessly, year after year, to put on the Suffolk Showcase each fall, helping find new careers for horses no longer competitive enough to stay with their trainers string. Now, the urgency to re-home these horses has stepped up a notch as the final weeks of racing comes to a close. I urge anyone who may be looking for a horse, or if you know of someone in the market, please check out the trainer listings. Lots of great horses are available for reasonable prices and the folks from CANTER can help tremendously.

On a more personal level, I will no longer enjoy perusing CANTER New England's annual trainer listings each autumn, selecting horses for my fantasy farm. Three years ago, my partner and I attended CANTER's Suffolk Showcase with the intention of finding another horse so we could both ride together and would not have to share time with our OTTB Harley (JC name Halawa Moon). I gazed at all the eye-candy like an awe-struck horse-crazy 12 year old. We watched the horses parade past, looking at conformation and watching for signs of lameness. I could have easily taken at least five home that day. We left with John thinking about a couple of horses he'd selected. On a cold, rainy November day, not one, but two fillies arrived: Rolex Girl and This Chic's Got It (now called Ruffy), bringing our stable of ex-Suffolk Downs OTTB's to three.

This Saturday promises to be a bright, sunny September day. As the morning sun glints off the shiny coats of Suffolk's remaining Thoroughbreds, and they prance in the sharp fall air, a new page will start for many of these horses as they head to new homes and new careers.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Look Ma--no bugs!

Vacation week arrived at last with fine weather. And I have to admit, I really, really wanted to ride every day, but made myself work on the "plaster project" and helping John clear out the garage. If we want to sell, a lot of de-cluttering and painting had to happen during our vacation. Oh my, the junk we've saved over the years! What I couldn't take to the junkyard for cash (old bicycle parts, rusted tools, etc.), I put out by the road. My three pairs of vintage skis, miraculously disappeared, along with a beach chair and lounger! One man's junk is another man's treasure, for sure.

But by the time Friday rolled around, I insisted we get in a ride. The weather was perfect--breezy, partly sunny, in the 60's and NO BUGS! We saw an occasional mosquito, and only ONE deer fly, which I squashed. Absolutely heavenly for the horses and us.

We decided to explore the Jepson woods and quarry area. Having not ridden out there since spring, we discovered the enlarged quarry and logged area forced us to re-route some of our trails. Since it was a weekday, all sorts of heavy equipment moved through the quarry. Both horses were remarkably calm about it all, even when we paused to watch a drill, pounding into the rock.

We took a break along the quarry road so I could sample some wild grapes. Fall was in the air--the smell of grapes, aster and goldenrod blooming in the meadows and along the roads, and the sumac heads turning a bright red. 

Our mellow-mooded Harley and Rolex ambled along enjoying the bug-free environment. When they're out 24/7, the horses are much more relaxed. Brave Harley led the way for a good portion of the ride!

We came out onto Cheney Woods Road where the pace picked up--that little alarm that goes off in the horses' heads when we turn for home.

We stopped for a little break--carrots all around for our steeds. Now there's a happy horse!

Homeward bound, out Allen Road, past North Point. A perfect day for a perfect ride on our perfect ponies!

When and if we find our own place, I admit I will miss some of our trails in the Tatnic area. But all the pros outweigh the cons, and there would be new territory to explore. Hopefully, Harley would learn to get on a a trailer so if a moment of nostalgia came over me, we could return to some old haunts. But with all the logging, quarrying, and building going on, it's only a matter of time before land not protected by conservation groups will be swallowed up for development. Only islands of green space will remain, leaving a lot of road riding to reach those idyllic spots. So I need to enjoy them while I can and accept that I can't change the inevitable.

Saturday was another "all work, no play" day. I tried to finish plastering the "rose room" wall, but discovered I will need to redo a few places. Ugh! John nearly finished purging the garage and getting all his tools organized enough so we will be able to squish on vehicle in there during snow storms.  And another boat arrived on our doorstep for repair--organized in the nick of time!

Once all the plaster dries, I can move on towards painting. I will be so glad when this room is done. Then I can move on to finishing up the cupboards in the kitchen. Will it never end?

Sunday dawned chilly with a downright cold breeze blowing. The horses were stabled overnight due to the cold rainy weather. This left them raring to go after breakfast! I anticipated a rowdy ride when Harley barely let me get on before he was off at a trot. He led the way up the road, spooking at every little squirrel, chipmunk, bird, stump, and boulder in sight. John suggested a short ride due to sore muscles, but our little jaunt turned into a three hour plus trek.

We retraced our route out to the Jepson homestead where we encountered three riders from North Point. This had Harley's head as high as a giraffe's as he peered down the trail at the oncoming horses. We exchanged exclamations over the perfect weather and continued on our way. Once we reached the old pasture, Harley decided to have a little snack.

Rolex ate some, but she's always a busy girl and wanted to get going!

She was in rare form on Sunday--full of the dickens and spooking at silly things. I think she felt good and was displaying her humor. She stopped at random stumps, rocks, and other little things along the way, but with her good nature, John just laughed it off.

Where we went wrong was letting Rolex pick her route down a game trail that led in the right direction, but over some tricky terrain and through a swamp. We finally reached a point where I said, "Let me get off and scout this out". We managed to get out on a rocky promontory with a swamp on one side and a steep ravine on the other. John held the horses while I scrambled down one side, looking for a horse-safe route, and then up the other side, hoping it would put us back on the trail. I retraced my steps and told John the plan. Rolex forged out ahead down into the ravine bottom. Then she got a little rattled, and little stuck. I put Harley out front and he attacked that slope like he was heading up Cougar Rock in the Tevis Cup. We made a few switchbacks around rocky slabs and downed trees, but he scrambled up like a hero with me hanging onto his mane. Harley received lots a pats and "Good Boy" huzzahs from me. John was impressed with his finesse too--my grand boy! Here's to off-track Thoroughbreds becoming trail horses!

While bashing through the woods, getting thwacked across the neck, scratched and bloodied by branches, I stopped to take a picture of what I believe is Chicken of the Woods mushroom. Colleen over at Bay State Brumby and her husband Brandon will have to confirm this for me! It sure looked fresh and ready to eat!
But I don't think it would have fared well stuffed in my saddle bag crashing through the puckerbrush.

Here's a little movie of Harley, walking in the woods:

Some of our best riding weather is right now, so I hope to get in a few more great rides like these in between fixing up "This Old House".

Monday, September 1, 2014

Laboring on Labor Day

I missed out on some gorgeous days for riding, but work on the house came first. Once the sweltering summer weather returned, I had no urge to take Harley out anyway. So I spent the better part of two afternoons scraping off old wallpaper and glue. Let me tell you, the water/vinegar recipe worked like a charm! This is the easy part; next comes plastering and patching. These old walls certainly show their age, and I think the original plasterer decided to not bother with a final smooth coat since it was going to be papered.

And then there's the horrible salmon pink paint I'm trying to scrape off as well. The previous owner had no sense of color palettes--this was formerly known as "the rose room" due to the pink painted paper (see lower right corner) and the salmon trim, with a gray floor. UGH! So this is the final room to finish.

With plaster dust stuck to my skin, sweat dripping down my glasses, and gooey pieces of paper all over the floor, I finally called it a day when I ran out of vinegar!

Harley and the girls spent Monday mid-day under cool fans in the barn. This gave them all a respite from the biting flies and the brutal heat. I think next year I will try the bug-shield leggings for them and see if it reduces the constant stamping. That in turn, will reduce summer weight loss as well!

Last week, I got in an early morning solo ride before it got too warm. We avoided the worst of the deer flies and surprised a herd of deer at the edge of a logged clearing. For some reason, Harley is not spooked by deer, but seems to want to follow them. We circumnavigated the herd and came across a lone deer, staying back to take a look at us. You can just make out the ears above the upper twig across the screen.

Here's 'ole Mr. Knobby Knees back home, having a nice bit of clover!

The week before, I met up with my father over at the Barrington Truck Meet when he had his rebuilt Mack in the lineup. He's trying to sell it--any interested parties out there? Looks like it could haul a big load of shavings or hay!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

We gotta get out of this place....

The search continues for our own mini-farm, but given that our corner of Maine is considered part of the greater metro-Boston commuter area, the pricing is not in our favor. Property taxes in New Hampshire exceed the combined property and income tax rate in Maine, leaving me with even fewer properties to consider. Since rural New Hampshire towns have little business to spread out the tax burden, the local governments gouge property owners. We currently have the horses at a great location, near lots of trails and conservation land, but it would be so much easier, and pleasing, to have them at our own place. Our hunt continues while I try to maintain optimism.

I'd love to find something close to our hay suppliers--poor John had to drive a hay wagon from the farm to our barn--a white-knuckling trip with south-bound summer tourists trying to pass the entire way. Cool as a cucumber, but visibly spent by the end of the drive, I'm pretty darn lucky he was willing to make the trip! Then we had to muscle down the hay conveyer from up in the loft. 153 bales later, in the dark, with the dew beginning to fall, we left the barn at 9:15 p.m. Exhausted after Saturday's load (76 bales) and the night's workout, we headed home knowing we had to return by 5:30 the next morning to drive the hay wagon back, and make it to work by 8:30 a.m. But having a barn full of hay is like having your wood split and stacked for the winter. The old saying "wood warms you thrice: cut it, stack it, then burn it" holds a similar truth, only it warms you and your horses! Another load with the same amount and we'll all be set for winter.

Rolex Girl, the diva, getting ready for a ride.

On the brighter side, we've had a week of wonderful riding weather. Cool temperatures have kept the bugs at bay, allowing pleasant rides even in the woods! Nippy mornings sent me scurrying for a sweatshirt when I first stepped outside. The horses are loving it--less stamping and swishing. As an aside, has anyone tried using the leg wraps for insects? Would love some feedback on successes and failures.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

It's too darn hot

The dog days of summer seem to have arrived bringing tropical weather and stormy skies. Harley and the girls stomp and swish away the flies, dropping weight in the process. Thunderstorms stalk us, leaving little room for riding. But the urge to throw a leg over Harley and ride off into the steamy woods, hounded by deer flies holds little appeal. This is the time of year when I can't wait for September.

Last week, before the monsoon season hit, we went for a very brief, fast morning ride. In an attempt to stay ahead of the bugs, we trotted and cantered wherever footing allowed. Harley pushed into a higher gear, not quite a gallop, in his zeal to stay caught up with Rolex.

When they get into "racing mode" in the woods, things can get dicey, especially when we're headed home. A couple of hemlock branches skimmed my helmet as Harley surged forward, reminding me why a lacrosse helmet might be a better choice for trail riding!

Rolex, feeling full of herself, decided to throw in a couple of little bucks. Poor John, riding Rolex in a halter with perlon (climbing rope) reins, said the rope just slid through his hands. I think it might be time to get his Dr.Cook's bridle repaired! It's bad enough to have no brakes in the bitless bridle, but even worse with a halter and rope burns!

I think Harley and Rolex had a good time--a chance to stretch their legs and escape the monotony of fighting off biting flies. But once we bathed the horses, the horse flies descended like Apache helicopters, closing in on their targets. And boy, are those guys resilient! They need a stunning smack followed by a crushing boot heel! It seems they appear out of nowhere as soon as the hose starts to run. After their baths, the horses enjoyed a good nosh on some exceptionally tender clover, followed by a snooze in the cool, dark of their stalls with blowing fans. Ahhh----now that feels good!

Harley sneaks in some bites from a fresh hay bale
We're on the hunt for some alfalfa or alfalfa blend hay. John is trying to wean them off feed and keep the horses on a forage diet, supplemented by a balancer, rice bran, flax seed, and beet pulp. They seem to be doing well on this plan. The hardest part is finding really, really good hay. We have a couple of leads and hopefully, we can track down a steady supplier.

I read a number of blogs, and follow a number of OTTB groups. Many of my fellow bloggers are recreational horse people like myself. Some are much more intense in their desire to compete, and to attain a certain level. And though I may have mental images of riding Harley in a show (someday), chances are slim that we'll ever enter a show ring. I know I don't work hard enough in that direction--either with myself or Harley--but I'm having so much fun with him, it really doesn't matter. I accept his shortcomings as I hope he accepts mine, although I try to improve my horsemanship each time I ride.

I recently read a piece on the Retired Racehorse Project website about a woman and her OTTB Schmoopy. She's happy at the level she's reached with her horse, and happy just to have him in her life. Her love for her horse shines through in the self-deprecating descriptions of her riding, his shortcomings, and his shining strengths. Kudos to Malinda Lawrence!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Suddenly Summer

Today was my first time back in the saddle after our first dreadful heat wave of the summer. As our farrier said yesterday, "The only reason to like summer is fresh hay." I have to agree with him, oh and maybe the long daylight hours as well. Of course, that only means we have dinner after 9 p.m. most days!

Why the long absence, you ask? Well aside from the 80 to 90 degree days with horrible humidity and thunderstorms, I threw my back out trying to play plumber and appliance mechanic. I think I finally got the kitchen sink fixed--it had been leaking terribly for months--but the hot water pressure doesn't seem right. Hmm...Then the washing machine croaked. And you all know how many sweat-soaked saddle pads you go through in a week! I watched a YouTube video, took it apart, found the broken culprit and went to my local appliance store only to be sold the "new model" which the parts man said would work. Hah! So aftera morning scrambling under the kitchen sink, an afternoon wrestling with the washer, two trips to the appliance store,my back was toast. I couldn't ride Sunday, and I was sent home from work on Monday. What a wreck!

Saturday morning was spent with the farrier. And I just have to say, Harley was a good boy for St. Butch, better than Rolex! Then we zipped off to look at two properties, only to see both had barns with broken sills that needed A LOT of work. We'll keep an eye out and maybe make an offer on one, taking into account the barn needs to be torn down and rebuilt. So the afternoon of a glorious day was shot. We still needed to go to the feed store and by now it was after five. Day is done, gone the sun--we didn't get home until after 9 p.m. again.

So today, I vowed to ride my 'ole Gnarley Harley! Thankfully, all we received from Hurricane Arthur was a lot of strong winds which cleared out the nasty humidity. The wind still blew like crazy, gusting up the hill and through the trees.   This was a good thing; I hoped it would keep the biting flies at bay. The deer flies arrived with the hot weather so now a ride in the woulds requires a whisk and lots of bug spray.  As expected, he pranced down the street, jumping at thrashing branches, and trying to chicken out on me at the turkey place. "Oh no, you get up there, Mr. Spookypants!" We only did a short ride up towards Big Bump and down the power line since the deer flies were so bad.

 Mr. Spookypants safe at home in the clover patch

So we did a bit of ring work, something I'm so bad at disciplining myself to do. But we made use of some telephone poles Pete had pulled from the deep grass. First, Harley spooked at them--they weren't there before--then realized they were harmless. Since the poles were too close together to jump, but we played "trail class" and I made him walk in a serpentine through them, turn on the forehand, and back up a bit in a line as well. Maybe I can add some other obstacles for fun. I may move one of the poles for a jump! 

Harley has a nice nosh on some clover after a post-ride bath while I scrubbed buckets, cleaned stalls, and put away gear.

Then I had to go attend to our poor Ruffy girl, badly lame on one front leg. I think she hurt herself galloping around in the field yesterday. After being cooped up in the rain, everyone was "hot to trot" and ready for some action! Since they were bred to run, that's what they do best, but our fast girl must have whacked herself or strained something. I hosed her leg and gave her a dose of applesauce and bute. She's on stall rest with lots of hay and a cool fan blowing on her--poor Miss Ruff, she's our accident prone gal that needs a bubble wrap suit!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Happy Solstice!

Happy solstice to my fellow bloggers. Aren't the long evenings just wonderful? We didn't leave the barn until after 8:00 last night, and the skyline treated us to a lovely sunset. These are the nights we crave long about February when the winds howl and snow piles up to our ears!

We had a fun time messing around with the horses Saturday evening. I think Harley's personality is revealing itself more each year. With his herd of girls, and a relaxed lifestyle, I think he's happy; happy to not be at the track any longer, happy to not be school horse, pounding around a ring, and happy to have room to run--when he's in the mood. Here he is, stealing John's baseball cap. "What, no carrots in your pocket? Well here's the next best thing. Gimme that!"

"Ha, that was fun, maybe I'll do it again! What do you think, Ruffy? Want to try?"

Today I took Harley on a solo ride. Everything was going well, aside from the occasional start at a squirrel, until we reached the road to North Point. I'm not sure if he was scared of the non-visible barking dog, or the woman working in the yard. But whatever it was, he pulled his head up like a giraffe and would not budge except in reverse! Then a large horse trailer and pickup appeared. The driver saw my dancing horse and slowed down, giving me time to get Harley out of the road. I jumped off and waved her on--I didn't want to hold her up. She asked me, "Do you board here?" I told her, "No, he's just scared of something up there and wants to go home."

After a number of hard stares, Mr. Spookypants found the gumption to follow me down the road, past all the scary stuff until I could find a stump for a mounting block. We had a lovely rest of the ride with some nice trotting, a little cantering, and a wee jump. Oh, and he missed the deer off to his left--silly guy! Here's a short video clip

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Crazy busy days

Summer is upon us with long daylight hours but still not enough for all I need to get done. As we struggle to find a property with enough land for our horses, I'm trying to finish painting the remaining bedroom and go through years of accumulated junk! It seems every place we look at needs a ton of work, or overpriced. I don't need anything fancy, but I would like to have a barn that's not on stilts (rotted posts, rock piles--we've seen it all) and a house that's not crumbling! We're trying to do everything on a budget to save up, but as everyone knows, the rising costs of food, fuel, etc. is turning me into quite the penny pincher!

The horses need to help save too, so I copied someone's idea (sorry, can't remember where I saw this) of using trash barrels as hay feeders. Less gets wasted on the ground and it remains dry--a win-win for us and the horses. We need to perfect the lid ensembles, but the wheelie bins (love the British term) allow multiple feeding stations and seem a lot safer than many other feeder products on the market, most using metal, are tippy and trappy--potential disasters with horses. The horses were a bit wary at first--big black obstacles along the fence line, but they quickly figured out the system, although Rolex prefers the lids off so she can submerge her head in the hay! As you can see, some dribbles out onto the ground, but overall, these are working quite well. Oh, and wheelie bins are MUCH cheaper than feeders!

Harley has been his predictable self--a star when he gets worked consistently, and spooky when he goes too long without solo rides. But I know what to expect at this point in our journey together. But he did catch me off guard last week. We scrambled up the power line trail and just as we crested the slope, a HUGE red-tailed hawk flew up out of the tree overhead. I was leaning forward to get under a branch and off his back on the slope--a notoriously precarious position for me! The bird started both of us, but he whirled left and I went over his shoulder, yet again. Thankfully it was a soft landing. Back in the saddle, he jigged and pranced along, expecting giant raptors and dinosaurs to jump out around every corner! Self-preservation is Harley's top priority. If he were a mustang, he would be a survivor--flee from all predators, preferably at speed! Riding at dusk always proves interesting.

Sunday's ride was lovely--early enough to beat the worst of the bugs and pretty dappled sunlight through the trees. Riding past the Littlefield burying ground, we spotted a flag by a headstone, possibly marking a soldier from a past war.

We encountered one lone turkey hen, bustling through the woods, and a group of hikers. Not too many people out on Father's Day. I'd like to have taken my Dad out for brunch some place, then puttered around with him on our potential farm--maybe next year, if we find a place. Just as we rode past the house with domestic turkeys and chickens galore, a horse and rider approached from up the road. I saw her before Harley! He stopped dead, head up like a giraffe. "Who's this? Do I know that horse?" I chatted with the rider, swapped trail tales, and we headed off in opposite directions, Harley cranking his head around to watch her ride away.

Back home, Harley was welcomed home by the girls. With a lot of sniffing, swapping stories via their noses, Rolex and Ruffy checked out Harley, probably smelling the other horse he'd encountered. I'd love to know what they are "saying" to each other.

Our resident baby phoebes appear to be outgrowing their little nest in the barn. While the parents were out hunting, I stepped up to take a picture of them! One day they're just little featherless blobs, and suddenly they're nearly the size of their parents. I'll welcome a few more bug-eaters to the barn!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

A grand week off

Even though April set a record for warmth, I have not felt very warm this spring.  The dwindling wood pile keeps shrinking since I've kept the wood stove going at night to take the chill off. The house never seems to warm up to the outside temperature. Just a couple of weeks ago, out by the wood pile, the snow fleas, aka springtails, put in an appearance. A coating, almost like a blanket of soot, covered part of the tarp, as they hopped harmlessly on the plastic. I know some people may be horrified by this, but I've never seen them inside, only on snow and puddles in late winter/early spring. Don't worry, they don't bite! I'm not complaining--I like a long, cool spring! No need to rush into summer. Let's savor the warm days, the few annoying early black flies, and the lovely spring wildflowers.

This time of year, I need to keep hopping off Harley so I can photograph flowers. Poor John gets stuck playing "groom", holding my horse while I crouch on the ground, trying to zoom in on the magnificent wonder of the wildflowers.

I took a week and a half off from work with every intention of getting a lot of work done on the house. But I found it hard to stay focused on indoor painting when the weather for riding was absolutely perfect. John and I rode through the woods around Orris Falls where I photographed a number of spring flowers. Another lovely reason to be outside--the warblers are singing from every tree. And try as I might, I could only hear, and never saw, the scarlet tanager calling, "chick burr, chick burr" high in the leafy canopy.

The trail pictured to the right is one of my favorites. The footing is perfect and I've never seen a soul out there--only snowshoe tracks once! In fact, it gets so little traffic, it hardly looks used!

This was one of those cool 50 degree days when a flannel shirt is still required, but it's warm enough for the black flies to be a problem, hence Harley's head gear!

And the view from the other direction: a handsome guy on a classy looking Thoroughbred. Our horses' head nets seems to always be askew!

Spring fever has everyone feeling a bit rowdy. Even steady Rolex has exhibited some spookiness, something I just expect with 'ole Harley. "What's that in the woods? Oh no, a stump!"

Some spring beauties: Wild columbine--hummingbirds love this flower. I've put some in my garden and it spreads nicely! (Note: I purchased the plant; I never dig up wild plants.)

Another fragile, easily missed flower: Dwarf Ginseng

And in a nice wet, boggy spot: an island of Jack-in-the-Pulpit and Violets.

Time spent in the saddle and time spent out--it's all good. Just ambling through the woods, enjoying the sights. A broad-winged hawk flew overhead and we spotted a porcupine squatting in the crotch of a tree, having a siesta. I don't think the horses even noticed the spiny lump! John stopped for a little tack adjustment and it looks like Rolex is learning to ground tie. She's such a smart girl!

Back at the barn, our resident gray tree frog was singing in the sun, until I sneaked in for close-up shot. It's amazing how he blends right in with the bark. I followed his noise to track him down.

As the week progressed, wet weather closed in, forcing me to work on my indoor painting chores, and John had a couple of kayaks in the repair shop. The first S.M.A.R.T. ride was coming up on Sunday, but first I needed Harley's new Easyboot Backcountry Glove shoes to arrive. So we diligently did our chores, watched for UPS, and kept an eye on the sky, waiting to see what the weather would be for the ride.

Sunday dawned foggy and drizzly. I went out early to feed but by the time I arrived back home, we decided to skip the ride. By mid-afternoon when I finished my painting, the sun started to break through. Although it was a little late for our own version of the ride, we had hours of daylight still ahead. So we tacked up Harley (complete with new boots) and Rolex and rode the still-marked beginning of the S.M.A.R.T. trail ride. This entailed riding down the paved roads a ways, and over two bridges. Harley was amazing! I expected to be leading my balking boy over the bridges. He was leading the way--my brave boy!

We explored some unknown terrain through some mucky bogs (the Easyboots stayed on--they get a thumbs up for deep mud) and eventually came out on a recognized trail. In fact, the horses knew which way to head home, although they kept trying to take the direct route which involves deep water and bushwhacking! After all the rain, the mosquitoes were plentiful, and thirsty. Our horses sweated off the bug dope, so we needed fly swatters to sweep them off their necks and backsides. I subjected everyone to a quick stop while I photographed a patch of gaywings--such lovely flowers, I couldn't miss the chance. They hold a special memory for me from a childhood book "Signs of the Fairies" where this flower is a "fairy airplane".

After a solid three hour ride, both horses and riders were ready for some dinner. Our ponies got extra mash tonight. Harley got an extra peck on the nose for being such a magnificent leader! Back to work on Tuesday. Oh to be able to just ride all summer long!