Monday, January 27, 2014

Re-thinking riding in a polar vortex, or, old man winter returns

Planning a trip to the barn this time of year is a little like winter camping. Do I have the essentials to spend the day at the barn? Spare socks, spare pair mittens (or two), spare sweater, down parka, multiple layering options, toe warmers, spare hat, and some hot tea? Oh, and don't forget carrots, kept in an insulated bag so they don't freeze!

The weather seems to be moving up and down like a pogo stick. All the news about the polar vortex has sent people scurrying inside, hunkering down out of the bitter weather. I'm never one to complain about the cold, but Sunday's teen temps and 30 mile per hour winds kept me grounded. Yes, I could have saddled up Harley, but the blowing snow devils would have sent him spinning, no doubt. Plus, I hated the thought of having to cool out a sweaty horse with the cold temperatures. He's never one to stay patiently in the barn, chillin' when his buddies are outside.

When we turned our horses out Sunday morning, they didn't even stick around at the hilltop for their grain. All of them dashed down to the far corner of the field to dodge the gusts. And I didn't blame them one iota. Each trip with the wheelbarrow was a slog against the wind. I felt like the abominable snowman; and judging by the picture, I looked like one too!

I delivered some alfalfa-mix hay down on the sled and tried to disperse it into piles out of the wind. The horses spent most of the day hunkered in the sunny corner by the treeline, soaking up sun and munching on this delectable hay.

After I finished mucking the stalls, I doled out a bit of grain in hopes of getting the gang to come up and have a drink. I worry about them staying hydrated in this kind of weather. The heated tank is at the top of the hill, smack in the wind, but my ploy worked. Our three ate grain for a bit and took turns having a nice glug at the tank before heading back down the hill leaving Vance to clean up their leavings.

By this point, I'd decided to skip riding and go cross-country skiing instead. At least I would be warm, especially once I went into the woods. But first, I skied across the adjacent pasture to go visit the horses. Harley, Rolex, and Ruffy watched me gliding towards them, then wheeled and ran along the fence line while Vance ignored me entirely and kept grazing.  Once I came to a stop, our three had to come investigate. 

I glided down the hill, plowed through some drifts, clambered over the fence, and hiked down the road to Orris Falls. Heavy foot traffic and other skiers made for fast conditions--lovely! Then I came upon a one-eyed snowman which will surely give Harley a big fright sometime later this week.

This guy is about 6 feet tall, as of Sunday--still, if he melts even a foot, he will surely scare the bejeezus out of Harley, Ruffy, and maybe even give brave Rolex a start. Hang on, everyone!

Here I am on Friday, delivering hay on the sled, aka the hay luge, that you need to steer by leaning. Needless to say, I leaned too far and veered off in the wrong direction. By winter's end, we will have perfected luge steering.

And when the sun is shining, and the wind dies down, there's a nice spot under the trees. The gang seems to prefer pawing for tidbits of grass to eating hay.  Don't worry guys, spring will come bringing tender green grass.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Where has winter gone?

Ruffy in the fog
We're experiencing the annual January thaw, something I would happily skip. After all the rain and refreezing, the top of one pasture is a lumpy skating rink--totally unusable due to the danger factor. I've gone through 4 five-gallon buckets of sand just trying to keep the walk between the pasture and the barn ice-free. I'd rather deal with frigid weather over all the ice.

Snow-eating fog rolled in with the warm temperatures reducing our snow cover and leaving bare patches on sunny southern slopes. I guess the merits of moderate temperatures would include not needing gloves or a balaclava under my helmet, and not having to ride in the Michelin Woman outfit: the Carhartt overalls! It's always nice to not have numb fingers and toes.

Harley and Rolex peering in the fog
I took Harley for a short adventure yesterday, all on his lonesome. We almost got in a five-star ride. No problem going down the road, but he tried to cut out on me and take his route towards home. Oh no, Buster--we're going my way! But since he had not been ridden in a week, I cut him some slack, just didn't let him choose our route. We did a reverse ride up to Orris Falls where the chasm is roaring. I didn't try to ride past the falls, fearing the trail would be icy under the hemlocks from all the snowshoe and foot traffic. Our off-the-beaten path loop is always much more interesting than the main drag. Harley behaved enough for me to ride for a bit without stirrups; something I need to do more frequently, but avoid when he's feeling "up".

And then he shocked me. A delivery of grain sat on a pallet in the barn aisle. Who was the only horse, including the 25-year old Standardbred, to walk past without snorting or staring? Mr. Halawa Moon--my best brave boy!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The weather outside is lovely!

My favorite view is looking down the trail between Halawa Moon's ears. Today's temperatures were perfect for riding--not too cold, somewhere in the thirties and best of all, no wind. We have rain headed our way, so today was a must for getting out on the trails.

I spent the entire morning cleaning all the stalls, filling the water tanks, stuffing hay nets, and shoveling back some of the snow banks. I debated going home to grab some lunch, but didn't want to lose the sunniest part of the day. So I skipped lunch and rounded up Harley for a little adventure.

Which way to go is always my dilemma, so I let Harley pick. First he tried to just stand by the fence and look for his girls. Oh no, my boy--we're going solo today. So off to the right we went, headed for Orris Falls.

Harley walked right down the road with no spins or stops. Maybe he is finally used to the turkeys and I was using my seat and legs enough to urge him forward. Although riding in Carhartt overalls and insulated muck boots, I feel a bit doughboy-ish without much feel.

Three cars took up most of the parking lot at the trail head, so we had to squeak between two of them. Harley looked askance at both cars, ears swiveling, but he walked past with no hesitation. He got a big pat and "Good boy", for reaching this far without any games. We soon encountered a pair of snowshoers. Harley stopped and had a good look, but kept moving forward after they passed.  About ten minutes later, another group of snowshoers passed us and Harley walked on past them like a good boy. But he did stop when he saw a dog bounding through the snow up the trail.

We veered off onto our favorite side trail where we got in some nice trots and a little canter up the hill. Only one pair of snowshoe tracks, one set of dog, and lots of deer tracks. We didn't see anyone on this trail, a much more enjoyable experience. The quiet and solitude of the winter woods was so peaceful compared to the "super highway" of snowshoers down below. In protected pockets, the snow still remained on the trees, dumping a few times down my backside. Carhartts are not waterproof!

When the side trail reconnected with the trail to Big Bump, Harley opted to go left (more direct route home) which was fine with me. I doubted we'd see anyone out on the power line trail. Unbroken snow slowed Harley down as he waded though drifts in a couple of spots. When we came out on Thurrell Road, he stopped and stared at the girls, then power-walked home. I jumped off so he would cool off a little quicker--not that he was very hot, but he's so fuzzy, it takes a while to dry out!

I turned him out where he posed for me as King of the Hill and Wannabe Stud of the place.

King of the Hill

Big Boss Man--he just couldn't see Vance down below, behind the shelter!

Yesterday, while I was at work, John took Rolex out for her second driving experience. Last year, he had her pulling the hay sled while mounted on her back. But this time, he drove her from behind while Rolex pulled our friends Hank and Lili around the property and down the street. 

(Photos courtesy of Hank and Lili)
One horse open sleigh!

Off into the sunset

Friday, January 3, 2014

You know it's truly cold when...

1. There's frost on the double-paned insulated windows.
2. You don't want to move more than 5 feet from the wood stove and a cold layer hovers about 8 inches deep over the downstairs floor.
3. The only way your feet can stay warm is to encase them in down booties.
4. The cardinals are puffed up to the size of blue jays.
5. It sounds like you're hucking golf balls when you pick manure from the stalls.
6. You can't see your horse's head because he's wreathed in a vapor from his steaming bucket of mash and warm breath.
7. A thin sheet of ice edges the outer rim of the water tank, despite the submersed heater.
8. The barn faucet steams when you turn on the water (kept unfrozen by a heater coil). 
9. You need to warm up your hands by plunging them down the neck of your horse's blanket.
10. A hammer is needed at the barn--for relentless banging frozen water buckets.

And then you think about all those horsemen and women who flock to the south and then pat yourself on the back for sticking out another Maine winter. Heck, there's no skijoring in Georgia!

I couldn't get out of work fast enough on Thursday as the snowstorm developed into a blizzard by late afternoon. The bank's thermometer in downtown Rochester read 2 Fahrenheit. By 4:30, I was on the road, 4-wheeling through whiteout conditions, trying to get to the barn as swiftly and safely as possible. The snow covered side roads kept my speed down, especially when I encountered drifts reaching to the median. Swirling snow snaked across the roads in wispy tendrils, appearing almost like liquid. As I chugged up Thurrell Rd., I peered into the dim light, trying to make out the horses--were they in the shelter or hunkered along the fence by the trees?  I trotted into the barn, grabbed halters and began to whistle and call them up. Our three finally appeared over the rise, followed by Vance. Their manes and ears were covered in snow, but their blankets had kept them all warm and dry.

When I got up today, the thermometer had bounced back from negative numbers to 2 Fahrenheit. Brrr...I figured I'd let the ponies stay in a bit and eat their hay. By 8:30, though no warmer, we needed to let them out to burn off steam. Rolex, as usual, couldn't wait to kick up her heels, with Harley right behind her.

And then, the requisite snow bath! I think Harley would have preferred his bath sans blanket. Yesterday is the first time they've used them all winter. But with the snow, wind, and extreme temperatures, I wanted them to have the protection.

I warmed up mucking stalls, but really wasn't inclined to saddle up and ride. I figured the weather was more conducive to cross-country skiing. We talked about riding and skijoring, although I didn't want Harley to get all hot and sweaty late in the afternoon since the temperature was purported to head back down below zero tonight.

By the time we bought grain and beet pulp, started dinner in the slow cooker, finished plowing and shoveling out the house, it was 3 p.m. Just enough time to get in a late afternoon ski down the pasture to see the horses, and then partway into Orris Falls.

I pondered what wax to use from my plethora of choices. Hmm--how about Special Green, good for 5 to 14 degrees with a little Green added to the kicker zone.

Waxed up and waiting to go! Our daylight was fast fading.

John wanted to ski down and see the horses. We could only get so close before they would bolt away. I didn't want them coming in close anyway. Knowing Rolex, she'd walk all over the skis, looking for carrots!

We continued down into the lower field, busting through drifts, and then out the lower gate and along the road until we had to take off the skis and walk to the Orris Falls trail head.

By now, we really had limited light, but the snowy woods remained bright enough to snap off a few more photos.

 The horses watched us approach, wondering what was on our feet.

 Here I am, happy to be on my skis, even if I'm not behind my horse!

And there goes John, off into the winter wonderland.

As I sit by the fire, my feet once again in my down booties, I hope the ponies will be o.k. as the thermometer hovers around -13 below zero tonight. This brutal cold makes me worry and, believe me, I've thought about camping out in my winter bag, up in the hayloft, to be sure all is well.