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!