Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Where is winter?

With no snow in sight, and 50 degree days, the riding remains awesome for December. After last year's winter, this reprieve is much appreciated, but how long will it last? Are ice storms waiting to descend on us in the following weeks? The horses are still finding grass to nibble on and that has reduced the amount of hay they usually consume this time of year in the pasture. I only refill the hay wheelie bins once they are depleted, and that seems to be no more than every 2 to 3 days!

We spent most of Saturday putting up our new shelter canopy after the old one wore out. Thankfully, it was covered under Shelter Logic's warranty, but we decided to upgrade to heavier fabric this time around. Before the sun went down, we got in a little ride with Rolex and Harley. It seems I've been too busy doing maintenance to get in much riding and I forget how quickly darkness descends after 4 o'clock!

Ruffy had a long lining lesson with John last weekend. Although she hasn't been exercised much over the last few months, she did quite well--only a few little hissy fits. John has hopes of tracking down a harness that will fit our girl so her driving training can continue. Of course, we'll need to find some kind of conveyance as well, but we haven't reached that step yet. Stay tuned for more on driving adventures!

I am attempting to continue No-Stirrup November with each ride whenever possible. Other riders posted this as a goal, and they inspired me to do the same--an achievable goal, providing Harley's of the right frame of mind!

Friday, November 27, 2015

No-Stirrup November

I saw a blurb about a fundraiser for Lope Texas challenging riders to ride without stirrups and raise money through sponsors. I decided to sign on and see how much I could accomplish in one month. Since I don't really have any horsey friends at work to back me,  I'm on my own. Without an indoor arena, or even a fenced ring, and a mount who can be a bit "fiery" with the blustery fall weather, my No-Stirrup November has been a bit sporadic. I'm forced to pick and choose where along the trail might be a good spot to drop the stirrups--not some place Harley usually spooks. And I need to assess how he's behaving on any given day--would I be courting a disastrous flying dismount? If I'm going solo, I tend to err on the side of caution. Without his trail buddy Rolex alongside, bravery flies out the window. One day, he paced sideways, back and forth in the crossties, whinnying for Rolex. I thought, "Boy, this is going to be some ride--maybe I shouldn't even try." But I didn't chicken out. We rode behind the barn in the flat area, trotting and circling, working on transitions, while the wind swirled leaves in the air. I decided he was settled enough to hit the trails. And surprise, surprise--Harley was great! I even dropped my stirrups a few times as we walked and jogged along. And you know--my position felt better without stirrups!

I've got only a few days left now to complete my No-Stirrup November. It has boosted my confidence as well as helped my seat and position. So now I just need to make a point of doing it more often, maybe a little on each ride. A little niggling voice has always told me that I needed to get the gumption up to drop my irons. I guess the Lope Texas challenge finally forced me to drop the irons

But can I just make one teeny tiny request? Maybe next year they can do "Sans-Stirrup September" when we still have long days and warmer weather?

So Lope Texas, you will be receiving a donation from me for the time I spent turning my legs to jelly aboard my handsome OTTB Halawa Moon. 

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Another Saturday afternoon at the rescue

4:30 pm on a Saturday afternoon; I'm glued to Facebook watching updates pop up saying which horse still needs rescue funds. I feel like I'm participating in an E-Bay equine auction, only I'm watching the amount drop--the dollars still needed to bail a horse out of the kill pen. With only so much to spare, I try to weigh where my paltry amount will do the most good. Which horse(s) are in the direst position---just an hour or so away from getting on a truck headed to a slaughter plant in Canada or Mexico.

Photo by Sarah Goocey Photography with Copper Horse Crusade

The horse named Josie--the owner of that tagged halter in the pile pictures--was one of the lucky ones. She was rescued from slaughter by Julie Copper of Copper Horse Crusade. But this haunting photo brings to mind the piles of shoes and other belongings piled outside the gas chambers at the concentration camps. Let's face it--that's exactly the same thing our horses are facing. Halter removed, bolt to the head, and that's that, execution is done. Only the first strike doesn't always work; sometimes it takes three or four before the horse is dead. No, it's not humane and that's part of the ongoing battle.

First, we need to pass the SAFE Act (Safeguard American Food Exports). Our horses were not bred with the intent to be sold as meat. They are given wormers, anti-inflammatory medications, steroids, hormones, all kinds of pharmaceuticals not safe for people to consume. So why is it we are still shipping horses to Canada and Mexico, who in turn, sell the meat across Europe and Asia? What is so hard to understand the fact that their meat is UNSAFE?

Every week, numerous rescue groups spend their weekend photographing, posting and sharing horses from auctions and kill pens around the country in a desperate attempt to save as many as possible. With three hungry mouths of my own to feed, and a tight economy, I try to do my bit when I can, whether it's sharing the info across the web, or giving what I can to save some poor soul from slaughter. I can't sit by and let this happen. As I write, one horse remains at Moore's Equines for Rescue, a lone john mule. His partner, the molly mule is safe. The people that buy from Moore's (he's the kill buyer) do a phenomenal job, but it's hard work with a lot of desperation and emotion. I suspect the kill buyer is making a profit off of those like me who can't sit by. jacking up the price he would get by the pound. Sounds sleazy, but what else can be done--he gets his cut, the horses get their lives. The horses win in the end, and that's what matters.

So it's another night at the auction page.  As of 5:59 all 29 horses and mules with a 6:00 deadline are safe. I'll sleep tonight without being haunted by the face of one last mule, boarding the wrong truck.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Out on a breakfast ride

John and Rolex lead the way.

If you've never packed breakfast and headed out on your horse, you're missing some fun! We had breakfast rides at my summer camp. A counselor roused you from your bunk, told you what horse to go collect from the pasture. We saddled up and rode off to a destination where breakfast awaited, usually consisting or orange juice, cold cereal, and the trail rider's favorite--Pop-Tarts.

We didn't get started as early as we planned. The sun already cleared the power line, well beyond just cresting the slope! The day was shaping up to be another steamy one--so we skipped bringing along the thermos of coffee, just Pop-Tarts for us, and carrots for our trusty steeds. Our destination, depending on how the ride went, was someplace where the horses could graze while we munched our Pop-Tarts. Unlike my camp trips, where we tied the horses to trees, our OTTBs have not had said training--yet another skill they need to learn, right up there with ground tying.

Being Thoroughbreds, ready to go and on the alert, the horses tuned into any sounds emitted from the brush. One never knows when a killer turkey, squirrel, or deer may pounce on an unsuspecting horse! While holding onto the horses, we munched on our Pop-Tarts, wishing we had some coffee to wash down the dry, pasty breakfast.

An aside: yes, that's an impact vest I'm wearing. We have decided we don't bounce back so well any more. So like helmets, it's now part of our riding attire. I must admit to not liking how hot it seems, plus I feel like I'm strapped into a corset or bustier!. Hopefully, I won't need it, but it will be there should I take another spill. And let's face it, riding horses, especially hot-blooded ones, will eventually lead to another fall. I challenge anyone to say otherwise!

The horses, hearing the crinkling of Pop-Tart wrappers, assumed we had brought along tasty treats, such as sweet carrots! Our noisy wrappers caught their attention. They averted their eyes from scanning the woods for "monsters" and stuck their noses were into our breakfast. "What, no carrots, ma?"

"Not to worry, my beauties." I had carrots in the saddlebags. And honestly, they were more appealing than the Pop-Tarts. I guess it's a taste that will always take me back to a time and place--the Vermont hills and summer camp. But I think I'll adapt to a more nutritious and flavorful meal on our next breakfast ride. And, I'll bring coffee! And maybe our steeds will stand for hobbles or tying--as long as no demons lurk in the underbrush.
Part of being a horseman or horsewoman is to never stop learning and to maintain the ongoing schooling for both horse and rider. There's always another skill to master; another technique to try. Our horses are used to the hustle and bustle of the track, so large trucks don't scare them, but a deer bounding through the woods, a turkey trotting over the trail...that's scary stuff! But with time and exposure, they get better and better. Maybe by my next breakfast ride, Harley will ground tie for me---providing no monsters appear!

Rolex says, "Good carrots, ma!"

Monday, September 7, 2015

Good karma

It all started when I spent a couple of lunch breaks trying to force myself to watch a video produced by the Canadian Horse Defence Coaltition. Non-horse people have no idea how many horses are sent to slaughter every year. And even though no horse slaughter plants operate in the United States, it doesn't stop the horrific transportation of horses across both borders to an awful end at a slaughter house. I have to admit to not being able to watch parts of the video and had to fast forward, but I'm not the one who needed to see it. I already know the staggering numbers slaughtered. It's the people cheering at the track, the parents sending their kids to a camp that sends it horses to auction at season's end, the traveler seeing mustangs in a holding pen out west, and yes, even the shopper, unknowingly buying meat possibly tainted with horse meat not fit for human consumption.

Horses in the United States are wormed with medicine that specifically states, "Not for horses intended for human consumption". And then there are the other medications, especially in performance and sport horses as well as backyard pets. So tell me, how do Canada and Mexico get away with sending this "tainted" meat overseas? Through deception? Ignorance? Falsifying documents? Probably all of these.

The video plagued me--I couldn't stop thinking about it. I had to hug my horses and murmur, "You are so lucky.." into their necks. Coming off the racetrack, they were fortunate Suffolk Downs had a "no slaughter" policy meaning the race horses could not be sold to a kill buyer when they were done racing. But that's not true for all tracks.  A public outcry just forced Louisiana's Evangeline Downs to revisit its policy. The sheer numbers of horses bred to run is staggering. And some should never be bred at all. Seeing a picture of a mare in foal, who gave birth in the kill pen, brought to mind the concentration camps. Now some may see that as a stretch, but think about it; a mare having her foal in a filthy, overcrowded environment, that will inevitably be sent along with her to slaughter. How can someone be so callous as to toss her into such a horrific place, knowing what she will face? God help the person with so little compassion for their fellow creatures.

But on the bright side, a number of outstanding people work tirelessly to rescue horses from kill buyers and from auctions where kill buyers fill up their trailers for non-stop treks to the borders. I don't know how these people do it, but each week they attend auctions and visit kill buyers, looking for candidates, asking for donations, flipping lips on end-of-the-line racehorses, and networking like mad. It must be exhausting, and depressing, knowing they cannot save them all.

So this Saturday, as my horses were basking under cool fans, munching on alfalfa hay, I checked up on Facebook to see what was happening in the horse world. Two horse remained with a two hour deadline before they would be shipped to slaughter--two perfectly sound horses (jog videos available), not old, not sick, were headed for Canada and a bolt to the brain, if people didn't step up and help.  I had never donated before, and honestly didn't think my little bit could help. But I couldn't sit by and let this happen without trying to make a difference. I messaged the group to find out how to help, how much more did they need for those last two horses. I waited, no answer--less than an hour to go--someone sent me the link and I grabbed my wallet. Less than a half hour left--were they safe?

I needed to go feed my horses their dinner, but I had to know the status on the two last standing. Just as I went to put on my boots, I checked Facebook one more time. The horse community had pulled it off--SAFE! I broke down in tears. 

So fellow equestrians, please don't assume someone else will pick up the tab, someone else will save the horses. Share this knowledge with others. Get involved, give time, give money, or both. While you're uploading selfies of you and your horse, network the less-fortunate horses in the gravest of danger. Even a few bucks can get them to safety. Help make a difference. It's good karma. Now go hug your horse.

Back in the saddle again

Astride his mare, once again, John and I took Rolex and Harley for a spin on Saturday. We started out with a brief walk around the "ring" which is essentially an meadow that gets mowed now and again. Everyone seemed good, so we decided to ride the fence line and see where we need to do some work. I've cobbled together a number of broken spots--looks like it may be time for another trip to Lowe's for planks. Unfortunately, our pasture is deemed "Playland" by Harley. First. he spooked at a tractor on a trailer rattling down the hill. Then he proceeded to do the sideways canter and began to buck. John's hollering at me, "Chin up, chin up, feet forward" as Harley grunted and boinked like a pogo stick. He antics were enough to give me a sore neck and a bruised knuckle. Since he wouldn't move forward without being naughty, I jumped off, walked up the hill, remounted outside the pasture and we re-started the ride.  Two hours later, we'd taken the edge off, but our OTTBs were far from tired.

Rolex watching the woods
 And Harley, well he always has enough energy for another spook! It was a treat to ride with John again--and I think Rolex missed him too!

Harley watching whatever Rolex is watching!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Two old duffers went for a ride...

August is over and yet it seems like summer just began a few weeks ago. The summer reading program ended at the library and the kids are heading back to school another two days. Leaves are starting to let go on the ancient maple over the house, a gentle reminder of what's to come. Is autumn really just around the corner? As summer winds down, I look forward to cooler, bug-less rides, and horses not permeated with the odor of fly spray. The horses will stop stamping and swishing, enjoying fly-free meals with a lot less irritation. But it will also be time to say goodbye to evening daylight and rides after work.

August raced by me as I faced a number of obstacles. John was injured in a fall which landed him in the hospital for 5 days. They sent him home with directions to not lift more than 20 pounds and to stay home from work for 3 weeks. In the middle of that hiatus, my hay farmers called with approximately 450 bales of hay I needed to come pick up in one weekend. My stomach churned as I stressed about how I was going to get the hay. My wonderful family and a few of John's friends pulled through for us. My father brought his pickup truck and trailer, one brother came over from New Hampshire with his pickup, another brother and his son came all the way from Connecticut. Without their equipment and muscles--well, let's just say I might have missed out on getting most of our winter hay! With all the extra help, we moved a total of 422 bales of hay. I feel blessed to have such support.

And then Harley managed to injure himself! We brought the horses inside late one night as a thunderstorm began to brew. So I still don't know if I missed the injury at that point, or whether he did it in the stall. But when I turned him out the next morning I saw a gaping hole in his buttock. Back inside we went while I washed it out and treated it with Vetericyn. There was no bandage to fit this, but we did manage to track down giant square pads for protection, although his swishing tail manages to rip each one off, every day. The wound has healed up a lot and looks much better now. When injuries like this happen, I think of that picture making its way around on Facebook of the horse wrapped in bubble wrap. Not a bad idea!

So all the exercise duty has fallen on me as well as the daily barn chores. I always wanted a career with horses; so this wouldn't be too bad if I didn't have a day job too. Unfortunately, I haven't ridden the beasts nearly as much as they need it! Rolex Girl has become a bit feisty, to say the least, and spooked more than Harley on my last ride with her!

After all his time off waiting for the wound to close up, I expected Harley to be full of himself. He managed to put in only one stop and spin as we headed to Orris Falls, but we made it past the "scary woodpile" without another hitch. On the trail, we met a cyclist--no big deal--and I have to admit I was proud of my boy! In fact, I called John to tell him I'd made it home safely and that Harley was a star. It's not often I can say that when we ride solo after a few weeks off.

Saying that, John and I might invest in a pair of safety impact vests. We just don't seem to bounce quite like we did in our twenties.  And after our last debacle--we can't afford to both be laid up! The thought of wearing an nice insulating layer of foam doesn't really appeal to me for summer riding, but it sure beats being injured.

My best boy mowing the lawn after our ride.
Now with the onset of September,  I'm thinking about what I need to get done before winter hits: buy oil, buy firewood, touch up peeling paint on the house, and think about finding a snowblower. If this coming winter is anything like the last, I'm not sure I can face it armed with just a shovel! Keeping the house and the barn cleared it a tremendous amount of work and not for the weak-armed. If the Farmer's Almanac prediction is true, Southern Pines, North Carolina will be mighty crowded with horse trailers from New England!

So, what a guy to do when he can't ride? Why spoil the horses, of course! Hand out treats, brush coats, comb manes and tails, give out more treats. I think Ruffy would follow John anywhere for another bite of carrot.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Foggy morning breakdown

Such a lovely sight in the morning, seeing my horses, waiting in the fog for breakfast. Ruffy, the bottomless pit, always welcomes me with a whicker, "I'm so glad to see you. I'm hungry!" I think she may have been shorted some meals during her last days at Suffolk Downs when she was laid up and lame. Her favorite things in life are food, food, and food. Oh, and lots of carrots because who can resist that face?

So off to work I drive, once my pockets are eaten empty of carrots, past the foggy fields with turkeys sitting on the fence line. The air, thick with the smells of summer--moist damp grass and mud.

By midday, when the sun is high and the fog burned away, the horses will make their way back up to the top of the hill, where they''ll nosh on hay and stamp at flies, tails whisking one another. And when I arrive, I'll be greeted by a chorus of whickering horses, "Oh we're so glad to see you. The bugs are driving us nuts and we're so hungry!"

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Reminiscing of summer camp

The awesome Baron
Every summer, when I hear the kids come into the library and tell me about their summer camp adventures, I yearn to be a kid again. I want to relive those magical summer days and nights; around the campfire, in the barn, out on the trails...every single precious moment that always ended too soon. The school year seemed so long as I waited for another three seasons to pass before I returned to the hills of Vermont.

Catherine Capers was heaven for me--a camp centered around horses, a mecca for horse-crazy girls who wanted to eat, breathe, and live with horses. I've never forgotten my first moment there as a camper when I realized I'd be caring for a horse every day for four weeks. Sgt. Pepper certainly taught me a thing or two; a seasoned camp horse who could be an ornery curmudgeon. From camper to C.I.T. (counselor-in-training) to counselor, I gained a wealth of knowledge at camp. Aside for all things equine, I learned to use a map and compass, build a fire, make doughboys, practice first aid (horse and human), and a plethora of silly songs.

It all started with my first breakfast ride as a camper when a Nellie, the trip counselor, woke me around 5:00 a.m. and asked,"Want to go for a breakfast ride?" Before the rest of camp arose, a selected dozen or so, retrieved their mounts from the pastures, saddled up, and rode off to meet a dropped-off breakfast, somewhere down the trail. Breakfast rides, supper rides, and my favorites, multi-day rides, filled my days.  My first overnight was on a horse called Doc--a roman-nosed bay. That was the year we had a barn full of bay horses whose names began with D on loan from nearby Fort Drum.

5 Day trip - campsite along the Mettawee at Aunt Eunice's

When I became a counselor at CC, my role was horseback trip leader. I spent enough hours during the school year at Hollins College riding hunters and practicing ring work. Summers, I let down the stirrups and high-tailed it for the hills, spending my days leading kids on adventures in the Vermont countryside. I took out trips ranging from two to three days. Our supplies would be dropped off at each night's location; food, tent, personal gear, horse feed, hay, water buckets, brushes, blankets etc. By August, cool nights required blanketing since the horse we tied up at night.

My mentors, Nellie Higgins and Sally Shaw, showed me the ropes over the years. I accompanied them on many a trip as a C.I.T., learning the maps, the trails, the campsites, and meeting the landowners. I remember being in awe of Sally, taking off on a ride bareback, with only a halter on the Shaw family horse, Nutmeg. I think the only "must haves" were heeled boots and a helmet, back then, with or without a chin strap!

Sally and the gang leaving camp

The honest soul, Spice
I became quite proficient at tying ponchos onto English saddles. I quickly learned D-rings and baling twine are your friends! A few horses were my favorite mounts and I'd try to give them a reprieve from ring work by taking them out on a ride. Spice was a favorite; such an honest soul. Some horses did better on the trail than in the ring, and more often than not, they went on most rides. And some were banned from the trail. After running away with his rider three times on Bullfrog Hollow, Snowball was relegated to staying in camp!
One summer, years after being a counselor, I got a call from Audrey, the owner. She needed someone to take out a 5 day trip with another counselor who was not as familiar with the territory. I jumped at the opportunity, a chance to relive some of those magical times in the saddle. My mount was Lewis, a dark bay gelding well suited for the ride.

Lewis--my mount for 5 days

We rode through some lovely land, although we did have to skirt a bull one day! I can still see the roads, trails, and maps etched in my memory. The local farmers allowed us to camp on their land providing we cleaned up, aka "leave-no-trace" camping.

Above Rush Hollow--before we met the bull!

 One of my favorite campsites was situated along Flower Brook in East Wells. I pitched my tent along the brook so I could listen to it burble all night long--or at least until I was woken for night watch.

Early morning sun along Flower Brook

But it wasn't all just trail riding at camp. Stable management, cleaning tack, caring for injured horses; all part and parcel of my summers. I probably fell in love with my first OTTB at camp. Newton, a skinny, hard keeper, gelding was in my care one summer. He probably ran at the old Green Mountain track in Pownal, Vermont, a hard-scrabble track for Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds.

I have a soft spot for bay OTTB's, I guess. Newton needed doctoring on a stifle wound for most of the summer, as I recall. And he ate a ton. Knowing what I know now, he might have fared better with less grain and more forage. He was the "counselor project horse" that Audrey always seemed to have each summer. I wish I knew what his registered name was so I could find his history. I never thought to write down his tattoo.
Sally Shaw schooled him, and another riding counselor, rode him in the Combined Event. I don't think he was quite ready for the dressage ring. But he was a sweetie to care for....

Newton attempting dressage
Each summer, it seemed like Smudge, the giant multi-toed cat, would produce another litter of barn kitties, some who went home with campers, I believe. These two were part of her 1977 crop, cradled in the arms of a camper.

So next week, when another kid regales me with camp tales, my mind will wander away to the hills of Vermont. I'll smell wood smoke, horse sweat, and hear the babble of a brook. The sun will beat down on a string of girls on their horses, trotting along the dirt roads of Middletown Springs. Then they will wave at each other as they round the hairpin turn, heading for home along Lake St. Catherine, a trip song on their lips to sing that night to their fellow campers. Oh to spend my summers in the saddle at camp once again.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

I asked my horse to take a walk...

Just a walk, just a little way....
So we got a late start this morning and didn't mount up until 10:30 or so. But after spending my entire yesterday walking the pastures in the sun (and getting quite the burn), whacking weeds while my father mowed, my body wasn't responding quickly. The overcast skies and thick, muggy air didn't motivate me quite like the previous day's sunny, breezy weather.

Today called for full bug protection for horse and rider; long sleeves for me and fly hood for Harley. This picture was taken about half way into our ride where we encountered the ever-expanding quarry.

Our previous route disappeared, so we tried following the new roadbed only to encounter a bank of rip-rap.

Our options were to turn back and try to find another route, or get off and let the horses carefully scramble over the rocks. I was so proud of Rolex for following John and of Harley for keeping cool and not clambering through at speed. Pats and carrots for all!

Things went sour when we encountered the grumpy relative of a landowner that was not pleased we were riding on her mother-in-law's property "because the horses churn everything up". Since we were walking, the horses' hooves did minimal damage. John introduced us and our horses, but she obviously had no interest, and told us we needed permission. She told us to call her husband who "would probably say no" to our riding along the edge of the property. I asked if we could just walk by today and not trespass again. She grudgingly relented, but I think we'll avoid their land from now on--not worth the hassle, even if we did get permission for the actual landowner, the mother-in-law!

Harley picked up his pace, prancing along, happy to leave her behind and head for home. Tomorrow is another day for another adventure, on another route.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

And in today's featured ride...an ungulate joins us for some fun

We had an appointment with our farrier, Saint Butch, this morning so we planned to take Harley and Rolex for a ride to take the edge off, since they'd been stabled the previous night due to thunderstorms. We hit the trails by 8:45 under fresh sunshine and sparkling wet woods. Quick trotting along the Orris Falls Trail warmed everyone up--loosened my muscles and made Harley reminisce of his race days. Every now and then, he'd break into a canter, leaning on the bit, chasing Rolex down the trail. I felt the surge of his muscles as he accelerated--hang on, Lisa.

John planned a jaunt through Orris Falls with a road walk back to the barn as a cool down. Things went all pear-shaped (as the Brits say) when a loose goat barreled out of a yard, bleating after the horses. Harley and Rolex saw the goat and threw on the brakes. We convinced both horses to keep heading down the road, but the goat trotted after us, his plaintiff bleating scaring the heck out of Harley. He spun around to face his "attacker" from the rear, sidestepped, turned back to run, whirled back around, and pranced in the road. It was one of those self-preservation moments--bail out, Lisa! With me standing between him and the goat, Harley settled. John held the horses while I began knocking on doors, trying to track down the owner. No one appeared at the house where he'd come from, so I tried across the street, to no avail. So, the goat decided to join us for the ride home. I planned to call the police and let them know we had a missing goat when we got back to the barn.

We determined he was a wether, the correct name for a fixed male goat, and probably someone's pet, given his friendliness. With absolutely no fear of the horses, he quickly fell into step right alongside, nearly on Harley's hocks. He seemed happy to go on an adventure with us, and I was happy to get him off the road. I felt quite silly flagging people to slow down as the goat meandered in the middle of the road. On the trail, narrow space forced the goat to tuck in between Harley and Rolex. Every so often, Harley would stop and wait for the goat to go out front so he could give him a sniff. Harley accepted the goat as another trail partner, albeit a funny-smelling one. With the goat sandwiched snuggly between Rolex's nose and Harley's hind end, he bravely clambered up and over Brown Hill, the high point in the Orris Falls Preserve. I wondered if he'd stop and drink once we reached water--his panting had me a bit worried. But no, instead he offered us an example of goat agility as he leaped across the stream. Good thing Harley didn't see the action--it might have made him jump too! I said to John, "Let's see what he does at the foot bridge. I'll bet he uses it." John replied,"If he does, hang on, because that will certainly spook Harley!" Well the goat surprised us both and hopped from stone to stone, ignoring the foot bridge.
Butch was waiting, as I expected, and I apologized for the delay. He saw the goat and exclaimed, "Where did you get the goat?" A full explanation followed while each horse their feet trimmed. I put the goat in one of the spare stalls and contacted the local police to inquire about possible missing goats.

By the end of the day, the goat's owner was located and he was transported back home to Emery's Bridge Road. The owner filled us in on the goat's story--he used to have a goat buddy and an equine pasture mate. Now wonder he was such a friendly little guy and wanted to join us. He was just plain lonely. I hope the owner took this to heart and will think about getting him another pal. Otherwise, he may be off on another adventure--next time a horse passes by.

Best buds--Rolex and Harley

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Still horse-crazy after all these years

I spent the past week hobbling around the barn with a broken toe. Poor Ruffy, scared by a Caterpillar loader parked by the pasture gate, tucked and ran past, crunching my foot in the process. I should have been more careful knowing her gate claustrophobia. Ruffy bears a scar nearly the length of her hind leg cannon bone. We surmise she injured her leg in a starting gate accident sometime during her racing career. This wasn't my first horse-related injury, and surely won't be my last. With three hot-blooded Thoroughbreds in my keeping, accidents will happen. It's just one of the hazards of having horses."

As my toe throbbed under an ice pack, I realized my slower reaction times and balance are not as sharp as when I was twenty. Now that I'm pushing 55, I don't mend quite as quickly either! But all the pain has been worth the joy our three horses have brought me, starting with our first horse, Halawa Moon, known around the barn as Harley, and sometimes as, "Gnarley Harley" if he's being particularly opinionated.

On one of my first solo rides, not long after I'd had surgery, Harley spooked and spun, sending me crashing to the ground. He has since sent me to the doctor twice; once with a damaged rotator cuff, and once with a cracked sternum. But I can't lay the blame on him for my one trip to the emergency room. I stupidly tried to move a limb that was caught on the saddle pad and poking him in the ribs. Not realizing it was under pressure, it snapped back, thwacking me in the upper lip. With a handkerchief staunching the flowing blood, I re-mounted, rode back to the barn, turned out Harley, and drove to the ER where the nurse said, "This happened over an hour ago. It took you long enough to get here."

So maybe getting an ex-racehorse as a first horse, after 30 years out of the saddle, wouldn't be most people's first choice, but hey, he was free.  I've yearned for a horse my entire life and this was a dream becoming reality at last. Call it a milestone at 50--I couldn't have been happier. Some women get tattoos, some dye their hair a brilliant shade of pink or blue to mask the imminent grey, some get nose studs. I got a high-spirited, off-track Thoroughbred who was going to be my trail horse--at least that's what I hoped. He's helped me stave off middle-age sagging over the past five years,  helped lose weight, and increased muscle tone. On occasion, he's caused me angst, and made me lose sleep. But now, I cannot imagine life without Harley and the girls.
Snoozy Rolex in the morning

We had a rough winter in Maine; the most snow I've seen in thirty-some years. I shoveled stalls and I shoveled snow until my arms ached from "golfer's elbow". I think the last of the snow disappeared sometime in early April. But I don't dwell on the aches and pains; that would be pointless since it's all part of keeping horses. They depend on me for care, so I just muckle onto the shovel and get the job done.

Four years ago, we acquired two more off-track Thoroughbreds; Ruffy and Rolex. We've decided it's time to find our own piece of real estate to set up our farm. House hunting and house sale prepping consumed nearly all of my free time this spring. But I need to get in the saddle at least once a week, broken toe or not, just to keep Harley in a "working" frame of mind. A Thoroughbred needs to be consistently worked and Harley is a classic case of a horse who needs that exercise regimen. So after waffling about what footwear would be acceptable for riding, a toss up between Crocs or Chaco sandals, I saddled up my flighty horse, donned by stiff-soled Chacos, and headed for the trails. Maybe Harley sensed my worry of having to walk any distance and behaved himself. When he really needs to be good for me, Harley shines.

This weekend, after I finish crawling around on my creaky knees, cutting in the floor I need to paint, I'll grab my britches and sandals (my toe still gets mashed in my riding boots), head out to the barn and take Harley out for an evening ride, replete with spooky woods, scary squirrels, frightening farm animals, and lots of smiles.

Harley in camouflage

Monday, April 27, 2015

Of mud, ice, and broken barns

My quest continues...is there a mini-farm out there to fit our needs and our budget? Yet another ancient barn, cobbled together, but not horse-worthy. I wish realtors would stop using wide angle lenses which give a misleading view of how much open land exists. The last place I checked out had less than two acres available for pasture. Three horses would have that eaten down to dirt in no time. So the hunt goes on. In the meantime, I'm sanding floors--oh, what fun!

And if the paint dust wasn't bad enough, now that mud season is here, the dust and hair is flying off the ponies. I've thought about wearing a dust mask when I groom them! Each day, their mud wallows seems to get a little deeper. Just glancing at Rolex, I thought we had a rogue Appaloosa in the herd the other day. Mud splattered her legs, her chest, and even her face. So, who's "afraid" of stepping in water? You're busted Rolex!

I convinced John we needed to take some time off from repairs to get in a a little ride on Saturday afternoon. John and I need to keep the horses worked, at least a little, so they aren't too crazy when we finally throw a leg over them. I cannot imagine what they would be like if they spent more time stabled and less time turned out.

Last night, as I drove up to the barn, they were gallivanting around at the top of the hill, even old Vance. I'm guessing spring fever and lack of work has them just itching for some fun.

The snow has finally left, except for small remnants lurking in dark corners under the hemlocks. Our weather hasn't really been too warm, and the infernal winds seem to never quit. Here it is late April, and I really wished I'd had my jacket on for our afternoon ride--the Carhartt vest was not enough!

Harley sniffed at the water, but didn't drink, something I always encourage him to do. This means Rolex has to wait, otherwise he'll panic if she's gone off without him. After much snuffling, with no drinking, we pushed onward and upward.

Every so often, Rolex "gets stuck" and needs Harley to take the lead. He willingly does so with his ears going from relaxed to upright, on full alert. There's a corner in the trail that leads around some thick, stubby pine trees. All the horses peer around this corner, like they expect the boogie man to jump out. Harley forged ahead of Rolex, but remained on guard, ready for phantom monsters.

But when your bravery fails, it's always good to relinquish the lead position and get a good head pat. All our horses love to do this, especially when they have sweaty heads. As a holdover from their racing days when they were ponied at the track, they all willingly stand by their trail mate, ready to receive a carrot an a good rub.

With spring off to such a late start this year, we needed to purchase more hay. Two truckloads and 85 bales later, we're now all set until the grass comes in--hopefully by May! Our supplier still had some lovely second crop timothy mix, but when we pulled up for our last load, people were lined up! This weather has affected everyone in New England. And given this past winter, we should probably budget for more hay for next year!

So here it is, almost May, and I'm still lighting fires at night. Are we indeed headed towards another ice age? Last week, as I drove out to the barn one morning, frozen dew frosted the landscape. But wherever the sun touched the earth, it appeared the land was on fire, smoking in the sunlight. Truly beautiful, but downright chilly!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

High octane Halawa Moon

Everyone has a bad case of spring fever this year. Winter held on so long, we doubted spring would ever arrive. But as the snow banks recede, the ice melts, and the days get longer, I vow to get out there and ride my horse more consistently. With the arrival of spring, the horses feel fresh, strong, and ready to run. But this past winter, Mother Nature reduced their pasture with each snowfall. So they're ready to gallop, buck, play, and stretch those Thoroughbred legs with some speedy fun.

Our rides have been sporadic, squeezed in between spring house cleaning, boiling sap, and relentless cold windy days. I've only ridden Harley solo on two mild, sunny afternoons when I've found him snoozing in the field. I convinced myself each time that it should be a "quiet ride". Hah! I should know better.  If Rolex isn't along for the trip, Harley's support system is missing. He becomes so herd bound in the winter, that getting down the road takes some "hard riding" with quick anticipation on my part to counter his attempts to whirl for home. I read about other people's OTTB's--sane, calm, and inquisitive on the trails--kind of like our Rolex, and wish Harley had those traits. But what's an old girl to do? I just ride him the best I can, and that includes my survival strategy of getting off and walking when Harley becomes "stubbornly unmanageable". When the snorting dragon emerges, I jump off to avoid nasty mishaps, and take command as the point man.

To be fair, John pointed out to me that when I've truly needed Harley to be good, he shined. Two examples: when I was smacked in the face by a tree limb, stunned and bleeding, he stood quietly while I remounted and got me home safely. When Rolex balked at a brook crossing near the end of 12 mile trail ride, Harley took the lead. So while he may not always be the bravest steed in the bunch, when the going gets tough, tough Harley gets going. And when he's with his girl, Rolex, they are the dynamic duo.

Harley brings out the horse-gaga girl in me--my first horse, the best horse, the most beautiful gelding in all of York County, kind of like Dawn French and Peter Pan. So despite his shortcomings, and mine--the middle-aged equestrian coming back from a 25 year hiatus of no riding--we are a team, helping each other through the rough spots. Every year I vow to improve my riding by spending more time without stirrups, at least intentionally! But without a ring, I'm only brave enough to go stirrup-less when Harley is on his best behavior. That eliminates solo rides on cold, windy days when his head in the air like a giraffe. As John said, "He's a high octane horse." Harley may have been last in the Maryland Millions Nursery Stakes, but he was a "cheap track hero" at Suffolk Downs, winning four races before injuries ended his racing days. But is he ever strong! When he wants to go, hang on! When I read the race reviews of Halawa Moon "driving" to the finish, I can just imagine.

Some people say "you didn't rescue your OTTB unless he/she was neglected", but I feel there are different types of rescuing. Once Harley proved he didn't have consistent speed and injured his knees, his racing career ended. After being passed along to a few different owners, I acquired him. I suspect he knows he has landed in equine heaven, even if I insist on taking him on solo rides. He always comes home to a pasture of friends, lots of carrots, and a full belly at night. Who but me, a horse-crazy lady, and my partner John, would take him on and try to make a trail horse out of him.

So this past weekend, we took the infamous duo out for a ride. The minute John picked up a trot with Rolex, Harley broke into his lovely canter. He began to get strong and I felt the steamroller coming alive as he ran up on Rolex's hind end. Yup, he would have kept going too if she hadn't slowed down and stopped to look around. This was the first time we've been this far into the woods since early winter. Their ears swiveled, listening, watching. Possibly deer or wild turkeys were moving through the woods. Now Harley was wired.

Once we turned for home, Harley began to jog and swish his tail. He decided to strut his ex-racehorse jig when reached the paved road. The farm menagerie we rode by had his attention; turkeys, chickens, goats, all bleating, beating wings, and crowing. Now that he was warmed up, all the commotion was enough to make him explode. Snorting and going sideways, I hopped off and led him prancing up the hill like he was in the post parade. Spring fever had Harley in its grip.

Don't worry, my boy, sultry summer days lie ahead.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Halawa Moon hits his teen years

Harley turned thirteen on Monday. Yes, the Jockey Club said he was thirteen as of January 1, but I always hold off until his actual birth date so I have a reason to give him extra carrots and apples.

Our farrier came on Saturday, and my almost-teen acted like a three year old. I thought I'd take some of the energy out of him by taking him for a walk/jog down the the road before Butch arrived. I think I only managed to get him keyed up. First, he wouldn't go down the road and stopped every five steps. With a lot of urging, I was able to get him down to the Orris Falls trail head. The minute we turned back for home, Mr. Prancypants danced his way home like he'd just heard the bugle playing "Call to the Post".

Butch attempted to trim his feet, but Harley was being such a bad boy, John saddled him up and took him for a ride while I held the saintly Ruffy.

By the time they came back, Harley had broken a good sweat. I think John rode the "prancypants" out of him. He still wasn't on his best behavior, but he was much better than before John rode him. Butch is the most patient farrier I've ever known, and we (the horses and us) are lucky to have him.

So while we wait for spring to finally come, and the snowbanks to melt, we'll begin the maple syrup season. We boiled down our first batch a few days ago--dark amber, almost Grade B, but how yummy!