Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Tractor Factor and Our Snowy Staycation

How I spent my winter vacation...
More snow and blizzard winds; these snowbanks just get higher and higher. As of today, that snowbank behind me is now nearly at the corner of the milk room. We received another few inches yesterday afternoon following moderate temperatures (all the way up to the high 20's) and sunny skies. Will the snow ever stop?

We do get plowed out at the barn, sometimes after we've shoveled our way in, but without a working tractor, we're running out of places to put the damn stuff! Our canyon to the manure pile gets drifted in almost daily, so I have to re-shovel the trench and pack it out once again. With a tractor, we could move the manure and snow back, clear the top of the hills for the horses where the snow is still knee-deep, and move these encroaching snowbanks so we can keep the gates and barn entrance clear. One thing I've learned from this winter is you MUST have a working tractor on the farm! In lieu of a tractor, I could use a snowblower. But without either, we do have Bucky the Trucky (must have 4WD just to get to the barn), a big scooper, wheelbarrow, shovels, and above all, snowshoes. Without snowshoes, I'd be wallowing in hip-deep snow to deliver the hay, clear the water tank (which we had to raise 18 inches so the horses could reach it), and just for sheer mobility this winter. I feel like I've grown an extra appendage--one with a shovel blade on the end.

But the horses don't seem to mind all the snow . They feel fresh and ready to go every morning when I turn them out, no matter how deep the snow. As long as there's hay, water, and room to run, they're happy. But the deep snow has limited the horses' travel area. I tried to entice them down the hill, out of the wind one day by dragging the hay sled all the way to the bottom of the field. They just stood at the edge of their packed area and looked at me. Rolex and Harley ventured part way down my snowshoed path, then spun around and cantered back their "feeding ground". Slave that I am to their every whim, I dragged the hay back up the hill.

The snow is too deep down there! Bring back the hay!

Our Kentucky-bred Ruffy, loves to play in the snow, but by the day's end, she's also the first to the top of the hill, waiting to come inside. Due to the pecking order, she has to wait her turn, unless Miss Speedy gets to the top before anyone else. If she times it just right, I can throw the halter on her and get her out of the gate before the rest of the gang show up. Otherwise, she has to wait for Vance, then Rolex, and then Harley. When the wind is really blowing, which it has done a lot this winter, things are always interesting as the OTTBs all charge out of the gate. Vance, the old Standardbred, shows the most sense, and calmly waits while I shut the gate behind him. The others, well let's just say, I have to hang on to the rope while trying to close the gate simultaneously.

We had a nice break in the weather Thursday--no wind, sunshine, and milder temperatures. After Harley had a chance to burn off some steam in the pasture, I tacked him up for a ride. I've ridden so little this winter, I was ready for  an "actively interesting" ride. John had spent the morning doing a little driving with the girls, so I expected to go solo. But thankfully, he decided to saddle up Rolex and go with me. I rode Harley up the road a little ways, with no issues, but the minute I turned around, the sideways prancing and snorting ensued. He becomes so herd-bound in the winter, and coupled with lots of energy, he can be a real handful. Rolex is the calming factor for Harley. Oh good, she's coming too. I hate to venture out all alone!

We attempted to ride into Orris Falls, but the hock-deep snow was a tremendous workout. We didn't go far before turning around. The deep snow kept Mr. Prancypants from taking off for home! So we turned it into a road ride. Midweek, with no traffic, made the ride quite pleasant despite scary things like mailboxes poking out of snowbanks, people shoveling off roofs, tractors and snowblowers moving snow, and barking dogs, chin-deep in drifts. Harley demonstrated the striding walk I know he has, that often becomes a jog as he catches up to Rolex's swinging walk. For some reason, he decided to take the lead on the way home, ears up, prancing now and then, but maintaining the front position for a change. I even had to do some half-halts and circles to let Rolex catch up! Rolex seemed happy to follow, although she'd already had a little workout pulling John's sledge.

Rolex striding down the road

Ruffy is not as far along on the driving lessons as Rolex. She's a bit more nervous about what's going on behind her rump. But John has progressed slowly enough that she's getting used to tack hanging off her in places she never imagined.

And even though many would say this has been a winter from hell with the cold, the wind, the relentless snows, I still love seeing my horses every morning, watching them play in the snow, and seeing Harley, especially when he looks like this--my noble Sir Snowy Cheeks!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Happy Valentines from Mother Nature--another blizzard comes our way!

The face that makes my day, a happy Halawa Moon
Mother Nature is sending us her Valentine by way of another blizzard today. As I left work, the snow began to fall in earnest, sticking to the road, warning us to get ready for yet another few days of shoveling. With all the snow we've had, I should have been on my cross-country skis by now, but it seems I've spent all my free time cutting back snow banks, clearing my drive, clearing off the roof, and keeping paths open at the barn. Without a working tractor, it's been a tough winter for moving manure! I never thought I'd be using snowshoes to tramp my way out to the pile with a wheelbarrow!

The horses have fared well, still keeping on their weight, an enjoying their winter follies. They love playing in the snow, bucking, rearing, crow-hopping, and playing tag. We have tried to squeeze in rides whenever possible,  between snow storms and sub-zero winds that send us scurrying for shelter. People ask me how the horses like all this snow. I think they actually love winter. They've been taking snow baths on a regular basis, keeping pretty darn clean.

Fortunately, the snow storms thus far have only brought cold, dry snow which makes it easy to move and not too hard to drive in, although when too much accumulates, it can be a test without four wheel drive! Our farrier, St. Butch, made it to the barn last week between storms. The horses hadn't been worked in a while, so we wanted to get them out for a little exercise before Butch arrived. Harley promised a wild ride as he pranced sideways out the barn door. I asked John if he wanted to take Harley for a spin through the deeps pasture snows before I tried to ride him--take the edge off, so to speak. Well, it's a good thing he did! Once they reached the bottom of the pasture and turned towards the barn, Mr. Prancypants began to go sideways and throw in some bucks. His speed was thwarted by belly-deep drifts, and one episode of snow-snorkeling. After about three trips up the hill, I was ready to get on for a short trail ride. Here are some of the best photos of John and Harley blazing through the snow.

My Fuzzy B, ready for me!
As you can see, I think they both had a good time. Harley certainly wasn't worn out, although he did puff a little with the effort. He still had enough energy to prance his way home once I got on him. Despite not much riding, the horses exercise themselves between equine antics, and just moving through the snow up and down the hillside. And I know Butch appreciated our efforts!

This seems to be the daily view I'm see on my way to work.  Snow drifts, snow in the road, and shrinking roadways. The drift on the right side of the road is so high, I can no longer see over it, even from the truck! Whatever happened to snow fences? I remember seeing them all the time in Vermont when I was a kid. We sure could use some this winter!

I think the owners of this home should let us live here if for no other reason--I could keep the door shoveled clear! Oh, and it's surrounded by lovely fields with access to many trails. You could have a great outdoor course here!

I've had to clear the doors free from snow drifts a couple of times. It doesn't help that the snow gets plowed up against the sides, but I want to be sure we can get in and out freely and safely. I hacked these snow banks back yesterday, but the prevailing winds have a way of sending the snow right back. One has to test the winds before deciding in which direction to chuck their shovel loads!

Since it's an old barn, it's drafty. This can be a good thing; fresh air lessens the chances of respiratory ailments. But it can be a little disconcerting to listen to the wind curling around the back side, making the old beams creak. Even the horses sometimes stop chewing when a particularly strong gust buffets the doors.

I had to laugh when a fellow equestrian from South Carolina posted a comment about the strong winds forcing her to put on an extra shirt and chase down her dressage ring letters that blew into the woods. She expected some rebuttal comments from those of us up north faced with single and sub-zero temperatures, the same gusting winds, and 3 feet of snow. And I'll bet she's never had to dig her way to the manure pile through snow drifts on snowshoes, or delivered hay via a sled! Or maybe she has and that's why she resides in South Carolina now! Yesterday, in preparation for today's storm, I tramped out the manure pile trail (if I step off the path, I'll sink thigh deep in snow), again ...

....and cleared the snow from the gates and watering tank. It's a long stretch down to the water these days! You can barely see the tank, submerged in the snow in the corner.

After all the barn work and "equine errands", we went home for more snow removal on the house and garage. I tossed some knee-hi's full of salt up along the gutter, hoping to melt some of the ice.  I'd be lost without snowshoes to climb up the shoulder-high embankments to get to the bird feeders, clear the roof, and use at the barn! Three cheers for the Sherpa Snowshoe company! Even though they are no longer in business, these old troupers are still going strong!

Yup, we love winter in Maine. And so does our Kentucky-bred girl, This Chic's Got It, fondly known as Ruffy. Here she is, booting down the hill to see the gang and kick up her heels.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Snow now as high as a giraffe's eye?

 We received another foot (or so) of snow today. I can't really tell with the wind blowing so hard. Put it this way, by the time I went to bring the horses in, the bottom of the gate was nearly buried and I was thigh deep in a drift. Luckily work was closed today. I was able to get the horses blanketed and turned out by 8:30--Rolex was rarin' to go as usual--and then got the stalls cleaned and haynets re-stuffed. Then I picked up some more rice bran and balancer before heading home for dry clothes and a bite to eat. The temperature was only 8 degrees by the time I was ready to head back to the barn at 1:30. I figured the horses would be ready to come in out of the gale.

Harley sporting his Shires Typhoon blanket and snow-tipped ears
Sure enough, Ruffy raced to the gate, glad to come in out of the weather. We don't usually blanket, but with the 20 to 30 mph winds and snow, I figured they'd weather the storm better in blankets, especially since our little shelter really can only fit 3 horses that get along! Vance doesn't like to share the space well, which leaves poor Ruffy out in the cold. Next storm like this, Vancey-pants is staying inside so no one is left out. They cleaned up most of the hay, and no one was overheated or damp, so I think I called it correctly.

Saturday, despite the howling winds, we finally threw our legs over our steeds--the first time in about a month. John wanted to let them rip in the pasture, but I was afraid it would turn into a buckfest, despite the 2 foot plus snowdrifts. Plus, the wind was brutal on my ears. John has the answer for winter riding--a ski helmet! It covers your ears--perfect!

So, off to Orris Falls we went, following a snowshoe trail. The Great Works Land Trust was leading a guided hike which offered a semi-broken trail until they veered off to the beaver pond. Rolex started to follow their path! We got in a nice canter/gallop early on which took the starch out of them nicely. 

But once we left the snowshoed trail, the work got harder for our steeds. We rode out to Emery's Bridge Road and had a road walk home. It was our longest ride this winter, but I was happy to see that neither horse got very sweaty, just a little near the front of the saddle and under their girth. They've stayed in good shape this winter. Maybe we'll get in some skijoring this weekend!

Here's a little movie John took of Harley and me in nearly belly-deep snow, having an awesome time: