Monday, April 27, 2015

Of mud, ice, and broken barns

My quest 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.