|Vance in the blizzard|
|Vance and Ruffy - 2018|
|Vance in the blizzard|
|Vance and Ruffy - 2018|
A fresh snowfall over all the frozen ice offered some more lovely skiing. Although it was a fluffy few inches, it freshened up our winter world. Once again, my determination to beat the crowds rewarded me with fresh snow, fresh tracks, and no other people.
I started shoveling the drive at the barn, but John insisted I stop (especially since it aggravates my tendonitis) and go skiing instead. He didn't have to insist too hard!
Blue wax, with a some blue extra to go, seemed to be the waxes for the day. I stocked my pack with camera, phone, spare mitts, spare shells, windbreaker, vest and water. The top of the pasture was tricky--frozen manure and exposed rocks--but I managed to maneover my way for a straight schuss down along the fenceline to the logging road. I floated over the new snow in the morning sun, just beginning to peak over the eastern ridge. The horses watched me glide by, Vance even making a move to follow me, but turned and cantered back to the gang.
I grinned and said, "YES!" as I approached the empty parking lot, knowing I would have fresh, unbroken snow and no pandemic hordes to ski around, forcing me to "mask up". I had my mask handy, in my pants pocket, but thankfully,did not need to pull it out.
I zig-zagged my way down the power line, crossing animal trails everywhere. A large deer yard under some hemlocks showed recent activity. Snowshoe hare tracks, tiny mouse trails, hunting fox prints, and plunging squirrel divets all showed the diversity of the wildlife that calls this area home.
When I reached the top of the hillside, I opted for "Harley's route" which avoids the rock-strewn, washed out path along the power line. His route, easier on the old knees, traverses the hill. With a few kick-turns, some side slipping, and careful maneovering, I'd almost made it when I missed a turn and headed right at some exposed barbed wire snaking around a tree. I yelled out "Barbed wire", hoping my skis would miss it, but no, one ski caught the wire and sent me flying face forward. John laughed, I laughed, and said, "Can you give me hand? I'm stuck." Lesson learned: always carry wire cutters when skiing old hill pastures!
I beat the pandemic crowds at Orris Falls, skis waxed and ready to go by 8:30 a.m. The conditions were perfect for my favorite set of skis; the Epokes. Rub on the wax and they're ready to glide.
The climb up to Big Bump got the heart rate going. I enjoyed the peace and quiet broken only by a hairy woodpecker tap, tapping on an oak tree. If I wanted to see more wildlife, I should have gotten an earlier start.
The descent, down the two steep pitches provided thrills and only one spill. And once I hit the flats, I even got in some skate skiing!
A mixed bag of weather arrived a few days later, ruining the snow and turning everything to ice. Then a deep freeze locked the footing up solid. We'll have to wait for a fresh snowfall to blanket the wood before the next outing.
Horses are such amazing animals: full of power, grace, and beauty, yet fragile. We get on the back of a thousand pound animal and ask this creature to carry us, performing feats of atheleticism. Their fragility is incongruous to their size and strength. We humans do our damndest to keep them healthy and safe. But despite our dilligence, we still lose them to injury and illness.
The weight of holding Ruffy's head as she staggered from her stall left a bruise on my shoulder, and in my heart. This was my first experience euthanizing a horse---our horse, and the images imprinted on my brain resurface every night, sometimes just as I close my eyes, sometimes waking me at 2:30 in the dark, still room. Crying into my pillow, I relive those last days. Did we miss something? Did we wait too long to call the vet again? Could we have saved her?
Ruffy (known as This Chic's Got It by the Jockey Club), our big 16 hand off-track Thoroughbred, by Vicar, out of Miss Ella, spent her days as a pasture pet more than a riding horse due to physical limitations. She was only 13, with years ahead, I'd hoped. I'll always cherish my one ride on her--feeling her broad chest and powerful body under me. She passed her days as girlfriend to Vance Lustre, the old retired Standardbred who never returned that infatuation, or so I thought. But lately, he spends a number of hours standing by the gate into the field where she's buried. So maybe he does miss her.
Horses are like elephants; they remember. The herd knew one was missing the next day. Harley whinnied for her down in the pasture. They followed, like a funeral procession, as we laid her to rest. I think Harley is still checking for her at night. He walks down the barn aisle, sticks his head in her stall, then walks back to his stall, recognizing she's not there. They're a tight herd, just like a family, and they know one is gone.
Farewell, Ruffy. Run with the best, my good girl.
|Heading down the Secret Trail|
A few brisk nights put some spring in our steps this week. Harley jogged out to the road before I even had the girth snugged up. I felt re-energized to, despite foot pain that's plagued me for months now. With the oppresive heat and humidity gone, we were ready for an adventure. An aging woman on her aging OTTB pranced down the road, headed out for a morning trail ride before the remaining summer bugs decided to test the temperature and hunt for breakfast.
I let Harley choose the route, although I did have to give him some guidance when he tried bushwhacking into the woods, convinced he was on a trail....yes, a game trail, with no overhead clearance for riders! He felt good enough to trot up a few hills, where the footing is soft and easy on his joints. I can appreciate that, between my old knees, and my bum foot, hiking hasn't been in the cards since May. A shorter, gentler ride fit the bill.
When Harley and I headed down our first trails together, it was a toss-up whether I'd make it back without us going in different directions. I even rode with a long rope off his halter as a way to hang on, should I come off and lose the reins. Harley's incredible left-hand spin sent me into the dirt the first time I attempted to ride outside the ring--a giant spook over a little lawn mower. These days, I'm able to ride on the buckle, while shooting pictures and video. But as each week passes, I'm afraid I've missed any opportunity to do much more than gentle trail rides with Harley. I had high hopes of participating in organized trail rides, maybe a Le Trec event, or even a rinky-dink show. But time and age have changed our course. So we'll go for little lollygags with an occasional trot or canter if Harley wants to step up the pace.
Rolex Girl is waiting in the wings; a smart, sassy Thoroughbred that is awesome on the trails. But she needs continuous work--something John and I have neglected this year. Fall is coming, and so is another week's vacation. Maybe that will be the time to throw a leg over Rolex, head for the hills, and begin to develop a partnership with her. Who knows, as this pandemic erupts again, we may all be home-bound for the fall and winter--a perfect opportunity for us.
I've felt rudderless this spring and summer, wafting back and forth over decisions for our future. With the country holding its breath until November 3d, and the pandemic still spiking in some spots, it's been hard to make concrete decisions. So I take each week as it comes. We have our winter supply of hay, and I get a feeling of warmth, looking at the stacked bales, knowing our horses will be well-fed through the cold months ahead. I'll top off the oil tank, order wood bricks for the wood stove, and start restocking the pantry in case events take a turn for the worse. The uncertainty of what lies ahead, and which direction this country will head only compounds my apprehension. I still won't give up the dream of a small farm, near excellent trail riding, with a view of the mountains, somewhere in Vermont.
Harley stealing the carrot bag
|Harley & Rolex re-hydrating|
My summer grinds on with hot, humid days, steamy nights, and no rain in sight. The horses' coats have bleached out, stiff with salt by late afternoon, as they suffer through sweltering days. I don't ride; it's too hot. Our horses enjoy evening baths to wash away the day's sweat and dust, with a final spritz of bug spray to keep the insects at bay. The ritual begins again, tomorrow morning: feed, hay, water, pick pasture, fly spray. Head off to work, hot and sweaty by 8:30.
The deer flies bar us from the woods, their endless swarms making the trails an undesirable location. At least the barn flies have not been too bad, whether this is due to the ongoing drought, or the fact that fewer horses reside here this summer, I don't know. Quite possibly, it's a combination of both.
I'm looking forward to some vacation (one that was cancelled due to COVID-19) time, a week in August and a week in September. Maybe the weather will improve, as will our well-being as a nation. Some peaceful time spent in the saddle, on the tractor, and in the relative calm of home is just what I need.
Working through this pandemic has left me anxious and angry. Anxious about staying healthy, angry at the federal government's handling of the pandemic. John and I are sole providers for our horses. We need to be well enough to care for them--not such a worry in the summer when the workload is lighter--but come winter, if we get hit hard again, one of us needs to be able to muck stalls, feed, blanket, etc. etc. This is what keeps me up at night. And we are some of the lucky ones--we have our jobs, we have health insurance, and we have a roof over our heads. The disparity in our population between the haves, and haves not, glares out at us from our screens and on our streets every day.
|John passing out carrots, sneaky Harley stealing the bag!|
|Heading home with Harley|
|Me aboard Rolex Girl|
|Rolex and I at one of our better moments.|