Sunday, October 30, 2022

What's next for us?

Carrot break for Harley


My brave boy, Halawa Moon, will complete 250 hours towards his next level of the Jockey Club's Recreational Riding Incentive Program very soon with only 17 hours remaining. Due to aging and arthritic changes, we may never reach the next step of 500 hours, and most of it will be done at an easy walk. But since we're both aging together, we keep our goals simple and do as much as we see fit on any given outing.

I'm still amazed that I'm riding the same horse I started this journey with 12 years ago! The first time I tried to go on a trail ride, he spooked at a lawn mower and tossed me to the ground. Now, I'm sauntering through the woods with no reins or stirrups, taking videos of our rides. He's developed so much confidence over the years it boggles my mind. What a great partnership we have now.

Other changes are coming our way soon. Hopefully, our own mini farm, and retirement giving me, and John, even more quality time with the horses, in and out of the saddle. 

Sunday, February 20, 2022

The old man passes

Vance in the blizzard

February 10th, I got to the barn in the morning and found Vance down in his stall, nickering for help. I don't know how long he was down; I can only hope it wasn't for very long. When I opened the stall door, he struggled again to get up, but with his hindquarters lower than his front, and with his compromised joints, he just couldn't do it alone. I phoned John to come help and after finagling some ropes and slings we tried, to no avail. We called the vet, then proceeded to take the stall wall down so we could get him in a more open area and a better position to try and haul him up. 

As we waited for the vet, Vance rested, eyes closed. I think we both knew he was done trying. His old joints just couldn't do what he wanted them to do. He was tired. When the vet arrived, we agreed--it was time.

Vance Lustre, a New Zealand bred pacer, landed at Pete's after running his last race at a fair. He lived out his days eating and bossing the herd at Pete's, including our 3 Thoroughbreds. He made it to the amazing age of 37, still showing off his trot every now and then when our gang got him going.

With Rolex down in Kentucky, it's been a quiet winter for the boys: just Harley and Vance. They weathered the blizzard, with Vance was none too happy to be cooped up for 18 hours, as the snow swirled and drifted around the barn . The next evening, under a sky illuminated with rose and gold, Vance walked towards the far end of the field, as if to say, "You're not putting me in that barn for another 18 hours!" But once he realized Harley was headed inside, he turned around and met me at the bottom of the hill for carrots.

Vance looked like a teddy bear in winter, thick black fuzz, and a curly, bushy forelock. Snow was for rolling in, especially first thing in the morning after being let out. As he aged, he usually managed to place himself strategically so he could get up without too much trouble. He could be a curmudgeon, chasing everyone away from the feed buckets, as he sampled them all, just to remind them who was the boss hoss. His ankles were size of coconuts from a life spent racing, from New Zealand to New York, and eventually, to Maine. He learned to beg for carrots from watching Harley. I'd stand between them, each butting me with their noses, asking for another carrot. He liked having his face groomed and would drop his head to lean into the brush. With each passing year, more grey and white appeared on his face. 

Rest easy, Vance, and say hello to Ruffy for me. She's waiting for you.

Vance and Ruffy - 2018

Monday, February 22, 2021

Fresh Tracks...And a Trap


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.

Snowshoers and hikers left big frozen divets in the trail--a far cry from the lovely skiing on packed powder I'd experienced the last time.
My skis jumped around the peaks and valleys pocking the trail. I tried to ski on the edge, but the entire trail had been tracked out, leaving no place else to go. Once I reached the fork to Big Bump, I veered off, hoping less traffic had mangled the trail. I made up my mind to decend down the power line to avoid the lumpy, bumpy run back through Orris Falls. I called John to let him know where I would exit on the off chance he drove down to the trail head to pick me up. Turns out, that was a good thing.

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!

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Winter Fun Without the Horses


What do you do when the trails are not conducive to riding? Get out the skis! We've had some wonderful snow conditions for skiing, but the trails are not packed enough for riding. Rather than putting a lot of stress on Harley's joints, I put it on mine instead!

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.

Monday, December 7, 2020

Precious and Fragile

We lost one of our herd November 17th. Ruffy was fighting what was thought to be Lyme disease, but complications ensued. Six days after treating her with Doxycycline and flunixin meglumine, she went into shock. We put her down on a cold dark night under spitting rain and snow pellets.

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.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Different Directions


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

Friday, August 21, 2020

Slogging Through Summer (With a Pandemic)

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. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

A taste for retirement

As the Covid-19 pandemic grinds on, Maine is reopening to tourism: beaches, vacation rentals, and shopping. The hordes that descended on Orris Falls Preservation only come on weekends now, but I choose my route carefully. I can "social distance" from atop my horse, but it's really a matter or enjoying the woods without clamoring crowds. I suspect these hikers miss a lot of what I'm seeing, purely based on noise and numbers. Mid-week, or early morning offer me the best times to ride, and may be the only time I can access the Orris Falls trail head.

Last week, John and I saddled up for an evening jaunt and spotted a fox at the forest edge along the power line. A few days ago, I came across a flock of turkeys, and a couple of deer. And there's the birdsong serenades that I use as training for bird identification.

Meandering along at the pace Harley chooses, I ride on the buckle, taking photos and videos of our adventures; what a life. I could do this all day, every day, if I didn't have to work. And John would do the same! Even working a little, or doing freelance, without the hassle of having to be somewhere by a certain time lessens the stress. And boy, I'd love to have a LOT less stress!

After 11 weeks working from home, attending online meetings, webinars, and computing on the laptop and phone,  I really developed a taste for the freelance gig and no commuting. I multi-tasked to the max! Laundry while I worked on library stuff, bread baking while listening to a webinar...the list goes on. So, this is what life could be like if I was always working from home, or retired!

Someone else is slowing down, heading towards retirement too. My best boy, Halawa Moon, is now 18. It's hard to believe I've had him 10 years already! Arthritis in his knees limits the amount of time I go out, and the pace. Each ride is Harley's choice. "Where shall we go today, Harley?" An hour and a half is good when he's feeling sparky. If he's up for a little uphill canter, away we go! If it's just a walk, or occasional jog, that's fine too. Yesterday, I decided to jump off for the steep descent down the power line, giving his knees a rest from lugging me around. The trails through Orris Falls have eroded and packed down early this year due to the "pandemic traffic", with the exception of our Secret Trail. John has told me, it may be time to start transitioning to Rolex. She has spunk, and a lot of spring in her step, but we need to develop a partnership like I did with Harley.

As Harley and I age together, we're mapping out our
plan. We need to find our own property, where I can stroll out in the evening and check on my herd, give them carrots for dessert, and kiss them on the nose. I want to have the comfort of looking out my window and seeing my horses, happily eating in their pasture. We need a ring for working Rolex, and possibly Ruffy as well. I'm not a big fan of ring riding in my dotage, but some of the basics need to be done in that setting.  My one-sided wonder, Harley, will not be forced to endure circling, bending, extending, but I just might create an obstacle course for fun and games, complete with a bridge, pool noodles, and a gate to practice opening and closing while on board. These are required skills for any good trail horse anyway.

Harley and I reached our Jockey Club Thoroughbred Incentive Program for Recreational Riding 25 hour milestone two years ago. Last year, we reached 100 hours. At this point, I don't plan to push him on for the next mark, 500 hours. We will take each day we get, and enjoy our time together, in,  and out ,of the saddle. Watch out Rolex, I just may get a T.I.P. number for you!

John passing out carrots, sneaky Harley stealing the bag!

Friday, May 29, 2020

Birding By Horseback

Riding through the woods, I try to identify as many birds as possible by their songs. Rarely do I see the warblers, flitting among the treetops, but occasionally, a wood thrush or ovenbird silently wings past in the deep woods, exposing a brief glimpse of chestnut and white.

What I need to do, is carry my binoculars, but I also need Harley to stand still while I hone in on the bird I'm seeking. That could be a challenge; he's either ready to turn around and head home, or he's at the point of return and walking at a fast clip. Standing still is not an option!

On foot, my bird walks allow me to stop, listen, and observe. Riding allows for purely listening and sometimes, a brief glimpse. As the warbler numbers increase, so does my frenzy to get out there and memorize the various calls and songs. It's like learning a new language every spring, the language of birdsong.

The world of Orris Falls can be broken down into a number of micro-environments; the swamps, the deep conifer woods, the upland deciduous forest, and the open grassy shrub mix of the power line. Within each of these regions, I find different birds. Around the beaver ponds, and amid the swamplands, wood ducks, Canada geese, and veeries can be heard. In the dark hemlock groves, hermit and wood thrushes sing their beautiful, haunting songs coupled with the nasal nuthatch's call and the chickadee's cheery "chickadeedeedee". Up in the treetops of the deciduous woodlands, scarlet tanagers, black-throated green warblers, white-eyed vireos, chestnut-sided warblers, and wood peewees, fly from branch to branch. Every so often, I will hear the scream of a broad-winged hawk, or see its shadow as it flies overhead. In the alder and witch hazel shrubs, I hear ovenbirds, common yellowthroats, and black-throated blue warblers. Emerging from the forest onto the power line, I encounter the "zzziipppp" of the northern parula, the bright flash of the yellow warbler, and "Drink your tea" call of the rufous-sided towhee. Even riding home along the road, I'm serenaded by bluebirds, orioles, and song sparrows.

I followed the song of a northern parula one day, and only caught a few glimpses of him as he flew from tree to tree. But at home, I was able to study one closely, and, with the help of online photos and guidebooks, came up with this for my Mom's Mother's Day Card: