Wednesday, September 22, 2010

We chose rejoice.

The first thing Brian said to me on Monday morning when the alarm went off was, "Today is your big day!" Monday was the first day the boys were going to be turned out in their new Paddock Paradise pasture. The photo, above, is out of order. This was actually taken after they were out for a few minutes, but I thought it was special, so I put it first.

Here they are asleep in their shed before I turned them out. Sovereign and I had a lovely ride around the farm and inside the pastures earlier in the morning. He was very alert in the pastures even though he has ridden in that area a thousand times before. It must have looked different to him because of all the clearing the wonderful fence men did for us. Sovey was good, though, and I am glad he had a preview of coming attractions!

Here they are when they first entered the long narrow part. They were not really grazing, but more smelling the ground. Brian had come over from our house so he could see all the excitement. I was worried that there wouldn't be any excitement at all!

Earlier I hid "secret treasures" all around the pastures. There were hay flakes and grain in bowls and apples. It was fun to see them discover all their treats. Here they are munching grain.

And they are off trotting to the next treasure. I love how this photo shows that Sovereign's winter coat is so much darker than Pie's. In the summer they look like twins. Pie is a dark bay, but Sovey is brown.

Pie is very worried that Sovereign is finding a treasure without him here!

And the grand finale...the apple tub! Yummy!

This is a nice shot of why I put the fences up to begin with...SHADE! We desperately needed shade in the pastures and these hayfield inlets are wonderful for protection from the summer sun and winter winds.

Finally the horses were able to get down to serious grazing. I only allowed them out for 1 hour on Monday and 2 hours on Tuesday and 3 today. Our grass/hay isn't lush, but it is new to them, so I want to take it slow.

This morning (Wednesday) I am so happy to report that my dear little Pie-Pie was back to his calm, steady self out on the trail. We had a perfect ride over hill and dale and even on a new trail that the fence men made for us. Hooray!

Here my mom and Brian and Eby are resting in the shade after watching the boys in their new pastures. My mom was very kind to give the horses all the new fencing - thanks Mom! We added 2700 feet in new pastures which more than doubles what the horses had before. Our pastures are divided into different areas that wind around the property from barn to ring to shady apple chute to shed to sunny chute to another shed to a big open paddock and back around to two shady hayfield inlets. The idea is that the horses will want to move from space to space to nibble grass and hay and salt and water and apples and rest in their sheds. I am so happy and satisfied with the results.

The fence men opened trails on the outside of the fence so we can still ride in that area on the right of the pasture in the shade. On the left, there is a long hayfield stretch in the sunshine.

Eby likes the pastures too!
I am going to go missing the next week or so on a mini vacation from the blog world. I took this semester off from teaching so that I would be around for Maizie's transition into middle school and also so I could be around when the horse fence was being built. Now, I need to ride and rest and run and regroup. Take care, all!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Cast in this unlikely role, ill-equipped to act

Pie and I had a crazy bad ride this morning. The day was sunny and calm. Perfect conditions. Pie was so loving and sweet during grooming and tacking. He usually lets me know if he is antsy during this time, but this morning he was sleepy and quiet. Because of our fencing project, I hadn't ridden him since my mom and I rode on Tuesday. This is the longest the horses have ever gone between rides except for my trip to Florida last winter. I expected Pie to be nervous at first, but he wasn't at all. We circled around the maple trees in the front yard and out around the farmhouse. Next, we headed up toward my uncle's barn and near the turnpike. He was a perfect angel, softly blowing and relaxing as we went. As we headed out across the hayfield, a neighbor at the corner of our property was coming out to dump a wheelbarrow. Pie looked at him and the neighbor started talking to us. Pie walked toward him calmly and we met in the field and talked for a few minutes. Pie was so sweet and quiet. Next, we headed back up a hill away from the neighbor and Pie must have been watching him, but no reaction. When we got about 200 yards away, though, all hell broke loose. Pie wheeled around and started snorting and pulled all his energy inward until it felt like I had a tightly coiled spring or firecracker right under me. His head was completely in my lap and his hindquarters were under the saddle. It didn't feel like his feet were on the ground, but we were not moving. YET. I can't explain how awful I felt waiting for a movement from him. He snorted violently. His heart was beating loudly up through my body and I was talking to him and trying to softly urge him forward out of this tight position. I could feel his desire to take off towards the barn. I mentally made a note that I would turn him in a tight circle to stop him if that happened. He kept watching for the neighbor to emerge from the woods with the wheelbarrow. When that happened, Pie snorted and turned a tight circle. Hey, that is my move, I thought. He dropped his head while chomping his teeth and sort of rocked back and forth in a half-rear. He was very distressed. It was terrible. I could not get a forward movement so I dismounted to try to walk him forward toward the barstool away from the barn and the neighbor. Unfortunately, as we crested the hill we discovered that our dear barstool friends had erected a new wooden jungle-gym/swing-set in the entire yard. Pie could not take it! He snorted so loudly I was sure the whole neighborhood would come out to look for a dragon. He was very difficult to walk. I am so much better on a horse than off and I was kicking myself for dismounting. I somehow got him back to the pastures, but I don't think his feet were on the ground at all. I remounted and walked him around inside the ring and all over our old pastures. He walked, but he never came back to me. He was worried and nervous. I mentally wrestled with the question of how much is too much and watched the time on my wristwatch. Pie is seldom trying to be silly when he gets like this. The shot of adrenaline that was pulsing through his body, caused by real fear, was still acting and our walking was slow and steady, but not calm. He still was grinding his teeth nervously without any rein pressure at all. He performed large circles and serpentines perfectly, but arched and upward rather than forward. If someone were watching who was unaware of how a relaxed horse should look, they might think he was trained in advanced dressage. I kept my hand on the buckle and just held onto his mane, yet his head was arched and his teeth were grinding. After twenty minutes of walking like this on my "carousel horse" I dismounted and untacked him and brushed him. He uncharacteristically threw his head up and down in the cross-ties the whole time. How big and wild-eyed he was at this point. Defeated, I took him back out to the pasture for turnout. He wasn't even interested in grazing. I had planned to introduce him to the new pastures by walking around inside of them at the end of our ride, but that didn't happen.
I wonder what I did wrong today. I think I was focused, even when I was talking to the neighbor. Sometimes I just think that I am too much of a human to understand what he sees when he is scared and our bond is too new to trust me completely yet. He has thousands of years of history coursing through his veins telling him to flee and I am this little fly on his back, or worse, standing beside him, telling him that it really is ok. He doesn't even hear me. I feel certain he will hear me one day though, so I will keep trying!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

room for ravers

Last Tuesday afternoon we found this note on our chalkboard. Apparently, Sovereign had snuck into the barn again and left a message for my mom. She had a great ride on him in the morning! Yes, it is true - she is back riding! She fell off on July 31st, and she phoned me Tuesday morning and said that she was ready to get back on. I wanted her to stick to riding inside the pastures, so we took a few turns in there first. Then, she said that she wanted to go back out. Out we all went and the horses were wonderful for us. It was a gorgeous sunny September day and we rode around the field and back. I think Sovey really liked that she rode him again.
Other exciting things were happening at Honeysuckle Faire this past week. We got our new "Paddock Paradise" pastures that I posted about last April. They aren't quite as elaborate as I outlined back then, but they do include two shady inlets in our field. These areas were lovely riding vistas, with shade in the summer and wind barriers in the winter, but since the horses are outside 24/7 now, they need the diversion and protection. In addition, the inlets are not visible from the old pastures which should encourage more movement.

All our fences have been installed by a company called Pro-Fence from nearby Shippensburg, PA. They do an amazing job and are very patient with me and all my horse-specific requirements.

This is the small inlet that I wanted to fence for windbreak and sun protection. The space was too narrow, but lovely. Pro-Fence cleared the area for me to make a perfect natural "shed" for the horses.

I haven't turned the horses out yet. I hope to introduce them to the new space on Monday. They have been ridden in that area millions of times, but it will be different and exciting for them to be free out there, I think! I will try to capture their reactions in photographs.
My farrier trimmed their feet on Friday afternoon and was complimentary about the condition of their hooves. This was shocking to me because I had completely forgotten to show up for their last trim appointment on August 4th. Somehow, I thought my appointment was scheduled for the end of August. I think I forgot because their feet looked so good throughout August. When I phoned and learned that I had missed an appointment, I asked Travis if he had trimmed them anyway because their hooves looked so good! I think he thought I was nuts until he saw them on Friday. Continual movement is supposed to promote healthy hooves and natural wear. I am impressed so far.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Who would've thought... it figures

Yes! It is true...Miss Noodlebug and Master Pie - Pie are getting hitched! Ha - that would be an adorable wedding for sure. No, actually I was contacted by an animal lover who is getting married on November 6, 2010, the date of this year's Breeders Cup race. She and her fiance have embraced the Thoroughbred as a symbol for their wedding and found my custom poster site and asked me to design the invitations. They are requesting donations to go to a Thoroughbred rescue organization in lieu of gifts. Isn't that fabulous? I wanted to share the design, so I had Pie and Noodle serve as understudies today.
I spent this week riding everyday. Even though the first part of the week was windy, I had perfect rides each day. I alternated horses and concentrated on staying focused. The boys were amazingly good for me. Yummy rewards of apples from our trees followed. September is the best riding month in Pennsylvania.
The horses have been my best buddies during this "Maizie-goes-to-middle-school" transition period. They cheer me up just when I need it most! On Friday, I won the "Worst Mom of the Year" award and I was chasing my tears away in Pie and Sovey's manes all weekend. Maizie's school had a sixth grade social on Friday. On Thursday afternoon, Maizie spent about an hour deciding on the "perfect" outfit for this event. I was working on my computer as she tried on different clothes and posed in front of the mirror behind me. This is new territory for us - she usually could care less about what she wears so I thought it was very adorable. Her Friday schedule was full of quizzes and a mile run in gym and then the social was to be after school and I was to pick her up at 4:30 pm. She and I checked the school's website for the details. She kept joking that no one but her would be there because there hadn't been any announcements about it. She told all her friends to go too, though, so we both thought she would have a good time. In the afternoon, Brian and I drank iced coffee and reflected back on our own middle school dances and how much fun they were. At 3:15pm, though, Maizie arrived home on the bus! What happened?! Apparently, there was a $2 charge to get into the dance and Maizie didn't have any money. What kind of idiot mother sends her kid to the school dance without a cent in her pocket? That would be me. And, my dear, sweet Maizie-girl is too shy and unassuming to say a word to anyone - she just rode the bus home. I don't know why I didn't think of money. I had a brief thought when she started middle school to stick a $20 bill in her backpack for emergencies, but I forgot to do it. The PTO at her old school paid for so much - they were always taking field trips and having ice cream and pizza parties so I never even thought of it! The website didn't say a thing about admission, but of course, I should have thought of it myself. It just rips at my heartstrings to think about it, even now. Of course, it isn't the end of the world - there will be other mix-ups and disappointments in life, but I just feel like the biggest goofball Mom ever. My own mother tried to make me feel better by saying that maybe there was some reason why Maizie was not supposed to be there. Honestly, a strange thing did happen to us right after Maizie got off the bus. We were all in the kitchen talking about the mix-up. (Of course, I was crying because I felt so bad for Maizie.) We looked out the window and some big high school kid was in the field next to our house trying to pick up Noodlebug!!!! I walked out the front door with tears streaming down my face and stared at him and he ran away! Isn't that weird? So, Maizie and Brian have been trying to make me feel better by saying that if Maizie had been at the dance, Noodlebug would have been "cat-napped"!!! Ugh!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

If you build it...

... he will ...cut it down! Our farm has wooded paths and grass and trees around the buildings and about 20 acres of open area. This part has always been in corn or soybeans, but our farmer planted hay in the spring of 2008 and we have been having wonderful rides in the hayfield ever since. Our horses do not like the hay he makes (he cuts it too late) and he doesn't pay us very much (less than he should) so I have spent these two years researching other rider friendly ideas for the open 20 acres. Orchards, Nursery stock, Christmas trees, sunflowers, lavender, and cutting flowers all appeal to me, but I do not want to be a farmer. I want to ride the horses around the field that someone else is able to use and farm. Every time I pursued these ideas, I was met with resistance. One thing I have learned in life is not to jam a square peg in a round hole. I asked our farmer not to do a second cutting this year and by the last week in August, our hay was waist high and lovely little trees were starting to come up on their own. I took our giant mower and designed gently curving trails through the hayfield and around the perimeter. All the trails met at the high point of our farm and some attached to the wooded trails. There was a middle allee and quadrants for future partierres. It was perfect!

Which explains why I got myself in so much trouble with the camera and Sovey as I detailed in my last post. After that epiphany, I had some amazing THINKING rides on Pie and Sovey through the trails and newly cut paths. On Saturday morning, Brian, Maizie, and I all went over to use the paths like a cross country course. We ran on the hayfield paths and in the woodland trails in the dew and sunshine. At one point, I saw Brian (shirtless) running on the middle allee. He was running toward the high point, with his long mane flying in the wind. The high hay was blocking my view of his running shorts. He looked like a naked wild man running through the fields - NOW THAT WAS A SIGHT TO BEHOLD!!!!

That evening, Brian and I rode the horses all over the paths. The sun was setting and the air was cooler and the trails through the hay were so lovely. I knew if I focused on Pie that he would be calm and Sovey would give Brian a nice, safe ride. We talked to all our neighbors and invited them to walk or run on the paths. It was brilliant.

All week I rode the boys, alternating days around the farm on our new trails. I rode with a purpose and both horses responded by listening to their attentive rider. In addition, I realized that my struggle with finding the "right" use for this field was over. Our own trees were coming up and the possibilities were endless for riding and cross country skiing and running. I finally felt a calm that I hadn't felt in a long time.

On Wednesday, my mom phoned. The farmer was cutting the hayfield, and with it, all my paths! What?!! I couldn't believe it. I called him and he apologized - he apparently forgot about me telling him not to do the second cutting. Of course, he was 3 weeks later than any other farmer (which is why our horses hate his bitter hay). Brian shook his head in disbelief. He has been saying "if you build he will wreck it" in disgust ever since.

The boys have had much to watch as the farmer makes big giant "mulch hay" as he calls it. The big bales appeared yesterday and were slightly scary to Sovey on last night's ride. But, like the good boy that he is, we investigated it and he grabbed a hunk of it to munch. Our land has some sinkholes and groundhog holes which makes the paths that I cut even more important by keeping us out of trouble. When it is just an open field, "mapping" or remembering where the holes are is more difficult. Last night as Sovey and I were heading east toward the barstool I spied a groundhog hole to the left and I inadvertently tensed up. At that moment, he looked down and jumped straight up in the air like a Pie manuever. I remember thinking that I had caused the upset by tensing. Then I saw clearly what had happened - the exit tunnel to the groundhog hole I had seen to the left was right under us! Smart Sovey saw it at the last second and jumped straight up to avoid it. Oh, special, lovey boy - thank you!
Late in our ride we saw a neighbor who just shook his head and laughed, "Hey, Julie," he said, "I guess I'll go and walk on your paths!" He was disappointed like us. So, now, I am back to square one. Maybe I can design the paths again - better than before. And, I sent a letter to the farmer, in writing this time, to help him remember.