Sunday, November 25, 2012

She's trying to be a good girl

Hmmm...what in the world is happening in this photo? Is that me on a new horse? In my last post did I say that I would not be riding this year in Florida? And did anyone believe me? I believed it. I purposely did not bring my saddle or saddle pads or girth to keep me grounded. I did bring my hardhat and boots (just in case a wild horse ran by me on the beach and I might have to jump on to make an emergency stop). I brought a bitless bridle because I knew I would visit my friends from the barn and maybe one of them would like to try it out.

On Black Friday I did go to the barn to visit my friend Barb. When I headed out the door in the morning, I told Maizie and Brian that I would be back in an hour. Brian winked and said, "See you after lunch." Before Barb got to the barn, I ran into Mandy, the fabulous trainer at Bareback Ranch. She is quiet and kind to horses - one of the best horsepeople I know. She said, "I think I have a horse for you!" I explained that I wasn't going to do horses this year, but Mandy smiled and said that I could just try him on the trail that day.

This is Chaunson, a 9 year old chestnut Appendix gelding. He is 15.3 with a very dishy face and full of love and a little spunk. Chaunson's owner is temporarily injured so Chaunson needs some attention and light exercise. As I was grooming him up a little friend appeared behind us in the doorway. 

The barn somehow adopted this new addition! He stood right behind me and quacked and talked to me the entire time I was cleaning Chaunson's back hooves. His long tongue was moving a mile a minute in sweet ducky?goosey? type words.

Side view of the new boy - all Thoroughbred-y in the front and Quarter horse in the back! Mandy put a western bridle on him for me and I got on in the ring, but he kept throwing his head around. I asked her if I could try the bitless and he liked it immediately. I felt a little naked riding a horse I didn't know bareback, but I knew I could just slide off and walk him if I had any problems. 

I headed out on the trail with my friends Barb and Tom. Here they are above looking like the wonderful Cowgirl and Cowboy that they are! So adorable on their matching Paints. I just adore these people. Barbara leases sweet Titan and Tom rides Norton and they ride together all the time. Just like last year on our amazing Black Friday ride, this year we hit the two equestrian parks with bridges and ponds and a zebra and miles of trails. It was a fabulous time!

Chaunson was willing and wonderful for the whole ride. He walked right across a scary bridge and anywhere I asked him to go. I went back on Saturday and rode again, this time with Niki and Max (Max is still at the same barn and Niki still gets to ride him once a week - hooray!) and Barb on Titan. Here we are, below, getting ready to go to the trail. Niki is leading Max and Barb and Titan are behind. Once we get through the barn gate, they get on their horses and we walk on the sidewalks to the parks. There are buttons to push on poles that stop traffic and allow us to cross streets at horse crossings! It is unbelievable!

Chaunson was a good boy, but he is still a little green. He was apparently left in a pasture for most of his life until recently. He doesn't shy at all, but I do slide off when he gets balky around other horses. I like to walk beside him for a few minutes so he knows that he isn't out on the trail without a friend. He has serious worry about all the other horses and his personal space. He pins his ears and acts nasty if any horse gets too close. His back legs are cut very badly because he jumped out of the pasture when accidentally turned out with another horse. He crossed a busy road and was, thankfully, alright, but my goal is to help him through his worry while riding. Luckily, there are mounting blocks every so often and I also used a couple fire hydrants to get back on. He stands perfectly for mounting - hooray! I know he is interested and likes the ride so I think we can help him find his confidence when riding near others. I may borrow a saddle for some rides - not sure I should be out on a green boy bareback everyday, but it has been fun so far. I told everyone that I am only going to come out a few times a week and I am sticking to that plan!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Almost heaven

Sweet Pie nuzzling me for some blueberry tea before I left home. We are in Florida now for our annual southern getaway and I am missing my boys more than anyone knows. I opted not to ride in Florida this year. Adorable Max has been sold so the plan was for me to work on my horsey book in this glorious setting.

These two photos are from last year, and the magnificence is apparent. It would be difficult to be sad in such a location...

...but I don't have horsey hooves to clean here...

...or foretops to fix...

...or big puppies to ride...

...or buckets to clean (ok, not really missing this!)...

Nothing feels right without a horse.

I am trying to enjoy the journey (the big Journey) though, so to that end I am finding joy in being with Brian and Maizie and Noodlebug. Here is a short clip of our drive through West Virginia on I-81 with John Denver in the background. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

oops - I forgot the funniest part of the story!

Oh my goodness! In all my excitement about the trail and my ride on Rocky on my earlier post this morning I forgot to say that I fell off! Not off Rocky, but it was a pretty wicked fall - off the mounting block!!!! I was using Jen's two step mounting block to get on Rocky bareback. We turned the block on its edge to make it higher and it wasn't too stable. The block slipped out from under me and I slid completely under Rocky's belly!!! He just stood there perfectly quiet wondering what kind of goofball was going to ride him. And, two men were on the roof cleaning Jen's chimney so I am sure they got quite a giggle out of the whole scene. Thankfully, Rocky was a super sweet horse through it all!

You can join with me

Last Tuesday I had an amazing opportunity to ride a new horse! This is sweet Rocky, above, and we are out on a secret trail in my own neighborhood. Rocky was the absolute best boy for the whole ride. He was the perfect horse to help make a 16 year dream come true. He and his horsey friend, Smokey, and my new friends, Jen and K., all spoiled me by taking me out riding on a trail that has been a fantasy I never thought possible. 

I discovered this trail accidentally in November of 1996. Out for a run from our farm, I ended up on a grass path in the woods. The path went through a large tunnel under the turnpike and seemed to stretch out for miles. It was overgrown with jaggy, wild raspberry branches, but I was still able to run a long way. I soon realized that it was an old railroad. Coincidentally, I was the zoning officer for my township at that time, so after my run, I did some research on the history of this hidden greenway. 

The railway stretched from our town to a neighboring town and had been abandoned in 1972. A judged ruled that year that the 12 property owners in our township who abutted the railway would jointly "own" the strip of land. The railroad ties were pulled up and the land was mostly used by farmers to hunt. I ran back there for some years because it was a great shortcut to get from my horse farm to my home. The trail was gorgeous and quiet and forgotten. I constantly imagined what it would be like to ride a horse back there. Unfortunately, one day after a long absence, Brian and I ran on the trail only to discover that the Turnpike Commission had closed in the tunnel under the turnpike. I was devastated and stopped running on the trail at all. That was probably in 2004. 

This September, though, I was out for a run nearby and happened to look at one of the trail access points. It was newly mown and the thorny brambles had all been trimmed. I turned onto the trail and was able to run easily for one mile until I got to the turnpike. The tunnel was still shut, but the trail was wide and maintained! I was delighted and on the way back I started my perennial daydream of riding out here. Just then, I looked down to the right and saw two horses in a paddock and a family unloading hay into a small barn! I squealed and ran right up to them beaming with excitement. When I think back on that day, I laugh at how I must have looked - appearing out of nowhere, in the deep recesses of their property comes this crazy, sweaty woman who is talking non-stop of horses. I found out that the family recently moved to the property and they and the other neighbors had decided to clean up the trail. The mom, Jen, and daughter, K., are riders and were looking for riding friends.

A pasture shot of Jen and K.'s adorable geldings - Rocky, above on left, and Tennessee Walker, Smokey, on right.

Jen came to meet my horses one day this fall, and then on Tuesday, all the planets aligned and Jen invited me over to ride Rocky! K. was off school so she rode Smokey and I rode Rocky and we all headed out to the trail. The day was chilly (K.'s teeth were chattering) but it was sunny and beautiful out there on my dream trail.

Above, a summer shot of  K. standing with her Smokey sweetie pie and below, Jen is walking with K. and Smokey on the secret trail! I took this photo from Rocky's back - just look at that gorgeous view!!!! This trail is in the middle of nowhere so it makes it all the more special. Where I ride normally it is terribly loud with truck noise. This trail is quiet and very close to my own home. 

The horses were so good and seriously seemed happy to investigate their special trail. K. and I rode bareback which was fun and helped keep us warm on such a chilly day. I had a blast and it seemed like everyone else did too! Thank you Jen and K., Rocky and Smokey!!! I can't wait for our next ride!

UPDATE: There is more to this story! Click here.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


On Monday morning I looked everywhere for my sunglasses. It was the first day I needed them since the 24th of October! Our valley has a tendency to get trapped under a thick blanket of gray clouds that can't be burned off. I ride in all weather, everyday, sunny or cloudy, but I find it difficult to do the farm chores that I am supposed to do when it is icky outside. Finally, the sun came out and I felt inspired! 

The horses had yet to be turned out in our large, middle pasture and Monday was the big day! This is the area where my friends helped us plant over 300 tree seedlings at our Kentucky Derby seedling planting party in May 2011. The tree seedlings are tall and so are the fabulous "weeds" and grasses. As I learn more about horsekeeping, my views of pasture management and what is desirable has changed and evolved. Previously, I used the term "Pasture Management" - like everyone else - to mean the system employed to keep pastures lush and weed free and manicured and not overgrazed. My current stance on healthy horsekeeping has me thinking very differently about Pasture Management. My goal now is not to see gorgeous, green, lush grass. Instead, I relish the sight of our "prairie" that is slowly growing into a forest. It is full of diverse grass species and weeds, like thistles, that horses nibble for variety. 

There are "dangerous" things in this space too. My fear of poisonous trees and weeds and groundhog holes and fox dens is real. Yet, I am learning to observe nature and relax and welcome some new ways of thinking. I have discovered that in large spaces with other choices, horses do not choose poisonous trees and weeds. I try to think about horses in the wild. There may be some who die because they ate the wrong plant, but on the whole, most horses choose to eat the plants and tree bark that are safe to them. Of course, I worry that one of my boys might pick the wrong plant one day, but it is unrealistic to think that I could eliminate every dangerous species from pastures this large. 

The same is true of our groundhog and fox dens. Initially in other pastures last spring, I did what I thought was "right" to mark the holes for the horses. I mowed the grass and weeds around the holes so the dangerous openings were visible and then clearly marked the area with caution tape. But, out there in the unused pasture, marking danger spots made me notice and think about what was naturally occurring without me. Around all the den entrances (before I got to them with the mower) I noticed that there were thorny berry shrubs and bushes growing up, protecting the groundhog and fox holes. Talk about a successful cycle in nature! The animals eat berries and then defecate the seeds outside of their dens which, in turn, plants the shrubs and bushes. The sharp, thorny bushes discourage invaders. If you look over our pasture you can easily see the places to avoid. Are these shrubs a telltale danger sign to the horses too? All those times when I mowed the shrubs over so the holes were exposed and "perfectly" visible - was I just messing up the system like we humans tend to do? 

Above, you can see a hole that I marked on Monday. Sadly, I mowed down the warning shrubs last summer, so there is only tall grass around the hole. Hopefully, in time new berry bushes will grow.

This system might explain how horses turned out on large, relatively "unmaintained" pastures can avoid falling in holes. And, yes, I realize, just like the eating of poisonous plants, horses in the wild do fall in holes and get injured. But, no matter how diligent we are with maintenance, groundhog burrows sometimes erupt overnight and I believe that horses probably have a built in mechanism to avoid them. So on Monday, my sunshine chore was to walk around without the mower and mark the openings I found in the thorny shrubs even though I truly believe this is a "human" task that is surely redundant.

The three boys watched me intently and I am certain that Sovereign knew what was up. Finally I opened the gate and allowed the horses into their new space. They didn't run and play too much. They looked around cautiously for a few minutes and then got down to serious grazing. Therein lies the real danger in this pasture. The grazing. I used to mow trails through this area. Mowing, I am learning, isn't always the best thing to do for horses. My early teachings in "Pasture Management" told me to mow frequently to keep weeds at bay. Pastures that are mowed often are fabulously green and orderly and lush and...a terrible place for horses like Pie - probably all horses. The more my human aesthetic likes a pasture - one that is green and neat and lush - the less diverse in nutrients and more prone to high fructans, or grass sugars. This has been a tough lesson as Pie became more rotund all summer on our lush, gorgeous, mowed pastures. Finally, I stuck the horses out in sparse, wild spaces with a variety of weeds and long, older hay and Pie's figure and athleticism returned.  Relearning what is a healthy body shape for horses too, has been part of learning about pastures. Firm and round and fully packed Hunter-type show ponies look so healthy to my human aesthetic. In reality, Foggy and Sovey's thin frames are carrying the proper weight. 

Foggy says, "Who me?"

So, as to avoid more rotundness in Pie, the boys have only been permitted to graze for a short amount of time each day in this new pasture because my mown paths are lush.

This little imp who is kissing my phone and face, above, was quite a handful for a bareback ride on Tuesday. AND...since the magic of the sunshine continued for more than a few hours, I got to ride a sweet new horse bareback, on a special path near my house, but that is a tale for another day.

Sneak preview: 
Who is this mystery horse under me with the Tobiano white mane and spots? Could this be Rocky?