Y(R)ear End!

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I haven’t posted much here lately. Between the eye problems and the bad weather I haven’t ridden much in weeks. Dharla has been getting out on the weekends with Aldo. I finally decided he ought to ride her a little since he’ll expose her to things I normally won’t do with her. My days of risky stuff or super challenging rides are over. He reports that a little initial “feel good” buck aside, she’s been taking things in stride.

I’ll look forward to better weather and the opportunity to resume riding in the warmer months to come!

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Happy trails!

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May13, 2012

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I got out today on one of those rare rides with the husband. That doesn’t happen very often anymore, so it was unique in that aspect. I wanted to try to do something a bit different and expose Dharla to some deep water crossings if at all possible. When I ride with Aldo and Bullet I like to take on stuff that I typically can’t or don’t choose to do on a green horse when I’m alone or with someone else. I try to use having a ‘babysitter” horse to my full advantage when Aldo goes along because he’s so experienced and I don’t have to worry about whoever is on Bullet at the same time that I’m working with my own horse. Nothing worse than that!

So we did a nice loop that had a bunch of slightly more challenging stuff for Dharla and in most cases she rode lead. I typically put her in the lead fairly often since she tends to lean a bit toward being spooky and I want her to learn to cope with things instead of finding comfort in the company of another horse. I do switch to following too because she needs to learn not to rush into the horse ahead when she gets nervous or revved up. So while it may seem like there’s no real strategy to what position I ride, there usually is.

We started off riding from our house down the dirt road that runs past the arena. We only pass three houses on this road and it was pretty quiet that late in the day, but one neighbor was out mowing his lawn. That was good to go by and Dharla was fine with it. Of course, she had Bullet’s company, so it’s hard to tell how OK she would have been had he not been with us. We continued down the road until we came to the place where the trail starts. We’re used to this part since we ride it often, but I put Dharla out front anyway. We didn’t go far before we came to a place where the trail split and I decided to take a branch that I’ve never ridden with her. Soon, her true colors came out and she was hesitant and actually balked at a very small, shallow creek  crossing. I let her think about things a bit before I encouraged her forward and she then crossed without too much trepidation. A few moments later we came up on what, for lack of a better description, I’ll call a car and truck graveyard. It’s a corner of a friend’s property where he’s amassed several ancient cars and old trucks in various stages of decay. They’re not especially spooky to me, but Dharla had a different opinion. She was a wee bit freaked out and wanted to turn around and head in the opposite direction.

At this point I asked Aldo to pass us and lead on, the idea being that I didn’t want to give Dharla an opportunity to balk. He did, and Dharla quickly tucked in behind him and we moved past the vehicles without any further emotion or fuss. The trail widened there for a bit, so we rode side-by-side until it started to get tight again, and I pulled ahead. This being a new section of trail for Dharla she was still a little wide-eyed and a bit blowy, but overall she handled it quite well. There was nothing on that section of trail that  should be all that scary, it was just “new” and that’s all a green Arab needs to be on high alert. But before we knew it we were back on a trail that she knows quite well and I felt her relax.

A few weeks back there was a big brush fire off to one side of the trail we rode next. I hadn’t been up there to see it until now and I was shocked at the size of the area that was burned. We don’t do “open burns” in this state and our woods are very old and overgrown. It looks like the fire fighters got the fire under control just in time because the down side of the trail is the start of a HUGE forest that has tons of Hemlocks that are in various stages of health. Hemlocks suffer from wooly aphid disease which kills the trees slowly over a period of several years. Large stands of Hemlocks are slowly dying and sometimes they can be a major fire hazard. Fortunately, this part of the country isn’t known for having droughts, but this spring was the exception. Had that brush fire jumped the trail it would have had disastrous results. Years ago the state tried culling the Hemlocks to prevent the spread of the aphids, but that was in the early 90’s and I don’t think it did the trick. Too many Hemlocks and too little manpower, no doubt.

Anyhow, with Dharla still in the lead we rode past the big burn. I was pleased that Dharla didn’t hesitate although the area was very odd looking and still smelled quite strongly of burnt wood. This section of trail is one of my all-time favorites as it winds its way down through a large stand of White Pines. Here, the floor of the woods is covered with oceans of bright green ferns that sway gently to and fro in the breeze. You could hear a pin drop if you listened carefully, it’s so peaceful and serene.

This trail empties out into a sluice that puts us at a deep stream crossing. There’s an old wooden bridge that crosses the stream, but it’s been deemed unsafe for equine use for several years. So to continue on our way we must cross the river here. Unfortunately, the crossing spot is a challenge. We have to descend the face of a rock ledge that is at least (if not slightly greater) than 45 degrees and is always slick with seeping water. The descent is short … maybe all of 10-15 yards, but it ends in some knee-high water that precedes the actual crossing. So once you commit to the descent, there’s nowhere to go except down and into the water. LOL! I’m laughing because it probably sounds much harder than it is, but I’ve never ridden with anybody (who doesn’t know this trail already) who doesn’t look at this next section and go, “Shit! We’re going down THERE? Are you kiddin’ me?”

Nope! When we entered the sluice I had Bullet and Aldo take the lead. My only objective was to get Dharla down the chute and into the first pool of water without hesitating. Now bear in mind, it’s not as simple as just pushing her forward. I had to time this right. In other words, this teaching moment was about more than just getting the job done. What I really wanted Dharla to learn was to wait to go when I said go, not go when she wanted. I knew she would be nervous, and I also knew her MO when she’s really nervous is to do one of two things: If she’s alone, she balks, but if she’s with another horse then she’ll usually just try to rush through whatever is making her nervous as quickly as possible. Well this isn’t a challenge that can or should be done quickly. My goal is to teach my horse how to take her time and trust me that: 1. I won’t ask her to do anything I don’t think she CAN do, and 2. to do it when and how I ask it to be done.

Was I nervous? Yeah, kinda. My biggest concern was that Bullet is a slow and determined horse. We don’t call him the Lumber Wagon for nothing. So I knew he’d start down that ledge and I was going to have to time my descent just right. If I held back too long, Dharla might lose her confidence and say “Screw it, I’m going home!” and try some evasive stuff. But if I jumped the gun and started her down the ledge too soon, chances were pretty good she’d have little-to-no speed control (this being her first time down it and all) and she’d end up right on top of poor Bullet. The idea was NOT to get into a sticky situation or become part of a road jam. Fortunately, I’ve done this crossing so many times, I could do it in my sleep. Also in my favor was the fact that Dharla and I have done this crossing from the reverse direction, which had us going up this ledge instead of down, so it wasn’t 100% new to her either.

Bullet started down in his usual steadfast pace while I held Dharla back and waited until he cleared the pool below. Dharla didn’t hesitate one bit and when I sent her forward she shimmied down that ledge like she’s done it every day of her life. She stepped right into the shallow pool and up onto the small sandy island on the other side. We still had the deep water to cross, but Bullet was already half way through it and Dharla didn’t hesitate at all when I asked her to begin to cross. The water was freakin’ DEEP!!! I almost got wet and it was up to the top of Dharla’s legs, but she handled it well. Our only glitch was that as we came up on the other side Dharla wanted to exit on one side of a bush and I wanted her to exit on the other. We ended up with a compromise: She stood still (in the water) to let me make the choice and since she did that I choose to exit on her side of the bush.

We continued on and did some nice extended side-by-side trotting until the trail narrowed and I put Dharla in the lead again. Since this was the first time she’d ridden this trail in reverse I wanted her out front so she could process things. We then picked up a trail that led to a dirt road that runs along Salmon River. Fishing season has started and I knew there would be some light traffic on the road, which I thought would be good for Dharla to experience. For the most part people navigate this road very slowly, but you never know what you’re going to encounter. Better to do this a few times with another experienced horse and rider along for support. The road is very narrow in places and one side of the road has a very steep bank and the other side drops off into the river. In some places the shoulder of the road drops 15 or 20 feet into fast moving water and in other places there isn’t any shoulder at all! So it’s a bit of a challenge when you do meet a truck or car, depending upon where you are!  But as we rode along we were passed by about five trucks or cars (in total) and Dharla didn’t bat an eyelash at any of them.

Eventually the dirt road put us on a short trail that led up to the Airline Trail. I ride this trail with Dharla all the time, so from there on it was pretty straightforward. We did some nice canters and extended trots on the way home and soon arrived at the barn with some seriously hungry horses. Neither horse had much of a sweat by then, so we stripped their gear, wiped the horses down and fed. We were both starving too, so I fired up the grill and we had a nice Sunday dinner. I’m not a mother and my own mother is deceased, which tends to make this a bit of a gloomy day for me, what with all the frigging emphasis on moms. But a nice long ride ended up being a good way to spend this Hallmark “holiday.”

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Distance: Guessing maybe 7-8 miles? Hard to tell!

Time: 2.75 hours

The Wet Stuff

Something new! Hazer at an early herding lesson.

 

 

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 At the end of yesterday’s entry I mentioned a river crossing. We have lots of water in our neck of the woods and getting a young Arabian comfortable with a variety of wet encounters is always a challenge. For some reason, Arabians don’t much like water at first. They are desert horses and I suppose their aversion might come naturally. Needless to say, mine have never liked water much. Bean didn’t mind being hosed down and he loved blowing bubbles in the water tank, but the first time we tried crossing Salmon River with him was nearly a disaster.

At that time my husband was a relatively green rider and we were both riding young, green horses. I’d met an elderly gentleman, a retired Navy man who kept three horses and rode the trails in our neck of the woods. I happened upon him one day when I was out riding  on my day off and he invited me to join him. He knew his way around the forest like the back of his hand and I was glad to have someone to ride with. We exchanged names and phone numbers and from then on Lyle proceeded to call me bright and early every Thursday morning to see if I wanted to go ride. (My day off) So for the next couple of years we rode together almost every Thursday, and on the weekend too if we could arrange it. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

It was early the spring of ’90 when we met up with Lyle and rode toward the Salmon River. Previously, all our rides had been on our side of the river, not so much because we rode green horses who didn’t especially want to cross, but because we hadn’t run out of places to explore on our side. But for some reason on that day we all decided it might be fun to cross the river and try out some trails on the other side. Lyle was riding one of his more seasoned horses and knew Stormy wouldn’t hesitate to step into the river. And having ridden in this area for years, Lyle and Stormy knew all the best places to cross Salmon River. What they didn’t advertise too loudly however, was that the river was unusually high that spring … something you don’t always think about until you’re trying to cross a body of fast-moving water on a small Arab!

We followed Lyle and Stormy down a narrow trail that wound through a tall stand of White Pines and ended abruptly at the edge of the churning river. Thinking it best to keep moving, Lyle urged Stormy forward and began to cross. There wasn’t much of an edge to the river and it dropped steeply away from the bank in a couple of steps. Later, I came to realize that Lyle had chosen one of the less rocky crossings spots, but it still had a good deal of large, bowling ball-sized rocks under the tea colored surface. And as we were soon to discover, there were a couple of deeper holes, too.

I didn’t grow up in a place where we did a lot of horseback water crossings. We did occasionally ride our horses in the murky stream that bordered our hay fields, but when we did the whole point of going was to get wet. Needless to say, when we did that we wore swim suits, rode bareback and looked for the deepest places in the stream. But this ride with Lyle took place in early spring. The water was high, fast and cold and the last thing any of us wanted to do was get wet. The horses included!

After a few seconds Tia and I followed Lyle into the river. Lyle and Stormy went about 3/4 of the way across before stopping to wait and see if both Arabians would cross. I encouraged Tia forward as Lyle instructed me to pick a spot on the opposite bank and stare at it. Otherwise, you and your horse tend to drift downstream. Did I mention that the river was high and fast? It was, and Tia was only all of maybe 14.2 hands. With a super loose rein I was let her pick her own way across, only steering her when absolutely necessary. Suddenly she stepped into a deep hole. I scrambled to drop my stirrups and lift my feet up over her shoulders in hopes that I wouldn’t get too wet. Startled, Tia stood stock still about halfway across the river. As I let her process things I turned and saw Beanie frantically dancing in place back on the river bank.

Lyle calmly looked at Tia and I and said, “Cher, you’d better move that mare PDQ before the bay decides he’s going to use her as his personal life raft!” Without hesitation I squeezed Tia and we staggered out of the deep hole just as Beanie gathered himself to cross the river in one huge jump! Bean landed in the exact same spot where Tia and I had just stood only a nanosecond before. I have no doubt in my mind that Beanie thought we might be the perfect stepping stone to the opposite side of the river!

Beanie stood there a few moments trembling and snorting. I could tell by the big grin on my husband’s face that he thought that was probably the most exciting thing he’d ever done in his life! Greenhorns! (Roll eyes) However, as he sat there contemplating the thrill of the moment, Beanie gathered himself and launched again. This time the Bean succeed in getting himself almost to the bank and he quickly scrambled up onto dry land where he stood dripping, sides heaving. (The Bean always was a tad mellow-dramatic!) Lyle and I carefully picked our way across the rest of the river and joined my husband on the bank.

I never knew that a horse can panic and try to jump onto another horse while crossing water. Kind of like a drowning person. In due time Beanie grew to really enjoy water and he didn’t hesitate to step right into the deepest and fastest rivers. The guys also used to take the horses to the beach to ride and although I never went with them, story has it that Beanie was pretty darn brave. Arabians are desert horses and I’ve never met one that (initially) liked water. Tia also grew very dependable and level-headed at water crossings, but I wouldn’t say she really liked it. I think she simply tolerated water, but that was just another one of the many reasons why I grew to love her so. Tia always did whatever I asked, no matter what her personal opinion might have been.

So far Dharla’s deep river crossings are a bit like Beanies. She would really like to jump across in one fell swoop, but once she realizes she can’t do that she just tries to get across as quickly as possible. I know she’ll eventually be OK with this.  She used to be equally anxious about crossing small streams, but now that’s not such a bid deal for her and she doesn’t get worked up about it. Well, sometimes she still tries to jump a small stream, but that’s not unusual and sometimes I even encourage her to do that depending on the setting.

So what about your horse? Does it like water?

April 15 & 16, 2012

Tia

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I’ve fallen a bit behind in my blogging. Visual impairment will do that I guess! I got out for a nice ride on Sunday. The plan was that the guys were going to ride around 1:00, so Aldo and I tacked up an hour ahead of that and did a little loop together. I like to do this because I can ride for a bit with Aldo and Bullet, then break away and finish my ride alone. This gives me an opportunity to do two things. 1. It allows me to help teach Dharla that it’s OK for us to leave the company of others. Nothing’s going to happen to us and we can continue to enjoy our ride without the “safety” of a group. So far Dharla has accepted this lesson well. On this ride she seemed a slight bit more concerned when we left Bullet and he went the other way, but she didn’t OVER react and that’s what I’m trying to avoid by doing this every now and then. Bullet actually made much more of a fuss than Dharla did and he called out to her repeatedly. This has happened before, but this was the first time Dharla has ever whinnied back. She hollered once, then that was it, but I was surprised as she’s never made a peep before. Overall, she did well. I could tell she was trying to see if Bullet was going to eventually follow us as we went on down the trail alone, but she didn’t struggle to turn around or anything like that. I spoke calmly to her and encouraged her forward and she complied. Although she tends to be more spooky when we’re alone, she did well and it seems she soon forgot about Bullet. We could hear him calling for some time, but eventually he rode out of range. Later, Aldo told me Bullet continued to call for Dharla even after he met up with his buddy and they rode off together. I was kind of surprised by that and it made me even more happy that Dharla chose to be silent. I hate having to listen to a hollering horse!

The second thing this strategy does is it engages Dharla’s mind so that when we get back home she’s a bit more fatigued and less stressed about Bullet being gone. Aldo’s ride usually last anywhere from 3-5 hours and that means Dharla is on her own until they get back. I’ve noticed that when Aldo and Bullet leave and Dharla is left behind, she’s much more stressed out, but if we’ve done a little “send off” ride and come back home alone, she doesn’t seem quite as worried. Not that she doesn’t call and holler; she does! But she’s less dramatic about it. I’ll tell ya, it’s things like this that kind of make me miss having a third horse! 😉

Monday’s ride was a nice jaunt down that AL trail. I got out early because the temps were supposed to reach into the low 90’s and by the time we got back I was glad we were home. It did get unseasonably hot! We didn’t really “work” on anything special because (as I found out later that day) I’m not even supposed to be riding yet. So we took it easy. Still, it’s always great to be out and spend some quality time together!

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On another note, I fired my eye surgeon. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and reflecting on what happened to me last week and I know I can’t go back and see this guy again. I mean, I’ve never in my life seen such indifference for a patient’s comfort as I’ve experienced with him and his staff. Since I’m right in the middle of a mess I hate to have to change doctors, but I can’t bring myself to see someone who can’t be trusted not to hurt me. His bedside manner is unconscionable and so I must vote with my feet. He’s done. After discussing this matter at great length with the office manager of this group practice, it’s been decided that I will give them one more try, but with a different doctor.  She assures me the doctor I’m going to see will answer all my questions and treat me with dignity, compassion and respect. So I’ve booked my next follow-up appointment with him and we’ll see how it goes. (No pun intended.)

Meanwhile, there is little to no change in my vision and I still can’t see anything clearly through my right eye. Although I’m not using the dilating drops anymore, the pupil is still dilated and I suspect my vision will remain blurry until that situation changes. I’ve heard (again, the doctor didn’t address this issue) that it can take several weeks for the dilation to diminish, so I’m being patient. For the most part it doesn’t bother me too much unless I’m out in bright sunlight and/or I try to do anything that requires finer vision. I can get by. I did ask the office manager to please find out if I have any restrictions since the doc couldn’t be bothered giving me any directions after my last torture session. Oh, so it turns out I DO have some restrictions. Fancy that! I mean, this idot just put me through hell … you’d kinda think he’d want me to have the best possible shot at a good outcome … or maybe not? Grrrrr! I don’t want to think about it … it makes me so flippin’ mad.

On a happier note: I have a crew of tree workers here today. They’re working on clearing the roadway for our new hay barn.  Oh joy!

PS. I posted a picture of Tia because a recent post by a fellow blogger made me think of her! On a happy note, it’s the first time I’ve posted a picture of Tia since I lost her without tearing up. Yay!

March 18, 2010

Bullet

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Out for another great ride today. I typically don’t ride on weekends unless I know I’m going to be able to get back in the woods and off the beaten path. The AL trail is like Grand Central Station and the vast majority of the people who use that trail are morons and worse. So I try not to have to expose my horse to that nonsense if I don’t have to. Since I’m “retired” I can ride any day of the week and if need be, can give my horse the weekend off or choose to do something in the ring now.

Speaking of which …. I suppose if the ground continues to stay dry I should think about getting back to a bit of ring work. Ug. I wish I could say I like that, but I really don’t. Still, it’s good for Dharla to do a bit of schooling. I guess I should get my butt down there and see if the footing is drying up. It can be a bit greasy if the one side hasn’t gotten much sun.

I also need to think about whether or not I’m going to continue taking English lessons. I’d like to, but I’m concerned about getting stretched too thin with time, energy and cost. I typically ask for an early morning lesson because as the season progresses, I’m (still) ridiculously heat intolerant. That means that by the time I get home, I’m probably not going to be able to ride my own horse if the temps are already inching up. Once we get into summer I figure I have all of about 3.5 hours in the morning to get everything I need to do (outside) done before I have to retreat inside to hibernate in the AC. It’s like living in a bubble; you sit and watch the world go by, but you can’t participate in it.

Although the recession hasn’t had too much of a personal impact on me, I try to live as though it will. I make a tank of gas last at least two weeks, I try not to consume anything I don’t need and I keep a close eye on the bottom line. I always ask myself twice (if not more) if I really need something before I buy it or commit to it, including things like riding, herding and piano lessons. I’ve recently decided it’s time to cut back on the herding. My dog is going on 8 this year and he’s already got some congenital spinal problems. Since it’s never been our goal to compete, I’ve mostly been doing the herding for fun; his and mine. But while we both still enjoy the venue it’s expensive and a bit of a luxury. So I’m going to cut back considerably on that. We might go herding now and then, but it’s not going to be a weekly gig.

Piano lessons are something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I took piano lessons when I was a kid, but dropped them as soon as my mother would let me. Mom was a piano teacher and all her children studied piano, but we didn’t take lessons from her. Mom would cart us to someone else for that miserable task, then stand in the kitchen as we practiced and yell, “You’re not playing that right!” I hated piano back then, which is kinda sad. Only my brother stuck with piano. He had a true gift for it and played mostly by ear. Anyhow, when I called to make arrangements to take piano lessons I was surprised at how reasonably priced they were. I expect that will help me afford them for some time to come. Oh, and I love playing!

I’m on the fence about riding lessons. I already know I’m not going to show. Even if I wanted to show, I don’t think I could justify the expense right now. The barn where I’ve been taking lessons is primarily a hunter, jumper barn that shows. A lot. And while I’ve had a blast learning to ride English and learning to jump, I’m probably never going to use that part of what I’m learning. Not that it’s not all good … it is. But, well, I just don’t know. I love the instructor and the barn is literally ten minutes away. That makes things easy, but I’m still hedging a bit. It would fall into that “luxury” category for sure.

But back to riding. Since Aldo was going to head out on a ride with R, we decided we’d tack up an hour or so before they were supposed to connect and do a little loop together, Of course, the best of plans always seem to go awry and we didn’t get headed down the road with enough time to do much more than 1/2 hour together. The plan was that we’d ride a bit together, then Aldo would break off and go meet R. and I’d continue on alone. This gave me a good opportunity to see how Dharla reacts at going off on her own, and I’m happy to say that she did very well! Naturally, she was a bit animated for the first few minutes, but she never hollered or fussed and even better, she didn’t try to turn and follow Bullet. I was SO pleased, because this scenario will probably reoccur a lot as the season progresses.

Dharla and I did a couple of nice woodsy loops off the beaten path. We encountered a mountain biker on one of the trails, but we just calmly moved aside and let him ride past. Dharla has always kept her cool with bikers, which is a Godsend because we have to deal with them all the time. Occasionally a biker will come barreling out of the woods and startle us, but even then Dharla has always managed to keep her brains in her head. The more I ride this girl the more I love her! We did a good bit of hill work and just enjoyed being out in the woods alone.

Part of the reason why I decided to do a preemptive ride with Aldo before he left is because I find Dharla’s much less stressed at being home alone if she’s not here when Bullet leaves. I’m not sure why that is, but it’s true. If Dharla’s here when Bullet and Aldo ride off, she spends the better part of the first hour being really stressed. But if we’re not here and we come back and Bullet’s gone, she’s much calmer. At first I thought that was (maybe) because she’s just tired from being ridden herself, but one time all I did was take her down to the arena to do some minor groundwork while Aldo and Bullet left and when we got back to the barn and she found Bullet gone she was still pretty calm. Not that she didn’t holler, she did. But she didn’t run the fence line and carry on nearly as much as she will when she’s at the barn when Bullet leaves.

When we got home I cleaned Dharla up, gave her some hay, then hung out with her for a awhile. I so enjoy her company and she actually seems to enjoy mine! Overall it was a great day. Aldo and Bullet got home several hours later, just before dark. From the looks of things I know I made the right decision to ride alone. We’re not ready for their kind of ride. Yet.

Time: 2 hrs.

Distance: 6 miles (guesstimate: FB rd, AL trail, ridge loop to long trail loop to the wide water crossing & home)

March 9, 12, 13, 2012

Garden Guard

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I’ve been busy and that means I’m falling behind on logging my notes for each ride. Not that there’s all that much difference from one ride to the next right now. The ground is still pretty sloppy at times and I’m having to pick a choose my rides accordingly.

On another note, my husband is suddenly struggling with what sounds like might be a bulging disc in his neck. Nothing specific happened to cause this, but he’s had problems on and off for a few years … though nothing this acute. I know he hurts and can relate having struggled with back issues for over 25 years, but what freaks me out even more is that being disabled myself, I depend on him to do some of the bull work around here. I can help with things like unloading hay and daily chores, but there’s no way I can keep up with some of the other stuff that needs to be done …. especially in the spring, when just normal upkeep is a constant battle.

Last night my husband tossed and turned until 2 AM, whereupon he finally just got up and moved to his lounge chair in the living room. I felt bad for him, but there’s little I can do to help besides remind him to take some ibuprofen on a regular schedule. He saw his massage therapist on Monday and the Chiro yesterday. (No adjustments, just some massage and electrical stim.) Nothing seems to help. I guess today I’ll be calling around to see if we can get him into see someone because he really needs some relief, especially at night. You can’t operate heavy machinery on little to no sleep. It’s downright dangerous. So that’s weighing heavily on my mind today as I write this. (3/14) I also have another eye appointment today which means I’ll be dilated and lose the majority of my ability to see all afternoon. Sheesh  ….

Now, back to my regularly scheduled program:

3/9 (Friday) was a nice long ride down the AL trial. We had an excellent hack with no real sticking points. When I got to River Road where I normally turn around I wanted to mix things up a bit so I had Dharla go down a very steep path to the road below. She was a bit hesitant and we ended up circling the approach several times before she decided she could do it. Thus far we’ve only taken this path coming up, so this was new for her. On about the fifth approach she stopped, looked down the steep incline, then committed to it. I made a big deal out of encouraging and praising her. The rest of the ride home was uneventful.

Distance: 6 mi.

Time: 2.5 hrs.

3/12 (Monday) Another nice, almost hot day. We’re breaking March records all week I guess. I decided to combine a couple of woods loops in hopes that by staying in the shadow of the hills and ridges it would keep us out of the direct sunlight. Dharla is still pretty fuzzy and with the unseasonably warm temps I don’t want to over heat her. It’s very early in the season and neither horse is conditioned to working in the heat yet. Besides, I’m pretty bored riding the AL trail after using it almost all winter. Dharla seemed happy to be off riding something different too. We didn’t encounter anything unusual or have any issues. I worked on using my seat to navigate in some places. It always amazes me, how responsive Dharla is to the slightest shift in my weight.

Time: 1.75 hrs

3/13 (Tuesday) Today started out with rain and lots of clouds, but the forecast called for mid-day clearing and then rising temps. So I kept a close eye on the weather, then shot out as soon as it stopped raining and saddled up. The sky still looked threatening and I was slightly under-dressed for the wind that picked up mid-ride, but eventually it cleared up and got nice. We rode the AL trail today, but I had limited time due to a mid-afternoon piano lesson so we kind of hoofed it. Mostly trotting, but a few short stretches of loping thrown in for kicks.

Dharla seemed a bit spookier today than she’s been lately and I also thought she  seemed a bit logy. Not sure why because that’s certainly not her norm. She might have just been having an “off” day, but crap … I so worry about Lyme. The ticks have been horrific already. I go over the horses with a fine tooth comb at least twice a day, but it’s a useless battle and both have had several nasty bites and swollen spots already. The dogs I can protect with that nasty Vecter and Advantix stuff, but the horses are so screwed. If anyone reading this knows of ANYTHING I can use that’s safe for horses, I’m open to suggestion. We live only a few miles from Lyme, where the notorious Lyme Disease first got noticed by the medical community. So far one dog has had it three times, the other dog has had it twice, Beanie had it twice, Tia had it once, Bullet has had it once, and I had it once. My husband has never been tested, but I bet he’s been exposed and no doubt, Dharla will be too if she hasn’t already. Ug. One more thing I don’t like about living in the North East.

Anyhow, it was a nice ride and we made pretty good time.

Distance: 5.5 miles

Time: 1.5 hrs.

Feb 18, 2012

I’ve been remiss in noting rides. Its been a bit busy lately. Aldo and I got out today and did a nice Peach Orchard loop. I decided we should do the loop in reverse for a change … I can’t recall the last time I did that. If I don’t reverse a long trail once in awhile I tend to lose my mental map. Trails DO look different when you ride them the opposite way!

As we were headed up the long rocky gulch we were startled by someone VERY nearby who started shooting. I know we were in moderate proximity to two very isolated houses, but we were not on posted property. At first I thought maybe someone was target practicing, but I soon changed my mind and I think whoever it was was doing it on purpose to dissway us from our path. Dharla was in the lead when this happened and it occurred in the fist fifteen minutes of so of our ride … a time when the horses are usually pretty fired up and feeling frisky. I felt Dharla flinch at the first shot. It was very loud and booming … definitely a rifle of some sort, possibly even a black power rifle. Dharla held it together and I kept her moving. There was a quick second and third shot, followed by silence. A few minutes later we heard several shots, rapid fire style. That was when Aldo said maybe someone was target shooting, but I didn’t think so. And to prove my point, as we continued farther up the gulch, the shooting stopped. I think someone was having an attitude about our being out there … not that it’s any of their business! I was very pleased at how Dharla kept herself under control and just followed my instructions to keep moving at a steady pace. Wow! Very impressive for a young, frisky feeling mare!

Once we got up onto the orchard it was blustery and cold. I was kind of glad I’d suggested we do this ride in reverse because the wind and chill would have been a bit much at the end of the ride. Toward the end of the orchard, way off in the distance we saw someone approach on a horse. That’s a bit unusual! After all the times I’ve been up there I’ve only run into another rider maybe all of three times. As the horse approached I could see it was another buckskin and I racked my brains to think of someone we might know who rode another buckskin. We don’t see many around these parts.

Turns out this was a local guy who leases his horse from friends. He says he rides up in the orchards a lot, but I’ve never met him before. We stopped and chatted for about twenty minutes. His horse was very antsy and the rider bemoaned the fact that his horse is often hard to slow down. Both Dharla and Bullet relaxed and stood quietly as his horse pawed, fussed and danced around. I felt bad for the guy … I know how annoying that can be! (And I was SO proud of my girl for being SUCH a lady!) We exchanged names. The man said he’d look us up in the near future to get together for a ride. Hm. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that before!

The rest of the ride was uneventful. I decided to take a slightly different trail at the beginning of the long loop and soon discovered nobody has used that trail in eons. There were places where I was seriously thinking maybe we were lost, but I focused on every step and tried to follow a very faint indentation in the thick layer of leaves that covered the ground. Right about the time I was getting a little worried and wondering if maybe we should turn around and retrace our steps back to the starting point, then take the more obvious trail, I found the spot where the detour rejoined the main trail. Phew! Glad I wasn’t alone on that ride! (No that Aldo is any help. He has NO sense of direction at all)  I’ll have to try doing that part of the trail again real soon so I don’t lose it in my memory. It was too cold to be getting lost of having to retrace steps, so I’m glad we ended up where we were supposed to be.

Overall, it was a great ride. A little windy and chilly, but I was glad to get out for a nice loop with Aldo.

Time: 3 hours

Distance: Guesstimate, 6 miles

Jan 28, 2012

End of summer ride

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I got out to ride with the husband today. We didn’t get a very early start and by the time we left the temps had dropped and the wind had picked up. Looks can be deceiving and although the sun shone for the first time in days, it was still pretty cold. I’d cleaned up the horses in late morning when I went out to give them more hay. Dharla wasn’t too dirty, but Bullet was covered form head to tail in layers of caked on dried dirt. He was still sporting a wet belly and muddy haunches from a recent sun bath, but I brushed him wherever the mud had dried in hopes that he wouldn’t lay down again before we rode. When we went out to tack up three hours later both horses were caked with wet mud. Even Dharla was a muddy mess, which was a first. I guess the sun made them itchy and they both chose to roll in the wet paddock. I noticed Bullet was shedding a bit when I brushed him earlier. Our days are getting longer so it’s possible the urge to rub and itch … a ritual that precipitates shedding … has begun.

Concerned that the woods would be greasy from recent rain and melting snow, I convinced my husband to start our ride on the flat Airline Trail. I thought the horses should expend a little energy before we tackled the woodsy terrain. We didn’t go more than a mile or two before we veered off the flat trail and picked up another trail that slipped around behind a long steep ridge. It was amazing how much the ridge cut the steady wind and once we got tucked up behind it we were a little more comfortable. Unfortunately, there were several places where the footing really stunk and in a couple of cases that made me a bit nervous.

Bullet was in the lead and because he’s got a slow, steady walk I had to keep checking Dhalra to keep her from riding up his butt. She’s much lighter on her feet whether we’re going uphill or down and its easy with her natural inclination to walk faster to end up right on his butt. Because the trail is narrow, steep and rocky, it’s important to make sure there’s a bit of room between horses. I like to be able to see the ground that’s about to pass under us, especially when riding a young inexperienced horse who might not know enough (yet) to choose the best route. I don’t like to over-steer a trail horse, but until I know they have the trail sense to pick a good path, I like to be supportive and ready to help them make the best choice. You can’t do that if you’re riding up the bumper of the horse in front.

Dharla checks well. Twice I actually stopped her and asked her to wait while Bullet ascended the rocky, narrow path ahead of us. She waited patiently, then when cued, half lunged half walked forward. Given how frisky the horses were feeling and that we were climbing a steep incline, I wasn’t bugged by her somewhat over enthusiastic response. Normally, I’d use this as a teaching moment and try to get her to relax a bit more and control her speed, but I just wanted her to respond to my check and then move forward (reasonably controlled) when asked. A couple of times I felt her back feet slip sideways on the slick mud and I held my breath. This occurred at a place where the trail drops sharply on the down side to a river many yards below, and rises steeply on the left or up side. Literally, there is NO place to go if there is a misstep or a fall. Once, I actually squealed like a girl … it was SO greasy and dangerous. But Dharla quickly recovered and moved right along. I was so proud of her and I gave her lots of reassuring pats and praise!

We arrived home about 1.75 hours later. I was frozen. I couldn’t feel my gloved fingers or my toes. Still, I was glad we got out and had a chance to ride. Who knows when the next chance will be?

Time: 1.75 hrs.

Distance: about 3.5 miles?

Work Ethics

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This post is meant to serve as a warning for those equestrians who wish their husbands, spouses, significant others or what have you shared their passion for ponies. Be careful what you wish for!

Two of the riders In the photo above are husbands. One is a father of five sons, the other has no children. Both men work stressful, high pressure jobs; my husband has been pulling sixty hour weeks for over thirty years. The young man at the far right is a high school honor student who works after school and every weekend. Needless to say, none of these men have very much “free time,” but when they do, you can see how they like to spend it. Inconspicuously absent from this photo are two wives and a steady girlfriend.

There was a period of time when I thought nothing could be better than having my husband share my interest in horses. He was an ardent animal lover and I thought we could enjoy some quality time riding and caring for horses together. When he actually started to show some interest in riding I got him into lessons, then encouraged him when he began dropping hints about getting his own horse. He was inadvertently playing right into my hands! We got him a horse, started riding together and spent the better part of most weekends hitting the trail. It was a lot of fun and we both enjoyed sharing quality  time together.

But as all good stories tend go, things gradually changed. A few years into this idealistic scenario we forged a new friendship with a couple of other riders, two who were men that lived close by. Their wives rode with us occasionally, but not regularly enough to make us a predictable group of six. More often than not, it was me and the three men who rode out every Saturday or Sunday afternoon. At first I found this enjoyable, even flattering that the guys would treat me like one of the gang, but as time wore on I began to feel like a bit of a third wheel. No stranger to male bonding, I knew there was an added benefit of men spending “guy time” together, talking about …. well, whatever it is guys talk about when they’re together. (I’ve heard tractor hydraulics and anything with a motor rank pretty high on the list) But the men seemed to hold back and refrain from verbal banter when I was in their midst. They didn’t hesitate to ride flat-out, expecting I’d hold my own with them, but even that didn’t make me one of them. I gradually began to think I was encroaching and started to bow out of joining them on their adventures.

A few years later I was forced to undergo spinal fusion surgery that went horribly awry. When I emerged from the subsequent three surgeries I was a changed person. Disabled and not expected to do much of anything physical again, it was strongly suggested that I forgo riding, preferably permanently. I promptly discarded that advice, but I knew I wouldn’t be in any kind of shape to ride with the guys for a very long time, if ever. And so began what grew to become nearly fifteen years of riding solo. Fortunately, I had the perfect horse. My mare and I had been together long enough and had experienced enough things that I knew I could trust her to take very good care of me in any situation. And that she did.

My husband and I fell into a regular routine of dividing up the chores. Whereas before we always did things together, I was now “retired” and at home full time. Routine feeding and clean-up became my responsibility Monday through Friday morning. Since our horses don’t stay inside there are no stalls to muck, but at my insistence we pick our paddock multiple times a day. We also feed hay 3-4 times a day whenever possible. Those responsibilities became my job until Friday afternoon, when my husband was slated to take over.

From very early on I started nagging my husband to come home early on Fridays to go riding. He runs his own business and can certainly allow himself a little time off, but given his strict work ethic he resisted my suggestion for many years. But after he met his new riding buddies that all changed. Suddenly he realized that other people actually went home and had their own life after 4:30 or 5 PM. Instead, his usual routine was coming home at 7:00, eating dinner and going to bed a scant three hours after getting home. Thirty years of habit can die hard, but suddenly he started leaving work on Friday at 3:30 or 4, coming home and heading out to ride with his friends. Part of me was really happy for him, but part of me was steaming pissed off. Why couldn’t he see the value in that when it was us riding together? I don’t have an answer for that. All I know is that I was always glad to see him walk through the door early on Friday afternoon, only to become incredibly sad as I stood on the porch waving goodbye as I watched him trot off down the road.

For many years those Friday afternoon rides morphed into late night gallivants around the countryside. Given how little time the guys had to ride, they often made up for lost time by riding late into the spring, summer and fall nights. By the time my husband arrived home from these rides, dinner had grown cold and the movie for the night had long since been watched (by me) alone. I grew angrier and angrier. It was his job to feed the horses Friday night through Sunday night, but with him off traipsing around the woods I would inevitably end up doing his chores. While I couldn’t bear to make the other horses wait for their supper, it fried my eggs that I had to feed them myself. That was HIS job and I didn’t think it was fair that I was getting stuck with all the horse chores while he just got to enjoy them. Obviously, by the time he got in I was a fuming, sputtering mess.

At some point this pattern of ours was going to have to change or it was going to tear us apart. I tried tying a pocket watch to his saddle, but you have to look at a watch if you want to know what time it is, and he refused to do that. I stopped holding dinner for him, but he didn’t care. I threatened to stop doing his barn chores, but he knew that was an empty threat. Finally, we came up with a solution that made us both happy: Humor. We struck a bargain. The deal was he would give me an estimated time of arrival …. give or take an hour. Knowing his disdain for keeping his eye on the time, I figured he’d usually err on the side of running late. And so our saga went. He’d give an estimated time of return to which I’d tack on an hour or even two. If he got home before I predicted I was happy. If he didn’t then he still wasn’t “late” according to his perception of time. I admit, it was a pretty goofy arrangement, but it worked to diffuse my angst. I was still sad at being left behind, but that was something I was going to have to fix by myself.

The second big hurdle in sharing my equine life with my partner is our different methods of doing barn chores. Every Monday morning it looks like a bomb went off in the barn over the weekend. The floor is littered with hay, the grain bin has empty grain sacks wadded up in the corners, the wheelbarrow is overflowing, the utility knife is MIA and the hay rack has several lengths of green bailing twine dangling from it. This morning I was irked to discover all the bales I set out on Friday had been fed out and the next candidate sat open …. six tires above my head. Huh? Call me OCD, call me anal retentive, call me whatever you like, but when I do chores I do them a certain way and it drives me bonkers that my husband can’t seem to figure that out. So we go about doing chores our own separate way. Monday through Friday I run a tight ship, only to have it thoroughly trashed every weekend. *Sigh* I guess that’s the price you pay for having your wish granted!

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