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Winter Blues

Winter Blues

Rusty horse welcome signOkay, I admit it. We are fair-weather horse people. When the temperature gets below seventy or so, we have no interest in riding.

There. Now you know the truth.

I don’t know about where you live, but here in east Tennessee, winter is just plain ugly. It doesn’t snow much, so you don’t have the icy but beautiful snow-covered landscape. It’s not warm like Arizona or Florida, so you don’t feel the urge to saddle up a horse and ride across the sand with the sun on your back. Tennessee winter can be summed up in one word: “muddy.”

Although it really doesn’t get very cold (although Bill would disagree with that assessment),  and in fact there are occasional warm days (in the 60’s), riding in winter here is just too much of hassle unless you’re really serious. Or if your horses, unlike ours, stay clean all winter. Because here is the number one reason why we don’t ride in the winter: two of our three horses (and the mule) stay covered in mud all winter long. To ride, you would first have to clean a horse. That is enough of a chore if the mud is dry – you could spend a good half-hour or more just brushing off the dirt where the saddle and cinch would go. But more often than not, the mud is still wet, because apparently Romeo and Cash think they are elephants. Or hippos. Or maybe just plain pigs. After a night in the barn, drying off (and flaking off), the first thing those two do when they hit the pasture is find a mud hole to roll in. (And, by the way, it’s not just mud.) Warmer than Minnesota it may be, but it’s still not warm enough to bathe a muddy horse. So, no riding.

Nothing else having to do with horses is much fun in the winter, either. To tell you the truth, we kind of just want to hibernate until spring, so going outside to do anything is really unappealing. Like I told Bill the other day, there is no joy in horse ownership in the winter. So our poor horses are given the most basic care we can get away with all winter long.

Here’s the thing though: we will pay the price come spring. When it finally does warm up and green up and dry out, we will want to brush off all that winter mud and slap our saddles on those now-gorgeous horses and head down a trail. But after spending all winter eating hay, rolling in the mud, and generally acting like a wild herd with no interference from the humans, our horses will be far from ride-worthy. So instead of spending those first glorious days of spring on the trail, we will be riding in circles in the round pen.

That is, after we put the round pen back up, that is. Because the other thing we don’t like to do in the winter is fence building. So when it first warms up, we will be finishing the fence where the round pen panels have been serving as “temporary” fence (long story), so we can reassemble our round pen.

So right now, we’re warm and toasty in the house and only feeling only slightly guilty for neglecting our poor horses in favor of staying as warm as possible, but I know we’re in for many weekends where we stare wistfully at trucks pulling horse trailers, heading off for adventure while we are spending all our time just catching up.

I sure hope we can catch up in time to have a few weeks of good riding before it gets cold and muddy again. Sigh…I hate winter.

Cool nights return

Cool nights return

Late summer was very warm here in east Tennessee. With temperatures in the 90s (Fahrenheit) and humidity greater than 70%, I admit I haven’t been very interested in doing much with our horses for a while. Tonight, as we headed out to feed horses, a noticeable change was in the air. If the weather forecast is right, cooler temperatures have returned, at least for the next 10 days, with highs in the 70s and lows in the upper 40s. I’m not a fan of winter, but fall is a nice break from the humidity of summer and now that cooler weather is returning, we’re looking forward to completing some projects around the farm and to riding our horses again.

How about you? Have you been waiting for the return of cooler weather to get out and ride/finish barn projects or are you a hardcore, ride anytime of year kind of of person?

What to do with all of this extra oxygen

What to do with all of this extra oxygen

I didn’t realize how much I took it for granted but I learned this week that east Tennessee has a luxurious amount of oxygen. Business took me to Denver last week and since Colorado is a long way from Tennessee, I had to fly in the day before to be there in time for a morning meeting Wednesday. As luck would have it, frequent readers Laura and Rich live in Denver and it just so happened there was a window of opportunity for me to meet up with them for a quick ride, barn tour and dinner. So I left home in my barn jeans and favorite riding boots, hoping that the smell of the farm on my boots wasn’t too strong. I’m not sure I notice it as much anymore but surely my fellow passengers would. Surprisingly, going through security was easier in my boots. No untying of shoes; just slip off and back on at the other side.

Now we live what’s called the western lifestyle on our farm but everything is definitely more western out west. Colorado, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona…it’s easier feeling western out there and that heritage is reflected all over the place. The Denver airport had western-styled shops, the entrance to the airport had a giant blue bronco, reared up and angrily staring at travelers entering the airport grounds. It’s eyes even glowed red. The local magazines spoke of rodeos and even my hotel had a western theme. I had been to Denver before but that was before horses were a part of our lives and this time I felt more welcome.

Colorado ridingLaura met me at the barn and introduced me to my borrowed ride “Socks”, a gelding who was calm enough to use in a youth equine program. Many thanks to his owner, whose name escapes me but who interestingly visits east Tennessee once a year not 30 minutes from where we live. I hope to reciprocate with a Tennessee ride with her next summer. Laura lent me her 16 inch saddle which fit me perfectly. We tacked up and headed out. We tested the horses in a large outdoor arena and once we were satisfied with their disposition that day, we headed out past the barn. I lucked out again with the weather. Laura and Rich tell me the weather can fluctuate a lot this time of year and on this day it just happened to be 75 and very pleasant. Perfect riding weather. Laura and I toured the countryside, avoiding prairie dog holes (which are quite large). Only two scary things attacked us: man hole covers (why do they use suck threatening devices?) and a jogger, if you can believe it. I saw her in the distance and warned Laura but once the horses realized something was sneaking up on us, they became unnerved. I didn’t mind and was expecting it. With horses, no matter how experienced the horse is, the rider must be prepared for reactions to things the horse perceives as a threat. And Laura is far more experienced than I am so this was no big deal. In fact Laura suggested the right response, which was for us to turn the horses so they could see what was coming up behind us. The jogger even came over gently so the horses could sniff her.

The beautiful sun set over the Rockies so we put the horses up and headed out for dinner. Rich wasn’t able to join us for the ride (darn work getting in the way of recreation!) but we met up for dinner at a restaurant serving tapas called The 9th Door in downtown Denver. Tapas is an appetizer style meal where you order a bunch of items and then share. It’s a lot fancier than any meal I’ve had where I live and I appreciated the unusual dining experience.

I love it when I can combine my love of horses with a business trip and this was one of those rare opportunities to do so. Thanks to Laura and Rich for an afternoon of fun and fellowship and I hope Mikki and the kid can come out to meet you both on a future visit. We’d love to reciprocate if you’re ever in east Tennessee.

A Plethora of Horses…and Not Enough Time

A Plethora of Horses…and Not Enough Time

Our HerdWe have been SO busy here the last few weeks. We’ve been traveling, on business and pleasure; the Kid is back in school; Bill and I have both been busy with work; and countless chores (e.g., fence and barn repair – thanks, Cash!) are eating up our time.

On top of that, for about 2 months, I’ve been having problems with my right foot. It has been sore on the ball of my foot right where it rests in the stirrup. I finally went to a podiatrist and she diagnosed it as a Morton’s neuroma. I’ve had 2 shots of cortisone and it’s improved a bit, but it’s still sore enough to make riding unpleasant. So the result of all these things together is that we have four horses in the pasture that are not being ridden. And the weather is getting cooler…it’s the perfect time to ride, ever so briefly, and there’s not a thing we can do about it. 🙁 So frustrating!

So that’s where we’ve been. What’s up with you all? I’m sure you’re spending your cooler fall days and trail rides, or at the last of the horse shows of the season, getting all kinds of riding in before it gets too cold. We’re so jealous.

Romeo wins at the rodeo!

Romeo wins at the rodeo!

Romeo at the RodeoRomeo participated in a youth rodeo this past weekend and placed 1st, 2nd and 4th in a few competitions. The competition was pretty good but in the end Romeo and his rider were apparently better in the mud (it rained one day). Of course the ribbons go with the rider but we’re proud of both the rider and our appaloosa. It’s neat having a horse already trained for barrels and poles. Now we just need to train his new rider (I’m working on it)!

I went one of the two rodeo nights and snapped some pictures but since the competitions happened after dark and I was using a long lense on my camera, most of the pictures came out too blurry. (BTW, the picture above is just one I snapped at the event. That’s not Romeo. He doesn’t do roping…yet)

Okay, so how many of you do the rodeo shows or barrels or pole bending? If not, do you want to? I haven’t seen any “gymkana” events here in east Tennessee but I know Laura out in Colorado has been active in that this year. She’s even been on a cattle drive!

Horses and Night Vision

Horses and Night Vision

Fresh off of Mikki’s post yesterday about riding with fireflies, the August 2008 issue of Equus magazine arrived in the mail yesterday with an interesting article about horse night vision. In “When night falls” on page 17, Christine Barakat explains that horses are capable of seeing just as well in moonlight as they can during the day, allowing them to explore and play all night long. And while we usually assume they sleep at night, horses don’t always sleep when it’s dark like we do. Although Ms. Barakat offers no source for her information, it’s an interesting suggestion. I’ve heard our horses galloping at night and they have large eyes so I guess it makes sense. Even so, I don’t know how much riding I want to do at night. I’m the driver and I can’t see very well in the dark.

Simulated night vision
Riding with Fireflies!

Riding with Fireflies!

I finally did it! I rode with fireflies!

Photo by toan phan on Unsplash

We tried to go riding after work last night, but as usual the tacking-up process took longer than it should. We had tack changes to make – different saddles on different horses requiring swapping out cinches, etc. – so it got kinda late. We had just tried my Henry Miller saddle on Romeo (it fits!) when Dayle & Katy came over with Dayle’s friend Christy on Dayle’s pony River. Then we sort of had to go. Christy has Paso Finos and expressed an interest in riding Valentine, so I saddled him up for her – with my Henry Miller saddle, since it’s the only one that fits big ol’ Valentine. Dayle said I could ride River, but no one was saddled up for Bill, so he told us to just go without him. 🙁 Poor Bill.

We rode over to Dayle’s house, around her arena, around her pasture, then it was getting dark. Valentine isn’t crazy about dusk, so we had to head on back to my house. Dayle and Christy were kind enough to escort me back.

Side note time: We haven’t mentioned this before, but I’m sure it will come up again so I’d better fill you in. We often ride at our friend Shari’s property. She lives very close by, as the crow flies, but getting to her property involves a ride down our road to a busy road to another busy, twisty, narrow road – all on slippery asphalt. None of us are crazy about that ride, including the horses. We found a partial trail behind Dayle’s property (she lives across the street from Shari) that we thought might go through to the end of our dead-end street. We cleared it as far as their property line went and discovered that it ended up at the property of another neighbor, so we approached him about making a very narrow, rough trail to the road. He was kind enough to let us do it…and it turns out that he has a four-wheeler, his property adjoins ours at the pasture, and he started making a trail on his property and would like to join it to ours (we have about 3 acres of uncleared woods next to the pasture). So not only did we get a shorter, safer trail to Shari’s and Dayle’s properties, but we have a new circuit of trails in the works right next to our house (and we have a better relationship with our neighbor). It turned out really well.

Anyway, so the ride back to our house is partly through the woods, and there were fireflies! Valentine was just fine going through the woods at dusk – at least until Bill, who was worried about me coming home alone in the dark with Valentine, popped up on the trail in front of him and spooked him!

It was very cool and I’d like to get all our horses okay with riding then, so we can enjoy that experience more often. I highly recommend it, but do be careful. As most of you who commented on the last post noted, it’s a rare horse that is okay with heading out into the wild after dark.

Four hooves in the air

Four hooves in the air

We’ve been very horse-busy these past few weeks. I don’t know if a day went by without us spending time with our horses or going somewhere “horsey”. This weekend we went to a local horse show and watched our new horse, Romeo, compete in the barrels. He came in second in one class so we’re very proud of him and his rider (Dangerous D). I can’t wait to barrel race! I managed to capture a few cool photos at the event. It was VERY hot and humid but my camera appreciated the extra light. Normally these events are in the evening or after dark and it’s hard to get good photos from a distance.

The photo below is one of several where I caught all four hooves off of the ground. This reminded me of a controversy 150 years ago where people wondered whether or not all four horse hooves are ever in the air at the same time. It happens so fast, the human eye can’t tell without some technological assistance. In the late 1800’s, a photographer named Eadweard Muybridge rigged up a series or cameras and tripwires to capture a horse at gallop in sequence. The result was the closest thing to a movie ever produced at that time. I’m sure some money was wagered and won by some because Muybridge’s photos prooved there are times with all four hooves are in the air. Below is one of my photos followed by a still shot from a Muybridge sequence. If you click the title of this post, it will take you to a page that shows the sequence in motion. It’s 566k so I didn’t want to clog up our front page. Incidentally, the sequence in motion is one of the very earliest “movies” ever created. He produced several.

Horse Galloping

Muybridge still

The still version is above. View this full post to see the animated version.

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It Was Bound to Happen

It Was Bound to Happen

Black and Blue…and it did. One of us got kicked by a horse. Yep, it would be me who had the trail-riding mishap again. There have been numerous close calls with horse hooves, but until now we’ve escaped harm. I wasn’t so lucky on our otherwise-idyllic trail ride on Saturday. (More on that, with pictures, later.)

First, I have to say that it was pretty much my fault. There were seven of us on the trail ride, with seven very different horses: two Tennessee Walkers (our Cash and Shari’s still-unnamed horse); our Appaloosa, Romeo; and four Quarter Horses (Katy, Cluless [not a typo], Rabbit and Pistol). I was riding Cash and we stopped for a break. My saddle had shifted back (forgot the darn breast collars) so I got off and started adjusting it. Dummy me, we were standing next to Shari’s very young mare, Pistol, and I was in between. I don’t know what happened – I assume Cash sniffed her nose or some other grievous offense – and Pistol let a hoof fly. I was obviously in the line of fire. I thank the good Lord that I was facing away from Pistol, so her hoof caught the back of my calf, not the bony front – otherwise, I’d have a cast on my leg now, and possibly pins in it too, instead of a very large, colorful and painful bruise.

Purty, huh. It knocked me down too. I tell you, I’m spending much too much time picking myself up off the ground on trail rides these days. Hey, at least I didn’t fall off this time! And again, Cash avoided stepping on me. He could easily have backed up, away from Pistol and over me, but instead chose to walk in front of the scary mare. I love that horse.

Once again, I remind you – having horses around is dangerous. Y’all be careful out there.

Let’s Not Forget: Horseback Riding is Dangerous

Let’s Not Forget: Horseback Riding is Dangerous

We’ll get to the title in a minute, but we have so much to tell you, I don’t even know where to start!

We had a GREAT day of trail riding on Saturday. Our horse friend Shari, who was not in the market for a new horse, bought one: a Tennessee Walking Horse! A very large, jet-black one that looks strikingly like Valentine. Shari jokes that when she and I go trail riding on our own, we’ll take our “big black steeds.” (She doesn’t have a name for him yet, so if you have any suggestions, send them our way; he’s a sweetheart, 8-year-old gelding, all black with a star and white pasterns on both rear feet. His temporary name is “Spot,” so he’s badly in need of a new one.)

We bought a horse too! Cash. Yes, he tried to run away from us, but we decided he probably didn’t mean anything by it. In fact, we decided to buy him the day he escaped. He is just such a good horse, in so many ways. So when we started out on our trail ride, Bill rode Cash.

So who did I ride, you wonder? Well, even though we decided to get Cash, we just liked Romeo so much we weren’t ready to let him go yet. His owners also had a saddle for sale that we’d like to try, so we took Romeo and the saddle on our trail ride. I rode Romeo for the first part of the ride. Dayle came too (Romeo’s owner), riding her mare Katie.

So there we were, three of us on three new horses. Fun, huh? The first excitement was when Shari dismounted to open a gate and Spot swung back toward us; Cash spooked, which spooked Romeo, and we all swung around. No big deal – we’re all getting to know each other, after all. Then we started out with a creek, so see how Spot handled water (we already knew Romeo didn’t mind it, and Cash of course crossed the creek any number of times during his afternoon stroll on Monday). Spot didn’t like it. Shari had to get off to lead him through, but after that he was fine. We crossed a bridge, rode through a variety of terrain, had a canine escort (Dayle’s dog Oreo – Cash didn’t like it but tolerated him). No problems at all.

Bill had a great time with Cash, and I love riding Romeo. I wouldn’t have wanted to switch, in fact, if the saddle we were trying hadn’t become uncomfortable. But it did, so we switched mid-ride. We met some cows, took a break under some trees and let Spot and Cash sniff each other. Again, no problems. Then it got REALLY exciting.

We decided to let the horses drink from the creek. I started to ride Cash through the trees, thinking that it was just some leafy branches. I didn’t realize until it was too late that there was a large branch in the midst of the leaves. I didn’t have the grip I should’ve on the reins, so I couldn’t stop Cash in time to save me from being swept off the saddle. Off I went, sliding right under Cash’s feet. To make matters worse, the reins caught on the branch, preventing Cash from moving away. I looked up as I fell and saw those hooves right above me, and I swear, I thought I was a goner. Shari was sure I was about to be stepped on too; I think it looked pretty bad from where she was watching. Dayle was nearly as alarmed. (Bill, on the other hand, made what seemed like a pretty insensitive joke when I got up; he’d missed the whole thing.)

But the amazing thing was that Cash deliberately tucked his hooves up under himself to keep from stepping on me. I’d heard that horses do that instinctively, and it turns out it’s true. I said a little prayer of thanks for that, and silently thanked Bill too for making us wear our geeky helmets even though no one else does, then hugged and kissed Cash and announced that we are definitely keeping him. I love that horse!

Oh, and we’re keeping Romeo too. He’s just too good a horse to pass up too, and…shhh, don’t tell him, but…the Kid’s going to learn to ride, and Romeo’s just the horse to teach him. Besides, it’s a nice change of pace for me to have a horse that I don’t need help getting up on. And when I’m done bragging on Cash for not maiming or killing me, you’ll hear lots of praise about Romeo.

But for now…I love that Cash. He’s the best! And don’t forget to wear a helmet, even though it looks dorky and your head sweats and you get helmet hair. Because remember: it’s always dangerous to ride a horse.