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My five hour trail ride mistake

My five hour trail ride mistake

Long trail rideOh, my aching back, legs, rear, etc.! Saturday we spent a wonderful day riding horses next to a beautiful lake. This was supposed to be the day we got Moonshine back to try her new riding skills but due to the incident from a few days ago (Moonshine gets hit by a car), she’s on the injured list and wasn’t ridable. In her place I rode my backup horse, Sinbad, a well broke, ridable by almost anyone kind of horse, 25 years old and still full of energy. Mikki and I met up with our horse friend Shari, Lance (the guy training Moonshine) and some other horse owners. Shari and Lance were kind enough to pick up Valentine and Moonshine on their horse trailers (we need one of those!) and off we went for a day of riding. Now I knew I’d be a little sore because I use a cheap saddle and haven’t ridden any distance in 6 months or so. But five hours later, my rump we tender and I was ready to call it a day. Today, Sunday, I could barely get out of bed. I just may have overdone it. Perhaps we ought to bump a hot tub up on the priority list for future purchases!

Notes from the trip:

  1. Mikki’s horse Valentine LOVES the water. He was splashing around on it like a little kid. We were all pretty concerned he’d want to roll in it.
  2. When there are 11 horses together on a trail ride, it makes sense that some of them won’t get along. We had to rearrange horses a few times. For example, Sinbad is a tailgater and the horse in front of us was a kicker. Not a good combo!
  3. Horses are very good at walking over downed trees, though some like to jump over them.
  4. Fearing her own weight was giving her horse trouble navigating through some deep water, Shari bailed into the drink and emerged horseless and soaking wet. Her horse was easily caught and she finished the trip still wet.
  5. Cheap saddles make for sore butts on long rides. According to my body, five hours is considered “long”. You get what you pay for in saddles, apparently.

We’ll definitely head back to this area soon. I’m looking for a new saddle and possibly the add-on gel pads to hold me over. And hopefully a future trip will include Moonshine.

Below are some more pictures from the ride. Yeah, warm weather!

SLIDESHOW TO BE RE-ADDED IN THE FUTURE

Help Keep Our Trails Open!

Help Keep Our Trails Open!

In addition to our expensive horse hobby, we have an expensive Jeep hobby, too. We have a modified Jeep Wrangler and love to go off-road. Some of you may know that off-road trails across the country have steadily dwindled as certain interest groups have pushed to have them closed to “protect the environment.” I guess that’s not surprising, since a few off-roaders have given us all a bad name. What is surprising, however, is that the same battle is being fought over horses. That’s right; there are many, many people out there who want to deny trail access to horseback riders. Believe it or not, one of their most frequent arguments is that horses are bad for the environment. Their hooves tear up the trails and their manure brings in foreign plant seeds, among other things. I’m sure they have other complaints, but we’re still kind of new to this issue.

The important thing is, if we want to be allowed to keep riding in our own national parks, we have to take action. Trails across the country are being closed just because someone complains, or brings up an environmental concern, and no horse people speak up. I suspect it’s simply because, like us, horse owners are not aware that this is happening. By the time they find out a trail is closed or about to close, it’s too late.

We recently joined a group in our area, the Southern Appalachian Back Country Horsemen. It’s a local chapter of a national organization, Back Country Horsemen of America. These groups, local and national, keep track of current events affecting trail riders and their members do what they can to keep the trails open: writing to government leaders; challenging efforts to close trails; keeping good relationships with their local Forest Service; participating in trail cleanups and maintenance. I urge you to look into an organization in your area, and do what you can to help keep trail riding alive. If we don’t fight, we’ll eventually lose all access to public lands. That would be a shame.

And Today It Was My Turn to Fall Off

And Today It Was My Turn to Fall Off

I guess it’s my punishment for laughing at the Kid when he fell off Sinbad yesterday. Yes, I did laugh – does that make me a horrible mom? I wouldn’t have thought it was funny if he got hurt, of course. But he didn’t, and it was. Funny, that is. But those things sometimes have a way of coming back to bite you. Kharma?

The weather was just so nice today – 71°F! – that we couldn’t resist saddling up two horses for a short lunchtime ride. Actually, I did all the saddling while Bill worked, to maximize our riding time. (Again, no pictures of the new tack! Sorry!) When they were all ready to go, Bill came up to the barn and off we went. We started out by heading away from the house, down a hill, toward the road like we always do. When we got to the road, we decided to go back and ride in our pasture. I tried to turn Valentine around and cross a shallow ditch. Normally, he doesn’t care a bit about crossing anything – water, logs, rocks, whatever – but he took issue with that little ditch. He stopped dead right before it, with his body sloping way down, and I just couldn’t hang on. Over I went. I was able to wrap my arms around his neck on the way down, so I landed on my feet and was unhurt. Then I thought, “Dang! How am I gonna get back up on this giant horse again?” Because that’s always my first concern when I think I’m coming off my horse. He’s really tall, and I’m really short – you can kind of see that in the photo. I have to use a mounting block. Luckily, there was a convenient stump nearby.

Then, out in the pasture, he got all squirrelly again. Neither he nor Sinbad were in the mood for riding, apparently. They both very much wanted to go back to the barn, and put a lot of effort into getting there. We rode around a little bit, despite their wishes, and when I finally turned back toward the barn, Valentine did a funny little sideways turn (he may have spooked a little bit) and nearly came out from under me. I managed to stay on that time, but I whacked my right ring finger on the saddle horn. The end of it is a lovely shade of purple.

So, not the pleasant little ride we were hoping for, but it sure was exciting! Maybe we’ll do it again tomorrow, if it doesn’t rain.

The Kid Rides Again…And Falls Off.

The Kid Rides Again…And Falls Off.

Except for the falling-off part, it was a great day. We went on a multi-horse trail ride over at the Watson farm. There were six of us: Shari on her barrel racer, Misty; her two sons on her gelding Rabbit and her Halflinger mare, Cree; me on Valentine; the Kid on Sinbad; and Bill on Champ. Who’s Champ, you ask? Interesting story.

Our cow neighbors put a horse in their pasture a few weeks ago and we’ve been keeping an eye on him. A couple of nights back, it was really cold, so we approached the neighbors and told them they could keep their horse in our barn when it’s cold. They declined, but we found out that the horse, who doesn’t have a name (cue music…“I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name…”), belongs to their son, but he’s too busy to keep a horse and he’s interested in selling him. So of course we’re interested in buying him. We’ve been feeding him carrots over the fence for a month, and named him, for goodness sake! But, having learned from our experience buying the green-broke Moonshine on a whim, we asked if we could ride Champ today to see if he’d be a good horse for us. They said fine, so after church we dropped the Kid off at Shari’s and went home to tack up Valentine and Sinbad. Then we rode over to Shari’s, picking up Champ on the way. Shari and her kids were ready to go, so we threw the Kid up on Sinbad (with his own helmet, purchased last week) and Bill rode Champ.

The Kid was pretty nervous, and was having trouble keeping his feet in the stirrups. The horses were all really squirrelly – probably because they were from three different “herds” all mixed together. Still, everything was going fine as we wound our way through the trees. Until, suddenly, the Kid fell off. I didn’t see it happen, but turned around in time to see him hit the ground. Luckily, he wasn’t hurt. He was, however, extremely reluctant to get back up on his horse. We finally convinced him to ride Cree instead, because she’s much smaller (about 13 hands) – not as far to fall, don’t you know. I’m sorry to say that he didn’t really enjoy the ride, even after moving onto Cree and not falling off any more, so we’re going to have a heck of time talking him into doing it again. 🙁

The rest of us had a really good time, though. It was a short ride, but fun nonetheless. Champ was easy to ride, not spooky at all and very obedient. Alas, our horse expert friend Shari has advised us against adding him to our horse family. It seems that the sweet guy is over 20 years old and probably arthritic. She warns us that if we were to buy him, he probably wouldn’t be sound enough to ride for very long. Such a shame. We’ll think about it though, and of course keep you posted.

And darn it, we forgot the camera, so no pictures of our horses in their new tack. Maybe tomorrow – it’s supposed to be about 70. Jealous? 😉

Too Cold to Ride?

Too Cold to Ride?

snowy-pasture.jpgIt’s that time of year again, when you have to wear three layers of clothes and a goofy hat to go outside. I don’t like winter! Here we are, all excited about riding, with three horses to ride now – and it’s in the 30’s. In the daytime. And windy, too. We’re so disappointed. It’s not actually snowing (the picture is from last winter), so maybe we should just suck it up, bundle up and ride. But it’s just so cold!

I spent a lot of time outside yesterday, actually, cleaning out the spare stall, seeing as how it’s not actually a spare stall anymore – we now have three of each (horses and stalls). It was supposed to be 15 last night, so we thought Sinbad should have a stall too, whether he wanted one or not (his owner says if he’s locked in a stall, he’ll knock the walls down to get out). So we shifted everybody down and gave Sinbad the stall closest to the pasture and left his door open. As it turned out, we had an overnight low of 12, so I’m glad we did it. Sinbad didn’t seem to mind either, once he confirmed – 7 or 8 times – that the stall door was still open.

Tonight it’s supposed to be 18, so everyone will be inside again, but tomorrow it’s supposed to start warming up again, with highs in the 50’s this weekend. Yay! We’re getting 100 square bales of hay on Saturday, and then we’re going to ride. I can’t wait. I haven’t gotten to use my beautiful new Henry Miller bridle yet. If all goes well, I’ll post pictures soon of Valentine in all his fancy tack.

So how’s the weather where you are? And when do you think it’s too cold to ride?

The Kid Rides!

The Kid Rides!

kid-ride-1.jpgOne of the benefits of having an older, well-broken in horse to ride is that anyone can ride him. We confirmed that last weekend when we threw the Kid up on our foster horse, Sinbad, and handed him the reins.

It would be a better story if we could tell you that the Kid had been begging us to ride, jumped up there with no hesitation, and took to horseback riding like a duck to water, but the truth is, he was a bit reluctant. In fact, we tricked him into going outside, where the horse was waiting, and coerced him into getting into the saddle. Then we told him we’d hold the horse the whole time he rode, only to let go of the bridle once the Kid had gotten more comfortable. Shame on us! But the good news is, he was in fact able to control Sinbad, and by the time we went up the road a little ways, turned around and came back to the barn – with Sinbad under the Kid’s direction the whole way – he admitted that horseback riding was fun after all.

Hopefully, this was the first of many rides. We have little hope that riding will replace video games in the Kid’s world, but maybe someday he can add it to the things he enjoys doing. We’d better get another horse, just in case. 🙂

More Trail Riding!

More Trail Riding!

I went trail riding again on Saturday. I’m sure you all will get tired of hearing about this soon, but I am still just so excited – I’m riding my horse! On a regular basis! It’s just so cool.

Anyway, I went with Shari and her friend/coworker, Christina. Christina happens to be a large animal vet, so I’m happy to be getting to know her better. 🙂 We went to a place nearby that is just a nice, easy network of trails. They wander through woods, around cornfields and next to a lake. The weather was perfect, and the horses were all very well-behaved.

Shari brought her gelding, Rabbit; he’s a Quarter Horse, about 15, maybe 15.5 hh. I had my 16.2 hh Tennessee Walking Horse. And Christina had her 17 hh Thoroughbred, Wilson. Can you just picture that? Since Bill, our official (and only) cameraman, didn’t come this time, you’ll have to picture it in your head. To help you in your imagining, though, Rabbit is a bay, Valentine is of course black, and Wilson is a dappled grey. He’s a former racehorse who also was a show jumper, and Christina rides him with English tack. What a motley crew – Shari on her Western saddle, in jeans and a baseball cap; Christina on her little English saddle in breeches with half-chaps and a riding helmet; and me on Shari’s nice trail saddle (looks like a Western/English combo) in jeans and riding helmet. You wouldn’t think we’d make be a good trail group, but we did. The horses all got along famously, and as long as we were only walking, things went pretty smoothly.

Every once in a while, though – okay, several times – Wilson wanted to go just a wee bit faster. Valentine wasn’t going to take that laying down. He was like one of those drivers you encounter, who isn’t going too fast until you try to pass them, and then they speed up. The faster Wilson went, the faster Valentine wanted to go. And let me tell you, a 17 hh Thoroughbred can go pretty darn fast.

I’ve learned something else too: a former show horse is not necessarily a good trail horse. My horse, as I’ve mentioned before, was a fancy show horse. He was what you call a “big lick” Tennessee Walker. That means he was one of those horses with the big ol’ pads on his front feet, keeping his back end way down and lifting his front feet way up in the air. Pretty impressive in a show ring, but not so very practical for everyday walking. What I’m saying is, he has one gait that is really, really smooth. It’s called a “running walk.” All his other gaits are, shall we say, uncomfortable for the rider. His walk is okay – rougher than a normal horse, but tolerable. His trot is really bouncy. His canter makes it nearly impossible to stay in the saddle. We never made it to a gallop, thank goodness. I think a project in the near future will be to find someone who knows how to direct a gaited horse, so I can learn how to keep Valentine in that nice running walk. I could sit that all day.

We also took our horses into the lake. That was an adventure. Rabbit would not go – Shari had to get off and lead him reluctantly in. He has a “thing” about water. Wilson would absolutely not go. Christina got off and tried to pull him in; he pulled her out. She got back on and Shari and Rabbit stood behind, with Shari slapping him on the rump with a crop as Christina tried to get him in. No way, sister. Finally they settled on getting him to stand at the water’s edge, which he finally did. And Valentine? The first time we tried, I got him to the edge but he turned around. Then after the Wilson fiasco, I tried again and he went right in. I was so proud – two experienced horsewomen, and I, the novice, was the only one whose horse obeyed with no trouble! Later, we found a better, smoother beach and all three horses went right in, and had a high old time, pawing and splashing. We can’t wait for summer, when getting splashed will be fun for the riders too.

All in all, it was a really great day. Can’t wait for this Saturday! I wonder where we’re going?

Camping with Horses

Camping with Horses

Horse CampWe told you we were going to keep doing this riding thing, and we have. After the big confidence boost we got last Sunday, we were feeling secure enough with our horses that when we were invited to go camping Friday night and riding on Saturday, we thought, “why not?” So on Friday night, Shari came by with her two horses in her four-horse trailer and picked up Valentine and Moonshine. We drove over to her mom’s 20-acre farm and camped for the night. The next day, we had a great campfire breakfast and saddled up the horses. I rode Valentine and Shari rode Moonshine. I had no trouble at all with Valentine; I rode him a while, then Bill rode him, then Shari’s uncle rode him. He was perfect.

Alas, the same cannot be said for Moonshine. After feeling like Moonshine was going to buck her off several times, Shari worked with her with the longe line for a while, then rode her again. She was better, but Shari still didn’t trust her enough to let Bill ride her. So poor Moonshine was put up in the barn for the rest of the day. Bill went home shortly after that. Poor Moonshine…poor Bill. 🙁 I’ll let him tell more about that, and about Moonshine’s future (don’t worry, we’re keeping her).

But that didn’t keep me and Valentine from having a good time. Shari rode her gelding, Rabbit, and we rode around Mom’s fully-fenced cow farm for a while. That got boring after about a half an hour. By that time I was feeling pretty darn cocky, so Shari suggested we leave the confines of the farm, walk down the road a ways and head into the woods. So we did. It was so great! We found a nice trail, and I was able to take Valentine through creeks, up hills, over fallen timber, through brush – he was, I say again, perfect. We rode for a couple of hours. It was wonderful!

So, guess what I’m doing this weekend? Camping and horseback riding. How cool is that?

Horse rider head injury

Horse rider head injury

Watermelon HeadA friend of ours called us the other day to relay a story that happened on her street a few days ago. A local girl was out riding her horse on this small country road not far from here. She put a blanket on the horse and went for a ride using a lead rope as reigns. I bet you can guess this didn’t end well. Her horse spooked, dumping her onto the paved road where she was found some time later, bleeding from her ears. Her horse was standing nearby. She was airlifted to a hospital an hour away and is recovering. But it could have been far worse. I don’t have the statistics on head injuries handy but most of the serious injuries I hear of involve head trauma. Yet on trail rides and at events, I rarely see anyone wearing a helmet. Why is that?

Last year I hopped on top of Moonshine for a photo opportunity. I was wearing shorts and sneakers and Moonshine was bare, except for a lead rope. I believe my famous last words were “I’m king of the world!”, followed by me coming to on the ground. For whatever reason, Moonshine dumped me off of her back and I was fortunate to have not hit my head. But I could have and I might not be writing this today.

For Christmas last year, I gave Mikki a nice Troxel Dakota Duratec helmet, complete with leather trim and all the modern fixings. We’re still new to this whole horse thing and I knew we’d be riding our horses soon. It’s a long way up, especially on Valentine and after my fall, a helmet seemed like a good idea. Now that I’m starting to ride, I decided I needed a helmet too so today I bought the less expensive Troxel Spirit training helmet. My head is apparently big so I got a large and an hour later I tried it on at home. The fitting was met with snickers and I figured out why when I looked in the mirror. This helmet is HUGE. I looks like I have a shiny black watermelon on my head. In fact, it looks ridiculous. Remember Rick Moranis in the giant Darth Vader helmet in Spaceballs? That’s how I felt wearing this thing. How could this be? Mikki’s helmet, a medium, looks so cool on her. The foam on the Spirit is almost twice as thick as the Dakota and it really increases the size of the helmet. Mikki is going to exchange the Spirit for a Dakota tomorrow so I don’t feel as much like a goober. I don’t want an excuse to not wear a helmet.

When you have a chance, check out the testimonials on the Troxel Helmet website from horse riders whose lives were saved by a helmet. Several of the stories are from people who said they’ve ridden all their lives and their horse was normally calm until one day something happened and they were dumped onto their head. There’s no question in my mind that a helmet is a wise idea. Fortunately there are style options to keep you and me from feeling goofy but either way, be safe and protect your head, just in case the unexpected happens. And try that new helmet on in front of a mirror before you leave the store!

Hey, You Can Ride These Things!

Hey, You Can Ride These Things!

riding-valentine.jpgYesterday, our horse friend Shari (I know we talk a lot about her, but if it weren’t for her, we may have given up on this horse thing by now) decided that Sunday would be the day that we rode our horses again. So after a trip to a local festival, we came back to our barn and saddled up our horses. It was great! We took them in turns up to the round pen, first Valentine and then Moonshine. Shari used the longe line and whip to get a feel for how they were going to behave (or not!), then hopped on and rode around the arena. She even took Valentine out and rode around our pasture. He was so good! Then I rode Valentine, first around the arena, then outside. He was good for me too! Then Bill rode him, in the arena and out. Guess what? He was good for Bill too! I’m beginning to think he’s not just decorative after all.

Then it was Moonshine’s turn. She was a little spooky, because there were kids running around and yelling, neighbor dogs barking, and – horrors! – cows in the field across the road! (In her defense, the cows are new. Our neighbor just fenced that field to give his cows more pasture.) So she did a lot of head-tossing, stopping and staring, and snorting. She eventually calmed down (when the cows were out of sight), and Shari and then Bill were able to ride her in the arena. Then, alas, it was too late to ride anymore, because it was pretty dark.

All in all, it was a very good and productive afternoon. We are much more confident now, and in fact intend to saddle them up again this evening after dinner, all by ourselves! We’ll let you know tomorrow how it went.