Thursday, April 30, 2009

Cowboy Gary

Just before Christmas last year, I helped my neighbor Gary buy a pony for his girls. We went to look at a couple of private-sale ponies but decided early on that the best place to look was a local “horse dealership” named Hemphills. That pony seems to be working out fairly well.

On the day the picture at left was taken, Gary decided that in order to get the best use out of the pony, he needed a horse for himself. His girls are only 4yo and 6yo so they’ll need to be ponied on the trail for a while.

For the last few months he’s been sending me links for private-sale horses and I kept saying no for one reason or other. Finally he decided that was the best place to go was back to Hemphills. So last week off we went.

The first two horses they showed us were totally unsuitable... the first horse had teensy-tiny feet, and the second one freaked out under heavyweight riders.

The third seemed good. He was a 6yo registered Quarter Horse. He was built relatively well, though because he was young he had some filling out to do. He was calm under saddle for the salesgirl and for Gary, and I liked him when I rode him. (He was the only one I bothered to ride, which tells you something.) He apparently arrived with a french braid in his tail, and he still had four shoes with clips, so with his conformation (and the fact that he direct-reins better than he neck-reins) I’m guessing he was previously an English Hunter Under Saddle show horse.

Here he is with Gary, then with the 4yo aboard. Soon after the 4yo got off, the horse kissed the 6yo on the cheek and quietly, politely stuck his nose under Gary’s arm for a cuddle. Awwwwwww...

The fourth (and last) horse they showed us was our second favorite, he was built better but didn’t seem as calm-minded. He was ok, but not as solid as the dun.

On the drive home, Gary and his family decided to go with the dun.

Fast-forward through my MN trip, to yesterday, when I took Gary and “Rocky” for their first trail ride.

Here‘s Rocky in the driveway before we left, modeling his new bridle (from the MN Horse Expo), borrowed hackamore, and the new saddle that Gary bought from my friend Lysh. It’s a 17” Big Horn, and even on the last hole down, the stirrups are still a little bit short for Gary.

His main complaint with it, though, is that it doesn’t have a cup holder for his beer. He was quite jealous of my saddle bag with its’ built-in bottle holder. I told him I trot too much to have beer on board, it would explode everywhere!


We headed out on the trail that connects Gary’s house to mine. It crosses one road and two streams, and I hadn’t been through since last fall so I was sure there would be plenty of blow-downs to hack through with my folding saw.

And here is Mutt and Jeff (I'll let you guess who is who) at the road crossing. This picture was taken by a very surprised friend of Gary's who saw us as he was backing out of his driveway... he decided he needed a closer look at this marvel so he actually turned his car around and got out to talk. (Gary got that same slack-jawed look from everyone else we encountered. EVERYONE knows Gary.)


We had to ride alongside the road for a short while, maybe a few hundred feet, so I decided to let the horses trot. (It’s a quiet road with a good shoulder.) Rocky kept insisting on trotting on the pavement! He responds to leg pressure but Gary doesn’t yet know how to easily use leg/rein pressure to keep a horse straight, so they looked drunk as they swerved between sand and pavement.

A little ways down the trail on the other side of the road, I completely lost the trail. I couldn’t even find the ALTERNATE fork of the trail... there were way too many blow-downs. We had to turn around and go back out to the road. We took a shortcut through the neighbor’s wood-yard... both horses were fine with the machinery... and Gary got some good-natured ribbing from Buddy and Jason.

Once we got back out onto the road, we made a left onto another paved road (the one we both live on) and then a left into my neighbor’s driveway. We then attacked the blown-down trail from the other side. There were no trees down on that piece of property (one owner).

Here’s Gary and Rocky at one of the stream crossings (actually more like a small river). Rocky isn’t scared of water or mud AT ALL, so clearly he rode trails with his previous owner in addition to showing.


As soon as we got across the stream, the trail started to get blocked more often, but most of them were small dead saplings that I could just break up and throw off the trail. One was bigger but I was able to clear a path around it. The funny thing was, from that direction we had no problem AT ALL following the trail!! I honestly have NO IDEA how we couldn’t find it from the far side! Anyway, we cleared it all up and turned around to head back to my house. Here’s Rocky at the same stream, going the other way.


We got all the way through to my house this time, and said goodbye to Gary and Rocky, who then rode home along the road. Gary later reported that Rocky did just fine, though he did still want to trot on the pavement. I wonder how long it will take before Gary gets stopped for RUI (riding under the influence)? He sure does like his beer...

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Minnesota Madness

Nah, there wasn’t really any madness, I just seem to like the alliteration lately. 

Hubby got me to the airport in plenty of time for my flight, so I started in on one of the two paperbacks I’d brought.  I left Bangor on a 6:30ish flight, connecting in Detroit.  By the time I got to Detroit I had finished the first of the two paperbacks I’d brought in my carryon.  My layover in Detroit was only 30 minutes so I had to zoom from one terminal to the other.  I took these pics near my departing gate, once I determined that I had a moment to spare. 

Detroit, unlike Bangor, is a real airport... it has more than one place to eat, and it has a TRAIN that just goes up and down the length of one of the two terminal buildings!  There’s also a tunnel under the runway between the two terminal buildings, where they play relaxing music and a light show. Sorry a couple of the pics are blurry.

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I tried to get bumped from my flight to Minneapolis, because I knew I’d have a lot of time to kill before Steph got home from work, and because I wanted the flight voucher.  But they didn’t need any volunteers.

The flight to MN went well and I just about finished the second paperback.  Funny story from the Minneapolis airport... on my way to Baggage Claim, I was walking briskly along one of those walkways that looks like a giant grocery store conveyor belt (see tunnel pic above), and as I zoomed past a woman standing along the side, I glanced at a baggage tag on her backpack.  I got three steps past her before my brain registered what I’d seen... I could have sworn it was the logo from The Visible Horse demo that Susan Harris does.  It was only a little over an inch wide, so it was really quite surprising that it caught my eye.  I thought about it for a microsecond, then took three brisk steps backwards.  As I peered at her back, I explained to the woman that I was just looking at her luggage tag... “is that the Visible Horse?”  She looked stunned, and said yes, it was, and I was the first person to ever notice it.  Turns out, it was Susan Harris herself!  I introduced myself and stood next to her the rest of the way to Baggage Claim.  I had to call Steph and tell her what happened, of course, and she said “please tell her I said welcome to Minneapolis!” and before I knew it I said “you can do it” and held the phone up to Susan’s ear.  Of course Steph didn’t just say that, so there I was feeling foolish, holding the phone up to Susan’s ear for almost a full minute before I muttered “sorry, she doesn’t realize I’m holding the phone up to your head”.  Susan took pity on me and took the phone.  But she wasn’t on the phone much longer, and soon we arrived at Baggage Claim and said our goodbyes. 

P4230333I finished both my paperbacks by the time my friend Steph’s mom picked me up at the Minneapolis airport at 1pm Central Time.  (I was starting to think maybe I should have brought more than four books!)  Cheri dropped me off at Steph’s house and I took a nap while I waited for Steph to get home.  The dog (Stella) and cat (Jerome) kept me company.

When Steph got home, we just relaxed for a while until her other two houseguests, Dana and Meagan from “Herbsmith”, arrived.  Then we all piled into Steph’s truck for a trip to the Mall of America for dinner and a little shopping.

The Mall of America, unlike the Bangor Mall, is a real mall... it has more than one floor, and it has an AMUSEMENT PARK!

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We had dinner at Famous Dave’s BBQ.  We chose the variety platter... it was served on a GARBAGE CAN LID!  Sorry the first picture is so blurry, the waitress was in a hurry.  The second pic is Dana and Meagan.

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We all ate WAAAY too much.  After dinner we waddled around the mall doing a little shopping.  There were some neat Chinese drummers playing in one of the atrium areas.  I did take a video of it but the sound didn’t come out well enough to bother sharing.


Steph had to work Friday morning so I slept in.  We got to the MN Horse Expo in the early afternoon.  It was cool and cloudy.  We hit the 4-H tack swap first, hoping to find some good deals, but we didn’t end up buying anything.  The prices weren’t that good, and we didn’t find anything just right anyway.

I went to Dale Myler’s seminar to learn the Myler brothers’ theories on bits and bitting, and found it fascinating.  His first point was that if you don’t have the horse’s mind focused on you (and relaxed/calm) then his whole body will not be relaxed.  His second point was that all the ways horses evade the bit (head up, nose toward chest, tongue out the side, tongue over bit, mouth gaping open, tongue stuffed into throat) all have one thing in common... the horse is avoiding pain that the bit puts on the tongue.  He showed a whole series of pictures and I was amazed at how many of them showed the horse’s mouth gaping open with no tongue in sight.  (Side note... I observed horses for the rest of the weekend in demos and warming up on the road running through the expo grounds, and found that probably 80% of them displayed at least one of the bit evasion methods listed above.)  Almost all the Myler bits are designed with a curve in the mouthpiece that the tongue fits into.  (I always thought the curve stuck up into the roof of the mouth, but it doesn’t, it just goes up and over the tongue.)  His “after” photos showed horses that were much more relaxed, and those pictures were taken on the same day (many within minutes of the “before” photos).  I will never put a horse in a non-Myler bit again!

I renewed my resolve to buy one of their Combo bits to try during the first loop of my endurance rides... I really think it will help.  (The Jim Warner hackamore works but I feel like I have to haul on him too much during those first 12-20 miles.)  The combo will give a pre-signal when I use just a little rein (ie nose pressure) and then with increasingly more rein pressure it will, in turn, give signal to the poll, jaw, bars, and finally the tongue.  Dale says ideally I’d get the Combo with a MB36 mouthpiece, 3-ring shank, and rawhide nose, but since that mouthpiece is only available on the Combo if you have it custom made by hand, he said the MB43 mouthpiece was the best compromise.  I’m saving my pennies...

Friday night we went to the rodeo!  It was my first rodeo ever.  I like to watch it on TV though, so I was sure I’d enjoy seeing it in person. 

Saddle Broncs (by chance, the first three were white):

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Then came the steer wrestling.  WOW.

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Then there was some barrel racing.  I could never do that...


Right before the bull riding, we really got a show from John Payne, “the one-armed bandit”.  Make sure you take the time to watch these...

I didn’t get any pictures/video of it, but he also had his horse spin around in circles on top of the trailer... I think before the buffalo got up there but I’m not sure.

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Then we had some bull riding!  Not too many guys got their 8 seconds.


After the rodeo, we headed home for a couple of drinks and bedtime.  We were zonked!

On Saturday we slept in and got to the Expo just before noon.  We were supposed to meet up with a bunch of folks from the HorseCity online forums, but only “Pepper’s Dad” and his wife showed up.  That was fine with us, we enjoyed the visit.  In the photo below, it’s Darrell (“PD”), then me, then Steph, then PD’s wife... I’m sorry, I don’t know her name.  The dog is Steph’s 5yo Doberman, Stella, who was an angel all day long despite the hordes of people demanding to pet her.


We did most of our shopping on Saturday.  Fabulous deals were scarce, but we did each get trailer door organizers for $16.  I also found one of those low wide “Tub Trugs” tubs to use for my shower tub in the trailer.  Some of you may recall reading about my disastrous attempt last summer to use a Rubbermaid storage tub.  I look forward to trying this one out!  I bought a few other things, like Thrushbuster, dewormer, a fly mask to use while riding, and a CAUTION HORSES sticker for my trailer... but none of them were really “a great deal”.  Mostly we both just went crazy because of the huge crowds!  It was TOTAL MADNESS!!

Here’s Steph with her friend, Nashville country singer Templeton (Tempi) Thompson, and Tempi’s husband Sam.  Tempi rode (and sang at the same time) in Friday’s rodeo, but we missed it because we were in line for tickets.  Bummer!


Here’s Steph with her friend Margo, who was working at the Saddle Up booth.


Saturday night we were exhausted so we went back to the house and relaxed on the couch with bean dip and chili.  Yum yum!  Steph was expecting a few friends but nobody came, so we had more food for us.  Well, Dana and Meagan did eventually come home, and we all had a nice visit before bed.

Sunday morning it was drizzling when we left the house.  We had to be at the Expo by 8:30am to staff the Minnesota Distance Riders’ Association (MnDRA) booth, but we were a few minutes late.  Must have coffee and apple fritters, you know.

The rest of the day was much less busy than the day before, probably because it was raining CATS AND DOGS for most of the day.  I’m surprised we didn’t get hail... we did get high winds, thunder/lightning, and a torrential downpour.  Running between buildings wasn’t much fun, so we stayed for quite a while in just the one building with the most vendors.  By this time though I was DONE with shopping and browsing, and just wanted to sit down for a week.  I did manage to find a really nice bridle for my neighbor’s new horse, though.

We went back to the house earlier than we’d planned... maybe around 3pm.  We lazed around for a few hours and then headed to Steph’s boarding barn around 6pm for a thorough grooming session.  Jake really enjoyed it!


On Monday morning, we rode!  Steph rode her friend’s horse Amigo, and I rode Steph’s Morab gelding, Jake.  We just rode out from the barn through a residential neighborhood, then onto a straight/wide dirt road.  We probably did about 10 miles out and back, if we had to guess.  It took me a while to get comfortable on Jake, partially because the saddle is so different from mine and partially because I was riding him in a sidepull.  It was only the second time I had ridden him and I was a little nervous.

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We finished our ride and returned to the house with plenty of time for me to finish packing my stuff and get to the airport for a leisurely dinner with Steph at an airport restaurant, and get to my plane an hour before boarding.

In Detroit they offered me the chance to get a $300 travel voucher if I was willing to get bumped from my flight and stay overnight at their expense, but I just wanted to get home.  It was already 9pm, and I would have had to fly out before 7am and connect through Philly instead of going directly to Bangor.  No thanks, not for that kind of money.  Why couldn’t they have needed someone to get bumped from the Detroit-to-Minneapolis flight last week???

Louis picked me up at the airport at midnight and we were home and crawling into bed at 1am.  I had a headache so bad I was nauseous, and it was still bad in the morning so I stayed home.  I feel better now.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Beach Bingo

My second and last beach trip of the spring was supposed to happen this Tuesday, but an unpleasant weather forecast changed it to Sunday.  One thing after another made it so none of my riding friends could join me, but our neighbor from across the road (Mary) said she’d like to come just for the walk, and to take pictures.  Mary sometimes takes care of Zephyr for me when we’re away traveling.

We left the driveway around 8:45am and made decent time getting to Scarborough, arriving at 12 noon.  Low tide was at 1:30 so I tacked up quickly.  I just replaced the battery on Zephyr’s heart rate monitor belt transmitter (bottom right photo) so I did take the time to make sure it was working before we left.

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There were a bunch of other riders already there, and more arriving every minute.  We ended up with probably 8 other riders on the beach with us... but thankfully never WITH us.  When I ride alone I like to be alone... strangers never go the right speed.  At one point, two horses cantered by while we were trotting, and Zephyr was a little jumpy, but then I guess the exposure is good for him.


When we first got out to the beach there was a family with a kite just off camera to our right.

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tongue-out << I like this picture... check out the tongue...

One of the horses that arrived just before us was a big black Percheron.  Mary was quite taken with it:


After our brief photo session, Zephyr and I headed down towards the pier.  He was willing and forward, but wasn’t interested in galloping.  We mostly trotted on this first trip, an easy 9-10mph trot.  I don’t have any pictures from that trip down because I left the camera with Mary. 

On the way back, we were enjoying a nice relaxing canter when my phone rang.  I could tell that it was my best bud Steph so I decided to see if I could answer it without Zephyr breaking stride.  It was strapped to my leg so I reached down, unvelcroed the top tab of the phone holder, and was able to answer it without dropping it.  Yay!  She asked what I was doing and I said “cantering down the beach”.  It took a minute to convince her that I was actually STILL cantering down the beach.  I had to hold the phone down near Z’s shoulder so she could hear his feet on the hard-packed sand!  She was impressed, I think, but we agreed that we should probably talk later because of all the dogs and little kids I was having to pay attention to avoiding.

After the first trip down and back, it was time for a drink of water and a bite to eat.  Hay for Zephyr, chocolate pudding for me.  I had a sandwich (prepackaged, eww) but it was exactly low tide and I wanted to get back out there.  Wasn’t too hungry, anyway.  A young boy and his father came over to say hello... the dad was wearing a walking cast up past his knee but his son REALLY wanted to “go pet the horsie” so over they hobbled.  Zephyr pretty much ignored the kid, just kept eating.


After lunch, Mary got some video of us.  Unfortunately I didn’t realize she was there, so we’re really far away!

We went down to the pier again, and all the way back Zephyr kept pulling hard to the left.  I assumed he wanted to be further from the water but I “let him have his head” a couple times and each time he made an abrupt U-turn back towards the pier!  Apparently he didn’t want to go home. 

At some point, the inevitable happened.  He stopped and dropped a load of manure, which I then was responsible for picking up.  I hopped off and dug out my plastic shopping bags, scooped the poop into one of them, double bagged it and tied it on my saddle.  Just as I was doing so, four riders walked their horses past and asked if Zephyr was a Morgan.  I said no and explained about his breeding (Arab x Rocky Mountain) and gaits (walk, foxtrot, rack, trot, extended trot).  They ohh’d and ahh’d.  I think they were a little surprised that I was actually picking up my horse’s manure... there was so much of it all along the beach that I’m sure nobody else was.  It was like beach bingo... which square will the horse poop on?  I mean, yeah, the tide was coming in but if horseback riders don’t follow the rules they agreed to when they applied for their permit they might someday lose the privilege!  Of course from then until I found a trash barrel I had to ride with one hand on the manure bag... not an easy feat at a canter.

Just as we got back to the path to the parking lot, this is what we saw:


I was pretty freaked out, thinking he’d spook, so I let him make his U-turn and we made another trip to the pier.  When we got down there I stopped him and turned him back towards the trailer, and he wouldn’t walk forward.  When I let him have his head, he turned around and started walking toward the pier.  Very strange... normally the pier freaks him out a little bit.  I pressed the issue and off we went back towards the trailer.  On the way back, the parasailer passed us and Zephyr didn’t even blink.

According to the GPS we did 15 miles total, almost entirely at a trot or canter, so he was pretty soaked in sweat when we got back to the trailer.  Mary had gotten cold and was reading in the truck, so I pulled his tack and walked him back to the beach for a quick roll in the sand.  He drew a crowd of about 30-40 people, many with cameras, as he rolled over and over again for a couple minutes.  Then got up and found another spot to do it again!  He was a sandy beast when he was done.

The trip home was uneventful.  We stopped in Topsham for a quick Ruby Tuesday’s meal with my parents, and were home by 8pm.  My back muscles are a little sore today but I’m happy.  :-)