Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Apples, Thundering Hooves and Quicksand

At last!  The temperatures are dropping and the last week has been wonderfully coolish.  DH's Mom and I went out the other day.  It was a very relaxed ride, the two of us not talking much.  Gem has taken to walking with purpose when we go out, that plus his bigger steps means that we usually get ahead of DH's Mom.  So when we entered the old orchard through a very narrow, dark entrance, we were way ahead of DH's Mom.  The sight that greeted Gem and I was quite funny....picture being greeted by five horse butts sticking out from bushes.  That's all you could see...their butts.  It's the height of the apple season.  The horse's couldn't have cared less about us being there; there were apples to be eaten!   We stopped and waited for our slow poke companions.   When our friends entered, the horse butts pointed at DH made him spook a little.  Really?? 

We walked through the orchard (Careful!  Horse butt up ahead!!) and then entered the scrub brush area.  Gem made a bee-line to his "special shrub".  Over the summer, he started walking right through this large shrub located in the middle of an open area, then backing up through it...back and forth a few times.  Initially, I thought he was just being a jerk and would force him forward.  Then DH's Mom pointed out that he was scraping the flies off of his belly.  So this has been part of the routine all summer.  The flies aren't as bad now...so I think he does it because it feels good.  :-) 

On the way back to the barn, Gem lowered his head looking for some apples that had fallen from a nearby tree.  He tripped over his own front feet and his whole front end went down!  In fact, the side of his head hit the ground.  WTH?  I was pitched forward on to his neck...I have to say that getting a horn in the gut isn't pleasant.  However, my concern was righting my boy so I quickly sat back in the saddle and steadily pulled back and braced the reins to give him something to "lean" on to help him up.  He was none the worse for wear, thankfully.  DH's Mom was impressed that I stayed in the saddle.

Last Friday, Gem was a bit frisky (cooler weather??)  Because of this, I took the time to warm him up in the paddock.  He was not paying complete attention to me and DH's Mom asked if I wanted to lunge.  I believe that lunging has benefits, but I prefer to ride it out and get his head back when I am in the saddle.  When Gem consistently responded to me telling him "easy", then I felt ready to hit the trails.  Looking back, I am glad we had a warm up session.

The ride started out pleasant enough.  DH's Mom and I were joined by CL riding a beautiful Clyde, Marty.  Gem looks delicate next to this guy.  :-)  CL, like DH's Mom, has ridden most of her life.  Marty is still a youngster - I think he's 4 - and he still has some youngster behaviour.  But CL corrects and moves on.  I like riding with them.   CL/Marty were leading us across the large middle field, with Gem and I close behind and DH's Mom/DH a little further back, bringing up the rear.   About 5 minutes into our ride, we started to enter the winter feeding field to gain access to the forest.  CL/Marty stopped dead at the entrance on high alert.  Then I heard it....the pounding of hooves!   We couldn't see exactly what was going on because of the trees and shrubs against the stone wall. 
Direction of thundering, crazy horses.

I moved Gem to the right, away from the entrance and tried to take cover against a couple of bushes as the herd of 30 horses thundered through the small opening, with a couple breaking off and either jumping the wall (WTH!) or veering into the forest.  Holy crap, Batman!!   I had an adrenaline rush and my complete focus was on Gem and keeping us safe.  I was thinking quite clearly and honestly, there was no room for panic.  I implemented a half-halt and luckily in the excitement, I managed to convince Gem to do small circles and that there was no need to follow the herd.  I had my palm on the horn pushing my butt into the saddle.  The thunder of the herd galloping by me pretty much drowned out any other noise, but I do remember hearing DH's Mom yelling at me to hang on.  Understandably, Gem was a bit bouncy.  There was one point that I lost my balance slightly and thought that I might be coming off, but I righted myself.  I got it together in time to watch the last of the horses continue galloping down the bottom of the field.  Beautiful. Then I started to breathe again.  :-)     Of course, this whole incident only lasted, what, 30 SECONDS???  We have no idea what caused the stampede.  DH's Mom admitted that she was a tad nervous...her main concern was a horse kicking out and hurting her or DH.   Gem and I survived our first stampede!  Yay!   OK, it needs to be said - DH's Mom was not wearing a helmet.  This is a perfect example of how the situation can change in an instant when you are out on the trails.  Just sayin'. 

As we rode along the golf course, a golfer's ball connected with, I think, the flag pole resulting in a loud twang! noise...right next to us.  Come on...really??  Gem did his beautiful two large side steps...his version of spooking (geez, I wish I could get him to side step like that when I asked....his cross-over is amazing!)    

Then CL decided to take us into the marsh..."oh, it's not too muddy", she said.  Good grief.  I should have known better.  With all of the rain we've had, how could it not be muddy, for cripes sakes!  She led Marty through deep mud that caked his feathers.  I have to tell you it was like quicksand....as you walked, it was like you got sucked in deeper and deeper into the black goo.  Gem, in the meantime, was trying to convince me that walking along the edge of the trail through very thick bushes to avoid the ankle deep mud was OK...not!   Believe me, if walking through the brush was a viable option, I would have been all over it.  However, it was actually safer to walk right down the middle of swampy mud.  Convincing him took some effort, but he listened more often than not.  I know, hard to believe, right?  Me convincing him that mud was OK.  Crazy, eh?  DH's Mom was struggling a bit as DH is only about 14.3hh and his tiny feet were really sinking into the mud.  In retrospect, it probably wasn't the safest situation for DH's Mom and DH to be in.  Interestingly, although I was apprehensive as we got deeper into the marsh area, I focused on the fact that we were almost through it, and I was OK.....I did not loose my mind.  Weird, eh?  When we emerged, Gem and Marty had mud and splashes half way up their legs and on their bellies.  DH was covered and DH's Mom's jeans were splashed up to her knees.  Sometimes there is an advantage to being on a taller horse.  :-)   

The whole ride, I was the entertainment...in a good way.  :-)  DH's Mom was reminiscing to CL how last year I would yell or scream like a girl in certain situations, or how I would tell DH's Mom to go fly a kite if she wanted me to try something, etc. etc.   We laughed a lot.   Later on, CL gave me a high five for being a good sport and for having a great ride.

As I drove to the pub to meet DH's Mom, I reviewed the ride and smiled...a lot!  I did pretty good!   Over beers, DH's Mom mentioned how pleased she was with how I managed the various situations presented over the last few rides.  And then she said it.  She said that I was ready to go with her for an off-site trail ride.   Nice to hear, of course, coming from her.   If she had said this to me a couple of months ago, I would have been jumping for joy and asking when.  But the reality of it was that her suggestion did not carry the "approval" weight that I thought it would.  You see, I think the last couple of rides have pushed me to the next level.... I have graduated....in spite of riding inconsistently.   I don't need an offsite to add variety to my riding experience or to prove anything to anyone.  I am more confident, my seat is better and I am learning to go with whatever the ride throws my way.   Gem's confidence in me shows and I would rather continue to build on that and focus more on jogging and loping out in the fields at LA's.  In fact, the stampede proved to me that horses can run really fast through the fields and not trip on anything.  :-)

I appreciate DH's Mom recognizing my recent achievements and I thanked her, but I didn't take the bait.   We enjoyed our evening.  When I got home, I told My Husband about my super, awesome ride...and he was suitably impressed. :-)

Monday, September 8, 2014

Love, Like and Dislike

I love summer.  I love sitting on a patio with friends having a cool drink.  I love BBQs.  I love sitting with my feet in the pool, hypnotized by the shimmers on the water.  I love the brightness of the sun.  I love the colours of the gardens.  I love the birds.  I love wearing linen and sandals.  But I am not a huge fan of summer riding.  I don’t like the bugs.  I don’t like the fact that, with temperatures hovering around 30C coupled with high humidity, I have sweat dripping down my face before I even get the saddle on Gem!   I don't like the feeling of sweat-soaked clothing sticking to me after I ride.  In addition to heat, this summer we had the added bonus of severe storms…..nice to watch through a window, but not great for anything else….  

Gem has been enjoying his life of leisure.   He loves his private turnout area, where he spends the day munching on hay or lounging under his tree.  DH, his roommate of 5 years, was turned out with the herd in June and now has his own little harem.  I thought Gem might miss him, but he took it in stride.  Besides, Gem is not alone; there are five other turnout areas bordering on his that have one or two horses in each.  They are separated from each other by electric tape fencing but are still able to socialize.   LA lunges him once a week, just to keep him loose.  He looks big and shiny and in spite of the heat and the horrific number of flies, his humour is generally good.  When I see him, we enjoy each other.  Maybe it’s an age thing (he will be 14 in October), but he seems content.  You would think that my inconsistent riding schedule over the summer would cause him to be impatient with me when we do ride, but it hasn’t.  I like the fact that there doesn’t seem to be any anxiety for either of us. 

There were a few times that I just didn’t want to ride out in the fields; too hot, too many bugs, etc. etc.   So Gem and I did short sessions in the front paddock.  We hadn’t really “worked” in a while, and I really enjoyed communicating with him this way.  He was patient and responsive.  One time, we actually did Keyhole with a young lady getting ready for a competition.  What fun!   Of course, his turn wasn’t tight after he went through the barrels, but he sure enjoyed loping home.  :-)


I actually love riding in a soft rain.  I love the quiet that comes about when it starts to rain, I love the sound of it on the leaves and I certainly love the coolness of it on my skin.  A fellow boarder and I were out on the trails last week and it started to rain, soft at first and then a little harder.  We ended up going into the forest.  We stood and watched the golfers on the other side of the wall.  It was refreshingly cool in the forest.  We were quite dry under the trees and it was peaceful.

I went out with DH’s Mom recently.  We had had quite a storm the night before and I wasn’t too happy about going out on the trails…..there’s mud after it rains…..mud.  Anyway, I sucked it up and off we went.  The forest is great, but for a big guy like Gem, it can be confining.  Some of the trails are too narrow, some have trees that are too low.  I have to be careful and remind my riding buddies of Gem’s size.  It’s happened more than once that we had to back out of a tight spot.  The forest is also a great place for deep mud….it never gets a chance to completely dry so when it rains, the mud gets deeper and squishier.  After walking through some deep mud without issue, I relaxed.  Yay!   We were on a narrow path and I was gabbing to DH’s Mom over my shoulder.  Then…wham!  Gem swerved to avoid a puddle and my left knee was slammed into a tree, pulling my leg out of the stirrup and half unseating me.  It hurt!!!  I iced it as soon as I got home.  My knee did swell a bit and I still have a really nice black bruise covering my knee cap.  The reality is that I should have been paying attention to where we were going in the forest, not turned in the saddle having a conversation.  Lesson learned.  It seems that I always end up with one injury every summer….I am hoping that this is it.

 DH’s Mom, TS and SS have gone on quite a few off-sites over the summer.  In general, the excursions have been good.  I guess you really get to know someone when you travel with them.  :-)  There were a couple of scary incidents, including TS experiencing a runaway.  DH’s Mom mentioned that she didn’t like the fact that SS believes that it’s OK to let his horse graze untethered…apparently, he believes that he has trained his horse to “stay”.  I agree with DH’s Mom.  If something were to spook the horse, he could take off and be a danger to himself and others.   The three of them did manage a camp overnighter mid-summer and said that although it was stifling hot, laying out under the stars and hearing your horse munching next to you was pretty awesome....I agree.  :-)

My plans to do an off-site trail ride this summer sort of went by the wayside.  The weather was a major factor for me.   LA and I talked about it on and off, with plans to do something the end of August.  Then LA sustained an injury to her forearm.  She was loading a usually calm mare, a mare that she knew well and had ridden, into her trailer.  This mare had trailering experience, but for some reason freaked out and kicked.  Her hoof narrowly missed LA’s head; fortunately her forearm happened to be positioned in front of her head and took the brunt of the kick.  It was confirmed after a visit to the hospital, that no bones were broken, but skin was broken (in the shape of the hoof!) and her arm was so swollen that her fingers were numb. Her arm looked like Popeye’s.   She was on pain medication for a week and had to take it easy.   She did not have an unkind word to say about the horse....stuff happens when you are around them and some things cannot be predicted. 

 The flies have been horrific this year, but for some strange reason, Gem only has a very, very small smattering of bot fly eggs on his legs.  What’s with that???  I am not complaining!  I like the fact that his legs don’t look yellow from the knee down!

Lady - May 2014
Lady is doing well!  She has put on weight and is loving her life.  She's now 35 years old and I like that she has found a forever home that allows her to mingle with other senior horses.  She is at a peaceful stage in her life and looks great.

I don't like barn politics and I certainly don't like being involved with barn nastiness.  There was  unrest at the barn this summer.   My understanding is that a boarder had LA look for another barrel racer for them.  The thought was that this second horse would also be boarded at LA's.   LA put time into locating a perfect horse for them.  They waffled back and forth, then bought the horse, did not pay LA a finders fee and then set the horse up in a out building on their hobby farm.  Then the boarder took her daughter out of lessons and started coaching her on the new horse at home.  WTH??  This woman doesn't even ride!  Her thought was that because she had sat through so many lessons that her daughter took with LA, she could do the same at home and save the money.  Then, to add insult to injury, this boarder started encouraging others at LA's barn to take gaming clinics at another facility; some boarders did, so there were two camps - the loyals to LA and the betrayers.  Sigh.   Disappointing for LA from a business perspective, yes.  But also devastating to her personally because this boarder and LA were friends!!  Well, not so much any more.   I am not sure if LA asked her to leave or if she did on her own but her other barrel horse is gone and so is her tack.  I like that the tension seems to have been lifted....and I also like that there is more space in the tack room!

I like the fact that the temperatures will start to become cooler.  My favourite time to ride is the fall and winter.  I love the colours and breathing in crisp air.  There are predictions that we are in for a mild fall.  If it means that I don't have to seriously layer-up clothing-wise until the end of November, then I will like that.  :-)