Archive for the ‘Responsible horse ownership’ category

Horse Camping at Otter Creek

July 5, 2020

Jigs and I just got back from a wonderful vacation at Otter Creek Horse Trails in upstate New York. Travel between Massachusetts and New York is allowed due to declining Covid cases in both states. It was just my friend, a fellow boarder, and me staying with our horses.

Living Room
Stall with Turnout

Not camping like we usually do!

The private camp cabin where we stayed had strict, but sensible guidelines for safety. As for social distancing, we only encountered a few other riders in 5 days of riding. Our private cabin was away from the main New York State camping area which is currently closed for overnight camping. We did trailer down to ride there midweek and only ran into one other group of riders.

The trails at Otter Creek are amazing with sandy footing in most places. Trails were marked by names and the map provided by the facility was well done. We may have “missed” a few turns, but mostly because we were flying along having fun!

Picnic areas with water sources and a place to tie out were also marked on the map. Each day we planned a route with lunch in mind and a place to rest up the horses.

Lunch Break

Time flew by too fast and alas, we are back.

I highly recommend Horse Camps at Otter Creek and the horse trails. We hope to return someday soon.

Hacking Out in the Pandemic

May 9, 2020

Weeks into lock down.

The only places, other than the grocery store, I go is to the barn and the local trails. My horse is boarded close to an awesome conservation area. I am blessed to be able to ride. Other owners are not as lucky and are unable to visit their horses, let alone ride. I cannot imagine how heartbreaking that is.

I would be a mess without this respite. Uncertainty can be crippling.

This Spring was supposed to be crowded with organized rides and maybe a show or two. Weekends are empty of events.  So, we hack out.

Small Brook

In the fifteen plus years I have been riding these trails, I have never seen them so crowded with families and bikers. It is wonderful, but I worry it could negatively impact equine access. While many are thrilled to encounter a “real horse,” others complain horses are “ruining” the trails and pose a safety risk.

Last weekend we encountered a woman with a large dog she was struggling to control. She screamed at us to go another way because the trail was “too muddy” for horses. As we do in these situations, we thanked her for the information and complied with her request.

We checked the trail later; it was not muddy. My suspicion is she was afraid she could not handle her aggressive dog.

I wish I could say encounters like this are rare, but they are not. As an ambassador for my sport. I must remain calm and avoid being confrontational. Especially now when everyone is frustrated and, many, afraid.

This pandemic will not last forever.  When the world returns to what will be the “new normal”, I do hope that those who have turned to the trails to escape boredom will continue to use them. Even more, I hope they decide to become active in preserving them.

As for horses sharing trails? There is room enough for all users to enjoy the natural world around us.  Perhaps others will come to understand what we trail riders have always known- trails are a gateway into nature and a bit of heaven on Earth.

Be safe!

Partners

April 18, 2020

Horses saved my life twice, once when I was a rebellious teen and again in middle age. I don’t speak much about the recurring depression that rises out of my insecurities, of my anxiety. The presence of my horse lifts this shadow. My eyes dilate when I gaze on him and I see the world as a more perfect place.  My breath slows to match his. My heart beats with his. Together, we remain in a moment where the past is gone and the future, immaterial.

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The human/equine symbiotic relationship is hard for non-horse lovers to understand. Some humans are born to bond with these magnificent beings. Our souls long for their presence. On their backs, we fly. We walk more confident beside them.

I am grateful for the grace my horse shares with me in these strange times. Perhaps, I am saved again.

Leap Day or Smartest Pony in the World

February 29, 2020

An extra day.  February has always been fickle.  Too windy for me to ride due to memories of a fall from Pepper that ended in a broken ankle, I decided it best to keep my feet on the ground.

Jigs I and took a walk through the woods. We do that occasionally. He seems to enjoy it and I believe it is good for relationship building.

We walked down to the old “pine grove” where we used to ride when boarding at the other barn. The local land trust recently purchased the property, but not before loggers made a mess of the trails. We had to bushwhack through their debris.

I encountered burdock. Placing my mittens on ground, I struggled to remove the annoying stickies from my leggings. Somehow Jigs had avoided them. I let out an exasperated breath.  Jigs lowered his head, grabbed one of my mittens and handed it to me.

Oh, of course, he was expecting a treat. His nose was already at my pocket.

“What about that one?” I asked Jigs pointing to the remaining mitten. He picked up and handed it to me.  Another treat.

I have been working for years on teaching Jigs to ‘fetch’ hats and gloves with the hope that one day, it could be a useful trick if I dropped something from his back.  

In all that time, he has never handed me something without being asked. Today, he just did it- no cue. It was like he anticipated I was going to get the mittens and decided to help out.

“Smart pony,” I said scratching behind his ear. “Maybe you can lead yourself sometime like Olive.”

Olive is the lab who lives with me. When I put her on the leash, she will pick up the end and lead herself to the door.

I was only kidding when I said that to Jigs.

Pleased with my pony’s intelligence, we came out of the woods and walked up the road. It had gotten warmer. I stopped to take off my mittens, inadvertently dropping the lead rope.

Jigs looked at it and then at me. Slowly, he dropped his head, picked up the lead rope and handed it to me.

His look was clear, “where is my cookie?”

#besthorseintheworld  #smartesthorseintheworld

Smartest Pony in the World

2020

February 15, 2020

My January 1st ritual every year is to remove Jigs’ ribbons above his stall. It is how I refocus on new goals, new challenges.   It is mid-February and they are still up. 2019 was a tough year. I lost my mother. The ribbons are a reminder there were positive moments.  I really need to take them down.

Last Sunday was The Bay State Trail Riders Association’s annual meeting and banquet. I’d almost forgotten Jigs and I had won the Judged Pleasure Ride and qualified for a year end award.  To my delight, the award was a beautiful riding skirt that matches my saddle! 

I was so excited; I drove from the banquet right to the barn to try it out!

Rding Skirt

Riding Skirt

It is perfect.

I don’t know what 2020 will bring, maybe a few more ribbons, maybe myriad meandering trail rides. And when the weather is wet and cold, I will be wearing a lovely turquoise riding skirt! 

Cuteness Revisited

December 8, 2019

Quite a few of the folks who meet Jigs tells me he is “cute.” I guess it is his size and his quiet, confident demeanor that get him that label.

He would be insulted if he knew what cute meant (assuming he doesn’t).

Jigs’ smaller stature does not stop him from bossing around his herd mates, even though he is the smallest in the pasture.

Louie the ex-racehorse is the exception. Jigs steers clear and always defers to him. Louie is a goofy love bug. He’s also the tallest horse at the barn. His tongue hangs out to the side in the way of ex-racehorses. I suspect Louis prefers humans to other horses. Jigs avoids him for the most part, although I have seen them graze together.

As for the rest of the herd, Jigs reorders them around the round bale, pushes them off the water trough, enforces the order of who goes when- Louis is first, then Jigs. It is the way of the universe.

For example, yesterday Jigs had a session with the chiropractor. Sore around lower thoracic and upper lumbar, he was not comfortable with the work being done on him. At one point, he grabbed my thumb. Biting is something he never does. He let go as soon as he realized he had my thumb, but it was an indication of how sore he was. As the session went on, he relaxed, and I could see improvement.

When I turned Jigs back out to the herd, Baron was standing at the fence. Jigs pinned his ears and drove him away, giving a joyful kick in Baron’s direction.  Jigs was letting his buddy know he was back and to listen up.

So, when someone tells me Jigs is a cute horse, I smile to myself.  Cute is not the word I would use for him, but who am I to correct them?

New Coolers

November 11, 2019

I finally got around to taking photos of the two coolers Jigs won At the Eastern Regional Pleasure Trail Ride.  Can’t help but brag!

new cooler womens over 2019

Women’s Over 2019

jigs 2019 Ride Champion

2019 Ride Champion

We won a saddle at this ride in 2012 and have ribboned since, but not placed first.

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Unfortunately the saddle does not fit Jigs, so it sits in my cellar collecting dust.  I can’t bring myself to sell it…. that year the ride was dedicated to one of the organizers mother who was a founder of the ride. It was an honor to win it. And like this year, totally unexpected!

 

 

 

Progress

November 5, 2019

Practice and perseverance have paid off (sorry for the cliché). I took Jigs to multiple events over the last month and except for one day of VERY naughty pony, he was fantastic.  We were overall champion in our division at three events!

2019 Champion

What is more exciting is that one included horsemanship at walk, trot, AND CANTER. I feel like we are starting to get it.

I’m sure there will be more good and some bad days, but we will figure it out. I am not the type of rider that pushes. Each step we take is slow, but this year, our progress is visible.  We are learning to dance.

jigs champion of the day

Second Place

September 27, 2019

I think the best feature of my phone is the ability to put Jig’s photo on the home page. I glance at it throughout the day and smile. It doesn’t get changed often, but a few weeks ago I uploaded a photo of him with his second place ribbon at the Marshfield Fair.

I know second place is not winning, but it is the best placing we have ever had at Marshfield. Two of our three runs where clean and the last one was fluid. It felt right. I met my goal of cantering between obstacles and stopping correctly. Although the course was simple and there were not as many participants as past years, I accepted the placing proudly.

marshfield 2019

Second Place Marshfield Fair 2019

My riding and confidence has improved thanks to lessons. After a few weeks of decent practices and solid lessons, I felt ready to compete in the skilled division at last week’s versatility.

I was wrong.

The courses had jumps that the skilled division was required to canter over. Jumping is one of my fears. When I first got Jigs, I told him, “no jumping.” He seems okay with that arrangement.

Frankly, the jumps on the course were low enough for us to pop over at a trot. We’ve never cantered over one before. Our jumping to that point has been limited to trotting over logs on the trail or a small cavaletti or two in the ring.

My first instinct was to drop down a division, but that didn’t feel right. The year before we won at the lower level. It felt like cheating. And it was likely too late.

I decided to try.

The thing about me is my brain gets in the way of my body. We did the first obstacle, a garrocha pole, fine. After putting the pole back, I hesitantly asked for a canter. Jigs sensed my ambivalence and launched into an awkward pop over the jump. He landed at the canter and overshot the next obstacle, a side pass. We knocked the first and all the subsequent poles loose.

It got worse as the course went on. At some point, I managed to get my hands tangled in the reins.

While I didn’t get us DQ’d, the judge didn’t award many points.

I deleted the video my friend made from the sideline before looking at it.

Resting After Our Loss

Resting After Our Loss

I rode a little better in the next class, but not enough to beat anyone in my division. I was hesitant and did not receive points for jumping the balance beam because I did it at the trot, not the canter.

I sulked for a couple days, feebly riding in the ring not accomplishing anything.

You know how thoughts goes round and round like a marble dropped in a bowl? Noisy, and wobbly?

If I wanted to jump, wouldn’t I be at a different show? Why did the judged class have two jumps? One of the reasons I like local versatility is the lack of jumps.

What right did I have trying to compete at my age, at my riding skill level? Why bother?

The Marshfield buzz was gone.

I signed up for a trail ride. That was something we could do. Maybe it is all Jigs and I should do. Maybe we should skip the next competitions. After all we are both getting older.

Wednesday was lesson night. I had no intention of telling my instructor what happened, but she found out anyway.

Immediately she set up a cross rail for us. It was about the same height of the first jump on the course. We trotted over it hesitantly. Again, again, and again. She had me stop after each jump.

And then she commanded, “canter. I asked Jigs weakly. Nope. He trotted faster.

“Again” she said. This time he cantered over the cross rails without actually jumping, his back hooves hitting them.

“Again.”

This went on for a bit and then it happened, Jigs jumped and stopped.

“See, you can do it,” my instructor said.

It was the right place to end the lesson.

While I’m looking forward to the trail ride this weekend, I’m also looking forward to the competitions the following weekend. I know we won’t win our classes, but with patience and a calm mind, we just might do okay. That red ribbon on my phone’s home page is a good reminder of what we can do.

Summer Blahs

August 15, 2019

Summer is burning to a slow end. It is mid-August.

Jigs and I have not done much other than lessons. It’s been a season of canceled events, the most recent due to the heat and humidity July threw at us. Too hot to move. Not safe for the horses.

Lessons have continued. Slight progress has been made, but it seems the more I learn, the more I am aware of my shortcomings. I’m not an athlete. I mix up left and right. My cues are awkward. I am not quiet and talk to much to Jigs with hands, legs, and voice. A hot mess.  I’ve given up on ever showing or competing seriously in versatility.

On the plus side, Jigs looks fantastic. He is lean and muscled as never before. Consistency is good for him. This summer I commissioned a painting of him that now hangs in my living room.

jig painting

I am looking forward to fall and the cooler weather when we can trailer out to a few organized rides. Perhaps then my usual optimism will return.