In the Night Farm…Your Ride is Here.

Alternating Current (Acey)

Little Horse, Big Adventure: Fandango 2012, Day 1

So.  I decided to ride Acey on Day 1.  Gotta get it overwith sometime, right?  Besides, out vet checks and two holds looked like the way to go for a first-timer with a buddy in camp.  Laurel and Buffy offered to let us join them, along with Linda and Ted, for a slow ride at the back of the pack.  Perfect.

The night before split itself between wind and rain.  I slept little enough to observe the passing storms, a victim of new-horse nerves, though I must say I wasn’t nearly as restless as I used to get.  I was confident that Acey was mentally ready for the trail itself, and that she’d eat and drink well throughout the ride.  But how would her fiery, emotional side affect her at the start?  What would happen when we reached the creek, only a mile out?  Acey is a heart-on-her-sleeve kind of horse, and she doesn’t always react calmly to new and intense experiences.

Near morning, the rain stopped.  I let myself hope for a dry start.  Alas, before my alarm went off at 5:30, the rat-a-tat tapping on the camper roof started up again.  And increased in volume.  And so, we tacked up in the rain.

I applied several wraps of duct tape to Acey’s Back Country boot gaiters, cursing the dampness that already threatened the likelihood of them staying on through mud and miles.   Acey alternately shivered and danced in place, but at least she continued grabbing mouthfuls of hay.  The chill and nerves were getting to her, and I was glad when the starters sent the bulk of the horses on down the trail.

Acey seemed fairly calm there by the trailer, so I mounted up…and quickly got off again as a glimpse of the departing herd sent her emotions skyward.  Right.  We’d start out in hand.

Along with Laurel and Linda, we headed down the road, Acey dancing and fretting at my side.  She didn’t resist leaving camp, but she was a nervous wreck and spooked dramatically when a couple other, late starters crested a small hill behind us.  We walked on and the moment she was reasonably settled, I stepped aboard and asked her immediately to trot.  All that energy needed to go somewhere, and a rational, forward pace made the most sense.

We reached the creek still jumping with nerves, but comfortably under control.  I moved Acey close behind her new friends Buffy and Ted, and (glory hallelujah!) she walked right through the knee-deep stream without batting an eyelash.  Soaked from above by falling rain, soaked from below by our saturated seat covers, but triumphant to have survived the toughest part of the ride — the start — we climbed out of the canyon and struck up a merry trot along the ridge.

Acey travelled with her ears up and eyes bright.  She managed the early climbs and descents handily, and my only worry was the frequent clopping of her boots against one another.  She doesn’t forge badly barefoot, but the too-large boots affect her breakover and I feared she would lose them, particularly in the muddy conditions.

Sure enough, we weren’t 5 miles out before we had to backtrack in search of a boot — the left front.  Or maybe it was the right front.  Either way, it constituted an inauspicious beginning — and belive you me, it was only the beginning.

We now had one boot with no tape.  I tried re-taping with a roll of duct tape from my saddle bag, but Acey was in no frame of mind to stand still.  The gaiter was hopelessly damp and sandy anyway.  I strapped it on, sans tape, and crossed my fingers.  [Note: finger-crossing is no guarantee of success.]  Somewhere around mile 7, I gave up on keeping that errant boot on Acey’s foot.  Having no room in my saddle bags because I’d filled them with water bottles, I managed to tied it to the back of my Stonewall, which wasn’t easy because BCs don’t really offer anything to tie to.  It rode there for a while until the footing got rockier and I tried putting it on again.

A few minutes later, I found myself carrying the boot.  It simply refused to stay put.  I wasn’t thrilled about sharing my hands between hoof boots and reins, but the vet check wasn’t too much farther and the footing was soft.  We’d make it.  [Ha!  Cue ominous music.]

Somewhere along the line, Linda’s horse lost one of his Gloves.

And then, as we trotted briskly across another flat stretch, the real adventure began.  Acey’s head went up and her ears went back.  Her hindquarters came up beneath me and I just had time to say “Guys, something’s really bothering her” before she bolted.  Zoom!  Up the trail we flew!  I chucked the hoof boot I was carrying and tried to rein her in.  Not a good move, apparently.  All that energy went up instead of out.  I’m told we made a rodeo spectacular as we bucked through the sagebrush, circling back toward our companions.  I stayed on…stayed on…stayed on…and came off.

I was on my feet again before I registered that I’d hit the ground.  Acey waited nearby, watching wide-eyed and bare on yet another foot.  I concluded that the boot had come off but the ring of duct tape had clung to her fetlock, causing her to spook in the first place.

We searched briefly for the missing boot, but gave up before long.  The loop was taking forever and we had a good 40 miles to go!  Now Laurel and I each carried a boot, Acey wore one, and the fourth was never to be seen again.

As we trotted on, I pondered the fact that I seemed to have landed right on the top of my head.  Neck stiffness would surely ensue.  Chiropractor, anyone?  But first, we had to get through today.  And tomorrow.  And maybe the next day as well.  All this assuming that I wasn’t forced to pull due to equipment problems.

You guessed it.  Acey lost her last boot before we reached the check.  Linda carried it for us.  At least it had stopped raining.

And, we were having fun.  Really.  Because we’re crazy like that.

Acey blew through the vetting with all A’s.  I strapped two of her surviving boots onto her front feet and got the vet’s approval to continue with bare hinds.  (Thankfully, he has a mustang mare very similar to Acey and understood that despite the rocky trail ahead, we had a good chance of being fine.)

Sure enough, the second, 25-mile loop went off without a hitch.  Halfway around, black clouds rolled over to drench us with rain and pelt us with hail, but the storm passed on a rush of wind and we arrived at the next hold with reasonably dry clothes and happy horses.  Acey again vetted with all A’s except a B for gut sounds, which I knew would rekindle as soon as she had a chance to dig into some much-desired feed.  Indeed, she ate and drank well and continued to look content and eager to move on.

Only 12.5 miles to go.  Home free, right?

Sure…until we mounted up and started walking out of the vet check, and someone lifted a big water tub directly behind Acey.  It wasn’t too close behind her — the person didn’t do anything stupid — but Acey’s ranch-raised brain isn’t used to all that human activity.  A replay ensued.  Bolt, attempt to pull up, buck.  Stay on…stay on…stay on…come off.

This time, I landed on my back.  Again, I hopped up and back astride before Acey seemed to realize what had happened.  She was still shaking and water tubs were still being loaded, though, so I got back off and led her a short way down the trail before mounting up again.

Yeeeeesh.

I’m pleased to report that the rest of the last loop went fine.  No more lost boots, no more spooks, no more unscheduled dismounts.  Linda kindly kept Ted an extra distance back, since Acey was a bit shaken, and we’d picked up a junior at the hold because her sponsor was pulled.  As we rode, I had time to ponder the connections between Acey’s spooks — always something from behind, always a bolt followed by major bucks when reined in.  I formed my theory about the bucking be a panic reaction to being constrained.  I began planning to teach her a single-rein stop, and decided that if she bolted again, I would let her run a bit if possible and pull her up with pulsing instead of firm reins.

We all returned to camp in good spirits.  Acey’s energy remained high and she earned all A’s again, though I could tell by a hint of unevenness in her gait that she was finally getting tired.  I couldn’t blame her!  It was after 6:00 and she’d never travelled anywhere near that far before.  All things considered, I was downright proud her.  All day long, she was nothing if not game.  She covered almost the entire ride, including the rocky 2nd loop, barefoot in back, and never took a bad step.

Best of all, she had fun.

So we have a couple issues to work through — hoof protection, behavior when spooked, excessive nervous energy in camp — but, all things considered, my hopes for the wee little firecracker are higher than ever.


Pre-Launch: Owyhee Fandango 2012

Well, we’re back from Fandango, and nobody died.  As a bonus, we had a good time not-dying.  We also learned some useful and  challenging things about Acey.  But wait.  Shall we begin at the beginning?

On Thursday morning, Acey loaded right up behind Consolation.  I threw a couple bales of hay in behind her and off we went, down Highway 26 to the cutoff toward Wilder.  Rain spattered the windshield as I drove.  In the distance, stone-gray clouds lay thick over the canyonlands.  Wind buffeted us as we wound along the 2.5 hour drive.  I pulled over a couple times and hopped out to make sure Acey, who is sometimes tense during travel, was maintaining her composure.  She was.

The sky split as we pulled into camp.  Spatters became deluge, then hail.  I tested a couple parking spots, looking for somewhere level, not too far from the vetting area, not too crowded, and with plenty of space for Karen Bumgarner to join us with her two horses that evening.  I settled on a spot sheltered by creekside trees, hunkered under the rain as I placed the blocks to level the camper, and spun the tires a little in fresh mud climbing up onto them.

I set up the panel pens in a reduced drizzle, thorougly soaking my boots in the process.  The girls unloaded nicely, if impatiently.  I put Acey in the pen that was anchored directly to the trailer, rather than the second pen that was anchored to the first, just in case she decided to throw a fit.  She circled the area a few times, tossing her mane and pausing to test the variety of semi-edible weeds, antsy but not crazed.  So far, so good.

Overhead, the sky cleared and the wind began drying things out as I set up housekeeping for myself and the horses.  Acey remained unsettled, but not too unsettled to eat and drink — nothing like as bad as Aaruba used to be.  (You longtime readers will recall how he’d fling himself back and forth, clattering against the panels, never relaxing until nightfall.  Ugh.)  I pondered saddling her up for a little test ride across the creek, to see how she’d handle the water crossing, but decided not to given the restless weather and her state of mind.  Better to face it in the company of other horses.

Instead, I led Consolation down to the creek to stretch her legs and check out the water level.  I was pleased to find it lower than I would have expected after the week’s weather.  Consolation, however, was plenty high.  She bounced around and hollered for Acey, who circled and screamed in agitation until we returned.  Grrrr.  This is why I really don’t like taking two horses to a ride.  But, it was no worse than I’d anticipated.  A pain for sure, but not a real problem.

During the afternoon, I watched part of the Easycare booting demo, standing in the transient sunlight to let my Ariats dry.  Kevin and company were showing how to glue on boots.  Interesting…good to know… but what a process!  I think I’ll stick to Gloves, thanks, as long as they’re working fine for 50’s.

Meanwhile, I pondered my game plan.  I had intended to ride Consolation on Day 1 and Acey on Day 2, leaving open the possiblilty of riding Consolation again on Day 3.  However, Acey’s level of agitation made me reconsider.  Perhaps she would be better served by blowing off some steam early instead of waiting in a pen for a whole day.  Plus, the Day 1 vet checks were out of camp so we wouldn’t have to deal with buddy issues at every hold, and there were two holds scheduled instead of just the one planned for Day 2.  Given her fitness level — which was on the low side of where I’d want to attempt a 50 — the extra rest time would be a good thing.

The obvious downside was that if I put Consolation off until Day 2, it was less likely she’d be up for a second go on Day 3.  On the other hand, that was a doubtful plan to begin with, and Karen had offered the possiblity of riding her backup horse Blue on Sunday if Consolation wasn’t up for it.  Hmm.

By the time evening came around, I’d decided.  I would saddle Acey up for Day 1.  Scary thought.  Exciting thought.  Plenty of thought to keep my mind busy as I tried to sleep beneath the camper shell hammered by periodic bouts of wind and rain…

I had a feeling Acey’s first ride would be more, ahem, memorable than Consolation’s.

Spoiler alert:  I was right.


Recoveries

Consolation has been on anti-inflammatories for 2 days now, and she is a much happier horse.  Her whole aspect is brighter.  She’s relaxed and no longer suspicious about being handled.  Her skin is still strange (a bit crinkly under the haircoat, with those strange black flakes) in the affected areas, but the heat, swelling, and tenderness have vanished.  Because the saddle area is all clear, I’m going to go ahead and try riding her this afternoon.  Stay tuned.

Acey is moving right along toward her first endurance ride.  On Sunday, we did 11 miles at a decent race pace of aboaut 7 mph (for beginning distance accumulation, obviously, not winning) in the sandy hills near Adrian.  I like this route because it includes 3 sustained climbs for strength and an interval effect when taken at a steady pace, plus long stretches of gently rolling hills that can be trotted with only a couple breaks to walk down steep grades.

Monday afternoon, her legs were firm and cool and her eyes bright, so we saddled up for a speed ride.  The maintainance road for the irrigation canal a mile from In the Night Farm makes a perfect track:  packed-sand footing, no traffic, nearly flat for a good 6 miles, and a few duck fly-ups to keep things interesting.  I like to use this route for the occasional evening trail ride, but it’s even better for sustained, fast trots and extended canters.

Garmin was busy charging, so I didn’t get to record our actual speed and distance.  I’d guess we travelled about 7 miles at an average of 10-12 mph — not bad for a 13.1 pony.  That that was our cruising speed, though.  The workout was periodically interrupted by Acey’s need to ogle the cows and calves populating the BLM land on the opposite side of the canal.  By the end of the ride, she was pretty much over it, so hopefully that won’t be as much of an issue next time.

Acey consistently surprises me with her recoveries.  I’m going on perception here, but she never seems to get really winded, and she has plenty of spring left to offer just minutes after finishing a hour of effort.  I should hook up the heart rate monitor so I can watch what’s really going on.


Back Countries All Around

Acey’s second pair of 00 Back Countries arrived last week, and we took our first test ride on Wednesday.  Here she is, all ready to go in her new boots and Stonewall saddle.  Isn’t she CUTE?

Sorry, couldn’t resist. Back to the boots:

1. The LocTite worked. I had no further issues with screws coming loose (on the boots, anyway…) while riding.

2. Something about Acey makes the velcro on her hind boots come unfastened very easily. The top two layers of the 3-layer velcro system kept coming undone on the near side, leaving the gaiter flapping along as she trotted. I couldn’t get it to stay put for more than a couple strides. This happened just once on the off side boot. Maybe she’s catching it against the opposite boot, which would explain why the off side wasn’t as much of a problem, as the boots are identical so each top layer of velcro points the same direction. Acey handled the flapping gaiter just fine and the boots stayed on and didn’t twist, but obviously we need a fix for this. Duct tape all the way around the gaiter? Not ideal, but it would probably do the job.

3. Acey trots really, really fast with all four feet booted.


Power Pony

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This is the creature I plan to ride today.  (Wish me luck.)

Okay, so Acey doesn’t behave like that on the trail.  She does, however, bring an enormous amount of enthusiasm to her work.  She has the let’s-go-see-the-world! attitude that I’ve missed ever since Aaruba retired.  Her walk is a march, her trot is speedy and smooth, and her canter…oh, she has the most adorable canter.  Remember those little quarter-fed, mechanical horses outside grocery stores?  It’s like that, only 1,000 times cuter.

I took her out yesterday for a brief hack.  She’d already put in her 30 conditioning miles for the week and didn’t really need more (ha!), but there was a break in the weather and I wanted to test a hoofboot change.  We’d just walk a few miles.  Right?

Riiiiight.  Instead, Acey strapped on her jet packs and took me for a flying trot across the countryside.  Maybe I should have taken her to do the LD today at Tough Sucker, after all.

Actually, I gave that idea some serious thought yesterday morning.  It would have been a last-minute thing, but how hard is it to pack for an LD with the hold in camp?  As it turned out, I couldn’t get a farmsitter.  Which is okay, because it’s hard to stomach forking over $150 or so in ride fees and diesel to do what is basically a conditioning ride.

Which remindes me, y’all did see the blowup over on Ridecamp about Endurance vs LD and the need for new AERC members and the possiblity of shorter, introductory distances to draw more people to the sport?  Wow.  All I can say is that I totally agree with those who say that LD (let alone trail rides) isn’t endurance.  Of course it isn’t.  The thing is, I think most LD riders know that.  For various reasons ranging from physical limitations to personal interests to training requirements, some people want to do LDs.  Some want to take advantage of the opportunity on rare occasions, others want to have fun on the trail without the worries and strains of endurance-length rides.  And their fees inarguably subsidize the longer distances.  What’s not to like?  (Well, there’s the LD racing thing.  But that’s a post for another day.)  And I don’t know about you, but I still remember when 25 miles seemed amazingly, impossibly far to ride.  Sure, it doesn’t seem like much now, but it did then.

Anyway, the way Acey behaved yesterday, I rather wish we were saddling up for that 25 today!  We’ll probably do 14 or so miles right from the farm instead, then go climb some hills tomorrow.  No point in rushing.  (You hear that, Acey?)


Consolation is Better!

She’s not 100%, mind you, but she is much improved.

As a test this evening, I saddled her and lunged her for 20 minutes (in 80-degree heat, to get her sweaty since that seems to make the itch worse), then took her out for a few miles’ hack.  She switched her tail a bit, and her trot was less than steady, but she didn’t feel the need for head-slinging and bucking every few strides.

Her back was still itchy, but nothing like it has been.  If (and it’s definitely still a big IF), this progress continues, we might be able to go to Tough Sucker II next weekend, after all.  Fingers crossed.

In other news, Acey and I had a nice ride in the hills today.  We took it fairly slowly and soaked up a couple hours’ worth of sunshine over our 11 miles.

(Whoa, that photo looks terrible on my screen.  I hope it looks better on yours!)


In Which Easyboot Back Countries Go Very Fast

Acey nearly got eaten yesterday.  By cows.

These were not ordinary cows.  Acey doesn’t mind ordinary cows.  These were Scary Weanling Cows in Crackling Brush.  They were another animal entirely.  Just ask Acey.

We were in the middle of a road test for her new Stonewall saddle and 00 Easyboot Back Country boots.  I decided not to haul out to the BLM land for the test, in case something went wrong and we had to cut our ride short.  Instead, we left from In the Night Farm and rode a loop that gave us plenty of opportunities to turn back if needed.

As it transpired, the saddle fit comfortably with almost no adjustment.  Custom built for Acey, this saddle is narrower than the old one and felt much more stable on Acey’s tiny frame.  I’m sure she found me easier to carry.  She certainly had plenty of energy and a free stride.

I forgot to take a photo of the new saddle on Acey, so here it is modeled by the lovely Ripple Effect.  Blessedly, Ripple’s back measurements are almost identical to Acey’s and the new saddle fits her nicely, too.

The boots are about as big as they could possibly be on Acey without crossing the line to ridiculous.  Outfitted as Gloves, the 00 shells would never stay on her feet (yes, I did try once).  As BC’s, they clung to her little feet through walks, trots, extended trots, canters…and a gallop.  Which leads me back to the cows.

We were six miles from home.  I’d dismounted to let a massive tractor roar by.  Acey scarcely looked at the tractor, but before I could get back on, something in the deadwood at the side of the road went *crack!*  She jumped.  Her eyes bulged.  We stared together into the brush.  And from it emerged…a young holstein.

Well.  That would have been okay, except that there wasn’t just one cow.  There was at least a score of them, all half-spooked and half-concealed by the crackling brush.  They moved like clumsy ghosts, in fits and starts, and Acey couldn’t get a clear look at any of them.  Her tiny ears positivly quivered, and I swear I could hear her heartbeat as I tried to lead her past the long gauntlet of terror.

That was working fine until one of the cows jumped a small ditch.  The sudden movement sent Acey right over the edge.  She bolted, and her biothane reins slipped right out of my hand.  (Incidentally, I’ve been having that problem with biothane reins.  On hot days, in sweaty hands, they get awfully slick if you actually need to keep a firm hold on them for any period of time.  Maybe I need to either wear gloves or go back to my cotton rope reins.)

Anyway, I had to laugh as I watched Acey’s little bay butt tearing away down the road.  I wasn’t terribly worried about her.  It was a little-traveled road with fences on both sides, and we were a good mile away from the next intersection.  There wasn’t much for a running horse to do but stop.  Eventually.

A nice guy in a farm truck happened to see the incident, and he saved me the quarter-mile walk to where Acey decided to stop on the shoulder, looking baffled.  I retrieved her easily and checked her boots.  Surely if they were going to come off from speed, that would have done it.

Both boots were still there.  Hooray!  However, as I handwalked her along waiting for her brain cells to reboot, I noticed that the near-side gaiter was shifting up and down.  Further inspection revealed that the two screws in front (the “Power Strap” portion) had come loose.  They were still there, but no longer attached to the shell.  Only the triple-velcro attachment at the back of the boot had kept the gaiter (and probably the shell, too) from soaring off into the wild yonder.

In all fairness, Easycare’s instructions do say to check the screws before every ride.  This is not something I usually do (bad me!), and considering these were brand-new boots, it didn’t occur to me.  I swore to mend my ways.  But promises weren’t going to save the present situation.

You’ll recall that I was riding in a new saddle.  With new saddlebags.  New saddlebags, that is, into which I had put nothing but my camera and a bottle of water.  I hadn’t transerred my usual assortment of “just in case” items including chapstick, sunscreen, Larabar, hoof pick, and multi-tool.  Guess which item I needed.

MacGyver time.  I explored my tack for a screwdriver substitute and came up empty.  No scraps along the roadside appeared to help, either.  Spinning the boot around the screw got one side attached, but that obviously wasn’t going to work for the other side.  I ended up using my thumbnail (ow) and got it tight enough to proceed.

We finished our ride with no further adventure.  Back home, I removed the saddle to find a nice, even sweat pattern and no ruffled hairs.  The off-side boot, though, now had a loose gaiter!  Hmm.

So about the boots:  Tighten the screws when you take them out of the box.  I’m guessing this is not a product problem — just user error.  I’ll check the screws before my next few rides and let you know if they come loose again.

Today, we’re off to test the new Stonewall on some steeper hills across the Oregon border.  I’ll pack my saddlebags properly before we go.


Going Guinea Pig: First Easyboot Back Country Test

I tried not to think too hard about missing the Tough Sucker endurance ride yesterday.  I gather from Facebook that it turned out to be a small ride — only about 26 entrants in the 50 — but the weather was pretty nice despite a frosty morning and some afternoon wind.  I keep reminding myself that we didn’t get to any rides last year until June, and still racked up over 500 miles.  Consolation’s new saddle should arrive this week and put us back in business.

In the meantime, I’ve been working on hoof trims and boot fitting.  You may recall the great difficulty I’ve had finding boots for Acey’s teeny-tiny feet.  In Easyboot sizes, she seems to fall somewhere between 000 and 00 (yes, I know the sizes vary by model, but you get the point).  The ooo Epics are too small, and I don’t care for Epics anyway.  The 00 Gloves, which is as small as they come, are slightly too big.  So when the Back Countries came out, I ordered some.

I looked for reviews first, but found few.  It seems like everyone is holding off until someone else tries the new boots first.  They’re a bit more expensive than Gloves, after all, and if it ain’t broke…

I’d have waited, myself, if I hadn’t been so desperate.  But I was at the point of asking around for a good farrier for Acey, as much as I’d rather avoid horseshoes, and decided to be on the guinea pig end of this one.  I ordered a pair of Back Countries for $72.95 each, with free shipping, from Valley Vet.

The Back Country boots are basically Gloves with a different gaiter system and a built-in PowerStrap.  The new features make fitting a little more flexible; that is, you can get away with a boot that is slightly too big according to the Glove fitting guide.  This is exactly what I needed for Acey, as the 00 Gloves aren’t terribly huge on her, but the “V” at the front of the boot doesn’t spread properly and she’s prone to trot out of them on the trail.

Yesterday, after a fresh trim, I put the 00 Back Countries on her for the first time.  They went on as easily as Easyboot claims — no need for a mallet, but almost, which I considered a good thing.  So far, so good.  I booted both fronts, then moved Acey around the round corral a bit.  She forged some (not unusual for her) but seemed comfortable and the boots stayed put.  I tried them on her hinds next, with similar results.  Finally, I put both boots on the same side, one in front and the other in back.  No problems.

Note:  I tweeted a photo that I can’t seem to get to post here.  You can check it out at @BarbeyGirl on Twitter.

It was a brief test.  We didn’t leave the round corral for a trail test, but I’m hopeful that this is going to work!  I’ll test this pair on her fronts on the trail next, and if it goes well, I guess I’ll pick up a second pair.

Next, I need to decide what to order for Consolation — Gloves or Back Countries?  We’ve had good luck with Gloves in the past, but have had a few issues as they got stretched out, particularly in hot weather.  Power Straps have proven quite difficult to install, and don’t necessarily solve the problem.  I think the Back Countries might be just the ticket.  What I don’t know is whether the new gaiter style will bother her or not.

There might be just one way to find out.


It Doesn’t Look That Much Like Christmas

Southwestern Idaho is enjoying the most amazing winter.  It’s cold, but the days are mostly sunny and dry.  My round corral isn’t slick.  The trails aren’t icy.  My biggest problem is tightening a western-style cinch without pulling on the horses’ thick coats.

The horses are full of holiday cheer.  They tear about their paddocks at feeding time, bucking and snorting clouds of steam, skidding to halt just before they crash into the fences.  I’ve taken to free lunging Acey and Consolation a bit before riding, lest they bounce me to the moon out of sheer enthusiasm.

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For the first time in memory, I’ve actually been able to maintain semi-regular training sessions with the younger horses.  Normally, inclement weather shuts me down sometime in November, but this year I find myself still sacking out and ground driving in mid-December.

It’s enough to make me want to start setting goals for 2012.  I’m big on goals.  Sometimes TOO big.  I used to have a habit of establishing such lofty ambitions that I could scarcely help but be disappointed by my failure to meet them.  In recent years, I’ve (mostly) learned to edit myself.

Still, it’s in my nature to strive, and striving is useless without a sense of direction.  Maybe I’ll consider some general goals.  Ambitious but realistic ones.  (And then I’ll cross my fingers against a massive snowstorm.)


One Sunday in Winter

Acey and I went out today.  We left in mid-morning, while frost still clung in the furrows of barren fields.  We wandered the roads around home, waved to Sunday drivers in farm trucks and shirts and ties.

We watched our shadow flow along the frozen ditch ~ just one shadow, shared between us.  We paused to study other horses in their pastures, ducked the whir of pheasants passing overhead, stopped where we found bunches of grass left green by fall. 

Our trek of seven miles took two hours.  But who cared?  Trotting felt like too much work; worse, as though it would pound out the silence of our winter day, which rang bright and ephemeral as a church bell half the town away.

These are the days for easy rides, for walking if we please, to prolong the miles and soak the sun through our many layers of coats and mane and gloves.  The farmland is shorn to shades of brown.  There is nothing, and everything, to see.

The world curls around herself, catlike, set to sleep through Christmas and the New Year.  She’ll awake around Valentine’s Day, blushing and moody.  We’ll smile while she bobs slowly into consciousness, having watched her all this while, and wondered.

Perhaps we are what she dreams about.

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