In the Night Farm…Your Ride is Here.

Miscellanea

Break

This has been a hard winter.  Snow fell just after Christmas and has lain on the ground since.  At the new year, temperatures dropped into the single digits and only visited the teens on the occasional afternoon.  Mornings dawned in negative numbers.  Frost-free spigots froze.  Black horses shimmered silver with daylong frost.

Before and after work, I hauled buckets of hot water from the house, up the icy path and down again, to supplement the efforts of tank heaters and a t-post dedicated to smashing rims of ice.  On weekends, I managed to finish the new pasture fence — bundled in wool socks and ski pants and fleece and gloves that I changed periodically as they soaked through — so the horses could get out to play.  I stacked a load of hay on a day so cold the snow wouldn’t stick to the bales.  The physical effort was sufficient to keep me warm for reasonable periods.  But riding?  That wasn’t going to happen.Jammer12-30-12d

This has been a hard winter.  I’m running this farm on my own again.  What happened was a deep shock, like an earthquake that comes without warning and leaves devastation in its wake.  Everything is stark.  Bleak.  The trees are stripped bare.  Freezing fog muffles the view.  Color vanishes beneath the bleaching, blinding snow.

Yesterday, it rained.  Temperatures soared to mid-thirties.  Earth appeared in a few places, like finger holes in a vast duvet.  The blood of four lambs, slaughered last week, glistened in crimson pools that refused to sink.  Then, overnight, it froze.  Grief is like that.  Anger, too.  Today’s forecast is warm again.  Drizzly.  The kind of day that stirs together drift and berm and turns it all to frigid mud.

But warmer is warmer.  Time takes winter with her, in the end.  I want to ride again.


Shift

Sometimes, in order to make things better, you have to accept the way they are.

I don’t mean we should settle.  I mean we should shift.

Not give up, but go around.

Refocus.

As much as I want to be out on the endurance trail, my mares aren’t up for it at the moment.  I’m correcting that as best I can — but sometimes, time can do work that I cannot.

In the meantime, I am re-thinking.  Re-framing.  Circling back.

I have been here before:  Longing to ride endurance.  Not having a horse ready.

Those times, I buckled down and got a horse ready.  I can do that again.

So I have been thinking.  Talking it over with knowledgable friends.  And have something like a plan.

It’s a multi-faceted thing.  Details to follow.


Flashback Friday

Sometimes, on Fridays, I dredge up old favorites for new readers.  This one was originally published on December 18, 2010.  It snowed that day.  This December is sunny and dry, but the cold still whips up ponies and memories and cocoa with cream.  Enjoy.

Windsong

Winter has come to town.  Her hostess gift is a coverlet of snow cast unevenly over the remains of our Thanksgiving storm, disguising ankle-twisting craters of ice.  She is borne on the east wind, which here is cruel and clawed.

She woke me with a clatter of hail and scratch of snow on the skylights.  She stopped the hounds, solid as a brick wall to their faces, when I opened the door for them to race outside.

I leaned into her stinging darkness, muffled in a rabbit-skin cap, hustling through morning chores.  The barn cats padded resolutely after, their delicate tracks obliterated like ghosts beneath the swirling snow.

And the horses!  Oh, they pretended to hate the wind that wound their tails like vines about their hocks.  They pinned their ears and thrust their muzzles at the sky.  They chased her about their paddocks like an impertinent filly.

Secretly, whimsically, I wished to take them all back to my living room.  They could curl beneath the Christmas tree, a bizarre nativity, and I would serve them gingerbread and cider and sing them carols.

Instead, I threw them extra hay.  Even the cats  talked me out of extra breakfast.  Now, I am back beneath the domed roof of my farmhouse, sipping coffee, surrounded by sleeping dogs, and daydreaming, childlike, of horses in the snow.


Looking Back and Going Forward

Last January, I wrote this post about the upcoming year.  It’s pretty good, if I say so myself.  I almost sound as if I know what I’m talking about.  It was all about enjoying the journey.  I put it this way:

The real heart of horsemanship is not at the crowded start, nor on the trail with twenty miles behind and thirty to go, nor among friends at the award dinner come evening.  It is at home, in the round corral, amid the dust and sweat and sun.  It is in the glassy eye melted black with trust, the rush of breath and lowered head, the silent conversation that magics us from two to one. 

Endurance is a thrill, but icing is nothing without the cake.

I’ll buy that.  In the same post, however, I included some musings on where my 2011 trail might lead.  Now I can entertain myself by comparing conjecture to reality:

1.  Explore some new rides on Consolation.  I was hoping to get to Utah or Oregon, or maybe bump up to a 75.  Neither happened, but I’m still quite pleased by what we accomplished:

We completed 505 endurance miles together (I did another 100 on a borrowed horse), bringing Consolation’s total up to 825.  We also started doing multi-days, a goal I neglected to mention last January but have tried for years to reach.

We also expanded our regular conditioning area to include some hilly land just across the state line, which contributed nicely to Consolation’s mental and physical fitness.

2.  Put miles on Acey.  Mission accomplished.  We didn’t actually condition for a ride (not least because I still haven’t found hoof boots that fit her), but we put in enough arena work and trail miles that I feel quite confident she’ll be ready for her first 50 in 2012. 

Have I mentioned how fun Acey is to ride?  She is So. Fun. To. Ride.  I feel sorry for all the people who aren’t lucky enough to be of small stature, because they’ll never get to ride this little bay fireball.

3.  Train the babies.  This didn’t go so well.  I spent a fair amount of time with Ripple Effect, but not nearly as much as I’d have liked.  She’s now (generally) comfortable with leaving the farm in-hand.  She handles traffic beautifully.  She ground-drives and deals with having all sorts of peculiar objects dangled from her tack.  And yet, I haven’t ridden her.  I’ve backed her a couple more times, but I just get the feeling that she isn’t ready.  I worked with her yesterday, though, and she does feel much closer than she did in July.  She just needs more time than I’ve given her.

What about Crackerjack?  I really need to get going on this guy, because he looks like this:

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I did put in some lessons with Incognito (2009 Insider x Sandstorm filly), establishing some basic training.  For now, her main job is to grow up.  She’s sharing a winter paddock with Acey and Ripple, who are schooling her in the ways of the world.

4.  Buy and build stuff.  This could scarcely have gone better.  Not only did I manage to acquire a much-needed horse trailer upgrade, but Ironman and I built a new run-in and I bought a truck-bed camper that makes ridecamp exponentially more comfortable, especially in cold weather.

Now, we just need to finish the perimeter fence, repair mare paddocks, bury water and electric lines out to the horse compound…

In summary, I’m pretty happy with the year.  My biggest regret is not making more progress with the youngsters, but there’s only so much time to go around.  I kept my priorities in order:  Consolation’s fitness, Acey’s miles, baby training, other.  That list was helpful in directing my choices regarding what to do on a given day. 

Now What?

So, 2012!  It’s going to be a crazy year, what with flying to Mexico to get married in June, attending a family reunion, and squeezing in rafting and rides and such, but there are a few things I’d like to make happen:

1.  Cover lots of AERC miles with Consolation.  Which miles?  How many?  That remains to be seen.  If all goes well, we’ll do a bunch of multi-days.  I’d also like to try a 75 or 100.  I still want to take her to some Oregon or Utah rides, but given the time and expense of all that other travel, this may not be the year.

2.  Start Acey on the endurance trail.  I am so happy to have a second horse to ride!  Now, I just have to figure out how to keep two horses fit.  I hope to do at least a couple 50’s on this mare.

3.  Get Ripple comfortable under saddle and on the trail.  ‘Nough said.

4.  Start Crackerjack under saddle.

5.  Finish perimeter fence and mare paddock upgrades.

It’s 15 degrees out, but the sun is up.  I think I’ll start today.


In Which I Find a Use for Full-Seat Breeches

A couple years ago, I ordered a pair of Tuff Rider full-seat, winter breeches from an online vendor.  Five days later, they arrived.  I tried them on and was disappointed to discover that they felt like an ill-fitted wetsuit from 1984:  bulky all over, stiff and diaper-like through the leather patches, and a really boring shade of navy.

Because I’d bought them on clearance, returning them wasn’t an option.  They went into my closet, folded neatly on a top shelf.  And there they sat…until last week.

I’ve decided to give Consolation some winter vacation while her new Stonewall is built.  We’ll do things other than condition.  We’ll dance in the round corral, go for long walks on dark evenings, handgraze on grasses leftover from summer.  And, we’ll hack out bareback.

So it was that I found myself looking around for something warm to wear for a little ride without getting my good winter breeches covered in dirt and hair.  Up there in the closet, patiently waiting, were the Tuff Riders.  Hmm, I thought.  Might as well try them.  We’re only going a few miles.

They were still bulky.  Still clingy.  Still navy.  And they were perfect.  That dratted full-seat patch not only made Consolation’s back a bit less slick, but it protected my legs from the itchy, dusty sweat that usually gives me a rash after riding bareback.  (Somebody tell me I’m not the only one who experiences that.  Please?)

Really, I couldn’t have asked for better bareback pants.  I’ve used them for exactly that, several times since.  Even now, their full-seat sports a whitish crescent of dried sweat from yesterday’s 4-mile trot — but I dismounted clean and dry.  Lovely.

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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.)


Crowd Control

Things have gotten a little crowded here at In the Night Farm, particularly since it turns out that Incognito will be staying here instead of moving to Oregon as originally planned.

We’ve been playing musical horses to keep everybody in paddocks with companions they like, space they need, and access to all the feed — but only the feed — they’re supposed to have.  We’ve made it work, but it has been painfully obvious that we need more space.

And so…TA DA!  Ironman and I are building this:

It’s a 12×24 run-in designed so that it can be divided into two sections, each with a 30×40 foot paddock, or combined to give compatable horses access to the whole shelter and both paddocks.  The dimensions are such that we’ll be able to use panels to keep a horse in a “stall” if necessary.

We even left gap in one of the struts for throwing a rope over to hold a horse’s head up for dental work.  (I’m sure Consolation, who had her teeth floated last week, will be thrilled.)

 Next project:  Pasture fence.  Oh, joy.


Another Round

It’s already January!
 
It’s only January.
 

Photo by Michael Ensch

 
This is the time of year for looking back at last summer’s photos with a sigh, tracing the seat of my Stonewall every time I cross the tack room, and reminding myself that it is good for Consolation to rest.  I’ve scarcely ridden since the big snow that buried my farm in November, considerable traces of which remain, gleaming under the moonlight on this 8 degree morning.

For now, I am (mostly) content to pursue my wintertime focus on my own fitness and study.  I even found time to read a novel, last week.  But with the new year comes the urge to plan.  

I’ve already spent a daydreamy hour with a calendar and the AERC website, mapping out the upcoming ride season.  I glanced back over Aaruba’s and Consolation’s conditioning logs that charted each ride’s length in time and distance.  I even pulled up my old spreadsheet — remember? — designed to plan training sessions and equine workouts for the entire year.

I didn’t fill it in, though.

Tell me, have you noticed the change since The Barb Wire began in 2008?  Have you seen my inflexible schedule bow under the pressure of competing interests, financial shortfalls, emotional shakeups, human and equine injuries — in short, under real life?  Have you observed my growing ability to accept this?

To a personality such as mine, which thrives on ironclad commitment, such flexibility tends to feel like weakness.  So what if I had a hard week?  I must get through eight training sessions over the weekend because I said I would.  Because I’ll never get where I’m going if I don’t take a step today.  Because time waits for no man. 

There’s truth to that.  I took on five, untouched Barbs, which have since foaled out to make eight, plus a troubled Arabian whose mind took a year of groundwork to rebuild.  None of these horses are getting younger.  Or cheaper.  If I want to use them, I must train them, and the clock is ticking.

But do you see the flaw?  It’s a common one, so familiar that it virtually disappears inside my argument with myself.  Yet, there it is:  The same, old failure to distinguish between journey and destination.  Worse, the assumption that an ultimate destination even exists.

To be fair, at one time, there really was a destination.  I wanted to compete in endurance.  But now I have arrived.  I do endurance.  And I love it more than most things in life.  Here’s the part I didn’t expect:  For all that I enjoy racing, and all that I learn from it, the thing itself is less illuminating than the road that got me there.

The real heart of horsemanship is not at the crowded start, nor on the trail with twenty miles behind and thirty to go, nor among friends at the award dinner come evening.  It is at home, in the round corral, amid the dust and sweat and sun.  It is in the glassy eye melted black with trust, the rush of breath and lowered head, the silent conversation that magics us from two to one. 

Endurance is a thrill, but icing is nothing without the cake.

And so, 2011.  This is a year to enjoy the journey.  Acey is ready for miles of discussion to safely direct her exuberance.  Ripple has been backed, but only just.  Her brother Crackerjack is about ready to get serious.  I really want to spend more time with Sandstorm.  

And there’s Consolation — finally a partner, for all our trials.  I hope the road leads us to some new rides this year.  With luck, we’ll explore a bit of Oregon and Utah.  Perhaps we’ll try a 75.  Perhaps not.  We’ll take it as it comes, and remember to enjoy the ride.

Here’s to another round.


Spectrum

Today, I worked with Tuetano.  He was curious, nervous, wary of being touched.  Not long ago, Sandstorm was like that.

Today, I worked with Sandstorm.  She enjoyed being scratched, but resisted the halter.  Not long ago, Ripple was like that.

Today, I rode Ripple.  Just a few, tentative steps in the round corral.  Off balance on the corners.  Unsure.  Not long ago, Acey was like that.

Today, I rode Acey.  We explored six miles along the irrigation canal.  Tried the world on for size.  Reckoned it fit.  Not long ago, Consolation was like that.

Today, I rode Consolation.  For miles we trotted, cantered, even galloped. All on the buckle, all trust, all together.  I thought of the children’s rhyme, this is the house that Jack built.

This is the horse that I built.

One by one, my babies are growing up.  What will I do when they’re all gentled, all trained?

Perhaps I’ll take in youngsters to start, or mustangs for gentling.  Perhaps I’ll turn my energies to campaigning Consolation for War Mare, or taking on Tevis.  Maybe someday, one of these horses and I will be nominated for the Pard’ners Award. 

As far as I’m concerned, they’ve already won it.  Real partnerships are forged where the wild things are.  I’ll miss these shaping times, these early days.  I’ll want my babies back.

At least I don’t have to send them off to college.


Surf and Turf

I haven’t died. Really.

I’m still alive and, I might add, quite touched by all your kind comments on my last post (The Golden Pony). You’re the reason I write, my friends — it’s good to know you’re reading. Also, I registered your requests for a post on equine exertional rhabdomyolysis (aka myositis or “tying up”); my efforts in that direction have developed into a series of draft posts, so stay tuned.

Anyway, I’ve been absent from the web due to work-related busyness followed by a much-needed vacation. I spent 9 days rafting the River of No Return, a 90-mile stretch of the Main Salmon that runs through Idaho’s Frank Church Wilderness. I’ll post photos on my companion blog, NightLife, as soon as they’re processed.

(By the way, I just moved NightLife from Blogger to WordPress and am working on a similar transition for The Barb Wire. Thoughts? Opinions?)

ANYWAY (geez, I’m distractable today), Consolation and I are now preparing for next weekend’s endurance ride — Old Selam. If you’re in the area, be sure to check out the ride flyer and Facebook page. Also, this ride has an interesting history. I wrote up the story a couple years ago.

Consolation and I are planning to do the Saturday 50. It will be her first race since she tied up in May. Because my schedule has been so hectic, I was reluctant to ask her for a 50 until a more experienced friend pointed out that she’s fitter than a lot of horses that people enter, she has a good base from last year and this spring, and horses maintain their condition during rest much, much better than human athletes do. We’ll take it slowly (as if Consolation would permit me to overwork her even if I tried!) and enjoy the scenery.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have packing to do!
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