Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Monday, December 27, 2010

A Pony Adventure

After nearly a week of holiday busyness and not having any "me" time, it was time to get out in the woods on my horse. And it was time for the dogs to get out for some serious exercise as well. I decided to take Kelso, Killian, and Cricket with me.  

Getting the boys ready
I know from previous experience that getting myself mounted while holding a second horse can be a bit tricky.  Everyone involved behaved themselves impeccably, and we set off in good order with the dogs leading the way and Cricket ponying along like a good boy.  Rhio is my best pony horse - he doesn't mind the rope touching his flanks, rump, or legs and doesn't get too upset if it gets under his tail, either. And he has always been very gentlemanly to the pony-ee, never giving off the "stay back" vibe that can make one feel much like Gumby while ponying.  He is also easy to control one-handed, leaving my other hand free to deal with the pony-ee's leadrope.  

Setting off - Kelso is the tiny dark speck in the lead. 
We walked through the deep snow out to the hayfield, made a loop around it, and meandered our way back via the back pasture route.  All of us reveled in the sparkling day, sighting a bald eagle in the tall pines and generally just soaking it all in.  The snow was knee-deep on my boys, and the dogs flopped down in the middle of the trail to chew ice balls out of their feet numerous times.  My finger tips were beginning to tingle with cold when we got back to the barn - just the right amount of effort for old man Cricket on his first outing in the snow this winter, and just enough time for me to find my center again. 

Catching our breath out in the hayfield.

Cricket: "Hey, man - thanks for carrying her around so I didn't have to!"
Rhio: "Dude, if you want, we could go again, and RUN this time?!?!" 

Friday, December 17, 2010

Mr. Snorty

I love it when my horse looks up from his hay, sees me at the gate with his bridle in hand, and comes right to me.  Red usually meets me at the gate unless he's way out grazing, or the times I catch him napping.  I hustled him into the barn for a quick once-over (a-ok) then threw the bareback pad on and slipped his bit in (nice and toasty warm from being snuggled in the front pocket of my Carhartts, under my "Nanook" parka).  Was I ever glad I did that last thing - putting his bit in!  I knew right away from the way he was softly snorting & blowing at familiar objects while tacking up what kind of mood he was in - pent up and ready to run.

And run we did, with his ears going every which way like radar gone haywire.  We walked (a little), jigged (a lot), trotted, cantered, and boogied along through the deep snow & tractor ruts out in the back woods. We took a lap around the hayfield (at a gait which I can only describe as "bounding"), and I did make an unplanned dismount at one point where he 'geed' and I 'hawed,' but luckily I am getting pretty familiar with all the just-tall-enough stumps, trees, etc that serve as mounting blocks.

I decided his energy level might benefit from some lunging in the arena, so when we came around the loop into the courtyard at Rhio's barn, we slipped into the indoor and spent a few minutes working in nice footing.  It was good to see him move, as I really can't tell how he's moving at all when we're in the snow.  Even though I haven't worked on his neck since August, he looked great!

We then headed back to his barn, and he was happy to comply with all my requests to walk, and we had a second joyful bounding lap around the hayfield before making our way home.  Kelso got pretty bogged down in the snow trying to follow us around the field, so he ended up just sitting in the middle and watching us.  When we came to our exit point, I couldn't see him as his red-and-white markings blended perfectly into the snow and background of trees.

I usually find a mental escape from the daily grind every time I ride, but sometimes I spend my ride pondering life issues.  Not a on ride like today's, though!  This kind of ride puts me entirely in the moment with my horse as I have to concentrate utterly on him to make sure I stay in the driver's seat. I have no concept of time passing, and really couldn't tell you how long we were out there, but I can remember the exact timber of every snort, the wild way his forelock stuck up between his fuzzy ears, the tiny snowflakes that fell and didn't melt on his mane on our way home, and the feel of his muscles working beneath me.  It is exhilarating and peaceful at the same time.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Nanook of the North Goes Riding

You can't tell under my Nanook of the North jacket - but I am wearing my helmet! 
Heat wave!  The mercury hit 15 balmy degrees today with full sunshine and no wind, so of course after the farrier's visit, I hopped on for a quick ride.  We just walked through the woods in the deep snow, but I was so thrilled to be riding after all this intense cold we've been having.  Rhio definitely enjoyed getting out as well.

Rhio did balk at one thing today - crossing an area that is normally wet muck in the summer  to head up a trail that we don't ride except during the winter due to its wetness.  Of course the crossing is well frozen now, and I've been snowshoeing across it when I'm out with the dogs, so there is an obvious trail as well.  But Rhio absolutely refused to cross.  So, I dismounted and lead him across (he followed willingly enough - it will be interesting to take him back to that spot and ask him to cross it again and see what he does).  The only problem with this plan - what can I stand on to get back on??  I found a down tree that was about mid-thigh height on me, and was able to clear the snow off enough to climb up on it.  Rhio, however, would have to "parallel park" to get lined up next to it between a growing tree and the bushy top of the down tree.  He didn't quite get what I wanted him to do, but sort of came into the tree at an angle enough that I was able to flop on my belly across the bareback pad, then shimmy around to a seated position as he backed out of the spot and we were successfully headed back down the trail.  Sometimes I am glad that I ride alone!  Here I am telling the story, but I'm sure it would have been amusing & embarrassing if witnessed by someone other that Rhio & Kelso.

As we headed back to the barn at sunset, I noticed how riding in the flat white expanse of snow felt a lot like riding across a river - I got a little dizzy if I focused on the ground.  The ride was just long enough for my nose & toes to register a definite tingling by the time we returned, but also just long enough to soothe my need to ride for a little while longer.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Winter Wonderland

Snowy apple tree
Yes, it is technically still autumn according to the calendar, but when you live in northern Minnesota winter comes early!  We have had snow on the ground since the end of October at the farm.  Seriously.  That's early even for us.  We have been lucky, however, to have calm winds and for the snow to have stayed where it fell - including gracing every nook, cranny, and tree branch with its sparkly splendor.  It is truly a winter wonderland, and what better way to enjoy it but to get out there and ride!
Jack, a.k.a Mr. Intense (he had dropped a stick at Red's feet hoping he or I would throw it for him)

Last Saturday (yep, bit behind on posting!) Gesa came over to ride with me.  I went over to get Red before she came.  We set off through the woods to the farm, only to be delayed by never-before-seen-horse-eating-monsters!  Jack had come to greet us at the barn, and so the four of us (Red, me, Kelso, & Jack) set off down the straightaway (actually a former runway for small planes) to the woods.
Winter Wonderland!

Dave has been gathering firewood with the tractor, so we had a cleared path to follow.  Red was happy & relaxed, having met me at the gate with a whinny, eager to do something.  Merrily we ride along the path, me ducking snow-laden branches to avoid the icy slide of wetness down the back of my neck.  All of a sudden, sheer panic!  What is that?  We must flee - NOW!  Red spun & bolted, which he hasn't done in a very, very long time.  Somehow I managed to stay on (thank you, sticky velcro suede bareback pad!) and get him to stop, reconsider his flight for the safety of the barn, and haltingly, nervously make our way back to confront the terrifying horse-eating monster on the trail.... The Tractor.
Terrifying Tractor blocking our way
Finally Red did approach the tractor (which he sees around the barnyard all the time) and Dave (who feeds him) and realized he was familiar with both objects.  Silly boy.  His heart beat finally became imperceptible again, and he came back into his right mind.  The tractor was disabled right over a wet, marshy area of the trail which has a culvert, meaning there was no good way around the tractor except to dismount and lead him past it on about 16" of snowy trail beside the drop-off to the marsh and the edge of the culvert.  I have seen too many legs sliced up by stepping into the edges of culverts to count.  Here's to hoping Red would be his normal self and follow my lead exactly, trusting me to keep him safe while asking him to shimmy along the side of the tractor when the expanse of white snow looked perfectly passable (though I knew the marshy ground beneath was not frozen solid - we got too much snow too early to freeze these soggy areas as they are being insulated by the blanket of snow instead - the northern conundrum of cold snow keeping the ground warm).  Success!  Red is a good boy and does exactly what I ask.  And luckily, not too far down the trail, there is a convenient tree stump to use for remounting.  I find mounting the bareback pad very difficult unless I have something quite tall to stand on, as it is so sticky that I can't slide a leg across it - the same quality which gives me such a secure ride once I'm mounted.  Everything comes with a compromise, I suppose!
Kelso leading the way
Jack stays with Dave, and Kelso, Red, and I make our way over to the farm, riding into the courtyard just as Gesa drives in.  I quickly get Rhio ready to ride, transferring the bareback pad over so that Gesa can ride in my saddle.  Partly this is trying to give her the best gear for riding (saddle vs. bareback pad) since she is riding a horse she is not used to riding and a saddle is more secure, but partly this is selfish since I know how much warmer I'll be sharing Rhio's body heat through the pad.
Gesa and Red out in the hayfield
We set off with Kelso in attendance, retracing Red's & my steps from his barn and again having to dismount to lead around the still-disabled tractor.  The boys are happy and easily directed around downed trees and into the woods to bushwhack around otherwise-impassable blockades of tangled, snowy trees.  The downside to all the gymnastic moves we & the horses make to maneuver through this snowy landscape is melting snow everywhere - the horse's faces, manes, necks, & rumps, as well as our thighs, become quickly moist then damp then outright wet with the melting snow.  We get brain freeze from the cold snow on our necks and faces.  And we grin, laugh, and quietly relish every moment spent out there in the beauty of the north woods.

Gesa, Red, and Kelso on the trails across the road
We finally admit we are getting a little cold, and head back to the barn.  Red & Rhio have worked hard trudging through the deep snow for several hours, and are dripping with melted snow, so they get covered in coolers with piles of hay to munch in stalls while we head inside to steaming mugs of tea and continued conversation.  After we all get dry, warm, and fed, Red & I head back to his barn and discover our way is now clear as Dave has evidently fixed the tractor, so we joyfully trot and canter along the tractor trail as the light fades.  Red is eagerly anticipating his dinner, and I am just plain old happy.
Looping around the back pasture