Monday, December 31, 2012

Best Quotes of the Holidays

The holidays always produce a few "laugh out loud" moments. Here are a few of my highlights.

At our office holiday luncheon, Maryann and I were eating the peanut M&M's off the dessert table while everyone else was eating appetizers. Someone jokingly said, "You can't eat those, they're on the dessert table!" Maryann looked at me, picked up the bowl of M&M's and put it on the appetizer table. "Problem solved," she said.

At the same luncheon, Lin was telling us all about a new theater that recently opened up and the hypnotist show her niece went to see. "They hypnotized her and she did that thing where you talk and swear at the same time," Lin said.

"Oh, you mean rap," Deb asked.

"Yes, that's it!"

We all laughed.

My brother and I were both Christmas shopping at the same time, in different stores. He was shopping for me and called and said, "I'm going to get you a present at Cabela's again this year."

I said, "You got me a present at Cabela's last year?"

He replied, in a slightly frustrated tone, "Look down, you're probably wearing it right now - it's that red jacket you wear all the time."

"Oh yeah, I remember now." He didn't get me a present at Cabela's.

The epic fail of the season came after Christmas. The reason I wear the red jacket all the time (despite the fact that I have 6 different jackets) is because my real favorite - the blue Rambo Ride and Ski jacket has a broken zipper. I finally took it to Hartford Cleaners on Friday (after saying I would do it for the last year), and they said. "Sure, we can fix it, but our tailor had an emergency in Korea and we're not sure when she will be back."

I took my jacket with me, and will try to find a different tailor.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Farewell to my Barn Dog

Ivy arrived at my parent's horse barn while I was living in Maine. A couple of years later when I came back (via Massachusetts and Nevada), she was one of a group of goats my brother had.

I've never liked goats. But I noticed that the other goats picked on Ivy. When it was raining out, she would be outside, because they didn't let her in the goat house (which was big enough for everyone). When they did let her in, she was usually off by herself.

Having a soft spot in my heart for an underdog, I decided to help Ivy out, literally. I let her out of the goat pen and turned her into my "barn dog." She had the complete run of the barn, and she loved it. Ivy had her own pen, the same size as the other goat pen, but she didn't have to share. She never left, was usually underfoot, and could hear the tack room door open from yards away; and was somehow instantaneously in the tack room stealing grain.

Ivy in summer 2009, enjoying her job as barn dog

She loved peppermints and had a strange lack of fear when she thought there might be a peppermint. She's gone underneath all of my horse's bellies while they were on the cross ties to get to me quickly; in pursuit of the peppermint. On more than one occasion I saved her from being kicked by John when she decided hovering around his back legs while he was on the cross ties was okay and he really wasn't warning her off. He was, but I moved him.

Playing with Remi in October

This summer, a guy was running by and came into the barn to tell me the goat was really close to the road. I went outside with him and there was Ivy, in the horse pasture standing between Lilac and Lily. He looked at me and said, "I swear she was just up there." I told him I believed him, but she knew when someone was going to tell on her, I told him to have a good run and crinkled a peppermint wrapper and Ivy came bouncing back to the barn.

Ivy enjoying the grass up by the road this summer

The last photos I took of her were in November. I went for a ride and even though I didn't have any peppermints, she was convinced that I did. She followed me up the mounting block.

And was patiently waiting there when I came back from my ride. For her patience, I did give her a peppermint. She had me well trained.

A couple of weeks ago, she began acting weird. On Christmas, I knew it was bad when I gave her a half a scoop of grain (a horse size scoop - not a small goat scoop) and she didn't eat any of it. She played around with it a little and then went back to her house. We think she had a tumor or cancer of some sort, she went downhill fast and died last night. I'm going to miss having a shadow in the barn.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Happy Thoughts

Amidst all of the sadness of the past week with the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, there have also been a lot of really great moments in the past week. I feel guilty having a good week, when there are so many people with so much sadness in their life, but I think its important to embrace the good moments in life too.

I spent the weekend in North Carolina with my sister and her two children. They are ages one and three. We made gingerbread houses, we had brunch with Santa at the Country Club. We made cookies. One of my friends from First Descents came over for dinner and we spent some quality time catching up. It was a great weekend.

Yesterday was another day with lots of little things that brought a smile to my face. John's whinny as I walked into the barn in the morning. A couple of good phone calls. Conversations with friends. A Christmas card in the mail with the reminder of an upcoming adventure for 2013. And the closing line of an email that made me laugh out loud.

I hope there are some happy moments in your day today too.

This picture has absolutely nothing to do with this post, but flipping through all of the pictures in my computer trying to find something relevant, I found Omey and me hamming it up for the camera in Peru. We were happy, so there is the connection!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Remembering Sandy Hook

I’ve spent the last four days in much the same way everyone else in Connecticut has. Watching the news, reading updated reports online and talking to friends and family about the horrific events in Sandy Hook; and the same questions and heartbreak keep coming up.

The Sandy Hook I remember was a quiet, peaceful town. It’s been about 12 years since I visited the town. When we were state FFA officers, two officers lived in Sandy Hook, and I went to their house several times for meetings. I still remember how to get there. From all of the reports I am reading; Sandy Hook and Newtown haven’t changed much; until Friday, it still was a peaceful town.

I live next door to an elementary school. Once in a while, I’m around in the morning when the neighborhood kids are walking over to school. On these mornings, I see two little boys and one little girl race to school. They look like they are in first grade. I root for the little guy that wears the monkey hat every day, and if I’m in the yard, say hi to his father as he trails along behind, making sure his son arrives at school safely.

Two towns away, the office I work in is across the street from another elementary school. In the afternoons, I hear the sounds of the children playing outside on the playground and often look up from whatever is on my computer screen to watch them for a few minutes.

The absolute joy and innocence of children that age is fun to watch and can be contagious. And it also brings me back to the same questions that keep replaying in my head, and I’m sure the heads of everyone else. How could someone do something this horrific? How are the victim’s families; the parents, siblings and friends ever going to cope with this unimaginable loss? And what about everyone else who witnessed it and now has to put their lives back together?

I don’t have the answers to those questions, and I’m sure you don’t either. I’m sure as the days and weeks pass, there will be many conversations addressing those questions.

This week, I am focusing on honoring the memories of the children and teachers; and supporting the family and friends they left behind, because that is what each of us can do for them.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Once In A Lifetime Experience

When I talk to people about my recent trip to Peru with First Descents, almost everyone says, "Wow, that was a once in a lifetime experience."

My friend took this photo of me hiking in Peru

And I think, well, yes it was, but I want to do something like that again very soon. Why should we only have these awesome things happen to us once in a lifetime (besides the pesky facts that they are expensive, require vacation time from work, someone to feed your horses, etc)?

Over the last couple of weeks, I've been working on an article for Massachusetts Horse magazine and have talked to some really incredible horse people.

One horse trainer I talked to did the "Best of America by Horseback" ride in 2009 from Mexico to Canada with two of her geldings. She also regularly goes riding with Windwalker Expeditions in Arizona. These guys are endurance riders that take people out riding through Arizona. I can guarantee you that will be on my next Trail Ride Bucket List blog.

And then I went to another barn in Massachusetts this past weekend for an interview for the same article. The barn owner was telling me about this ranch she goes to in Idaho where she does weeklong horse drives, the Silver Spur Ranch. It's not a head to tail horseback riding vacation - it's real riding for experienced riders. Silver Spur Ranch will be on the bucket list too! But the barn owner said something that really stuck when she was telling me more about the ranch in a follow-up email:

"I can guarantee you, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience (one that I’ve done for 7 years now) it’s that fun! And exciting!"

At the end of the day, there are really only two things I want out of life. I want to ride my horses and I want to travel. I guess I better get back to work and figure out how I can pay for all of these adventures with my own horses and once in a lifetime experiences, because I can guarantee you, Peru was not my last!

Monday, December 10, 2012

We'll Be Singing....

When We're Sleeping?

This post is for all of you that have ever slept in the same camper at a horse show, or barn at a fair as me.

We'll start with the background information to the above statement. The year was 1996 - I was 16 years old and it was the weekend of the Tolland County 4-H Fair. My horse was one of two horses staying at the fair and I slept over in the barn with her. In the same barn were the beef cows and some turkeys. It should be noted here that I hate turkeys (and all poultry in general).

I woke up in the morning and was feeding my horse and all of that fun stuff when Mrs. Holden, who had been chaperoning us overnight in the barn, came back to the barn looking like she wanted to kill me. I said, "What did I do?!?" Natalie started laughing. Apparently sometime in the middle of the night I had started screaming bloody murder and woke everyone (except myself) up. Mrs. Holden said she nearly had a heart attack and asked what I had been dreaming about. All I could remember was feathers flapping. Damn turkeys.

Fast forward to 2008 and I repeat the same performance (minus the turkeys) in my friend's camper at Massachusetts Morgan Horse Show. Jill and Shannon were scared to death, I have no idea why I was screaming that time.

Two weeks earlier, in a different friend's camper at New England Morgan Horse Show, Jade woke up in the night to me trying to put the overcheck on a driving horse as it went to a class. Debbie laughed and said no one was showing at that time of night.

Despite the sleep deprivation, they've all stayed friends with me.

In my own defense, I was diagnosed with cancer a month after Massachusetts Morgan Horse Show in 2008. And it was at that same horse show that Jade (from the New England Morgan Horse Show camper) read me the riot act about doctors being wrong and that I was sick. Two years of misdiagnosis ended because she is a good friend. Apparently chemotherapy didn't help my odd sleep behavior though.

Twice in the last two weeks, I've woken myself up in the middle of the night; in mid-song. I have no idea why I am singing out loud in the middle of the night, but at least both were upbeat songs. And I guess it's better than waking up in the middle of the night screaming bloody murder.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

5 Reasons My Gelding is Fatter Than My Mares

I originally posted this in March 2011, but it still makes me laugh - especially now as John heads back into work from some time off - because it is so true.

This is the original post:

He works twice as hard as the mares, but he is fatter than either of them. I've spent a few days thinking and a few days watching them. This is what I have come up with:

1. Both mares are taller than he is, but I feed them all the same. Probably ought to change my feeding habits.

2. When the girls run around because a school bus drives by, John stands there and eats.

3. When the girls go visit the other horses over the fence, John stands there and eats.

4. When the girls run to the gate because I pull in the driveway, John stands there and eats.

5. I think four reasons is enough. Not much comes between John and his hay, so I guess I better come between John and his hay :)

*On a side note, I could probably add a fifth reason - John knows exactly how to tug at my heart strings and get the lion's share of the treats too. "One for you, one for you, oh, okay, two for you John."

Monday, December 3, 2012

A Day on Cape Cod

I spent the day in Brewster, Massachusetts yesterday (Cape Cod) exploring the trails of Nickerson State Park for a trail guide for the February/March issue of Massachusetts State Park. It was a very cool day.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Winter Package

When the farrier arrived on Friday, he asked, "What's on today's schedule."

My reply was, "A bunch of trims, and maybe shoes. But I haven't decided on the shoes yet, so lets start with anyone besides Secret."

Geoff has been my farrier for years, and he and his wife are always great about answering my questions, or waiting while I'm indecisive. Usually, I pull shoes for the winter and don't work my horses much, just some fun rides.

We did three trims, and there was Secret, blocking the gate to the field so I had to pull her in next. It seems odd she was blocking the gate, she hates the farrier (well, not Geoff in particular, but the process of having her feet done).

Decision time. I had him put the winter package on. Shoes all the way around, pads, and studs. We're ready for the snow.

I've been having a really hard time getting motivated about dressage this fall. Even when we were at Tri-State showing in July, I wasn't that into it. And we all know how Secret felt about that horse show...

So, new plan, I'm taking her to a competitive trail ride in the spring and will let her have a try at that. With the shoes on, I can keep conditioning her through the winter, and we'll see how it goes in the spring.

She not quite as excited about her new kicks as I am...

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Where's John?

You may have noticed, that in every post I've written about riding, I've been riding Secret. If you didn't notice, I did! But it may have you wondering, where's John?

John has been holding down the pasture all summer and fall, keeping everyone in order (including Tim!) and mostly enjoying the good life while Secret has taken on the responsibility of keeping me entertained.

I posted back in July about the tough choice I made not to do any more CTRs with him this year. That decision was hard for me, but the ensuing months were harder.

I would occasionally take John out for a ride, but every time I did, I was second guessing whether the tendon was fully healed from Crooked River and if I was making it worse.

I took him out in August and he got spooked badly by a deer eating corn along our access strip. To be fair, the deer spooked me badly too. I made light of it in my blog post about wildlife a few weeks later, but in reality he did re-injure his tendon with that adventure, and I knew as soon as we got home. He was never lame, but it was sensitive.

The farrier came a couple of days after the deer spooking incident and he noted that John's tendon was sensitive again too. After that I hung up his saddle and decided not to ride him anymore for awhile. It seemed like I was taking one step forward and two steps back, and it was really just because I was pushing him because I wanted to ride him.

So, John has had three solid months off. And he has enjoyed every minute. On the other hand, it has taken an intense amount of discipline for me to leave him alone and ride the others. He is my favorite and a lot of fun to ride, even if he is a handful.

Yesterday the farrier came and I asked what he thought about the tendon. He hasn't seen John in awhile so I would get an unbiased view. Geoff said he didn't even notice it.

I didn't want to undo all of the discipline in giving the tendon time to heal by one rambunctious ride through a muddy corn field, but I didn't want to ride around in circles either. So, I took John out and hand-walked him for an hour on one of our usual trail loops around the farm. True to form, he pranced along beside me, spooked at a few things, and in the picture above, stopped to watch Bob pulling the baler and a wagon of hay out of one of the fields.

I think I'm going to take John "hiking" with me a few more times before I start riding him again. It's a good way to ease him back into work, and try and de-spook him a little before we head back out to play hide and seek with the wildlife.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

That's My Horse

Last week, my brother thought he would be helpful, and decided to put the horses in. Everything went without incident until he got to John. He slipped John's halter off when they got to the stall door, and John, being an opportunist, wheeled around and went back outside to eat grass in the square.

The square isn't very big.

Especially after Tim closed a couple of gates. But John managed to keep the game up for half an hour, before he let Tim catch him.

And yes, I asked, he tried grain, peppermints, and all of that. I think John was getting a kick out of irritating Tim.

Last night, I was putting horses in, and as usual, took Secret in first. I put her in her stall, took her halter off, patted her and then went back outside. The gate to the pasture had caught on some mud, and stayed open. I'm slightly distracted this week and didn't even notice.

John noticed.

He was standing in the pasture, stretching his neck as far as he could through the open gate to steal a bite of grass from the square and then looking at me as if to say, "Hey, you left the gate open. Do you want to come get me? I'm waiting..."

I guess he knows who buys the carrots.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Turkey Trot

Twenty-two riders gathered at Bluff Point State Park in Groton on Sunday for Connecticut Morgan Horse Association’s 3rd Annual Turkey Trot. The registration funds benefit the Sue Brander Sport Horse Scholarship, and I’m pleased to say that we raised $390 for the scholarship fund on Sunday.

Will and Bill volunteered to take care of food (coffee and donuts in the morning and lunch after the ride) and stay with the horse trailers. That meant I got to ride, so I was very appreciative of their continued support!

After checking in the horses and riders, filling out NEHT paperwork and getting Will set up to handle the prizes, Tim and I tacked up Scout and Secret. Debbie and her daughter had hung around the parking lot waiting for me to be ready, and the four of us rode out together. Libby was riding Angie, a horse I’ve known since she was two (she’s nine now), who has transformed from a rearing, high maintenance two-year old to a kid-safe mount. I hadn’t seen her in a year and a half, so it was really excited when they pulled her off the trailer in the morning. Debbie brought a miniature stallion that she recently acquired from someone getting out of horses. Zulu is adorable, and looks like a miniature Morgan, but packs the attitude of a full-size stallion. He kept us laughing!

Tim, Libby and I set out down the trail, with Debbie bringing up the rear. Angie was happiest in the lead (she wouldn’t walk unless she was first) and Secret was happiest really close to Scout’s tail – when she was trying to chase Angie down for the lead. Fortunately Scout is happy doing whatever, most of the time he was serving as a buffer between the two competitive mares!

When we got to the beach, we rode the horses out through the sand and to the shore. Secret wasn’t overly fond of the sand – it was deep. When she saw the waves crashing into the shore, she knew there was definitely something wrong here – water that chases you, ack! I kept her back from the waves and just made her stand and watch, I’ve learned that it is easier with Secret not to argue, but build on positive experiences.

Debbie got out of the cart and led Zulu into the water. She was in up to her knees and he was in up to his belly. When she took him back out he looked thoroughly unimpressed with her. Angie wanted nothing to do with the water, but Libby eventually coaxed her in, after Scout went in. Scout is a pretty dependable horse, and walked right into the water. Two seconds later when a wave hit him, he simultaneously reared and jumped back three feet. It was one of the funniest things I’ve seen in awhile. Unfortunately I had my hands full with Secret, otherwise that would have been a great moment to have on video. Tim and Scout repeated this performance several times until Scout was calmly walking through the waves.
We continued our ride and had a great time. When we got back to the fork in the trail, and Libby knew where we were, she took off at a trot. Tim and I laughed – the kid who kept telling us she didn’t want to go fast all day was gone. So we picked up a trot to catch up to her. We all forgot about Zulu, until we got back to the parking lot and turned around and waited. After a couple of minutes, he came trotting up as fast as his little legs would go, whinnying the whole time, with Deb laughing in the cart.

I wanted Secret to go into the water, so there is a place in the parking lot where you can access the water, but there are no waves. I rode her over there, and after she thought about it for a few minutes, she walked into the water, drank some of it (yes, its salt water), and then ate some of the marsh grass growing in the water. After that I was happy with her, so took her back to the trailer.
Before Libby untacked Angie, I hopped on for a spin around the parking lot. It had been three or four years since I rode her, and it was fun to take her for a spin. We had lunch with the rest of the crew, people I knew from CMHA, NEATO, and others, and then everyone headed home. Debbie called later and said, “Libby wants to come next year too, so you better keep organizing it.” No worries Libby, I want to ride next year too.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Bluff Point

I went to Bluff Point State Park in Groton last Saturday to check the parking lot and trails ahead of the Connecticut Morgan Horse Association’s Turkey Trot being held there this today. The sun was out, and despite the fact that it had snowed a few days earlier, the temperature was near 60.

I don’t think I’ve ever been to Bluff Point, at least not in my adult years, without a horse. I took this opportunity to go by myself and explore all of the foot trails that we ride by and say, “Huh, if we didn’t have our horses, we could go down there.”

There is also a sign at the foot of the beach that says equestrians are strongly discouraged from riding their horses on the beach. We always ride past this sign and take the horses out to introduce them to the waves, but if there are many people around, we don’t stay long. Since I didn’t have a horse, I stopped my watch when I got to the beach (I was running the trail), and walked out to the gull nesting area on the beach.

After the beach I explored a lot of the little trails and went out to the “point” where you can sit and watch the waves come in, and then I finished my run. The good news for the equestrians is that the trail is completely clear and we will be riding today. The good news for me was that I had a great day at the beach, and enjoyed one of our best state parks and all it has to offer.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

I'm Thankful For...

First Descents! If you have been on facebook lately (or been near any form of social media in the month of November), you notice all of the people posting about what they are thankful for. It's a very fitting month to do that, so I decided to join the crowd.

As you are all aware, First Descents provides life changing outdoor adventure camps for young adult cancer survivors. The friends I've made through FD and the experiences we've shared have been invaluable in mentally and spiritually recovering from cancer.

I didn't realize what a huge impact cancer had on me until I was further removed from diagnosis and treatment. Cancer and chemotherapy shook me to the core. Getting back to "who I was before cancer" was a tough road, and First Descents played an integral role in helping me find myself again. I am out living it again, and I owe a huge debt of gratitude to First Descents for helping to make that possible.

Through TeamFD, I'm once again going to pay it forward so another young adult cancer survivor can attend a First Descents program, by raising $1000. You've all been extremely generous donating to First Descents in the past, and I hope you will continue to support FD and the great programs they provide young adult cancer survivors.

If you want to donate to First Descents, you can visit my page, or donate to any of the other TeamFD members also on the website.

I wanted to do a fun TeamFD challenge, but since we're headed into the winter season in New England there aren't quite so many choices. One of the other girls on my FDX Patagonia fundraising team is running 350 miles by a certain date. I thought that would be a fun challenge, but wanted to add my own twist. Since equestrians are always talking about being as fit as our horses, but few of us actually are as fit as our horses, my challenge will be to spend as much time running as I do riding in December and January. I'll keep you updated on my blog.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Equine Affaire

I have mixed feelings about Equine Affaire. When I go, I am always happy to be there; seeing lots of friends, beautiful horses, clinics, shopping and everything that goes with Equine Affaire. The thought of the crowds and noise usually deters me from jumping right in and driving up there though. This year I had decided not to go, plenty of other stuff going on in my life, I didn't need to spend an extra day in Massachusetts, I could go next year. Plus, I could spend that extra day with my own horses.

But, Linda didn't have very many people volunteering to work in the ECTRA (our competitive trail riding club) booth. So I emailed her and told her to pick a time slot she needed covered and I would go do it. I ended up working the ECTRA booth Sunday morning from 9-12.

As in years past, once I got to Equine Affaire, I had a great time. Working in the ECTRA booth is fun, tons of people stop by the booth and ask about the sport. I had a lot of fun telling people what we do, and helping them find rides in their area that they could come ride or volunteer at.

We share a booth with the Morab Association, and Bert, the lady that runs the booth is a lot of fun. We ride Leverett (the 25-mile ride in May) out of her farm, and I always enjoy talking with her during the quiet times at the booth. The Shire association has the booth across from us and the stall where you can "meet a Shire" opens up right across from the ECTRA part of our booth.

The people with the Shire in the stall on Sunday morning had a lead line strung across the open stall door as a stall guard, so their mare, Jet, could hang her head over the door and visit with all of the people at Equine Affaire. Josh and Elena, Jet's owners, both left the stall for about a minute (one to get a muck bucket, the other to get a pitchfork) and were only ten feet away, when Jet ducked under the lead line and walked right across the aisle and over to me. I was really surprised, but just reached out and grabbed her halter and then Josh was right there, taking her back (and closing the stall door).

Bert looked over at me after they took Jet away and said, "That horse really wanted to meet you!" Whether the horse wanted to meet me, or saw an opportunity to look for treats, I'm not sure, but went over and pet Jet for awhile anyway.

After I left the ECTRA booth, I wandered around Equine Affaire catching up with people I hadn't seen in awhile. It was great to see so many familiar faces and catch up a little. Then I went back to C Barn (Jet had left the Stroh building before I did, and a new Shire came in) to say hi to Jet one more time and take her picture. Cool horse, and very impressive that she got her 16.2 hand frame under that lead line and out!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Book Review - The $80 Champion

When my sister picked me up from the airport after my trip to Peru, she gave me the book: The Eighty-Dollar Champion: Snowman, The Horse That Inspired A Nation written by Elizabeth Letts. She had bought the book in an airport bookstore on a recent trip and really enjoyed it, so passed it along.

After a couple of pages, I was drawn into the story of Snowman and his owner Harry too. Harry immigrated to the U.S. from Holland after World War II and bought Snowman, a very sorry looking grey gelding, off the slaughter house truck. He used Snowman as a lesson horse at the girls boarding school where he taught and won the Show Jumping Triple Crown with him twice in the late 1950s.

What struck me more about the story was the heart that Snowman had - or as Harry put it - bottom. The horse had bottom and would jump courses 6 feet tall and win jump offs against younger horses with much more pampered lives. Harry and his family also had an incredible amount of love for Snowman, he was their horse and I always enjoy reading about people who have made their horse part of the family.

Find out more about the book at Amazon.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Eastern Regional Trail Ride

A road sign blown over by Super Storm Sandy on Route 20 in Massachusetts.

Hurry up and wait, Tim drinking coffee while we waited for our ride time.

Tim riding Scout with Secret and I close behind, she likes following a brave horse.

My brother Tim and I went to the 13th Annual Eastern Regional Competitive Trail Ride at the North Brookfield Sportsmen's Club in North Brookfield, Massachusetts on Sunday. I've had good intentions about attending this ride for the last three years, without ever making it up there, so it seemed like a major accomplishment just to pull in the driveway of the club.

Tim rode his Paint gelding Scout, and I brought Secret. Since she has only done one judged pleasure ride before (her very spastic performance at Tyrone Farm in September) and Scout had never done one, we entered them both in the Novice Horse division of the 8-mile ride. A 17-mile ride was also offered.

Over one hundred horses were entered in the various divisions. When we got there, the parking lot was already packed, and more horse trailers arrived after us. Trailers were so close, and luckily our ride time was later, that we waited for the horses on either side of our trailer to ride out before we unloaded our horses.

Because it was a judged pleasure ride, there was a bit of a backup every time you got to one of the four obstacles. Scout stood patiently and waited in line. Secret was not so patient. I kept her moving as best I could, given the nature of the lines at each obstacle and she practiced being patient. We have more work to do on that over the winter, but I'm not too worried about it. This isn't the type of ride I would normally enter, but I think the conditioning miles, the "event" atmosphere and the other horses are all really good experience for her.

Sometime after the second obstacle we were passed by another horse and rider that do CTRs and endurance rides. I recognized her from NEATO rides and she said as she trotted by that her horse hated following other horses and liked to be in the lead. She got just far enough in front of us and then slowed down so she was always in our line of view. What surprised me most about this incident was the Secret lost it. I didn't think she was competitive, based on the other rides I had taken her on when she just followed the group of horses. She's not brave on the trails, so I pegged her for a follower, the horse I could ride around "on the buckle" and follow the tail in front of me. Secret got really strong and tried to chase down and pass the Paint that had passed us. She would try sneaking up along Scout (whom she was perfectly happy to follow) and Tim would slide Scout over and cut her off, but she was unperturbed, she kept pushing through, trying to pass the unknown horse.

I had a feeling it was going to turn into a miserable ride. The thought crossed my mind that if I had wanted to ride a hot horse that was game for a race, I would have brought John! Who knew Secret would be so competitive, but she is my horse and an alpha mare, so I guess I should have known.

Fortunately, we came upon the third obstacle soon after we got passed. Secret was not happy about waiting in line, but the obstacle took long enough that the other rider and her horse ended up out of our line of vision by the time Tim and I both finished the obstacle. We returned to a pleasure ride and I got to ride along on the buckle (for the most part) for the remainder of the ride.

Tim isn't always game to go riding. I was kind of surprised he agreed to go - except the ride was on a Sunday and he couldn't go hunting. This ride was on a lot of dirt roads and woods trails so we ended up talking for hours and playing games. We had a lot of fun.

At the conclusion of the ride, the Sportsmen's club puts on a huge dinner and then awards are presented. It took awhile for them to tally points, but I had a feeling Tim and Scout had done well, so we waited around for awards. Tim won the Novice Horse division (after completing all of the obstacles pretty well). Secret surprised me by placing 6th. I didn't push her at all, because with her, its better that she has a positive experience and builds on it the next time. She didn't do the gate, didn't move the trail marker, skipped the raincoat altogether, and leaped forward when she realized I was dragging the Christmas tree behind us. She did walk over the logs, cross the bridge with the target animals surrounding it, back up, get the mail, and cross the water, so there was some positive parts to her day.

Larry Underwood and his volunteer crew do a great job, and I'm looking forward to attending the ride again next year.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Last week I received a yahoo group email from the moderator of our competitive trail ride group that had the simple subject line of "loss." It's amazing how such a short word can mean so much. I didn't want to open the email, knowing it couldn't be good news, but I did anyway.

I'll get to the contents of the email later in this post, but first, I have to go further back in October.

Two years ago, my circle of friends and family had a fall filled with loss. It began on Halloween, when my friend Sarah's mother died. Sue had been a mentor and friend my entire life. The next week, a farm employee died of cancer. The week after that, a neighbor died of cancer. And then Katrina was murdered. That month was hard on so many of us, and still is.

This summer, they held the trial for the man that murdered Katrina. He was found guilty, and his sentencing was scheduled for October. Long before the appointed date, I received an email that went out to all friends and family about writing a victim impact statement. I knew I had to do it, but the process brought all of that loss back to the forefront of my mind, and I was avoiding it. Thanks to some prodding from my good friend Debbie, I sat down and wrote my statement in the eleventh hour. It wasn't the best thing I have ever written, and it just brushed the surface of the loss of my friend and mentor, but it was done. I trusted that others would better convey the amount of loss we all felt, and they did. I flew to Peru with First Descents, and while I was away, the sentencing took place and the murderer will be spending a long time in jail.

I came home from Peru to some upheaval in my personal life, and even though it is good upheaval, there is a sense of loss. I don't know if that feeling comes from not completely processing everything surrounding the sentencing, or accepting that with the good upheaval comes the realization that a chapter in my life is closed and something I put a lot of time into is gone. Whatever the cause, the sense of loss remained.

And so, I opened the email from the yahoo group with trepidation. One of our fellow trail riders, who had ridden for the US Endurance team in Malaysia and other places had died after battling cancer. I didn't know Kathy, but I had seen her at many rides and liked watching her ride. Her husband, Tom, organizes the Pine Tree endurance ride in Maine. Her mom, Janet, is an integral part of the team that puts on the Crooked River rides in May in Maine and the October Maine rides. I had talked to both Tom and Janet in the past and liked them both. I spent a long time talking with Janet at Crooked River this year, and she spoke of Kathy, riding and so many other things.

Kathy was at Crooked River in May. I remember being surprised to see her. I knew she had cancer and was on chemo, but you wouldn't have known that to see her that weekend. I remember going riding while I was on chemo and being a total passenger on a few rides while John babysat me. I had a ton of respect for Kathy, coming to the ride to support her family and friends who were riding and volunteering.

Her death brought on a deep layer of sadness. Cancer had taken another kind, vibrant person from the world. I can't imagine the pain and loss that Tom and Janet are feeling now. You can try to make sense of situations like this, but there is no sense to be made. Rather than trying to make sense of it, I've been replaying two images of Kathy in my head, because that is the way I want to remember her.

Everyone who rides horses on trails for any distance is pretty accustomed to the fact that you have to ride on the road in traffic at some point or another. Despite this fact, Janet still felt terrible about sending us 1/2 mile down a busy road at Pine Tree last year. As I was riding down the road, there was Janet, practically in the traffic, trying to keep horses and riders safe and slow the traffic down. The traffic wasn't paying her much attention and it seemed like a precarious situation.

John heard the horses coming up behind him before I did, and as he tensed up, I turned around to see what was going on. There was Kathy, trotting down the road towards her mother. She rode her horse in between her mother and the cars and stuck her horse's rump into the oncoming traffic to slow them down before scolding Janet to go somewhere safe, that we were all capable of riding in traffic. I don't remember if Janet listened or not, but the image I want to remember of Kathy is that cool confidence, riding down the road on a hot horse, to protect her mother. Later I saw her in ride camp and smiled as I went by. She smiled back and it was a content smile. One of Kathy's friends posted on facebook that she hoped Kathy was out there riding like the wind now and that is what I hope too.

The day after I opened that email, there was more sad news, my friend's father had died after a long illness. Mr. Macewko was only 65, but had served in Vietnam and the effects of the war took their toll on his heart and lungs. As I slogged through this past weekend, trying to wrap my head around everything that had gone on in the past few weeks, the sense of loss was profound. Sitting at the funeral yesterday morning, the hardest thing for me was to watch my friend and her mother facing their loss.

I'm not sure if its a good way to deal with loss or not, but like I did with Kathy, I've been focusing on one memory of Mr. Macewko, trying to hold that in my head. I have many memories of Mr. Macewko, from 4-H, FFA and college, but one incident has always stayed with me. My senior year of college, and Natalie's junior year, we were both active with the Block and Bridle club. Leading up to our "Little International Livestock Show," another club officer had been in charge of the show program. Something happened to his computer, and the afternoon before the show, we had no show program. Natalie and I ended up back at her parents house, using her dad's computer program to redo the program (with over 100 people showing and numerous sponsors with ads, it wasn't a small task). At four o'clock in the morning, her dad came downstairs to get ready for work, he looked at the two of us, still working away, and gave us his trademark grin before heading off to work.

I know the days and months ahead are going to be tough for the family and friends of Mr. Macewko and Kathy. I remember being sucked into the black hole of grief when Katrina was murdered, worrying about her son and coming to the harsh realization that life really isn't fair. As I've been processing everything that's gone on in the past couple of weeks, I've been holding onto the image of Kathy's smile and Mr. Macewko's smile. Because life isn't fair, and loss strikes hard and repeatedly. But Kathy and Mr. Macewko lived each day to the fullest and truly enjoyed life. Katrina did too. I feel like one of the best ways to honor their memory is to remember their vibrant spirits and live my life with the same smile and kindness they shared with us.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

FDX Day Ten

It goes without saying that Day Ten is the reason I signed up for this trip, just days after it was announced in January.

Machu Picchu is a “bucket list” item for me. It has been a distant memory from high school and curiosity that never seemed to go away. I was worried that Machu Picchu wouldn’t be able to live up to the high expectations I had set for it, but I never should have worried.

After a half hour bus ride, we were unloading and in through the main gates. We looked around briefly, taking it all in, before heading over to Wayna Picchu. They had bought us tickets to Wayna Picchu in advance (only two hundred people are allowed up a day) and we wanted to begin the two-hour hike promptly at 8 am.

Wayna Picchu is tough; especially after the hike we had just completed days ago. Its about 1000 vertical feet up on stone steps. Just imagining how it was built was insane.

I had been waiting for some friends behind me, but ended up hiking up Wayna Picchu by myself. It was tough and sweaty, but so worth the effort. The views of Machu Picchu and all of the surrounding mountains made the struggle worthwhile. The hike down was scary in places. I understood how people died hiking this and went down one set of stairs like a ladder. Safely back at the bottom, we were all grinning from our accomplishment and ready for Zac to give us a tour of Machu Picchu.

Many pictures later, our tired group headed back to the buses and towards the train station.

One more group dinner and night at the Casa Andina hotel and our unforgettable FDX Peru trip was coming to a close. We had “campfire” on some couches in the restaurant and recalled what a truly unique and inspiring journey it had been. Once again, FD has managed to renew my spirit and provide that burst of energy, focus and camaraderie needed to take the ordinary and make it extraordinary. Thank you First Descents!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

FDX Day Nine

We woke up early again today, as we were on a tight time schedule. We had a four-hour hike down to our bus, and then had to drive an hour to the train station, where we would catch the 4:30 pm train to Machu Picchu.

We made great time down the rest of the mountain and ended up with time to kill at the agreed meeting point. We thanked our chefs and horsemen, whom none of this would have been possible without and spent some time talking about what we had just accomplished.

The bus arrived and we loaded up and headed for the train station. We had a light snack at the station and then found Machu Picchu. Our group of seven girls ended up in a different car than the rest of the group and sat with another local guide who told us more about Machu Picchu, and what we would be seeing.

We arrived at the train station, grabbed our luggage and headed to our hotel. After quick (and cold!) showers, we went out for dinner and then to bed early to prepare for the day ahead.

Friday, November 2, 2012

FDX Day Eight

From the get-go, we knew that day two of the trek was going to be the hardest. We had an eight our hike ahead as we summated the mountain and headed back down the other side.

After our “hike” during our horseback ride, I had decided that my lightweight trail running shoes would be a better choice for the first two days of the hike over my heavy hiking boots.

Day two was as challenging as it sounded on paper. We were headed uphill for most of the day. Staff member Sweet D had told us to just take one step at a time and to think about the hike that way, rather than as the entire hike. At one point, I came around a bend in the trail and Sweet D was waiting to tell each of us as we passed that we had just reached the summit of the Grand Teton in Wyoming, the highest point in the contiguous United States. With renewed energy, we continued our upward ascent.

We stopped several times for snack breaks and to gather the whole group together. Several of us also found that a quick photo break was a great way to catch a breather and appreciate that we were in Peru, and hiking up the side of a mountain.

We reached the summit and it was an incredible feeling. We were at 15,016 feet and had done it together. First Descents traditionally has a Baci bracelet ceremony at the end of camp, and we did this at the summit, exchanging Peruvian bracelets instead. Limbo and I tied each other’s bracelets on, and we all started the trek down the other side of the mountain.

About an hour later we caught up with our crew, who had set up a beautiful lunch for us on the side of the mountain. Again, we were eating lunch at a higher altitude than any spot in the contiguous United States. As we finished lunch, we noticed clouds blowing in and quickly got our packs on to continue down the mountain.

After another hour of hiking, the tents came into view. In another half hour, with the rain coming down we made it to our campsite. The crew set up a large dining tent and we had tea, followed by dinner and a campfire. We were all tired as we climbed into our tents that night!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

FDX Day Seven

We had breakfast at the hotel, before loading up the van at seven for the three-hour drive to the Lares Trail. We stopped for supplies in one local town and then stopped at a Hot Springs where some of the group soaked. After a hearty lunch, we began our hike.

I settled in behind one of our guides, Mayra, who was leading the group, and began the trek. This was the part of the trip that made me the most nervous because I had been working so much. I didn’t have a lot of time to work out leading up to the trip. But, on we walked and we settled into a comfortable pace and it really wasn’t very difficult. The most difficult part of the day was the weather. As the rainy season approaches, and being up in the mountains, the weather changed quite a bit. We put our rain jackets on; and a few minutes later we took them off and tied them around our waist. But, if the worst part of the day was struggling to find a happy medium with the weather, it was a really good day!

Again, we enjoyed ourselves; after all, we were in Peru! We gave stickers and other items to children from local houses that came out to greet us. As dusk was beginning to fall, we spotted our campsites. Our horseman, with the string of packhorses had gone ahead and set up our camp and it was an extremely welcome sight. Two of the horses and one horseman travelled with us for emergency purposes, one as a saddle horse and the other carrying supplies. No one ever used them though.

Our campsite was in a schoolyard. School was on break, so we had the place to ourselves. A lot of the schools in this area lack teachers, and children don’t go. This school has a teacher, but once students reach 8th grade, they have to go to a city to finish school. A lot of families are unable to do this so many of the people in this area only have an 8th grade education. Mayra and Zac told us that there were about 500 people living in this area and that 300 of them were children.

After yet another wonderful meal prepared by our chefs we headed to our tents to prepare for the tough hike ahead of us on day two.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

FDX Day Six

Day six was a free day, so five of us decided to head to the Saqsaywaman (pronounced Sexy Woman) ruins and explore. Our hotel called us a cab and Ducky, Omey, Limbo, Caesar and I piled out on top of the hill at Sexy Woman. After Ducky and Caesar negotiated us a better rate for our tickets into the ruins, we went inside to explore.

I asked a woman to take our picture, and it turned out she was a tour guide as well. We negotiated with Clara and ended up paying her 20 soles to give us a tour of the ruins. Clara told us about the history of Sexy Woman, how it was built and about the Spaniards invading. We tried to soak up all of the history, but were really having more fun taking pictures and enjoying the fact that we were in Peru!

At the end of our tour, Clara left us and we did some final exploring on our own, including building a human pyramid and having a guy from Montreal take our pictures.

After Sexy Woman we went back to downtown Cusco to do some shopping. Most of the stores sold the same things. We also needed a few additional items before our trek – like walking sticks.

After we finished shopping, we headed back to the hotel to pack for the next part of our journey. We had another great dinner out and went to bed early to prepare for our next big adventure.

Omey and I always take a "goofing off" picture

Our pyramid!

The view from "Sexy Woman" - see where it says Viva El Peru!

Our group of girls at "Sexy Woman"

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

FDX Peru Day 5

The day began with rain, which didn’t seem to matter much since we were just going to get on the river and get wet anyway. It was our last day to raft – at lunchtime we would arrive at the takeout and head back across the mountain roads to Cusco.

The faces in the raft changed some as Limbo and Hot Rod joined our raft and Omey and Caesar headed over to the “Noodle” for the day. We went through some big rapids again today, but with fewer rocks. Both days included Class 3 and 4 rapids and ended up being a lot of fun. We hit the deck a few times, bounced off a few rock walls on the side of the river and overall had a great time.

Too soon the bridge came into sight and we had arrived at the take out. The “road” was up a steep rocky embankment and was a one-car wide gravel path. We set up another line and passed gear and rafts up the hill to load up.

After another great lunch, we piled into the van for the four-hour ride back to Cusco. I hopped into the front seat to avoid any potential mishaps with switchbacks on mountain roads. I also took Dramamine before we left. The driver was much better; not only did he stay awake and drive at a consistent speed, he also turned on the radio and gave me control of the volume. We had some great hits from the States mixed with some songs none of us knew or understood. To top it all off, we had another beautiful ride with breathtaking views of the mountains.

The one sobering piece about all of this was that the homes we drove by and people we saw were part of a third world country. Interspersed with this breathtaking beauty are homes without electricity or clean drinking water. People could be seen plowing their fields with oxen. It’s a hard way of life and a reminder that we should be thankful for everything that we have. However, I also noted that while the people worked hard and didn’t have a lot, they seemed happy, or at least content. I think that unlike us, they do have greater appreciation for what they have and less dependency on material things. Its still hard to see them struggle though.

Both rafts at the end of the last day on the river.

"The Noodle" was always up for an adventure!

Monday, October 29, 2012

FDX Peru Day 4

After breakfast, we broke down our camp and started loading the rafts back up to continue our journey down the river.

Apurimac means “the God that speaks” and we enjoyed hearing about the history of the river and Peru from Juanito. Our boat for the day was: Omey, Caesar, Hefty, Sunshine, Carnage and myself. We spent a lot of time laughing, taking surveys and enjoying our time on the river. There were a couple more portages and a few nerve-wracking moments too.

Peru has lots of rocks. This particular section of the river seemed to have an abundance. It didn’t help that the river was low; the rainy season will be starting soon. At one point, we though, or I guess Juanito thought, we could squeak through a tight spot surrounded by rocks, and we ended up vertical on a rock. Water was gushing into the boat, but Juanito calmly climbed out of the raft and pushed us back off the rock and into the river. A little while later we ended up in a similar situation with more rocks and Hefty fell out of the boat, but she never let go of the rope and within seconds she was back in and we were paddling down the river. Despite our mishaps, we were having a great time and enjoying the day.

It was a long day on the river before we found our second campsite and set up camp for another night. This time, I slept great in the tent, I was finally tired enough from all of our adventures and misadventures to get a good night’s sleep.

A view of our raft, as taken from the other raft of FDers!

Another view of our raft.

Another view of the rocks in the river.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

FDX Peru Day 3

We loaded into a van early in the morning for the four-hour drive to the put-in on the Apurimac River. I sat near the back with Omey until the switchbacks high on the mountain roads and the gun it/slam on the brakes driving technique of our driver proved fateful to my stomach. I moved up to the front seat (thanks Ducky!) and we continued our drive. The front seat wasn’t much better though; I was slightly horrified to discover that our driver was falling asleep at the wheel while driving us down narrow mountain roads. The road was really only wide enough for one vehicle and one wrong move would send us plummeting over the edge and far beleow. We got out once when the two-wheel drive van couldn’t manage to climb a hill on a “road” with all of us in it. Somehow we managed to arrive safely at the put-in and after a brief downpour while we unloaded the van, we ate lunch and watched while they ferried all of the rafts and gear down the hill to the river.

The put-in for the river was unlike any I had seen before. We went down a steep, rocky embankment to the side of the river where we received instructions for the river. Listening to the safety talk made me nervous. I knew if we got in the rafts and started moving downstream I would feel better and remember why I signed up for this!

Soon enough we were in the rafts and practicing some strokes on flat water before heading out for further adventures on the river. We hadn’t been on the water for long before we pulled off to the side for our first portage. We piled out of the raft and Juanito, our guide, ran the raft through a tricky rapid while we walked downstream and met him. We floated downstream for about four hours with rapids interspersed before arriving at our campsite for the night.

We set up an assembly line to unload the cargo raft and then all headed out to set up our tents and sleeping bags for the night. Dinner was late, it was on Peru time, but it was very good and we were all soon heading to our tents. I didn’t sleep much that night, but was up at dawn and ready for another day on the river.

Our campsite

Taking one of the kayaks down to the put-in

The Apurimac is a rocky river...