Monday, May 21, 2012


Leverett will probably always be my favorite competitive trail ride. In 2010, this was the first ride I ever competed in. Not only did John win rookie horse, I won rookie rider. It was a great day, fabulous trails and got me completely hooked on 25-mile competitive trail rides.

I mailed my entry for the 2012 ride back in February, to make sure I didn't end up on the waiting list. I was really looking forward to it. On Friday, May 4th, a lot of us trekked to Bert's farm at the base of Mount Toby in Leverett, Massachusetts for our favorite ride of the year.

We arrived and set up camp and headed off to vet in. All four horses (I traveled with Team Thompson) vetted in great and we went back to finish setting up camp. Meg and I were coming back from hauling water when Burnie came and told us there had been an incident between John and Dolly, and Dolly had kicked John's hock. Ever since Secret's hock injury a few years ago (a kick right on the bone on the inside of her hock), I am very careful about hocks. I called the vet as soon as I saw that one, and she was still on stall rest for days.

I took John back over to the vets and had them check him. He seemed fine, but since Leverett is a challenging ride, they said to come back in the morning and check again.

In the morning, he got cleared to go (trying to run me over in the trot-out). They said they would keep an eye on him during the ride, especially at the hold, since we would be riding Mount Toby on the second half of the ride.

His behavior as we waited to ride out of camp was a huge improvement over last year. I was really pleased with how our off-season training had helped. When it was our start time, we set off at a nice walk. When we got to the dirt roads, I picked up the trot.

About three minutes into the ride, I felt my left stirrup slipping down every time I posted. My first thought was that the leather had come off of the bar. I assumed that I had not snapped the bar locked. I halted John and looked down and was horrified to find that my stirrup leather had broken.

I tried holding the stirrup leather as I rode along. That seriously didn't work! I tried riding with one stirrup, this was another bad idea. John's behavior has gotten better, but he is still a really fit horse at the beginning of a 25-mile ride. I was seriously considering calling it quits, and I probably would have, except I know that as difficult as John can be to ride, it would have been much harder to hand walk him past all of the horses trotting the other way.

Finally I got off. There is a rule in ECTRA - our trail ride organization - that no forward progress can be made unless you are mounted on the horse. So I couldn't go forward, I had to try and fix the stirrup, mount and continue.

As I was trying to rig my rope from my sponge bag, my friend Esther rode along and gave me baling twine. Her husband's stirrup broke at a ride last year, and now she always carries baling twine.

I took the twine and rigged the stirrup up. I mounted and continued. I didn't have it right, the stirrup was way too long. But I kept riding anyway. I figured that if I could get to the first manned water stop, someone would probably have duct tape. I got to the water stop and they had duct tape. I taped the stirrup up, and cut the baling twine off. I was trying to cut my sponge bag rope off but wasn't having any success. I finally gave up, having lost quite a bit of time already, and mounted back up. By this time, we had been passed by a lot of horses and John was raring to go.

About five strides later, I felt my left stirrup getting longer with every stride. Duct tape is not invincible. And it does not work as a leather repair tool. Now I was really frustrated. My last ditch effort - the rope from my sponge bag was still attached to the stirrup. I bought the sponge bag from another competitive trail rider, Jenny Kimberly from Vermont. But I really wasn't sure it could hold my weight. It was the only choice I had left. I wasn't wearing a belt, and had to ride uphill for a few miles before the next manned water stop.

I wrapped the rope around my stirrup several times and clipped it to the d-ring on the front of the opposite side of my saddle, trying to get it the right length. I mounted back up and tried again. Besides being a little uneven, the rope held my weight. I got the the water stop, the vets gave John the go ahead, and we headed into the three miles of woods trail before coming back to the water stop.

When I got back out of the woods, Linda was waiting for me with a stirrup leather. I gratefully accepted it. One constant thought I had, riding along on my sponge bag rope, was that both stirrup leathers were the same age. How long is the right one going to hold up?

Sum total, I lost fifteen minutes on the trail, playing with my stirrup, and rode about 8 miles with the rope from my sponge bag as my stirrup leather. But I am very grateful to everyone that helped me, especially Jenny Kimberly, for making such a strong rope for her sponge bags! From now on I will be wearing a belt and carrying a sponge bag when I compete.

I should mention, that during all of this, I was riding up and down hill on some beautiful dirt roads, along a stream/small river with waterfalls, picturesque New England houses and barns and all sorts of great scenery. Don't feel too badly for me!

After the hold, we rode Mount Toby. This is jeep trails and woods trail, but I think it gets tougher every year. Usually I ride the first loop fast so that I can take my time on the mountain. That didn't happen this year because of the stirrup. Add on that I was worrying more than I needed to about John's hock, and the second loop wasn't quite as much fun for me as the first loop. But we did it and finished on time. At the end of the day, John completed with a score of 97 (out of 100), so I was very pleased with him.

And once again, Leverett has me hooked. I can't wait to go to our next competitive trail ride! In the meantime, I have ordered new stirrup leathers...

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Happy Birthday John!

Some girls never outgrow "my little pony." John celebrated his 9th birthday on Saturday. I must admit, I am more excited for the horses birthdays than my own :)

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Bit Of A Change

A few months ago (okay, I actually I have no recollection of when, but its been all winter and into spring), I started thinking about my bits. I have a ton of D-ring snaffles. Most of them are smooth. Plus one double jointed slow twist and a waterford. I love bits, but generally use the same ones on everyone.

John started giving me a hard time about his bit, the Mylar combination bit. I don't really blame him, this bit gives me a lot more control and him a lot less, in a situation where we are arguing about control (namely, when he wants to turn and flee for home at the site of something scary). However, since my mouthy horse was refusing the bit, I decided to try something different.

I ride Remi in a regular Mylar snaffle bit. I had read quite a bit about how they were good, gentle bits to start horses with. I decided to use this bit on everyone and see what they thought.

Secret really liked the change. She's still a bit of a draftee about working - she would rather be eating, but she appreciated the gentler bit (a regular snaffle can have a bit of a nutcracker effect).

John didn't mind the bit. I did a lot of schooling transitions with him, facing his fears and getting him to calmly face the things that startle him. I had also worked on his issue about racing for home. My thought was, if I fix the behavioral issues, I won't need the combination bit (its the same Mylar snaffle, but with an added noseband that puts pressure on his nose if I put pressure on the reins).

A few weeks ago, he started resisting taking the Mylar snaffle. He will take it, but he used to grab for the bit, now I have to ask. I decided to switch him back to his smooth D-ring snaffle. He's a happy horse again.

Friday, May 4, 2012


This winter, my horses all ate the last of their Himalayan salt blocks. I didn't get them new ones right away and felt really guilty about it for quite some time.

I finally ordered them new ones, and rushed right out to put them in their stalls. They didn't touch them. For days.

While this assuaged my guilt-ridden conscience, it did lead me to ponder their nutritional needs a bit.

About a month ago, I saw some Redmond Rock in a local store and picked one up. Its from Utah and is supposed to be one of the best salt blocks you can offer horses, with extra minerals etceteras.

I put the Redmond Rock in the salt holder in the field, and no one has ever seen any of my three horses touch it. Ivy the goat does like it though. The Himalayan salt blocks in their stalls are still pretty untouched. Although Remi did take hers out of the holder and bury it in her bedding one day.

Now I was really pondering their salt needs.

Every night when I am mixing grain for my horses, I add in a dash of table salt (if you choose to do this, make sure its salt without iodine). I don't know if they are getting enough salt from this, or if their needs have changed, but whatever the reason, they are consuming less salt than they used to. I know they like the Himalayan salts. I had Secret at a boarding facility with an indoor once and she ate the 2 pound Himalayan block in a week.

Whatever the reason, I trust that my horses know what they need. The salt is there if they need it. In the meantime, I'm sure I'll find something else to feel guilty about!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


Bravery is a strange thing. Its even stranger in horses.

Secret is not a very brave horse. She is skittish and nervous when outside of her comfort zone. It takes a lot of coaxing and praise to get her to accomplish something new or overcome a fear.

But apparently, not all of the time.

The other day, I decided to go for a quick ride at lunch time, and took her up over the top of the hill. One of the farm's workers had the articulated tractor and disk harrow (for non-farmers, this is a really large tractor and a harrow for tilling the soil) in the same field we were riding in. She stopped and looked at it, and then we followed along while Bob harrowed. We didn't get that close, and I don't ride in tilled land because the footing is too deep, but still, I was pretty impressed that she was following along.

Every now and then the discs would hit a rock and make an awful scraping noise (rock on metal - its never a good sound). She didn't even mind that. I left that field and went to ride in the adjacent cow pasture. I snapped a picture of the harrow, from far away. The interesting thing is you can see a parked tractor and manure spreader. Secret has never seen this move, and I've ridden her by it multiple times. She still scoots right as we pass it. Bravery is a strange thing.