Sunday, August 29, 2010

Riding in the rain

Last Sunday it started raining early. They hadn't forecast the rain to start until overnight Sunday night into Monday. But there, first thing Sunday morning it's pouring rain.

So Sweety and I went and rode in the rain. Actually, we've ridden in the rain before but only in a light rain. This was our first time riding in real downpours and..ya, it was fun!

Back at the barn as I got some clean bedding ready I noticed:

I titled it "Rain Butt". Nice motor, don't ya think!?

It rained all week here in greater Boston. We've been spoiled this summer. It hadn't rained like this since last March. It kinda sucked. By the time Wednesday and Thursday came around I didn't know what to do with myself.

Friday it cleared and we're having a perfectly stellar weekend. Here, we hit the road early yesterday and you can plainly see what a beautiful day we had!

Notice anything interesting? Yes, how observant! No fly bonnet! The bugs. They're gone! The flies are all over the place but the deer flies and green heads are gone. How nice is that!

We did some schooling out near the hay field and then had a good run down the tree line to the woods. We poked around the woods for a while. I really have to bring my good camera out into the woods with us. There just isn't enough light in the woods to get a decent picture with the pocket camera. I don't know what I did for fun before we had digital cameras!

Aw no! I'm a beer snob!

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is regularly ranked one of the, if not *the*, best ale ever. I try to ignore such things. I love ales and I have to admit, it is pretty darned good. And the perfect way to wrap up a nice trail ride on a not too hot day.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Hey that's cheating!

Maybe so...
Some weeks ago I was thinking "compromise" and I thought oh, maybe on Friday night I'd smoke a cigar. For "dessert". I've only smoked cigars a couple of times. Had a Cuban cigar once. I dunno. Not too fond of cigars.

Then I remembered that years ago I had smoked a pipe. Of course I knew exactly where my pipes were and I even had some tobacco that was years old. Nothing a humidifier can't fix. Smoking a pipe was at least vaguely familiar and had some "comfort" quality to it.

So one Friday night I smoked a pipe and I enjoyed it. And I don't feel like I have to smoke another when I'm done. I can smoke on Friday night and I'm fine on Saturday night, Sunday night, Monday night, well, you get the idea.

The pipe pictured is a nice Stanwell from Denmark. I can puff on that one for about 40 minutes. I have 4 pipes that survived the years.

So ok I cheat one night a week. Kind of. In the interests of compromise.

Another dessert favorite:

I admit it. I fell for the packaging. It's an elegant package that stands out from the rest because it's understated. That made me pick it up. The contents felt good so I decided I'd try it. I just *love* these prunes! I fell for the packaging and I'll go back for the prunes. Prunes are good for you!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Bareback jumper

No no, this is NOT how it's done:

Horse looks good. L always looks good. Rider not so much. That's a mattress on an obstacle course. She had already stepped on it I don't know how many times so I was *completely* unprepared when she decided *now* was the time to jump over it. Let's hear it for the photographer however!

Ok. Lesson learned. Be prepared for pretty much anything anytime.

Yesterday was a beautiful day. It was hot, dry and breezy. Again. This has been a gorgeous summer.

I've been trying to use a saddle more often lately but yesterday I just didn't feel much like it. So we went off bareback. L was her usual most awesome self. Even though she's in heat. Big time heat. I mean gazing off into space heaving deep sighs... hello? Yo.. we're working here Sweety.

We'd warmed up and lapped the vegetables a couple times and chatted with neighbors when we went off down the tree line and as I duck under a couple of branches I see turkeys ahead. A hen and a single chick. They see us coming and scurry off into the brush and I'm thinking of course there has to be more. As we get a little closer a chick takes flight out of the grass into the brush.

I'm thinking there's gotta be more and seconds later, about 10 or 12 feet to the left of L's shoulder, 5 turkey chicks take flight out of the grass going every which way. Now, a turkey chick this time of year is about the size of a big chicken. You ever see turkeys fly? They're not hardly the most graceful creatures.

L lifted into a spin and I thought for sure I was gonna end up hanging in some nearby branches. A quiet "ho" brought her right back and she stood and stared like she was thinking "whoa *what* was *that* all about?!". It wasn't a good idea to stand there much longer, what with momma turkey gobbling in the woods, so we vigorously stomped the length of the tree line and back out on to the track.

L was being so good I decided we'd go off into the woods for a short walk. It's been so dry we kind of went off and bushwhacked our way through some dry creek bed and she wasn't particularly thrilled but she was good. And the bugs were nowhere to be seen!

Our path out to the trails in the woods is a little bit of a downhill thing through some tall grass. Which makes it a little uphill thing on the way back out. And I always do the little bit of a lean thing and L trots up out of the brush but today - no, we need to have adventure. I go into the lean, and remember, we're out there bareback, and I feel a funny flex in her shoulders. Out the corner of my eye I see her feet coming up and I realize she's starting her tuck, up come the feet, out goes the nose and I'm thinking "oh crap". It was more of a big hop than a jump but I clamped my legs on her and grabbed a good hold of her mane anyway. What else was I gonna do. It's not like I could have said "stop" at that point.

Maybe she saw something or maybe that's what she thought I was asking her to do but whatever the case - I was better prepared this time! It was the first time *ever* "jumping" bareback. We landed on the edge of the track at a smooth quiet trot and of course I was just tickled.

Well. My sad little garden isn't so sad anymore. Look! A cucumber!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Celebrate the season!

By now you know I just love the summertime. This is a Caprese Salad I enjoyed with some mixed salami and a baguette with some herbed butter. I think this is a French inspired salad. I ringed some steamed green beans with the tomatoes, drizzled the whole thing with some olive oil and squeezed on some fresh lemon. I dusted the whole thing with herbs de provence. I had a Ratatouille Nicoise on the stove while I munched on all this. I put a bay leaf and some tarragon in my ratatouille and after 15 or 20 minutes it smells heavenly. On a nice day it doesn't get much better.

Especially when you have tons of garden fresh heirloom tomatoes!

And nothing says summer like corn on the cob! The corn is in early this year. We've had corn like this for weeks now:

Peaches and plums are in early this year too. I really feel sorry for anyone that's never had a tree ripened peach!

It really isn't the supermarket's fault they sell crap in the produce aisle. If people wouldn't buy it they wouldn't sell it.

And for dessert? A fresh fig with some goat cheese drizzled with honey and black pepper. This is a treat!

Oh and so is this!

I am so hooked on whoopie pies from Steve's Snacks in Skowhegan Maine!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Don't mess with me little lady

My trainer thinks this is just plain silly. You see, to my trainer, a professional, these are simply "artificial aids":

While to me they're medieval torture devices and I just hate using them.

L and I are partners. I'd like for her to be a willing partner. And using spurs implies that maybe she's not always as "willing" as I'd like her to be. Oh I know she doesn't have as much fun with me as I have with her. But it's important to me she finds our time together pleasant, at least. I'm really not going to have fun if she's not having fun. And it is largely about fun.

My trainer did convince me that I don't do L any favors letting her ignore my legs. And however (over) indulgent I might be sometimes she has really *does* have to do what I tell her.

Although it is fair to say that needing them is largely a product of my own doing. If I "stay on the aids" L is beyond awesome. "Staying on the aids" is equestrian speak for "riding your horse". You think it's easy. Well, this isn't about trail riding lesson horses at summer camp and us equestrians devote our lives to learning the business of staying on the aids. It's very much an "in the moment" thing, knowing what your horse needs and always naturally giving it without having to think about it. Having one's seat in the right place, having one's legs in the right place, having one's hands in the right place, having the contact and balance just right, all the time, naturally without thinking about it, staying out of our horse's way ... we pay people thousands of dollars to teach us these things.

When I do get it right I don't need spurs. Because when I'm there for L the thought of ignoring me just never occurs to her. The "one with your horse" thing.

And that's what I work at all the time.

When I use spurs I don't nag her with them. And I don't draw blood either. When she ignores my legs I give her one good poke and it's done. Often enough she only needs to know I'm wearing them. She's a smart girl.

This is a variation on the tomato/onion slice with vinegar:

Beefsteak tomato slices, some campari tomato slices, some red onion slices, a splash of red wine vinegar, some basil, salt and pepper. I skipped the cheese. I'm watching my weight. Just delicious!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Stirred. Of course.

Even a martini can't make a bad day a good day. But it can make a *really* good day a *perfect* day.

Oh hell you're all gonna think I'm an alcoholic. I was a bartender. I know how to make a good martini. I only have a martini on the best days.

Today was hot in the sun, cool in the shade, dry and breezy all around.

L was sensational.

I just love riding this hay field. A couple of years ago L pooped out there and OMG the property manager freaked. I didn't think it was any worse than say, a pile of deer poop, but then there's a lot I don't know. So I'm *really* careful about staying along the tree line and around the edges. A full lap around this field is almost 3 miles. It's broad, it's sweeping, the breeze comes across it and it's just..well..splendid out there.

There's a handful of different ways to get out there and back. Through the woods is my favorite. It was too dark in the woods to take pictures. I tried and they came out like crap. And the bugs were pretty bad anyway. We basically ran through the woods and I smacked the bugs off her neck until we got out to the eggplant field. I love the way we she "presents" her neck to me when there's bugs on it. It's like she's saying "hey, while you're up there smack this bug will ya?".

When we cleared the woods I got up in a half seat and let her charge the length of the eggplant field a couple of times. I got off her mouth and let her go and she liked that.

After sponging her down with Absorbine we went out and hand grazed in the breeze. This one of her most favorite things!

One of my most favorite things this time of year:

It's just a slice of a fresh tomato, a thin slice of red onion (this slice is actually a little too thick), a splash of red wine vinegar, a pinch of salt and oregano, topped with some freshly grated parmesan cheese. So yummy!

Follow the leader

There's a lot to be learned watching the herd.

And there isn't any single "right way" to make things work with your horse. And while it's simple, it isn't, really. Which makes no sense at all. Unless you know mares.

It's simple in that, ultimately, it's about being the herd leader, being the alpha horse. But at the same time it's not so simple in that one's relationship with a horse can have considerable depth and how to go about being the alpha horse isn't so obvious.

Take L, for example. She's a very bold, dominant horse. I remember somebody asked me once, "you ride that horse?". God bless her.

L never *ever* moves out of anyone's way. Everyone moves out of L's way. Always. Nobody *ever* "accidentally" bumps into L. And L never bumps into anyone. They've moved out of her way before she gets close enough to bump into them.

L knows where everyone is all the time. And everyone knows where L is all the time.

L is the one who "knows what's going on", she's the one watching the tree line and listening for things in the distance.

These rules are never broken and all is quiet and happy in the herd.

These are important. Has your horse ever accidentally bumped into you? Do you ever move out of your horse's way? Think about it.

L is very very funny. Sometimes I catch her in the corner of my eye watching. And when I look directly at her she'll fix her gaze and she'll abruptly, boldly and deliberately, step right into my space and she'll stare. When she does that I better smack her. Because if anyone in the herd ever did that to her, that's what she'd do to them. And if I'm the alpha horse, that's what she expects me to do. And if I don't, I'll regret it.

When we go out and hand graze I have this little game I play. I often hand graze on a lunge line. I'll sometimes drift into L's space and I expect her to just move off. If she doesn't she's gonna get a little poke. And I'll drift into my own space, often out at the end of the line, or close to it, and I like to see her just kind of drift in my direction a little bit.

I gave up on pulling on her years ago. I herd her around when we're out hand grazing. It's a lot easier than pulling on her and besides - that's how she does it. She herds horses around. She doesn't go pulling on them! Clearly she understands this herding thing more than the pulling thing. When we're done I lean down and take up some slack in the line and I say "ok we're done" and she lifts up and just about leads the way back to the barn.

The thing that has me thinking all this is the question - "what do you do when your horse spooks?" and well, I think the answer is, "nothing". Because the question really is "what does the herd leader do when a subordinate horse spooks?" and well, L doesn't do anything. She might look. She's confident if there's anything worth spooking at - she would have seen it first. So it's *extremely* unlikely anyone else would have seen anything dangerous before she did.

So I really don't do much of anything when a horse spooks. Horses spook. On the ground I expect them to stay out of my space. Or they're gonna get smacked. Not for spooking. For getting in my space.

Under saddle I'm going to be reassuring. How does one do that? Oh, I'd start with leg and contact. With L it's leg. It's like you "hold her" with your legs. You have to know your horse. And I expect that to settle it. If it doesn't its not so much about technique. I need a plan to establish my (alpha) position.

It's not fair for us to expect them to see the world our way. We choose to make them part of our world and as such we have to see many things from their point of view.

Seeing the world from their point of view, or at least trying to, is one of the reasons I do this horse thing.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Rules to live by

1. Always keep chocolate in the house.

I don't have a lot of rules. But I have learned a small handful of hard and fast rules I try to live by. Rule #1: Always keep chocolate in the house. From my "lessons from my horses" collection of experience. Yes, treats are an important part of every single day.

2. Live in the moment. I envy my horse's ability to live in the moment. Sometimes the moments aren't so good. But when they're good, enjoy them to the fullest possible extent. Live for now.

3. Stop and smell the flowers. You'll notice things like this:

4. I try to count my blessings often. I'm the luckiest guy in the world.

5. I try to take nothing for granted. It's human nature to take things for granted. I try very hard not to.
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