Wednesday, July 15, 2009

In which I didn't intend to have a bunch of daughters, but somehow....

Horses are a natural girl-magnet.

Certainly I have told my parents (frequently, at volume, for many years) that they would've slept much more soundly during my teen years if they'd sprung for riding lessons instead of piano lessons. After all, what could a mere boyfriend compare to the loveliness of a horse?

But they didn't listen to me, and so I was a troublemaker who (for good or evil) rarely got caught in my many transgressions against the mores of society.

Fast-forward to a few months prior to my 30th birthday, when I (finally) figured out that if I wanted a pony for my birthday, I needed to get one for myself. And so, with a little help from a woman who recognized horsaii syndrome in me and facilitated the trading of a no-good-for-me husband for a weight-in-gold mare.

Fast-forward again, to me, living single in the City and still hanging out with the mare. I acquired my first horse-daughter as the result of a bad date at a local bookstore:

When the nice (but boring! no horsaii here!) young man allowed a break in conversation, I sprinted for the bookseller's desk and ordered a book about endurance riding.

This led to a nice conversation about horses with the bookseller and soon enough her daughter started taking riding lessons--on my mare! We've ridden together ever since.

By the time Jim and I had horses in adjacent stalls, we'd acquired more horse daughters--kids who would do anything for a chance to ride, and who actually chose--voluntarily!--to spend 50 miles or more of trail with one or both of us. I don't know if the kids ever realized how much they made us smile out there when the miles got long.

When you get a reputation for riding with kids, the word spreads in ridecamp. Other kids (and their parents, and even ride management) want to make sure there are kids riding with us. It can't be my charming personality--anyone who has seen me at the 60-mile vetcheck knows that I am not charming!

There is, instead, a natural attraction between horsaii kids and horsaii adults: people who consider hanging out with horses to be the best good thing of all good things.

Many of the kids are out on their own now--off to college, working at a "real" job, starting families of their own.

They are, nevertheless, always and forever, horse daughters to Jim and me, the true children of our hearts. When Willy moved in with us this spring, he was surprised to learn that our house was already full of teenagers at times--girls who, though no blood relation to any of us, are considered daughters of the family. I must say: he's pretty brave about hanging out with a passel of pretty girls!

After all these miles, they still make us smile.

Monday, July 13, 2009

In which Willy takes a riding lesson and we get a ton of hay

Willy had his first "real" riding lesson the other day, aboard a kindly older gelding named Guy. Guy is one of those weight-in-gold horses who simply will not travel faster than he deems the rider can handle.

They started the lesson at a slow (really, really slow) walk, so that Willy could get the rhythm and learn to balance himself in the saddle.

As soon as he was comfortable walking, Dory had him drop the stirrups and balance himself up in the saddle without them.

At this point, I could almost hear Willy wondering when he was going to get to the part where the horse does all the work.

Once he was sure that his inner thighs would catch fire, Dory let Willy put feet back in the stirrups...and then had him practice a 2-point position at the walk (er, shuffle. Guy didn't think Willy was ready for a proper walk at this point).

They finished the lesson with some basic posting trot. Again, Guy shuffled, but this was a slightly bouncier shuffle, which accomodates the posting rhythm without actually going forward at any speed.

Willy says that Guy is "Slow. But nice. But slow."

And worth his weight in gold, too, bless his little grey heart.

Then it was time for my lesson.

First step: put Hana in the hot-walker to keep her busy and safe while Fiddle and I work. Hana did not appreciate this treatment, but she did walk--for an hour--and it did keep her safe and busy.

No two-pointing for me, oh no. Fiddle the Dressage Machine and I are working on a collected, seated trot.

My posture is improved, but argh, still not great. Fiddle does well at this in spite of me, not because of me. Sigh.

When I get it right and she gets it right, it's fabulous. A lot of work to get there, though.

After lessons, I get a ton of hay. We haven't had a decent crop of local hay (horse hay, I mean, not slimy cow hay) in years, so I'm lucky that our first year on the farm I will be able to pick up some cheap grass hay for winter.

The farmers loaded the truck and tied it down, but they apologized for their lack of expertise in knot-tying. They told me that since they can't tie a good knot, they'll just tie a lot. And that's what they did!

Turning the horses loose in the pasture at the end of their lessons--nice to know they aren't exhausted or anything.


Life is good.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

In which we embark on a Virtual Trail Ride through the Swamplands!

Off we go, starting the Great Virtual Trail Ride!
Our horses celebrate the imminent departure by rolling in the dirt--which they generously share with us. Jim's shirt was clean just moments before I snapped this picture....sigh.
It's just a quick trailer ride from Haiku Farm to the trailhead.
Jim and Hana will be leading our little parade into the woods.
Fiddle and I will pick up the tail. All our Virtual Visitors can make themselves comfortable on their Virtual Horses in the middle of the string.
Single file is only for the road from the parking lot. After that, we can spread out a bit and let the horses nibble on grass and leaves as we travel.
Summer in the Swamplands = nice, warm rain (as opposed to winter in the Swamplands, which is mostly cold, clammy rain). Unfortunately, the overcast skies also made things rather dark in the woods, so some of the photos turned out sort of dim and blurry.
Still, the trails have lovely footing, no dust, and there are lovely, fresh-washed huckleberries growing alongside for us to snack upon as we ride.
After a few minutes of forest trail, we come to a recent clear cut. The trees were taken out of this area about 3 years ago, and trails wind through the meadow.
When the timber is removed, the logging companies plant young trees, (theoretically) the same species that they harvest. Not all of them survive, of course, but this batch seems to be doing okay. The local deer population loves clearcuts, because once the trees are gone, the delicious leafy bushes get a lot more light. We didn't see any deer today--they usually burrow down under trees to stay out of the rain.
Back into the trees. The branches are really wet--I'm so glad it's warm today!
From the clearcut, we can follow an older logging road across the bridge. Because this is a Virtual Trail Ride, all the horses are perfectly well-behaved while crossing the bridge.
Once we cross the bridge, we go back into the woods for a while.

This area has been logged for nearly a century; this tree stump shows a "springboard cut". Before chainsaws were used to cut trees, lumberjacks would cut chunks out of the base of the tree and jam a diving-board-like thing into each side of the tree. Then two guys could stand on opposite sides of the tree to operate a two-man manual saw and cut it down. Manual logging is long gone, but stumps with springboard cuts last a long time and are a common sight in stands of thick old woods.
From the old woods, we emerge again into an older clearcut. The trees here were cleared and replanted about 20 years ago. Douglass Fir trees grow really fast--when I moved to this area 10 years ago, I could see over the top of these trees when I rode on this stretch of trail.
There is a solar-powered water pump here, and a water tank for the horses.
On hot days, that's important.
Today, not so much.
There's a porta-pottie near the water tank, so humans can refresh themselves too. Lots of room to hitch all the Virtual Trail Ride horses beside Fiddle and Hana--tie on up and take a break, everyone!
Before I remount, Fiddle will provide some entertainment by "dancing" for a cookie.
Mounting blocks. I just love those things.
Somebody (I'm not sure who) is studying the effects of keeping horses, deer, and other big mammals out of a recently clear-cut area.
Here's what I see: without the big mammals, the clearcut is completely commandeered by fireweed--a noxious weed. I'm not sure why, though, because horses and deers won't eat fireweed. Clearly, there's some other influence inside the fence that isn't so important outside the fence. It's pretty, though.

Returning to the trailhead, Fiddle's ears show rain spots. Only in the Swamplands could we have a rainy-day ride in July!
But no matter: once we finish our ride and return to the farm, we can feast on some nice hot soup that's been simmering all afternoon:
A creamy chowder broth, with lots of veggies that we got at a fresh market in Eastern Washington last week, including some lovely peppers and a yam the size of a basketball. I also sauteed onions, garlic, shrimp, and a big chunk of smoked salmon donated by neighbors who are commercial fishers in Naknek Alaska every summer.
That is comfort food, Swampland-style!
Continue the Virtual Trail Ride by visiting Lytha's blog
and the Eastern Washington leg of the journey, too!
Other Virtual Ride links can be added to the comments section. Thanks for riding, everyone!